His Excellency Tural Rzayev
Close and strong relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the State of Kuwait are based on a multiplicity of commonalities in history, culture, religion and economics, as well as shared views and values on the political and social arena, said His Excellency Tural Rzayev, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Kuwait, in an exclusive interview he recently afforded to The Times. The energetic young ambassador, who was accompanied in the interview by Counselor Javid S. Musayev, and the embassy’s attaché for Protocol, Press and Cultural Affairs, Babak Ahmadov, continued by saying, “Azerbaijan is keen on consolidating and boosting bilateral ties with Kuwait in all domains and is exploring various opportunities to further enhance relations.”
Drawing on parallels between Azerbaijan and Kuwait, beyond their mutual dependence on oil and gas to fuel their respective economies, Ambassador Rzayev said, “Both our countries regained freedom in 1991; Kuwait from the vicious occupation by Saddam Hussein and Azerbaijan following the break-up of the former Soviet Union. On liberation, Kuwait quickly recovered from the devastations caused by the invasion and soon reclaimed its growth, development and prosperity.”
“Similarly, at its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan was a country mired in a socialist system without any traces of a modern nation. But in a remarkably short period of twenty odd years, we built up our country’s infrastructure, established democratic institutions, liberalized economic policies and introduced legal frameworks that ensured international investments and growth of private enterprises. We have now become a fully developed nation where people enjoy a free political, cultural and social life and the country has once again retaken its position as a respected member of the comity of nations.”
“Today, Kuwait is developing a Silk City to serve as the core for propelling it into a financial and trade hub in the region. Azerbaijan is similarly engaged in transforming the eastern section of its ancient capital of Baku, once called the Black City and famed for its centuries-old oil industry and trade in ‘Black Gold’, into a shiny new White City. This huge urban development project will renovate the eastern portion of Baku and turn it into a gleaming new metropolis with all the trappings of a modern city. A number of entrepreneurs and investors from Kuwait have already invested in the White City project and we look forward to further Kuwaiti participation in our country’s continuing growth and development,” added the ambassador.
Investment opportunities in Azerbaijan
Explaining the trade and investment opportunities that exist in Azerbaijan for Kuwaiti entrepreneurs, the diplomat added, “As the largest country in the Caucasus region, Azerbaijan enjoys a geographic diversity that endows it with nine of the eleven climatic conditions. With the exception of probably polar and tropical weather conditions, the wide latitude in climate gives Azerbaijan a rich agricultural terrain that produces a diverse range of crops, including cotton, fruits, grains, tea, tobacco and a variety of vegetables.”
“The favorable climate has led to year-round agricultural production with our produce available in markets around the world throughout the year. Currently you can find only a few Azeri food items like fruit juices in Kuwait market, but the potential for enhancing agricultural imports from Azerbaijan to Kuwait is immense. We know this will not happen overnight; once people in Kuwait get to like and appreciate the quality of Azeri products, we are sure there will be increased demand. Besides having a wide variety of products like fresh fruits, vegetables, dry nuts and other produce, the short distance between our two countries also enables us to transport fresh goods from our farms to store shelves in Kuwait in a remarkably quick time. Azerbaijan is just over the border with Iran and the distance from Kuwait City to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan is the same as European cities.”
Describing tourism as another area of Azerbaijan’s economy that is growing rapidly, the envoy added, “Together with Ukraine, we recently held an exhibition for tourism agents in Kuwait to promote some of the attractions of countries in the Caucasus region. In Azerbaijan, all the ecosystems that generally draw tourists are to be found within our borders. We have all the attractions of modern cities, including theatres, museums, art galleries, and of course shopping; the world’s leading retail fashion brands are to be found in many of our cities. We also have numerous sites that appeal to adventure travelers, including high mountain slopes where visitors can engage in winter sports, to an entire coastline in the east that borders the Caspian Sea, the largest inland body of water in the world. Azerbaijan also has fast flowing rivers, placid lakes, deep forests, historical cities, monuments and ancient sites that attest to human development in these areas hundreds of thousands of years ago.”
Clarifying that visa formalities for everyone holding a valid residence permit in Kuwait is very simple, the envoy said, “All you have to do is fill up the requisite forms, pay the US$ 50 visa fee, and in four to five days you should have your visa ready. Currently flights to Azerbaijan are through UAE, Qatar, or one of several other countries, but once direct flights are introduced travel time between Baku and Kuwait could be less than two hours. While the number of tourists from Kuwait continues to grow, we are looking at further developing people to people contacts between our two countries through cultural exchanges.”
“For instance, in 2010, a musical troupe from Kuwait, under the auspice of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, visited and held Kuwaiti cultural programs in Azerbaijan. In 2011, there was a reciprocal visit to Kuwait by Azeri artists who performed at events in Kuwait. Also, more recently, in February 2013, a symphony orchestra from Azerbaijan, comprising over 75 artistes, held a well-attended and appreciated two-day musical concert at the Kuwait National Museum.”
Revealing that on the diplomatic and political stage, Azerbaijan and Kuwait enjoy the highest level of bilateral relations, the ambassador continued, “His Excellency, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamed Al-Sabah, the Foreign Minister of Kuwait, recently headed a delegation to Baku and co-chaired a Joint Commission with his Azeri counterpart. Several agreements and contracts on improving and increasing mutual business and trade relations, as well as enhancing cooperation in economic, cultural, social and educational fronts were discussed and signed by the two countries.”
“Azerbaijan and Kuwait have also come to the aid of each other at crucial periods in our recent histories. Even though we were not an independent nation at the time of the oil-fires in 1991, there was a large contingent of Azeri oilmen in the Russian team that arrived to douse the fires burning all over Kuwaiti oilfields. Also, in the initial years after our independence in 1991, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development was a source of loans at very preferable terms. The organization helped fund several infrastructure projects, like the Baku Ring Road and the Alyat Gazi Mohamed Road in Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijan, which in the ancient local dialect meant ‘Protector of the Flame’, has an early and historic cultural heritage. Situated at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Azerbaijan was a key site on the ancient Silk Route from Europe to the Far East. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR), which was established in 1918, was the first successful attempt in establishing a democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world. The ADR had an elected Parliament, espoused liberal cultural values and extended suffrage to women, making the country the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men, even before countries like the United States and United Kingdom.
Today, this cultural heritage and secular tradition continues unabated in the country of 9.5 million people. Despite Islam being the religion of 95 percent of the population, the Azerbaijan constitution does not state an official religion and all major nationalist parties in the country are secular nationalist. Incidentally, there are more than three times the number of Azeri people in the country, living outside the country, mainly in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Following a bitter war with neighboring Armenia in 1991, nearly 20 percent of Azerbaijan territory has been occupied by Armenian armed forces. Since the ceasefire in 1994 and ongoing negotiations with Armenia, and despite numerous resolutions from international bodies like the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Countries, the conflict remains unresolved. I would say this is yet another instance where prevailing geopolitical interests prevent a problem from being easily resolved. But then, there are many unsettled international border disagreements that have been going on for longer than ours; in Azerbaijan we are a patient people and all we can do is wait our turn.“
The ambassador, who joined Azerbaijan diplomatic services in 1992, and has been posted previously in Romania and Turkey, arrived in Kuwait in 2011 to take up his first ambassadorial posting. Prior to his country’s independence the ambassador served as representative of Azerbaijan’s state news agency in Istanbul and is efficacious in diplomatically warding off dispensable question. When once asked by a reporter if he found any problems during his stay in the country, he replied, “Yes, two things — the traffic on Kuwait’s roads and the dust storms. Other than these two, I can think of no other problem.”
The ambassador grew more philosophical as he concluded, “The ability to easily travel around the world, the rapid development of internet and communication technologies, as well as the wide reach of international media, have made the world a much smaller place.
“Now when one arrives in a new country, you hardly feel like you have left your motherland. Everywhere, it is the same shopping arcades selling same designer wares, same fast-food outlets, same advertisements and same soap operas on televisions. Even many of the problems are same in cities across the world — traffic congestions, unruly drivers, obesity epidemics. But there are also characteristics that are unique to each country like its traditions, cultures, arts and cuisines that need to be nourished and built upon. In this respect both Azerbaijan and Kuwait are lucky that we have people and leadership who value these individualities and work to ensure their continuity for posterity.”