The relations between Azerbaijan and Croatia are intensifying and I’m pleased to say that further expansion is under way, along with the excellent political relations and the relations in other segments. I am confident that our cooperation in economy and trade will develop further in the nearest future.
While they are geographically relatively distant, Azerbaijan and Croatia have many similarities and common interests to work together on – says H.E. Mr. Fakhraddin Gurbanov, the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Croatia.
How would you evaluate the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Croatia?
I was appointed Ambassador to Croatia on December 8th, 2017. Needless to say, Croatia is a very beautiful country and the Balkans a very interesting region for work.
The diplomatic relations between our countries were established in January 1995. Today, the relations between Azerbaijan and Croatia are at a strategic partnership level. In 2013, during the visit of President Ilham Aliyev to Croatia, we singed the Zagreb Declaration on Strategic Partnership and Friendly Relations. This is the highest level document that two countries can sign.
In 2016, President of Croatia, Mrs Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović paid a visit to Azerbaijan. She was accompanied by the business people from Croatia. In November 2017, the first meeting of the Joint Economic Commission was held in Baku. In early September this year, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev paid an official visit to Croatia. In May 2018, Croatia decided to open an embassy in Baku.
All in all, the relations between Azerbaijan and Croatia are intensifying and I’m pleased to say that further expansion is under way.
On which international issues can the two countries cooperate the best?
Well, let’s start with Croatia’s position regarding the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Croatia supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan that is based on international law. As I have already mentioned, in 2013, we signed the Zagreb Declaration on Strategic Partnership and Friendly Relations which contains a paragraph which clearly stipulates that the conflict must be settled, based on the principles of respect for state sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. And these principles have been underlined during the meetings of the heads of our states and other officials.
EU is one of the priorities for Azerbaijan. Our relations with the European Union cover many areas such as politics, economic cooperation, energy cooperation, and the cooperation in the field of transport. The Partnership Priorities document was signed between the European Union and Azerbaijan in Brussels in July this year. Currently, EU and Azerbaijan are working on a new agreement. Croatia has always supported our cooperation with the European Union and made a valuable contribution. Furthermore, I would like to remind that after the meeting with President Aliyev, Mrs Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said that Croatia would continue to be a sincere friend of Azerbaijan in the EU and that it fully supported Azerbaijan’s decision to develop an individual relationship with the European Union.
The cooperation in energy field is very important too. Azerbaijan has initiated the Southern Gas Corridor, a project that unites seven countries and envisages the construction of a 3,500-kilometre gas pipeline from Baku to Europe. The official opening of the Southern Gas Corridor took place in May this year. In June, we celebrated the launch of the TANAP project. Croatia is interested in cooperation in energy projects and very important negotiations are under way.
How would you evaluate the development of the economic cooperation between the two countries? Which factors contributed to the increase and decline in external trade the most?
Azerbaijan and Croatia already cooperate in many areas such as shipbuilding, pharmacy, agriculture and chemical industry. Close to 50 Croatian companies operate in Azerbaijan. Furthermore, we can that Croatian companies engaged in construction, food processing industry and agriculture have a growing interest for entering Azerbaijani market. So, Croatia is well-represented in Azerbaijani business.
However, the current volume and the value of the external trade between the two countries are not satisfactory and we have to seriously work on it.
I would also like to mention that, as an ambassador, one of my duties is to promote the Azerbaijani business and companies and help them to operate in Croatia. By the way, they are excellent in their fields.
During the visit of President Ilham Aliyev, one of the topics was establishing joint ventures. I am confident that our cooperation in economy and trade will develop further in the nearest future.
How much did the establishment of the Joint Economic Commission boost the external trade between the two countries?
The first meeting of the Joint Economic Commission was held in Baku in November 2017. As I have already mentioned, the current volume of trade shows that that we should continue to work hard. The Joint Commission has serious task to increase trade and the number of bilateral projects.
How familiar are Azerbaijani investors with Croatia? Which sectors are they interested in?
Azerbaijan is one of the major investors in SİC countries. We are the top investor in Georgia. Our investments in Turkey are very high. SOCAR has been investing in energy projects around the region. Furthermore, we are also investing in infrastructure projects such as resorts and hotels. I have already mentioned the Southern Gas Corridor and the Croatian interest in joining it. And I also mentioned that we should work on helping the Azerbaijani companies to enter the Croatian market.
After your tenure as the ambassador of Azerbaijan in the United Kingdom and Canada, what was your personal experience of this part of the world? Do you like living in Croatia?
I was privileged to be an ambassador in Canada and United Kingdom. Every country has its own specifics, culture, and vision. What I can definitely say about Croatia is that you are very lucky, because you have much more sun. From diplomacy’s perspective, I can say that the Balkans has always been a dynamic region and is currently maintaining its position. I am pleased to be an ambassador in Croatia.
What are cultural and spiritual similarities between the two countries?
I always say that culture can build bridges that politics cannot. Cultural diplomacy plays a very important role in building mutual trust between people and countries.
Our cultures are similar in some way. Both Azerbaijan and Croatia are maritime countries. There are similarities in climate, nature, and food. Walking through the narrow streets of Zagreb reminds me the Icheri Sheher (Old Town) in Baku.
We, the Azerbaijanis and Croats, are proud of our history, we love our culture and we respect culture and history of other people.
8. How can we bolster the mutual cooperation in tourism?
Tourism industry is becoming very important in country branding and economy. Tourism in Azerbaijan is developing rapidly. In 2017, about 2.7 million tourists visited Azerbaijan. Each year we can see the increase in number of tourists. Azerbaijan is becoming a popular destination for tourists coming from Europe, Asia and the Americas.
The increase in the number of tourists is closely related to the launch of the ASAN visa system, shopping festivals, cultural and sporting events and excellent infrastructure. By the way, I can say that any person can obtain an electronic tourist visa in just 3 hours and they even don’t need to come to consular offices for that.
Both Croatia and Azerbaijan have an excellent infrastructure. We should work on our needs and expectations to find the best way to boost cooperation in tourism.