President Ilham Aliyev interviewed by Spanish EFE news agency
On November 4, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by the Spanish EFE news agency.
-Good morning, Mr. President. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions in your busy time.
-Thank you for this opportunity.
-You are now entering the 6th week of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. What is at this point the situation on the frontline?
-Situation on the frontline is showing the dominance of Azerbaijani army. We liberate one village in one city after another. And during this time on the battlefield Azerbaijan liberated large part of its territory which was under occupation for almost thirty years, and successful offensive operation of the Azerbaijani army continues. And this once again shows that we are a strong country, and we are fighting on our own soil. We restore the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. By the way, we implement the United Nations Security Council resolutions, which demanded withdrawal of Armenian troops from our territories but were not implemented by Armenia for almost thirty years.
-You want to recover the seven occupied districts-5+2. How much of those lands have you already recovered?
-Actually 4 of the 5 occupied districts have already been liberated, either completely or partially. Today we are in an active phase of de-occupation of other districts which have been under occupation. And as I said, we implement the UN Security Council resolutions, and by the way we implement part of the basic principles. Because the basic principles for settlement which have been proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group actually demanded the liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, Armenia was not willing to do it voluntarily. Therefore, we had to force them to do it.
-Both sides have agreed already to three humanitarian ceasefire. But it helped not even a few minutes. Why wasn’t it possible to stop the war and sit down to talks?
-I think one of the reasons why these ceasefires didn’t work, was the attempt of Armenia to regain back the territories which have been already liberated by us. In other words, they wanted to occupy them again. Therefore, they tried to use the ceasefire, which as you correctly mentioned was announced on humanitarian grounds, in order to mobilize their resources and launch a new attack. And when they failed to do it, they launched a ballistic missile attack from the territory of Armenia on the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Ganja. They did it twice. But first time on the 10th of October right after the ceasefire was announced. And that caused the killings of almost 10 civilians and tens have been wounded. So, they brutally violated the first ceasefire. The second ceasefire also was violated by them in about five minutes after the announced time. And the third ceasefire they violated by attacking the peaceful city of Barda, where 21 civilians were killed and 70 wounded. So, all three times it was Armenian deliberate, aggressive attack on us, and we had to respond, we had to defend ourselves.
-You said that you want a concrete calendar for the withdrawal of Armenian troops. Armenia said they are willing to compromise and not to surrender or capitulate those territories. Are you willing to compromise too and what compromise it looks like?
-First of all, our position have been already many times declared during this almost forty days. On many occasions, I said that our task is to restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, return one million Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons to their homelands, to the territories where they lived for centuries. And after that, to provide peaceful co-existence between Azerbaijani and Armenian community in that area. Our position is based on the common sense, on humanitarian grounds and is supported by international community. So, it is very clear, Armenia, when they talk about compromise they do not say anything concrete. They talk only about self-determination. But self-determination is not a compromise on their side. They should be more accurate in their position because it is very ambiguous now. Therefore, we demanded the time-table for withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories. And we demanded it from the very first day of the clashes. So, if Armenia listened to us, and behaved in a reasonable way, today we wouldn’t have had the situation which we are now facing. The war would have stopped maybe a month ago. Therefore, compromise from Armenian side should be very precise. And the time-table for withdrawal from part of Aghdam district which is still under occupation and from Kalbajar and Lachin should be presented to us. And Armenian prime minister should personally declare that. Not only do they give us the time-table, but they also do not say that they will liberate those territories. During all this time, since 27 September, never Armenian military-political leadership said anything about liberation of territories. In this case, they actually show disrespect to Minsk Group co-chairs, who elaborated these principles providing return of seven territories and they actually lead to more escalation. So, we expect from Armenian prime minister to say openly, publicly that they will withdraw from Kalbajar, Lachin and the remaining part of Aghdam.
-And if not, there is only the military option for you.
-Nothing is left, there is no other option. We don’t want to continue military operations. I said many times and can repeat today, if Armenian prime minister, personally him, the person who is responsible for this bloodshed makes such a statement, we are ready to stop immediately. I am a person who keeps his words, and we will do it. But he doesn’t say. He wants to win time, he wants to have the ceasefire in order to get some more military assistance. He wants to use this ceasefire in order to launch new attacks on Azerbaijan, and to regain back the territories which we liberated. That’s what he is after.
-Are you willing to sit down at this point with Mr. Pashinyan or is there no point in it?
-No. No point in that at all. I had many meetings with him during the last two years. But all of them were absolutely useless and senseless. Except the first meetings where he promised me that if Azerbaijan gives him a time after the so-called revolution, he will make his homework, he will strengthen his position politically in Armenia. Then, he will be willing to work constructively in order to implement the basic principles. That was what he told me in the early months of his leadership in Armenia. But after a year, he said completely different things. He said that there will be no centimeter of land to be returned to Azerbaijan. He said “Karabakh is Armenia”. He said that Azerbaijan has to negotiate with the so-called “authorities of this quasi entity Nagorno-Karabakh”. So, he did everything to destroy negotiation process. Therefore, at this point, I don’t see any sense meeting with him. Our foreign ministers met recently in Geneva. And I think, this is the proper format now for the communications.
-You said that almost during thirty years the Minsk Group did nothing, or didn’t reach any to recover the occupied territories. Now you what do you expect from US, Russia and France?
-Yes, you are right, I said that Minsk Group did not deliver any result. But at the same time, I said that I cannot completely ignore their activity and only criticize them. Because the basic principles which are on the table now, it is the principles which were elaborated with the assistance of the Minsk Group. So, they worked, they tried. But they did not use all their tools which they have in order to press Armenia to liberate the territories. Each of these countries unilaterally has enough leverages on Armenia, whether it’s military support, political support, economic support, diaspora support et cetera. But they did not use these instruments in their hands. They did not insist on implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions which they themselves adopted as permanent members of the UN Security Council. Therefore, the fact that there was no result, of course, demonstrates their unwillingness rather than they could not. If they could not, then who can? Can you find more powerful countries in the world? The three permanent members of the Security Council cannot influence small, impoverished, dependent Armenia? They just didn’t want. They wanted the situation to be stable, this is true. They wanted a peaceful scenario. But when they saw that for almost thirty years there is no peaceful scenario, and the new Armenian government actually destroys the process by statements and actions, I think they should have acted.
And I called many times, talking with their leaders, talking with their high-ranking officials, ‘insert pressure on Armenia, put sanctions’. If you don’t want to put sanctions, at least pronounce it. Announce it that the sanctions will be imposed, otherwise there will be no other mechanism to influence this aggressor. So, today, I think they realized that what they were saying many years, that ‘there is no military solution to the conflict’ was wrong. And we changed that reality. There is a military solution. But today, what we are talking about let’s just close that page of military solution and move to the political solutions. So, military-political solution must prevail. We are ready to stop today if Armenian prime minister says what I already demanded from him and peace process should be based now on implementation of the rest part of the basic principles which partly have been already implemented. We need a precise time-table for Kalbajar, Lachin and part of Aghdam to be liberated. And then, I think the peace will come to the region.
-I now want to ask you about the statements of Amnesty International that both sides actually have used cluster bombs and now you and also Yerevan is saying that both sides use phosphorous weapons against the civilians. Do you use weapons internationally forbidden?
-We do not use forbidden weapons. We have enough ammunition in order to restore our territorial integrity, first. Second, we do not attack civilians, we do not attack cities in Nagorno-Karabakh after 10th of October. Before, yes, we admit it. But that was because most of the military units and infrastructure of Armenian army was concentrated in the so-called capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Khankandi. So we had to. We had to hit those important military objects in order to provide security for us and to make our operation more efficient. But after the humanitarian ceasefire was announced, and many times we announced that, we never hit any city or any village, where people lived. What Armenian did on the contrary, they launched ballistic missiles from Armenian territory to Ganja, and it is proved. Though Armenian prime minister said it was not them, but it is ridiculous. Because ballistic missile launch is being monitored by the satellites. Everybody knows from where it was launched and what was the goal of that missile. It was deliberately hitting the civilian compounds in Ganja, two times. They hit Barda two times with very destructive “Smerch” missiles. 21 persons were killed and 70 wounded only by one attack. There have been many attacks. They attacked a funeral ceremony in Tartar. That is absolutely beyond any norms of human behavior. When people were burying the person who died they hit the cemetery and four people were killed. And the cluster bombs which they used have been verified by international media and NGOs. I am sure that the first who reported about that were international media who visited them. And Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch just didn’t have any other option rather than to acknowledge that. But the question is, why they didn’t come in the first place to Azerbaijan. Why were they working only on Armenian side? Only after international media, Western media showed those cluster bombs which Armenian’s use, then these two NGOs confirmed that. It is good that they did. But frankly speaking I cannot imagine how they could not confirm it, because when it’s obvious.
-Russia, Mr. Lavrov said yesterday there are nearly 2000 mercenaries battling or combatting in Nagorno-Karabakh. What do you say regarding this?
-I answered many times to this groundless accusations, and I frankly speaking, regret that high-ranking officials of countries which supposed to be neutral, which supposed to be acting within their mandate which was given to them by OSCE, use this unverified, groundless so-called information and rumors, first. Second, we don’t have any mercenaries. Many times I said about that, we don’t need them. We have an army of 100 thousand fighters. We can recruit several times more, if we announce total mobilization which we don’t do unlike what Armenia did. There is no evidence of any foreign fighters fighting on our side. No evidence during this time since more than one month. Not a single document, not a single proof was given to us, only statements. But then why they don’t see what is happening on Armenian side? How many mercenaries are fighting on Armenian side? Why neither Russia, nor France which tries to accuse us, why didn’t say anything about that? We have a list of people already eliminated with foreign passports. American, French, Canadian, Lebanese, from Iraq, from countries of the post-Soviet area. Tens of them coming from Georgia. Yes, they are native Armenians, but it doesn’t make any difference. If they are citizens of other country, they are considered to be acting there illegally. And so far, nothing was said about that. Though, we have proofs. We have passports in our hands. We have evidence, video. Nothing is said about that. So, this is a selective approach which cannot be accepted by us. It is not in line with the mandate of mediators. I said many times, mediators must be neutral. If they take sides, it’s up to them, but then they have to step down from mediation. Every country can have good or bad relations with any country. We understand there is special feelings towards Armenians due to some reasons from some countries. But in national capacity, we don’t mind. But if you are mediator, please, be neutral. And stay away from accusations. If we start to accuse, those who accuse us about mercenaries, about what they do in different parts of the world, it will be a long story, very long story. We don’t do it. Therefore, we expect the same from our partners.
-What do you say to those who state that Turkey is not only giving you political help, but also a military one?
-I would say that this is another provocation, another false news. There is no any military support from Turkey, apart from the fact that we are buying modern military equipment from Turkey. This is true. And this is a sophisticated, modern equipment that I think every army in the world would have envied about. And Turkey’s military industrial complex really demonstrates miracles. And this equipment helps us a lot on the battlefield. But we buy it. We sign contracts. Everything is transparent. Everything is legal. We buy weapons from other countries. Why nobody talks about how many weapons we bought from Russia? Only Turkey. Because Turkey is now in the center of attack from unfortunately, different European politicians. There are attempts to demonize Turkey. There are attempts to blackmail Turkey, to press it. This is absolutely unacceptable. We buy, main of our weapons from Russia. We buy weapons from other countries. Only Turkey is here. So, this is first. Second, those who always keep saying that Turkey provides military support to us, why don’t they say that Russia provides military support to Armenia? A mediator, Minsk Group co-chair. We have proofs in our hands. We delivered this information to Russian officials. How much weapons were delivered to Armenia during this forty days? Why nobody talks about that? Let’s talk about that. Let’s be fair. Therefore, first, this is wrong. Second, we buy Turkish military equipment and we will continue to do it. And third, there should be no double standards about that. And those, by the way, who tell that Azerbaijan is militarily supported by Turkey, I think should refrain from these absurd accusations.
-Turkey obviously has interests in the region as has also Iran and Russia. Armenia has asked Russia for a possibility to guarantee its security. Do you fear an internationalization of the war?
-That is what Armenia wanted to do from the very beginning. And we were always against. I said many times to all the countries, ‘stay away from this conflict’. It is our business, it’s our battle for territorial integrity. And there should be no attempts to internationalize the conflict. But Armenia did everything to do it. And the letter which Armenian prime minister sent to Russian president, not only demonstrates that they already admit their defeat, that we beat them on the battlefield, it also shows that they want to internationalize the conflict. They want to drag Russia into a direct participation on the ground, which is absolutely unacceptable. As far as I know, it was rejected by Russia and Russian foreign minister issued a statement about that. That maybe I’m not precisely correct in my words, but the sense was that the fight is taking place on the territory of Azerbaijan. If Azerbaijan attacks, or if any country attacks Armenia, then Russia will have their obligations. But the battle is going on our soil. So, this attempts I think are absolutely useless. Russian position was articulated by the foreign minister. Iranian position was also articulated. Probably you heard about Iranian plan for the settlement, which provides territorial integrity of countries. And recently, the Iranian religious leader made a statement that Armenia should liberate internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan. So, this is a reaction of two neighbors. Position of Turkey is well-known. It always stands for international law and UN Security Council resolutions. Georgia, on many occasions before, also supported Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. This is a position of our neighbors. So, Armenia is in isolation. So, they want to internationalize the conflict. They want to exploit some fake news and some fake news from the history, in order to get support. But the best way for Armenia to act now is to admit their defeat, admit our victory and make a commitment that they will liberate the remaining part of the territories.
-If they recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh what would your reaction be?
-You know, if they wanted to recognize, they would have recognized long time ago. Why didn’t they recognize it before? Because, they clearly understand that by this very irrational step, negotiations will stop. Absolutely. So, if they do it, there will be nothing to talk about. And then, no peaceful initiative, no basic principles, no future settlement, nothing will be on the table. So, I think that they understand it. They always wanted to use it as a kind of an instrument in order to frighten us, saying that if Azerbaijan does that we will recognize. I tell them many times during this days of war and I tell now, Armenian prime minister, recognize Nagorno-Karabakh today. Do it. Show your courage. Show that your words mean something. Recognize Nagorno-Karabakh today. Again, and you will see that they will not do it. Because they are cowards. They can fight only against peaceful civilians and when they see our strength and our unity they run away.
-Will you be willing to accept an autonomy of the region?
-This should be part of the future discussions, on the basic principles. Because the first part of the basic principles demanded the withdrawal of occupied territories. Five plus two in time-table, then, there were other elements of the basic principles, like security, peacekeeping operations, status of Nagorno-Karabakh and we always were very open to discuss it. We offered them many times different ways, but they rejected. We offered them autonomy inside Azerbaijan. We offered them cultural autonomy, we said that there are good examples in the world, in Europe, in Scandinavia this Aland Islands, in Italy this South Tyrol district, in many other. But they rejected everything. They demanded independence only. And they wanted us to recognize this independence. By doing that they actually knowing that we will never do it, they were doing everything to freeze the conflict. So, I don’t know, we need to first to end this hot stage of the conflict, come back to negotiation table. Armenia should make these commitments which I already said. And then we can talk about what will be happening in the future. I cannot say anything about that now.
-Thank you very much, Mr. President. I really appreciate your time.
-Thank you very much for your questions, for your interest in Azerbaijan.