Azerbaijani-Swiss diplomatic relations at 30: Friendship of long standing
By Ayya Lmahamad
In 2022, Azerbaijan marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the subjects of international relations - both individual states and international organizations.
Azernews, the nation's first English language media outlet, has launched a new project, designed to cover the major points of the 30-year-long diplomatic ties between Azerbaijan and individual states and organizations.
Switzerland comes next on the long list of states/organizations with no special preference for it.
Azerbaijan and Switzerland are marking the 30th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations and a series of events were held and are in the pipeline to look back at the past period and chart a map of further bolstering of the all-out relations. The two countries have bilateral relations based on friendship in all spheres, and they are not limited to political, economic, scientific and cultural relations, but also include people-to-people contacts at all levels to further deepen the relations.
And for the convenience of our readers, we are trying to shed light on specific aspects of the relations in a Q&A format.
Q: When did Azerbaijan and Switzerland establish diplomatic relations? What do we know about the history of ties?
A: Switzerland recognized Azerbaijan’s independence on December 23, 1991, and the diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on January 21, 1992.
The embassy of Azerbaijan in the Swiss Confederation was opened on October 6, 2004. The embassy has been active in Bern since September 2005.
In 2001, Switzerland opened a cooperation office in Baku and the embassy in 2007. The official opening of the embassy took place in May 2008.
In 1999, Switzerland provided humanitarian assistance to Azerbaijan to support refugees and IDPs. In the first years after the restoration of Azerbaijan’s independence, this group of people needed significant support, which was provided by the Azerbaijani government and various international organizations, including the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
As Azerbaijan’s economic situation strengthened and so did the situation of refugees and IDPs, Switzerland changed the direction of its support. Projects have shifted from humanitarian support to long-term projects, with emphasis on the development of value chains and infrastructure.
Q: What is the current state and spheres of economic cooperation between the two countries?
A: The officials of the two countries have repeatedly stressed the importance of the ties between the two nations. An intergovernmental agreement on trade and economic cooperation was signed in Baku in October 2000. In total, twenty-eight documents were signed between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Swiss Confederation.
Azerbaijan is Switzerland’s main trading partner in the South Caucasus. Switzerland mainly exports jewellery products, machinery, watches and pharmaceutical products to Azerbaijan. In 2021, the trade turnover between the two nations amounted to $457.2 million.
Projects implemented by Switzerland in Azerbaijan contributed to the development of tourism in Ismayilli and Gabala regions. Switzerland also implemented the project on the restoration of water infrastructure in Nakhchivan. In addition, with the financial support of Switzerland, rural development projects were also implemented in various cities and regions of Azerbaijan.
With the development of Azerbaijan’s economy, Switzerland refocused its assistance on more specific aspects, mainly improving the basic conditions for the private sector and providing technical support in the macroeconomic and financial sectors. In this regard, it should be noted that Switzerland is a long-term supporter of financial sector development in Azerbaijan. The support for this sector is centred around financial infrastructure - the introduction of leasing, the creation of a private credit bureau, and the introduction of secure transactions.
Q: What is the state of energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and Switzerland?
A: Switzerland has had a role in developing relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union, with Swiss officials advocating closer ties between the EU and Azerbaijan in order to provide energy security for Europe.
Switzerland is one of the largest investors in the non-oil sectors and supports Azerbaijan’s efforts to diversify the economy. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in the energy sector in 2007, which laid the foundation for the development of closer ties in this area.
The implementation of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project is an excellent example of bilateral relations in the energy sector. The Swiss company Axpo was involved in the construction of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which now transports Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe. Currently, Swiss Axpo is a shareholder (with 5 per cent) in the TAP.
Simultaneously, Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company (SOCAR) successfully operates in Switzerland. Since 2012, SOCAR has been operating around 172 petrol stations in Switzerland under its own brand.
Azerbaijan is also working with Swiss Pure Energy Development SARL in the area of attracting foreign investment in the renewable energy sector in the country.
Q: How do the two countries cooperate in political, international, cultural, and other spheres?
A: Bilateral relations between the two countries are constantly developing dynamically. There is a high-level political dialogue between Azerbaijan and Switzerland. This dialogue is ensured through regular meetings of the presidents as part of the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos, as well as bilateral contacts at the parliamentary and other ministerial levels. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev attended the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
The Azerbaijani-Swiss Working Group for Inter-Parliamentary Relations has been active in the Azerbaijani Parliament (Milli Majlis) since October 2, 2006, and plays a pivotal role in expanding inter-parliamentary relations. There is also a friendship group with Azerbaijan in the Swiss parliament. Moreover, Baku will host a meeting of the Commission on Trade and Economic relations between Switzerland and Azerbaijan in 2022.
The Swiss embassy supports and participates in various projects and events to promote Switzerland and Swiss culture, including film festivals, the 'Francophonie week' and the 'Settimana della lingua italiana'. Azerbaijan also benefits from the Swiss regional art and culture program in the South Caucasus.
Likewise, in June 2021, several dozen Swiss football fans travelled to Baku for two games played by the Swiss national team at the European Championship, despite travel restrictions related to COVID-19. At the same time, a lot of Azerbaijanis are travelling to Switzerland for tourism or business purposes.
Bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Switzerland are at a good level and certainly have the potential for further development.
Ayya Lmahamad is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @AyyaLmahamad
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