Baku, September 20, AZERTAC
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has received a delegation of the EU-Azerbaijan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.
President Ilham Aliyev expressed his hope that the visit of the delegation will be interesting and will be a good opportunity for them to get detailed information about Azerbaijan, the country`s realities and plans.
Member of the European Parliament from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group Sajjad Karim said the delegation was given an excellent welcome in Baku. He said he believes that the delegation`s meetings in Baku will be fruitful and constructive.
President Ilham Aliyev said:
- Thank you. I hope you are having a good time in Azerbaijan. I believe that the discussion forthcoming today, as well as the subsequent discussions with your colleagues, will bring more clarity to the further development of our cooperation. But first of all, I would like to mention all the things that happened a year ago and explain why we have to talk of a restoration of our relations today. There will probably be a good opportunity for an open discussion to introduce clarify to many issues and plan our future work, because the resolution adopted by the European Parliament last year, unfortunately, led to a serious setback in our relations. This caused a big surprise. We in Azerbaijan view this as a very hostile move based incorrect and erroneous information and bias, an attempt to undermine the reputation of our country. Without clarity in this matter it will be difficult to go ahead and plan our future work. I have a document associated with that. I don’t know if all of you are aware of this – you probably are. However, I would like to mention some of the issues. There are many issues here, but I think some of them are worth noting. You probably want to hear my comments about this.
It says that the human rights situation in Azerbaijan has generally deteriorated over the past few years. This is not true. The human rights situation in Azerbaijan is improving. Our country is committed to democratic development and human rights. I believe that the situation with the protection of human rights here requires a more positive assessment. There are several issues here which are based, whether intentionally or by mistake, on incorrect information. One of them is related to the fact that journalists and civil society representatives are subjected to constant threats and harassment. Of these, the director of Meydan TV, Emin Milli, received death threats. This is a mistake and a lie. He was never threatened with death. I do not know why this is written here. Perhaps this is a part of another anti-Azerbaijan campaign. Human rights champion Emin Huseynov was faced with fabricated charges, sought asylum in Switzerland and was stripped of Azerbaijani citizenship. This, too, is based on incorrect information. This man wrote me a letter in which he asked to deprive him of citizenship. This was done on the basis of Azerbaijani laws. He was taken onto the plane of the Foreign Minister of Switzerland, as Huseynov was hiding in the Embassy of this country for several months. This agreement was reached between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland. There are documents and there is a letter from Huseynov. No-one stripped him of his citizenship. This is another lie.
It is noted that peaceful demonstrations have been prohibited in the center of Baku since 2006. This is a lie! Demonstrations are not prohibited. The freedom of assembly is fully guaranteed in our country. Both before and after 2006, as well as now, the opposition freely holds rallies in the center of Baku. They have gathered several hundred people. Why people are not joining these demonstrations is a different question. However, they were peaceful and free, which can be confirmed by everyone, including the Embassy. So this is another lie.
Another issue relates to the fact that journalist Rasim Aliyev alleged died in a Baku hospital having been mercilessly beaten up after receiving constant threats for his criticism of President Aliyev in the social media. This is a direct accusation of me of committing a crime. I can sue those who wrote this. Unfortunately, journalist Rasim Aliyev, who wrote about sports news, died in a tragic accident. He was beaten up by relatives and fans of one of the players he had criticized for some actions. They beat him up, it was an accident. It has nothing to do with us. He never criticized us and no-one even knew him. This is deliberate manipulation and an accusation that I have been involved with this.
It says that Azerbaijan aims to build a strategic partnership and is trying to expand and deepen ties with the European Union. Not only us, but also the European Union is seeking to deepen relations with us. Therefore, I believe that this text does not reflect the true nature of our cooperation. Our cooperation with the European Union is based on mutual interests and mutual respect. In fact, in general, we have very good relations with the European Union. We have signed a declaration on strategic partnership with nine member-countries of the European Union. Therefore, there is a big difference between our relations with the European Union, member-states and the European Parliament.
It also says that the OSCE Office in Baku was closed in July 2015 by a decision of the Government of Azerbaijan due to the termination of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Azerbaijan and the OSCE. Yes it was terminated, but for your information let me say that there was a reason for that. The local representative of the OSCE office, a French citizen of Azerbaijani origin, was the only Azerbaijani serving in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France. He hails from a prominent family. Representatives of his family were among the founders of the first Democratic Republic in the Muslim East in 1918, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. There is great respect for this family in Azerbaijan. This man had worked in Azerbaijan only for one year, and then, after flagrant intervention on the part of US Ambassador to the OSCE, Mr. Baer, who accused him at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the fact that there was a photo of him with me in his office, he was dismissed. According to my information, they put pressure on the French government, and the local representative of the OSCE, Mr. Shakhtakhtinski, was dismissed without any explanation. His career was ruined and he was sacked from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France only for the fact that he had a picture with me. If, in the opinion of the US representative to the OSCE, to be photographed with me is a crime, then what can we talk about?! What did I say? I said that if Shakhtakhtinski is dismissed, the office will be closed. I told them but they did not listen. And we did that. Now they want to resume the work of the office. I put forward a condition. Return Shakhtakhtinski, restore justice and his career, and then we will reopen the office. This is what is behind all this.
One sentence here says that we closed the office without any explanation. Freedom House believes that Azerbaijan is not free, the Internet is partially free and that Azerbaijan has been the most backward country in all of Eurasia in terms of democratic governance in the last 10 years. Can you imagine? This is absolutely ridiculous and probably doesn’t deserve a comment.
With regard to Freedom House: Freedom House is an organization that sticks to a pro-Armenian position and always attacks Azerbaijan. This is why our country has no relations with it. For many years, the head of the Freedom House was Kramer, who was expelled from the State Department for various reasons and then became one of the most vocal critics of Azerbaijan. I must say that Freedom House reports are devoid of any grounds for us, and references to this organization in this document are somewhat surprising. This is a nongovernmental organization. Hundreds of such organizations publish various reports. The assertion that the greatest backwardness in Eurasia is observed in Azerbaijan shows the attitude of this organization and the European Parliament to Azerbaijan.
It says that there will be parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan in November 2015. The European Parliament has refused to send a mission to observe the elections. You refused but others didn’t. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly arrived, observed the elections and issued a very positive statement. So the non-participation of the European Parliament did not change anything, did not affect the results and the positive feedback. The same applies to many other issues ... After that, our Parliament adopted a resolution. I can read it out in full, but I am sure that you are aware of it. So I will not touch upon that. This is the situation now. We have had no relations for the past year. This did not happen through our fault. We keep working with other European institutions – the European Union, the Council of Europe, the OSCE. The European Parliament decided to take this position with regard to Azerbaijan. According to our information, this document was prepared by leaders of the organization, in particular, Schultz and Lunacek, who for some reason hate Azerbaijan and try to undermine our credibility every time. We know that this resolution was adopted in contravention of European Parliament procedures. Some members of the European Parliament had warned against this. I heard that one of them even said, "We will lose Azerbaijan". Perhaps he was right. The European Commissioner also spoke out and made a warning, but they were not heard, and what happened as a result? There are no relationships and no ties. We did not set up a working group in our Parliament. We stopped our work in Euronest. This is the situation. We can’t pretend that nothing has happened. We must make this clear. We need to see what can be done to eliminate this. If things stay the same way and nothing happens, then what can we talk about?
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Member of the European Parliament from the United Kingdom, a representative of the conservative and reformers group, Sayyad Karim, thanked President Ilham Aliyev for the open and constructive remarks. He expressed his hope that the difficulties that have arisen in connection with the adoption of last year's document would be overcome and bilateral relations would move forward. It was noted that great importance was being attached to work on an extensive agreement with Azerbaijan. "Azerbaijan is an important country for us. We are interested in expanding ties with Azerbaijan using all the possibilities," Sayyad Karim and expressed commitment to cooperation with our country in connection with the Southern Gas Corridor. Sayyad Karim noted that the European Parliament supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan.
A member of the European Parliament from Finland, a representative of the Green Group, Heidi Hautala, thanked President Ilham Aliyev for the frank and constructive remarks. She expressed an interest in strengthening the relations with Azerbaijan. Noting that Azerbaijan has built a secular society, which this is a very important fact, and become one of the most important secular states in the Islamic world, Heidi Hautala emphasized the importance of expanding contacts between the citizens of Europe and Azerbaijan.
A member of the European Parliament from Romania, a representative of the European People's Party and a member of the foreign committee, Ramona Manescu, said that Azerbaijan was an example among Muslim countries in terms of the construction of a secular society and successful implementation of reforms. Noting that our country has pursued a wise foreign policy, Ramona Manescu said that Azerbaijan had achieved a successful balance as a result of this policy. She then stressed that they supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and this policy would be continued.
President Ilham Aliyev said that despite the crisis in relations with the European Parliament, the relations with the European Union were developing successfully on the basis of mutual interest. Pointing to the broad agenda between Azerbaijan and the European Union, the President noted that its covered issues of security, energy, transport, science, education and other areas, adding that a declaration on strategic partnership had been signed with nine EU member-states. Stating that Azerbaijan was committed to its rich history and national values, was pursuing an independent policy and a path of development, the President said that our country had achieved rapid development in political, economic, social and other spheres. He said there is public and political stability in the country, the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, etc. are guaranteed, there is free Internet, and important steps have been on the path of democratic development. Then, President Ilham Aliyev stressed that while last year's resolution of the European Parliament demonstrated a completely unjustified and biased position in connection with democracy in Azerbaijan, the European Parliament did not react to the deplorable state and the suppression of democracy in Armenia. Noting that Azerbaijan attaches great importance to relations with the European countries, the head of state stressed that Azerbaijan can make an important contribution to the development of European countries. President Ilham Aliyev said it was necessary to deal with cases of Islamophobia in some European countries. The head of state said that the people of Azerbaijan as a Muslim nation were also concerned about the absence of any reaction of European institutions to the inappropriate language of senior officials in Europe on these issues. President Ilham Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan highly appreciates the European Parliament's support forthe territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan. Touching upon the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the head of state brought to the delegation’s attention that the aggressive and unconstructive policy of Armenia impedes the settlement of the conflict.
The meeting also discussed the importance of combating cases of corruption. The European visitors said they were interested in studying the measures Azerbaijan had undertaken in this field, including the activities of “ASAN xidmət”.
President Ilham Aliyev noted that our country has taken decisive steps to combat corruption. The effective reforms in customs, tax and other spheres are bearing fruit, citing the activity of “ASAN xidmət”.
The sides also exchanged views on the simplification of visa procedures between Azerbaijan and the European Union, as well as on other issues.