President Ilham Aliyev interviewed by Italian Rai 1 TV channel
On 26 October President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by the Italian Rai 1 TV channel.
- Mr. President, good afternoon. Please tell us if this new truce, this new ceasefire will hold. If I am not mistaken, this is the third ceasefire.
- Everything will depend on how Armenia behaves because the first two ceasefires were disrupted by Armenia. After the first ceasefire, which was declared for humanitarian considerations, Armenia violated the ceasefire within 24 hours and barbarically launched a ballistic missile at the city of Ganja at night. As a result of the first shelling, 10 people were killed and many were wounded. Then they hit Ganja again, and also at night. There were even more victims. So we had to answer. As for the second truce, we have a chronology of Armenia's violations of the ceasefire. They violated it literally two minutes after the appointed hour of the truce. Today, at 8 o'clock, a new truce came into force. Now it is 10 o'clock in the morning in Baku. At about 3-4 minutes after the ceasefire entered into force at 8 o'clock, several shells were fired at the city of Tartar again. We are not reacting to this. We hope this was an accident, but if this continues, we will be forced to respond adequately.
- Mr. President, what actually caused the outbreak of hostilities at the end of September? Why did this happen?
- There was a series of events of political and military nature. Armenia's main goal was to disrupt the process of negotiations in every possible way. The new government of Armenia has repeatedly stated that the fundamental principles are unacceptable for it, that it is not going to return a single centimeter of the occupied territories, which contradicts the fundamental principles. The prime minister stated that we should negotiate not with Armenia but with the so-called leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is unacceptable both for us and for the OSCE Minsk Group. He also stated that 'Karabakh is Armenia, full stop', thereby completely undermining the negotiations. In the past year, there were practically no negotiations, and in order to shift the blame on us, Armenia made three sabotage attempts – in July on the border, in August when they sent a sabotage group, and in September when they shelled our cities. They probably thought that we would show restraint again, but that did not happen. We answered them in a manner that they are now regretting it.
- On what conditions will you agree to stop the hostilities then? You have repeatedly spoken about the need for a constructive approach on the part of Armenia. What should a constructive approach be like?
- A constructive approach should be that they must publicly declare, through the prime minister, that they accept the fundamental principles. The fundamental principles envisage the return of seven districts located around the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region to Azerbaijan and the return of Azerbaijani refugees to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, including the ancient Azerbaijani city of Shusha. These approaches are, in principle, based on four UN Security Council resolutions, which require practically the same. But when the Armenian prime minister says that not a single centimeter of land will be given to us, when the Armenian defense minister says that Armenia will start a new war for new territories and when aggression is carried out against us, this is not a constructive approach, of course. He must say that yes, the occupied territories will be returned to Azerbaijan, that the Azerbaijanis will return to Nagorno-Karabakh, including Shusha, and then, of course, we will come to an agreement very quickly.
-Mr. President, there is one very controversial issue. Some countries, not only Armenia, but also France, have somehow accused you and Turkey of sending thousands of mercenaries, jihadists from Syria to Karabakh via Turkey. How will you respond to such accusations, and how will you respond to the accusations that speak of the presence of Turkish troops and Turkish military aircraft on the territory of Azerbaijan?
- I have already answered this question many times and I will answer it again. First, such unfounded accusations were brought against us by only two countries – France and Russia. France said that through the President, Russia through the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service. These charges were brought against us immediately after the outbreak of hostilities. Although almost a month has already passed, not a single piece of evidence, no proof was provided to us. In fact, I will say this for the first time – I asked the French side for the heads of relevant agencies to meet, discuss the issue and provide us with evidence. Nothing was presented to us. Therefore, these are all insinuations. All this is an attempt to cast a shadow on Azerbaijan. I regret that such unfounded accusations come from the co-chair countries, which are supposed to be objective. After all, we do not talk every day about how many weapons are supplied from Russia to Armenia. We do not talk about the fact that Armenia would not have lasted a day in the occupied territories without external assistance. Political support, military support, moral support – all this comes from countries that are supposed to stay neutral. Therefore, we strongly reject these insinuations. It is not necessary. We have 100,000 soldiers of the regular army. If necessary, we will announce overall mobilization, which, by the way, we have not done unlike Armenia. Therefore, this is all lies and slander. As for the participation of Turkish troops in operations, this is also a lie. There is not a single piece of evidence. The fact that Turkish F-16s are on the territory of Azerbaijan was a result of our joint military exercises on the eve of the conflict. We do not talk about how many Russian MIG-29s and Su-30s are on the territory of Armenia. We do not talk about the fact that 5,000 Russian troops are located at the base in Armenia in Gumru and, according to our data, there are periodical supplies of the Armenian armed forces from there. These are facts, in contrast to what is being said about us. Therefore, I suggest that those who want to accuse us first deal with themselves and then make such hasty conclusions based on false information.
- Mr. President, my last question more or less also concerns our country, Italy. You probably know that in Europe there are many successful examples of a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes or separatism. We have one of such examples in Italy. It is Alto Adige/Südtirol. Don't you think that Italy could help you with its experience in resolving the status of Karabakh? Moreover, Italy has very good, close and strong political and cultural relations with you and also with Armenia.
- Yes, I believe that Italy can play a very important role in the settlement of the conflict. I must say that when the Minsk Group was formed, a very long time ago, almost 30 years ago, it was the Italian representative, the Italian diplomat who was the leader of this Minsk Group. That was before the institution of co-chairs was established. After the institution of the co-chairs was created, the Minsk Group as a group of countries did not produce any results because the co-chairs took this activity into their monopoly. We know what this has led to. For 28 years, there has been no progress, no results, only promises, only bureaucratic procedures. In essence, it seems to us today that the activities of the co-chairs were aimed at freezing the conflict, not at resolving it. As for the model that exists in Italy, we have studied it. We also studied the model of the Aland Islands and other successful autonomy experiences. Azerbaijan, unlike Armenia, is a multiethnic state. In Armenia, as you probably know, 99 percent of the population are Armenians. Therefore, this is a very positive experience of self-government which could be applied in our case. In fact, as far as I know, such proposals were made in the mid-1990s. Even groups of representatives of non-governmental organizations and political scientists have visited your country, the region you are talking about, and the Aland Islands. But Armenia has always categorically rejected this. They believed that they would be able to occupy our territories forever relying on military, political and economic support from leading countries of the world, but they made a gross miscalculation. We are proving our case on the battlefield today. We are implementing UN Security Council resolutions and are restoring international law.
- Mr. President, the very last question: at what level will we be in this conflict in one year? Or will it already be resolved by then?
- You know, I communicate with representatives of foreign media almost every day during this month, and in my addresses to the Azerbaijani people I always clearly state our position. We see the future of the Karabakh region – not only the upper part of it but also the plain because Karabakh is a large part of Azerbaijan – as a prosperous and peaceful territory where Azerbaijanis, who must return there, and the Armenians who now live there will live in peace. Our position is this. I believe that this can be achieved with mutual goodwill of the parties. After all, thousands of Armenians live in Baku and other cities of Azerbaijan today. The Azerbaijanis and Armenians have joint businesses in Russia and Georgia. There are mixed families. Therefore, I think that reconciliation is possible. The Armenian leadership should simply abandon its aggressive policy. And if this happens, with our investments and our experience of rebuilding the country, we can turn this region into one of the most prosperous regions in the world. But for this to happen, the consequences of the war must be eliminated. The occupation must be eliminated, the Azerbaijanis must return to the lands where they have lived for centuries, and live in harmony with the Armenian population. It will not be easy and it will take time. But we know how countries were reconciled after World War II, when European countries were at war – the current neighbors, and many people were killed. But this should not sit in the memory all the time and produce hatred, which is what Armenian ideologists are doing today. Goodwill must be shown. If that happens, what I am saying will happen. If not, we will return these lands anyway. And the current state of affairs on the battlefield is showing that. We will return them at any cost. Either peacefully or war, but we will return them. Therefore, I think the Armenian leadership should seriously think about it and take the right step.
- Thank you very much, Mr. President, and as they say in Italian, Bono Fortuno!
- Thank you, all the best to you too. Thank you!