Spring 1998 (6.1)
Observations: Jean-Pierre Guinhut, Ambassador from France
Jean-Pierre Guinhut (pronounced Geh-NOO) has been France's Ambassador to Azerbaijan for the past year. In the public arena, he is known for impressing and charming Azerbaijanis with his ability to speak Azeri and his vast knowledge of Eastern culture. The most recent eminent example occurred at the televised proceedings at "Early Oil Day Celebration," on November 11, 1997, at the Respublica Palace. In front of a gathering of Azerbaijan's highest officials, dignitaries, and a capacity crowd of 3,000, when Ambassador Guinhut started presenting his entire speech in the Azeri language, the entire audience burst into spontaneously applause.
Recently, Ambassador Guinhut took a few moments to share with us his thoughts about Azerbaijan.
What career path has brought you to Azerbaijan?
My curiosity for things Eastern really began in 1967 with my first trip to North Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. This led to a long period of study of Oriental languages, literature, politics and philosophy. I spent several months in Jordan (1968) and in Tunis (1969), and 3 years in Cairo (1970-1973).
I joined the Foreign Service in early 1975 and was immediately posted to the Emirate of Qatar, where I participated in the opening of the French Embassy in Doha (1975-76). Later I held foreign assignments in the Islamic Republic of Iran (1980-82; 1988-93), where I witnessed both the beginning and end of the Iran-Iraq war. In between those assignments, I served three years in Libya as first counselor (1982-85). Later I worked three years in New York (1985-88) as an expert on the Middle East at the French Mission to the United Nations.
When I returned to Paris again after being abroad more than 12 years abroad, I was put in charge of Middle Eastern countries (1993-96). Afterwards I was assigned as Ambassador to Baku.
How did you feel about being assigned here?
I didn't expect the assignment; nevertheless, the region is so familiar and comfortable for me. During my childhood, I used to hear stories about a great uncle, a former member of a veterinary unit, who was sent to the Caucasus at the end of World War II as part of a modest military unit sent by France to help out British forces.
I should also mention that I made a series of trips to Bandar Anzali (Iran) at the end of 1980, when no flights were operating between Iran and the rest of the world. It was still the Soviet period and we had to travel via Moscow and Baku to reach Iran.
But, in addition, when I lived in Iran I had many opportunities to discover Azerbaijani musicians. I particularly enjoyed the wonderful singer Rashid Behbudov, as well as many famous mugam artists.
When did France begin their relations with the Republic of Azerbaijan?
France was the second country to recognize Azerbaijan's independence and to open an Embassy here. Turkey was the first. The new premises of the French Embassy in the center of Baku were officially opened on October 11, 1996, by President Heydar Aliyev and the French Foreign Minister, Herve De Charette. The Ambassador's residence was officially opened at number 10 Gorky Street, on February 10, 1997. My predecessor was Jean Perrin, who was assigned here in Baku from 1992-96.
Where does France stand on the Karabakh question?
France approaches the Karabakh question as a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, which means that it has been invested with a special responsibility in matters of collective security. Whenever a conflict arises, France has no policy other than peace, preservation and restoration.
Also, France is presently involved, along with the United States and Russia, in the mediation as the tripartite chairmanship of the Minsk group of the OSCE (Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe). Their task is coherent with the regional countries' quest for a just and durable peace based on the principles of international law, which were stated during the OSCE summit in Lisbon in December 1996.
[The three principles of the Lisbon Summit include: (1) support for the territorial integrity of Armenia and Azerbaijan; (2) the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh as one of the highest degrees of self-rule within Azerbaijan and (3) the guarantee for the security of Angorno-Karabakh and its entire population].
For the time being, the objective of the Minsk Group which has been commissioned to find a resolution to the conflict is to gather the parties around a negotiation table as soon as they have agreed along the lines already proposed to them by the co-chair.
In what other ways is France involved in Azerbaijan today?
Presently, France has numerous projects here since so many opportunities are now being offered by Azerbaijan as a powerful, emerging energy-producing country. For modernizing economies, nothing is more precious today than energy. Azerbaijan has a great future. No developed country can be indifferent to the evolution and ambitions of Azerbaijan's government and society both because of the country's strategic location and because of its strategic energy resources.
The French oil companies, ELF and Total, are both present and involved with oil development contracts in Baku. Several worldwide service firms such as Schlumberger and Enterpose (working with AIOC) are also here. French industrial groups are interested in the development of non-oil industries in as many fields of economic activity as Azerbaijan is ready to offer foreign investments in the coming years.
The changing elements of Azerbaijani life in Baku include the legal framework of newly privatized activities and the installation of modern social and fiscal systems. This creates a challenging environment in which French businessmen are ready to involve their well-known, high-tech reputation, along with a unique capacity to share expertise and transfer technology.
Last, but not least, French business groups and authorities want to help quickly clean out all counterfeits and forgeries from the Azerbaijani market. This invasion, with its outrageous prices, is inconsistent with the philosophy of a market economy. We want to bring in quality French goods and traditional luxuries (but, not only luxurious goods) at fair prices that are affordable to Azerbaijani citizens.
What kind of cultural exchange is going on between France and Azerbaijan?
Among other significant activities of the French Embassy, whose four branches are now fully operational (Political, Economic, Cultural and Consular), there is a permanent interest in the development of a wider knowledge and understanding between the Azerbaijani people and others in Europe. France has taken special care to help consolidate the current public teaching system for the French language, not only in primary and secondary schools, but also at the university level. This is a significant effort shared with Azerbaijani teachers and renowned professors who have already trained several generations how to speak French.
This interest in helping the public system is coherent with the global philosophy of all French regimes since the revolution of 1789. It is based on the democratic principle of equality of opportunity for all citizens, through a state-owned teaching system with adequate standards. This concern does not exclude private teaching institutions. French authorities believe that students should be free to learn whatever language they wish to learn, and as many languages as they wish to learn; this is both fair and democratic.
The French Embassy, along with the Azerbaijani Embassy in Paris, wants to increase the reciprocal knowledge of both countries' artistic richness and talents through painting and photography exhibitions, concerts, seminars, fashion exhibitions and more frequent visits to and from Azerbaijan.
[Reza Deghaty, world famous Azerbaijani photojournalist who currently lives in Paris, has opened an exhibition of his photographs from all over the world. The photos concentrate on the reality and horror of what it means to be an exile. They are currently on display at the Municipality of the 11th District in Paris. Two of the strongest images of the 60 photos on display are from Azerbaijan. The exhibition will be continuing throughout the remainder of the year. Contact Tel: 33-14846-3131].
Also, in this field, the French Embassy is pleased to take this occasion to congratulate and thank Azerbaijan International magazine for all of its efforts and initiatives to bring valuable materials to the awareness of the friends of this country. In reality, this magazine constitutes the first encyclopedia of Azerbaijan's civilization, culture and traditions. "Bravo et merci!"
Where do you think Azerbaijan is headed?
In brief, I believe that Baku is once again becoming a very influential merchant republic. I visualize it emerging as a city somewhere between the character of Dubai and Singapore. I see an elegant urban life, a more cosmopolitan society perhaps than even existed in the last century. I see a society emerging which is devoted not only to business and the welfare state, but also to the realm of culture and the arts, which is the privilege and tendency of an educated, kind population.
As for working here in Azerbaijan, I wonder if anyone ever leaves Baku forever at the end of their assignment? As for myself, I don't think I'll be able to.
From Azerbaijan International (6.1) Spring 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.
Back to Index AI 6.1 (Spring 1998)
AI Home | Magazine Choice | Topics | Store | Contact us