From the conversation of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev with the representatives of UNHCR working in Europe headed by the Director of the Europe Bureau of UNHCR Anne-Willem Bijleveld - Presidential Palace, March 18, 1999

Heydar Aliyev: Distinguished guests, I welcome you in Azerbaijan. I am very satisfied of meeting the delegation of the UN.

We always try to cooperate closely with the UN and its agencies. We have a close cooperation with the permanent representative of the UN in Azerbaijan. We focus on many issues within our cooperation with the UN. One of them is the problem of refugees and IDPs. As you know, because of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over one million our citizens have become refugees. It is one of our hardest problems. We pay a special attention to this problem. I highly appreciate the visits of UN officials responsible for this field to Azerbaijan. I suppose that you can get acquainted with the situation of refugees and IDPs in Azerbaijan closely during your visit to Azerbaijan. I can help you.

I decided to visit one of the refugee camps. I can show you their conditions. Please, I am listening to you.

Anne-Willem Bijleveld: Mr. President, thank you for receiving our delegation on the eve of the Novruz holiday. Let me congratulate you and the Azerbaijani people on this holiday.

Mr. President, I deliver you the regards of High Commissioner for Refugees Mrs. Agatha; she intends to come here this year. As you are aware, I have been in Azerbaijan for a week. I`ve tried to understand the current situation of refugees in Azerbaijan. At the same time, we held meetings of our representatives working in the post-Soviet countries. During those meetings we tried to learn the best ways of solution of problems of refugees. We tried to find general problems and look through different situations.

We exchanged experience during the meetings. During such exchanges we tried to find the ways for doing our best in order to improve the conditions of refugees.

Heydar Aliyev: Very good. I see that you have paid a special attention to Azerbaijan, that you assembled your representatives working in the post-Soviet countries in Baku. I highly appreciate that.

I suppose that you and your representatives working in different countries will get acquainted with the problems of our countries closer; thus, the UN will be more informed on these problems.

Anne-Willem Bijleveld: Mr. President, during our stay here Mr. Ali Hasanov helped us a lot. Together we visited different parts of Azerbaijan, and attended two refugee camps. I must say that Mr. Hasanov is adherent to his job. He is really interested in the problems of refugees and IDPs. We were very satisfied to hear about your decree last September. According to that decree, new jobs will be opened for refugees and IDPs. As a result, close relations have been created between the working group, colleagues from your government and from our organization; while working we help each other in order to improve the conditions of refugees. As a result of this activity, your and our colleagues have elaborated a joint plan. I would call it a completing plan. It is very good. I would like such a plan to be prepared and implemented in other countries, as well.

Our representative in Tbilisi Mr. Akber Menemencioglu has been in Baku for several weeks. He is learning that plan so that he will be able to apply it in Georgia. Related with that plan I will show Azerbaijan as an example in Geneva. I shall tell about Azerbaijan that a great care and attention is paid to IDPs here until they return home.

Mr. President, we respect your long-term policy on abolition of poverty and improvement of conditions of refugees. At the same time our joint work, the successful cooperation of your government and the UN will ensure attraction of donors. I mean donors Azerbaijan seeks. Only with donors` help necessary funds can be established for improvement of conditions of refugees.

Mr. President, sometimes donors hesitate to come here and finance. They justify it with such a thing that the cooperation is not on high level between your government and the UN. But I can say that we have good relations, good cooperation, which is a good signal for donors` coming here.

Mr. President, let me express my respect to your decree on citizenship. It is a decree with perspective, which motivates us. We are closely cooperating with your members of parliament, particularly with the members of legal commission; we are very happy for the progress in the adoption of a law on refugees. We are very satisfied that a step forward on NGOs was taken in the legislation; we`ll do our best to help you in this sphere. At the same time we`ll try to strengthen your relations with the working group of the Council of Europe; this way we`ll try to achieve the adoption and confirmation of that law.

Mr. President, the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has been working in your country for 4-5 years. It has good cooperation with your government. I think that we have done something for improving the conditions of refugees. We have a lot to do further, which we shall do with great pleasure.

Heydar Aliyev: Thank you. Does anybody from your delegation have anything to say? It seems nobody.

I am very satisfied with your visit to Azerbaijan. I listened to your information attentively. I can say that our cooperation with the UN, UNHCR is successful. If any of donors think that this cooperation is not on a good level, they don`t know the real situation. I suppose that you will give them necessary information.

I note once again that the number of refugees and IDPs per the number of the whole population is too big in Azerbaijan. According to the last census, the current population of Azerbaijan is about 8 million. One million out of eight are refugees, which is a very hard problem. You know that most of them live in tents. It is hard to imagine how people live in tents for 5- years. However, it is a reality. I am always surprised with tolerance of our citizens, who are refugees and IDPs.

With its own means, Azerbaijan does its best for improving the conditions of refugees. 20 per cent of our territories, most fertile lands, have been occupied. We can not use them. We have lost all industry in those lands. Thus, now we need aid.

Naturally, our primary goal is the liberation of our lands, and return if refugees home. In that case we would solve the problems more successfully. Unfortunately, we haven`t achieved it yet, since Armenia has a non-constructive position in these issues.

The Security Council of the UN adopted several resolutions, which demand the unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories. However, the Armenian government has not implemented them yet. They are still in force.

You know that we want to solve the conflict peacefully, therefore, we actively cooperate within the framework of the Minsk Group of OSCE. However, there is no result yet. Anyway, our task and goal is the liberation of our occupied territories, restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and the return of refugees home.

All properties of Azerbaijan in the occupied territories have been destroyed. However, the people want to return to their lands, and we believe that they will create normal living conditions just after they return. Love to the native land is above all. We must ensure this for the people. But we haven`t achieved it yet. We must improve the conditions of refugees; we want the UN to pay more attention to this problem and increase the humanitarian aid. I suppose that you witnessed the facts confirming my words during your stay in Azerbaijan.

It is nice that the representative of the UN in Armenia is in Baku, Azerbaijan today. I think that after witnessing the conditions of refugees in Azerbaijan, he will do his best for solution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Armenia.

Shortly, we will closely cooperate with you further. We hope that as the UN, you will help Azerbaijan after the solution of this problem and increase humanitarian aid for the improvement of conditions of refugees and IDPs.

Anne-Willem Bijleveld: Mr. President, thank you. I want to assure you that we have started and are increasing our activity. We have talked to some donors. I hope that our cooperation will be successful. But I ask you to appeal to the donors as we did. As experience shows, separate appeals of the government or the UN to donors are not so effective. Therefore, we both, the government and the UN should call the donors and explain them the necessity of the job.

Mr. President, we understand very well that existence of refugees and IDPs is a very hard problem for a country. But humanitarian aid is hard, too.

Mr. President, your decree confirms our words. Only charity aid to refugees is not enough, In order to improve their conditions, they must work. We are happy that we work and try to solve this problem together with the World Bank. We don`t want them to be in need. We want them to turn to producers. At the same time we cherish great hopes that this problem will be solved. As a humanitarian agency our aid is limited. But as soon as political solution of the issue is found, we shall become your closest assistant.

Heydar Aliyev: Thank you very much. I declare once more that we do our best to improve the condition of refugees. We did a lot for involving them to work; you appreciated it. But all this does not improve their situation. We still need to do more for them.

We shall directly call the donors. I accept your advice on this. I suppose that Ali Hasanov will prepare proposals on this. Both you and we have to use all the opportunities.

Ercan Murat (resident-liaison of the UN in Azerbaijan): Mr. President, we agreed with Mr. Ali Hasanov; we shall organize an international seminar in Baku on May 5. The purpose of this seminar is obvious, as Mrs. Bijleveld said. We need to call the donors and implement the program prepared for the solution of the problems of refugees and IDPs with the help of the World Bank. Some organizational work has already been done. During two days invitations will be sent to the donors in Baku, embassies in Moscow and Ankara, as well as other donor centers in Europe and America. We want this seminar to be organized in a high level.

Heydar Aliyev: It is a very good initiative. I support it and am ready to help you. I wish you all health. I congratulate you on Novruz, too and wish you luck in all your works.

(Later Heydar Aliyev asked the representative of UNHCR in Yerevan Lars Thomas Birat about the situation in Armenia).

Lars Thomas Birat: The situation is not so good. The UN and other international organizations do their best for the improvement of situation in Yerevan and other parts of the country, as they do here. Of course, it is a great chance for me to come to Baku. I came and witnessed everything.

Heydar Aliyev: Do your best for the liberation of our occupied territories. Then the problems would be solved quickly. Thank you.

"Azerbaycan" newspaper, March 19, 1999

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