The speech of the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev at the summit of the heads of states and governments of the member countries of the Council of Europe - Strasbourg, European Palace, October 11, 1997

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Distinguished chairman!

Ladies and gentlemen!

I cordially greet the participants in the second summit of the Council of Europe. I am very pleased, for the first time, an independent Republic of Azerbaijan takes part in this leading international forum dedicated to the discussion of important common European problems on the eve of the new millennium.

Great positive changes happened in our planet, the end of the cold war and the fall of the iron curtain, unified Europe and promoted the integration of new states into the European structures which have chosen the way of democracy.

An important role in these processes is played by the Council of Europe, and we highly value its contribution to strengthening of peace and stability, conformity with the principles of pluralist democracy and common human values in all of the European continent.

Being an integral part of Europe, Azerbaijan has been developing close relations with Europe throughout its history.

Since gaining independence, the Republic of Azerbaijan passed a complicated and dramatic way. The difficulties of the transitional period, internal political instability, a plague of illegal armed groups, attempted coups, the social-economic crisis, the devastating sequence of neighboring Armenia's aggression, created a state of anarchy, chaos and mass violations of human rights, threatening the existence of Azerbaijani state.

Due to great efforts, we have stabilized the situation in the country in the short run and started the implementation of drastic political and economic changes aimed at building a secular and legal state with a market economy.

The first free and multi-party democratic elections to the Parliament of the Republic have been held. Through a nation-wide referendum, the Constitution of independent Azerbaijan, granting all necessary human freedoms and rights, was adopted. Existence of tens of political parties, hundreds of independent mass-media, maintenance of freedom of speech and conscious, setting up favorable conditions for the development of national minorities bear witness to the formation of a democratic society in our country.

The liberalization of the economy, the minimization of inflation, the wide attraction of foreign investments, the successful realization of the privatization program, including land ownership, meant that the economy of Azerbaijan has overcome a long-lasting decline, and real growth of output and improvement of wellbeing of our citizens have started.

Apparently, we continue to experience certain difficulties of the transitional period; the hard heritage of the 70 years under totalitarian rule still has its effect. But the successful implementation of democratic reforms and the firm support of these reforms by the overwhelming majority of citizens of our Republic witness that independence and democracy are irreversible in Azerbaijan.

The biggest problem for us still remains the consequence of Armenian military aggression, as a result of which twenty percent of the Azerbaijani territories have been occupied and more than one million of Azerbaijanis have become refugees and IDPs living under unbearable conditions in tented camps.

We greatly appreciate the efforts of the OSCE aimed at fair settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The OSCE Lisbon Summit of December 1996 adopted an extremely important decision on this issue. The principles of Lisbon are: recognition of territorial integrity of both Armenia and Azerbaijan, granting a high degree of autonomy to Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) within the state of Azerbaijan, and security guarantees to the whole population of Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh).

We highly value the Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe dated 22 April 1997, which also supported the territorial integrity of the Azerbaijani State and the Lisbon Summit principles on the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. These documents have laid a good foundation for achieving peace on the basis of common international law norms.

In May of 1994, we signed a cease-fire agreement and we aim to preserve it until the final settlement of the conflict.

We support the recent proposals of the co-Chairs of the Minsk Group of the OSCE (Russia, USA and France) on settlement of the conflict in two stages: the first: to withdraw Armenian armed forces from the six occupied Azerbaijani regions, to provide the return of Azerbaijani refugees to their permanent homes and to restore all communications destroyed as a result of the war; the second: to determine the status of Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) along with the liberation of Lachin and Shusha regions.

I reiterate today once again that we remain committed to peaceful settlement of this conflict, we want firm and long-lasting peace with Armenia. Despite the severe damage inflicted on Azerbaijan by the aggression, we want to restore good neighborly relations and co-operation between our countries, wellbeing of our people and peace and stability in our region.

Ladies and gentlemen!

In June 1996, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe granted special guest status to Azerbaijan. We are also a party of the European Cultural Convention and participate in the open partial agreement on prevention, defense and organization of assistance in case of major natural and technological disasters.

On 13 June 1996, I appealed to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to admit the Republic of Azerbaijan as a full member of the Council. I have expressed our readiness to join the European Convention on Human Rights and have asked the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to accelerate negotiations with the Government of Azerbaijan on this issue.

We are actively co-operating with the institutions of the Council of Europe and we are taking part in all its ventures and we create all opportunities for delegations of the Council of Europe to work in Azerbaijan.

We pin great hopes on the assistance of the Council of Europe in the development of democratic transformations in our country. We hope that Azerbaijan will be a full member of the Council of Europe very soon. For our part, we will do everything to measure up to the high standards of modern European democracy.

Dear ladies and gentlemen!

Our Summit sums up the results of a turbulent and dramatic 20th century, and sets out tasks and prospects of the next century. As before, the New Europe, unified in the ideals of freedom, democracy and humanity, will play an important role in the progress and prosperity of all humanity.

I am convinced that the Republic of Azerbaijan, having enormous natural resources and a rich cultural and intellectual potential, will make its deserved contribution to this positive process.

Thank you for your attention.