In an exclusive interview for the Azeri Observer, the outgoing Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Azerbaijan, Dr. Hamad A.S. Khudair, shares what the two countries have in common, speaks about cooperation in oil production, renewable energy, and tourism, and discusses plans to establish a Saudi Cultural Center aimed at enhancing the bilateral ties. He also explains why his country has not established diplomatic relations with Armenia for many years and what role Saudi companies will play in the Azerbaijani territories liberated from occupation. Finally, he talks about his goals as Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Azerbaijan and the steps taken toward these goals.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Mr. Ambassador, last year, the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia celebrate the 30th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. What can you say about the level of our bilateral relations on this anniversary?
Answer: The relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Azerbaijan over the last 30 years have been quite unique. Our countries have been supporting each other in all sectors. Due to the Karabakh conflict, Saudi Arabia did not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia. This fact points to the long-standing and complex levels of relations between Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, which get stronger with each day. Both states have distinguished bilateral ties as they back one another in the international arena. That is why our relation is so unique.
The Saudi-Azerbaijani relations are among the most significant collaborations since the independence of brotherly Azerbaijan. That is why our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, has attended the event on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan. The event was attended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov, and the management of the Foreign Ministry, as well. Moreover, both ministers spoke at the event, noting with satisfaction that relations between the two countries have risen to their highest levels in the past 30 years. The leaders of both states have remarkable relations, which boost the political bonds – in bilateral and multilateral fields – as they offer reciprocal support on the international level. Simultaneously, the special bonds between the two brotherly nations have positively affected their tourism spheres.
Q.: Both Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan are oil-producing countries and members of OPEC+. How do you see the prospects of energy cooperation between our countries considering the world energy crisis that we are facing?
A.: Investment in energy projects in Azerbaijan is very important. Maintaining the highest level of cooperation ensures the stability of the oil market, as our ministries of energy require tight and perfect cooperation in this field.
Q.: Do you see any potential opportunities for investment cooperation? How do Saudi Arabian investors see Azerbaijan?
A.: The Saudi Arabian Oil Company (also known as Aramco) and ACWA Power (for renewable energy) are international companies from Saudi Arabia that are involved in investment projects in Azerbaijan. The former has two related projects in Azerbaijan. The first project is located in the Absheron region and has already been implemented, while the second will take place in the Caspian Sea.
Regarding new investment projects in Azerbaijan, as an Embassy, we provide our support by arranging meetings, which helps our businessmen gather and discuss relevant opportunities in B2B meetings with their Azerbaijani counterparts. In addition, there is a tremendous cooperation between our public and private sectors with Azerbaijan.
Q.: Mr. Ambassador, Saudi Arabia has always supported Azerbaijan in the issue of Karabakh. What is your stance on this issue after the resolution of this conflict?
A.: The future of Karabakh is bright. So far, the situation is stable. Of course, based on the invitation submitted to the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a number of Saudi companies will have a role in investing in the liberated territories. Though that depends on the favorable conditions and the available capabilities of the liberated territories. Politically speaking, after Azerbaijan and Turkiye started the normalization process with Armenia, which we support, it is now the time for the Saudi Government to establish formal relations with Armenia.
Q.: Before the pandemic, the tourist flow from Saudi Arabia to Azerbaijan had increased several-fold. At the same time, Saudi Arabia opened its borders to international tourists in 2019. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, the tourist exchange stopped. What is your expectation for cooperation in this sphere now? Do you plan to take any measures to promote this cooperation?
A.: First of all, the cultures of Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan share many commonalities, both clearly encouraging generosity and hospitability. There is strong cooperation between our countries to promote Azerbaijan and the beautiful cities of Saudi Arabia. I would also like to mention that direct flights operating between our countries have increased from two to three airlines, with about 55 flights per week, especially in the summer seasons. Because of the great work done by both sides, we have seen many tourists visiting Azerbaijan, with a further increase of up to 120,000 this year. Therefore, the number will continue to grow in coming years as long as the health situation is stable.
Q.: The Islamic heritage strengthens the existing ties between Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan. Tell us about our joint activity within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
A.: Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan have a tremendous heritage to share with the world, and both countries have been working together in the framework of OIC by fully supporting our Islamic interests worldwide and bringing our values to other countries and international organizations.
Q.: How do shared religious values contribute to the development of humanitarian and cultural exchanges between our nations?
A.: Both states have always stood side by side on such matters; hence, the Kingdom had provided needed humanitarian aid to the Azerbaijani IDPs and refugees. When it comes to cultural cooperation, I would like to highlight our great projects with our brotherly partner Azerbaijan; such as the International Center for the Arabic Language in Baku Eurasian University. This center operates with the university to teach the Arabic language and translate books into both languages in order to better serve both Saudi and Azerbaijani cultures. In the near future, a Saudi Cultural Center will be established in Azerbaijan to further enhance the bilateral cooperation between the two states. This center will carry out a number of tasks, providing Arabic language courses designed for universities in Azerbaijan, coordinating work between the cultural authorities in the Kingdom and Azerbaijan, and organizing cultural visits between the two sides.
Q.: Mr. Ambassador, you have been heading the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to Azerbaijan for about four years now. What have you learned about Azerbaijan during this period?
A.: Well, since I assumed the office of Ambassador to Azerbaijan, we have greatly enjoyed this political journey, during which I have managed to establish distinguished relations with many politicians. So far, I have succeeded in raising the level of relations between the two countries in all fields, achieving this goal with the invaluable support from the brotherly Azerbaijani Government.
While in Azerbaijan, I had valuable opportunities to develop close and significant bonds not just with government figures but also with the intellectuals, journalists, businesspeople, and average citizens, all of whom show magnanimity and nobility. It worth mentioning that I have visited many cities of Azerbaijan, and most of these visits were official stops aimed at enhancing relations between the Embassy and the officials in these cities. I am very delighted to say that I have visited most of the cities and villages in the liberated territories of the distinguished Karabakh region; in fact, the city of Shusha is one of the most outstanding cities that I have visited.