First Vice-president of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva was on an official visit to Russia, November 21 to 24. She met with President Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin decorated Mehriban Aliyeva with the order of “Friendship” for her services to strengthening of the relations between the two countries. Moreover, Mehriban Aliyeva met with head of the Russian Government Dmitri Medvedev and chairperson of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko. Over the course of her visit, Mehriban Aliyeva attended the inauguration of the rebuilt pavilion “Azerbaijan” at the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy.
The First Vice-president talked to deputy General Director of TASS Agency Mikhail Gusman about the results of her visit in her interviews to TASS, “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” and “Rossia-24” TV Channel.
- Good afternoon, Mehriban khanum. Thank you for honouring me with the chance of meeting with you. Your visit to Moscow, the Russian capital, is nearing the end. The programme of your visit was extremely rich, and you have had many meetings, including those with the Russian leadership. What is your assessment of the outcome of your visit? What was the most mentionable for you in Moscow during these days?
- Good afternoon, dear Mikhail Solomovich. I am delighted to see you. I am pleased to be in Moscow again. First, I want to thank the leadership of the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin, head of the Government Dmitri Medvedev, chairperson of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko for the invitation to come on an official visit to the Russian Federation, and for the warm reception, interesting meetings and negotiations.
Strong friendship and kind neighbourhood traditions bind our countries. We value today’s relations between us and the Russian Federation as a strategic partnership. I think currently, the relations between our countries are on the highest level for the whole history of these relations.
There is a political dialogue, and regular meetings between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia define multilateral nature of our relations, stimulating the development of mutual relations in almost all areas.
As I have already mentioned, old and strong friendship and kind neighbourhood traditions bind Azerbaijan with Russia. Our countries are advancing dynamically, which opens wide possibilities for the expansion of interstate relations. As you have mentioned, my visit was rich and interesting. Of course, first, I want to mention my meeting with respected Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was a good chance to discuss a number of aspects of our bilateral relations. At this meeting, the President of the Russian Federation presented the order of “Friendship” to me. I am greatly honoured to receive this award, and I appreciate it as another proof of the high-level relations between Azerbaijan and Russia. Of course, I am glad I have my share of contribution in the development of our strategic partnership.
- Mehriban khanum, you have quite rightly mentioned that the relations between Azerbaijan and Russia have never been as warm as they are now, and roots of these relations go far back long ago. However, on the other hand, for today’s relations, we are indebted, firstly, to the close ties between the leaders of our countries – President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and President Ilham Heydar oghlu Aliyev. They are making these relations stronger. You talked about multilateral nature of these relations. What areas do you think have more potential for our cooperation? In which areas is this cooperation more fruitful, and where do you think there is unused potential?
- As I have mentioned, the Russia-Azerbaijan relations cover a very wide spectrum, which includes the economic block, and mutual activities in the humanitarian sphere. Azerbaijan and Russia have been supporting each other on an international arena. As to the economic sector, mutual relations in this sphere and successful activities are yielding their fruits. Russia is one of the trade partners of Azerbaijan, holding the first place in the import of non-oil products. It is a rejoicing fact that the commodity turnover between our countries is growing uninterruptedly. Last year, it reached the point of 2.6 billion US Dollars, having grown by 19 percent. Over the course of the nine month of the current year, this index reached the level of 26 percent, and the indices on mutual investment are also good. Russian investment into the Azerbaijani economy makes up 4.9 billion US Dollars. Azerbaijan has made an investment into the Russian economy in the amount of 1.2 billion US Dollars. It is rejoicing that a number of joint projects have been implemented in the non-oil sector, in such areas as machine building, chemical industry, pharmacy, production equipment, energy, and transportation, along with traditional mutual activities in the oil sector.
As specific examples may be cited modernizations of “SOCAR Polymer”, enterprises of “Azerkimya”, assembling and production of “KamAZ” trucks, and construction of the first phase of the medications production factory “P-Pharm”.
Transit-transportation system is a very significant and promising direction in our mutual activities. Creation of the “North-South” international transportation corridor to link the Western European markets with Asian consumers is one of the most important projects. Since the start of this project, volume of transportation of goods increased eight times on this over-seven thousand-kilometre route, with 60 percent increase in the six months of the current year. The following year, a new four-lane arterial highway from Baku to the Russian border will be commissioned. Construction of a bridge over cross-border Samur River, a joint project, will be completed and commissioned into operation.
- Mehriban khanum, as far as I know, you, as the first vice-president, have been showing special attention towards advancing the humanitarian, social and cultural areas. These fields are a serious object of interest for you. In my judgement, this is a very significant factor of the Azerbaijan-Russia relations. From this standpoint, how is this section of our mutual relations advancing? After all, this humanitarian area relates to all people, to the spiritual life, and to our historical roots. In this sense, what do you consider more important?
- You emphasized quite rightly. In interstate relations, the humanitarian sphere means, by definition, an intercourse between persons. I am pleased to note that the Azerbaijan-Russia relations in the humanitarian sphere is of exemplary nature. An International Humanitarian Forum established following the initiatives of the Russian and Azerbaijani presidents is held on a regular basis. Careful and respectful attitude to the Russian culture and language is well-known. Education in over 300 schools in our country is conducted in Russian, Russian language Olympiads are held every year, and Russian language departments and Russian sections are functioning in 14 state higher schools. Last year, over 130 thousand secondary school pupils and over 25 thousand higher school students studied in Russian.
Cooperation among higher schools is also on a high level. Branches of the Lomonosov Moscow State University and Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University are successfully functioning in the Azerbaijani capital. As of this year, joint implementation of a programme of dual master’s degree of the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy and the Moscow State International Relations Institute is underway.
A Russian-speaking community of many thousands is living in Azerbaijan, worthily contributing to the general development of the country. Numerous exhibitions are held. This year, Days of Russian Culture were held in Azerbaijan. The following year, holding of days of Azerbaijani Culture is expected to take place in Russia. As I said, our relations in this field are exemplary. This is very important, as this area indeed brings peoples closer. And we are interested in preserving this common humanitarian space.
- Azerbaijani President Ilham Heydar oghlu Aliyev repeatedly said? – we have been always hearing this from various rostrums, - unfortunately, multiculturalism, which failed to prove itself in a number of European countries, is of great importance to Azerbaijan; moreover, this is actually observed in Azerbaijan. So called multi-confessionalism too is interrelated with multiculturalism. Very recently, the second summit of World Religious Leaders took place in Baku. Representatives of the most different religions attended the summit. They all underscored overwhelming multi-confessionalism in Azerbaijan. How did you achieve this? Does this stem from historical roots, or is it the result of the present-day Azerbaijani leadership’s purposeful policy? How do you see the future development form this point of view?
- The President of Azerbaijan mentioned in one of his speeches that the word “multiculturalism” is a quite new word in our vocabulary, however the traditions associated with this word go back to centuries ago. Azerbaijan is located at the crossroads of civilizations, cultures and religions, which, without a doubt, has influenced its centuries-long multiculturalism and tolerance culture. People of different nationalities, cultures and religions have lived for centuries in an environment of peace, solidarity and friendship, and are living, and this tradition has been supported by the state policy. Therefore, Azerbaijan has turned into a place where numerous international events aiming to strengthen interreligious, international and intercultural dialogue on the international arena take place. You mentioned the holding of the 2nd Summit of World Religious Leaders.
You have quite correctly mentioned that general tension in the contemporary world is increasing. We have been witnessing an increase in such dangerous tendencies as using religion in racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, antisemitism, and stirring up international and interreligious conflict. Today, all these issues are of universal importance, and the fact that in Azerbaijan, these issues are raised on the state level is not, I suppose, by accident, as I noted earlier, Azerbaijan enjoys old traditions in this field. Such messages voiced at international events should be conveyed to the whole world society. Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia Kirill too attended the 2nd Summit of the World Religious Leaders. I think all its messages and appeals are topical today, and may be even more topical than ever, as it is regretful that such dangerous events are on the rise throughout the world. I am sure, these threats may be stopped by only common endeavours, both at the level of heads of states, as well as among civil societies.
- I have one more question. Among the very important meetings you have had in Moscow, one stands out especially, and is widely covered in the Russian media. I mean the inauguration of the pavilion “Azerbaijan” at a space earlier called the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy. This pavilion too has its own history, and you talked very well about it while addressing the inauguration ceremony. That being said, I paid attention to one particular detail that restoration and, actually, reconstruction of the pavilion is associated with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation led by you. Many others, including government bodies of Moscow, organizations of Moscow participated in this activities, however, I assume that all these were sponsored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation led by you. Therefore, I would like to once more refer to the subject of pavilion, which turned into a completely unique space for Muscovites on the territory of the exhibition, and I would kindly ask you to talk a bit about the Foundation, as it has become one of the largest international public humanitarian charity organizations. Today, it is recognized in the world as a very influential humanitarian organization, and through all these years, you have headed this organization. How do you see the future development of the Foundation from the perspective of the pavilion?
- First, I want to once more thank the leadership of the Russian Federation, the Moscow city government for allowing the state of Azerbaijan to participate in the restoration of the pavilion “Azerbaijan” on the territory of the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy. I am very glad this significant event occurred while I was on an official visit. I feel pride to have participated in the opening of our national pavilion. The Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy is one of the largest exhibition spaces of the world. Numerous people are visiting each year the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy, and this architectural and cultural centre of Moscow is indeed very interesting. Our pavilion “Azerbaijan” was built in 1939, and as with other pavilions, our pavilion too was subjected to numerous alterations. In 1966, the pavilion was covered with a metal box, completely changing its image, and lost almost its functional and national identity. Restoration works started in 2019. Of course this was a decision of the state of Azerbaijan, and was carried out under the leadership of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. I have to mention that the Foundation’s team approached this job with great care and responsibility, as there was a task set to restore the original appearance of the pavilion, returning its national identity. A big taskforce was set up, best specialists from both Russia and Azerbaijan were involved. To restore the original view, every detail, even decorative patterns were paid attention to. What we see today is rejoicing, and I am confident this gladdens every Azerbaijani. The renewed pavilion “Azerbaijan” opens its doors before the guests of the capital. Moreover, it is another space to serve strengthening of relations between us – our countries and peoples, including in the humanitarian sphere.
As to the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, it was established in 2004. Its activities are mainly aimed at supporting education, healthcare, the youth, the low-income strata of the country’s population, including helping refugess and IDP. In my opinion, I would not be mistaken if I said over the course of its 15-year operation, the Foundation won great sympathy both within and beyond the country’s boundaries. The Foundation has carried out a great deal of work indeed, along with implementing large-scale projects, and supported construction of hundreds of school buildings, restoration of historical monuments, arranging numerous events. We always try not to forget that all these activities aim at improving the living conditions of the country’s population, trying to see every citizen and listen to them. Therefore, along with well-covered activities of the Foundation, there are also other works of this kind not announced to the public. Our citizens in Azerbaijan know that whenever they appeal to the Foundation, every effort will be made to satisfy their request and help them in solving their problems. I am proud that the Foundation has a team of well-educated, patriotic youth, grown-up in independent Azerbaijan, and our achievements are, of course, the result of our team-work. Therefore, I think, the primary achievement of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation is that it has won the respect and love of the people of Azerbaijan.
- Dear Mehriban khanum, I want to thank you for the conversation. The New Year is nearing. It will be celebrated both in Russia and Azerbaijan. I’ll be regretting to say goodbye to you, because I am not sure if I can hear these words till the New Year. Therefore, before saying goodbye, I would like to kindly ask you to express your wishes to Russians and Azerbaijanis in the upcoming new year.
-I want, first of all, to wish both the Russian and Azerbaijani peoples peace. I want to wish our states successful development and accomplishment of the plans set before them. I want to express my completely simple humane wishes – sound health and bright and good days. I want us to have more successes than sorrows. May sorrow leave us out. May people find strength to overcome hardships they encounter, as there are hardships, sorrowful days too, and I would like us to have more joyful and bright days.
-Let me thank you for these wishes and, in my turn, wish the same to you. I wish you sound health and would like to express my best wishes. Thank you very much.