Speech of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev in the meeting with the heads of mass media functioning in Azerbaijan - December 18, 2001

Sometimes I meet the journalists. It does not happen so often, but when there is time. Nowadays I felt that there is a need for such a meeting, and therefore, I invited you to this meeting.

I told our public-political department to invite some representatives of mass media. Now there are a lot of reporters in Azerbaijan. We can not meet all of them. But I think that you represent the whole mass media of Azerbaijan.

I wanted the representatives of independent and opposition media to come, too. Because there is no problem between us and the media of state bodies. I was told that my wish has been fulfilled.

What is my purpose? First, to listen to you. Because I know that the independent and opposition media are concerned nowadays. They demonstrate it in newspapers and on TV. They claim that the repressions against the independent media has started since the second congress of the New Azerbaijani Party. I don`t think so. Thus, I am worried about this. We can discuss and prevent it if there is any repression. That`s why, I have invited you.

I expressed my thoughts about the opposition media in the congress of the New Azerbaijani Party. I never hide that the opposition media publish disinformation, groundless facts and libels sometimes. I still have the same opinion today.

In the assembly of the New Azerbaijani Party I spoke not as President, but as chairman of the party. There I recommended our party to increase its propagation. I also said that some opposition media publish offensive and humiliating articles against the government and the New Azerbaijani Party. Our party and its media should respond them adequately. The struggle and propagation in media should be two-sided. I wanted to activate the New Azerbaijani Party, which is one of the sides.

I said this. However, it is not an attack or repression on the independent and opposition media.

If there is a concern, we can remove or explain it.

Some media write that the names of three newspapers "Yeni Musavat", "Azadlig", "Hurriyet" are reflected on a document of the New Azerbaijani Party. It creates a concern. Every party can write anything on its documents. It should be accepted normal. But I understand that it creates a concern, since the New Azerbaijani Party is in power.

To be honest, I didn`t see those documents then. Then this issue became an object of broad discussions, I told the responsible persons in the New Azerbaijani Party that they had made a mistake, they should not have written this. I expressed my thoughts to the executive secretary and his deputies. Now I am saying to you again that they should not have written this. However, this mistake should not be blown up. Every person has mistakes. Where there is activity, there are mistakes, too. Some of independent journalists think that all what they write is true. However, no one claims this. The history demonstrated that even the sayings of great persons might not be true.

In general, dogmatism was very strong in our society during the Soviet time. Though the Communist Party was struggling against dogmatism, that ideology itself was based on dogmatism. Now we understand it better.

For example, we used to say that the quotation from Lenin`s book "What to do?" published 1902 is valuable for our time, too. However, 70-80 years have passed. Every quotation or thought has its own period. It applies to that period.

You can read my speeches and reports made when I was the leader of the Communist Partyof Azerbaijan.. I don`t deny them. Now I can explain that we were educated in that way then. Therefore, we had to use a quotation by Lenin when making a speech. Lenin`s words made in the beginning of the 20th century can not be actual for our time. Everything has changed now.

However, our political parties use the quotations of some great persons and claim that they are still actual. However, they can not be. Those quotations were valuable in their own periods. But now the world, society and people`s thinking have changed.

In 10-15 years the current things will be old, too. We should not forget the past. However, it is not right to apply the quotations made in the past to the present.

Such things happen. We should understand and confess our mistakes. I think that they should not have written the names of those newspapers on the documents of the New Azerbaijani Party. However, it is not a tragedy either. Perhaps this mistake is used by the opposition to claim about the repression on them. It is not necessary to blow up this issue. If there is a problem, let`s solve it. There is no repression as it is written every day. The New Azerbaijani Party just determined its future directions of activity. Each party does. But the decisions of one party are not discussed by another one. The decision of the New Azerbaijani Party is being discussed, as it is in power. However, we should not blow up this issue. As you see, I explained this issue.

The second issue is about the picket organized in front of the office of the New Azerbaijani Party on the 12th of this month. That picket was not approved by the mayoralty of Baku. Therefore, the police interfered the picket and it led to an unpleasant case.

I watched it myself on ANS TV. I thought that it should have not happened. What is the necessity of that action? For expressing the thoughts. The opposition can express its thoughts on newspapers and TV channels - everywhere.

I think that the mayoralty of Baku should have approved it. But it didn`t. There can be bigger mistakes. But we shouldn`t turn it into a tragedy. We shouldn`t blame the police either.

The Minister of Internal Affairs Ramil Usubov explained it very well on ANS TV. The police a law-enforcement body of the state and ensures public security. They must fulfill their duties. Its result may be unpleasant. If the mayoralty of Baku did not object the picket, then everything might be normal and there would not be a big case. The Executive Power of Baku objected it. The police tried to prevent it. They should have been more accurate. But as Mr. Usubov said, they are also people. They also have some mistakes. Some of them abuse their power. But let`s be honest, our police ensures the stability and security in Baku, doesn`t it?

What will happen, if I order the police not to fulfill their duties? Chaos and anarchy. We should take it into consideration. We all live comfortably. Because, we have ensured the public and political stability. Second, our law-enforcement bodies ensure it daily. You can criticize them, their mistakes, their abuse of power.

A reporter asked Mr. Usubov on ANS TV how many policemen did not act properly while fulfilling their duties. He said that 150 policemen had been punished within a short time. If someone acts wrong, he is punished. The policemen can not be out of punishment either. They must be under control. They must fulfill their duties and not abuse their power. They do. However, as President of Azerbaijan, I can`t say that I am completely satisfied with it. But everything must be improved.

If everything is ideal in the society, then there is no meaning of life. Because life is struggle and development. One must progress, step forward, remove obstacles, struggle against flaws.

I spoke about the actions of police much. I think that it should have not happened. Now we shall either discuss it further, or end this issue. I think that we should choose the second one.

I don`t know what other problems are. I have invited you. Anyone can speak. I remember that we have made important steps in the sphere of media since 1998, including ensuring freedom of speech and media, and abolition of censorship.

If you remember, I issued a decree in 1998. Later I issued other decrees on the support to the organs of media. You are aware of them. We help and shall help media.

Recently I met the ambassador of the United States on other issues. I declared on the recent events that we shall solve the problems. As President of Azerbaijan, I guarantee the freedom of press. Today I repeat my words. I think that freedom of speech and media is fully ensured in Azerbaijan. If there are problems, let us solve them.

Recently I watched ANS TV and Space TV. The representatives of media took part in a programme on Space TV on Sunday. Is any of participants of the programme present here?

Etibar Babayev (President of Space TV): Mr. President, it was a Sunday talk show called "It is us".

Ali Hasanov (Head of the Departmenton Public-Political Issues of the Administration of Presidential): Mr. President, Agil Abbas was present there.

Heydar Aliyev: I watched that programme. All the representatives of media expressed themselves freely. To agree or disagree with their opinions are another issue. Not everyone agrees with my opinon. It is not surprising. If there is a political pluralism, people can have different views. I saw that the participants expressed their opinions and even debated freely. Isn`t it freedom of press?

I think that the major indicator of freedom of word and press in Azerbaijan is our private TV channels. When watching TV, people receive information, which influences them positively or negatively. It is freedom of word, freedom of press.

For example, the thoughts of the participants of the talk- show on Space TV were spread throughout Azerbaijan.

There was another programme on war on ANS TV. The participants of the programme discussed how to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, peacefully or by waging a war? I don`t remember the name of the host of the programme.

Ali Hasanov: Mr. President, it was Ibrahim Mammadov.

Heydar Aliyev: Yes, it was him. He asked the participants about their points of view on the solution of the conflict. They expressed their views. I watched the programme in order to learn their thoughts. But their thoughts do not reflect the views of the society. Unfortunately, some politicians claim that they speak on behalf of the society or the people. It is wrong. No one can express the view of the society. Because everyone has a different view. But it is important for me to learn their thoughts. I do not agree with most of them. Some of them deceive the society and try to increase their rating, not solve the problem. However, ANS TV creates an opportunity for the people to express their opinions.

ANS has a programme called "Point of view". Different people are invited there. Yesterday the programme was hosted by Ganira khanum. One of the politicans spoke there freely. He said that it is the end of the current government. But I don`t think that it is. Later that person said that this government must leave the power, since the people feel oppressed by the government. Ganira khanum said that it doesn`t seem that the people are oppressed. But the guest insisted that the people were. Not everyone may be satisfied with the government.

Our opposition politicians use the displeased people. They don`t share the political views though. But it is natural. Not everyone may be pleased with the government. If a new government is in power tomorrow, not everybody will be satisfied with it either.

But I see that those politicians involve the displeased people to their political course in order to struggle against the government. It does not worry us. It demonstrates that the opposition parties are socially based on such a ctegory of people.

Those people may be displeased with their salary, welfare, housing, problems with police or bureaucrats. I admit that we have many bureaucratic officials in the state bodies. But I mean that we have freedom of speech since any politician or opposition leader can speak against the government freely on television.

A few days ago another politician had a dialogue with a representative of the New Azerbaijani Party on ANS TV. What he said about the President of Azerbaijan and his family is not humanistic. I watched it, but it didn`t worry me. If it is his level of education and moral, then let him demonstrate it.

We have freedom of speech in our country. The people are free. But if there are some problems, let us remove them. But it is not necessary to blow them up.

I was also told that some newspapers owe to the publishing house "Azerbaycan". What am I supposed to do? The owners of newspapers must count their revenues and expenses. They have to know what they publish newspapers for. If they want to earn money, they must know how to do it. If they use the newspapers for their political purposes, they must be aware of their financial conditions. We have market economy in our country. We can not do more. However, according to my decrees, we helped the newspapers with releasing them from taxes, buy paper and necessary things. Mr. Ali Hasanov can remind us again. You have those documents, don`t you?

Ali Hasanov: Yes, I do.

Heydar Aliyev: We have helped. Perhaps I spoke too much. But I want to hear you, too. I speak to you clearly. Irrespective of your outlook, political views and attitude to the government, media is a very important sphere for the Azerbaijani government. Ensuring freedom of speech and media, we have to remove the problems, create all the opportunities for the press. It is what I want to say to you.

Please speak if anyone wants to. Mr. Ali Hasanov told me that you had already determined a list of speakers. The floor is given to Arif Aliyev, chairman of the Union of Journalists "Yeni Nesil" ("New Generation").

Concluding speech

I am very satisfied with our open conversation today. I listened to you attentively. Thank you for listening to me attentively, too.

I instruct Mr. Ali Hasanov together with Dilara Seyid-zade to summarize your proposals and thoughts made today. I want you to report to me on them. Because I am not aware of many problems. I need to know how to solve a problem, what obstacles the solution of problems are. I think that we can solve many problems. I promise you that we shall look through these issues.

I think that our meeting today will remove the tension in our media. The people creating the tension on both sides should take our meeting into consideration and do their best to establish good relations and communication. Our purpose is to give media more freedom, ensure freedom of speech widely and develop democracy in all the spheres in Azerbaijan. These are my sincere words. Actually, they are part of my policy. I can not say that we have achieved all of them. Not yet. But we are going in this way. We can not succeed everything within a short time.

Some say that the law on mass media was adopted long ago. Now there are changes. However, we need to remember that it takes some time to understand and apply the innovations. Some issues, which were unclear then, are clear now. Not because it was said by the European Council. Because the outlook and thoughts of our people develop. Now our level is higher than the level of two years ago. I assure you that we shall lead our policy on freedom of press, freedom of speech and democracy. The media organs have big opportunities and tasks in developing democracy, ensuring freedom of speech and media.

Critisizing the problems and defects in the acitivity of the government, independent and opposition media must help the govenment and society remove the problems. I also want the state media organs to follow this way. They should not propagate the government or comment the laws only. They should also critisize and show the problems.

A few months ago I told Mr. Nizami Khudiyev that he critisized the spheres of life rarely. The private TV channels critisize more. Why are you afraid of doing this? Now the state television has progressed. For example, it shows some areas with bad conditions and helps the executive powers. The problems are solved after their show. So why are you afraid of doing this?

I am telling the truth. During the Soviet time we used to have communist media. I directed that media to reveal our defects, because we could not do it ourselves. Of course, the local state bodies would hide their defects. I remember that the newspaper "Kommunist" revealed problems in some districts in 1970. We discussed them in the Central Committee, dismissed the heads of local bodies in those districts detained some of them, and improved our work there.

Once the secretary of the district party committee of Goychay stopped the publication of a newspaper, as he had been told about criticism against him on that newspaper. I did not know about this. But this fact was published by the late reporter Tahirov on "Pravda". Then I learnt it from "Pravda", I raised this issue in the Central Committee. The secretary of the district party committee was dismissed and punished. This was a lesson for others to learn that no one should exert pressure on media. It was my position in 1970 when we had only communist media.

My position on this issues is more strict now. Because we live in a different society. Everything must be transparent here. People must express themselves freely. Everybody should help to remove the defect in the society and in the activity of the government. So no one should worry. I guarantee that no one will be oppressed.

At the same time, I ask you to be fair. Nobody can object fair criticism. But false criticism hurts and creates a counter-reaction. Now I have an immunity against it. I don`t pay attention to such things.

I was at home on Sunday. I looked through newspapers. Dilara khanum usually looks through newspapers and reports to me. But on Sunday I had some time. I took "Yeni Musavat", which had a big title on the first page "We have a fight against Heydar Aliyev". It was the interview of the brother of the late Abulfaz Elchibey. I wondered what their fight was. I read, but could not find anything in the interview. I re-read. At the end the reporter asks him: "What did he tell you?". He answers: "We shall talk to him" having me. He didn`t say "President", but "him". To the question "Do you have a fight against him?" he answers "Yes, I have".

You can interview that person - Almurad. From the interview I can understand that he was forced to do it. He didn`t want to answer any question, but the reporters insisted. Finally he agreed for the interview. It is obvious that he did not want to be involved in anything.

I know Almurad well. I met him several times when I was working in Nakhichevan. He is not involved in politics. He never was in politics during his brother Abulfaz Elchibey`s rule. But he is forced to join politics, give interviews. It is not right. Why do you force him to give an interview? He does not want. If you need a material, find a person, who really wants it. They put a big title "We have a fight against Heydar Aliyev". They made me read that article till the end to look for the fight. I found nothing. I understand that this kind of titles attract readers. But that article have no meaning. Some may wonder what fight Almurad has against Heydar Aliyev. It was done by a journalist. You should not work like this. Unjust articles are more dangerous. Here you complain about trials and fines. First, you never pay fines. Second, imagine what suers feel. I have never sued anyone or any newspaper, though they mostly criticize me.

I address to the people from the government. Sometimes they worry too much about what is written in some newspapers. But I tell them not to worry, though they write about me, too. I am well-known. I am not worried that they will criticize me. I became the leader of Azerbaijan 32 years ago. My 32-year acitivity is obvious. Most of the journalists are even not 32 years old yet. I have a 60-year career. When left the Politburo, Gorbachev`s supporters together with the Armenians and even some Azerbaijanis published some articles in order to stain me and started the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They could not succeed. What can they do to me now? Nothing. My conscience is clean. Therefore, I do not pay attention to libels. The people writing libels about me should not tire yourself, because they will achieve nothing.

But some people do not bear it. I heard that Mr. Ramiz Mehdiyev sued the newspaper "Milletin sesi" ("Voice of the Nation"). I asked him what he did it for. He told me that he had been insulted by the newspaper. I saw that he really felt insulted. I can`t say to him to refrain enjoying his rights. I am responsible for myself. I never sue anyone. I do not interfere any court case either.

I have some recommendations. First, our media should not publish articles, which harm the national interests of Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, it does.

For example, recently a newspaper informed that Azerbaijan had purchased 100 tanks from Israel. Mr. Usubov also mentioned it on ANS TV. I was told that this information was spread out by the agency Turan.

Ali Hasanov (Head of the Departmenton Public-Political Issues of the Presidential Administration): Mr. President, our media took this information from the Armenian newspaper "Hazg". All the newspapers published it, not thinking about its outcomes.

Dilara Seyidzade (Head of the Presidential Secretariat): Mr. President, the information was taken from the newspaper "Muari" published in Lebanon.

Heydar Aliyev: I don`t want to research where this information was taken from. The Armenians might write about it. So might "Nezavisimaya gazeta". But our newspapers should not write it. I declare that we did not buy any weapons from Israel. We have not bought any weapons in the recent 7-8 years. Second, even if we buy weapons, we do it for our army. Why do you write about it? What is your purpose? There are so many similar cases.

You told me something about Canada. Can you remind it? Our embassy submitted Canada a letter of protest.

Ali Hasanov: There were claims that the Canadian embassy informed the European Council that Armenia is not an agressive country, it has not occupied the territories of Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan belongs to Armenia. Actually, it was done by the Armenians. Our media spread information that Canada does not recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Heydar Aliyev: I was told that our embassy appealed to Canada and was responded that Canada had not done it.

Ali Hasanov: Yes, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our embassy did. Canada responded that it had not spread such information. It was published by the Armenians.

Heydar Aliyev: Or our newspapers write that Azerbaijan has been included into the list of the countries suporting terrorism by some organizations. The Armenians accuse us in terrorism. We accuse them in terrorism. What is the purpose of our newspaper in writing it? It is our problem. But I declare that not any state has accused Azerbaijan in terrorism. I do not pay attention to what some organizations say. But our media should not write such things.

Now corruption is a favorite subject. Azerbaijan is declared one of the most corrupted countries very frequently. But what organizations declare it? How do they define the level of corruption? Our media publishes groundless things. What is its purpose?

We admit that Azerbaijan suffers from corruption. But we fight against the corruption and we shall. There is corruption not only in Azerbaijan, but everywhere in the world. However, it does not justify the existence of corruption in our country. We are responsible for our country. We fight against corruption. But the problem is that the people, who accuse Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani government in corruption are themselves the most corrupted people.

Why to stain Azerbaijan? If we have a problem, let us solve it. Some people should not use this fact for their political purposes. There are a lot of similar facts. But I don`t waste too much time for it. I want our media to avoid it.

I met the delegation of the International Monetary Fund yesterday. Its representatives have been in Azerbaijan for ten days. Today they held a press conference in the Ministry of Finance and spoke about the economic situation in Azerbaijan. The conference was showed on TV. They stated that the economic reforms are being implemented successfully and the macroeconomic indicators have improved in Azerbaijan. The economy of Azerbaijan is developing. There has been no inflation in Azerbaijan in the last seven years. There is a big economic development in Azerbaijan.

Our opponents in the opposition claim that the people live in poverty. But the people do not. There are different classes within the population. But it is the natural result of market economy. The number of enterpreneurs, rich people, businessmen is increasing. As a result, there are a lot of houses, villas around. No one can prevent it.

A normal middle class is emerging. There are the poor, as well. We have been discussing a programme on reducing poverty with IMF. We shall adopt the programme. It is the reality of Azerbaijan. If you claim that the entire population live in poverty, I can ask you, do you live in poverty. Are other people poor? Yes, there are some poor people. However, not 95 percent of the population. We need to determine this percentage.

The head of the agency Turan said that economy declined to the level of 1998. That`s why the newspapers are not sold. But this is wrong. You should think why there is less attention to newspapers.

Why does television attract more people? Why? Because the people don`t pay for television. They watch TV channels, receive information and do not want to read newspapers. The best period of newspapers has passed. I think that the newspapers should improve their level to attract the people. The people don`t buy newspapers not because they can not afford. Stores in Baku are always crowded. Who buy the goods in the stores? If the businessmen import the goods from abroad, it means that they have enough customers.

When I first visited Europe, I saw that the stores were full of every kind of goods there. But stores in our country did not have enough goods for the population then. Now everything is good in our country, too. There was no advertisement during the Soviet time. But now there is a competition in the market. Every businessman wants his good to be sold, so he needs advertisement. He spends a lot of money for the purchase and transportation of goods, as well as advertisement. What for? In order to earn money. They earn money from customers. Customers have means to purchase the goods. Now I see our people live better now than in the Soviet time.

A few years ago President of Turkey Mr. Suleyman Demirel visited Azerbaijan. We attended an orphanage in Khatai district. On our way back he saw what people were wearing and told me our situation is not so bad as we claim. I said to him that not everyone lives well. It is like this even today. We see the realities of Azerbaijan. Besides, there are international financial institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund which constantly control the budget and economy of Azerbaijan. These organizations helped us a lot realize the economic reforms. They still do. We are very satisfied with their assisstance. They help us with their recommendations, which are very significant. They say that Azerbaijan is ahead of other countries due to its economic conditions within CIS. But it is not a desired level yet. We can not compare Azerbaijan with France, Italy, the UK, the USA, but we can compare it with Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan or Russia. I don`t claim that our welfare is better than the welfare in those countries. It is the information of IMF on the economic situation.

We have a lot of problems. A sensation emerges when there is no electricity anywhere. Media informs about such problems. I don`t mind. Because sometimes I learn such problems from media and call the Prime Minister in order to know the details. It is a reality.

Azerbaijan produced 5,000 MW electricity. Most of the power stations are old, do not function properly and need renovation. Every time I hear about the breaks and renovations in the functions of the power stations. Fortunately, we constructed the power stations in the 1970-80s. Now we have power stations and fuel. Our power stations supply Azerbaijan with electricity. But some neighboring countries like Georgia is deprived of this. It costs a lot of money to produce electricity and supply our population with electricity. However, there is a huge shortage in payment for electricity. It means that we supply our people with free of charge with electricity. No country can stand it.

Now we are giving the electric network of Baku to a Turkish company. This company will sell the electricity. There will be no electricity without payments. For example, in Turkey people have no electricity unless they pay for it. But we can apply it here. Because our people have got used to the current situation. When we start to regulate our financial situation, people rise that there are social problems. What are we supposed to do then?

Now we supply most of the districts with natural gas. Baku is fully provided with gas. But payments for the gas are not made. The production and transportation of gas, as well as salaries of the people working in this sphere cost a lot of money. How should we cover them? Fortunately, we have oil now. We need to produce oil and use it effectively. We need to spend the oil income for the development of Azerbaijan. But we can not do it. The society should understand it. You should help the socety get used to this situation, not critisize it.

I am ready to yield my position to any of you. But no one is aware of the real situation. We buy 4 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia. We did not buy before. Now we can spend the oil income to buy the natural gas and provide our population. But we can not get the payments for gas. We have so many problems. They are the problems of our society. We need to solve those problems together in order to develop Azerbaijan. Otherwise, our economy can not advance.

We can talk about it more. I think that my speech today is useful for you.

I don`t force anyone to think as I think, to understand the words as I understand. Everyone is free. Everyone has his own view. It is the reality of Azerbaijan.

I invite our media to cooperation, justice and friendship. Thank you.