Speech of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev at the opening ceremony of the Chief Baku Procathedral - March 24, 2003

Esteemed bishop of Baku and the Caspian region!

Esteemed representatives of the Russian clergies!

Ladies and gentlemen!

I congratulate all of you on the occasion of the great event in the life of the Azerbaijani Orthodox Christians and Azerbaijan, on the opening of the Chief Baku Procathedral.

In the 20th century, this temple endured hard periods and underwent severe ordeals as the religions of Christianity and Islam in general. This temple, a site of performance of the religious rituals of the Russian Orthodox Christians for dozens of years was closed in 1920 and its bishop eliminated. The Azerbaijani intellectuals and clergymen experienced the same fate. Many of them were repressed and deprived from everything without any guilt in the 20s-30s of the past century.

But destiny turned out that the Soviet Union collapsed at the early 90s of the past century and Azerbaijan gained its independence. Naturally, taking advantage from the independence and freedom, the Azerbaijani people and government began to build their life of their own. Indeed, many valuable things which contributed to the life of nations living in Azerbaijan started to be restored, including the Chief Baku Procathedral.

Of coarse, it was not possible to realize these works immediately, because a part of the Russian Orthodox Christians left our country because of the events that took place in Azerbaijan in the 90s of the past century and the rest of them experienced a hard period of their life here. But as you know, we began to establish order in our country since 1993, and achieved socio-political stability.

Realizing tasks facing the independent Azerbaijan, establishing legal and democratic state, we achieved a lot in the past years. Many of the prohibited things during the Soviet authority were restored and presented for the use of the people and a bishopric was established, and if the memory serves me well, it received the status of bishopric of Baku and the Caspian region in 1998. By the way, this bishopric of Baku and the Caspian region existed before the period of the Soviet power. It existed for many decades until 1934, but all this was destroyed then. Thanks to God that it was possible to restore all of this and create possibilities for the Orthodox Christians and all the Christians to be profit from the opportunities of this religious organization. Here you are, the result of it is visible, and this ancient temple has been restored.

A big job has been done. Your Excellency bishop, thank You for your efforts in the restoration of this temple. Indeed, the contribution of Aydin Gurbanov, Russian businessman with Azerbaijani origin for the restoration of this temple is also highly appreciated.

Today, he received a congratulatory letter and high award of the Russian Orthodox Church for his contributions.

Different nationalities lived and different religions existed in Azerbaijan since the ancient times. The Azerbaijani people were notable for his tolerance. I am glad that everybody noted it here and it is a reality. Nothing negative happened even at the end of 80s and early 90s of the past century. Today, we also created all conditions for the freedom of each man, including freedom of religion and conscience. Everybody practices his own religion. But it does not impede the people to live in the environment of mutual understanding and kindness, and there is no discrimination related to national and religious membership.

By the way, I would like especially to note the joint activity of the Azerbaijani clergies, including his Excellency sheikh Allahshukur Pashazade, bishop Alexnader and the head of the Jewish community and friendly relations and mutual understanding among them.

Such mutual understanding among the religious confessions in Azerbaijan can be a model for a number of countries. I extend my gratitude to our religious leaders for such a kind deed and I believe that they will develop and expand this cooperation further.

In one word, the Russian Orthodox population feel themselves in Azerbaijan normal and as the President I state today that they may live, work in their favorite jobs and participate in the social life of our country and I would be thankful to them for all this. I suppose that the opening of the Procathedral will contribute to the consolidation of the Orthodox Christians and all the Christians and the strengthening and development of the friendly relations among the nations of Azerbaijan.

I would like to talk about our friendly relations with Russia connected with it. There are friendly and partnership relations between Russia and Azerbaijan. We highly appreciate these relations and make efforts to develop and strengthen them and use all the opportunities, especially economic cooperation. The visit of the Russian President Putin to Azerbaijan and turn visit of the Azerbaijani President to Russia and other numerous meetings give us opportunity to analyze our relations and take steps for their development. Today, the opening of this Procathedral is an event, a big event for the development of the intergovernmental relations between Russia and Azerbaijan.

I congratulate all of you on the occasion of this great event and wish every Orthodox Christian, habitant of Azerbaijan good health, happiness, peace and success.

Dear friends!

Bishop of Baku and the Caspian region, his Excellency Alexander!

Along leading the Orthodox Christians of Azerbaijan, you actively participate in the social life of our country and do much for strengthening the relations among our peoples.

I have awarded Bishop of Baku and the Caspian region Alexander with the supreme award of Azerbaijan, the order of "Shohrat" (Glory) with my decree on the occasion of it.

Taking this opportunity, on this solemn day, in front of you, I want to present this award to his Excellency Alexander and wish him all the best and successes in his important job.