Tahir Taghizadeh has completed his seven-year tenure in London as Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
On July 23, by the order of the President of Azerbaijan, he was appointed Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Hungary.
In his interview, Tahir Taghizadeh talks about the most significant and interesting things in the relationship between Azerbaijan and the UK as its important partner, the fight against Armenian propaganda during the Patriotic War of 2020, the challenges in the time of a global pandemic, the future prospects, and about how seven years in the United Kingdom have changed him.
“On the one hand, of course, seven years is not seven days. But we must understand that this is Great Britain we are talking about, a country with almost a thousand-year-old parliamentary traditions that played a significant role in the development of the entire South Caucasus 100 years ago, during the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. With this centuries-old colossus, seven years may not seem so long,” Mr. Taghizadeh says with a smile.
Still, there are evident, indisputable results. According to Mr. Taghizadeh, the main one is the fact that Great Britain, represented by the government, parliament and society, has been there for Azerbaijan at every crucial moment during this entire period. Not only was Great Britain’s position based on the principles and rules of international law, but in many respects, it echoed Azerbaijan’s policy, approaches and actions in the foreign policy arena.
Among the more tangible achievements, the ambassador named the creation of a mechanism for inter-ministerial consultations, the revitalization of the intergovernmental commission, the extension of BP’s contract in Azerbaijan, as well as the resolution of the Scottish Parliament (2017) giving a political and legal assessment of the events in Khojaly, the incorporation of the Nizami Ganjavi Center in Oxford university, consolidating the presence of Azerbaijan on the cultural and educational scene of Great Britain.
According to the diplomat, the general tone of coverage of Azerbaijan-related events in the British media has gradually changed over the past seven years: “With the exception of The Guardian, who spews occasionally still hatred towards Azerbaijan, all other British publications keep to an even line when covering the events in our country and the South Caucasus in general. This is a natural outcome of the purposeful, transparent and logical policy of the Azerbaijani leadership. It also reflects, to some extent, the active work of the embassy to get this position across to the world community.”
Fighting against Armenian propaganda
The confrontation with Armenian propaganda turned from diplomatic to public during the 44-day war. According to Mr. Taghizadeh, his online debates with representatives of the Armenian diaspora became regular, often stepping beyond the parliamentary discussion format.
One of these was his online meeting with Serge Tankian, an American musician of Armenian origin, lead vocalist of heavy metal band System of a Down, live on the air of RT UK. “For all intents and purposes, it was a shootout. These are, of course, particulars, but often they form the overall picture.”
The ambassador brought up another instance of such particulars: “Russell Pollard, editor at the largest newspaper in Derby, is also the administrator of a large website dedicated to Karabakh. His sympathies are definitely not on the side of Azerbaijan. As a result of his vigorous activity, the Derby City Council passed a resolution to formally recognize the “Independence of the Republic of Artsakh”. This resolution, of course, has no political force, but it does create an unnecessary precedent.”
Since it is impossible to change the resolution of the city council, the embassy’s goal, Tahir Taghizadeh says, was to prevent a chain reaction that would make this phenomenon a mass trend, distorting the British public’s perception of the situation in the region. He is confident that this goal was achieved.
Peculiarity of British society
According to Mr. Taghizadeh, the peculiarity of British society played a part in this matter: “Becoming British, one often loses one’s ethnic and genetic ties. “British” is a compact concept that restraints its subjects. Therefore, the problem here is not very acute, but it was still present.”
The diplomat gave credit to the Azerbaijani diaspora, which has been very active since the aggravation of the situation on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border in Tovuz in July 2020 and during the 44-day war.
“We did our best to support, guide and inform them. In late July last year, the Azerbaijanis of Great Britain marched from the BBC building to the Parliament building. Large and coordinated groups of Armenians from Belgium, France and other countries arrived for a counter-rally. Still, compared with the confrontations in other parts of the world, it was of a slightly different, non-violent nature in Great Britain.
“This march has shown that when we are together, organized and united, we are a force—a force to be reckoned with for anyone who tries to encroach on the territorial integrity and reputation of Azerbaijan.
“I truly believe that when there is a spark of patriotism in a person’s soul and a desire to support the colossal work carried out by the leadership of Azerbaijan, a shared urge that brought the whole country together during the liberation war, there is a way.”
The Baroness Cox incident
Although British society as a whole maintains a fairly balanced attitude to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, there are individuals who openly sympathize with the aggressor. One of those individuals is Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the House of Lords.
A member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Armenia, she has repeatedly illegally visited Karabakh during the years of Armenian occupation, and her support for Armenia crystallized as open propaganda of Armenian separatism. Misrepresenting the very essence of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, she spoke of it as an interreligious conflict between a Christian and a Muslim country.
“Of course, debates with the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Armenia are usually pointedly polemical, but Lady Cox crosses every line with her outrageously unreasonable actions and judgments.”
In September 2020, shortly before the beginning of the 44-day war, Baroness Cox sent a congratulatory letter to the illegal puppet regime in Karabakh on the occasion of its 29th anniversary. Ambassador Taghizadeh responded by sending her a personal letter, which was made public.
“That letter was an isolated incident. I did something I would have never done if it had been anyone else. But since Lady Cox considers it acceptable to publish her letters to me in the Armenian media before sending them to the intended recipient, I decided to do the same this time.”
The baroness’s beliefs are shared by a very small group of people in the UK, but it was still important for the Azerbaijani Embassy to make sure that the rhetoric around the conflict did not change and the number of people who would join the discussion of the issue with a default anti-Azerbaijani attitude did not grow.
“Our objective was to not to allow the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, an unambiguous case of territorial claims, expansionism and aggression of one state against another, to be presented as a process of confessional, ethnic and religious nature.
“I hope that we have succeeded. The last thing I want is to quote the founder of the Jesuit Order Ignatius Loyola, but in this case the end did justify the means, both parliamentary and non-parliamentary ones.”
The COVID-19 pandemic obviously introduced certain changes in the embassy’s life. Since the liberation war of Azerbaijan took place during the pandemic, Ambassador Taghizadeh had to work with British officials, experts, analysts and media via videoconference. He himself finds the experience very interesting and effective.
“It certainly has been an adjustment, and the pandemic perhaps slowed down some processes, but it did not stop us from organizing important trips to Baku by UK’s Minister for European Neighbourhood Wendy Morton in February and Minister for Exports Graham Stuart in May. Both visits took place in the pandemic, but they were no less productive.”
Economic interaction between the two countries also continues despite the restrictions. During periods of absence of regular flights, communications were maintained, first of all, through special and charter flights.
“Pandemic or no pandemic, Azerbaijan continues to be the largest national partner for BP on a global scale, and the UK continues to be the largest source of direct financial investments in Azerbaijan.”
What puzzles Mr. Ambassador is Azerbaijan being on the UK’s “amber list” (average in terms of the severity of rules for entering the country). After all, the vaccination rate in Azerbaijan is higher, and the infection rate is lower than in many countries on the “green list”.
“However, the first step towards moving Azerbaijan from the amber list to the green list has already been taken: the British Foreign Ministry has withdrawn the recommendation to refrain from traveling to Azerbaijan unless absolutely necessary. I hope that Azerbaijan will soon be on the green list.”
Not by energy alone
In recent years, even with the challenges created by the pandemic, the number of British companies represented in Azerbaijan has exceeded 600, and the process continues. Interestingly, the profiles of more than half of them have nothing to do with the energy sector, which is still the backbone of the Azerbaijani economy.
According to Mr. Taghizadeh, a little less than half of these 600 companies are engaged in the energy sector and related areas, that is, service providers. More than half are in logistics, banking, environmental, and service (both commercial and legal) sectors.
“Of course, the pandemic makes certain adjustments to economic relations, but to me, two aspects are much more important.
“First and foremost is the interest of the UK state and the private sector in the development of renewable energy sources (RES), in the development of a green economy and involvement in this process in Azerbaijan.
“Another issue of importance here, in my opinion, is the development of the liberated territories of Azerbaijan. There are agreements on the UK’s involvement in demining the liberated territories, as well as on the participation of British companies in the restoration, reconstruction and redevelopment of a number of liberated regions of Azerbaijan.”
Here Mr. Ambassador points out that the contract to design a masterplan for the reconstruction of the city of Shusha has been awarded to UK architecture company Chapman Taylor (who also designed Deniz Mall in Baku), and BP is involved in the construction of a 240 MW solar power plant in Zangilan and Jabrayil.
Oil and gas give way to green energy
London and Baku are actively cooperating on the issue of switching from traditional hydrocarbon energy resources to renewable ones. Does Mr. Taghizadeh see this global transition as a positive or as a negative for Azerbaijan?
“The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will take place in Glasgow this November,” the diplomat says. “Discussions will have a direct bearing on global climate change. Each of the states has certain obligations to reduce harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
“We must understand that while the role of hydrocarbons is invaluable and for a long time they have been and continue to be the backbone of the development of the Azerbaijani economy, we also need to think about the future. It is no secret that BP, one of the giants of the global energy sector, is also thinking about the transition to green energy.
“This strategic vision of Azerbaijan’s development also informs the initiatives of the President of the country in the field of renewable energy sources. Ilham Aliyev has stated quite unequivocally and repeatedly that the liberated territories will develop on the principles of smart cities and green energy.
“The development of RES does not mean that the whole world will suddenly stop using oil and gas tomorrow. However, these technologies are the future.”
After such a long time in a foreign country, one cannot help feeling its influence. Speaking of the mark London has left on him over the past seven years, Ambassador Taghizadeh says, “Living outside the home country for so long cannot but have an impact on a person. The main thing is not to allow it to change the essence of your personality. True, you can feel a little touch of the British spirit after seven years, but it is all right as long as you are aware of your priorities as a diplomat and as a citizen.
“I have always yearned for home and I still do. But many years in the diplomatic service teach you that when you are not in your homeland, the homeland should be with you—in your heart and soul, in your thoughts and plans.
“Diplomacy is not just an occupation for me, it is my life’s work. If the head of state considers my experience and my modest abilities worthy enough to continue to represent the interests of Azerbaijan abroad, I will willingly and wholly devote myself to this cause.”
Translated from 1news.az