Azerbaijan International

Autumn 1997 (5.3)
Pages 19-20

President Heydar Aliyev's views about major issues as presented publicly in (July 27-August 4, 1997) on his first official visit to the United States.

Armenian military aggression in Azerbaijan has resulted in bloody battles and hostilities, leaving tens of thousands of people dead and 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory under Armenian military occupation. The occupied area includes Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other provinces outside of this region. As a consequence, more than one million Azerbaijanis have been forcefully ousted from their homes. They now live under extraordinarily difficult circumstances as refugees in tent camps.

President of Azerbaijan Heydar AliyevLeft: President Aliyev points to Karabakh and the 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory being held militarily by Armenians.

Imagine, if you will, that the total population of Azerbaijan is only 7 million people. But out of this total, 1 million people are living as refugees. The burden of so many displaced people has made an incredibly negative impact on both our economic and social life.

Irrespective of this, we need to consider this a closed chapter in history and look to the future. We favor peace. We want peace so that all these problems can be solved.

Three years ago (May 1994), a cease-fire agreement was signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Presently, there are no hostilities going on between us. We are committed to this cease-fire and are trying to achieve a permanent peace.

Since 1993, the Minsk Group, a special committee of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been commissioned to try to negotiate a settlement. Currently, this committee is co-chaired by Russia, France and the United States so we're hopeful that this problem will soon be solved.

During the OSCE Lisbon Summit in December 1996, three essential principles were adopted for the peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They include: (1) recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Armenia [Nagorno-Karabakh would continue to be recognized as part of Azerbaijan]; (2) high status of self-rule for Nagorno-Karabakh within the republic of Azerbaijan [Armenians would have a great deal of autonomy to govern themselves but within the statehood of Azerbaijan]; and (3) guarantees for the security of the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh [for Armenians as well as for the Azerbaijanis who want to return to their native lands].

We accepted these principles as did 53 of the 54 OSCE member countries. Armenia alone rejected them. But it is unacceptable to us to have a second Armenian state [Nagorno Karabakh] located within the boundaries of Azerbaijan. Armenia must compromise. We have already compromised.

Section 907 of the "Freedom Support Act"
A great concern for Azerbaijan is the "Freedom Support Act" which was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1992 to facilitate the transition of the newly independent republics of the former USSR. American lawmakers included one single exception-Azerbaijan-to this law which provides aid to the remaining 14 republics. Section 907 has banned all direct aid to the Azerbaijan government for the past five years. This law was based on distortion of the truth, blaming Azerbaijan for blockading Armenia which, at the time, was aggressively at war with us.

When Congress accuses us of blockading Armenia, they should take a closer look at the map. The railroad between Baku [Azerbaijan] and Yerevan [Armenia] to which they are referring, is currently under the occupation of Armenian forces. It is in the hands of Armenia. It is under their control, not ours.

The truth is, Armenia is blockading Azerbaijan. Part of Azerbaijan, namely, the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan, is connected to Azerbaijan's mainland through the territory of Armenia. But Armenia has been blockading Nakhchivan and cutting it off from us for more than five years.

The banning of U.S. aid to Azerbaijan is a very unjust decision. The U.S. government renders financial aid directly to the governments of all our neighboring countries. Armenia, for example, receives $100 million annually [per capita this amount is even greater than what Russia receives]. But Azerbaijan has been deprived of this assistance during this transitional period when we need it most.

I'm very pleased that, recently, President Clinton and other high-ranking officials of the U.S. and the Administration, have announced that they are against Section 907, and that they plan to work for its repeal. I would like to express my hope that Congress would overturn this unjust decision against Azerbaijan and restore justice towards us.

Major Pipeline Route
I'd like to see this pipeline directed through Turkey to the Jeyhan port on the Mediterranean. I will continue to do my best to achieve this goal. Turkey is a very close friend of Azerbaijan and has a very important role to play in the development and transportation of our oil resources. We have been cooperating with them in many spheres. Our languages are basically the same. Our traditions also are very, very close, and these cultural links go a long way to strengthen relations.

I agree 100 percent with the views of Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski when he says that the U.S. needs to support Turkey, as it truly plays an important role in our region and will continue to do so.

Russia, our neighbor to the north, is a great country. For 200 years, we were part of it. Our economies are closely integrated. We want to continue developing economic relations and to cooperate in many other spheres.

Many Azerbaijanis live in Russia; as do Russians, in Azerbaijan. What we want is friendly relations that do not violate the independence of Azerbaijan. These relations must recognize our equal statehood. Russia should not interfere in our internal affairs. We are guarding our independence and not making alliances with any country that would diminish our independence.

We are well aware that Russia maintains military troops and bases in countries which used to be former Soviet republics, including countries like Armenia and Georgia which border ours. Russia does this, despite the fact that these are independent nations today. Russia has a vast amount of military equipment and personnel in Armenia who guard their borders with Azerbaijan, with Turkey and Iran.

In summary, we are in favor of maintaining good relations with Russia. We want to develop these relations, but under one condition-that we are able to protect our borders and maintain our independence.

Democracy and human rights, in general, are very new concepts for the Azerbaijani society. Some people think we should be able to establish democracy in a short time, but that's impossible. Azerbaijan is a young nation, and democracy is a new concept. Democracy has to enter the minds of people, not just the mind of one person. People have been living under the communist ideology in a totalitarian regime for 70 years. It's impossible for them to change overnight.

Bear in mind that the United States has been advancing along this path called "democracy" for a long time-more than 200 years. They've achieved a lot, but they're still working at it. Democracy is not an apple you buy at the market and bring back home.

Great changes have occurred in my own lifetime since I left the Politburo in 1987. These changes have resulted in my becoming very anti-communist though I, myself, was a Communist earlier on. I'm now involved in building a democratic state although I used to be a member of the Politburo and the Communist Party. It took me several years to change my own views, but I did it.

I'm helping build this new society in Azerbaijan. I want to assure you that we will build it as a democratic society. Do we make mistakes? Yes, but we strive to eliminate our mistakes. Democracy is an unending process. The beginning stages of the process are clear, but true democracy has no limit. Even for you, living here in the United States, democracy is an un-ending process.

Religious Freedom
Azerbaijan guarantees all human rights, including the freedom of religion. All religions have equal rights in Azerbaijan. Mosques, synagogues and churches operate freely. Azerbaijan is the native land of many nationalities and religions. I am immensely proud, for example, that Azerbaijan has never been anti-Semitic.

It's true that the majority of our population is Muslim despite the fact that during the Soviet period Islam was forbidden. But it's important to note that Azerbaijan is not an Islamic state, nor is Islam the state ideology. Islam is not the ideology of the government of Azerbaijan. Church and state are separated.

Although Islam is the ideology of some countries, in Azerbaijan we are building a secular state based on Western and world standards. In other words, we are building a government based on the recognized principles of democracy and universal rights for all.

It is true that there are some forces which are trying to expand Islamic fundamentalism in our country. We consider them a threat to our nationhood. The majority of our people are against fundamentalism. Again, I reiterate - Azerbaijan is committed to being a secular state.

Corruption is one of the most dangerous evils undermining society. It's not only in Azerbaijan, but it's all over the world. Unfortunately, corruption is widespread, especially, in countries undergoing transitions. It exists in Russia as well as all of the former Soviet republics, including Azerbaijan.

Back in 1969 in the USSR, I never denied that there was corruption at a time when everybody was saying, "No, you can never have corruption in a communist regime; corruption is only associated with capitalism." But corruption and bribery are the most dangerous ills in our society. I said it 30 years ago and I say it again today. I have been fighting corruption and will continue to do so. I would like to assure you that building a society which is free from corruption is important for our people - for their morale and for their future.

From Azerbaijan International (5.3) Autumn 1997.
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All rights reserved.

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