“Every third car in Czechia runs on Azerbaijani oil”
Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: archive
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Azerbaijan gained its independence, H.E. Mr. Adish Mammadov wanted to take part in state-building in the country. This made him pursue a political career, alongside the former academic one, ever since. In 2000, he decided to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in 2020 was appointed the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the Czech Republic. How does he feel in the role of a diplomat? And how does he describe the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU countries?
You are successfully pursuing two demanding careers. How did this happen?
I was born in 1968, and graduated from Baku University in 1991, majoring in mathematics. In 1992-95, I conducted some scientific research at Baku University, and after defending my doctoral thesis in 1995, I started my career as a lecturer at the University. In those years, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Azerbaijan just gained its independence. The process of state-building was still ongoing in the country, and as a young and energetic person, I wanted to be a part of this process. For this purpose, in 1996, I had to change from my beloved University auditorium to the Humanitarian Policy Department of the President’s office.
The years I mentioned were the most difficult time for my country. Azerbaijan was subjected to military aggression by Armenia, and 20% of the country’s territory was occupied by the Armenian military units. As a result of this act of aggression, more than 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, and over 1 million Azerbaijanis were expelled from their homeland and became displaced. One out of every nine people in the country was an internally displaced person who had lost everything, and the state was experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe in the true sense of the word. All these problems conditioned me to seriously delve into the history of international relations and foreign policy. As such, in 2000, while furthering my studies at the Faculty of International Relations and International Law of Baku University – where I started my research on ethno-confessional conflicts – I decided to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. By the way, I am the author of two books on military-political conflicts, and numerous articles published in domestic and foreign scientific journals.
My monograph, titled “Political-legal Aspects of the Settlement of Internal Conflicts”, will soon be published as well.
While at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one gets promoted step by step to various positions. My first posting to a foreign country as a diplomat was in Iran, and I must admit that my tenure at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran was a great “school” for me. Upon returning from Tehran, I worked in various positions at the Ministry. There is a beautiful adage: “A fool is a soldier who does not live with the dream of becoming a general”. My dream of becoming the ambassador of Azerbaijan finally came true in 2013, when I was appointed to the Kingdom of Sweden. Since 2020, I have been acting as the Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Czech Republic.
Tell us more about your country.
Azerbaijan is not only a mysterious country located in the Caucasus, but also a unique bridge between the East and the West. The name of the country and the history of these lands go back to Alexander the Great. In fact, Azerbaijan was much larger than the borders of today’s Republic of Azerbaijan. In 1828, at the end of the Russo-Iranian war, Azerbaijan was divided into two parts between Russia and Iran, and during the Soviet Union period, part of Azerbaijan’s territory was given to the neighbouring nations by the order of the Kremlin. In 1918, the people of Azerbaijan founded the first republic in the entire Muslim East – the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. At that time, progressive laws were adopted in the country, and democratic reforms were implemented. For example, at that time, while many European countries (who today have high democratic values) did not have women’s suffrage, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic granted the vote to all adult women. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, our people regained their own state, and declared the independent Republic of Azerbaijan. Today, Azerbaijan is a very active member of such international organizations as the UN and Non-Aligned Movement, as well as a number of important European political institutions and regional organizations. Azerbaijan is a country rich in oil and gas deposits, and with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the TANAP-TAP natural gas pipelines, it wants to play a role, not only in the energy security of Europe but that of the entire world. In addition to these energy projects, Azerbaijan also contributes to the dynamic development of the world economy by being an important link in the North-South and East- West transit-cargo projects.
The people of Azerbaijan are a nation with an ancient and rich culture. Since the country is geographically located at the crossroads of different civilizations, elements of these civilizations can be found in the culture and traditions of the people. Today, Azerbaijan has a multicultural society, where dozens of minority peoples, as well as representatives of different religions, live in harmony. Tolerance has become a part of state policy. We are rightly known in the world as a country rich in oil and gas. However, as Azerbaijani people, we think that our wealth lies in the fact that we have a multicultural society, and tolerance as a way of life.
You have already been working in the Czech Republic for three years. Do you still remember your first impression?
As I mentioned earlier, on 12th March 2020, I was appointed as an ambassador to the Czech Republic by the head of state. In those days, the alarm about the COVID-19 pandemic had just sounded. I was able to arrive in Prague only at the end of June due to the postponement of flights, and the implementation of the lockdown regime in different countries. The city of Prague, which I love very much, was in bad shape due to the pandemic – the streets were empty, restaurants were closed, it was impossible to meet anyone, etc. Thankfully, this boring situation came to an end and beautiful Prague returned to its normal pace.
What is the most difficult part of being an ambassador?
First of all, let me say that working in another country as a diplomat is a wonderful feeling. Throughout a diplomatic career, one works in different countries and experiences joyful and/or challenging moments in those countries. Essentially, you become a part of that society, and learn the culture and traditions of that particular people. Therefore, I think that every diplomat should be able to not only respect but also love the country where he/she works, as well as the people of that particular country. Nevertheless, along with such wonderful feelings, ambassadors, as the heads of diplomatic missions, have to deal with this or that problem. For example, you come across fake news about your country in the host country ́s media, and you see that this information is not accidental, but part of the propaganda against your country. Or one of the main figures of a certain political party gives false information to the public by distorting the political processes in the country you represent, either knowingly or unknowingly. Undoubtedly, ambassadors have to “sweat” in order to eliminate such problems. The most undesirable situation for ambassadors is the presence of unfriendly relations between the country they represent and the receiving country.
The security problems of a diplomatic mission and its employees are also of constant concern. It is true that the Czech Republic pays high attention to these issues, and, availing myself of this opportunity, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the law enforcement agencies of the Czech Republic. Nonetheless, for example, the attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in London by radical Islamists last year, or the fact that a terrorist armed with an automatic weapon entered the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Tehran, in front of the Iranian police, committing a terrorist act which resulted in the death of a security official, are both vivid examples that, even today, diplomatic missions face security issues.
What do you do to enjoy your free time in Prague?
My wife and I very much like to walk along the Vltava River on weekends. In fact, Prague might be a standard European city with its architecture, but at the same time, it has a very unique soft and beautiful soul. You never get tired of living in this city. In my free time, I also meet my Czech friends now and then. I love music as well, which is partly because I have a musical education. Music is a divine sound to me. Depending on my mood, I listen to several genres of music, whether it is national music, pop, jazz, or classical. Reading is indispensable to me too. To be honest, I used to read a lot of books on the history of international relations. Now I am more interested in the history and cultures of world nations.
Does your country want to join the EU and NATO?
After declaring its independence, the Republic of Azerbaijan has become a member of numerous European political institutions. Over the past few years, a lot has been done in Azerbaijan for better governance through reforms, including in the field of legislation. Today, we can readily say that Azerbaijan is a part of the big European family. There are bilateral agreements of the Republic of Azerbaijan on close cooperation and strategic partnership with nine EU countries. Currently, the EU and Azerbaijan are also negotiating a new comprehensive agreement that will allow for enhanced cooperation in a wide range of areas – this is expected to be signed soon. Economic cooperation between the EU countries and Azerbaijan is expanding day by day. Today, Azerbaijan supplies a number of European countries with crude oil, as well as natural gas via the Southern Gas Corridor. With the new Memorandum of Understanding on a Strategic Partnership in the Field of Energy – signed last year by the President of Azerbaijan Mr. Ilham Aliyev and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – Azerbaijan is committed to doubling the capacity of the Southern Gas Corridor, delivering at least 20 billion cubic metres to the EU annually by 2027. Apart from that, Azerbaijan is also implementing a huge project that will deliver electricity produced in Azerbaijan to Europe. In other words, a new chapter has been opened in Azerbaijan-EU relations, and our country has become a key partner of the EU in the South Caucasus.
As a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Republic of Azerbaijan does not intend to join any military-political bloc. In the words of Great Atatürk, Azerbaijan lives by the principle of “peace in the country, peace in the world”, and supports the establishment of peace and tranquillity – both in the region and across the world. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan is closely cooperating with NATO and contributing to its peace efforts. For example, within the framework of NATO’s partnership for peace program, the Azerbaijani military contingent has been closely involved in ensuring stability in Afghanistan.
What is the current status of Czech-Azerbaijani relations?
Azerbaijani-Czech relations are based on friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation, and this year we are already celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Political relations between our countries are at a high level. In 2015, during the official visit of President Miloš Zeman to Baku, relations were brought to a new level with the strategic partnership agreement signed between the two countries. Azerbaijan is also the largest trading partner of the Czech Republic in the South Caucasus, as Azerbaijan accounts for approximately 80% of the Czech trade turnover with the Caucasian countries.
It is worth mentioning that one in every three cars in the streets of the Czech Republic is fuelled by Azerbaijani oil. By the way, currently, negotiations between ČEZ and SOCAR are underway regarding natural gas, and I believe that these negotiations will have a positive outcome in the near future.
There are great opportunities for Czech companies and Czech businesses in Azerbaijan. Such business opportunities became even more available after the liberation of Azerbaijani territories from a nearly 30-year-long occupation by Armenia. Azerbaijan now aims to fully recover the liberated territories. Despite the fact that the scale of the devastation makes the economic recovery process complex and time-consuming, Azerbaijan wants to transform the liberated territories into areas of high-tech development. New roads, new airports, new towns – everything is being rebuilt, and billions of dollars are invested in these projects by the Azerbaijani government and foreign investors. As with other foreign companies, Czech companies are also welcome to participate in these construction projects. Today, Free Economic Zones are being created in Azerbaijan, and foreign companies are offered incredible concessions to operate in these zones. Considering that there is a large market around Azerbaijan, where at least 500 million people live, the products produced by the Czech companies that will operate in the Free Economic Zones can be delivered to Central Asia, the Middle East, and other nearby regions in a short period of time, and with the most reasonable transportation costs. I hope that Czech companies will appreciate such opportunities.
In May, you celebrate the Independence Day of Azerbaijan. What do you wish for our two countries on this occasion?
28th May 1918 is the day when the national statehood of the Azerbaijani people was established. Therefore, May 28th is a solemn day for the people of Azerbaijan. Throughout history, my people have experienced many challenges. From time to time, Azerbaijan was subjected to invasions, and its land was divided, but it always found the strength and courage to stand up and make great sacrifices in order to exist as a nation. By chanting “The flag once raised will never fall”, the Azerbaijani people were finally able to realize their sacred dreams. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, “black forces” also appeared, who wanted to break up the weak Azerbaijan that regained its independence. However, under the leadership of Heydar Aliyev, the founder of the modern Azerbaijani statehood, the people were able to protect the independence of Azerbaijan, and ensure the integration of the country into the modern world.
Today’s Azerbaijan is very different from yesterday’s. We want to build Azerbaijan for tomorrow, which will be stronger with its potential capabilities, able to benefit the political and economic systems of the world, and be the center of gravity of the region. Those days are not far away.
The destinies of the Czech and Azerbaijani peoples in the 20th century are very similar. Maybe that’s why we understand each other better than other countries and peoples of Europe. We want to see the Czech Republic stronger and more developed, and our friendly Czech people even more prosperous. And, of course, I wish that the solid relations of friendship and cooperation between Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic will last forever.