Speech of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev at the International Conference and at the Assembly of the Caucasian Muslims held in Baku – September 30, 1998

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Distinguished Sheikh ul-Islam!

Distinguished participants of the conference and assembly!

Dear guests and friends!

I cordially welcome you, participants of the international conference on the topic "Modernity and religious-moral values" and representatives of the 10th assembly of the Caucasian Muslims. I wish the international conference and assembly good luck!

I am very pleased that these international gatherings are held in Baku, Azerbaijan. The international conference of the world Muslims on the topic "Modernity and religious-moral values" is of great importance. Meanwhile, the Caucasian Muslims are having their 10th assembly. Organization of these high-level gatherings in Baku is a sign of attention and respect to Azerbaijan and to its present potential. Therefore, I thank all the religious figures, prominent persons of the Islamic world, Caucasian Muslims and assure you that the Azerbaijani authorities will do their best for the successful organization of both conference and assembly. You can be sure that you will be embraced by hospitality, kindness and friendly attitude nowadays despite Azerbaijan`s serious problems and difficulties. Such attitude is one of the moral features and values of the Azerbaijani people. Our people have always tried to strengthen friendship, brotherhood and peaceful relations among people irrespective of their faith. I hope that nowadays you will witness moral values of the Azerbaijani people.

The international conference is dedicated to discussion of an issue, which is important not only for the Islamic world, but also for the whole world. The mankind faces great threats and conflicts at the end of the 20th century. Along with the global socio-political processes, democratization in many countries, assurance and protection of human rights, and positive factors on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948, there are negative tendencies as well. Most of them are related to human morals. Therefore, it is very important for every country, people and religion to use religious and moral values effectively.

As it is known, all religions cultivate high morals. People have always derive their mentality, traditions and rules mainly from religious-moral values.

We should note with great pleasure that religion has been playing a great role in the millennia-long history of mankind and bringing peace and prosperity to people. Islam is a religion of high moral values. Islam has made unparalleled moral contributions to the world civilization and culture. We, Muslims, are proud that our religion covers a large area of the Earth and has historically cultivated morality and served development, peace and prosperity in the world. Therefore, I believe that the international conference, which is opening today, will develop recommendations for the effective use of Islamic values in modern life and we can settle difficulties and problems of the countries, the representatives of which are present here.

This conference is of great importance particularly for the former Soviet countries, which are independent now. We were deprived of our religion and moral values under the communist ideology for 70 years. One of the biggest blows of the Communist ideology to mankind was 70-year propaganda against the religion, its prohibition and distortion. Nevertheless, the history shows that religion, including Islam, is so mighty that no ideology, regime or ruler can overcome it. The history of 70 years proved it.

Churches and mosques were destroyed, regular propaganda against the religion was carried out. The people, who were born and grew up during that period, did not understand religion, as the impact of the anti-religion propaganda was too strong on them. Nevertheless, people, especially Muslims maintained their faith. Religion, its customs and rules were maintained in every family and became stronger than the laws and traditions of that period. Islam has many beautiful features, the way and advices shown by Quran and Prophet Muhammad have been useful and played an important role in the lives of the people, religious customs and rules have survived through generations and overcome all restrictions.

A lot of mosques were demolished in Azerbaijan then. There were only 18 mosques by the time when Azerbaijan gained its independence. Azerbaijan`s independence is not even 7 years old. We have been independent for a short time. However, within a short period following the declaration of independence, more than 1,000 mosques opened in Azerbaijan. People`s desire for mosques has been so great that a lot of mosques were erected without the aid of the government within a short time. These facts prove my words. This year I implemented the construction of a new mosque in a holy place called Bibiheybet and took part in the opening ceremony.

This is a holy site. Ms. Hokuma`s grave is there since the 7th century. Upon the grave of Ms. Hokuma, daughter of Imam Musei-Kazem and sister of Imam Reza, there was a mosque, which had become a sanctuary. That holy site visited by pilgrims not only from Azerbaijan, but from all over the world was exploded in 1933. Even the destruction of the mosque did not prevent pilgrimage to the place. The Bibiheybet shrine has always been a site of pilgrimage, where the Muslims never stopped to visit.

When I visited the shrine in 1994, - Azerbaijan was already independent then -, I made a decision on the erection of a beautiful mosque there; the mosque will be expanded and become a large place of worship and pilgrimage. All these mosques were built by people themselves without any aid of the government. It shows how strong Islam is here and how people are bound to Islam.

Therefore, I think that the topic of the conference, "Modernity and religious-moral values" should complete each other. We should use religious-moral values to expand and develop our modern life. Religious-moral values should advance us, not pull us back. Because,the Islamic values have always led people forward. You will also discuss the effective use of these values for enlightenment, moral and material improvement of life. I am sure that the international conference will become a historic event in the Islamic world and we, the statesmen, will be able to raise the morals of society in Azerbaijan and other countries by using your recommendations.

The independent Azerbaijan pursues democracy. We have been creating a democratic, legal and secular state since Azerbaijan gained democracy. I think that it is the best direction for the Azerbaijani people. Democratic and legal state grants people all freedoms, which have been included in the first democratic Constitution of Azerbaijan adopted in 1995. Granting our citizens all freedoms, our state considers freedom of conscience and religion part of its policy. The Constitution grants freedom of conscience and religion, while our state ensures them. Therefore, our state is secular. But we are not separated from religion. There is a close cooperation between the state and religion. We think that high values of Islam will promote morals in our society and help our citizens perceive and effectively enjoy democracy and all other freedoms.

This is very important, because different people or groups misunderstand or want to misunderstand democratic freedoms as disobedience. Democracy is high culture and morality. Moral values of Islam are of great importance for teaching the democratic culture to the Azerbaijani citizens, especially the young generation.

Therefore, I consider that the 10th assembly of the Caucasian Muslims is very significant. The Caucasus is a common house of closely connected states and peoples. "The Caucasusian house" is a very good slogan and I support it. I dare to say that it is impossible to find a multinational, multi-religious and diverse region like the Caucasus in the world. It is a small region, but with a wonderful nature, very high, majestic mountains, beautiful rivers, springs, and forests. Another feature of the Caucasus is that the peoples of different ethnicities and languages live here as one family for centuries.

Yes, there were conflicts in the past, however, most of our history was peaceful and stable. Thus, the attempts to separate the Caucasus, create disunity and disorder among the local peoples concern us. They are dangerous for "the Caucasusian house" and will not benefit any people.

As it is known, the majority of the Caucasian peoples are Muslims and Islam has great moral force and influence in the region. One of the Caucasian traditions is respect for the elderly. It is one of the features of our religion. People, especially the youth have always respected and obeyed the elderly and religious figures, who distinguish with their reliability, high moral values, wisdom. It is a good tradition. Foreigners, who visit the Caucasus are usually surprised and amazed by our features. I recall that we had different guests when I was in power in Azerbaijan in the 1970s. During their travels to villages and cities they saw the people who were sitting stood up when they saw foreign guests. Later the surprised guests would tell me how beautiful this traditions is and ask how we have achieved it. But I would answer that it is a tradition inherited from the past generations. It is one of the moral values of our people. I am speaking to you openly, but in the past I could not tell that all they are moral values of Islam. Because we prohibited Islam. But today I say that they are high moral values which Islam has contributed to humanity.

As you know it, you are probably not surprised at my words. Because it is normal for us, but unusual for people, who are not acquianted with our religious traditions. I can count a lot of such facts. There is no need for it now. I just want to show some facts that the moral values ​​of Islam have encouraged respect for religious figures and for the elderly and created stability in society. I emphasize it because people, who distort freedoms, democracy granted by our Constitution and think they can do anything, can even insult others. There are such people among us.

That`s why I think that intensive use of religious and moral values in the modern world, especially in the Caucasus will ensure the development and help create socio-political stability, peace, and prosperity in every country. The main goal of all the peoples living in the Caucasus is to ensure peace and prosperity in our region. Unfortunately, the Caucasus, unlike other regions of the world, has been devastated by conflicts in the last decade of the 20th century. The first conflict broke out in 1988 as a result of the territorial claims of Armenia to Azerbaijan and its attempts to annex the Mountainous Garabagh and then it turned into a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The conflict has been going on for ten years. We have great losses, a lot of martyrs. Because of various reasons, including the assisstance of the Soviet authorities and other countries to Armenia, - taking into account religious factors, I can say, -  and internal mistakes in Azerbaijan, 20% of our territory has been occupied by the Armenian armed forces. Over one million Azerbaijani citizens, who are mainly Muslim have been forced to leave their lands. Now they live in tents in hard conditions.

Everything, including schools, hospitals, cultural centers, plants, and factories have been destroyed, devastated in the occupied lands. So have the holy places of Muslims, mosques and cemeteries. Moral and religious values of a great country like Azerbaijan, the Muslim land have been ravaged. This is an atrocity and vandalism.

In spite of everything, remaining faithful to its spiritual roots and moral values, Azerbaijan strives to establish peace in the Caucasus. Therefore, a ceasefire agreement was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan four years ago, in the May of 1994. There is a ceasefire and no bloodished for four years, but there has been no peace either, our lands are still under occupation and displaced persons live in tents for 5-6 years.

Nevertheless, we are trying to solve the problem peacefully and conducting negotiations. Today I declare that Azerbaijan will further make efforts to settle the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict peacefully. I believe that the situation can not continue like this and peace must be established. But our main pre-condition is the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied lands, return of the displaced persons home and restoration of territorial integrity of the Azerbaijan; then the Mountainous Garabagh may be granted autonomy within Azerbaijan and both the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis can live safely there. We`re working to resolve the problem within these terms.

At the same time, we are concerned about the conflict in Abkhazia. Georgia and Azerbaijan have close friendly relations. I would like to emphasize that sometimes the religious factors result in conflicts and wars among the nations. If people, nations are peaceful, religious differences do not lead to wars. Besides the religious differences, there has not been any conflict between Georgia and Azerbaijan. The Georgian-Azerbaijani friendship could be shown as an example for other nations. Half of a million Azerbaijani Muslims live in Georgia, they are citizens of Georgia and enjoy equal rights. The Georgians living here are citizens of Azerbaijan and enjoy all the opportunities. Therefore, we are very concerned about the ongoing conflict in Abkhazia. Of course, we want both the Mountainous Garabagh and Abkhazian conflicts to end.

The disasters in Chechnya in recent years grieve all the Muslims, including the Azerbaijanis.

Therefore, I believe that the Chechen people will live in peace and prosperity and that the aggression and atrocities committed against the Chechen people in the past will not be repeated. We believe that all people in Chechnya, including the Muslims, will achieve solidarity and unity, unite around the president of Chechnya elected by the people and that stability and peace in Chechnya will lead to peace and prosperity in the Caucasus.

The current process in Daghestan worry us as Azerbaijan and Dagestan are closely connected. A number of people living in Azerbaijan belong to the Daghestani peoples. There are also Azerbaijanis living in Daghestan. The border between us is quite formal, there is almost no border. We have lived together for centuries and thank to God, our religion is the same. Islam has always united us and connected us more. Therefore, there is no any discrimination either in Azerbaijan or in Daghestan. This is our policy. That`s why, socio-political stability and security in Daghestan is very important for peace and prosperity in the Caucasus.

The relations between Azerbaijan and Daghestan have a great impact on the relations in all the Caucasus. We want various negative processes ongoing in Daghestan to end. We all were shaken by the terrorist attak against the mufti of Daghestan. I knew him personally; he was on an official visit to Azerbaijan and I had a very interesting conversation with him. At his request, we created favorable conditions for people, who went to Hajj from Daghestan through Azerbaijan every year. Annually 13,000-14,000 people from Daghestan go to Kaaba, Mecca and Medina through Azerbaijan to fulfill their sacred duty. We help them at the request of our unforgettable friend, mufti of Daghestan thanks to our cooperation with him. We condemn the terrorist attack against him. Terror against religious figures is a great crime. No crime is pardonable. But terror against and murder of a religious figure is a great crime. We hope that the Daghestani and Russian authorities will find the murderers and take relevant measures against them.

We want all the states in the Northern Caucasus to achieve peace and prosperity. On this occasion, I attach special importance to the relations between the Muslims of Russia and Azerbaijan. Our friend Ramazan Abdulatipov stated here that 20 million Muslims live in Russia. It is necessary to know this factor and the ruling circles of Russia should take it into account in their policy.

One of the biggest blows of the Communist ideology during the Soviet period was the prohibition of the religion; therefore, it was not known to what religion people in different areas belonged. For example, it was known that the majority of population in Azerbaijan or in the Central Asia is Muslims. But there are a lot of autonomous republics and provinces in Russia. A lot of people in the Northern Caucasus are Muslims.

The Soviet government did not take it into consideration. This is one of the greatest faults of the former government and ideology.

I think that the ruling circles of Russia will consider the mistakes made during the Soviet period and will not repeat them. I underline it because Russia always claims to be the successor of the former Soviet Union in the international arena. We consider it. If Russia is the successor of the former Soviet Union, the mistakes committed against different ethnic groups living in Russia should not be repeated today and in future.

In order to constitute the "the Caucasian House" and to establish peace in the region, during my official visit to Georgia in 1996, President Eduard Shevardnadze and I made a statement called "Peace in the Caucasus" so that other countries join us and we can secure peace together. Today, I declare that this statement is important; I highly appreciate the project "the Caucasian house" offered by you and consider that by merging the two initiatives we can and should achieve peace and prosperity in the Caucasus.

Peoples living in the Caucasus, especially Muslims have a long history. Every village in the Caucasus distinguishes with its own language, traditions and ancient history. But they were thought to be single during the Soviet period. There was even an idea that the Soviet nation is a new historical union of people. Do you remember that? Perhaps my friend Abdulatipov does. It was a strange idea: the Soviet nation is a new historical union of people. Of course, such an idea failed to pass the test of history and collapsed. But it caused a lot of damage to many peoples, including the Caucasian peoples and led to destruction or oblivion of some of our traditions.

Therefore, we should accurately evaluate the history and eliminate the errors. Solidarity, close cooperation and joint efforts of the Muslims of the Caucasus for the solution of the all the Caucasian problems is of great importance for every nation, including Azerbaijan; I state it as President of Azerbaijan.

Thus, I consider that the 10th assembly of the Caucasian Muslims is a historical event. The 9th assembly was held five years ago. But I think that the previous event was not at this level, was it? The Muslims of the Caucasus have covered a long way for five years. There are many troubling aspects of this way, as it has caused a lot of losses, but it has led the Caucasian Muslims forward; we have gained our rights, achieved independence and can enjoy our religious customs and traditions. Five years ago, it was not yet at the current level.

The 10th assembly of the Caucasian Muslims is a historical event. I am very pleased that this conference is held in Baku, Azerbaijan, according to the tradition. You can be sure that as President of Azerbaijan, I will further support the Caucasian Muslims Office and the Caucasian Muslims in general.

I think this fact should also be considered. The Caucasian Muslims Office was established during the Soviet time. On one hand, religion was prohibited, on the other hand, some religious freedoms were granted in 1945-1946 following the Second World War; some rights were granted to the Russian patriarch, as well as to the Georgian patriarch and to the Muslims of the Central Asia and Caucasus. Founded back then, the Caucasian Muslims Office was, however, something symbolic. But the Supreme Religious Council of the Caucasian peoples is now a great, powerful and influencial body and organizes its 10th assembly.

I am sure that you will have necessary discussions and adopt certain decisions. This assembly will be an important stage for the close integration of the Caucasus Muslims. I am very pleased that the leader of the Supreme Religious Council of the Caucasian peoples Honorable Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pasha-zade has fulfilled his duty properly and won your respect. You know Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pasha-zade and accept him as a supreme religious figure; this assembly is gathered under his leadership.

I think it is a significant event that Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade was awarded a high order of the Republic of Ichkeria by its President. In 1994, he was also awarded a Shohrat Order by the Azerbaijani President for his merits. On the occassion of the high award of a foreign country, I congratulate him and wish him good luck.

In your speeches you and our guests expressed your wishes on the oncoming 11 October presidential elections. Thank you for them. Five years ago, I was democratically elected President of Azerbaijan. I am pleased that the Azerbaijani citizens witness and appreciate what I have been doing for five years. Today I felt that the religious figures of the Muslim world and high-level representatives of our friendly and neighboring countries also appreciate it and wish me successes in the upcoming elections. Thank you. I hope that the Azerbaijani voters will estimate how I have served the Azerbaijani people and vote to me on October 11.

Dear friends and guests, I promise you that I will further justify the trust of the Azerbaijani people and your trust. I have a great life experience. I am old enough and sometimes terrorist attacks are attempted against me as it was committed against the religious figure of Dagestan. I address all the terrorists and criminals, who attempt to murder me. I was never afraid of death and always acted without thinking what will happen to me.

When I was invited to Baku in the June of 1993, a civil war was tearing Azerbaijan apart. I got involved in the conflict, having no army. Why did I do that? Because I believed that the people are behind me and will support me. At the same time, I believed God will save me as he has always done.

I have always served the people. I have been an honest person. I still am. I will serve my people till the end of my life. Never has anything scared me. If anything happens to me, then I will be one of the martyrs who perished for Azerbaijan. But I am confident that God will further protect me as he has always done and I will further serve the Azerbaijani people.

Dear friends, brothers, the time I am spending with you is very precious for me. I learned a lot of new things from you. You can be sure that I will further be loyal to my creed and to the moral values ​​of Islam and secure the development of morality, moral values and Islam in Azerbaijan.

I wish good luck to you and your activity. Thank you very much.

"Heydar Aliyev: our independence is eternal" (speeches, statemenets, interviews, letters, reports, addresses, decrees) – vol. 17, p.391