Speech of Heydar Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan at the all-Republican assembly of specialists ‎educated outside the Republic in 1970-1987 - the Republican Palace, August 31, 1998‎

Dear friends!

Ladies and gentlemen!

I think that it is a historic meeting for both you and me. We have met in this palace for a few times. After some break we are together again.

I am glad and excited. Because our meeting today is a direct result of the meetings founded in 1969. I initiated those meetings. Those meetings, their impact on your lives were mentioned today. I am glad because I see benefits of my initiative put forward 29 years ago.

Dear friends, you are aged today. The people, who once entered this hall as young people at age of 16-17 are mature today. You work in different spheres of Azerbaijan. They were founded 29 years ago. Therefore, seeing benefits of what I have done, I feel glad and proud.

I cordially welcome you. I congratulate all you on this meeting. I wish each of you health and successes.

My last meeting with the Azerbaijani students going to study outside the Republic was held on August 29 or 30, 1982. Later I was invited to work in Moscow; I worked there for a while. You know about my life afterwards. Finally, I returned to Baku in 1993. 16 years have passed since our last meeting. To be honest, I had missed such meetings. Because such meetings were kind of a tradition for me then. One of young girls who spoke here said that Heydar Aliyev started to meet students going to study outside the Republic in 1974. Let me correct her. My first meeting with students was held in 1969. But then there was no palace like this, not so many people.

After I was elected leader of Azerbaijan on July 14, 1969, I started to focus on educational issues as top priority. As I had worked in governmental bodies, I was informed about educational issues. So I knew about advantages and disadvantages of our education. I understood my responsibility as the leader of the country. Therefore, I pay more attention to education.

While researching, I learnt that Azerbaijan may send only fifty students outside the Republics. I wondered why this figure was so low. Since our country was developing and feeling lack of specialists. Then some disciplines were not trained in Azerbaijan. However, we needed well-educated specialists. I was told that fifty student places are limit for Azerbaijan. Then I also researched who is sent for studies outside the Republic and how are those students sent.

It was out-of-competition admission. Then admission for universities of the central cities, such as Moscow or Leningrad was held as competition. The constituent republics were granted out-of-competition student places in order to let them have specialists trained in some disciplines. For example, Azerbaijan was allowed to send fifty students annually.

Then I also researched who were selected to be sent from Azerbaijan. When I got the list of the students, I regretted about the situation and understood that I have to be engaged in this issue seriously. Even though it was the end of August and studies were due to start on September 1, fifty students to be sent had not been selected yet. Secondly, the Azerbaijanis constituted the minority of the selected students. I asked the reason. I was told that since there are a lot of universities in Azerbaijan, parents do not want to send their children outside the Republic. The selected were the people who desired to study outside; that made the ethnicity of the selected students so colorful.

If we really cared for the future of our country, we could not be indifferent to this issue.

In August 1969 my first meeting with less than 50 students was held in a small hall of my office; I spoke to them, gave my advices. But it was a signal for me that I must be engaged in this issue very seriously.

And I was. You were told about the achievements of that period. I'll mention them again. We wanted many specialists to be trained in our universities, as well as in the prestigious universities of the Soviet Union. That's why our initiative was put forward.

The Azerbaijani people are fond of education, literacy. Our nation has contributed to the mankind, our prominent scholars, inventors, poets, writers have enriched the universal culture and science.

However, in the Middle Ages, even in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century the majority of our people were illiterate. The 20th century is the age of historical events and great transformations for the entire world, including Azerbaijan. Despite the tragedies and losses, the Azerbaijani people had big achievements in the 20th century. One of our biggest achievements was abolition of illiteracy.

We can be proud that the level of literacy, education, science and culture in Azerbaijan is higher than the level in other countries in our region. Because our people are talented and have always had prominent intelligentsia. Another reason is establishment of a lot of schools in the 1920-1930s which led to abolition of illiteracy. It is a big achievement. We can be proud of it.

In 1919 the first high educational institution in Azerbaijan - Baku State University was established. Afterwards many other schools were founded, which allowed us to have skilled specialists necessary for Azerbaijan.

In the 1970s there were 17 universities and institutions in Azerbaijan with over 100,000 students. Thanks to them, now we have a big potential of educated, intellectual people. It is the positive result of that period.

When we started to focus on opportunities for our students to study outside the Republic in 1969, there were universities which trained specialists. But why did we pay more attention to this field? Why was the leader of Azerbaijan himself engaged in this issue?

First, we needed specialists which could not be trained at the Azerbaijani universities then. Second, initiating it, I wanted our youth to get access to the outer world.

Talented youth from Azerbaijan studied abroad in the past. In the Middle Ages the Oriental countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt were destinations for our students. Even though those educated people contributed to our culture, they could not abolish massive illiteracy in Azerbaijan.

In the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century the rich in Azerbaijan sent their children to Russia or other European countries for studies. Having finished their education and returned to Azerbaijan, most of them served their people.

Our intelligentsia that flourished till the 1950s consisted of mainly the people educated in Russia and other European countries in the past; they took part also in the establishment of Baku State University.

We are also aware of the activity of national patron of arts who financed Azerbaijani youth studying abroad. Most of the people who founded the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic in 1918 were educated in Moscow or Saint Petersburg; Fatali Khan Khoyski, Alimerdan Bey Topchubashov were among them. However, there was lack of specialists then, too. Thus, the people of different ethnicity, such as Russians, Polish, Jews were involved to the government of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic. Because educated people were needed.

The Azerbaijani people have always benefited the results of this tradition. When I initiated a new program, I knew that after the establishment of many universities in Azerbaijan in the 1940-1950s, the people preferred to stay and study here. However, I didn't agree with that tendency.

If a person studies and stays only in one place, his world outlook keeps narrow, no matter how well educated he is. But he can expand his outlook, while traveling, studying and learning from people abroad. I took this principle into consideration then.

Undoubtedly, most of our youth get educated in high-level universities in Azerbaijan; the domestic universities have been training skilled specialists. Those specialists ensure the development of our country, working in different spheres. At the same time, using the opportunities of studying at foreign schools, attaching the domestic education with the education of the universities in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, we have got high-level specialists for different fields of our country.

The people assembled here have already proved it. I just want to express the main principles which led to my initiative.

Even though there are studies in Russian, most of students get educated in our language in Azerbaijan. During the Soviet time we needed many specialists trained in Russian. The students sent outside the Republic had their studies in Russian.

So we merged the education in Azerbaijani with the education in Russian, the dominant language of the Soviet Union. Then most of the literature on various fields was only in Russian. Therefore, the specialists educated in other cities of the Soviet Union could somehow fill in the emptiness created because of the lack of the scientific literature in our Republic.

Later I expended what I had initiated. I understood that I had created a new university for Azerbaijan. What was that? In 1970 we sent 60 students outside Azerbaijan, while this figure was less than 50 in 1969. The number of the students increased year by year. We sent 600 students to other cities of the Soviet Union in 1975, approximately 900 - in 1977-1978.

As you know, each university accepts 700-800 students annually. If we managed sending 800-900 young people from Azerbaijan to different cities of the Soviet Union, we took part in education of as many students as ones admitted to the Azerbaijani State University.

It was understood in Moscow. They felt that we send a lot of students outside the Republic every year. They accepted this tendency with a jealousy. We spent a lot of time to manage all this. But you should know that our work was not so easy. I had to negotiate to expand a limit of 50 students to 100, then 200, 300, 400. Even though it was not easy, I raised my proposals to the highest bodies of the Soviet government and ensured the increase every year.

In 1976-1980 Kazakhstan might send 400 students; for other constituent republics this limit was equal to 100-150. The authorities of other republics didn't initiate expanding their limits, thinking that there were enough universities for local people to study. However, the number of the Azerbaijani students sent to different universities of the Soviet Union was higher than the total number of the students sent from the rest of the constituent republics.

There was another negative tendency. For example, it was too hard for an Azerbaijani student at the age of 17-18 to get admitted to Moscow State University because of some reasons. There was a negative attitude towards the Azerbaijanis then; some people tried not to let students from Azerbaijan enter prestigious universities.

What goal have we achieved? For example, some people educated at Moscow State University spoke here. They had to pass hard entrance exams in order to be admitted to Moscow State University or universities in other cities.

Some didn't know Russian well. In order to remove such a difficulty, we organized entrance exams in Azerbaijan. As you see, the selection process was much easier for Azerbaijani students, as it was held in our Republic. After the selection, they had their all documents prepared by the end of August. We usually gathered here at the end of August.

I invited the selected students to this palace first time in 1974. Since their number was higher then, there was not enough space in the hall we had held our previous meetings. This palace was ready by December 1972. Since 1974, we organized our meetings here.

Those meetings were important for me. In those years I usually left Baku in August for rest or other purposes. However, I always attended those meetings, having left my rest or other affairs.

From 1969 till 1982 I had meetings with students in August every year. What results did they have? Here a brief video about my meeting with students in Moscow was showed; I remembered it. Then I met students several times in the Azerbaijani representative's office in Moscow. But later the number of the students increased, so we could not meet in that small office. In 1978 or 1979 I asked for a hall in order to organize a meeting. We held our meeting at a Moscow theatre. Even high level officials of the country, including the Minister of Education of the USSR attended that meeting.

I remember one student who spoke at that meeting. He told that he was from a poor family from Jabrail. He studied mathematics at Moscow State University succesfully. He became fluent in Russian, as he had been living in Moscow for four years. Our other students also learnt the culture and traditions of the countries where they were studying, keeping their own national customs.

As I told a while ago, the list of the selected students in 1969 contained mostly people of other ethnicities. As you know, Azerbaijan is a multinational country. Two-three years later I managed dominance of students of the Azerbaijani origin among the selected.

Since 1969 I have been doing my best in order to ensure fair high education in Azerbaijan. Later, some asked me why I adopted strict decisions. But they were necessary then. I wanted every Azerbaijani to enjoy good education, no matter how the welfare of his family is.

And what did I face? Children of the rich could enter universities easily, while children of the poor could not do it. You may remember that I pursued this issue then. Finally, I managed fair admission for the Azerbaijani youth to universities.

Sometimes I meet some specialists, who tell me that they were from poor families, but could get well educated thanks to me. It is the biggest award for me.

Even though the selected were mostly children of people of high positions during the first years, later they started to represent all classes of our society in my time. I tried to manage selection of talented students, no matter what class they belonged to.

As you remember, I decided that children of people of high positions or working in law-enforcement bodies would not be admitted to the law faculty. After I resigned and started to live in Moscow, I was accused that I violated rights of many people. But I did not. I merely prevented that flood. If people working in law-enforcement bodies are replaced by their children, then there will be no chance for other people. It is unacceptable.

As you know, I have always supported the poor. It was my feature. Your applauses confirm it. Perhaps most of you were from poor families.

Dear friends, how we enjoy the results of the work we started many years ago. I accept all of you as my own children. The lists of all the selected students were included on a book, which was later presented to me. It is still in my own lib. Sometimes I look at it and remember the students, though I don't know any of them personally. I read about their families, parents. Though I faced unjustice then, I thought that I had done much for many people and they would never forget me, always appreciating my deeds.

Therefore, I accept you, as well as all other students I sent for studies. I am proud to see you mature. Then you were 17. You are aged now, but the more important is that you have earned your own places in society, you have become specialists. Now you have families, children. All of you are necessary for Azerbaijan. It means that many years ago we did much for the independent Azerbaijan.

A representative of the Defence Ministry informed about admission of Azerbaijani students to military school then. I suppose that I will have another meeting with graduates of military schools. I don't want to repeat the figures he has informed. Then sending a lot of students to different universities, as well as military schools of the Soviet Union, I predicted the indepence of Azerbaijan.

Then I understood that Azerbaijan would need skilled specialists who would ensure the independence of Azerbaijan.

Now Azerbaijan is living the seventh year of its independence. Azerbaijan has been developing as a legal, democratic, secular state for the recent five years. Azerbaijan pursues democracy, market economy. With a high position in the world community, Azerbaijan is recognized worldwide.

Dear friends, you take part in the development of the independent Azerbaijan; you must do it further. Now our country needs and has many well educated specialists; you are among them. Now our task is to select and appoint the most talented to high positions. Together we must develop Azerbaijan.

I see the results of my deeds. I sent you outside the Republic for studies. Now I think that our country should use your education, skills and abilities.

Now those students function in different spheres. But who wants to work in a public sector, must apply. I'll assign someone to record such applications. I think that it is important to use your abilities in a public sector, too.

I am excited here. We are meeting after a 16-year break. I hope that you feel my sincere emotions and love. If the work I did my best for yield positive results, I feel very glad. You all are dear for me.

I think that we must develop the Azerbaijani education, using all the opportunities to train specialists. The Minister of Education has informed of the draft reforms. I'll look at those projects in a short time; their implementation will be ensured.

Now there are private universities alongside public ones in Azerbaijan. I want both public and private universities to keep high-level education as their priority. Unfortunately, some private schools are established to make money. It is unacceptable. No one can use education as a source of revenue. It is true that we pursue market economy and therefore, private education will be expanded here.

However, we'll maintain public universities, too. Because we want every Azerbaijani young man to enjoy the right of education. I want both public and private universities to pay attention particularly to quality of education and keep a high reputation of the Azerbaijani education, despite all difficulties.

I am aware that Congress of teachers will be held in September in Azerbaijan. I suppose that there will be discussions; I'll try to take part there myself, too. Teachers have the highest reputation everywhere. Personally I don't know any name higher than the name “teacher”. Because teachers educate and raise us. Therefore, I have loved my teachers most of all. I still remember all my teachers with thankfulness. I recommend you always to keep the name “teacher” high.

The Minister of Education has informed that up to 3,000 Azerbaijani study abroad. We should use these opportunities. Of course, there must be a state programme on it; also, those students are financed by their families or sponsors. They are the way of the current realities; we should use them.

Shortly, we have to improve quality of our educational system. At the same time, we must use opportunities of foreign universities in order to train skilled specialists necessary for Azerbaijan.

Some of the speakers currently live in different countries. I don't want to accuse them on their stays there. When sending students outside the Republic, I knew that some of them would stay abroad because of their education, marriage or other reasons. I accept it even useful for Azerbaijan. Because now Azerbaijan doesn't suffer from lack of specialists. So the activity of Azerbaijani specialists abroad is useful for us, too.

It is useful because our intelligentsia abroad create our diasporas. We need it. During the Soviet time we didn't pay attention to this so much. Yes, we wanted the Azerbaijanis to live in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and other cities. I have a national pride, I love my nation. I know how talented the Azerbaijanis are. I created normal conditions for many talented Azerbaijanis, now I wish good luck to our compatriots living in Russia, Ukraine and other countries. I am sure that in the countries of the CIS our national diasporas will be formed soon. It will be a big prop of Azerbaijan. We need it.

But I want to ask our compatriots living abroad never to forget Azerbaijan. The speeches made today gladdened me. During our meetings then I had many advices to you. One of them was necessity of Russian. In order to become well educated, you needed to learn Russian fluently. You are well educated now. Ability to speak many languages is very important for everyone. But don't forget Azerbaijani. Azerbaijani must be spoken in every diaspora. Because forgetting his own language, a person loses his national identity gradually. It is unacceptable.

Dear friends, this history counts 29 years. It is so dear for me that I can talk about our history for hours. Perhaps I'll tell you more in next meetings. But I suppose that for today it is enough. I am very satisfied of meeting you. I wish you health and successes. I think that you have to keep in touch with one another and contribute to development of democracy and market economy in Azerbaijan. I wish you good luck. Thank you.