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Transcription of Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli Interview to BBC Russian News

Dr. Ashurbeyli talked with a BBC Russian News journalist about the UNESCO medal “For contributions to space science”. We're publishing a partial transcript so that you can see for yourself that Asgardia sees no Earthly boundaries and stands for the future of space. We do not engage in political games.

Regretfully, this is not the first time (and surely not the last) that the media approaches an interview with a biased view, and uses, in their publication, only the parts of the interview that illustrate their opinion, which had already been clearly formed even before the interview took place.

Here you can find the original Russian version of the text.

About UNESCO – if I understand correctly, UNESCO issued some medal funded by you.

You don’t quite understand it correctly, and the question that was sent to me was phrased incorrectly. Absolutely incorrect. There was a strange phrase in it about us signing an agreement with UNESCO about UNESCO’s support of the Asgardia project. First of all, Asgardia is not a project – it’s a nation that does not require the support of anyone, and so to the question of whether UNESCO provided services in promotion of our organisation, all I can say is: it’s absurd. We are not an organisation, we are a country. In order to not make unsubstantiated claims, I brought the agreement between UNESCO and me as the Head of Asgardia. The subject of this agreement is very concise – intent to cooperate with the purpose of instituting a UNESCO medal “For contributions to space science”. Because Asgardia is a Space Nation, we had an agreement with Irina Bokova (Editorial note: Irina Bokova (Bulgaria) was the Director-General of UNESCO until January 2018.) that we will jointly institute a medal for space achievements. I can simply show it to you, and you can read the titles and countries of the members of the commission, which was created under my chairmanship in accordance with this Agreement.

- David Alexander, Professor and Director, Rice Space Institute, USA;

- Svetlana Gerasimenko, Astronomer, discoverer of the Churiumov-Gerasimenko comet, member of the Tajikistan Academy of Sciences;

- Vladimir Remek, the first European cosmonaut in history, Czech Republic;

- Mark Lewis, Director, Science and Technology Policy Institute for Defense Analysis, USA;

- Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, the first Romanian cosmonaut, founding member of the Association of Space Explorers;

- Frank De Winne, Head of European Astronaut Centre, Belgium;

- Roman Romanenko, cosmonaut, State Duma member, Russian Federation;

- Ram Jakhu, Director and Professor, Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University, Canada;

- Steven Freeland, Professor of International Law, Western Sydney University, Australia;

- Chris Welsch, Professor of Astronautics and Space Engineering, International Space University, UK

This is the commission that reviewed the nominations for the medal. And these are the first nominees who received the UNESCO medals:

- Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, Russian Federation;

- Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, the first astronaut of African heritage in space, Cuba;

- Yang Liwei, the first Chinese astronaut, PRC;

- Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese ISS commander, vice-president of Japan’s space agency JAXA.

Not too shabby of a contingent. And on 26 June in Vienna, there was a commission meeting regarding the nomination -- that’s the longlist for this year.

When were the medals given out? The same year?

The medals were awarded in 2017. These are the nominees or 2018.

Oh, so at the end of 2017, awards were given out for 2018?

The first award ceremony and the only one as of today took place, the commission chose these four people, UNESCO confirmed them, and together, Irina Bokova, on behalf of UNESCO, and I, handed out the awards to these people.

I see. (Editorial note: the names from the longlist of 2018 were mentioned here. As this information is proprietary, only the shortlist will be published when agreed.)

From this list, only five names must be chosen, because we have a limit of five medals. The first list was even longer. However, UNESCO has made the decision to cancel this medal.

And they haven’t explained why?

No. They referred to an article in our Agreement, according to which either side can break the Agreement on a five months notice without an explanation of reasons. This is the message we received from the new Director General. We said “okay” and let the media and all the mentioned respectable industry professionals know about this strange decision.

When was the decision made? Was it recently?

The new head made the decision on 28 September.

And you don’t have a contact you can ask why?

We respect ourselves. This is their position, and, I think, the answer is in the first two lines, but I cannot say so officially. If you look at the first two names on the longlist, you’ll see a country that has publicly left UNESCO, stopped paying their fees. It’s possible, although it’s only my supposition, that they took offense at the longlist.  They completely fell off the radar when we announced the longlist and invited their representative to the commission’s meeting in Vienna, and the tickets had been bought and the hotel booked, but the representative refused to come at the last minute.

And the commission’s meeting was supposed to happen…

It did happen – every member was present in Vienna on 26 June, and there was a chair ready with the name card for the UNESCO representative for the deliberations on the longlist. But they didn’t come, although they confirmed participation and the tickets were bought, and the hotel booked, so I can only assume, analytically, that they disliked something on the longlist, although we could have discussed it… I don’t see any other reasons, because you see the commendable members – international and professional – both in the commission and among the nominees.

And the first awards, when the UNESCO representative was present, it took place under Azoulay? (Editorial note: Audrey Azoulay is the current Director-General of UNESCO.

It wasn’t just a representative, the awards were given out personally by Irina Bokova, as the Director-General of UNESCO.

And she was present at the award ceremony?


And she handed out the awards?

Yes, she did. It happened at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, thе event hall was packed with people, it was a very official event.

What does Asgardia, as a nation, gain from this cooperation with UNESCO?

We generally welcome collaboration with all international and nongovernmental organisations on planet Earth, and with all 229 countries that exist on Earth, and because we work as a peaceful nation with humanitarian goals, UNESCO’s mission is appealing to us. In addition, it is part of the United Nations, the recognition by which, and the acquisition of UN membership is among goals – not the main one, but one of them. That is why we had the idea about instituting a one-of-a-kind international award in the area of space achievements.

So to use the words of Lenin – remember, he coined the term “line of recognition” – and the USSR began to be recognised. To use the diplomatic language, for you, such a line of recognition would be this agreement with UNESCO. Is that fair to say?

In accordance with international law, recognition is achieved only by bilateral agreements between nations. Even the United Nations cannot give the status of recognition or lack thereof; it is a non-governmental organisation that can either give you membership or not. A fact of recognition by UNESCO would have been if Asgardia had asked to be accepted as a member of UNESCO, but we’ve asked for no such thing, we simply offered to jointly institute an international UNESCO award – not more, not less.

Considering that you are – to use the terminology from diplomacy or geopolitics – you are in international isolation, not recognised by anyone yet, correct? Was this agreement some sort of a breakthrough for you as the head, a first step on the way to a more official status?

We have not viewed this project as a stepping stone for recognition; moreover, I would not use the term “isolation” because we have not yet approached a single nation with the request for one simple reason: our Parliament was only formed on 24 June of this year. By April of next year, our government will be formed, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This will happen in the next five months. We plan to hold a Parliamentary session to coincide with the Cosmonautics Day around 12 April of next year, when the government agencies will be fully formed. Because only they have the power to hold negotiations with the Foreign Affairs Ministries of other countries regarding the preparation of bilateral agreements for recognition. In case a dozen or two nations refuse, then we can talk about the fact that we are not being recognised. But until we asked for recognition, it seems premature to talk about it.

By the way, have you approached the United Nations?

No, I just had my inauguration on 25 June. It would be futile to make any statements of the sort while the formation of the economic system, and the citizenship, has not been completed.

How many citizens do you have right now?

Today, we have more than 270,000 citizens and more than a million followers. Although they are also citizens…

Are those the ones on Facebook?

On our website. You can see our population growth in real time, and how we rank by population size among the almost 230 countries of the world.

You shared your version, but people look differently at your nation, right? Do you not tie the events to the fact that they were afraid of a public scandal, that UNESCO is collaborating with Asgardia, and that’s why they decided to terminate the contract?

I don’t know -- I can’t know what’s in their heads. But I don’t see how this can be scandalous.

Well, suppose they decided that Asgardia’s reputation is...ambiguous.

For some reason, the European Astronaut Centre doesn’t consider it ambiguous; the best universities in the world do not consider it impossible.

One might wonder why  ROOM, The Space Journal is the best in the world. It became number one, and you can see who is on the Editorial Board. It is the press organ of Asgardia, it is  distributed in about 1,700 stores all over the world. Look at the positions and the countries of the Editorial Board members.

And add that to the members of our commission and our nominees… It’s one of the most prestigious communities in the area of space that exists on the planet. And none of these people think it scandalous to cooperate with Asgardia.

And 1 million of Earth’s inhabitants, who became our followers.

And the 270,000…

And 270,000 residents.

Do members of the commission get paid for their work as members of the commission?

No, we simply provide support (Editorial note: compensation for travel expenditures).