This month Azerbaijan celebrates its 96th Anniversary of Republic Day. But celebrations will take place with mixed emotions in the Embassy in London, because after seven years in office their Ambassador will be returning home.
His Excellency Mr Fakhraddin Gurbanov assumed his responsibilities as Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the UK on 1 November 2007. Azerbaijan has long had a good relationship with the UK due to its history with BP, but this Ambassador’s posting oversaw huge strides forward in that relationship, as well as enormously increased visibility on the world stage. This success was acknowledged when Mr Gurbanov won the Diplomat magazine ‘Diplomat of the Year for Eurasia’ award in 2012.
His Excellency’s work can largely to be divided into four categories:
Politics Traditionally, strong political cooperation and dialogue have continued to develop with the UK on a bilateral basis. The past seven years have witnessed frequent mutual high-level visits to and from Azerbaijan. President Ilham Aliyev paid an official visit to the UK in July 2009 and returned on a working visit to London to attend the opening of London 2012. In addition, Ambassador Gurbanov worked diligently to make British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s visit to Azerbaijan a success in December 2013. The first high-level British visit to Azerbaijan in the past 17 years, William Hague visited Baku to witness the groundbreaking ceremony of the Final Investment Decision on the Shah Deniz-2 gas project in the Caspian Sea, located offshore from Azerbaijan.
Political dialogue strengthened over many issues of mutual interest and gained particular importance while Azerbaijan was sitting on the UN Security Council between 2012 and 2013. Azerbaijan and Britain enjoyed strong cooperation and shared approaches to a number of global challenges. Azerbaijan played an important role as a transit country for NATO’s logistics for the Afghanistan mission, as well as undertaking a crucial supporting role in strengthening capacity-building efforts in Afghanistan.
The Ambassador believes parliamentary diplomacy is an important part of diplomatic craft and has rendered his personal support to strengthening parliamentary links between the two countries. The Azerbaijan All-Party Parliamentary Group in the UK and the Azerbaijan-Britain Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group in Azerbaijan’s Parliament serve an important function of building mutual links through undertaking visits to Baku and London over recent years.
Economics The UK remains the biggest foreign investor in Azerbaijan’s economy, accounting for around half of its total foreign investments. Energy cooperation is the backbone of economic cooperation with BP playing a key role in developing Azerbaijan’s energy sector. To expand energy-focused economic cooperation into new areas, Ambassador Gurbanov initiated the launch of the Britain-Azerbaijan Business Council (BABC) in 2010. BABC aims to strengthen business-to-business links between the two countries and works hard to bring British expertise and investments into new areas with promising growth potential. BABC organised the Caspian Corridor Conferences in London in 2012 at Lancaster House, and in 2014 at the London Stock Exchange, culminating in huge gatherings of high-level government officials, business circles and potential investors from Azerbaijan and Caspian Sea littoral countries. Ambassador Gurbanov also rendered his personal support and encouragement to British trade missions to Azerbaijan in 2010 and 2011 to explore opportunities for investment into the country’s non-energy sectors.
Community links Ambassador Gurbanov witnessed the official opening of Azerbaijan House in London in 2008. Serving as a community and friendship centre, Azerbaijan House brings together the Azerbaijani community in London and across the UK. It also continues to raise awareness about Azerbaijani culture, current affairs, history and literature in the UK by organising a series of events each year to mark Azerbaijani celebrations and memorial days. With the personal support of Ambassador Gurbanov (who often joined in these festivities), Azerbaijan House has turned into a friendly meeting place for the ever-growing Azerbaijani community in the UK.
Education The Ambassador’s tenure has seen education links between the two countries going from strength to strength. The number of Azerbaijani students studying in UK has increased and broadened dramatically. Thanks to Ambassador Gurbanov’s personal encouragement and determination, dozens of Azerbaijani Student Associations have been established in universities across the country, including Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester. This year, UK universities have attracted around 500 Azerbaijani students to all levels of education. Improved education links between the two countries have paved the way for student and academic exchanges as well as joint educational programmes.
Ambassador Gurbanov has consistently highlighted the unique role that cultural awareness and people-to-people connections play in strengthening mutual understanding. His tenure in London has seen a number of high-profile cultural events, including Fly to Baku: Contemporary Art from Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan carpet exhibition Flying Carpet to Fairytale organised by Heydar Aliyev Foundation and 100 Days of Azerbaijani Culture in London by Buta Festival. A number of Azerbaijani artists have showcased both the country’s rich cultural heritage and contemporary cultural achievements in the UK.
After such a successful posting, we wish His Excellency a fond farewell and all the best in his future endeavours.