Ambassador: "Topchibashev's Paris archive is history and cultural heritage of our people, and it should be returned to Azerbaijan"-INTERVIEW

Rahman Mustafayev,  Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Azerbaijan to France

© APA | Rahman Mustafayev, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Azerbaijan to France

# 31 January 2022 16:36 (UTC +04:00)

Interview of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Azerbaijan to France Rahman Mustafayev with APA

- Mr. Ambassador, relations between Azerbaijan and France have historical roots and have been successfully developing for many years, but today they are experiencing difficult times. What are the missing points for the development of these relations in a positive way?

- You know, in diplomacy, as in medicine, in order to solve a problem or eliminate a disease, you have to make the right diagnosis. Our relations have been in serious crisis for several years now. The reason for the crisis is not, as you say, some missing points, but much deeper and more serious. In its relations with our country France does not observe the basic principles for interstate relations - respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. Can you build a house without a foundation? Of course, it's impossible. It is the same with the interstate relations, you cannot build those relations without respecting and upholding these principles as they are basis. This is the main thing; the rest is secondary. The future of bilateral relations depends on the resolution of this very issue.

- How has the opinion of France changed regarding our region after the Second Karabakh War?

- France has acknowledged the results of the war and has expressed willingness to help us with demining the territories liberated from occupation and the search for missing persons. At the same time, it showed some interest in the restoration of those territories. But in general, as far as compliance with the above-mentioned basic principles is concerned, its approach has not changed. Moreover, in parallel, another trend, that I would say has a destructive nature, has intensified in this country since 2017. These are provocative statements and actions against our country in the Senate and National Assembly, the real war against Azerbaijan in some leading mass-media, statements against our head of state, made by politicians, deputies and senators, demonstrative violations of our sovereignty, our borders. Practice shows that the official authorities of this country either do not want to or cannot respond to these actions.

- In France, presidential elections will be held, and in the run-up to this the presidential candidates visited Armenia and some also visited Karabakh. Why do such illegal visits still take place despite warnings from the Azerbaijani side?

- The illegal visits to Khankendi by French politicians and parliamentarians are not only a violation of the laws of our country, but also a disregard for France's international and bilateral commitments. Moreover, it is also a flagrant violation of the French legislation itself. But because of the election campaign and the sentiments of a certain part of the electorate, these violations are turned a blind eye. In my view, this is a sign of the serious crisis of France's legal system. Recently, President Macron has had a speech at the European Parliament on the occasion of the assumption of the European Union presidency. In his speech he proclaimed the struggle for the “rule-of-law State” in EU countries as his main task in the presidency. I counted - the phrase “rule-of-law State” was used 9 times. In this regard, I have a question: Why French politicians themselves don’t respect the laws of their country and the principles of the “rule-of-law State”? Maybe the fight for the “rule-of-law State” should start from France itself?

- You have noted that the legislation of France is also violated. What specific laws are being violated?

- First of all, the Constitution, the General Code of Local Authorities, the regulations of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior. According to the laws of this country, representatives of local authorities have no right to have any contacts with representatives of the separatist entities which are not recognized by France, they have no right to sign any agreements or make any statements in their favor. This is strictly forbidden. But these norms are openly, flagrantly violated in France almost every day, when statements in favor of separatists are made and the authorities do not react to it. Although they should react, and not because of sympathy for us, but because of the need to comply with the laws of their own country.

- What actions were taken regarding the illegal visit to Khankendi at the end of December last year?

- At the beginning of January, we appealed to the prefect the Ile-de-France region to respond to the violations of the same region's president of the laws of France. I remind you that the region's prefect is an official person who acts as a representative of the government and is obligated to enforce the law on his territory. We acted without emotions, exclusively on the basis of the French legislation, we pointed out the concrete articles of the law, which were violated. We demanded a court to invalidate this visit and all the statements made during it in support of the separatists. Despite the fact that a month has passed, we have not received any response so far.

- How should we respond to these unfriendly actions?

- On the basis of the law, firmly, but at the same time, constructively. First and foremost, as has been noted, we must respond on the basis of law using legal mechanisms. We must also respond firmly to violations of our “red lines”, but at the same time, as our President has said, we must be open to constructive proposals from France, if there are any. We must also remember that we have allies and friends in France and that the destructive Republicans and the extremist Armenian diaspora are not all of France, they are only a small part of it.

- Is there any interest from France regarding the cooperation with our country, especially concerning the participation of reconstruction projects in the territories liberated from occupation?

- I think that the current France, unfortunately, does not have any constructive agenda for cooperation with Azerbaijan. Its policies are completely dependent on election campaign cycles and pressure from the radical diaspora. There is no serious desire to develop dialogue and cooperation with our country in the fields of culture and art, science and education, sports and youth exchanges. During 2018-2021, we made many offers of cooperation in these areas, but received no response. There is no desire to know and understand our country. There is no, and this is the most important thing, respect for our country and our people.

As for French companies, some of them are willing to take part in reconstruction projects. And if we look at it objectively, I think that France is one of the European countries that could largely contribute to reconstruction works in all spheres and at the highest technological level. But I will repeat it again: you cannot build relations between countries without respect for generally accepted principles of interstate relations, without respect for your partner.

- Some time ago, there was a discussion about the transfer of documents related to the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918-1920) from the French archives to Azerbaijan, is there any progress on this issue?

- Thank you for this question. You mentioned a very important issue. Since 2019, we have been making great efforts to return to Azerbaijan the Topchibashev’s Paris archive, which is essentially the archive of the ADR diplomatic mission that was in Paris in 1919-1920. It consists of nearly 40 boxes, each containing 100-150 pages of documents and photographs. These unique documents cover four important periods of the Azerbaijani history: the period from 1905 to 1917, i. e. the history of the Muslim movement in the Russian Empire when A.M. Topchibashev headed the Muslim fraction of the State Duma of the Russian Empire. Secondly, these are documents on the political history of ADR in the period of 1918-1920, including photographs of the March 1918 genocide. Thirdly, these are the documents on the activity of the ADR diplomatic mission in 1919-1920. Finally, these are the archives of Azerbaijani emigration for the period of 1920-1950.

Unfortunately, under different pretexts the French side refuses to open a dialogue with us and our lawyers about the restitution, denies even to allow our scholars and specialists an access to this archive. There is also no response to the appeal of a large group of Azerbaijani scientists to the French President made last year on this issue.

- What are the excuses, on what grounds does France refuse to return the archive?

- Representatives of the School of High Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales), which houses the archive, use the argument that the archive must be inventoried. But how are they going to do it without the participation of our specialists? Considering that the leading curator of this archive is a French citizen of Armenian origin, I have serious concerns for the results of this “inventory” and for the safety and preservation of these archive documents. Especially for the preservation of its photographs witnessing the March 1918 genocide.

Or they say that the family of Topchibashev allegedly objected to the transfer of the archive to Azerbaijan. But this is an obvious lie. We have an archive document proving that in September 1969 the son of Ali Mardan-bek Topchibashev Alekper-bek had a meeting with a representative of Soviet Azerbaijan who was on a business trip to Paris. During this meeting Alekper-bek made a proposal to transfer his father's archive to Azerbaijan.

It is indicative that the archive is closed not only to Azerbaijani, but also to all scientists and specialists. Therefore, I believe that the return of our diplomatic mission's archive to the homeland, and not the copies, by the way, but original documents, is one of the most important priorities in our relations with France. It is not only the duty of our diplomacy, but also the responsibility of the entire Azerbaijani society. It is an important part of history and cultural heritage of our people, and it cannot be left in this country, it must be returned to Azerbaijan.

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