THE AZERI OBSERVER MAGAZINE IS LAUNCHING A NEW SECTION WHICH WILL TELL THE READERS ABOUT THE ACTIVITY OF AZERBAIJANI DIPLOMATIC MISSIONS ABROAD. THE FIRST GUEST OF THIS SECTION IS AZERBAIJANI AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA AND FAMOUS COMPOSER AND SINGER, POLAD BULBULOGLU. HE EXPLAINS HOW MUSIC HELPS IN DIPLOMACY, SPEAKS ABOUT PROGRESS AND PROSPECTS IN BILATERAL ECONOMIC COOPERATION, AND SHEDS LIGHT ON A LONG LIST OF EVENTS PLANNED BY THE AZERBAIJANI EMBASSY IN RUSSIA FOR 2019.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Azerbaijan’s history was inextricably connected with Russia for a long time. Does the common history facilitate or hinder the development of current bilateral relations?
Answer: Of course it facilitates the development of bilateral relations! We share common notions and views on many issues, which were shaped in the period of a shared history. We have a standard evaluation criterion, especially in the sphere of culture, and particularly in music, literature, theater, and cinema. Despite our differences in religion, traditions, and mentality, we understand each other well, and it is no doubt that our coexistence as one country and creation of common notions of good and bad contributed to this mutual understanding. Of course, the format of relations between our countries changed in 1991 when Azerbaijan became independent. Now we assess Russia as a strategic partner.
Q.: How have the relations between Azerbaijan and Russia changed in recent years?
A.: When Azerbaijan acquired independence, our relations developed, let us say, in not a particularly friendly way due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, weak economy, and the new geopolitical map emerging in the region. The situation started to change gradually in 1993 when Heydar Aliyev, the national leader of the Azerbaijani people, came to power and then when he transformed our relationship into a strategic partnership in 2000 when Vladimir Putin headed Russia. When I was appointed as Ambassador to Russia in 2006, to develop and strengthen the existing relations between our countries, I set a goal which I continue to work on today.
Q.: People in Russia know you not only as Ambassador of Azerbaijan but also as a singer and composer, whose songs were listened to and loved throughout the Soviet Union. Does this fame help you in your diplomatic work?
A.: Absolutely! I will tell you a story that happened at the start of my diplomatic career in Russia. I had to ask the head of one of the Russian regions to intervene in an issue related to one of our compatriots. I called him and introduced myself as Ambassador Polad Bulbuloglu. The first thing he asked was, “Are you the one from the film ‘Don’t Be Afraid, I Am Here For You!’?” (a famous Soviet film where Polad Bulbuloglu starred). When I said, “Yes, I am,” he immediately helped resolve the problem. I have had a lot of these cases over the years. My popularity helps me a lot in my current role.
Q.: One of the largest Azerbaijani diasporas lives in Russia. How does its activity influence on the development of relations between the countries?
A.: Yes, you are right. One of the largest Azerbaijani diasporas lives in Russia, and it includes representatives of very different professions. We are proud that our compatriots, together with their colleagues, glorify Russian science, culture, and medicine. Besides, there are many Azerbaijanis among the successful businesspeople who contribute to the development of the Russian economy. In general, the activities of the diaspora contribute to the overall development of humanitarian, trade, and economic cooperation between our countries.
Q.: How has the trade and investment cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia changed in recent years? What spheres of the economy are of the most interest to the Russian investors in Azerbaijan and vice versa?
A.: The economic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia is developing very dynamically, and the bilateral trade turnover is increasing year after year, now approaching $3 billion per year. The volume of mutual investments is also growing. It is worth noting that the agenda of the last official visit of the President of Azerbaijan to Russia in September focused on economic issues and achieved the signing of 16 different economic documents. Russia is one of our main trade partners – it tops the list of exporters to Azerbaijan and ranks first among importers of our non-oil products. The very first trade office of Azerbaijan abroad was in Russia. The opening of the Russian Export Center’s office in Baku and the reconstruction of the Azerbaijani pavilion in the Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva (VDNKh) park in Moscow, will make a significant contribution to the development of our trade and economic relations. To increase our exports and promote the ‘Made in Azerbaijan’ brand, we organize export missions to Russia and have a joint stand of Azerbaijani companies at exhibitions in Russia. We also work on the creation of specific customs points on the Azerbaijani-Russian border to increase the export of Azerbaijani excise goods. The Azerbaijani business center, which launched in the Russian city of Astrakhan with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in May 2018, is especially important for expanding our economic ties. Azerbaijan-Russian and Russian-Azerbaijan business councils also play a significant role in the development of cooperation between businesses. In 2019 we plan to open two Azerbaijani wine houses in Moscow. To date, Russia has invested over $4.2 billion in Azerbaijan, and our country, in turn, has invested over $1 billion in Russia. Azerbaijan is one of the principal investors in the Russian region of the North Caucasus. Azerbaijani companies have built a health center in the city of Yessentuki, a canned fruits and vegetables plant in Krasnodar, spa hotel complexes in Zheleznovodsk and Kislovodsk, and implemented many other successful projects in Russia. The SOCAR polymer polypropylene producing plant in Sumgait, a pharmaceutical factory in Pirallahi Industrial Park, cooperation between Azerbaijani Ganja Auto Plant and Russian KAMAZ and Ural automotive plants, and joint projects between Azermash and GAZ automobile companies are all great examples of the projects with mutual investments. In total, there are more than 700 companies with Russian capital in Azerbaijan. Russian companies are also involved in projects in Azerbaijan as contractors. I would also like to note that the interest in bilateral cooperation in tourism and information technology is increasing. In 2018 alone over 800,000 Russians visited Azerbaijan. So in the short term, we can expect an increase in investments in these areas as well.
Q.: Are there any spheres where the cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia is underdeveloped and does not meet the current potential?
A.: Every high-level meeting, intergovernmental and interministerial consultations give a new impetus to cooperation. The possibilities for increasing cooperation are endless. Though, we should take into account the differences in the territory and population of our countries. Azerbaijan pays attention to the Russian language more than any other country. We have more than 300 schools and several universities which teach in Russian. Moscow, on the other hand, has only one school with the Azerbaijani ethnocultural component, and unfortunately, the conditions affecting its functioning in recent years do not correspond to current good relations between our countries. However, we are working with our Russian colleagues to solve this problem.
Q.: What events and initiatives are the Azerbaijani Embassy in Moscow planning for 2019?
A.: I believe that the most important event of 2019 is the 100th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s diplomatic service bodies, which will be on July 9th, and the embassy will organize several events to celebrate. The President declared 2019 as the year of the great Azerbaijani poet and philosopher Nasimi. In 2018 his bust was erected at MGIMO University in Moscow, at the initiative of the Vice-President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Leyla Aliyeva. This year we plan to continue this initiative and organize an international conference on the heritage of Nasimi in Russia. Recently, we, together with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, organized a Seven Beauties exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Applied Arts in Moscow. We also plan to hold an Azerbaijan Textile exhibition in the Moscow Museum of Oriental Art jointly with the Carpet Museum of Azerbaijan. This year, the Russian Academy of Arts will host a personal exhibition of Azerbaijani artist Museib Amirov. We will continue the series of Azerbaijani music concerts in the chamber halls of Moscow. Moreover, we, in cooperation with the club of Igor Butman, plan to organize a concert to commemorate the magnificent pianist and composer Vagif Mustafazade [one of the founders of the national jazz music and the new jazz trend called “jazz-mugham”]. We organized Autumn Gifts from Azerbaijan exhibition on Tverskaya Square in Moscow in October 2018, and after its great success, we decided to hold it annually. This year it will be held in September. Additionally, I am a doyen of the diplomatic corps in Moscow since last year, and we are planning several events together with the State Protocol Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry. In January we organized a meeting of ambassadors with the world-famous painter and sculptor Zurab Tsereteli and celebrated his 85th anniversary as a friendly diplomatic ‘family’ in Moscow.
Q.: You have been heading the board of The Intergovernmental Foundation for Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Cooperation (IFESCCO) of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) for several years. Tell our readers how this organization contributes to the development of cooperation in the CIS.
A.: The IFESCCO is made up of nine countries and was created to maintain and further develop the CIS countries’ common humanitarian space and intercultural dialogue. The organization is focusing on multiple joint activities and projects which include culture, education, science, information and mass communications, sports, and tourism. One of the most alluring projects of the organization is the CIS Forums of Artistic and Scientific Intelligentsia, where the representatives of our countries have an opportunity to communicate, share opinions on actual issues, and conditionally speaking, compare their notes. The IFESCCO also annually presents well known cultural and scientific figures in their own countries and throughout the entire post-Soviet space, with Commonwealth Stars Awards. Many outstanding representatives of Azerbaijan have received this award over the years. Moreover, the IFESCCO pays a lot of attention to initiatives aimed at youth cooperation. It is essential to ensure the development of the traditions of friendship and good neighborliness in new generations.
Q.: A big part of your life was dedicated to music, and you achieved great heights in this area. However, you changed directions and have been engaged in politics and diplomacy for many years. Do you miss music? Do you manage to find time for creativity? Can your fans hope to hear new musical pieces by you?
A.: Despite a busy schedule, I try not to leave the music industry. On the other hand, I cannot spend as much time and energy on it as I would like. In recent years, I have written “Love and Death” a classic ballet based on the heroic epic Kitabi – Dede Gorgud, which was later staged at theaters of opera and ballet in Baku, Yekaterinburg, and Minsk. I have also written music for several films, created an arrangement for Azerbaijani folk songs performed by my father Bulbul (a famous Azerbaijani and Soviet opera tenor and folk music performer), and orchestrated some of my songs for a symphony orchestra. I do not have solo concerts as I had before, but I cannot refuse when my old friends and colleagues ask me to perform at anniversaries or memorial evenings. My anniversary concert in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow in 2015 was an exception. During that concert I promised the audience, which did not let me leave the stage for a long time, to have a concert to celebrate my 75th anniversary. The time has flown by so fast, and I think I should start to prepare for the next concert and maybe even write a new music piece. In general, I do not have time to get bored. I hope to make my plans, ideas, and dreams come true and have a big desire to continue to create.