Speech of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev regarding legislation on refugees, human rights, and immigration made at the international conference held in Baku – 14 November 1994.

Ladies and gentleman!

Dear participants!

Dear guests!

I highly value the conduct of such a worthy conference in the Republic of Azerbaijan. I think that the activities and discussions of the participants within these three days of the conference period have been very important for the Republic of Azerbaijan. I express my esteem to all participants and organizers of the conference.

The conference is dedicated to very important issues – legislation on refugees, human rights, and immigration - which are currently of deep interest to the world community, especially to the Republic of Azerbaijan. These are currently very important issues for socio-political processes under way around the world, and are particularly are of special significance to Azerbaijan. I therefore would like to express my gratitude to United Nations Organization, United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, UN Azerbaijan representation, UNHCR Azerbaijan representation and the Parliament of the Republic of Azerbaijan for having taken the initiative and organizing this event.

Issues regarding refugees have always been a significant problem in the history of mankind. In the mid of the twentieth century, however, the international organizations changed their attitude towards this issue after the world war ended. This special approach is manifested in UN final act on refugees adopted by the organization in 1961 and in UNconvention relating to the status of refugees adopted by the organization in 1967.

Great things were accomplished and vast experiences gained at the regions of the globe and in the countries dealing with refugees after such important and popular decisions were given by UN. United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees currently provides humanitarian services on a professional level and is engaged in these issues. These humanitarian acts are very important for the communities, humans, and for the protection of human rights. And today`s conference is a part of these activities.

As a part of the United Nations and the mankind, Azerbaijani people and the independent Republic of Azerbaijan highly value all the works of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, which it has been doing so far since the day it was founded. On behalf of the Azerbaijani people, today I once again give credit to you. We hope that UN and the UNHCR will continue doing even greater things in the future. Because in the last couple of years refugee problems in the world have become more severe and the number of the refugees has increased. Refugee problems have caused serious disasters and tragedies for the nations, people and the countries in most regions of the world. It is therefore one of the main problems amongst all the other global problems.

In recent years as well as historically, Azerbaijani people and the independent Republic of Azerbaijan faced with the refugee problems. These problems are one of the main reasons for current difficulties and tensions in the Republic of Azerbaijan. We can therefore relate to these problems better, and this relation is more significant for us. This issue is of particular interest to us and the consistent resolution of this problem is very important for today and for the future of Republic of Azerbaijan.

Holding of such a worthy conference in Azerbaijan is not a coincidence, which shows that the UN as well as the international organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the seriousness of the extent of refugee problem in our country. Holding of such a conference in Azerbaijan is a demonstration of a care by UN as well as other international organizations toward the Republic of Azerbaijan and towards the refugee problem in our country. I once again express my respect and gratitude for your care, attention and attitude shown to us. I would like you to know I am sure that this worthy conference will give productive results for the resolution of the refugee problem in the Republic of Azerbaijan and for getting the country out of this dire situation.

As conference participants you have analyzed legal aspects and humanitarian sides of the issues on a local and global scale and issues relating to the status of refugees and internally displaced people and respective legislation. You, as far as I know, particularly focused on issues relating to humanitarian aid for refugees and discussed refugee problems as part of human rights problems. All of them are certainly very important things. We regard all these efforts as a new big step towards our future plan, and we hope that after having such scientific, theoretical as well as practical analysis and discussions, positive changes will be achieved in these areas. UN, UNHCR, international organizations, and international human rights institutions will probably make necessary conclusions and make certain new decisions on these issues by taking Azerbaijan as an example. We consider all these discussions important. However, the most important thing for us to see will be certain positive changes and positive results in the resolution of the country`s refugee problems beyond the conference days.

 The number of refugees and internally displaced people has certainly increased over the recent years and decades. The reasons for this are political conflicts going on among states, as well as conflicts over national and ethnic problems in different regions. At the same time, this is related to a desire of different powers, different states to step on the rights of another state and/or nation, to occupy their lands, and commit an act of violence towards another nation.

Azerbaijani people are deeply aware of what a burden the refugee problem is for the mankind, as it has been going through the same problems in the recent years. Our people perfectly understand the harsh conditions of the refugees and internally displaced people living around the world, and they regard their sufferings as being their own. Refugees and internally displaced people living in different regions of the globe have their own specific peculiarities. The conditions under which the refugees have to live vary, and oftentimes significantly. We, however, believe that the conditions of the refugees and the internally displaced people living on the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan are the worst, the most difficult and the most unbearable. There are different reasons compared to other countries as to why the refugees and the internally displaced people have emerged in our country, and all of these create serious problems for a small state like the Republic of Azerbaijan.

You, as conference participants held debates about classification of the status of the refugees and the internally displaced people, e.g. – getting the refugees and the IDPs different status, while discussing the human rights problems of the refugees and the internally displaced people, and this is, of course, a natural thing. Our country has both - refugees and IDPs, and the rights of both of these groups have been ruthlessly violated. "Rights", "status" things aside, we, morally and politically, consider all of these groups as refugees. We strongly believe that all these people living as refugees in our country should be treated as refugees.

Conference participants as well as the UNHCR are better aware of the world statistics on the conditions of the refugees around the world, however, our own analysis and comparisons on these issues lead us to believe the fact that living of more than one million people out of seven million population in a refugee situation in a small country like the Republic of Azerbaijan is an appalling factor. You would probably not see such a terrible situation in any other corner of the world.

As it is well known to you, the reason of the existence of so many refugees in our country is the result of the political and the military operations started by Armenia and the Armenian nationalist circles with the purpose of occupying the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani territories. This conflict takes its roots from 1988. At the same year all Azerbaijani living in Armenia were forced out of the country through violence, pressure, persecutions, and serious subversive activities and through other physically coercive means. As a result, these people had to flee from Armenia and moved to Azerbaijan. After this, some Akhiska Turks also moved to Azerbaijan from other regions. Azerbaijan accepted these refugees coming from other countries and other regions, although the country were experiencing the harsh times as it was receiving the refugees violently forced out of Armenia. The citizens of Azerbaijan have been forced to flee fom their homes and become refugees within the territory of their own country as a result of the war and the military occupation against itself.

As I mentioned earlier, Azerbaijan currently has more than one million refugees. This is a tragedy of each and every family that has become a refugee. This is a tragedy of each and every citizen that has become a refugee. This is a tragedy of the Azerbaijani people and the Republic of Azerbaijan. The world community and the international organizations should undoubtedly show more compassion and attention to the current state of Azerbaijan, and should make more concerted efforts to help it. I highly appreciate the UN, UNHCR and all international organizations for their recent years of great works relating to refugees, to an aggression toward Azerbaijan by Armenia and to occupation of our lands, and today in front of the conference participants and the world community I express my special gratitude on behalf of myself the Azerbaijani people and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

At the same time, in order to encourage all the international organizations and the world community to pay a closer attention to the state of the refugees living in Azerbaijan, I have to tell you the following: unfortunately, not all sections of the world community is fully aware of the current state of Azerbaijan. The reason for this unawareness may be related to poor publicity we make, or probably that the international organizations do not sense so much deeply this tragic state of Azerbaijan that they are unaware of the refugee situation in the Republic of Azerbaijan and of how bitter the refugee problem has become in the country. During official state visits, talks, and from the international media, we get it that the world community is insufficiently informed about this problem. Along with the positive sides of our efforts, this is our common shortage, or I`d say there is absence of sufficient attention to the refugee problem.

I want this multi-mandate, widely composed and worthy conference held in Azerbaijan for the first time to be a turning point for the world community to find out the bitter situation of the refugees of Azerbaijan in an objective manner. From this perspective, we expect a lot of things from the activity of this conference. We have also great expectations for the post-conference activities of the representatives of foreign states and international organizations attending the conference today.

I presume that the current state of Azerbaijan was deeply analyzed during the conference days. The occupation of 20 per cent of the Azerbaijani territories as a result of the Armenian aggression, expulsion of the local population from those territories, their turning into a refugee, and the bitter conditions of these people were probably analyzed. You are already aware of the destructions and the devastations of the occupied territories, as probably you analyzed these facts as well. Now you know the material and the moral damage done to the republic of Azerbaijan, and the damage done to our history, to our morale and to our past is also known to you now. I therefore do not see a need to stop and check figures and various other facts on these issues.

More than 200 thousand Azerbaijani and more than 50 thousand Akhiska Turks expelled from the territory of the Republic of Armenia since 1988, Azerbaijani forced out of their homes from the Mountainous region of Karabakh, and finally Azerbaijani forced out of the seven regions surrounding the Mountainous region of Karabakh altogether make up one million refugees in Azerbaijan. Living of these refugees in different regions of Azerbaijan under harsh conditions shows in how hard and tragic situation our country is on the one hand and how much Azerbaijanis are tolerant and determined on the other. It also shows how courageous and humane these people are, who have been living a life of refugee, and have subjected to a lot of sufferings and tragic twists of life.

By having many refugees in the country, which is in a state of war and experiencing a socio-economic crisis, which is unable to start and develop its economy because of the limited resources, and which is in a railroad blockade for the past years, it is not hard to imagine how unbearable conditions it creates for the country, the government and for its people.

But the history has shown that the Azerbaijani people is a very perseverant nation that it courageously went through very difficult stages of life, and now it has gained its biggest achievement – the national freedom and independence. Our people will manage to withstand all these difficulties till the end.

Today, in front of the conference participants, I express my profound respect to all the refugees within the territory of Azerbaijan, who are living in tents under severe conditions that they sometimes can`t even afford buying basic food, but are still loyal to their people, their country and their homeland. On behalf of the conference participants I extend my greetings to all the refugees living in the Republic of Azerbaijan, and I want to assure them that the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan will do its best to improve the situation of the refugees. The bad days will be over soon. The refugees will come out their refugee status and return to their homes, and all these difficulties and sufferings will be left behind.

Feeding more than one million refugees has fallen on to the shoulders of the government of Azerbaijan. This is natural, and our sacred job, and each and every citizen of Azerbaijan, including the state bodies of Azerbaijan in the first place, should consider caring for the refugees and dealing with their problems is their most sacred and most honorable duty. I believe that day-by-day we get to realize what an important issue the provision of due care and attention to the refugees is, and the solution of these problems is to remain at the focalpoint in the future as well.

At the same time, in front of the conference participants and the foreign guests, I want to say that the humanitarian aid of most states as well as of international organizations is of great help for us and for further living and creation of a basic condition for the refugees. We appreciate it a lot. While meeting with the refugees, they also appreciated very much the kind and the humane efforts and the humanitarian aid of the foreign states and the international organizations. I, therefore, on behalf of the refugees and myself, express my gratitude and profound respect to all states, the heads of the states, the international organizations, the businessmen of various foreign states, and in general, to any organizations, groups, people, states, governments, and countries that helped and provided care and attention to our refugees.

I am hopeful that the conference materials, its adopted declarations and works will inform the world community, states, and the international organizations more comprehensively about the conditions of the Azerbaijani refugees, as a result of which all kinds of aid will be increased to the refugees living in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Refugees live with such hope. I wish that their expectations are fulfilled, and that the Azerbaijani refugees, as long as under such conditions, can get more aid from now on.

I feel that the conference revealed one more fact that the humanitarian aid provided by the foreign states to the refugees and to the Republic of Azerbaijan as not sufficient enough in terms of the number and the current severe conditions of the refugees. I wish that the is will be taken into consideration, and I hope that from now on the quantity and the quality of the humanitarian aid provided for the refugees of Azerbaijan will increase. We, however, do not think that Azerbaijan will always be a country with refugees, and the refugees will settle here permanently. I am sure that these issues will be resolved, and the territories occupied by the Armenian armed forces will be liberated, thereby creating an opportunity for refugees to return to their homes. If there`s justice in the world, and if the international organizations of the world can really do things based on justice, then the refugees forced out of the Republic of Armenia will also return to their homes. Akhiska Turks have been driven out of their native country for 50 years now. Although so much time has passed, and several generations have changed, they still want to return to their lands. We hope that their wishes will become a reality, and we are ready to keep them in our country until that moment.

Future historical processes and historic and the socio-political changes going on around the world will definitely prevent the illegal border-crossings of various countries and the forced immigration of massive people from one place to another in the twentieth century. Life will make sure everything is all right. Azerbaijanis will settle in the places where they had lived for centuries. The Azerbaijani people live with this hope and will hold on to this forever, and even if this generation won`t see that day, the next ones definitely will.

Currently our main mission is the liberation of the territories of Azerbaijan, which have been under occupation of the Armenian armed forces since 1988. The border safety of the Republic of Azerbaijan as recognized with the standards of international law and the provision of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan are also our priority issues. The solution of these matters is of utmost importance for the Republic of Azerbaijan, so we are currently working on resolution of this matter, and will continue to do so in the future.

As you know, it is already sixth month that the ceasefire has been achieved in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which has been lasting for more than six years. We have taken a lot of initiatives, measures and held talks in order to get the country from the state of war and to end the war and the conflict through peaceful means. The process of talks and initiatives continue and we will always make sure that these are done. We are seeking the peaceful resolution of the conflict, provided that the territorial integrity of the country is restored. In order for this to happen the Armenian armed forces have to be withdrawn unconditionally from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, and the citizens of Azerbaijan who have become refugees as a result of fleeing those territories must return to their lands. While mentioning "these areas" we refer to the region surrounding the Mountainous region of Karabakh, including Susha and Lachin. Protection of the rights of the Armenian living in the Mountainous area of Karabakh must definitely be provided. The issue about the status of the Mountainous are of Karabakh must be discussed. But all these matters must be resolved under the most important conditions –restoration of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan, provision of the border safety and returning of the IDPs to their lands. We seek the full resolution of this issue and this must be done taking into consideration the current and the future state of the one million citizens living as refugees.

The topic of the conference is human rights issues. Human rights are one of the main principles for establishing the democratic processes everywhere. By building life on democratic principles, the Republic of Azerbaijan will always make sure that the human rights are protected. As one would probably observe from today`s conference that if someone wouldn`t be given a chance to speak and /or if he is met with limitations, then his human rights are violated: but what about these one million people who were driven out of their native lands and lost their homes, property and the graves of their relatives: isn`t it a massive and terrible violation of human rights?

We have on a numerous occasions witnessed that in various countries violation of human rights of various people and individuals are condemned by prominent political figures in another country, or they are condemned in parliaments and or international organizations, and instant necessary steps are taken to protect these rights. This is really protection of the Helsinki act on human rights. If that`s the case, then why there is no alarm, no noise and no discussions in the parliaments about the massive violation of the rights of one million Azerbaijani citizens? This must be difficult to understand.

Taking this opportunity I would like to address to all the world community, international organizations, parliaments of the developed and the democratic countries, heads of states, prominent political figures who have selflessly served democracy, to all the people of world and finally to the mankind, and invite you to join me for the restoration of the rights by declaring the violation of the rights of more than one million Azerbaijani. I hope that the UNHCR, the representatives of UN and the international organizations will extend my voice to the whole world and to their own organizations. I think that one of the main successes of this conference is the revelation of the violation of more than one million Azerbaijanis and the Azerbaijani citizens by the world community and invite you to join me for the restoration of these rights. I am hopeful that the conference will accomplish this task as well.

The conference is coming to an end. For the great expectations from the conference results and for having conducted the conference so successfully, I congratulate you with the successful ending of the conference, and once again express my gratitude to the international organizations, UN and to all the other organizers of this conference.

I express my profound respect to more than one million refugees living within the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, say thank you for your perseverance, determination, patriotism and for your loyalty to your homeland and state. I assure you that you will get out of this difficult situation and all the citizens of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan will be the master of their own destiny and their own rights. Thanks.

Heydar Aliyev: Our independence is eternal (extracts, speeches, declarations, interviews, letters, public address, decrees) – "Azərnəşr, Baku - 1998, part II, page. 502-510"