The following is the second part of our interview with Elin Suleymanov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Azerbaijan to the UK, Ireland, Denmark, and Iceland. You can find the first part here.
The more influential Azerbaijan grows as a regional player, the greater the risks it faces
Mr. Ambassador, we know that at the time of the attack on our embassy in London in August you were on vacation in Baku. But now you are back in the office and you have been briefed on all the details of the incident. Could you share any updates regarding the investigation of the attack?
The August 4 attack on the Embassy of Azerbaijan in London came as quite a surprise. You know that before that I worked in Washington and Los Angeles, where our embassy and Consulate General were attacked by Armenians. And now there were attacks recently in Paris and Washington. When I was working in Washington, there were serious attacks on the embassy, certain security measures were taken, I remember how we were dealing with that. And there were, of course, attacks in Los Angeles when I was Consul General until 2011, there were serious attacks, including against me personally. But the attack in London happened in a rather unexpected way. There are still a lot of unclear questions that need to be answered. What we know at this stage is that the attack was organized by the UK-based radical group Mahdi Servants, who claim to be political refugees. They are a radical religious group. They chose the month of Muharram for their attack.
We are working very closely with the British in this matter and we appreciate their support. The investigation is still ongoing. The Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan are in constant contact with the British side. There are regular consultations. Naturally, the law enforcement agencies of Azerbaijan are also involved in the process. For example, a group from our Prosecutor General’s Office came here. So, the investigation is underway. But it is difficult to say for now what it will lead to, what the consequences will be. This radical group has a bad record of attacks on embassies. They have also attacked other diplomatic missions before. That is, this is not new behavior for them. Although there are a lot of questions.
For my part, I am very relieved that no one was injured in the attacks on our embassy in London, on the embassy car in Washington, Paris and Beirut. This is the most important thing. The lives and health of our diplomats is an absolute priority for all of us. There has always been danger. In 2009-2010, there were serious attacks on me personally in Los Angeles. Then there were attempts to break into the Consulate General. In London, the security situation is a little more complicated, because the traditions are different here, you cannot build a fence, and the police do not carry guns. So the perception of danger for embassies here is not the same as in the United States. I believe that our law enforcement authorities, together with their British colleagues, will find out in the course of the investigation how it happened. But one thing is clear: the more influential Azerbaijan grows as a regional player, the greater the risks will be, including incidents like this one, symbolic in nature. Probably because a successful Azerbaijan, with its a multicultural and open society where very different ethnic and religious groups can coexist, is a source of frustration. Radicals are not happy with this, and neither are those who support them.
By the way, the group that attacked our diplomatic mission is so radical that it is not even accepted by the other radical groups that exist here. This is a very interesting point. Most of their activity consists in insulting other Muslims. This is their calling card. That is, they mainly attack Muslim groups, insult them, they made some very insulting film about the family of the Prophet. I find this kind of behavior outrageous. I personally, for example, have great respect for the memory of Imam Hussein, our prophet, and his family. I once said in an interview that it was completely unacceptable and wrong to use the name of the greatest man in the history of Islam, Imam Hussein, at the time of Ashura for some provocative purposes. For me personally, as a Muslim, this is simply unacceptable.
Embassies neither in the UK nor in the US have the same level of protection as in Azerbaijan
How is our embassy being protected now? What measures have been taken? Has security been increased?
I think we need to look at the issue more comprehensively. In Azerbaijan, embassies of foreign countries are protected very strictly and seriously by the state. Our law enforcement agencies do their best to ensure their complete security. In fact, I have not yet seen this level of protection of embassies outside of Azerbaijan. There may be other countries that do it at this level, but I have not seen anything like it in the countries where I have worked, be it the United States or the United Kingdom. Of course, certain security measures have been taken, but they are limited. First of all, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations the safety of diplomats and embassies within the territory of a state is the responsibility of the host country, in this case the UK. We are grateful that the British side fully recognizes and has repeatedly formally affirmed its commitments under the Vienna Convention.
As for embassy security itself, I would rather not go into details, because it is a sensitive issue. But again, this is not so simple. For example, in London, all embassy buildings face the street. Our embassy is right next to other embassies. Next to us are the embassies of Belarus, Mongolia and Grenada. The doors of the diplomatic missions literally open right out into the street. There are certain rules, say, in London’s municipal or architectural management system, which do not allow any changes to the exterior of the building. So these issues have to be addressed in a balanced form.
Some countries, particularly the United States, use their own marines to guard their embassies around the world. Couldn’t we also adopt this practice, given that being an Azerbaijani diplomat today is becoming unsafe?
Some of our embassies have security personnel sent from Azerbaijan. The question of whether or not to send physical security personnel to a particular country should be and is decided by professionals based on the assessment of existing threats. But there are also local specifics of the host countries to consider. That is, Britain has its rules, other countries have their own rules. Some allow it, some do not, somewhere carrying weapons is allowed, and somewhere it is not. In London, for example, even the local police do not carry weapons. And then there are the embassy buildings themselves: the question of whether additional security personnel are allowed to be there. But again, we ultimately come back to the fact that the responsibility for the safety of embassies and diplomats lies with the host country. You saw with the attack on our embassy in London that ladders were put up, radicals were trying to get into the second floor of the building through the balcony. It is quite difficult to prevent this, because they did it from the street. These things have to be taken into account as well. I believe it is a matter of professional assessment by security specialists.
Armenian radicals do not want even Armenia to do well
The information about the attack on our embassy car in Washington somehow unequivocally stated that it was the doing of Armenian radicals. What do you think was the basis for such conclusions?
A certain pattern has been established in the United States. If this had been an isolated case, maybe we could consider other versions. But this was not an isolated case. There were attacks on the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington and the Consulate General in Los Angeles, there were also attacks on our embassies in Beirut and Paris and there was a threat of attack in Brussels. And by the way, going back to my personal experience again, in 2020 there was an attempt to violently break into the embassy in Washington. That is, this is not the first incident of this kind, so these conclusions are natural. In any case, we will, of course, follow the progress of the investigation. I understand that our colleagues have handed over the camera footage to the Americans, who are to investigate the incident. We must not forget that two Turkish consuls general were shot dead in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Americans released the terrorist Hampig Sassounian, who committed this crime, and he is in Armenia now. By the way, his brother is the leader of ANCA, a radical organization affiliated with the Dashnaks, and is himself a staunch Dashnak. In California, his name is Harut Sasounian and he is the publisher of The California Courier, an online newspaper, a very aggressive radical Armenian publication.
Another Armenian terrorist, Mourad Topalian, tried to blow up the Turkish Mission to the UN, and US citizens were also injured back then. But he, too, after serving some time, was released, then returned and headed an Armenian organization, and now he meets with members of the Congress and so on. So there are precedents in the US. I will also say that the United States has a Diplomatic Security Service, which is a branch of the Department of State. This agency is essentially in charge of security for diplomats and visiting VIP guests. It is noteworthy that of all the embassies operating in the United States, the largest amount of money is spent on the security of the Turkish diplomatic missions—not Israeli or any other, but the Turkish ones. And it is clear who the Turks need to be protected from. So, there is actually a danger on the US soil, they know about it and recognize it, so I believe there are many reasons to assume that Armenian radicals are most likely behind the attack. Admittedly, we still have to wait for the results of the investigation. Let’s see what the Americans will have to say about it.
As I said, many, including Armenians, or rather Armenian radicals, are bothered by Azerbaijan’s success. But I think their goal is not only Azerbaijan. Their goal is to prevent a peaceful resolution of the situation in the region, to prevent normalization from happening. They do not want peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is not even that they do not want Azerbaijan to do well, but they do not want even Armenia to do well. Apparently, Armenian radicals outside of Armenia want Armenia to be miserable. Any reasonable person understands that normalization with Azerbaijan and Turkey, the opening of communications, delimitation of borders—what our leadership is talking about—pave the way to investments, the way to the growth of the prosperity of the Armenian people, first and foremost. We, as a result of Mr. President’s policy, are doing well as it is. But they do not want this—why? There is a group of people who do not want this, because their ideological mindset simply does not allow them to understand and see the benefits of these measures for their country. But there are also those who deliberately oppose it, because then they will lose their influence and will no longer be puppeteers.
Of course, it is not the entire Armenian diaspora, that is, not all Armenians living abroad, that adheres to this radically destructive stance. There are absolutely normal people among them. However, there is a very determined radical group that opposes real positive changes for Armenia. It is important that our Armenian neighbors understand that in this case, strange as it may seem to them, Azerbaijan is the main guarantor and supporter of the future wellbeing of the Armenian people. We are neighbors, and who are they going to build normal relations, get investments and build transport and communication corridors with if not with us? When they say “let’s not build communications and transport”, it means self-isolation. This is interesting, especially seeing how they accused us of trying to isolate them before. And now they themselves are resisting our attempt to de-isolate them.
Translated from 1news.az