By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik with Writers Editors Kevin Lee, Joy Cho, Song Na-ra
“Azerbaijan and Korea have strong mutual economic and business relations and those relations have achieved a larger scope and a higher level in recent years between our two countries and pleasingly, an increasing number of Korean public and private companies get involved in several projects in Azerbaijan.” So said Economic-Commercial Counsellor Vasif Aliyev at a recent interview with The Korea Post editors at the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Seoul on June 9, 2022.
Speaking at a meeting with Publisher Lee Kyung-sik and his reportorial/editorial team on that day, Counsellor Aliyev added that currently 74 Korean companies operating mainly in the fields of construction, trade and transport are registered in Azerbaijan and at the same time, Korean companies participate as contractors in state-owned projects in our country.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
Question: What is the current status of economic-commercial cooperation between Korea and Azerbaijan?
Answer: So far, Korea has invested about 180 million USD in the Azerbaijani economy, and Azerbaijan has invested 474 million USD in Korea. Also, the share of Korean companies in large-scale projects funded by the Azerbaijani state over the past five years amounted to about US$2 billion.
Contracting activities by Korean companies in several large-scale energy, construction and transportation projects in Azerbaijan have been the locomotive of Azerbaijani-Korean economic cooperation so far. Construction of a carbamide plant by Samsung Engineering; design, construction, and management services for “Baku Olympic Stadium” by Heerim Architects & Planners; construction of a new office tower for Azersu by Halla Engineering & Construction, design and construction work of the Aquatic Palace by Securo; establishment of a comprehensive traffic management system a traffic control center on highways by Straffic.
As an indicator of the level of development of our relations, in 2011-2020, Azerbaijan was included in the category of key partner countries for the allocation of Official Development Assistance (ODA) by Korea, and in this context, communication, water resources management, health and hygiene, public administration (e-government and etc.), cooperation projects in the field of regional development have been implemented.
We have also conducted and still pursue our cooperation in development of information technologies, tourism and agricultural spheres. Projects like STEPI K-Innocations, Smart City Platform and LoRa Network Development Project in Baku city, Korea Partnership Initiative on Sustainable Tourism, Development and supply of agricultural systems and data collection in greenhouses could be viewed in this respect.
Q: What are the perspectives of further increased economic cooperation between Korea and Azerbaijan?
A: Recent years, Azerbaijan has made huge progress in re-balancing and diversifying its economy. As our economy diversifies, opportunities in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, ICT, tourism, food processing, machinery, and chemical industries show steady increase.
In this regard, we would be pleased to see our Korean partners contributing to the diversification process of Azerbaijani economy as well as contactors investors in order to make our bilateral economic cooperation more beneficial and sustainable.
It also should be noted that Azerbaijan is ready for cooperation not only with the largest Korean enterprises but also with small and medium enterprises.
Furthermore, currently we have come across a real opportunity; I would say, a new era for development of Azerbaijani-Korean cooperation in general, our economic partnership in particular. After almost 30 years of occupation by Armenia, the victorious Azerbaijani army liberated Azerbaijani territories in 2020 and thus, restored our territorial integrity.
Now, Azerbaijan faces a huge task to restore those territories and make it possible for 750 thousand Azerbaijani IDPs to return to their homelands. But unfortunately, during the occupation period, the aggressors have literally destroyed and looted everything that existed on and under those lands, from residence buildings to infrastructure, from schools to hospitals, from cultural monuments to religious sites, from flora and fauna to underground minerals.
Azerbaijani Government is resolute to restore those areas which are more than 10 thousand square kilometers (for comparison, the same size as of Gyeonggi-do or Gyeongsangnam-do) and to build them with state of art technologies and know-hows.
Azerbaijani Government’s plan dubbed as “Great Return” include establishment of carbon-neutral ones using green and renewable energy resources; construction of smart city and smart villages and related infrastructure; creation of free industrial-logistical zones and smart farming facilities, restoration of historical and cultural monuments, promotion of tourism and so on.
Certainly, in this process we are looking forward to cooperation with our foreign partners and Korea is one of the few countries worldwide that has been invited at the highest level, to participate in the restoration work conducted in our liberated territories both as a contractor and an investor.
Q: What are the main products/services your country import from Korea. And, vice versa, what are the products/services does your country export to Korea. What is the present volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
A: Azerbaijan is Korea’s main trading partner in the South Caucasus region. Azerbaijan is mostly importing electrical machinery, vehicles, computers, and equipment from Korea. Meanwhile, the export from Azerbaijan is consisting of precious metals, beverages and others. The bilateral trade volume between Azerbaijan and Korea was 228 million USD for 2021. Along with this, we can see that the volume of trade consists mainly of the export of Korea to Azerbaijan. In this respect, we believe that our bilateral trade will develop in a more balanced way in the years ahead.
Q: As the head of the Commercial-Economic activities at your Embassy, please introduce yourself fully.
A: My name is Vasif Aliyev, and since August 2019 I have been serving as a counselor at the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Republic of Korea. During my tenure, I have mainly focused on increasing knowledge about the Azerbaijani economy in Korea and the Korean economy in Azerbaijan in general, developing relations between various public and private sectors in the Korean economy and the relevant agencies of Azerbaijan, intensifying the work of the Azerbaijan-Korea Economic Cooperation Commission in particular.
Q: Who is your government minister in charge of commerce, economy and industry to which you originally belong?
A: I actually come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, precisely, the Economic Cooperation Department of the Ministry. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Economy is in charge of economic and trade issues in Azerbaijan.
Q: Korean people, especially the up-and-coming Korean businessmen need rest and recuperation. What are your tourist attractions?
A: Azerbaijan, located on the western edge of the Caspian Sea, sits at the crossroad between East and West, Asia and Europe. Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region. Baku is located 28 meters below sea level, which makes it the lowest lying national capital in the world and also the largest city in the world located below sea level. It is located on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, beside Baku Bay.
Azerbaijan is bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Iran with the Caspian Sea along its east coast. The Caucasus Mountains tower above the villages of the north while the lower Lesser Caucasus in the west is still an impressive range.
Capital city Baku’s temperate semi-arid climate brings warm dry summers that feel refreshing in comparison with many neighboring capitals, tempered by sea breezes from the Caspian. When it does get hot, the beaches of the nearby Absheron Peninsula are less than an hour away and there’s a great windsurfing lagoon just up the coast. Baku winters that are cool but rarely very cold and snow in the city is a distinct rarity. Of course, snow is much more common in Azerbaijan’s spectacular mountains, with a state-of-the-art ski resort just three hours’ drive north.
Azerbaijan is the Land of Fire, where eastern colors combine magnificently with western progress. Azerbaijan is a country of unique nature, unmatched culture, centuries of history with its customs and traditions and fine cuisine; a place which will satisfy the expectations of the most sophisticated guest, and finally, it is the country of Caucasian hospitality and friendliness. Historically a part of the Great Silk Road and situated at the crossroads of the geopolitical, economic and cultural interests of many nations and civilizations, Azerbaijan has, since ancient times, aroused the interests of great minds, scientists, travellers and historians. Nestled within the Caucasus Mountains, Azerbaijan is not a large country, but is one of great ambition, diverse culture, world-class infrastructure and dazzling venues. The nation is contemporary, crisscrossed by history: the combination of cultural heritage, welcoming spirit, and modern city life will be sure to leave a lasting impression.
While in Azerbaijan, Korean tourists can experience exclusive delicacies like black caviar, see Chovgan – traditional horse sport, feel the spirit of Silk Road through Azerbaijani carpets, do kite surfing in the biggest lake in the world – Caspian Sea, conquer the snowy peaks of the Caucasus, visit ancient vineyards, hike in the majestic Caucasus Mountains, enjoy in the downtown in Baku and puff a Galyan, do luxury shopping at Port Baku Mall and ride the Baku Eye, sip wine made from pomegranates, explore traditional bazaars in Lahich, cycle Baku’s seaside boulevard, plunge into Baku’s nightlife and listen to traditional mugam, dine in an ancient caravanserai Shaki, learn how to cook like an Azerbaijani, feel the frisson of Formula 1, feel the magic of spring during Novruz holiday, shop for traditional souvenirs, get lost in the Old city, experience a local tea ceremony, ride a retro-car to the Gobustan mud volcanoes among others.
Q: What are the most important festive days in your country? Please elaborate?
A: Novruz holiday holds a special place in the system of moral values introduced from ancient times by the Azerbaijani people, who have an ancient history and rich culture. The ritual of meeting spring - a new day that originates from the primordial world perception and archaic mythological beliefs inherent in the primitive period, having acquired rich cultural and moral qualities as a result of the historical process of evolution spanning centuries, turned into a large-scale national holiday - Novruz. Novruz is not only a holiday celebrated for several days in March, but also a large collection of rites covering a long calendar period and consisting of Tuesdays of Water, Fire, Wind and Earth.
The Kharibulbul music festival, which bears the name of flower symbolizing Shusha, was first organized on the mysterious Jidir plain of Shusha in May 1989 to honor famous Shusha-born Azerbaijani singer Seyid Shushinski. The festival is held traditionally in May with musicians from Japan, the United States, Turkey, Germany, Israel, Italy, Spain, Austria, Afghanistan, and the CIS countries. It is considered one of the most important cultural events both in Azerbaijan and around the world.
Gabala International Music Festival – it is an annual festival of classical music held every summer beginning in 2009 in Gabala, Azerbaijan. The festival is organized with the support of Heydar Aliyev Foundation. At this festival, musicians perform in the open air. Participants have included musicians from Europe, Asia, US and Israel, as well as musicians from CIS countries.
Baku Marathon - the marathon run is a kind of light athletics that runs 42 miles in 195 meters. The idea to organize the Baku Marathon was initiated by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in 2016. The purpose of the Baku Marathon is to support the development of sports, to promote healthy lifestyle and to bring people together for charity purposes. The Baku Marathon, which has already become a tradition, is held in April and May every year. The funds collected from the marathon are spent for charity purposes.
Guba Apple Holiday - it is a holiday organized in Guba city during the October. The compositions reflecting our customs, national dances, apple varieties planted in the district, desserts and drinks prepared from this fruit are demonstrated within the framework of event.
Pomegranate Festival or Nar Bayrami - this festival is held in Goychay during pomegranate harvest, mainly in November. The festival called as ‘Pomegranate holiday’ has been organized since 2006. The pomegranates grown in separate villages of Goychay region and products made from it are brought to the district center and displayed at the exhibition organized in the city square. Young athletes’ performances and concert programs are performed at the city center. In 2020, the Goychay Pomegranate Festival was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.
Q: What, if any, are the details of other information that we might have left out at this interview?
A: This year we celebrate a remarkable occasion - the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Korea. Though the establishment of bilateral relations goes back to 1992, I would say the most dynamic period started since 2006 and 2007 when the Heads of States exchanged visit. It should be noted that so far the President of Korea has visited only Azerbaijan from the South Caucasus republics, and among the heads of state of the South Caucasus republics, only the President of Azerbaijan has visited Korea.
At present, Azerbaijan is the largest economic and trade partner of Korea in the South Caucasus. Apart from the Korean Embassy, offices of KOICA and KOTRA successfully operate in Azerbaijan as well.
It can be said that the high-level relations between Azerbaijan and Korea are dynamic and unique in the South Caucasus region, and the directions and mechanisms, scope and content of bilateral cooperation are rich in the content.
Azerbaijan has been considering the Republic of Korea as a friendly country and nation that shows cross-case similarities in terms of historical, cultural and linguistic resemblances. Therefore, we are looking forward to wrap up our 30 years achievements with best way and open new chapter for our bilateral relations with an expectation of more sustainable and productive economic and trade cooperation that will serve to the interest of our both nations.