Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by the first deputy director-general of ITAR-TASS, Mikhail Gusman, for ITAR-TASS news agency and “Russia-24” TV channel
26 december 2011, 23:00
President Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by the first deputy director-general of ITAR-TASS, Mikhail Gusman, for ITAR-TASS news agency and “Russia-24” TV channel.
Mr. President, thank you very much for the opportunity to meet with you. If I may, I would like to begin our discussion with a question that is usually asked at the end of the program called “Formula of Power” – the question about power. You have been in power for eight years. You already know the taste and all sides of power. What does power mean to you now, after eight years as President, and what instruments of power seem to be most important?
First and foremost, I must say that I view presidency and what I do as a huge responsibility to the people for the destiny of the country. In presidential republics power is probably twice as responsible. Of course, power allows you to create and build, strengthen the state, develop political institutions and enable people to live better every day. I see the power given to me by the people this way – as a huge responsibility and the opportunity to do more than perhaps anyone else for the country. And I must say that in the eight years I have been President I have not changed my vision of power. In fact, I had voiced this assessment in the early period of my presidency. Now this understanding of power has only grown stronger.
But there must have been some difficult decisions. If you look back, what decisions were particularly difficult in these eight years? What caused President Ilham Aliyev some sleepless nights?
I must say that there were no sleepless nights. There were difficult periods in the development of our state. In particular, there was a difficult period when I was elected President, when certain forces attempted to destabilize the situation. And the first parliamentary election in 2005 after my election as President and similar attempts to destabilize the situation instigated by certain circles in and outside the country. Apart from these two difficult periods, the rest of the historical process was quiet and smooth. So I did not feel particular difficulties.
With regard to important decisions, I would point to those that have generally influenced Azerbaijan’s strategic development. First, it is the program on the development of districts. It was one of my first major policy steps and initiatives, because it was clear that the disproportion between the capital and the districts must be reduced and completely eliminated. The program was backed up with specific financial resources and, of course, a very effective policy to manage and exercise control over the execution of decisions. But the program smoothly transformed into a program on the overall development, strategic development and transformation of Azerbaijan from a post-Soviet republic into a rapidly developing country with great prospects for the future. The subsequent development of Azerbaijan was essentially determined by the program which was adopted in 2004.
Of course, life goes on, and today we think of projects we couldn’t even dream of eight years ago. And this shows that the development of the country is ongoing. So this is how I would characterize the previous years. Of course, there were many decisions to be taken both at home and in the foreign political area. Azerbaijan has grown stronger over the years as a country pursuing its own independent course. It is very nice, but not always easy. So foreign political initiatives and the reaction to what has been happening around us certainly require a prudent foreign political strategy and sufficient courage in defending our national interests.
You mentioned the difficulties that had to be overcome. Yet, it is generally acknowledged that Azerbaijan’s successes are very impressive – in industry, economy, agriculture, on the international arena. What has been the key factor of success in your opinion? What do you think has been the foundation of this success?
First of all, of course, the key to this success and, in general, to such a successful history of Azerbaijan has been the continuity of our political course. When I took office as President, in fact even earlier, before the election, I announced that if I was given the confidence of the people, I would continue my father's policies which took Azerbaijan out of a series of chaotic events, disruption and a practical collapse. Adherence to this policy was the only correct choice, and the people of Azerbaijan supported it, including in 2003.
Besides, the continuity and smooth transfer of power were supported by the vast majority of the Azerbaijani people and were a new milestone in the history of modern Azerbaijan. So this was the key to our success. But, of course, life goes on. We couldn’t afford to stagnate and live only for today. So we developed a strategy on a comprehensive development of Azerbaijan. Very ambitious goals were set. They may have seemed impractical, even unrealistic and premature at first. But I thought that if a goal seems unattainable, it is easier to reach – the right choice of a development strategy, which, of course, was based on a correct analysis of the situation in Azerbaijan with all the pluses and minuses, as well as efficient management of the state and effective control over the execution of decisions.
It is no secret right decisions are often made but then they are forgotten or the bureaucracy disavows them. Therefore, we developed a procedure for decision-making, execution and monitoring. Most importantly, all our programs and decisions were backed up with financial resources and an implementation procedure – that created the opportunity for a successful development. And as soon as the process of rapid growth began, the inertial force switched on. In other words, new initiatives from the ground started to emerge. They supplemented our programs and made them stronger. A unique spirit of creativity appeared in society, when every citizen wants to make life better and more beautiful at his work station, in his neighborhood and in his street. This public impulse helps us a lot. First, we feel the support for all our undertakings. Besides, it is impossible to succeed without the participation of the entire society. So I think these strategic directions have enabled Azerbaijan to develop dynamically and effectively.
You mentioned Azerbaijan’s international successes. Recently, Azerbaijan has been elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Of course, this is a great achievement. Moreover, it was a dramatic struggle, many rounds of voting – 16, if I remember it right. All the supporters of Azerbaijan watched the vote online. But, in addition to the reputational component, in practical terms, what do you see as Azerbaijan’s goals and opportunities as a nonpermanent member of the Security Council?
First of all, I have to say that this victory has been one of the most and perhaps the most important and significant victory in the history of independent Azerbaijan. This victory is a reflection of everything we have done at home and abroad. Over 20 years of independence we have achieved the fact that 155 countries supported our candidacy in a dramatic struggle, as you put it. But I have to say that Azerbaijan was in the lead from the first round. We were ahead of others at all stages and with a great margin. As a result, we received tremendous support of the international community – specifically international community because this format represents the world community, the international community. This is a huge political victory, a diplomatic victory, tremendous responsibility and an expression of respect for our country and policy.
Frankly speaking, we do not have active relations with all of the 155 countries. We do with most of them, but some countries simply believed and trusted us. They believed that Azerbaijan would pursue an independent policy in the Security Council and, in general, would have an independent foreign political course. They believed that we will be there to defend the ideals of justice. I think there is a great need for defending the ideals of justice and international law. Of course, this responsibility calls for new functions. This is our first experience, we haven’t started yet, we are only getting ready. I am sure that in addition to the reputational component, as you say, our membership in the Security Council will have a practical effect. And not only for the interests of our country, although we do strive to make the best use of the next two years to secure our interests, including the most complex and difficult issue for us – Nagorno-Karabakh. We will certainly keep this issue in the Security Council’s focus. But we will also strive to contribute to the strengthening of peace, security and global cooperation. The very fact that the international community has entrusted this place to us suggests that Azerbaijan is perceived as a country making and capable of making an even greater contribution to global processes.
You have mentioned, as I understand, the most painful problem, the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh. A complex knot of political problems which, of course, requires solution. Do you think this is a knot that you can untie by pulling at the ends of its threads one by one or is it the Gordian knot that can only be cut?
In your question you have correctly identified the paths that exist. They are really only two. One, as you have mentioned, is an attempt to find a mutually acceptable solution based on international law and the other is the use of other means, also in line with the norms and principles of international law Azerbaijan rigorously observes. There is no other option, and everyone must understand that – both the opposing side and the mediators, I am sure. A third option is stagnation, conservation, freezing. It is impossible. And it does not exist. And the fact that we are hearing leaders of Minsk Group co-chair countries – three permanent members of the UN Security Council – say from the highest rostrums that the status quo is unacceptable and must be changed gives us hope that there are ways of a negotiated settlement. We are in favor of this option. Otherwise, Azerbaijan would not be in talks for almost 20 years – since 1992.
Solution options lie in the plane of international law. The implementation of resolutions of the UN Security Council, where we will now participate, must be ensured. There are four such resolutions. They demand an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of occupying Armenian forces from Azerbaijani territories. There are resolutions of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the OSCE, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other organizations. They all demand the same thing: restoration of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. This is our sovereign right, just as it is our right to restore the territorial integrity of our state not politically but, speaking quite frankly, by military means. We also have this right in line with the UN Charter. We simply don’t want to resort to it. We hope that common sense will prevail, Armenia will finally realize that without the settlement of the conflict it will be increasingly harder to be part of this region. We also hope for a greater effort of mediators, the Minsk Group co-chairs, so that the conflict is resolved as soon as possible and our citizens can return to their lands.
You have said that the development of districts has been one of the fundamental components of your policies. You travel around the country a lot. I think you visit one district a week. You go to remote villages, industrial facilities, social institutions. Everyone can see that. I understand that this policy is facilitated by oil revenues. This is obvious. Yet, what is the main target, the strategic goal at the current stage when districts need attention, but new tasks lie ahead?
Briefly, it is a complete transformation of Azerbaijan into a developed country. This is our goal, it is comprehensive and covers all spheres. And the modernization we are conducting covers all areas. The economy, of course – Azerbaijan has made tremendous progress in terms of economic development, and this is recognized by all major international economic organizations. Also, there is political transformation, because we cannot be a developed country if our political reform lags behind economic. So, our goals are a parallel implementation of political and economic reforms, strengthening of relations with our regional neighbors and globally.
We have the resources to do that. The history of the past eight years, when we managed to triple our economy and the GDP grew by 300 per cent, shows that there is a potential. We are facing other tasks now. Of course, the oil factor has helped us a lot. But it is also our achievement. After all, many countries have oil. In fact, many have much more oil than we do. But the correct use of resources, the equitable distribution of national wealth and complete transparency in spending and accumulation of the funds have enabled us to a create situation when our exchange reserves grow by the year. Over eight years, the rate of poverty dropped five times – from 49 to nine per cent. So oil is the stabilizing factor today, but no longer as important as it was, say, five years ago. Today, our priority is the development of modern technologies, the ICT sector. Next year we will launch our first telecommunications satellite. We are creating a space industry. So we look much further than some might expect. Our plans are perhaps much broader and wider than the opportunities, as someone may think, Azerbaijan has.
In global terms, it is a modern, dynamic and developed country with high living standards, developed industry and even stronger positions in the region.
In order for a country to develop successfully, I think that inner accord is very important. Azerbaijan is traditionally a multinational, multicultural country, although the topic of multiculturalism appeared in the political vocabulary 25 years ago. Your colleagues – Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, and I recently spoke with Prime Minister of the Netherlands Rutte – all wanted to bury the concept of multiculturalism. To what extent do you think it is time to really bury this notion? And, in general, how typical is multiculturalism of Azerbaijan and does it have a future?
For us, it is a natural environment which was formed over centuries and millennia. The territory of modern Azerbaijan has always been inhabited by people of different religions and origins. And throughout our history we have always lived in peace with the peoples living in our country, regardless of the political situation or the system in which we lived. This was the case before Azerbaijan became part of the Russian Empire, during it, then during the Soviet Union, and the tradition of multiculturalism, speaking in contemporary terms, strengthened further in the period of independence. So for us it is a natural way of life and we can’t see it differently. At some point we realized that this was not the case elsewhere and were very surprised. Perhaps with this aim and in order to show that it is quite possible we initiated various international events. Azerbaijan has successfully hosted the summit of leaders of world religions. A very successful Russian-Azerbaijani humanitarian forum was held. It was subsequently transformed into an international humanitarian forum, also successfully held some time ago. All these activities are held not just for show, they have a great practical significance and importance for bringing together the progressive people who see multiculturalism as a natural habitat.
If you look at the history of Azerbaijan, and there are many other countries in the world, we can clearly say that multiculturalism is alive. Azerbaijan is simply one of its addresses, perhaps the best known one. On the other hand, when analyzing these processes and what you have said about the slight disappointment over Europe’s participation in these processes, we may ask: what is the alternative? Is there an alternative to multiculturalism? If it is buried, there must be an alternative. What is it? If not multiculturalism, then what?
If we think logically, it is self-isolation. It is deportation, exclusion of representatives of various religions and nations that are not perceived by the public. This is a road to nowhere, a very dangerous path. Unfortunately, throughout history, including the 20th century, mankind has had to deal with the results of this flawed policy and, I would say, criminal negligence or deliberate cultivation of hatred based on racial, ethnic or religious grounds. This is a very dangerous trend.
I think the international humanitarian activities held in Baku and, of course, elsewhere will help increase the number of those who think that multiculturalism is alive, that it must be preserved, protected and promoted, so that there are more politicians sharing this opinion and this becomes part of public consciousness. Because sometimes political initiatives to reject multiculturalism are inspired by public non-perception. Public non-perception, in turn, is cultivated by some media which, instead of promoting good, cultivate racial intolerance, hatred and various phobias. This is a very dangerous path. For Azerbaijan, a country that has historically, over the centuries developed as a multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious state, these dangerous trends pose a threat to national security. Certainly, despite global developments, we will keep strengthening multiculturalism in Azerbaijan through our policies and initiatives. We will continue working for representatives of all religions and ethnic groups to feel like a single family in this country, live in friendship, brotherhood and understanding. For us, I want to say again, this is a natural environment, these are our values we will defend.
Independent Azerbaijan is 20 years old. This is a major event. It was widely celebrated across the country. But in historical terms, it is just an instant. What public institutions of the independent Azerbaijan do you think need strengthening and developing. It is no secret that some complain about corruption in a state institution, others about red tape. This is all quite normal for a young nation. What are the instruments for strengthening government institutions in the country?
It all depends on the political will and correctness of the decisions being made. If there is a political will, we can achieve anything. In the case of our country – 20 years ago, Azerbaijan’s development directions were completely unpredictable.
Absolutely. We all remember the early years of independence as the years of tragedy, losses, to some extent the years of national disgrace. Unfortunately, those who were in power in the first two years of independence could not and perhaps did not want to understand this responsibility and practically led the country to a precipice. In 1993, when Heydar Aliyev assumed power, the country began to develop. But even then it wasn’t clear to the vast majority of our people how the country would develop. There were many paths and options. Which way should Azerbaijan go? What country will Azerbaijan become? And it was the correct strategic choice in favor of the establishment of political institutions, creation of a political system, strengthening of democratic institutions, market economy and modern development that has led to the fact that Azerbaijan is now perceived in the world as the most rapidly developing country.
The challenges for the next 20 years consist, as I said, in building a developed state using this positive experience. It will be impossible to build a developed state without democracy, transparency and the rule of law. Of course, Azerbaijan’s economic potential, natural resources, human capacity and geographical position are such that regardless of its political course, Azerbaijan will always evolve. I have no doubt about that. But the question is how? How fast? And where will we get as a result of this development?
I see our country as a modern, democratic and law-governed state with a very strong social policy, economic development and strong positions in the region. Most of this has already been achieved. But as they say, there is no limit to perfection. We see the positive experience of developed countries which we, of course, study and apply as needed.
Frankly, we don’t copy it blindly, but use what suits us and what we believe is right. With this in mind, I am sure that the goals and objectives we have set for the near future will be achieved. Having succeeded in tripling the GDP in eight years, we are now setting a new goal and are preparing to double the already tripled GDP from 2013 to 2023. This goal has already been set. The government is now working on the concept and ways of implementing this task. If an ambitious goal of doubling the tripled GDP is set, we mobilize the resources, funds, scientific expertise, the intellectual capacity – i.e. everything. With such excellent economic performance, we can’t but transform the political system. And we are doing just that. It is no coincidence that Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe 10 years ago. When joining the organization, we realized the great responsibility it entailed and that we would be under a heavy fire of criticism.
Yes, monitoring, and this criticism is not always pleasant, it is not always fair. But that was our conscious choice. There are many countries that are not members of this organization, but it is their choice too. We want to transform the country, we want the level of public consciousness and the available historical experience to conform to the political criteria we are thinking about. Because Azerbaijan is the first country of the Muslim world to have created a democratic republic. It is the first country to have formed a democratic parliament. It is the first republic to have given women the right to vote, long before many European countries. In other words, the tradition of modernity and enlightenment has deep roots in our country. And this is the foundation on which we are building a modern state. And I am sure we will built it.
Azerbaijan has marked the 20th anniversary of its independence with a great success in Eurovision. It was a great victory indeed. That night almost all the youngsters took to the streets. Even in Moscow young men and students from Azerbaijan were celebrating. Of course, such events consolidate society a lot. They bring holidays to the country. How important are they? After all, nothing comes easy, it is the result of hard work. What directions is the country working on now to create such consolidating festivals and events?
You know, it is really a great victory. It is a recognition of Azerbaijan in the first place. I am very pleased that the outcome of the public vote was favorable for us. Because, as you know, victory in Eurovision consists of two components – the jury and the public...
Almost all viewers.
Yes. This means the whole of Europe voted for us. Almost the entire Europe. And we won with a huge margin. It is a very important moment. Of course, this is a victory of our singers. A beautiful song, beautiful performance and a beautiful image of our singers – as modern and young as our state. But at the same time, we see it as a much broader victory. And such victories certainly consolidate us.
I must say that we achieve victories almost every month. But sometimes they are not visible. Behind the dry and boring statistics there are huge victories which we achieve in our daily activities towards developing the country. But there are victories that are visible to all. And in this case, of course, victory in a music contest has particular significance. I would also note victories in sport – every victory of our athletes is a great national holiday. We have Olympic and world champions. Every sports victory creates a positive emotional impulse in society. Also, I would certainly point to Azerbaijan’s election to the UN Security Council. Because economic victories can be felt, seen and measured in terms of an impact on the family budget, albeit not as much as in sports. But foreign political successes are hidden from view. I have always said that Azerbaijan pursues an efficient and flexible foreign policy based on national interests. Naturally, there is a lot behind these words. But our election to the Security Council has shown everyone both at home and abroad that this victory is well deserved. Election to the Security Council is a signal to the world about Azerbaijan. For many, this victory was unexpected. But not for us. We believed in it and were confident. Therefore, such landmark events certainly consolidate us a lot and create a positive spirit. But like everything else in life, this positive spirit doesn’t last too long. It is limited in time.
New victories are required.
Of course, after winning the world championship or Olympic Games, there is euphoria for a week or two, maybe a month, but then everything returns to normal. Such victories are important for the consolidation of society, but no less important are the victories I spoke about – daily, weekly and monthly. A new road, a new school, an artificial satellite, a new gas pipeline, etc. These victories essentially lead to the visible victories, so to speak, to resonant and landmark victories we are talking about.
Mr. President, I would like to ask you some personal questions. I have a file here. I don’t think you have ever seen it, although it is entirely about you. It is the personal file of student Ilham Heydar oglu Aliyev.
Yes, it’s interesting.
I don’t think you have ever seen it.
Is it a secret document?
It’s not secret. I have borrowed it for two days from the rector of Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), Anatoly Vasilyevich Torkunov, for our interview. He gave it to me. I have already examined it. There are many interesting things about you here, generally very positive. From the order on your admission to the order on assigning you the qualification of a graduate. There are many interesting documents, memos, comments. As you know, professors at MGIMO arranged certification of students after each course. In short, you were always praised. Frankly. But in the first year, I noticed, your teachers complained that you skipped classes. The grades were good, but you skipped classes. So I have a simple question. Where did student Ilham Aliyev go from MGIMO’s old building in Moscow?
But as you have said, this was only the case in the first year.
In the second year it was better. This is correct – it is all registered here. These are official documents, stamps, signatures and names of teachers.
Well, think for yourself. A young man who went to school in Baku…
School No 6. In fact, your education certificate is also here. You had a Four only in physics, all other marks were Fives.
I studied well.
You did, no complaints. If these were not official documents, I would simply laugh at them. But since they are official, all the marks are good…
Well, I want to explain, although, to be honest, I don’t remember too well that I skipped classes so often. But…
This is registered. Officially, in black and white. Even the conclusion – missed a few classes.
A snitching paper, as people used to say.
But there are nice words. You are described as a cheerful person with a good sense of humor, sociable, enjoying the respect of friends and fellow students and fulfilling public commitments. It is all written here.
I think it was quite natural for a young man who had studied at school No 6 in Baku for 10 years and whose father was first secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, having got into a different environment and such a beautiful and big city as Moscow, especially in the first year, to spend most of his time on sightseeing.
By the way, I want to point to one detail. Here is your handwritten questionnaire. You rightly said that Heydar Aliyev was first secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan. But you don’t say that he was first secretary. You say: he works at the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan. You don’t say that he was the first person in the CC.
Yes, I generally tried not to talk about this a lot and to be modest. But since you said that it was happening in the old building of MGIMO…
Yes, in the center of Moscow.
Then you can probably guess where I went. Right across the street, as you may recall, there is Gorky Park. This is where my friends and I used to go...
So this was your favorite place in Moscow.
Well, it was the closest place to the university…
To run from classes to?
To run to and come back. Thank you for that.
But this is not a gift. I have to give it back, I signed a paper.
I understand that, but let me at least have a look.
There are some serious comments here. There are even photos of you. You know, I asked you this question for a reason – I was sure you haven’t forgotten your youth. Of course, the present generation is different. It is a generation of computers, the Internet – it is different. As someone who is quite young and remembers both generations – what are the pros and cons of the current generation if you compare it with your own youth?
Well, first of all, I must say that it would probably be difficult to compare because my current assessment is based on my experience. Of course, I was part of that generation myself. But I’ll try to be as objective as possible. I think that the present-day youth is, of course, more independent, perhaps more motivated and more professional. From what is going on in our country, I can see that young people have a huge desire to succeed and an understanding that this is only possible with a good education. A diploma, some kind of a certificate or good connections may not always help. If you don’t have the capacity, if you are not a professional, it will be hard for you. If you are talented and have good abilities, skills and education, you will certainly find a way to live well. I think it is this understanding that my generation lacked.
Then, of course, there were people who wanted to study, but there were also those who just wanted to have a diploma.
And the future was of no interest.
I also think that the present-day youth is more patriotic. This is natural, because Azerbaijan’s youngsters live and grow up in an independent state and are part of independent Azerbaijan. I am very pleased that this is so. I am very pleased that our young people are very attached to their roots. Despite globalization and new trends, most of them listen to Azerbaijani music. This is probably a very important indicator. They have been raised in the Azerbaijani tradition, on a moral foundation, on our culture and history. So I would say that this national spirit of our youth is very strong. I am very pleased with that and, as President, I try to do my best to ensure that this spirit grows further. Of course, if there is an understanding that we live in a global world, that we are a part of it and, of course, must bring all the best and the most advanced technology to Azerbaijan. This is what we do, in fact. Therefore, without idealizing the present-day youth, I would point to these factors. Also, the present generation is probably more exposed to risks and dangers than ours, and this is probably one of the disadvantages of the rapid development of mankind. But in qualitative terms, I repeat, this generation is ahead of ours. Perhaps that’s the way it should be. But the next generation ...
Dialectics, perhaps …
Should be ahead of this one.
I want to go back to your file again. It is so interesting. Ilham Heydar oglu, do you remember the subject of your entrance essay?
No, I don’t.
I will tell you. “Russian nobility and its representatives in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin”. You got a Five. Well-written. You provided complete verses from Pushkin.
We were made to learn everything by heart.
Yes, a wonderful essay. Moreover, it has a cipher, which means that the teacher who examined it did not know who the author was. What is nobility? Nobility, as I understand, means the elite of society. I don’t know whether you made this choice by chance or were guided by something, but your choice was “The role of the elite in Russian society”. The role of the nobility. What, in your opinion, is the elite of modern society and how does Azerbaijani elite relate to Oriental?
In general, of course, a lot has been said and written on the subject of elites, very wise words and analyses have been carried out. I will not go into philosophical detail, though I do have a view on what the elite is and its role in the development of countries, peoples and, in general, mankind. It is the driving force for progress in each country. The success of a country is, to an extent and sometimes crucially, determined by its elite. The development of society depends on the degree of readiness and motivation of the elite. I think the main thing is the right balance, so that the elite doesn’t feel isolated. Because it is part of this society – professional, trained, talented. So it should be more responsible. I think our society has this balance. First, there is no differentiation in terms of political governance, business management or any other sphere. We are committed to ensuring that all people are equal – both before law and in society. There is no imbalance. There are no untouchables or people with a special status. As to the conduct of the elite, in addition to the function it carries as a conduit of ideas and progress, I think the main thing is that it doesn’t feel isolated from society, is not conceited, is modest and patriotic. In this case, the attitude of society to the elite will be positive. I think I can see this happening in Azerbaijan. Our society is largely positive towards those who have achieved success. The attitude to those who have built great material wealth, earned a lot of money or are successful in business is also positive and respectful. Of course, there are different feelings, but I think envy is not in the first place in Azerbaijan.
That’s what I think. Respect is probably in the first place, though there are different people, different approaches and different members of the elite, including those who deserve to be condemned, sometimes even punished, which naturally occurs within the law. Everything should be organic: the elite should not be arrogant, but there shouldn’t be, say, negativity and dissatisfaction among those who haven’t become elite yet.
You are a specialist in international affairs. This is what your diploma states. And I can say that you are well-versed in international affairs. All your life is proof of that. I have another file here. I have prepared myself for this interview. Do you recognize this file? No?
It is your thesis. This is the review of it. The thesis is dedicated to the anti-war movement in the UK at the modern stage and the attitude of political parties to it.
I remember the name.
Yes, this is the thesis. In fact, it was very popular. I have a library card here. I took it at the MGIMO library. It was often taken for reading. Apparently the work was topical, there was an interest in it. Before that, you wrote a thesis about the split in the Labor Party.
Exactly. I wrote about the Falklands conflict.
In this regard, I have a question related to foreign policy, to which, I understand, you are professionally close. Of course, Azerbaijan occupies a unique geopolitical location. There is a variety of historical factors involved. What does geopolitics mean for your country? How do geopolitical factors influence your policy?
Of course, it is part of our being, our existence. Perhaps these words apply to all countries, maybe with the exception of the islands that have no neighbors, but they are involved too.
You wrote about them too. The Falklands.
Of course, we are part of the region. And the processes ongoing in the region affect us, whether we like it or not. But my job as President is to minimize the impact of negative developments on Azerbaijan and, on the contrary, maximize Azerbaijan’s ability to influence regional events. To achieve this, there must be a clear understanding of foreign political goals and a choice of foreign political initiatives. Sometimes they are of economic and transport nature, but ultimately they are part of the same foreign policy program or package. And to step up Azerbaijan’s role and place on the international arena. In the regional format, I must say that it is understood by most experts and analysts dealing with our region – Azerbaijan has a special place in the region. As for the economy, Azerbaijan accounts for 83 per cent of the entire South Caucasus. In the future the figure will only grow, given our plans, investment and economic development programs. This figure may reach 90 per cent one day. But this is not a goal in itself. We never set such goals. What we are doing has automatically brought about this situation.
As far as regional initiatives are concerned, we have initiated key regional programs related to transport, energy or security matters. Today, no project can be implemented in the region without the participation of Azerbaijan – be it energy, transport or political. The recent events have shown that foreign political projects cannot be realized in the region without considering the interests of Azerbaijan, whatever effort is made. We have achieved this. I think everyone understands this now. Of course, any country seeks greater influence abroad. We view this also from the standpoint of regional cooperation. We make foreign policy initiatives and assert ourselves geopolitically through a positive approach. Not through pressure, intimidation and negativism, but through positivism. That is, we invest in neighboring countries. We support various initiatives of neighboring countries if we see them acceptable. Our economic initiatives and investment outside Azerbaijan help beneficiary states. Thus, Azerbaijan’s role is enhancing. It is no coincidence that many of our friends and partners in the region and Europe want to see Azerbaijan as their strategic investor. We are offered to invest in strategic sectors, energy and transport, and we carefully examine these proposals. This is evidence of confidence. It suggests that Azerbaijan is seen as a friend and trustworthy partner. Thus, we secure our interests in the region and, in a broader sense, our future economic potential will consist in the investment we are now making outside Azerbaijan. This is part of our new economic policy that is already ongoing. Going back to the most pleasant topic of recent times, the election to the Security Council – it is also part of our policy and an understanding of Azerbaijan’s role in the world. We are a stabilizing factor in the region, in the Caspian, in the Caucasus and in the wider region. I believe and I am sure that our influence will only grow in the future.
We've already talked about this, you have spent a part of your life in Moscow. You studied in Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union and now of Russia. You also lived there after graduation. You often visit Russia – officially and informally.
Russia is Azerbaijan’s neighbor. You have developed a certain political contact, a professional contact with both former Russian President Vladimir Putin and the incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev. You have what is called the “personal chemistry”, as they say at the MGIMO. How do you foresee the prospects for cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan? Are there any weaknesses or untied knots there? On the other hand, what are the prospects for this development?
The prospects seem very positive to me. So is the history of our relations. The history of the past decade, so to speak, has been very positive. As you said, I have a very close interaction and contact with the Russian President and the Prime Minister. And these personal contacts certainly help address many issues of bilateral and regional nature. I must say that the new stage in the development of relations between Russia and Azerbaijan started in the early 2000s, when Russia was headed by Vladimir Putin who paid the first official visit of a Russian President to Azerbaijan. This drew a line under a period of relations in the 1990s that were not always good. A lot has been done over this decade. Briefly, all the sore points and complicated issues in bilateral relations have been resolved. All of them. Nothing remains outstanding. The last one was resolved during a recent visit by President Medvedev to Azerbaijan. The agreement on the state border was signed. This is a historic document. I think it is the pinnacle of everything that has been agreed and signed over the years. We have excellent political cooperation and contacts. Our turnover grows by a two-digit figure: I think this year’s growth was almost 50-60 per cent. I would describe the situation in the cultural sphere and humanitarian cooperation as ideal. This assessment is shared by both sides. Cooperation among law enforcement agencies, all without exception, is most efficient. This is also our common assessment. If you ask me what else needs to be done, It would be hard to say because we have resolved everything. At the next stage, of course, we must build up the positive trends, strengthen cooperation and promote the strengthening of regional security. We are two neighboring countries, as you have said, two Caspian and two Caucasus countries. So we have a common agenda. We both produce electricity, oil and gas. Of course, our interests as supplier states overlap. And we find ways of cooperating. It is a cooperation, not a competition.
Not a rivalry.
Exactly, it is a cooperation. It is quite possible, and we have already achieved it. I see prospects as positive as the present. I think that if we analyze the entire 20-year period of collaboration, the current relations between Russia and Azerbaijan are the most effective and of the highest level, which in itself is an important factor in international politics.
You have received excellent education at the Russian MGIMO. But I think I will make no mistake in saying that you learned the key lessons in politics, diplomacy, vision of life and the world from Heydar Aliyev, the nationwide leader of Azerbaijan. We have discussed this. From a purely practical perspective, what key lessons of the Heydar Aliyev school are you using today?
It would take too much time if I start enumerating. For anyone the father is a close and dear person. For me, he was also someone I treated and still treat with boundless respect, trust and admiration. Because all his life, his struggle, his fate and his perseverance are an example to follow. Many people may remember the last period of his life: when he was addressing young cadets, he felt unwell, lost his balance and collapsed, then he came back and fell again. But he came back yet again and finished his speech. I don’t think anyone else at his age and in such condition – he had eight fractured ribs and was nearly 80 years old – could have done anything like that. But he did it. He couldn’t live otherwise.
That was his character. His courage and fortitude. And, of course, this is an example for all of us: for me and for all Azerbaijanis. I am happy simply to have been there by his side. I had the opportunity to learn from him in such a close format, watch him and be next to him at difficult moments. This is certainly a school. One simply doesn’t perceive it as a school. It is not a learning process per se. It is full immersion, perception and invaluable experience. Along with the qualities I mentioned, there is political wisdom. After all, he was alone in opposing a huge system, a machine that suppressed and persecuted him. He was also alone when he returned to Azerbaijan in 1990, when he was attacked from all sides and was subjected to obstruction in the parliament. The same parliament gave him a standing ovation a few months later. All this stands out quite vividly. And then he took the country out of chaos, anarchy, created a powerful state – this is an example to follow. Therefore, he will always be remembered by Azerbaijanis. I was just lucky that he was my father and I am his son. I am very proud, and everything I do today is a continuation of what he started. Of course, there are new forms, new challenges, the world has changed, but the essence is the same. It is a dignified policy, a courageous policy, bold when necessary and when you are confident that your decision is correct no matter what.
Mr. President, our entire conversation, everything you are saying is some sort of a scenario for the future. Imagine that you have the opportunity to go back in time with a time machine. What events of the past would you like to experience again?
I think I probably wouldn’t want to do that. Because if it has already been experienced once, the same event will not have the same effect the second time. So I wouldn’t want to go back in time. Instead, if it were possible, I would go forward.
For example, 10 years forward. I would have a look whether what I have planned has succeeded and to what extent. And if something didn’t go well, what it is. This is what I would do with great pleasure. But from the past, if it were possible to go back, I would, of course, return to my mother and father.
You know, Mr. President, I have never read or heard that you have a hobby. I have never read about you sitting somewhere with a fishing rod, collecting stamps or some butterflies. How do you get psychologically fueled and, in general, how do you relax?
Well, let's say that I replenish my physical strength in the gym. Sports activities give me the opportunity to feel the way I felt 20-30 years ago. But psychologically I relax only at home, around my family and relatives. This may probably sound trite. In this regard I am no different from the vast majority of people on earth. The best time not only for recreation, but in general, the best time during the day is in the evening at home and with my family.
Is it possible to draw a line between the end of the President’s work and the start of personal life? Or both are mixed?
Like some people: I close the office and I am home, but in the morning I am back at work.
Partially. Work never ends. This is probably the case with all presidents, not just me. Because you are at work even when you are at home, you are available, and if something happens, of course, you work 24 hours a day. So I simply can’t say that work is over and personal life begins. Of course, personal life doesn’t mix with work. The moment I cross the doorstep of my home in the evening, unless there are emergency circumstances or calls, I plunge into a totally different environment I have been in for several decades – the family. I don’t bring home problems, concerns, worries, anxiety – I try to spare my close ones. And things at home are just like they were 20-25 years ago, nothing has changed.
These days, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation headed by your wife, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva is conducting large-scale activities to promote Azerbaijan in Rome, Vatican City. Everyone is aware of Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva’s public engagement. She does a tremendous job, she is a Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO, ISESCO, President of the Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation and an MP. All this is great. But I understand that this means she is always busy. You have just said and I know as well that she enjoys coming back home. Where is the balance and how do her priorities agree with yours?
Most of all we enjoy our time at home in the evening or Sundays. This is the best pastime for us. Of course, there are commitments, and she has very important functions that you mentioned. The days held in Italy now are a series of events marking the 20th anniversary of our independence. Days of Azerbaijan are held in all major capitals. They have been held in Moscow, Paris, Berlin, now in Rome. So it is a series of events. Of course, she has great public commitments, even the functions of the First Lady require a huge effort, social events, etc. All this keeps her away from what she loves to do most, being at home around children and grandchildren, sitting on a couch, communicating and going about the usual life. There are not too many situations during the year when we are not together. They happen when it is necessary to attend some events. We always look for each other and want to be together. She is a very talented person, talented in everything. So she manages to do everything and do it at a high level.
Ilham Heydar oglu, whether you like it or not, your 50th anniversary is right around the corner. A lot has been done. Your story shows that so much has been accomplished that you could actually rest on your laurels and move forward using the experience gained. But as far as I can judge and as far as I know you, this is not in your nature. What goals are you setting yourself for the next half century?
I will tell you quite frankly – I never take long shots in my personal life. I never make far-reaching conjectures. Because I know this won’t produce a good result.
There is a saying: if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans for tomorrow.
Exactly. But as President I cannot afford that. Because if you don’t think about the future, it will be difficult to address the issues of today. Of course, one can deal with the present, a presidential cycle, or view it through the prism of political struggle or certain political benefits. But I look at this, as you said, half a century ahead. Not because I think we will be sitting here and discussing something in 50 years from now.
I don’t mind that.
Not because of that. It would be ridiculous even to think about it. But in order to do something today that would make the lives of those who will live in our country in 50 years easier. Many of our initiatives are planned for the future. In the energy sector for 100 years. So Azerbaijan is becoming an indispensable and important player on the international energy market at least for 100 years. This has been achieved in this period. In the transport sector we are creating an infrastructure which will serve our country for centuries. And given our geographical location, our powerful logistics and transport infrastructure, this will enable us to earn good money, strengthen our relevance and geopolitical importance. What we are doing, for example, in the sphere of education will also benefit our nation for decades. The same applies to the training of professionals, the IT sector.
This is investment in the future.
Of course. I do have the agenda for Azerbaijan-2050 or Azerbaijan-2060, but I am more engaged in Azerbaijan-2023 today because this program will be launched in two years, and its successful implementation will facilitate Azerbaijan-2060, 2070, etc. Even the infrastructure projects we are implementing now, for example, those on water supply, are designed until 2035 considering the future growth of the population, economy, enterprises. So we're working until 2035, so that those who succeed us in 2030 could work on a period until 2067. This is the only way the country can develop. If there is no strategic vision of what will happen next, one can still manage, but everything may stop. But it shouldn’t. The world is moving forward and we must be able to catch up with it. Who will dominate the world in the coming decades? Those who are more intelligent. Only. The energy, the military component will not as important in the future as intellect, given the development of modern technology, nanotechnology, advanced processes, investment in science. Of course, it is unlikely that Azerbaijan will soon become a trendsetter in the field of high technologies. But where should we be? We must be a step behind those who create. If something is created, we should be there, if something new is produced, we must learn. To do this, only the resources won’t suffice, it is necessary to have professionals, infrastructure, vision, strategy. And the day will come when we will also produce something of global significance. Sometimes our plans are so ambitious that they seem unrealistic. But as I said earlier, they are implemented. If there is a desire, the political will and enthusiasm, we can do a lot.
I have the last question in this regard. 1961 was a remarkable year for your family because you were born. I think you won’t be offended if I say that 1961 went down in history as the year when Yuri Gagarin flew into space. Fifty years on, Azerbaijan is preparing to launch its satellite. The world has changed dramatically. New computers, new technology. We have said goodbye to the old and outdated. Speaking about the future and the present, what do you think one should always take from the past, so that it always accompanies you?
I think that, first of all, the answer would probably be in the plane of purely moral qualities. Despite the progress, technology, globalization and the leveling of the human factor, humanity cannot develop without moral values. After all, we are not going towards a future of robots. We are moving towards the future of mankind, more advanced and modern. And as the world has been dominated by values for millennia, so perhaps it should be. The sense of dignity must not be left in the past under any circumstances. People should always be honest and kind to others. A good sense of patriotism must always be a key motivation for development. I think patriotism is one of the main motivations for the development of our country. The feeling of pride for the country, the desire to make it even better, to make it sound, look and be better. The basis of this, perhaps, is the sense of patriotism. One must love his country. We must always love our country.
These are the main qualities one should carry forward.
Thank you very much, Mr. President.