Elmar Mammadyarov: “If someone wants to sing, let him sing”

by Die Welt

Die Welt has published an interview with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov on the upcoming visit of German foreign minister to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani minister has given his first comments to the German media about violations of human rights by the Azerbaijani government. Vestnik Kavkaza offers an exclusive translation of the interview.

- Mister minister, do you like pop music?

- Yes, I like it. That is why I am proud that Azerbaijan won the Eurovision Song Contest last year and Baku will be the invited in May.

- What does the fact that the contest attracts so much international attention mean for your country?

- First of all, it is honour for us. It is the only contest giving all European nations a chance to speak a single language, the language of music. And for Azerbaijan, it is a chance to put Europeans in touch with our rich history, culture and achievements we made in the last 20 years of independence. We want to show that we are part of the European family.

- There are human rights activists in your country complaining about forced estrangement of property for construction of the Crystal Hall. What could you tell those people?

- Azerbaijan is an exceptionally fast-developing country. We have built many roads, bridges, tunnels and houses, including the Crystal Hall, in recent years. This has nothing to do with Eurovision. You see, there are a lot of old and shabby buildings around the territory for the contest. The Cabinet of Azerbaijan passed a decree in February this year so that all citizens affected by construction receive aid in organizing their move and compensations. I assure you: all rights for property will be under protection according to the rules.

- Human Rights Watch called Azerbaijan a “hostile area” for journalists, opposition and other critics. What steps are you making to change such a view?

- Democratization, respect for human rights and supremacy of law are priorities for our policy ever since our independence. We are members of numerous international organization the obligations of which we fulfill: the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE. Our country has political parties, including opposition. They may work free, many of them have own newspapers and resources in the Internet where they express their views freely, including criticism of the government. No one forbids people to express opinion.

- Then why does the country have political prisoners? German Ombudsman Marcus Lening urged release of the prisoners for the upcoming Eurovision Contest.

- Azerbaijan has no political prisoners, no one is jailed for political views. Marcus Lening visited our country last year. He had an opportunity for free conversations with our citizens. First of all, governmental officials have a great responsibility to establish political and economic links, instead of endangering them. What does the term “political prisoners” mean? There is not international definition for the term misused so often. I repeat: every journalist or any citizen is free to express their view. But no one can be above the law. This is what we should stick with.

- Maybe there are problems with the law?

- We have passed a series of reforms of human rights protection. We reformed the justice system, we combat corruption and money-laundering. Our society is tolerant, we coexisted with other ethnicities and religious groups peacefully for centuries. But we doubtlessly need to continue the reforms. I want to give a clear statement: our goal is to achieve the best level of human rights protection, democratization and supremacy of law at international scale.

- Some people want to hold a contest parallel to the Eurovision Contest, called the Sing for Democracy Contest. Would you allow it to be held?

- To be honest, I see no additional need for such initiative. Eurovision is, first of all, a cultural event, not political. But according to the law on freedom of speech, we also have the right for freedom of song. So if someone wants to sing, let him sing. That is the soul of Eurovision!.

- Azerbaijan’s neighbor Armenia has recently boycotted the contest. Do you fear escalation of conflict between the two states in the light of the Nagorno-Karabakh Region?

- Eurovision should not be turned into a political instrument, especially in this conflict. The Nagorno-Karabakh Region is part of our country’s territory and remains occupied by Armenia for over 20 years, despite resolutions of the UN demanding withdrawal of Armenian forces from the territory. Even though all our negotiations have failed, we are ready for further dialogue to resolve the conflict peacefully. The status quo is unacceptable. I hope that Armenian authorities show political wisdom to finally find a joint solution to the conflict.

- The German foreign minister will visit Baku next week. What do you plan to discuss with Guido Westerwelle?

- There is a wide range of topics. We are interested in setting a new level of our partnership. This regards political, economic and cultural ties. We see great potential in all spheres.

- Azerbaijan is currently a member of the UN Security Council. What do you think about the nuclear program of your neighbor Iran?

- Every state has the right to use atomic energy peacefully under IAEA’s supervision. This energy source should be used according to norms of the international law.