Ilham Aliyev: “To be the rector of MGIMO is a great mission”
- 26 August 2020
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has given an interview to the MGIMO Journal on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the birth of the rector of Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Anatoly Torkunov.
APA presents the interview.
Ilham Heydarovich Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, a graduate of MGIMO in 1982, repeated the path of Anatoly Vasilyevich Torkunov with a difference of 10 years. Whereas the future rector graduated from the Faculty of International Relations and became a graduate student in 1972, the future head of the Azerbaijani state did that in 1982. Both were promising young scientists and teachers, but then their trajectories diverged. However, they always kept each other in sight, and years later, fruitful cooperation arose, translating into the holding in Baku of the first International Forum of MGIMO Alumni in 2013 and other undertakings.
President Ilham Aliyev: Moscow State Institute of International Relations is one of the leading universities not only in Russia, but also in the world, with deep and lasting traditions. For many years, it has been headed by Anatoly Vasilyevich Torkunov who has made great contributions to the formation and development of this institution of higher educational as one of the most authoritative centers for training highly qualified diplomatic personnel.
Anatoly Vasilyevich has gone a long way from a teacher to the rector of this prestigious university. As a leader, he not only preserved and augmented the best traditions of MGIMO, but also made a great contribution to the strengthening of its positions and ensuring its competitiveness in the global educational environment. It is largely thanks to his efforts that MGIMO today is a world-class brand.
Anatoly Vasilyevich Torkunov is also a public figure and scientist known not only in Russia but also far beyond its borders. We have met with Anatoly Vasilyevich many times, and I can say that he is a man of deep erudition, broad knowledge, a professional who generates new interesting ideas.
About 15 years of my life were associated with MGIMO. This includes studies, then a postgraduate course and then teaching. Those are unforgettable years, years of youth and formation. The knowledge I received at MGIMO helps me in my work to this day.
I initiated the first Forum of graduates of our university, which took place in Baku several years ago. I also took part in the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of MGIMO.
My life path is in many ways similar to that of with Anatoly Vasilyevich: both he and I have graduated from this university, entered a graduate school and taught there. Destiny decreed that I had to leave MGIMO, while Anatoly Vasilyevich linked his entire life with the alma mater.
Anatoly Vasilyevich Torkunov, who headed MGIMO in difficult times, had the mission to carefully preserve all the best that was created by his predecessors, not to let this heritage get lost and, on such a foundation, to form one of the best universities in the world, the largest scientific and educational center.
MJ: You are the head of the Azerbaijani state today, and Anatoly Vasilyevich is the rector of our alma mater. But there is something important that is common between you – a great mission. You followed in the footsteps of your father, respected Heydar Aliyev, who took over leadership of your country in 1993, saved it and turned Azerbaijan into a modern and dynamic state. Anatoly Vasilyevich in 1993 took over the management of MGIMO, saved the institute from the ulcers of timelessness, revitalized and strengthened its brand, and turned the university into a university with a unique educational quality. Please share your thoughts about this.
President Ilham Aliyev: The policy of Heydar Aliyev continues in our country today, thanks to which Azerbaijan has emerged as an independent state, taken a worthy place on the world map, established public and political stability in the country, created a solid foundation for large-scale transformations, attracted billions of foreign investments, identified the main directions of domestic and foreign policy. Azerbaijan is successfully developing in all areas now.
I am proud that Azerbaijan has earned great authority in the international arena. This is evidenced by the fact that our country, with the support of 155 states of the world, was elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2012-2013. By a unanimous decision of all 120 member-countries of the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan was elected chair of this second largest international structure of the world after the UN. In October last year, a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement was held in Baku. Last fall, our country also assumed chairmanship of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States. As a responsible member of the international community, we do not treat chairmanship of international organizations as a formality, but strive to ensure that it is effective and benefits all member countries. In particular, at a time when the world is faced with the coronavirus pandemic, summits of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking Countries were held on my initiative, discussing issues related to the fight against the dangerous virus. On behalf of the countries of the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan initiated the convening of a special session of the UN General Assembly dedicated to COVID-19. This initiative was supported by more than 130 states.
During the pandemic, we displayed international solidarity by providing humanitarian and financial assistance to more than 30 countries. We made a voluntary donation of $10 million to the World Health Organization.
Azerbaijan today is recognized as one of the world centers of multiculturalism. Our country is a geographical, cultural and political bridge between Europe and Asia. We are one of a handful of countries that are a member of both the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In 2008, we invited ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member countries to a meeting of the Council of Europe’s culture ministers in Baku. Then, in 2009, the ministers of culture of the Council of Europe were invited to a meeting of the ministers of culture of the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. This is how our initiative, branded as the Baku Process, came to life on the basis of the principles of interreligious and intercultural dialogue. Over the years, the Baku Process has gained a reputation as an effective platform for an exchange of views between people of different nationalities, cultures and religions.
The Baku Process is supported by the UN and other leading organizations of the world.
MJ: As a teacher, you surely have communicated with Anatoly Vasilyevich when he was the dean of the faculty of International Relations and vice rector. You were, so to speak, a witness to his formation of an extraordinary and talented administrator. Could you tell us a typical story?
President Ilham Aliyev: We used to work at the same chair together with Anatoly Vasilyevich, so I have known him for quite some time. Possessing professional qualities of a diplomat, scientist and leader, Anatoly Vasilyevich has always been a very open, benevolent and pleasant person to communicate with, and he remains as such to this day. I know that he enjoys the respect and love of both the team and students. Without this, he could not have led MGIMO for such a long time. I also appreciate Anatoly Vasilyevich for restoring the glorious traditions of our university, which was subjected to slander and moral terror during the period of the so-called perestroika. Unfortunately, in the time interval between Nikolay Ivanovich Lebedev, the rector of the university in my student years and early years of my teaching career whom I have always treated with great respect, and Anatoly Vasilyevich Torkunov, the people who led our university could not save it from the negative impact of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Taking over leadership of the university in 1992, Anatoly Vasilyevich restored and strengthened the image of MGIMO, making it one of the leading universities in the world today.
As for a typical story, I want to say that I had to leave the institute where I studied, completed a graduate school and worked for about 15 years at the very beginning of the 1990s. The reason for this was that my father Heydar Aliyev, who took a principled position against the erroneous domestic and foreign policy of the then leadership of the USSR, was regarded almost as an enemy of the people. He was persecuted, a frenzied campaign of liber and slander personally inspired by the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee was waged against him in the Soviet media. The MGIMO management informed me that Heydar Aliyev’s son cannot teach at this university for political reasons. In that difficult time, Anatoly Vasilyevich always provided me with moral support. I am sure that if he had been the rector then, he would not have allowed my departure. My fate could have gone along a different path then. But, as they say, everything that is done is done for the better.
MJ: In one of your interviews with our magazine, you said, “The MGIMO anniversary is a holiday for our family too”, meaning that your daughter Leyla also graduated from our university. Anatoly Vasilyevich, whose daughter Ekaterina has also graduated from MGIMO and works at one of its departments, can say the same. In fact, many alumni of MGIMO can say that! Don't you think that this family-like continuity in a good sense is one of the most important values thanks to which MGIMO approaches each of its anniversaries as an increasingly powerful and dynamic university?
President Ilham Aliyev: You have correctly noticed another intersection of our life lines. Yes, my daughter Leyla Aliyeva has also graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations. She was the president of the Azerbaijan MGIMO Club and is the chairperson of the Council of Azerbaijan Alumni. Leyla is also in charge of the “Baku” magazine being published in Russian in Moscow, introducing readers to the history, culture and traditions of the Azerbaijani people. She is making a tremendous contribution to the strengthening of strategic partnership, friendship and cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia.
In 2015, in recognition of her contributions to the strengthening of friendship and cooperation with the Russian Federation, the development of economic ties, the preservation and popularization of the Russian language and culture abroad, by a decree of the President of Russia, Leyla was awarded the Order of Pushkin. The high award was presented to her personally by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
On the initiative and with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, of which Leyla is the Vice-President, a monument to the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir was erected in Astrakhan in 2013. For the projects implemented by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in this Russian region, Leyla was awarded the Order of Merit for the Astrakhan Region. In the same 2013, by an order of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, she was also awarded the Order of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Princess Olga of Third Degree.
I know that Anatoly Vasilyevich Torkunov’s daughter Ekaterina has also graduated from this university and, as you said, is now working at one of its departments. There are probably many such examples in the history of MGIMO when children choose a university their parents once graduated from at the call of their hearts. I think it is great that there is such continuity.
MJ: Anatoly Vasilyevich turns 70. MGIMO has recently turned 75. What would you wish him in the context of this major anniversary for all of us?
President Ilham Aliyev: I would like to wish him good health, success in all his endeavors and undertakings, inexhaustible energy and family well-being. As for MGIMO, which has recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, I wish it continued achievements. I believe that under the leadership of Anatoly Vasilyevich, it will continue to be a recognized center of fundamental education and a forge of world-class diplomatic personnel.