First Vice-president of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva gave an interview to “Russia 24” TV Channel, February 27.
- Mehriban khanum, please accept my sincere congratulations on Your appointment to the office of First Vice-president of Azerbaijan. A little less than a week has passed since then. On February 27, President Ilham Aliyev announced His order on appointing You as First Vice-president of Azerbaijan. We saw these pictures – pictures of the Security Council. How did You receive this offer? Was there any family council? How long had you been discussing this? Maybe You did not give Your consent at once, have thought over long? How did it happen?
- Dennis, first of all, I would like to thank you for the congratulations. Indeed, this has happened recently. This is a very emotional event for me. Of course, I had been informed some time before the official news was announced.To appoint me to the office of First Vice-president of Azerbaijan was the personal initiative of the President of Azerbaijan. Certainly, the fact that I have for long years been the President’s spouse and his associate has playedits role. Nevertheless, I think the reason why He arrived at this decision was not that. The main point is that, in His leading position, as the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev givespreference to the people andinterests of Azerbaijan. I think, He has taken this decision being guided by these principles. Therefore, certainly, the responsibility imposed on me is overwhelmingly serious. I shouldjustify the trust of the President and, more importantly, of those people who have confidence in me. I’ll try to achieve this”
- Did You agree at once?
We had discussions over the matter. The main point that I was hesitating was how successful I could be in fulfilling the duties this position is going to impose on me. I hope I will be able to cope with responsibility. I want to believe I will make it.
- Vice-presidency is a new institution for Azerbaijan, also the position of First vice-president. In essence, it is the second significant position in the country.What would be Your duties – what issues will You be dealing with?
- You know, I have been taking active part in the public and political life of Azerbaijan for long years. For several years, I have been a deputy chairperson of the New Azerbaijan Party – the biggest party, which unites some 700 thousand citizens of our country. I have been a member of the parliament for 12 years. In the meantime, I think this part of my activity will help me greatly in my future work. Because this is a great experience in keeping contact with the electorate, people, achieving solution of problems, andfinding ways of solving any problem. Moreover, for 13 years, I’ve headed the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. It is a non-government organization. It is the biggest foundation not only in Azerbaijan, but also in the whole region. The foundation has been engaged in a multilateral activity, which allowed us to implement large and significant projects in the country. And this too is a very big experience.
Certainly, as a goodwill ambassador of UNESCO and ISESCO, I had to adjust my international activity during all these years. First of all, this was for me an opportunity to convey information about Azerbaijan’s history, cultural heritage, and Azerbaijan’s current politics and public realities to the world society. We had to deliver to the world society what a country Azerbaijan was, its significance, political position, and the country’s potential. I think I could manage to do a great deal of work in this direction too. This is why I am optimistic about the future. I think the expertise and the skills I’ve gathered for all these years will be helpful in my activities. Certainly, this is a completely new institution, and I see this position and the person who holds it as a member and loyal, like-minded person of the President’s team. And what concerns concrete duties, they will, certainly, be defined by the requirements of the country’s leadership, and current conditions.
- Have You already been assigned any tasks?
- I think, as I had told, the scope of my previous activity will, obviously, be more extensive. Apparently, unambiguously, it will be much more. My imagination, my wishes are mainly focusing on the solution of social issues, problems of the low-income strata of the population. Azerbaijan has over one million refugees and IDPs. All these years, their problems were solved on state and government levels. Nevertheless, I think we have to pay more attention to this area. And I am ready for this work.
-You are saying that You are considering yourself a part of the President’s team. However, we are not talking with You in the government’s building, at the President Administration, in the prime minister’s office. We are in a different office building. Why? Will You not move there in principle, or your office is being prepared?
- No, of course, there is no principal decision. I think, this is not the area where principles should be followed. This is merely due to technical reasons. This is a new event. My office is in this building. Theoffice of the Foundation and officesof other public organizations with whom we have been closely cooperating are in this building. This is to say, I do not see it a matter of first priority. Certainly, it will be clear when time comes up. If there will be a need to work in the PresidentAdministration, why not.
- When the president and the first vice-president have the same family name in their passports and are married, this may not please everybody. After Your appointment, along with congratulations to Your address, there were also people who criticized the President’s decision. Azerbaijani opposition opposed this decision. They accused the Aliyevs of strengthening the course of Presidential power. Similar statements were also received from some foreign states. What would You say to the critics and opponents of Your appointment?
- First of all, taking this opportunity, I would like to express my thanks to everyone who expressed their support, having congratulated me. You know, this is of very high significance to me. Because so far I have been receiving letters and telegrams through a social network from thousands of people, our fellow citizens, sometime from our fellow citizens living beyond the boundaries of Azerbaijan, full of sincere wishes and congratulations. What is the most important to me is that I feel confidence. And this, indeed, is a factor which gives me confidence and real strength.
As regards the criticism, I approach it as completely normal case. As in life, in the political system too, and, in general, nothing can please everybody without exclusion. It is obvious that there are some objective cases, and a lot of subjective criticism. During these years, unfortunately, our country has faced, repeatedly, unjust, biased, preconceiveddouble standard criticism, and we, apparently, have developed unique immunity. I am ready to listen to a sound, constructive criticism, and am open and sensitive to it. I am ready to improve in my job and activity. I always say one can be in opposition to the power,but you cannot be in opposition to your country. The most terrifying is that some people are ready to be in opposition to their country, actually their people, for trifling ambitions. This is terrifying. Therefore, in this case, my duty is, in the course of a certain time, to make sure that even those who are criticizing the most have less ground for criticism. I will do my best to achieve this.
- As You mentioned, the wave of congratulations that You have been receiving after your activity and appointment, I think, are interrelated. Because You are loved unbelievably in Azerbaijan. First of all, during conversations with people, one can arrive at a conclusion that You, as opposed to majority of officials, are not a hard-hearted person. And the profession of an official requires sternness and sometimes the ability to say “No”. Would You change after moving to a state service?
- You know, I think the idea of a leader’s being necessarily a sternness person is too astereotype, to some extent. Being responsible – yes, principled – yes, strong-willed – yes. Sternness is not an important quality. For me, the ability to create a team of like-minded people who have the ability to work with people, who would share my views in principle, and follow me is more important. Because they understand that your works are aimed at benevolence. It is very important that those declared and announced are compatible with what is actually happening. People see and well understand everything. Azerbaijan is a small country, therefore, whatever happens in the country is known to everybody, sooner or later. Therefore, I do not want to change my activity significantly, in this sense. Compassion is not only a nice word. Real compassion requires doing real works, making concrete steps. In this case, again, both principal stand and strong will are required. Indifference is the most terrible human trait, which is inadmissible! Whether you are a public figure or in a state service, you should maintain humaneness. I think this may never be a wrong path, conversely, it is the right one.
- As regards Azerbaijan’s being a small country and people’s seeing everything clearly, may be this is the reason why the number of letters coming to the Heydar Aliyev Foundation is more than those received by the President Administration. Apparently, people appeal to You for this reason.
- That is correct. We have been receiving a great deal of letters asking for a help in solving various issues. I should note that we have not talked much about and propagandize this dimension of the Foundation’s activity. Because sometimes there are personal requests, sometimes a lot of requests associated with health problems. We try to help if there is at least little possibility. You know, what is also the most important? Connection. People sendletters. I do not know, obviously these letters are reviewed at the Administration. There is some special mechanism where and how these letters enter. We have shortened this mechanism. A letter sent to us is reviewed the next day, or in a shortest possible timeframe, the person concerned is contacted, and we try to examine the case. Because we have to examine. Sometimes those set out in the letterare not compatible with the actual condition of the case. If we see that the person need help, we try to help. I think the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has gained the love and respect of people due to such an approach.
- The Foundation has reached many achievements. Accordingly, those who have already been helped or may ask for help may think that after You move to a state service, there is a possibility that You would leave the Foundation. What can You say about the future of the Foundation?
- No doubt, the Foundation, considering those you have noted, and the experience gathered, influence among people, confidence of people, should continue its activities. Therefore, the Foundation’s activity will be continued in full.
- Will You continue Your activity ?
- I am thinking about continuing. Moreover,I want to note that we have an experience in implementing large projects, in particular. We have an experience in working with state entities: the Foundation, state entities and the private sector. It is very successful. In the meantime, one of the most successful projects is the project “New Schools for Renewed Azerbaijan”. The Foundation has been the initiator of this project. Schools were constructed with the Foundation’s support. Some 500 schools were constructed with the help of the private sector, and support from the Foundation. Later, this initiative was continued by the state, and in the course of the last five years, more than three thousand school buildings were constructed and repaired in the country. Therefore, I think here should not arise a problem. On the contrary, a new impetus will be for the realization of projects by the Foundation, and new possibilities will arise.
- You have already mentioned and I will repeat anyway that the position of the Foundation’s president is not the only position You have been holding. In addition to being the First Vice-president of Azerbaijan, You are a member of the Azerbaijani parliament. You have been the head of the working group for Azerbaijan-France Interparliamentary Relations, president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Azerbaijan Culture Foundation, and goodwill ambassador of UNESCO and ISESCO. How do you find time to discharge all these duties? How many hours have you been working daily?
- In the meantime, this is a good question. Dennis, it is of paramount importance to find a balance. Sometimes you have to work overtime.Sometimes you come home at 9 or 10 in the evening. However,during these years, I’ve been trying to find that proportion to advance in fulfilling my duties. Of course, first of all, I am the wife of my husband, the mother of my children. I have five grandchildren, and I would not, at all, want this part of my life be pushed into the background. No way. So far I could manage to do so. I hope I will be able in the future too. You wereright to note that I am a member of the parliament. However, according to the legislation, I have to surrender my authorities. Now, the process of handing over my authorities as an MP is underway. Of course, I’m recalling all this years with gratitude. Because, first of all, we have had relations with fellow MPs at the parliament, and with the electorate, which is a big experience for me.
- Are You the same person both at home and at work?
- Yes, in principle, I am always the same person. I see no need for change. You have just asked a question and I was lost in thoughts if there was any circumstancethat I needed to change?No. In general, there is no need to transform yourself. Thank my destiny, I did not need to. I do not want to say thundering words. I have been a sincere person, I am who I am. I do not change depending on circumstances. Yes, there are certain regulations, certain liabilities. Certainly, it is obvious that I have to follow them. I have my own principles. My principles in life are the same, whether I am at home or at work. I do not think I would change hence, it will apparently be so always.
- Your friends have told us nothing inherent in women is alien to You, and You are a housewife who can easily engage in cooking.
- Yes, this is true. With pleasure. I like cooking very much. If you are asking how I have a rest, this is the area where I can have a rest. Cooking delicious dishes is a kind of creative work. I like it, do it, and can do it. This may sound a bit modest, but I hope those who have tasted my dishes would assert my words. I can cook almost all national Azerbaijani dishes. I also like cooking European dishes. This is quite normal. Firstly, I think every woman should be able to do it. But if you like it, why not.
“Were there cases you cried?”
“In rare cases, but never in the presence of others. You asked again a good question. When I was 27, I lost my mother. When my mother passed away, she was only 53 years old. She was an incredibly beautiful, strong and happy woman. She was the first orientalist professor in Azerbaijan, the head of the Oriental Studies Institute. In the course of six months she passed away before my eyes, on my arms. Obviously, I cried most hardly at that time. Now, having lived to this age and having analysedeverything, I understood that this was very serious loss, but the lesson I had learned from this loss has helped me to date. This loss has, apparently, made me stronger.”
- While visiting any place together with Your husband and after having returned home, do talks about politics continue or as soon as You close the door of your home you start talking about household issues?
- No, of course. If anything serious - be it positive or negative - has happened in the country’s life,we can discuss them at the same time. No doubt, we discuss them. In addition to being a spouse, I am also a good like-minded person. I want to believe that I am a good like-minded person. You just need to listen. How can one come and say that we have changed the picture, the theme. No, everything is natural.
- What language are you speaking?
- We speak Azerbaijani, and sometimes Russian. Both the languages are used in our household. My son used to talk poor Azerbaijani when he went to school. But he studied at an Azerbaijani school. Now he speaks both Azerbaijani and Russian perfectly. At the university, he studies in English.
This is also a very important topic you have touched upon. The issue of the Russian language is very topical. Education in Russian has been maintained in full volume in our country. All schools in Russian that had been operating until the Soviet Union’s collapse have been maintained. Moreover, we have the Slavic University, the Russian Drama Theatre, the Russian Cultural Centre, and on the street, you can hear as much talking in Russian as in Azerbaijani. I think this is one of the riches of our country, our nation. We cannot lose the Russian language.Russian is not only a language, but also literature, culture. It is a huge cultural factor.It is very pleasing that the youth are talking English too. This should be welcomed only. Situation here concerning languages is such. The reason why I have brought this issue to attention is that, unfortunately, situation in other post-Soviet republics is totally different. Even it is surprising that heads of countries have no idea how bad this trend is. First of all, this is unnecessary trend for the nations themselves.In this sense, we are proud of being able to have preserved our general cultural heritage.
- Thank You for the interview.
- Thank You.