Beyond Caviar, Oil and Carpets

Exclusive Interview with the new Azerbaijani Ambassador
to the United Kingdom

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Azerbaijan’s new ambassador to the UK, Tahir Taghizade, always dreamt of being a diplomat and, following a posting as Ambassador to the Czech Republic most recently, he joins the Embassy at a time of increasing awareness about Azerbaijan. For years the British have known Azerbaijan through “caviar, oil, carpets – and a war,” to use his words, but Taghizade firmly believes that more human-to-human contact is the way to really change that perception and build lasting relationships. We sent our reporter to meet the man responsible for the next chapter of Azerbaijani-British relations.

OCA: Please tell us a little bit about your background?

TT: I was born in 1967 in a city that was then called Gorkiy, in the USSR (Nizhny Novgorod today). I went to school in Baku. I graduated with distinction from the School of International Relations in Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1989. I have had a varied career, starting at the bottom in the Consulate-General in Brno, CSFR (later the Czech Republic) in 1990 as a secretary-archivist before graduating to 3rd secretary. In 1995 I went back to Baku and served as the 2nd Secretary of the Department of Europe, US and Canada at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and joined the Azerbaijan Embassy in the USA in 1997 climbing to Counsellor by 2004.

In February 2007 I was appointed as Ambassador to the Czech Republic and in September 2014 I joined the team here at the Embassy of Azerbaijan in London.

OCA: The achievements of your career should be an inspirational example of what hard work and perseverance can lead to. What is your impression of the UK, and what future relationship should we expect between Azerbaijan and the UK?

TT: Absolutely. Apart from the obvious significance of the UK as a serious global political player, there should be a clear understanding of its real role in the system of the foreign
political, economic and security affairs of another particular country.

From this point of view, the United Kingdom is a very special partner for Azerbaijan. It is currently the leader in terms of foreign investment in Azerbaijan and a leading partner in the area of the foreign-economic relationships not only in the sphere of oil and gas, but in the other developing sectors.

I am delighted to say there is a clear understanding on the British side, as confirmed in my recent meeting with Lord Livingstone, Minister for Trade and Investment, that alongside the already booming energy cooperation, there is also a need to expand the economic relationship into new areas of huge potential such as financial services, tourism, ICT etc.

OCA: What are the plans in your new role? Are there any major changes to come?

TT: The relationship between Azerbaijan and the UK are already at the highest level and have proved very fruitful in the sphere of the economy; they are developing intensively and there is a lot of progress in the military, political and cultural spheres too.

In terms of plans therefore, we must try and diversify by slightly shifting the emphasis in the opportunities that already exist. This is what I see as my major priority and purpose here. I would like Azerbaijan to be seen not only as a country of oil, gas, geopolitics and caviar, but as a country with an outstanding heritage of traditions and with political, social and cultural potential. Azerbaijan is home to one of the most ancient sites of humankind and has been historically renowned for its rich culture. At least one of the world’s major religions was born in this part of the world: Zoroastrianism (fire worship). We also have a diverse cuisine with Turkish, Iranian and Mediterranean elements – it’s a  unique mixture!

OCA: What similarities do you see between the Scottish referendum debate and the Nagorno Karabakh issue?

TT: Without interfering in Britain’s internal affairs, I cannot wish for any state to be separated. Any Scottish separation will be done via legal means, of course, whereas in our case it was through bitter conflict. The change of internationally recognised borders without sovereign consent of the state is inadmissible. A frozen conflict can become hot very fast, but I believe that it is possible to exercise self-determination while respecting territorial integrity through a high degree of self-rule. Therefore it is vital that conflicts like the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno Karabakh conflict are kept on the radar of the international community and the principle of territorial integrity of states, the foundation of the existing international system, is not applied selectively.

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