The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) celebrated five years since its foundation during a glittering event in the stunning setting of the Locarno Suite in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – scene of the signing of the Treaty of Locarno in 1925.
Initially founded by Tale Heydarov during his studies at the London School of Economics, the society evolved into the London Azerbaijan Society, before becoming TEAS in 2008. TEAS is dedicated to increasing awareness across Europe on the business opportunities and culture of Azerbaijan, and developing understanding of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the plight of around one million refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Over 300 guests attended the event, including Peers, MPs, diplomats, businesspeople and friends of the country.
Chairman of TEAS Tale Heydarov set the context by describing the achievements of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic of 1918–20, which gave all women equal voting rights 10 years before the UK. Landmarks in the modern era were the signing of the Contract of the Century in 1994, driven through by President Heydar Aliyev, who took the country from post-Soviet chaos to stability. President Ilham Aliyev has continued this policy by strengthening the economy and transforming the country’s appearance and infrastructure. Mr. Heydarov said: “TEAS is five years old and has offices in six countries. It promotes Azerbaijani culture, and fosters trade and investment between our country and Europe. We highlight Azerbaijan’s religious tolerance, and ensure that the West realises the help that Azerbaijan has provided support to the campaigns in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. TEAS also points out the role that Azerbaijan plays in securing European energy security.
“In return, we ask only that the West does not forget around one million refugees and IDPs who are the ongoing casualties of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and that they help us work towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict with Armenia, based on the principles of international law and the outstanding UN Security Council Resolutions.
“TEAS is proud of its country’s achievements. Of course there are also those with other agendas, determined to be negative, and who have a strange blind spot when it comes to the human rights of our refugees and IDPs – how can they be true friends of Azerbaijan? We, on the other hand, see many points of common interest of benefit to Azerbaijan, to the UK and other European countries. We seek only to promote knowledge about our country, including the business opportunities it offers to the wider world.”
H.E. Fakhraddin Gurbanov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to the UK, acknowledged: “This is a magnificent venue, and TEAS has done a great job in promoting Azerbaijan during the past five years. I was at the launch myself, and I am pleased to say that relations between the UK and Azerbaijan are becoming stronger every day. In particular, TEAS has made an invaluable contribution through person-to-person relations. I am very pleased that Azerbaijan has TEAS to support it in the UK and across Europe, and look forward to the next five years.”
Christopher Pincher MP, Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Azerbaijan and Member of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee: “During the past 22 years of Azerbaijani independence from the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has developed immeasurably. However, there remains one outstanding issue – the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – and the UK seeks a peaceful resolution of this situation.
“Azerbaijan presents tremendous opportunities for western companies – the Shah Deniz gas field is the second largest in the world. Azerbaijan is a secular and tolerant nation – one only needs to see the mosques, synagogues and churches in Baku. It is a stable nation in a geopolitically sensitive part of the world. It is incumbent on the APPG for Azerbaijan to promote the country in cultural, political and business terms. I look forward to celebrating further successes for TEAS and for Azerbaijan in five years’ time.”
After the speeches there was a screening of a short film, demonstrating how London-headquartered TEAS has evolved over the past five years, including the launching of branches in Baku, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Istanbul. Altogether, TEAS has organised over 50 events since its foundation, attended by more than 27,000 guests, thereby substantially raising awareness of the country throughout Europe.
The event started and concluded with a vibrant exposition of Azerbaijani traditional and classical music, together with evocative compositions by the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, performed by Azerbaijani violinist Sabina Rakcheyeva, Arts and Cultural Advisor, TEAS, with the Deco Ensemble.