The speech of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev at the solemn ceremony of admission of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe - January 25, 2001, Strasbourg

Distinguished Mr. Chairman!

Distinguished Mr. Chairman of the Committee of Ministers!

Dear Mr. Secretary-General!

Dear participants of the ceremony!

Today in the center of the European parliamentarism in the city of Strasbourg, in this majestic palace of the Council of Europe there is an event which has great importance not only for the Republic of Azerbaijan, but also for all Europe because Azerbaijan joins the family of the European countries. It is a major landmark in the process leading to full integrity of Europe in political, historical and cultural understanding. So Europe is getting completed not only in terms of history and culture, but also in terms of politics.

In 1991 Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan was in close interaction with Europe not only for the last decade, but also for the last two centuries of its history. It was acquiring culture of the West basing on universal values. Azerbaijan is located at the crossroad of East and West, Europe and Asia. It is also the important crossroad of historical destinies, religions and cultures. It serves as a bridge for two continents and civilizations.

Azerbaijani people, not tearing themselves from their oriental roots, have created their unique culture based on synthesis both of the western and the eastern civilizations. They disseminated progressive ideas of the West and Europe both in the Caucasus and the Middle East.

The result of close contacts with Europe is that since the mid of the XIX century in the Muslim East the Azerbaijan people printed the first newspaper, built their first school of the European type and their first theatre, created new tendencies in literature, art and public idea. At last, in 1918 Azerbaijan proclaimed the first secular state in the East, the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic.

Today's event is a result not only of our political cooperation during the last years. It is a fruit of the two hundred year historical interaction between Azerbaijan and Europe.

After gaining its state independence in 1991 Azerbaijan definitely chose the road of integration into Europe getting orientated towards its humanistic and democratic values. On the basis of advanced European experience, we have achieved a lot during the short historical period.

Despite all difficulties, we followed the way of liberalization of economy, building a legal state and free civil society. We have put in the forefront the protection of human rights, applied our joint efforts to deliver our country and citizens from a heavy heritage of a totalitarian regime. We have achieved internal stability, which is one of the important conditions for the development of democracy. We have created multi-party political system, provided freedom of speech and press. We have adopted a new Constitution, which major principle is protection of human rights and freedom. For the first time in the East we have abolished capital punishment, created a new legislative system, held presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections. We have also carried out a number of important political and economic reforms.

Unfortunately, despite all our efforts, while joining the Council of Europe, we have also certain problems alongside the positive changes and successes. First of all, it is the conflict of Nagorno-Garabagh between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which still remains unresolved. And at the same time Armenia joins the Council of Europe as well. Difficulties caused by this problem for Azerbaijan, and, first of all, presence of mass of refugees and IDPs, heavy economic and social situation of the country, are obstacles to the development of democracy, protection of human rights both in our country and in the region as a whole.

We evaluate admission of our country to the Council of Europe not only as a result of the great and joint work, but we also estimate it as extending help and friendly hand to Azerbaijan and to its people. Therefore we believe that a lot of our problems will be solved in the united European family.

Today we experience really historical event. The Flag of Azerbaijan will be soon hoisted at the front of the Council of Europe.

One of three colors of our flag symbolizes our aspiration to modernity and, first of all, to Europeanization. We are happy that our flag will take its worthy place and will fly among the flags of all other European countries.

Thank you for your attention. I express my gratitude to you.