From the conversation of President of the Azerbaijan Republic Heydar Aliyev with Freimute Duve, the OSCE representative on freedom of mass media and his advisor - Presidential palace, 23 February, 1999

Heydar Aliyev: The cooperation between the OSCE and Azerbaijan develops every day. Your visit to Azerbaijan will also contribute to the development of our cooperation. I know that You have held many meetings here. I think that You have sufficient information on Azerbaijan and about its today’s reality. I also hold this meeting with You exactly with the purpose of development of our relations.

Freimute Duve: Mr. President, thank You very much that You have found time and receive me and my advisor Mr. Stanley Shraiger from the USA. And I am a german politician and work now in the OSCE and manage one of its three institutions. These institutions constitute a component part of the OSCE. We have three main offices. One of them deals with human rights, the second - with national minority groups, and the third created for the first time in the OSCE practice, deals with freedom of journalism and press and I am responsible for it.

Mr. President, I want to express my special gratitude to Your government, for it also assists the establishment of this institution and Your Minister of Foreign Affairs voted personally for me. The representatives of 32 countries voted for the creation of this institution and we will carry on the work in all the member-countries and strive for free journalism. We are respectful to the history, culture and in particular, the literature of all the countries, including Your country. Your country has a startling history, rich culture and ancient literature. We have established good contacts with Your government. Several times we appealed to Your government on the affairs of nongovernmental organizations and freedom of press. And the government responded immediately. On the whole, we cooperated efficiently.

I understand the current situation of Your country well. I hope the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan will be settled soon.

Heydar Aliyev: First of all, I would like to mention that the Azerbaijan government voted for the creation of a body, providing freedom of press within the OSCE. We also voted for Your election as the head of this institution. This earnestly witnesses in itself the attitude of Azerbaijan government to democracy, political pluralism and freedom of press.

Azerbaijan has been living in the independence conditions for already seven years. Perhaps, You know well that very tense periods and hard processes occurred within these seven years in the life of Azerbaijan. One of the reasons, aggravating the life of Azerbaijan and complicating its socio-political situation is the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict. As a result of this conflict, 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory was occupied by Armenian armed forces and more than a million Azerbaijanis were forcibly expatriated from the occupied lands and live in hard conditions in tents.

Despite all these socio-political difficulties, we implement in our country the process of construction of a democratic and jural state. Undoubtedly, such a process of state construction requires certain time. But You see, in a short period of the time passed, we could conduct huge work and achieved much success.

Speaking of this, I want to assure You that the Azerbaijan government is loyal to this proclaimed principle, follows the course of democracy and fully observes and establishes all the principles, arising from the requirements of democracy in Azerbaijan. The problem of journalism freedom is one of them. Today, the press in Azerbaijan is absolutely free. Journalists are free and they have the opportunity to express their opinions absolutely freely. It is true that this process is not implemented easily and it is natural since everything new always carves its way with difficulty. Several years ago, the press in Azerbaijan was not quite free and we gained this freedom gradually. But in recent years, the freedom of press has been fully provided in Azerbaijan.

But who properly makes use of the freedom of press and how skillfully, is of course another question. Mistakes are undoubtedly made here, separate representatives of the press go beyond the scope of civil requirements. And this causes certain contradictions in the society. But I personally know that all this is transient. On the one hand, the society is getting used and will get used to the full freedom of press. On the other hand, the representatives of the press and journalists will use with time their absolute freedom more fully, properly and within the framework of morality. Therefore, some shortages and mistakes, existing in this process have now a natural character in Azerbaijan. Time is necessary to eliminate all this, so that the freedom of press would constantly bring public benefit.

You have stated Your opinion on the improvement of Azerbaijan television. I agree with it. We also think that Azerbaijan state television should continually improve its work and reach the level of television of developed countries. We would like very much Azerbaijan television to be similar to the BBC, but it also requires time and as You mentioned, funds. You know very well that the BBC has become as it is today not in a year, two or five. It has also passed a big and long-term development and evolution. But the fact that we have many examples in the world to rise to a higher level is favourable for us. I think we will achieve this aim as well.

You have spoken about the history of press in Germany. Yes, we also know about that. You saw the most terrible sides of German fascist dictatorship and understood the danger it posed to the world’s nations. We also lived within the limits of another totalitarian regime for years and constantly tried to get rid of the traditions of this regime. I have already told You and repeat it again that we have chosen the way of democracy and freedom just because of this reason. But first of all, Azerbaijan needs to protect and preserve its independence. You know that this is the question of primary importance for the countries like ours. We gained independence in the period of collapse of the Soviet Union. But we lived 200 years within tsarist Russia and then in the Soviet Union and there was always big control over us. Unfortunately, attempts and aggression are periodically undertaken towards the independence of sovereign states now, formerly included into the structure of the Soviet Union. Therefore, the protection of independence is the primary question for us.

An end should be put to the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict. For that, the lands occupied by Armenian armed forces should be liberated, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan should be restored and more than a million of Azerbaijanis should return to native lands.

We carry out much work in this direction. First of all, in May, 1994, we suspended the war that started in 1988. Since May, 1994, there has been cease fire in the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict. It is a big achievement that we stopped the war, blood does not run now and people do not perish. We want to achieve peace and solve the question only in peaceful way. We are not the adherents of resumption of the war.

But You know that big difficulties are facing us. In the period when Armenia and Azerbaijan were in military confrontation with each other, Russia supplied Armenia with large quantity of weapons within last 3-4-5 years, placed there its military base and deployed there the newest missiles and fighters recently. We protest against such actions. But unfortunately, Russia ignores our protests.

Thus, You see that the process of democratic and legal state construction in Azerbaijan passes in hard conditions. But despite this, we are loyal to the chosen way and we will establish full democracy in Azerbaijan. We are also against dictatorship, we are supporters of democracy and will follow this way.

"Azerbaijan" newspaper, 24 February, 1999.