BAKU, Azerbaijan, Feb. 26
On 26 February, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev gave a press conference for representatives of local and foreign media.
According to Trend, addressing the media representatives, President Ilham Aliyev said:
- It is the 29th anniversary of the Khojaly genocide today. The Khojaly tragedy is a bloody crime, an act of genocide Armenia committed against the Azerbaijani population. As a result of the genocide, 613 civilians were killed with special brutality. Among them were 106 women and 63 children. Those who committed the Khojaly genocide are war criminals. Many of them were killed by the Azerbaijani army in the second Karabakh war.
The Khojaly genocide was a manifestation of Armenian fascism. At that time, Armenian fascism was raising its head and dealt a huge blow to the Azerbaijani people from 1992 until the recent events. The military provocations, the acts of terror, the brutality against civilians, the shelling of our cities and villages, as well as the bombing of peaceful cities with ballistic missiles during the second Karabakh war – all these are manifestations of Armenian fascism.
The Khojaly genocide is recognized by the international community. More than 10 countries have officially recognized and confirmed what happened as an act of genocide, and this process continues. The Azerbaijani state, as well as public organizations of our country, are very active in this area. There is comprehensive information in the world about the Khojaly genocide today. The war crimes of the Armenian state have been documented. Video and photographic materials have been presented to a fairly broad audience. The whole world sees and knows that the Azerbaijani people were subjected to genocide at the end of the 20th century.
By committing the Khojaly genocide, Armenia essentially wanted to break the will of the Azerbaijani people. It is no coincidence that the leaders of Armenia, the war criminals, when answering a question about that in an interview with foreign journalists, noted with a sense of pride that Armenia had indeed committed this war crime against the civilian population, so that the Azerbaijani people could see that the Armenian leadership could also raise its hand against the civilian population. We, for our part, have avenged the victims of Khojaly on the battlefield. Having defeated the Armenian army in the 44-day second Karabakh war and liberated our historical lands from invaders, we also avenged the victims of Khojaly. Azerbaijan as a strong state will never allow Armenian fascism to raise its head again, although such tendencies are discernible. Azerbaijan through its activities is contributing to the further development of the region and taking tangible steps to fully establish stability in the region.
Numerous events are being held in Azerbaijan these days, and a large group of journalists has come to Azerbaijan from abroad to cover them. I would like to express my gratitude to you for being in Azerbaijan today to cover these events, to cover this act of genocide. I also know that some of you have visited the liberated lands and seen this destruction with your own eyes. You will continue to travel there. Thank you very much again for that.
I was informed that foreign journalists want to meet with me and do an interview. Given their large number, I decided to meet with them in this format. Of course, the pandemic does affect our work as well, but I believe that this direct connection will allow me the opportunity to answer questions of interest to journalists. Please.
Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmat Hajiyev:
- Dear Mr. President, please let me start our press conference with the participation of representatives of local and foreign media. The floor is given to the representative of the Azerbaijan Television and Radio Broadcasting Closed Joint-Stock Company.
Azerbaijan Television: First of all, I would like to express our gratitude for this opportunity. You have already noted that in the 29 years since the Khojaly genocide was committed, parliaments of many countries, as well as international organizations, have assessed this massacre as an act of genocide. How would you currently assess the attitude of the international community towards the Khojaly genocide. How would you assess their position? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: You know, many international organizations have expressed their attitude to this bloody event on Azerbaijan’s initiative, and work in this direction will be continued. Of course, when the genocide was committed, Azerbaijan was practically in an information blockade. There were no modern possibilities at the time. Therefore, this issue was not very clear for many, especially if you consider that Azerbaijan did not have great opportunities in the international arena in those years. In contrast to this, the Armenian lobby was working hard to circulate false and distorted information about the events that took place. The international community developed certain misconceptions. Of course, we had to make great efforts to change and refute those opinions, and, as I have already noted, our state and public organizations have consistently carried out this activity in recent years. Among public organizations, of course, I would like to specifically note the activities of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Under the “Justice for Khojaly!” slogan, various events were held in many countries, and there is complete information about the Khojaly tragedy in countries of the world. Our main goal is that this bloody crime is never forgotten, so that it is not repeated in Azerbaijan or elsewhere in the world, so that Azerbaijan never finds itself in such a helpless situation as it did in the early 1990s, so that Azerbaijan is always able to protect itself and its citizens.
I believe that there is already comprehensive information about the Khojaly genocide in the world today, although the Armenian side, spreading false information in various ways, tried to blame this bloody crime on the Azerbaijani state. Allegedly, Azerbaijan perpetrated the Khojaly genocide itself. We saw a repeat of these actions in the second Karabakh war. By bombing Ganja, Tartar, Aghdam and other cities, the Armenian leadership said that Azerbaijan had done it itself. Meanwhile, the launch of ballistic missiles is tracked by satellites, and large states, primarily the Minsk Group co-chair countries, watched this entire picture. Ballistic missiles were fired at Ganja, Tartar, Barda and other cities from the territory of Armenia. So yet another attempt was made to spread Armenian lies, but it did not work because the situation is completely different today, and we have the opportunity to communicate information.
Therefore, I am absolutely convinced that the whole world will learn the truth about the Khojaly genocide over the years, and this is our goal. We will continue to strive for the countries of the world to officially recognize this genocide as an act genocide. Consistent work in this direction will be continued.
Turkish TV channel “TRT Haber”: Mr. President, first of all, we pay tribute to the memory of the martyrs of Khojaly. Once again, we congratulate you on the Victory in Karabakh. In the immediate aftermath of this Victory, there has been constant internal political strife in Armenia. How would you assess this issue, the events in Armenia? Could what is happening there negatively affect the format of cooperation proposed by you and President Erdogan? On the other hand, does Azerbaijan plan to step up military measures if there is a change of power?
President Ilham Aliyev: The events taking place in Armenia are an internal affair of Armenia. Yesterday, in my speech at a meeting with martyr families, I touched upon the situation in Armenia as well. However, I want to say that I made my remarks before the events. In other words, my meeting with martyr families was held at about 10:30, and I learned about the events in Armenia after that. Therefore, I want everyone to know: my comments were made before these events.
However, the events show that I was absolutely right. Because Armenia today is in such a difficult situation that the processes taking place there to a large extent undermine the foundations of the country's statehood. The previous and current leaders of Armenia are to blame for this, because the Kocharyan-Sargsyan junta actually led Armenia to an abyss and crisis for 20 years. The country has practically lost all signs of independence. It resembled a colony. The main reason for this is the occupying policy because the longer they tried to keep our lands under occupation, the deeper their dependent position became.
We have consistently isolated Armenia from all international and regional projects. Our policy was to economically undermine, destroy and isolate Armenia. I have never concealed this and have repeatedly said that as long as our lands remain under occupation, we will pursue this policy. I said that Armenia should withdraw its armed forces from our lands. Only after that can there be interaction and cooperation in the region and can our policy change. Unfortunately, neither the previous junta nor the government that came to power in 2018 heeded these calls. If they had listened to me in due time, they would not be in such a shameful position now.
There is a total crisis in Armenia today. I would not like to somehow comment on their internal situation. In principle, we never interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, especially at this sensitive time, but the results of the war remain and will remain unchanged. The statement signed on 10 November is being executed and must be fully implemented. A significant part of the provisions of this Statement has already been implemented. But there are issues that are a topic of discussion today. I hope that despite the situation in Armenia, the statement signed on 10 November will be implemented. Otherwise, Armenia will find itself in an even more difficult situation. In other words, there is not so much choice before Armenia. They need to come to terms with the new reality. We have created the new reality.
For 30 years, international organizations dealing with this issue, as well as individual countries, were sending us open or unofficial messages that there is reality, that Azerbaijan is the side that has lost in the war and that we, as they believed, should come to terms with the reality. Try to choose the most acceptable option for yourself from this reality, i.e. something between a bad and a very bad option. We, as you know, have always rejected such calls, never deviated from our position, and I openly declared that. And now it is my saying that a new reality has taken shape and that we have created this new reality. Armenia, as well as all other countries, must come to terms with this reality. Armenia has several options today, and the most acceptable of them is to fulfill the provisions of the Statement of 10 November. Otherwise, they may face even bigger problems.
Russian agency TASS: Good afternoon, Mr. President. If you will, I have two questions. The first concerns logistics. Not so long ago, there was a report on the start of construction of an airport in Fuzuli. Can you confirm that such work is under way, that nothing is in the way, when it may be commissioned and if this airport will be international?
The second question is about coronavirus vaccines. Can we expect that Russian vaccines will be registered in Azerbaijan? And if you don't mind, I also have a personal question. Will you be vaccinated yourself and which vaccine would you prefer? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. As for the airport in Fuzuli, work has already begun. We promptly started dealing with the issues related to mine clearance. Because, first of all, it was necessary to clear the territory there. This process is already close to completion, and the airport will be put into operation in operational terms – at least its runway and navigation systems that would ensure the functioning of the airport. The airport will be international. The runway will be able to accommodate all types of aircraft, including the heaviest cargo planes. The construction of the airport – of course, it is difficult to predict this because the issues related to mine clearance and access to this territory cause difficulties. However, we expect it will be commissioned this year, of course. We want it to be commissioned early in the fall. If everything goes according to plan, the airport will be put into operation in early fall of this year. This will allow us the opportunity to use it both for the restoration of territories, taking into account the goods that we will receive from abroad, and for convenient access of citizens of neighboring states to the city of Shusha. Because along with the airport, we are also building two highways to the city of Shusha. One of them, which I called the “Road of Victory”, is exactly the path along which the Azerbaijani special forces marched to the city of Shusha through forests and valleys. And the other road will run on a lower plane and also provide direct access from the airport. Therefore, I am sure that the Azerbaijanis living abroad, as well as citizens of other countries, will have this opportunity.
I should also say that our plans on the construction of airports are not limited only to the city of Fizuli. We also have plans for the construction of airports in Lachin and Zangilan, taking into account the plans for the development of the territory and also taking into account the fact that Zangilan will turn into a very important logistical center. Because, as you know, one of the provisions of the Statement of 10 November last year was the opening of a corridor on the territory of Armenia, which would connect Azerbaijan with its autonomous republic of Nakhchivan. At the same time, it will connect Azerbaijan with Turkey and Russia with Turkey. Therefore, we have major plans, and we will implement them. This year, a special investment program for the restoration of territories was approved, and it is quite extensive. We are already starting to make first payments under the contracts signed.
As for vaccines, I must say that we have been keeping the situation under control from the very beginning of the pandemic. The measures that were taken to tighten and ease the quarantine regime were quite effective. We have a fairly low level of those who were infected. We now have a little over 200,000 people who have been infected with the coronavirus. To date, there are just over 2,000 active patients. We have a lot of free beds in hospitals. Because in the first months of the pandemic, we established more than 10 new modular hospitals and also because there has been a positive dynamics between the number of those infected and those recovering in favor of the latter in the last two months. We are also the first country in the South Caucasus to start vaccination. We started vaccination on 18 January, just a month after vaccination began in Europe. We are using the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine.
I must say that we also joined the COVAX system from the very beginning, and we should receive other vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer through it. Also, we signed relevant documents for the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Azerbaijan with the Russian side in the very first days, because Russian companies are the distributors of this vaccine in post-Soviet republics. This also applies to the Sputnik vaccine. But we have not received these vaccines yet. We have information that the Sputnik vaccine is still being used to address the domestic needs of Russia and that very limited quantities of these vaccines have been supplied to foreign countries.
As for the CoronaVac vaccine, 4 million doses have been contracted. I am told that 15,000-20,000 people are vaccinated every day. So we will use all the opportunities in this direction. Relevant funds have been allocated for this and we will wait for vaccines from manufacturers.
Speaking of this, I would also like to note one issue that we raised at the international level, including as the country chairing the Non-Aligned Movement. On our initiative, a special session of the UN General Assembly dedicated to COVID-19 was held. More than 150 countries supported the initiative. This session took place in December last year. One of the theses that I voiced was the fair distribution of vaccines among countries of the world, so that there would be no protectionism or nationalism in this matter. Unfortunately, we see something completely different. We see that serious problems arise even between allies. They are beginning to count who used how many vaccines and who gave what to whom. Therefore, this situation once again suggests that, despite all the statements about solidarity, about the joint struggle against this scourge, we are seeing the exact opposite. Some countries, for example, have purchased three to four times more vaccines than they need. For example, Canada. I have already talked about it. It means that someone will not have enough. And they don't even need them. But what do they care? They speak out for equality, for human rights, for democracy, but in practice they infringe on the rights of millions of people, those living in poor countries and unable to afford it. Even if they could afford it, they would simply have no access to it. I will tell you quite frankly. If we had not concluded an agreement with all the manufacturers as we did, we would also be without vaccines today. We should have received the AstraZeneca vaccine long ago. We have not received it. We haven't received it for several months. Sputnik has not been received. Pfizer and Moderna should have been provided through COVAX, but they haven’t been. And we are not being told when we will get them. It is good that our Chinese partners are fulfilling their obligations. We have the means to buy it. But what about those who don’t have the money? Are these people supposed to die? This means that the rich will vaccinate themselves, take production for themselves, as they say, ignore the basic norms of human behavior, while poor countries must suffer. What kind of equality are we talking about then? This is the question I raised at the special session of the UN General Assembly, and we are actively discussing this issue within the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement today. My initiative has been supported by many countries. Additional consultations are underway now, and we must get down to business. Enough of voicing stereotyped statements that have no foundation at all. Everyone is already tired of this. This is a question that concerns every person. In this matter, we are showing integrity both in our national capacity and as a country that currently chairs the second largest international structure in the world after the UN.
“Ukraine-24” TV channel: Mr. President, good afternoon. I am a journalist for “Ukraine-24” TV channel. With your permission, I have a question. Ukraine has been following the events in Azerbaijan all the time. Your experience is very important to us. Hopefully, we will also return our territories in the near future. So here is the question. Could you please tell us what difficulties Azerbaijan is facing now during the reintegration of liberated territories? I know that immediately after the end of hostilities there were attempts at sabotage and subversive partisan activities. How was this issue resolved? And how are you resolving the issue of returning civilians there, so that they could live peacefully and safely? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: You are right. According to our data, after the hostilities ended, a detachment of more than 60 people was dispatched from Armenia, from Shirak region, from the city of Gyumri and surrounding regions in the last 10 days of November. It is not clear how, but it made its way into the territories controlled by the Azerbaijani army through the Lachin corridor. As you know, after the end of hostilities, on 10 November, the peacekeeping troops of the Russian Federation published maps showing the areas of responsibility of the peacekeepers. These maps are always on the web site. So after the end of hostilities, we discovered that there were Armenian armed formations in the deep rear. First, we received information that they had lost their way, that they could not get out of the encirclement, and for some time the Azerbaijani servicemen, together with the peacekeeping mission, thinking that they were lost, tried to help these people and take them back. But it turned out that this was not the case. It turned out that it was a sabotage group that carried out attacks both on our military personnel and on civilians. As a result of their acts of sabotage and terrorist attacks, four of our servicemen and one civilian was killed. He was a representative of a mobile operator who was ambushed while traveling to the city of Shusha. Several people were also wounded.
Of course, we carried out a counter-terrorist operation, as a result of which several terrorists were completely neutralized and more than 60 were captured. When some people try to describe them as prisoners of war today, I think they are deliberately distorting the essence of the issue. There cannot be a prisoner of war 20 days after the war. We returned them all the prisoners of war we had. In fact, we returned them earlier than they returned ours. These people do not fall into this category. These are terrorists and saboteurs. So any speculation on the part of Armenia or some countries is inappropriate.
As for other complications, we certainly do not guarantee that other sabotage groups will not infiltrate. But so far we provide a sufficient level of security of the liberated territories, conduct regular raids and monitoring – both using unmanned aerial vehicles and visual monitoring. Therefore, the situation is fully under control.
Besides this, of course, the main difficulty is mining. Because the Armenian side did not provide us with maps of minefields. This, in fact, can also be considered a crime because we have had several cases both among military personnel and among civilians when people died after the end of hostilities only because we were not provided with maps of minefields. With the resources we have today, it is impossible to ensure rapid demining. So here too, of course, we see the Armenian side acting insincerely yet again, as it says one thing and does something different.
We handed over the prisoners of war to them and bodies of the dead to them. After the war, more than a thousand bodies of Armenian servicemen were found in the liberated territories together with representatives of the Armenian side, the peacekeeping mission and our representatives, and they were handed over to the Armenian side. We act in accordance with the norms of morality and universal human behavior. But not to give us maps of minefields means to deliberate doom civilians and military personnel to death and injury. What kind of cooperation can we talk about? In this case, cooperation cannot be one-sided.
Another issue we are discussing today is, of course, the timetable for the return of former refugees to the territories from which they were expelled. But in addition to minefields, everything is still completely destroyed there. The entire infrastructure is destroyed, there are no cities, there is nowhere to return. All villages are practically destroyed. I have repeatedly visited the liberated territories. You drive hundreds of kilometers by car and see only destroyed villages. There is not a single safe building. There is not a single building in Aghdam except for a dilapidated mosque and even that was used as a reference point for adjusting the fire, as an observation post – they looked to see if there was any advance of Azerbaijani troops. There is not a single building in Fuzuli. There wasn’t even a place to hang a flag. We eventually hung it on a flagpole. The same applies to Jabrayil. Several houses partly remain in Zangilan and Gubadli, where there were illegal settlements. Therefore, we are now engaged in demining. In parallel, we are assessing the damage using all the possibilities, including drones, in order to present justified claims to the invaders through international institutions. In parallel with this, instructions have already been issued to draw up master plans for the development of cities and villages. Therefore, these are the main stages for the return of our citizens.
We have also started pilot projects. One project has already started – it is a “smart village”. We want to create the most comfortable opportunities in the liberated territories for those who have been deprived of their land for 30 years. They deserve it, they deserve to live with dignity and enjoy all the benefits of the modern world. We have both the political will and financial resources to restore these territories, and we will do it.
British News Agency Telegraph: Thank you for meeting with us on the day of remembrance of the victims of this terrible genocide. In your opinion, is it possible to ensure sustainable peace in the future and prevent such genocides, and does Azerbaijan have a sincere intention to maintain sustainable peace in the future?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Of course, we want to achieve sustainable peace. This is the only way to turn the page of enmity. To see this, I urge you to read the 10 November statement. It was signed by me, the president of Russia and the prime minister of Armenia. As soon as the Armenian side gave us a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops, we stopped the war. From the first days of the war, in each of my interviews and statements, I emphasized that as soon as the prime minister of Armenia personally, not one of his officials, but himself personally, told us the date of the withdrawal of troops from Fuzuli, Shusha, Jabrayil and other districts, we would stop the war. So if we can do that peacefully, then the war will stop.
We have been waiting for the end of the conflict for 30 years. Our intention has always been clear and sincere. As long as Armenia showed at least some signs that the conflict could be resolved peacefully, we were involved in these negotiations. But when we realized that the Armenian government did not intend to return a single inch of land to us and committed a number of military provocations against us in July and August which were followed by another provocation in September, of course, we had to give an adequate response. Therefore, when the question is asked what a sustainable peace can be like, it can only be when there is a demonstration of commitment to the 10 November statement. This document was signed by the prime minister of Armenia: a part of Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin will be liberated. We stopped the war immediately. I have kept my word. However, everyone understands perfectly well that if we continued the war, it would lead to more serious and dire consequences for Armenia. We didn’t want more losses and sacrifices, and we demonstrated this. Today we are discussing the issue of permanent, sustainable peace and security in the region. The only way to do this is through collaboration. Our goal is to restore communications already in a trilateral manner – together with Armenia and Russia, create the Zangazur corridor and remove all transport obstacles. If this happens, then Armenia will also benefit. They will also see the benefits of peace. Another condition for us, a condition for peace is that political circles of Armenia should understand: any attempts at revenge will be severely punished by Azerbaijan. If we see any threat, if we consider it a serious threat to ourselves, then an immediate response will follow. Therefore, I warn that there should not be any attempts at exacting revenge. Armenia must fully implement the statement of 10 November, and peace will come to the region gradually, in a step-by-step manner.
I would like to mention another issue. Currently, there is no Azerbaijani army in the direction of eastern Zangazur we have liberated, on the border with Zangilan. There is the State Border Service of Azerbaijan there. Notice that there is no tension between the Armenian civilian population and Azerbaijani border guards. A peaceful life continues. We approached the border, settled there, but did not cross it. Currently, some of the villages are located on our territory and there are no Armenian armed forces there. Armenia did not even have a state border service, because I can tell you that the Armenian border with Turkey and Iran is guarded by Russian troops. So we stand on our border. We are not taking any negative steps towards the Armenian population. On the contrary, the 20km road connecting Armenian cities passes through the territory of Azerbaijan. We have created this opportunity. We even put up a big poster there: Welcome to Azerbaijan! I can't understand why this irritates Armenia in any way. Honestly, I don’t understand this because the vehicles passing there, the people should see that they are entering Azerbaijan, are using the territory of Azerbaijan quietly, and there are no problems. Therefore, we do not have to strive for anything else to achieve sustainable peace. We have returned what is ours and demonstrated that our words and deeds have equal value.
Turkish TV channel CNN: It is the anniversary of an important date today. When the Khojaly genocide was committed, when civilians were killed in the Karabakh war, many countries were silent. I would like to hear your thoughts about the fact that the world was silent when the tragedy was unfolding here. The second question is what is being done in Karabakh now. People who were forced to leave their lands 30 years ago are waiting to return to their native lands. Has a date been set in this regard? Have you prepared any road map or plan? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. You are absolutely right. When the Khojaly genocide was committed, the world was silent. One of the reasons for this was probably the lack of information that existed at the time. Information related to the war was lop-sided. Armenia used its propaganda, while the Azerbaijani side was in a completely helpless state because we did not have the foundations of statehood at the time. Azerbaijan was then in an uncontrollable state. The then Azerbaijan resembled today's Armenia – incompetent management, crisis, lack of discipline in the army. The army was actually out of the government’s control. We see the same picture in Armenia today. Our options were very limited back then. This was one reason. Another reason was that the world did not want to see this because, as we realized later, it was a picture that somewhat contradicted the prevailing stereotypes. Because when the first Karabakh war began, one might say that most countries believed that Armenia was right and Azerbaijan was wrong. Questions of territorial integrity were set aside and the question of self-determination of nations came to the fore. No-one asked the question: after all, the Armenian people have already determined themselves, they have an independent Armenian state, so why should a second Armenian state be created on historical Azerbaijani land? Nobody has been able to answer this. Therefore, these stereotypes continued to exist for many years. Over the years, we were treated unfairly. Have a look – after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US Congress passed the Freedom Support Act. This law was adopted with the aim of providing assistance to all former Soviet republics. Azerbaijan was excluded from there. Who did that! Representatives of the Armenian lobby. Many of them are still in high positions today. This was done under the pretext that Azerbaijan was allegedly keeping Armenia in a blockade. How could we do this if our lands were occupied? But sanctions were imposed against us. They remain valid to this day. They even have a reference number – Section 907. Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act implies sanctions against us. Could there be such injustice? Those who were in power at that time simply could not do anything to prevent this. It took us many years to change the mind of the world and present the truth. See how much effort we have put in to prove the obvious truth. The stereotype was that Armenia is always right. Whatever it did, it was always justified. Look how many opposition leaders have been arrested in Armenia over the past few years, how many people have had their rights breached. There were even political killings. Has any international organization condemned them? Not! They are allowed to do anything. We proved our case in struggle and succeeded. Your current visit to Azerbaijan and the communication of our position to the world are, of course, a great contribution to the restoration of justice.
As for your second question – when will our compatriots be able to return to their lands? You know, I ask myself the same question probably every day because I also want to achieve this as soon as possible. But for this to happen, of course, it is necessary to take comprehensive measures. I have already talked about this. At the end of the demining process, and in parallel with this, we are already beginning this work. The implementation of the “smart village” project has already begun. This project will be implemented in three villages of Zangilan district – Aghali 1, Aghali 2 and Ahgali 3. I have ordered to fully complete the project by the end of this year. About 1,000 people will be accommodated there. All the necessary infrastructure will be created, cultivated areas will be restored and people will return there. There may be many such pilot projects. We are working on that now.
As for the return to the cities, it is necessary to draw up master plans for the cities, of course. For example, the city of Aghdam. Before the war, it was home to about 40,000 people. Today the population has increased and now exceeds 50,000. We must plan a city of 50,000, perhaps even 70,000 people, and create the right infrastructure there. After that, buildings must be constructed, including schools and hospitals. So this takes a long time. I want to say again: for us it is a race against time, because we have the means. We also mobilized all our resources. However, time, of course, dictates its will. I would not like to name any dates. Although there are some dates in my mind, I would not like to delight people ahead of time, to excite some perhaps. But trust me that we will gradually return people to these regions as soon as possible. At the same time, a list of villages in the liberated territories is being drawn up, and they will be first to be restored. We are working hard on this issue as well.
Head of the Global Council of Journalists of Turkey: Mr. President, first of all, thank you very much for receiving us here. The Global Council of Journalists of Turkey has offices in 40 countries. Azerbaijan is one of them. I came here together with representatives of foreign media, with foreign journalists, as the head of an organization headquartered in Ankara and with an office in Istanbul. We have a thank you plaque for you. It will be passed on to you. As for my question, as the victorious Commander-in-Chief, you successfully completed the 44-day Patriotic war, which, as you said, was seriously opposed by the international community. Congratulations on this! Naturally, the subsequent process is very important. The war is over. However, the international community is of the opinion that without a complete determination of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, this war will never end. Do you think this war has really ended? After that, will the two countries and two peoples have good-neighborly relations? What processes will come after that? This is a part of my question. Secondly, as you know, the Russian-Turkish Joint Monitoring Center has been set up. What does this center do? What is it doing? This is interesting too. Does this center have any functions? What responsibilities does it have? We know about Turkey's role in the 44-day war. We know the obligations it has assumed. But what will Turkey's mission be after peace? Can you talk about this? Thank you. I express my deepest respect and consideration for you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. First of all, I would like to answer your question about the status. I have already spoken about this and I will say it again: the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is over. Azerbaijan was a party to this conflict. We explicitly state that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has already been resolved. Azerbaijan has resolved it. Negotiations that lasted 30 years yielded no result. Although the Minsk Group carried out activities, the result was zero. Over the past two years, the Minsk Group co-chairs actually did not know what to do themselves. The inappropriate and very dangerous statements of the Armenian prime minister actually paralyzed their activities and made them meaningless. If the prime minister of Armenia says that “Karabakh is Armenia, full stop,” then what process can there be after that? What kind of negotiations can we talk about? In essence, this put the Minsk Group co-chairs in a very difficult situation. Because they had to react to it somehow. In fact, no negotiations were held in the past two years. In other words, Azerbaijan resolved this issue on its own. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been resolved. This is confirmed by the Statement signed on 10 November.
As for the status, I specified the address of the status in my previous speeches. I do not want to return to this question any more. Everyone knows where the status is. I believe that the less often this issue is mentioned, the better it will be for Armenia and the Armenian people. Because Armenia and the Armenian people should not be given false promises. One of the reasons why they are in this situation now is precisely this – myths, claims and unfounded desires. Politicians of some foreign countries who supported these aspirations also played a role in the fact that the Armenian people found themselves in such a miserable situation. Therefore, the issue of status should be completely removed from the agenda. Nagorno-Karabakh is ancestral Azerbaijani land. As a matter of fact, we should not be using the words “Nagorno-Karabakh” at all today. Karabakh with its flat and mountainous parts is an integral part of Azerbaijan. The Armenian people live in one part of it. We don't mind this even though the Armenian population was resettled there in the 19th century. We don't mind that. Armenians also live in our other places and there are no problems. Therefore, as far as the status is concerned, I believe that if anyone raises this issue today, then it does not serve peace, but rather confrontation. We have a clear idea of the further coexistence of the Azerbaijani and Armenian peoples. I spoke about this during the war, more than once.
Unfortunately, we did not hear such statements from Armenian leaders during the war. On the contrary, there were statements full of hostility and hatred. Meanwhile, I was saying that we have no problems with the Armenian people. Armenians are our citizens. Thousands of Armenians live in Azerbaijan. Our treatment of Armenian prisoners during the war confirms this again. I will give you one example. Two lonely elderly Armenian people remained in one of the liberated villages. In other words, “heroic” Armenian soldiers fled, leaving them behind – a woman and a man. They were very old. We brought them here and placed them in the hospital. Then we contacted the Armenian side, saying that we want to transfer them at the state border. When we brought them to the state border, they accepted the elderly woman, but did not take the old man. They said he was already sick. They said they couldn’t look after him. He has no relatives, and if we accept him, who will look after him? Just look at the degree of immorality! No matter how hard we tried – the Red Cross is a witness to this, we did it with the participation of the Red Cross – they refused. This elderly man stayed with us. The Red Cross, with our help, placed him in the hospital. Despite our best efforts, he died after a while.
We did that too. What was their answer? Therefore, we declare today, and I, as President, say that we have a long track record of living together with the Armenian people – in Armenia, in Azerbaijan and in other countries. For example, there are villages in Georgia where Azerbaijanis and Armenians live together. There is no disagreement between them. The same applies to Russia, Ukraine, Europe. This is our position. But this is not a one-sided question. The Armenian people should also be ready for this. Unfortunately, the Armenian people have been so disillusioned that great efforts must be made to get rid of this disease.
As for the activities of the Russian-Turkish Monitoring Center, I can say that this is partly reflected in the statement signed on 10 November. It did not specify that there would be a Russian-Turkish monitoring center. But when agreeing this statement, we stipulated that. Azerbaijan has created this monitoring center near the village of Marzili in Ahdam district at its own expense. All conditions have been created. As you know, the monitoring center is now in operation and its main goal is to exercise control in the post-war period, to conduct monitoring using drones in order to prevent any confrontation in this conflict zone and, if this happens, to establish who was the instigator, who is guilty. So far, with the exception of the sabotage group sent to Azerbaijan, as I mentioned earlier, there has been no serious confrontation. I believe that this monitoring center will function as a very important instrument for the post-war period.
Your next question was related to the activities of the Turkish side. What will be the mission of Turkey, as you said? From the first days, Turkey has demonstrated very positive conduct, conduct designed for peace and stability. At the same time, Turkey supported Azerbaijan in its rightful cause from the first days. My dear brother, dear President, made very clear statements in the very first days. So did other officials – the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, other ministers, the President of the Grand National Assembly. All these statements, this political and moral support gave us strength and, at the same time, were a very serious message for many. Turkey is showing a very positive attitude even after the war. Even yesterday, Turkish officials made statements regarding the situation in Armenia. Today, Turkey is aware of the meetings held between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia at the level of deputy prime ministers because these meetings are significant for the entire region. Both Turkey and Iran, and Georgia, if there is such a desire in the future, can join the common platform. Turkey as a global powerhouse plays a very positive role in all regions, including ours, and this is very important for stability in the region.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti: Good afternoon, Mr. President. We recently visited Lachin district, and it was for the first time for me. What is impressive at first glance, of course, is the beautiful and wonderful places, and we understand that they have great potential. But at the same time, we understand that in spite of what is there now, there is a lot of work ahead to restore these lands. Directly related to this process, of course, is the process of demining of these territories after the war. Perhaps these numbers have already been announced, but data may have emerged. How many territories still need to be cleared and what timeframe do you set for that? And as a representative of the Russian media, I would like to know if negotiations are under way, and if so, which Russian companies can take part in the process of restoring infrastructure on these lands? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. We are only at the beginning of the journey in mine clearance. We have cleared only a few thousand hectares so far. I ordered to establish new military units, new sapper and engineering battalions of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan, and have already been established. We recently purchased modern equipment from Turkey. It has already been delivered to Azerbaijan and will greatly facilitate this work for us. In parallel with this, I recently signed an order on the establishment of the State Agency for Mine Action. Before that, we had an agency the status of which was rather uncertain. It was called ANAMA. It was established during the existence of a commission on the restoration of liberated territories. So in order to strengthen this work, we have created a state agency. It has already been formed. This year, we are allocating about 100 million manats in the investment program, so that the agency could work effectively. Among other things, the most modern equipment will be purchased, including remotely operated units – robots and mine-clearing machines. So we will do our best to tackle this. In other words, one area is the Ministry of Defense and the second is the State Agency for Mine Action.
Also, more than 100 specialists from the Turkish Ministry of Defense were sent here immediately after the war to participate in mine clearance and trainings for our sappers. A group of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations is also involved in mine clearance in Agdam District. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations mainly works on the territory that is the responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers, but they are also involved here. We are currently in talks with several companies with experience in this field, but these negotiations are not over yet. A process of approvals is currently under way. so we will make the most of all the possibilities. By the way, when appointing the head of the agency, I also said that we want Azerbaijani companies to participate in this as well. Because this work is not for one year, unfortunately. The area to be cleared is quite large. Therefore, local companies will also join.
As for the methodology, it exists here. There is international experience as to what should be cleared of mines first of all. These are communications, settlements and places for agricultural activities. By the way, I should say that we have already begun agricultural activities in the liberated territory. Winter crops have already been sown on an area of more than 7,000 hectares. To do this, the area was previously cleared of mines. So we are ready for broad international cooperation. I know that a lot of proposals are coming from various companies, but there are two key factors here, as in many other issues – quality and price. A combination of these two factors, of course, will decide our preference to this or that company.
As for the other question about the participation of Russian companies in the restoration, I have already made statements on that. We will attract companies from friendly countries. Russia and Azerbaijan are friendly countries. Therefore, naturally, Russian companies will be involved. I think that they may also be interested. We are already receiving applications from various countries for certain types of work. This applies to urban planning. This also applies to the construction of facilities, including infrastructure facilities, roads, bridges, power plants. So the scope of work is immense. The territory of more than 10,000 square kilometers has been liberated. Therefore, I think there is enough work for all the friends of Azerbaijan.
Public Television: Mr. President, the counter-offensive operation of the Azerbaijani army in response to Armenia’s yet another aggression attempt on 27 September ended with a brilliant victory for our army. After the war, Azerbaijan has been busy with repair and restoration work in the territories liberated from occupation and is working on new platforms for multilateral regional cooperation. How would you assess the prospects for the development of the region after the war and what benefits will this bring to our country and other countries of the region?
President Ilham Aliyev: I have a very positive assessment of the situation. I believe that there are unique opportunities for the further development of the region today, because, I want to say again, we believe, and so do many of our partners believe, that the war is over and we need to turn this page of the book and look into the future. Another factor that gives rise to optimism is that our neighbors also share our opinion. There are no disagreements between us in relation to the further development of the region and the implementation of integration projects. I can say that I had numerous conversations on this issue with the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran. There were also consultations and contacts at the level of foreign ministers and deputy prime ministers. In fact, we are completely unanimous that it is necessary to take this opportunity. Because the post-war period really opens up new opportunities, creates unique opportunities for cooperation, mutual trade, opening communications, creating new transport corridors. If we look at the Zangazur corridor alone, we can see that it meets the interests of not only Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran and Armenia, but also of other neighboring countries. So a new transport artery of Eurasia may be opened. If these positive trends prevail, then, of course, each completed project will lead to a new project. I can give you an example from our activities in the energy sector. When we were taking the first step, we could not have imagined what large projects we would be implementing today. Look what the first oil pipeline led to – the Baku-Supsa pipeline commissioned in 1999 connected Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea with the Black Sea. So many projects have been implemented since then. Investments, new discoveries and the Southern Gas Corridor. In issues related to the implementation of this project, seven countries have already joined efforts, which in itself creates a new format of cooperation today. We can observe the same picture here. But on the condition that there will be no hidden things and thoughts – only sincerity, mutual trust and distribution of interests. Because the interests of all countries must be secured. Only then can we make the most of this situation. I want to say again that Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Iran – my meetings and exchange of views with the heads of state allow me the opportunity to say that we stick to the same position. Armenia adheres to this position only in word because it puts forward some thoughts during consultations that cannot be accepted. Therefore, if Armenia takes the same approach to this issue, then, of course, it can also become an integral part of the ongoing processes. If not, then we will resolve the planned issues without it. No-one can stop us. Recent history also showed that we have achieved all our goals. Armenia may simply waste this historic chance again, just as it did in the 1990s. It did not believe that we would implement all the projects, that they would bypass Armenia, which would not receive a dime of profit. If it sticks to the same opinion, then it will face the same fate. We are ready for cooperation and believe that it can become the main guarantor of long-term peace in the region.