Interview of President of the Azerbaijan Republic Heydar Aliyev to editor-in-chief of Iranian "Asr-e-Azadi" newspaper, Doctor Vahid Reyhan - 10 December 1997

Question: Mr. President, it is said that Azerbaijan was glutted at Brejnev epoch. Is it true? It is supposed that after Your election as the President of Azerbaijan and conclusion of oil contracts, Azerbaijan will be a rich country as Kuwait. What could You say in this regard?

Heydar Aliyev: There was abundance in the republic not in the period of Brejnev rule, but in the period when Heydar Aliyev headed the republic. After all, Azerbaijan was not ruled by Brejnev. Heydar Aliyev was a leader then, but Brejnev was in Moscow. The leadership of Azerbaijan carried out work in Azerbaijan itself. Yes, it is true that there was profusion and high living standard in Azerbaijan at that time. However, in the second half of 1982, Azerbaijan`s economy was seriously damaged. Especially, when Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan started, the economic development in our republic was interrupted and commodity production waned.

As a result of economic reforms carried out in Azerbaijan within the last two years, as well as owing to the switch over market economy and providing people with self-dependence, liberalization of foreign trade and expansion of trade links with foreign countries, the economy in our country undoubtedly revives. Starting with 1988-1989 and up to 1995, there was a yearly economic recession in Azerbaijan, industrial and agricultural production declined. Today, we have prevented it. The growth started in 1996. In 1997, the output of products grew even more.

How is this growth qualified? Economists know and you might also know that gross domestic product is an attribute characterizing a level of economy. As compared with the preceding year, the gross domestic product in Azerbaijan has increased by five percent. The industrial output has not fallen, but rose by one percent approximately. The cash income of population grew by fifty percent while the inflation has been fully eliminated. In 1994, the inflation rate made in the republic 1600 percents. In 1995, it was 84 percents, in 1996 - 6 percent and now the inflation rate has been brought to zero, which is one of the characteristics reflecting the state of economy and finance. The cost of manat grows against dollar within the last period of time, which is also a good sign.

We have provided the plenty of foodstuffs. But there was a time when the lack of food supply was striking in the republic. Even during the soviet time, for instance in 1981 and 1982, there was a deficit of foodstuffs. In 1982, I left to work for Moscow. But now there is abundance in Azerbaijan as we have privatized agriculture, we have completely privatized cattle breeding among other things and provided peasants with cattle. Comparing with the time when there were collective farms in the period of former Soviet Union, peasants raise cattle much better now. At that time, they looked after it badly and even stole the production. But now, both cows and small cattle is their property. A peasant knows the more fodder he gives to cattle the more milk, meat and profit he will get afterwards. And thus, the volume of milk and meat production will rise. This already produces results.

We have dispensed land among people. Formerly, lands were the state property, by not private.

Today, the land is used more efficiently in the places where we gave it out to people and brings high return. Along with it, they produce grain and other production and then sell it thus creating wealth. Therefore, we have a great growth of agricultural production, but unfortunately, not all the population can buy this production. For instance, there is a million refugees in Azerbaijan expelled from the occupied by Armenian troops territories. They do not work and live in tents. Their situation is very hard. We still have poor people. And it is natural. Although Iran did not have collective and state farms, there are poor people in Iran too. But you see that we change our system and pass from one political and economic system to another. As a result, the economy of our republic revives and gradually expands. All this is the result of opportunities existing in our country.

You have also touched upon the issue of oil production. Yes, we have proceeded to oil and gas extraction from some fields in the Caspian Sea jointly with foreign companies. Iranian OIEK Company also takes part in realization of two concluded contracts on joint exploitation of oilfields in the Azerbaijan sector of Caspian Sea. The companies of Russia, France, England and the USA have share in the implementation of these contracts too. Undoubtedly, a significant amount of oil and gas will be extracted from these fields in several years. The sale of this oil and gas in the world market will provide the growth of our incomings. As our incomings will grow, we will eliminate definite obstacles existing in the country and will be able to invest into other fields of economy, whereas we do not have sufficient means now. Investing into these fields, we will have profits and thus, the future of Azerbaijan is to be very good.

Question: Mr. President, love to motherland is always foremost in Azerbaijani songs. What are You going to do with Armenians?

Heydar Aliyev: We will necessarily withdraw armenian troops from the occupied lands of Azerbaijan. We will never tolerate occupation of our lands by Armenians. It is true that three and a half years has passed since we stopped the war. Why? You know that the war continued from 1988 to 1994, i.e. six years. This war brought nothing to Azerbaijan except troubles - the people became martyrs or died, our lands were occupied. Why? Just because Armenia is backed up by a number of patrons that supply hem with weapons. Russian military bases are deployed in Armenia, Russian army is quartered in Armenia. It is possible to wage war with Armenia in such conditions too. But we arrived at another opinion. We have decided that it would be more infallible to settle the issue peacefully. Therefore, we stopped the fire and concluded a cease-fire agreement. Peaceful negotiations are ongoing now. The key point of these negotiations is withdrawal of armenian occupation army from the occupied regions, return of our refugees to their native territories and restoration of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will be rendered a high autonomy status within the Azerbaijan state.

Question: What is a reason for Abulfaz Elchibey`s return to Baku?

Heydar Aliyev: Any citizen of Azerbaijan can live wherever he whishes. In 1993, Abulfaz Elchibey, having abandoned the post of president of the republic and population without a leader, left for mountainous Karaki village, hid there without doing his duty, deserted and hereby lived there for four and a half years. Later on, he liked to come to Baku and came. He can go wherever he wants - to Gandja, Sumgait, Lankaran, i.e. we took part neither in his escape nor in the return.

Question: You are one of the great world politicians. You are considered to be the first among the three prominent world politicians. Having concluded the oil contract, You have once again glorified Azerbaijan in the world. As You have mentioned earlier, you privatized the land. Are these lands given to people free?

Heydar Aliyev: Yes, we have dispensed land among people and peasants without return. They will use the land at their discretion. They can also sell this land or give it to their relatives. They are the owners of this land. I think no matter whether an owner sells his land or not - he uses it efficiently anyway. Our country has crop production opportunities too. We have very fertile and splendid lands that can yield a large harvest. As crop yield will grow in the country, the abundance of foodstuff will be created.

Question: How do You see the relations between Azerbaijan and Iran after completion of the VIII OIC Summit?

Heydar Aliyev: This issue is beyond the VIII OIC Summit. You know that representatives of 55 countries, including Azerbaijan, have arrived at this meting. I will meet today with President of the Iran Islamic Republic, Mr. Khatami. We will discuss the issues related to the ways of development of bilateral relations between our countries. My wish, my dream is to have friendship and brotherly links between Azerbaijan and Iran and to have great opportunities of our countries to be used for the benefit of development of our cooperation, including economic.

Question: Honorable President Heydar Aliyev, have You ever been to Tabriz?

Heydar Aliyev: When I lived in Nakhichevan, I came to Tabriz, but when I paid an official visit to Iran as the president of Azerbaijan, I did not have an opportunity to visit Tabriz. I would like to visit it and Allah will probably give me such a chance.

The journalist: Inshallah, thank You very much Mr. President.