Opportunities and the reality of beneficial cooperation between Latvia and Azerbaijan are supported through executed projects

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Baku, 13 December 2016 –

Yuris Maklakovs

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

of the Republic of Latvia to the Republic of Azerbaijan

Marking the anniversaries, such as the 25th anniversary of the State Independences, is significant in terms of offering an opportunity to look back at the past, think over the achieved, summarize and analyse past events and also, based on this analysis, to make plans and decisions for the future.

Mentioned 25-year period can be characterized by stable development and establishment for Azerbaijan as is for Latvia and I would say that it was uneasy as both countries had to go through many challenges in order to be successful.

Collapse of the Soviet Union necessitated determining new avenues of development for Latvia and Azerbaijan. For Azerbaijan, the outset of this period was accompanied by a political instability and war, leading to the occupation of 20% of its territory, human toll, and additionally, you had to shoulder extra responsibilities and burden to provide shelter for IDPs. Latvia will always remember those hard historical events, and that is why our government supported and will support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Settlement of the military conflict should be achieved in a peaceful way. Any military conflict is difficult to cease, and it always leads to only escalation of tension in relations, settlement of which is better to be solved through peaceful negotiations. The transformation and development of Latvia was not so tragic however it was difficult and required a lot of effort from Latvian people too. During the formation of Latvia’s independence, we received a strong friendly support of the European countries. Owing to this support, we quickly adopted the best practices available in European countries. It is no coincidence that Latvia and other European countries currently offer assistance to Azerbaijan and this is something Azerbaijan should definitely benefit from.

In this case, I would like to give an example of "Twinning” project through which EU partners help carry out reforms in various sectors of the economy benefiting from funds allocated by the European Union. Latvia has been actively involved in such projects. In 2015, Latvia rendered help in the execution of two projects, one of which regards the safety in construction and the other one reforms in the pension system of Azerbaijan. Latvia, as a young state has gone through similar reforms in the recent past. Now, with the gained experience, we perceive pros and cons which must be taken account of in the transition to European standards. And this is our advantage which you should avail yourselves.

Our common historical past which dates back to 1918, as well as the chosen route on reconstruction of an independent state, brought us closer and gave impetus to development of relations and cooperation between our countries. Our countries are geographically located in Europe and we share European values. It is noteworthy that around 2000 Azerbaijanis live in Latvia and they take a very active part in public life of our country. There are members of Latvian Parliament, successful entrepreneurs, and representatives of other professions among them. This is an important indicator for our country. It should be noted that the development of our countries does not occur in a closed space but at the crossroads of different cultures and interests and serves as an occasion for reflection of our foreign policy. For us, it was very important to choose a path of development which would exclude the likelihood of being stripped of our sovereignty. For Latvia, it was a way of joining European Union and NATO. We successfully completed this mission and this, in its turn, has given us a boost in economic development. Now Latvia is in the process of accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) whose members are the 34 most economically developed countries. Latvia is planning to become a full-fledged member of this organization by the end of 2016. Azerbaijan is also a member of many international organizations, but, meanwhile, managed to preserve its individuality. This individuality is conditioned with wise policy of the former President, Mr. Heydar Aliyev, as well as many other factors, including economic independence thanks to existing energy resources. Both our states are the members of the Council of Europe and the OSCE, where we cooperate together in making the decisions, thus making our cooperation multilateral. I mentioned that Azerbaijan is a European country and, therefore, Latvia acknowledges cooperation with EU very significant. I am confident that conclusion of a strategic partnership with EU will be a good start for further strengthening of cooperation in economic and political spheres. Within the frame of this cooperation, one of the most important economic drivers is the Southern Energy Corridor, which is bilaterally beneficial. The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that economic cooperation should not be subject to political influence. In this connection, EU put faith on Azerbaijan as a reliable partner. From this point of view, I think that our cooperation within the Eastern Partnership is very fruitful. I know that Azerbaijan considers this project as completed, but the Latvian side acknowledges it as a source of a lot of undiscovered opportunities, where there is great potential for collaborative and individual work for European Union with six members of the Eastern Partnership. The aim of the Eastern Partnership project is the welfare, stability and security, which are based on friendly links between the partners. Such cooperation enables to communicate, know each other better, and share the best practices. Through the prism of this cooperation, we come to know each other much better, expand our capabilities and perspectives, and finally get the opportunity to achieve good results in a more effective and faster way.

Touching upon bilateral relations, I would like to emphasize that we have established a good relationship at political level. By now, we have held meetings at all levels, starting from the meetings of our Presidents to those of the heads of self-governing bodies. Leaders of our countries have exchanged with the official visits and continue to meet at various summits. These meetings take place not only on business grounds, but also on friendly basis. Last year, our President Mr. Raimonds Vējonis visited European Olympic Games hosted by Baku, and this year the ex-presidents Mrs. Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Mr. Valdis Zatlers attended the international Nizami conference. Our countries have signed a dozen of contracts at municipality level. This year we are planning to organize Mayor of Riga Mr Nils Ušakovs’ visit to Baku.

At the same time, speaking about the economic cooperation, it is worth to note that it would be very effective. In this respect, we have a lot of unsolved and unrealized yet potential in sectors such as tourism, education, agriculture, medicine, transit, information technology, etc. Boosting economic cooperation is among the activities of top priority for the Latvian Embassy in Azerbaijan, and we will make every effort to improve our cooperation and achieve real progress in above areas.

Here are a few examples of cooperation where both Latvia and Azerbaijan hold mutually beneficial interests. Firstly, it is the transit sector. Both countries are interested in enhancing their transit infrastructure, and actively co-act in this regard. In this particular case, Latvia may be appealing for cooperation in terms of its three well-developed ports (Riga, Ventspils and Liepaja), as well as the largest airport in the region. This can be taken into account in implementation of projects such as North - South transit which is paid a great attention by your country.

It is worthwhile to note that roughly 170 Azerbaijani students are studying in Latvian higher education institutions, and it is a proof of growing close cooperation in the field of education.

Both, Baku and Riga, as well as entire Azerbaijan and Latvia are places of appeal for tourists thanks to their historical and cultural heritages and wonderful natural landscapes. Development of tourism is a positive step in fostering the friendship between our countries. Each year, Latvian airline AirBaltic organizes and performs seasonal, in the summertime, flights between the two capitals. The ideal variant would be the all-year-round flights. That would be convenient for both tourists and businessmen of both countries who cooperate in the private sector, but, unfortunately, the number of tourists at this time is insufficient for such a trip.

At present, Azerbaijan is in the process of diversifying its economy. To that end, strengthening of agriculture as a sector of the economy is attached a great importance. Azerbaijan and Latvia have great potential to expand beneficial cooperation in this respect. Latvia possesses a great expertise in processing agricultural produce and is ready to share it.

Opportunities and the reality of beneficial cooperation between Latvia and Azerbaijan are supported through executed projects. Several projects have been efficiently implemented in cultural field. Latvian company "Dd-studio” has participated in the design "Maiden Tower” museum, the museum in Gobustan historical-art reserve, and the museum compositions in "Ateshgah” temple complex of fire-worshipers. These projects demonstrate the capacity, qualification, and skills of our specialists who can give an impetus to upcoming favourable projects.

It is important that our relations were all-sided, then the focus was not only the political and economic issues, but also sport, culture and other areas, which allow us to know each other better.

The year 2018 will be a portentous year for both Latvia and Azerbaijan. 100 years ago, the Republic of Latvia and the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan proclaimed their independence. In Latvia, we have already embarked on preparing for this anniversary. When developing our Embassy’s plans, I always keep in mind to invite representatives of Azerbaijan to actively participate in events of Latvian Embassy related to celebration of this significant historic date. Mutual cooperation in this matter would enable to strengthen and expand our ties.

We can be proud that our government have achieved very good results in all directions of development and established friendly relations. But like any process, it should be continued and I see great opportunities in this regard. We should meet, communicate, and share our experiences. Our communication must be full-fledged and practical which would let us take existing relations, both economic and cultural, to new levels.

I avail myself of this opportunity to congratulate the Azerbaijani people on the 25th anniversary of the restoration of State Independence of Azerbaijan Republic and on gained achievements, wish you good health, peace, and prosperity. Our people have always been and will remain like-minded, loyal to their homelands, and sincerely aspiring at further development and well-being of our countries. We must pave the way to better future together, and we have all the possibilities and potential for it.

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