Statement of Heydar Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan at the press conference with foreign correspondents accredited at the United Nations - July 28, 1997

Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen,

I sincerely greet all of you here today. I am very happy to hold a press conference at the United Nations.

I am on an official visit in the United States at the invitation of President Bill Clinton. I included the visit to the UN in my itinerary as a very important event.

As the President of the Azerbaijani Republic, I am on my first official visit to the United States. Tomorrow I will leave for Washington. I will conduct a number of meetings there - at the White House, Congress, State Department and Pentagon. The purpose of my visit is to take new steps in growing the U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. Azerbaijan gained its independence after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The process of building a democratic, law-based and secular state is underway in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is experiencing the democratization of its society. Azerbaijani`s economy is being built based on market-oriented principles.

In November of 1995, Azerbaijan adopted its first democratic constitution. In 1995, the democratic parliamentary elections based on a multi-party system were carried out. Broad economic reforms, privatization programs, land reform, land privatization, and other measures are undertaken in Azerbaijan today. These reforms are yielding positive results. Azerbaijan began these reforms later than other countries. Despite this fact, we are witnessing the rapid implementation of these plans within a short period of time.

Our economy has been growing since last year. Inflation is effectively under control, and foreign trade has been liberalized. The private sector accounts for 80% of the agricultural production in the country. The GDP grew by 5.2% in the first half of this year. Industrial and agricultural output is increasing as well. The implementation of these reforms is consistent and will continue to be so.

Azerbaijan is a truly independent state, and it considers the protection of its freedom the most important goal. There are no military bases or armed forces of any foreign country on our soil. Azerbaijan defends its borders as any other independent country.

Azerbaijan also faces complex problems. Since 1988, we have been a subject of the military aggression of Armenia. The objective of the Armenian aggression was to annex our territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. This aggression turned into a war, and battles were fought. Many people lost their lives, and the Armenian armed forces occupied 20% of Azerbaijan`s lands. More than one million Azerbaijani citizens have been forced out of their homes in the occupied lands. The majority of them live under harsh conditions in tent cities.

Three years ago, a cease-fire agreement was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There are no battles occurring today. We adhere to the cease-fire regime and want to settle the Armenian-Azerbaijani, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict peacefully. The Minsk Group of OSCE is engaged in solving this issue. Since the beginning of this year three countries - Russia, the United States and France - have been co-chairing this group.

The Lisbon Summit of the OSCE held last year agreed on the principles that would be the basis for the peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. These principles include guaranteeing the territorial integrity of the Azerbaijani and Armenian Republics, granting a high degree of autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, guarantee of the security of the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh. We agreed to these principles for the sake of peace. 53 out 54 members of this international organization supported these principles at the Lisbon Summit. Armenia was the only country that opposed the principles.

The Minsk Group co-chairs, the Presidents of Russia, America and France issued a joint statement on peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on June 20th, -1997 in Denver. They promised to exert their effort in the resolution of the conflict.

Our relations with the United States are developing very positively. However, there are even larger opportunities to expand these relations. These matters will the subject of my discussions in Washington. The need to lift the unjust Section 907 passed against Azerbaijan by the Congress in 1992 will be discussed as well.

I attach great significance to the coming meetings and talks. I think that the meetings in Washington will initiate a new stage of bilateral relations. I have great hopes for this visit.

Today I met with Mr. Koffi Annan, the General Secretary of the UN. I am very satisfied with the results of this meeting. I could feel the General Secretary`s positive appreciation of the problems facing Azerbaijan, and especially our desire to settle the Armenian-Azeri conflict peacefully. He stated that he would support the efforts of the Minsk Group of OSCE.

Unfortunately, we are running out of time. I am ready to answer your questions.

Question: Mr. President, I represent Al-Heyat newspaper. I am the chairman of the Press Association at the United Nations as well.

My first question is: did you discuss the question of deploying the peace-keeping forces of the UN in the region and particularly involving the UN forces in protecting the pipeline to be constructed through the region during your meeting with Koffi Annan?

The second question is: Tonight you will attend the banquet arranged by the Jewish organizations in the United States in your honor. Is that an indication that you will attempt to exclude Iran from participating in the pipeline competition?

Answer: First, I would like to emphasize that my meeting with Koffi Annan was extremely important. However, we have not asked the UN to provide peacekeeping forces. The Budapest summit of OSCE held in December 1994 made a decision to form the peacekeeping units of this international organization. We should make use of OSCE peacekeeping forces in solving the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Mr. Annan reiterated his support to this idea.

The pipelines have not been built yet. It is too early to arrange for their security. I believe that there will be no need to engage the peacekeeping forces in this area. I have accepted the invitation of the Conference of the Presidents of the Jewish Organizations to the banquet with great pleasure, and I will most certainly attend the event. A great number of Jewish people live in Azerbaijan. The Jews as well as other minorities have equal rights in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has never experienced any animosity towards Jews or conducted any anti-Semitic policies. That`s why this invitation is quite natural. This event is not directed against the interests of any country. Thank you.

Question: Mr. President, I would like to continue my question. The real purpose of my question is to ask you about your stance in respect to Iran. That is, numerous groups oppose laying the pipeline through the Iranian territory. I would like to know your position on this issue.

Answer: You should ask those who have objections. We have not opposed the idea of constructing the pipeline via Iran. However, it is not us who are building the pipeline. Large companies who are the participants of major consortiums and contracts are involved in this project. When the Consortium makes a decision regarding the route of the pipeline, then we will express our opinion on the pipeline route.

Question: Esteemed President Heydar Aliyev, I represent the Turkish "Milliyet" newspaper. I would like to ask you the following question. An agreement on transporting the Caspian oil from Baku to Novorossiysk via Chechnya was recently signed in Baku. Esteemed President, do you believe in the construction of Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline? When do you think this pipeline, which will cross the Turkish land, will be built?

Answer: Early this month, Azerbaijan together with officials from Russia and Chechnya indeed signed a contract on transporting the first Azerbaijani oil via Russia to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.

This pipeline is already operational. We simply needed this agreement to make sure that it went through Chechnya.

When I was in Turkey last May, I was asked many questions regarding the construction of the main pipeline via Turkey to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. I told them then, and I am answering your question today, that I personally want the oil pipeline to traverse the Turkish territory to Ceyhan. I will do all I can to attain this objective.

Question: Mr. President, my name is Avakian. I represent the Armenian press. I am a reporter of the Armenian radio in New Jersey. I have the following question for you. You have consistently spoken against the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. How can the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh trust your statements about the high-degree autonomy after the events in Sumqait, Genje and Baku, nine years of the blockade of Armenia? My second question is: why doesn`t the Azerbaijani government allow the humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh to pass through its territory while Armenia permits the humanitarian aid to reach Nakhichevan through the Armenian territory?

Answer: Esteemed lady, your question is based on biased information. It was not Azerbaijan who began the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, but Armenia ignited the war. Azerbaijan and Armenia lived peacefully in 1988 when Armenia launched a military aggression with the goal of annexing the Azeri land of Nagorno-Karabakh. As a result of this military confrontation and Armenian aggression, 20% of Azerbaijani lands have been occupied. The Armenian armed forces have occupied these lands. More than one million Azeris who lived on these lands have been ousted from their homes.

When the conflict erupted in 1988, the number of residents in Nagorno-Karabakh was 170,000. Armenians comprised only 70% of this number, while Azeris constituted 30%. They lived quietly and peacefully next to each other. After the outbreak of the conflict, the Azeris who lived in Nagorno-Karabakh were driven out of their homeland. Seven administrative regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh have been occupied. Azerbaijanis comprised 100% of these regions` population. During this aggression, tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis were killed. Our residential buildings, schools, hospitals, kindergartens, cultural centers, historical monuments and industrial facilities have been completely destroyed.

Azerbaijan has not seized one inch of the Armenian territory. Under such circumstances, you are asking me "... how can they believe your guarantees of autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh?" You mentioned the incidents in Sumqayit and Genje. During the conflict in the past, something happened everywhere. However, the occupation of 20% of Azerbaijan`s territory and the plight of more than one million Azerbaijani refugees - most of whom were killed by the aggressors - cannot be compared with anything. But I think that, despite all of this, we should not look to the past.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are destined to be neighbors, and we have to be in good neighborly relations. Our countries should establish peace between themselves, and our people ought to be friendly to each other.

I notice a booklet in your hands. The booklet describes the plight of the Azerbaijani refugees who were driven out of their homeland by the Armenian armed forces. I believe that after you read that booklet and watch the video tape that I will advise our delegation to hand over to you, after seeing the desperate conditions of these refugees, you will change your opinion. I invite you to make peace. I ask you to convey this message to the Armenians who reside in America. I invite all of you to create peace.

Question: Could you briefly describe the oil contracts to be signed during your official visit?

Answer: I can give you information about the contracts that have already been signed. Azerbaijan has signed six major oil contracts with transnational companies so far. The signatories to these contracts are firms from the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. These contracts are being implemented. The drafts of several other contracts have been prepared as well. We might sign these agreements in Washington. Wait for two more days, and you will find out as soon as these contracts are endorsed.

Thank you very much. Good-bye! 

The document was taken from the edition of "Together towards the New Century"