From the talk of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev with the delegation of Council of Europe headed by the chairman of the Committee of the Council of Europe, deputy of the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg Lidi Polfer - July 16, 2002

Heydar Aliyev: Distinguished ambassador!

Dear guests!

I welcome you and I am pleased with the visit of such a large and high-ranking delegation of Luxembourg to Azerbaijan.

You did a lot of work, held meetings yesterday and today, and if not too much but you still have some knowledge about our country. Now I will be very glad to hear your opinions.

Lidi Polfer: Mr. President, thank you for receiving us. As I mentioned while meeting you, I am both happy and I have the honour to be in your country. I think that the official delegations from Luxembourg do not visit Azerbaijan very often and we are one of the first delegations here.

Heydar Aliyev: That is true.

Lidi Polfer: There are many things to learn from one another. As you mentioned, we have held meetings here today. We have had a good chance to know your country. I have such an impression that I knew much about your country than before. Our aim is to report the facts we know about your country to the Council of Europe as much as possible.

Mr. President, as you know, Luxembourg is a small country in the center of Europe and unfortunately it was afflicted with the wars among neighboring countries and was in the center of those wars. But fortunately, there is a peace in Europe in the last 50 years and we have an opportunity to cooperate on the level of institutions. We cooperate within the framework of the Council of Europe and European Union. Due to this unique opportunity peace and economic prosperity dominates in Luxembourg. We would like to share our experience with you.

Fifty years ago we did not have such progress and achievements. But we went through all these and we would like to share this experience with our friends.

As regards Azerbaijan, we want to congratulate you on the occasion of its becoming a member of the Council of Europe eighteen months ago. At the same time we congratulate you that during these eighteen months Azerbaijan gained a striking progress. Important legislation acts have been worked out and conventions have been ratified.

We know that reform is a process which goes on continuously. Certainly, sometimes it takes a lot of time. But the most important point is that you have already begun working in this direction. I think Azerbaijan will achieve progress both in economic and political sphere. But there is one more problem, and we are aware of this -it is the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. It is the most difficult problem for Azerbaijan. We had meetings with the members of the Parliament, with the members of the parties that have majority in the Parliament, including the opposition representatives.

They share the same opinion that the Nagorno-Karabakh problem is the most difficult problem of Azerbaijan. We would like to know your opinion about the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Do you see a glimmer of hope in the diplomatic settlement of this conflict? We know that, up to now your activity, attempts were frank and serious. But unfortunately, it is a long time that the Nagorno-Karabakh problem is not solved. The Minsk Group has been working on this problem for seven years.

Heydar Aliyev: Ten years, not seven.

Lidi Polfer: Yes, it is already ten years. It is a pity that as a result of the work of the Minsk Group peace has not been made in Nagorno-Karabakh up to now.

Heydar Aliyev: I thank you for your information about the impressions you gained during your short term visit to Azerbaijan. I am very glad that you appreciate the situation in Azerbaijan objectively. I highly appreciate it since we seldom meet such cases.

You said that Luxembourg is a small country. Formerly it suffered troubles as a result of the wars in the area. Peace was established there fifty years ago and your country has developed. Now it is a developed country. Your people are well off and live in good circumstances. But 10 years after the war you did not have the present welfare standards, not even after 20 years. I think that not after fifty, but after thirty years your country began to develop rapidly. Taking into account that Luxembourg is in the center of Europe with the European culture and values your development period should be shorter. But we gained independence ten years ago. I do not want to turn to the ancient history. We were part of the Russian empire within 200 years. In the past we were part of the Tsarist Russia, after 1920 part of the Soviet Union, as a matter of fact the Soviet Union overthrew the Tsarist government and then became an empire.

One more thing should be taken into consideration that we are not Europeans, we are in Europe, but according to our national, religious origin we are not Europeans. The European values are always progressive. Our people profited from these values in hard times and made a break through. But the conditions we lived then did not let our people fulfil all our potentials. In those days, especially in the 20th century as a part of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan achieved a lot of things and developed its culture by establishing links with the European values, but still as the level of progress we lag behind Europe.

A ten-year independence of Azerbaijan went through hard times. First of all when we won independence we already were at war with Armenia. Secondly, the socio- political situation was not stable within the country. Different political powers and armed forces were struggling to seize the power. All these factors impeded our development. But despite everything we have developed rapidly.

In 1995 we ensured the socio- political stability in Azerbaijan. We stopped the recession in the economy, and began to develop it year after year. We carried out reforms in all spheres. We accepted democratic values and tried to put them into practice in all the regions of Azerbaijan. The reforms aim at the formation of the market economy in Azerbaijan. We have chosen the road of the market economy. By initiating projects we involved giant American and European oil companies make investments in our country. But all these were not achieved easily. Different foreign countries exerted pressure on us, and at the same time we had to take measures to ensure the stability within the country. Even under these conditions we established democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of press and civil society. As you mentioned many laws have been passed and much work has been done on the basis of these laws. We were admitted to the Council of Europe. I give a detailed account of it, because unlike you some people say everything in Azerbaijan should be like in France, Germany or the USA. But it is impossible. We need time for this. Our opposition hangs on my words about democracy: Heydar Aliyev says we need time for democracy. I say once again: democracy has a beginning but not an end. The more you passed this way, the more you will have to.

But you can't find even a sportsman who can jump ten meters.

Lidi Polfer: Especially without training it is impossible.

Heydar Aliyev: Even if he trains it is impossible. Physical abilities should be taken into account. In order to involve everyone in democracy we need changes in people's perception. If for years, centuries people lived within a different system, a different formation and used other values it is impossible to change their perception in one, two, and even five or ten years. Only the illusionists can do it. You also use the word "illusionist", don`t you? In circuses the illusionists put a man into a box then take a saw and cut him, and finally open the box and we see the man safe and sound. Only an illusionist can do this.

I am very pleased with your impartial appreciation of the situation. At the same time I want to say that our duty is to advance the democracy more rapidly.

Now you should not advance rapidly, and you don't need it. You should better advance very slowly. But we have to run. We understand it, but we also want to be understood. If something is impossible in Azerbaijan, it is out of objectivity to demand it and accuse that there is no democracy here.

You want to know my opinion about the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. I have been engaged in this problem for nine years. That is since I have become President. I can say that I have never been engaged in a problem for such a long time. I try to use all the opportunities. But we have not yet resolved the problem. It is very easy to solve it.

Armenia has occupied the Azerbaijani territories. Armenia is an aggressor, it has no right to occupy our territories. Armenia has a claim on the Nagorno-Karabakh province. It has no right to do this. The Nagorno-Karabakh is an ancient Azerbaijani territory. During the last century the majority of population there were Armenians and therefore, they claim that the Nagorno-Karabakh has to belong to Armenia. They had occupied the Nagorno-Karabakh before the fall of the Soviet Union. And in fact they separated this territory from Azerbaijan. But they also occupied seven districts around Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a small territory. Only 160,000 people lived there when the conflict began. 40,000 of them were Azerbaijanis. The Armenians drove them out. Half of the Armenians, who lived in Nagorno-Karabakh, have also left the area. Now 60,000 people languish in Nagorno-Karabakh. Because of the invasion 800,000 people were driven out of the districts around Nagorno-Karabakh, their population were Azerbaijanis. So they have occupied 20 percent, that is one fifths of our territory. The people from the occupied territories live in tents. All this injustice happens before the eyes of the whole world. The Council of Europe, OSCE, UN, the learders of big countries and the Minsk Group countries- the USA, Russia, France are aware of this. If we want to establish a civil society, legal state and democracy, which is also the policy of UN, OSCE and other big states, then why do they shut their eyes to this injustice? It means that there are double standards in the world. If they want, they may appreciate the aggression as aggression, but if not then they shut their eyes. That is why there is one way to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh problem: according to the principles of the OSCE and the UN and standards of international law territorial integrity of every country is inviolable, isn't it?

Lidi Polfer: Certainly.

Heydar Aliyev: As an independent state Azerbaijan also demands the assurance of its territorial integrity. The Armenian armed forces should be withdrawn from the Azerbaijani territories. The UN Security Council adopted resolutions in this regard. But the Armenians do not want to obey these resolutions. If they leave the occupied territories Azerbaijan is ready to give the Nagorno-Karabakh high status of autonomy within our country. But Armenia does not agree with this. It says that the Nagorno-Karabakh must be theirs. It is against all the standards of the international law. Or they demand independence for Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a small piece of land.

We can not agree with this. We can not give independence to any region within our country. That is the truth. Everybody in the world knows it. But both the leaders of big states and the OSCE urge us to negotiate and find a way out of the situation. I show the way out of the situation. If there is another way please, show it, let OSCE, EU, UN, USA, Russia or France show it. Show us the way, but you don't.

They declare that they support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. But over 10 years the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan has been violated, and this fact is ignored. As the President of Azerbaijan I work day and night but can't find another way. The Armenian armed forces must leave the Azerbaijani territories. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan should be restored. The Azerbaijanis driven out from their native lands must return home. The Nagorno-Karabakh should be given a high status of autonomy within Azerbaijan, and only then peace may be estabilished between Armenia and Azerbaijan. That's the solution of the problem.

Lidi Polfer: Mr. President, of course I understand that it is a very difficult and painful problem for you. Of course, if leader of other country were you, he would have the same feelings and anxiety. Thank you for giving us the right and detailed information. Unfortunately it's beyond my power to show you the way. That is why, we can only hope that there will be peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Because the existing situation, that is neither war nor peace impedes the progress.

I saw the maps. I saw other occupied regions of Azerbaijan besides the Nagorno-Karabakh. An idea came to my mind: there is a separated land in the south of Azerbaijan. My question may seem rudimentary. Did you make any attempt to swap the territories? What if the Nagorno-Karabakh be attached to Armenia and the separated part of Azerbaijan be attached to the main territory of Azerbaijan on the account of the Armenian territories.

Heydar Aliyev: Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic is the territory of Azerbaijan, it is a part of Azerbaijan. Regretfully, injustice was done to Azerbaijan in 1920s, 40s km territory you saw on the map is Mehri. Region it separates Nakhichevan from the main part of Azerbaijan and its population is consisted of Azerbaijanis. It was ceded to Armenia. It was our land. If the Armenians want to swap that territory which separates Nakhichevan from the main part of Azerbaijan in the solution of Nagorno-Karabakh problem, let them raise this issue and we will discuss it.

Lidi Polfer: There is nothing else left for us, I wish you success.

Heydar Aliyev: Thank you.

Lidi Polfer: Mr. President, you have achieved striking results in the sphere of adoption of laws and conventions. But if there is a dynamic and permanent working parliament, of course, laws can be ratified. But to put them into practice is a very difficult process. Europe should help you in this. It is not proper behavior if one side does his best, but an other one does not. We should help Azerbaijan in this case. After the ratification of laws you need skilful, well-qualified personnel, and managers. The EU should also work with Azerbaijan in it. I think we should help Azerbaijan using all possible ways.

Heydar Aliyev: I express my thanks to you for your ideas.

Lidi Polfer: Mr. President I thank you for the frank conversation. You mentioned that Azerbaijan is in Europe but at the same time it is not entirely a European country. Even during the Soviet Union I was in Uzbekistan and Turkey. Mr. President I should say that in comparison with them you are fully Europeans. I don't see any difference between Azerbaijan and Europe.

Heydar Aliyev: Yes, we are Europeans. I just wanted to explain the process of our becoming Europeans. Now we are Europeans and even more than most of Europeans.

Lidi Polfer: Mr. President, we have more common features than different ones. Of course, we can have different traditions, history and understanding. But we have more common features. That is why, I think we should cooperate in the spheres of tolerance, democracy, freedom and rule of law. We can help you in this.

Before coming here I read many reports, which were made by our ambassador. I investigated them thoroughly. These documents are about political prisoners, cooperation with the Venice Commission and others. We had a talk with Minister of Justice before meeting you. He told us the facts that the EU may not know about. That is why, I think if we cooperate, negotiate more intensively and exchange opinions, unnecessary arguments can be solved. And it will not tarnish the image of your country.

Heydar Aliyev: That is right.

Lidi Polfer: We were planning to hold a frank conversation and exchange opinions during the meeting.

Heydar Aliyev: We are talking very frankly.

Lidi Polfer: Mr. President, I thank you once again for this frank conversation. I think we shall cooperate, and thanks to you leadership Azerbaijan will get closer to Europe. If you need any help we are always ready to do it.

Heydar Aliyev: Thank you. I received a powerful support from our meeting today. It is also a support. I hope we shall cooperate in future. Good bye.