Baku. 22 December. REPORT.AZ/ Report News Agency presents an interview with President of the Congress of European Azerbaijanis (CEA) Sahil Gasimov:
- How do you assess activity of Azerbaijanis currently living in Europe? What is the level of integration of the Azerbaijanis into the social and economic environment of this old continent, in general, what is the level of diaspora?
- European Azerbaijanis consist of ethnic groups, who are currently at organization process, successfully establish and carry out their lobbying activities, successfully integrated into the societies of countries where they live.
The Congress of the European Azerbaijanis (CEA), the largest community of Azerbaijanis living on the ancient continent, has recently started to conduct its activities on a political level and competes at a political level. The location of the CEA Headquarters in Brussels makes our activity even more effective. Recently EU conducts more active policy with Eastern Partnership countries. November summit and resolution adopted last week shows deepening relations of Europe with the program member countries, including Azerbaijan.
- What is the role of the Azerbaijanis in European countries' state governance and socio-political life? In general, what indicators do we have in the elective bodies? Do you think there are shortcomings in this issue? What are the CEA's plans and programs in this regard?
- The role of the Azerbaijanis in the administrative and public-political life of the European countries is weak. The number of our community representatives is very small in the elective bodies. The situation in this regard is better in Eastern Europe rather than in Western Europe. For example, our compatriot Roman Naudinsh (Ibrahimov) is currently chairing the Economic, Agricultural, Environmental and Regional Policy Committee in the Latvian parliament. Our another fellow countryman - CEA vice president Eldar Efendiyev has long been a member of the Estonian parliament. Moreover, he served as minister and mayor of city. But there is a gap in this issue in Western Europe.
Unfortunately, the CEA has not been able to introduce itself in some European countries. For example, Our organization has not yet been recognized in countries like UK, Russia, Poland and Spain. Additionally, in many European countries CEA has not local branches. This limits our activity in those countries. CEA’s protocol signed in 2004 in Berlin was not signed by many European companies. This prevents them from operating within CEA. The reason for this is the establishment of these organizations after 2004. CEA is expected to become the unity of the largest organizations in Azerbaijan on the continent.
CEA’s main goal is to regulate the process of selection of Azerbaijanis in local, provincial and supreme bodies in different European countries. At present, Azerbaijanis claim to play an important role in the activities of political parties in various European countries. One of the main goals of the CEA is to encourage our compatriots to play an active role in the socio-political life of the countries in which they live. It is our priority to be attentive to the activities of the fraternal Turkish Diaspora in Europe and to obtain interesting and positive results.
It also carries out a close cooperation plan with the diaspora organizations of these countries within the framework of GUAM.
- Recently, the return of foreigners who immigrated to Europe has been accelerated. Do Azerbaijanis constitute majority of them too? In general, what is the current situation in the settlement of the Azerbaijanis in Europe, are there problems? If so, what are your suggestions?
- Generally, Europe looks very tired nowadays.Hundreds of thousands of refugees in European capitals, terrorist threats at times, resulting in human deaths at airports, railway stations, and the beginning of the separatist wave further toughens the forecasts for the future of the continent.
Major cities, squares, shopping centers of Europe have been strictly controlled by the armed forces of these countries. The current situation can be considered as the beginning of some migrants' return to their historical homeland. Azerbaijanis are also among the migrants. But this return is not massive and it is no exception that it will become stronger in the future. Recently, nationalism, racism, xenophobia and religious discrimination have widespread among Europeans. In some European countries mosques burned, Muslims detained in local public places and documents checked, and Muslim not recruited. In many European countries, right-wing parties win a majority of votes in the elections. This creates hopelessness and fear for the future among migrants.
New mass flow from Azerbaijan to Europe observed and there is no reason for it to happen.
- In general, what is needed to strengthen Azerbaijanis' diaspora and lobbying role in Europe? The diaspora building has been going on for over 25 years, but what is the reason you have not been able to hold enough positions in Europe so far?
- As it is known, the issue of organizing Azerbaijani communities began 15 years ago after the establishment of the State Committee for Work with Diaspora. Until 2002, our diaspora movement was not organized. It is conducted more personally, by individuals. I think that for 15 years, the diaspora movement in Azerbaijan has achieved certain successes in Europe through a serious and difficult path. Despite the young age, the Azerbaijani diaspora in Europe stands firmly on the floor, confidently moves and takes serious steps.
CEA pursues strong lobbying policy in Germany, France, Benelux countries, Ukraine, Estonia and other countries and can carry out activities on different levels.
- Recently with support of Congress headed by you, international conference was held in Brussels against separatism, you held several meetings as part of the event. Occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia for over 25 years has been emphasized. We would like you to give more information about that.
- On November 19-21 ahead of Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels international forum against separatism was held with support of Congress of European Azerbaijanis and State Committee on Work with Diaspora. Azerbaijani government officials, famous European politicians, Members of European Parliament and Milli Majlis, guests invited by our embassy to European Union from Nizami Ganjavi International Center attended the event.
The topic of the forum for the first time was raised as an idea during the discussion of CEA leadership with Fuad Isgandarov, Azerbaijani ambassador in Brussels, afterwards it was expanded by the leadership of State Committee on Work with Diaspora and was jointly implemented.
The problems of Azerbaijani people, the solution ways of Nagorno Karabakh was declared for the first time not by Azerbaijanis but Europeans.
For the first time Europeans talked about solution ways of this problem, not us. After the forum Congress of European Azerbaijanis continued to hold series of event in Brussels.In the first day of the forum the participants visited the head office of CEA located in the center of Brussels. On November 21 CEA held a number of important meetings at the European Parliament.
The problems of Azerbaijan were broadly discussed with Euro parliamentarians. During the meeting members of European Parliament from Slovenia Ivo Vajgl, from Latvia Iveta Grigule, from Romania Norica Nicolai and other members said they are keen to close cooperate with Azerbaijan. They said in the future they would like have close and useful cooperation with CEA.
On November 24 during Eastern Partnership summit with support of CEA demonstration was organized where hundreds of our compatriots expressed support to the President of Azerbaijan. This demonstration was also sharp protest against Armenian president who was participating in the Summit.
- What kind of results can be expected from the conference? In general, did the recent separatism wave in Europe somehow change the approach of Western politicians to this issue? Because we have been witnessing double standards for more than 25 years towards separatism fact that Azerbaijan was exposed to on Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
- I believe that this kind of conferences will have positive results. We will continue international events in the future. It was decided to prepare new events in 2018. Not only Nagorno Karabakh conflict was discussed in the event. Other conflicts were also discussed during the event. The representatives from Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Iraq and Spain talked about the problems of their countries and sought solutions against separatism that is threat to the world. The basic foundation for establishment of International Center against Separatism was laid.
- In general, what contacts would you suggest in order to convey Azerbaijani realities to European politicians?
- CEA aims to continue its activity in the political arena. Being closely united in new composition CEA is managed from one center. As a result, the success is obvious. Newly elected composition of CEA started to operate since March and consist of very strong diaspora leaders and organisations.
I think CEA yet to implement very successful projects with this composition and carry out very important work in lobbying. In 2017, September the roadmap of the congress was discussed in the Kyiv meeting of CEA.
- What are the situation and suggestions for building economic relations? Considering that Azerbaijan pays more attention for development of tourism, what would you suggest for flow of Europeans to our country? Because you are also a businessman working in tourism sector in Europe.
- Currently European countries are keen to build economic relations with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is interesting for Europe not only as an exporter of oil and gas, but also as a trusted partner in economic fields.
Tourism is sector that brings revenues and strengthen the economy after oil and securities. It is not a coincidence that a large part of state budget of many European countries including Spain, Italy, generate revenues from tourism. One cannot deny the influence of tourism business on state budget of Turkey.
I think if the tourism business and infrastructure is built properly in Azerbaijan there will be massive flow of tourists not only from former Soviet states but also from Europe and other countries. But it is necessary to have tourism infrastructure for that. In the first hand, it should start in Azerbaijan from decreasing the plane tickets of AZAL (Azerbaijan Airlines CJSC). Increasing the prices of other services after lowering the ticket prices could reduce the number of tourists who want to visit the country. AZAL should launch flights to Amsterdam, Brussels and other large cities as soon as possible which will ensure development of tourism. The condition should be created for cheap charter flights that want to fly to Azerbaijan so that the number of tourists who want to visit Azerbaijan can considerably grow.
It will also stop Azerbaijani tourists who want to visit other countries from using the low-cost airlines of neighboring countries and serve to benefit their country.
In general, it is necessary to seek ways to switch from business tourism i.e. from tourism service established for businessmen visiting Baku for work to mass tourism. We should get away from business tourism. Mass tourism should start in the country. It should lead to mass establishment of new tourism companies, tour operators, travel agencies. Such kind of newly established companies and agencies operating in tourism sector should exempt from tax for several years.
In addition to 4 and 5 star hotels in Baku and other area, 3-star budget hotels, motels, family hotels, tourism guesthouses, hostels should open. Travel guided should be trained in different languages. Hotel and hospitality faculties should be opened in large cities. Advertisement brochures, tourism catalogues and print materials should be prepared in different European languages. The catalogues should not only feature expensive restaurants and cafes, bars, entertainment places, economic budget facilities should also be included there. Azerbaijan should participate not only in large countries but also should attend in important international tourism fairs, travel shops, markets in the world and present its tourism sources to foreigners. Azerbaijan has a huge potential to be known as a tourism country in the world.