From the talk of President of the Azerbaijani Republic Heydar Aliyev with the Slovakian delegation headed by the minister of foreign affairs of Slovakia Eduard Kukan - Presidential Palace, February 1, 2000

Heydar Aliyev: Mr. Minister, esteemed friends, I greet you in Azerbaijan, I welcome your visit to our country.

If I am not mistaken, since the time when Azerbaijan gained its independence and Slovakia became an independent state, it is the first visit of such a level within the framework of mutual relations between our countries, and therefore, it is of great importance for us.

I have been told that you had the meetings today with the minister of foreign affairs, the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament. It is very good having in view that you could exchange opinions in different structures and outline the ways of further cooperation between our countries.

We, in Azerbaijan, are very interested in having more dynamic cooperation with Slovakia. We know that Slovakia is an economically developed country - I mean its well-developed industry and infrastructure. At the same time, we have many identical things, because Slovakia is undergoing the transition period now, just like all of us, and has its peculiar problems. This is exactly what substantiates the necessity of enlarged contacts in order to hold exchange of opinions, help each other, and first of all, develop the cooperation in the economy, culture, education, and in all other spheres. Please, I listen to You.

Eduard Kukan: We are very pleased to be able to make this visit - the first, as You have correctly mentioned, visit of members of the Slovakian government to Azerbaijan.

I am extremely pleased that the minister of economy of Slovakia and a big group of businessmen, who want to establish direct contacts with their partners in Azerbaijan, are here in order to implement all the outcomes of our political talks into the real life. Therefore, it is very important that the political potential, which we have today for the future cooperation between Azerbaijan and Slovakia, should turn into definite projects.

Possibly, the realization of this first visit to Azerbaijan has been delayed a little - after seven years since the establishment of independence in Slovakia. But we need to start sometime; we need to implement the first visit. I am confident that we have used this time to get thoroughly ready for the development of bilateral cooperation in order to make our cooperation more intensive and fruitful for both countries after this visit.

Seven years after we "got divorced" from Czechs, former Czechoslovakia, Slovakia has been developing on the path of market economy as a democratic society which wants to integrate into the European and Transatlantic structures.

Some day soon, we are going to launch negotiations with the European Union about the future membership of Slovakia with it. We are also getting ready to become a NATO member. We know that Azerbaijan is a European country and we have many common directions of our future development. Therefore, there is a common ground for mutual consultations, exchange of information which can help both Azerbaijan and Slovakia.

Today, we indeed had the opportunity to hold talks with many outstanding representatives of Azerbaijan, and we are very pleased that these talks were very precise, informal and they clearly prove that your country is interested in the development of political, economic and cultural links with Slovakia, as well as cooperation in all other fields.

We are also ready in Slovakia to proceed very intensively to the development of these contacts in future. Later, the minister of economy will tell you that we really have a good base for the cooperation, and this can provide fruitful cooperation between our countries. Thereby, Mr. President, thank You very much that we could meet You. We also hope that after this visit, the development of our cooperation will be more dynamic mutually beneficial and help Azerbaijan as well as Slovakia.

Lubomir Harach (minister of economy of Slovakia): Thank You Mr. President, I also want to appreciate You for the opportunity to visit Azerbaijan and have a very useful talk with my counterpart.

I also want to appreciate You for the productive meetings that the group of our businessmen had. I already have precise information about certain personal contacts which mean that our economic contacts can be better.

We spoke about the cooperation in thefield of energy. Slovakia is ready for very intensive cooperation in this field. Therefore, I said that you have resources, but we - transport. Transportation of your recourses to the European markets can be realized through our routes. It is very beneficial both for you and us. I think that our cooperation in this and other directions will be successfully developed. Thank You very much.

Heydar Aliyev: I met the President of your country, Mr. Shuster in Yalta, talked to him, and met him in Davos as well. We discussed the same topic we are speaking about now. Afterwards, both Mr. Shuster and I expressed our intention to intensify the contacts between our countries. And thereupon, I emphasize once more the importance of your visit.

I am pleased that you could get acquainted in a certain extent with our economic opportunities, with the situation in our economy. You have mentioned correctly, Mr. Minister, that Azerbaijan is a European country. But it is situated in the outskirts of Europe. In general, it is also determined by the geo-strategic location of Azerbaijan, taking into consideration that being situated at the intersection of the West and East, Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan plays a very important role in the development of relations between them. And, in this regard, you are aware of our communication opportunities, the measures we have already undertaken in connection with TRACECA program for the restoration of the Great Silk Road, and our large oil and gas resources.

Azerbaijan is an ancient oil country, but recently, we have developed a new contemporary oil strategy of Azerbaijan which stipulates the active utilization of oil and gas resources in the Azerbaijani Sector of the Caspian Sea, and of course, on-shore, because we have old oilfields which have great resources.

Thereby, we have some advantages, and you have others. Slovakia is a country which is situated in the center of Europe, although it was considered to be an Eastern European country. Once, the countries, which were included into the socialist system - were called the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) then or the Warsaw Pact . But geographically, Slovakia is situated in the center of Europe. I know, and it is well known in Azerbaijan, that even in those years - in the years of thesocialist period, Czechoslovakia was distinguished for a high development level of industry, high quality of produced output, and concentration of large industrial enterprises both in Czechia and Slovakia. Therefore, all this gives grounds for our active cooperation.

We are ready to cooperate with you, and also to get you involved in the Silky Road program - the TRACECA program. By the way, one session was devoted to this issue in Davos, and we spoke there covering the given opportunities. Indeed, in view of globalization of the world, about which President of the USA Bill Clinton thoroughly spoke in his speech in Davos, the problem of the West and East obtains great actuality.

It is true, I was told that we have not yet gained so much success in this regard. Along with it, we are just starting, and in this respect, your visit is of great significance in view of studying our opportunities. It is also of great importance for us to learn your opportunities and define in which spheres it is possible to realize this cooperation.

Our prime minister reported that you had discussed in detail these issues, and he fully agrees with it. I think that there are great opportunities to provide active cooperation.

We, as well as you, have problems with the development of the market economy, that is we are following the same way - the way of turning our countries into democratic states, development of market economy, implementation of privatization and so on. You have these processes ongoing too, and perhaps, they have advanced a little further. We also have these processes underway. We have attained good progress in the attraction of foreign investments, especially, into the oil and gas sectors. And not only in these sectors. We have very diversified economy; therefore, there are investments in other sectors too. For instance, I have visited today the opening of a completely new enterprise on manufacturing cigarettes, in which US $50 million dollars of investment was put. It is true, I do not like very much the production itself, as I am a nonsmoker and advise everybody not to smoke. Nevertheless, it does not depend on us. The people, who smoke, will ever smoke. The people, who drink alcohol, will keep on drinking.

In due time, when I worked in Moscow, as you know, I was a member of the Political Bureau and fist deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, Gorbachev and some others from the Political Bureau set the task to abstain the people in the Soviet Union to use alcoholic drinks. But all this was of a rude, administrative and senseless character, which caused a considerable damage to the economy instead of benefits.

By the way, I told Gorbachev then: You should know that my people, Azerbaijani people are abstemious, as the Islam religion, which we practice, prohibits use of alcoholic drinks. Therefore, there is no problem for me personally, as an Azerbaijani, as a representative of the Azerbaijani nation, to drink or not to drink alcohol.The main part of the people do not drink, but as long as we became closer within the Soviet Union, it is natural that vodka penetrated in Azerbaijan, too.

Eduard Kukan: Is beer also considered an alcoholic drink in your country?

Heydar Aliyev: Yes, You know, the matter ran into absurdity then. I was a member of that commission within the Political Bureau; however, being the first deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, I supervised trade as well. The matter came up to the point that beer was also considered an alcoholic drink, and therefore, all the breweries were closed down in Moscow. But in fact, beer-production equipment and breweries had been bought several years before it, including in Czechoslovakia. And the breweries were closed down. The matter came up to the point that a group of scientists from Leningrad headed by one academician wrote that it turns out that there is alcohol in children`s kefir too, and it is necessary to interdict consumption of kefir.

You probably know from the experience of your country that conjuncture has always made itself felt. And then it happened once again - "come on, let`s liquidate alcoholic drinks". And Azerbaijan suffered because of it. Not because the people in Azerbaijan were deprived of an opportunity to drink alcohol, but because in that period, in 1970s, we launched the enormous development of viticulture. In essence, by the end of 1970s, the beginning of 1980s, we produced approximately one third of wine-making output. Six million tons of grapes used to be produced in the Soviet Union, about two million of which were produced in Azerbaijan. We launched very extensive work for cultivating grape plantations. It is true, our people, anyway, enjoyed benefit from it, because grapes is a perennial culture, and five years should pass to achieve harvest after it is planted. And during all these five years, the state subsidized the collective farms, granted great subsidies to receive the production afterwards. Owing to this, our rurals grew very rich, people built good houses for themselves, bought cars and so on. And it was a pity when approximately in mid-1980s, those vineyards started to be antrooted and liquidated.

I reminded that past in order to say that such phenomena, which you and we were witnesses of, existed in the socialist system. Therefore, the transient period is very complicated both for you and us. Nevertheless, we follow the way of privatization.

As I have said, I visited today the enterprise producing high-quality cigarettes. But again, I am a nonsmoker, but it is impossible to interdict smoking, as well as the measures failed in the end aimed to interdict the consumption of alcoholic drinks. Nevertheless, this production is important. Fifty million dollars was invested in this enterprise, and it was built within five months. The employees, who used to live very poorly, started to get higher wages, and up-to-date technology is being applied now. Therefore, attraction of foreign investment is of great significance for us, and I think, for you, too.

We have a great opportunities. Large investment is already put in the oil sector. It is possible to put large investment in the agricultural sector too, in the sphere of consumer goods production - I mean both foodstuff and industrial goods.

Our prime minister told me that there are certain areas where we can already establish cooperation. I welcome it and think that the beginning laid by your visit will be very successful in this respect.

I have been also told that you will sign the documents with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Economy of Azerbaijan. It is a good commencement already. Our minister of foreign affairs reported me that there are also drafts of other documents. They can be prepared, agreed and probably signed during our visit to your country or during the next visit of your leadership to Azerbaijan. So, this is a good start, and I am pleased that you have accepted our invitation and visited our republic. I think this beginning will provide a good prospect for the development of our relations.

Eduard Kukan: Yes, indeed, we will sign together with my colleague the protocol on cooperation between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, which we will use for carrying out a constant political dialogue and consultations at the level of ministers, directors of departments, and efficiently cooperate in different international organizations.

Of course, we would like to continue a political dialogue. For that reason, I have invited my colleague to pay a visit to Slovakia this year. And, as You have already mentioned, You have met recently President of Slovakia in Yalta, at the conference organized by the Ukrainian President, Kuchma, and, I as I understood, our President has invited You to pay an official visit to Slovakia.

Heydar Aliyev: I have invited him, and he has invited me.

Eduard Kukan: I was also written that the Presidents had invited each other to pay official visits, and now it should be agreed who will come first. I would like to make use of this opportunity and remind You on behalf of the President of Slovakia that we will be much pleased if You come to Slovakia in the time which we will set later.

I am pleased that I could meet the speaker of your parliament, because the relations between the parliaments are also very important, and we would like to establish contacts in this line too.

You have spoken about investments. Slovakia also needs them very much for the further, more intensive development of the Slovakian economy. We are in great need of foreign investments and passed some laws which will encourage the banks and large companies of the West to invest in Slovakia. You have said that you also need it for the development of your economy. We are also in great need of foreign investments and hope that they will help us to more forward the economy of Slovakia.

I would like to say once more that we could establish very good neighbourly relations with all the neighbours of Slovakia. We live very friendly with Czechs as well, we have good relations with them. We experienced some problems with the Hungarians in the past, but now the political party representing the interests of the Hungarian national minority in Slovakia is included into the structure of our government. There is a coalition government in Slovakia from among four political parties, one of them is Hungarian.

Of course, we want to develop further these good neighbourly relations. This is, I would say, the preparation to the European Union - I appreciate that You apply correctly geographical and political terminology, as we have also always said that we are not the Eastern Europe, we are in the center of Europe, and therefore, when it is said about us that we are Central or Middle Europe and there are definite problems in bilateral relations, we can solve them normally in a civilized way. Therefore, we will not bring any bilateral problems to the common European family, we want to prove that this region is stable and it does not cause any danger or political risk to the further development of the European Union.

As regards the economic development, of course, we must carry out great transformation, as far as the structure of the economy in the former Czechoslovakia was quite different. Now Slovakia is developing as an independent country. We have large enterprises, heavy industry, and defense industry concentrated here as early as in times of Czechoslovakia. Today, we are carrying out conversion. So, we have scores of tasks. It is possible to make political modifications, laws can be passed relatively easily, and different measures can be taken, but to reconstruct economy is of course a very difficult problem. But we are solving it. We have the ambitions to become a member of the European Union, approximately at the same time with Czechia, Poland and Hungary. Because we - four countries, which we call the Visegrad Group, cooperate very closely and coordinate our foreign policy steps in this regional structure in political, defense and all other lines. Consequently, this cooperation of the countries, which are more or less of the same level, helps all of us and shows everyone that we can really work very efficiently, that the Middle Europe is already a zone of stability now. We mentioned the problem of the Nagorno-Karabakh during all our negotiations here. We understand that it is a very big problem which aggravates on the whole the development of your country. We followed your political contacts, Mr. President, with Your Armenian counterpart. We hope that you will nevertheless find a solution, in my opinion, the whole Europe and the entire world would welcome if the problem is solved peacefully. I understand that it is very difficult, hard and very long. But to my mind, it is the best way for the solution of this problem, and we apprehend Your meetings with the Armenian president as positive signals. The Minsk Group has been trying for already twelve years, but the results are few. In my opinion, such bilateral negotiations have more chances to find a way out of this extremely hard situation.

Can I, Mr. President, ask how do You see the future of the CIS? Since this question is very important for us too. We have clearly stated that we want to become a member of the European Union; we want to join NATO. On the other hand, we are interested in the development of normal relations with Russia. We have a long history of mutual cooperation after all, especially in the economic sphere. And we are interested in the continuation of this cooperation. And we already have not privileged, but well-weighed relations, which we want to continue in the future too.

Of course, there will be new leadership in Russia soon - presidential elections are to take place in March there. Certainly, we are watching it and want Russia to be able to overcome its challenges so that it could become a positive participant of the international life and take such a place in the international relations which it really deserves. So, it is a very important question how the Commonwealth of Independent States will develop henceforth.

Heydar Aliyev: It is pleasant to hear that you have good and friendly relations with your neighbours and that the stability and confidence indeed exist now in Europe as never before. For instance, I think that it is a crucial factor for the development of all the European countries. Your good and close relations with the neighbours are a very important factor for the further development of your country. I am telling this taking into account the hard situation we undergo in connection with the Armenian-Azerbaijani, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Our relations with neighbours are also good. Russia is our neighbour, we have good and kind relations with it, and we want them to remain on the same level. True, some people want to overshadow these relations. Some of them resort to provocations, some, making use of the situation in Chechnya, spread false information in Moscow`s mass media, which I protested against when I was last time in Moscow. And acting president of Russia, Mr. Putin, openly stated that all what is written in the press or broadcasted on television is not an official position of Russia. Nevertheless, it bothers us taking into consideration that Russia is of great significance for us, as well as for you. We were interconnected with Russia for many decades and centuries. And besides, we had strong economic integration, and not only with Russia, but also with all the countries of the former Soviet Union. We have very friendly and good relations with Turkey - our neighbour. Very friendly.

We have very good and friendly relations with Georgia too. You will be there obviously. Please, convey my regards to my friend, Eduard Shevardnadze - President of Georgia.

We have good relations with Iran as well, although there are some forces aspiring to complicate these relations because of certain circumstances. Azerbaijan is a democratic country; it follows the path of secular development. But Iran, of course, has its own internal and foreign policy and we can state nothing against it. And, in general, we stick to the policy of non-intervention into the matters of each other, into the matters of neighbours, close and far countries. This is one of the basic principles of interrelations among the countries all over the world. Therefore, there are sometimes certain farfetched questions and problems in this connection. Although, I repeat, we carry out extensive trade with Iran, and we have good mutual relations, we are going to develop them henceforward.

But with Armenia…You know that, as a matter of fact, Armenia is the initiator of this conflict. As early as 1988, they made an attempt to annex Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, and then the conflict started which grew into a war. This war took many lives of both Azerbaijanis and Armenians, much blood was shed. Due to different circumstances, 20 per cent of the Azerbaijani territory - Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding regions - are now under the occupation of the Armenian armed forces, about a million Azerbaijanis have been expelled from those lands and live in campsites now. Of course, they are unemployed and suffer great socio-economic difficulties in Azerbaijan.

To tell the truth, in May of 1994, we concluded a cease-fire agreement in order to solve the issue peacefully. The OSCE Minsk Group, of course, works actively, and it did quite much to that end. And owing to the vigorous activity of the Minsk Group at the OSCE Lisbon Summit in December of 1996, we could nevertheless obtain the document which could serve a basis for our possible agreement on peaceful settlement of the conflict. However, the Armenian party did not agree with those principles. But those principles are quite ordinary, as they are based on the international-legal standards such as recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Armenia, and granting a Nagorno-Karabakh a high autonomy status within Azerbaijan, as well as ensuring the security of the Nagorno-Karabakh population, both Azerbaijani and Armenian.

The population is not so large there - only 170 thousand people. Approximately 30 percent of them are Azerbaijanis, and the rest 70 percent are Armenians. All the Azerbaijanis have been driven away, Armenians still live there, but half of them have left the place. So, you can see that the conflict has been engendered between the countries, between the peoples because of such a small plot of land populated by not a large number people.

But although we have lost so much, although we have suffered great material, moral and political losses, we firmly stick to the positions of peaceful settlement of the issue. And the necessity to carry on a dialogue between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan along with the activity of the co-chairs - they are Russia, the United States of America and France, - comes just from this formulation of the issue. It started in April of last year in Washington, we had several meetings then, the last of which took place in Davos recently. I evaluate them positively, they approximate us to peace, although the process is moving ahead with difficulty.

We proceed from the point that there should be compromises from both sides. And therefore, up to date, we could not find that measure of compromises which could be suitable for both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

At the same time, it can be indeed the most efficient tool for the solution of the issue along with the activity of the OSCE Minsk Group. And I can hear from everybody, and You have also said that the meetings of presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are accepted by all the states as a positive phenomenon for the peaceful settlement of this problem. It inspires me personally even more, encourages me that we should continue this process. That is how we agreed the last time in Davos in order to come to a peaceful solution.

Of course, we understand well that return to the military way of the solution of the problem is connected with very hard consequences both for Armenia and us. And yet the world community will hardly welcome the resumption of the military operations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We have not occupied even an inch of the Armenian territory. They have driven out a million Azerbaijanis from their residences, but we have driven out no one.

At the initial stage of the conflict they banished the Azerbaijanis from Armenia. By the way,the Azerbaijanis used to live in that territory for centuries and considered it - as we still consider it today - the native lands of Azerbaijani. Simply, that was how the borders were demarcated upon the establishment of the Soviet Union. Certainly, Armenians, who lived here, also left Azerbaijan. It is true, Armenians did not live so compactly as Azerbaijanis lived in the delimited zone of Armenia.

But now, when all this has already happened, we need peace. I believe that if we are able to reach understanding, find a formula for the solution of the conflict and achieve peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which we want, in particular, in Azerbaijan, it will produce very positive outcomes not only for Azerbaijan and Armenia, but also for the world community on the whole, especially for the Caucasus, the Southern Caucasia. As you know, there are also conflicts in Georgia, too, but they are of a domestic character. But here, we have the conflict between two states, between two independent states.

The Caucasus is of a special importance from the point of view what I have said here, - the East and the West, the Silk Road, the TRASEKA, INOGATE and other programs. Therefore, I have advanced a proposal in Istanbul and appealed to many states to initiate a pact on security, peace and cooperation of the Southern Caucasia countries. However, this can be realized only after the solution is of the conflict, and after a peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I think this will be achieved. I do not see any other alternative. To be in eternal hostility, in eternal conflict will be apparently difficult for theArmenians and for the Azerbaijanis, too. Therefore, we must find a way...

I repeat, I am much pleased that in all the countries, including yours, as you have stated, you are waiting for the peaceful settlement of this conflict, and welcome our direct dialogue. I think we will achieve it.. You will visit Georgia and Armenia. I hope you will see the situation there, I hope you will express the same wishes in Armenia too so that we can come closer to peace. In any case, Azerbaijan firmly sticks to these positions and we will stick to these positions up to the end.

As to the CIS, from the very beginning, it did not become a kind of well-organized union perhaps. And there are certain reasons for that. But I do not want to dwell on them. But when we, the CIS members, come together, we always speak about the same, that we have to make the CIS a more organized, dynamic union in order to have all the opportunities of the CIS member- countries be really applicable.

However, there are some issues that aggravate the situation. For instance, as early as 1993, I made a statement; afterwards, I have made it several more times. You see, it is inconceivable when two member-states of an international organization, such as the CIS, are war against each other. Will you find something of a kind in Europe, in the European Union or in any other unions? Most probably, You won`t. But we have it here, and this aggravates the situation.

But not only this. There are also other contradictions inside the CIS. We consider that the CIS can nevertheless turn into the organization justifying the purposes of its establishment. But for that we need pressing activity of Russia. Because among the CIS countries, Russia, according to its economic, political and military potential, occupies a large place. Therefore, Russia has to stabilize the domestic situation first, and along with it, play a positive role for rallying the CIS countries.

Llast time, we - the heads of the CIS states - met on January 24- 25 in Moscow. And, by the way, we all were in a mood, which, as a matter of fact, found its reflection in our speeches, that we have a real opportunity to start a new phase in the CIS if we can keep the same spirit which we had on January 25 in Moscow when the CIS heads of states met. But, evidently, we will be able to feel it still more specifically after the presidential elections take place in Russia. After that, we will probably meet again.

The position of Azerbaijan is as follows: there should be a real, mutually beneficial, frank and friendly cooperation so that the CIS would become an organization justifying the purposes of its establishment.

Eduard Kukan: This is a really deep analysis of these two matters. Of course, we wish You to reach a peaceful solution of this matter in the negotiations with Armenia. We wish You tolerance in order to carry this matter through to its conclusion.

As regards what You have said about the CIS. Of course, it seems to me that all the European countries are interested in having a stable internal political situation in Russia. Stable Russia is very important and very good. We are interested in Russia`s development on the path of reforms, but it is already their domestic affair, as they have to decide on their own. And we will respect it. But it is very important for achieving a more quiet situation in Europe that the situation in Russia should be stable, that we could know and determine how will be the future development of this country.

Mr. President, as regards our bilateral cooperation, You have correctly said that during our talk with your prime minister we touched upon some very certain projects. As I have been informed, literally in a few days after these negotiations, we will submit here definite proposals in order to conclude agreements and start mutual cooperation, trade and business between our two states. I am confident that in the future, this cooperation will expand.

Thank You very much for this conversation. For me it was very important to hear from You all these ideas, the philosophy of the future development of your country. Allow me to wish you all the best on behalf of the Slovakian government on the way of development of independent Azerbaijan. I wish You to find a solution to all the problems, although they are very complicated and hard. I also want to wish our two countries to have good future, so that we could gradually get to know each other better, because this is one of the conditions of more successful cooperation.

I want to appreciate you once again that You have created very good framework of our delegation`s stay in Azerbaijan in order to have all these negotiations indeed be not only friendly, but, what is very important, specific and aimed at attaining progress for more intensive future development of our cooperation.

Heydar Aliyev: I appreciate You for the attention to Azerbaijan, for Your visit. I hope that it will play an important role in the development of our future relations.

I wish your people and your country successful implementation of all the objectives which you put before yourselves. I especially wish you to be able to reach your goal - to become a member of the European Union, join NATO and be a full member of the European community. I wish all the best to your people. 

The Azerbaijan daily, 3 February, 2000

Brief essays


General historical background

Azerbaijan - Europe‎

Historical backgrounds

Azerbaijan - Europe