Meeting of Heydar Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan with Georgian and Armenian journalists at Baku conference held within "Media support project" of Geneva Institute for Democratic Building at the Presidential Palace - July 1, 1999

Salam aleykum, gamar joba, barev!

I greet you in Azerbaijan. I consider this meeting a distinguished event and I stress that journalists made a good initiative to have more information on each other in present conditions, first of all, for building bridges of future development of relationships.

Georgian and Armenian journalists are present here. The South Caucasus has always been known for the friendship and mutual support of peoples living here, however, there were periods of conflicts and disorders. In general, Caucasus is a well-known region for its specific features, characters, customs, ceremonies and traditions. All this is different from those, existing in the other parts of the world. Therefore, travelers, historians displayed a great interest in Caucasus, especially its part called South Caucasus - Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Formerly, there were states in our countries. In the beginning of this century our countries, our peoples gained independence, freedom almost at the same time and they lost it also at the same time. As the consequence of collapse of the Soviet Union republic of South Caucasus restored their state independence, sovereignty and freedom by the end of 1991. It is worth to note that in 1918, after October Revolution and collapse of tsarist imperia, the representatives if Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan set together in Tbilisi and discussed first of all the issues related to independence of South Caucasus. The question of establishment of Transcaucasian Seym and others were in the agenda of the meeting. They couldn`t come to the common opinion and left the meeting and the independence of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan was declared almost at the same time. It happened in May 1918. After establishment of Soviet rule the independence of our countries fell into past and we have been living in Soviet Union as allied republics.

Of course, it is possible to speak a lot about past since much kind and good things were in the past, however negative things happened also. The fact that we lost our independence, which was a calamity of our peoples - Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Our living within Soviet Union, more likely within Soviet imperia during 70 years not on our will had a positive aspect that at that period our republics cooperated and the friendship between our peoples was strengthened by any means.

The collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 was a historical event. Our countries immediately declared independence. Look how many similar events happened in the life of our peoples at the same time in XX century. Actually, we are independent countries and we consider it a historical achievement and historical event in Azerbaijan. The state independence of Azerbaijan became irreversible and eternal.

Of course, this is a hard period for all of us - there are economic and political difficulties. However, the fate requires it - we must withstand and pass over these difficulties for existing forever as independent state. We hold this position in Azerbaijan.

However, for this purpose we must cooperate actively in the South Caucasian region. From this viewpoint we have many opportunities and large potential. Except implementation of political reforms, political reconstruction, and building of a new democratic and legal state, as well as providing of favorable conditions for the progressive development of the civil society, the economic sphere is also an important factor. In this sphere we took the way of market economy and economic reforms. The most challenging problems persist in the economic and social spheres. Therefore, the mutual cooperation and relationships of each of us, for example, those of Azerbaijan are of great importance. We are realizing such cooperation. Both Georgia and Armenia realize such cooperation as well.

The cooperation among South Caucasian countries is of great importance also. Warm and friendly relationships exist between Georgia and Azerbaijan. You see, our peoples have been living in neighborhood, side by side for many centuries. For example, we can`t recall any serious conflict that ever took place between Azerbaijanis and Georgians. Despite of existing problems related to internal difficulties and conflicts that both Azerbaijan and Georgia faced with after gaining independence, the cooperation between Georgia and Azerbaijan is successfully developing. It yields mutual benefit. For example, I am aware that the good cooperation established between Georgia and Armenia. I think that this is an important and positive factor for the development of South Caucasus.

Unfortunately, the conflict that took place in 1988 in the period of Soviet Union caused difficulties and relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan that have never existed before in the history. If we look at the history we can see that there were conflicts between Armenians and Azerbaijanis on different levels. They caused victims and bloodshed, however, later on this conflict was solved and the peaceful situation was restored. For example, let`s take the event of 1905 or 1918, some years later the relationships were resumed, people became friends and the bad was forgotten. That is clear and natural. People don`t want bad things, they want good ones. This is not the case of only Armenia and Azerbaijan. Let`s recall how many countries were engaged in the World War II and how severe was the war between Russia, the Soviet Union and Germany. And now look how perfect relationships they have now. One can say the same words about many European countries that have been fighting for many decades. All this was left in the past, now they have friendly relationships, the European Union was even established in Europe, they keep integrating and approaching. Unfortunately, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Mountainous Garabagh is still unsettled.

We strictly adhere the position of peaceful settlement of this conflict. We signed the cease-fire agreement in May, 1994 and we do our best to preserve the cease-fire situation until fair settlement of the conflict.

There are perhaps forces both in Armenia and Azerbaijan inciting to military operations. I don`t know what the situation in Armenia is, but in Azerbaijan we are criticized that 5 years pass since achievement of cease-fire agreement, however no progress was achieved so far and you don`t take any measure. Moreover, among our opposition there are forces that try to organize march to Garabagh in order to declare their political ambitions.

Yesterday I visited Garadagh district - this is one of the districts of Baku - and I met the residents of this district. This is the district of oil industry and workers, a 50-apartment house is constructed there for the families of the victims and invalids of this war. I spoke there and I said: Are those killed and became invalid not enough? These families were very happy that such a house was built for them and they obtained apartments. I got familiarized with their apartments. Are these victims not enough? Some people still incite us to other acts.

Yesterday I came strictly out that we adhere the peaceful settlement of the conflict. I think that we will find the way of settlement of the conflict and it will be in conformity with interests of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. I don`t think that Armenia and Azerbaijan will always be in conflict situation. I don`t think so. Because the history proves that it is not possible.

Therefore, there is necessity in creation of the atmosphere of mutual trust. Because since 11 years that conflict began the sentiments and mutual attitude got very strict both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. That`s natural: there is war, people were killed, blood was shed. If we add here the occupation of some 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan by Armenian armed units and ousting of some one million of Azerbaijanis from these territories that live in tents in harsh conditions, you can see how sentiments became tense on both parts. However, not only Azerbaijan suffered losses, Armenia had losses as well, there are handicapped people in Armenia too.

Therefore, it is necessary to establish the atmosphere of trust in order to go towards peace and settle the conflict peacefully. Of course, it cannot be created in a short period. Many things must be done for the creation of the atmosphere of trust. For example, I hold this position. Therefore, the initiative of the journalists must be appreciated and supported. Moreover, I think that journalists can do a lot of things in this sphere.

I am told that such a group of journalists was recently in Armenia. They held meetings, got familiarized with life there and established some contacts. Whereas it was impossible several years ago to imagine even that an Azerbaijani could appear at the territory of Armenia or an Armenian could visit Azerbaijan. I remember that we organized on September 7-8 of the last year an international conference in Baku on the restoration of Grand Silk Route within TRASECA program, representatives of many countries were invited. Then we faced a problem - whether invite or not the delegation from Armenia? Frankly speaking there were many people that opposed this idea saying how we can invite Armenian delegation when we have a conflict with this country? However, the opinion for invitation prevailed. I explained to the people that firstly this is an international conference held in Baku, how we can deprive Armenia from this opportunity if it is located on Great Silk Road or participate at the implementation of TRASECA program? That is not right. They said: What we will do if Kocharyan comes, which will be the attitude towards him? I said: He will see normal attitude, he is president of Armenia. Prime-minister Darbinyan came and everything was normal.

President Robert Kocharyan said me on the phone not only in Azerbaijan but that they had also disagreements whether to send a top-ranked Armenian delegation to Azerbaijan or not? I say it to you on the basis of what President Kocharyan said me. It is to say that the same was both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, such opinion was defeated both there and in Azerbaijan. Conference was held, the Prime-Minister attended all ceremonies and signed documents. A step towards trust and mutual understanding was taken.

Many of such events can be organized. I reiterate that the involvement of journalists in such exchange serves to our strategic goal. I don`t consider it like a meeting of journalists but one of the units in the cycle of measures that we must take for the establishment of peace in South Caucasus.

Everybody needs peace in South Caucasus - not only Azerbaijan suffering from occupation of its territory; Georgia suffering from Abkhaz conflict; Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are in need of peace. People need peace. We are going to the XXI century, no war and conflict must be, people should live in peace and develop. The great development is underway where peaceful relationships are established. I reiterate, let`s see the example of Europe. What an horror happened during World War II: Europe, including Soviet Union was completely destroyed and we also - the countries of South Caucasus suffered losses. Look now how rapidly Europe develops after establishment of peace.

Therefore, journalists can contribute largely in going towards peace. I welcome your initiative and this meeting and I hope that it will make possible even little path towards peace.

Yekaterina Akhalkatsi (Georgia): Mister Aliyev, what role the economy can play in the settlement of conflicts in South Caucasus?

Heydar Aliyev: It plays a very important role. I wish we could overcome these difficulties. There is no problem between us and Georgia. We could overcome all problems existing between Armenia and Azerbaijan and promote economic cooperation, there are great opportunities. I met President Kocharyan in Washington, we had talks about it. There are great opportunities. Therefore, I think that the economy plays a very important role.

Gayane Movsesyan (Armenia): Mister Aliyev, does it seem to you that it is possible to run search for mutual interests even in the conflict situation in order to settle gradually sore points and arrange the economic cooperation? Is it possible to find any mutual economic interest even in this situation?

Heydar Aliyev: You know, with President Kocharyan we had talks on this subject. We spoke about it formerly, especially we spoke about it in Washington. By the way, I consider the meeting of presidents of three South Caucasian countries - Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan very interesting and useful attended by Secretary of State Department Madame Albright, and ministers of foreign affairs of many countries, including France, Great Britain, Germany, Norway, Turkey, organized under auspices of the administration of the United States of America and aimed at going on the way of the development of economic relationships, thus facilitating the settlement of other problems.

Aris Gazinyan (Armenia): Mister President, how the Republic of Armenia is perceived by official Baku? Here I heard and your councilor - esteemed Mister Guluzade pointed out that Armenian national conscience is formed under influence of Moscow. I would like to know if the official Baku considers Armenia the puppet of Russia in Caucasus.

Heydar Aliyev: You use very harsh phrases. You heard what you heard. I can`t add anything more, I can`t allow it me. However the fact remains. There are armed units and military bases of Russia in Armenia. The frontier service in Armenia is carried out essentially by Russian frontier troops, of course, with presence of Armenians. This fact proves that the sovereignty of the country is violated to some extent. Of course, this is internal matter of the country whether to allow it or not. For example, some politicians in Moscow say that Armenia is our only support and ally in South Caucasus. Of course, we feel offended when somebody says that it is a Christian country. You know, division of countries of faith at the end of XX century is simply felonious. Unfortunately we hear such opinions in Russia. What of it if Armenia is a Christian country? But they declare it, the high ranked officials at that. People practice Christianity. That`s right. In Azerbaijan people practice Islam. That`s right also. But it is not we that established it. Our ancestors adopted this religion many centuries ago. Should we be enmity each with other, have distrust or think that Moscow considers Armenia a Christian country but Azerbaijan - a Muslim one?

Therefore, I think that the fact is present. Armenia presented its territory both for S-300 missile systems and MiG-29 fighter aircrafts. In the conditions when we want to have peace in Caucasus and go for disarmament, the armament is underway in Armenia. By the way, I asked the leadership of Russia: Why do you do that? I directly asked the President of Russia and others: Why do you do that? At first, they were avoiding to answer this question, afterwards they began to say that this is against NATO. I laughed. NATO is in the West. What they can do against NATO using the territory of Armenia? If Russia considers that Armenia is a base of Russia against NATO you can see what is this. And they declared it me. Therefore, I don`t want to give any evaluation, I just establish the fact. Everybody should draw conclusions.

Journalist: But Turkey is member of NATO.

Heydar Aliyev: You know, I don`t want continue on this matter. It is ridiculous that Russia will defend itself from NATO against Turkey using the territory of Armenia. This is ridiculous. Russia has a long border with Turkey over Black Sea. And in the conditions when there are modern arms that Russia possesses, it is not difficult to open fire at Turkey as a member of NATO. If their missiles can reach the United States of America, what Turkey can do? Therefore, this is not logical. I reiterate, I establish the fact and don`t make any evaluation.

Vakhram Aghajanyan (Armenia): Heydar Aliyevich, we would like to know, to what extent Azerbaijan is ready to go on compromise after definition of the idea of "common state"? In your speeches and in speeches of other officials of Azerbaijan we hear about large autonomy to be offered to Mountainous Garabagh. But we didn`t understand the very nature of this largeness. Can you tell us what is large autonomy concretely, in two words, in two details? What is the difference of it from, let say, narrow one? Thank you.

Heydar Aliyev: You know, firstly, you maybe noticed that I don`t use the term "autonomy," since in the document of Lisbon summit it is marked as "higher degree of self-governance," it itself is higher than any autonomy.

As for the status of self-governance, I have said repeatedly that it can be the highest one existing in world practice. However, for working out of this issue in details one must admit that Mountainous Garabagh should necessarily have the higher degree of self-governance within Azerbaijan. After this we can work out the definition of the higher degree of self-governance. It is possible to step forward and find compromises. Let`s assume that Armenia will say "no" to something that it doesn`t like - we can admit it. Azerbaijan says "no, it will not work like that" to another thing - then it will be possible to go on compromise also. In any case, the very fact of the higher degree of self-governance is a large freedom, you understand that it is almost independence.

Alexei Manuvelyan (Armenia): I have a question. You are speaking about status and so on. However, Armenian party insist on discussion of this problem at the table of negotiations, moreover, at the presence of the representatives of Garabagh. Is it possible to put aside some problems, invite them to participate at negotiations, set them somewhere, tell them what you are used to say and then see their reaction? You speak with Armenia. However, they insist to reckon with them also. Reckon with them once and then see what will happen.

Heydar Aliyev: You know, my dear, we must be sincere. What does it mean? Mountainous Garabagh is a part of Armenia de-facto. There are too many evidences to it. The actual president of Armenia is former leader of Mountainous Garabagh. One minister from Mountainous Garabagh, another. Everything is merged here. Nevertheless, you, and not only you say us to speak with Mountainous Garabagh. Firstly, Mountainous Garabagh is not independent, secondly, being de jure the integral part of Azerbaijan, it doesn`t want to establish contacts with Azerbaijan by no means. Therefore, if Armenia doesn`t participate in this process and doesn`t annex Mountainous Garabagh, of course, there would not be other way but to go for direct contact. There would be no other way.

Let`s take Abkhaz conflict. There is no country openly backing Abkhazia, nevertheless there is someone who helps it and we are aware of it. Therefore, in this case the Georgian administration holds dialogue with leaders of Abkhazia. Otherwise, whom should they hold dialogue with? From the very beginning we had the conflict not only between Garabagh and Azerbaijan, this is conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Mountainous Garabagh.

Of course, if Armenia withdraws and says: I completely withdraw and don`t intervene in the affairs of Mountainous Garabagh, please, discuss it with them. Then there will not be other way but discuss it with them. Since Armenia is main subject for us, we want to come to agreement with Armenia. At the same time, if we reach some agreement with Armenia and we see that we are on the way of settlement of the problem, then Mountainous Garabagh will actively take part in this. You should understand and agree that actually it has no importance. When somebody says us to go and reach agreement with Mountainous Garabagh, we consider it as an attempt to hold us away of this problem.

Vugen Cheteryan (Switzerland): Mister President, I am from Geneva, I would like to ask my question in English. Do you want to have NATO base in Azerbaijan? What do you think, will these bases help to provide future security in Azerbaijan?

Heydar Aliyev: Do you want Azerbaijan has NATO bases?

Journalist: Unfortunately, I don`t want to reveal my position on this issue now.

Heydar Aliyev: You know, in my opinion, Azerbaijan is distinguished for enjoying its independence fully since gaining independence. There are not foreign troops and foreign military bases in Azerbaijan. Although there were such attempts on behalf of Russia. For example, there was general Nikolayev, commander-in-chief of Frontier Troops of Russia. He has been visiting Azerbaijan during 2-3 years offering us to protect jointly the border with Iran. I ask: "Why?" He answers: "You know, criminals, spies and others pass this border, we must protect CIS." They have even such a term - you may know this term since you are lawyer - "external borders of CIS." What does it mean - external borders of CIS? I said: Give me explanation - what are external borders of CIS? It turned out that the fact of defending of Armenian borders with Turkey by Russians together with Armenians means "external borders of CIS." I say: "Excuse me, there is European Union which is much more stronger that Commonwealth of Independent States. Do they have the external borders also? Should then Germany as dominating country in European Union say: Let`s defend jointly the frontiers of Czechia and Italy?" No.

You know, this is misunderstanding, that is nonsense. However, such ideas are widely spread. Therefore, he used to visit us offering to protect the external borders of CIS. I said him: "You know, try to take care of your frontiers, we will do our best for protecting our frontiers as we can." Or, he proposed: Let`s define frontiers on Caspian Sea and protect it. I say: "Against whom?" He answers: "Against Iran." I say: "Do you have information that Iran is going to do something?" He says: "No." By the way, there is former frontier between Iran and the Soviet Union passing on the Caspian Sea. Perhaps, you don`t know this name: it starts from Astara in Azerbaijan till Hasanguli in Turkenistan, along this line. I have been working in Azerbaijan for a long time, I know it very well. During all this time and decades the Soviet Union has been protecting the sea part of Caspian Sea from Iran along Astara-Hasanguli line. They used patrol boats, aircrafts, etc. Although I saw that Iran didn`t have any military ship at the Caspian Sea. Any military ship! What would happen if fishing or other boat violate frontier of Soviet Union? However, they have been spending forces for these purposes.

After, he offers me: "Let`s organize protection along this frontier." I ask him: "For what purpose? Actually, I don`t see any danger from this direction. But you want to do something here in order to provide your presence here. Why? Why do you want it?"

Actually Russia and Iran established such a close friendship that perhaps they don`t need to protect their frontiers.

That`s my answer to your question. It is to say that the sovereignty and independence of the state requires it to be master of its territory.

Galina Petreshvili (Georgia): Mister President, I am interested in the internal situation of your country. How do you evaluate your opposition and build relationships with them? Thank you.

Heydar Aliyev: Perhaps you are aware, what kind of opposition we have here. You were here, perhaps, you met them. Opposition is a normal phenomenon in the democratic state. We have opposition. But what we can say? Unfortunately, it is not enough mature to reach the level of serious political opposition. I wish opposition have been strong and thought of respectable issues. However, it each small party thinks about grabbing the power and overthrow the power. We have 40 parties. In such a small country 40 parties. I don`t know, what about Georgia?

Journalist: 127.

Heydar Aliyev: (laughing) you broke the record. I don`t want to follow you. At the same time I want to say: all that we say is new. I have always been saying and I say now: it is not admissible to think that Soviet Union disintegrated; we gained the independence, now we jumped from one system to another and this system is of highly developed. Let`s take the case of European countries - how they were going on the way of democracy, how many time, decades it took them to establish democratic power and normal, civilized opposition. However, if we take into consideration that mentality of European countries allowed them and allow still more than the mentality our country, then you can see how much time and what distance we need to overcome. Now you see, when they say that there is no democracy in Azerbaijan and so on… There is democracy in Azerbaijan. But there is no and cannot be such democracy as in Germany. Germany has been going to this democracy for so many years and decades. But we are also going to this democracy. That`s why the opposition should develop and become more respectable. They are in this direction. And I wish them further development.

Mark Grigoryan (Armenia): Please, tell us is there any state politics concerning some thousands Armenians, still living in Azerbaijan and in Baku, in particular? You know, I am aware of a case, when Anjela Oganova who lives in Nizami street was beaten several times by her neighbors, her documents were not accepted in the court because she is Armenian. Her documents were not accepted in civilian registrar office- she wants to marry with an Azerbaijani - because she is Armenian. Is there any state politics for the protection of this ethnic minority?

Heydar Aliyev: Yes. It exists and it was repeatedly declared by me - the President of Azerbaijan - that the Armenians living in Azerbaijan as the fate willed, I mean mixed marriages, they are mainly the wives -wife is Armenian and husband is Azerbaijani. I say: All right, what about children? The children also have both Azerbaijani and Armenian blood. None of them is guilty - neither Armenian in marrying with Azerbaijani nor Azerbaijani in marrying with Armenian. Aren`t they? Particularly the children born in the result of such mixed marriages.

I have categorically warned. I don`t know any fact of violation of the rights of Armenians, living in Azerbaijan. I know many senior officials who have been working with me for a long time and still work in some places, their wives are Armenians and they have no problem. However, if something wrong happened to this Anjela we need simply investigate this case. Write us, we will see.

Journalist: Yes, I ask you.

Heydar Aliyev: Of course, we should examine it. We will take measures. You can be confident and say in Armenia also that we provide full guarantees. No violation can take place. They are not guilty in conflict and they shouldn`t suffer.

Vakhram Aghajanyan: Heydar Aliyevich, how do you comprehend the election of Karen Seropovich Demirchian to the post of the speaker of the parliament? Do you attach any hope with this person for the settlement of the conflict?

Heydar Aliyev: You know we are a sovereign state; we should respect the people`s choice. I hold this position. In this case, I think that the Armenian people expressed great trust in Karen Seropovich Demirchian by electing him the chairman of the Armenian parliament. Before that he ran for the presidency, and according to the press news, we knew that he received many votes. On my opinion, they had the second tour with Robert Kocharian. Is it right? What does it show? It shows his political popularity, the attitude and trust of the people in him. I join that. The people`s will is the most important.

As to Karen Seropovich Demirchian, I know him for a long time. I began to work as the first secretary of CC of Azerbaijan in 1969. Three years later - in 1972 - Eduard Amvrosiyevich was elected the first secretary of CC in Georgia; and two years later - in 1974 - Karen Seropovich was elected the first secretary of CC in Armenia. And I should say that we had a good cooperation. Very good. We assisted each other, were in contact.

I recall my meetings in Armenia. I was greeted with enthusiasm and respect, and not only by the officials. I visited the collectives, plants and factories. I remember a large meeting, attended by Eduard Amvrosiyevich, Karen Demirchian and me, was organized once in the territory of a shoe factory. We gave speeches and talked about the friendship of the South Caucasian peoples. Karen Seropovich has visited Azerbaijan many times. The people welcomed him with deep respect, so these pages of life should not be forgotten. We did a lot then. You, young people, should know: at that time we did a lot for our republics to gain the scientific, economic and cultural potential that enables them to live independently now. And many people in Armenia, including Karen Demirchian, contributed to that. And perhaps people do not forget it. There is no other way. Look, in 1988, he left the political arena. All of sudden, after eleven years, people gave him their vote of confidence. Thus, it is not forgotten. That`s is natural and right.

Gayane Movsesyan: A little question: If my memory doesn`t fail me, you agreed to meet on the frontier at the meeting with the President of Armenia held in Washington. When it will happen?

Heydar Aliyev: We agreed to meet, but not on the frontier. We agreed to meet in Luxembourg. However I couldn`t attend this meeting due to the reason you are aware of. I hope that soon we will find a place where we can meet, we will meet and continue the dialogue that was initiated in Washington.

Galina Petreshvili (Georgia): A very little question. How do you feel?

Heydar Aliyev: How do you see me?

Galina Petreshvili: Good.

Voices from places: Perfect. Excellent.

Heydar Aliyev: Do you like me?

Galina Petreshvili: Yes.

Heydar Aliyev: That is my answer. Thank you, I wish you successes. Good bye.