Ambassador of Moldova to Azerbaijan
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
In an exclusive interview, the Ambassador of Moldova to Azerbaijan, Gheorghe Leucă, told Azeri Observer about bilateral visits at the highest level, prospects of cooperation in wine production, and Moldovan cultural events in Azerbaijan.
Question: Could you please talk about the current relations between Azerbaijan and Moldova? Are you satisfied with the level of bilateral cooperation?
Answer: The Republic of Moldova and the Republic of Azerbaijan have always had very good and friendly relations based on mutual trust and support. More than 5,000 Azerbaijanis currently live in Moldova. We have progressively continued to strengthen our cooperation since declaring independence in 1991 and establishing diplomatic relations in 1992. Concurrently, for more than 26 years, we have always supported each other in matters related to security, stability, peace, independence, territorial integrity, and economic organizations both internationally and regionally. In addition, both of our countries became part of organizations such as the United Nations, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe, Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, and Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (GUAM), among others. We jointly promoted some resolutions within the framework of these organizations, for example, the United Nations General Assembly resolution on the UN-GUAM cooperation adopted during Azerbaijan’s presidency of GUAM in 2012. This year, the Republic of Moldova has assumed the presidency of GUAM and we plan to host many events, including a meeting of the prime ministers of the GUAM countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) in the second half of June. We hope that the schedule of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan will allow him to take part in the event. It is expected that this meeting will end up making many important decisions related to economic cooperation, development of various projects, and a free trade zone between the GUAM countries.
As for the bilateral relations, it is worth noting that we have always had good political dialogue and have been exchanging visits at the highest level. The president of Moldova paid an official visit to Baku last year and took part in the Global Forum in Baku in March this year; we hope that a return visit of the Azerbaijani president will take place. A number of high-level meetings were also held on the margins of international forums, including in the context of the UN and other international and regional organizations. Many Moldovan high officials, including the minister of internal affairs, deputy minister of high technologies, and deputy minister of culture also paid visits and had productive meetings in Baku. Some visits of Azerbaijani officials to the Republic of Moldova took place last year, such as a visit of the deputy minister of foreign affairs. We also expect to have more meetings this year, especially in the GUAM framework. In addition, we plan to organize a meeting of the joint intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation and a business forum of the two countries within a visit of Moldovan top officials to Azerbaijan in the near future.
By now, over 50 bilateral agreements and a long-term program on cooperation in different fields have been signed. They constitute a solid base for further development and implementation of the action plan in the economic, cultural, and humanitarian spheres.
Q.: What are the most promising areas for the development of further bilateral cooperation?
A.: All areas are important. Our economic cooperation has been developing dynamically for the last two years, as well as our political dialogue. The trade turnover increased by 37% in 2016 compared to 2015 and rose by another 41% in 2017 compared to 2016. The volume of trade is not very large and does not meet the potential as of now; nevertheless, it increased from $3.5 million dollars in 2015 to more than $6.8 million dollars in 2017. We exchange agricultural products such as fruit, vegetables, and dried fruit. We have a long history in the wine industry, and our experts have even been advising Azerbaijani wine producers. The Republic of Moldova has very affordable, high quality dry and sparkling wines and we are very interested in supplying them to Azerbaijan, as we do to many other countries, including the ones neighboring Azerbaijan. There are good opportunities for supplies of petrochemical and plastic products, pomegranates, citrus fruits, and tea from Azerbaijan to Moldova, as well as the exchange of sweets and other food products. Our country, in turn, can supply grains, medicines, plants, cosmetics, different devices, and agricultural equipment to Azerbaijan. It is evident that the meeting of the intergovernmental commission and the business forum would give further impetus to bilateral trade. With the same purpose, some consultations are being held between interested partners in order to open the Moldovan Trading House in Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani Trading House in Moldova.
There are good prospects for more cooperation in the energy sector, transportation, and wine industry. Exchange of experience in the use of modern technologies in agriculture, grain production, creation and testing of maize hybrids, renewable energy, and cattle breeding are also prospective fields for cooperation.
The Republic of Moldova is interested in joining the transport corridors which pass through Azerbaijan from Europe to Asia and vice-versa, such as the Silk Road and other projects developed through TRACECA. Goods and passengers could be transported via the Moldovan Port of Giurgiulești on the Danube, the Black Sea, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and more. Moreover, the Republic of Moldova can be a part of the different transport and transit corridors going to or from Azerbaijan through some of its railway and road segments. This is especially true in the framework of the developed project of the Black Sea belt, which will be the longest highway in Europe and will cross Moldova.
Investments are also a very important area of cooperation. The Republic of Moldova signed the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU, and Azerbaijani investors who establish some production in our country can access the European market more easily now. Moreover, Moldova offers good conditions for investors in its free economic zones and industrial parks. Today, there are about 120 joint Azerbaijani-Moldovan companies in Moldova with the total capital exceeding 32 million Moldovan Lei (about $2 million dollars).
We have good potential for cooperation in the area of tourism. The number of tourists is growing each year, however, there are still only several tens of thousands of tourists from Azerbaijan in the Republic of Moldova and several thousand tourists from Moldova in Azerbaijan per year. At the same time, the potential is very high. Azerbaijan works hard to develop this area, the latest important step being the establishment of the State Agency of Tourism. In my country, the State Tourism Agency has recently become a part of the Investment and Export Promotion Organization (MIEPO). I believe this restructuring will help to increase the flow of tourists and find new ways to promote the Republic of Moldova as a tourist destination in other countries. An exchange of visits of tourist operators and journalists between the two countries and the opening of a direct flight between Chisinau and Baku would also contribute to the development of cooperation in this area. We have discussed this issue at various levels, but it is not just the matter of the political will; it depends on the business plans of private airlines.
Q.: What places in Moldova would you advise to visit?
A.: We have very many interesting and beautiful places to visit in the Republic of Moldova. For instance, there are two unique wine cellars, Cricova and Mileștii Mici, which stretch over 100 kilometers and may be traveled by vehicle. The latter, the Mileștii Mici cellar has been included in the Guinness World Records as the largest collection of wine in the world, with over 1.5 million collection bottles. Many famous wineries such as Purcari, Asconi, Chateau Vartely, Mimi Castel, and others open boutique hotels and restaurants where the guests can discover and enjoy different Moldovan traditional dishes and wines.
The Republic of Moldova is also rich in monasteries and churches, some carved into rock walls, dating back to different centuries. There are some monuments which are a legacy of the Mongol and Ottoman Empires. The Soroca and Tighina Fortresses were built in the Middle Ages and are must-see places. We also have beautiful nature reserves with hills and plains, rivers and lakes, cliffs and forests, making ecotourism very popular in Moldova. The cultural life of the country is very rich. There are many museums, parks, cathedrals, theatres, and concert halls in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova, and other major cities in the country. We have great opera singers, folk and classical orchestras, pop and jazz bands, musicians, and dance groups as many foreign artists perform concerts in Chisinau. The Lautarii and Flueras folk orchestras, the Codreanca sport dance club, the National Opera and Ballet, Mihai Eminescu and Eugene Ionesco theatres, opera singers such as Mihai Munteanu and Valentina Nafornita, pop singers such as Ion Suruceanu, Dan Balan, Nelly Ciobanu, Valy Boghean, and Brio Sonoris, and Concertino groups, among others are very famous and known not only in Moldova, but also in many other countries, including in Azerbaijan. I am sure that any tourist can spend an amazing vacation in Moldova.
Q.: Is Moldova interested in gas supplies from Azerbaijan? Will such supplies be possible after the launch of the Southern Gas Corridor and the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania interconnector?
A.: Energy security is a priority for the Republic of Moldova since we are almost fully dependent on energy imports. We are very interested in any projects which can help to diversify our energy supplies. The Southern Gas Corridor opens up great opportunities for us. In 2014-2015, a gas pipeline from Iasi in Romania to Ungheni on the Moldovan border was built. It is a project of national importance and now the second stage of its extension to Chisinau, the largest gas consumer in Moldova, is being implemented with the objective to be finalized by the end of 2018. So, when the Azerbaijani gas reaches Romania via the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania interconnector or any other pipeline, through Bulgaria for example, we will be able to get it too. I even believe that, in such a case, the Nabucco gas pipeline project could be resumed one day.
Q.: The Embassy of Moldova in Azerbaijan has organized a number of cultural events in recent years, do you plan to continue this trend?
A.: Over the past two years, we have exchanged a lot of cultural events. Our musicians participated in the International Silk Road Music Festival in Sheki and the International Mugham Festival in Baku. The well-known Moldovan musician, Constantin Moskovici, recorded an anthology of Azerbaijani music on the pan-flute and has performed in many concerts in Baku.
For the first time, Moldovan wine producers took part in the 2016 Ganja International Wine Festival and relevant representatives of the country participated in different events within the framework of the “European Youth Capital 2016” and the “Cultural Capital of the CIS 2017” projects in Ganja, the International Folk-Dance Festival “Bridge of Friendship” in Quba, and the Baku International Book Fair. We also screened our films at the European Film Festivals and during Francophonie Weeks in Azerbaijan. Moreover, we organized a number of Moldovan exhibitions in Baku, including a photo exhibition called “Moldova: About the Land and the People” by the Moldovan photographer Anatol Poiata, a Duet-symposium by Azerbaijani and Moldovan ceramic masters MirTeymur Mammadov and Valentin Rusu, an exhibition of Moldovan artist and journalist Vasile Botnaru who became known for his wine painting technique, as well as exhibitions of the well-known artists Ion and Julia Carchelan, Cesar Secrieru, and more. The Moldovan National Festival of Mărțișor was even celebrated in two of Baku’s schools this year.
At the beginning of March this year Baku also hosted Moldovan Literature Days where the Anthology of Literature of the Republic of Moldova, containing the works of about 40 authors from Moldova, as well as two books translated in the Azerbaijani language, were presented with the participation of some of our writers. Likewise, Days of Azerbaijani Literature are to take place in Moldova in the middle of May where the Anthology of Azerbaijani Literature, translated into Romanian, will be presented by some writers and poets from Azerbaijan. It is also to be mentioned that other books by Azerbaijani writers such as Nizami, Anar Rzaev (Anar), Chingiz Abdullayev, and Elchin Afandiyev were also translated into the Romanian language and published in Moldova. We plan to further boost cooperation in the cultural area and organize more various cultural events. For instance, we are working to bring some Moldovan folk bands to Baku at the beginning of autumn when we will celebrate our National Day. We helped to establish contacts between various cultural unions and organizations in our two countries, in which they cooperate directly. In this connection, it is worth mentioning that we have the Nizami Square and the Nizami statue in Chisinau and it would be wonderful to have something similar, for example, a street or square named after one of the Moldovan cultural figures, including erecting a bust of such a figure in Azerbaijan, this issue having already been touched upon with relevant Azerbaijani authorities.
Q.: What are your impressions about Azerbaijan? In your opinion, what attracts foreigners to Azerbaijan?
A.: I have many Azerbaijani friends and I knew quite a lot about Azerbaijan even before coming here. This was due to my good friends from Azerbaijan, whom I knew from my University days, as well as some Azerbaijani diplomats whom I worked with previously at the United Nations or in my country. In this vein, I am pleased to especially mention the present Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Republic of Moldova, Gudsi Osmanov, and the Chairman of the Moldovan Azerbaijanis Congress, Vugar Novruzov, both of whom contribute a lot to the development of bilateral relations between our countries.
Our countries have much in common – hospitality, delicious cuisine, and open and friendly people. I am delighted to see the development of Azerbaijan and its achievements in all areas. I have visited many cities and places throughout the country – Shaki, Gabala, Sumgayit, Guba, Khachmaz, Gakh, Gusar, and the must-see places such as Gobustan, Lahıc, YanarDag, and Ateshgah. I have enjoyed them all very much. The natural landscapes of the country are also magnificent. Azerbaijan hosts a lot of major international forums, in the context of the Baku Process, including the Global Forum, Baku International Humanitarian Forum, and the Gas & Oil International Conference. Many international exhibitions have already become traditions for Azerbaijan. Some important remarkable international cultural and sports events, such as YouthVision, Formula 1, Islamic Solidarity Games, and many festivals are held in Baku and around the country, which I always enjoy attending when possible. And of course, wonderful Baku with its unique great architecture, well preserved historical and cultural sites, buildings and monuments, museums, theatres, traditional and modern concert halls, and sports complexes. In my view, Azerbaijan is a must visit country and I definitely advise my friends from my country, as well as from others, to visit the Country of Fire and the City of Winds.