Right Moment for Strengthening Bilateral Ties

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In an exclusive interview for Azeri Observer, the Sweden’s Ambassador to Baku, Mr. Christian Kamill, talks about the activities of Swedish companies in Azerbaijan and explains why he anticipates the strengthening of bilateral ties in the near future. He also speaks about Sweden’s goals as the current OSCE chair and Azerbaijan-OSCE cooperation in this period. Finally, the Ambassador shares his impressions from a visit to Azerbaijan’s de-occupied territories and speaks about the potential he sees there.

BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER

Question: You are the first resident ambassador of Sweden in Baku. What does it mean for our bilateral relations? What are your goals for this post?

Answer: We have the perfect opportunity to strengthenSwedish-Azerbaijani cooperation, as both countries now have a fully-fledged diplomatic presence in both our respective capitals. I believe that there is ample space to develop our bilateral ties in many spheres, be it political, trade, culture, and other people-to-people contacts. Furthermore, I found myself here at a decisive point in Azerbaijan’s and the South Caucasus Region’s modern history. I believe that my government picked the right moment for strengthening our relations with Azerbaijan.

Q.: How do you assess the current level of cooperation between our countries?

A.: It’s fair to say that the establishment of this Embassy has been motivated mainly by political reasoning. Azerbaijan’s multi-vector, independent-minded foreign policy and geographical location alone make up very good reasons for keeping an Embassy in Baku. In addition, Sweden has committed itself to the engagement with Azerbaijan as a Member State of the European Union, and as a participating State of the OSCE. A little more than a decade ago, Sweden and Poland were the two EU countries responsible for introducing the idea of the EU Eastern Partnership program, and already since the 1990s Sweden has been a member of the larger Minsk group of the OSCE. Some well-known Swedish companies such as Ericsson (telecommunications), Oriflame (cosmetics) and ASSA Abloy (locks and security solutions) successfully operate in Azerbaijan. Another Swedish company, Emtunga, is involved in the extractive industries. Sweden does however not import fossil fuels from Azerbaijan, so we have to build our trade relations along other lines. As an interesting matter of fact, the number of Swedes working and living in Baku was more than tenfold bigger in 1913, compared to 2013 and of course, today. The Swedish Nobel family played a significant role in developing the oil industry in Baku around the turn of the XIX and XX centuries and their success brought many Swedes to Baku. Today the situation is much different, also in political terms, but certainly there is room for development with regard to trade turnover between our countries.

Q.: In January 2021 Sweden took over the presidency of the OSCE. Tell us about Sweden’s goals as the chair of this organization and the activities aimed at these goals.

A.: As Chair of the OSCE, Sweden’s primary focus will be on the fundamental tasks of the OSCE: to uphold the OSCE comprehensive concept of security and to contribute to resolving conflicts in accordance with international law. Contributing to conflict resolution in the OSCE region based on our commonly agreed principles and commitments will be at the top of our agenda. To this end, the Swedish Chair will actively support the OSCE’s existing conflict resolution formats and processes, through the special representatives of the Chairperson-in-Office. During the Swedish Chair, we will also prioritize implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. Gender-equal societies, where human rights are fully enjoyed by all, are more secure, with better prospects for sustainable, resilient, and prosperous development.

Q.: How do you see the prospects of cooperation between Azerbaijan and the OSCE under Swedish presidency?

A.: The visit by OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Ann Linde, to Baku on March 15 this year, provided a welcome opportunity to discuss our mutual engagement with regard to the OSCE. It is well known that for many years the OSCE has dealt with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As the armed conflict phase of 2020 ended less than two months before Sweden assumed the Chair of the OSCE, quite naturally the way forward with regard to permanent conflict settlement, was high on the agenda of meetings.

Q.: Swedish economy, which once was based on natural resources, is now known for its cutting-edge technologies. Could these technologies be applied in Azerbaijan?

A.: Certainly! Recently, I have been able to travel with diplomatic colleagues to Fuzuli, Agdam, Jabrayil, Zangilan, Gubadli and Lachin districts. There I have seen the devastation of war and occupation with my own eyes. Despite this sad and tragic picture, the rehabilitation process of these areas, and eventual return of internally displaced persons, provide opportunities for town-planning and communications that were simply not available or accessible in the 1990s, or even during the first decade of this century for that matter. Let me mention Swedish technologies for waste management, which turns solid waste into heating in winter, and cooling in summer. Considering Karabakh’s topography and climate I believe these solutions could be useful. After the bitter experiences from the long conflict, it is now important to focus towards a positive agenda for making these areas habitable again according to contemporary standards. Towns and villages in Karabakh should be rebuilt taking into account best practices from different countries. In this regard Sweden has much to offer.

Q.: Before the pandemic the Swedish Embassy initiated and participated in many cultural events. How do you adapt to the new reality? Could we expect any new cultural projects in the near future?

A.: I’m glad that you have noticed my Embassy’s activities in the sphere of culture. My Government’s strive for promoting gender equality has inspired me to a number of art projects in cooperation with Baku’s vibrant contemporary art scene. With the pandemic, the more traditional exhibition or festival formats have not been applicable, but online exhibitions, and production of a short film on the problem of domestic violence, became possible in 2020. Before my arrival to Baku, the Embassy commissioned the translation of nine books of famous children’s literature writer, Astrid Lindgren, to the Azerbaijani language and donated 610 editions to schools of IDP settlements. I have decided to bring this project to a logical close by donating an additional eight editions, to the future central libraries of the seven de-occupied districts, and to that of Shusha. It’s also worth mentioning that every year, starting from 2016, about 10-12 Azerbaijani students are awarded with the Swedish Institute’s full scholarship to continue their academic studies at Swedish universities. As was the case also in 2020. I believe that these alumni will also contribute to the development of relations between our societies. 

Q.: Tell us about your impressions from Baku and Azerbaijan.

A.: This could make a lengthy reply as I take much pleasure in exploring both the capital and countryside. Having spent three years in Azerbaijan, by today’s count I have visited the majority of the country’s districts, including two visits to Nakhchivan and the recent visits to Karabakh. There is much to see! When my tenure here was prolonged, I even started thinking of perhaps turning my impressions into some kind of printed issue with proposed itineraries for future visitors and tourists. In addition, my strongest impressions from Azerbaijan come from exploring the country’s rich musical culture; Kara Karayev’s Scene and Duet from the Path of Thunder ballet, Fikret Amirov’s symphonic mughams, and other orchestral works by both composers, being my favourites. Let me also mention the high quality of Azerbaijani food products, a wide selection of good restaurants, and the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables almost all year round. In general, Azerbaijan is a most hospitable country and Baku makes for the perfect diplomatic posting.