From the conversation of the President of Azerbaijan Republic Heydar Aliyev while receiving Sadako Ogata, the UNO higher commissioner on refugees - September 9, 1999

Heydar Aliyev: As a young and independent state Azerbaijan experiences many problems. The solution of many of these problems is connected with the United Nations Organization. The UNO is obviously an organization of all the countries in the world. Therefore, every state has relations and cooperation with the UNO. However, the need of the newly independent states for cooperation with UNO is greater. Those countries having conflicts, refugees and much more difficult problems among these states, are in great needs.

You are certainly, as a higher commissioner of the UNO on refugees, well aware of the situation in Azerbaijan. I hope that while being here for the last two days, you get to know more closely these problems. This is why, I appreciate your visit to Azerbaijan. Your tour to the Caucasus and in particular, your visit to Azerbaijan is very necessary and important for us. Well, please, I am listening.

Sadako Ogata: Mister President, it is nice and honour for us to be here in Azerbaijan. I am grateful to You for this reception and hospitality. I want to express my special gratitude to You, because six months ago You had received my representatives here. Therefore , they are very obliged to you.

Yesterday, we were accompanied by Your deputy prime minister and visited several regions. We have been in Bilasuvar and Horadiz where the refugees reside.

The office headed by me at the UNO, deals with the refugees and internally displaced persons. Much to my regret that we find such people in this part of the world too. Certainly, we very well understand the problem of the internally displaced people in the Caucasus and in Azerbaijan in particular. We would like to thank You for the efforts rendered by the government to help to facilitate the problems of these persons.

It is known that these people are the victims of the conflict and therefore, we thank You for Your personal initiatives in the settlement of the Upper (Nagorno) Garabagh problem. One thing I can definitely tell You that the refugees and internally displaced persons are really willing to return their homes.

That's why, I would be grateful, if You consider their interests in the solution of all their problems during the discussions. At the same time, to facilitate and solve their problems, we make joint efforts together with the members of your government.

People who I talked to yesterday, all wanted to return their lands. From this understanding, we would like to know Your viewpoints on the possible way of the settlement of the issue. And on our part, we are ready to render every assistance.

Heydar Aliyev: Certainly, during the time of your stay here, You got acquainted with the situation in the republic, and you know that Armenian-Azerbaijan - Upper (Nagorno) Garabagh conflicts a major and decisive problem for our country, people and the state. The military aggression connected with the land claim of Armenia to Azerbaijan, and as a result of it the Upper Garabagh problems and later ending in the Armenian-Azerbaijan military conflict, have put Azerbaijan in a hard condition for 12 years already. Many things have taken place within this period, but what is the result? The result is that Azerbaijan's sovereignty, its territorial integrity have been violated, 20 percent of the territory have been occupied by the armed units of Armenia. About 1 million people were driven out from their homes and became refugees on their lands. More than 700 settlements were destroyed, all the property were ruined. A great damage was inflicted upon Azerbaijan.

Military aggression has been done by Armenia against Azerbaijan, however, Armenia was not recognized as an aggressor by the international community, as well as by the United Nations Organization. They have repeatedly attempted to assess that it was an internal problem of Azerbaijan. It is obvious that the Upper (Nagorno) Garabagh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. If it was a military conflict between the Upper Garabagh and Azerbaijan, it could have been an internal problem of Azerbaijan. But this conflict has started from the first day not in the Upper Garabagh, it began between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The essence of the conflict was the military operations realized on the basis of a declaration by Armenia to annex an integral part of Azerbaijan - the Upper Garabagh. Therefore, we consider that the conflict of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Upper Garabagh differs from all other conflicts existing in the world. Unfortunately, this problem was not duly appreciated by the super powers and the United Nations, and the essence of the conflict was not rightly determined. In consequence of all said above, the military forces of Armenia were not blocked by anything and on the other hand, because of certain faults of Azerbaijan state, a greater part of Azerbaijan territory was occupied.

If no country helped the Upper Garabagh when it was an autonomous republic within Azerbaijan and was in conflict with it including Armenia that backed the Upper Garabagh, we would have settled the conflict ourself.

The ethnic cleansing started in the Upper Garabagh still in 1988 and the azerbaijanis living there were driven out. It was done by armenians. Being an autonomous republic within Azerbaijan, the armenians have driven out the azerbaijanis, the principal nation of the country. This problem could be solved and the rights be protected by Azerbaijan itself if not the interference of Armenia. After the intervene of Armenia, as this aggression started by Armenia, certainly, Armenia, the Upper Garabagh and the other forces backing, protecting and helping them, have all together occupied not only the Upper Garabagh, but also seven regions around it and driven out the ethnic azerbaijanis from their homes and lands.

Unfortunately, the United Nations Organization remained indifferent on this issue. It is also true that the Security Council of UNO made several resolutions not on the Upper (Nagorno) Garabagh, but over Lachin, Shusha and Kalbajar regions and later, when other territories of Azerbaijan were occupied. The said resolutions demanded that those occupied territories be freed from the invaders. However, Armenia did not only obey the resolutions but also paid no heed to them. And the Security Council of UNO remained indifferent to it again.

Thus, as I have said, we have about one million refugees in Azerbaijan. Therefore, I tell you that as a result of Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict that caused the creation of refugees in Azerbaijan, certainly are different from elsewhere. That is a heritage left for us of the past. We are responsible now to settle this conflict, restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and liberate our occupied lands. We have to return those people, who you've seen, to their lands. They are in need of it.

On this issue the policy of Azerbaijan is again right and true. We have proposed to settle the problem peacefully above all. We have stopped the war and we have been living for 5 years already in a cease-fire regime, despite the fact that those people have been dwelling in those camps and tenets, you have seen, for 6-7 years.

We have been conducting talks to settle the problem in peace way from May 1994 until now. We have done much work during this period, and a great distance is covered.

Much efforts in this have been made, in particular, by the OSCE Minsk group and its co-chairs Russia, the USA, and France. As for instance, in 1996 in Lisbon summit meeting of OSCE, we were too close to a peaceful settlement of the problem on the basis of a document obtained, where Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict was on the agenda. But the armenian party rejected the document which was adopted at the OSCE summit meeting and it did not accept the terms. Therefore the situation after this became tense again.

In November last year, the working groups of the Minsk group in OSCE submitted a new version, saying it was necessary to accept the formula of the "Common state" for the settlement of problem. We can not accept this formula, as it means establishing the second armenian state in Azerbaijan territory. It is doubtless that we can't agree with this unjustness. That is the situation.

The people you have seen, live in very hard conditions. You have visited one or two tent-camps. There are dozens of such camps in the territory of Azerbaijan. Much esteemed madam, I am aware that you have been following these problems for many years.

You have obviously, seen refugees in many more countries and you know the conditions in which they live. But I can not believe there are refugees living in such awful conditions elsewhere in the world second to Azerbaijan. Both we and the refugees and the internally displaced people you have seen, have one objective only, and that is the liberation of the occupied lands and returning those people to their homes.

I was informed that you visited one section of Fizuli region liberated from the occupation. There were carried out restoration work by the aid of the UNO and the World Bank. You have seen them too. But at the same time, you have seen the houses destroyed there, right? You have seen them in a small circle. You can just imagine that similar cases took place in 20 percent of the territory, where living apartments, hospitals, schools, libraries and palaces of culture have been ruined entirely. But it is regretted that the international community and including the United Nations Organization do not pay sufficient attention to this barbarism and vandalism. The reason why am I so sharp? Because when they talk to us each time, they compare the position of Armenia and Azerbaijan making equality between them. They consider that there is a conflict, both parties are to be blamed and they have to solve the conflict themselves. However, it is not taken into regard that which of the parties suffered by the damage and to what extent.

I am saying these bitter words, because I feel them deep in my heart. I am telling them to have you know that we experience a hard period.

But along with all these, we have not given up our hopes and we are optimist. We believe it is possible to solve the problem and therefore we work hard on it. We try to settle the problem in a peaceful way. Azerbaijan is against the war to brake out, the battle to begin again, we do not want it. Though we have all grounds for it, since our lands are under occupation, anyway, we want to settle the problem peacefully.

I hope that if the UNO, OSCE and its Minsk group and other effective forces of the international community render assistance to settle this conflict, we can solve this problem. But let's just for a moment think that we take any decision on the solution of this problem. Do you imagine how much time will be required to implement it? Some people believe that we take the decision today and the refugees return to their places tomorrow. This is simply a superficial approach to the problem. The major issue we face is a peaceful solution of the problem, liberating the occupied lands and then to create conditions for living accommodations and restoration those areas, finally to transfer those people to their place of living. I say it once again, you have seen this process while visited Fizuli region, it was merely a minor section of Azerbaijan.

Therefore, it is obvious that we have to achieve the solution of this major problem. And afterwards, we shall be in great need of aid on the second stage. But for the time being, since no problem has been solved yet, those people are in great need, it is necessary to help them. We have received humanitarian help by now. I would like to thank you and the UNO for this assistance. But unfortunately, there are some signals reaching us that the humanitarian aid should be reduced and stopped at all. But how those people would live on?

I consider that when visiting Azerbaijan for all these issues, you'll in future help us on the peaceful solution of the problem and, as well as, in rendering assistance to keep the living standards of the people up to a normal level.

Sadako Ogata: Mister President, thank you for the information on the history of this problem and making known your viewpoints on the perspectives of the issue. I fully comprehend all your feelings.

It is known that we began rendering assistance to Azerbaijan since 1992. We began to render aid to Armenia just at that time too. As generally is known, there are refugees in Armenia too. Their number comes to 250 thousand. Those are armenians who fled to Armenia. At the same time, there are 300 thousand azerbaijanis here being driven away from Armenia. As the conflict lasted, 600 thousand more people were added to it. As a matter of fact, this is a great number. We do our utmost to render every assistance to the refugees and try to cope with it.

I fully realize that I am not able to come over all these problems alone. Because, along with the problems of refugees, there are military and political problems here in addition, and in general, this is a complex problem. What we have been doing up to now and can do for all these people is to somehow help them and try to better their living conditions. But all these are temporary measures. At the same time we live with a hope that all the political and military problems will be settled by the leaders of the countries being in this conflict. From this understanding, I have a great appreciation for the position taken by You. No matter how You experience difficulties, You try all the way to peacefully settle the issue.

Certainly, I have had some information on great destructions before. But when I visited Fizuli region and saw those destructions there with my own eyes, I could imagine clearly their gigantic degree and extension. Now I come to realize that their restoration and rehabilitation will require hard work and much intensive efforts.

But I must say that should the political difficulties be removed and security of the people granted to return to their places, we would again declare our readiness for rendering assistance. To my mind, we'll have an opportunity to meet over again in order to discuss the ways of solution and the means of using for settlement of these issues.

How do you think to provide the security, soon after all the political problems are settled and an agreement is reached? We'll be staying in Azerbaijan and continue rendering our aid, until these problems are solved.

As to our humanitarian aid to refugees and internally displaced persons, we are anxiously expecting the negotiations to come to an end. Up to now, we have delivered 41million US dollars to render assistance to refugees and displaced people. 10 million dollars we have given for providing shelter. I understand that may be this figure is not quite satisfactory and it does not solve all their problems. But we have done it anyway. At the same time, we have tried to provide them with work places, so that they could earn for living. In this sense, I would like to express my gratitude to a deputy prime minister, Mr. Hassanov, who is following the work in this sphere too.

I have to say that this situation can not last forever. We can not solve the problems of the people being internally displaced. For this reason, we appreciate Your initiative in particular, and wish You every success in this line, in the political settlement of this problem.

Heydar Aliyev: I thank you for the warm words and your recommendations, and particularly your assistance rendered to refugees and displaced persons for improving their life conditions to a certain extent. Naturally, these aids are very little. But what can be done, you can not do more than that. We wish it were much more.

We have endured all the difficulties and we will stand to it. But I again ask you to pay more attention to Azerbaijan. If there is possibility, increase your aid some more. As to the solution of the conflict, I understand, it is our responsibility. But we have got much work to discuss and to do between us in the future. I think we'll cooperate more effectively further on.

"Azerbaijan" newspaper, September 10, 1999

Brief essays

Azerbaijan - International organizations

General historical background

Azerbaijan - UN

Historical backgrounds

Azerbaijan - UN