From the talk of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev at the meeting with the delegation of the European Parliament - May 22, 2001

Heydar Aliyev: Distinguished guests, welcome to Azerbaijan. I highly appreciate the visit of such a prominent delegation of the European Union to Azerbaijan. But I see so many papers in front of you that it will take us three hours to look through all of them. It is just a joke, we have plenty of time.

Azerbaijan`s relations with the EU was established by the document on cooperation we signed in 1996. I am satisfied that we signed that document back then. I guess we did it in Luxembourg. I was present there, I signed, too. Our cooperation has been developing ever since. In terms of concrete results, our cooperation with the EU is more effective than our cooperation with other organizations.

The interest of the EU in our region – Caucasus and Central Asia has increased since 1992-1993. The establishment of several programs such as TACIS, TRACECA, INOGATE demonstrates the attention of the EU to our region. We take an active part in implementation of these programs. The geographic and strategic situation of our country makes the implementation of these programs without Azerbaijan impossible.

A lot has been done here. We also appreciate aids and credits we have received from the EU to develop some fields of our economy.

Finally together with the EU we organized a big conference in Azerbaijan. The conference was dedicated to the restoration of the historical Silk Road within the frames of TRACECA. I am very pleased that the conference took place in Azerbaijan. We signed a very important document then. We established an organization regarding the historical Silk Road. Its secretariat is located in Azerbaijan. Recently we gave the secretariat a good building. I personally took part in its inauguration.

We attach a big importance to the restoration of the historical Silk Road. We think it has a bright future. It is the shortest and most secure route that connects East and West, Europe and Asia.

However, our cooperation with the EU is not limited within the frames of these programs. You are representatives of the European Parliament.

I am pleased that effective relations have been set between you and the Azerbaijani parliament. Conferences took place and matters were discussed here both yesterday and today. We consider it a significant event and we cherish big hopes on our cooperation with the EU.

You are aware that Azerbaijan was admitted to the Council of Europe as a full member in January. It has 43 member-states now. We passed a lot of exams to join the Council of Europe. Sometimes “the teachers examining us” were not so fair. But we proved them that we deserve to become a member of the Council of Europe. Currently the European Union has 15 member-states, but there are candidate countries that are waiting for their turn. The EU conditions are stricter. We are realists. We don’t think we can fulfill those conditions within a short time. But as a member of the European family, Azerbaijan intends to advance in this direction. Therefore, the interparliamentary relations are of great importance. I suggest you have witnessed the current realities of Azerbaijan for the last two days. Naturally, not everything in our country is as we desire. We have an economic progress in Azerbaijan for the last 5-6 years. And we possess good economic potential.

You have already been informed that it is the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict that impedes our progress. I assume you are aware that we are not guilty for the outbreak of the conflict. Armenia launched this conflict in order to annex Nagorno Karabakh, part of the Azerbaijani territories. Later this conflict turned into a bloody war. Due to some reasons the Armenian armed forces was able to occupy 20 percent of the Azerbaijani territories. One million people, who were displaced, have been living in tents as refugees for 7-8 years.

Of course, the existence of this conflict in the world at the beginning of the 21st century doesn’t match the ongoing processes. Unfortunately, we couldn’t involve the world community in the peaceful solution of the conflict. The renewal of the conflict would benefit neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan. At the same time, we can`t stand the occupation of part of the Azerbaijani territories, the expelling of our citizens from those lands and their living in hard conditions. Thus, we want to solve the problem peacefully. I think the EU should express its attitude towards the conflict and help us solve it.

I suppose you got acquainted with our city. It is not a bad city. Brussels is a beautiful city. So is Baku. Please.

Ursula Schweizer (co-chair of the Committee on EU-Azerbaijan Parliamentary Cooperation): Mr. President, first, let me thank you on behalf of our delegation for accepting us today. I also thank the EU ambassadors to Azerbaijan for their contribution to organizing our visit and this meeting. Azerbaijan has been going through a historical period in recent times. Significant events are happening here. You are right, Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe at the beginning of this year. That was a historical event in Azerbaijan`s life. We are aware that intensive negotiations on peaceful solution of the above-mentioned conflict have been conducted recently. We are informed of your negotiations with the Armenian president. We think that conducting of peace negotiations between presidents of two non-partner countries of the region is a significant event and we praise it.

We have negotiated with representatives of your parliament during our stay here. We are informed that you have two main problems. The first one, of course, is the Karabakh problem. We wish the conflict to be settled peacefully very soon.

I think there is a great need for personalities like you to resolve the conflict. Only strong will of great personalities can lead to solution of the conflict.

We think your people realize what period your state is about to start. From this point of view, we welcome what we have witnessed in Azerbaijan. We see Azerbaijan is heading towards a bright future.

Of course, there are questions the members of our delegation want to address you. Let me first introduce them to you. Mr. Stefano Zappala is a member of the European Parliament from Italy. He is a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Environment of Safety. Mr. Olivier Dupuis is also a member from Italy. He is a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs. I am also a member of the same commitee. Mrs. Mary Anne Isler from France is a member of the Committee on Environment of Safety, too. Mr. Dmitrios Koulurianos from Greece is a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture.

I am very pleased that Mr. Per Garton is present here today. He is a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs and Human Rights. Furthermore, he is a chair of the European Parliament's monitoring group on South Caucasus. After Mr. Garton delivers his report on Azerbaijan and South Caucasus at the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs and Human Rights and relevant discussion are conducted, we plan to hold general discussions in the European Parliament in September and October.

We consider that these discussions will play an important role in cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan. We expect a lot from the discussions to be held this fall. Because recently the EU Trio has been in the region. According to our ambassador from Greece, intensive activity on peace negotiations has been conducted recent weeks. Moreover, a lot of delegations, including a delegation from Germany I also represent, have visited Azerbaijan lately. We will have a lot of issues to discuss in autumn.

I think, during our visit we could discuss all the spheres for holding multilateral cooperation with Azerbaijan. We conducted discussions on different topics. I think we can start a new stage of our cooperation with Azerbaijan with your support.

Heydar Aliyev: I guess you will ask questions. I consider you`re examining our readiness to approach the European Union. Please.

Olivier Dupuis (member of the European Parliament, Italy): Mr. President, I think it will be vice versa. There will be a need for your own examination. Europe functions very slowly. Integration processes are not rapid even in Europe. Unfortunately, not everybody in Brussels, Europe realizes the importance of your country.

Heydar Aliyev: You are quite right.

Olivier Dupuis: Therefore, we await signals from both you and your ally Georgia. Signals need to be addressed to Brussels and the European Union, so officials there can understand the importance of your region. The admission to the EU is a long process. We expect both you and Georgia to formally apply to join the European Union. I think, if you and Georgia apply to join the EU as Poland and Bulgaria did, officials in Brussels can understand the importance of Azerbaijan and Georgia. It could be one of the important elements in understanding the importance of your region. Thus, you need to teach us something.

Heydar Aliyev: Distinguished guest, I thank you. I am pleased that you attach an importance to our region, especially to Azerbaijan and to neighboring Georgia.

I agree with you that officials in Brussels, European Union still don`t realize the importance of our region, Azerbaijan and Georgia for Europe.

But to be honest, most people think it takes years for nations to join the European Union.

We were treated so hard during the process of admission to the Council of Europe that we are scared now. We don`t dare any more. But after your statement we get our courage back again. 

I can`t say whether Azerbaijan or Georgia can set an example for the EU. Because the union has the most developed nations of Europe. We are now in the stage of development. But we are optimistic about future. Thus, I accept your advice with a great pleasure. Thank you.

Dmitrios Koulurianos (member of the European Parliament, Greece): We all inhabit in the Earth. The 21st century started not as an end of ideologies, but as an end of dogmatic views. Europe is not a map, but an idea, a compilation of ideologies and pan-European culture. We are elected representatives of the peoples living in Europe. We want to spread the pan-European idea, culture, and ideology all over the world. We don’t want to be victims of geography. Therefore, you can be assured that we will do our best to spread the European ideology and culture also in your country and region.

Heydar Aliyev: Distinguished MP, thank you. I also share your opinion. There is a big difference between us. The difference is that we lived under dogma for 70 years in the 20th century. Your countries also had dogmas and passed big stages. For instance, fascism prevailed in Germany, Italy and other European nations. That was the dogma which prevailed in your countries. We had our own, so did you. However, you got rid of those dogmas after the Second World War. Europe and your nations have gone a long way and achieved great breakthrough since the Second World War.

But we got rid of dogma just 10 years ago. And those 10 years were uneasy for us. Therefore, you are naturally ahead of us in many spheres. Our desire to join the European family is tied with approaching your values. It will benefit not only Azerbaijan, but also Europe as well.

Admission of countries like Azerbaijan to the European Union would enrich Europe in terms of moral and traditions. The current realities of Azerbaijan are a synthesis of Occidental and Oriental values. If we add this synthesis to European values, they will be richer. That`s why we cooperate. You should also help us. Because we are taking the steps you took in 1945-1946 only now – at the turn of the century. Of course, our speed will be faster than yours. Otherwise, we can`t reach you. At the same time, we really need your assistance.

Dmitrios Koulurianos: Mr. President, may I have a word please? Mixed drinks taste better.

Heydar Aliyev: I agree.

Dmitrios Koulurianos: It doesn`t matter who starts the marathon race. Most importantly, who reaches the finish first.

Heydar Aliyev: That`s right. But if one sportsman starts the race an hour earlier, the other sprinter, no matter how strong he or she is, can`t reach the first one. But I agree with what you said about drinks. I have checked on it in Italy. There are good drinks in Greece, too. Actually the ambassador hasn’t taken me there yet. But I know there are good drinks there.

Merkurios Karafotias (ambassador of Greece to Azerbaijan): Your Excellency, we would be pleased to welcome you in Greece whenever you want. It would be an honor.

Heydar Aliyev: I know it. Thank you.

Mrs. Marie Anne Isler Béguin (member of the European Parliament, France): Mr. President, if you don’t mind, I will speak in French.

Mr. President, it is the second time for us to visit Azerbaijan and have an honor to meet you. Therefore, I thank you very much.  In previous meetings, we agreed to sign a regional environmental charter in Azerbaijan. 

Mr. President, we have already conducted discussions and exchanged views on this matter elsewhere. We have actually spoken a lot about ecology and environmental pollution in the South Caucasus. I think it would suit our interests to establish a relevant center.

Mr. President, when we talked to you about this issue, you showed your interest, though you didn’t say anything certain. It is your prominence that when we returned to Brussels after our meeting we learnt you had signed that charter.

Mr. President, therefore, I thank you very much on behalf of all the employees of the center. I want to inform you that there is a center on ecology and environmental pollution in Tbilisi. Using this opportunity I ask you to permit opening Baku office of this center. I guess ecology and environmental pollution are actual matters for Azerbaijan, and we can have an effective activity with you in this field. We can elaborate programs and provide some technical assistance. I think we can achieve good results.

Mr. President, back then you noted that Azerbaijan can think of joining regional programs only after the solution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. But we saw and felt your great personality. Because there are some issues in life which are more urgent and more important. So you signed the charter though the conflict had not been solved.

Heydar Aliyev: Dear madam, thank you. Your thoughts are important. The protection of environment is a number one issue for the entire mankind now.

Azerbaijan also needs it. Azerbaijan faces the issue of environmental protection. The rivers Kura and Araz, which are stemming from Turkey and flowing through Georgia and Armenia, thus reaching Azerbaijan, are being polluted more in those countries. We use those rivers in our water supply. We also need the water of those rivers in agriculture. I am against cooperating with Armenia in all fields until peace is established. But I am ready to cooperate in this field. Even during the Soviet time Armenia polluted the Araz very much. Small gold deposits were discovered in Armenia. They established a plant near the Araz for sluicing gold ores extracted from deposits. Because this process needs a lot of water. The water created by ore sluicing is the most poisoned.

I made my efforts as we were part of the same state. The Council of Ministers of the USSR was also involved and we took certain measures. I am not aware what is happening there now. But if we cooperate, we can conduct mutual inspection and solve many problems.

Or pollution of the Caspian Sea…The Caspian Sea is shared by five littoral nations. Since there has been no treaty between them on ecology or oil and gas extraction, wastewater from those countries is floated into the sea. At the same time, rare fish species of the Caspian Sea are in danger of extinction.

I know that the Westerners like caviar very much. If everything continues like this and we don’t do something, there will be no more caviar in 5-6 years. That`s why this is a serious problem now. It is a number one problem for the entire mankind. I can sign as many charters as you wish. But we need a practical activity. We need an initiative center. We will certainly establish such a center in Azerbaijan. But centers in Georgia, Azerbaijan and other places should be coordinated.

If the EU deals with this issue practically, it will be a contribution of the EU to the mankind.

Per Garton (member of the European Parliament, Sweden): Mr. President, I agree with my colleagues that the Caucasus is an important region for us. I also agree with you that your region is not so known in Europe. Therefore, I will attach a special attention to the importance of this region in a report I am going to prepare for the European Union and the European Parliament.

The information on this region that is most spread in Europe is about a complicated conflict that has been continuing for a long time with no peace yet. We are aware that recently you have made big efforts, you have had a number of meetings with the Armenian president and your last meeting took place in Florida. As we know, your next meeting with the Armenian president to continue peace negotiations is expected to be held in Geneva.

Mr. President, I read a lot of reports on direct peace negotiations between you and the Armenian president and efforts on peace. It seems that there is an optimism for peaceful solution of the conflict. There are also views that you and the Armenian president have become very close in finding peace. At the same time, there are strong groups in both countries that can impede and protest the peace. They can protest the peace process and implementation of any treaty. It can put both you and the Armenian president into a difficult position. Of course, I don`t want you to go into details of the peace negotiations. I know they are confidential. But if you could inform us about your negotiations with the Armenian president and the current state of the peace process, it would help us understand the situation better.

Heydar Aliyev: At the beginning of our meeting I mentioned that the conflict was launched by Armenia, not by Azerbaijan. As a result, Armenia has occupied Nagorno Karabakh and surrounding districts – 20 percent of the Azerbaijani territories. The people living there were forced to leave. A lot of blood was shed during the war. In May 1994 we reached a cease-fire. Ever since we have been living in cease-fire for seven years. I also want to note that no foreign peacekeeping troops are stationed between us. Azerbaijan and Armenia maintain the cease-fire regime. We have been negotiating with the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group for last seven years. The Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents have direct regular meetings and negotiations since 1999. Our last meeting took place in Florida, Miami, USA with the presence of representatives of the Minsk Group co-chairs Russia, USA and France. When starting the negotiations with the Armenian president we shared the same opinion that mutual compromises are needed for peace. If there is such a deal and we could not still achieve peace, it means we couldn`t define which side has not made necessary compromise. Armenia, using its advantage, has occupied the Azerbaijani territories and expelled Azerbaijani citizens from their homeland. The Armenian armed forces are stationed in those lands and put forward strict demands. Azerbaijan naturally can not accept these conditions. That`s why we have not solved the conflict yet.

We were very close to one solution in late 1999. But later Armenia rejected that. The protests are increasing in our society, since the solution of the problem is extending and over one million people are living in hard conditions.

The territory of Armenia has not been occupied. The Armenian population has not been forced out. It`s true that some Armenians who moved from Azerbaijan created problems for Armenia. But Azerbaijan is more damaged. It must be taken into consideration.

It is not taken into consideration and the solution of the problem is extending. The protests in Azerbaijan are also increasing. People are more willing to wage war and liberate the occupied lands by military way.

Of course, our opposition uses this situation and critisizes us. They even accuse us of not  settling the conflict. They suggest we launch war and liberate our lands. It influences some layers of the society. Thus, a dangerous situation has emerged. As we learn from the press, some forces in Armenia don`t want their government to make even a little compromise. That`s why we have such a situation.

If we really can reach a balance compromise, still its implementation will be very hard. But then we can struggle for fulfilling it. Otherwise, even I can`t do anything though I am the President and people cherish hope on me and respect me a lot. The military factor can increase then.

Therefore, I ask the co-chairs of the Minsk Group Russia, the USA, France, which are superpowers with a means of impact on Armenia. But they say they will accept any agreement reached between the two presidents.

If so, what was the OSCE Minsk Group established in 1992 for? If so, what did three superpowers – Russia, France, and the USA take over this responsibility?

Thus, a hard situation has emerged. Saying this, I don`t mean all of the means have expired. I just inform you about the real situation by answering your question. But I think we should further work for peaceful solution of the conflict.

Per Garton: Excuse me, I have another question. What else would you like the European Union to do besides the support to your peace efforts?

Heydar Aliyev: We have done some work. Help us achieve peace, restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, liberate the lands occupied by the Armenian armed forces, return one million Azerbaijanis to their homes. Though everything has been ravaged there, they just want to return to their homeland. This is what I want from you.

Ursula Schweizer: Thank you. I think we had productive discussions and negotiations today. It was important for us to hear and learn how you estimate the current situation and realities. Later we will conduct additional discussions among ourselves. We will also have additional discussions on what to do in order to fulfill your efforts and dreams.

I am pleased that the report Mr. Garton is going to prepare will be thorough. So it will not be a report elaborated only for the European Parliament and the European Union, but play a role in delivering the current situation to the whole world. Thank you.

Heydar Aliyev: Mr. Garton, I answered your question on what the EU can do. Please, consider it seriously. Thank you.