Speech of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev in front of the representatives of the International Conference on Religion Conference “Peace and Tolerance”, in Istanbul, February 10, 1994

Today I am very pleased to meet you. I express my greetings, respect and esteem to all of you.

As you know, I am an on official visit to Turkey at the invitation of the Turkish President Mr. Suleiman Demirel. We had very fruitful and important meetings in Ankara in the last two days. A few agreements, including an agreement on friendship and cooperation were signed in order to ensure the bilateral cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan. I arrived in Istanbul last night and was informed about the possibility of meeting you. I got very pleased of such a meeting and had a great pleasure to come here.

While in Baku I received information on your conference. Attaching an importance to your conference and considering it useful for the contemporary mankind, I sent a special letter to the conference. I am glad that my letter has reached you and you are familiar with it. In my opinion, the key aspect of the conference is your call for conscience and focus on peace and reconciliation issues. At present, they are issues of great importance for all the people of the world. Unfortunately, in the recent years, in the last years of the 20th century, peace has been violated, clashes and wars have been going on among the peoples, various states and groups in different regions of the world. These factors prevent people from living in comfort. We can not let the political processes at the end of the century to be accompanied by wars, collisions and bloodshed.

Co-existence in peace and mutual respect is the most important advice of God to the people on the earth. Therefore, the calls of the religious leaders to conscience and peace mean both the way of God and a great assistance to the establishment of peace in the world. Most of the wars have political and ethnic background and are aimed at occupation others’ lands by force. Of course, they cannot be religious in nature.

The difference of religion from other human moral values is that it has always invited people to friendship, solidarity and unity, irrespective of religion. We are now witnessing it. Your conference, the discussions of various religious figures, who have assembled together, call to conscience, peace and tolerance is an obvious proof of it. I appreciate your initiative and selfless activity. I have expressed my views in my letter to you; I am pleased to be able to deliver my words to you now face-to-face. Your assembly, solidarity and kind attitude towards one another demonstrate that people can co-exist, irrespective of their faiths.

Our country Azerbaijan is of great importance for your activities. Azerbaijan is a multinational state. A number of ethnic groups have been co-existing in Azerbaijan for centuries. The followers of Christianity and Judaism have been living in peace along with the Muslims y in Azerbaijan. We have declared it. As President of Azerbaijan, I have repeatedly noted that our citizens enjoy equal rights and the state protection regardless of race, religion, political views. You can be sure that we shall remain faithful to these principles and not allow any civil conflicts based differences in language, faith and political views.

I regretfully note that ethnic tensions and clashes, even wars and bloodshed are underway in our region, the Caucasus comprising Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. All this concerns us a lot. You can be sure that the Azerbaijan and its President do and will do everything to put an end to the regional ethnic conflicts.

The military aggression of the Armenian armed forces to Azerbaijan is, of course, the main factor that has created a complicated situation for us. You should be aware that a conflict that broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia because of the Garabagh problem six years ago has turned into a war. I reckon that neither the Azerbaijanis nor the Armenians wish such a conflict. Unfortunately, some extremist, nationalist groups that strive to reach their own ambitions involve our peoples into the conflict, which has become a war.

As a result of the war, the Armenian armed forces have occupied 20% of our territory. More than one million Azerbaijani citizens have left their homes and become refugees; now they dwell in hard conditions. We do not want war. We try to stop the war and establish peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples have been neighboring for centuries and are going to live side by side in future. There is no other way. This war has no future, therefore, it must be concluded by peace, which may be available with the following condition: the territorial integrity and inviolability of the borders of the two nations must be secured, the Armenian occupants must withdraw from the Azerbaijani lands so that the Azerbaijanis can return home. No one has territorial claims against Armenia, so it must be ensured as well. This is a simple principle. Yet, there are serious obstacles for its realization, one of which is the current war that has been going on for six years.

We do not claim to Armenia`s lands. However, we cannot cede our lands to Armenia either.

Our peace initiatives, unfortunately, have not given any results. The activities of the international organizations, such as the UN, the specially created Minsk Group of OSCE have been resultless, too. Even the religious figures – Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pasha-zade and the leader of the Armenian church have met several times. Unfortunately, those meetings did not yield any results. But we continue our peace policy and will try to resolve the issue peacefully. At the same time, I would like to say that Azerbaijan is not weak. Unless our peace initiatives give any results, we shall have to liberate our lands from the Armenian aggressors by force. Undoubtedly, we prefer the peaceful solution and we shall go this way. But if someone wants to continue the war, we can do it, too. We have no other way. I would like to bring to your attention one more issue. This conflict is based on land claim, as the Armenian armed forces occupied a part of Azerbaijani territory; we want to drive them out of our lands. As a result of the effective Armenian propaganda, some circles in the world have the opinion as if the Azerbaijan wants to massacre the Armenians of Garabagh and expel them. This is a lie. Such claims have no ground. I declare the truth to you: Azerbaijan has no anything against the Armenian people living in Azerbaijan, does not want to drive them out of Azerbaijan by force. They can live in their homes in peace. Azerbaijan and I, as President of Azerbaijan, guarantee their security, freedom, traditions, culture, religion, language.

It was like this in the past, too. Prior to the outbreak of the conflict, 70% of the population of the Mountainous Garabagh was Armenians, 30% Azerbaijanis. However, as a result of the conflict, 50,000 Azerbaijanis living there have become refugees in their own country; they are not able to return to the Mountainous Garabagh now. Therefore, the rights of both Armenians and Azerbaijanis must be protected, if we speak of the protection of human rights. Because both the Armenians and Azerbaijanis lived there. We have possibilities for peaceful co-existence of the Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the Mountainous Garabagh as such conditions were available for years and will be available in future.

Dangerous rumors on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict have recently been spread in various media outlets. Some people deliberately claim that the conflict may turn into a Christian-Muslim war. These are baseless, pre-conceived, provocative. I protest and reject such statements. I want to assure you that our activities aim at restoring the internationally recognized territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan and ensure the inviolability of our borders.

A number of ethnicities have historically lived in Azerbaijan. The Russians, Armenians, Georgians, Ukrainians and other ethnic groups lived and will live along the Azerbaijanis in our country. We consider the multinationality of the Republic of Azerbaijan a great advantage for our country.

By telling this, I want you to be well informed about the current situation in Azerbaijan. At the same time, I want to help you in your joint activities. You are doing a benevolent, valuable work. I wish you great success in your activities. I invite all of you to Azerbaijan. I will be glad to meet you in Azerbaijan. I am ready to host each of you separately. I would like to express my hope that our cooperation with you will continue. I wish you good luck in your activities, which are benevolent for the mankind and the world.

The conditions created for you by the Republic of Turkey displays that our fraternal country wishes peace to all the nations. I think that the minister on the Affairs Religion of the Republic of Turkey deserves a great respect for this initiative.

Once again, I would like to express my pleasure to meet you. Thank you for your attention.

Translated from newspaper “Azerbaijan”, February 11, 1994