Azeri ex-premier says his imprisonment was illegitimate
ANS TV, Baku
18 Mar 04
Former Azerbaijani Prime Minister Surat Huseynov, who has been
released from prison under a presidential amnesty decree, has said
that he was sentenced illegally and has described the accusations of a
coup attempt in 1993 as completely “illogical”. In a live interview
with ANS TV, he said that he had never had conflicts with former
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev and that certain people in the
president’s entourage wanted to sully his reputation by making
negative remarks about him. Touching on ways of resolving the Nagornyy
Karabakh conflict, Huseynov said Azerbaijan has always had a strong
army, and added that a military solution required the approval of the
international community. The former prime minister also spoke about
the war with Armenia prior to the cease-fire and accused Russia of
helping Armenia to occupy Azerbaijani lands. The Azerbaijani army was
not defeated on the battlefield, but was destroyed from within, he
added. The following is the text of report by Azerbaijani TV station
ANS on 18 March. Subheadings have been inserted editorially:
Presenter The Azerbaijani president released 129 people from prison
yesterday 17 March . Among those freed was former Prime Minister Surat
Huseynov. He is the guest of our studio today. Welcome, Surat bay form
of address and please accept our congratulations on your release. Did
the news come as a surprise or were you expecting to be released?
Huseynov Thank you very much. It was rather unexpected. I heard the
news from ANS radio that the president had signed an amnesty decree
and that former Prime Minister Surat Huseynov is among those
pardoned. But prior to the radio report I had no information about
Presenter And were you released immediately after the news was
announced or did you have to undergo certain procedures?
Huseynov It took them one day to release me. I came out this morning.
Presenter Were you expecting the release deep in your heart? Were you
hoping that this year or this month you could be freed? Prisoners
always cherish hopes, don’t they?
Huseynov Prisoners always live with hope, that’s right. And I was
hoping too that sometime I would be pardoned. I had this hope too.
Life in prison
Presenter Over these years did you keep in touch with your friends and
Huseynov Yes, I was in touch with my relatives and through them with
Presenter What was the situation like in prison?
Huseynov It was not too bad. It is prison and one has to adjust to
prison conditions while there. I spent seven years in prison, in
solitary confinement. But maybe because I was the prime minister or
maybe because of my other qualities everyone respected me. They held
me in high esteem as an elder. I have no complaints about that.
Presenter What was it like to be alone in a cell?
Huseynov I got used to it. I can’t say anything about that, but I
spent seven years alone.
Presenter When people are alone, they usually communicate with someone
inside them. People even communicate with their enemies. Who did you
Huseynov That is true, it is difficult to be alone all the time. I was
reading a lot. No-one in the prison read as much as I did in the seven
Presenter What kind of books?
Huseynov Foreign and Azerbaijani classics, scientific and medical
Presenter Did you read medical books because you did not feel very
well or because prisoners have this survival instinct and have to take
care of themselves?
Huseynov You know, when someone is ill, they want to know what their
problem is. And to know that, they have to read about it from
books. Therefore, I have thoroughly studied medical literature and
cured myself of all health problems I had. I have got rid of all my
maladies and am a healthy man now.
Presenter It has been said that initially your name was not on the
list of those pardoned and that it was the president’s initiative to
include you on it. Do you know anything about that?
Huseynov I do have this information.
Presenter Why do you think you have been released?
Huseynov What can I say? First of all, I would like to take this
opportunity to express my condolences to the family of the late former
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev. I also thank Azerbaijani
President Ilham Aliyev for having signed the goodwill decree. I think
the more such decrees, the better for our country. Because there are
still people behind bars who are described as political prisoners. I
hope the esteemed president will take further steps in this direction
to free these people too so that they could rejoin their families.
Presenter What do you think about the fact that starting from December
of the last year people like former Interior Minister Isgandar Hamidov
and others, who may be not as popular but are also described by the
Council of Europe as political prisoners, have been released from
prison? Do you think that this may alleviate tension in society or
whip it up even more?
Huseynov I don’t think that goodwill gestures can ever foment tension
in the republic. This can certainly reduce tension. This is the only
assessment I can give to this. I think this is the right step.
Presenter Did you watch TV or read newspapers in prison?
Huseynov I read newspapers. I also listened to the radio.
Presenter Could you follow the developments in the republic?
Huseynov Yes I could, thanks to the radio. I listened to the news.
Presenter But you were never described as a political prisoner. You
must have heard this from the radio, human rights champions, the
Council of Europe and other organizations. Why was their attitude to
you different? And did you complain to the Council of Europe or to the
Huseynov You know, I have never complained in my life. When my
sentence was pronounced, I silently went to prison and spent seven
years there, no matter whether the sentence was fair or not. I served
my sentence. All I complained about was the fact that I thought that
my sentence was illegitimate. Because it said that Prime Minister
Surat Huseynov attempted to stage a coup d’etat in Ganca. This is
completely illogical. How can the prime minister stage a coup in a
city 360km away from Baku? The prime minister’s office, the Cabinet of
Ministers, is in the same courtyard as the presidential
administration. There was no logic in the sentence. To understand
this, one doesn’t have to be an expert in law. One can ask a secondary
school pupil whether there is any logic in this accusation. There is
no logic at all.
The prosecutor’s office and courts have proven so incompetent that
there is hardly anything I can say to them. I don’t know whether they
should be sent to secondary schools again or whether they should study
their profession again and receive their diplomas anew. I don’t know.
Presenter Is this a matter of the past for you?
Huseynov It is a matter of the past, but since I have been freed, the
issue of my rehabilitation has come on the agenda. I know that the
president has started reforming the judiciary and at some point, I
will appeal to him for rehabilitation. Because I think I was arrested
illegally and spent seven years in prison. Therefore, I have to be
Presenter As soon as you left the prison, you visited Heydar Aliyev’s
grave. But you were said to be implacable enemies. Did you want to
acknowledge anything by visiting Heydar Aliyev’s grave?
Huseynov You know, there has never been a conflict between me and
Heydar Aliyev. I am the kind of man who always remembers who he has
broken bread with. People may say different things about us. People
may say different things about why I visited Heydar Aliyev’s grave. We
have broken bread together. I paid my tribute and respect to him, to
his wife and then to all our martyrs.
Presenter What are your recollections of the two years that you spent
working with Heydar Aliyev?
Huseynov I worked with Heydar Aliyev for 16 months. And I think there
were many people who wanted to undermine our relations. But let that
be judged by God. Let no-one think that I am blaming someone for
having been imprisoned. I think it was my fate to be put behind bars
and I don’t think it was because of Heydar Aliyev or anyone
else. Therefore, I bear no grudges against anyone.
No place to live
Presenter Surat bay, you have returned after seven years. Do you have
a place to live in?
Huseynov I had a house but a former employee of the prosecutor’s
office, someone who used to deal with civil affairs, is living there
now. I have nowhere to live at the moment. I hope the law-enforcement
bodies will deal with the issue?
Presenter But how could someone move in your house? Is it officially
Huseynov It is mine. When I was the prime minister, Heydar Aliyev
personally gave it to me. But after that, this woman occupied it. She
worked at the Prosecutor-General’s Office then. She must have liked
Presenter But where have your family been living since then?
Huseynov At our relatives’ home.
Presenter So what do you intend to do?
Huseynov We will see. I will probably ask the law-enforcement bodies
for help. What else can I do?
Politics, Karabakh, war
Presenter What is your assessment of the political situation in the
country? How have Baku and Azerbaijan in general changed over these
years? Is there any change at all?
Huseynov I think there are changes for the better. And if it goes on
like this, the republic will see reforms and democratic changes, and
that will inevitably lead to better living standards. There must also
be changes in the economy.
Presenter You have a favourite topic for discussion – the Karabakh
issue. Many years have elapsed since then but the issue has yet to be
resolved. Hasn’t your attitude towards the issue changed? What was
done right and what was done wrong?
Huseynov You know, the international situation has shaped in such a
way that all the countries keep such conflicts in focus. Therefore, I
believe we should pursue the path of negotiations. If the negotiations
prove ineffective, we may have to start thinking about other
Presenter Do you think Azerbaijan is capable of that?
Huseynov I think it is and it has always been. The point is that the
military option requires the approval of international
organizations. And I don’t believe international organizations will
ever allow a war to flare up in any part of the world.
Presenter What was the role of Russia in those developments and how
strong was Moscow’s influence on the developments?
Huseynov It was obvious then that Russia was on the Armenians’
side. This is an undeniable fact. Many politicians may certainly deny
or conceal any knowledge of this in order not to set anyone against
themselves. But I can say openly as someone who took part in the war,
as someone who used to hold an official post, that Russia was directly
involved in the war on the side of Armenia and in the occupation of
our districts. This is a fact.
Presenter But it is said that Russia was helping both sides in order
to stir things up. It is also said that you maintained contact with
Russia. With whom?
Huseynov This was made up by the then activists and members of the
People’s Front. Let me say that my great grandparents provided a lot
of help, both financial and material, in the establishment of the
Azerbaijani Democratic Republic in 1918. The Russians killed three of
my great grandfathers and two of my great grandmothers. How could I be
the Russians’ man? They have killed my ancestors. When the Azerbaijani
Democratic Republic was destroyed in 1920, they were killed. I
actually paid my money to the Russians and they worked for my country
as mercenaries, which is practised in all wars. I am trying to say
that those were all rumours about me. They hoped to tarnish my
reputation by saying that I was the Russians’ man. I am the son of the
Azerbaijani people and I am the servant of my nation. And no-one in
Azerbaijan has helped the poor as much as I have. Let anyone come here
and say that they have helped the destitute as much as Surat Huseynov
has. God has given me something and I have always passed it on.
Presenter When you were on the run in Russia, did anyone help you?
Huseynov No, I was using another passport and living in different
regions of Russia for two months each. I was thus hiding from the
Russians and Azerbaijanis. I was not arrested in Moscow, I was
arrested in Tula Region. I did not ask anyone for political asylum. I
only wanted to go to the West from there, but it didn’t work, I was
arrested and brought back to Azerbaijan.
Presenter Is there anything in the 1993 developments that has not been
Presenter Will that ever be uncovered?
Huseynov I think it will. But that can only happen when those
currently in prison are released so that we can all sit at a table and
let the nation know what happened in 1993, when the war was in full
swing. That will be uncovered and the people will know that the
Azerbaijani army has never been defeated. The Azerbaijani army was
destroyed from within. When people understand that, they will know who
Presenter What are you up to now?
Huseynov I want to take some time to restore my health, to put things
into perspective. Then we will see.
Presenter Thank you very much for coming to our
studio. Congratulations again and all the best to you.
Huseynov Thank you.