Interview of the Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev for Marco Ansaldo, the international correspondent of the Italian newspaper "La Respublica" - Rome, September 26, 1997

Journalist: Before asking the first question, I would like to inform you that I visited Azerbaijan in 1991 and that visit made fine impression on me. Mister President, it is rightly said that oil resources in the Caucasus region are much more than resources of Persian Gulf, aren`t it?

Heydar Aliyev: I would not express such a resolute opinion. Though, the general opinion is that there are big oil and gas resources in the Caspian basin. You know that scientists, geologists, oilmen of Azerbaijan had been engaged in discovering oil and gas stocks in the Caspian Sea for decades. Now, the Caspian Basin attracts the attention all over the world, so many articles are written about it, discussions are conducted on it. The world economy, World Community has known about the existence of these resources due to Azerbaijan.

However, three years ago there was not such interest in the Caspian Sea. For last three years interest from the point of view of oil and gas began to grow with orbital velocity in which Azerbaijan "is again guilty". Three years ago we have signed the large-scale contract which was then named "the Contract of the century". Then the consortium of 11 oil companies from six countries was established. We signed the first contract on joint development of deposits having great economic parameters, "Azeri", "Chirag" and "Guneshly" in the Azerbaijan sector of the Caspian Sea. After that, interest in the Caspian Basin has grown even more. First, for these three years we ourselves passed very big way rapidly, signed 9 similar contracts and yesterday the tenth contract was concluded. The contract about joint development of one large oil and gas deposit under the name "Kurdahsy" was signed between the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan and the company "Eni-Agip". I think that within the next two-three months the consortium will be established because other oil companies will also be included there besides "Eni-Agip" and tens of contracts will be signed.

These have been done by us for the past three years. But recently Turkmenistan has declared the tender for a deposit in Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea. Russia has declared the tender in its sector of the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan has started development of oil deposits in the Kazakh sector of the Caspian Sea.

When the first contract was signed in September, 1994, the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs declared that they did not recognize this contract nevertheless the Russian company "Lukoil" was also participating in the consortium which signed this contract. There is such a saying: one hand does not know what another is doing. Then some participants of this contract began to worry and addressed to me connected with this statement. I told them: do not worry, you did your work, and if someone does not recognize the contract so it is his business. It does not concern us.

Thus, dispute related to the status of the Caspian Sea has started. How the status should be defined- sectoral division, condominium or something another? From the very beginning, we have said that there is a division of the Caspian Sea into sectors which belong to the Caspian littoral republics since 1970.

We consider that the practice justifies itself and it is not necessary to search for something new. And now, though some Caspian littoral states do not wish to recognize sectoral division, but they themselves declare the tender for oil deposits in their sectors. There is a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, they declare that they are against sectoral division of the Caspian Sea, on the other hand they declare tender for a deposit in their sector. Well, it satisfies us.

Question: Mister President, based on your words, probably, to name Azerbaijan a new Kuwait, or the Caspian Sea a new Persian Gulf in the future will not be exaggeration?

Heydar Aliyev: I do not agree with this opinion. Azerbaijan is Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea is the Caspian Sea, and I do not agree with giving them other names. However, such practice happened in the past during the Soviet Union. When in Russia, for example, in Tatarstan, Bashkiria, Orenburg, Tyumen, new deposits had opened they had been called the second, third, fourth Baku. But then we were in structure of one state and, by the way, it did not offend our self-esteem, on the contrary even pleased us so that new deposits were carrying names of Baku. Azerbaijan is the most ancient country of oil. The first oil fountain gushed in 1848 in Azerbaijan. Therefore we cannot admit to be named "the second Kuwait" which has started to extract oil only 30 years ago.

Question: How the disintegration of the Soviet Union has affected economic development of Azerbaijan?

Heydar Aliyev: The disintegration of the Soviet Union has destroyed centrally-planned economic system existed here. Naturally, it has negatively affected economy of all republics which entered into the Soviet Union and found the national independence. It also refers to Azerbaijan. And till now Russia suffers from it despite a majority of property, which belonged to the Soviet Union, is at its command. It is natural. It is necessary to agree with any losses to get something good. Yes, economic relations have collapsed because centrally-planned economy management system of the Soviet Union has collapsed. But now a new economic system based on principles of market economy is being created in Azerbaijan. Certainly, this transition can be neither easy nor without loss.

Question: Mister President, still in the past, during the Soviet times you were very distinguished political figure. You were the first deputy chairman of the Soviet of Ministers, the member of the Political Bureau for many years. Your career was stopped in the certain period by Gorbachev because you did not agree with his line, reconstruction policy. Therefore, he discharged you from the leading roles and we did not get information of you in business circles for some times. But after that, you again took a leading position as the President of independent Azerbaijan and you are called a striking politician, political transformism, the politician of old times who has found a new life in the new environment. How can you comment on this attitude to you and such estimation which is given to you by the international community?

Heydar Aliyev: First, the international community states such estimation basing on a reality. Secondly, I should specify a little the reason of my resignation during Gorbachev's power. You know that my disagreement with reconstruction was not connected with Gorbachev, ideas about reconstruction had been formed earlier than his becoming the secretary general of the CPSU Central Committee. The point is that reconstruction started to reform economy and political system of the Soviet Union, has been then perverted by Gorbachev.

My resignation was related to my disagreement with Gorbachev`s national policy. He became a victim of his mistakes, made serious mistakes on the national policy. I was the only person who in general represented not Russian nation in structure of the Political Bureau. Naturally, I can not say that I knew much, but anyway knew the national policy better than others. I considered that it was impossible to infringe upon interests of national republics, impossible to make chauvinism. In fact, the state system of the Soviet Union was federal. It was the Union of the Soviet Socialist republics. And Gorbachev began to trample on rights of republics, to insult national dignity, to approach indifferently to it, and these have led to the conflict.

As a result of its roughest mistake blood was shed in December, 1986 in Kazakhstan, in Alma-Ata. You remember, Gorbachev dismissed Kunayev, the Kazakh on nationality who supervised over Kazakhstan for 20 years and sent his friend who had never lived and worked there, besides, did not belong to the Kazakh nationality, but to Russia to supervise over this republic. The youth of Kazakhstan had risen against him, it had been suppressed and blood had spilled in the square.

It was not the only case. Gorbachev made many mistakes which went without any conflicts, but I knew that they would lead to the conflict. I warned him, spoke with him about it, therefore I was considered undesired. I should have been discharged of these posts because it was necessary to begin the Garabagh conflict. The Garabagh conflict was started through Gorbachev's fault in February, 1988. Or in January, 1990 when in Azerbaijan people rose against the communistic regime, injustice of Moscow, Gorbachev`s policy related to the Armenia-Azerbaijan, Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict, Gorbachev brought troops into Baku. There were tanks in streets of city, many people were killed within a night. Here I again acted against Gorbachev. However, I was not in the Political bureau any more, but was the usual citizen, living in Moscow and opposed this military aggression which Gorbachev had carried out against the Azerbaijan people. And later on, when I submitted the application and left the Communist party and I also substantiated its reason. The communistic management of the Soviet Union is guilty in starting the Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict, in January aggression of 1990 against Azerbaijan people, and in many other things. That is why I could not work together with Gorbachev.

The history has judged who was more right. Gorbachev did not get even a percent of voices during the last year's presidential elections in Russia. The Azerbaijani people itself have invited me to Baku in 1993 when civil war was started, and elected me the President of independent Azerbaijan. This is the process of political transformation in my biography.

Question: Let`s change the subject. Mister President, are you satisfied with the visit to Italy?

Heydar Aliyev: Yes. It is the first visit of the President of independent Azerbaijan to Italy and the significant fact in itself. I held very fruitful, friendly, good negotiations with President Scalfaro, Prime Minister Prodi, we signed first very important documents between Italy and Azerbaijan, including two declarations: one of them is on political questions, another is on economic. These declarations were signed by me and mister Prodi. Other contracts and agreements were signed, which create, to my mind, good normative-legal base for the further development of friendship and cooperation between our countries. Besides, as I said, we signed the contract having great prospect between the Azerbaijan State Oil Company and the company "Eni-Agip".

Simultaneously, I paid a visit to Vatican, met the Pope today. We had very good conversation, we agreed about the further development of intergovernmental relations between Vatican and Azerbaijan. All these show that the visit was successful, and I have a full basis to be satisfied. Now I am talking to representatives of press and I consider it useful both for you and me.

Question: Thank you. How do you regard opening embassy of Italy in Baku half a year ago?

Heydar Aliyev: I apprehended it with great feeling of gratitude. We want it, we desire to develop our relations with Italy for a long time. In this respect, the opening embassy of Italy in Azerbaijan is very important event. We also wish to open our embassy in Italy. I will speak frankly, our financial opportunities are not enough for it. But, I think that we shall do it. I consider that there is a great prospect of cooperation between our countries both in political, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres.

Question: Italy which chaired the Minsk group has made great efforts to find a way of peace settlement to the Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict. What is the current status of this conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

Heydar Aliyev: Yes, I remember efforts of Italy as the chairman of the OSCE Minsk group, in particular, of mister Raffaelli who has visited our region, Azerbaijan frequently. In 1993, when I became the President of Azerbaijan, I had many meetings with him. Now the Minsk group has three co-chairmen - Russia, the USA and France. In May, 1994 we entered into the agreement on an armistice, now there are no military actions, there is no fire. At the same time, 20 percent of territory of Azerbaijan has been occupied, more than one million inhabitants of our country have been expelled from these lands, they live in heavy conditions, in tents.

It gives hope that in December of the last year, principles of peace settlement to the Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict were adopted at the OSCE Lisbon summit and co-chairmen of the Minsk group try to realize them now. It is a question of recognition of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, withdrawal of the Armenian armed units from all occupied lands of Azerbaijan, returning inhabitants of these occupied areas to places of residence, granting Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) the high status of self-management within the Republic of Azerbaijan. Co-chairmen of the Minsk group suggest to solve this question in two stages: in the first stage to release six districts which painted in green color in the map that I gave to you, at the second - towns of Lachin and Shusha painted in yellow color from occupational armies, and simultaneously to define the status of Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh), painted in red color.

We basically agree with it. Armenia still takes of a destructive position, it disagreed with principles which were adopted in Lisbon where 53 members of OSCE out of 54 states voted for these principles and only Armenia acted against it. It aspires to achieve the status of the national independence for Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) till now. Naturally, we cannot agree with it in any way. And no state agrees with it because it breaks the charter of the United Nations, basic principles of the OSCE and norms of international law. By the way, I should tell that Italy voted for the adoption of these principles in Lisbon. And yesterday the President and the prime minister of Italy have declared that they firmly take a position of realization of these principles.

The situation connected with the Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict is so.

Question: Which steps Azerbaijan undertakes in a direction of acceptance into the European Union and how do you consider the mutual relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey?

Heydar Aliyev: We are a part of Europe and wish to participate in all European structures. We have been accepted into the Council of Europe as the invited visitor, we wish to get the status of the full membership. In April, 1996 we entered into the agreement in the European Union on cooperation in Luxembourg and we wish to be accepted into all its structures. We take all measures to enjoy such right. We wish to have an opportunity to be known in Europe by our both external and internal policy, realization of process of democratization and principles of market economy.

As to our relations with Turkey, it is the friendly country for us. We develop and strengthen relations with it in all spheres - both in economic, political and cultural. And in this respect our position is constant.

Correspondent: Thank you, mister President. It was very nice to meet you. I hope that I will be able to come to Baku soon and have honor to meet you again.

Heydar Aliyev: I am inviting you. Because in comparison with 1992 when you were in Baku, enormous changes have happened. First, you will not see the chaos existed in Azerbaijan in 1992. Now there is stable, very quiet political condition in the republic. Liberalization of economy, development of private business and privatization have created absolutely other atmosphere in a social and economic life of Azerbaijan. So I am inviting you, come.

Correspondent: Thank you for the invitation. I hope that I will come to Azerbaijan soon. I am sure that Baku will be more beautiful. Thank you.

It was translated from"Heydar Aliyev: Our independence is eternal" (speeches, statements, interviews, letters, appeals, decrees) - Azernashr, Baku-2004, 12th cover, page 220