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Lord Fraser, could you tell us about your self and the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society?

Well, I’m a Scot. I come from the northern bit of a very wet island. I first came to Azerbaijan in 1996. What I can’t answer is why we, a wet island of the north of Europe, have such a natural affiliation with people who live on the other side of the Caucasus. We’ve always got on very well and I think there is a natural relationship between the United Kingdom and Azerbaijan. And when I was asked to become the chairman of the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society, I was very willing to do it, because it seems to me to be a good relationship and I think one that we want to make even better.
I don’t think that the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society should ever only be a chamber of commerce. We want to deal with a wider set of relationships from culture to education. The commercial-industrial relationships between us are very interesting but it’s not just that, it’s got to be broader, I gave an example yesterday to the president of Azerbaijan: the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society has supported a brilliant, young violinist who is at the Yehudi Menuhin School. We have supported her cause for three years, four years now, and we are very happy to support her. We are not just a chamber of commerce. We do a range of things and, unfortunately, our funds are not limitless. And while the beginning of the relationship may have been with the oil and gas business, it’s much broader than that now. And we want to do everything that we can to make the relationship bigger and broader.
I have been concerned as the chairman that the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society is too much on the British side. But we don’t want just to be British. We want to be Azerbaijani as well. So what we are proposing is that a distinct part of the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society should be located here in Baku. And it should all just be one society. If anyone is a member of the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society and lives and works in Baku, of course, when we have an event in London for the society, anybody who is a member here is also welcome as a member in London.
People in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe do not know much about Azerbaijan. Does the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society try to promote the country?

I think you’re absolutely correct, there is a lack of information about Azerbaijan and we try in every possible way to correct the impression about Azerbaijan. But what we are keen to avoid doing, even in the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society, is to be condescending. Azerbaijan is a mature nation, and we should recognize that they are a major country and of great importance certainly in this part of the world.

For example, there is little understanding of the terrible problem that Azerbaijan has had over Nagorno-Karabagh, appalling. When the issue is raised in
Visiting a building refurbished by the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society, Community Shield and BP at Umbaki Visiting a building refurbished by the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society, Community Shield and BP at Umbaki
the United Kingdom we strongly say, ’You must get your minds around the idea that this territory belongs to Azerbaijan.’ I think Azerbaijan deserves support. I say to people when I am in London, ’Do not underestimate the strength of the lobby from Armenia not only in the UK and France, but in Canada and in the USA.’
What kind of relations does the Anglo- Azerbaijani Society have with young Azerbaijanis?

The relationship between the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society and the young from Azerbaijan who are studying in the UK isn’t as good as it should be and we are trying very hard to make sure that it gets ever better. I hope that you can tell your readership that if anyone is in the UK and we ever have an event of the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society, the young Azeris studying in London or anybody else are very, very welcome to come to our meetings. We welcome young people from Azerbaijan and they can be confident about this - they don’t have to pay for their ticket! We would like to see more students and young people at our meetings.
How do you assess the current level of relations between Azerbaijan and Great Britain?

I think the political relationship between the two is very good indeed. I think, even though I’m not a natural supporter of the present government in the United Kingdom, I have no doubt that the relationship between the United Kingdom and Azerbaijan is strong and is probably going to get stronger. We may have started off because both countries have a real interest in the oil and gas business, but I believe that more recently the relationship between the two countries has deepened and it is probably getting stronger.
What do you think about the role of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey?

Well, I had an interesting discussion in London with some Friends of the Earth. I said to them, ’The sovereign people of Azerbaijan, the sovereign people of Georgia, the sovereign people of Turkey all want this pipeline to be there. There may be some disputes about how much money people are paid, about the compensation particularly going through Georgia, but the fact is that all three countries, all three sovereign peoples all want to have a pipeline. Isn’t it neo-colonialist of us to be arguing anything else if these people have decided? What right have you got to tell them what to do?’
Baku and Azerbaijan have an ancient and rich history. What interests you most in our history?

I know the history of Baku and I know the famous stories about how there was a seizure of Baku and how the 26 commissars crossed the Caspian. I know that the British always get blamed for being involved in their deaths, and to be quite honest I believe it to be Soviet propaganda. But it’s widespread. We would hope that people understand more clearly the history of Azerbaijan and we will do what we can to promote a greater understanding.
Something that still concerns me about Azerbaijan - this is one of the most interesting points of the world for its archeology - but the attitude in Azerbaijan, which is changing, I accept, has been that, ’If it’s in a book, it must be right,’ whereas modern archeologists would say, ’No, we’ll go back to first
Lord and Lady Fraser Lord and Lady Fraser
principles and we will excavate and find out what is there.’ The most fascinating bits of Azerbaijan have as yet been untouched and there needs to be a much more critical, keen understanding of what exactly is here. This is one of the oldest countries in the world. Through education I would like there to be a better understanding of the history of Azerbaijan, not only in the UK, but also in Azerbaijan. That’s what we want really.

For example, when I was here two years ago I went to look at one of the wonderful castles on the Absheron peninsula. There was a stone, which was described in Azerbaijan books as a game, a sort of medieval game. We had an expert come out from the British Museum in London and he said that it was not a game, it was a map of the castle. Someone 600 years ago carved in the stairs a map and that’s what’s really important about it. That is a small example of what we are trying to do. It’s to get not just a better understanding of the great history of Azerbaijan in the United Kingdom, but we would like to be confident of a true understanding of the history of Azerbaijan in Azerbaijan.

I was telling this story last night and somebody said, ’I’ve never heard that before,’ that there were two brothers Nobel, one of whom invented dynamite and lived in what was then Sweden and is now modern Norway and the other one came here to live and work in Azerbaijan. And I said that when he first came here, he came to look for wood to put on the butts of rifles. But he went back to see his brother and said that the interesting thing about Azerbaijan is this black stuff called oil. And we should go into that, it’s much more interesting. And that’s what they did, the rest, as they say, is history. And I keep telling people, if you look at the London exchange today, you will find that the quantity of oil is always denominated in barrels. Azerbaijan is the origin of the barrel of oil, because the oil was taken from here with horses or donkeys over to the Black Sea in barrels. And even today I can tell you the price of a barrel of oil. Everybody thinks that the barrel comes from Texas, but it doesn’t, it comes from Baku. Anyway, the interesting story about Nobel - I’m losing confidence that I’ve got it correct - is that the brother who lived in Baku died first, and when he died the Scandinavian newspapers published the wrong obituary, they wrote an obituary about Alfred Nobel and he was so shocked that he was such a hated figure that he thought, ’I must correct my reputation.’ That is why we have the world famous Nobel Prizes now. And it probably began because of what happened here in Baku, a very interesting story!
What has changed in Azerbaijan in the past 10 years?

I don’t have to go back 10 years when we were driving through Baku yesterday afternoon we could not believe how much building, reconstruction there is, old buildings are being refurbished, made beautiful again, I can’t believe how much has happened in a year, and that’s been going on for 10 years now. It’s absolutely stunning. I hope - which I think President Aliyev certainly understands - is that an essential point for Baku should be that the older buildings are restored. The one that we looked at - the Philharmonia has been beautifully restored.
What about the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan?

We think that the tourism potential of Azerbaijan is enormous really. I would argue, and I’ve argued both in Azerbaijan and in Georgia, that the hills, the foothills of the Caucasus, are more beautiful than Switzerland. People would like to go on walking holidays and that would bring a lot of money into Azerbaijan. So I tell everybody that.

We went to a restaurant in a place called Bum - it’s got rather a rude name in English - and went to this very good restaurant, where 27 dishes were on the table, 27. Of them 23 had been grown, caught, smoked 300 metres from the restaurant. It was delicious. It was a wonderful restaurant. The problem about it is it may sound a rather stupid thing the bathrooms in the country leave something to be desired. That’s an easy thing to tackle: proper toilets, proper showers, that’s all that needs doing. I feel very, very strongly that the tourism potential of Azerbaijan is being neglected or not fully understood. It may be that it’s sort of Azerbaijan modesty that does not want to tell, that doesn’t really quite understand, why people think this is a wonderful place to come to.

I think it’s real. If you go to Florida, on holiday to the Caribbean, your problem is that you’re likely to see plastic palm trees, something that’s not genuine, not real, but everything here is genuine, natural and authentic.

I can say the easiest job I have as the chairman of the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society is trying to promote tourism. People think, ’It’s wonderful, yes, that sounds excellent. I would like to do that.’ Then you have to say, ’Well, erm, you might find it difficult to find a hotel room that has got a working shower and all the rest of it.’ If you get that organized, you will be surprised how many people will want to come here.

I know from Scotland, for example, that of the tourists who come to Scotland only about 10 per cent of them play golf. However, the 10 per cent that do play golf provide about 90 per cent of the income. And that’s what I think Azerbaijan should focus on, not just backpackers. I think backpackers would find this a dream country, but the fact of the matter is they tend to be students and people who haven’t got a lot of money to spend or if they do have money they don’t spend it. I think that there are people who would spend money that would be very good for the economy, but they will have certain minimum requirements. They will want to have a bedroom to themselves, they will want to have proper bathroom facilities. That’s not a major investment Azerbaijan needs to make. I think you could do it really quite cheaply. There’s the lovely sea, as well.

Mr Nick Baxter, who is on the society’s executive committee, has a proposal to make, which President Aliyev is really interested in. Azerbaijan is very rich in oil and gas, but the world is going green. What he proposes is a very simple idea - bio-fuels. You can go to a farmer and say, grow me x tons of whatever it may be and his proposal is to add 15-20 per cent to petrol, diesel, and I think that would be a brilliant addition to the range of things that Azerbaijan can do. And what interests him about it, and the president, is that you suddenly move away from just supporting the oil and gas industry and start supporting farmers. I must say when we went to the president and his advisers yesterday, we could see them all sitting up and saying, ’That’s an interesting idea.’ Of course in the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society we warmly accept these sorts of ideas.
What is your view about the Azerbaijan‘s reputation for tolerance?

Lord Greville Janner, who is Jewish and has visited Baku, told all the parliamentarians at a meeting organised between the embassy and the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society that this is the most tolerant city in the world. He told the story of an imam in Azerbaijan who got up in his mosque and said, ’The Jews are back and they want to rebuild a synagogue. Get out there and help them.’ That is unheard of anywhere else in the world - the idea of a Muslim imam saying to his flock, ’Get out and help the Jews.’ I think it’s a wonderful story.
Do you think there are similarities between Baku and Aberdeen?

I think that there is a real affinity between Aberdeen and Baku. Its origins are clearly to do with having offshore oil and gas. But the point I would make to the authorities in Azerbaijan is: remember this about Scotland. Never forget it. I remember in Aberdeen when anyone who knew about oil and gas only spoke with an American accent. We knew nothing about oil and gas. But now we would say we are probably one of the most specialized developers of offshore oil.

What Azerbaijan needs to do is make sure that it develops its own technology. I hope that it is a lesson that’s being learnt. I think the only problem is that, if you take a piece of graph paper, most of the authorities in Azerbaijan want to have a smooth graph of more and more local content. I keep saying to them, no, no, no, it’s not going to go straight up, it’s going to be jagged, and sometimes you’re going to need to take on board some specialist business, some special things. And OK, you will learn in the fullness of time to do that.
The Anglo-Azerbaijani Society supports a wide range of charitable work in Azerbaijan. Can you tell us more about this?

We have raised I think in the last three years a quarter of a million dollars for purely charitable purposes in Azerbaijan. We have already transformed the leper colony at Umbaki, south of Baku, and I think we have finished our work there and we have supported an orphanage for young children who have suffered as a result of the Karabakh conflict.

Last night at the oil show dinner we raised 50,000 dollars. Every penny that we raise is used for good purposes here in Azerbaijan. We are what is described in the United Kingdom as a zero-cost charity. That means we don’t take 10 per cent off for our own costs, we don’t take anything. When we say 50,000 dollars we mean 50,000 dollars will be spent in Azerbaijan. And I’m very proud to be chairman and work with people looking towards helping Azerbaijan. They don’t take a penny for their efforts.

Now we are supporting a psychiatric hospital for young children who have serious mental handicaps. We raised 50,000 dollars in the memory of Susan Crouch and we, the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society, are having an event in Aberdeen before the end of this year and we are hopeful that we can raise at least 15,000 dollars and put the sums together. We’ve only got one condition we attach to schooling provision for these handicapped children, it’s got to be named after Susan Crouch. That’s the only thing.