BAKU, Azerbaijan, Sept. 28
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by the French France 24 TV channel.
Trend presents the interview.
-Hello and welcome for an exclusive interview here on France 24, with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. He joins us from Baku. Thank you very much Mr. President for being our guest here on France 24.
-Thank you, for this opportunity to be able to talk to the French audience.
-Mr. President, we are exactly a year after the start of the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which your country won after 44 days. Last week at the United Nations for the 1st time since the end of the fighting, the foreign ministers of both countries Azerbaijan and Armenia met. Does this mean that dialogue is restarting between both sides and that there is hope for peace?
- I want to hope that this is exactly the case, because Azerbaijan already on several occasions publicly expressed its readiness to establish dialogue with Armenia, not only establish dialogue, but actually start working on the future peace agreement.
The war is over. The conflict has been resolved, so we need to engage in a new activity in the region, in order to make the region more predictable, stable and safe. The meeting of the foreign ministers of both countries is a good indicator of these endeavors.
I hope that it will not be the only meeting, but it will be a beginning of the new process, process of normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia and process which will give and can give a new dimension to a broad cooperation in the region of Southern Caucasus.
- Right. Have you reached out to the leadership of Armenia to the prime minister, to try to restart that dialogue and go towards peace?
- Since the war ended last November, we had only one opportunity to see each other, that was during the trilateral meeting organized by the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, this January and the aim of the meeting was to plan the post-war developments.
We didn’t have any other chance to see each other, probably, because of the pandemic, probably because of some other reasons, but Azerbaijan never, even during the war, during the occupation, never objected to any kind of high level contacts. On the contrary, we think that these communications may answer many questions which both sides may have, and also to be a starting point for the new development of the region. Our position is straightforward.
We think that the conflict is resolved, there should be no return to the past, there should be no signs of revanchism in Armenia. We need to talk about the future, we need to talk about peace, and how to make our region more stable and safe.
- Are you ready to call prime minister Pashinyan to tell him precisely that?
- Probably not the way you suggest. Usually the contacts, between the leaders of the two countries were organized under the umbrella of the OSCE Minsk Group. It was them who proposed the agenda, it was them who organized the meeting. In my experience as president I never had a telephone conversation with any leader of Armenia. So probably it’s not the right way how to do it, but if the Minsk group co-chairs will suggest such a meeting of course, we will not be against it.
- Mr. President, in speech marking the onset of the war you said and I’m quoting you, "If we see Armenian fascism rising again, if we see a new threat, we will crush Armenian fascism again without any hesitation". This doesn’t really sound like an olive branch, does it?
- You know, that was the wording which reflects the situation in Armenia. With respect to our position about establishing peace in the region, I made several public statements. Probably, if you look online you will find them, particularly to start to work on delimitation and demarcation of the borders, to start preparing for negotiations, comprehensive negotiations on peace agreement with Armenia. All these are gestures of good will and none of them by the way, was responded adequately to by Armenian leadership.
They either ignore them, or they were saying that they are not ready. But the source of my statement was the tendency which we observe in Armenia, the tendency of revanchism among certain part of political establishment, not only opposition but also government, public statements and more important, practical steps in order to seek revenge, attempts to militarize Armenia, attempts to get access to new modern weapons for one purpose - to restart it again.
Therefore, my words may seem rude, but the main purpose of those words was to warn Armenian leadership, and Armenian political establishment, that any sign of revanchism, any sign of threat to our people and our statehood and our territorial integrity will be responded, and they know how we respond and the second Karabakh war showed that they have no chance in front of us.
We don’t want to start war, we don’t need it. We never needed during the years of negotiations but now, I think it’s time to warn them to give up the efforts of revanchism and to look to the future.
- There is one issue. Do you consider that you have recovered all the territories? I mean you’ve made some statements in the past, for example, citing Yerevan, the capital of Armenia as being [Azerbaijan's] historical territory. So, yes, you’ve won lands that you consider yours back last year, but there are still some questions. Do you still have some territorial claims over territories that Armenia considers to be its territory?
- No, in my statements you will never find any sign of territorial claims. I was talking about historical truth and it’s a historical fact that in 1920 the Soviet government decided and did it, they separated integral part of Azerbaijan - Zangazur and adjusted it to Armenia. It was 1920, 101 years ago. Talking about our historical lands, I didn’t mean that we have territorial claims. You will never find in any of my speeches words like that.
But at the same time we, as every other nation should know our history, our new generation should know its history, ancient history, and which territories we were living on and how to go back. And I am sure that we will go back, but we will go back, as I said many times not on tanks, but by cars, by trains, you know on foot. When situation normalizes, when peace agreement is achieved why shouldn’t we go back? It’s our legitimate right. But answering your question, I want to draw attention of our spectators that Armenia has territorial claims against Azerbaijan.
They still claim that Nagorno-Karabakh, as they call it, does not belong to us. They still claim that either it belongs to Armenia, or it is kind of an independent entity. But there is no Nagorno-Karabakh on the political and geographic map of Azerbaijan. This kind of entity does not exist.
Therefore, Armenia, first, should withdraw any territorial claims against Azerbaijan, behave itself as a good neighbor and we will respond adequately.
- Are you ready to provide some autonomy to Karabakh? I mean Armenia has its claims but the Minsk Group, you have called them, I mean the US has always said that the issue of Karabakh is still unresolved. You claim it is resolved, it is yours but many countries moderating this conflict for years, claim that it’s actually not the case.
- Well, my advice to those countries who say it is not resolved is to think about how they can provide a place on their own territory to settle Armenians and to create the second Armenian state on their own territory. Why should they think that there should be second Armenian state on the territory of Azerbaijan without any legal, political, and historical grounds? When I say the conflict is resolved, that’s my position, and I defend this position.
The reality on the ground shows that this position is correct. Therefore, any kind of statements that the conflict is not resolved are not only inappropriate, but very dangerous. If it is not resolved, then those who say that they should say how it should be resolved.
What they understand when they say things like Nagorno-Karabakh? In which boundaries? In which area? In what form? There is no even a hint to answer those questions. Therefore, saying that the conflict is not resolved is counter-productive, and dangerous. It means that there should be other, maybe hostile actions in order to resolve it. And coming to your question about the autonomy.
The Minsk Group co-chairs know very well the position of Azerbaijan during the 28 years of useless negotiations that we were ready to provide Armenians in Azerbaijan with a certain level of self-governance, but Armenians always rejected it. They always said “no, only independence”.
But now, when the conflict is over, they start to talk about autonomy which today is not on our agenda. Armenians who live today in Karabakh, in the area which is now under the responsibility of Russian peacekeepers, are citizens of Azerbaijan like any other representatives of different ethnic groups which live in our country,
-But they will not have any autonomy, this is now off the table.
- Exactly, this is off the table.
- I want to get to the position of France, I mean France has criticized your actions even recently calling you to withdraw from some of Armenia’s lands, you consider France an honest broker?
- You know, we’ve been actively working with France on this issue and on many other issues of our bilateral relations during the all years of our independence France always was considered as a friendly country in Azerbaijan we had implemented a lot of economic and trade projects, infrastructure projects and relations developed very successfully.
We hope that as an honest broker, as a co-chair of the Minsk group France will be committed to this responsibility. If France was not a co-chair of the Minsk Group of course, any kind of relations between any kind of countries is up to them. And we know about the historical ties between France and Armenia, we know about the very active Armenian community in France, which to a certain degree may influence decision-makers.
But during the war, frankly speaking, France was not behaving as an honest broker. France took sides; took side of Armenia, openly accusing Azerbaijan and in its statements and actions demonstrating one-sided approach. That was, of course, a matter of concern, and we raised this concern, because once again, I’d like to say, any country can have preferences, friends and not friends. It’s up to them. We have nothing to say.
But if a country has a mandate from the OSCE to be a mediator, in this case, the country should be neutral. I don’t want to go back to what happened during the war and right after. We received positive signals from Paris about our future relations, and we positively respond to these signals.
There have been contacts on different levels, including the contact recently between foreign ministers of both countries. Azerbaijan has always been open to cooperation. France is one of the leading countries in the world, and we want to have normal relations. After one year has passed since the beginning of the war, I think now it’s time to have a very realistic approach to the region.
What we want to achieve? I am sure France wants peace, stability, security in the region, as we want, as hopefully Armenia wants, and we need to work on that. We need to concentrate on that, and not to go back to what happened during one year. As far as we are concerned, we are not going to exploit these very unpleasant developments. We want to turn the page..
- We are reaching the end of the interview. I just have two more questions for you, Mr. President. Prisoners of war. Human Rights Watch has accused Azerbaijan of holding them and torturing them. What is your response and are you ready to exchange the prisoners of war with Armenia as a sign of good will?
- We of course, reject these accusations. All prisoners of war which were taken during the war have been returned to Armenia. Armenian government can confirm that. We returned them even before they returned our prisoners of war.
Those people whom some NGOs are referring to are those who were sent by Armenian military command two weeks after the war ended, after the November Declaration was signed.
They were sent to our positions and they committed crimes. They killed four Azerbaijani servicemen and they were disarmed and captured. And many of them have already been returned. Those who did not participated in those crimes, those who participated in crimes have been sentenced by our Justice Ministry, by the court.
- But Armenia claims you still hold prisoners of war, that you are not telling the truth.
-Those who we hold, according to classification, according to all the international conventions cannot be considered as prisoners of war. Prisoners of war are those people who have been detained during the war.
On November 10 the war stopped. In the beginning of December, we find in the territory which we liberated, 62 Armenian sabotage group members, who have been sent there on November 26, 16 days after the war ended.
They cannot be considered as prisoners of war and we returned many of them already as a sign of good will. But the rest of those people who are serving the sentence here, they have committed a crime and they must be brought to justice and they have been brought to justice.
- Last question Mr. President. The organization Reporters Without Borders has called on you to stop threats and violence against a man called Mahammad Mirzali. He is an Azerbaijani blogger, who is a refugee here in France. He was badly stabbed in an attack here on French soil in last March. So the question is according to Reporters Without Borders you are sending people to silence those voices abroad.
- First of all, we stopped any kind of communication with Reporters Without Borders NGO many years ago. I think something like 15 years ago, because of very biased position and very unjust approach to Azerbaijan. Therefore, their reports actually mean nothing to me and Azerbaijani people. There are hundreds of people living in Europe and also in France, who do not like how we handle things in Azerbaijan. They live in France, in other countries and nobody touched them.
If something happens to a person which suffers in your country, it’s up to the justice of your country to investigate it. It’s not a matter of NGO to accuse Azerbaijan of that. Does your investigators have enough evidence to say that somebody was stabbed or attacked?
- So you deny any responsibility on the attack on this individual?
- Absolutely. Without any proofs, without investigation, without a clear evidence of who committed what crime, all kinds of accusations are absolutely groundless and biased.
- President Ilham Aliyev, I want to thank you very much for appearing here on the France 24 interview and thank you very much for watching it.