Why is the Norwegian embassy closing down in Baku?
Norway intends to close its embassy in Baku and open one in Tbilisi. Communication with Azerbaijan will be maintained through the embassy in Turkey, and a consulate will be created in Baku. The Azerbaijani public has been arguing for three days as to what lies behind Norway’s decision.
Norway’s official statement
“Georgia is our main partner in the South Caucasus. As a result of reforms carried out over a number of years, it has come closer to European and Euro-Atlantic structures. A permanent office in Tbilisi will give us the opportunity to better monitor the development of events throughout the region,” said Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide.
Azerbaijan’s official reaction
The Caucasian Knot reports that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan is sorry to hear about the decision, but that its embassy in Oslo will remain open.
“Azerbaijan and Norway have all-round warm relations. According to our information, Norway wants to maintain its representation in Azerbaijan through consular activities. Whether it will act in the status of an honorary or diplomatic consulate is still unknown,” said ministry spokeswoman Leyla Abdullayeva.
Azerbaijan’s opposition: “The reason is the lack of democracy in the country.”
Azerbaijan’s opposition parties perceive the closure of the Norwegian embassy to be a serious failure of the government and connects it with the regression of democracy in Azerbaijan.
The leader of the Republican Alternative (ReAL) party Ilgar Mammadov says:
“The Foreign Ministry of Norway has, in very clear and diplomatic language, stated its position: ‘We are closing our embassy in Baku and opening one in Tbilisi because Georgia is trying to be committed to democratic values, but Azerbaijan is not – there is only regression.’ Since Azerbaijan’s independence, I can’t recall a more serious failure of Azerbaijani diplomacy.”
Leader of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) Ali Karimli:
“Norway is known as a developed democratic state. [Norway’s] departure from Azerbaijan is an indication that it has lost confidence in the authorities of Azerbaijan. Norway may be followed by other small democracies in Europe who no longer feel comfortable here. All this is the result of the establishment of dynastic power in Azerbaijan and a high level of corruption. The departure of the Norwegian embassy will hit the country’s image hard.”
Observers: These countries have nothing more to do here
Member of the Azerbaijani National Public Committee for Euro-Integration, Togrul Juvarli, notes that Norway, in addition to the realisation of energy interests, actively supports civil society projects:
“There were no problems with the energy sector – and the Norwegians, in principle, got everything that could be interesting for them. As for civil society, over the last five years, the activities of NGOs and foreign donors have been suspended in Azerbaijan. Apparently, in this situation, the Norwegians decided that since the government does not want the support of civil society, it is better to be where the authorities do not create obstacles.”
JAMnews political columnist Shahin Rzayev:
“This decision by the Norwegians is purely pragmatic. Before, they needed to have an embassy in Azerbaijan because the Norwegian oil company Statoil was actively working here. But then, for economic reasons, the Norwegians reduced their share in Azerbaijani projects. In turn, political activity has also weakened. After a local NGO was banned from receiving funding from abroad in 2014, Norway was unable to continue its traditional grant programme. So it seems to them that it has become senseless and unprofitable to keep the embassy in Azerbaijan. But, in my opinion, the human rights situation does not play a decisive role in this.”
The response on social media
Not only have politicians and experts in Azerbaijan been offering up their opinions, but also ordinary social media users:
“Most likely, they simply don’t have the volume of work for which you might need an entire embassy.”
“Bad sign. I wonder what embassy will be next.”
“Norway is the most politically and economically independent state in Europe, it always has its own opinion. The fact that they do not recognize us and reduce the level of ties does not bode well for us.”