Baku, February 28, AZERTAC
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who is on an official visit in Azerbaijan, gave an exclusive interview to Azerbaijan State News Agency (AZERTAC) and Azerbaijan Television.
Welcome to Azerbaijan Madam President. Thank you for finding time to give us an interview. It is honor for us. First of all, let’s talk about the bilateral relations.
Madam President, how do you evaluate the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia, the two friendly states of the South Caucasus?
-Excellent, excellent and excellent. Excellent they have been historically because we are two countries in that region that have gone through the past years the same path the same difficulties, the same turmoil, the same tragedies sometimes. But we’ve gone through this period together without any problems with each other and other countries, we have been reinforcing and supporting each other through this difficult but interesting times. Excellent because our more immediate past has also been very interesting one in which we have managed to carry out through very important projects for the region and not only for the region and energy has been at the center of our cooperation. It has been very successful, when everybody thought that it was almost impossible, we managed to have this Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and other projects so it is really a success story that now we have almost completed, but that does not mean that it stops there. And excellent because we have today discussed the new perspectives that we have between the two countries, and larger than two countries because we are in the region that is now central to many lines of transport, trade and that is where we come together to try to create new important project for the region, for both Caspian Sea and Black Sea and further for East and West, so it is very challenging, very promising and I think that again we are there to prove that our fruitful and friendly relations can manage this type of ambitious products. We both are very ambitious.
Azerbaijan and Georgia are actively cooperating in different international organizations and in regional formats. What role does the current level of political relations between the two countries play in the support of our positions on the international level?
-There we again have permanently been supporting each other in the international organizations, supporting our positions, mutual positions on occupied territories and on territorial sovereignty and integrity. It is our mutual tragedy again, but also hope to one day we constitute territorial integrity. It’s very painful for our populations those that live on both sides of the occupied territories line. But it’s also a challenge for our countries and we have bypassed this challenge, resist to this challenge and we’ve managed dispel that by supporting each other. We have managed to develop our economies, to create strong states, independent states what anybody else would have thought it would be a major drawback for our countries, we have managed to transform again in success. It is not a success that we do not control the whole of our territory. That is always very big problem, but meanwhile we have managed to achieve most of what we planned to achieve for our states. So again, we are going to continue to support each other in all the international organizations but we can do more. We can also not only support these claims together but we can have positive issue that we can defend together in these international organizations. One of them is for instance, defense of the environment. We are both here to defend what the Caucasus represents as a region that is very important in its flora and fauna for the rest of the world. Bio diversities in this region is very important and I think we can do more by sharing some of the positions that we can assume in international conferences, and be in that respects more powerful if we are two to defend the same positions.
The South Caucasus is suffering from unresolved conflicts. Azerbaijan and Georgia support each other’s territorial integrity. How do you assess the existing opportunities for regulating the conflicts within the norms of international law?
-Well, that’s our major problem what are the prospects today. I would be hopeful that today your prospects are better than ours because there are some signs that you could get progress and in fact we are very ready if there is anything that Georgia that has relations with both countries in the Caucasus. If Georgia can play a role we are always ready to try to help because peace in our region is something that is for all of us extremely important. Also as you know we have populations from both countries living in Georgia as Georgian citizens and for us it is very important that there is peace, we have always managed to keep peace between these populations on our territory. We always managed not to import any form of conflict. And I think it is vital for Georgia. So, for Georgia it would be very important to see progress and to help this progress. For what concerns the conflicts on our side the occupied territories, there we have a very powerful, much powerful country that does not show for the time being any sign of moving towards any form of rethinking this policy of occupation or any alleviating of this policy which is becoming very heavy handed because we see every day attracting of people, moving up the lines, so, it is a very complicated situation. We do not have much possibilities at our hand, because we don’t have diplomatic relations, so we are really counting more on our partners, both our western partners, to present this issue to the Russians and plead and call them for respect in their engagements. The same will be true that if anything Azerbaijan can forward this message to Russia that for Russia itself it would be better to entertain peaceful and mutually respectful relations with its neighbors. The whole region and probably Russia itself would be better off.
Madam President, Azerbaijan and Georgia are taking an active part in a number of projects implemented in the South Caucasus and Caspian region. How do you see our countries` participation in the joint energy and transportation projects and prospects of these projects?
-I think that prospects are excellent as I have mentioned. There is now very strong interest from our outside neighbors for these projects. One of them on our part is the EU. We are having a very important conference in Batumi next July that will be essentially centered on transport issues as one of the possibilities of great progress between both sides of the Black Sea. In that vision the part of the Caspian Sea is very important because if we are talking about transport it means that we have to link all these corridors, the middle corridor and corridor of the link through the Black Sea. I think it is probably the equivalent for the 21st century of what the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan has been for the 20th century – both revolution and a very big progress. So, I think that prospects are excellent. I think there is interest from all our partners, from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan. The fact that there has been an agreement on the Caspian Sea is very good. On our side our ports also have been developed. We are now building a third one. And the interest of the neighborhood country on the other side of the Black Sea is also very high. So, prospects are good. We need for that, of course, stability in the region. That is most important. Peace and stability are today main advantages, I would say positive advantages. And we need to keep and develop that.
The two neighboring and friendly states have a great potential to deepen relations in the non-energy sphere, particularly tourism. Which should be our priorities in the non-energy sphere and how do you see the future of the bilateral cooperation in this issue?
-Well, we have a lot of areas that we have not explored enough in our bilateral operations. Because we were centered on energy, and today we are centered on transport. But for me culture is very important part of our identity, of the identity of the Caucasus, and I think that we have not done enough in that field of relations between society, between our two cultures, exchanges presenting to each other. This year we have Azerbaijani days in Batumi, so that’s going to be an important event. We need to have that also in Tbilisi and we discussed it with your first Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva. She was very interested in some of the initiatives that I have suggested in cultural exchanges, in also trying to have common programs and common initiatives with the UNESCO, where we can be very effective if we are together as we are presenting the Caucasus even more if we could get Armenia on board which could be very possible. Culture is the field in which everything is possible. So, we should use it, and there are very interesting prospects there too, of developing our cultural identity together and more exchange. Tourism is one of the ways to link the populations, and not only tourism on the bilateral way, but we have had very strong increase in tourism in Georgia. And we could have ideas of how to link our neighboring country to this tourism expansion through different instruments that are tourist packages, new form of communicating with the outside world and projecting the Caucasus as a place where it can find almost everything.
Which projects are planned in order to improve the humanitarian relations between the two countries?
Well, that is what I was saying. Cultural exchanges, direct cultural exchanges. More concerts on both sides, exhibitions, everything that makes those two countries very close, better understand for the populations what is the culture of each other. We also could think about more student exchanges. Because I don’t think that the level is high enough, we are living in a very small region after all. When you look at the world, we are very close neighbors and for a long time. And we are friends as states. We need probably to develop these contacts more at the level of the societies.
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