President Ilham Aliyev interviewed by France 24 TV channel
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by France 24 TV channel.
-Hello and welcome to the France 24 interview. Today brought you from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. I am in the presence of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. President Aliyev, thank you very much for accepting to answer our questions. Of course, I will be asking you about the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Since the ceasefire which was supposed to be a humanitarian truce was signed, there has been continuing violence, continuing acts of war. I’m asking you today, is that ceasefire officially now dead, over and null and void.
-It depends on the behavior of Armenia. Because we are always committed to our responsibility and the decision to announce the ceasefire on humanitarian grounds as you know came from Russia and we supported it. Because I think it was a right decision in order to exchange the bodies of the dead soldiers and also hostages. Also to continue the activity on the negotiation table. Because the declaration which was announced in Moscow actually provided that negotiations will be based on the basic principles. That was always our position. Armenian side always tried to disrupt the process and was trying to introduce new approaches on negotiation table, which we rejected by us, and by the Minsk Group co-chairs. The most important part of the declaration along with other issues was that the format of negotiations will be unchanged. And that’s very important because for broad international audience maybe it’s not very clear what it means. I will probably give some more information about that. Because for the last two years after the new government in Armenia came to power, one of their activity was to bring the so-called “authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh” to the negotiation table and thus, to change the format. Because for more than 20 years, negotiations are being held between Armenia and Azerbaijan within the framework of the Minsk Group process. So, the attempts to bring the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh authorities” was an attempt to change the format. So, when both sides commit that the format is unchanged that means that everything just is within the framework of what has been agreed before. We were observing the ceasefire. But as you know Armenia brutally violated it and not only in Ganja. Attack on civilians in Ganja was reflection of their aggressive policy. And also, they everyday violate ceasefire. I was informed this morning that since 7 o’clock to 9 o’clock in the morning they more than 150 times shelled the city of Tartar and Aghdam. And unfortunately, we have one victim today among civilians in Tartar.
-But Azerbaijan has also continued to fire has it not? The world has been seeing pictures of civilians under shelling in Stepanakert inside Nagorno-Karabakh.
-First, since the ceasefire was announced all the shelling from Azerbaijani side was stopped, second we never deliberately attack civilians in any city or village on the occupied territories. Our targets were only military installations. Our military targets have been identified very carefully. Therefore, we only hit those targets which was a threat to the life of our people and our soldiers. But unfortunately, Armenians are using the tactics to install military equipment in the areas of the cities where people live. So, we had to protect ourselves. But since the ceasefire was established we were committed to that but Armenia violated it, so we had to respond.
-So you are saying that there have been no strikes by Azerbaijan since the ceasefire was announced. Even on military targets?
-No, on military targets there have been strikes, we do not deny it. But that’s natural, because we have to defend ourselves. Ceasefire cannot be achieved unilaterally. Otherwise, Armenia will get advantage and will achieve its goal and actually what they are trying to do. They are trying to regain back the territories which have been liberated. Particularly, they try to regain back the city of Hadrut, but they failed. My advice to them and I already publicly addressed Armenian leadership and also Armenian people, that they should stop trying to regain what has been liberated back. That will only cause new victims and will lead to bloodshed.
-What about the pictures of bombings on churches inside Nagorno-Karabakh there is not military targets, surely.
-Yes, you are right. We are investigating that issue, I’d like to say that Azerbaijan is a country with a very high level of religious tolerance, which was reflected by all the major international organizations, including United Nations. During the visit of His Holiness head of the Vatican, Pope Francis to Baku, he publicly declared that the level of intercultural dialogue, interreligious dialogue in Azerbaijan is very high. You have probably seen the Armenian church in the center of Baku, which was restored by us. And we protected it as the heritage of Armenian people. In that church we keep more than 5,000 ancient books in Armenian language. But what Armenia has done to our mosques? What have they done to the mosques of Aghdam, mosque of Fuzuli, mosque of Shusha? They not only almost destroyed them, but they keep animals there. They keep pigs there, thus insulting the feelings of all the Muslims not only us. I am not saying that we did it in revenge, no. We need to investigate this issue, we are not sure about what happened. We have doubts that could have been done by Armenians in order to blame us. If it was done, if it was done by Azerbaijani military units, that was a mistake and we don’t have any historical or religious targets among those targets which we have.
-I want to ask you about the diplomatic process now. Mediation has been ongoing with the OSCE Minsk group, the co-chairs at the moment France, US and Russia. Do you think that structure, should remain that France should remain a co-chair in those negotiations?
-We are receiving the some contradictory statements and messages from the very beginning of the outbreak. But I think that due to our mutual diplomatic efforts we managed to keep the situation under control. As you know, I received several phone calls from president Macron. And our last conversation was very positive. We are committed to our efforts to find a political solution to the conflict. I was informed that France as a co-chair will remain neutral, because that’s the mandate for a co-chair. This morning I was informed that the French foreign minister issued a statement that due to the fact that France is a co-chair of the Minsk Group it must be neutral. We fully support this position and our position always was that all the co-chairs must be neutral. They should not take sides, because it’s contradicting their mandate. In a national capacity, every country has allies friends, with some countries more active relations, with some countries less active relations. This is normal and no one is objecting that. But if some countries have a mandate to be a mediator, of course, both sides, I am sure, Armenia and Azerbaijan expects neutrality, and we see this neutrality now. Therefore, I think the issue which you are referring to now is over. So, we have closed that page.
-In previous interviews you’ve called for an apology from Emmanuel Macron, after his remarks saying that 300 fighters from Syria have been brought to fight for your side. When you last spoke to him, did you speak about this issue-him accusing mercenaries are fighting for your side?
-Yes, of course. Yes, we spoke about that and I was still waiting for evidence. No evidence was presented to me. No evidence was presented to our other officials. I asked the French president to give evidence and to organize contacts between the heads of corresponding state units in order to talk, in order to exchange this information and this contact happened. And I can tell you that no evidence was presented to us. Therefore, if there is no evidence, I think these rumors should also be left back in the history. We don’t have mercenaries. This is our official statement. Since the outbreak, already more than two weeks passed, not a single country presented us a single evidence of that. Moreover, we don’t need that. We have an army of more than 100 thousand fighters. And what we are doing now on the ground demonstrate that our army is capable to liberate its lands itself.
-France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that there is Turkish military involvement which risks internationalization of this conflict. Is he wrong about that?
-Yes, he is wrong about that. Turkish military involvement is another fake news. There is no military involvement of Turkey. We are using Turkish military equipment. This is true. But we are using military equipment of Russia, military equipment of Israel, military equipment of other countries. And we buy this military equipment unlike Armenia which gets it free of charge. Turkey is in no way other than political, is present in the process. There are no Turkish forces, Turkish F-16s are here but they are left here after the joint military training. By the way, last year we had ten joint military trainings with Turkey, including air force. This year due to pandemic, we had only two and it happened that just after the military training this outbreak happened. So we decided to keep F-16 on the ground and they are on the ground. They are not on the air.
-How many Turkish drones are you deploying?
-We have enough in order to achieve our targets. I think that you can understand me that this is the information which I prefer not to disclose.
-But are they making the difference in this conflict?
-Of course, they are very modern, sophisticated weapons and I can tell you, only by the drones which we acquired from Turkey, we destroyed Armenian military equipment worth 1 billion dollars. Only by the drones and of course, we are using other drones as you know from other sources. We are using artillery, we are using broad range of military equipment. But only the drones made the damage to Armenia worth 1 billion dollars. That’s a serious damage for them. I wonder, where did they get so much money to buy all this equipment. Probably, they got them free of charge.
-I am afraid we will have to leave it there. So many more questions of course we could ask you, but thank you very much, President Ilham Aliyev for answering our questions today. And thank you at home for watching. Do stay tuned to France-24 for more international news coming right up.
-Thank you very much. It was very interesting to talk to you.