Ilham Aliyev addressed the PACE Summer Session
24 june 2014, 21:00
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has addressed the Summer Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
Greeting President Ilham Aliyev, PACE President Anne BRASSEUR said:
Dear President Aliyev, welcome to the Assembly Chamber, which you already know well from your past parliamentary experience, including as a member of our Assembly and as one of our vice-presidents, and from your previous visit to Strasbourg in 2004. We are particularly glad to welcome you to the Palais de l’Europe at a time when Azerbaijan is chairing the Committee of Ministers. I also welcome your whole delegation, including your Minister of Foreign Affairs, whom we had the honour to hear from on Monday. I shall make one remark, if I may: I see only men in your delegation. I address that to you for your next visit.
Mr. President, the role of our Assembly is to provide support to all our member states, especially those that have to deal with conflict on their territories. Mr President, you know very well our principled position on sovereignty and territorial integrity, which I reiterated in my opening speech yesterday. The independence and secession of a regional territory may be achieved only through a lawful and peaceful process, not in the wake of armed conflict. Diplomatic efforts must be stepped up over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I assure you that the Assembly stands ready to support this process within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. At the same time, we also stand ready to continue working with parliamentarians, members of the Assembly from the Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations, to foster dialogue and help build an atmosphere of trust – trust that is essential for making progress.
Mr President, in your previous address to the Assembly in April 2004 you said: “Economic growth and democratisation of society are key elements of our policy.” I fully share your view that one cannot exist without the other. As you rightly said:
“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.” Your country managed to have strong economic development and to reduce poverty. So far, Azerbaijan has also signed and ratified 59 Council of Europe conventions. At the same time, there are still many issues to be addressed regarding democracy and human rights, and I know you will cover them in your address and your replies to our questions.
I am glad that we were able to discuss these issues, as well as freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of association and freedom of the press, in a frank and constructive manner during our recent meeting in Baku and this morning in my office. We also spoke about my request to visit some human rights activists and journalists currently in detention in your country. I hope that your country’s presidency will be an opportunity to accelerate the reform process in the interests of Azerbaijan and, above all, in the interests of all the people of your country, who should enjoy dignity, democratic rights and freedoms and the benefits of progress and development, just as their fellow Europeans do. I know that we – and I – can count on your support. Now, the floor is yours.
The head of state made an address at the Session.
Speech by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev
- Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, first, I thank the President for the invitation. It is a great honour and pleasure to come back to Strasbourg. I am also very grateful to the President for quoting my speech, which I delivered here 10 years ago.
I can only confirm that what I said then is our position with respect to reforms. The successful development of Azerbaijan during the years of independence shows that economic and political reforms, if implemented in parallel, lead to success.
PACE President Anne Brasseur:
– May I interrupt? First, I ask the press to leave the Chamber because our members cannot see the president making his address. I also remind people who have come to listen to the president that they are not allowed to express any act of approval or disapproval. I also ask the press not to obstruct the view of our parliamentarians. I think there is still one problem with a camera, which should be dealt with. Excuse me for interrupting you but, as the President of this Assembly, I have to make sure that everything is developing as it should. You have the floor again.
President Ilham Aliyev:
– You have quoted me twice, so you may interrupt me twice, at least. I am ready for that.
The reforms in Azerbaijan show that when implemented in parallel they can lead to substantial progress. The years of Azerbaijan’s membership of the Council of Europe have been years of very rapid economic and political transformation.
Reforms in Azerbaijan started in the mid-1990s, some years after the restoration of our independence. The first years of independence were marked by enormous complications and tragedy for our people. There was social unrest, economic complications and difficulties, political, economic and military crises, and inefficient government from the previous leadership of Azerbaijan. That all led to a very serious situation, with even our statehood being put in question. As a result of that situation, we had civil war in Azerbaijan in 1993, which was the most tragic part of our modern history.
The reforms started in the mid-1990s. The new democratic constitution of Azerbaijan was adopted. The economic and political reforms have been conducted in parallel, which has led to the substantial progress that our country has achieved since independence.
Joining the Council of Europe was a conscious choice. We wanted to be a member of this institution and to deepen our reforms. We knew that joining the Council of Europe entailed commitments. We were ready to make those commitments. We have implemented our commitments and obligations. As Madam President said, we have joined almost 60 conventions. We have upgraded our legislation. The reforms that we have implemented have created a very positive atmosphere in our society.
All the fundamental freedoms are provided in Azerbaijan. We have freedom of political activity. There are hundreds of political institutions and parties. We have freedom of expression and media freedom. There are more than 40 daily and almost 200 weekly or monthly newspapers. There are nine countrywide TV channels, 14 regional channels and 14 cable TV channels. We have free Internet and more than 70% of people in Azerbaijan use it. The government is implementing a project to bring broadband Internet to every city and village, which demands large investment.
As we have free Internet and no censorship, we cannot restrict media freedom. On the contrary, we are in favour of media freedom because it means democracy – it helps the government to concentrate on shortcomings and creates a necessary link between the government and society. Media freedom is one of the biggest assets of modern Azerbaijan, and we are proud of that. I say once again that media freedom is fully provided.
Freedom of association and assembly is also fully provided in Azerbaijan. The political institutions take advantage of that and, from time to time, hold rallies in a peaceful atmosphere. That shows our commitment to reform.
The implementation of the reforms is a priority for us not because we need to implement commitments or get a positive assessment from international institutions, but because we are modernising our country. As I said 10 years ago, without strong democratic institutions, our economic success will not be sustainable. The economic and political reforms that are running in parallel and the democratisation of our society have created a positive atmosphere in our society.
Religious freedom is another of our country’s biggest assets. We are a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. For centuries, the representatives of different nationalities and religions have lived in peace and dignity in Azerbaijan. Concentrating on the values of multiculturalism will be one of the priorities of our chairmanship.
Azerbaijan initiated the Baku process, which started in 2008. We invited the ministers of culture from the countries of the Council of Europe to meet the ministers of culture from the countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Baku. It was the first time in history that representatives of those two important international institutions had got together. Vice versa, in 2009, we invited ministers from the countries of the Council of Europe to participate in an Islamic conference summit in Baku.
Multiculturalism is therefore one of our big advantages and one of our big assets. We will definitely concentrate on it during our chairmanship, because there is a great need for it. Unfortunately, we are seeing tendencies in our neighbourhood, in the Middle East and in Europe that are of concern – the tendencies of alienation, separation and sometimes even hatred. We need to address that issue because we live in this world and must contribute to making it a better world for everyone – for people of all religions. People must be able to live in dignity and peace, regardless of their standard of living. Therefore, tensions that are based on religious sentiments are very dangerous for every country, including societies that have a multinational component.
Another priority will be to concentrate on the implementation of the resolutions and decisions of international organisations.
As far as we are concerned, several important resolutions and decisions have been adopted by the United Nations Security Council, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the OSCE with regard to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but none of them have been implemented. There should be a mechanism for the implementation of resolutions that are adopted by prominent international institutions. That mechanism must be followed by all of us, otherwise the resolutions will lose their substance.
We will advocate strongly for the superiority of the norms and principles of international law. I am very grateful to Madam President for the comments that she made in her introductory remarks about the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. That is a fundamental principle of international law and the main principle that must be observed in resolving the protracted conflicts.
Our Foreign Minister elaborated on our other priorities when he addressed the Assembly yesterday, so I will not go into much detail, but will just name them. The fight against corruption will be one priority. Azerbaijan has unique experience in that area.
Unfortunately, all the former republics of the Soviet Union have the same problem: the legacy of corruption seriously damages the successful development of our countries. Azerbaijan has implemented numerous measures, including administrative and institutional reforms, to combat corruption and we have had great success. One such measure is the relatively newly established public services programme, which has existed for one and a half years. Already, almost 2 million people have applied to these centres and received the necessary documents. That has seriously reduced the level of corruption in Azerbaijan. During his visit to Azerbaijan, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe visited one of the centres. It will be interesting for other member states to hear about that experience.
Youth and education are a top priority in our domestic policy. We have a young, dynamic and educated society. The level of literacy in Azerbaijan is close to 100%. We understand that an educated society is the only guarantee of successful development, and that it can be a guarantee against radicalism and fundamentalism. Education is therefore one of the top priorities for our government. Over the past 10 years, more than 300 schools have been built in Azerbaijan and the quality of education is improving. At the same time, we have implemented numerous programmes in collaboration with the leading universities of the world. We are sending our young students to train abroad so that our intellectual potential is in line with our economic potential. Those are the main priorities that we will concentrate on during our chairmanship.
Our chairmanship is an important milestone in the history of our membership of the Council of Europe. Of course, the chairmanship is based on the principle of rotation and it is just that our turn has come. At the same time, it is a good chance for us to present our country and to address important issues of concern in different European countries, such as those to do with democracy, the rule of law and sometimes selective policy approaches to similar situations in different countries.
During our chairmanship, we will definitely be raising the sometimes differentiated approach to countries in the same region.
Refusal of such principles of double standards will therefore be a great contribution, if we succeed in our chairmanship.
As far as the general development of Azerbaijan is concerned, our country is young, but with great history and traditions and much dynamism. It has an active foreign policy and plays a stabilising role in the region. The potential of Azerbaijan is growing and our initiatives in regional co-operation are supported by our neighbours. Furthermore, our neighbourhood is growing, so initiatives that we launch now cover many more countries.
We have strong support from the international community and a positive reputation in international institutions. Our greatest diplomatic success was the election of Azerbaijan as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. For a young country which still needs to present itself to the world, that was the biggest achievement; we are proud of that. We are also proud that 155 countries supported our candidacy – an absolute majority of the international community therefore trusts and supports Azerbaijan and considers it a reliable partner. In the two years of our membership, we twice chaired the Security Council. Our chairmanship and membership were overwhelmingly assessed as very successful. We contributed significantly to peace, security, stability and predictability in the world. Membership of the Security Council was a unique experience for our country, which we will of course use in future initiatives.
We have established constructive relationships with an absolute majority of the international community and our bilateral ties with European countries are developing successfully. Europe is our main trading partner, with historic links between Azerbaijan and Europe strengthened during the years of independence. At the same time, Azerbaijan is a Muslim country and an active member of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation. We play an important role not only geographically, but as a cultural and political bridge in our region. The more successful we are, the more active role we can play in the interaction between civilisations, as shown by the International Forum on the Dialogue among Civilisations in Baku. Azerbaijan is a world centre of multiculturalism, and an international centre of multiculturalism will soon be created in our country.
The biggest of the problems that we face is the violation of our internationally recognised territory – the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan puts the whole region in danger. It is called a “frozen” or “protracted” conflict, but neither is it frozen nor can it be frozen, because it must be resolved. Nagorno-Karabakh is an historic part of Azerbaijan; Azerbaijanis lived in Nagorno-Karabakh for centuries and Armenians settled in the area less than 200 years ago, but historic monuments and our heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh have now unfortunately been destroyed by the occupying Armenian army. The conflict resulted in the occupation of 20% of the internationally recognised territory of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijanis were the subject of ethnic cleansing by Armenian gangs and the Armenian army and one million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh and seven districts around it have been under occupation for more than 20 years. That is the biggest injustice.
As I said, Nagorno-Karabakh is an historic part of Azerbaijan. Even the word “Karabakh” is of Azerbaijani origin and, in fact, all the geographic toponyms of that area belong to our people.
According to the norms of international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. The whole world recognises Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan and no one, including Armenia, recognises Nagorno-Karabakh and its illegal regime as an independent entity. The United Nations Security Council, the world’s highest international body, has adopted four resolutions demanding unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied territories. As I said, those resolutions unfortunately have not been implemented. Again, we have a policy of double standards. Some UN resolutions are implemented within hours, but in our case it has been more than 20 years. There is no mechanism to deal with the situation and Armenia simply does not want to liberate any territories. It does not want to leave occupied territory; it wants everything unchanged and to keep the status quo. That is in total contradiction to the efforts of the international mediators, the OSCE Minsk Group and its co-chairs. The Presidents of the United States, Russia and France, three permanent members of the UN Security Council, have on a couple of occasions made clear statements that the status quo is not acceptable, which means that Armenia should start withdrawing its occupying forces from occupied territory. The Armenians, however, simply ignore international law, statements from leading countries of the world and the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which was adopted in 2005. A corresponding resolution has been adopted by the European Parliament, and it and the decisions of the OSCE all demand de-occupation and the withdrawal of Armenian troops from occupied territories. Unfortunately, however, the conflict has not been resolved. Azerbaijan behaves very constructively. For more than 20 years, we have been committed to the negotiation process. Everyone, including the Armenians, should understand, however, that something might happen, so the sooner that the Armenian leadership recognises that it is unacceptable in the 21st century to occupy the territory of other countries, the better. Unfortunately, the approach of the Armenian leadership is not adequate.
The previous President of Armenia, speaking here in this home of democracy, said that there is a national incompatibility between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. His successor, the current leader of Armenia, describes the conflict as a religious one.
That approach is absolutely unacceptable. Azerbaijanis have no incompatibility with any nation – Armenians might do so, but not only with us, because their country is now mono-ethnic, with 99.9% of the population of Armenia being Armenians. All the minorities, including Azerbaijanis, were forced to leave. That racist approach cannot prevail in negotiation. We need to address the issue and to restore justice and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
Unfortunately, as a result of the occupation, our historic monuments are destroyed, our mosques have been levelled to the ground, our cemeteries destroyed, and today’s occupied territory is a land totally destroyed. The OSCE twice sent missions – fact-finding and field assistance missions – to the occupied territories. Its report clearly shows that everything is destroyed.
That is a result of Armenian vandalism in the occupied territories. Territorial integrity is a basic principle of international law.
Self-determination, to which the Armenian side always refers, should not violate the territorial integrity of countries. The Armenian leadership should read the Helsinki Final Act carefully. They would see the clear definition. In addition, Armenians are self-determined. They have an Armenian state, which was created on historically Azerbaijani lands. Perhaps many members of the Assembly do not know – the Armenian delegation knows – that one of the first decrees of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, which was created as a result of the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1918, made Yerevan the capital of the Armenian state. Armenians already have a state. How many Armenian states do they want? Do they want to create another state everywhere they live? Why should there be another Armenian state in Azerbaijan? One is enough. Self-determination should not violate territorial integrity, and the conflict must be resolved as soon as possible for the benefit of all of us, including Armenian people, who suffer from today’s Armenian Government, which leads the country towards total collapse and catastrophe.
Despite the conflict, Azerbaijan’s economy is growing. In the past 10 years, Azerbaijan has been the fastest-growing economy in the world. No other country increased its economic potential as much as Azerbaijan did. Our gross domestic product multiplied by 3.4. We managed to diversify the economy. As a result, the non-energy sector is 55% of our GDP. The international and financial institutions highly value our reforms. During the years of financial crisis, the main ratings agencies – Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch – upgraded Azerbaijan’s credit rating. The Davos World Economic Forum ranks Azerbaijan’s economy No. 39 in the global competitiveness index. That means that we have managed to transform our planned economy into a market economy to the maximum degree, creating a competitive economy. Some 1.2 million jobs were created in Azerbaijan. The fair distribution of national wealth is one of our country’s main achievements. As a result, the level of poverty dropped in the past 10 years from 49% to 5.3%; unemployment is 5%; the budget deficit is at the limits accepted by European Union countries; and foreign debt is 8% of GDP. The financial situation is stable and social programmes are being implemented. The political situation is stable. As I have said, Azerbaijan is an active member of the international community and the country is modernising. We look to the future with great optimism.
I do not want to take all our time for myself – I want to leave time for questions. As you can imagine, I could talk about our country for several hours, but I do not want to use all the time for my presentation. Chairing the Committee of Ministers is a big challenge and a big responsibility. We are ready for it. We will do our utmost to contribute to the common values of democracy, the rule of law and freedom.
PACE President Anne Brasseur:
– Thank you very much for your speech, President Aliyev. A number of members want to ask questions. I remind you that you have 30 seconds to ask your questions and not to make statements. We will first have the speakers on behalf of the political groups. The first question is by Mr McNamara on behalf of the Socialist Group.
– Amnesty International states that there are 19 prisoners of conscience in your jails, President Aliyev. Others say there are more. The European Court of Human Rights has said that the pre-trial detention of one Ilgar Mammadov was unlawful and motivated by electoral considerations. Another, Anar Mammadli, exposed flaws in the recent presidential elections, which you won. Activists of NIDA have been jailed for merely expressing an opinion and calling for peaceful demonstration. This body has adopted a definition of political prisoner, but the rapporteur was denied access to Azerbaijan. Do you believe that that diminishes your legitimacy to chair this body, and will you release those prisoners?
PACE President Anne Brasseur:
– Thank you. I kindly remind people attending our meeting today – I thank them for coming – not to applaud.
President Ilham Aliyev:
– First of all, there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. All of what Mr McNamara has said is based on false information or his biased approach to our country. Not for the first time, he is trying to insult Azerbaijan, but without any visible success. I am sure that his initiative yesterday will have the same outcome of the initiative of Mr Strasser a couple of years ago, which resulted in the fiasco of January 2013. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan is subject to deliberate provocations. We know the source and we know the reason. It has nothing do with human rights and democracy. It is political. The question Mr McNamara read from his piece of paper was probably given to him by someone who is interested in attacking Azerbaijan.
Mr Mcnamara: I write my own speeches and questions.
President Ilham Aliyev: I understand. If you want an open discussion, we can find another place for it. There are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The report of Mr Strasser failed here in this room because it was based on false information, slander and rumours. Mr McNamara is trying to do the same thing. He is trying to mislead the opinion of the Assembly by repeating that false information. There are no political prisoners. Azerbaijan is a member of the European Court of Human Rights. All issues relating to prisoners can be addressed there. We respect the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Therefore, once again, the attempts to attack our country are absolutely groundless. They will have no result.
PACE President Anne Brasseur: Thank you. Ms Bakoyannis has the floor, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Ms Bakoyannis: On behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party, I welcome you, President Aliyev. I would like to go back to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. There have been many initiatives in the last few years. The Minsk Group is active in the region, as is the OSCE. Do you think there is room for the Council of Europe to try to take the initiative on Nagorno-Karabakh? How do you assess the situation in the last months? Do you think there is momentum you could use?
President Ilham Aliyev: We have always strongly supported addressing the Nagorno-Karabakh issue here in the Council of Europe. That has happened from the beginning of our membership. As I said in my speech, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution in 2005 that clearly stated that it was necessary to put an end to the occupation. Later, an ad hoc committee was created here, but due to the unconstructive behaviour of the Armenian delegation, which boycotted the committee, it is no longer meeting. The more international institutions pay attention to the issue, the sooner we can find a solution. As I have said, Armenia wants to keep everything unchanged. It wants the international community to forget about the conflict.
Therefore, they believe that the Minsk Group format is best for them.
We understand that there can currently be no alternative to the Minsk Group for mediation, but it has not produced any results. The Council of Europe should address this issue more actively. The restoration of the activity of the ad hoc committee would be an important step.
As far as the prospects for negotiation are concerned, unfortunately we do not have much optimism. The Armenians are trying to do everything they can to keep the status unchanged. From time to time, we have bilateral meetings with the Armenian President, most recently in November in Vienna. That produced some optimism and we even elaborated on that publicly, but the old tactics of making a minor step forward and then delaying the process have continued. Without the active involvement of the international community, Armenia would try to continue what they have done so far.
PACE President Anne Brasseur: I call the Earl of Dundee, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Earl of Dundee: On human rights improvement and reform, apart from the current agreed and public action plan with the Council of Europe, which particular measures will you and your country now adopt to achieve specific targets?
President Ilham Aliyev: The action plan was agreed during Mr Secretary General’s visit to Azerbaijan. It is a comprehensive document and a road map for future co-operation between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe. Human rights, democratic reforms and the rule of law are our priorities. As I said, a lot has been done but there is still a lot more to do. We are open to criticism when it is based on facts. We are not perfect of course, perhaps like other members of the Parliamentary Assembly.
Sometimes criticism is based on a biased approach and is just an attempt to damage the reputation of Azerbaijan. The years of Azerbaijan’s membership of the Council of Europe have been years of rapid political reforms. It was the right choice for our government and the right choice for the Council of Europe to adopt us into its family. I am sure that future collaboration, including the months of our chairmanship, will produce new good results with respect to democratic reforms in our country.
PACE President Anne Brasseur: I call Mr Xuclà to ask a question on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Mr Xuclà: In 2006, the Republic of Azerbaijan adopted the Council of Europe’s convention on the fight against corruption, which is very important in terms of our standards. We have very clear guidelines. What measures have your government taken since then to implement the convention, and on the law on access to information and transparency concerning funds and properties?
President Ilham Aliyev: As I said, corruption is one of the main areas that we will concentrate on during our chairmanship of the Council of Europe. Corruption is a disease that needs to be cured. Our compatriots from the former Soviet Union – all of us – were in a difficult situation because of deep-rooted corruption in our societies. Elimination of this evil is one of our government’s targets. Without that, our success cannot be sustainable. Signing up to the convention and using the positive experience of European Union member states in particular is an extremely important part of our country’s co-operation with the EU. As I said, implementing institutional measures gives much better results than administrative measures or punishment. The issue, unfortunately, cannot be resolved by changing the people, so we have found a mechanism. As I said, the public services system makes corruption impossible. I fully agree with what you said on transparency. We have a good record on that. Azerbaijan was one of the first countries to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative of the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr Blair. Azerbaijan became the first full member of this initiative and there is now 100% transparency in the extractive industries in Azerbaijan. We need to have the same percentage of transparency in our financial and public services sectors, and we are working on that.
PACE President Anne Brasseur: The final speaker on behalf of the political groups is Mr Kox, who speaks on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr Kox: Thank you very much for your most interesting speech, in which you gave quite a positive analysis of your country’s human rights track record. As you are aware, not everybody agrees with this positive analysis – I met one of them when I was in Baku and I will meet others today. The Assembly will of course look at it in January. In this respect, would you be prepared to consider organising in your country a round table structure through which you could engage in transparent dialogue with those who think that Azerbaijan could and should substantially improve its human rights track record? I am sure that the Assembly would be willing to assist you in organising it if necessary. I look forward to your answer.
President Ilham Aliyev: Definitely. Not only are we ready, but we are willing to organise such a session. We addressed this issue in our interactions with our partners during the visit of Madam President and Mr Secretary General in May. We have had substantive discussions on the matter. We disagree on some issues, but at the same time there is a constructive dialogue.
As I said, we do not consider the situation in Azerbaijan with respect to human rights and democracy to be perfect, but there has been great progress. We are ready to react, and we do react, to constructive criticism. In my comments, I concentrated on a positive example of our reforms because this audience usually concentrates on the negative. To create even the slightest balance I wanted to take my time, but I left some time for interactions. It would be a good idea to have open and sincere discussions on the substance. Sometimes when we discuss this issue I hear different perceptions from my partners and colleagues. Who creates this perception? Sometimes perceptions are created artificially to damage the reputation of Azerbaijan. Let us look at the substance. On respect for freedoms, I said in my comments that we have media freedom. We have free Internet. How can we restrict media freedom when we have free Internet and no censorship, and when 70% of people are Internet users? There were opposition rallies before and after the presidential elections in October, and they faced no restrictions. Today, if anyone wants to have a rally in three days’ time, with the proper notifications they will have a place in the centre of Azerbaijan. Only 840 people came to the last opposition rally after the elections – 840 people who did not approve of the presidential elections. The fact that opposition is weak in Azerbaijan does not mean that we are doing anything harmful. What I said about economic and social development cannot be ignored. Anyone who comes to Azerbaijan and sees the development will understand that such enormous economic growth cannot be ignored by our society. People support what we are doing. They support our government. Our government is strong not because we suppress anyone, but because we do things properly.
Another point to make is that those who are in opposition today are the people who were in government in 1992-93. They created chaos and were responsible for the occupation and the loss of territories. They provoked the civil war and then they ran away. Some of the young generation in that group are sitting in the gallery. They do not understand, because they do not know what happened in 1992 and 1993. It is not their fault, but they have just been misled. We are therefore ready to engage in such round table discussions with your participation.
PACE President Anne Brasseur: I propose that we take a group of three questions to be answered together. I call Ms Christoffersen.
Ms Christoffersen: The fight against violations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights all over Europe is a high priority for this Assembly. Do you recognise LGBT rights as a part of fundamental human rights? If so, what will the Republic of Azerbaijan do to secure such rights and the freedom of organisation?
Mr Rochebloine: Do you think that the arbitrary ill treatment inflicted upon Leyla Yunus, an outstanding personality involved in defending human rights in Azerbaijan, is of such a nature to convince the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that Azerbaijan is respecting the internationally recognised fundamental freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights?
Ms Fiala: The number of violent incidents on Azerbaijan’s borders has increased significantly in recent times. We read almost every day of casualties and injuries, with civilians among them. Do you agree that we should encourage the parties to adhere strictly to the cease-fire and implement the security measures proposed by the Minsk Group of co-chairs as soon as possible, with the withdrawal of snipers and independent investigation of incidents?
President Ilham Aliyev: The rights of all groups of people are provided for in Azerbaijan; there are no restrictions. As I said, the situation with freedoms is no different from that in your country.
With respect to the so-called mistreatment of Leyla Yunus, I disagree because there was no mistreatment of her. In fact, there was probably mistreatment on her behalf towards the policeman who she verbally and physically attacked. She was trying to escape when she was asked to give evidence for a criminal investigation. She was stopped and invited to give evidence as a witness, but unfortunately she has refused for several weeks and ignores the legitimate request to present any information she may have.
On incidents on the border, the issue raised is one that I always hear from the Minsk Group co-chairs about security and confidence-building measures. Sometimes the distance between Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers is 50 metres, so you do not need a sniper to do something harmful. The best way to establish confidence-building measures is for the occupying Armenian troops to start withdrawing from Azerbaijani territories. The casualties referred to are in the occupied Azerbaijani territories – they do not happen in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is also an Azerbaijani territory. Most of the soldiers are recruited in Armenia – what are they doing in the occupied territories? The removal of our forces is therefore not acceptable – how then would we protect our land from further attacks? The Armenian leadership needs to realise that its policy on Nagorno-Karabakh failed; it lost the battle with Azerbaijan. According to Armenian statistics, the level of poverty in Armenia is more than 40% and in the first quarter of the year 40,000 citizens left Armenia for ever – they will never come back. That is as a result of the occupation policy, and now the Armenian leadership complains wherever it can that Azerbaijan poses a threat. However, we are the country with occupied territories: it poses a threat to us and to the whole region. The sooner it realises that Azerbaijan will never agree to the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, the sooner the conflict will be resolved and the sooner Armenian people will start to have better lives.
PACE President Anne Brasseur: We will have the next three questions. First is from Mr Flynn.
Mr Flynn: Politicians and journalists have been falsely accused and imprisoned in Azerbaijan and elections have been rigged: I have spoken to the people involved. Can we look forward to a year in which Azerbaijan raises its standards to Council of Europe levels, or will we have a year in which the deplorable example of Azerbaijan encourages other nations to degrade their own human rights standards?
Mr Díaz Tejera: – You have many neighbours in your region and you play a key role in energy and stability just as Israel does in the Middle East. What are the energy and stability risks for the immediate future?
Ms Loklindt: You explained that all freedoms are respected in Azerbaijan. However, we know from the international media that many thousands of people are still internally displaced. How are you dealing with that challenge?
President Ilham Aliyev: In the first short question, you lied twice and I will prove it. Listen to me: journalists are not imprisoned in Azerbaijan. Since 2009, no one has been in prison because of defamation. The second lie is that elections are rigged. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe sent a delegation to observe the elections. You are probably not aware of its report. If so, check with your colleagues, because they were positive in their assessment of the Azerbaijan elections.
There were more than 1,000 international observers and several exit polls were held by international organisations that all supported, or did not differ from, the official results.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s delegation provided a positive report that was approved here. The European Parliament also sent a delegation and its report was positive. The Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE also sent a delegation that was positive about the result. Why are you lying? The elections were free and fair and these institutions prove that.
On energy security, Azerbaijan is playing its role in contributing to energy security. I did not raise this issue today because I wanted to allow more time for discussions, but it is something that we take seriously. We have already achieved full energy security for Azerbaijan because we have diversified supply routes for our oil and gas. We are now working to help provide some European countries with their energy security. Today some of the member states of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe get about 40% of their oil from Azerbaijan. Now we have launched a huge gas distribution project, which will allow Azerbaijan to be a gas exporter to Europe. As you correctly mentioned in your question, energy security and political stability and security must be addressed as a package. Therefore the new gas infrastructure project, which will be the biggest infrastructure project in Europe, is being implemented now, with a total investment of at least €45 billion. That is the biggest contribution that Azerbaijan will make to the energy security of Europe.
The questioner from Denmark touched on the issue of internally displaced persons. If I understand correctly, you mean the persons who suffered from the Armenian occupation?
Ms Loklindt: There are many kinds of displaced people.
President Ilham Aliyev: We have more than one million refugees and internally displaced people, including 250,000 Azerbaijanis who were expelled from Armenia, 700,000 Azerbaijanis who were expelled from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven districts of Azerbaijan, and refugees from wars in other countries. We are trying to do our best to improve the living standards of these people, but it takes a lot of time and funds. Every year, we resettle more than 20,000 IDPs, we have built 82 settlements and 40,000 families have been provided with flats or houses. But we will need additional time and money to satisfy the needs of all of them.
PACE President Anne Brasseur: Will you agree to answer three more questions, Mr President? The next question is from Mr Japaridze.
Mr Japaridze: I wish Azerbaijan a successful and productive chairmanship. You talked about conflicts and, as you know, Georgia is plagued with the same kind of problems. You also talked about economic developments and my question is about regional co-operation. Azerbaijan is one of the driving forces of these projects along with Turkey and Georgia.
Mr Biedroń: I was strongly surprised by your men-only delegation. For the sake of equality of men and women, I must ask this question. Azerbaijan is 99th out of 136 countries on the global gender gap index – a terrible position. What is your government doing to implement the full equality of men and women and when will you sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention?
Mr Ariev: First, I want to ask about the reinforcement of the GUAM organisation, because all four members of that organisation have suffered territorially from the Russian invasion. Secondly, Azerbaijan has the chairmanship of the Council of Europe, and our colleague Mustapha Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatars, cannot come back to his home in Crimea because of a ban by Russia. Could you assist him to get back home?
President Ilham Aliyev: On the issue raised by Mr Japaridze, I can say that trilateral co-operation on energy, and now on transportation, between Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan has already resulted in serious geopolitical change in our region, because our three countries last month had their first ever summit at heads of state level in Tbilisi. Political, economic and energy co-operation between the three countries is important not only for us, but for the region. Together we play a stabilising role, especially with respect to energy security issues.
The first geopolitical change was the construction of the oil pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, which connected the Caspian with the Mediterranean for the first time. Now we are implementing other projects, the Trans-Anatolian pipeline, the South Caucasus pipeline and the Trans-Adriatic pipeline, from Baku through Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Italy and Bulgaria.
They will also cover many other countries. We are also implementing an important railway project, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, which will connect Asia and Europe. Stability in our countries is the main prerequisite for the successful development of the situation in the region. Therefore, we highly value our bilateral relations with Georgia and Turkey, and we will continue to develop that co-operation actively.
It is strange to hear Azerbaijan accused over gender inequality. Our country has great traditions, and when the first Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was established in 1918, one of the first decrees gave women the right to vote. It was probably much earlier than when that happened in your country. Women in Azerbaijan today enjoy the same rights and privileges, and they participate actively in political life. You should not look only at these men here as the members of our delegation. Other representatives from Azerbaijan include prominent women parliamentarians – they are here today. There are no restrictions, and indeed I did not look at my team from the point of view of how many men or women it had, because they enjoy equal rights. Azerbaijan already has a law on gender equality and a family code, and we are now reviewing the Istanbul Convention to which we do not have any objections. If you visit Baku, you will see for yourselves that women enjoy the same rights, and we are glad about that.
GUAM’s activity or non-activity largely depends on the position of the Ukrainians. In my experience of that format for co-operation, we have had times when the Ukrainian Government has been very pro-GUAM and times when it has been very anti-GUAM. Therefore it is very difficult for us – and, I am sure, our Georgian and Moldovan colleagues – to plan a long-term strategy for the development of the organisation. We will therefore wait for positive signals from Ukraine in order for GUAM to become active again, as it was before.
PACE President Anne Brasseur: Thank you, Mr President, for your speech and for your answers to the questions from colleagues.