From the conversation of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev at the meeting with Pope John Paul II - Vatican, "Palace of Castel Gandolfo," September 26, 1997

Pope John Paul II: Mr. President Aliyev, I cordially welcome you and express my gratitude for accepting my invitation and coming to meet me.

Mr. President, we know that you are an outstanding figure and the independent Republic of Azerbaijan took its rightful place in the world community under your leadership in the recent years. I declare that we closely follow the legal state-building and successful implementation of economic reforms in your country and support them.

Heydar Aliyev: Your Eminence, I express my gratitude for inviting me to Vatican, for the hospitality and kind words. I declare that I had very productive meetings with the Italian President Scalfaro, Prime Minister Prodi and other senior officials of the country and signed mutually beneficial documents for both countries.

I declare that the first democratic Constitution of the newly independent Azerbaijan chosen the path of the market economy and built a democratic country gave broad rights to the citizens in our country and ensured freedom of speech and conscience.

I emphasize that various religious denominations freely function in our country. Strong human rights are protected in Azerbaijan, the process of building a democratic society is implemented into life with great success and a wide space is given to pluralism and freedom of press.

I emphasize it once more that Azerbaijan achieved great success in building a democratic country, in the implementation of reforms, and much has been done to strengthen relations with the world community. Our country is doing everything necessary to make the independence of Azerbaijan eternal and immutable.

In 1988, Armenia committed a real aggression against Azerbaijan. As a result of this aggression, which is expanding from year to year, distinguished with ruthlessness and cruelty, the Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of the Azerbaijani lands, more than one million people have been expelled from their homes and live in difficult conditions in tents. In the occupied territories of Azerbaijan valuable cultural monuments of our nation, religious centers, schools and hospitals have been brutally destroyed and devastated.

Despite these heavy blows, Azerbaijan prefers peaceful resolution of the conflict. Three years ago, we reached a ceasefire. Azerbaijan takes an active part in the negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the conflict within the frames of the Minsk Group of OSCE and in the preparation of the Great Peace Agreement.

At the Lisbon Summit in the December of 1996, the heads of countries and states which are members of OSCE, adopted the basic principles for the peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. We are for the resolution of the conflict on the principles approved by 53 countries.

However, Armenia ignores the Lisbon principles and trying to take advantage of a temporary success in the aggression intends to annex the Mountainous Garabagh which is an integral part of Azerbaijan and create a second Armenian state there. All this is completely contrary to the norms of international law, and, therefore, we cannot allow that.

Our republic is ready to grant the Mountainous-Garabagh the highest status self-administration within Azerbaijan. I declare that the new proposals put forward by three major co-chairs of the Minsk Group of OSCE - the USA, Russia and France, which offer a two-stage peaceful settlement of the conflict by preserving the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan on the Lisbon Principles once more affirm our position based on international law.

Pope John Paul II: As the head of all the Catholics of the Vatican, I also support the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict on the principles adopted at the Lisbon Summit and urge all contribute to this. I emphasize that the preservation of the territorial integrity of countries which gained their independence is very important and we must struggle together against separatism...

Mr. President, I emphasize that it is very pleasant to meet you.

Heydar Aliyev: Your Eminence, I express my gratitude for the warm and sincere meeting and I invite you to pay official visit to Azerbaijan. I am confident that the visit of His Eminence to Azerbaijan will be a significant event for the people of Azerbaijan and will play an important role in strengthening the cooperation between our countries.

Pope John Paul II: Dear President, I gratefully accept the invitation.