Interview of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev to foreign and local reporters at the airport before meeting the heads of States and delegations arriving in Baku to participate in the international conference on the restoration of the historical Silk Road - September 7, 1998

Question: Mr. President, the Great Silk Road will not pass through the territory of Ukraine. What benefit may Ukraine have from this project?

Answer: Why do you consider that it will not pass through its territory?

Reporter: I saw it on the map.

Heydar Aliyev: Well, you can draw a map in the way you want. First, Ukraine joined the TRACECA program and the restoration of the historical Silk Road is based on the program adopted in 1993. Ukraine actively participates in it and I think that it is very interested in being a participant of the Great Silk Road. There are all possibilities for it.

Question: What practical economic benefits will Azerbaijan and the countries participating in TRACECA program receive from the present conference?

Answer: You know that TRACECA program, which is now five years old, is beneficial. It created lines of communication and transport corridor of Europe - Caucasus - Asia. It already brings economic benefits. As for its political benefit, the more we work together, the more we communicate with each other, the stronger will be our partnership and the more political benefit it will bring. The main political benefit is to ensure stability, peace and mutual understanding among nations. All this together composes both economic and political dividends.

Question: Mr. President, as you know, this event will be attended by the Prime Minister of Armenia, too. Please answer. Can it help to solve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict?

Answer: First, Armenia is one of the countries that participated in the adoption of TRACECA program. TRACECA program was adopted by the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia in 1993, in Brussels. Therefore, Armenia has the right to participate in this conference.

Secondly, we want to resolve the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan peacefully. For this purpose, we have to transform the mood of hostility between the two countries into the spirit of trust. If there is no mutual trust the peaceful settlement of the issue can be difficult. However, for the past ten years we have suffered deep wounds. We have given victims, blood was shed and our lands were occupied. The captured lands are destroyed and are in a terrible state.

All this is well known. However, we must look forward. One would think that the two neighboring countries cannot be enemies forever. For example, the countries of the world and the European countries. France and Germany were at war for hundred years and now they are friendly countries. Russia and a number of the European countries were at war with Germany where there were many war victims, people were killed and towns were destroyed. During the World War Second, the Soviet Union lost 27 million people. Only from Azerbaijan 600 million people were mobilized to the front and 300 million of them never returned. But you can see now that Germany and Russia and other former Soviet republics cooperate and have friendly relations. This is life, thus, you need to look forward.

Question: Mr. President, will you discuss the routes of transport of the Azerbaijani oil to the world markets at your bilateral meetings?

Answer: Well, this is such kind of topic that we shall discuss it all the time. This subject is inexhaustible.

Question: Experts say that the income from the export of the Azerbaijani oil will be received in seven years. What is your opinion? When the ordinary citizens will feel the benefits of participation of Azerbaijan in today\'s historic event?

Answer: We need to look at it very clearly and objectively. An ordinary citizen of Azerbaijan gains the benefit gradually. It is wrong to imagine that one day when from the sky or from someone the ordinary citizen of Azerbaijan will receive such a premise, in which there is money or food products. Everything that we do brings practical benefit to ordinary citizens of Azerbaijan every month. This is the reality. Look around, and you can see what was five or three years ago. Let\'s see what happens in Russia with the ruble. Dollar cost 6 rubles, now it is almost 20 rubles. What about Azerbaijan? Manat is stable, in 1994 inflation was 1600% and today there is no inflation. The events going on in Russia worries us. This could have a negative impact on Azerbaijan, but we took measures and prevented it. That is the benefit of the citizen of Azerbaijan.

Reforms are being conducted, the economy develops. In the previous years we had an annual decline in industrial and agricultural production by 10, 15, 20 and 25%. According to the results of the eight months of this year the industry grew by 0.9%. It is a small number, but at least it is not falling. Or the gross domestic production increased by 9%. Yesterday I received the delegation of Germany. The day before yesterday they hold a seminar within the Naumann Foundation. By the way, it was attended by many representatives of various non-governmental organizations, many parties, including the opposition, as well as my advisor, Professor Akhundov. There have been given specific figures. The head of the German delegation told me that they meet the positive changes in Azerbaijan with pleasure. It happens every day, but slowly. There cannot be any jumps in economy.

As for the oil, everyone thinks differently. We have our own calculations. Each expert speaks as he thinks. We have concrete plans and forecasts. Consistently implementing the program of development of oil and gas fields we shall ensure the economic growth and well-being of the people.

A few days ago, there was held a ceremony on the operation of the floating drilling rig, which we named «Istiqlal». You have seen it on TV or participated there. $ 200 million were spent on, reconstruction and modernization of the plant within 17 months. Most of that sum was spent for the Azerbaijani citizens and its residents who participated in various activities. On the other hand, Azerbaijan received an investment in sum of $ 200 million. This rig has been sent to «Shah Deniz» field for drilling we shall get gas and oil there. All these processes are interrelated.

Let us take the shiprepair plant of our oil company. It was in a grave state. We were not able to recover it $ 13 million were spent in order to restore it. But it was restored and now other equipments and ships will be repaired.

If you have seen on television or have been there, you may know that there are three large cranes. They did not work. Now they have been restored and put in order.

What is «Istiqlal» drilling rig? It is an installation of the highest level. While I was in Norway, we flew by helicopter to «Sleyper» platform located in the North Sea, approximately 260 kilometers far from Stavanger. I was told that there annually 6 billion cubic meters of gas, was produced there, it goes directly to Europe, France. We were delighted with this platform. Now we have such a platform called «Chirag-1», there is a drilling rig as «Istiqlal», capable to drill a well in water with a depth of 700 meters. It was difficult to imagine that it would be possible to drill a well in water with a depth of 700 meters. It is a giant construction. That is the practical benefit.

There I spoke with the Azerbaijani specialists and ordinary workers. I asked about their wages. One of them said that he earns 2 million 600 thousand manats. Convert it into dollars and imagine how much it is. 2 million 600 thousand manats itself sounds great. This is the salary of an ordinary employee. This is our economic benefit and the specific benefits of each citizen. Thus, you can understand that it is a process that every day brings its favor.

We have signed 15 contracts and all of them are working. For each contract we receive investments. I repeat that the contract for «Shah Deniz» was signed in June 4, 1996, and two years later «Dede-Gorgud» began to drill there. A few days ago we completed another rig that will continue drilling there. This rig will work not only there. It will dominate in the Caspian Sea. Other littoral countries eager to develop their fields in the Caspian Sea, have no such opportunities and will contact us. For now, geophysical and seismic work is carried out by an Azerbaijani vessel, which have been modernized and fully adjusted by the oil company «LUKoil». This vessel does geophysical work for Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Russia, 600 people work there and get very high wages. Here are the specific benefits. Is it enough?

Question: Mr. President, what can you say about role of China in the restoration of the Great Silk Road?

Answer: The Silk Road started in China. Why it is called the Silk Road? Because China produced silk and exported it to Europe since the ancient times. They exported it by the Great Silk Road. Of course, China now has many other transport links. But I think that this road, which will be rebuilt, will benefit China, too.

Question: Mr. President, tomorrow an agreement on the results of the conference will be signed. Can you comment on the significance of this agreement?

Answer: The value is very high, because such an agreement would be signed for the first time. It suggests that the content of the agreement creates very good conditions for the further development of the transport line and the restoration of the Great Silk Road.

Question: Does the agreement guarantee the safe transport of goods?

Answer: Certainly. Everything is provided there.

Question: Heydar Aliyevich, TRACECA practically leaves Russia out. Will that complicate the relations with it?

Answer: Why does it leave out? We invited Russia and it is involved in this conference.

Reporter: It takes place as an observer.

Heydar Aliyev: You know, there is no such status as observer or non-observer. Everyone is the participant of the conference. We shall never allow to worsen relations with Russia.

Question: Will there be a discussion on the settlement of the conflict at the meeting with the Prime Minister of Armenia?

Answer: Let us see. If it is possible, the talks will be held.

Translated from newspaper «Azerbaijan», September 8, 1998