VOİCEPRESS presents the interview with Professor of the International Relations Panteion University of Athens, Mr. Kostas Ifantis
– Greece is one of the first countries which recognized the independence of Azerbaijan after the collapse of the USSR. This happened on December 31, 1991. Diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Greece were first established in the spring of 1992. Since then, a lot of time has passed, a whole generation has changed. What could our countries achieve in the field bilateral relations of?
– You are absolutely right! Greece was among the very first nations to recognize the Republic of Azerbaijan. And there it came as no surprise. Greece as a liberal democratic state has always been in favor of self-determination and national independence. We do not believe in empires! So, next year there will be 30 years of Azeri-Greek relations. I would say that all these years the relationship between Baku and Athens has been rather good. I would characterize it as a very functional relationship. It is not what some people say a strategic partnership but it is a relationship that enjoys a sincere and very friendly interaction. Of course, in the field of trade and investment, the bilateral relations are in very good shape. Greece has tried to assist the Azeri people in their effort to build the state’s institutional capacity through numerous EU funded twinning projects. And I think that the knowledge Greek experts offered contributed to the amazing Baku European Games in 2015.
– At the end of November 2019, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline Consortium (TAP) AG began filling gas with a two-kilometer section of the gas pipeline in Greece between the Evros River and the compressor station in Kipa. How can one characterize, from a political point of view, the entry of Greece the Southern Gas Corridor into?
– The TAP project is of critical geoeconomic and geopolitical value. It is a demonstration of how important is Azerbaijan in world politics. Energy security is a pillar of Greek Foreign Policy. There is no doubt among policymakers in Athens that Azerbaijan is a major regional and international player in that respect. And the role of Azerbaijan as a major energy security provider is highly appreciated. For Athens, the Southern Gas Corridor has the potential to become a bridge of friendship and cooperation among so many regional actors. National interests can and should converge around these projects and the role of Azerbaijan is indispensable.
-Currently, the package of the legal base of relations between Athens and Baku consists of 18 basic documents. What do you consider the main achievement in relations between our countries? And which areas are the most promising?
– As I have already implied there is room for improving and deepening of the Azeri-Greek relationship. It is functional in many areas and this is reflected in the various agreements. I would point out to the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement of 2009 as an excellent indication of the willingness to build solid foundations for economic cooperation and partnerships. I must not, though, that the volume of bilateral trade is asymmetrical in favor of Azerbaijan due to protectionist policies and tendencies in Baku. However, there are areas where the two nations can work together. Tourism is a major Greece industry and the quality of service is world-class and the diversity and beauty of the Greek landscape is unparalleled. Azeri citizens should consider visiting Greece and that would improve understanding between the two people. Also, a lot can be achieved in the field of civilization and culture. Both countries have a very ancient history and very distinct cultural identities. Greece offers state scholarships to Azeri students to come and study in Greece. In Azerbaijan, the work of the Nizami Ganjavi International Foundation is very well known around the world. There is great room for cultural exchanges and common projects that make not only political but social and economic sense.
– Recently, Greekcitytimes.com publication indicated the occupied Azerbaijani lands of Karabakh as the territory of Armenia. Now, petitions are being sent to the editorial office with a request to amend. In your opinion, what is the reason for the publication of such an openly provocative nature? After all, Athens has always supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan at all international sites.
– Allow me not to comment on what an Australian news outlet wrote about Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Nobody knows of this in Greece and it carries no weight in what Greece’s policy is. And Greece’s policy is that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan and that any dispute should be resolved according to international law. The territorial integrity of nations is inviolable! Violent change of borders cannot be tolerated by the international community.
– At present, amid tensions between Greece and Cyprus with Turkey, there is a situational rapprochement between Athens, Nicosia, and Yerevan. Does this somehow reflect on relations with Baku, or is the Greek government separating the husk from the grain?
– Greece is a country that pursues peaceful and friendly relations with many countries. During the last decade, there is indeed a number of cooperation schemes that Greece promotes along with other countries. Greece enjoys excellent relations with Egypt and Israel, for example. The relationship with Cyprus is quite understandable. With Armenia, the bilateral relationship is not a special one and definitely carries NOanti-Azerbaijan connotation.