In an exclusive interview, Jordanian Ambassador to Baku, Mr. Sami Asem Ghosheh, advises the Azeri Observer Magazine of the high-level meetings between the two countries, latest bilateral documents on cooperation, and prospects of tourist and cultural exchange. He also theorises on the impact of Covid-19 on Jordan’s economy and his expectations from the launch of A direct flight between Baku and Amman, which was postponed as a result of the pandemic.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Can you give us an overview of the political relations between our countries and cooperation within international organizations?
Answer: Jordan recognized the independence of Azerbaijan on December 28, 1991, immediately after Azerbaijan declared it. After that, in February 1993, a high-level delegation headed by His Royal Highness Prince Raad bin Zeid, paid an official visit to Azerbaijan. During the visit, Jordan and Azerbaijan signed a protocol on establishing diplomatic relations, as well as a Joint Declaration and a Memorandum of Understanding on Technical, Economic and Cultural Cooperation. The two countries have exchanged a number of high-level visits – His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein, has visited Azerbaijan four times (in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2019) and His Excellency President Ilham Aliyev, has visited Jordan twice (in 2007 and 2009). These developments are crucial in order to maintain relations, as they motivate us to work hard and develop our brotherly links. Jordan and Azerbaijan enjoy a strong and fruitful international cooperation, with mutual support of each other, thus confirmed by the two leaders (Ed. note: Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev) during their meeting in Baku, last December. Our countries support each other in important issues within the international arena and international organizations, and the bilateral political contacts are excellent. There is a strong coordination between the two countries as members of such organisations as the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Q.: What are the most promising areas for bilateral economic cooperation?
A.: When I presented my credentials to H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev last November, we discussed the possibility of enhancing the cooperation between our countries at all levels, paying specific attention to economic cooperation. It was noted that our trade fell short of our expectations and it was necessary to take additional steps to increase the turnover of mutual investments. I believe that tourism is one of the promising areas capable to ensure the development of our economic relations. The availability of attractive tourism facilities in both countries opens broad possibilities for cooperation between our tourism companies. However, the development of the tourist links between the two countries is associated not only with the bilateral agreements and visa procedures, but also with the promotion, development, and implementation of information in the private sector of both countries.
Q.: What effect does the coronavirus pandemic have on the Jordanian economy? Do you expect it to influence the economic cooperation with Azerbaijan?
A.: I think it is too early to predict the extent of the negative impact on the Jordanian economy. However, the crisis resulted in a sharp drop in demand and production. In addition, the tourism sector will require some time to recover. Jordan was quicker than most countries in the region, to take strict measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 by imposing a tight lockdown and stopping all international flights and closing all border crossings. Recently, following the instructions of His Majesty King Abdullah II, Jordan has lifted the majority of restrictions in the economic activity to help jump-start the economy and allow businesses back to work; but with less staff and strict social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has also negatively affected the economic, business, trade and tourism cooperation between all countries of the world, including Jordan and Azerbaijan. But I am sure that very soon we will overcome this crisis – because only together we can stop the worldwide outbreak of the COVID-19 and achieve success in all areas of cooperation.
Q.: In December 2019, Azerbaijani Transport Ministry and Jordanian Maritime Commission signed a memorandum of understanding. What opportunities does it open up?
A.: The Memorandum was signed during the visit of His Majesty King Abdullah II, to Azerbaijan. Its objective is the recognition of maritime education, training, and certification of competency of seafarers between the two countries, which could increase the number of Azerbaijani students in Jordan and vice versa. In addition, this document will facilitate their access to employment opportunities.
Q.: Another memorandum which was signed between our countries in late 2019, was in the sphere of culture. How will it contribute to the development of cooperation in this area? Are any initiatives planned within this memorandum?
A.: Based on this MoU, the two countries will promote cooperation in many areas, such as the exchange of experience and information on the cultural policies; development of the direct contacts between cultural institutions, libraries, publishing houses and museums; organization of art exhibitions, joint scientific conferences, symposiums and colloquiums in the field of culture and other cultural events; as well as the exchange of experts in the sphere of music, theatre, folk art and handicraft industry.
A.: The tourist flow between our countries is increasing year after year. How do you see the prospects of further cooperation in this area?
A.: According to the latest available statistics, the number of Azerbaijani tourists in Jordan increased to 621 in 2018, compared to 542 tourists in 2017. The number of Jordanian tourists in Azerbaijan hit 3,560 in 2018. We plan to start a direct flight between Amman and Baku, which will have a positive impact on the strengthening of our bilateral relations, increasing the exchanging tourist flow. In addition, I believe that organizing a tourism forum for the agencies of both countries, and airing TV and documentary reports about Jordan and Azerbaijan, will proffer mutually beneficial results.
Q.: It was planned to launch the flight between Baku and Amman in May 2020. However, the launch did not happen due to the coronavirus. Have any decisions been made on this postponement?
A.: Yes, we planned to launch a direct flight between Baku and Amman by the end of May 2020, in cooperation with BUTA Airways. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has postponed these plans. We have not agreed on a new date yet, especially because the special quarantine regulations are still in place in both Jordan and Azerbaijan, and airports are still closed.
Q.: Tell us about the measures which raise mutual awareness between Azerbaijan and Jordan.
A.: I believe that cultural and student exchanges, are the best ways to raise awareness about Jordan in Azerbaijan and vice versa. Conferences, seminars, workshops and reciprocal visits, assist in promoting these kinds of exchanges. It is important to share different ideas, traditions, knowledge, customs, beliefs and languages, to make you see the world through a different lens, increasing our acceptance of others. We are working on a draft executive program for cooperation between Jordan and Azerbaijan in the fields of science, culture, arts, youth, sports, archaeology, health and media. The adoption and application of this program will have a good influence on raising the awareness, in regards to each other’s countries.
Q.: Could you share your impressions about Azerbaijan and its people during your time here? What are the greatest similarities and differences between our countries?
A.: Jordan and Azerbaijan are very similar. Since the first day here, I feel this is my second home, and have been delighted by the kindness of the Azerbaijani people and their warm welcome. I am very impressed with Azerbaijan’s progress in all fields. I like Baku – this city combines the contemporary, the authenticity and history; you can feel them all while walking through its streets. Finally, Azerbaijan is distinguished by its natural beauty, especially in the regions of Guba, Gabala and Ganja.