BAKU, Azerbaijan, April 29. An international conference under the motto “South Caucasus: Development and Cooperation” has been held at ADA University.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev attended the conference.
Rector of ADA University, Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev said: Your Excellency Mr. President. It is our great honor and immense pleasure to welcome Your Excellency at our annual international conference. It also gives me pleasure to welcome 40 participants of the conference, who traveled to Azerbaijan from 23 countries. Last year during our first forum which was devoted to the great victory, and the liberation of the Azerbaijani lands, you Mr. President have kindly supported proposal of professor Ahmad Uysal to make it annual event and invite international experts and think tank representatives to discuss regional peace, security and development. You instructed us to do it and we are glad that this year we are able to fulfill this task under the new brand name- Shusha International Forum. Yesterday, our foreign participants traveled to jewel of Azerbaijani culture-city of Shusha. On the way they were able to get to know some important reconstruction and development projects in the liberated Karabakh, including airport in Fuzuli and a new road-Zafar Yolu. This is the road along which our brave soldiers went and liberated city of Shusha. Our guests on their way were also able to see some part of barbarian destructions which have been left after Armenian occupation. Now, this is important goal of our nation, and well articulated personal mission of the President Ilham Aliyev to turn Karabakh into the most prosperous and peaceful region of the world. I believe, our participants came back from Shusha full of joy and impressions. History of Karabakh, consequences of liberation war, regional integration, security, and challenges to the development issues, these are some topics which are under forum’s discussion. We hope that the messages and points coming from panel discussions will spread all over the world through articles, social media networks. During the Shusha session, a number of speakers made some suggestions and recommendations which I guess, participants might raise up today to get your, Mr. President, reaction. On behalf of all participants, I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to you, Mr. President, for your strong support to this forum and for your visionary leadership in building sustainable peace in the region. Mr. President, taking this opportunity, I want also to thank you for support you always extend to ADA university. Now, giving floor to Your Excellency, we look forward and are delighted to hear your introductory remarks. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev said: Thank you very much. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, dear guests. First of all, I would like to express gratitude to ADA University for hosting this event. It’s already a tradition. We met last April here and discussed broad range of issues related to post-conflict situation. Of course, having these traditional meetings is very important for us, I think for international community to understand better our plans, our intentions and to look what has been done. I am glad that ADA University took this very important initiative. As you know, this is one of the leading universities in Azerbaijan with already very high-level of education, very good international contacts and also a university which is growing. Relatively recently, a new international partnership format on education was established and soon, I am sure the Italian-Azerbaijani University here under the ADA umbrella will open its doors for students. I would like to express gratitude to all the participants, to our guests, for visiting us and for travelling to Shusha. I am sure it was an interesting journey, to see the beauty of Karabakh, and at the same time, the devastations on route to Shusha and in Shusha also. Well, what you’ve seen is I think, the best illustration of what we had to experience during the 30 years of occupation. These mass destructions and devastations was not a result of the first Karabakh war, that was a result of barbarism and vandalism committed by Armenia throughout the 30 years of occupation. So, all our villages, most of our cities have been destroyed, knocked to the ground. In some regions like Kalbajar, Lachin, and partly Zangilan, and Shusha, there have been illegal settlement programs officially sponsored by Armenian government which is a brutal violation of international conventions. You have been informed about our plans to rebuild Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur. The plans really are large-scale and we are implementing with our own resources allocating the financial resources of our budget and with the support of international companies. But apart from that, the last year since we have met and discussed last April, one of the important tasks in front of us was to strengthen the new realities and to work with leading international organizations to present our case, to present our vision for the region and also it was very important that the international community, the leading international organizations accept the new realities on the ground, and it happened. And also in the meantime, we’ve been actively advocating for the new era in the Caucasus, era of peace and cooperation. And finally, we got a positive response from Armenia just recently, and their government accepted five basic principles which Azerbaijan put forward, the principles which should be a foundation for peace agreement with Armenia. At the same time, also, based on Azerbaijani proposal Armenia agreed finally to establish joint working groups with Azerbaijan to start process of delimitation of our border. I think these are important signs of recent development and also it shows that now after a year and a half passed since the second Karabakh war, Armenian leadership and I hope population understands necessity of peace. And if peace agreement is signed and those basic principles are known, then, the peace in the Caucasus will be long-lasting and sustainable. This is what we want, and I think that what we demonstrate and what we announce is a clear example of our will to contribute to the peace in the Caucasus. We are rebuilding Karabakh, we are mobilizing our resources to strengthen our economy because without that it will be not very easy to allocate substantial funds. At the same time, we advocate for peace agenda in the Caucasus, and I think on all the tracks, initiative is in our hands. This initiative serves and should serve the cause of peace. So, probably, I would conclude my introductory remarks here and maybe leave more time for our discussions. Once again, thank you for being with us and I am sure that this traditional format of gathering will continue maybe as one of the ideas I heard from Hafiz Pashayev that there will be some proposals from the participants. I just want to add to that saying that maybe there could be also some time of interaction in-between the Shusha international fora which will take place regularly. Maybe we can think about some other forms of meetings and conferences in- between maybe in other cities, in Aghdam, Zangilan, in other cities which have been liberated. So, to make I think, our interaction more efficient, because for us importance is that international community knows what have happened, knows the full truth about the years of occupation and knows about our plans and intentions to build peace. For that reason, I think there should be a permanent line of contact between participants and those members of expert society who didn’t manage to be with us today. So, that’s my proposal for maybe the next round of working program but of course, all the proposals which will be represented by you will be very carefully addressed. So, once again, thank you and wish you a pleasant stay in Azerbaijan.
Rector Hafiz Pashayev: If you allow me, I have to add to what I have said already about the visit to Shusha. There is already one proposal to make next one in Lachin.
President Ilham Aliyev: Agreed.
In Lachin, you know, we are now in the phase of construction of international airport, and in Zangilan the airport will open this year. In Lachin, probably in 2024 but we will find the way to get there in an easier and comfortable way.
Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan, Head of Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration, Hikmat Hajiyev: Thank you, Mr. President. And with your permission we can start our question and answer session. Quite substantial number of our participants have subscribed for the questions. And I would like to start our first question with your permission with Mr. Svante Cornell. I will ask just our participants, please present the country that you are presenting an institution that you have come from. Thank you.
Svante Cornel, Director of Institute for Security and Development Policy, Sweden
Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. President for the invitation to this conference. It's an honor to be here. And it was particularly an honor to see the liberated Shusha for the first time. I am Svante Cornell with Central Asia Caucasus Institute in Washington and the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Sweden. My question follows up on your point about an era of peace. We understand especially I think, after seeing Shusha you know, studying something for 25-30 years is one thing, seeing it with your own eyes is very different. And we understand the difficulty of looking forward in view of the devastation that was imposed on these lands. But for an era of peace, my question to you regards whether you believe in the need for developing institutions to support on a regional level, a new era for the Caucasus. My perspective is that the liberation of Karabakh could be a changing point for the whole region, providing a historic opportunity to reverse the processes of division and conflict that really started with the separatism that led to the occupation of Karabakh in the late 1980s, and replaced this with a different process, a different era but not only in Karabakh, but in the broader Caucasus the process of cooperation and development that is truly regional. For this to develop it seems to me institutions would be needed and Azerbaijan is the only country that has the credibility and the resources to lead a process of creation of such institutions. Do you see the possibility of yourself taking the lead in creating regional institutions for the South Caucasus particularly financial ones, such as regional development funds and the like? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, it’s a very interesting issue which you touched upon. We need to consult with the expert society and also in the government what kind of a regional financial package we can put forward but of course, it’s obvious that for the time-being our main concentration is how to rebuild Karabakh and how to return the former refugees as soon as possible. At the same time, our peace agenda and initiatives which have been publicly articulated and were supported by international community is aimed at regional development, new opportunities for regional development in the South Caucasus. Not only between Azerbaijan and Armenia, of course, this is one of the most important element of regional cooperation, but in the Southern Caucasus in general. We lost this opportunity for thirty years because of separatism, because of Armenian aggression, and the South Caucasus was not integrated. Yes, there is a very close cooperation between Azerbaijan and Georgia, which on bilateral level and on international level already presents its importance. At the same time, I think that there should be also understanding in Armenia that they cannot continue to live like an isolated island in this region. They need to normalize relations with us, they need to put down territorial claims to Azerbaijan and to Turkiye and not to be hesitant in any kind of interaction on trilateral level in the South Caucasus. Why am I saying that? Because there have been already several times proposals from Azerbaijan supported by leading international organizations to organize trilateral meetings on different levels. We suggested on the levels of foreign ministers. Armenia refused. Then, there was a suggestion to have this meeting on the level of experts, again Armenia refused. Then we suggested to have this meeting on the level of representatives of civil society, and again Armenia refused. This is known by our partners and we do not understand why. Because we think it is counter-productive if we looked to the future of South Caucasus as integrated area of security, cooperation, and shared prosperity then this policy of Armenia is beyond any logic. Probably, they need some time, probably, they need to evaluate risks which they think may occur from that. But I think it’s inevitable, and we are ready and our Georgian colleagues are ready. So, I think that could be a first step and with respect to financial package for the region you know how Azerbaijan and Georgia have integrated taking into account the energy and transportation routes you are a good expert on that. And I think there are also opportunity to invite Armenia to be a part of regional development and they will benefit from that. They will benefit from getting access to our energy resources. They can be to a certain degree a part of the international transportation corridors. So that in itself will generate additional wealth. And also, normalizing relations with Azerbaijan will open such opportunities for Armenia that probably today it is difficult even to predict. So these are our plans. Building institutions I think should be in different directions. First, we need to start, I think from kind of a political dimension, because this is the most important. To what degree Armenia is willing to go forward? Because during the times of occupation, during my numerous contacts with Armenian leaders we always saw that when we came to a very decisive moment to have a break-through they always made a step back. There was very little trust and still, I can say that there is not much trust with their behavior if I may say so, because sometimes they make very contradictory statements. So, political dimension I think, important contribution will be also a kind of engagement of their representatives in our discussions. We, for instance will support that. We also think about some contacts, people-to-people contacts on the level of NGOs. As I said before, we can have some regional dimension, and also to look at a regional development broader. Because you know that European Union already announced very big financial package for Armenia 2.6 bln euros and also, later for Azerbaijan. So part of that resources can go to build connectivity and to create better opportunities for people. Taking into account a very small population of Armenia I think, that will be more than enough if it is used for the cause of peace but not again try to take revenge or to possess a threat to its neighbors.
Chief Executive Officer of Haider Global BVBA Brussels and London Sajjad Karim: Mr. President, Sajjad Karim former member of the European Parliament and chair of the South Caucasus delegation. Thank you very much. It’s good to be back in Baku. Since we last met the situation has changed considerably and I certainly find it possible to congratulate you personally and the people of Azerbaijan for this very significant achievement to put an end to this long-lasting injustice that had existed for far too long. One of the things that stays with me Mr. President, of all of the meetings you had with my delegation is that you never limited your vision for development to Azerbaijan. You always spoke about peace and development for the entire South Caucasus. With the current progress being made both in negotiations for a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia with the EU facilitation and Turkiye-Armenia relations. Is it now reaching the time for Azerbaijan with its friends and allies to help create political space for Prime minister Nicol Pashinyan so that within Armenia and with the Armenian diaspora in Europe and USA he can really push for his people’s backing for peace? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. We hope that will be the case. Of course, every government has its own agenda and we heard that the Armenian government also announced a peace agenda. This is a very positive statement but at the same time, we need to see actions. And now I think, we see these actions, we see statements coming from Armenian government, which are aimed at peace, which are based on the new realities in the region, and which are based on international law. That’s what we always were advocating for. The realities have changed and this has been acknowledged by even the mediators. Even before Russian-Ukrainian war, there was a kind of frustration among the co-chairs of the Minsk Group what they should do. Because Azerbaijan itself implemented the Madrid principles. When I met the representatives of the Minsk Group just after the end of the war, I told them to give a proposal what they are going to do, what will be their agenda. And I know that it was difficult for them to put forward some practical proposals. But after the Russian-Ukrainian war it was already announced that Minsk Group co-chairmanship is no longer functional. It is dysfunctional. In this respect it shows that the new realities, of course, have their impacts. So, it is important that Armenian government and Armenian political spectrum fully realize the new realities and totally refrains from any kind of attempts to take revenge. First, it will be counter-productive. The result of that, if that happens will be even more painful for Armenia and second, it will be contradictory to the demand of the region and demand of international community to finally achieve a long-lasting piece. From our side, we do everything in order to support the positive trends. If you look at the history of long-lasting wars, occupations, and devastations we will see that in our case, the move from finalizing the hostile stage towards peace was very rapid. And that was again based on our proposal, because it was us and me personally, who was telling for more than one year that we need to have peace agreement with Armenia, and just finally they agreed, just finally. It was just weeks before. Before that, there was silence. And there were statements again about, statements related to contesting our territorial integrity. And at the same time, it was us who said let’s start work on border delimitation. Again, there was silence on Armenian side for more than one year. Finally they agreed and soon I would say, very soon, the joint working groups will meet. Why should they lose one year? It’s not understandable. Therefore, all our efforts will be aimed at strengthening the positive trends. But we cannot do it unilaterally. We need to see in Armenian government a partner, which we can trust and which we can agree on a long-term peace. So, I think that it is possible, but of course, it will depend on the internal political development in Armenia. Because it’s understandable that all the ideological basement have been seriously damaged. Because all their ideology was based on aggression, on attempts to legitimize occupation. Everything what they’ve done starting from erasing of Azerbaijani cultural heritage, ending with changing the names of our cities including Aghdam and Shusha and others, all was aimed at turning de facto occupation into de jure legitimization of secession. So now this ideological basis no longer exists and we understand it is not easy for them to find a new goal. In our case, our goal was very clear, to strengthen independence, and we always, during the times of occupation were thinking not only how to return Karabakh but also how to strengthen independence, make it irreversible and not to be dependent on anyone, whether it’s political, economic, financial, energy whatever. And we achieved that. We achieved both, full independence, ability to conduct independent policy and we achieved the return of Karabakh. Armenia lost its chance to be a really independent country. Don’t want to go in much details. Everybody knows the real political configurations there. They lost lands which did not belong to them. So, they need to understand it and find for themselves a new goal. And I think that will be peace and benefits of cooperation and putting down territorial claims to Azerbaijan and to Turkiye. And you know, it is absolutely irrational to put territorial claims to Turkiye which is one of the leading economies and one of the very few leading armies in the world. We support Turkish-Armenian process, and I think it’s a chance for Armenian government and politicians to think thoroughly about their future, how they want to see themselves in the region. I think that they don’t have a clear understanding and put down all the illusions, put down all attempts to rebuild the army, become stronger, to have five million population which they announced as their state program and then to take back the territories. That will be the end of their statehood, official end. We are ready to support positive tendencies and we are doing that. So, we have hopes, but we need to test Armenians, because we never had negotiations with them on peace. So now, it’s time when we start. As I said, on the border it will start very soon, on talks on peace agreement, we are ready and we are waiting for the date from Armenian government and we will start.
Professor of Political Science and International Relations of Turkiye’s Maltepe University Hasan Unal: Mr. president, Your Excellency, you were with us last year, and I was here, and I congratulated you in particular on your great victory, a victory of an unprecedented scale last year which basically changed the whole political landscape here. The Azerbaijani armed forces under your great leadership did a very very good job indeed. You not only put a sharp end to the irredentist dreams of Armenia but also you managed presumably to wake them up to the reality that they can’t basically get what they want with impunity. This year, I would like to congratulate you particularly on two things, your concerted efforts for the reconstruction in the liberated territories, a large part of which we saw yesterday both in Fuzuli, as well as in Shusha. And also for your relentless efforts for a diplomatic solution to the conflict region-wise both between Azerbaijan and Armenia, of course, but also between Turkiye and Armenia. Here, what I would like to ask you is about Russia, because I think it’s quite timely as in the west there is so much Russia-bashing. You seem to be dealing with Russia quite professionally and from a quite professional point of view, and last year you concluded a defense pact with Turkiye you called it, you know, quite nicely Turkish-Azerbaijani NATO pact, about which we were quite happy in Turkiye. This year, you seem to have signed an agreement, a declaration with Moscow, by which you have agreed on a number of schemes on cooperation including defense matters, and the political solution to the conflict in the Southern Caucasus and all that. And it seems as if there is a triangle now, which seems to be working in good order between Ankara, Baku and Moscow. Now. Would you comment on that first? You know, at the time when there is so much Russia-bashing across the western world, and would you also please, comment on how your handling of Russia impacts on Armenia’s behavior, if any? Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Thank you for your kind words about what we are doing on the liberated territories, and thank you for being with us last year and this year. With respect to the question you asked, I think what you said also demonstrates what I have said before, the independent character of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, which is based on our national interests, and which is based on maximum level of achievements. And in our region, we need to think about security and cooperation as an integral part of our today and our future. Because without security there will be no cooperation, there will be no economic benefits. Economic performance of Azerbaijan which is also based on our own resources, also was generated by stability, long-lasting stability, which is part of security. Therefore, these important events which you mentioned, Shusha Declaration signed last june with President Erdogan in Shusha, of course, reflects the character of our brotherly cooperation with Turkiye. Today we are just officialized the substance of this cooperation. We have been allies any way in all the forms, including in the area of military cooperation and defense industry. So now, by signing Shusha Declaration, in this historical city, we demonstrated to the whole world that we are together by word and by signature. Signing a declaration on strategic interaction with Russia, also was based on our strategic interest, because it’s our neighbor. It’s a country which actively participated to put an end to second Karabakh war and whose peacekeepers are in Azerbaijan, in Karabakh. Plus, there is a big range of issues which we worked on with Russia for many many years, economic, energy, transportation, cultural, humanitarian side, and of course, we were purchasing a lot of military equipment from Russia. Yes, true, we were purchasing it at a market price, unlike Armenia which got it free of charge. It was covered by the so-called loans but these loans have never been returned. So, that’s a difference. But at the same time, I think it was also a kind of message to the regional players that there should be peace and Turkiye and Russia, both of them, participated in the new configuration of the region after the war. You know that the Turkish-Russian monitoring center to observe the situation is based in Aghdam. So this is I think, for the first time in the history this kind of arrangement is possible, and also, Turkish-Russian relationship. Now we see the efforts of President Erdogan to facilitate a ceasefire in Ukraine. So, all that is serving the regional security and stability, at the same time, as I said, demonstrates once again the independent character of our cooperation. We do what is in the interests of Azerbaijani people, which the people who want peace after so many years of occupation. Of course, economic and political dialogue should continue and we are in favor of that. You also mentioned about a kind of triangle between Turkiye-Russia and Azerbaijan. It didn’t happen yet. We didn’t have any formal engagement at any level. But at the same time, there are a lot of issues which are interrelated. Particularly, transportation and energy. And we have active dialogue with both of these countries on separate tracks. They have it on their own track, but it has never been a kind of a trilateral format. Today I think, it’s a little bit premature to talk about that. Basically, we are satisfied with the regional configuration. We have good relations with all our neighbors, not only with Turkiye and Russia but also with Georgia and Iran. We hope to have good relations with Armenia and thus, we will be surrounded by the area of stability. That’s what we want in order to concentrate on peace agenda, on economy in order not to spend billions of dollars every year for purchasing arms, but to divert it into economy and reconstruction.
A question: Do you think that Russia can influence Armenia's behavior?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, it’s difficult to say but we all know that there have been a lot of expectations in Armenia that Russia will interfere into war in Karabakh. It didn’t happen. Because we fought on our territory. And Armenia was trying to manipulate with this Collective Security Treaty Organization’s obligation. But Collective Security Treaty Organization has a mandate to support member states on their territory and we were fighting on our territory. So that did not happen. But at the same time we all know, and we publicly said many times during the 44-day war regularly there have been several days cargo planes carrying weapons from Russia to Armenia. We traced all the routes from Rostov, from Mazdok. We asked our Georgian friends to block the airspace and they did. Also, we asked our Georgian friends to block the land route from Russia to Georgia to transport weapons to Armenia and they did it also. And we are grateful. We send letters to all Caspian littoral states not to allow Russian cargo planes carrying weapons to Armenia. We send it to Kazakhstan to Turkmenistan and Iran. But unfortunately, these planes were using the territory of these countries entering Armenia. So that was how it was and we should not hide this part of 44-day war. But Armenian expectations were much bigger. They thought that Russian army should come and fight and defend separatism. It did not happen. There was a kind of frustration there, but because in the years of occupation, we know how Armenian government and diaspora work. They think that the whole world owes them everything. And someone will come and defend them, someone will come and fight for them. Someone will come and give them money, give them everything and they will sit and just exploit their questionable and very doubtful so-called tragedy. Every country, and every nation had tragic moments in its history. But their problem is that they made their main ideology this very doubtful and fake historical facts rather than to look to the future. So now taking into account that Prime minister Pashinyan paid an official visit to Russia on 19 April, just almost two months after the war between Russia and Ukraine and it was an official visit. So, it demonstrates that relations between these two countries are excellent and we always want relations between countries who surround us to be good. That’s part of our peace agenda.
Professor Brenda Shaffer from US Naval Post Graduate School Energy Academy:
Hello Mr. President, thank you for hosting us especially in the beautiful Shusha. I’m currently a professor at the US Naval post-graduate school and I’m very happy to be here in Azerbaijan. So you talked about exceptional behavior of Armenian and of the conflict. One issue that there seems to be almost uncontested agreement in the international system is the use of mines. You can hardly find any country that you know sometimes with terror, we see different interpretations one man has its liberation and another man has its territory right. We did not find anyone that says that use of mines have something that in any way is legitimate. And in this conflict the use has been exceptional and not just in the military zones but I think something like asking for ten days reprise for humanitarian reasons before leaving Kalbajar and then using that to throw thousands of additional mines, placing mines on the bodies of the shahids of Azerbaijani soldiers. So that, medical doctors and nurses were injured and killed when they were preparing the shahids for the burial with their families. Unprecedented in our modern era. But should the international community enable this behavior? I can even think about the US congress almost every year gave earmarked funds for Karabakh for demining, which it seems they were using that for mining. As you said that the EU throws 3 billion dollars with no strings attached of saying maybe you should use this for demining. Shouldn’t the international community be obligated to enable this behavior, to provide funding for this important work to demine the regions?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, I fully agree with you, and thank you for raising this issue. It’s one of the big problems and big tragedies, because after the war ended more than 200 people, military and civilians were killed or seriously injured because of the mines. As you correctly mentioned they planted mines after the war ended and we had tragic events and two journalists were killed in Kalbajar on the newly-planed mine. It is very difficult now to demine the area, because physically we don’t have a capacity. And now demining agency was created many years ago. Now we are increasing the number of personnel, we are purchasing the new equipment, new machines, including, very sophisticated like drones which can detect the mines contaminated area, but it takes a lot of time and efforts. So far we had groups of Turkish specialists who helped us to demine but, of course. we will need a broad international cooperation. Armenia unfortunately, was not even reprimanded for that terrible behavior. We find mines now which are newly-planted and in the area which makes them to find is very difficult. So, this is another demonstration of their behavior as we correctly mentioned we gave them from ten to twenty days to leave the territories which they had to leave based on the agreement signed on 10 November. But they used it for planting mines, for burning houses which they did not built, but they settled for cutting trees and for doing other ecological disaster. So, it demonstrates the behavior. And it’s not only the behavior of the government, and we must be very open, the level of hatred against those who did not do anything bad to you, who came only to return their territory and to be able to live on that land. With respect to international support, unfortunately we did not get any support from any international organization so far. What we do, we do it at our own expense. We wanted to contract several international companies which can help us to speed up the process, but unfortunately the price they want to charge is several times higher than the cost we pay for our demining agency. So, they look at it from commercial point of view. Well, we can to a certain degree understand it, because they are private companies. But that means that we will not be able, because it’s an astronomic figure which they want to charge for one meter of demining. When EU announced 2.6 billion euros support to Armenia and 140 or 160 million to Azerbaijan, of course, we raised our voice and on the very high level. That was another demonstration of double standards. Because I said that there is not a single house demolished in Armenia. Why you give them 2.6 billion? And a big part of that, will not be a loan, will be a grant, just a gift. And only hundred something million to Azerbaijan, the country which ten thousand square kilometers totally destroyed, and there was no answer. But it was good that later EU started to address this issue. During my last conversation with President of the European Council Mr. Charles Michel, he told me that they will allocate five million euros for demining. We are grateful for that but of course, it will not make big difference. We need a serious support and also from international NGOs who deal with the mine problems. None of them so far turned their eye towards Azerbaijan. We know that several NGOs, foundations, which help countries to get rid of the mines, but in our case, nobody is helping. And everything what is done on the liberated territories is done with the financial source of Azerbaijani budget only. Not a single dollar we got from any country or any international organization. And of course, it is not fair. It is double standards but what to do we live in this world. But anyway, no matter who will help us or not, we will clean the area. Of course, it will take more time. We will resettle former refugees and will build Karabakh that will be an example for the world. Thank you Brenda, very glad to see you again.
John Roberts energy security specialist (UK): First of all, thank you very much for being here and for organizing conference, because winning a peace is always every bit as hard as winning a war and very often a lot harder. I’ve got two sort of related questions, both concerning energy, because that is my field. The first is what’s the situation regarding the supply of oil and gas both to Karabakh and to Armenia as a peace-building mechanism. And the second is how other plans developing for a tripartite summit with Turkiye and Turkmenistan and what energy issues will be discussed.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, with respect to oil and gas delivery to Karabakh, it did not start yet. But of course, we have plans to build gas lines, I mean to that part of Karabakh where we are now implementing the reconstruction works. And of course, we built power stations and already, not a big number but more than 20 megawatts of new power stations have been built last year. And 25 megawatts will be built this year. So, all Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur is already connected with electric lines and sometimes we had to bring these lines in the high mountains of 3.500 m which have snow 6 months a year. So, that has been done. Now, we have electricity. With respect to the area which is now under control of the Russian peacekeepers, we do not supply any energy there. But the gas pipeline which goes from Armenia to Khankandi is going through the territory which is under our control. There was recently an explosion there and for several days there was no gas and unfortunately, we were immediately accused of causing humanitarian catastrophe. Again, double standards, because when the first Karabakh war started, Armenians cut the gas supply from Azerbaijan mainland to Nakhchivan and for fifteen years Nakhchivan, the population of at that time more than 400 thousand people have been living without natural gas. And the winter there is much severe. It goes beyond 30, and nobody was accusing Armenia for causing humanitarian disaster for Nakhchivan. Only in 2005, we agreed with Iran to build a pipeline and now Nakhchivan is 100 percent gasified. But what we did, we restored the pipeline which was going from Armenia to Russian-controlled part of Karabakh, and now the supply has been restored. What it will be in the future, I don’t know. If there is a need to use our energy, I think it will be possible. It will be much easier and less costly to deliver electric energy, natural gas from Aghdam to Khankandi rather than to bring this gas from Russia, Georgia, Armenia and then Azerbaijan and Khankandi. But again, if there is such a request we will look at that. With respect to trilateral meeting between Azerbaijan-Turkiye and Turkmenistan, yes, there were the plans to organize such a meeting but so far the dates have not yet been fixed, and we are waiting for our partners to give us. It was Turkmenistan who was initiator and it will take place in Turkmenistan. Therefore, we are waiting for the dates.
Hikmat Hajiyev: We have on our list also Amanda Paul. Amanda.
European Policy Center, Belgium Amanda Paul: Good morning Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Good morning.
Amanda Paul: Thank you very much for the invitation. It was a real pleasure and honor to come here and to have the opportunity to visit Shusha and that's something that I wanted to do for a very long time. So a dream come true. If I can put it that way. I'm from the European Policy Center a think tank that's in Brussels. So coming from the EU, I would like to ask you a question about the EU. Charles Michel has been very proactive in terms of trying to facilitate dialogue between yourself and Prime Minister Pashinyan and progress the agenda forward. How would you characterize the role of the EU so far in this process? I mean, there's been two meetings so far, if my memory serves me correctly. Could you elaborate on how you see the role of the EU? Is it doing the right thing? Could it do more? And what would you like to see the EU doing more of?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Thank you for this question. It is really very important for understanding better our plans and prospects for regional cooperation. We highly appreciate the role of EU in the post conflict normalization, and particularly President of European Council Mr. Charles Michel. He visited the region, Azerbaijan and Armenia last year when we had very long and very constructive discussions with him about our plans about EU position. Also, we are grateful that they seriously addressed our concern which I already mentioned that there was a big disproportion between the financial package to Armenia and Azerbaijan, and that was corrected. Now we are only waiting for some more specific details. Because our position was and it was delivered to European Union leadership that Azerbaijan wants to get as much as Armenia in the same proportion. As much loans with the same interest rate from European banks and as much grants. I think that is a very fair position. Then we had as you know, several sessions of interaction in Brussels. December and April trilateral meetings were organized by Mr. Charles Michel. There was a video conference in February and with the participation of President of France. We also regularly communicate by telephone. And there is a plan to organize a follow up of our Armenian-Azerbaijani representatives in the beginning of May, again in Brussels. So we highly welcome this efforts. For us, European Union is a very important partner. And we have a very broad agenda with EU. Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict was never part of that, because it was dealt with Minsk Group and EU was a little bit distant. But now, it is also on our agenda along with the issues like trade, energy, transportation, and humanitarian issues and issues related to democratic development. So we consider EU as a fair broker and welcome the efforts. So I think that's now when the Minsk Group co-chairmanship is dysfunctional, I think EU can play and it plays a very active role in the normalization process. So we support it, and we see the benefits. And by the way, my recent contacts with the Armenian colleague were in Brussels. So Brussels now became my main destination of travels. And one more thing to add that we are now in the final stage of agreeing some issues on our new agreement with EU which is according to our and EU’s assessment is ready more than 90%. There was a war there was a COVID that a little bit put it on standby. But I think that we can finalize it pretty soon. We have an agreement, but it was signed many years ago. So new agreement is very comprehensive. It absorbs the new realities after second Karabakh war, and definitely will also address the new situation in the world.
Hikmat Hajiyev: In our list we also have doctor Maxime Gauin from France. Mr. President for your information, Maxime Gauin in French court for more than 10 years fights against Armenian lobby groups. Mr. Gauin, the floor is yours.
Researcher, Center for Eurasian Studies, France, Dr. Maxime Gauin. Thank you very much, Mr. President for welcoming us at this conference. I would like to ask you two questions. The first is about the destruction of cultural monuments in the previously occupied territories. All of us saw who destroyed what in these territories and who is ready to rebuild these territories. Unfortunately, not everybody understands that. The European Parliament prefers to blame the victim. UNESCO, as far as they understood, didn’t understand quite well. I am among the signatories of the letter to the UNESCO Chairwoman, unfortunately. So, what belongs to bad face, what belongs to lack of information? Can we assess that? And what could be done in both cases for better understanding in considering that I am firmly convinced that most of the European Union citizens and most of the American citizens are ready to fair assessment if they haves the right data.
My second question is what would you see for the ethnic Armenians who remain loyal to their country, namely Azerbaijan, in the future for cooperation for rebuilding the previously occupied territories and thinking above all to those who are in Baku and Ganca today. Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. With respect to the first question, I would say that, of course, we are very disappointed that not only lack of information causes the improper attitude to the conflict and to the years of occupation, but deliberate manipulation with facts. Because first when we started to face this injustice, it seemed to us that we need to work harder, to present our case, to explain that it is Azerbaijani people who is suffering from occupation, that our lands have been victim of aggression and we thought that after we say that everybody will understand and will be treating it fairly. But, then we realized that no matter what we say, there are strong pro-Armenian groups and sentiments and perceptions and beliefs. No matter what Armenians did throughout the occupation, was never a kind of a subject of any punishment or even any criticism. For many years, I was saying put sanctions on Armenia. It is the only way how to resolve the conflict and the only way how to avoid war. If you don’t put sanctions on Armenia, then they will never leave the territories. Having such strong lobbying positions in the three co-chair countries, having special military and political arrangements with these countries, they will never leave voluntarily. But, unfortunately, it didn’t happen. When we see that sanctions are imposed in other conflicts, we again see the double standards.
After the war, there was a kind of a narrative, very strange and based again on fake facts and, I would say, Azerbaijanofobia, that Azerbaijan will destroy Armenian cultural heritage on the territories which we returned. UNESCO was knocking the door and was planning to come and, of course, we worked with them. We need to have a proper wording of our correspondence. We needed to have full compliance with territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in their public communications. And, finally, we already agreed on the text and agreed on the composition of the mission. I would like to say that for 30 years we were asking UNESCO to come to occupied territories and testify and they always refused. Just one year or maybe a year and a half before the second Karabakh war, our then foreign minister was in UNESCO asking for that and the answer was that UNESCO is not involved in political issues. After war ended, the situation has changed. Why? Because that it was a kind of a perception that Armenian historical heritage can be damaged. But, the fact that 65 mosques out of 67 were knocked down by Armenians is absolutely ignored, as if this is not historical heritage and as if it is not religious heritage. This is the situation which we are facing. But, now after there have been tens of thousands of international representatives visiting Shusha and all of them saw that the Armenian church is untouched, on the contrary, it will also be restored unlike the mosques which Armenians destroyed, now the interest from UNESCO to come to the region goes down. Because, when they come or if they come, what will they have to report? They will have to report about 65 destroyed mosques. They will have to report that the Armenians kept pigs and cows in Aghdam Mosque. They will have to report that Armenian, Christian and Alban religious heritage is untouched. We will never do it and we never did it. Here in Baku you can see the Armenian church in the center of the city. We keep there 5,000 Armenian books. What we see in Yerevan? They changed the name of an Azerbaijani mosque. They called it a Persian mosque. The mosque in Shusha they also called a Persian mosque. They even invited specialists from Iran to make some repairs in order to change its origin. There was a diplomatic note and the Iranian ambassador then was invited to the Foreign Ministry and we demanded to put an end to that. Because that was also part of the legitimization of destruction of Muslim heritage. So, this is a deference.
Our religious and historic heritage in Azerbaijan belongs to all people of Azerbaijan. The Zoroastrian temple, mosque, catholic church, orthodox church, Armenian church and synagogue are all our national heritage and we preserve them. Everybody who visits Baku, Shusha, Guba and other places can see it. But, of course, this double-standard approach is something which we already used to live with, unfortunately. But, again, I think the meetings like this one and Shusha being now a kind of a city now where every week we have very important international events and soon we will have another Khari Bulbul festival there with participation of folklore groups from 10 countries, that will also be something which no one can ignore or neglect or turn a blind eye on.
And the second question. With that respect also, our position is very clear. I already said that Armenians who live in Karabakh, we consider them as our citizens and we hope that they will also soon understand that living as citizens of Azerbaijan they will have all rights and their security will be protected. Azerbaijan, unlike Armenia, is a multiethnic country and all ethnic groups who live here live in peace and dignity, including Armenians. We have an Armenian minority and there was never any issue with that respect. But, of course, for that, there should be put an end to Azerbaijanofobic propaganda in Armenia. Demonizing Azerbaijanis, creating mythology about us will not serve the cause of peace. Plus, what happened after the war demonstrates that we don’t have any bad intentions. We want peace. We want recognition of our territorial integrity and living standards in Azerbaijan are much higher than in Armenia, not to mention in Russian controlled Karabakh, temporary controlled by Russian peacekeepers. Therefore, I think that understanding will come and we already get some messages from Armenians in Karabakh. Very positive messages. We already started some preliminary contacts on different levels. I don’t want to go much in details, but it has already started and this once again demonstrates our intention. They can be part of the rapid economic development, they can feel themselves much more safe, secure and comfortably within the unified Azerbaijani state, but they need to put down the separatist trends and separatist aspirations. They also need to understand the reality. They need to look at the map. They need to see the geography and they need to understand that hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis will return within a visible future to Kalbajar, Lachin, Shush and Aghdam and they have to live in this environment. They have to live like neighbors, put down hostility, isolate separatists, bring separatists to justice and then, I think, they will see the benefit also.
Hikmat Hajiyev: In our list we have Ventzeslav Sabev.
Founder at University Center on Governance Faith and Values, Geneva, Switzerland, Ventzeslav Sabev. Thank you, Your Excellency. Good morning, Mr. President. My name reveals also my country of origin. Even if I come from Switzerland, it is the brothers in Bulgaria who are very grateful to your country for restoring their safety this week. It was an important help.
Now, coming from Bulgaria, from Switzerland now and representing the University of Geneva, I am working on interfaith and intercultural dialogue. You answered in your previous response, reminding the cultural filter and cultural tradition in Azerbaijan and this is a model, which is working well in the region and we are looking forward to see it replicated across the region and even beyond. A very clear message you gave also again was an appeal to the organizations in western Europe. You said that time is ripe for people-to-people contacts at NGO levels and when we tried in the last few months to organize such events, we were told, be careful about the balance in the narrative between history and the message towards the future. We want to focus about reconstruction, about putting efforts in building communities, integrating communities. What would be your advice in managing this balance between countering fake history, distorted historical message versus focusing on the future for an integrated message?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, I think that first of all, there be clear understanding about which part of history is fake and which part of history is not, because, unfortunately, in Armenian historiographic signs, every step you make, you see the fakes, including with respect to Azerbaijani lands, including with respect to the history of Karabakh. By the way, I can tell you that this fake history policy last 5-6 years even had a new dimension. They started to officially name Azerbaijani cities with Armenian names, with fake names, including, for instance, city of Shusha, which they started to call Shushi, which never was Shushi. By the way, I don’t know what Shushi means and why Shushi must be considered an Armenian name. I don’t understand. If you look at all the maps, historical maps, if you look at Soviet encyclopedia, you will see Shusha. But, that is a product of the recent 5-6 years. Also, the fake history about Armenians in Azerbaijan. We know the history and it is clear. Also, it can be seen in Wikipedia. Look at the Kurakchay peace agreement, 1805. Who signed it? Ibrahim Khan, Karabakh and Shusha, and Russia general. There was no mentioning of Armenians. Armenians started to be brought to that area from Persia, Eastern Anatolia later, after the Turkmanchay and Gulustan agreements. All these are historical facts. We don’t say that because they live in Karabakh for 200 years, they should be ethnically cleansed. No. But, the history should not be manipulated with. And the same is with some other historical so-called documents, which they try to present. But, I think that if we want to achieve the goal, I think the main area of concentration should be future, because, if to go too far in the history, that is actually what is the reason for Armenian failure, because they always dreamed how to achieve something, which they thought they lost, they always were basing their ideology and education on the past and they lost the future.
As far as the future is concerned, I think what will be important now is to start contacts between representatives of civil society and we are ready for that and we discussed it with EU representatives, with representatives of the United States government and made a proposal to organize this kind of contacts. There has been also one contact organized by the Russian government in Moscow. A group of intellectuals from Azerbaijan and Armenia met there and I think that this format can also be continued and I think that we can have these meetings also in Baku and Yerevan, in other words, to start talking to each other, because if we reach an agreement with Armenian government on peace, this agreement must be also part of the national consensus. We understand it. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to sign this agreement and to implement. But, how to achieve national consensus when they continue to demonize Azerbaijan and present us as kind of a people and country who wants to destroy them. No, we wanted only to restore our territorial integrity and to live in peace. So, my recommendation would be, because I think it’s time has already come, one year and a half have passed, time passes very quickly, to organize this kind of events in Europe, in Russia, in Turkey, in America to start public diplomacy. And also maybe on the level of experts, I think it is also possible. I said in the beginning that there could be some events in-between Shusha international forums. I think one event can also be part of that to invite experts from Armenia, those people who want peace, who advocate for peace, not for hatred, and to start this start. I think ADA can be a very good home for that. Thank you.
Hikmat Hajiyev: In our list we have Rick Fawn. Rick please.
Professor, University of St. Andrews, the United Kingdom, Rick Fawn. Thank you very much, Excellency. This is a tremendous opportunity for us and the trip yesterday, I think, was extraordinary. It made the seeming impossible possible. It was also very important to see what Azerbaijan has achieved in such a short time. The question I would ask, seeing also that we have recognized some of the obstacles ahead, is to hear from you what the region could look like and Azerbaijan’s contribution to the South Caucasus in ten years time.
President Ilham Aliyev: Will be responsible from my side to give such a prognosis, because, you know, the situation in the region is closely connected to the situation in the world. And I think the situation in the world in the post-Soviet area will seriously influence the regional situation. Therefore, having this prognosis, I think we need to have in mind two scenarios. One scenario is a peaceful future for post-Soviet area, another scenario is not a peaceful future. Taking into account now the war between Russia and Ukraine, we do not know when that war will stop, what will be the post-war situation. But, with respect to Azerbaijan, I think that in ten years’ time, of course, we will be much stronger and I hope that by that time, maybe even earlier, all the disagreements and problems with Armenia will be resolved and the region of the Southern Caucasus will be firmly integrated and three countries of the Southern Caucasus will already have close cooperation. There are opportunities for that. Azerbaijan as a generator of regional projects, whether it is transportation, energy, played already an important role in the trilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia, which actually then became a foundation for broad European cooperation. Without that, which we did in 2006, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, today’s energy security of Europe would be much more vulnerable, because then gas pipeline wouldn’t have been built. So, as a generator and as, of course, the biggest economy in the Southern Caucasus with the great potential to grow, because only these three months our economy grew 7% and our export more than 90%, including 45% in non-energy related export, and a generator of wealth and a generator of stability. But, it will depend, of course, on the agenda in Armenia, what will happen there, the plans of Armenian government for peace agenda, whether they will be implemented or not. But, I think politically it should be absolutely new composition. From economic point of view, point of view of regional transportation ties, there should be an absolutely new map, because we already created a new transportation map. If we look from 2008 when we started working on Baku-Tbilisi-Kars and 2017 when it was done, it is an absolutely new picture. I think that maybe before that there could be more interaction between Southern Caucasus and Central Asia. Today, it doesn’t happen. It is kind of sporadic and mainly it comes through Azerbaijan, through our infrastructure facilities, but I think Azerbaijan, as a Caspian littoral state, a Caucasian state, has a special role in this format. It can happen. So, these are our plans. Usually, our plans, when they are officially announced, they have been implemented. What I am saying now is my thoughts. I do not yet make it an official agenda, but we are working on that. I think there is a big potential for Azerbaijan to join political consultations which Central Asian countries have between themselves. You know there is a format of five countries. We are very close historical connections and traditional ties with these countries and the peoples of these countries. Plus, the Caspian Sea should be a bigger bridge between cultures and between economies. Will Armenia be part of that? I don’t know. I think it will be good for all that they are and there is an opportunity, what we offered and which is called Zangazur corridor will cross their territory. I am sure it will, but again they are losing time, because we already are building the highway and railroad to Armenian border and the railroad will be ready by the end of this year and the highway maybe later. So, if they are not part of that, then they will be bypassed and last month we already signed an MOU with Iran on building bridges bypassing Armenia. So, look, we bypass them in the projects related to gas and oil pipelines and Georgia is benefiting from that, getting good money from carriers. We bypass them, building the road to Kars through Tbilisi and now, when they have a historical chance to demonstrate their people that there can be benefits of their military failure at war and that benefit is being part of the region and getting access to the wealth. Against for one year and a half year they blocked it. They did not give us the geographical coordinates where the road will go through Megri region and they did not start even a feasibility study on construction of the railroad, though our 60 kilometers of the railroad is already ready. And 40 kilometers left, as I said, maybe by the end of the year or in the beginning of next year, it will be ready. And then we will build a bridge and we already agreed with Iranian government and they will be bypassed. So, my prognoses are based, of course, on our agenda, but I do not know what will be the agenda in Armenia and what will be a global situation in the world, because since we met last time, the situation in the world already is different and, of course, the world will never be as it was before February.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Now, we have in list Doctor Ji Yingfeng.
Doctor Ji Yingfeng, Doctoral Researcher, University of Cambridge, the UK: Thank you, Your Excellency. Thank you for arranging the time to communicate with us and answering questions in such an open way. I am a researcher from the University of Cambridge in the UK and my research area is focusing on China’s relationships with Eurasian countries, as well as decarbonization in Eurasian countries. I have two questions: the first one is regarding China’s relationship with Azerbaijan under the framework of the Belt Road Initiative. In 2013 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Kazakhstan, he proposed and called for Eurasian countries to jointly build a Silk Road economic belt to promote integration of Eurasian countries and Azerbaijan and China signed a cooperation document, a MOU, on that. But from external sources it is feared cooperation areas and projects are not clear to observers, so I would like to ask you to elaborate a bit on the cooperation areas between the two countries under this framework. And with recent Azerbaijan’s efforts to promote integration in the South Caucasus where do you foresee more prospects to strengthen cooperation with Chinese partners. The second question is regarding the renewable energy development in Azerbaijan. I think that with the global decarbonization trend in Azerbaijan we gave decarbonization and renewable energy development two meanings by not only promoting renewable energy development nationwide, but also by building the smart city in the Karabakh region. In this context, we gave two meanings of renewable energy development not only in the context of decarbonization, but also in the context of the post-conflict reconstruction. So, following the vision that was released from the government, I want to invite you to update us on the current status of implementing green energy development in the Karabakh region and nationwide. What are the main challenges foreseen ahead. Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. First of all, on our relations with China, I would like to say that we consider these relations of strategic importance and we are very glad that these relations develop very successfully. During my numerous meetings with President Xi Jinping we broadly discussed bilateral agenda and also regional issues. To illustrate our relations, it is enough to quote Mr. Xi Jinping, who called me the big friend of China. And I think it is a good answer to all the questions. At the same time, he is a very good friend of Azerbaijan and we are always in contact. I was among a limited number of world leaders who were invited in 2019 to the Conference “One Belt and One Road”. We consider that also a sign of special attention to Azerbaijan and special importance.
We already started to receive cargos from China through the Caspian through the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, but not in big volumes, because we clearly understood that China has diversified supply routes through different sources and we just tried to make our route more attractive. But, recently we got several messages from Chinese companies that they seriously want to increase the transportation of cargos through the middle corridor, as it is called in China, through Azerbaijan, the Caspian and Georgia either to Georgian ports or to the Turkish city of Kars. So, these are new opportunities for us and our transportation infrastructure is brand new. It is a brand new sea port, the biggest Caspian fleet among the Caspian littoral states and railroad. But, of course, if we think about dramatic increase of cargos, we need also to invest in expansion of our transportation handling potential, because all our projects were based on existing volumes of cargos and slowly growing volumes of cargos. But today we see the demand for dramatic growth of cargos. Therefore, instructions have already been given to corresponding governmental structures to give me a report about what we can do and how we can increase the capacity of our trade sea port, which has capacity now of 15 million tons and we can in a relatively short period of time increase it up to 25 million tons. Then, of course, the construction of new ferry boats and tankers in our Caspian shipping factory is also necessary to be able to transport all that volume though Azerbaijan. In other words, it is an absolutely new situation with new opportunities.
But we see our cooperation not only in the area of transit and transportation, but in a broader sense, having a very good political cooperation, we would like to see Chinese companies as investors here. We are now in the process of creation of Alat free zone, which will host first residents, I hope, next year and it is in a very good location, just next to the sea port in a big area and the regulation there is very attractive to international companies. So, we see a lot of potential in our relations and of course, we will do everything in order to develop them.
About renewables, we already started. Several years ago, we started slowly to evaluate our potential and after liberation in Karabakh, of course, that area was also evaluated. According to preliminary information, in the liberated areas we have a potential of 9200 megawatts of solar and wind energy. Unfortunately, after Armenia signed the capitulation act on 10 November 2020, they used these twenty-day time when they had to leave Kalbajar for destruction and they, apart from houses and trees, destructed 30 hydro power stations. Can you imagine? They used the time which we gave to them to collect their belongings and to go for destruction. Now, everything is documented.
So, we started the reconstruction in Kalbajar and in Tartar. So, as I said before, 20 megawatts have already been commissioned and 25 megawatts will be this year. But this is only hydro and there is more potential for hydro. For solar and wind in Karabakh, we are now in the final stage of negotiations with BP on a 240-megawatt solar power plant in Jabrayil and also with international companies about 100 megawatt of a wind power plant in Kalbajar. But apart from that, starting from January this year, we already had two important events – two groundbreaking ceremonies to build two, one solar and one wind power station with total capacity of 430 megawatts by Saudi Arabia’s leading company in that area, Aquapower, and another project by the company from the UAE, Masdar. This is really a big contribution to our energy system and a big sign and demonstration of attractiveness of Azerbaijan.
We are now evaluating finally the potential of the Caspian Sea with respect to wind power stations. Preliminary figures are really enormous, so we will need to have a very thorough study about that. As far as Karabakh is concerned, I already announced it a green energy zone and that will be the case – smart city and green energy zone. I think if all what we plan, I don’t want to go into much detail, is implemented, we will not only have a substantial part of our energy coming from wind and sun, we have a target of 30%, but I think it can go to 50% and more, but also, what is important, we will save a lot of natural gas for export, which is also needed. Just these two power stations, which I mentioned, by Aquapower and Masdar, will save about 400 million cubic meters of gas. It is not a big amount, but for some countries, it is a substantial amount.
But, also what we do, we are now in the process of active reforms of SOCAR. There is new management in SOCAR. SOCAR will finally transform into a transparent international energy company, I am sure, because the new management has these instructions. Subsequently, there will be reduction in losses, because we have a lot of losses in gas. Some losses are justified because of the outdated infrastructure, but some losses are very suspicious. So, I am sure that optimization, transparency and corporate management of our leading company SOCAR will give us an additional source. It already gives us, I just don’t want to talk about it before it happened and before you have official figures, but we really have a potential to substitute a large part of our energy, which comes from gas, to solar and wind. Also, just going a little bit further from you asked, we are already evaluating the opportunity of joining the project between Georgia and Romania, the electric cable under the Black Sea, which will be primarily used by us, because we have extra production – we export electric energy now to four countries and have a plan to expand. And, our electric energy is needed in Europe along with our gas.
The last point which I want also you to know is that with the EU a couple of months ago we started a format, which is called energy dialogue, which is a very comprehensive program. It covers oil, gas, oil products, renewables and hydrogen. We are very active on hydrogen. All the instructions have been given, so hydrogen is the future and we understand it. We have this potential, so we are always ahead of the processes and ahead of innovations. Maybe not ahead, but to put it correctly, maybe ahead of some other countries, but one step back of technological developments. I am absolutely sure that renewables will change completely the energy market and give us an additional opportunity to save the nature and get more benefits for our people.
Hikmat Hajiyev: The floor is given to Alexandra Matas.
Senior Advisor and Deputy Head of Diplomatic Dialogue, Geneva Center for Security Policy, Switzerland, Alexandra Matas: Thank you very much Mr. President. My name is Alexandra Matas. I am representing here the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland. We had a very enlightening trip yesterday to Shusha and I am very honored also to be here today and have this very interesting discussion with you. Thank you very much for your openness.
Mr. President, in your introductory remarks, you said that you wish to turn Karabakh to a most peaceful region in the world and you also mentioned in replying to my colleague from Switzerland question that we need to address the problem of demonizing Azerbaijan by the Armenian side. So, after that many years of conflict, my question is how do you prepare your own public here, your own population to peace? There are a lot of hostile perceptions of the other part, which is understandable in this situation. What are the ways to overcome those perceptions? What are the ways in order to reconcile and also to have this lasting peace with your neighbor. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. A very important question. Thank you for addressing it, because it is very important for future, for peace and for interaction. But, of course, we treat it from a realistic point of view and we understand that it will not be easy. You should do everything on time. -I can tell you that the wounds of the Azerbaijani people were not healed during all these 30 years, but after liberation and after people started to visit the territories, you know there are regular bus trips to Shusha and to Aghdam and when they saw with their own eyes, when I first went there and saw it with my own eyes, it was a shock. We could not even imagine the level of hatred to people who didn’t do you any harmful thing. Because we lived side by side in Shusha, in Khankandi and in other places and never did anything that could be considered as hostile. So, such a hatred, erasing cities, digging out the dead bodies, it is unbelievable. So, it is imaginable, if I felt that, what could people who lost their beloved ones feel. And I understand their pain, I share their pain and I myself will never forget atrocities and barbarism. I will not be able to forget and I don’t want to forget, because we need to remember. We need to remember because it is part of our history, tragic history. At the same time, we must remember and always be ready to defend ourselves. But, at the same time, our peace agenda cannot be implemented without public support. We also understand that after the second Karabakh war, Armenian society have wounds. It is understandable. And if our wounds didn’t heal for 30 years, we understand that their wounds will also be bleeding. This is a reality. But, what to do? We need to take responsibility and the leaders are leading their countries also because of that. To take responsibility and try to persuade your people that for our interests, for strategic future we need peace. We know history of wars. We know the history of the Second World War. After, I think, 10-20 years, those who were killing each other started to do business. There are many examples of that. Whether we will be ready as a society or not, I don’t know. But, I think you also know that there is a very special atmosphere in Azerbaijani society after the victory. There is unity. There is a permanent connection between what we do and how people react. We consult with people our plans. For instance, with reconstruction of the cities, when the master plans of Aghdam and Fuzulu were to be approved, that was approved with the participation of the famous representatives of this region, because it is them who will live there. Therefore, there is a pretty high level of trust in society about we are doing. That was always the case, but after the victory, of course, it is much bigger. I think that Azerbaijani society will understand me when I talk about peace. It is not easy, I understand, but we don’t need another war and we must protect ourselves from any risks of any revenge from Armenia. Therefore, on one side we should not forget, on the other side, we should strengthen and modernize our army. At the same time, in parallel, we should prepare the societies. My proposals to organize these people-to-people contacts, NGOs, journalists and intellectuals are aimed at that. That must be a basis for peace. It will take long, but there is no alternative. The alternative is worse.
So, thank you again for raising this very important question.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Doctor Vali Kaleji.
Senior Research Fellow, the Institute of Iran-Eurasia Studies, Iran, Vali Kaleji: Thank you, Mr. President. I am Vali Kaleji from Tehran, Iran. I am very pleased to be attending the international conference on the Caucasus in Baku for the second time after the second Karabakh war. As you know, the relations between two countries have developed significantly in recent years, including the recent agreement between Tehran and Baku to build a 55-kilometer highway and railway line between Zangilan and Nakhchivan via Iran that you mentioned in your speech. But, on the other hand, there are some concerns that need to be addressed. One of these concerns is what happened at the 5th Congress of World Azerbaijanis in Shusha last week. Unfortunately, some Azerbaijani Iranians who attended the summit spoke openly against the territorial integrity and national security of Iran, as well as separatism of Azerbaijani regions of the northwestern of my country. Unfortunately, the dream of forming a greater Azerbaijan is uniting two sides of the Araz river. Clearly raised by these individuals and groups, this issue caused concern and unhappiness to many of my colleagues and also people inside Iran. Yesterday, I talked with Mr. Hikmat Hajiyev in this regards. Mr. President, you are aware of Iran’s position in defining the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the last three decades. Iran’s position in the second Karabakh war was also quite clear. The common language, religion and values of the Azerbaijani regions of Iran and the people of the Republic of Azerbaijan are a great capacity and social capital for the development of relations between the two countries. It should not become a political tool for separatism and creating difference and tension between the two countries. These people have been invited to an official and governmental meeting in Shusha and we expect the government or Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan to react these statements, interview and speech in order to reduce the concerns and discomfort inside Iran. I will be very happy to know your position and opinion in this regard, which will definitely be reflected inside Iran.
And also, my second short question is about determining the borders between the Republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia after the second Karabakh war that you mentioned I your speech. We heard a lot of news about the basis of the Soviet era maps, including maps of the Soviet Ministry of Defense in 1920 to define the borders between the two countries. It was discussed during your meeting with Nikol Pashinyan and Vladimir Putin in Sochi. The question is which official map of the Soviet Union was agreed between you, Armenia and Russia for determining the borders.
Again thanks for your hospitality and for your kindness and invitation to this conference. Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Taking about the maps, so far we do not have any kind of basis for that and we haven’t seen the maps which you mentioned. Our position is that while defining the border, we should take into account history and, of course, the maps which were available and which are available after the Sovietization of the Southern Caucasus. We cannot concentrate on only one map, there have been many maps starting 1918 when Iravan was part of Azerbaijan and also before November 1920 when Zangazur was part of Azerbaijan. What is today the Iranian-Armenian border was inhabited by Azerbaijanis and had no relation to Armenian nation. In November 1920, it was a decision of the Soviet government to give Zangazur to Armenia. But, when it was given to Armenia, it was not given in today’s shape – not in 42 kilometers, but much narrower. Then, by different tricks Armenians managed to expand the territory, which today is the only border between Armenia and Iran, and expanded up to 42 kilometers. Therefore, our position is that we will take all the maps starting from, for instance, 1918 or even before, until 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. But, that, of course, will be part of negotiations of our joint working groups.
Addressing your first comment, I just wanted to clarify with you, you mention somebody contested the territorial integrity of Iran. Was it a member of our government who did it? Of Azerbaijani government?
Vali Kaleji: No, no. Separate.
President Ilham Aliyev: But you mentioned Shusha Congress.
Vali Kaleji: Yes.
President Ilham Aliyev: It was a member of our government who contested Iranian territorial integrity.
Vali Kaleji: Not governmental.
President Ilham Aliyev: But who?
Vali Kaleji: For example, it is the Center of Tabriz Studies in Ankara in Turkiye. Some individuals and groups. Non-governmental participants in the Congress.
President Ilham Aliyev: It doesn’t have any connection with the Azerbaijani government. No?
Vali Kaleji: No, but they participated in this conference in Shusha in Azerbaijan.
President Ilham Aliyev: But not an Azerbaijani citizen?
Vali Kaleji: Yes, I know. I accept, but they participated in an official meeting inside Azerbaijan.
President Ilham Aliyev: Today you see how many participants from different countries are here. But, each of them represent their country. And, for instance, if you are a citizen of some other country and say something, Iranian government should not be responsible for that. That is why, I think your comments have nothing to do with Azerbaijani-Iranian relations. The position of our government and the government of Iran on territorial integrity of two countries is very well known and is not questionable. On many occasions, we and Iranian colleagues publicly elaborated on that. There have been more than 400 participants. In Azerbaijan, in the democratic society people are free to say what they want. They have their position – we can agree or disagree, but we did not control the participants. We didn’t give them the theses, what they can say and what they cannot say. Azerbaijan is a free country and every one, our citizens, foreign citizens, they are free to say whatever they want. Of course, if it is not contradicting our legislation. But, at the same time, we do not bear responsibility for those who live abroad and have some other views on different items. Important is that Azerbaijani government and its representatives in their remarks are very responsible in relations with our neighboring countries and in general with all countries. But, as a small illustration to what you said, I can tell you that there are a number of people who got shelter in Iran and who on regular basis contest territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. During the Caspian Littoral Summit in Aktau, during my meeting with the then President Hassan Rouhani, I gave him a list of almost 20 Azerbaijanis who live in Iran and on regular basis, through media and social networks, they not only contest the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, but they use such a vocabulary that is not appropriate in the normal society and we demanded these people to be handed over to Azerbaijan because of their direct participation in the lethal attack on a policeman in the city of Ganja. And we have evidences, but, unfortunately, none of them has been handed over. Therefore, if one person, who is not a citizen of Azerbaijan, said something in Shusha, Shusha is an open city. Thousands of people come there and express their view. Even participating in the event, which was organized by Azerbaijan should not be a reason for this reaction. We should look at the official statements of officials – Iranians and Azerbaijani officials. They are saying what I said: territorial integrity is the red line and our territorial integrity was always questioned by Armenia and I think that we should concentrate on that and not pay attention to some comments, which Azerbaijan has nothing to do with.
Executive Director, of the Center for Global and Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad, Pakistan Khalid Taimur Akram: Thank you very much. My name is Khalid Teymur and I am from Islamabad, Pakistan. Thank you very much for inviting us again. Last year, in the same hall we met you and since last year till now we have been following whatever development has been done in the Karabakh region. Yesterday, we visited Fuzuli and Shusha and it was very impressive. We were told that the airport was made in 7-8 months and I think that is a great achievement and should be known to the world. Probably you can invite the Guinness Book over here and they should also know what kind of development we can do in this part of the world also.
Now, before my question, I have a suggestion that as you have declared, Shusha is the cultural capital, so going to back to Shusha’s history, which starts from 1752, we have been seeing that it has remained at the center of culture and poetry and all those things. So, I would suggest that if Azerbaijan can start some kind of website by the name of friends of Shusha so that all the people who want to become part of this cultural thing and register themselves over there and then in times come whenever something happens, some kind of cultural event or something happened, they can get to know and come over here. So, this idea of friends of Shusha can be a cultural platform not only for the people of this region, but for the people around the world for all these things.
So, coming over to my question, it is about economic transformation and different transport corridors. As we have seen that in last one year we had a trial cargo coming from Pakistan via Iran to Azerbaijan and direct flights have also started. In South Asia and Southeast Asia, we are looking forward to becoming part of these transport corridors, which you very strongly advocate and probably you are the only leader in this region who has not only been talking about the South Caucasus, but beyond the regional connectivity. So, my question is regarding your thoughts on regional connectivity beyond the South Caucasus region and also Zangazur corridor, which is very important for Azerbaijan. Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Thank you for your proposal. We will, of course, address it. I think it is a very good idea to have such a group – friends of Shusha. I am sure there will be a lot of members of this group. Maybe we need to think about how to formulize this and maybe you can give some more proposals about that. With respect to the corridors, yes, Azerbaijan was working actively on the North-South corridor and our geographical location is very advantageous. But, as I always said, without infrastructure it doesn’t mean a lot. So, what we were talking just before, answering a question about Azerbaijan-China relations, was the East-West corridor, but the North-South is as important as the East-West and it is now partly in operation. But, there is a missing part: in Iran, the railroad between Astara and Rasht. I think it is something more than 160 kilometers, which do not exist, and if it is built, then there will be a railroad route from North through Azerbaijan, Iran and the Persian Gulf. And that could be a very important international corridor. It works already, but you have to reload the cargo from train to trucks, because part of the railroad is missing.
At the same time, from time point of view, this is very attractive and I know that there is a plan to connect the port of Gwadar in Pakistan through this connection. At the same time, this route can also work not only from South to North, but also from South to West, using Azerbaijan’s infrastructure from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey. As you correctly mentioned, the Zangazur corridor, which will be another route, and if we look at the map, we will see that from time point of view of distance and accessibility, this also is very important. We expect a lot of new cargos coming from Asia, from Pakistan, from China and at the same time from Central Asian countries. All our railroad network is interconnected. We have connection with northern border, southern border, eastern border and the Zangazur corridor will go in the southeast. So, these are all part of our overall transportation agenda. The only thing missing in Azerbaijan is 40 kilometers, which we are building to Armenian border, and then on our territory, everything will be ready. So, our neighbors need also to do their part of the work so that this connection is fully in operation.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Mr. President, it is almost more than two hours now that you are spending with us. Thank you for your precious time. With your permission, we have a couple of questions.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, yes, sure.
Researcher, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, Daniel Pommier Vincelli: Hello, Mr. President. There is a huge debate in my country in Italy about the need to overcome the so-called Russian dependency on gas. I know that you are in frequent contacts with our Prime Minister Mario Draghi and our Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio, who was here. You mentioned the Italian-Azerbaijani University recently inaugurated. So, I would like to know also is Azerbaijan going to replace, at least partly, the Russian dependency on gas, which in Italy we strongly want to get rid of Russian gas because of our political position on the war in Ukraine. Is there timeline for this? How will it affect relations between Azerbaijan and Russia, if it will affect. One more thing, I recently wrote with an Azerbaijani colleague a book about Shusha, a brief history of Shusha. I would like to donate you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.
Daniel Pommier Vincelli: It is written in Italian, but there are a lot of pictures. It is a brief history. But, I know you can understand the language.
President Ilham Aliyev: We will translate it.
Daniel Pommier Vincelli: You are a very close friend to our country. There are pictures of you, too.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much.
Daniel Pommier Vincelli: It is the first book written in Italian, I guess in a western language, devoted to Shusha. It is an introductory history of the city.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much for that. We will definitely translate it so far we look at the pictures. You will give it to me later. Thank you.
With respect of the gas, I would like to express our position a little bit broader. We implement all our commitments. All the contracts, which have been signed with our consumers, are being implemented a hundred per cent. Today, Azerbaijani gas is being exported to Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy. So, Italy, along with Turkey, is the biggest recipient of our gas. Last year, it was more than 9 billion cubic meters. We, of course, were planning our gas development projects based on the existing contracts and the existing contracts have this capacity, this volume. We do not produce more, because there is no way to sell. If there is a demand, which, as you mentioned, is now urgent, then we need, first of all, to see about the sources. Because our production is calculated on local consumption and exports. We do not produce more than that because there will be no way to sell. With this situation, when we received several demands and requests not only from Italy, but from some other European countries about increase of supply, first of all, it is the source. We need to find the source. As said, partly it will be due to the optimization of the losses of gas internally, partly, it will be due to the solar and wind substitution of natural gas and partly it will be due to the new production. We expect production from new fields next year already, from Absheron field to have 1,5 billion cubic meters more, and we expect from some other fields. Apart from that, of course, capacity of the pipelines is also important. The Southern Gas Corridor is an integrated pipeline system, which, for example, TANAP has one diameter and TAP has a different diameter. TANAP can transport more than 30 b.c.m, TAP can transport 10 b.c.m. Why? Because it was a market. We were supposed to sell to Italy 8 b.c.m. And for that purpose, the shareholders of TANAP, including SOCAR, which has only 20% there, designed the pipeline volume so that not to have additional expenses. We did not expect additional gas to come in the nearest future, therefore, the design of TAP was different. Is it possible to expand it? Yes, it is possible. By adding pump stations, it can be expanded up to 20 billion cubic meters. In other words, Italy can get twice as much as they get today. But, for that purpose, TAP team should get together and that was part of my discussions with Prime Minister Draghi and then with Minister Di Maio, who visited us here. Shareholders of TAP need to agree on an additional investment program how to expand it and look from a technical point of view. I don’t want to go into too much technical detail, but it is not something which can be done in one month. It is not possible technically. So, in the meantime, there are other ways to have interconnectors. For instance, now, the construction of the interconnector between Bulgaria and Greece is in the final stage and I got information from our Bulgarian colleagues that by September it will be in operation. There are other projects to interconnect the European gas distribution network. So, all that is on our agenda. We never planned to replace Russian gas. It is not possible because of the difference of volumes and we never had any intention to compete on the European market. We just wanted to have an access to the European market because it is the best. It is regulated by the regulations. It is stable and it is a market with the highest price. Today, we sell the gas to different consumers and the best price is in Europe. So, it is commercial. So, we didn’t have any intention to have rivalry or competition with Russia and I can tell you that our energy policy was never questioned by Russia. We never had any kind of discussions or kind of questions. So, I am sure this will not negatively influence our relations with Russia. Thank you.
Strategic Relations Manager, the Henry Jackson Society, the United Kingdom, Aliona Hlivco: Your Excellency, thank you for having us here today and thank you for your time. My name is Aliona Hlivco and I am head of strategy of the London-based think tank, Henry Jackson Society. But I am also a former member of the parliament of Ukraine. My question stems from that today. Based on the experience that Azerbaijan had with the war, with the long term occupation, with the liberation of the territories now, what one advice would you personally have for Ukraine today? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, based on our experience, the most important is never agree to occupation. You know during times of negotiations there were different moments and different messages, which I was receiving from Western colleagues. One of them was that you have to take into account the reality. Azerbaijan lost the first Karabakh war and your actions must be based on the reality. There have been attempts to advise us that we need to consider the issue related to our territorial integrity. And I was always saying no. I was saying that never Azerbaijan, myself and the people of Azerbaijan will agree to create another Armenian fake state on our territory. Never! If necessary, we will fight until the death. My comments sometimes were interpreted as very hostile and aggressive. I was always criticized for the rhetoric. Armenian leaders were always praised for being constructive. Yes, they were constructive. They wanted to seal the occupation. They wanted us to agree to give independence to separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh. They wanted to keep a big part of our territory, particularly the territory between the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and Armenia under their control. My position was no. We will never agree. So, first, based on our experience, is never agree on violation of territorial integrity in any case.
Second, what lesson I learned from this time of occupation to rely on your own resources. Third, do not rely on international organizations’ decisions and resolutions. They don’t have any value. The UN Security Council adopted four Resolutions demanding complete and immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops from our territories, which were not implemented for 27 years. We implemented them ourselves. And those who adopted those resolutions, three countries – permanent members of the Security Council, were co-chairs of the Minsk Group. I was telling also them why don’t you implement the resolutions which you adopted and the answer was obvious. The situation with occupation was acceptable to them. It was acceptable to Armenia. It was acceptable to the Minsk Group co-chairs. It was not acceptable to us. And we were a minority and we had to live in the real world and understand that there will be no help from international community. I am talking now not about the situation in Ukraine, it is a little bit different in this respect, but about us. And, of course, we needed to have a strong army, but for that we needed a strong economy. So, everything was done in consequence: one after another or sometimes in parallel. And we needed a new generation. Generation of those who will go until the death to defend their homeland. And that generation was raised. Those who fought and died for Karabakh, the absolute majority of them have never seen Karabakh. The young generation, patriotic with high motivation. Of course, the most important is to have a strong army and we did it and that was number one for me as president for all years. That is why, our military spending was number one in comparison with others. Number two was education and that was also important, because without that you will not raise patriotic people who go and return the lands back. And, of course, high motivation. We were motivated. We were ready to go until the end regardless who will be on Armenian side. We recognized that there will be a lot on Armenian side and it happened, but it did not stop us. During the war I was saying that I am ready to stop, publicly, many times, when the Armenian prime minister gives me a timetable for withdrawal. We didn’t want this war and we fought on our territory. He always refused. But, we he agreed on 9 November to give us a date, that was already after we liberated Shusha, then we stopped. We didn’t fight any extra hour because we did not want people to die. We liberated the rest part based on the capitulation act.
So, that is how we fought, how we prepared. If you ask me what is the most important among all of them, I would say absolutely confidently it is spirit. This is the most important. You will never win a country’s people who have a spirit to defend themselves. It can be only temporary. We demonstrated it and now we are proud of that. We support territorial integrity of Ukraine and of all other countries. We do it publicly. We do not hide behind big trees. We say what we mean. Yes, we have good relations with Russia, but with Ukraine we also have good relations. The principles of international law should not be interpreted based on political preferences. We were always the subject of that, because even before events in Ukraine, territorial integrity of Georgia and Moldova was always articulated very openly by international community and when it came to us, always there was a message: go and agree peacefully. But how to agree peacefully with an aggressor who doesn’t want to leave your territory. We tried and I tried for almost 17 years, but then we saw it is not possible. Then we saw that the more we want to do it peacefully, the more the aggressor becomes arrogant and aggressive. They already started to frighten us with new war for new territories and were saying things like Karabakh is Armenia. But, now what they say? Now, they say Karabakh is Azerbaijan. And who says that? The same people who said Karabakh is Armenia in 2019. We created a new reality with our own hands and with our soul. So, that is what we experienced and I think it is important for every country for dignity, for territorial integrity and for justice.
Researcher, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence, Germany, Nina Lutterjohann: Thank you very much, Excellency. It is wonderful to be here. I am a research associate at University of St Andrews and I also work at the Institute for Conflict and Violence Research. I feel my question has been answered already by you, so it is the fate of a late one. How do you see the future of economic cooperation with both Russia and the EU in the context of the current developments. You touched upon the new situation and the recently signed agreement with the EU. Maybe you could just elaborate on one or two points of that, if you like.
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, we just recently had an intergovernmental commission in Baku, the Russian-Azerbaijani intergovernmental commission, on the 26th of April, and a broad range of issues was discussed about our future plans. So far, every year we had good results. We have growth of turnover. But, of course, with the current situation, we need to see what else we can do, because for our farmers the Russian market is the only big market and, of course, for Russian producers the Azerbaijani market is also of importance. We buy more from Russia than we sell, so we have a negative turnover balance. But, at the same time, our export to Russia grew last year. With the new situation, with these sanctions, of course, we need to see what will be the practical impact and you can imagine that we now have two countries under sanctions, two our neighbors – Iran and Russia. It is a very difficult situation, because how we can successfully cooperate and trade if there are sanctions and there are problems with money transfer and many other problems. Therefore, we need to see what will be the coming period decisions. But, our trade relations with Russia were pretty diversified. They covered agriculture, services, investments, not big amounts, but still, and many companies which work here. And, of course, the Azerbaijani community in Russia is very big. They also contribute to growth of turnover. So, so far we did not see any negative impact of sanctions on Russia, but we don’t know how it will transform in a timetable. What will be in six months or one year if sanctions remain. That is difficult to prognose.
Chief Executive Director, Musulmans en France and La Gazete, France, Jean Michel Brun: Thank you, Mr. President, for having welcomed us so warmly. I have first to apologize. I am French. I am so sorry. That is why, my question won’t be political, because I think that pen is often more efficient than weapons. So, France and Azerbaijan are two very high cultural countries. Shusha and Paris are great cultural capitals and five centuries before Diderot and Russo, the great poet and philosopher Nizami Ganjavi was a precursor of the philosophy of enlightenment. So, my question is: do you plan to develop strong cultural relations between France and Azerbaijan?
President Ilham Aliyev: Actually, we have strong cultural relations between two countries and the history of our cooperation actually demonstrates that in culture and in education. We really had very good progress and several important events. Many times, there have been cultural presentations and cultural days of Azerbaijan in different French cities. I can tell you that I don’t remember exactly, but I think it is more than 10 sister cities between French cities and Azerbaijani cities. It is not formal, but really there was a big public traffic. Also, looking at education and as part of culture, it was our initiative that led to the creation of a French lyceum in Baku in one of the most beautiful places of our city just overlooking the Caspian Sea. Then, subsequently, when we agreed with the then President Francois Holland to create a French-Azerbaijani university, we did it within one year and also, it is already working with very good results. So, we really had very diversified cultural relations and they are still there. They had not been subject of certain recent developments.
Talking about overall political relations, I would say that they are normal. They are back to normal, I would say. I would add that it was not us who did something wrong, unfortunately. But, we understand that there is an Armenian community and there are powerful groups. They influence not only decision making process, they influence the brains of people. Relations with France for us always were important, because it is one of the leading countries of the world. Also it was important in order to present our case, to demonstrate to French public opinion that Azerbaijan is not as Armenians present us. Though we know their connections in the leading media of France, publishing dirty articles about us. 95% of these articles have been written by Armenians or pro-Armenians. We understand it. It has never been part of a kind of a big deal. France as a Minsk Group co-chair always was acceptable for Azerbaijan. But, unfortunately, during the liberation war, there have been unnecessary steps, including the decisions of both Chambers of the French Parliament to recognize the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh. There is a saying that being more catholic than the Roman Pope. Even, Armenia didn’t recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. So, Senate and House of Representatives, they made this decision. Very, very, very sad. And I know very well the persons who were voting for that. That was absolutely counter-productive. From practical point of view, it meant nothing. From point of view of support to Armenia, it did not work. From point of view to stop us from liberating our territory did not work either. It only created an unnecessary atmosphere, which now both governments try to clean and I think successfully. I had a very good and long meeting with President Macron in December in Brussels and then we communicated on the phone. So, I think it is common understanding that we need to close that page and forget about it. And for you there is no need to apologize. French people are our friends and will remain our friends.
Professor, Kadir Has University, Greece, Dimitrios Triantaphyllou. Thank you Mr. President for taking your time to answer our questions. My name is Dimitrios Triantaphyllou. I am a Greek academic working in Istanbul, Kadir Has University for over a decade. In a way I am a bridge maker. It is very interesting. I am just thinking about what you have been saying today and what we talked about yesterday in Shusha, keeping a balance between memory and looking forward and the process is tough. There are many obstacles along the way. It takes time to bridge communities, countries and so on.
But, I would like to get back to one thing. My question is to do with Azerbaijan and the European Union. I know that Amanda asked the question also. But, given the Russian invasion of Ukraine, how do you see the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU evolve and how we could improve? I mean you already talked about something. There is upgrading with the PCA in process. We see Charles Michel’s activism when it comes to relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. You have talked about getting the equal amount of grants in terms of equity and loans that Armenia gets and so on. But, beyond that, because we talk about new realities and you keep talking about new realities. You are looking to a crystal ball and we don’t know how they will evolve, but the EU itself is evolving. It is trying to work on strategic autonomy. It is trying to work to have strategic compass. President Macron’s reelection helps the process move along now. So, what would you like to see the relations with the EU and Azerbaijan go?
President Ilham Aliyev: These relations are very important and I think our advantage is that we have a very clear and realistic agenda with respect to relations with the EU. I know that there are aspirations from other members of the Eastern Partnership Program to have a membership. But, we must understand that it is a long process, a very, very long process and in case with Azerbaijan probably it is not a possible scenario. Therefore, we need to base our relations on pragmatism, mutual benefits and mutual interests and not to have over-expectations. Otherwise, disappointment will be there if you put a target and cannot reach, then you start to blame someone for that. The last you blame is yourself, you blamed everybody, but not yourself. To avoid it, we need to put very realistic targets: what we want and what EU wants. More or less it is clear. EU wants stability on its neighborhood, on its borders, from us, of course, they get, but they want to get more energy resources, that was even before the Russian-Ukrainian war. That was a strategic part of our cooperation. They are very interested in our transportation infrastructure and how can it be connected with the broad European transportation network. That is why, for instance, when the former President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, was in Baku in 2019, he went to our trade sea port to see the facilities. When Charles Michel was the President of the European Council in Baku last year, he made a regional visit to Shamakhi and there he was presented with Baku trade sea port capability and opportunity. What it means. It means a big interest in our transportation. And, of course, EU wants security and stability and wanted resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh. They wanted a peaceful resolution, but it didn’t happen. But now they accept fully the new realities and that is why we have these meetings in Brussels now. Regular meetings. What we want? We want, first of all, to establish closer relations. We don’t want to put in front of ourselves, as I said, unrealistic targets, like membership and not to spoil these relations. We want to have access to modern technologies and we have them. Of course, we want to have broader access to European energy market and this is fully in line with European energy strategy. We want a single standard approach to the situation in the region, not only Armenia-Azerbaijan, but also Georgia-Armenia-Azerbaijan, to treat three countries of the Southern Caucasus from the same angle. With respect to Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization, of course, this balanced financial and adequate financial package for both will be crucial. If this balance is not observed, there will be a lot of disappointment. It is obvious. But, as I said, we are moving on this direction and to finalize the remaining part of our agreement with EU and to sign it. We, in 2018, we initialed the Partnership Priorities Document between EU and Azerbaijan, which had a very important paragraph about territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of international borders of Azerbaijan. That was for the first time. Always before, EU was very reluctant to put such a firm and straightforward wording. Always they were referring to peaceful talks, Minsk Group, etc. But, the Partnership Priorities Document was a very important signal and it encouraged us. I can tell you. And I attended the signing ceremony in Brussels and after that we really started seriously to believe that EU can be a fair broker. What happened after the war clearly demonstrates. Because, there was a kind of vacuum and Minsk Group was dysfunctional. That vacuum is now to a certain degree filled by the EU.
And also, I can tell you another factor. Close cooperation with EU, of course, will seriously contribute to modernization of Azerbaijan, including young generation, education potential. We were talking about Italian-Azerbaijani University. French-Azerbaijani University exists. And also, close ties with EU will strengthen the secular character of Azerbaijani society. This is, of course, an important part of our state policy. And also, this state policy is widely supported by Azerbaijan population. But, secularism is one of the fundamental basis of our statehood and close ties with EU, of course, will positively influence the future secular development of Azerbaijan.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Mr. President, Ambassador Pashayev started our conference about the Lachin conference initaitve. With your permission, our last question I want to give the floor to the owner of this initiative, to Doctor Iulian Chifu.
State Advisor to the Romanian Prime Minister, Romania, Iulian Chifu.: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Thank you. I have to congratulate you for the speed and quality of the reconstruction on the roads, airports in Fuzuli, what we have already seen and some other infrastructure. My original question went on the Zangazur corridor on the roads and railroads and you have already covered that at a large respect. The thing I would like to go is: sure, you have a strategy of development, not only of Nagorno-Karabakh, but integrated Azerbaijan. If it is possible to pieces of this strategy so that we could know about and where our involvement could be welcomed. At the same time, I was thinking coming back to Zangazur, you have in the trilateral agreement a role for Russian troops there. How do you see that involving if this integrated Turkey-Azerbaijan-Armenia interconnection can be made. Where do you see and how do you see that being integrated? I mean the presence of Russian troops. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: With respect to the presence of Russian peacekeepers, it is part of the trilateral declaration, which was signed at the night of 10 November and in that declaration there is a precise number of their military personnel and a precise number of military armored vehicles. So, everything is based on that. And also, there is a timetable for their peacekeeping operations – 5 years. If any side of that agreement decides that five years is enough, then six months prior to the end of duration, that is publicly announced. So, this is, I think, an important factor to understand the future configuration. Also, there is a Turkish-Russian monitoring center, as I said, which monitors the situation and basically, in the area, which is now under control of Russian peacekeepers, the situation for one year and a half is stable. There have been some tensions on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the past. Now, it is also stable. But, in the Karabakh area, if there have been some tensions, but that was very sporadic. In general, Russian peacekeepers provide very important transportation facilities for us, because we use that territory, which is under their control, to bring cargos to Kalbajar, because otherwise, the road through the Omar Mountains is very difficult. We are building a 12-kilometer tunnel, but it is not ready. Therefore, they provide also transportation through the Lachin corridor when we need. We also provide transportation of their cargos to their peacekeepers thorough Azerbaijani railroad. It goes from Moscow directly to Barda and then it is close to Kahnkandi. Otherwise, they have to fly by planes and then go many hours through the Lachin corridor. So, there is a good level of interaction between Russian peacekeepers and Azerbaijani military servicemen. I think that, and what we are doing now, for instance, with respect to corridors, is absolutely free from any kind of other involvement.
So, with respect to the transportation corridors, of course, we would like them to take place sooner than later and Armenia should finally decide how they want to see. I already talked about that. Just to add that we really are committed to have this trespassing through Zangazur and Armenia will be part of that. We even may think about some ideas about electric lines. By the way, in the Memorandum of Understanding, which we signed with Iran, we have it. We don’t have only highway and railroad, we also have electric cable, because that is also one of the routes to export electric energy. In general, on the integration or future development of Azerbaijan, in Azerbaijan we work with respect to regional development based on a five-year plan. This is called a regional development program. The first was adopted by me several months after I first became President in February 2004. And every five years, we review and put another five-year target. So, this program is published. It is public and mainly is based on the request from the regions. What people want to see. A lot has been done. Now, what we are doing, we are working on deep integration of Karabakh and Zangazur to other parts of Azerbaijan. That is why, these railroads, airports, highways, electric lines. It is almost done. The most important now, which still needs more time, is water distribution, because we have been deprived from our rivers for 30 years. Armenians were closing the Terter river when we needed water in spring and summer and creating drought on hundred thousand hectares and then in winter they opened and it was a flood. So, that was an ecological terror. By the way, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe several years ago adopted a special report, which was voted for, condemning Armenia for this ecological terror. But, a lot of water resources are there in Karabakh, which we will divert also to other parts of Azerbaijan and that will allow us not only to irrigate Karabakh as a whole, which, of course, will be done, but also to bring that water to other parts of Azerbaijan, where water supply is problematic. And that will be very rapid and very efficient integration. Also, what is in our mind now, we have a new system of management there. I have a special representative for Karabakh. I have a special representative for Shusha. You met them. Also, there will be special representatives in other parts. Why they are not appointed yet, because in other parts we don’t have yet very active settlement process. But, that also will be done and we are in a way testing this new model of management, because the existing system of regional administrations was created after the collapse of the Soviet Union and I think it was not very thoroughly thought through. Therefore, there are a lot of questions and, as you probably know, many, I think, maybe more than 10 of regional leaders of the regions have been arrested for bribery, for mismanagement and for other wrongdoings. And publicly, it was filmed, the procedure of these bribes. So, it is unfortunately an area, which is contaminated by corruption. So, the new system, which we are testing in Karabakh, will be different and I think that there will be opportunities then after this final test is over to transform it to the rest part of Azerbaijan, thus improving the governmental management in the regions. Because, decisions which we adopt in Baku are all aimed at improvement of living standards, infrastructure and economic development. But sometimes, because they are not implemented in the regions, some people do not see it.
So, in other words, and also with this green agenda, the green energy zone of Karabakh, I already announced it and that means that it will be done, because I never say something which I am not sure that it will be done. So, but, at the same time, this green agenda will extrapolate to all the rest of the country. Smart city – we never had it. So, the first will be in Aghdam and smart village in Zangilan region. We will then transfer it into other parts of Azerbaijan. So, we have a lot of plans really. It is a lot of things to do. We work 24 hours a day, everybody is enthusiastic – the government, the people, former refuges. We will return first refugees very soon. I don’t want to say when, but very soon, to Zangilan and other plans are in the pipeline. We have everything to do what we plan – commitment, will, resources, mobilization, unity of our society and stability. So, we want to share it with the neighborhood. As we discussed, and the biggest part of our discussions was devoted to Armenia-Azerbaijan future cooperation, I think they need to analyze thoroughly what we are doing to properly understand what is our agenda and not to miss this chance, because this will be the last. So, they need to jump into the train.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Mr. President, with this intervention, our list of questions comes to an end and on behalf of our group I am honored and privileged to express our utmost appreciation and thanks to you. You almost spent three hours with us.
President Ilham Aliyev: Time passed very quickly.
Hikmat Hajiyev: And you answered 20 wide variety questions.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Thanks for being with us and I wish you all the best. As we discussed, we will think about some intermediate events before annual Shusha forum.
Dr. Khalid Taimur Akram: Mr. President, before we break off, I would like to say something that all of us are here from 23 countries and from our behalf, we would like to pay compliments to the people who are involved in the reconstruction of Karabakh. They are the heroes and I think we must over here give a big round of applause for them.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Thank you very much.