Baku. 7 January. REPORT.AZ/ Report’s Eastern Eurpean bureau has interviewed member of the France-Azerbaijan friendship group in the French Parliament Jean-Luc Reitzer.
- When did you first get acquainted with Azerbaijan?
- I discovered Azerbaijan for the first time when I visited the country within an election observation mission. It dated to the first years of Azerbaijan's independence, and that was a country in a strong need for development and modernization: pavements were in a disastrous state, buildings too old. In short, I saw the features peculiar of all former Soviet Republics. My next visit to Azerbaijan took place through NATO. I am a member of the French delegation in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I could not but notice positive changes during the second visit. During my next visits to Azerbaijan at the invitation of the government or by other ways every time I saw a developing country, friendly and hospitable people.
- What moments were most memorable during your Azerbaijan visits?
- For me, it is very easy to communicate with people in your country. Elsewhere in the city, either in Icherisheher or on the seaside boulevard, the atmosphere is very pleasant and friendly. Azerbaijani capital is just wonderful. We say that Paris is a city of lights, but I would say that city of lights is Baku. I recommend all those who have never been to Baku to visit this city. The Congress hall, numerous grandiose buildings, architecture has developed in your country. I had the opportunity to visit other regions of Azerbaijan. I traveled to Ganja by car. I could see Azerbaijan this way. I also visited Horadiz (a settlement liberated from Armenian occupation by Azerbaijan – ed.). Certainly, some problems did not bypass Azerbaijan but it is impossible to ignore the fact that the country benefits from economic development. I was welcomed at the highest level in Horadiz. The facilities used in that city were at the highest level. Most parts of France would feel envious to see the facilities used in public service in Azerbaijan.
- How did you decide to join the France-Azerbaijan group of friendship?
- After visiting the Martyrs’ Alley and other places in Azerbaijan I understood that the country suffered a lot to restore freedom and spared no effort to preserve its independence. I myself am a supporter of Gaulle’s ideas and the similarity between Azerbaijan’s aspirations for independence and Charles de Gaulle’s struggle made me even closer to your country. With its relatively small population and surrounded by larger neighbors (Russia, Iran, Turkey), Azerbaijan could preserve its independence and ensure its development and progress even after what happened between your country and Armenia. What won my heart was your country’s ability to develop steadily despite being surrounded by countries that attempted to undermine stability. It is commendable that your country uses its rich oil and gas reserves for the benefit of the entire nation.
- What do you think about the visits of some French mayors and separatist ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’ and the ‘friendship charters’ signed between the French cities and the cities of this separatist regime?
- I strongly oppose such relations. There is the international law that must be observed. In my letters addressed to the mayors of some of the French cities that established relations with separatist Nagorno-Karabakh, I stressed the illegality of such visits and contacts. I have not yet received any response to my messages.
- France is co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group. Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has not yet found its solution. Could you please share your reflections on this issue?
- I suppose that we need to intensify our efforts in this issue, because the resolutions of the UN Security Council have not yet been implemented. Probably, now that the government in Armenia has changed, it will have a positive impact on the conflict settlement. But for now nothing has been achieved. Nagorno-Karabakh is currently an occupied area. We need to be more firm in this issue. I think Minsk Group has a low impact. I regret it very much because France could have been more active for the sake of the conflict resolution.
- How do you evaluate the activity of the friendship groups of Azerbaijani and French parliaments?
- I always support the friendship groups. We often come across the cases when journalists write about the events that they never witnessed and of which they have no complete and accurate information. Interparliamentary groups create conditions for closer familiarization with countries by establishing contacts not only between the states but also between citizens. I believe that we must further intensify the exchanges between the friendship groups. In this case the parliament members have the chance to discover the countries from different aspects. These visits are not touristic. The cases that the MPs come across are communicated to other levels of the National Assembly of France and the French Foreign Ministry. In short, these visits are aimed at communicating messages and exchanging realities. For one thing, when one of the French National Assembly members, François Rochebloine criticized Azerbaijan, there were several of us, the friends of Azerbaijan, who reacted to this.
We said that the one who has never been to or seen Azerbaijan has no grounds for such allegations. We informed the parliament members that we visited Azerbaijan and saw the reality with our own eyes. Existence of friendship groups also contributes to the truth. But I think that the number of visits is insufficient. These visits enable to learn whether the things that have been said correspond to the reality. During the trips it is necessary to walk, to observe, to speak and listen to people. One should not allow to manipulate himself. When visiting Azerbaijan, I get some leisure time during which I take a walk and get acquainted with the city. When some of the parliament members offered to create an investigative commission on Azerbaijan, we, the friends of Azerbaijan, managed to attain the establishment of an informational commission. The accusations of being bribed by carpets or caviar talked to our senses. I was really furious about the claims that I was bought in such a form, because Azerbaijani government has always treated me with respect and has never offered me anything illegal. That commission familiarized with the situation in 3-6 months, found no evidence that proved those unfounded claims and the matter was closed.
- French media often disseminates untrue reports about Azerbaijan. What do you think about it?
- It made me furious. This injustice has prompted further intensification of my efforts for the sake of the the France-Azerbaijan friendship. Unfortunately, by using their profession, some journalists create a negative image of Azerbaijan. I tell those who have never been to Azerbaijan about what I saw in this country – about tolerance, respect for religions, people are free in choosing their style and they can walk freely along the streets. I do not know what those who criticize Azerbaijan want? Do they want the country to be ruled by an Islamist regime or extremists? I appreciate this secular country and the head of state who manages to ensure this secularism, the independence and development of his country. I recommend Frenchmen to visit this country to see the reality with their own eyes and not to believe to what is said. Democracy itself is not always wise, some mistakes are possible. It took France two centuries to establish democracy. But the recent developments in France, cases of violence and insufficient representation of population in decision-making showed that not everything is so wise even in a country which is considered a cradle of human rights and democracy. Azerbaijan gained independence in the 1990s and your country needs time for establishing a complete democracy. In short, by repeating others’ words, it is quite incorrect and especially unjust to present the country in a form of a caricature.
- What measures do you think should be taken to prevent this?
- It remains one of the most difficult strategies. But, all the same, I do believe that the country must prepare responses to attacks against it. When a distorted information is published, it is necessary to demand from a journalist to correct it. This measure can be carried out through ambassadorial or ministerial statements. If the country does not demand any corrections to the distorted information, people would consider it to be the truth.
- How can we improve Azerbaijan’s image in France?
- Cultural events are among the most effective means. The activity of Azerbaijan’s embassy to France and Association of Friends of Azerbaijan in France represents a special importance. The residents of my city strive to learn more about Azerbaijan, its culture and history. Residents were applauding standing at the concert of Azerbaijani music in our city. The concert was arranged on Sunday and there was not a single vacant seat in the hall. I would like to say that it is very difficult to get a Frenchman out on weekends. But, nonetheless, the hall was full.
It is necessary to increase the number of medium-class hotels in Azerbaijan to attain a higher inflow of tourists from France. To facilitate the entry it is necessary to arrange more flights and ease visa rules.
- Does the Armenian lobby influence the formation of a negative image of Azerbaijan in France?
- Yes, it does. The Armenian community representatives prevail in the constituents from which some of our deputies were elected and it explains the pro-Armenian tendency in their position. This reality is typical of Paris, Marseilles, Lion and some other cities. Why these people distanced from Azerbaijan making negative statements about this country is linked to the fact that Armenians prevail in their constituencies.
- What can you say about the current level of bilateral relations development?
- I think that by making unfounded criticism against Azerbaijan, we are causing harm to ourselves. We could take the advantage of the fact that the first lady of Azerbaijan is fluent in French, and has a sincere love for and takes a great interest in France. By this way we could attain a greater development of our bilateral ties.
A number of major French companies operate in Azerbaijan. We have developed relations in such spheres as wine-making and cattle-breeding. We can contribute to our economic ties by expanding the activity of our small and middle enterprises functioning in Azerbaijan. Our relations could also be successful in tourism and water treatment.