Baku, October 24, AZERTAC
UN Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan Ghulam Isaczai has been interviewed by AZERTAC. The following is the text of the interview.
Dear Mr. Isaczai, first of all, we would like to ask you to speak on the relations between Azerbaijan and the United Nations. The current state of the relations as well.
Thank you very much. I also want to convey my greetings and best wishes to the viewers. I will describe the relationship between the Government of Azerbaijan and United Nations as very active, friendly and based on mutual respect and understanding. Azerbaijan became the member of United Nations in March 1992. It has been almost 24 years that we have been working as a UN system in Azerbaijan.
At the global level, we have seen Azerbaijan active in the work of the UN system. For instance, Azerbaijan has attended several high-level events starting with the General Assembly Session. In 2000, at the Millennium Summit, then president Heydar Aliyev attended the Summit. Just recently President Ilham Aliyev took part at the Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.
I would say that Azerbaijan has also actively participated in the various UN forums. For example, it hosted the 7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations in Baku. Azerbaijan was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2011-2013, and also, the member of the governing council of UNICEF, and the first lady is a Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO. On top of that, Leyla Aliyeva is FAO National Goodwill Ambassador. This speaks of the relationship we have established with Azerbaijan.
Now let me turn to our cooperation on a national level. The United Nations office was opened in 1992, exactly at the same time Azerbaijan was accepted as UN Member. And we are now 16 both resident and non-resident UN agencies providing technical, humanitarian, and development support in a variety of areas from agriculture to education, health, good governance, public administration, environment and migration.
Our support has, of course, evolved: at the beginning, we provided a lot of humanitarian aid to thousands of internally displaced people who were displaced by the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and sorrounding territories.
Nowadays, we have changed our cooperation from assistance into partnership. We have been providing a lot of support in development areas. The framework under which we provide support is called the United Nations-Azerbaijan Partnership Framework for the period of 2016-2020. As a UN system, we will support Azerbaijan’s priorities and development needs.
As you mentioned, the 7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations was held in Baku in April. What can you say about Azerbaijan's overall contribution to the dialogue between civilizations?
The important thing is that Azerbaijan is geographically located between East and West. Its geographical position itself is a very good demonstration of its relationship with the world, and how it can bridge the gap between the two parts of the world in order to address the issue of intolerance and extremism, radicalism as well as many other issues.
I think Azerbaijan can contribute very much to intercultural and interreligious dialogue, understanding, tolerance, and moderation among various countries. The UN Alliance of Civilizations, which had its 7th Global Forum in Azerbaijan, brought people from all walks of life. We had scientists here, experts, religious leaders, as well as former politicians. The fact that the event was held in Azerbaijan raises awareness and understanding, and promotes Azerbaijan’s image as a country that supports a dialogue on interculturalism, and pluralism.
Secondly, this Global Forum is the initiative by the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and it was very important for removing tensions among countries and cultures and civilizations. I think this led to the series of declarations that promote religious tolerance, another form of understanding among nations.
The other event that supports such kind of thing is V Baku Humanitarian Forum, which was held in Baku this year. It is part of the process. I think overall I would say the contribution of Azerbaijan to promoting cultural and religious tolerance and understanding in the region and in the world is enormous.
24 October is UN Day. What does UN do to raise public awareness on UN principles and values?
We are doing everything we can to bring awareness. In fact, my interview with you in itself is very helpful in delivering the message about UN to the audience. But we have several mechanisms. For instance, there are many international days or UN days mandated by the General Assembly to celebrate and commemorate the values and principles of the organization and raise awareness on problems. For instance, we have the World Refugees Day, World Environment Day, International Day for Eradication of Poverty, AIDS Day etc. On those days, we try to promote the message of the Secretary-General and also mark the Day with our national partners.
We are also doing a lot of work with young people. We organized the Model UN, which brought youth from across Azerbaijani society and they engaged in debates for many days, learning about UN values and norms, and improved their understanding in terms of the UN system. They improved their debate skills, public speaking skills, and learned how to hold negotiations and dialogues in a diplomatic manner.
We also have campaigns. Every year, between 25 November - 10 December we launch 16 Days of Activism campaign against gender-based violence. Such campaigns are done in very close collaboration with civil society, relevant government counterparts, and we tend to bring awareness to some of the core issues.
Finally, the UN Day itself which is the 24th of October is the day when 51 countries signed the UN charter, creating the United Nations 71 years ago. I believe this is a very important day for us to raise awareness. This year on the 24th October we are holding a panel discussion on the role of young people in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in Azerbaijan. It will be held at ADA University, with the participation of government representatives and UN experts. We hope that by holding this event at the university campus, we would bring awareness to the young people. We believe that we should educate the future generation about the value of UN system, not only the people who we work with.
Last year, we held the UN Day with the participation of his excellency Minister of Foreign Affairs and large number of other government officials, diplomatic communities, and civil society organizations. Again, our message was not only to celebrate the UN day, but also to inform the public that it was the 70th anniversary of the UN and about the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals: its meaning and value, and how it contributes to global good and prosperity.
How would you evaluate the work done in Azerbaijan in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals?
Millennium Development Goals were adopted in 2000 under the Millennium Declaration. I could highlight its importance by the fact that the former president of Azerbaijan, his excellency Heydar Aliyev participated at the Millennium Summit in New York in 2000.
I think Azerbaijan has achieved a lot in terms of the goals. The country had a very good track record. Let me give you some statistics. The aim of the Millennium Development Goals was to reduce poverty by half. If we look at Azerbaijan’s poverty rate, it was not only reduced by half, it was reduced by an even larger margin from 49% to 5%. That is due to the enormous economic progress that the country has demonstrated in the last 15 years. The unemployment rate has decreased to 4.9% from 11.8%. Maternal mortality rate declined by half. Under five year mortality rate was also reduced from 28% to almost 12.8 %. We have also witnessed a reduction of illiteracy, an increase in the involvement of students in primary and secondary education. We saw an enormous progress in the prevention of non-communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and other deseases. Azerbaijan moved from a poor country to an upper middle-income country. Today Azerbaijan is 78th in Human Development Index, out of 188 countries. We have also witnessed a progress in the area of the gender equality and good governance so far.
I would say that overall Azerbaijan has done extremely well. Azerbaijan is among 29 countries in the world, which have reduced poverty from a very high percentage to five percent. That’s more than just half.
However, MDGs were not as comprehensive as the Sustainable Development Goals. We also need to look at whether Azerbaijan is doing well on income inequalities with every segment of society, benefitting from growth and prosperity equally. That’s something we hope to achieve in Azerbaijan with the SDGs.
Recently President Ilham Aliyev has signed a decree on the establishment of the National Coordination Council on Sustainable Development, which opened a new page for the UN- Azerbaijan to achieve sustainable development in the country. What kind of positive results do you think this would bring?
I think it will bring a lot of positive results. First of all, let me congratulate Azerbaijan and in particular, the President on establishing this National Council for the achievement of the SDGs.
Let me give you a few examples of how MDGs and SDGs are different. SDGs are basically our roadmap for the next 15 years on the eradication of poverty, hunger and bringing improvement in the area of human development. SDGs are much more comprehensive - they are universal and they can be applied to every country. The other important difference between MDGs and SDGs is that the Sustainable Development Goals address not just the issue of poverty but the issue of sustainability of any economic growth. For instance, it has to look at the social and environmental issue, at the issue of inequalities, gender and so on. It goes far beyond just goals to eradicate poverty.
By creating the National Coordination Council on Sustainable Development, Azerbaijan now has to align all its national plans and strategies into the achievement of these goals and targets. This is very important. By prioritizing these goals, you will know where to invest your budget, where to look in terms of growth and progress. It is not just about GDP, it is not only about building roads and bridges, it is about how to bring the standard of living of every Azerbaijani citizen and resident to the same level as is needed. That is one important difference.
It will also allow the government to coordinate better across all three dimensions of SDGs. For instance, it is not only about economics; we have to look at environmental and social issues. If you are building a road, you have to analyze whether this road is going to damage the environment, help the villagers along the road who are disadvantaged, or if it’s only to bring economic benefit, and increase income in the capital. I believe this will create a much more balanced approach to Azerbaijan’s economic development.
It will help Azerbaijan in terms of data. The SDGs are focusing a lot on the integrity and quality of statistics and data, as that was one of the weaknesses of MDGs. By improving data quality and strengthening the capacity of statistical offices, we would bring more transparency and accountability. We will be able to identify where the needs are and where the vulnerable communities are, who are more disadvantaged. SDGs are about open data. Open data also improves Azerbaijan’s image and reputation as a transparent government. It could invite more investment. It could allow Azerbaijan to compare itself regionally and globally to other countries. So, those are some of the very important and visible benefits to Azerbaijan.
UN in Azerbaijan has committed to support Azerbaijan in the implementation of the SDGs, their targets, and indicators. I have made this very clear that we believe UN is in a unique position to assist the Government because as a UN system we can bring technical expertise and assistance in a variety of fields, from agriculture to tourism, trade, health, education, etc. We hope that in the next 4-5 years, we will assist Azerbaijan in integration of the goals and indicators into its national plans and strategies.
We know that your experience as an Ambassador is very rich, and you have worked in many countries. Now you have been assigned as a Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan, so it would be interesting to know some of your impressions of our country.
I have an extremely positive impression of the country. When I am in Azerbaijan, I feel at home because I feel a lot of cultural similarities and closeness to Azerbaijan because of my background. I have worked in over ten countries in my UN career and I hope that I can bring some of the positive and relevant experiences to Azerbaijan as I think it is our role to bring good experiences and practices. I hope that my experience will be of help to Azerbaijan.
I have positive impression about the people of the country who are extremely tolerant. I think it is general acceptance to respect foreigners. Whether you are on the street, on a meeting with government officials or even coming together with your neighbors, people are always very friendly and welcoming. I hope that my impression will stay just as positive for the next four years that I will be here.
Baku is a very beautiful city. I am very impressed by its architecture and extravagant buildings. If you go up to the north and the Caucasus mountains, you see tremendous beauty. The country has an enormous potential for tourism which I am glad to see that government is prioritizing right now. I think overall Azerbaijan is a country that has a lot to attract visitors from all over the world.
It is very important for visitors and foreigners to be in a country without the fear of insecurity. The streets of Baku are very safe, you can travel safely and this is very important in terms of our experience of living here beyond our work. So overall my impressions are very positive.