France, Strasburg, 24 June / Trend corr A. Maharramli/ Exclusive interview of Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, for Trend :
Question: What is your appraisal to Azerbaijan's fulfillment of its CE obligations?
Answer: Azerbaijan takes it utmost in this connection and can fulfill its obligations even better.
Question: What is your estimation of Azerbaijan's implementation of CE action plan in the run up to the presidential elections? What is viewpoint on the election situation in the country?
Answer: Now, it is too early to speak about Azerbaijan's implementation of action plans. Elections will take place in October. Naturally, we expect the Azerbaijani authorities to prepare seriously for the elections this summer. And we will estimate the results at the beginning of September.
Question: On 2-3 December, 2008, Baku will be hosting an international conference on intercultural dialogue. Could Azerbaijan play a role of bridge in this dialogue? Will you participate in the conference?
Answer: At the beginning of September, i.e., after my vacation, I will decide whether to participate in the conference in Baku. Probably, you will understand me, as I have been invited to many conferences and meetings all over Europe. The date of the conference is suitable for me to participate. If the circumstances allow, I will definitely attend this forum. I would be pleased to visit Azerbaijan again. As you know, I have visited this country many times and have got a plenty of friends there.
Azerbaijan can give much to Europe - firstly, owing to its geographic situation and secondly, due to being a Muslim country. Although Muslims reside in many parts of Europe, the population of many European countries is predominately Christians. Azerbaijan is popular as a neutral and tolerant county. Unlike the developments ongoing in other European regions, we have not witnessed any strict statements in Azerbaijan. In my opinion, in terms of political culture, Azerbaijan can give much to Europe. Certainly, Azerbaijan is not the only country with predominantly Muslim population. I think Albania, which is an EU member, and Bosnia and Herzegovina also stick to the same way.
Question: What is the progress with preparations for the visit of a CE appraisal mission which is in charge examining the current condition of cultural monuments in South Caucasus?
Answer: Date of the visit of the experts to investigate destruction of cultural heritage in Azerbaijan and Armenia has not yet been set. I will speak in this connection with my colleagues working at the General Directorate on Culture, Science, Education and Sports. As to O'Hara's visit, it would be better to ask him about this issue rather me. He is a PACE Rapporteur on cultural heritage in South Caucasus.
Yet it is difficult for me to speak about the influence of this visit on the current situation. The process may develop in two directions. The visit may both increase and relax the tensions. That is why we carefully regard this question. If investigation reveals the accusations were groundless, that unfortunately may lead to more serious reactions. I hope the visit will relax tension and both countries' authorities will understand that the experts treat the issue equitably. The CE will pay special attention to selection of experts for this purpose.
Question: What is your estimation of supplements and changes made in the Election Code and the Law 'On Freedom of Assembly' of Azerbaijan? Will the changes provide for holding free and just elections?
Answer: I hope they will. I am waiting for appraisal of the supplements and changes made in the aforementioned laws. You formulated the question very well, some people make it a bit differently - "Do the changes guarantee democratic elections?" I think conduct of free and fair elections depends not on the changes, but on the people who carry them out. One should be a true democrat for the conduct of free and fair elections. I always say that the Election Code does not guarantee the conduct of free elections. It only provides conditions for that. In many elections that I took part there were incidents which the law could not cover. The Election Code cannot foresee all possible situations. The conduct of free and democratic elections depends on the people organizing elections and those who are involved in the election process. During my visits to Azerbaijan I have stated that democracy is demonstrating culture.
Question: The report on the activities of the democratic institutes in Azerbaijan will be discussed in PACE on 24 June. What do you think of the appointment of a special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan?
Answer:The activities of the democratic institutes and appointment of a reporter on the political prisoners do not seem identical issues for me. It is most of all included in PACE competence, I can not say anything about the appointment of the reporter. During the discussions to be held on 24 June many may say that they are pleased with the activities of the democratic institutes and there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Others can say that they are displeased with the activities of the democratic institutes and there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The combination of ideas is unlimited. I think there will be views as much as the number of PACE members. If you want to learn my point of view, I will give a sincere answer. I am very concerned about the activities of the democratic institutes in Azerbaijan. I think that the situation can be even better and there are people in the Azerbaijani government that share my views. I am very concerned about the arrests, especially that of journalists. When we say 'political prisoner', we mean people arrested for their political activities and certain announcements. The arrest of journalists in Azerbaijan concerns me very much. No matter the accusations against journalist are right or not, non-frequent arrests of journalists cannot cause doubts. I think that it is one of the obstacles that Azerbaijan should eliminate in its relations with other countries all over the world and international organizations. Of course, I mean the Council of Europe where Azerbaijan holds membership. If I am asked what is necessary to move forward situation in Azerbaijan, I would advise Azerbaijanis to go abroad more. The journalists, politicians and even ordinary people should visit Europe and get familiar with the situation in these countries.
Question: The PACE Ad Hoc Committee on Nagorno-Karabakh has not held a meeting recently. What is the reason and what plans do you have to make the As Hoc Committee more active in the near future?
Answer:I think thatthere are some restrictions in the work which can be fulfilled by the Ad Hoc Committee. This Ad Hoc Committee can assist in finding ways of settlement to the conflict, but the direct solution of the problem is not included in its competence. Therefore, I offer you to focus on the core of the problem. If they really want to solve this problem, the presidents of both countries - Azerbaijan and Armenia should sit at the table of talks in order to reach consensus meeting interests of the Nagorno-Karabakh population. The other people and organizations, for instance, OSCE Minsk Group will contribute to the solution of the conflict but, responsibility lies on the shoulders of both countries.
I try to avoid misunderstanding in my words. I am supporter of democracy and conduct of fair elections. The free elections are the basis of democracy. One of the problems impeding the solution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the elections of new heads of the republics which have certain influence on the settlement. I hope that after the October presidential elections, the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia will sit at the negotiation table and will completely solve this problem. The more frequent presidents meet to solve this problem, the better.
The correspondent can be contacted at [email protected]