Azerbaijan International

Winter 2000 (8.4)
Page 10

Reader's Forum
Letter From Kosovo

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Above: From right to left: UNDP Representative Paolo Lembo and German Ambassador Michael Schmunk with military officers.

Paolo Lembo
was the former UN Representative in Azerbaijan (1992-97) and Michael Schmunk, the former German Ambassador to Azerbaijan (1994-1997). Their paths have crossed again on assignment in Kosovo, but neither one has forgotten about Azerbaijan.

It was 10 a.m. on Monday, November 27, 2000, when the telephone rang in my office in Prishtina, Kosovo. It was Michael Schmunk, German Diplomatic Envoy to Kosovo.

"Paolo, I can't believe this," he said. "I've just come from Prizren, southern Kosovo, where I've discovered that there's an Azerbaijani Battalion serving with the UN Peacekeeping Force there."

I was surprised. I was quite aware of every single Battalion belonging to the UN Peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. I had never heard of Azerbaijanis being here. "Let's go see," I said.

Three days later, Michael Schmunk, myself and a small delegation of UN officers drove up to the small village of Dragash in the mountains and found the Azerbaijani troops there on duty.

The region is under German command; the Azerbaijani Battalion, comprising a staff of 34 military personnel, serves in partnership with Turkish troops in an area of Kosovo where Turkish influence is still visible in culture, customs and language. In fact, the Azerbaijani troops can communicate well with the population, an advantage that makes them very popular among the local residents.

Above: Azerbaijani soldiers on a UN Peacekeeping assignment
in Kosovo are visited by diplomats who previously worked together in Azerbaijan.

Senior German and Turkish officers praised the troops, who work under very difficult climatic circumstances in a fragile and politically charged environment. The Azerbaijani troops, well-trained and dedicated, are carrying out their function in a manner that gains them respect from everyone. They have brought with them their culture and customs (even cuisine!), which makes them relate well with the people.

Escorted to the Central Command, we were taken to a large hall, where we eventually met our Azerbaijani friends.

It was indeed a very moving moment. Ambassador Schmunk gave a brief address, remembering the days when he was Ambassador in Baku.

Then it was my turn to speak, and I had only one statement to make: "When I first carried the United Nations flag in a suitcase to Azerbaijan in 1992, I was convinced that it wouldn't be long before the people of Azerbaijan would go from being beneficiaries of United Nations' assistance to becoming contributors themselves. Today, I'm proud to acknowledge that this moment has come true."

After this formal moment, we chatted with the soldiers and were surprised to discover that some of them even recognized and remembered us! We joked and drank tea; someone played a worn-out Azerbaijani tape and music filled the air. It made us feel like we were at home, back in Baku. But curfew was upon us and we had to leave quickly.

As we walked away, Michael whispered in my ear: "Those where good days, weren't they?"

And as we entered the car, my eye caught a glimpse of the two flags - Azerbaijani and the United Nations - sewn on the uniform of one of the soldiers. Emotion shook my soul. "Yes, Michael," I answered, "those were the good old days - very good old days."

 Paolo Lembo
Resident Director, UNDP Kosovo (since September 1999)

Note: other articles featuring Paolo Lembo and Michael Schmunk can be found in Azerbaijan International magazine. SEARCH at

Azerbaijan International (8.4) Winter 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.

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