Recently, on the invitation of theInternational Eurasia Press Fund (IEPF), Head of Cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union to Azerbaijan Jeroen Willems together with the Project Manager in the EU delegation who is dealing with rural/regional development Ramila Aslanova joined the trip to the war affected regions of Azerbaijan. The purpose of the trip was to acquaint the guests with the wide social and economic development of the Tartar and Barda regions of Azerbaijan, and also to show clearly the work that the IEPF has been conducting there for many years.
During the trip, IEPF organized several important meetings with the Heads of the Executive Power of Tartar and Barda where the parties discussed the possibilities for establishing long-term cooperation and implementing joint projects. The guests also visited the IEPF Vocational Training Center located in Tartar region and got acquainted with the projects successfully implemented by the Fund in cooperation with international organizations, UN agencies, the U.S. Department of State, various diplomatic missions in Azerbaijan, etc. This center organizes different courses and trainings for those who want to get additional skills on farming and start their own business. Among other things, Jeroen Willems also visited the subsidiary farm of the IEPF, where he saw a great potential for further development. In this farm, volunteers and students taking courses in the IEPF center receive practical classes.
Then, Jeroen Willems got acquainted with the activities of the IEPF Community Mine Action Team, while visiting Hasangaya and Shikharkh villages near the front line.
Jeroen Willems was very much impressed with what he saw and highly appreciated the work of the IEPF. He also met with refugees and IDPs. The needs of these people and how the EU can expand its activities aimed at helping refugees and IDPs in these areas were discussed at the meetings. Jeroen Willems noted that implementation of socio economic development projects in the regions will reduce regional disparities and at least help to mitigate the impact of the conflict that people are still feeling until today.
Specially for Eurasia Diary Jeroen Willems told about his impressions and thoughts
"Many people in the EU may have forgotten about Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but in Barda and Tartar we can see clearly many people that involuntarily had to leave everything they had more than 25 years ago and who until today, facing the consequences of what happened that time. When it comes to big politics it is not my department but when it comes to find the ways to help those people find decent employments, find ways to improve their skills, this is an area where the EU would be happy to continue to join forces with both government, the private sector and civil society", Jeroen Willems said.
"I have seen the work that IEPF is doing in that domain and that is very much appreciated. I hope that this work can be replicated at a larger scale, even beyond Azerbaijan. But even if we know that resources are limited and each project can only target some of the affected people, there is a beautiful saying I can add: "If you safe one human being, you have saved human kind". Even if we think about the valuable work that NGOs are doing to strengthen socio-economic development of communities and vulnerable groups, it may be only a drop in the ocean and it may not be able to improve the lives of everybody. But if - including through EU assistance - we have been able to make the life of some people better then I think we have saved human kind itself. If we can find a way to give vulnerable groups in rural communities a sense of purpose in their life in any form, then at least, we can help them in their personal life", he added.
During the visit to the IEPF Community Mine Action team Jeroen Willems could ask several questions about mine cleaning from the experts and see the real job of these people close to the frontline.
"Personally I was very much under the impression of the area where you have the demining activity because I have never come personally so close to see the effects of conflict. This is like you are in a time of war, showing you very nakedly the effect of conflict with shelled houses and little life. You can feel it. This is something that I am actually very grateful you were able to bring us to. It is something that sticks to you, something you can take with you for quite some time to go", Jeroen Willems said.
IEPF also organized the visit of guests to greenhouse, villages, farms and factories in Tartar and Barda rayons of Azerbaijan.
"The agricultural potential of Azerbaijan is enormous. The places we have visited this time are certainly having potential and may generate more income from agriculture", he said.
Jeroen Willems also noted that there is a good potential for implementation of mutually beneficial projects aimed at agricultural and tourism development in these regions with the participation of the EU.
"Azerbaijan and the EU can work on the projects aimed at agricultural development in the regions. For instance, we would like to support ways for small farmers to work better together in formal and informal networks allowing them to increase their productivity. By working together and learning from each other, small farmers may for instance get access to better quality seeds and expertise. Such small steps can have tremendous impact and I think we can play a role there. Barda city - a town brimming with history - has tremendous potential for tourism development. Although I do not claim to be an expert, "Princess Nushaba Mausoleum" to me has the potential to become a UNESCO heritage site. If you do nice lighting, beautiful display of the various historical monuments in the city, put some stands explaining the history, you may attract many tourists. Tourism development in rural regions is certainly an area where we will be glad to work in", he said.
He also visited EU supported strawberry farm in Tartar region that was created in the framework of the project titled "Rural regeneration in central Azerbaijan - supporting small-scale farmers by developing the enabling environment for strawberry and vegetable value chains". After visiting the small farmers that were supported with a new variety of seedlings and simple but effective drip irrigation tools, he said that this is a good example, how with little means, without big companies and investment, you can change the life of people, double their income and improve the quality of life.
"I enjoyed the whole trip and I learnt so much. We have visited 2 rayons close to the frontline that I have never personally seen yet. You can see there the impact of the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the population and a lot of IDPs. But you can also see very valuable work that International Eurasia Press Fund (IEPF) is doing there. You should be proud of the work IEPF is doing because in not always easy circumstances you give hope to people by giving them tools to work in the fields like agriculture or demining. You also have this well managed micro financing structure "Eurasia Credit", which provides loans to low-income families from regions affected by the war. That is hope and that is welfare and that something that should be nurtured. It is worth more than any thousand books and reports. This is something that sticks in you for a long time", Jeroen Willems said in conclusion.
Interviewed by Anastasia Lavrina