Mr. Dan Iancu
Ambassador of Romania to Azerbaijan
Q.: Welcome to Baku, Mr. Ambassador. You recently arrived to Baku. What are your first impressions of the city and of Azerbaijan?
A.: Well, it’s a lot to mention, even though I came to Azerbaijan at the end of September. The country itself is spectacular – you can go from the seashore through arid plains to majestic mountains in the course of the same day. It is the trekkers’ and campers’ paradise – and I trust Azerbaijan is on the path to become in the coming years a regular destination for more European tourists. Baku, with its elegant skyline, impressive architecture and sophisticated and cosmopolitan culture is already a well-established attraction for many holidaymakers and a must-see city for any jazz music lover or Formula 1 fan. But what impressed me the most, these first weeks, are the warmth, hospitality and kindness the people are showing to you, the congenial desire to help you out when you are in need of the smallest assistance. This is something I am deeply grateful for.
Q.: Can you talk a bit about your career in the Romanian Foreign Service? In which other countries have you served? How has your past experience prepared you for your current job?
A.: I joined the Romanian Foreign Ministry at the beginning of 1999 – that was actually the first job I applied for. I was just out of the military service (still compulsory in Romania, at that time) and had just started to look out for a job when I saw an advertisement in a newspaper – the Foreign Ministry was hiring. I told myself that I should at least try my luck, and I applied for an interview. In the end, I was lucky and got selected. I was assigned to the Moldova Division – a file I’ve been working on since then on and off for quite a while in the MFA Headquarters. I’ve served abroad in Beijing and then in Brussels, this last time as Deputy Head of Mission at our bilateral mission in Belgium. I love my work, there is always something new to do, to learn, to discover. And with every new assignment abroad, you get the great opportunity to start afresh every once in a while, meeting new and fascinating people, discovering and appreciating different cultures, and hopefully to slowly reach a finer understanding of how things work in today’s world. Every step in your career, every meeting you have, all of these prepare you for doing a better job the next day.
Q.: How would you describe the current bilateral relationship between Azerbaijan and Romania? What are the main areas of collaboration between the two countries?
A.: We have an excellent relationship with Azerbaijan, based on true friendship, understanding, solidarity and trust. Romania was the second country in the world to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan – on December 11, 2016, we have celebrated 25 years since this historic event. From early on, our bilateral relationship has been set on a very solid footing and has steadily grown, year by year, in all fields – political, economic, cultural, academic and people-to-people. Our two countries are linked, since 2009, by a Strategic Partnership – and I am very proud to stress that it was the first such bilateral arrangement that Azerbaijan has concluded with an EU Member State. Romania has always been and will remain a close partner of Azerbaijan in the international arena. We support the overall development of the dialogue between Azerbaijan and the EU, and we’ve been among the most active Member States in this respect. Also, in the past eight years, we have played an important role in strengthening the dialogue between Azerbaijan and NATO, through our four consecutive mandates as NATO Contact Point Embassy in Baku.
Q.: What is the current level of bilateral trade? How do oil and gas factor into economic relations between the two countries? In what areas do you see the potential for further collaboration?
A.: Azerbaijan is Romania’s most important economic and trade partner in the region. Over the past three years, we have witnessed a steady increase of the bilateral trade turnover. For the whole of 2015 -according to Romanian statistics – the bilateral trade stood at 161.3 million USD, up 13% compared to 2014, with a trade balance in favor of Azerbaijan. And we expect to close 2016 on the same positive trend; the latest figures available (for the third quarter of last year) point towards another year-on-year increase.
Energy as a whole plays a significant role in our bilateral cooperation. As a net importer of both oil and gas, Romania attaches great importance to energy security and energy diversification – that is diversification of supply sources and transit routes. And I think it is equally important for a producer, such as Azerbaijan, to seek as well a different kind of diversification – of its clients. So we share converging interests, which push us naturally towards greater cooperation and towards seeking new ways to boost connectivity and strengthen the resilience of our own energy markets. Illustrative of this- I should say -“common quest” is our joint initiative, the AGRI LNG Interconnector, a project meant to transport gas into the European markets through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Romania (hence its name).
At the same time, there are other links relevant to our discussion: SOCAR is already present on the Romanian market and plans to expand its activities. This is good news not only for the Romanian economy, as a sign of confidence and through tangible outcomes (i.e. investments, jobs), but also for the Romanian consumer who is the direct beneficiary of the increased competition among suppliers.
I see also good prospects in other sectors, from IT and biomedicine to automotive and pharmaceutical products. Romania has a long industrial tradition and strong manufacturing base in machinery and technologies for sectors relevant to Azerbaijan – such as drilling. And the current strategy of diversification and strengthening of the Azerbaijani economy creates new opportunities of which I hope the Romanian companies will be able to take advantage.
Q.: What do you hope to accomplish during your time in Baku as the Ambassador of Romania?
A.: As I mentioned, we have an excellent relationship with Azerbaijan, underpinned by the Strategic Partnership established in 2009. I think the priority at this moment should be to make the best of this outstanding framework and develop as many links and avenues for practical cooperation – from trade and investment, to people-to-people contacts. And I discovered in my first months here that there is a tremendous potential for cooperation waiting to be unleashed. My wish is to be able to report, at the end of my term in Azerbaijan, that I’ve contributed to moving things forward and building bridges between Romania and Azerbaijan, between companies, universities and most important of all, between our two peoples.
Q.: Romania was the designated NATO Contact Point Embassy (CPE) in Azerbaijan for four consecutive two year mandates, from 2009 until December 2016. The new two year mandate was extended to the Embassy of Hungary to Azerbaijan. Can you reflect on what the Embassy has accomplished during the past 8 years in its role as NATO CPE in Azerbaijan?
A.: Yes, as you said, we’ve had four consecutive terms as NATO Contact Point Embassy in Azerbaijan, which is quite extraordinary – I mean it is the only current case of such a long mandate, and I’m not talking only about Baku, but the whole CPE network. This in itself is proof of the level of trust and cooperation between Romania and Azerbaijan, but it is also an indicator of the worth and consistency of our effort as an allied member Embassy. And here I’d like to highlight the tremendous work deployed by my predecessors and their respective teams: the range and scope of public diplomacy events held over the past eight years as part of our CPE responsibilities is impressive. From conferences to workshops and roundtables, from Baku to Ganja, from Quba and Sheki to Nakhchivan and Lankaran, we have tried to explain NATO’s policies and goals, and more importantly, NATO’s principles and values. At the same time, we have contributed to the intensification of the political dialogue and cooperation between the transatlantic organization and Azerbaijan. We have worked closely with the Azerbaijani authorities, with universities and NGOs, building along the way solid partnerships and friendships. And I take this opportunity to thank once more all our Azerbaijani friends for standing by us and for helping us to successfully fulfil our mandate.
Q.: Azerbaijan is continuing negotiations with the European Commission on a possible Association Agreement with the European Union. As a representative of an EU member state in Azerbaijan, what can the Embassy of Romania do in Baku to assist with this process?
A.: As you know, on November 14, 2016, the Foreign Ministers of the EU Member States formally approved the mandate for the negotiations of a new legal framework between the EU and Azerbaijan. There was a great deal of work before that within the EU, to agree on the mandate that sets in broad terms the EU’s negotiating position. Romania has always been a strong supporter of an ever closer EU-Azerbaijani relationship and, as such, has advocated – with respect to the future Agreement – for setting targets as ambitious as possible. And we hope that the two negotiating teams that would first meet at the beginning of 2017 would, at all times, find ways to shape the Agreement into a very ambitious platform for the future cooperation between Azerbaijan and EU.
Q.: On December 1st, Romania celebrates its National Day, Great Union Day, to commemorate the date of the 1918 Resolution uniting the Romanian-majority provinces, previously under Austro-Hungarian rule, with the Kingdom of Romania. When and why was this day chosen as Romania’s National Day? How is this day typically celebrated in Romania?
A.: That was among the first decisions taken at the end of 1989, as Romania and its people were embarking on a journey towards democracy, dignity and freedom. Against other important historical landmarks for Romanians, the 1st of December 1918 stands out by the very message it embodies – of solidarity and hope, of triumph against odds and adverse circumstances, of achievement after a tortuous endeavor. It was very evident then, and it remains evident now, as we look towards the future. The lesson we draw from that day in 1918 is: when the cause is just, hope, trust and determination always prevail. This is also why, in Romania, National Day celebrations are not only about celebrating the historical facts, but also – and increasingly more – about how we see the future and how we prepare for it.
Q.: To end our interview on a lighter note, have you had the chance to try some of Azerbaijan’s national cuisine and experience some Azerbaijani culture or music? What is your favorite Azeri dish? What is the most interesting cultural experience you have had so far during your time here? Do you see any similarities between Azeri and Romanian culture?
A.: Even from a brief experience – such as mine – one can easily see that Azerbaijan is a land rich in traditions and culture, a fountain which is deeply rooted in ancient civilizations, at the crossroads of old and new, of East and West. This is evident in each and every expression of human creativity, from cuisine to music and from weaving to architecture. I have to say that I am stunned by the dramatic and innovative nature of the mugham, a music so generous which gives its performer the gift of total freedom of expression within the acknowledged set of artistic principles. And, while listening to the mugham, I was pleasantly surprised to discover familiar undertones reminding me of the Romanian folk music, both in style and composition. Speaking of similarities, I discovered that Romanians and Azerbaijanis are closer than one might think in at least three areas: the tradition of carpet weaving, the national cuisine and the love for football. I was amazed to see many similar patterns on both the Azerbaijani and our Romanian carpets. If I ever happen to be homesick for our Romanian traditional cuisine, while in Baku, I can always try the yarpaq dolmasi or the manqal salati –both of them are close to two very popular dishes in my country: sarmale in foi de vita and zacusca. As I am a bit of a gourmet myself, it’d be hard to decide on a favorite Azerbaijani dish, so I’ll randomly pick out the following three: qutab, for its elegant simplicity, coban salati for its amazing, zesty fragrance, and badimcan levengi for the smooth texture and comforting boost it provides when eaten on a chilly day. A final word of praise for the modest but glorious Azerbaijani greens, definitely the secret behind the great flavors of the Azerbaijani cuisine.