From the talk of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev at the meeting with the delegation of the Council of Europe - Baku, January 3, 2001

I welcome you, Mr. Minister. I am very glad to see you in Baku, Azerbaijan. I congratulate you on the fact that now Latvia is the chairman of the Council of Europe. This is an event that is of great importance for each country. When we were in the Soviet Union, representatives of Latvia had to get permission from Moscow to perform a trip abroad. Now Latvia presides such a prestigious organization as the Council of Europe. You can imagine what changes occurred in the world during a historically short period of time.

I have witnessed Latvia seeking independence in the early years of perestroika, I remember all this. And your people were active. Though, I already did not work then - in 1987 I resigned, but this process began a little later, and I followed the news. Not to mention that, before, when it was still the Soviet Union, I had to deal with many issues related to Latvia.

And now we meet in a different condition. You are the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, who chairs the Council of Europe, and I am, following the numerous events, President of independent Azerbaijan. I think it is nice to see people with whom we worked together and lived in one state in the past. The nice thing is that now we have become free and independent. Latvia, of course, gained its independence earlier than other Baltic countries. But before the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was the Communist Party of the Central Committee in Latvia, and Lithuania.

The world has undergone great changes. This is the first delegation I accept in the new year, new century, new millennium. This delegation is very important because it is the delegation of the Council of Europe. The delegation arrived in Azerbaijan regarding a very serious matter. Thus I am pleased with this meeting, and I think it will be interesting, and most importantly it will yield positive results. I know that today you met with the chairman of the parliament, Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and with the head of my administration.

The day is coming to an end. I was told that tomorrow you leave; you arrived for a short time, which is a pity. Because, I would like to talk more, and most importantly I would like you to see today's Azerbaijan with its successes, problems and difficulties, so you can see our capital. Please…

Thank you, Mr. Minister, for the words you expressed about Azerbaijan, its present position, that Azerbaijan is on the path of democracy, political pluralism, and human rights protection.

You put it very correctly. I am frank man. Unfortunately, in some Western countries, these things are not clearly imagined. Democracy is a process. These are your words. I mention this because they are not my words. Democracy, as you put it, is not something that you can construct. During the period of my leadership in Azerbaijan, in 1970-80's, I have a great number of factories, bridges, residential buildings, schools, and hospitals built. This building, in which we are now, was also built by me as many others. If apply to your idea, democracy is not something to take the funds collected, equipment, labor, built and put into use. This is entirely different thing. Democracy is a process. Countries and people held this process in accordance with how much they are ready to do so.

We can not compare ourselves with countries with 100-200-year history of democracy. Let us take your Latvia. Until 1940, you lived in one order, then in the Soviet Union. Prior to 1990, it was under the communist ideology. Then it was told that we had democracy and freedom of speech. However, it was within the boundaries of a society.

You know, to follow the path that other countries passeds during 100-200 years and to keep up with them is unreal. I say this to everyone. Therefore, I openly express my thoughts in order to effectively represent the country that were in the Soviet Union, countries that were in the socialist camp, i.e. is Eastern Europe and others - they were at different stages of development and of course, it is impossible and even unreal to jump directly 100 meters ahead, then a man can jump 4-5 meters, maximum 6 meters. Unfortunately, some people in the West think that democracy in some countries of Western Europe and democracy in the Caucasus should be the same. No, it is impossible.

Another thing is that the path that those countries passed, which are the main carriers of democracy and have a great experience, we can pass in a much shorter time. Therefore, democracy is such a phenomenon that changes should happen in the perception of people. It's not to build quickly, to say do so, sit down, stand up. It is impossible. Therefore, I agree with you and I want to say you frankly: We are moving toward democracy, political pluralism, human rights protection. We do not have another choice, so we won't go on a different path and we do not do it to please Western countries and to be accepted to the Council of Europe. We do this because we have chosen this path after the restoration of independence. It is not for show, it is the only way we see further free and sovereign development of our state. How long we are going this path and many others are, you know, it is the relative approach. But we keep going this path and we will go.

With regard to the accession of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe, indeed, as a part of Europe, Azerbaijan is situated at the extreme flank of Europe. Europe ends after Azerbaijan. We want to be in the European Community. If someone does not want it, well, we can live without it, i.e. it is impossible to do it by force.

Let's suppose that one of the important elements of democracy is elections. We held parliamentary elections. In our opinion, in our conditions, taking into account the mentality and traditions of our people, the elections were normal. But there were drawbacks, there were irregularities. Therefore, in 11 districts the election was declared invalid by the Central Election Commission and Constitutional Court. We do not claim to be ideal in this regard. However, I do not know where the ideal elections are? Some countries may say they hold absolutely perfect elections, let them think so. I do not argue with them. But at the same time I can not agree with the fact that in elections were absolutely not democratic in Azerbaijan. Some people agree with me, but others do not.

Look how many newspapers are published here. In the Netherlands, there are not as many newspapers as in Azerbaijan. We have a free market economy. Money earned or not earned, or from somewhere acquired does not matter we have a newspaper disease. In most democratic countries, there are 5, 6, 10 newspapers, all people read them. And here, you see, there is a competition for how many newspapers one can publish. It is a disease, but I absolutely approach it calmly. Because through the stages of the disease, we must pass in order to reach such a civilized level of democracy and freedom of press and, political pluralism. There are a lot of slanders, and even insults in our newspapers. Can you imagine some newspapers insult me every day?! I am told to take the matter to the court. I can sue, I can prove that I was insulted, but then the noise will rise in Europe, as if press is suppressed. So, sometimes I have to endure all kind of insults, nonsense, unfair attacks not in order to be good for you, but in order to accustom people to the civilization. I can say that everything we do is at the initial stage, democracy, freedom of press and human rights. Ultimately the initial stage of our society is very painful.

Mr. Minister, you mentioned twice that there is a social and political stability in Azerbaijan now. So, let those who currently consider the adoption of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe, look how far Azerbaijan has gone since the restoration of independence. Since 1988 Armenia started the war against Azerbaijan in order to annex Nagorno-Karabakh-native Azerbaijani land, arguing that the majority of the people living there are Armenians. It turned into a war and that war continued from 1988 to 1994, until my will stopped it.

What happened here! Government changed every year or every two years. Instead of uniting the people, protect their land, resolve the issue without war, people abused of this situation and organized their militias and fought for power. In 1990, the struggle for power brought about tragedy. The Soviet troops, Gorbachev, the Politburo moved to Azerbaijan tanks, a large contingent of troops, and shed blood in the streets of Baku. I do not know whether you have been in the Alley of Martyrs or not. Until 1990 this avenue was a park. So many people died in one night! I know the history of the Soviet Union well. I was told that probably I was engaged in history. You also know it well. In the history of the Soviet Union there was not a single case when the government committed such a monstrous aggression against its people.

And naturally, it complicated the situation in Azerbaijan. In this challenging environment, on the one hand, Armenia attacked Azerbaijani lands, on the other hand, there was no stability inside, people could not be united to oppose the enemy in the war. On the contrary, people gathered in groups and competed for power. What did it lead to? This led to a new tragedy, the genocide, committed by Armenian armed forces in Khodjaly together with Russian troops and again to the change of government in Azerbaijan. That leader fled to Moscow. Democratic forces, that is, People's Front came to power. You also had People's Front. But your People's Front was civilized. Unfortunately, our People's Front did not reach the level of any of the Latvian, Lithuanian or Estonian. They came to power and a year later again the civil war began in Azerbaijan. You know, people from the same team, having huge amount of weapons decided why not to become a president. Therefore, they moved troops from the city of Ganja here, and leadership was so helpless that instead of defending the state, they fled to save their lives. A new type of separatist movements started. Moreover, the Armenians unleashed war in Nagorno-Karabakh; the new separatist movement emerged in the south. Several "figures" from the People's Front decided that several southern regions of Azerbaijan can be detached in order to create an independent republic and attach them almost to Iran. There were attempts to separatism in the north, too.

Look, at what plight Azerbaijan was after it gained independence. And even after, I was invited to Baku, in 1993, I began to create the conditions for stability here, there was a coup attempt in 1994 against me, and then after 6 months OMON- it is a special police squad disobeyed Ministry of the Internal Affairs , brought those troops that they had, and began to command the President of Azerbaijan: either resign and give us power or we will kill you. We also had to endure this, it was necessary to protect and fortunately we were able to protect Azerbaijan, the state. What then?

A few months later, with the participation of some special services of different countries there was an attempt to shoot down the plane of the President with rocket, when I returned from a trip to Romania and Bulgaria. Thanks to God, God helped. The plane landed, changing its course. That is, look how many years passed, Azerbaijan was in these difficult circumstances, until adopted its first Constitution in 1995, and elected the first parliament. And then not everything was in order. There is pressure on Azerbaijan from all sides. Geo-strategic position of Azerbaijan, rich in energy resources, oil, gas and others, attract the attention of many countries, and everyone wants to pursue his interests here. So, sometimes in these conditions we must resist this. Under these circumstances, we are on the path to democracy. And some believe that democracy is chaos, democracy is permissiveness, that is, I do what I want. We cannot accept this. Over the past few years we were able to achieve stability with great difficulties. Firstly, we have stopped fighting, we conduct negotiations with Armenia to resolve the issue peacefully, and secondly, we have eliminated these armed groups in Azerbaijan, criminal elements and so on, to create stability, people began to live peacefully. But 5 years ago, it was impossible to go outside in the evening. Everyone walked with a gun and did what he wanted. So for this short time we prevented all these woes of Azerbaijan. During this short time we managed to achieve stability, solved many problems. Our economy is now growing. According to the rate of growth of economy, Azerbaijan holds the first place among the CIS countries in the previous year, and in 2000. This is also not easy and it does not fall from the sky. This is our economic policy, it is the reform that we follow, it is our firm line on the adoption of market economy in the long run, this is democracy and freedom. Therefore, in these circumstances to assume that today in Azerbaijan, democracy must be at the same level as in countries where people live in full prosperity, wealth, and do not know of any war or internal turmoil, it would be unfair. So I go back to your idea that democracy is a process, and we are heading toward this year. Indeed, we want to be a member of the Council of Europe, we understand that it lays great responsibility on us. There, we are not in the Council of Europe, and we are free, we can do something, we can`t do, it is our business, no one of us will do anything. And when we are a member of the Council of Europe to sign the document in the Council of Europe, we understand from the position that we have been imposed even greater responsibility. We do it, to get more experience of democracy, to democratize Azerbaijan, even to closely cooperate with those countries that are in the Council of Europe, and especially with those that have long been in this structure.

With regard to prisoners, you know, I recently issued a decree to pardon a large group of people. And it happens three or four times in a year. At my initiative, parliament passed a decree on amnesty and a lot of people were released from prison. This process we will go on. Let no one be concerned about this issue. As regards your question about what is going on here, one part I already answered. The situation is that, unfortunately, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which began in 1988, has still not been eliminated. The fact that we were able to achieve a ceasefire between Armenia, and Azerbaijan is a big deal. But it is bad that we were unable to make peace so far. In 1992, the OSCE set up the so-called Minsk group, consisting of 12 countries, which is engaged in the peaceful settlement of the conflict. By the way, in 1993, the Minsk group was chaired by Italy, and later by Sweden.

Mr. Ian Allison was chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group and throughout the year we met here and in other places mare than once. But, regretfully, they could not help us resolve the conflict. Mr. Ian Allison tried very hard. I have a very good impression on him. If possible, give him my regards. However, we were not able to resolve the conflict. Then your foreign minister was a woman - Margaret Douglas, a pretty woman. Mrs. Douglas came here, I met her, and we conducted negotiations. Then he was an acting chairman of the OSCE. She could do nothing either. Then Russia, it was also unable to do anything. Russia gave the turn to Finland, which also could do nothing. And then, finally, at the OSCE Lisbon Summit in December 1996, Russia, the United States and France were identified co-chairs. And from that time these three great states are not able to help us solve the problem.

And what is the problem? Armenia considers that Nagorno-Karabakh should be annexed to Armenia, because, in their opinion, it is the Armenian land. This is contrary to historical truth. But during the war, for various reasons, Armenians occupied seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh, populated by Azerbaijanis. Million of people were expelled from these areas, who live in tents now. Our opposition accuses me of many things, but one of the accusations is that Aliyev can not resolve this issue for seven years. Each of them believes that he can resolve this issue. Nevertheless all of them together can not take a single step in order to resolve this issue. I know how difficult it is. Armenia is an aggressor, Armenia violates the rights of people. The Council of Europe is fighting for the rights of individual citizens. Why did the Council of Europe not fight for the rights of all people? Our people are subject to aggression. Millions of people, deported from their places of permanent residence, have been living in tents for 6-7 years. Here is the real situation in Azerbaijan. The Council of Europe is not paying attention, and ensures that there is somewhere a man that has committed a crime, is in jail, and tries to have him released. You know, we can not agree with this approach. We join the Council of Europe in the hope that the Council of Europe will make very effort possible to address the core issue, where there are massive human rights violations. This is a solution of the issues such as liberation of the occupied lands of Azerbaijan, returning people to their places of residence, although everything is destroyed there, all life should be started again, and ensuring the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. This is something that concerns the South Caucasian region.

There are three republics in the South Caucasus- Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. We used to have very good relations. Half a million of Azerbaijanis live in Georgia. And there are not any problems. Neither from our side nor from Georgia there is a traditional claim to these lands, though they live in the border areas of Azerbaijan. We preserve our interrelations. You probably know that economic situation of Georgia is hard now. We help Georgia as possible as we can though we have many problems. Our northern neighbor is Russia. Russia is now a co-chair of OSCE Minsk Group. But at the same time they secretly provide Armenia with arms and military equipment in the amount of one billion dollars. But is it possible? Azerbaijan and Armenia are the CIS. Moreover, Russia is the OSCE Minsk Group to resolve the conflict peacefully. And Russia is secretly supplying Armenia with ammunition of one billion dollars. For what? In order to eliminate the conflict or something else? In our territory there are no military bases of any country. While, in Armenia there are military bases of Russia. Moreover, last year they were building up strength out there, put there latest S-300 missiles and advanced MIG-29. That is, they deployed ammunition on this small land. I ask the leaders of Russia: for what? But I can not get a satisfactory answer. That is the feature of our region.

We have a very good relationship with Turkey. Traditionally and historically we enjoy good relations. We have a good turnover rate, and we consider Turkey a friendly country for us.

Iran is our southern neighbor. Many Azerbaijanis live there. Some say that almost 30 million Azerbaijanis live in Iran. Historically, we are very close to Iran. We want to have very good, friendly relations with Iran. We have great turnover. Borders with Iran are open.

We have good relations with Central Asian countries. The Caspian Sea is a great problem now. Because, 5 years ago, even in the Soviet Period we began to extract oil and gas in the sea. We have great experience. Our geologists discovered a lot of oil and gas fields onshore. Therefore, we signed many contracts with western countries, with the companies of the USA, England, Germany and with "Bibel", which is one of the biggest companies, Dutch "Shell" company work here actively and have great opportunities, Belgian, Italian Spanish and French companies "Total", "Elf Akiten", Norwegian "Statoil" also work here. So we opened up the possibility of the Caspian Sea to the world, as there are rich oil and gas resources. We have built a pipeline to the Black Sea through Georgia. We are already exporting oil via this pipeline. We have recently signed a major contract for the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi - Ceyhan oil pipeline to export about 50-60 million tons a year in future. And it connects us with all countries. On the other shore of the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are also involved in oil and gas. The Caspian Sea was divided into sectors even in the Soviet period. But now there are disputes about the status of the Caspian Sea. It is also one of our problems. So I tried to answer your questions.

Concerning the elections on the 7th of this month, I think you were told about it. You can be sure that everything will be done to hold elections in high level. It seems they told everything. I will not reiterate. Thank you.