Speech of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev at the joint press conference with the President of Bulgaria Zhelyu Zelev - Sofia, June 29, 1995

Mr.President, ladies and gentlemen! 

Distinguished representatives of mass media! 

Unfortunately, I can not speak here to you in Azerbaijani, which is the official language of Azerbaijan. Because, we do not have enough professional interpreters, although we have a poet among our delegation. For many years, he translates the verses of the Bulgarian poets into Azerbaijani and successfully cooperates with the Bulgarian literature. But I felt that he had difficulties in translation during my speech in the Parliament. Therefore, I am going to speak Russian, to express my thoughts more clearly and understandably. In addition, you have a good interpreter.. This lady interpreters from Russian into Bulgarian and vice versa. 

Perhaps you will understand me, because Azerbaijan gained its independence three years and a half ago. We used to use the Russian language in relations with other countries.  But now our independent republic is using its own Azerbaijani. We have not yet been able to prepare interpreters in all languages. Of course, we have a lot of translators who know English, French and German. I believe that next time we shall have good translators for the Bulgarian-Azerbaijani languages. 

First of all, I want to express my gratitude to the President of the Republic of Bulgaria Zhelyu Zhelev for the invitation and for the official visit of the President of Azerbaijan which is coming to an end. I am very pleased with our meetings, joint work, talks and negotiations, but most of all I am pleased with the talks with Mr. Zhelyu Zhelev, the opportunity given me to speak at the Bulgarian Parliament. I met the Prime Minister of Bulgaria. Most importantly, as Mr. Zhelev said, today we signed a very important document, the first document on friendship and cooperation between the two countries.  It is an important document and lays the foundation for the future cooperation. I totally agree with Zhelyu Zhelev, the first step towards Azerbaijan from the Bulgarian side was made in 1992 when Bulgaria recognized the national independence and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. You know that like all the former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Though Azerbaijan was independent in 1918, it was the first democratic republic in the East and existed for 23 months.    But then, this republic was overthrown and the Soviet power was established in Azerbaijan. Now, after 77 years we have restored our independence and we need to be recognized by other states. Bulgaria is one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan and it is a very important fact. Unfortunately, in the time when we gained independence, Azerbaijan was at war with Armenia as well as today. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan has been violated. Thus, the recognition of national and state independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan from Bulgaria in that period was undoubtedly a tremendous help to us. And now we are continuing our work on this basis and the contract we signed is a significant ground for the future partnership. Mr. Zhelev spoke about other signed documents and I do not want to take your time by repeating what he said. I will only say that these documents are of great significance, and give specific directions to our partnership. That is why, I am confident that the implementation of these documents will produce concrete results for developing cooperation and strengthening friendship between our peoples and countries. I agree with the opinion of Mr. Zhelev, on the areas of our cooperation that we have agreed and those we are going to agree. Indeed, they are important; they have great economic significance both for Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. We shall do everything possible to have practical cooperation on specific issues mentioned by Mr. Zhelev. 

Azerbaijan is building a legal state, conducts economic reforms and marches towards the market economy. This November we shall hold the first elections to the parliament on democratic basis. We shall adopt the first constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan by a general poll of population.This year is very important for us and will undoubtedly be significant for the development and strengthening of democratic principles. Political pluralism prevails in our country. We attach great importance to the issues of protection of human rights. Our Republic is multinational. Regardless of nationality, language, religion and political views, all the citizens of Azerbaijan enjoy equal rights and they actively participate in the public life of the country.

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a very serious problem for us. This conflict started in 1988 with the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan in order to occupy the Nagorno-Karabakh, an integral part of Azerbaijan. It is already seven years we are at war; blood is shed, and approximately 20% of our territory has been occupied by the Armenian armed forces. More than a million people have been driven out of the occupied territories. They live in tents in very critical conditions. Of course, all this aggravates the socio-economic and political situation in Azerbaijan.

Last May we agreed on a cease-fire between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which is very important. All these events take place within the frames of the Minsk Group of OSCE and with the mediation of big states of the world. As a result of these negotiations, we signed an agreement on the cease of fire on the 12th of May last year. Within 13 months, we have been observing the cease-fire agreement, and in the future we shall do everything possible to save the cease-fire  regime on our own part. We think that during this time we must seek for a lasting peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. We want to live in peace with all our neighbors, including Armenia. We do not have any claims to our neighbors; we do not the set  goal of occupying part of the territory of any neighboring country. Of course, along with this, we can not reconcile with the occupation of a part of our territory. 

That is why we are trying to achieve peace with the help of the Minsk Group of OSCE. We want to achieve a peace which will fully ensure the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and inviolability of its borders. Of course, we assume that the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh would be in complete security and will have an autonomy  status within Azerbaijan. And this status will be much greater than it had before. But all this must be within the Republic of Azerbaijan. It is fair and conforms the international standards of law. Separatism can not be justified. We always oppose and will oppose separatism, war and aggression. 

We are a peace-loving country and we want peace among our neighbors, we want peace in the Caucasian region, in the Balkans and in all the corners of the world.  Therefore, I am grateful to Mr. Zhelev, for these words, because as a member of the OSCE, Bulgaria will actively participate in discussions to establish peace in the region and in the organization of peacekeeping forces to ensure the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. This is a very important issue for us, so we appeal to the world community, to all friendly peoples to help us to to overcome this situation and support us.

I say again, we do not want to continue the war; we want the peaceful settlement of this conflict. I am glad that we get support of  by a member of the OSCE, Bulgaria, in these issues.

I am extremely satisfied with the agreements, with the exchanged views and especially with the signed documents, and I can assure you that on our part, on the part of Azerbaijani we shall do everything to develop our cooperation. I do not want to specify, because Mr. Zhelev has already spoken on specific issues. I agree with all the specific issues, because he expressed our common position.

Thank you for your attention.

Now I am waiting for your questions.

Question: The first question: Within 77 years you lived under the rule of the Soviet Russia. How you appreciate this period for your country and do you accept such a view that you lived in the Epire of Evil? The second question: What is your attitude to the structures of NATO as a guarantor of democratization of all the post-socialist countries?

Heydar Aliyev: Yes, within 77 years we lived in the Soviet Union, but not as you say, under the Russian rule, because there was the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union consisted of 15 republics with equal rights. Of course, Russia had the dominant role in this alliance. Everybody knows that. But we lived in the Soviet Union. Well, what can we do, we can not cross out the history of our nation, that period of our life. During these years our people achieved great successes in economy, science and culture and had a progress in many areas. But along with this, we did not have: independence, national freedom. Of course, this factor limited the use of our potential. All this did not allow Azerbaijan discover all its internal potentials, to use its natural resources, intellectual resoursces and others.

We are extremely pleased that the Soviet Union collapsed and independent states emerged. I am one of those people who supported the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Then there were attempts to preserve the Soviet Union and a referendum was held in the country for it. Though the referendum decided to keep the Soviet Union, the socio-historical course of events showed that the Soviet Union had exhausted its possibilities. That is the reason of its collapse.

I think that it had to be like that, and it enabled Azerbaijan to gain its national independence. National independence is the great achievement of Azerbaijan and of  the Azerbaijani people. I am sure that we shall never tolerate the loss of our independence. In any case, what happened to the first independent democratic state in 1920 will not recur. Though, to preserve the independence is not so easy, especially for Azerbaijan. As I said, it is already seven years that Azerbaijan has been subjected to the aggression of Armenia. There are other difficulties. But we know the value of our independence and we shall cherish it as the pupil of our eye.

As for our relations with NATO, Azerbaijan was the first among the former Soviet and current independent republics to sign the "Partnership for peace" program of NATO. I paid a special visit to Brussels for this purpose was in the headquarters of NATO and signed this program on behalf of the Republic of Azerbaijan. We believe that this is an important factor for the stability in Europe and for the security in the world.

Question: Mr. President, it would be interesting to know what was your opinion on the desire of the Bulgarian Communists to turn Bulgaria into a 16th republic? It is very interesting.

Heydar Aliyev: Now I see that the questions are asked not only by journalists but also by president, my friend. I am very much pleased.

There were a lot of distortions in the Soviet Union. You probably know from my biography that I am one of the leaders of the former Soviet Union. Along with this, you probably know, that in 1987, but rather at the end of 1987, I resigned and then I was subjected to repression and similar action. But in 1993, after a long deportation the Azerbaijani people demanded my return to Azerbaijan. And thus, since October 1993, I am President of Azerbaijan, elected by the people. There were many distortions in the policy of the Soviet Union and especially in the so-called socialist camp. It will take time to list them all. When I have an opportunity to write my memoirs, I shall write about many things. Because, I was more sensitive to national problems, national relations to the policy of the leaders of the Soviet Union, than others. Perhaps I felt it more than others in the administration of the Soviet Union. Of course, I could not stand against the will of the Bulgarian people and the leaders of Bulgaria. But when some leaders of Bulgaria repeatedly expressed the desire to become a 16th republic, I did not speak to them openly, but said quietly in their ears that they should not do it, better to be independent. I was able to help the Bulgarians in this way only. I think it's good that it did not work as they wanted. These might have been slogans of opportunistic nature. I don't know. But in any case, such statements were made repeatedly.

Of course, as a man who wants peoples and republics to be independent, I could openly say that it was a mistake and it would have costed the Bulgarian people too dear. It's good that Bulgaria did not become the 16th republic of the Soviet Union; it is good that not only the Soviet Union, but also the Warsaw Pact collapsed, and thus, the Eastern European countries gained freedom. Because, like other East European countries, Bulgaria is an independent state, although they were not part of the Soviet Union, they were part of the socialist camp, the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact. I know that it deprived the countries of independence so, to a certain extent you also have achieved independence. I congratulate you.

Question: Mr. President Zhelyu Zhelev, you said that Bulgaria is ready to send observers to the region. But at the Budapest Summit a decision was adopted on the formation of peacekeeping forces of the OSCE. In this case, is Bulgaria ready to send not observers, but troops to the region? Second question: How can the principle of self-determination be linked with the principle of territorial integrity of the state?

Zhelyu Zhelev: Bulgaria expressed its willingness to participate as a member of the OSCE and in the peacekeeping process in Nagorno-Karabakh within the framework of our capabilities. Yes, we expressed our willingness and it was about sending civilian observers on behalf of the organization. For a just solution of this conflict, we are ready to participate in other projects. Of course, under the auspices of the OSCE.

How are the self-determination of peoples and the state independence interconnected? Personally, I do not see any contradiction between these notions.

Question: The right of peoples to self-determination and the principle of territorial integrity..... The Armenian side always says that the peoples have the right for self- determination. Is this or the principle of territorial integrity more important? 

Zhelyu Zhelev:  It is one of the most difficult issues we face in the post-communist period. The contradiction between the first and second part of your question to a certain extent we are witnessing in the former Yugoslavia. Of course, the principle of self-determination of the peoples is always of  paramount importance. But the fact is that in the federation as Yugoslavia, the peoples do not live in one and the same territory. And when the time came to determine the boundaries, real contradictions between the principle of self-determination of peoples and the territorial integrity of state appeared. In principle, there is no such a country where only one nation lives. For example, I mean the Balkans. All the Balkan countries are inhabited by the representatives of different nations. I think this is normal. That is why, respect for human rights, execution of these rights and other issues emerged. This is one of the most difficult issues dealt with by the European Union.

Personally, I do not agree with the fact that when the people and the government solve their problems, they put the question like this: appeal to ethnic and national cleansing, drive out the national minority and deal with them ruthlessly. For example, we are witnessing just this in Bosnia, although the population in Bosnia is mixed and 60 percent of marriages are mixed in the cities. And this issue does not concern the issue of territory of this country, but concerns  families.

That's why it is such a complicated issue. Therefore, we need to find out democratic ways to solve the problem. While making decisions in such countries, respect for the rights of ethnic minorities living in this country and respect for human rights must be taken into consideration.

Translated from "Azerbaijan" June 30, 1995