Interview of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev to the reporter of the Russian newspaper ("Rossiyskaya Gazeta") 15 June, 1994, Azarbaycan newspaper

- Soon it will be a year as you President of Azerbaijan. However, a few years ago, many people were confident that the political career of Heydar Aliyev had ended...

- I found myself here, one can say, against my own will. After leaving the Politburo in 1987 because of serious differences with the Soviet leadership, including - in person with Gorbachev, I was not engaged in political activity. When in the late 1990, I was not provided opportunities to live in Baku and I took refuge in Naxcivan, then again, did not want to get involved in political life. But in 1991 there was a very difficult situation. This autonomous republic of Azerbaijan, separated from the main territory of the state, borders Iran, Turkey and Armenia, but because of the war it was in blockade. The people protested for several days on the squares and demanded that I led the parliament of the republic, and I had to do it. I started to work. This is a very complicated region, we lived with difficulties, but in any case, it is calm now if we exclude small border skirmishes. There is no war there now, no such criminological situation as before. Turkey has provided Naxcivan with a loan of 100 million dollars, 20m of it, we immediately spent on food purchases, and it also eased the situation. And I thought that this autonomous republic is my last shelter.

But last June, a struggle for power aggravated in Azerbaijan, the republic found itself on the brink of a civil war. Then, the Azerbaijani leadership in the person of President Abulfaz Elcibey appealed to me to I arrive and help lead the republic out of the crisis. I did not want to go back, but then decided that it was wrong to stand aside when the nation was in trouble. Unfortunately, two days after I started as the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan, President Elcibey secretly left Baku and has since been in a mountainous village of Naxcivan. I remained alone. And now for 11 months, I have been engaged in improving the situation in the republic.

- What are the main challenges are Azerbaijan facing now?

- We are going through a very difficult period. Transition from a state when we all were parts of the Soviet state into the establishment of independence, strengthening of sovereignty, are very difficult. The situation is complicated by the fact that all the former Soviet republics were very closely linked, especially, from economic point of view and the disruption of ties greatly affected the economy of Azerbaijan. On the other hand, the country is moving from one economic system to another, from a socialist economic system with its own laws, with their principles – to thefree market economy. Finally, the third factor that has complicated the socio-economic situation in Azerbaijan is the war. It has been going on for 6 years, about 20 per cent of the territory of the republic has been occupied and more than a million people are living as refugees.

- What can you say about the causes of the conflict and what should be done to stop it?

- This war has not been initiated by Azerbaijan. There is no need to analyze what has happened, but I will say one thing. When it all began, Azerbaijan was part of a centralized state - the USSR, and thus the leadership of the USSR could have prevented the outbreak of the conflict. Or, if it began, it was possible to prevent its escalation. Unfortunately, this did not happen. The Garabagh conflict was the first in the USSR, but look, how many "hot beds" have emerged now. Azerbaijan is now waging a war to preserve its territorial integrity. But all this time, I was engaged in negotiations to end the war. The cease-fire has been continuing since 10 May. We are currently negotiating with the CSCE Minsk Group and Russia. It may be possible to achieve an agreement to end the conflict. But this is possible on one condition: the Armenian armed forces must liberate all the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, except, of course, the Mountainous Garabagh. Then we can negotiate on the status of the Mountainous Garabagh.

- During the talks in Bishkek, the talk was about the peace-keeping forces...

- We shall see. In any case, in order to stop the war and to monitor the compliance with the cease-fire agreement, to ensure the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces, of course, we need some force. The CSCE Minsk Group thinks that these forces should be observers. Russia wants to use the so-called peacekeeping forces of the CIS, but this issue is still under negotiations.

- How would you assess the situation in the Caucasus? Recently, there are talks  that Russia has not yet developed a clear political concept for the region.

- It's hard to say whether Russia has a clear-cut position or not. But the fact is that the Caucasus is a very complicated area and requires a well-thought, balanced, very wise approach. Russia is a great country. And the Caucasus is for more than two hundred years under its rule - whether the tsarist Russia, or the Soviet Union, where Russia dominated. And Russia should have the same attitude to all the republics of the Caucasus. If there is a bias in one direction or another, this will lead to complications and, of course, to the loss of credibility in the region. There should be, I repeat, a very balanced approach, regardless of how people has been historically connected with Russia regardless of the religion. I think in that case, Russia will have more authority in the Caucasus and there will be more security in the Caucasus. The calmer it is in the Caucasus, the calmer it will be in Russia.

- The former republics have been trying for two years to restore relations in the former Soviet republics within the CIS. How do you evaluate the activities and prospects of the organization?

- I think this organization has prospects. It is necessary that each republic could develop more effectively. Therefore, when I became the head of Azerbaijan, I made efforts to create an atmosphere of confidence in the CIS and the conditions for entry into the Commonwealth.

To tell the truth, it was not so easy. For various reasons, there is a negative attitude towards the Commonwealth of Independent States in Azerbaijan. I'm not saying it about all but it is the vast majority. First of all, the events of the 20 January1990 dealt a very serious moral harm to the people. On the other hand, the Popular Front, when in power, actively implanted anti-Russian sentiment. So it took several months to overcome these attitudes in the public mood. And on 24 September last year, we joined the CIS. I think it was a necessary and important step and in future, Azerbaijan should be part of the CIS. But now, with regard to the practical activities of the Commonwealth, I would not say that this organization has already taken shape and it really works. Somehow, it turns out that during the summits of CIS, which last a day and a half or two, it seems that CIS is existing, but when the summer end it seems it is not. Therefore, in my opinion, very active steps should be taken to make the CIS to function successfully.

- What is necessary for it? Maybe, some kind of supranational structures are needed?

- I do not think it appropriate. This poses the revival of a single state, the possibility damaging the national interests. The former republics, now independent states, cannot agree with it. But, it is necessary to have a closer integration...

- Earlier in the Soviet Union there were a lot of talks about the friendship among the nations. In the CIS, all sorts of questions are discussed, except this one. Do you not think that this is what we exactly need now?

- The question is really very topical. At the meeting in Ashgabat, I made an official statement that it is an abnormal when the two countries in the union are fighting with each other. But I did not get any response. The second time in Moscow on 15 April I again raised the issue that the CIS was created to unite and defend the interests of our union, and therefore, it is inadmissible when two members of the same union are fighting against each other which has never happened in the world practice. Again, this question was not discussed. But along with the cooperation in the military sphere and economy there is a need for improving moral and ethic climate in the CIS in order to strengthen the friendship of peoples for avoiding further conflicts and hatred. The CIS should also cover the humanitarian sphere, strengthening the relations among the nations and peoples, but to achieve it, it is necessary that to have warm and friendly relations.

- In the CIS within a short time when you are in the office, you have demonstrated great diplomatic activity. How do you describe the political orientation of Azerbaijan in the international arena?

- I think that it is a success that I have managed to turn the criticism in the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan to a positive direction. I met Boris Yeltsin and Viktor Chernomyrdin and other officials, we signed several important documents, joined the CIS. That is to say, my first steps were designed to restore good relations with Russia. And this course will continue: Russia is both a close neighbor and a large country for Azerbaijan, the fate of many citizens of the republic living both in Azerbaijan and in Russia is connected with it.

Naturally, we are for the establishment of friendly relations with all the neighboring countries, such as Turkey. They were also good before, but my visit to Turkey and the treaty which we signed has further consolidated our relations. Another neighbor is Iran; we have a very long common border, the traditional ties. True, the previous leadership did not attach due importance to the relations with Iran, and there emerged some tensions in our relations. But in October during the visit of President Rafsanjani to Baku, we signed some documents. Georgia is also our neighbor and there live 600,000 Azerbaijanis, President Shevardnadze paid a visit to us, too.

As regards other countries, as we go towards building a democratic, law-governed state, we have a great need to develop relations with the western countries which have their own traditions, experience in the field of democracy and market economy. Thus, I received the invitations of the British Prime Minister John Major and President of France François Mitterrand and visited those countries, we had quite fruitful talks.

- You spend a lot of time on the issue of foreign policy, domestic problems, the Garabagh conflict... On whom do you rely while dealing with those issues? From outside, on the whole Azerbaijani political horizon only a figure is visible – President Heydar Aliyev...

- I have already said that I returned to Baku not on my own will and did not plan to engage in politics. It sounds, perhaps, somewhat pompously, but the people called me. Therefore, I did not bring my team and did not train it. True, I know Azerbaijan well, but left it in 1982 – over this period, a whole generation of leaders have changed. I do not have my own political party; I am working with those people who are there right now.

- What would you like to tell the readers of Rossiyskaya gazeta?

- I want them to know one thing: As President, I will make all the efforts andseek friendly relations with Russia.

Interviewed by Pavel Alekseyev

Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 15 June 15, 1994, Baku-Moscow.