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Audio Guide: The Next Page - Transcripts

Welcome to the UN Library and Archives Geneva's Audio Research Guide! Here you'll find episodes from our own podcast, The Next Page, as well as podcasts and audio from or on the UN system and multilateralism.

Ambassador Galib Israfilov on Azerbaijan and enriching multilateralism for our collective future

by Yunshi Liang on 2022-04-27T09:56:42+02:00 | Comments


 Francesco Pisano

Welcome everyone to a new episode of our Ambassador Series here, with the United Nations Library and Archives in Geneva. This is The Next Page, the podcast designed to advance the conversation on multilateralism. Today in the studio, together with me is Ambassador Galib Israfilov of Azerbaijan. He's the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the UN in Geneva since 2021, relatively new. And he did his studies on international relations in Azerbaijan and the United States.

He was Ambassador to Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia before getting to Geneva, and he also represented his country to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. His experience with the UN is not limited to Geneva. He served also postings in Vienna, in New York and since last year here in Geneva as I said, as the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the UN in Geneva.

Ambassador Excellency, welcome to the podcast! And why don't you introduce yourself and tell us and our audience how you became a diplomat, and eventually the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan?

 Ambassador Galib Israfilov

Well, good morning to everyone and thank you for this opportunity, Director Pisano. I appreciate this chance to introduce myself as a newly appointed Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to Geneva. I'm here for a relatively short period of time, but I already feel myself as if I am here for a while already, and the reason for that is that issues at the agenda of most of international organizations are pretty much the same, like they are in Vienna or in New York, the positions of the countries which are regularly expressed, and they are echoing their colleagues in their respective capitals.

So I'm a career diplomat since 96 and have entered the Foreign Ministry officially right after the graduation of the university. The choice of being a diplomat again, was impacted by a combination of factors, education and I also enjoyed learning languages as well as political geography. On the other hand, I graduated from the secondary school in the period when the USSR collapsed and Azerbaijan restored its independence. And this is the difficult period of transitioning from the planned economy, and the country, from which was limited in rights and freedoms to the independent state with a market economy, with democratic institutions, with a vibrant civil society.

And the many challenges and injustices committed against Azerbaijan have shaped the political landscape of the country. As a young individual who had graduated from the school, I was very much impressed by these injustices. And of course one of the options was to continue my study in the diplomacy area and international relations, in parallel with the languages which I had learned. That's how I entered the Baku State University and the Faculty of International Relations. It was recently opened. We didn't have such a faculty before because during the Soviet Union, all of those diplomats were prepared in Moscow and I didn't have a chance to be part of that. Because after the collapse, that quotas which had existed, they disappeared for Azerbajian, I believe it's for the better that I had the chance to be one of the first graduates of our own university.

And the other factor of course, is the challenges that Azerbaijan faced. The collapse, the economic, the relation disruptions because of the collapse of the former empire, that also accompanied with a number of political and social challenges and that also triggered an independence movement within Azerbaijan. People demanded more freedoms, more rights. And we were also active part of a student movement within the university, which has also asked for more opportunities in going into the closed pages of history of the USSR, and bringing more clarity and transparency to the political establishment, to the institutional building of the state.

These were the few elements in brief which I can explain why I decided to become a diplomat. And then after the graduation I joined the Foreign Minister; in fact, even before completing the university already on the last year of my study, I was accepted as an intern and worked in the Foreign Ministry since 95 already.

 Francesco Pisano

For those who didn't have a chance to visit your country, how would you present Azerbaijan briefly, and maybe mention the key moments of its history?

 Ambassador Galib Israfilov

Historically, Azerbaijan has been geographically located at the crossroads of East and West, South and North, Asia and Europe. And richness in natural resources. Location on the Silk Road on major trade routes as well as the open-minded and tolerant character of our society, somehow predetermined the historical and political events within Azerbaijan.

We are very multicultural, multi-ethnic societies, more than 30 nationalities can be found living in Azerbaijan. Again I'm speaking about nationalities which are remaining up to now, but if you go bit deeper into the history, the numbers might be multiplied.

And secondly, Azerbaijan is very multi-religious society, despite the fact that we are predominantly Muslim society, and we have, for instance, one of the biggest compact settlement of Jews who are living for millennials in Azerbaijan, and have not experienced any discrimination. On the contrary, they have been one of the active members of our society in the Parliament, in the state structures, in the militaries, promoting independence and prosperity of Azerbaijan. We have a number of Christian congregations living in Azerbaijan, Orthodox, Protestants, Catholics, as well as others, and this is also a historical legacy of Azerbaijan because we were Islamized in the 7th century and before that most of the central and western part of Azerbaijan were Christians. And we still have the historical Christian community which are dating back to the 1st or 2nd century of the current era and they claim they are the descendants came from Jesus Christ and the Apostles were accompanying it. So it's again another layer of multi-cultural aspect which is very peculiar for Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is also famous for its richness in oil and gas. Some say that can be a curse when it can also be a blessing, and if you use these resources wisely, if you manage to mobilize these resources for current generation as well as to project these resources for future development of the society and country in general, then they are becoming a necessary fuel to empower and to prosper the society and the country in general, and to transform this richness of fuel into the human potential, into education, into health, into social services sector, so these are also peculiarities of Azerbaijan.

Economically. Azerbaijan is also one of the richest countries in terms of geographic advantages. We have 9 out of 13 climatic zones existing in the world and it's from continental, to the tropical and to desert climates. Whatever you can imagine, except two, which are on the polar sea levels which are not available in Azerbaijan. There is very agreeable agricultural land, and we can produce everything from citrus, kiwis and bananas to potatoes or apples. That also helps to ensure our food security, to ensure stability and economic independence in terms of the livelihood of the population.

And finally Azerbaijan is also very rich in its culture. So if you look at the first opera in the Muslim, it was written in Azerbaijan in the 1908. One of the first Azerbaijani composers who have written this opera and put it in play. In 1918, we established the woman suffrage, the right to vote for women, well ahead of many, many European and other countries in this. Azerbaijan in 1918, established its first Democratic Republic. We are currently living in the Third Republic. The First Republic was in 1918 and it existed for two years. Since 1920 until 1991 we were part of the Soviet Union and in 91 we restored our independence and started again to be in full command of our rich resources, of our rights and freedoms, as well as investing into the prosperity of our nation.

 Francesco Pisano

You mentioned before that Azerbaijan sits at the crossroads between East and West, and actually the South Caucasus area has a very dynamic history, especially during the 19 and 20th century. I was wondering what Azerbaijan’s regional role is in this area. And maybe after that if you could tell our audience what the main challenges are and hopes of Azerbaijan as a nation in the world of today.

 Ambassador Galib Israfilov

Well, again, I probably speak of the modern history of Azerbaijan and modern policy of our government since 1991. We inherited the problems of the former Soviet empire where in principle starting not from zero, but from minus. The industrial and economic might of Azerbaijan during the Soviet times was inextricably linked to the chain of supplies, to the planned economy and the Soviet- type relationship existing between the republics. But once we disintegrated these economic challenges, they have overburdened the society, the government and that is why we were in the surge of dire need of investments and technological advances, which we could have brought into the country and stimulated the economic development and the growth.

In parallel to that we were subjected to military intervention by our neighbor. And a significant part of the territory of Azerbaijan were under occupation and Azerbaijanis who were living in this territory were expelled from these historical lands, and this has created a humanitarian catastrophe in Azerbaijan. Millions of Azerbaijanians were displaced around the country. And you can imagine the difficult choices which the government faced at that time, in the beginning of the 90s. And again, thanks to the wise decisions of our first national leader of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev, who managed to mobilize economy to sign a ceasefire agreement with the support of the mediators in 1994.

Within a very short period of time, Azerbaijan has signed dozens of oil and gas contracts in 1994. We signed the ceasefire agreement on 10th of May. On 24th of May we presented our framework partnership program to NATO and became a NATO partnership for peace country. And in September of 94, we've signed 21 biggest international contracts worth more than 250 billion of dollars, and this money has helped us to stabilize the country, to stand up and to put on a stable development economy and the society in general. That was one of the fundamental decisions which impacted on the perception how Azerbaijan has to develop and to pursue its policy in the region. So since 93, 94, up until now, Azerbaijan has been developing as a non-align, non-member country of any military or alliances blocs, and not a member of any economic unions. So, we are basing, providing our security and our stability based on our own people and our own resources. We are not covered by any security umbrella from East or West or North or anywhere. That is probably the benefit of it that we can feel independent. We can pursue our policy without due regard to their ambitions or geopolitics in the current world.

And I believe current generation of Azerbaijan is indeed getting the benefits of this policy because we see what is taking place around us. We see how countries of former Soviet Union are struggling to maintain their independence, while in our case, of course it is difficult to strengthen and to improve the situation, but I believe we are on a better part now than we were in the beginning of 90s. And that has brought a lot of trust and reliability to the policy of Azerbaijan. We are now recognized as a partner in many aspects.

In many respects, Azerbaijan has used its strong authority and position to open up the Caspian region for cooperation. We have managed to build transregional infrastructure for extracting and transporting the oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea countries, through the western markets, and the western markets are our major destination. Although we have 7 pipelines, only 4 of them are going into the Western directions that the diversification is an advantage in this respect so we are probably the only country which can be proud of this achievement, because this has taken a lot of efforts on the part of our country, to attract investors, to bring in technologies, to talk to your neighbors, and to convince them that this is not against the interest of your neighbors, but on the contrary, for the benefits of the region in general.

So we did not lose our times but did not depend on others; we relied on ourselves, and it helped us to build our economy, to build our military potential, to build our independence, and to bring up the living standards of Azerbaijanis to the high-level middle-income country which we are now developing country.

In the meantime we have also managed last year to restore our territorial integrity. These actions were based on the norms and principles of international law. We're acting in self-defense and also in line with the Charter of United Nations which provides us this right. In the meantime, we had carried out this military operation, counter-iteration with particular due regard to the humanitarian principles and norms. So now we have created a new reality in the region.

We are in favor of closing the chapter of the conflict. We're in favor of establishing normal, predictable and mutually beneficial relationships with all our neighbors, and we believe that this region has to be free of conflict, has to be free of dividing lines. It has to be free of foreign troops, I would say, it has to be seen as the source of inspiration, source of creativity, source of development, but not as a source of tension.

This is the policy of Azerbaijan in the current world and we are also investing a lot into the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the liberated territories. My appointment in Geneva from Vienna is also predictable. The government currently is more concentrated on the reintegration of Azerbaijani IDP's [identity provider’s] back into their territories where they live. That I am also working closely with the humanitarian structures which are present here, economic rehabilitation which is also necessary. Environmental rehabilitation of the territory, I'm working with a number of UN specialized agencies as well as other international organizations to bring their expertise and knowledge to help us with the rehabilitation. And of course, we are inviting the private sector, other neighboring regional countries to help us with those efforts.

 Francesco Pisano

So you mentioned when Azerbaijan recovered its independence and that was in 1991, it didn't waste a lot of time to join the UN. Actually, in March 92 Azerbaijan became a member of the United Nation. It's been 30 years, 2022 as we speak, and March is coming up soon, so I wanted to ask you as the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the UN, what assessment can we make today of your country’s experience in the UN, in these 30 years?

 Ambassador Galib Israfilov

We are not currently in the 90s, the period of romanticism is over and we're dealing with realpolitik now. UN is not immune from that. We joined the United Nations in 92. We joined other organizations with expectations that they would help us to overcome the challenges of transition. And United Nations indeed addressed the concerned Azerbaijan.

First of all, it accepted Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized boundaries, and we have pledged to implement and to fulfil our commitments which are under the UN Charter. So Azerbaijan by this has also contributed to the international peace and Security. 92, 93 were the first years of our restored independence and during those years United Nations have addressed through its main bodies, number of situations and we had in 1993 four resolutions of United Nations Security Council, which considered the situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia and determined that this was a threat to peace and security, have confirmed that Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding territories were part of Azerbaijan, and it has demanded complete unconditional and immediate withdrawal of occupying forces from the territories of Azerbaijan. The United Nations reaffirmed that use of force cannot be considered legitimate for changing the boundaries of the Member States and therefore has established sort of the frameworks for the resolution of the conflict back in 1993.

The UN General Assembly in 1993 adopted the emergency resolution on delivering the humanitarian assistance to Azerbaijan because of the massive flow of internally displaced persons and UN affiliated structures, UNHCR, UN specialized agencies, ICRC and others have helped us a lot in relieving this heavy burden on the shoulders of the government. And we are extremely thankful for the United Nations, for the specialized agencies for its institutions, which helped us in these early stages of state building, of institutional building in Azerbaijan and gradually we have built up that national capacity, and they transferred the ownership of all these processes to our local authorities. So that is one issue.

The second bulk of issue, that is related to economic activities and the UN has deployed a field mission in Azerbaijan, the UN Resident Coordinator is carrying out on a regular basis a number of activities in Azerbaijan, starting from social, economic and humanitarian activities, and this is also one of the tools that in general contribute to the success of the of international organization. Because we are tempting to judge the failures and success of international organizations based on the deliverables we receive from them. And in case of Azerbaijan our relationship with the United Nation has been a successful story, and we are happy that it is still ongoing, expanding and we would be happy to enrich it by small substance. We would like to see more pressing issues of concern such as climate change, such as gender balance, such as issues related to the alternative energy resources, or water, or SDGs in general, are also incorporated and in cooperation with the government, are addressed in Azerbaijan. We are working on these issues too.

So yes, this is a different, I would say, level of cooperation if we look back into the 90s because at the beginning, we were the recipients of the contribution, but now we are providers of security and we, together with the United Nations, were active in Afghanistan, in Iraq, or in Kosovo, and provided financial contributions and many projects and realized. So our reception of cooperation with United Nations till these three decades have changed and I'm looking forward to celebrating that date of accession to UN and Geneva.

 Francesco Pisano

Absolutely. And we were saying before, just in the beginning of the episode we were saying how different it is for a diplomat to serve on a bilateral post or to serve in a multilateral post. And I wanted to hear from you, what is your vision of multilateralism, being appointed in your early career as ambassador to countries, and now throughout your experience with the UN, Vietnam, New York and Geneva. Multilateralism, seen from the eyes of a permanent representative?

 Ambassador Galib Israfilov

Uh, it is a different feeling, a different philosophy for ambassadors who work in bilateral or in multilateral.

In bilateral it can be creative. You can be feeling the results of your activity; in multilateral, it's probably more a common exercise, a cooperative effort on the part of the international community or members of the organization. And it is a long-term process when you will start feeling the results of your activity. It's not like that you brought in the head of the institution to your country and then you will get these immediate results. No, it's a long road with its own ups and downs.

A lot depends on the environment in which the multilateralism is functioning. We are for strengthening multilateralism, because we believe that for small countries like Azerbaijan, especially, which is not covered by any security guarantees or in a member of any blocs or alliances, the multilateralism is the best platform to protect and promote your interests.

On the other hand, multilateralism is also as a good tool to ensure and to strengthen respect for international law and international principles, interstate behavior, because through multilateralism, [we] can enforce certain modes of plenty of Member States and you can make the situation more predictable, more stable, and even under control because of the toolboxes that multilateral institutions possess. In bilateral that is impossible to achieve, and you are probably aware of that. So Azerbaijan is one of the believers in the multilateralism and in international law. Although we see that the power of force now dominates over international law, we would not like to lose this architecture of international security, which is based and premised on the respect to the norms and principles of international law.

 Francesco Pisano

Yeah, and I think this is common to all small countries, all small countries are aware that one of the basic principles for the existence of the UN was to provide them with this security framework in which they feel protected, and they feel together at the same time and actually one of the most famous quotes about the UN goes that, it was created not for the big ones; they don't need it. It was created for the small ones they need it the most. And actually several Permanent Representatives today come back to the principle of being a small country in the UN is being, in a way, at the center of the original philosophy of multilateralism.

How do you see the future of multilateralism in this rapidly changing world? You mentioned 30 years in UN. For the past 30 years there have been so many changes. And when we project the next couple of decades, we see more change is coming at higher speed. So when you look at the world today, seen from small countries engaged among themselves and with the UN in this thing that we call multilateralism, how do you see it in a couple of decades from now, when, for example, will be beyond the famous 2030, that means so much in terms of our collective engagement on climate, prosperity, the planet? What is your view?

 Ambassador Galib Israfilov

I believe that the challenges we face, they define the mode of response that we take. If we take, for instance the COVID pandemics, one can hardly claim that it is limited to the boundaries of one state. No. It is a global pandemic, and it doesn't see and doesn't know the borders and the cooperation between the Member States of United Nations as well as cooperation, within the WTO, strengthening and empowering WHO with necessary resources, providing the legal basis for actions. Of course, this is the strength of the multilateralism which can provide it. And I'm hopeful that we can achieve and succeed in that, because without achievement, we can hardly defeat this pandemic.

On the other hand, if we take hard security matters, for instance, the contradictions existing between different centers of gravity I would call it like this, and mass media, which is on one hand, sort of exaggerating the current perception of risk and security, and the societal assessment of that risk, how ordinary people understand and relate towards those risks? That impacts on the position of Member States within multilateralism.

Then of course, the advantages of multilateralism are somehow luring, and one can hardly believe in the strength of the multilateralism if it sees tanks or rockets on its border and it has to take some sort of measures to secure its people and population.

So there are several sort of defining factors of environment within which multilateralism still exists and functions. In one case, multilateralism is effective as it is with pandemics in response to the disease. In other cases, if we take, for instance, hard security topics and problems, it is not than other forms of interaction and cooperation, or other formats probably can be more effective. So I'm not dogmatic in that sense. I'm more in favor of a flexible approach.

If United Nations in 1945, established as a body to prevent the humanity from the scourge of war, has fulfilled its certain role within this span of time, of I don't know how many years has passed since that, maybe we have to look again at this constellation within the United Nations system, and see maybe the number of states which can take also more responsibility in terms of peace and security and have grown up. Maybe we can change the number of Security Council, permanent members, maybe the number of non-permanent members can be increased. And these discussions are necessary to bring multilateralism in pace with the challenges and threats which exist, so that is the feeling I experience, I would say, in a 5- or 10-year term probably this would be the expected results.

Francesco Pisano

And this seems like a good point to wrap up our conversation. But before we do that, any final thought that you want our audience to remember?

 Ambassador Galib Israfilov

It's important for me, I would probably base this on my own experience, to work to achieve justice, and whatever it takes, it's necessary to work towards that objective. And if someone sees injustice and can contribute to correcting this situation, rectifying it, I am in favor of justice. I would be willing to see the world more just and fair in the future.

 Francesco Pisano

Well, thank you for that.

Ambassador Galib Israfilov, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us on this episode of The Next Page.

 Ambassador Galib Israfilov

Thank you, Director Pisano, for this opportunity. I appreciate your colleagues' efforts.

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