Leyla Aliyeva: “Heydar Aliyev Foundation aims to be where people need support”

Trend Agency presents its interview with the Vice-President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Leyla Aliyeva.

Ms Aliyeva, first of all, let us to congratulate You on behalf of the staff of the Trend Agency on your appointment as Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as on presenting you the "International Dialogue of the Year" award for effective activity in the field of protection of human health and the valuable contribution to the development of the international dialogue to ensure the ecological balance.

Q.: The issue of food security is quite acute worldwide now. How would you describe the food security in our country? As a FAO Goodwill Ambassador, which FAO issues would you like to draw to attention of the international community?

A.: Each of the FAO strategic objectives, whether it is eradication of hunger and lack of food security, or eradication of poverty, raises the issues of concern to all the countries today. The countries are using various methods to meet the world’s growing demand for food. The production of genetically modified food (GMO) is, unfortunately, among them. Their production becomes more massive in the modern world and that worries me a lot.

Azerbaijan has always grown quality, natural products. They are distinguished by excellent taste and ecological purity of fruit. This is a great wealth and we must protect it. I would not want our country to follow the genetic engineering. Although an article envisaging the punishment for the production and import of GMO products has been recently included in the Criminal Code, I believe that people must refrain from this because they must be aware of a great harm caused by GMO products to all living things, rather than because of fear of the law.

As a founder of the International Dialogue for Environmental Action (IDEA), I am also attaching great importance to the achievement of the rational use of natural resources, protection and restoration of rare and vanishing species of plants and animals, strengthening of the enlightenment and ecological propaganda among the population, in particular among young people.

Q.: On our own behalf and on behalf of our readers, let us thank you for your activities in the sphere of environment. IDEA implements a large number of creative, socially important projects. What is the scope of the projects and how far they have gone beyond the country?

A.: I frequently travel through IDEA, spend a lot of time outdoors and each time, I get convinced that no matter how many beautiful and unique masterpieces are created by a human, nothing can overshadow the captivating beauty of nature. When being with nature, one feels the real, genuine serenity, peace, vitality and harmony.

I have noticed that those people living close to nature – it is about Azerbaijan as well – are more careful with it than those who live in urban areas. Therefore, we call on the metropolitan city residents to visit nature more often. Over the past several years, 4 million trees have been planted by the IDEA volunteers in Baku and the regions of our country. Hopefully, this initiative will be supported further and continued.

Environmental problems affect all countries and only a collective approach is required to resolve them. IDEA tries to convey namely this concept to the international community and to unite the people, in particular, the youth under the slogan “One Earth One Future”.

IDEA has long ago gone beyond Azerbaijan in resolving the environmental problems. We are the partners of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

I would like to mention the one among other regional projects which was implemented in October 2013 to carry out the first reintroduction of ten jeyrans (gazelles) in Georgia. Furthermore, the Caucasus Biodiversity Summit was held in May 2014 on the initiative of IDEA and with the organization support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. During this summit, the international experts exchanged knowledge and experience in the sphere of protection of leopards.

Among the international projects, I would like to highlight the Here Today exhibition dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the "Red Book" of the International Union for Conservation of Nature held in London in November 2014, as well as the ongoing Vita Vitale exhibition exhibits at Venice Biennale, which began in May, 2015 bringing together the artists from various countries, whose works reflect concern about the fate of the planet.

Q.: IDEA has taken under its wing the rare species of the Caucasus fauna, namely, the so-called The Big Five of the Caucasus - the brown bear, the imperial eagle, the grey wolf, the gazelle and the Caucasian leopard. We would like to know about the further plans in this direction.

A.: We have been working in this area for several years. These animals are really on the verge of extinction. For example, we have installed the surveillance cameras, invited ZSL experts (Zoological Society of London) to reveal the exact number and to further protect the Caucasian leopard. Their calculation has shown that there are from five to ten Caucasian leopards on the territory of Azerbaijan.

Of course, this figure is low. It is necessary to take various measures to increase the number of leopards. Enlightening people about the endangered species of animals, calling them for their protection and increasing of its food are among these measures. I wouldn't want the Caucasian leopard to disappear, as this happened with the Caspian tiger living on the territory of Azerbaijan 70 years ago. We can save the leopard from extinction due to the measures undertaken on time. Moreover, I have recently talked to the international experts, and I have learned that it is possible to restore the population of the Caspian tiger. Perhaps, we will deal with this issue in the near future.

For us, not only reintroduction or protection of endangered species is important, I am very concerned about the indifferent attitude towards all living beings. Last year, IDEA added a new profile in its activity, namely, a solution to the problem of stray animals. As it is known, at present, this problem is quite relevant not only in our region but worldwide.

In my opinion, there are two sides of this problem. One side is an environmental threat and a threat to public health posed by these animals. And of course there is deplorable situation of animals dying of hunger, disease or abuse. In this regards, the homeless animal shelter construction project is being implemented in Baku at our initiative. It is planned to complete in autumn 2015.

Q.: Today, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, of which you are the vice-president, actively participates in the social life of not only Azerbaijan, but also of many other countries. Alongside with the implementation of various charity projects and programs, the Foundation actively popularizes Azerbaijan in the world. The Foundation indeed has a large number of projects. We would like to ask which of them are the closest to you?

A.: The spectrum of activity of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation is really multifaceted and diverse. We successfully implement projects in very different areas, including charity, education, environment, as well as the projects aimed at developing the art, culture, health, sports and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

Many projects are the matter of exceptional pride for me. It is the pride for promotion of new initiatives that have fundamentally affected the development of various spheres. Very frequently, we launch a project and the state supports it further, for instance, as it was in the case of the "New school for renewed Azerbaijan" project. Over 400 schools were built and repaired within this project. The state continued this program and around 3,000 schools were refurbished in Azerbaijan.

We are proud of worthily representing Azerbaijan abroad, expanding the intercultural dialogue and preserving the traditions of tolerance. I experienced indescribable joy and pride when all the guests, tourists at Venice Biennale were wondering about namely the Azerbaijani pavilion and the whole Venice was talking about our pavilion.

The projects covering the socially vulnerable groups of citizens – disabled people, orphans and children deprived of parental care – are of special importance for me. Under the Development of orphanages and boarding schools program, 32 child welfare institutions were overhauled and provided with new equipment by the Foundation. We ensure the participation of these children in the international competitions, send them to vacations abroad in order to arrange effective leisure and recreation. We also create opportunities for the children brought up in such institutions in other countries to visit Azerbaijan and become familiar with our country.

Everything that the Foundation is doing in the sphere of health care is very important for me. For many years already, we have been implementing the project within which the children under 14 suffering from diabetes are regularly provided with the necessary volume of insulin and summer camps are organized for them. Heydar Aliyev Foundation has built specialized medical institutions, including Children's Psycho-Neurological Centre, Rehabilitation Centre for Children Needing Special Care and Rehabilitation Centre for Children with Down Syndrome.

I am very concerned about the thalassemia problem. Azerbaijan is among the countries with widespread thalassemia. Over 200 children are annually born in the country with this disease. Taking into account the seriousness of the problem, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation started the implementation of "In the name of life without thalassemia" project in 2005. We built the largest Thalassemia Center in the region as part of this project. Transplantation of bone marrow is carried out in this Center for the first time in Azerbaijan. It is planned to implement the program on eradication of thalassemia in Azerbaijan on a larger scale in the near future.

In general, all the projects are equally significant and important for me. Each new project is an opportunity to join the life of society, support the socially important ideas. Therefore, we choose the spheres where we can be more useful for the people. I would like to mention that the projects of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation are always implemented successfully. It seems like good forces help us to implement the charity projects.

Q.: How do you assess the role of humanitarian projects in enhancing an intercivilizational dialogue? What projects were implemented by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in this direction?

A.: Today's realities of the modern world, aggravating conflicts require the creation of a humanitarian platform that will help eliminate the problems hindering the development of intercivilizational dialogue. The international cultural and humanitarian cooperation is the most effective tool to enhance the mutual understanding among the countries, to smooth contradictions and to bring peoples together. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation uses this tool successfully. With each project, we aim at contributing to such universal values among different peoples as humanism, solidarity and tolerance.

The Heydar Aliyev Foundation has assisted in the restoration of the Berlin castle, ancient monuments in the park of the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre Museum, medieval manuscripts in the archives of Vatican, the Hall of the Philosophers in Rome’s Capitoline Museums.

We have reconstructed and overhauled several schools in Georgia, the Netherlands, Egypt, Romania, the Russian Federation and Pakistan. We have allocated funds for the development of the School of African Heritage (EPA), located in the city of Porto-Novo in Benin. We have also rendered assistance to the Network of Social Sanctions Against Child Abuse in Columbia.

The Heydar Aliyev Foundation aims to be where people need support. We have rendered financial assistance for earthquake relief in Haiti, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, as well as natural disasters in Romania.

The repair and restoration work was conducted in the churches and synagogues of the country. An educational complex opened for Jewish children in Baku. We contributed to the restoration of the churches in the regions of France, the Holy Roman catacombs and the erection of a monument to St. Prince Vladimir in Astrakhan. All this serves to the expansion of the relations of mutual respect and friendship among different peoples and confessions.

Q.: You are the initiator of such an important campaign as “Justice for Khojaly”. This campaign united the people from all over the world. In which directions is it needed to intensify work to convey the truth about the events in Nagorno-Karabakh to the international community?

A.: Khojaly is our pain and the truth about this tragedy, as well as the truth about the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in general, should be conveyed to the international community. The international community should make legal assessment on this crime against humanity. Our aim is to restore the historical justice, expose the criminals and bring them to international court. We will continue our activities in this sphere in the future until the fair settlement of this conflict and restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

Starting from 2009, a series of events are held each year as part of the “Justice for Khojaly” campaign and the anniversary of the horrible tragedy is marked in various countries with a heavy heart. The campaign has been supported by a number of countries in recent years. The parliaments of Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Pakistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Honduras and other countries, as well as the legislative bodies of a number of US states and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have recognized the Khojaly genocide.

We often witness how Armenia wants to mislead the international public opinion on its deeds in Khojaly. Therefore, today, alongside with the official state structures, each of us should carry out coherent activity aimed at conveying to the international community the truth and facts about the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the policy of genocide against Azerbaijanis. All of us should actively participate in exposing the lie and slander vigorously spread through Armenian propaganda.

We should show the international community the history of the conflict which has its roots in the past centuries. For instance, Guba Genocide Memorial Complex built by Heydar Aliyev Foundation reflects the history of genocide of Muslim population in five districts of Baku province - Baku, Shamakhi, Guba, Javad and Goychay - in March-July 1918.

In general, large-scale work was done by Heydar Aliyev Foundation to inform the international community about Azerbaijan’s historical realities. Numerous printed materials were issued, exhibitions featuring the essence of the conflict were held and "Endless Corridor" film was shot to mark the 20th anniversary of Khojaly genocide. A memorial to the victims of genocide in Srebrenica and Khojaly was erected in Sarajevo.

Currently, work on construction of Baku Memorial Complex to perpetuate the memory of the Khojaly genocide is underway. So, the work as part of the “Justice for Khojaly” campaign is carried out not only on the eve of February 26, but throughout the year. We try not to reduce the intensity of our activities in this sphere and make every effort to inform the whole world about the real essence of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the damage it caused to our country.

Q.: You are the chairperson of the Azerbaijani Youth Organization of Russia (AMOR). Its activity is very successful and fruitful. Moreover, other organizations have been using AMOR’s experience today. What contribution does this organization make in Azerbaijan-Russia relations today?

A.: Today AMOR is the most active youth organization outside Azerbaijan. One of the main objectives during its establishment was to unite and strengthen the Azerbaijani youth in Russia. We really managed to do that. The organization covers more than 70 regions of Russia. Almost all universities have the Azerbaijani youth clubs. AMOR welcomes all other organizations and clubs. It is ready to help them because we are all pursuing the same goal - to represent Azerbaijan in Russia with dignity.

AMOR activists constantly put forward new initiatives. They visit the orphanages, help children and students. AMOR conferences are periodically organized. We hold such campaigns as "Blood has no nation!", "Make sure you are healthy, say ‘no’ to disease!" Over a hundred youth representatives annually attend the free blood donation action. The raised funds are spent for the treatment of children with oncological diseases.

In my opinion, the sincere, pure, human relations are the most important thing. Our task is to establish warm relations between Azerbaijani youth and their Russian counterparts. Our young people are talented and intelligent. They love their motherland. I believe that the contribution to the preservation and strengthening of friendly relations between the Azerbaijani and Russian peoples is AMOR’s main contribution to the relations between Azerbaijan and Russia.

Q.: Azerbaijan has entered a new stage of its development following the first European Games, held in Baku. We all know that Azerbaijan will have many more such wonderful events in the future. However, the most memorable, of course, is the first one. How do you assess these games?

A.: I would like to start with the congratulation. First of all, I would like to congratulate the Azerbaijani team with excellent results and to thank the athletes for the minutes of pride and joy. We are proud that the first European Games have been held in our country. These games have opened a new page in the history of European sport. It was a great honor and great responsibility for our country to host and hold the first European Games.

It is gratifying that all this time, young people, many volunteers have been willing to help and have participated in the preparatory processes. Of course, despite the high level organization and good preparation, we wouldn't have done it without the volunteers. The volunteers fulfilled their work with diligence, responsibility and enthusiasm. This was one of important elements of the success of the European Games.

We observed high activity of the population, literally all halls were full of spectators. We understood that the Baku 2015 first European Games will determine the standards for all further games. Taking into account the national experience of organizing big, prestigious competitions and brilliant sports traditions, we all believed that Azerbaijan will surely hold the games at the highest level. And today we witness that the games were held in terms of justice, healthy competition, friendship and solidarity. By bringing together different countries, nations, peoples, the games became a grand sports event for the guests and Baku residents. And now it will be very difficult for any other hosting country, as they have something to compare with.

Q.: You are the chief editor of the ‘Baku’ magazine therefore it is very interesting to have your opinion about how you see the challenges of the modern media, and what, in your opinion, is important today to convey to readers?

A.: The ‘Baku’ magazine publishes interesting articles about history, culture, past and present day of Azerbaijan. It is published in order to familiarize a broad international audience with our beautiful Baku, where the architectural masterpieces and ancient facades of houses, theaters and museums harmoniously match with the unique modern complexes.

We try to cover the ancient history, the rich culture and the amazing nature of Azerbaijan, and talk about the great Azerbaijani artists, writers, composers and even the ordinary people who have their own history and who are united by the love of Baku. That is, the functions of our magazine are mainly the informative and educational ones.

Today we are surrounded by global problems. These include military threats, environmental threats, global economic and demographic problems, and the issues of eliminating poverty, hunger and illiteracy. The media should be able to respond to the challenges of the modernity and properly perform simultaneously both the informing function, and the function of forming the public opinion. Regardless of the large scale and the topics of the covered events, the audience always expects efficiency, objectivity and relevancy from the media.

I’d like to note that through AMOR we support Azerbaijani youth studying at the faculty of journalism. It is desirable that there would be more of our specialists in this area, and in that case our voice would be louder.

Q.: Creative work - poetry, painting hold an important place in your life. Once you said that to draw is a great pleasure but it is necessary to wait for inspiration. What is the source of your inspiration?

A.: I think that there is no eternal source of inspiration. Creative people are looking for something new that might motivate them. I would say that all beautiful things are a source of inspiration. It is love in all its forms, namely, love for people, love for nature, love for life. The life itself is a source of inspiration.

I would like to say that very often many people associate my poetry with my emotions and mood and sometimes think that they are very sad. But in fact, my poems are not always sad. They do not concern me personally. They reflect the state of mind and internal experience of a person as a whole. I have repeatedly stated that I have a very positive attitude towards the world. I always think that a positive attitude, compassion of people, good thoughts, belief in the victory of good over evil help make the world better. This inspires me.

Q.: What do you like more, drawing or writing poetry?

A.: I like drawing more. I’d like to say that drawing takes much more time. When I am drawing, I have a feeling that time goes by in a different dimension. Sometimes very little time is left for everything else. Sometimes I promise myself that I will be drawing only half an hour, and after “half an hour”, when I check the time, I see that it has been four hours. Of course, if I had a lot of free time, I would be drawing more. Maybe that is why I often draw clock. Time is something that can’t be controlled and at the same time, it is something that is never enough. Although, I believe that, depending on what you are doing, time also goes by in different ways.

As for poems, I write them very quickly. Writing a poem takes only five minutes if some idea or thought comes up. The main thing is to simultaneously think and feel the topic. But at that time I can’t think of anything else. And if I am in a public place, surrounded by people, I don’t see or hear anything unless I write down those lines.

My mother and sister are the ones to whom I read my poems first. For me, opinion on my creativity is very important, and I take it very close to heart. Positive feedback, of course, inspires me even more. I want to show my works to others, to share experiences. Therefore I hope that very soon I will be able to publish a poetry book, and perhaps to organize an exhibition of my works. I would also like to continue to learn and develop on a more professional level.

Q.: As a creative person, you attach great importance to the promotion of contemporary art. However, it is very important that you do not forget about the origin and traditions of national creativity. This can be seen at all events, various exhibitions and biennials. In your opinion, is it possible to combine the past and the present? How is this reflected in contemporary art?

A.: As for me, I prefer painting. I believe that the latest technologies in the video art and modern installations can not convey the harmony of senses as opposed to the work of art. It is the soul an artist puts into his works that makes them brilliant. I spend a lot of time in museums and galleries. I can even attend the exhibitions for hours and often wonder why I like and dislike some pictures. I think that the matter rests in the artist's soul, reflected in his paintings.

Q.: The shooting of “Ali and Nino” film, of which you are the executive producer, has just recently wrapped up. Why exactly "Ali and Nino"?

A.: The main reason for choosing this novel is the topic of independence. The novel touches upon the topic of establishment of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic which has a great historic importance. Independence is the most valuable and precious factor for each Azerbaijani.

In addition, we wanted to shoot an adaptation of a book about the history of sincere and pure love, which resonates even after 100 years and to show the issues of interpenetration of cultures and religions. The novel very colorfully describes the political, ethnic and cultural life of Baku. I wanted this novel to be adapted namely in Azerbaijan and the film shoot to be conducted in the places described in the book. Aside from Baku, the shooting took place in Gadabay, in the village of Khinalig of Guba district and in Gobustan.

“Ali and Nino” is a masterpiece and to film it is a big responsibility. We attracted talented people to work on the creation of the film. An excellent crew assembled for the filming of this beautiful work, and all the conditions were created for the fruitful filming process. I was on set practically every day, we were spending a lot of time together, and I was very sad when the work was completed. I have realized how difficult it is for actors and filmmakers, because they don’t have constancy within a team.

I’d like to note an important fact: people from various countries of the world were working on the film, which, of course, will further increase the interest in it. The entire cast, the crew - all who took part in the making of the film, are very talented people, experts in their field, and they have done their best for the film to be interesting. I believe the film will be a big success.

Q.: You have wonderful kids. In your opinion, what are the fundamentals of education and training necessary to be inculcated from childhood? How do you do this?

A.: Children is the greatest happiness. My children have reached such an age that it is interesting for me to spend more time with them than with friends. We walk together, go to museums, parks. From the very beginning I have friendly relations with them. First, children must respect their parents, rather than be afraid of them. It is very important for me. When they do something wrong, I try to explain to them. I always give the right to choose.

I think that they need quite a lot of freedom. I believe that a person has been gifted by God with an ability of understanding of right and wrong from the moment of birth. Sometimes parents patronize children too much and impose restrictions and prohibitions to protect them. I try to give my children more freedom, especially, since they are boys. Let them be independent, self-reliant and strong.

The most important thing is when I am with them, I am in a good mood. They have never seen me upset and sad. I always tell them that everything will be fine. I incite them positively.

Their education is also important for me. They speak three languages: Azerbaijani, English and Russian. They are interested in mathematics, arts. I constantly read books for them. I try for them to spend less time at the computer. I really want my children to cordially remember their childhood after they grow up.

Q.: You will celebrate your anniversary. We would like to congratulate you on your birthday and wish health to you and all your family members. We wish you prosperity and luck in your endeavors. How will you celebrate the birthday? What would you wish our readers?

A.: I will celebrate my birthday with my family and parents. In my childhood, I liked when a lot of guests came to my birthday. It was noisy and merrily. Today I want to spend this day with the people closest to me. I would like to be surrounded with unconditional love.

I would like to wish everyone positive mood, robust health and lots of happiness.

With love,Leyla Aliyeva