Baku. 17 May. REPORT.AZ/ Report News Agency presents interview with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Norway, Bard Ivar Svendsen:
- Mr. Ambassador, this year our countries celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations. Looking back at this period, how can you assess its development?
- The Kingdom of Norway recognized the Republic of Azerbaijan soon after the Republic was re-established. Full diplomatic relations were established in June 1992. Bilateral relations developed quickly, and in April 1996, the President of Azerbaijan, HE Mr. Heydar Aliyev, paid an official visit to Norway. In June 1998, Norway opened a full embassy in Baku. Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon visited Azerbaijan in 2011. In addition, a number of high-level political visits in both directions have taken place over the years.
Norway’s large oil and gas company Statoil was one of the key international actors when the Contract of the Century was signed in 1994. This contract paved the way for full participation of international companies in the further development of Azerbaijan’s oil and gas industry. For more than two decades, Statoil has been one of the largest and most prominent foreign participants in this endeavour. Other companies from the Norwegian supply industry – such as Mhwirth, FMC, Enhanced Drilling, PTC and Swire – similarly operate in Azerbaijan and contribute to the strength of our bilateral relations.
As large oil and gas producing nations, Norway and Azerbaijan share a number of similar challenges: Of these, diversification of the economy is probably the most important one. Both countries are exploring new and innovative ways of securing income. The Norwegian Government Pension Fund was one of the examples Azerbaijani authorities studied when the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) was set up in 1999. In recent years, much work has been done to enhance cooperation and exchanges in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Norwegian Society of Graduate Technical and Scientific Professionals (TEKNA) and Energy Saving International AS (ENSI) have carried out a number of projects related to Cleaner Production and Energy Efficiency in Azerbaijan.
After the re-establishment of Azerbaijan’s independence, Norwegian humanitarian organizations played an active role in aid and development. The Norwegian Refugee Council was engaged in efforts to assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in Azerbaijan from 1995 to 2008: Important projects were implemented in the fields of shelter and rehabilitation of community infrastructure, public building rehabilitation, income generation, human rights education and advocacy. Norwegian Humanitarian Enterprise has been operating in Azerbaijan since 1994 with a focus on income generation, agriculture, work with orphanages and schools, as well as culture. The Norwegian Red Cross for more than ten years cooperated with the Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society on various humanitarian projects related to internally displaced people and refugees. The significant presence of Norwegian companies, humanitarian organizations and NGOs in Azerbaijan over the past two decades has led to a large number of personal ties between our two countries. Many Norwegians have lived in Azerbaijan for longer or shorter periods, and many friendships have formed.
- Norway assisted greatly to Azerbaijan in terms of economy and human resources development. Now it seems that the level of this cooperation has lowered. What need to be done in order to raise the level of our cooperation?
- With the downturn in the international oil and gas prices over the past years, Statoil had to make difficult decisions with regards to its international presence and global activity. As a result, the company sold its assets in the Shah Deniz-2 project. Statoil is still active in Azerbaijan through its ownership share in the Azeri-Chirag- Guneshli oilfield. Azerbaijan remains an important partner for Statoil and other Norwegian oil and gas companies.
- What was the amount of trade turnover between our countries last year and what is the tendency of it?
- Norwegian investments in Azerbaijan have been very substantial. Statoil has invested more than 6,5 billion USD since it established a presence here. The trade turnover, however, is low. Last year it amounted to approximately 150 million USD. The trend is increasing.
- In which areas of mutual cooperation you see more prospective?
- Alternative energy and renewable energy are areas of great interest where I hope there will be scope for more cooperation in the future. This would be in the mutual interest of both countries.
- How many tourists visited Norway last year?
- 3,6 million foreign tourists stayed in Norwegian hotels last year. This was a 12% increase from the year before. Norway is an attractive tourist destination with breathtaking nature and wilderness.
- It is said that Norway and Azerbaijan have some mutual aspects in culture which was also proven by great Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl. Are there any projects expected in cultural sphere?
- The famous Norwegian explorer and scientist, Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002), was a close friend of Azerbaijan. Throughout his life and career, Thor Heyerdahl put forward a number of theories that challenged established scientific notions. On a number of occasions, he carried out practical experiments to prove that what seemed impossible was in fact possible. In 1947 – for example – Thor Heyerdahl together with a small crew crossed the Pacific Ocean from South America to Polynesia on a wooden raft named Kon-Tiki. Thor Heyerdahl visited Azerbaijan four times. The rock carvings at Qobustan fascinated him, and he found that their artistic style closely resembles similar carvings found in Norway. After having become acquainted with Azerbaijan, Thor Heyerdahl propagated the theory that the Norwegian people originated from territories that form today’s Azerbaijan. He based his theories on similarities in ancient beliefs, folk music and basic vocabulary. He argued that natives had migrated north through waterways to northern Europe using vessels made of skins that could be folded like cloth. Thor Heyerdahl’s keen interest in the possible historical links between Norway and Azerbaijan laid the foundation for archeological excavations and restorations of the church in Kish near the city of Sheki in the northwestern part of Azerbaijan.
In 2006, the Azerbaijan University of Languages launched a new Bachelor Programme in Scandinavian Area Studies in cooperation with the University of Oslo and the University of Agder in Norway. Today almost 40 students study the Norwegian language and the history, economics, politics and literature of Scandinavia. The first group of students received their Bachelor degree in June 2010. These young people represent a valuable link between our two countries.
In recent years, Norway and Azerbaijan have implemented a number of projects that confirm and strengthen our cultural ties. Well-known Norwegian musicians like Alexander Rybak and Elin Kåven have given concerts in Baku, and Azerbaijan’s legendary mugham singer Alim Qasimov has taken part in the Oslo World Music Festival. Norway’s prominent choir conductor, Per Oddvar Hildre, cooperates closely with Azerbaijan’s National Conservatory. A large delegation of Norwegian athletes competed in the First European Games in Baku in June 2015, and Norway’s eminent chess player Magnus Carlsen has twice won the Shamkir Chess tournament. In February 2016, the talented Azerbaijani artist and painter Bütünay Haqverdiyev visited the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard (Spitzbergen) on a scholarship from the Norwegian Embassy in Baku. The eminent Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen took part in the Baku International Jazz Festival last year, and we are currently working to attract a Norwegian participant to this year’s festival. Ten talented chamber musicians, Oslo Kammarakademi, are giving concerts in Baku this week. We regularly organize Norwegian film festivals in Azerbaijan.
- What are your general impressions on Azerbaijan?
- All Norwegians who visit Azerbaijan are struck by the hospitality and kindness of the Azerbaijani people. Azerbaijanis have every right to take pride in their country’s rich traditions in cuisine, music, handicraft and folklore. Over the past years, the city of Baku has undergone tremendous developments. The Azerbaijani capital is a beautiful, vibrant and dynamic city with much to offer its visitors.
- It is impossible not to touch the bleeding wound of Azerbaijan - Nagorno Karabakh conflict. What's the position of your country on this issue and how can Norway, which tops the rating as one of the most peaceful countries in the world, bring together the conflicting sides?
- Since I arrived in Azerbaijan three years ago, I have visited a number of settlements for IDPs. I have also visited the Barda and TarTar regions and seen how the conflict has devastated the lives of many people. The many conversations I have had with those affected by the conflict, have made a deep impression. Norway supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.