BY NARMIN RZAYEVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE AZERI OBSERVER ON THE OCCASION OF THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE JORDANIAN EMBASSY IN BAKU, THE AMBASSADOR OF JORDAN TO AZERBAIJAN, NASSAR IBRAHIM AL-HABASHNEH, SHARES HIS VIEWS ON THE MAIN SIMILAR FEATURES OF THE FOREIGN POLICY OF BAKU AND AMMAN, RECENTIAT INITIVES BUILDING BRIDGES BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES, THE NAGORNO-KARABAKH AND THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICTS, AND THE BRILLIANT PROSPECTS OF COOPERATION IN THE TOURISM SPHERE.
Question: Could you tell us about the history of relations between Azerbaijan and Jordan?
Answer: Relations between Azerbaijan and Jordan are excellent and come from old roots. They started with the recognition of Azerbaijan as an independent country. We were one of the first states in the international arena to recognise Azerbaijan as an independent nation. The two countries have been supporting each other for decades de-facto, until in 2008 when the Jordanian Embassy was finally established here, in Baku. We will undoubtedly celebrate this special 10-year occasion. We are celebrating it now with you – Azeri Observer is a respectable publication, and being published here is also an occasion [laughs].
Unfortunately, the long-lasting conflict in the Middle East is an obstacle in our economic relations, as well as an obstacle for overall development and relationships in the Islamic world. Hopefully, with joined efforts, the world will finally overcome this issue and widen the connection between our countries.
Q.: Jordan and Azerbaijan pursue much more moderate and soft policy than other Muslim countries. How do you assess this approach?
A.: These are the similarities of two countries, two nations, and two leaderships. We are seeking moderation. We are Muslims, but we are moderate. We fight extremism in all its manifestations and forms. Our people are intelligent and educated, they understand what religion is, and this is why we can proudly say, “our leaders are successful.” Jordan has put a lot of effort into helping the world understand what Islam is. In 2004, to educate moderate Islam against extremism, the state published the famous Amman message that called for tolerance and unity. Our leadership wanted the danger to be recognized internationally, confronted, and fought against. The principle of true Islam, the religion of love, enlightenment, and coexistence, is what we teach our children and what we want to bring into the world.
Q.: The word “coexistence” touches open wounds of our countries: the conflict in the Middle East and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory is still under Armenian occupation. In your opinion, how should the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict be resolved in line with international law?
A.: It’s a pity that a great country like Azerbaijan is suffering from such an unfortunate and long-lasting conflict. In my opinion, there is wisdom in trying to solve this problem diplomatically. The leadership of Azerbaijan is taking the right path to reach the final result; peaceful resolution is the only way to go ahead. Peace produces more peace while aggression creates more aggression. Everyone is capable of war. Azerbaijan is a powerful country, and it can always rely on its military forces – but we all must abide by the international resolutions and rules.
Q.: What can you say about the Journalists Association of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation States (JAOICS) initiative to bring together journalists from Islamic countries? What prospects do you see for this newly established Baku-based journalists’ association?
A.: As soon as the creation of JAOICS was publicly announced, Jordan immediately joined in the event. Our politicians and journalists participated in every gathering. On behalf of the Islamic world, this is sincerely a wonderful project to be sponsored by Azerbaijan. It will hopefully bring the Islamic world closer together, bring more understanding, and joint efforts for the benefit of all.
Q.: Steps have been taken over the last several years to strengthen relations between our countries. For example, Jordanian journalists visited our country twice on the invitation of the Azerbaijani government. In 2018 a book called ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and International Law’ by Jordanian historian and researcher Omar al-Armouti was translated to the Azerbaijani language and published in Azerbaijan. In late September, the Journalists Association for the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation States (JAOICS) organized a roundtable and presentation of the book, which was attended by its author. How have these measures made our countries closer? Do you plan further cooperation in this sphere in the future?
A.: Most of the events like that are happening without any efforts from my side. The interest of the concerned people gave them the incentive to work on projects like the mentioned one. Omar al-Armouti has published more than one book concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and possible paths for its solution – with the cooperation of your embassy in Jordan. This reflects the interest and love our two nations have toward each other. What we facilitate is the interaction between our countries. We have a lot of guests from Azerbaijan visiting Jordan, as well as Azerbaijan hosting multiple events for Jordanian visitors. Our journalists take part in all of the international events organized by Azerbaijan such as the Global Baku Forum, Nizami Ganjavi international conference, and sports activities including the Islamic Games. The Third Azerbaijan-Jordan Economic Commission also gathered not long ago in Jordan – to help motivate deeper commercial relations between the two countries. Businesspeople will soon visit Azerbaijan where multiple touristic and cultural activities will take place. These interactions are essential for both countries.
Q.: Tourism is one of the main pillars of the Jordanian economy. Do you plan any measures to attract tourists from Azerbaijan?
A.: Recently, we took a trip to Amman where Azerbaijani journalists visited the capital and filmed a documentary about Jordan. They will soon return and premiere the film to the public. This was planned to raise awareness of the Azerbaijani audience. We are also planning events to capture the attention of local journalists and writers. We want to motivate them to visit Jordan and re-explore this friendly and beautiful country. Our goal is to fill the gap between our two countries and to inform more Azerbaijani people about Jordan, in hopes of making Amman their next touristic destination. It is worth it!
Q.: Recently, Azerbaijan became a popular destination for tourists coming from the Middle East. Do you plan to attract Jordanian people to Azerbaijan?
A.: It seems to me, to be honest, that I am working more for Azeri people than for Jordanians (laughs). Whenever I go back to Jordan, I can’t stop talking about this beautiful country, and my friends often joke that I am becoming almost as much of an Azerbaijani as I am a Jordanian. I think this might be true.
For the past several years I have noticed more and more Jordanians visit Azerbaijan, and, moreover, want to visit Azerbaijan. In the past, no one knew much about Azerbaijan as a touristic destination. Now, more people are familiar with Azerbaijani culture, and why it is so important to put Azerbaijan on your bucket list. I do encourage them to do so: Azerbaijan has beautiful nature, weather, history, and a gorgeous capital city. Baku is often called the second Dubai. Dubai is a beautiful modern city, but Baku also manages to combine the old and the new, history and industrialism, East and West. In the future, I am sure that Baku will be one of the jewels of the region.
Q.: How many tourists from Jordan visit Azerbaijan annually? How has this number changed over the past several years?
A.: Frankly, no one has researched this matter statistically. We are not talking thousands – we are talking hundreds, but I assure you, these numbers will increase. Just a few years ago no one in Azerbaijan knew about Jordan, and Jordanians had not much idea about Azerbaijan.
Q.: The issue of opening a direct flight between Baku and Amman has been under discussion for a long time. Is there any progress on this issue?
A.: We are working hard to solve this issue – the authorities of Jordan and Azerbaijan are cooperating in organizing a direct flight. The main obstacle is to convince the air companies that the flight is needed. It is a dual problem: people are hesitant to visit Jordan because there is no direct flight, and the direct flight has not opened because not many people have yet expressed interest in visiting Jordan. I am calling for people in both countries: Azerbaijan and Jordan are worth the two hours of waiting in the transit zone! In the meantime, we are trying to establish a charter flight from Tbilisi to Baku to Jordan.
Q.: On a different note, what was your impression of Azerbaijan before coming here and how has it evolved?
A.: My knowledge of Azerbaijan was very little before – I only researched the country the night before I accepted the job here. Before that, Azerbaijan for me was part of the Soviet Union, and I did not expect to see such a wonderful culture. I was surprised then – I was surprised even more when I came here myself. Azerbaijan never seizes to surprise me with its people, its beauty.
Q.: What has most impressed you about the culture and history of Azerbaijan? What makes this country unique from the other places you have worked?
A.: Undoubtedly, its people. They are kind, strong, and they remind me very much of my home country and my people.
Q.: In your opinion, what are the three most important things that foreigners should know about your country?
A.: The most important thing to know about Jordan before you visit is that our country is moderate, safe, and beautiful. Another thing is its people. Similar to the people of Azerbaijan, Jordanians are hospitable, educated, open to the world, and welcoming. The third thing is the beauty of Jordan – beauty in nature, beauty in cuisine, beauty in weather, and beauty in history including the old Roman cities and traces of Roman culture in eclectic combination with Islamic customs and traditions. Upon all of that, we are proud and blessed to have our Royal Family. From the beginning of the last century, they have created Jordan as it is now, and they have been honorable, respectable, and humanly leading it ever since. Jordanian leadership has never shown violence against its people, and the word of law has always been strong. They have made a miracle, to be honest. Jordan is not a rich country, but it is rich with its people and leadership, who always stand behind them. The only resource Jordan has always had in abundance is the strong will of its people. Sometimes that is all it takes on the way to success, prosperity, and happiness.