H.E. Elkhan Jahangir Gahraman
Ambassador of Azerbaijan
By Reaven D’Souza
Fate and my education led me to spend most of my diplomatic career associated with Arab countries: H.E. Gahraman
A distinguished and accomplished diplomat H.E Elkhan Jahangir Gahraman is a man of few words but imposing presence with his well-built stature and personality. Having spent almost six years in Kuwait, Ambassador Gahraman has made a lot of friends and acquaintances with his simple yet friendly disposition.
In a recent exclusive interview with the Managing Editor of The Times Kuwait, Ambassador Gahraman spoke about his country’s strong and friendly relations with Kuwait that are founded on centuries of geographical, historical, cultural and religious proximity to each other, as well as shared traditions between people of the two countries. He expressed full confidence that these relations would continue to flourish under the wise leadership of both countries.
The ambassador also noted with understandable pride that Saturday, 28 May marked the 104th anniversary of the Independence Day of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Not many countries can claim such a distinguished history of being a democratic republic over a century ago with power vested in the people through their elected representatives.
Ambassador Gahraman, however, began the interview by narrating the events that led him to choose diplomacy as a career. “Fate and my education led me to spend most of my diplomatic career associated with Arab countries,” said the envoy by way of introduction on his entry into diplomacy.
“In 1989, I graduated in Arabic language and literature from the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Baku State University in our capital. At that time we were part of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), and my first posting abroad was as a translator in Libya. While working as a translator there, I met and communicated with foreign diplomats and learned about their important role in representing and promoting the interests of their country abroad. Talking with these diplomats sparked my interest in joining the diplomatic field. In addition, the interesting experience of living in a foreign country and interacting with people of different cultures and traditions, convinced me to pursue a career in diplomacy.
“Although I started my career working in the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences Journal, I shifted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991. The first country I worked as a diplomat was at our embassy in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2000, I studied at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna and then, in 2001, I was appointed as First Secretary at our embassy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). My next diplomatic appointment was again in the UAE, and after working as a charge d’affaires there for a while, I was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the UAE, a position I held from 2009 to 2015.
“It is gratifying that our relations with the UAE are still at a high level. Earlier this year, a cooperation agreement was signed between the Ministry of Energy of Azerbaijan, and MASDAR, the UAE-government owned renewable energy company based in Abu Dhabi, to build solar power plants in Azerbaijan as a pilot project.
“Due to global warming, it is known that countries around the world have begun to prefer renewable energy sources and electric vehicles. Our country has also adopted state programs in this area. The newly established ‘Karabakh’ and ‘East Zangezur’ economic regions in Azerbaijan also have great renewable potential, especially hydropower. But, at present, electricity production from renewable energy sources accounts for only 8.1 percent of total production. However, it is planned to increase the share of renewable energy sources in our country to 30 percent by 2030.
“Experience shows that there are common problems in the economies of oil and gas exporting countries. These problems are more pronounced during economic crises due to sharp fluctuations in world oil prices. Reducing the share of oil and gas in GDP, diversifying the economy, and giving priority to renewable energy, as well as transitioning from exports of raw material to the production of value products, improving governance, and transforming financial capital into human capital are some of the priorities of the Azerbaijan government.”
Expanding on his experience of serving in Kuwait, the envoy said: “In 2016, by the order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, I was appointed Ambassador to the State of Kuwait. I would like to express my deep gratitude to all the staff of Kuwait’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Naser Al-Muhammad Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, for their close support.
“One of the things I like most about Kuwaiti people is that they are open and sincere in communication. Kuwaitis are also very hospitable. Along with official events, I took part in many ‘diwaniyas’ in Kuwait and witnessed first-hand the special kindness shown by Kuwaitis towards Azerbaijanis. This is not accidental. Because along with the geographical proximity between our peoples, there have been historical, cultural and religious proximity for centuries, and our traditions have similar features.
“Diplomatic ties between Azerbaijan and Kuwait were established in October 1994. Relations between Kuwait and Azerbaijan began to develop during the leadership of our national leader Heydar Aliyev. While attending the 1994 Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) summit in Morocco, Heydar Aliyev met with the then Amir of Kuwait Jabir Al-Ahmad Al Sabah, and during the meeting the heads of state invited each other to their countries.
“The official visit of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to Kuwait on 10 February 10, 2009 is considered as one of the significant events in bilateral relations between our two countries. During the visit, many intergovernmental agreements were signed on the establishment of a joint commission, promotion and mutual protection of investments, cooperation in trade and tourism.
The late Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah also presented Kuwait’s highest award, the ‘Mubarak Al-Kabir’ order to President Ilham Aliyev, and the President of Azerbaijan decorated the Amir with the ‘Heydar Aliyev Order’, the highest award of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
“Today, the Amir of Kuwait, His Highness Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, continue to work together on these traditional relations for the benefit of our countries and peoples. Our countries show mutual support not only bilaterally, but also in multilateral forums within the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, OPEC + and others.” Alluding to challenges he faced in earlier postings abroad, the envoy said: “Each job has its own challenges and plans. The main essence and meaning of the work is to overcome these difficulties and achieve certain results. Due to the friendly relations between Azerbaijan and the countries where I worked, I rarely faced any difficulties in terms of developing our relations.”
Turning to tourism in Azerbaijan and its potential to attract travelers from Kuwait and the region, Ambassador Gahraman stated: “Tourism is one of the dynamically developing areas between our two countries. Before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, more than 35,000 Kuwaiti (excluding residents) tourists visited Azerbaijan. In 2016, Kuwaiti citizens began to apply for a simplified visa at the international airports of Azerbaijan, and in 2017, Kuwaiti citizens were given the opportunity to obtain an electronic visa in a short time through the ‘ASAN Visa’ system. The first direct flight to Kuwait was launched in 2017.
At present, Al-Jazeera Airways and Kuwait Airways of Kuwait, along with Azerbaijan’s AZAL Airlines, operate direct flights almost every day of the week. The 2-hour flight is very short and convenient for passengers. We hope that the number of tourists will be restored soon and reach higher than the numbers before the pandemic.
“At the same time, we consider that the issuance of electronic visas by the Kuwait government to Azerbaijani citizens could be a positive contribution to the pace of development of bilateral relations in the field of tourism.
“Azerbaijan has many beautiful and unspoilt natural areas. The country is surrounded by the Greater Caucasus, Lesser Caucasus, and Talysh Mountains. The Kur-Araz Lowland, between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, stretches to the Caspian Sea in the eastern part of the country, and combines different climatic zones, with the subtropical climate prevailing in the south. Azerbaijan has 9 out of the 11 climate zones existing in the world. The magnificent architecture of the capital Baku, the historical and architectural complex of the Old City, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, friendly people, delicious cuisine, the beaches of the Caspian Sea, winter ski resorts of the Caucasus Mountains, and our rich culture and traditions have always fascinated tourists.”
Pointing to bilateral economic relations, mutual investments, and sectors in Azerbaijan that would be especially appealing to investors from Kuwait, the ambassador noted: “Although there is a small amount of Kuwaiti investment in Azerbaijan in the field of agriculture, hospitality and tourism, we believe that there is great potential for increasing mutual investment, and we must intensify our efforts in this area.
“Azerbaijan is today the transport hub of Eurasia. In 2017, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was put into operation. The project aims to connect Turkey and Azerbaijan, and thus Asia with Europe, by rail. In addition, in 2021, the foundation of the ‘Alat Free Economic Zone’, which includes the Baku Seaport, was laid. The implementation of this project will not only bring great economic dividends to Azerbaijan, but also further increase the flow of investment to our country, increase the strategic importance of our republic, which plays an important role in the East-West and North-South transit transport corridors.
“Plans are also afoot to build modern ‘smart’ villages on the basis of high technologies, reconstruct cities, use renewable energy sources in the newly created ‘Karabakh’ and ‘Eastern Zangezur’ economic regions. All of these projects provide great opportunities for foreign investment. Industrial parks, created for the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan are also another attractive foreign investment venue. There are many investment opportunities in Azerbaijan, from light industry and pharmaceuticals to heavy industry and engineering.
“The issue of establishing joint ventures with Kuwait could also be discussed. For example, pilot projects on renewable energy between Azerbaijan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s ‘ACWA Power’ and that with the UAE’s MASDAR company are being successfully implemented.
“Meanwhile, I would like to note that the volume of trade between the two countries is very small and, of course, cannot satisfy us. In 2019, the trade turnover between the two countries amounted to US$3.5 million. The main exports from Azerbaijan to Kuwait were tunneling and different machine parts and agricultural products. Mainly oil products were imported from Kuwait. The issue of expanding cooperation in bilateral trade is planned to be discussed at the next meetings of the Azerbaijan-Kuwait Joint Intergovernmental Commission.”
Speaking about cultural exchanges between Azerbaijan and Kuwait, the envoy said there are plans to increase such exchanges in future to boost people to people relations. “There is an intergovernmental agreement on cultural cooperation. ‘Cultural Days’ were held in Kuwait and Baku in 2011-2012. In 2018, a grand concert was organized in Kuwait with the participation of the Baku Youth Chamber Orchestra of the Baku Music Academy and famous musicians. Azerbaijani music teachers work in Kuwait and give professional music lessons to Kuwaiti youth. Also, a number of translations have been made in the field of literature. We consider that there is a need to deepen relations in science, education, culture and sports, as well as in other humanitarian areas.”
Clarifying that Kuwait has immense potential to develop into a country in line with its strategic Vision 2035 development plan, the ambassador added, “Kuwait has made great strides and is pursuing ambitious strategies for political, administrative, economic, social and cultural development. Kuwait has also gained the status of ‘humanitarian center’ in the international arena, as well as won recognition for its successful mediation missions in resolving regional conflicts. All this is due to the foresight of the wise leadership of Kuwait – the late Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and the current Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
“We believe that the future of Kuwait will be brighter with Kuwait’s economy becoming diversified and reducing its dependence on energy sources for its national income. I wish the people of Kuwait to always live in prosperity and peace.”