President Vladimir Putin: Allow me to wish you a warm welcome to Moscow.
I must say that this is a special day for me. I think this is the first time the religious leaders of the Caucasus countries have gathered together like this, at least to discuss directly issues of peace.
We have always been proud of the fact that Russia is a country of many religions and many ethnic groups, but we all know that the Caucasus is unique in the world in its ethnic, national and religious makeup. Not only do Muslims and Christians live side by side there, but so do people of other religions, and they have done so for a long time now.
Unfortunately, the last decade has brought a lot of tension to life in the Caucasus and Trans-Caucasus regions, and people there have also found themselves in material difficulties. In this context, the efforts made by religious leaders to foster peace, understanding and friendship among all the peoples who live in the Caucasus deserve particular attention, encouragement and special gratitude.
I think that your work can help create the spiritual foundation that will enable the politicians to deal with the tasks they face a lot more effectively than they have managed to do so far.
I think it is a very good sign that religious leaders have become involved in resolving the region's problems. I would like to thank you on behalf of the Russian authorities and on behalf of all the Caucasus countries. I spoke today with the President of Azerbaijan and I would like to pass on his warmest words and say that he wishes you every success in your meeting here.
In a few days I will meet with the Armenian President. I hope that Georgia will soon hold elections in accordance with procedures set out by law and that this will give us a new partner there – the lawfully elected President. For its part, Russia has made and will continue to make every effort and do all in its power to ensure that the peoples of the Caucasus live in peace and harmony and economic prosperity.
This is not an easy task. Unfortunately, the past has left us a legacy of many unresolved problems. But I believe that with your support we will be able to resolve these problems.
Once again, I would like to thank you very much and welcome you here, and I hope that this will not be the first and last time you meet like this in Moscow.
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II: Thank you, much esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, for having found the time to meet with us. We have held meetings to discuss the problems in the Caucasus since 1989, but this is the first time we are here as a foursome, joined now by His Holiness the Catholicos of Georgia Ilia II. We were not sure whether he would be able to attend, given the events taking place in Georgia, but in the end he was able to come, despite the situation there, as things stabilised somewhat, including with help from our Foreign Minister.
Today we had the opportunity to discuss all the different issues affecting the Caucasus. We approved a joint statement appealing to state figures, politicians, public figures and the media because we see that the only way to resolve the problems the Caucasus faces is through peaceful means and not by force. We set this out in the statement, which we signed and which I will give you. We think that often when people lose sight of moral guidelines this leads to armed conflicts and bloodshed. We think it is very important that bloodshed was avoided in Georgia, despite the very tense situation there, and we have expressed our gratitude to His Holiness Catholicos Ilia II because he also called on all sides involved in the conflict to seek a peaceful solution.
I think that each of us will have our own words of thanks to share, but for my part I would like to say how grateful I am that we have been able to meet as a foursome this time here in Moscow and that our meeting took place in a spirit of mutual understanding, cooperation and genuine fraternity. We are ready to continue our work and to help the politicians and state leaders find solutions to the complex issues faced by the Caucasus and the countries of the Caucasus Region.
President Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Catholicos of Georgia Ilia II: Your Excellency Mr President, first of all, I wish to greet you on behalf of the Georgian Orthodox Church. I am very pleased to have been able to take part in this important meeting. You all know that the Caucasus is a very important geopolitical region and also an explosive region, and I think that our meetings are of great significance. I would like to say that we indeed lived through some very anxious days, and I would like to thank you, Mr President, for deciding to send your Foreign Minister, Mr Ivanov, at such an important and critical moment. It looks as though he did a great deal to ensure that bloodshed was avoided. For my part, I also called for peace.
Fortunately, no shots were fired, even though there was an obvious confrontation between two sides, each with 40,000 people behind them.
Our President took a genuinely heroic and wise step by deciding to resign, because otherwise we could have faced a sea of blood. He saved Georgia from bloodshed. Now we have a new leadership and in 45 days – on Sunday, January 4 – presidential elections will take place, to be followed by parliamentary elections in the spring. We hope that these elections will be successful and peaceful. Before I left, I met with the chairman of the parliament and he asked me to pass on, on behalf of the new leadership, that Georgia would strive for very close and friendly relations with Russia. Once again I greet you and wish you success in your affairs.
President Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Thank you also for the good wishes from the Georgian leadership. We for our part also wish them the very best. We hope that the positive process now gathering strength in Georgia will have a successful conclusion in elections that will legitimise the current situation and give the country a new president.
Catholicos of Georgia Ilia II: I would just like to add that the questions we discussed are really very important issues. The situation in Georgia and in the Caucasus in general is not one of peace or war, but is a clear and dangerous situation. There is the issue of Abkhazia and the issue of Adjaria. We hope that Russia will take part in helping resolve these problems.
Catholicos of Armenia Garegin II: Much-esteemed Mr President, we are very pleased to have been invited to Moscow by our much-loved brother the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II. I am pleased to have this opportunity to wish you the very best on behalf of the Armenian people, the clergy of the Armenian Church and the President of Armenia. I thank you for this opportunity and I think it is very important that we hold these kinds of meetings of religious leaders. I am sure that our voice will be heard and will strike a chord in the hearts of our peoples, and that in this way we can make our contribution to helping our countries find peaceful solutions to the conflicts we face in the Caucasus region. I would also like to thank you for all the efforts you make to preserve peace in the region and to help our people live with God's blessing and work to make their own lives happy.
We pray to the Lord God for Russia, for the blessed Russian people, for the Russian Orthodox Church, the state and its President. I wish you all the best.
President Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Leader of the Caucasus Muslims Sheikh-Ul-Islam Allahshukur Pasha-Zade: Mr President, I am very pleased to be here today. I am doubly pleased because today is the end of Ramadan, a great holiday for Muslims, and because I have the opportunity today to meet with you, the President of Russia. This is a celebration not just for me, but also for all my compatriots who will all see our meeting on television and in the newspapers. Here we are simply sitting down together and talking, thinking about different nationalities and how to build our future lives together, but this meeting gives us much joy and confidence that, God willing, under your leadership the Caucasus will be a peaceful place. I also spoke yesterday evening with Heidar Aliyev and he has not forgotten how you received him. He has much respect for you and asked me to pass on his sincere greetings. When I was getting ready to fly here, prayers were being said, the mass prayers that follow the holiday. And when I spoke there and said that I was flying to Moscow for this meeting, everyone prayed for you, for your family, for your children.
I would like to thank you for receiving us in your home. As Sheikh-ul-Islam I also invite you to my home. I think it is a great joy to be the friend of such a Patriarch as Alexii II. I consider myself very happy. Today when we ate, I expressed my thanks to the people for the Patriarch. I am the only Muslim here today, but I am genuinely happy to be here. I did not feel as a Muslim, but rather, felt myself a common part of the whole group here, and it does not matter whether someone is Christian, Armenian, Georgian, Azerbaijani. I would like to thank the Russian Orthodox Church for the warmth it has shown us, the religious leaders here today. And I am also grateful to you. We are very concerned about what is happening in the Caucasus, and we congratulate you on having held presidential elections in Chechnya. I know the situation in Chechnya well. I know all those involved, both sides.
I think we will have to provide a lot of help after the elections and do a great deal of work. Of course, we cannot decide anything on our own, but we can help you in this respect. We are very concerned about the situation in the Caucasus, in Georgia, in Azerbaijan and also we are concerned about the Nagorny Karabakh issue.
Of course, we support a peaceful solution to this problem. We very much count on you and your friends and on all those present to ensure that peace reigns in the Caucasus and in Russia so that all people could return to their homes and their hearths. Thank you once again for receiving us, and I am looking forward to your visit.
President Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. I very much hope that these kinds of meetings will become regular because, as was already said today, they really are very important. Of course, I shall be very pleased and interested to read the document that you have approved, and I am sure that the peoples of our respective countries will be equally interested to read it.
As was rightly pointed out here, the very fact that this meeting is taking place is of symbolic significance and will meet with a positive reaction from ordinary people in our countries.
Leader of the Caucasus Muslims Sheikh-Ul-Islam Allahshukur Pasha-Zade: We want to create an inter-religious organisation and we have asked Patriarch Alexii II to head it. We want to hold a conference bringing together Christians and Muslims and everyone living in the CIS and set up a permanent commission so that in the event of an ethnic or religious conflict, we would have an organisation through which we could work together to help resolve it.
President Vladimir Putin: This is a very sound idea, all the more so as the world religions such as Christianity with all its currents and Islam with all its currents are founded on the same common values. I often receive guests from abroad here in Moscow, at the Kremlin. During an official dinnerin the Chamber of Facets, which is decorated with biblical themes, the President of one of the biggest Muslim countries began telling me aboutthese pictures in quite some detail. I was a bit surprised and I said, “How do you know all this? You're a Muslim, after all.” And he said, “It's all in the Koran too.”
Practically all the events in the Bible and the Koran coincide, but this is not just a superficial similarity, it is a common foundation of shared moral values that both Christianity and Islam preach and defend. These are essentially the same values, and so we share practically the same spiritual foundation.