The role of Heydar Aliyev in the development of relations between Azerbaijan and the UK

“There is a history of friendly relations and cooperation between the United Kingdom and Azerbaijan. As soon as our republic gained state independence in 1991, Great Britain was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan.

“Diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Azerbaijan were established in March 1992. In 1993 the UK embassy was opened in Azerbaijan, and the embassy of our republic to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland opened its doors in January 1994.

“My visit is aimed at developing the existing relations between Azerbaijan and the UK. I was glad to accept the invitation, and I began my official visit to the UK, London today.”

Heydar Aliyev, London, 20 July 1998.

The history of relations between Azerbaijan and the UK dates back to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries when Azerbaijan was part of Tsarist Russia. In 1904, 47% of British requirements for petrol were met by Baku. Nowadays, the UK is one of the largest foreign investors in Azerbaijan.

The British Council, which has been operating in Baku since 1993, has implemented various programmes to teach English in Azerbaijan and to provide young Azerbaijani professionals with the opportunity of continuing their education in the UK.

This exchange not only saw Azerbaijani students advance their learning in the UK, but British students travel in the other direction to attend Azerbaijani universities as part of various exchange programmes developed between a number of universities in the two countries.

The Agreement on Cooperation in Education, Science and Culture, signed on 23 February 1994 by President Heydar Aliyev and British Prime Minister John Major, laid the legal foundations for cultural cooperation between the UK and Azerbaijan. The signing of this historically significant agreement has created great opportunities for mutual exchanges and improved understanding between the countries.

The Agreement was signed during President Heydar Aliyev’s first official visit to the UK, which took place between 22 and 25 February 1994. His meeting with the British Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, for talks saw bilateral relations and cooperation rise to their highest level.

The two leaders signed the “Joint Declaration of Friendship and Cooperation” to deepen relations between the two countries, with eight other cooperation agreements also concluded in various fields (tax, energy, aviation, etc.) during this visit.

It was during the 1994 visit to London that Heydar Aliyev made a speech where he expressed the main goal of Azerbaijan’s cooperation with the United Kingdom:

“…We consider the UK a leading country in world politics, a country with political weight, a rich history and traditions. It is a country which occupies an important place in the world economic system, and there is much to be learnt from it by establishing comprehensive cooperation.”

Since the signing of the “Contract of the Century” in 1994 (a ground-breaking agreement between Azerbaijan’s state-run energy company SOCAR and 11 foreign energy companies from 6 countries to develop oil fields in Azerbaijan), British company BP has been the operator of the main oil and gas projects implemented in Azerbaijani’s off-shore oil fields in the Caspian Sea.

This once again proves that the basis of the current strong relations between Azerbaijan and the UK has been laid by the national leader Heydar Aliyev.

Heydar Aliyev’s second official visit to Britain occurred on 19-24 July 1998. This trip played an essential role in the development of bilateral relations between the countries. At an official meeting with the UK’s Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen informed the President of Azerbaijan that she was closely monitoring his activities in the field of legal and democratic state-building in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev with British PM Tony Blair, 10 Downing Street, London. 21 July 1998

“Heydar Aliyev had invaluable services in the strengthening of the ties between our countries and the development of Azerbaijan. I very well remember our meeting in July 1998 during his visit to the United Kingdom,” said Queen Elizabeth II.

Today, there are high level relations between Azerbaijan and Great Britain in all spheres. Close ties have been established between the peoples, economies and cultures of the two countries.

For example, in 2013, the Scientific Centre of Azerbaijani and Caucasian Studies, inspired by Azerbaijan’s literary giant Nizami Ganjavi, was established at Oxford University in the UK. In addition, a library in the Institute of Oriental Studies at Oxford University was named in honour of Nizami Ganjavi.

Very many cultural and scientific events are held in Baku and London each year. It is worth noting that since 2014, our country has been invited to participate in the Royal Windsor Horse Show, where the enchanting beauty of Karabakh horses are on show.

A further indicator of high-quality diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and the UK is the adoption of Resolution 853 in the UN Security Council in 1993, which demanded the unconditional withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. This important initiative, vital to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, was directly due to the efforts of the UK during its chairmanship of the organisation.


The article is prepared by Narmin Hasanova of the Azerbaijan State Translation Centre

Main image top, of Queen Elizabeth II and Heydar Aliyev at Buckingham Palace, London, 21 July 1998. Photo © Heydar Aliyev Heritage Research Centre