BAKU, Azerbaijan, Oct. 5
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by TRT Haber (News) TV channel.
Trend presents the interview.
- Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev, welcome to TRT Haber. Thank you for your time. How much of the occupied land has been taken back so far? What is the current stage of the fighting and is it going according to plan?
- Yes, everything is going according to plan. So far, all the tasks we had set for ourselves have been fulfilled. The Azerbaijani Army is advancing successfully. Many settlements, one city and several villages were liberated from occupation. Currently, fierce battles are taking place in various directions.
As you know, the city of Jabrayil and several villages of Jabrayil district were liberated yesterday. I hope that the Azerbaijani Army will continue to successfully fulfill its mission and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan will be restored. This is our main goal. This goal will secure historical justice. At the same time, it should also be viewed as respect for international law because Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories are the historical lands of Azerbaijan. From the point of view of international law, these lands belong to the Azerbaijani state.
- In response to the ceasefire calls, you said that you did not call any country's leader, but simply assessed the situation with those who wanted to talk. You stressed that the prime minister of Armenia Pashinyan, as usual, called and begged many heads of state. Based on your past experience, do you think that other countries' ceasefire calls will work this time?
- The ceasefire must be provided under certain conditions. The calls we have received so far are simply intended to ensure a ceasefire, stop the war and then continue discussions. It is not being elaborated to us what kind of discussions there may be and on what basis they may be continued. We have been involved in these discussions for almost 30 years, and we have been doing that with certain hopes. If we hadn’t had hopes, of course, we would not have participated in these discussions. Discussions have always been based on existing principles. Among these principles is the issue of restoring the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Issues of a gradual liberation of the occupied territories, their return to us and the maintaining of peace were the subjects of discussion. But Armenia has launched a new attack on us, violating the principles we have learned from the very beginning. Of course, we launched a counter-offensive and are liberating our lands with the help of Azerbaijani soldiers. Therefore, the issue of restoring the ceasefire alone cannot be discussed. We have demands. I have already officially stated this. We must have very serious guarantees. International mediators must confirm these guarantees to us. At the same time, we must be given a schedule for Armenia's withdrawal from the occupied territories, the dates on which it will leave each district. Of course, then the war will stop. We want this issue to be resolved peacefully, but it must be resolved. Some mediators want a ceasefire. The ceasefire has been in force since 1994. Why has this issue not been resolved over the years? Why were the resolutions of the United Nations not implemented? Why weren’t any sanctions imposed on the aggressor state? All these questions remain valid. There are no answers to these questions. Today, as the glorious Army of Azerbaijan conducts its successful operations and liberates our ancestral lands, these calls are being made: do not move forward, take a break. War has its own rules, its own laws. Every day has its own significance. If we take a break, the other side will gather strength and deploy additional forces. Their speeches already show that they are also involving Armenians living outside Armenia in this war. Thus, they want to take this war out of the regional arena and turn it into a global war. Therefore, our position on the ceasefire is quite explicit. We are ready for that but there are certain conditions that I have also announced.
- You have. You have mentioned guarantees. What kind of guarantee do you mean?
- First guarantee – the prime minister of Armenia said on our lands a year ago that "Karabakh is Armenia". He should apologize to the people of Azerbaijan. Secondly, he must say that Karabakh is not Armenia. Third, he must respect the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Fourth, he must declare the dates on which Armenian armed forces will leave each district. These conditions must be approved by the Minsk Group co-chairs. In that case, of course, the ceasefire will be restored, this issue will be resolved through discussion and the Azerbaijani people will return to their native lands. But we need to know when this will happen because we have been waiting for 30 years. The promises given to us and the words spoken for 30 years have not been implemented. The Azerbaijani people can no longer stand this. The Azerbaijani state cannot stand this any longer. We need to be told specific dates of when they will vacate each district.
- A lot has been said in the 30 years, as you have said. How will you trust the word that will be given now?
- This is exactly why I say that in addition to words, we must be given specific dates. If on that date – I do not know whether or not it will be given – the Armenian armed forces do not withdraw from the known regions, then we will not observe the ceasefire.
- Can this confrontation lead to a bigger war, a big regional crisis? Are you worried?
- Armenia already wants that. Their ugly deeds are calculated for this. We believe that this should not be allowed. This is a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. We did not start this war. We are not the cause of this war. We are simply defending ourselves and want our lands back. We do not set our sights on Armenian lands. As a result of the clashes started by Armenians on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in July, the Azerbaijani Army did not cross into Armenian territory, although we could have done that. We struck them hard and they retreated. There were no obstacles in front of us. We didn't do that because, as I said, we do not have any military targets on the territory of the Republic of Armenia. Today, Armenia is attacking Azerbaijan from the territory of Armenia. Yesterday, Ganja was hit from the territory of Armenia, Mingachevir was hit. We have a big station there. One of the shells hit the station. True, their shells are such that some of them did not explode. Some were destroyed by our air defense systems in the air. They are provoking us to attack Armenia and strike at Armenia. Then they will start telling the whole world that Azerbaijan is attacking us, save Armenia, that is, come to Armenia’s rescue.
- If these attacks continue from within the borders of Armenia, will you defend your current position again or...?
- It is too early in the day to say that. We will look at the course of the conflict. In any case, the source of every blow to us is a legitimate target for us. We will have to hit these targets. Today, the Azerbaijani Army hits only military targets. This is already clear to everyone in the videos. Everyone can see that. We are fighting only against the occupying army of Armenia. We have never fought against the civilian population. We do not and will not do that.
-I saw in Gashalti Garagoyunlu that five Azerbaijani citizens, including two children, were killed. The ultimate goal of the campaign that started with the Azerbaijani Army’s response to the Armenian attacks of 27 September is already obvious: resolute liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian occupation. You said from day one that from now on the fighting will be stopped only after an unconditional withdrawal of Armenia from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. You stick to the same position, right?
- Yes, there is no change in my position. We must resolve this issue on the basis of historical justice. Historical justice says that Karabakh is the land of ancient Azerbaijan, and all historical documents, all our historical sites confirm it. At the same time, we have always been very positive at the negotiating table and the proposals on the table make it possible to resolve this issue. They state that there should be a step-by-step solution. At the first stage, Armenians must leave five districts, at the next stage they must leave two more districts, then Azerbaijanis expelled from Nagorno-Karabakh must return to Nagorno-Karabakh, including Shusha, life is restored between two communities, the Armenian-Azerbaijani border is opened, trade begins, then people come into contact with each other and thus peace comes to the region. So this is our position, and this is the attitude of international mediators and co-chairs. Armenia does not accept this. In addition, the Armenian defense minister said a few months ago that we must start a new war for new territories.
- There are three co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – the United States, Russia and France. They are calling for a ceasefire. Has your answer changed? If your condition is not met, is there a possibility of a ceasefire before the Armenians withdraw from the occupied territories?
- There is no change in our position. I said this to you again today. We are even ready to start working on a ceasefire if we are given the dates for the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from our lands. But we must also remember that restoring the ceasefire is not an easy task because a ceasefire is not restored unilaterally. There are very serious battles at the moment. Both sides should tell their soldiers and officers on the ground. One side may follow it, but the other may not. So it is a very difficult process. But if we are given the dates for the withdrawal, of course, we will give this instruction. Then, if the co-chairs of the Minsk Group and other countries, if possible, join it, the ceasefire can be restored and thus the fighting can be stopped.
- What do you mean by possible countries?
- Turkey. Turkey is a strong state, a country with great potential in the world, it is our neighbor, the neighbor of Armenia, the neighbor of the South Caucasus. Therefore, of course, Turkey must be active in this process, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our Turkish brothers on my own behalf, on behalf of the Azerbaijani people, especially my dear brother, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey's support from the first hours is of special importance. It is not just support for their brothers. This is why we, all the people of Azerbaijan, express deep gratitude for this. At the same time, Turkey's determination is very important so that these battles do not escalate. Turkey has said that we stand by Azerbaijan, we are with Azerbaijan until the end. Azerbaijan is on the path of truth, justice is on the side of Azerbaijan, and this was a warning to many other actors. Therefore, Turkey must be involved in the subsequent peace process. Of course, the peace process will begin, war cannot last forever, and the sooner the better. This is our opinion, and a lasting peace can be established in the region.
- Mr. President, when you say the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, you are leaving out France.
- France is leaving itself out, not me. During the entire process, we treated the co-chairs equally, and I have repeatedly said in my speeches that Azerbaijan has different relations with each country. Of course, the level of these relations is different. At the same time, we do not separate these countries on this issue, and I must say that these countries were united throughout the whole process until recently. They were neutral, that is, they did not take sides. However, we knew that there was probably some bias in their hearts. This is natural. But they never showed it in official steps and in contacts with us.
- You urged French President Macron to apologize.
- Yes, of course, because he accused us. He threw things at us that were not true. This is unacceptable for our country.
- What were the accusations?
- He said that Azerbaijan, together with Turkey, brought terrorists to the region. His said this in a statement. He also said that "Azerbaijan wants to conquer Nagorno-Karabakh and we will not allow that". Nagorno-Karabakh is our land. Can a state conquer its own lands? In other words, doesn’t the co-chair country know that the Armenians have illegally settled in these lands and destroyed all our historical sites, mosques, graves and razed our houses to the ground? Look at the images of Aghdam and Fuzuli. They keep pigs and cows in our half-destroyed mosques. This is an insult to all Muslims. Don't they see it? Therefore, the words "Azerbaijan wants to conquer Nagorno-Karabakh and we will not allow that" are unacceptable. This is why France is already excluding itself from this equal trio, and we cannot remain silent about it.
- The United Nations Security Council has historic decisions on this issue.
- Of course, they voted for them themselves. They voted in 1993, so they should respect their own vote.
- With your permission, I have a few more questions. On the roads leading to the front line, in the cities and villages we visited and in the capital Baku last night, we saw the Turkish flag flying right next to the Azerbaijani. On buildings, offices, cars – everywhere. There is a similar picture in Turkey, as you may have seen in the news. After the victory in Jabrayil, there were demonstrations in support of brotherly Azerbaijan in the streets of Turkey.
- That's right. We are proud. And this is natural. Our brotherhood is eternal, and our brotherhood has stood the test of time. You know that the relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan are an example for the whole world. I have repeatedly spoken about this. I have repeatedly said at joint press conferences with my dear brother, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that there are no other countries in the world as close to each other as Turkey and Azerbaijan, and these are not just words. These are heartfelt sentiments. Our unity is based on our history, our common ethnic roots, language, religion and brotherhood. The historic service of my dear brother Tayyib Bey and myself is that we have created a modern Turkish-Azerbaijani union on a very strong foundation. Turkish flags are already everywhere in Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijani flags are everywhere in Turkey. We are not separate from each other, we are together. These events have once again shown that Turkey was the first to support us unequivocally and decisively. The very bold and resolute statements of the President of Turkey were a warning to many countries – stay away, do not interfere, Azerbaijan is not alone, it is with Turkey, and Azerbaijan is always with Turkey! We support each other in all matters, on all platforms, and our unity must last forever.
- In the meantime, I would like to mention Pakistan. I see their flags everywhere too. Where do you think Russia stands? Because Russia has a special significance.
- I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all other friendly and brotherly countries. After Turkey, the second country that supported us was Pakistan, then Afghanistan, and then several other countries. I thank each of them, the presidents of those countries. In this difficult period, of course, their solidarity and support is very important for us and gives us moral strength.
Russia is our neighbor. Our relations with Russia are developing successfully. Today, the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan are at a very high level in many areas. Both countries view this relationship as a strategic partnership, which is confirmed by the joint agreements. Russia acts as a very responsible and large country. Positive messages are coming from Russia, and support for any party is not a topic of discussion. However, Armenia had high hopes for that. Armenia's goal in taking the conflict out of the region is to engage Russia. Why is Armenia currently attacking Azerbaijan from the territory of Armenia? Exactly to make us strike back, so that they could appeal to the general secretariat of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which they are a member together with Russia and other countries, and say that Azerbaijan is attacking us, come and help us. Why did they commit this provocation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in July? Tovuz is located far from the Karabakh region. What goals did they have there – one goal was to make us launch an attack, cross the state border – as I said, we had such an opportunity – and then to ask the organization to come and fight with us against Azerbaijan. In other words, they want to involve Russia in this. This is yet another provocation, and I am sure it will not succeed.
- When attacking Tovuz in July, could Armenia pursue any other goals? For example, to undermine energy security? The TANAP and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipelines are coming to mind.
- Yes, of course, this could have happened as well. There were several goals, because they had been saying before that that if there were battles around Nagorno-Karabakh, they were ready to strike at our strategic infrastructure projects – the Sangachal oil and gas terminal and pipelines. Therefore, another goal of the attack on Tovuz District was to see how far they could go. Their main goal there was to cross the state border, occupy Azerbaijani lands, approach the TANAP pipeline or take control of it. But when this did not work, they retreated and asked for help from all mediators. I said that we had no targets in Armenian territory. Therefore, after four days, the attack stopped.
There may have been another reason. I have already spoken about this. Currently, Armenia is undergoing a deep crisis – both political and economic. As a result of the crisis, political ties within Armenia have been disrupted. Pashinyan's authorities are imprisoning the main opposition leaders today. For example, they have deprived the chairman of the main opposition party of parliamentary immunity and arrested him. Criminal proceedings have been instituted against the two previous presidents. There is no freedom of speech or freedom of assembly. They have taken down the Constitutional Court by force and brought their own people. Therefore, there are mounting concerns in Armenia. Pashinyan has orchestrated this attack in order to distract public opinion, involve Russia, destroy our strategic infrastructure, stabilize the situation in the country and occupy a part of Azerbaijani lands in order to then strengthen their position in the talks.
- Mr. President, let me ask you two more questions. In the regions where such conflicts, clashes and crises occur, there is always a smear campaign. What did you observe in this regard after Armenia launched its attacks? I would like to know your assessment.
- You know, the smear campaign against Azerbaijan does not stop for a minute or a second. There are several reasons for this. First, the Armenian lobby constantly acts against us. Attempts to slander Azerbaijan, tarnish us and sully our image never stop. There are Armenian lobbies in many countries of the world. This is no secret for anyone. They systematically and regularly attack us. They make up utter lies and slander. During this conflict, the Armenian lobby naturally mobilized all its forces and made efforts for a new smear campaign against us. But we are not worried about this. I told them to provide evidence, proof and facts. I also told the President of France – he called me twice – to provide facts. Eight days have passed since 27 September.
- What is Macron saying?
- Nothing, he says that they allegedly have intelligence. I asked him to share it with us. Where is this intelligence? It is not there and cannot be.
- What does your intelligence say in connection with Armenia?
- About what?
- Your intelligence materials dwell on external forces in Armenia – Lebanon, Syria...
- We do have such data, and they are justified. We are now verifying them. As a very responsible state, we do not mention that in our official statements. Of course, such information is available in the media, to politicians and political scientists. But we have to confirm this. From the very beginning, we had intelligence that terrorists had been brought to Nagorno-Karabakh. They are being stationed and trained here.
- What terrorist groups?
- Terrorist groups such as PKK. There was a lot of information about this. A few years ago, we raised this issue on international platforms. They are being trained and it is not ruled out that this is still the case. I will simply talk about it after I have 100-percent facts in my hands. Today the probability is very high. But unlike Armenia and some other countries, we do not provide information that has not been confirmed by 100 percent.
I can give you one more example. We were accused of the fact that Turkish fighter F-16 shot down Armenian Su-25. I said: provide evidence. We have information that these are fabrications of the smear campaign. Today they have got convinced that this is not true. But has anyone apologized to us? No! They began to slander us, tried to tarnish us, but then they saw that it was a lie. But you have to apologize.
- If I am not mistaken, the transfer of armed unmanned aerial vehicles to the Azerbaijani army has largely influenced the course of these events.
- Right. This has had a huge impact. Mashallah, these armed aircraft are of the highest level in the world, and the fact that they are deployed by the Azerbaijani Army has greatly strengthened our power. These vehicles have created ample opportunities for us and, at the same time, enabled us to avoid major human losses. Because if we had not had these capabilities, it would have been much more difficult to destroy the fortifications Armenia had built in Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied lands in 30 years, their tanks, cannons and multiple launch rocket systems. More people could have died. So this perfect and technologically intelligent product testifies to the potential of the Turkish people. We are a country with an ally such as Turkey. We are a very happy country because we have such an ally and brother as Turkey. Of course, the moral support provided to us by Turkey, as well as the products of the Turkish defense industry that we have, strengthen us, and the whole world can see that. The Turkish army is the second strongest army in NATO today. No-one can resist the Turkish army. Everyone can see and understand this. We are also building a small model of the Turkish army. Inshallah, we will build it together. No-one in the region can resist us either. Our cause and that of Turkey is a just cause. We are protecting ourselves and our citizens, we want to preserve our territorial integrity. We do not claim the lands of other countries. But what belongs to us must remain with us. For 30 years now, Armenians have been exploiting our ancient land, not allowing our people to return to these lands. International mediators remain indifferent and pay no heed. This being the case, Azerbaijan will do it itself.
- I have shared information about the injury of your Armenian citizen during the attack on Ganja. We had the opportunity to conduct round-the-clock observations at the frontline and the commanders reported that you were calling them.
- Yes, of course, this once again proves that Armenia is a terrorist country. Their actions are fundamentally contrary to the Geneva Convention. The shelling of civilians and cities is unacceptable. The city of Ganja is not a war zone. There are no guns or tanks in Ganja. Why are you firing at it? Out of hatred! Hatred of Azerbaijan and Turkey is in their blood. Unfortunately, the young generation of Armenia is also being raised in spirit of such hatred. But this cannot make us deviate from our path. You know, the city of Tartar is practically destroyed. Our citizens in Tartar stand bravely and courageously. They are saying that we will rather die than leave our lands. How many shells have fallen on the city? There was a day when 2,000 shells fell on Tartar alone. And this is a small town.
As for my calls to the commanders, they are restoring historical justice. They are risking their lives. They are heroes, they save, liberate and return our lands. The liberation of Madagiz from the occupation is of great strategic importance. The settlement is not very large, but its strategic importance is tremendous. It is very difficult to capture it. Any serviceman can confirm this. It is incredibly difficult. But they captured it, the flag of Azerbaijan was raised in Madagiz and on the same day its historical name was returned to the village – Sugovushan. This is our historical name.
The capture of the city of Jabrayil requires great heroism, because, let me say again, for the past 30 years, during the ceasefire, several rows of fortifications were built there, and quite formidable ones. In addition, the local terrain is a natural fortification in itself. Nagorno-Karabakh is located in the mountains. In other words, we are moving from bottom to top. Everyone understands how difficult it is. Therefore, Azerbaijani soldiers, Azerbaijani officers and generals are showing true heroism, courage, perseverance, and ensuring our territorial integrity at the cost of their lives. Inshallah, we will go forward to the end.
- After Karabakh and the occupied lands are returned to Azerbaijan, what will you say to the Armenians living there?
- I have already said my word. A few days ago, I visited our wounded soldiers, met with them in a military hospital. I expressed my gratitude to them and, during the meeting, I addressed the Armenian people. I understood that it is not so easy to say this in front of them because they were wounded by the Armenians. But I said that we have nothing against the Armenian people. The Armenian people must hold their government accountable. These battles were the result of the nefarious and dirty policies of their government. Our position remains unchanged. After the liberation of our lands and the end of the occupation, the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijanis who will return there will live together. As two communities on the territory of one country. Today there are thousands of Armenians living in Azerbaijan. You also noted that the citizen who was wounded as a result of the Armenian attack on Ganja is an Armenian by nationality. Armenians live here. Nobody touches them. They are our citizens. We have no problems with the Armenian people. They are a hostage of their government. Unfortunately, when Pashinyan came to power, he promised a lot. We also hoped that the old criminal regime was consigned to history. But instead, a new regime came and plunged its people into further suffering. This regime is killing our civilians and soldiers today. I am absolutely sure that the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples will make up. Today, Armenians and Azerbaijanis live together in many countries. In Georgia, there are about 300,000 Azerbaijanis and 200,000 Armenians. Sometimes they live in the same village. There are no problems between them. In Turkey, Russia – there are about 700,000 Azerbaijanis with Russian citizenship, and they live together. There are no problems. Why shouldn’t they live here? We used to live together. I remember my late father and I visiting Nagorno-Karabakh, Shusha in 1982. The mausoleum of our great poet Vagif was opening. At the opening ceremony of the mausoleum, Armenian and Azerbaijani poets recited poems in Azerbaijani and Armenian languages. It was a celebration of friendship. I witnessed that picture. Armenians used to live in Baku. We didn't have any problems. We want to live together again. To live again as good neighbors with Armenia. The Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh are our citizens. We recognize them as such. I hope that after the end of this aggressive policy, our peoples will make up.
- Did your late father bequeath you anything in connection with Nagorno-Karabakh? If yes, what?
- My father's path is the guiding light for me. It is my duty as his son and as President to continue his policy. When I was elected president for the first time, at the inauguration ceremony, I said that I would follow the path of Heydar Aliyev, I would not deviate from this path, which is the only one for Azerbaijan. I am committed to this path in all areas, in the field of foreign policy, in the economic and social spheres, including the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Because he was also pressured. In his time, they also exerted pressure on him, demanded that independence be granted to Nagorno-Karabakh. They said that Nagorno-Karabakh had seceded from you, broke away from you. He endured and withstood this pressure. He did not sign a single document that would contradict the interests of the Azerbaijani people. Because he was the Leader of our people. There was never any hesitation in my position on the Karabakh issue either. Today I am saying what I said 17 years ago: Nagorno-Karabakh is our land, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be ensured! I will never allow a second Armenian state to be created on historically Azerbaijani lands. We are using every opportunity to restore our territorial integrity. We are getting close to that.
- On behalf of one nation in two states, I express my deep gratitude to the President of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Aliyev. You received us in such a situation, during the war. We thank you as the Commander-in-Chief.
- I also thank you and I am glad that at the end of our conversation you recalled the famous saying of my father - these are the words of Heydar Aliyev, and one nation in two states is the guiding light for Turkey and Azerbaijan today. Turkey and Azerbaijan are one nation in two states.
- Thank you very much.
- Thank you.