From the talk of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev with the delegation headed by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Daniel Tarschys - Presidential Palace, August 30, 1998

Heydar Aliyev: Honorable Secretary General, honorable guests. I welcome you to Azerbaijan. The relations between the Council of Europe and Azerbaijan have developed during the recent years. We appreciate the present state of these relations and your visit to Azerbaijan for expanding and strengthening them.

I remember we last met in Strasbourg last October. I appreciate the Strasbourg summit of heads of state or government of the member-countries of the Council of Europe. I had an opportunity to speak at the summit on behalf of Azerbaijan. I also had effective meetings with you, Mr. Tarschys, Mrs. Fischer and other officials of the Council of Europe. I believe we have taken important steps to become a full member of the Council of Europe since those meetings up to now. We are pleased with our guest status at the Council of Europe, but we want to become a full member. As I stated before, we have already passed the testing period. You can evaluate our testing period. But we think we have passed it. Thus, I guess there is a need to discuss this issue in our negotiations.

In general, Azerbaijan, as a European country, wants to take an active part in the life of Europe; therefore, we need to become a member of the Council of Europe.

I welcome you once again.

Daniel Tarschys: Mr. President, thank you for welcoming us. I want to pass the floor to Mr. Giannos Kranidiotis, the representative of Greece.

Giannos Kranidiotis (State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Greece): Mr. President, it is an honor for us to visit Azerbaijan. It is an honor for us to be your guest and meet you in the Presidential Palace. This is a large delegation of the Council of Europe that has visited Azerbaijan. As you see, the delegation is headed by the Secretary General and the Committee of Ministers is represented by Greece. This is our trip to the Caucasus. We will visit three countries which are applicants for membership of the Council of Europe - Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia within the frames of our trip.

I hope that we will meet representatives and officials of the Azerbaijani government during our stay here and will gain comprehensive information about Azerbaijan.

Our task is to report the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the present state of Azerbaijan upon our return. We will evaluate the progress achieved in different spheres in Azerbaijan and report on it. Thus, I emphasize the importance of this meeting. I hope we will have an opportunity for constructive exchange of opinion with representatives of the Azerbaijani government during our stay here.

Mr. President, I strongly believe, and no one at the Council of Europe doubts, that the three Caucasian states we are visiting are a part of Europe. Since the three states, including Azerbaijan are part of Europe, we have historical roots and features, same historical traditions and values. Therefore, the Council of Europe is ready to cooperate with Azerbaijan and participate in the process of admission of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is ready to assist Azerbaijan technically and with its recommendations, if needed. We must work together for your modernization and make your road to Europe smooth. I am pleased to say that progress has been achieved in some spheres in Azerbaijan. I mean democratic reforms first of all. It is known that the Council of Europe attaches a big importance to democratic reforms and protection of human rights; notable progress in this field has been achieved in Azerbaijan. Yet, there are still more steps to be taken. I want to repeat that the Secretariat of the Council of Europe and all member-countries of the Council of Europe are ready to assist Azerbaijan in different ways. Mr. President, we know that Azerbaijan is an important country in the Caucasus. We are also aware that Azerbaijan has a bright future. I would like to note your personal role in the progress Azerbaijan has attained in recent years. You have done a lot for strengthening the independence and role of Azerbaijan in the world.

Mr. President, let me give the floor to Mr. Secretary General. I think he can inform you more comprehensively on the position of the Council of Europe. At the end of my speech, I want to thank you for your hospitality and your accepting us. I hope we will see you in our European family soon.

Heydar Aliyev: Thank you very much.

Daniel Tarschys: Mr. President, let me continue. On behalf of the Council of Europe, I want to state that I am very satisfied with the ongoing processes in Azerbaijan. Perhaps you remember, I last visited Azerbaijan two years ago. It was the period of Azerbaijan`s application to the Council of Europe then. I am very glad that progress in all fields has been achieved in Azerbaijan. Recently Azerbaijani representatives have actively participated in the activity of the Council of Europe. The number of visitors from Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe is increasing. It does not apply only to the Parliamentary Assembly, because Azerbaijani representatives are very active in the interparliamentary activities.

Mr. President, I recall your speech at the recent summit of the Council of Europe with a great pleasure. You spoke on behalf of Azerbaijan. Perhaps you felt that at the Council of Europe we did not distinguish applicant countries from member-countries. You spoke as the President of an applicant country. It is an expression of the attitude of the Council of Europe to applicant countries, including Azerbaijan. It means that we are ready to admit Azerbaijan soon.

I want to speak about the internal ongoing processes in your country with a great pleasure. A number of legislative acts were adopted in accordance with European standards in your country. I want to note that most of them were adopted based on your directions and recommendations. You regard accordance of legislative acts with European standards as an important factor.

Mr. President, we have mentioned the refugee problem many times in our talks. I want to note that the refugee problem worries the Council of Europe very much. Together with other international organizations we will do our best to solve the problems of refugees. We will try to involve them in this problem. The next political event in the life of your country will be presidential elections. You have invited observers of the Council of Europe to observe the presidential elections. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has responded positively. We will be pleased to participate in the elections as observers. I believe that the forthcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan will turn into a symbol of respect to democratic values and divergent of opinions.

Azerbaijan does not have a representative at only one organization of the Council of Europe. It is not a well-known organization. This is the Council of Local Constituencies at which different regions are represented. I would like Azerbaijan to have its representative there, too. Thus, I have a question to you: what positive changes have been attained on development of democracy in provinces?

Mr. President, I congratulate you on abolition of capital punishment. The abolition of death penalty is one of many important requirements to be implemented. It is not a problem of a couple of countries, but many countries. We will all try to implement all conditions. I know we will cooperate with Azerbaijan in this field.

I am aware that Azerbaijan`s aim is to become a member of the Council of Europe. It is not a national policy only. It originates from the desire to be a part of Europe. Evidently, the Council of Europe prefers joint activity for implementation of general ideas. We try to solve problems by cooperating with European countries. The Council of Europe unites all countries of the continent and we also feel happy when witnessing the active steps of Azerbaijan for becoming a member of the European family.

Heydar Aliyev: Honorable Mr. Minister!

Honorable Mr. Secretary General!

I thank you for your kind words on the attitude of the Council of Europe towards Azerbaijan and the work done in our country for becoming a member of the Council of Europe.

Azerbaijan`s efforts on full membership of the Council of Europe is not related to its location in Europe only. We have always been living in Europe geographically. While enjoying a guest status at the Council of Europe, our efforts on a full membership at the Council target at adjusting all spheres of our country to the standards of the Council of Europe. You are absolutely right by saying none of the member-countries of the Council of Europe is perfect. You also noted that these countries can develop by learning from one another. Confirming your words, I can say that we don`t consider Azerbaijan a perfect country. Because Azerbaijan has been independent for less than seven years. It is a young independent state, which is able to move forward. Our speed allows us to overcome a ten-year distance decade within a year. You mentioned that much work had already been done for it in Azerbaijan.

Our main goal is to establish and develop universal values accepted and agitated by the Council of Europe in Azerbaijan. They make up the basis of democracy. The process on building legal, democratic and secular state in our republic has been enthusiastically conducted since Azerbaijan gained independence, especially for the recent years. It is not an easy process. But there are factors in our country which complicate this process. You know them. One of them is the problem generated by occupation of 20% of Azerbaijani territories by the Armenian armed forces and violent deportation of over one million Azerbaijani citizens from their homes as a result of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The second factor that complicates the state of our country was existence of internal political instability in Azerbaijan in previous years and struggle of various criminal groups and illegal armed gangs over power.

Democracy can be developed in any country in conditions of sustainable development and growth of welfare of population. You are aware that we are going through the transitional period and have been facing a lot of socio-economic problems during the recent years. There are other factors as well. But we have tried to remove the obstacles and we still do. We have ceased the fire in the Armenian-Azerbaijani war since we signed the cease-fire agreement in May 1994 and we have been observing the agreement for over 4 years. We regard it as an important achievement for attaining a great peace and as a favorable ground for establishing and developing democratic values in Azerbaijan.

The internal political situation in Azerbaijan has been stabilized, people have been living comfortably, and criminal groups have been liquidated during the recent years. Rights of every person are protected in Azerbaijan; favorable conditions for people to live freely have been created. We conduct wide reforms in the socio-economic field, especially economic reforms yield positive results.

As you know, liberalization of economy and foreign trade, privatization programme, implementation of agrarian reforms, privatization of lands make up the basis of economic reforms. Thanks to the implementation of socio-economic reforms we have secured growth in economy during the last years. We have normalized and stabilized the financial state of Azerbaijan.

We have taken some measures for improving welfare of the population. In 1993-1995 the economy of Azerbaijan was in decline. The economic decline accounted 15-20% annually; the industrial productivity was also falling down every year. We stopped the economic decline and the growth in economy started in 1996. The GDP of Azerbaijan grew 5.8% in 1997, 9% during previous months of 1998. The inflation rate in Azerbaijan was 1600% in 1994, 80% in 1995. We lowered the inflation rate in 1996. In 1997-1998 there has been almost no inflation in Azerbaijan.

As you know, we compare Azerbaijan with other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. You witness the processes going on in Russia. Thanks to God, we don`t have such processes in Azerbaijan. Even the processes in Russia can not influence us. Because we have normalized and stabilized our financial state and maintain this stability. Wages have notably been increased in the last 2-3 years. As a result of the implementation of the agrarian reforms, agricultural production has risen in Azerbaijan. The privatization has revived the economy. All these factors create a suitable ground in Azerbaijan for development of democracy and democratic values.

I appreciate your kind words. You praised the abolition of capital punishment in Azerbaijan. You should know, Azerbaijan, which is situated in Europe, has also lived and flourished with values of the Oriental civilization. The combination of Eastern and Western values in Azerbaijan may not be noticed in other countries. Therefore, while other countries apply public shooting and hanging based on Sharia, the abolition of capital punishment in Azerbaijan is a historical event.

I think that much work has been done and notable achievements have been attained for establishment of political pluralism in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan holds the highest position among the European countries by number of newspapers. I don`t know if there are as many newspapers in Greece as there are in Azerbaijan. I guess, your ambassador can give more precise information about it. I don`t claim Azerbaijan is more advanced than Greece. I just mean we have opened a lot of opportunities. When any field that has been long closed is opened, it can develop fast. Censorship in Azerbaijani press had been abolished long ago. But there was an agency called Glavlit with no real influence on press. But its existence allowed the opposition to claim there was censorship in Azerbaijan. We abolished Glavlit and buried it so deep that it can never be re-established. Thus, freedom of press, speech, and conscience is secured in Azerbaijan.

Undoubtedly, we don`t idealize everything. Because there is still a lot to do. If something has not been done, it does not mean we don`t want it. We simply don`t have time for it.

You asked me about local administration. You mentioned Azerbaijan is not represented in that organization of the Council of Europe. I want to inform you that municipal elections will be held in Azerbaijan in 1999. It is my personal opinion. I want to submit a proposal to the parliament on it. I am confident that Milli Majlis will adopt a relevant decision.

To answer your question, I can say that we will try to represent Azerbaijan in that organization of the Council of Europe prior to municipal elections.

Likewise, I also think that one of the most important steps in democracy in Azerbaijan is the forthcoming presidential elections. You may appreciate that the president elected for a five-year term has been acting since the last presidential elections on October 10, 1993. The five-year activity of the president elected by people and announcement of new elections at the end of his term in the country with internal political instability during the previous years, including last five years is a sign of internal political stability and an important step on the road to democracy.

I consider that laws, which may create democratic conditions for presidential elections in Azerbaijan, were adopted. Those laws are being implemented now. We understand that implementation of a law is harder than its adoption. I hope all laws will be implemented regarding the presidential elections in Azerbaijan.

We consider that the next presidential elections in Azerbaijan scheduled to October 11 is the most important stage in our lives and on the road to democracy in the history of our independent state. Organization of free and fair elections is our supreme goal. Because we perceive we can demonstrate development of democracy in Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe and democratic countries of the world this way.

There are many political parties in Azebraijan. 31 or 32 of them are registered. Some parties function even without being registered. They can carry out their activities freely and no one restrict their activities. A presidential candidate of these parties and various initiative groups was registered. I think an important stage of the elections is beginning now. The presidential candidates will speak on TV and radio starting from September 1.

Despite modest financial resources, our government showed generosity by allocating necessary finances by proposal of the Central Election Commission.

I think the presiedntial elections in Azerbaijan will be held at high level. You can be certain. I know you also wish it. But we desire it more. I guess your wishes and our desires will come true. Thus, we are moving forth step by step in direction of membership of the Council of Europe. And you should open your doors and allow us to be admitted fully.

Daniel Tarschys: Mr. President, as I noted earlier, the doors of the Council of Europe are wide open for you and you are almost accepted. I guess Azerbaijan will soon be admitted to the Council of Europe as a full member. But as you know, we need to convince the parliamentarians. The parliamentarians of the Council of Europe may ask what Azerbaijani MPs are doing.

Mr. President, you are right, every government has a lot of tasks to do, so they can not be implemented at the same time. By securing stability and starting economic development in your country, you have created a favorable basis for democracy. It is possible to develop democracy, organize democratic presidential elections, and attain parliamentary democracy on this basis. Prerequisites for strong and active democracy have already been implemented. Returning to the beginning of our talk, I want to congratulate you on this occasion. We appreciate the implementation of necessary laws and notably abolition of capital punishment by your initiative.

Activity of Azerbaijani MPs is very important; they must cooperate closely with the parliamentarians in Strasbourg, and convince them to evaluate the processes in Azerbaijan objectively and to appreciate the progress achieved in our country. I think the visits of representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to Baku and their meetings here have assisted it. I hope this theme will be comprehensively discussed at the Parliamentary Assembly this fall, and better opportunities for broader discussions of this theme will be opened after the presidential elections. I am very pleased that equal conditions have been created for the presidential candidates in Azerbaijan.

Giannos Kranidiotis: Mr. President, I want to inform the number of the newspapers in Greece is enough. Perhaps we can compete Azerbaijan in this sphere. Mr. President, I congratulate you on the occasion of the achieved progress in Azerbaijan. We are pleased that Azerbaijan has such progress and notable achievements in economic reforms. This is one of the important spheres for development of democracy. Organization of the presidential elections and participation of local administration in attained successes are necessary conditions. Another important factor of democracy is freedom of press. Not only establishment of democratic institutes, but also their activity is very important for democracy.

Mr. President, I thank you for the meeting today. I think after this meeting we can convince the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that big progress has been attained in Azerbaijan. I encourage you to pursue your way.

Daniel Tarschys: Mr. President, we forgot that our countries have been trying for democracy for 250 years.

Heydar Aliyev: You are very right. They have been trying for 250 years, yet they have flaws. We received first knowledge on democracy from quotes and essays of Greek scientists and politicians. I also want to note that the assistance of the Council of Europe to Azerbaijan and our cooperation with the Council have played an important role in our achievements. The meetings of our representatives at the Council of Europe and visits of the Council to Azerbaijan since our relations were established and Azerbaijan received a guest status and candidacy at the Council of Europe, have enrichened us and assisted us a lot in our activities. I thank you for the effective cooperation, for your attention, care, and assistance to the development of democracy and democratic values in Azerbaijan.