From the talk of President of the Azerbaijani Republic Heydar Aliyev with the Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Aaron Rhodes and deputy Executive Director of this international organization Brigitte Dufour - Presidential Palace, 30 May, 2000

Heydar Aliyev: You are welcome to Azerbaijan! I greet you. I appreciate you for the attention and interest in our country. I know that you have held a number of meetings in our country. You have met the minister of foreign affairs and senior officials in the office of President. I think you have held other meetings, too. I would like to listen to you.

Aaron Rhodes: Your decision to receive us is a great honour for us. We believe that it is not so easy for the President to spare his time to receive the members of each delegation coming to Azerbaijan.

Yesterday, while meeting Your colleague, we said that if a representative of any non-government organization comes from Azerbaijan to France or the United States of America, and wishes to meet President Jacques Chirac or President Bill Clinton, he will have very few chances for that. Therefore, we think it is a rare chance given to us, a wonderful opportunity to meet directly with the president and share our thoughts.

Heydar Aliyev: Thank you, please.

Aaron Rhodes: Taking the opportunity I would like to inform You about the activity our organization in Azerbaijan.

Our visit pursues several goals. Basically, our goal is to get thoroughly acquainted with the state of human rights protection in Azerbaijan. I have to say that our organization publishes annual reports. Our report is to be ready on June 1, this year. Subsequently, this report will be translated into Azerbaijani and spread among the community of your republic, as well as published in the press. Government officials will have an opportunity to get acquainted with the given report. We would like each organization functioning in Azerbaijan to assist us in this business.

I will not keep back from You that we feel definite uneasiness. Such problems as the issues of human rights protection in Azerbaijan, freedom of speech and press in your republic, providing the activity of their newspapers by some printing bodies, free expression of thought by journalists and all the people as a whole, interrelations of the police with citizens, and the problem of political prisoners, as well as the situation connected with the national minorities and other questions worry our organization.

In this connection we have held different meetings, discussed these issues on different levels and we are very pleased that we had a chance to hold a dialogue with the officials of the government.

Thus, after the discussion with the minister of foreign affairs, as well as the chiefs of departments in Your office, we got somewhat inspired. We want to evaluate their meetings with us as a positive response of the government to all these questions.

At the same time, we took it necessary to meet You too, to bring all these problems directly to Your attention and to the attention of international community.

Another issue bothering us is of course the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It was another topic of our discussions. In this connection we had meetings with various civil associations, learned their opinion and attitude to this issue, their position.

During the talks with ordinary citizens, as well as the representatives of civil associations we clarified that they wish to meet their colleagues in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, discuss the conflict at different levels, speak about thecommon problems and study these problems. This will allow their better mutual comprehension and establishment of normal relations between them. Hence, I want to appeal to You. We would like You to support this initiative. We think all we have said can play a definite role in the settlement of the conflict.

Along with it, we are delighted with Your decision to hold direct meetings with the Armenian president, on Your initiative. It really deserves attention, and a wise decision. According to our observations, the international community could not play an efficient role in the settlement of this conflict between the two parties.

We understand that the solution of this tremendous problem, which brought many sufferings to your people, through either way, will require compromises and concessions just as any other international problem.

Our observations allow draw such a conclusion that the peoples, the citizens of both countries still are not ready enough to compromises. Each side puts forward very strict demands. Therefore, successful solution of the problem will require compromises and public understanding of the problem. Just therefore, mutual understanding should be established and a dialogue should be held right now.

A little earlier, we met the representatives of the Institute of Human Rights of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan. They want to meet their colleagues from Armenia and exchange views. They asked me to inform You about their idea, so that You would uphold this issue.

With Your permission, I would dwell on the problem of refugees in Azerbaijan, as well as the internally displaced people. We have met refugees quite near Baku. I have recorded the name of this place, as I am afraid to pronounce it incorrectly, Jeyranbatan...

Heydar Aliyev: Right, you pronounce it correctly.

Aaron Rhodes: Certainly, living conditions of these people worries us much.

The refugees shared with us their thoughts about You. The refugees and displaced people think that You are not aware what a hard situation they suffer. During the meeting they asked us to render them aid at the sum of US $200 to get their sewage system repaired a little. The fact that this system is in a sad state leads to outburst of diseases, especially among children. Children there are often ill with hepatitis. It is a problem connected with an abnormal sanitary state. In other words, it is possible to achieve improvement in this field through minor expenses.

The regulation of this issue would help the solution of their problems.

We know that the government of Azerbaijan does all possible for the elimination of their problems, improvement of life conditions of refugees and displaced people. Of course, there is also a great deal of work to be done in connection with the solution of their problems.

Mr. President, we are grateful that You wished to hear about these problems causing anxiety, and we would like to listen to Your opinion.

Heydar Aliyev: I appreciate you. First of all, I want to say that we attach extreme importance to the activity of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. After gaining state independence, our country, especially in the recent years, accomplished huge work on the implementation of principles of the Helsinki Act. We carry on this work. It is the work which is impossible to complete within fixed terms. It is necessary to constantly realize these principles. If this work could be done within definite terms, your organization would also have to close down.

Aaron Rhodes: Our work depends on your problems.

Heydar Aliyev: I repeat once more that if this work came to the end, - not only in our country, but also worldwide, - such organizations as yours would have to finish their activity. I want to say that we are constantly engaged and will be engaged in these matters. Your arrival here, acquaintance with Azerbaijan within a short time, your meetings with the representatives of different layers, and obtaining, as you have mentioned now, positive information on many issues, pleases me.

We understand human rights in the broad sense. However, unfortunately, some organizations dealing with human rights bind up these rights with the rights of separate persons, individuals. Certainly, protection of the rights of every human means protection of rights of the whole society. You see that Azerbaijan in such a situation that the rights of a great part of population of the country have been violated. And it is a result of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, the result of occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia and violent exile of more than a million Azerbaijanis from these occupied lands.

All rights of these people have been violated: the right for life, the right for property, the right for freedom and other rights. These people suffered colossal losses. They have been driven away from the territories where they lived for centuries. They lost their houses, wealth, and the things collected for centuries by the preceding generations.

During the war the majority of refugees and displaced persons have lost members of their families and suffered many victims. Their other part suffered mutilations. They have been living in abnormal conditions for already 7-8 years.

You have visited Jeyranbatan - I appreciate you for that - and saw everything with your own eyes. But if you saw the people living in hard conditions in tents, you would be horrified. The situation of refugees and displaced persons living in Jeyranbatan is relatively better than the situation of displaced people living in tents. Unfortunately, I repeat once more, the international organizations, including your organization, dealing with human rights do not pay attention to this sphere. For the first time I have heard the words you said here from a representative of the organization protecting international legal standards. I am very pleased that you have stated you attitude towards this issue.

If US $100-200 is needed for the repair of the sewage system in Jeyranbatan, it is not a problem. Apparently, someone must know about that. I will give an instruction and this question will be solved. However it is not the point. Such problems exist everywhere.

Two weeks ago, we held here an international conference connected with the problems of refugees and displaced persons. A representative of the Supreme Commissariat of the United Nations Organization for refugees, the senior representative of this organization on humanitarian aid and representatives of other organizations rendering humanitarian aid participated at that conference. Unfortunately, we heard nothing positive from them. They say that in view of increasing quantity of conflicts in other points of the planet, the aid rendered to Azerbaijan will be henceforth decreased. How can these people live then? Of course, they live not only on humanitarian aid - Azerbaijan helps them within its possible limits. A part of them is engaged in labour activity, different organizations also help them. However it is a big tragedy, i.e. Armenia has occupied 20 per cent of the Azerbaijani lands, 1 million Azerbaijani citizens have been driven away from the native hearths. It is a big tragedy for the international organizations. But they say they are going to reduce the aid to Azerbaijan in connection with this tragedy.

However the principal point is not rendering aid to these people, as long as they cannot live constantly in such a situation. It is necessary that the occupied territories should be liberated and they could return to their lands. And what will they see upon return? They will be horrified even more, since their houses, property - all is destroyed. Refugees and displaced people will only see their native lands and these ruins. That is, the second stage of tragedy of these people will start. We, as well as international organizations will have to fulfill the second task - the task of carrying out restoration work there. Because these cities, settlements and regions were constructed for not hundred years, but for centuries. All what was created for centuries were destroyed within 5-6 years.

Therefore, the following basic problems are on the agenda: first, having achieved peace to liberate the occupied Azerbaijani lands, to return refugees and displaced persons to their native territories, and second, to restore in future these places and create normal life conditions for refugees and displaced people.

You have said that You met refugees in Jeyranbatan, and that I am nor aware of their situation well enough. No, I know, and know very well. I do not forget even for a minute about their situation, it is like a knife in the heart, as this nation confided in me. My sacred duty is to provide them with normal life conditions and care for them. You have to know, and let them know that I did until know and continue doing my utmost. However much is beyond my powers. Therefore, I am very pleased that you have seen all this and became acquainted with this work. If you tell about all you have seen in your organizations, we will be even more grateful to you.

Unfortunately, the representatives of various international organizations, high-officials of separate countries come to Baku and leave Baku. They do not see the situation of refugees and displaced persons in campsites. Baku is a good city, and therefore, they are given such an impression that the situation in Azerbaijan is far and wide the same. We want them very much to visit not only Baku, but also campsites, but we cannot achieve that.

You said that you highly appreciate the negotiations between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. I appreciate you for that. You mentioned, and I agree with you, that compromises are necessary to be made by both parties to solve the problem. However you said at the same time that you met and talked with representatives of different groups and they do not quite agree with such a solution of the issue. According to you, the matters stand the same both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. I think you have been to Armenia too.

Aaron Rhodes: I will be in Armenia next week.

Heydar Aliyev: But you are aware of the situation in Armenia, as long as you said that the citizens in Armenia as well as in Azerbaijan cannot understand the steps to be undertaken in order to solve the given matter. You said some people asked you to provide them, the citizens of Armenia and Azerbaijan, with an opportunity to meet and negotiate in order to define how this problem should be solved. We do not object to that. Some of our representatives meet. In particular, journalists go there, come here, and meet some government officials. But the main thing is that the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia meet.

What can citizens do? If the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis meet, they will say that they lived once in peace conditions and they are not guilty that someone has unleashed this war. But who has unleashed it? This question will stay apart.

The second thing is how to come out of this situation. Different opinions can sound. For instance, if you could meet different representatives of the Azerbaijani community, apparently, you have heard what some people think here: our lands occupied as a result of war should be returned through the force of arms, through a war. They criticize me for I do not follow this path.

In the meantime, we have a strong army. However I understand that we ought not to start a war again. But many do not understand it. Therefore, it is difficult to explain people everything.

After my first tete-a-tete meetings with the president of Armenia, I stated as a result of those meetings that mutual compromises are necessary. But not only opposition, but also others started propaganda against me. They asked what compromises were meant. We will make public the compromises if the parties agree with them. I cannot say today what compromises made by Armenia or by us can follow. If we come to any agreement, citizens can partake in this matter.

If we agree on the peaceful solution of the issue, it will be unambiguously met neither in Armenia nor in Azerbaijan. Then your idea will be of use. Then I will say: if you do not agree with it, negotiate yourselves, perhaps, you will succeed to do it better. Therefore, I explain you all this and at the same time I want to say that I fully share your thoughts.

I ask you very much to spare broad space in your books, reports to the information about theviolation of rights of more than a million of the Azerbaijani citizens. It is extremely important for us, for the whole world community and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

It is horrible when the rights of one, ten, hundred persons are violated. However, the violation of the rights of one million people is unbearable, fearful. I would like you to clarify thoroughly this situation in your organization, as well as in other organizations. It can create more favourable conditions for holding peaceful negotiations.

The Minsk Group has its representatives from the United States of America, Russia and France, its members. They strive for peace and settlement of the problem. However they cannot evaluate the situation properly. The way which could allow solving the problem, - they put forward a number of proposals, - they do not suit Armenia, and therefore, the issue cannot find its solution. However these states, international organizations cannot tell Armenia: "You are an aggressor and you occupied the territories of another country". We have not usurped even a meter of the Armenian lands. We are not guilty of anything, but the point is that the international organizations, including the leading states engaged in these matters, consider both the guilty and the victim on the same plane. This is injustice! This is a paradox! If there was not this injustice, the problem could be solved rather quickly. However, despite all this injustice against us, we continue and will continue our cooperation with all the international institutions. We will continue our cooperation with the Minsk Group and its co-chairs - Russia, the United States of America and France.

I think the direct meetings between presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will continue in future. Our goal is to solve the problem peacefully. I call you to help us in this matter too.

Aaron Rhodes: Mr. President, thank You very much for the stated thoughts. I want to say that we are just a non-government organization, we do not play a diplomatic role in the solution of this matter. Therefore, we do not try to seek for the ways of the solution to this complicated problem or to hold negotiations over this problem. However, at the same time, making use of efficient instruments in the view of human rights, first of all, we can assist the establishment of definite mutual understanding between the two parties involved in the conflict. In this case we will do our utmost.

During my stay here I have collected a vast deal of information and now intend to spread the data about the refugees living in tents. We are indeed concerned with this problem. As I have already said, we are going to visit Armenia after this. There we will also express our anxiety and try to have them understand us in Armenia too. We will bring up this question as far as we can before the international institutions of different levels too.

Heydar Aliyev: I appreciate, thank you.