Speech of the Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev at the opening of the international conference "The role of freedom of religion and faith in a democratic society: searching the ways to combat terrorism and extremism" - October 10, 2002

Dear conference participants!

Ladies and gentlemen!

The international conference organized today by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights under the auspices of the Azerbaijani government is a remarkable event. I greet the participants of this conference, which is of great importance at present, on behalf of the Azerbaijani state, and I wish successes to the work of the conference.

The terror act commited on September 11 made fundamental changes in political environment of the world and geostrategic processes, it demonstrated to us the horrible face of terrorism that is a great danger for each country. There have been many cases terrorism enraged in history. Sometimes terrorism was even conducted on the state level and threatened the existence of whole nations. However, the events of 11 September will be inscribed forever in the history of mankind as an unprecedented tragedy. Today, I feel myself obliged to pay homage once more to the victims of this terrible terror act.

We get closer with each other in the globalizing world. Actually, the importance of international, intercultural and interreligious dialogue is related with it. We must try to eliminate terrorism by studying all the sources causing it to some extent by developing and maintaining this dialogue.

Actually, terrorism emerges under the veil of religion, in the attire of religion. However, it mustn`t distract us from its real essence.

At the period of the Great French Revolution the real intentions of terrorism were hidden under beautiful slogans. Commissars realizing the "Red terror" were doing it under the guise of communist ideology.

Today some forces to gain some biased goals to universal values sacred for all of us and try to justify terrorism. Actually, under the disguise of religion terrorism tries to distract the attention from its destabilizing and destructive activity. However, it`s the facial appearance must not deceive us. The real image of terrorism can be seen under these clothes.

By saying "no" to terrorism the mankind must strive for the elimination of political roots of terrorism, mobilize all its endeavors for this propose. I am sure that your conference will be one of the serious steps taken in this direction and it will succeed in research of ways of struggle against extremism.

I would like to draw to the attention of esteemed conference participants once more to such a fact that after events of September 11 Azerbaijan joined the anti- terrorist coalition and became a participant of some administrative and organizational events as a country conducting a serious struggle against international terrorism.

Our participation in international conventions and ratification of serious legal documents show that the necessary legislation basis for fighting terrorism in our country is formed. Some amendments were made in Criminal Code of Azerbaijan, a special article on criminal liability for financing terrorism was added. In May, 2002, I approved the plan of action aimed at the struggle against terrorism and elaborated in conformity with appropriate resolutions of the UN Security Council.

Of course, practical activity of the Azerbaijani government in the field of struggle against terrorism and extremism is not limited with the afore - mentioned facts. Many works were done for strengthening the border regulations in the country, detection and prevention of illegal migration channels, disclosure of the funds and economical resources suspected in the allocation of finances of the terror activity and other spheres.

Ensuring the security of several projects having vital importance in the life of the Azerbaijani people as well as that of our region, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines is an integral part of our struggle against terrorism.

Azerbaijan takes an active part in numerous projects for struggle against the international terrorism and I would like to assure once again the representatives of the OSCE member countries in this conference that the Azerbaijani state is their reliable partner in the struggle against any kind of terrorism. We consider that since terrorism is aimed at the realization of brutal acts and intentions against humankind, the struggle conducted against it must be successive, organized and relentless as well.

At the same time, I would like to note that the Azerbaijani people taking an active part in the struggle against terrorism conducted by the international community, has been subject to terrorism and bloody acts of different terrorist organizations in the recent 15 years. Since 1987 thousands of people were killed, children, women and aged people were annihilated, became internally displaced persons and refugees as a result of the actions which took place in connection with the conflict over the Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh). They were murdered only because they were Azerbaijanis.

At that time the administration of the USSR chose the way of undisguised reprisals against the Azerbaijani people who dared to oppose the policy of the Center aimed at tearing away the Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) from Azerbaijan. Occupation of Baku by numerous armed forces, troops assigned for special purposes and internal troops of the Soviet Army without declaration the state of emergency on January 20, 1990 was accompanied by cruelty and unprecedented atrocities. 137 innocent people were killed, 611 were wounded.

"20 January" tragedy undertaken for breaking the will of the Azerbaijani people as well as for demonstrating the power of the Soviet military machine were a terrible crimes commited by the totalitarian communist regime against our people.

One of the bloodiest terror acts commited by the totalitarianism in XX century, the "20th January" tragedy was in fact a crime against mankind, humanity and all peoples. Unfortunately, the organizers and executors of the terrible crime have remained unpunished so far.

After the events of the 20 the January the process of sending terrorist groups to the territory of Azerbaijan from Armenia grew, an operation area for the armed aggression against Azerbaijan was created.

The massacre of the inhabitants of some villages of Gazakh District and attacks to some villages in Nakhchivan of Azerbaijan by the Armenian soldiers proved that the terrorist groups were committing cruelty against the civil population of Azerbaijan along the whole of its borders.

The terror acts have not ceased since the very beginning of the conflict over the Mountainous Garabagh, particularly along the 130 km railway connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan, and as a result of railway communications were broken. In fact, Nakhchivan was isolated and got into blockade.

In its resolutions, the UN Security Council approved the respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders of Azerbaijan, as well as inadmissibility of the use of force for the occupation of territories, it also demanded the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the occupationist forces from the territories of Azerbaijan.

Despite all the demands of the UN Security Council Armenia still occupies about 20% of the Azerbaijani territory and increases its military force here. Over one million of our citizens are internally displaced persons and refugees. In fact, each of them is a victim of terror.

Today I would like to stress here that if the activity of the terrorist groups created the Mountainous Garabagh had been stopped these two neighboring people would never have faced the issue of removing the problems connected with this tragedy.

Unfortunately, the terrorist groups operate in the Mountainous Garabagh- an integral part of Azerbaijan, as well as in surrounding areas. The occupied and uncontrolled territories provide favorable grounds for the activity of the terrorist and criminal groups.

As it was mentioned in the report of the US State Department in 2001, the occupied territories of Azerbaijan serve a transit for drugs and arms, as well as an asylum for the members of international terrorist organizations dealing with money laundering. We have to put an end to this.

Despite of all efforts the Minsk Group of OSCE and those of other institutions and forces for the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Mountainous Garabagh conflict, this problem has remained unsettled yet.

I would like to declare here more that not any religious or ethnic problem caused the Armenian-Azerbaijani Mountainous Garabagh conflict.

Azerbaijan is one of the unique corners of the world because of its geopolitical position and diversity of its ethnicities and religion. Here, in Azerbaijan, located at the intersection of Asia and Europe and on the Great Silk Road, such ancient religions like Zoroastrianism and fire-worship left their traces, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existied here in peace, mutual comprehension along centuries, and they continue to co-exist nowadays as ever.

Azerbaijan is a multi-confessional country. From this viewpoint, it will contribute to strengthening the inter-confessional and inter-cultural relations in the world. I am sure that this conference will be one of contributions to the said goal. However, I would like to remind you the brief history of organization of the this conference.

The outcomes of the meeting held in Bucharest on December, 2001 were of special significance for strengthening the struggle against terrorism.

I recall that during my meeting with Jerar Studmann in Baku at the beginning of 2002, we discussed the call of an international workshop on the "Role of religion in the democratic society", and we decided that the organization of such a forum in Baku, distinguished for its ethnic and religious tolerance, is expedient from several viewpoints.

Further, taking into consideration the importance of this event and the fact that it will be attended by high ranking representatives of the OSCE member countries and the OSCE partner countries, it was decided to call it "OSCE Baku Conference".

In my opinion, our decision to hold this conference in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan is completely justified.

Since the absolute majority of the Azerbaijani population is Muslim, consequently Azerbaijan is an Islamic country. We are proud to note that Azerbaijan, its scholars and thinkers contributed a lot to the Islamic civilization which has left great traces in the history. The thorough discussion was carried out on these issues at the international conference on "The Islamic civilization in the Caucasus" held in Baku in 1998 and attended by the representatives of different countries.

According to our Constitution, Azerbaijan is a secular state. The relation between state the and religious bodies is regulated in conformity with the respective articles of the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the law "On the freedom of conscience" and other legal documents. We consider the religion, first of all, as an integral part of culture, historical heritage and national consciousness.

It is well known that the religions tolerance is the first sign of high culture. The formation of such a culture must commence from the childhood. We are trying to cultivate the culture of communication, religious tolerance and culture of cooperation in the process of education in our country and speaking in general, we manage to do it. It is easy to say, but difficult to materialized.

There were periods in the history when the role of the religion in the society was not only evaluated. In this period of the collapse of the totalitarian regimes and ideologies, the role of religion in the society is changing dynamically. Along with positive processes, in a number of cases some forces try to use religion as a mean for promoting terrorism and extremism. Therefore, it is necessary to mobilize all layers of the society, especially politicians, scholars, believers and religious figures for the prevention of such cases.

This conference provides an excellent opportunity for people ready for dialogue and cooperation.

Dear conference participants!

Actually, mankind is facing global problems. Unfortunately, these problems are too numerous: beginning with the definition of correct strategies for economic development to the settlement of different ecological problems. While studying these problems each of us must take into consideration that the most valuable in the complex processes ongoing in the world is the man. The inner life of man, his world view, his education, culture and many other factors define his existence and inner life, including his rights and their protection in the society. First of all, we are responsible for the life of every person: if terrorism threatens the human life, hence, all civilization is threatened.

By founding a common language in the dialogue of cultures and religions, we can destroy the intentions of evil and destructive forces supporting extremism, terrorism and aggressive separatism, for the sake of the future of people, for the future of the human civilization. I wish successes to all of you on this difficult, but glorious way.

Thank you for your attention.