On 19 October, more than 1,500 people descended on the Central Hall, Westminster, a stone’s throw from the Palace of Westminster, in a London celebration of the 20th anniversary of Azerbaijani independence. This glittering event was organised by the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the UK and The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Among the many prominent guests of H.E. Fakhraddin Gurbanov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to the UK, were H.E. Ünal Çeviköz, Turkish Ambassador to the UK; H.E. Volodymyr Khandogiy, Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK; H.E. Giorgi Badridze, Georgian Ambassador to the UK; Farkhad Khalilov, Chairman, Azerbaijan Artists’ Union; and Tale Heydarov, Chairman, The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS).
Following a reception, during which guests enjoyed wine, juice and pakhlava while viewing a photographic exhibition of Azerbaijani culture and history, Sabina Rakcheyeva, Member of the European Cultural Parliament and TEAS Cultural Advisor, opened proceedings with a speech of welcome.
Ambassador Gurbanov then took the stage to declare:
This is a special day for the citizens of Azerbaijan. Just 20 years ago, I would not have believed that my country would have been transformed into one of the most developed young post-Soviet, states.
Dr Laurie Bristow, former UK Ambassador to Azerbaijan, was the next speaker:
During my period as Ambassador from 2004–07, I saw history unfold before my eyes. Azerbaijan now has great selfconfidence on the world stage, and plays an essential role in maintaining a secure energy source to the EU. It is also seeking to develop the non-oil sector. I look forward to the next 20 years.
And Tale Heydarov acknowledged:
On the 20th anniversary of independence, we should reflect that Azerbaijan has achieved a great deal. Independence has given Azerbaijani youth the chance to study in the West and the nation takes direction from the UK and other developed countries. We have derived our values from Western Europe and achieved stability.
Making reference to the ongoing Armenian– Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno- Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions, he continued:
We must not forget the conflicts in the region, and need the support of the UK and other countries to solve them. One of the most important benefits of independence was that we could establish our own, independent, foreign policy. Long live Azerbaijan and long live independence!
In May this year, Azerbaijan achieved success in the Eurovision Song Contest, with the duo Ell and Nikki - Baku-based Eldar Gasimov and London-based Nigar Jamal - singing Running Scared. In celebration of their country’s success they reprised the winning song, to rapturous applause. The Rast Group also performed their exciting blend of western jazz, soul and Azerbaijani mugham, exemplifying the first-class musicianship in Azerbaijan.
This dynamic and exciting event was a grand celebration of Azerbaijani success across two decades.