On October 10, 2020, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by the Russian RBC TV channel. Trend presents the interview.
– First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to speak with us. Before we start, I want to talk about the principles of RBK. A few days ago, there was an extensive interview with the prime minister of Armenia, and now we are here in Azerbaijan, in Baku, to speak with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. One more remark, before I ask the first question, condolences to the relatives of all the victims on both sides. I have heard a lot that no-one needs war and the sides could have done without it. And now the most difficult but also the most interesting task begins. The negotiations have ended. How would you assess what happened in Moscow? It is very important for us to understand what it all means.
– In general, I have a positive assessment because the statement circulated after the talks says that a ceasefire is being declared for humanitarian reasons and – what is of fundamental importance, this was the position of Azerbaijan and I am glad that this was reflected in this document – substantive negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan will begin and the format of negotiations remains unchanged. These are the two positions the new Armenian government tried to undermine. It is no secret to anyone that the statements we heard from Yerevan were essentially aimed at undermining the process of negotiations that had been developed over the years, including its fundamental principles, at undermining the format of negotiations. Therefore, it was extremely important that the Armenian side – of course, this happened as a result of what we have on the battlefield – was forced to accept that the fundamental principles form the basis for a settlement and they clearly state how the conflict should be settled and in what sequence the occupied territories should be returned to Azerbaijan. Secondly, the format of the negotiations remains unchanged. This means that negotiations have been, are and will be conducted only between Azerbaijan and Armenia. All attempts by the Armenian leadership to shift this responsibility onto the puppet regime that exists in Nagorno-Karabakh have failed. Thus, after that I am sure that we will no longer hear from Pashinyan that “Karabakh is Armenia”. Also, we will not hear his statements that Azerbaijan should negotiate with the so-called leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh. If he does make such statements, it will mean that he shows disrespect both for the mediators and for his own delegation, which agreed on this text in Moscow, and this will again undermine the process of negotiations. What did it lead to this time? I think everyone can clearly see that. I don’t think he can allow himself to step on the same rake a second time.
– The ceasefire – how long will it last? How would you assess the fragility of this truce? What will it depend on?
– This ceasefire lasted for many years until the current escalation, for decades. There were certain clashes on the line of contact, there were provocations of the Armenian side on the state border in July this year. But such large-scale action has never taken place in the last almost 30 years. Therefore, everything will depend on the Armenian side. First of all, whether it will observe the ceasefire. Because this morning and yesterday, that in the early hours of today and in the morning, I was informed about attempts of a large-scale counter-offensive by the Armenian forces in many directions – an attempt to recapture Hadrut, an attempt to recapture the territories we have liberated in Jabrayil district and an attempt in the northern direction. In other words, understanding that the parties can come to an agreement in Moscow, they tried as much as possible to get back what they had lost and what never belonged to them. Therefore, the key factor for the durability of the ceasefire will be that Armenia must come to terms with the fact that we have these territories, that it will never see them again and will not make any attempts to recapture it by military means. The second equally important factor is exactly what I have just mentioned. At the negotiating table, we must see a constructive approach from the Armenian side, so that they stop trying to imitate the process of negotiations, so that they refrain from provocative actions and statements, and so that they are committed to finding a settlement. All we have seen from the Armenian side over the past year was precisely aimed at undermining the negotiations and blaming Azerbaijan. So we will see. We are committed to our statements. Azerbaijan is a country that has always fulfilled its obligations. I have always said that our signature has the same value as our word. But the ceasefire is not a unilateral process, so we will see how the Armenian side will behave now.
– In Azerbaijan, as far as I understand in the two days I have been here, the public sentiment is that we must go to the end. How can you explain to the Azerbaijanis now that Baku has agreed to negotiations again?
– We are going to the end. We didn’t stop. If the Armenian side is committed to the ceasefire regime, then, as I said yesterday, the phase of political settlement will begin and the phase of coercion to negotiations will end. Therefore, we will go to the end anyway. Our goal remains unchanged. Restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, which is recognized by the entire world community, the return of Azerbaijanis to the places of their original traditional residence, including Shusha and other settlements of Nagorno-Karabakh, and, of course, to all other territories outside the administrative border of the former NKAO. Therefore, our goal remains unchanged. The question is about how we will move towards this goal? We have always tried to follow the political path and have always heard that there is no military solution. We have proven that this is not the case. We showed on the battlefield that this is not the case and that these negotiations would have lasted another 30 years without a military component. What would have happened before that? Illegal settlement. This is an international crime and a violation of the Geneva Convention. Unfortunately, no-one ever reacted to this – the Minsk Group, the European Union or the UN. The destruction of Azerbaijan’s historical heritage, the destruction of our cultural, historical and religious sites, the change of place names, the change of administrative boundaries of our regions, the change of the names of our mountains, rivers and cities. In other words, we would have had to wait another 30 years and then we would have been told that this is what the situation is like now, so put up with it. We have already been told that. Therefore, I think that the military component, or its first stage, has come to an end, we have now reached a political settlement which will secure that we reach the end and get what is rightfully ours. Therefore, I think that Azerbaijani society will perceive what happened yesterday and tonight correctly and continue to support our policy. Because we have always told our people the truth. We have always defended the interests of our people. What happened on the battlefield proved it to everyone again.
– You have met with Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan several times before these events. After these events, are you ready to sit down at the same table or talk with him?
– You know, it is difficult to speak with a person who is very trustworthy. I had to negotiate with his predecessors, whom I consider war criminals because they have committed a bloody genocide in Khojaly, they are responsible for the killing of peaceful Azerbaijani population, for the destruction of our historical and cultural heritage. But I had to negotiate because we had to find a solution to this conflict. When the new government came to power, of course, first contacts with the new leadership were quite encouraging. I have already spoken about this once and do not want to repeat myself. But then the opposite happened. In other words, we felt deceived. We understand that we are negotiating with the enemy, but we must remain honest even with the enemy, honest at least to ourselves. We must respect our word. When this happened, we lost any desire to continue this senseless activity, of course. What can you talk about with your opponent if every word is a lie, if their lies are circulated in the world media and if lies are broadcast all over the world? They are probably used to lying in their own country. But when you lie about history and about the essence of the conflict in the Internet age, it is very quickly exposed. Therefore, I do not rule out such a possibility but this requires certain conditions. At this stage, I don’t think it would be productive. On the contrary. The Armenian leadership should finally understand that it is impossible to speak to Azerbaijan in the language of ultimatums, insults and blackmail. I have never allowed myself such a tone of communication with anyone – neither within the country nor abroad. But when Pashinyan put forward seven ultimatums to us, when he insulted the feelings of the Azerbaijanis, he should have been punished for this. And we did that! Let him thank Putin for the fact that Russia has once again come to Armenia’s rescue.
– You have mentioned the role of Russia. That is, it really was decisive in these negotiations.
– Russia as a co-chair of the Minsk Group, of course, has the same rights and powers as the other countries of the OSCE Minsk Group. But, of course, as our neighbor and a country that has a common history with both Azerbaijan and Armenia, Russia plays a special role, of course. This role is based both on history and on the interaction of our peoples, as well as the weight and role of Russia in the world and in our region, of course. Therefore, due to these objective reasons, the possibilities of Russia to influence the settlement of the conflict are incomparably greater than those of any other country. Therefore, we have repeatedly appealed to the Russian leadership, so that the Russian leadership would engage the levers of political influence on Armenia and urge the Armenian side to end the occupation. This topic has been discussed many times, and I can tell you that in all of the numerous meetings I have had with my Russian colleague, this topic was discussed in one form or another, either in detail or not very extensively, but this did not happen. It is no secret that Armenia fully depends on Russia today. Security is provided by Russia, free weapons are provided by Russia. We have destroyed Armenian hardware probably worth billions of dollars. Right now, in a matter of two weeks. Where did they get this money? They don’t have it. These are all free deliveries from Russia. Gas supply at preferential prices from Russia, electricity to some extent too. Railways, communications, a military base. Even the Armenian border with Turkey and Iran is guarded by Russian border troops. If it wasn’t for this, it would be empty. What other country has so many levers to influence Armenia? None! And there are probably no other two countries in the world, one of which would be so completely dependent on the other. Therefore, of course, I am convinced that if there is insistence on the part of Russia, given that we have changed the status quo, broken the line of contact and brought Yerevan to its senses, I think that Russia certainly has a lot of tools to quickly convince Armenia that the only way out of the situation – and not only in terms of military confrontation but also for the future of Armenia in general – is to find a solution together with Azerbaijan. And it is quite simple – leave the territory, withdraw the troops, our people will return there and we will try to live side by side again.
– I will now ask you about another country – Turkey. Azerbaijan and you personally have been repeatedly accused these days of the fact that everything, including this conflict, is controlled by Turkish authorities. Yesterday and tonight, we did not see Turkey at the negotiating table. Why?
– This shows that all these opinions were false and that it was deliberate media speculation. There were several goals. First, to further demonize Turkey and this, unfortunately, is becoming almost a norm in the so-called modern political fashion. This is completely unfounded. Turkey is defending its interests, defending its right to live its own life. Under the leadership of President Erdogan, Turkey ceased to be an obedient ally of the West. It dictates its will in its region and in the world. Turkey is reckoned with now. Turkey’s authority has grown. The Turkish army is the second biggest army in NATO and it can solve any military-political problems. Therefore, of course, there is such open pressure from the West. It is even fraught with some very strange and negative emotional background in relation to Turkey. So this is the first reason – the demonization of Turkey. The second reason is the underestimation of Azerbaijan’s potential, including military-technical, an attempt to introduce things in such a way that it was Turkey or someone under the influence of Turkey that solved a military issue. No! We have liberated our lands ourselves. The myth about the so-called victorious Armenian army has collapsed. It never existed. Those who know the history of the conflict are well aware that our lands were occupied also by the 366th motorized rifle regiment of the Soviet army, which was stationed in Khankandi and I think 70 percent of its servicemen were of Armenian origin. So it was Soviet weaponry and Soviet command with an Armenian composition, and they took an active part in both ethnic cleansing and genocide.
– When … the events of the early 1990s …
– Of course! Without the support and active participation of the 366th regiment, Armenia would not have seized our territories. Therefore, a myth was created afterwards that the Armenian army was victorious and the Azerbaijani one would not be able to resist it. This was why it was necessary to preserve this myth. Apparently, acknowledging a bitter defeat at the hands of Azerbaijan is beyond the capacity of Armenian society and leadership. Third, it was necessary to belittle the role and importance of Azerbaijan in the world arena. This is very difficult to do because Azerbaijan today has very extensive economic and political ties with countries of the world. Today we chair the Non-Aligned Movement, which brings together 120 countries, and we were elected unanimously. If our country did not have an independent potential, would we have won such respect? Therefore, all the insinuations that Turkey is directing Azerbaijan and that we are acting upon its will are absolutely wrong. This is also aimed at disrupting or undermining the Turkish-Azerbaijani brotherhood, but it will not succeed. By the way, if all this information hype around Azerbaijan and Turkey had a basis, then there would not have been today’s statement. This statement was agreed with me and no-one else. If we were controlled by someone, this issue would probably not have been resolved so quickly. Therefore, Turkey plays a stabilizing role in the world and in the region. The active and very clear position of the Turkish leadership, personally its President and other officials during the escalation, essentially prevented the intervention of third countries in this conflict. Therefore, I believe that the role of Turkey is extremely positive, and it should play an even greater role in our region, including the settlement of the conflict.
– Many in Russia will hear the phrase that “Turkey should play an even greater role”. What is hidden behind these words? What do you mean?
– I think it is too early to talk about this, because I am expressing the position of the Azerbaijani side. But I said in one of my recent interviews that the Minsk Group was formed many years ago, in 1992, with completely different geopolitical realities. And if we were to form a contact group of mediators today, the composition would be different. The composition should reflect the intentions and wishes of the parties to the conflict but the composition of the Minsk Group practically does not reflect that. The composition of a new contact group or a working group, whatever you call it, should reflect the existing balance of power in the region, the existing interests of the countries of the region and should be focused on results. Otherwise, what is the point? It doesn’t make any sense. If we want to resolve the conflict, then it must be resolved within the framework of a new format. Notice how many new formats of cooperation – trilateral, quadripartite – have been set up recently to coordinate the positions of countries on many hot spots. After all, they are being created now, they are not created on the basis of any dogmas, on the basis of the real balance of power. Therefore, of course, there can be no doubt that Turkey should and will play an important role in the settlement of the conflict. In what form – legal or de facto – this is already a technical question.
– About the role of Russia. When I walked around Baku, I saw a lot of Azerbaijani flags and slightly fewer but still quite many Turkish flags, but I did not see a single Russian flag. Does this mean that Russia’s influence in Azerbaijan has decreased or has the attitude of people in Azerbaijan changed towards Russia?
– I don’t think it has changed. The fact that there are many Turkish flags is natural. We are fraternal peoples. Today there is such a level of trust, mutual support and relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan that, in my opinion, cannot be found between any other countries of the world, even the closest allies. This is a reality. And this reality was created by us – the leadership of Turkey and Azerbaijan. And it is not about our common roots and our common history. There are also peoples with close ethnic roots in the world, like Turkey and Azerbaijan, who are at war with each other. And you know that very well. Or they are engaged in intrigues against each other. Therefore, the presence of Turkish flags in Azerbaijan is a reality. Also, if you go to Turkey, you will see Azerbaijani flags in many places. As for the attitude towards Russia, I can give you one fact. Before the pandemic, the annual growth of Russian citizens visiting Azerbaijan was in the region of 15-20 percent. Last year it approached a million people. I have always said that Russians are attracted to Azerbaijan not only by the cuisine, not only by the beaches, not only by history, but also by the fact that they feel comfortable here, they feel at home, they speak Russian with our people. You probably know that nowhere else are there as many schools in Russian as in Azerbaijan – more than 300. There are Russian universities and branches in Azerbaijan. Russian musical and theater groups were here almost every week before the pandemic. Therefore, the attitude towards Russia and towards the Russian people inhabiting the Russian Federation is extremely positive in Azerbaijan. But you have already spent several days here and you know how the factor of the Armenian occupation influences the mentality of the people. People catch every word, people catch every gesture, every facial expression. But I will tell you quite frankly, during this time, during these days of the week when some Russian channels run rabid anti-Azerbaijani propaganda, falsification, manipulation, provide an unbalanced composition of talk show participants, when the Azerbaijani people are insulted, when the President of Azerbaijan is insulted on leading Russian channels, this, of course, does not add credibility to Russia. I brought this issue to the attention of the Russian leadership. Not in terms of the fact that we are concerned about it – the Azerbaijani society and public opinion are formed within Azerbaijan. But in terms of the fact that this may someday lead to certain difficulties in our plans. We have plans with Russia for the further development of cooperation. We are now actively working on five roadmaps for economic and other cooperation, there are very good issues politically. But the information attack we encountered in the Russian media during this time, of course, caused great harm to the public perception of Russia. I think it will take time and effort for the leadership of both sides to correct this situation.
– I will ask two more questions. 27 September, night or morning. Do you remember how the decision was made that you need to start responding, you need to start this war?
-Well, in practice decisions are made automatically. There are certain instructions for the servicemen of the Azerbaijani army. I think every army has that. What your actions should be in case of threat, in case of attack. That is, we had no hesitation on how to act. Moreover, we were expecting this attack. I spoke about this from the UN platform a few days before the escalation. You can see the text of my speech – I said that Armenia is preparing for war. Armenia must be stopped. There were a lot of arguments in favor of that. First of all, the statement of the Armenian defense minister he made in America last year when he said that Armenia is preparing for a new war for new territories. Then Pashinyan’s statements such as “Karabakh is Armenia” and so on. Further provocative actions in the form of demonstrative settlement of Armenians from Lebanon to Shusha, which is a war crime. Further, the insult of the Azerbaijani people by holding the so-called “swearing-in” ceremony in Shusha – in fact, for the first time in the entire existence of the occupation regime there. An attempt to move the parliament of the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh republic” from Khankandi to Shusha, and much more. All this was a provocation against us. Then July. An unprovoked attack on military positions, and we lost four servicemen and then a civilian in the very first hours. Then August. A sabotage group penetrating Goranboy district on the line of contact. The leader of this group is now giving evidence. We waited. We were ready. Naturally, the decision was made automatically, including myself, without any hesitation. We had to put the aggressor back in its place. In July, Azerbaijani society demanded a continuation. You probably know about this.
– Yes, there was a rally.
– Yes. In July, the main slogan at the rally was “Commander-in-Chief, give us weapons!” This is what people were saying. In July, we could have easily crossed the state border with Armenia and seized vast territories of the Armenian Republic. But we didn’t.
– …This did not happen in Karabakh.
– Quite right. We did not do that. There were no difficulties there. We showed this now when we broke the defense that was deeply echeloned for 30 years. The local terrain there is defense in itself. We were going from bottom up, we were breaking these concrete slabs thanks to the incredible efforts of the Azerbaijani Army, the heroism of our soldiers and officers. What would it have cost us to move into any point in Armenia? But I stopped it, I said that no, we will not go for that, we are not them. We will not enter the internationally recognized territory of Armenia. We reached the border, drove out the invaders who entered our territory and stopped there. In other words, after that we had to punish the aggressor and discourage it from even looking in our direction. And we did that. Look at what a miserable situation Pashinyan is in now. He humiliates himself, calls, begs. There is hardly anyone left he hasn’t called yet. Heads of government of the European Union. And what does he demand? He demands that they recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. It speaks of a complete inadequacy of the Armenian leadership. There is an agreement between Azerbaijan and the European Union, one of which was initialed two years ago. It states that the European Union respects the territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of Azerbaijan’s borders. We have documents on strategic partnership with seven EU member states. All of them recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Only a person who is completely far from politics and devoid of any knowledge in the international sphere can demand recognition for Nagorno-Karabakh. This is where they are now. And we had to punish them. We had to put them in their place. They should know that they can’t talk to us like that and they won’t get away with it. And they didn’t. He will be held accountable for the tears of mothers, for the deaths of innocent young citizens of Armenia they are sending to the frontline.
– What will happen to the territories Azerbaijan has returned? What will they do there now?
– We will return our refugees to their homes. You can imagine the joy of these people, the joy of the inhabitants of Jabrayil, the villages of Fuzuli, the inhabitants of Tartar district, Hadrut, who will return to their lands after almost 30 years. There is nowhere to go back to now. The video footage we show from the liberated territories shows that everything there has been destroyed. We knew that it is worse than Stalingrad. Everything that was not destroyed was plundered. They even stole window frames, stole toilets. This is just looting elevated to public policy. Therefore, we will restore these territories.
– Will you rebuild them?
– We will rebuilt them. Of course. We will help. This year, according to our construction program for internally displaced persons, we are commissioning 7,000 apartments. Can you imagine? If we multiply that by five people on average, we accommodate 35,000 people a year. in other words, even by our standards it is a fairly medium-sized city. We have already accommodated more than 300,000 people. Every year we allocate huge funds from our budget to create good conditions for refugees. Each refugee receives a monthly allowance from the state. We will do it there. We will rebuild Jabrayil. We will rebuild all the villages. People who will live there will be involved in construction work. They will receive a land parcel to rebuild their homes. Life will return there, children’s laughter will return there. People will heave a sigh of relief. People will feel that they have regained their dignity. Can you imagine what it is like for Azerbaijanis to live in such a situation for so many years? Imagine my feelings when, on the line of contact, I looked at our destroyed cities through binoculars. Let the Armenian side give this a thought. They will not understand what it is like. But they should have thought about it earlier. They should not have hurt the feelings of the Azerbaijanis. We are a kind people, a peace-loving people but we will not allow our dignity to be trampled and insulted. When Pashinyan, in a drunken stupor, danced in Shusha on Jidir-Duzu, he signed up for what happened today.
– Are you going to visit these territories yourself?
– Of course! When we liberated Jojug Marjanli from occupation in 2016, I told our State Committee for Refugees and IDPs that they should ask the residents of this village if they would like to return. Because many years have passed, many of them are in Baku, many have jobs, children, schools, many live in other regions of Azerbaijan. Changing your place of residence, especially where everything is destroyed, is not so easy. You know, after some time I was informed that there was a queue. Even young people who had never been there, who were born afterwards. They all asked to be returned there as soon as possible. And in less than a year we rebuilt a village of 150 houses, built a school, a medical facility, a mosque, all the infrastructure, installed gas lines and roads there. This has become a symbol of our return. When I arrived there and saw the faces of these people, their joy, tears of joy in their eyes, I said to myself again that we would definitely return to our homes. And, of course, we will restore these places so that these people who suffered for so many years, many of them did not live to see this happy day, they died longing for their homes, so that those who have survived them live happily and those who did not live to see this day have their souls in paradise.
-Thank you very much!