From the talk of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev with the delegation of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe - Presidential Palace, April 18, 2000

Heydar Aliyev: Honorable guests, I welcome you in Azerbaijan. I am very satisfied that the Court of the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission pay a lot of attention to Azerbaijan. It demonstrates that the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan already functions effectively and has established notable international relations; as a result of the relations with the Venice Commission and the European Court, you organized an interesting event here. The topic of the event is very significant in general, and the Constitutional Court is important for Azerbaijan as a protector of human rights and freedoms.

Indeed we regard the Constitutional Court as an organization that protects rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan in general. The Constitutional Court is granted such a role.

I am pleased that the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan already fulfills its important duty and cooperates with prominent organizations likewise.

Human rights and freedoms are among the most important issues in the world. Even the most democratic countries have such problems. Naturally, new independent democracies also have such troubles. How emerging democracies protect human rights and ensure human freedoms, and what they are supposed to do is one of the most important issues.

Your joint measures with the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan in this regard is very important for our people and Azerbaijan. Therefore, I extend my gratitude to you.

Our relations with the Venice Commission already have a history. It is not our first meeting. I can say that great progress has been achieved in the meantime. Azerbaijan is about to be admitted to the Council of Europe. Of course, the development of the relations with the Court of the Council of Europe is very significant.

We know the requirements are very high. At the same time, we understand that if we pursue this way we are obliged to meet the requirements and we will. But experience is also necessary in this field besides theory. The measures taken and meetings organized by you raise our experience. I thank you once again.

Gianni Buciccio: Mr. President, let me first say I and our delegation are proud to be received by you every time when we visit here. By enjoying this privilege I thank you for this honor. We have been meeting once a year since 1996.

Mr. President, let me introduce the members of the delegation to you, before I start speaking. They are all honored to meet you for the first time here.

Mr. Ignacio Borrajo is a scientific adviser of the Constitutional Court of Spain. Mr. Cesare Pinelli is the Professor of Law of the University of Macerata; he is an expert in this field. Mr. Luigi Ferrari Bravo is the judge of the European Court of Human Rights and an expert on San Marino. Mrs. Fransiska Land is an expert on legal issues and secretary of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. My colleague Ms. Caroline Martin is an assistant secretary of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. Mr. Edward Anceletti is a judge of the district court in Baltimore, USA. In general, it is an Italian delegation, including Mr. Anceletti and other colleagues I mentioned. Despite their ties to Italy and their Italian origins, they represent different countries.

Mr. President, I have visited Baku several times since 1996. I want to convey my opinion to you, as a foreign observer. Mr. President, I must say that every time when I visit Baku, I see bigger changes, development, improvement, and progress than the previous time. It applies to many fields, particularly social, economic, human rights, and democracy. During my current visit I witnessed the biggest change at the Bina airport. Now your airport is worthy of a capital of an important country, indeed. In general, I witnessed notable social and economic changes during my trip to north - Khachmaz within my present visit to Azerbaijan.

The result of our observations is that there are very huge changes in agriculture, in cattle-breeding, even in the social sphere, including constructions of new apartments. As for Baku, wherever we look, we see construction work and restorations.

I want to note another indicator of development we witness here. There is intense traffic in Baku. This, too, is an indicator of development. Of course, the democratic development is most important of all and of great significance for the Council of Europe.

Mr. President, I don`t know if you remember or not, at my previous meeting with you I noted that democratic development is not possible without economic development. I mean, it is not easy to develop democracy with an empty stomach. From this point of view, economy and democracy should move forward side by side.

We witnessed the development and progress also in the field we are engaged in. Our sphere is constitutional laws and constitutional courts. Certainly, we cooperated with other governmental agencies besides the Constitutional Court during our stay here. But now we mostly cooperate with the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan. We can confirm that the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan functions effectively.

You noted the big role of a Constitutional Court in protecting human rights. In general, we see the function of a Constitutional Court broader. It means a Constitutional Court also serves as a guarantor of stability in any country. It may create a balance among different forces in the country, if necessary. Therefore, as you noted, its role and function are very important. Yet a Constitutional Court should always prove its duties, functions, and competence. It is that a Constitutional Court, which is charged of these duties, and is granted to fulfill them. With its activity during several years the Constitutional Court proved its efficiency.

Mr. President, I want to emphasize that you have played an important role to achieve this result. Mr. President, I am saying this since I know you have always supported the Constitutional Court both morally and financially.

In general, it is easy to function based on a budget. You have always recommended governmental agencies to pay attention to the activity of the Constitutional Court, therefore it does never have difficulties.

Mr. President, while thanking you for your special role in this field, I also congratulate you.

Mr. President, every time when I visit here, meet and talk to you, I express my hopefulness that Azerbaijan will soon become a member of the Council of Europe. But this time I will not say it. Because now I am confident Azerbaijan is ready to be a member of the Council of Europe and it will. I am sure this event may be realized this June or at latest, this September. It is pleasant for me to say that Azerbaijan will be admitted to the Council of Europe during Italy`s presidency.

Mr. President, one of the main tasks of Italy that is going to start its presidency in May is to secure the admission of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe. You have played a big role in Azerbaijan`s joining to the Council of Europe.

Mr. President, I know that Azerbaijan`s economic progress and development will allow it to become a member of the Council of Europe even earlier. But it was not enough since Azerbaijan has the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. As the President of Azerbaijan, your personal initiative to negotiate with the Armenian president directly prompted the acceptance of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe. I hope you will succeed in resolving the conflict...

Mr. President, I want to state once again that though the Venice Commission is a political entity, it is ready to assist you in technical aspects of relevant issues as an expert in this field. Thank you.

Heydar Aliyev: I thank you for your kind words about Azerbaijan and positive changes you have observed in our country in recent years.

Every time when we met I stated that Azerbaijan had been pursing democracy since it gained its independence. Naturally, you know democracy better than we do. This is a broad concept. It applies to political systems, human rights and freedoms, political pluralism, and market economy. It has many other elements. I repeat that you know them better than we do. It is impossible to attain all of them within a short time.

Some people think that when the name of a country is changed, its content must be changed as well. It is unnatural. If the issue is related to a person`s thoughts and psychology, there is always a process. It is necessary to work practically and adopt laws in order to let the state and its agencies secure democracy and continue democratic state-building. The more important thing is that we pursue this way confidently. We perceive that democracy has a beginning and no end. You have not reached the last stage either.

We are in the first stage of democracy. When people run in a marathon race, they can reach a distance until their strength runs out. For example, some sportsmen ran a 100-meter distance within 9-10 seconds. But no one can do it within 4 seconds. The analogy may not be so relevant. But I want to explain it in a more understandable way. We run the distance at the potential of our forces. But we never stop or go back, we always move forward.

I am very pleased that you observe it. You are right, in countries like Azerbaijan, the economy must develop first to push democratization. But securing an inner political stability is also an important condition for Azerbaijan and similar countries.

When Azerbaijan gained its independence at the end of 1991, it announced it would pursue democracy. But it was necessary to stabilize the inner political situation first. It was not easy because of the existence of a number of illegal armed gangs. They fought one another for power, leading to the commitment of a lot of crimes. The people could not live in Azerbaijan freely; the socio-economic situation was hard, too. It may be easy to declare democracy in those conditions, but it is impossible to establish it.

We needed to secure the inner political stability in the country. We did it. Now the stability is secured in Azerbaijan. We needed to stop the war with Armenia. We did it once again: there has been a cease-fire since we came to an agreement in 1994.

It was necessary to stop the socio-economic decline and to secure its development. We did it. We have stopped the economic decline since 1995. Now the domestic economy develops year by year, economic reforms and privatization are carried out. Furthermore, market economy principles are applied. Huge foreign investments flow into Azerbaijan. All these factors ensure the economic development of Azerbaijan.

Yet, we still have a lot of problems, and we know this transitional period is not going to end in a year or two. The reforms must be continued. Most people must get employed. We must secure economic guarantee for people living in poverty. First of all, we must liberate the Azerbaijani lands occupied by Armenia.

You know that 20 percent of the Azerbaijani territory is under the occupation of the Armenian armed forces. The occupant Armenian troops must withdraw from the Azerbaijani lands. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored. Over one million Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs who languish in tents conditions, must return their homes. We are doing much in this direction. You are right that my meetings with the Armenian president Robert Kocharyan are an important factor for the solution of this conflict.

Though we have achievements, we do not boast and we are not assured. We have a lot of problems to be solved and so we need some time for it.

I thank you for your objective evaluation on the situation in Azerbaijan. I am pleased that you told important information on Azerbaijan`s admission to the Council of Europe. It will be very good, if one of the first decisions of the Council deals with Azerbaijan`s admission after Italy starts its presidency in the Council of Europe.

But we know it is not so easy to be admitted to the Council of Europe. It puts new responsibilities on our shoulders. But it doesn`t scare us. It will be hard for us, but we will democratize our country further. Thus, we want to be admitted to the Council of Europe. We understand the responsibility we are going to take over in this case. We know, it will help the development of Azerbaijan as a democratic state.

I state once again, your gathering here and discussing many important problems demonstrates your attention to Azerbaijan and the existence of the democratic environment in our country.

We want to cooperate with you further and effectively. Thank you.

Gianni Buciccio: Mr. President, I want to note that as always we are in the same direction. Democracy is a concept that always needs development. I agree with you that it is impossible to achieve a high level of democracy within a few years. It is too hard. Considering the Azerbaijani people lived in the Soviet time for a long time, it is impossible to change the people`s perception and culture so suddenly. I understand the inner political stability is one of the necessary conditions for democratic development.

I was in Moldova three weeks ago. I met Mr. Lucinschi. During our conversation I felt he had problems in securing stability. He asked us to supervise the work of the special commission organized by the president and parliament there. The commission was supposed to elaborate a new constitution of Moldova, which would play an important role in securing stability in Moldova.

Mr. President, I agree with you that it is very hard to be admitted to the Council of Europe. We witnessed the terrible events in Russia and recent events in Ukraine. I am sure Azerbaijan will never face such a situation.

Mr. President, I know will and initiative are the main factors in this case. They are the main conditions in this way. I know you are very initiative and strong-willed in this direction. I thank you for it.

Heydar Aliyev: I wish you success once more. Come to Azerbaijan again. Our Constitutional Court functions effectively. They have held their position in the international community within a short time. Thank you.

Translated from "Azerbaycan" newspaper, April 19, 2000.