From the talk of President of the Azerbaijani Republic Heydar Aliyev with the head of the independent Baku Trans-Caspian Eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, bishop Alexander - February 15, 1999

Bishop Alexander: Your Excellency, highly esteemed Mr. President, allow me to introduce myself in a new quality, as the head of the independent Baku Trans-Caspian Eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, bishop.

Heydar Aliyev: I wish You success in Your activity in this important post. I hope that Your appointment and institution of independent eparchy here will serve the further development of the relations between the Russian and Azerbaijani people.

We welcome the decision of the holy Alexy II, on the institution of the special Baku and Trans-Caspian eparchy. This decision is very correct, dictated by the situation formed now in our region. I think it will assist You in deepening the contacts between Orthodox believers and Muslims, between our peoples. It also means that the Russian Orthodox Church attaches due importance to our region. In a word, we welcome it.On our part, we will do everything to make Your activity in this post, esteemed bishop Alexander, to be successful in the name of realization of tasks facing all us at the present stage. I am pleased that working in Azerbaijan You have deserved such a big trust of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Bishop Alexander: I appreciate You. Your Excellency, respected Mr. President for Your warm wishes, Your warm words.

Indeed, displaying concern for multinational subjects, the Russian Orthodox Church, on the threshold of the two-thousandth anniversary of the Christmas Day, has decided to revive the old Baku Trans-Caspian Eparchy which existed here until 1934. The revival of this Eparchy will contribute to the spiritual growth of Orthodox Christians in this region. At the same time, it is the evidence of the care of the Azerbaijani government about its citizens of the Christian religion.

Heydar Aliyevich, You are well-known to the whole Russian population of the Caucasus as a wise and kind leader. And of course, when the stormy events shook Azerbaijan, all the people, all the citizens of Azerbaijan, not only of the indigenous nationality, but also Russians wished that You headed the administration in that complicated period. And we see that our hopes prove true. The peace has come back to the land of Azerbaijan under Your leadership, although the government was in very and very complicated internal and external circumstances. The stability in economic and political life - all this has come back to Azerbaijan. It is enough to come to Baku to make certain that peaceful life has reigned in the streets of our city.

Not once have I spoken about it both in Russia and Northern Caucasus when asked about how we live here in Azerbaijan and what goes on here. I have always said that Azerbaijan starts gathering turns of its practical life.

The fact that besides Orthodox parishes in the territory of Azerbaijan, the Orthodox parishes in the territory of the Daghestan and Chechen Republics have been included into the structure of the Baku Trans-Caspian Eparchy, proves that our achievements in Azerbaijan have become an example for many and many countries surrounding us. And apparently, the people in Daghestan and Chechnya also strive to have peace and stability as it is in Azerbaijan. And of course, Your high authority in the Caucasus, the evidence of which was Your 75th jubilee attended by the heads of all Caucasian republics, Your re-election President of the Azerbaijan Republic, attendance of many outstanding political figures at the inauguration - all this proves that Your influence and Your example is very high in this region. We hope that with Your help we will be able to achieve mutual understanding and agreement between the Christians and Muslims in the Northern Caucasus, too.

I think that there is nothing to share between Orthodox Christians and Muslims. Because Islam and Christianity have always neighbored for thousand years in the East, they had enough time to sort out their relations and come to peaceful life, to peaceful coexistence for the benefit of both Muslim and Christian peoples. And Azerbaijan is a confirmation that the relations can be neighborly as well as businesslike between the representatives of world religions - Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In this respect, Azerbaijan, of course, demonstrates an example to many states of the CIS and the world. We know that unfortunately, there are conflicts on religious base even in many developed countries. But thank God, there are no and will be no conflicts here.

I even think that institution of the independent Baku Trans-Caspian Eparchy is another confirmation of the sovereignty of Azerbaijan, as, of course, there should be an independent religious department for all the widespread confessions in a sovereign state. Therefore, establishment of the Baku Trans-Caspian Eparchy is the recognition of the fact that Azerbaijan is a sovereign state.

I have already mentioned that really kind relations have emerged here among the representatives of the three world religions - Islam, Christianity and Judaism. To a great extent, it happened due to Your wise policy as the head Azerbaijan, and the leaders of confessions in Azerbaijan - These are sheikh Allahshukur Pashazade and head of the community of the Mountain Jews in Azerbaijan, Semen Borisovich Ikhiilov. It is true that we try to solve many problems together, attend many state events held here in Azerbaijan, and of course, do our utmost to reach mutual understanding among these three world religions in Azerbaijan.

Therefore I hope that in future our activity here in Azerbaijan will be pationized by you and think that we will be also able to spread in the territories included into our jurisdiction - the territories of Chechnya and Daghestan what we have achieved here to have our example serve them too, so that peace and prosperity would triumph there.

Highly esteemed Heydar Aliyevich,when the holiest Patriarch Alexy gave me his blessings to work here in Azerbaijan, asked to convey You his message.

I also want to thank You for the attention to the Christians of Azerbaijan. Since every year, both at the Easter holiday and the Christmas Day, You appeal to the Orthodox Christians of Azerbaijan with very warm, very wise, very useful messages which find ardent response in the hearts of Orthodox Christians living in Azerbaijan. It entails in many respects the mutual understanding and understanding of Your policy within the hearts of Christians of Azerbaijan.

Heydar Aliyev: I appreciate You first of all for the kind words You expressed your views concerning the situation in Azerbaijan in the latest years. It is true, we both can be fully satisfied that we could create peace in Azerbaijan, cease-tire with Armenia which is in the state of conflict with our country. We could achieve socio-political stability and overcome a very hard situation in socio-economic sphere - Azerbaijan has been at the stage of development within the last three years. We managed to implement a number of economic reforms which create more favourable conditions for the further development of economy and naturally, increase of welfare of the Azerbaijani citizens. In this context, our common and very important achievement is that all the religious confessions in Azerbaijan - Muslim, Orthodox-Christian and Judaic, first of all, express their thoughts freely, and second, as You correctly mentioned, they have very kind relations with each other, interact and thereby strengthening the unity of all the citizens of Azerbaijan.

You know that in all my speeches I have stressed that all the citizens of Azerbaijan, irrespective of their nationality and religion, are equal citizens of Azerbaijan. And You know, these are not only words, not only a declaration, but the reality of today`s Azerbaijan. We will strengthen, maintain and develop this situation, this reality. And in this respect, the efforts made by the religious confessions are of great importance and a big support for us, for the state.

You know that historically Azerbaijani people was always tolerant to other religions and treated them respectfully. It is the national trait of Azerbaijani people. At the same time, it sometimes undergoes corrosion and changes. You know that in late 80s - early 90s, very complicated socio-political events negatively influenced international relations to a certain extent. But thank God, we have eliminated it, came them.

In other words, there was some period not characteristic to the Azerbaijani people. Along with it, it is important that we could remove those problems, create conditions in all the citizens of Azerbaijan, irrespective of their nationality and religion, enjoy full rights, live in peace and communicate with each other.

You know, for example that the voices about the necessity of the protection of the interests of the Russian speaking population in this or other country often sound in Moscow, in the administration of the Russian Federation. There is no such a problem in Azerbaijan and no one worries about the protection of the Russian speaking population in Azerbaijan, because we protect and guard the interests of the Russian speaking population. And I declare today that it is necessary neither today nor in future that someone should worry in Russia about the national interests of the Russian speaking population in Azerbaijan. These are our own interests and we will never permit that people of a different nationality, different creed would be subjected to any infringement.

As time goes on, each citizen of Azerbaijan will be provided with the conditions for fuller realization of their rights. I believe in it, since what we do, especially the reforms we are carrying out and will carry out in the nearest years, will create conditions for better life in Azerbaijan for all the citizens. The economy will develop, the level of life will grow, people will live in comfort and therefore each citizen of each nationality will be able to realize his capabilities. By the way, it is also a peculiar feature of Azerbaijan in comparison with some other countries. We consider it characteristic for Azerbaijan, especially because we consider this our activity, - I mean the activity of the state,- very important and attach great importance to it.

You have correctly mentioned, I agree with it, that institution of independent eparchy in Azerbaijan, which covers Trans-Caspian states, in particular, Daghestan and Chechnya is at the same time the proof that the sovereignty of Azerbaijan is thoroughly recognized and approved, especially by the Russian Orthodox Church. We appreciate it and I want to say once more that I am pleased with this decision. Moreover, it was already practiced until 1934. In other words, we are the witnesses of restoration of the historical justice. And we will assist to make the activity of the independent episcopacy successful. We will do our utmost to make your work in the Trans-Caspian countries included into your eparchy to be successful as well.

Of course, we are interested in peace and stability in our entire region. It especially concerns the Northern Caucasus, as long as Azerbaijan is very closely connected with the Northern Caucasus, - I mean this part of the Russian Federation. And on our part, we make all efforts to contribute to the establishment of peace in the whole Northern Caucasus. I hope it will come true. I hope that your activity in this regard will also have great significance.

I congratulate You once more. I will attentively read the message of the holiest Alexy II and naturally, I will reply to it. You know that we are waiting for the visit of Alexy II to Azerbaijan at a convenient time for him. We will be pleased to receive him any time. I hope You will convey this to him.

Bishop Alexander: I appreciate You, Heydar Aliyevich, for the warm words, for the attention and support, for the invitation of the holiest patriarch Alexy. Indeed, the problem of the visit of the holiest patriarch is being discussed, worked over to make it successful. All the more, his religious jurisdiction Azerbaijan is spread on Azerbaijan. Therefore, the holiest patriarch has expressed his wish to visit Baku and Azerbaijan as his pastoral visit in order to get more closely acquainted with our religious life. Moreover, the 70th birthday of the holiest patriarch will be celebrated on February 18. Apparently, There will be great church celebrations, and a very serious preparation is ongoing in Moscow. As far as I know, there will be a big delegation from Baku at the head of the sheikh. I am leaving for Moscow tomorrow for this event and on February 19, a ceremony connected with this remarkable event will be held at the Bolshoy Theatre. I will certainly convey Your invitation to the holiest patriarch and tell about Your warm reception, about Your warm words regarding the activity of the Russian Orthodox Church in the territory of Azerbaijan.

Heydar Aliyev: I congratulate patriarch Alexy II on his birthday and I will send him a special congratulatory message. I ask to convey him orally my hearty congratulations and the best wishes.