President of Azerbaijan

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 29 April 2004

Dear Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, dear guests, it is a great honour for me to have been invited to speak to the Council of Europe today. It is a great personal pleasure for me too, because, as you mentioned, Mr President, I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for three years, and that period was perhaps one of the most interesting and important in my life, and also, of course, played an important role in my future activities and in my holding the position that I hold today.

Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe only three years ago. Before that, the country suffered from a lot of problems. After Azerbaijan became independent in 1991, the situation there was very difficult. There was total chaos – political, economic and military. Economic decline was significant, and in practice the country was on the verge of collapse. There was civil war, and several attempted military coups d’état – and, of course, Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan. Those factors did not allow the country to develop normally in a free democratic way.

Only after the difficult heritage of the past was overcome, only after social and political stability was established in Azerbaijan and a cease-fire was achieved between Armenia and Azerbaijan, did the country have a chance to start developing in a diversified way. Our economy started to grow and today, from the point of view of economic development, Azerbaijan is a rapidly-developing country. Over the last seven years, growth in gross domestic product has been 90%. During the same period, the inflation rate has not exceeded between 2% and 3%. Azerbaijan is one of the leading countries among former Soviet republics and some eastern European countries in respect of direct foreign investment per capita. All those factors, plus large-scale economic reforms, land reform, land privatisation and the general privatisation of enterprises, allow the country to build its economy on the basis of a market economy.

Today, the private sector share of GDP is 75%. That is a high figure, but we must take the oil factor into account. The oil sector, which has a large stake in GDP, is still a state monopoly, so that the figure 75% shows that almost all of our industry has already been privatised.

Our country is developing: the economy is growing and that allows us to implement huge international economic projects. Today, the world’s biggest energy project is being implemented in Azerbaijan. For ten years, Azerbaijan has been developing its oil and gas resources, with leading world companies. That experience has been very successful and there are several key elements to that success.

The investment climate is very good. Our investors can be completely sure that their investments are properly protected. All major investment projects in Azerbaijan are ratified by our parliament and become law – so no one can change them.

We have transparency, which in the oil and gas sectors and the principal extractive industries is a key element of success. In that respect, Azerbaijan has made significant achievements. We joined at its very beginning the extractive industries, transparency initiative, and we are ready to lead that process in the region. We have close communication and co-operation with international financial institutions, especially the International Monetary Fund, with which we co-ordinate all our major economic activity. All those factors allow us to attract billions of dollars in investment. Last year, the total amount of investment in Azerbaijan was US$17 billion, US$12 billion of which was direct foreign investment. If investors were not confident of social and political stability, predictability and development in the country, they would of course not risk their capital. We are very determined to continue that policy.

Within the next three years almost US$10 billion will be invested in the oil and gas sectors alone. Huge communication and pipeline projects being built today are important not only for our country and the territories of the countries through which the pipelines pass, but for the whole region. They are important for regional security, stability and co-operation.

Azerbaijan is very active with respect to issues of regional co-operation, and today the level of regional co-operation is satisfactory and we are ready to play an important role in that regard in the future.

Properly used, Azerbaijan’s oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea will allow our country, to diversify our economy. The production and transportation of oil and gas is not the final goal but a means to diversify the economy, to create a modern, civilised, economically strong society, to conduct further political reforms and to continue on the path of the democratisation of our society.

Those achievements and the projects that will be implemented in the near future will of course very much help to strengthen the economy of our country, and in the near future Azerbaijan will become very strong economically. In 2005 and 2006, major oil and gas pipelines will be in operation, which will help all the countries involved to improve the living standards of their people.

Of course, that is only one part of life in our country today. Azerbaijan is developing economically but also socially. We carry out a lot of social programmes and although our economic policy is based on free market principles, the largest part of our budget structure is socially-oriented. That combination of market economy and social protection is one of the key factors to our success.

In the field of political reform, the country has made important achievements. Our presence for three years in the Council of Europe has played a crucial role in enabling Azerbaijan to continue along the path of democracy. New legislation has been adopted. The recommendations of the Council of Europe and the commitments that our country undertook on their adoption and their implementation helped our country a great deal. I should therefore like to express my sincere gratitude to all our colleagues in the Council of Europe for their constructive co-operation, advice, expertise and recommendations, all of which were aimed at the further democratisation of our society and at helping Azerbaijan to become a full member of the European family. Much has still to be implemented. In many areas, our life does not meet international standards, for which there are objective and sometimes subjective reasons. A country that has suffered war, occupation, civil war and other very dramatic events cannot all of a sudden become fully democratic and free, but that is none the less our strategic choice. Events beginning with the presidential elections and the measures taken by our government after those elections show our commitment to those values and show our determination to continue to develop a free, democratic and pluralistic society.

Economic growth and democratisation of society are key elements of our policy, and one cannot exist without the other. You can be economically strong, but if you do not have democracy and transparency and if human rights are not protected, the country will never be successful. We examined the experience of some oil-producing countries and, unfortunately, we found out that not all of them were success stories. Sometimes, oil brings not only prosperity, but negative elements. Given all the bad experience behind us, we are very determined not to make mistakes.

At the same time, the country has a lot of problems. We are fighting against poverty. We are now implementing a poverty-reduction programme, together with the World Bank. Given our unemployment, one of the elements of our economic and social reform programme involves the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs, especially in the regions. That was officially declared by me to ensure that the country develops in a dynamic and diversified way, not only in the capital and the main cities, but in all the regions of Azerbaijan. Faraway villages must feel the benefit of our economic growth.

Only if the people feel that they are starting to have a better standard of living will our government consider its policy implemented. That is our goal – to provide equal conditions for all citizens, so that everyone can benefit from economic prosperity and oil development and that each citizen of Azerbaijan can enjoy the same rights. We have made some good achievements in that respect. Ethnic and religious tolerance represent some of our country’s main achievements. Not only during our independence, but even before then, when we lived in a soviet system and were part of the Soviet Union, religious and ethnic tolerance were very common factors in Azerbaijan. That policy continues. We are a multinational country. All the nations and representatives of all the religions feel themselves at home there.

One of the major problems that our country has been facing for a long time is the continuing occupation of 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory by Armenia. That aggression started with acts of aggressive separatism, conducted by Armenia against Azerbaijan, and resulted in the occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region and seven other regions of Azerbaijan beyond the administrative borders of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region. Armenians have never lived in those seven regions of Azerbaijan. They were exclusively inhabited by Azerbaijanis, and that occupation led to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The facts are well known in the Assembly. Members of our delegation have spoken many times about them and they are reflected in many Council of Europe documents. Some 250 000 Azerbaijani refugees live in Armenia today, and 700 000 Azerbaijanis who lived in those seven regions of Azerbaijan became internally displaced persons. Also, about 50 000 Azerbaijanis who lived in the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region became refugees. We also have refugees who came to Azerbaijan from other countries, and those people became refugees because of other conflicts. That is perhaps the highest number of refugees per capita in the world – 1 million out of 8 million – and that situation has continued for more than ten years.

This will be the tenth anniversary of a cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and for ten years the negotiations have produced no result. Of course, we cannot agree with that situation. Azerbaijan will never agree to the loss of the territories. International law norms must prevail. Azerbaijan respects the territorial integrity of all the countries in the world and demands that the same attitude be taken towards itself. Our territorial integrity must be restored. The Armenian occupation forces must be pulled out of the occupied territories, and refugees must be given a chance to return to their homeland.

In the twenty-first century, we cannot agree with a situation where one country of the Council of Europe – Armenia – continues to occupy the territory of another country of the Council of Europe – Azerbaijan. The international community cannot agree to that situation. Of course, we hope that the joint activity of the international community will help us to resolve this problem. We are very grateful to the Council of Europe for starting to discuss this issue. As you know, the Political Affairs Committee is now working on a report on Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We expect that that report will reflect the situation and, more importantly, that it will give a political appraisal of the conflict.

Armenians have their own arguments, and I would like to comment briefly on them in order to present the whole picture, not just one side of it. Their argument is that Armenians who live in Nagorno-Karabakh have a right to self-determination. Such rights are very important and we all respect them. However, I would like to draw your attention to one important issue. Armenians already have self-determination. They have an Armenian state, so Armenians as a nation have already executed their right to do that. Imagine what would happen if they started to have self-determination wherever they lived. Would that mean that, wherever there is a minority, there should be separatism? Does that mean that, wherever there is a minority, it is entitled to create an independent state? Of course not.

There are minorities in many countries, including European countries. We and the Azerbaijanis have minorities in many countries. There are almost 500 000 Azerbaijanis in Georgia. There are also a lot of Azerbaijanis in Russia and in other countries. There are 200 000 Armenians in Georgia. That is four times more than the number of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh now. Does that mean they must have selfdetermination there? The principle does not work in that concrete case. Therefore, there is a contradiction between self-determination and territorial integrity in this case. In other words, we expect the international community to play a very active role in finding a resolution to that conflict, based on the norms of international law.

Dear ladies and gentlemen, as I said, it is a great pleasure and honour for me to be here and to address you. Azerbaijan has made important achievements since gaining independence. Today, our strategic choice towards integration into Europe and into the European family – European structures – is continuing. We are strongly committed to that policy. We will do our best to ensure that Azerbaijan will meet all the standards and all the criteria that are common in the Council of Europe and in other European countries. That is our policy, which we have been conducting for a long time. What is happening today in Azerbaijan is a continuation of that policy. We shall continue to be active members of the Council of Europe. We are strongly committed to European values, which we share. Our delegation has always been active in the Council of Europe.

I thank members of the Council of Europe for their understanding of our problems. We have found good friends here. I, personally, have made very good friends. I am pleased to see my former colleagues in the European Democratic Group, with whom I worked constructively for three years, and all the Assembly members. I genuinely miss the days when I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly and worked with you. Today, I have another position and another responsibility. I assure you that the policy that we have been following in Azerbaijan for the past few years will continue and bring peace and prosperity to our country and our region. Thank you very much for your attention.


Thank you very much, Mr Aliyev, for your most interesting address and for the kind words you found for our Assembly and the Council of Europe. As you know, members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you.

I remind members that questions must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. I will allow supplementary questions only at the end and only if time permits. The first question is from Mr Gaburro.

Mr GABURRO (Italy) (translation)

Allow me first to congratulate the President of Azerbaijan on the significant progress made in recent years. My question relates to the economy, where progress has been considerable. Can you give us some idea of the scale of the economic relations existing between Azerbaijan and the economies of the countries of the European Union? What are the tendencies, and what are the main sectors concerned, in terms of both imports and exports? Thank you.

Mr Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan

Our trade and economic relations with the European Union are growing every year. If we compare the data for 2003 with those for 2002, we can see that growth was almost 40%. This shows that Europe has become an important market for Azerbaijan. I should like to mention that Italy is our biggest trade partner.

Of course, it is also clear that much of our infrastructure in Azerbaijan was created when our country was part of the Soviet Union. The market for our products is mainly the neighbouring countries of the former Soviet Union. New facilities and enterprises fulfil international standards but there are not many. Most of our industry is from the past and the major consumers of our goods are therefore the neighbouring countries of the former Soviet Union.

However, the tendency is positive and we look towards European markets with great hope and aspiration. I am sure that dynamic trade relations will grow this year, too.

Ms DURRIEU (France) (translation)

It is a pleasure and an honour to have you here, Mr President. You have just declared your determination to make your country a democracy. What steps have you taken, therefore, to counter the violence and irregularities that vitiated the recent presidential elections?

Your country is being monitored. What progress have you made in honouring your commitments in this respect?

Mr Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan

Events after the presidential elections show that hostility continues to exist in our society. The government and our party support political dialogue – normal, constructive dialogue between all the political forces in our society. We want to resolve our problems around the table, but, unfortunately, some members of the opposition, even before the official results of the election were declared, preferred to express their views with stones and metal bars. A severe attack on the police was broadcast on television. There were many episodes of violence and all the major television channels broadcast one of them, during which demonstrators drove a big truck at the police.

Of course, Azerbaijan, like any other country in the world, has a right to defend itself. Brutal attacks on the police are not appreciated in any country. I believe that all the political forces in our country must behave within the framework of the law. Democracy and law must go together. On many occasions, before and after the elections, I invited, in my official speeches, all the political forces of Azerbaijan to participate in constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, I have not received a response. Nevertheless, we shall continue to try to create an environment in Azerbaijan in which all political disputes are resolved around the negotiating table.

Mr SLUTSKY (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

asked what progress had been made with regard to Azerbaijan’s actions against poverty and human suffering, and highlighted the 1 million displaced persons who were affected in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mr Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan (interpretation)

said that his government was working hard with international institutions such as the World Bank to achieve its aim of the eradication of poverty. He believed that the prospects for success were good. Refugees were the most vulnerable sector of society and were therefore a priority. Azerbaijan had only limited resources but was working to help refugees in areas which had been freed from occupation. Houses, schools, hospitals and even entire villages had been constructed. However, a lot of Azerbaijani territory was under Armenian occupation. Armenian forces must withdraw from his country.

He stressed that a resolution of this humanitarian catastrophe was needed. For more than ten years now, because of the Armenian occupation, large numbers of displaced people had been living in tent camps. The Armenian forces were occupying territory that did not belong to them. Mr Aliyev saw some signs that people in Armenia had started to understand that. Armenia had to withdraw its forces and needed to do so quickly.

Ms VERMOT-MANGOLD (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, you spoke several times about solving problems at the negotiating table. Do you see a possibility of submitting a peace plan between Armenia and Azerbaijan? When will this happen and what will be the cornerstones of this plan?

Mr Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan

We are committed to resolving the issue by peaceful means, and Azerbaijan has openly declared its policy several times. Of course, in such issues not just one side is involved – both sides must come to an agreement. We expect those assigned to help us to resolve the issue – the OSCE Minsk Group, and its co-chairs from the United States, France and Russia – will play a more active role in the resolution of the conflict. When two sides cannot agree, a third party is entitled to help. The Minsk Group co-chairs have a mandate to help and mediate in the negotiations, not merely to observe, as unfortunately happens sometimes. We are committed to the continuation of negotiations but, at the same time, they can be held only if there is a subject to negotiate. If there is no subject, we are not in favour of creating an imitation of negotiations. If Azerbaijan thinks that the continuation of negotiations is pointless, we will look at our policy again.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

I congratulate you, Mr President, on your courage in speaking freely here. As we often struggle with concrete issues, I would like to ask you an open question. When you have to establish priorities and choose between economic roles, democratic development and social justice, what do you do and how do you link the three together?

Mr Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan

Thank you for your question. Implementation of those goals can be achieved only through a package. One can have an economically strong country without democracy but not vice versa. One cannot create a democratic country without a strong economy, which is needed to resolve social problems. In poor countries, people mostly think about how to overcome poverty rather than about how to create a more democratic society. None of those aims can therefore be a priority in isolation as they are all important to us. Without economic backing, however, it is not possible to create a democratic society. Azerbaijan has started to build economic foundations and attract investment. It has started to diversify its economy, and the figures that I mentioned show that the economy is developing. Taking into account the fact that every eighth person in the country is a refugee and has to be paid for by the government, our priorities are social stability, security, democracy and economic development, as our policy demonstrates.

Mr KIRILOV (Bulgaria)

As a former member of the Assembly, Mr President, it will not be news to you that many delegates are very concerned about the number of unresolved conflicts in the Southern Caucasus. You have spoken about the conflict affecting your country, but I would like to know your attitude to the confidence-building measures of the international community that are designed to create a climate of trust. Do you appreciate and support those initiatives?

Mr Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan

Without confidence-building measures, it would be difficult to move towards general agreement. We cannot agree about every item in the peace resolution, and must take a step-by-step approach. Confidence-building measures have a broad meaning, but their main aim is to resolve the conflict step by step. That approach is logical and can help both sides steadily to come to an agreement. The first step is for Armenian occupational forces to leave the seven regions of Azerbaijan beyond the administrative border of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region, as that will contribute towards a solution. That was discussed in the European Parliament and other circles and it is a good confidence-building measure, which will help us to achieve a resolution.

Mr ATES¸ (Turkey)

I would like to welcome you, Mr President, in our mother tongue, Turkish. If we had an interpreter we could converse in Turkish.

You mentioned oil and gas pipelines and the importance of the prosperity that that project will bring to people in the region. How do you see the link between the successful implementation of the aforementioned projects and the future integration of peoples in the regions, especially in the context of the recent initiatives on the part of the European Union and the wider Europe?

Mr Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan

The implementation of the projects will have an impact on our relations with the European Union in various ways. First, it will create a very strong economy in Azerbaijan. It is naïve to think that only oil will help us to achieve prosperity. We have to work hard and use this unique opportunity to create a strong economy that will not depend on oil and oil prices. That is our strategic goal. Of course, creating a strong economy will come close to European standards and will play an important role in our international relations.

Beginning in 2006, Azerbaijan will start to deliver natural gas to Turkey. The Assembly knows that Turkey and Greece have agreed to unify their gas distribution networks. There is therefore the possibility of us delivering gas to Turkey and Greece and to other European countries as well. If that happens – this is another part of our strategic agenda – Azerbaijan will be a reliable and efficient supplier of gas to European consumers, taking into account transportation costs and other factors. Those are the most visible factors that we can identify as we strive to achieve our goals, but many other factors will become relevant.

Let me give the Assembly one figure. Some US$10 million is invested in four oil and gas projects in Azerbaijan every day. The international financial organisations which give loans to implement such projects obviously believe in us, and that has increased not only our credibility but the possibility of us working with such organisations, including the World Bank, in different sectors. I am sure that that will happen and, as a result, our relations with the European Union will take on a different dimension. The development of a non-oil sector and our transportation and integration projects will continue after the major energy projects are implemented.


Reports on the Azerbaijani electoral process allege electoral rigging in polling stations. Were the complaints investigated, and was any action taken?

Mr Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan

Last year’s elections reflect the real situation in the country. Of course, there were several irregularities. Our legislation is not perfect and, to be frank, we are not ready to hold elections that meet the standard required by the European Union. However, there is no doubt that the results of the election reflect the real story. Before the election, several public opinion polls were held in Azerbaijan, some by international organisations. The American International Republican Institute conducted polls before the campaign started. It showed that more than 65% of the voters were planning to vote for me. The electoral campaign gave me another opportunity to present my programme, views and ideas. There were also other factors. The opposition could not agree on a single candidate and its members fought with each other instead of fighting the ruling party candidate. That added votes to those cast for me.

There is no doubt, either within Azerbaijan or outside it, that the results reflect the reality. At the same time, the matter has been raised with those polling stations where there were irregularities. If I am not mistaken, the election results in more than 600 polling stations were cancelled because of irregularities. All the necessary steps have been taken and the process to improve things will continue. The next elections will be better. The recent elections improved on the systems employed in the previous election. Azerbaijan is a new country and it has not yet met all the necessary standards. Some 1 000 observers were in Azerbaijan for the election. I am sure that there will be fewer problems in future.


We should end, but we are one question away from the first question to be asked by an Armenian. It is fair that at least one Armenian has the chance to put a question. I suggest that President Aliyev responds once both questions have been asked. I call Mr Bruce.

Mr BRUCE (United Kingdom)

As rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, I appreciate your courtesy, Mr Aliyev, in receiving me in December and for meeting me yesterday, when we had a constructive dialogue. I am aware that prisoners have been released in two tranches since we met in December. Do you think you can meet the obligation to complete the process in September and therefore close the book on the relationship between the Council of Europe and Azerbaijan, so that we can move towards your aim of building a pluralistic democracy?

Mr RUSTAMYAN (Armenia) (translation)

In signing up to various treaties or international co-operation programmes, Azerbaijan regularly enters unilateral reservations designed to prevent Armenia from participating in any kind of regional or international co-operation.

As the newly-elected president, do you intend to continue this policy? If so, do you not think that the lack of any kind of co-operation bringing together all countries of the region is likely to affect its overall development? Do you not think that we are missing out on an opportunity to reduce tension and create the kind of conditions that would be conducive to settling the conflict?

Mr Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan

First, I shall answer Mr Bruce’s question. We are committed to implementing all the obligations that Azerbaijan has undertaken since we have participated in the Assembly. I am personally committed to closing that chapter because we have other things to do. We must develop our country and create a modern, democratic and free society. The elements of the past must remain as history. Several times, that position was declared, and I am sure that if everyone across the political spectrum throughout Azerbaijan would join in those efforts to create, rather than to destroy or ruin, we would achieve our goals earlier.

Our problem in the past was that some forces in Azerbaijan were acting against the government, against our state and against our independence. They were committing crimes against the sovereignty of Azerbaijan – criminal acts as well as other types of action. We cannot afford that. We are a country that has a lot of problems. We have occupation, we have refugees, so we must consolidate. All Azerbaijanis must unite around the idea of strengthening our independence, putting an end to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and freeing our land.

When I was elected, in my first speech after my inauguration I said that I would be the president of all Azerbaijanis – and that is what I am doing. The policy of putting an end to the dramatic events of the past will continue, but it is very difficult to do that alone. All political forces must take an active part in doing that. The steps that I have taken in pardoning prisoners show that intention and that policy, and I think that those will continue.

In answer to the second question from Mr Rustamyan, I would like to clarify an important issue – an issue that I spoke about a couple of times when I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Sometimes there is an erroneous perception that Armenia wants to co-operate with Azerbaijan, but Azerbaijan does not want that. That may be true, but there are good reasons for it. Azerbaijan’s territory is occupied, and of course we cannot co-operate with the country that perpetrated that occupation. Imagine how you would feel if your country were suffering from occupation and those who were occupying it said, “Come on, let’s start co-operating now.” That will not work: it is not a serious suggestion. Azerbaijan will never co-operate with Armenia until the conflict between the two countries over Nagorno-Karabakh is resolved. If Armenia wants to co-operate in the region, it is free to do so. We shall conduct our own policy. However, without Azerbaijan’s participation, regional co-operation is not possible.

What did Armenia gain from the occupation? Did the Armenian people start to live better? Did Armenia become economically and politically stronger? Did its image in the world improve? Let the Armenian people answer all those questions for themselves. Keeping territories that belong to other countries does not help to create a positive image for a country. Regional co-operation with Armenia is not possible. Again, I stress that that is the official policy of our country until Armenian forces are pulled out of the territory of Azerbaijan.


I thank you most warmly, President Aliyev, on behalf of the Assembly, for visiting the Council of Europe, for your address, and for your answers to our questions. We wish all the best to you and to your country.