Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

La lettre diplometque
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Diplomatie & Défense
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  S.E.M./H.E. Ilham Aliyev

“We want to transform our oil wealth into human capital.”

Bolstered by its vast oil resources, Azerbaijan is playing a key role in the South Caucasus, a pivotal meeting point for Europe, Russia and Asia. Determined to build stronger ties with Europe, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev made his first state visit to France this past January. He talks to our readers about the importance of French-Azerbaijani relations, in view of his campaign to diversify the national economy and heighten stability in this highly strategic region.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr President, you made your first state visit to France on 29-31 January of this year. Are you pleased with how things went? Have any advances come out of this visit? France is the co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. Do you think the group’s mediation efforts could lead to real progress in the conflict between your country and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh?

H.E. Ilham Aliyev: I would like to start by emphasizing that I did indeed chose France for my first official foreign visit after being elected president, in January 2004. It was likewise no coincidence that our national leader Heydar Aliyev made his first official visit as head of state to France. This shows just how important our country deems its relations with France. We are successfully strengthening these ties in several areas, starting with the political, economic and cultural arenas. Our two countries maintain an active political dialogue, bolstered by mutual visits at various levels of government.
Considering another field, France’s leading firms have been operating very successfully in our country for many years, both in the energy sector and the non-oil sector. My state visit to France this past January was a resounding success on this level as well. In fact, all of the meetings that took place during my visit were of great importance for enhancing ties between France and Azerbaijan all across the board. At the end of my visit, our two countries adopted a joint declaration and signed nine agreements concerning the economy, tourism, and the humanitarian and social sectors. French firms once again confirmed their strong interest in investing in Azerbaijan’s economic development. Another important outgrowth of my visit to France was the decision to organize the Year of Azerbaijan in France and the Year of France in Azerbaijan.
As for the second half of your question, I would like to underscore that France, as co-chair of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group, is directly involved and actively participating in negotiation seeking a solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. France has made its position on this conflict clear time and again. Its stand is also clearly laid out in the joint declaration adopted during my last visit to France, which emphasizes that France supports Azerbaijan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. What’s more, in all the various discussions I have had with French leaders, they have repeatedly confirmed that France is eager to see the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh resolved as quickly as possible. During Mr. Jacques Chirac’s presidency, French officials have all stressed that France will spare no effort to help resolve this conflict.

T.D.L.: The European Union recently adopted a joint action plan with Azerbaijan. Has this helped reinforce your country’s ties to Europe and its structures, in particular by spurring closer economic integration? Has there been any headway in efforts to bring Azerbaijan’s legislation into line with that of the EU? What can the EU do to help find a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh?

H.E.I.A.: Our cooperation with the European Union is moving forward in a positive direction as well. Our country has joined the European Neighbor Program and signed a 5-year plan for close cooperation with the EU, opening up a brand-new phase in our relations. This plan lays the bedrock for expanding our ties in a multitude of areas in the coming years. This process will play a key role in Azerbaijan’s future development. Thanks to the new neighbor plan adopted for the next five years, we will be able to align our criteria with that of the EU. We are actively working on this in our country. We have taken concrete steps to harmonize our national legislation with both international and European standards, in order to establish a judicial base that fosters closer cooperation with international organizations as well as the EU. We have every intention of making Azerbaijan a modern and democratic country, a country that is a strong and credible partner at both the economic and political levels. I hope the new European Neighbor Program will help us reach this goal. Over the next five years, we will push ahead with economic reforms and strengthen our regional ties as well as bilateral ties between Azerbaijan and the EU. We also intend to continue enacting political reforms. Fully restoring the supremacy of the law and pushing forward with the democratization process in Azerbaijan will help us achieve all of our goals.
As far as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is concerned, I am very keen to point out that the EU, along with international organizations, recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The EU reconfirmed its position during my visit to Brussels in 2006. The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, stated that the EU recognizes and fully supports Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. This stand is also inscribed in the action plan we have adopted with the EU. It should also be pointed out that this agreement contends that Azerbaijan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity will help maintain peace and stability.
It is, however, regrettable that Armenia has rejected the EU’s position, the same way it has rejected the stand taken by international organizations. Armenia is violating every principle and standard of international law. It has not respected the four resolutions issued by the UN Security Council, which demand that Armenian forces unconditionally and immediately withdraw from the occupied lands. 20% of our country has been occupied since the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan. Armenia has launched an ethnic cleansing campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas. This campaign has turned more than one million of our fellow citizens into refugees or forcibly displaced persons. They are holding illegal referendums in Nagorno-Karabakh that have not been recognized by a single international organization. Armenia’s position is a flagrant violation of international rules of conduct and international law standards. The so-called referendum recently held by Armenia has been condemned by the EU, the Council of Europe, the United States and Turkey, along with France and Russia, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The Nagorno-Karabakh region has been a historical part of Azerbaijan. Our country’s territorial integrity has been recognized by the UN and the entire international community. This is why the conflict must be resolved with full respect for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, by granting Nagorno-Karabakh broad autonomy and self-management powers. There are minorities in a great many countries. But the fact that they are a minority does not mean they have the right to break off lands from a country. Just imagine what would happen if Armenians starting clamoring for self-determination in every country around the world in which they are currently living. How many new Armenian states would potentially be created? Armenian authorities must clearly understand that Azerbaijan will not make any compromises on the issue of territorial integrity. We hope that Armenia’s leaders will look down deep within themselves and find the strength to take a constructive position during the negotiations, and finally liberate our lands from the occupying forces. If that does not happen, we will be forced to look for other ways to resolve this conflict. It is a simple fact that Azerbaijan is currently much stronger than Armenia.
At the same time, I think that international organizations should take a more active and more determined stand on how this conflict should be resolved.
The latest EU enlargement has made the South Caucasus region Europe’s new neighbor. In my view, the EU cannot remain indifferent to the existence of hotbeds of conflict in its neighborhood. These hotbeds constitute a threat not only to the South Caucasus region, but to Europe as a whole and to its stable economic development.

T.D.L.: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova created a regional organization called GUAM to promote solidarity and cooperation between member states and foster more cordial relations within the Caucasus. Could you assess the strides made by this consultative forum for our readers? Has it helped improve relations between Russia and Georgia? Does the recent presidential election in Turkmenistan hold out hope for strengthening its ties with this country, starting with closer cross-border cooperation?

H.E.I.A.: GUAM has gone through several different phases since it was first created. It is currently transforming itself into an international organization equipped with a well defined operating mechanism. When GUAM was created, our countries had just gained independence and were hence all facing similar problems. Over the past ten years, GUAM’s member countries have shored up their independence and made remarkable strides in reinforcing their democratic institutions and enhancing their economic potential. They have begun cooperating closely in a variety of areas, most notably in the economic arena. For the past few years, our region has also been playing an increasingly important role on the international stage. Now the countries of GUAM are looking to truly integrate the global economic and political processes. In that light, GUAM’s transformation into the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, which took place last May at the summit in Kiev, was a logical step forward.
I would like to insist upon one point: the territorial integrity of three of GUAM’s four member countries – Azerbaijan, Moldavia and Georgia – has been violated by aggressive separatist movements. As you know, GUAM members got the issue of the frozen conflicts in their countries on the UN General Assembly’s agenda in 2006. This was no easy task, but we managed it by joining forces and working together.
I am now convinced that by strengthening their cooperation within the framework of GUAM, our countries will achieve even greater successes – in the economic and political arenas, the democratization process and many other areas – and will make the most of them.
With regard to relations between Russia and Georgia, let me start by saying that we have very good relations with these two countries, which neighbor Azerbaijan. What’s more, we have a strategic partnership with both of them. Generally speaking, our ties with neighboring countries are built on the principles of amicable relations and mutual respect. Moreover, Azerbaijan does not interfere in the internal affairs of any other country, nor does it interfere in relations between other States. I would also like to point out that if every country kept its attention focused on its own problems, we could maintain security and bolster stability in the region and around the globe.
Lastly, you mentioned Turkmenistan. There is indeed wide potential for further expanding our bilateral ties with this country. Our two peoples share very similar ethnic and cultural roots, which has created a solid foundation for expanding our ties. We are ready to step up our cooperation with Turkmenistan in several different areas. Turkmenistan’s leaders are also greatly interested in enhancing relations with Azerbaijan. We have already discussed taking concrete steps in this direction with Turkmenistan’s newly elected president, and have come to a joint agreement on this matter.

T.D.L.: Your country has increased its security ties with the United States, which is now helping protect Azerbaijani gas and oil pipelines along with installations in the Caspian Sea. Can you tell us what prompted this enhanced cooperation, and if it extends into other arenas? Are these ties likely to become permanent? Are you looking to build similar links with other partners? Is the Russian Federation destined to play an especially important role?

H.E.I.A.: Azerbaijan’s cooperation with the United States and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures are the result of a strategic choice on its part. We have excellent bilateral ties with the United States. Our two countries are cooperating closely in a variety of areas: energy, economic and political affairs, security, and the democratization of Azerbaijani society. We greatly appreciate the role the United States has played in developing Azerbaijan’s energy sector and implementing global energy programs initiated by our country. We are also cooperating very actively in antiterrorist operations. We thus joined the coalition forces in Afghanistan immediately, and sent our soldiers into Kosovo. Azerbaijan was one of the first countries to send its soldiers to Iraq, at the very beginning of the war. This was a clear sign of the strong partnership we have forged with the United States. Finally, during my 2006 state visit to the United States, I attended meetings that were instrumental in strengthening our ties even further.
Our relations with Russia are based on a strategic partnership that grows stronger by the day. We are expanding our cooperation in several areas, in the economic arena in particular. As with our other neighbors, Azerbaijan’s ties with Russia are founded on the principles of amicable relations and mutual respect. I would like to underscore one point in particular: defending the interests of the State of Azerbaijan is naturally the essential goal behind all of our foreign policy efforts. As such, our ties with any given country should never be seen as cooperation targeted against another country. We strive to build good relations and carry out close cooperation with all countries. Azerbaijan has already shown that it is a reliable partner in the international relations system.

T.D.L.: Your country borders the Caspian Sea as well as Iran. Azerbaijan has extremely important ties with its southern neighbor, which is home to a large Azerbaijani community. You have said that your country will not support military actions against Iran and opposes imposing sanctions. What do you think of the current situation in this region, with Iran seemingly determined to push ahead with its nuclear program? Has there been any headway in efforts to divide the territorial waters in the Caspian between littoral nations and lay out clear national zones?

H.E.I.A.: We have very good relations with Iran, including dynamic trade ties. As you emphasized, there are also many Azerbaijanis living in Iran. We share a common border over 1,000 km long. In view of all that, it is only natural for us to follow events involving Iran very closely. Any eventual change that further complicates the situation could have a major impact on the overall development of the region, which is obviously not something that leaves us feeling indifferent or unconcerned. We have made our position on Iran’s nuclear program clear. It is our position that every country has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful ends, in accordance with international law standards. With that in mind, I think it is time to open constructive negotiations. All the controversial issues must be resolved through peaceful means, based on the standards and principles of international law. We hope that all the parties involved in the negotiation process will remain true to the goal of finding a peaceful solution to this problem.
As far as the delimitation of the Caspian Sea is concerned, I would like to say that Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan have all taken the very same stance on this issue. Moreover, this position is based on international law standards. The aforementioned countries have also signed agreements laying out rules for exploiting the Caspian Sea. Otherwise, we continue to conduct regular negotiations with Iran, and I can assure you that our positions have grown closer. Littoral countries are currently holding talks concerning the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. I am convinced that final solutions to all of these issues will be found shortly.

T.D.L.: The international community is gravely concerned about the way things are going in Iraq. Could this ongoing conflict have a spill-over effect in Azerbaijan and the surrounding region? Do you see a solution to the situation in Iraq? Do you think a withdrawal of foreign troops would help calm things down?

H.E.I.A.: As I have already underscored, Azerbaijani soldiers have been in Iraq from the very first day of military operations, and continue to operate there today. The events unfolding in Iraq are obviously troubling to the entire international community and especially to Azerbaijan, which is a full-fledged member of that community. We hope to see peace restored in this region, and to see all this violence – this terrible tragedy that has befallen the Iraqi people – brought to an end. Moreover, Azerbaijan is ready to do everything in its power to restore peace and security in Iraq.

T.D.L.: Now that the BTC pipeline is running full speed, transporting the greater part of Azerbaijan’s crude oil production to European markets, do you plan to build any new oil or gas pipelines? Could you describe Azerbaijani oil and gas diplomacy towards its main neighbors? What sort of ties are you looking to build with your current and potential clients in Asia, starting with China and India?

H.E.I.A.: Our energy programs are now nearly complete. Two pipelines have been built: the Baku-Tbilissi-Cehyan oil pipeline, and the Baku-Tbilissi-Erzurum gas pipeline. We are going to be able to export nearly one million barrels of oil a day through the Baku-Tbilissi-Cehyan oil pipeline. The natural gas extracted from the vast Shah Deniz field, which has one trillion cubic meters in reserves, will be exported to Turkey through the Baku-Tbilissi-Erzurum gas pipeline and taken on from there to Europe via Greece. Azerbaijani oil is also flowing to the Black Sea through two other pipelines. These export channels guarantee outlets for our oil and gas on European and international markets, which is why we see no need to build more pipelines in the near term. But if our volume of oil production increases in future years, and it becomes a commercial necessity, we could consider studying other ways to get our hydrocarbons out of the country. We believe that the more alternative routes there are, the better off we will be. The strategy of building more oil pipelines is in fact the best option for Azerbaijan and for all the other parties which will benefit from our energy reserves and infrastructures in years to come.
The Baku-Tbilissi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is extremely important to the overall development of the Caspian Sea region and the Black Sea as a whole. Several cooperation projects in a variety of areas are currently being carried out in this region. Azerbaijan has directly initiated or been part of several infrastructure projects that have given our partners and neighbors an opportunity to become involved in far-reaching political and economic cooperation programs. I should point out that the Baku-Tbilissi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is much more than a corridor for transporting our oil to foreign markets. It is a project that has fostered regional cooperation, peace and stability, and has brought greater prosperity to our peoples. In fact, our current cooperation strategy stretches beyond the limits of the Caspian Sea region. We are already envisaging the new dimensions of even broader regional cooperation.
We are currently working on another global and international project involving the construction of the Baku-Tbilissi-Kars railway. Concrete steps have already been taken in this area. The Azerbaijani government has set aside considerable funds for carrying out this rail project, which could link Asia to Europe via Azerbaijan. We hope that this project will indeed be completed in the coming years, enabling both passenger and freight trains to travel between China and Europe.

T.D.L.: Thanks to its oil and gas revenues, Azerbaijan posted a 35% growth rate in 2006, making it the global leader in economic growth. How do you plan to use your growing oil revenues? How are you divying them up between the reserve fund and investments to improve infrastructures and social conditions in your country? Could you tell us about the measures launched to reduce poverty, which still plagues a good portion of the Azerbaijan's people? Do you plan to take specific steps to diversify the economy?

H.E.I.A.: The projects implemented since 1994 did not start generating significant revenues until 2005. Our economy is about to enter a new phase, with a greater inflow of oil revenues in the coming years. As you also noted, the Azerbaijani economy is continuing to grow at a fast pace. The projected state budget for 2007 is roughly USD 6.5 billion. As a point of comparison, it was just USD 1.5 billion in 2003. GDP rose 26% in 2005, and 34.5% in 2006. But I would like to insist upon one point very strongly: this growth has not been spurred solely by the boom in the oil industry. We have laid great weight on developing the modern non-oil activity sectors. In 2006, the non-oil sector accounted for 46.4% of GDP. What’s more, the private sector accounted for 81%. We are obviously already thinking about the period when our oil production drops. Vast investments are being made in the education and science sectors. We are striving to equip the Azerbaijan of the future with strong intellectual potential. We lay great importance on information technologies and issues related to investments in the non-oil sector. We have another program to support the development of industrial enterprises, along these same lines. As I have mentionned it, we lay great importance to the issues related to investments in the non-oil sector. We also set up the Azeri Investment Company, with capital of USD 100 million, to encourage greater national and foreign investment in the non-oil sector.
Another key element in our oil strategy is the creation of the State Oil Fund, which was set up as soon as the first oil revenues started flowing in. This fund operates on the principle of transparency: information detailing its activities and revenues is published on a regular basis. The Parliament is responsible for monitoring decisions as to the items on which Oil Fund moneys will be spent, and how much money is allocated to each item. There has been an international audit of its operations. The Oil Fund is also cooperating very closely with international financial institutions, especially the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that Azerbaijan was one of the first countries to join Great Britain’s initiative to improve transparency in the extractive industry. Our efforts to promote this initiative in the region have been greatly appreciated by both the United States and Great Britain.
Infrastructures are another area to which we have been paying particularly close attention. Major civil engineering works and new infrastructure are being built all over the country. We are building new roads, electric power plants, new hospitals and schools. Our water and gas distribution systems are also being upgraded.
Developing the agricultural sector is another key priority. 50% of the Azerbaijani population live in the countryside. We have wide potential, good lands, and a good climate. Vast financial funds are being poured into developing the farming economy. The petrochemical industry is another one of our priorities.
Social programs, in general, have been receiving special attention in Azerbaijan. 37.9% of the 2007 budget was earmarked for social programs, or USD 2.5 billion. Over the past three years, 520,000 new jobs have been created, most in the non-oil sector and mainly in outlying regions. Wages and retirement benefits have been raised on a regular basis. I would like to underscore that, as an oil-producing country, we are determined, to diversify our economy. We do not want to repeat the negative scenario that has played out in various oil-producing countries. In those countries, a segment of the population is getting rich, while the rest of the people are growing even poorer. This is why we want to transform our oil wealth into human capital.
Finally, the Azerbaijani State has launched a program to reduce poverty. It is being carried out with great success, working in partnership with international financial institutions. Thanks to the advances spurred by our economic policies we have managed to reduce poverty, which struck just 20% of the population in 2006, compared to 49% in 2003. We intend to keep this downward trend going in the upcoming years, until poverty has been wiped out in our country.

T.D.L.: The EU and leading international financial institutions have said they favor an open economy with a stable regulatory framework that welcomes foreign investment and respects ownership rights. Can you talk about the measures that have been taken to fight corruption, as part of your program to improve Azerbaijan’s business climate? Do you plan to expand the privatization campaign into additional sectors? When do you hope to see your country join the WTO?

H.E.I.A.: Corruption has become a serious problem for all of the former Soviet countries. This is one more thing we inherited from a totalitarian system in which all decisions were taken administratively. But corruption is a problem for many countries around the world, even developed countries. I am of the view that it is impossible to make positive headway in this arena through administrative channels. In my opinion, the battle against corruption must be steered by strong economic measures and a legal framework as perfect as possible. Our country is doing a variety of concrete things to fight corruption. Parliament has passed an anti-corruption law. The Azerbaijani General Prosecutor's Office has set up a special anti-corruption bureau. As I stressed before, something must be done about the economy as well. We need to raise people’s standards of living, hike wages, and keep a close watch on society. As I’ve already said, we are taking concrete steps in this arena.
You also brought up the issue of privatizations. I believe that we should continue a program of wide-scale privatizations. As I mentioned earlier, Azerbaijani leaders are paying very close attention to the issue of privatizations. The privatization process has been a success in Azerbaijan. The main phase is already over: 81% of the nation’s GDP is now produced by the private sector. The accelerated implementation of this process, the creation of a middle class, the shrinking of the bureaucratic machinery, and the headway made in opening up the economy as wide as possible, have created a strong foundation that will foster strong economic development in Azerbaijan in the years to come.
As for our country joining the World Trade Organization, let me stress that all the necessary documents have been submitted to the WTO, and that we are already successfully carrying out all of the procedures required at the national level to become a WTO member.

T.D.L.: Reinforcing democracy, specifically by establishing a fair and transparent election process, is a key priority for both the EU and the Council of Europe. What more must be done, in your view, to ensure the protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law in Azerbaijan? Do religions, and Islam in particular, play an important role in your country? Do you fear the rise of Islamic fanaticism and the threat posed by the spread of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda?

H.E.I.A.: We lay great importance on the democratic process in our country. Generally speaking, we consider democratization, a multiparty political system, and respect for the supremacy of the law to be the key criteria for ensuring our future development. If we consider our country's overall development, we cannot give any single element higher priority or less importance. We must concurrently foster economic growth, political change and the democratization process. This is the only way to make real progress. We have made great headway in strengthening democracy in Azerbaijan. Building a modern society, ensuring the complete supremacy of the law and the principle of social justice, creating equal conditions for all, and building a strong economy are the main objectives we have set for ourselves. Thanks to the concrete strides we have made in this direction, we are convinced that we will be able to reach these objectives in the near future.
To answer your second question, let me remind you that Azerbaijan is a lay country, and that our Supreme Law guarantee the separation of religion and State. But Islam is also an integral part of our history, of our past and current way of life. We have great respect for our religion, and for the other religious faiths practiced in our country. Today we can proudly say that there is wide religious tolerance in Azerbaijani. Our country has no religion-related conflicts to lament. With ethnic and religious clashes commonplace in our modern-day world, we would even call our situation unique. Azerbaijan is a country where people of different nationalities and different religions live together in harmony. The mindset forged by the Azerbaijani people over the course of its history, along with ongoing efforts to guarantee religious freedom in our country, have created a strong framework in which the various faiths can coexist in a state of benevolence I would compare to the benevolence of a family.
There has never been and there will never be any religious fanaticism in our country. We are opposed to all forms of fanaticism and extremism. In fact, I think that our country’s positive experience could be useful to others.
Azerbaijan is also a country that is actively involved in the battle against international terrorism. But I would also like to make it clear that associating terrorism, fanaticism and radical extremism with the Muslim religion is an error, and a dangerous one at that. Azerbaijan was the victim of Armenian terrorist organizations for many long years. A great number of people were killed or wounded by savage terrorist acts committed in Azerbaijan by Armenian terrorist groups. And so I will say, once again, that associating terrorism and radical extremism to any religion whatsoever is unacceptable.

T.D.L.: You are trying to foster balanced economic growth by working to diversify the country’s economic activities, enhancing social cohesion and guaranteeing territorial unity. How can France and French firms help your country reach those goals? Did your recent trip to France help expand bilateral cooperation into new areas other than the oil and gas industries? What more can be done to promote sustainable development and environmental protection, issues of great concern to both of our countries?

H.E.I.A.: Several large French companies are actively at work in the Azerbaijani economy, in the energy sector as well as the non-oil sector. I have had meetings with French business circles on nearly every one of my trips to France. During my recent state visit to France, I had a chance to meet with representatives of firms such as Gaz de France, Vinci, BNP Paribas and Société Générale, as well as representatives of the Lille business world. I have also meet with delegations from several prestigious French companies during their many visits to Azerbaijan. Developing the non-oil sector has become a top priority for the Azerbaijani economy. In that light, I think that French companies could indeed further expand their activities in our country.
With regard to the environment, I must underscore the fact that we are still wrestling with the difficult legacy left to us by the Soviet Union. In those days, the concept of ecology didn’t even exist. No one paid any attention to the state nature was in. Now our country lays great importance on this issue. I signed a decree which launched a special ecology program. Working within the framework of this program, over the next five to ten years we will set aside considerable funds to clean up lakes polluted with oil around Baku and in other parts of the country. French companies have wide experience in this realm, and we are ready to cooperate with them in these efforts as well as with other concerned French bodies.

T.D.L.: What would you like to see done to further strengthen the cultural scientific and humanitarian ties between our countries?

H.E.I.A.: Azerbaijan and France are also widening their cooperation in cultural and humanitarian programs, mirroring their expanded relations in other arenas. Our countries and peoples have rich and long-standing histories and cultures. Cultural cooperation between our countries naturally helps bring our two peoples even closer. I would like to say that the decision to hold the Year of Azerbaijan in France and the Year of France in Azerbaijan, which was made during my state visit to France, is a very important step forward. Four agreements concerning the scientific, culture and humanitarian sectors were signed during this visit as well. I am convinced that our ties in the humanitarian and cultural fields are set to grow ever wider.

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