BAKU, Azerbaijan, October 6. As previously reported, on 6 October President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by the Russian "Perviy Kanal" television.
Trend presents the interview.
My name is Yevgeniy, I am a correspondent of "Perviy Kanal". Thank you very much!
President Ilham Aliyev: Very nice to meet you. Thank you!
-Ilham Heydar oglu, you have repeatedly stated that the goal of the current offensive operation is the return of Karabakh. "Karabakh is our land and we will return there" – these are your words. Quite an unequivocal position. But the position of the opposite side is no less unambiguous – "We will not give up an inch of land". This, as it turns out, is a road to nowhere. In your opinion, what should happen for Azerbaijan and Armenia to sit down at the negotiating table?
-First of all, four resolutions of the UN Security Council, which were adopted in 1993, at a time when the Armenian occupying forces were seizing the territories of Azerbaijan, must be implemented. These resolutions send a very clear signal to the aggressor. They state that an immediate, unconditional and full return of the occupied territories must be ensured. Twenty-seven years have passed since then. The Armenian side does not comply with these resolutions, ignores them and tries in every possible way to freeze the conflict as much and as far as possible. All calls from the international community, including the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries, that the status quo is unacceptable and must be changed, remain in the air. Therefore, our position is based on the norms and principles of international law and on historical justice. Meanwhile, the Armenian position is based on historical lies and violation of the norms and principles of international law. As soon as the resolutions of the UN Security Council are implemented by Armenia, as soon as Armenia agrees to the withdrawal of its troops from the occupied territories, I am sure that both sides can come to an agreement that will establish peace in the Caucasus in a short time.
-Fighting has been going on for more than a week now and, judging by the video footage circulated by both sides, it is clear that the fighting is quite intense and involves heavy losses. Can you cite these figures from the Azerbaijani side?
-On our side, as a result of shelling from Armenia and from Nagorno-Karabakh, 27 civilians have been killed and more than 170 civilians have received wounds of varying degree of severity. More than 800 houses have been destroyed. The current escalation of the confrontation began on 27 September, when shelling of Azerbaijani settlements, as well as our combat positions, began from the occupied territories, as a result of which civilians and servicemen were killed in the very first minutes of this attack. We were forced to take adequate action and quickly launched a counteroffensive. As a result of this counteroffensive, we suppressed a large number of firing points and combat positions of the opposing side and liberated a part of the occupied territories in the northern and southern directions. Therefore, many settlements of Azerbaijan, citizens living there, can already live normally there because they are beyond the reach of Armenian artillery. In recent days, however, the shelling of the territory of Azerbaijan is carried out by long-range artillery from the territory of Armenia, using such deadly systems as "Point U" and "Elbrus", which represents a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention, a crime, a war crime. The shelling of the town of Tartar, which is located in the immediate vicinity of the conflict zone, continues this morning too. The population of Ganja, the second largest city of Azerbaijan, was also shelled. One missile hit the territory of our largest power plant in Mingachevir. More than 10 of our cities and hundreds of villages are subjected to massive artillery bombardment. This is an old tactic of the Armenian side. Every time they suffer defeats on the battlefield, they resort to such ignoble actions, trying to harm the civilian population and thus attempting to stop the counteroffensive of the Azerbaijani army. But they are not succeeding and will not succeed.
-Is it possible to talk about military losses?
-Military losses. To date, the information related to this is confidential. The Azerbaijani public will be informed about this after the end of the active phase of hostilities.
-You are calling on Turkey to participate in the settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. What exactly, in your opinion, should this participation consist in? Should there be a military or political effort?
-I said this yesterday, proceeding from the fact that Armenia's aggressive actions continue, proceeding from the fact that Armenia is trying in every possible way to involve as many countries as possible in this conflict. I spoke in an interview about the inadmissibility of such a policy. The conflict should not go beyond the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In fact, the conflict does not even enter the territory of Armenia. Despite the shelling from the Armenian territory, we do not strike any strikes on the territory of Armenia, we do not go into the territory of Armenia although there are all the possibilities to do that. The Armenian side is trying to drag the CSTO into this confrontation, but to no avail. It is trying to involve European countries. In essence, it is trying to internationalize this conflict, and we, accordingly, present our position on the inadmissibility of such an approach. Regarding my statement about Turkey's involvement. I meant, of course, only a political settlement, a post-conflict settlement. At the moment, Turkey is not in any way involved in the conflict, despite all rumors and insinuations in this regard. This is not supported by any facts – for example about the Turkish F-16 fighter shooting down an Armenian SU-25. This news circulated both in Russian and European media. There is no evidence. It turned out that the Armenian pilot, apparently due to a lack of professional training, crashed into the mountain. Such fake news are often thrown into circulation. I don't know for what purpose. I can only guess. But they have no foundation whatsoever. So, when the phase of the military confrontation ends, we will, of course, return to the negotiating table. By the way, from the very beginning of the hostilities, Azerbaijan said that we are not leaving the process of negotiations, we are counting on a political settlement, but there must be a settlement. We cannot sit and wait for another 30 years for pressure to be put on Armenia. Of course, Turkey, as a great country, as our neighbor and neighbor in the South Caucasus, has every right to take part in the mediation mission that will be carried out after the end of hostilities. Given that the current mediation mission has not led to any results for 28 years but led to inaction, to what we are seeing now, we must, of course, proceed from a pragmatic approach – who can really have a positive impact on events in the region, reduce escalation, establish a lasting peace and develop cooperation. Of course, first of all, I think, these are Turkey and Russia.
-You mentioned European countries. You responded quite harshly to the President of France and called on him to apologize for the words about the mercenaries who are fighting on the side of the Azerbaijani army. Can you confirm once again today that the mercenaries do not participate in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh on the side of Azerbaijan?
-I have been talking about this all these days. I am surprised with such media speculation, and in my telephone conversations with the President of France I defended our position with sufficient reasoning. First, I asked for evidence, and if there is no evidence, then he should apologize to the Azerbaijani people. Secondly, I said we do not need mercenaries. Today Azerbaijan has a powerful army. According to all international ratings, it is among top 50 most powerful armies in the world. We have 100,000 fighters under arms, not counting the reservists and not counting other paramilitary formations ready for battle. Today the Azerbaijani army is liberating our territories. Videos from the scene of hostilities show our artillery and drones in action, they should, Azerbaijani soldiers and officers planting flags in the lands already liberated from occupation. Therefore, these accusations are unfounded, we resolutely reject them and cannot allow such rumors and unverified data to somehow manipulate public opinion. Let them provide evidence. We are in the tenth day of hostilities, but no evidence has been presented to us.
-If we assume that the hostilities are over and Azerbaijan has achieved its goals, what is the future for Karabakh given the number of Armenians living there? What will happen to them?
-I have also repeatedly spoken on this topic before and during the escalation. As recently as yesterday, in an interview with a Turkish TV channel, I said that we consider the Armenians living in the territory of Karabakh our citizens. And we believe that after the settlement of the conflict, after the end of the occupation, the Armenian and Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh should live together, as has been the case for many years. When the conflict began in the late 1980s, 75 percent of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh was Armenian and 25 percent Azerbaijani. The city of Shusha, where they held the so-called "inauguration" of the leader of the criminal regime and insulted the Azerbaijani people, consisted of the Azerbaijani population by 98 percent. The city of Shusha was founded by the Azerbaijani Panahali Khan. This is an ancient Azerbaijani city from which all Azerbaijanis were expelled. So after the end of the conflict, after a peaceful settlement, which, by the way, is reflected in the fundamental principles, the so-called Madrid principles, the Azerbaijani population should return to the occupied territories. It is explicitly stated that all displaced persons have the right to return to their places of residence. Thus, after a peace agreement is reached, and I hope that this will happen, the Azerbaijanis will return to Nagorno-Karabakh and will live where they used to live. My position has always been that we must return to the atmosphere that existed before the start of the conflict in the late 1980s. I think it is possible. It will not be easy after what the Armenian executioners did in Khojaly, having exterminated the civilian population, destroyed our historical and religious sites and erased the historical heritage of Azerbaijanis from these territories. It will not be easy. But I believe that we should strive for this. And my appeal to the people of Armenia and to those who live in Nagorno-Karabakh now was repeatedly expressed during the hostilities. I called on the Armenian people to reason their government. I called on Armenian mothers not to send their children to the occupied territories. It is probably no secret for anyone that the so-called army of Nagorno-Karabakh does not exist. What is called the army of Nagorno-Karabakh consists by 90 percent of the citizens of Armenia. I made these calls. I have not heard such calls from the Armenian side these days – apart from hatred, apart from aggression, apart from threats and apart from completely inappropriate actions. Our position is that we are in favor of a peaceful settlement of the conflict. I am confident that if there is political will on the part of Armenia, we will be able to achieve this.
Ilham Heydar oglu, sooner or later, all wars end in peace. How do you imagine this moment?
-You know, it is difficult to talk about this because our people have experienced so much grief, so much suffering has been inflicted on them by Armenian occupiers that it is very difficult to imagine this moment now as a holistic picture. We have not had peace for over 30 years. What we had over the past more than two decades has been a truce. But everyone understood that it was unstable, it was not durable. Therefore, the co-chairs of the Minsk Group represented by the presidents of Russia, the United States and France made statements several years ago, there was more than one statement of this kind, that the status quo is unacceptable and that it must be changed. They perfectly understood and understand that this truce is very fragile and unstable. Today's escalation confirms this once again. Therefore, if we talk about peace, first of all, I see it as a political settlement that would be comprehensive, that would be long-term, that would be eternal with serious guarantees from leading countries of the world, countries that would be acceptable to both Azerbaijan and Armenia. I do not exclude that the composition of these countries may be different from the composition of the Minsk Group and its co-chairs today. Because the Minsk Group was set up in 1992, in completely different geopolitical realities, just after the collapse of the USSR and, to be honest, I don't quite understand the basis on which this group was established. Because there must be some principle on which this or that association or temporary format is created. Therefore, I think that, returning to what we talked about earlier, the active participation of regional powers, guarantees of international organizations and, of course, the return of Azerbaijanis to the lands that rightfully belong to them.
-A clarifying question. What configuration can that be, in your opinion?
-It is probably premature to talk about it. I think I am slightly jumping the gun already. I just want our neighbors and partners to know my position. I think that regional cooperation has already proved its worth in many areas. If we pay attention to recent years, we can see that Azerbaijan, together with its neighbors, has worked very hard to create a strong regional cooperation format – political, economic, transport, energy and any other. Suffice it to look at the achievements we have made after many years by signing the Convention on the Settlement of the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. Almost from the very beginning of their independence, some of the five Caspian littoral countries could not agree but then, showing good will, we came to agreement and saw the advantages. Today, cooperation between such a great power as Russia and such a great power as Turkey, a NATO member, is much more sincere, durable and effective than cooperation of NATO member Turkey with, say, another NATO country that constantly accuses Turkey of something. These are new geopolitical realities. This was not the case in 1992. The world has changed. It is changing right before our eyes. And we must proceed from this, not from any dogmas, not from any assumptions or established opinions that this or that country has a potential for a solution. Today, when the conflict has entered an active phase and when the Armenian prime minister, as I can see, is annoying world leaders with his phone calls, it is clear who has the potential for settlement. These are the countries that have the potential for a settlement, the countries Azerbaijan respects for dignity, justice and sincerity. They should be the guarantors of long-term peace.
-Thank you very much for the detailed answers and for the interview.