Elkhan Suleymanov: Azerbaijan is in Europe already!

Baku: New Europe, Brussels-based independent weekly newspaper, published its interview with Elkhan Suleymanov, the Chair of the Azerbaijan Mili Majlis Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, on Azerbaijan’s European perspectives.

The Azerbaijani parliament’s decision to withdraw from the EU’s Eastern Partnership, the fate of Europnest and other issues were discussed.

APA presents the interview:

Mr. Suleymanov, can you begin by explaining to us the decision of the Mili Majlis? Isn’t this a bad decision for Azerbaijan when the European Union is such an important trade partner?

– Let me begin by saying that this decision is not about the whole of the EU. We maintain good relations with all the governments and the parliaments in the EU, we work with the European Commission, we welcome their Delegation in Baku, in short I believe relations between Azerbaijan and the EU are good.

This is about the European Parliament and the insulting way they have treated us for several years now. That institution has shown itself to be hypocritical: one day it calls us in Euronest, talks about friendship and cooperation. The other day it adopts slandering resolutions talking about all sorts of fake and unfounded abuses and scandals. At the same time, one day they criticise the events in Ukraine, Georgia, they condemn occupation, war. When it comes to us, they never criticise the Armenian occupation of our territory. They even defend Armenia. In this context, we felt that the European Parliament is not a coherent partner. We could not continue cooperating with them.

– But do you think this is a majority view? And in the end, what is the harm done by these resolutions if, as you say, they are unfounded?

I know for sure that we have friends in the Parliament still. We received many signals and letters, after our decision showing that there are many members who understand reality. The vote itself on this latest resolution was also very narrow. But, it still passed. So the official position is this: The EP wants to condemn and attack us. And these resolutions are only the tip of the iceberg. Every week, it seems, we were informed of conferences in Brussels attacking us. We saw emails being sent to MEPs with things we know for sure are lies about the situation in our own country. Sadly, it seems most MEPs have believed this anti-Azerbaijan campaign. The resolutions are just a signal that a majority of the European Parliament is influenced by lobbies trying to create conflict in our region, interested in preserving the illegal Armenian occupation, to prevent trade, to prevent energy security for Europe. We cannot continue to accept these slanders and attacks. If a person will insult you and try to say bad things about you, maybe at first you will try to reason with them. But after a while you have to ignore them and continue with your life.

– But did you really try to communicate? Did you make any effort to solve these problems?

I believe we did everything humanly possible to preserve this cooperation. I sent many letters, official messages to the President of the EP, to Euronest. I received almost no replies in return. And this is very sad, because at the beginning we really invested ourselves in this project. We welcomed the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly in Baku. We did everything possible to make it a success. We worked on common resolutions. But no matter how much we worked, again and again the EP kept publishing, every year with more critical resolutions. We sent info notes proving all allegations are fake, noting that this is a fabricated lobbying campaign. Every person being arrested in Azerbaijan, for tax fraud, for things which are illegal also in the EU, the next day we saw MEPs calling them political prisoners. Everything about our country is reported in Brussels as in a conspiracy, everything is changed to make us look like a bad country. I invite anyone to come and see that Azerbaijan is a free and democratic state.

I mean look at some of those criticisms. They said the pardoning of an Azerbaijani officer, Safarov, was a human rights abuse and urgent international crisis! That is ridiculous! It might be a matter of law, but no human rights issue! They put our country on the same list of problems as Syria, as terrorism, they created this fake image on Azerbaijan! How can we keep working like this?

– But there does seem to be a consensus there are problems in Azerbaijan. You can’t mean there is nothing wrong in your country?

Sir, there is a difference between talking about problems and having a negative image that has nothing to do with reality. We know there are issues, like in all new democracies. It takes time to change a society, to implement legal and penal changes, practice, to stamp out corruption. Most EU states from the East have the same problems like we do. But you don’t see them being attacked every day by the EP!

At the same time, look how they treat us. They don’t event come to Azerbaijan to see the reality, but already publish verdicts on things which have not yet even happened! The European Parliament decided not to send a mission in 2015 to our elections in November because they thought the elections would not be democratic! How can they even decide that beforehand! It is because they don’t care about reality! If they did, they would come and see we are democratic and free. The EP came in 2013, saw this, published a report on this and then those MEPs who were simple observers were attacked by the anti-Azerbaijan campaign! By people who did not come to Azerbaijan, but who thought they know the reality better! I am sorry, but we cannot treat this position as a serious one!

– How did you respond then to all the accusations regarding the November elections in your country?

– I invited anyone not to believe any lies they read in manipulative messages and to understand that we are the victims of an elaborate defamation campaign meant to protect an illegal occupation of our territory. The elections were free and fair and I am hoping the new elected members of the Mili Majlis will do good work and show any international partners that we are a fully functioning democracy.

– What does this mean for Azerbaijan’s future? Are you still going to cooperate with Europe? Are you still interested in a new treaty with the EU?

– Azerbaijan is in Europe already! And of course we will keep cooperating with EU members, with parliaments. We keep working in the Council of Europe and our doors are open even to the EP. But we will need to see real messages of respect. We need to see they want to resolve the conflict in our territory – that they want to understand our country.

As it is right now, we, of course, maintain trade and good relations as much as we can. You ask about a treaty, but I am not certain what this even means in the reality of Europe. Armenia, a violent aggressive state has rejected the EU agreement treaty, they even decided to sign one with the Customs Union. And look, the European Parliament is still protecting them, being very partisan. So it is difficult for me to say why we would need a treaty if even a country rejecting it still gets such good treatment.

– Do you have any direct message for the Members of the European Parliament?

– Yes, as I have said in previous letters: we want to keep negotiations and cooperation open. We need to keep communicating. But we need to know we can have a partner who listens to us, to see signals from Brussels that they understand and care about our real problems: the occupation, our internally displaced persons, the regional security situation, our trade and development needs. We need to know they do not discriminate against us, that they understand we’re a sovereign state. And most importantly, that they’re not themselves manipulated. Only then can we consider the European Parliament a potential partner again.


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