President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by Russian Interfax agency.
AZERTAC presents the interview.
- Thank you, Mr. President, for finding the time for an interview with our agency despite your busy schedule. It was exactly one month yesterday since the counter- offensive of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces began in Nagorno- Karabakh. How would you assess this month from the point of view of the military- political settlement of the conflict?
- The Azerbaijani army has demonstrated its advantage on the battlefield. Significant parts of the occupied territories have been liberated in one month. Given that the Armenian side had been building fortifications in the occupied lands for almost 30 years, there were several lines of defense. Also, the terrain itself is more favorable for the Armenian side. It is mountainous and our servicemen had to overcome both engineering fortifications and mountainous terrain when carrying out the counterattack. Despite all these factors, significant territories in the occupied lands of our country have been liberated in one month, and this shows that the Azerbaijani army is considered one of the most combat- effective armies in the world for a reason. According to the rankings periodically published by organizations that assess the military potential of countries, the Azerbaijani army is among top 50 armies in the world. The professionalism, training, combat effectiveness and, most importantly, fighting morale have certainly contributed to our success in many respects. And, of course, the equipment available to the Azerbaijani army. We have liberated the cities of Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan, Gubadli, a part of Khojavand district. The successful mission, the successful advance of the Azerbaijani army continues. I have said several times during this month that we want the settlement of the conflict to move from a military to a political phase. But, unfortunately, the Armenian side has grossly violated the ceasefire regime for the third time, attempted to re- occupy the territories we have liberated, and is pushing for a continuation of the confrontation. Therefore, I am answering your question again: the military- political settlement is the only possible way. We would like the military phase to end and issues of further de- occupation of Azerbaijani territories to be resolved at the negotiating table.
- Mr. President, you noted that Baku is interested in completing the military phase as quickly as possible. How long do you think it can last at the present time and is Baku ready to be content with seven districts around Nagorno- Karabakh?
- I have repeatedly said in my appeals to the Azerbaijani people and in numerous interviews this month that we are ready to stop at any moment, even today. But for this to happen, the Armenian side must commit to withdrawing its troops from the rest of the occupied territories. Therefore, I cannot predict how long the military confrontation will last. It depends on the Armenian side. As I said, their constant attempts to recapture our lands have failed. I think this should already be enough for them to understand that they will not achieve anything by military means. Unfortunately, on the political plane they are demonstrating a non- constructive approach, as I said, and have grossly violated the ceasefire three times. Based on this, of course, we will continue to plan on further action. As for the occupied territories, of course, the Azerbaijanis must return to all the occupied territories where they used to live, and this has always been my approach. Not only to the seven occupied districts outside Nagorno- Karabakh, outside the former Nagorno- Karabakh autonomous region, but also to the territories, to the lands they had lived on for centuries. First of all, these are Shusha, Khankandi and other lands that have been inhabited by Azerbaijanis for centuries. I also said that our vision for a settlement lies in the co- existence of the Armenian and Azerbaijani population of Nagorno- Karabakh. It so happened historically that the Armenian population has been living on these lands for 200 years. We all know the history of the resettlement of Armenians from Eastern Anatolia and Iran. But it so happened. They have lived there for 200 years. And we have no objection to the continued presence of the Armenian population. On the contrary, I have always said that thousands of citizens of Armenian nationality live in Azerbaijan, that Armenians and Azerbaijanis live together in neighboring countries and get along quite well. Why can't this be achieved in Nagorno- Karabakh? Our vision is this: Azerbaijanis should return to all the territories they lived in. The Armenian population should also live on this land. And in the conditions of good neighborliness, we will strive to heal the wounds of war.
- So it means that Baku will not stop until Armenian servicemen withdraw from all the occupied territories.
- We need the Armenian side in the person of its leadership to undertake a commitment to withdraw troops from the occupied territories. We haven't heard that yet. As soon as this commitment is made by the Armenian leadership and as soon as it is confirmed and approved by OSCE Minsk Group co- chairs, we are ready to stop military action immediately. And provided that the Armenian side also stops it because all three violations of the ceasefire were committed by the Armenian side. Four civilians, including a seven- year- old girl, were killed as a result of a cluster missile attack on Barda yesterday. This is not a conflict zone. So this is a flagrant violation of the ceasefire, which was agreed in Washington. Prior to that, the ceasefire agreed in Moscow was violated by the Armenian side the next day when they launched a ballistic missile from the territory of Armenia to Ganja. And as a result of this, 10 people died. As a result of the second ballistic missile attack on Ganja, even more people died. There are about 30 victims in a peaceful city. Therefore, it is not our fault that the ceasefire is not observed. Therefore, the Armenian side must undertake that they will withdraw from the occupied territories they are still holding under occupation: these include a part of Aghdam district, the entire Lachin district and most of Kalbajar district. And then we will be ready, of course, to move on to a political settlement. It will cover many aspects. In principle, we have accepted the fundamental principles, while the Armenian side has rejected them. But the Armenian prime minister’s aggressive statement yesterday suggests that they say one thing to the mediators and do something completely different.
- Mr. President, you have said that Baku is mainly committed to the fundamental principles. The first point of these principles was the liberation of five districts around Nagorno- Karabakh. But at present, four out of five districts have already been liberated by the Azerbaijani army. It turns out that, at a minimum, the fundamental principles are either not relevant or need some adjustment.
- This will depend on the behavior of the Armenian side again. As you know, negotiations between the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia are to be held in Geneva tomorrow. There we will see how committed the Armenian side is to the fundamental principles. After that, we will give our assessment of how relevant they are now not, although I have repeatedly stated during this month that Azerbaijan accepts them in general, there are certain aspects that do not suit us, of course, but we accept them in general. As for the return of five districts at the first stage, of course, this is no longer relevant because the fundamental principles determined the sequence of territories to be returned – five districts at the first stage, and Kalbajar and Lachin districts at the second. Then comes the return of Azerbaijanis to the territory of Nagorno- Karabakh, in principle, the return of all refugees to the places of their original residence. We have almost completed the first stage. Therefore, if the Armenian side expresses its adherence to the fundamental principles, we will talk about an immediate transfer of Lachin, Kalbajar and a part of Aghdam district that are still under occupation to Azerbaijan. Thus, we will somewhat facilitate the work of mediators because one of the important issues will already be implemented and we will not have to wait for a second stage. It must come right away. If we agree on a political settlement, then Armenian troops should withdraw from Kalbajar and Lachin districts and a part of Aghdam district immediately.
- You have already touched upon tomorrow's meeting of foreign ministers and outlined the overall expectations of Baku. I would like to clarify if Baku still expects the Armenian side to show constructivism and the negotiations to be more substantive, not abstract and broad?
- I think we are still hopeful. Although the aggressive conduct of the Armenian side and the fact that they are flagrantly violating international law, the Geneva Conventions, and committing war crimes does not suggest that they are going to discuss the substance of the settlement issue, of course. Attacking peaceful cities with cluster munitions is a war crime. We have 69 civilians killed and more than 300 injured as a result of Armenian shelling. This is the face of Armenian fascism. At the same time, I think that the defeat we have inflicted on Armenia on the battlefield should nevertheless be a serious signal for them that they can no longer imitate things, deceive us, deceive the co- chairs of the Minsk Group and essentially evade substantive discussions. As for the process of negotiations, there was practically none for the past year, even more than a year. This was the first time this has happened since the 1994 truce. Because since then, the negotiations have been going on with varying degree of intensity and the parties have agreed on provisions of the fundamental principles. They did not fall from the sky. These were the principles proposed by the Minsk Group, its co- chairs, and agreed by the parties. Therefore, there was a process, albeit slow, and some progress was being made. But after the new government came to power in Armenia, they gave us and, as far as I know, the mediators, promises in the first year. But in the second year, they openly demonstrated their true intention that they would not give up a single centimeter of the land. Moreover, they threatened us with a new war for new territories. In fact, these were the words of their Minister of Defense who has been completely discredited as Minister of Defense both in the eyes of his own people and in the eyes of the world community. And after such a humiliating defeat, I am surprised he hasn't resigned yet.
- What is your assessment of remarks by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who on the one hand uses belligerent rhetoric but on the other hand says that Armenia should prepare for painful compromises, then changes his tone again? What is behind this?
- It is hard for me to comment on this. I would probably abstain from an assessment of what is happening to the Armenian prime minister. Probably, this military defeat influenced his state, otherwise how one can explain the series of inconsistent statements and actions that are absolutely irrational and harmful, primarily for himself as the country's leader and dangerous and harmful for his country?
Many people ask why the clashes happened now and not before. Even those who have a biased approach to Azerbaijan and openly support Armenia would ask this question. Twenty- six years have passed since the 1994 truce. There were clashes, there were victims over those years, but not on such a scale. So what has happened? Nothing has changed in Azerbaijan.
I have been engaged in settlement of negotiations for 17 years, and I have gone a long way towards agreeing on the fundamental principles together with the two previous Armenian presidents. That is why it is clear to impartial observers that it is not our fault. This is the fault of the inappropriate, irrational, and dangerous conduct of the Armenian prime minister.
No former Armenian leader ever allowed insulting innuendos regarding the Azerbaijani people. None of them allowed the Nagorno- Karabakh head to be inaugurated in Shusha. None of them prided themselves on the demonstrative violation of the Geneva Convention showing the resettlement of the Lebanese Armenians to Nagorno- Karabakh, including Shusha. And so on and so forth.
So these are the results of the ill- conceived and dangerous activity of Prime Minister Pashinyan. I wouldn't comment on his statements inside the country. But what he does concerning the settlement is very dangerous for Armenia itself. Today, Armenia can clearly see this. That is why I think that the Minsk Group co- chairs should clearly raise this issue before the Armenian foreign minister, who, as I understand, is in a very difficult situation. He has to answer for the inappropriate conduct of his leader, and in fact he deserves sympathy. He will have to get himself out of this and somehow explain his series of inconsistent actions.
On the one hand, he speaks about painful concessions, on the other hand, he says that there is no diplomatic solution. First, he says that he is ready for a compromise but then he says that he will defend Karabakh until the very end. On the one hand, he says that Karabakh is Armenia, but then he says that we should negotiate with Nagorno- Karabakh. This is an absolutely mutually exclusive palette of inadequacy. So I think that many issues of these will be clarified tomorrow.
- In your latest address to the Azerbaijani people, you quite severely criticized the mediators for essentially being inactive. Does this mean that Baku will insist on changing the Minsk Group format?
- I have spoken many times about the activity of the OSCE Minsk Group over the past month. And what I said in the address to the Azerbaijani people is the absolute truth. Any format, no matter what it is called and who it involves, should acknowledge its ineffectiveness if it doesn't fulfill the set task. And the set task has not been fulfilled. Although I cannot deny that the Minsk Group made attempts to reach a settlement, because fundamental principles were elaborated with its assistance. They worked and they proposed options. There were some things we didn't agree with, there were some things that the Armenian side didn't agree with. So that was a process that had lasted until Pashinyan came to power in Armenia.
But from the point of view of effectiveness and efficiency, the Minsk Group, of course, didn't justify itself, I mean the activity of the co- chairs. Should the co- chairs be other countries, this could have been explained by their insufficient international weight, by their lack of authority to implement even the UN Security Council resolutions that they had adopted themselves. But when the Minsk Group co- chairs are three members of the UN Security Council, when three nuclear powers cannot exert pressure on Armenia, this, of course, raises a lot of questions.
As for the composition, I have already said that the Minsk Group was set up in 1992. I don't know how it was set up and what principles underlie the choice of its members. But as I said, if we formed a contact group today, its composition would, of course, have been completely different. It would include countries that have their positions in the region and that have potential and authority in the world. Of course, I think the countries that are current co- chairs could probably remain there. But this is not a question for me, because the mechanism and the procedure of forming the Minsk Group and its co- chairs is the prerogative of the OSCE.
I think that we should not cling to formalities in order to settle the conflict. The Minsk Group as such can continue working, but we should think about new cooperation mechanisms between the countries of the region in order to practically reach a political settlement. I think that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably meant the same when he spoke about this.
- In this regard, some experts propose the 2+2 formula. How acceptable is it to Baku?
- Two is Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the other two?
- Turkey and Russia.
- This would be acceptable to us, because Turkey and Russia are our neighbors and countries with which we have close mutual relations and countries with good potential for cooperation among themselves. It is enough to look at the history of the past few years. Turkey and Russia have reached a high level of mutual understanding on many issues, including the bilateral agenda and the international security agenda. We see that in Syria and in Libya, and in tackling issues of countering international terrorism, to say nothing of energy projects, economic, investment projects.
Even before this escalation, I said that we have always welcomed the rapprochement of Turkey and Russia. I believe that this is an important factor of regional security. Considering that Armenian separatism is the main threat for us, and not only for us but for the entire region, I believe that combining the efforts of Turkey and Russia would benefit the region and could accelerate the political settlement of the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict.
- Mr. President, you have repeatedly said that the mediators should apply sanctions against Armenia in order to secure a breakthrough in the settlement process. What might be at issue?
- I have been talking about it for a long time, but regrettably my calls remain unanswered. What sanctions could be applied? Sanctions that would make Armenia fulfill the UN Security Council resolutions and withdraw its troops from the occupied territories. For example, we could have a look at the sanctions that were imposed on Iraq after its occupation of Kuwait. Similar things took place from the point of view of international law. The internationally recognized territory of Kuwait was occupied by Iraq, war crimes were committed, ethnic cleansing occurred, and only the timely reaction of the international community helped stop this occupation. And that happened within a short period of time. Next, economic sanctions, an arms embargo were imposed on Iraq. Iraq became a no- fly zone. War criminals, who committed crimes against humanity, were brought to justice and sentenced.
All these sanctions should be applied to Armenia. Even if one of these sanctions had been applied, I am sure the conflict would have been resolved long ago. There has simply been no political will and desire to apply these sanctions. And more likely the position that prevailed was that as long as there is no escalation, let's leave everything as it is.
-Is it frozen?
- Frozen, of course. Although everyone understood that this cannot last forever. Everyone understood this 10 years ago. The presidents of Russia, the US and France made statements, and said clearly many times that the status quo was unacceptable.
Well, fine. We welcomed this, and I remember this was praised in our country, I commented on this. But what happened next? Then they began to depart from this thesis gradually, stopped voicing it and invented a new thesis that the status quo is unstable. And we can clearly understand that these are completely different things. So the co- chairing countries moved away even from a political attempt to exert pressure on Armenia. And it was common knowledge that the status quo was unstable. And recent events proved this.
This is why, let me repeat that again, it is not too late to apply sanctions in order to end the conflict as soon as possible. I think that co- chairing countries should seriously think about what sanctions could be applied against the aggressor in order to make them leave the occupied lands.
- Do you think that the co- chairs managed to remain entirely neutral over the month of the military phase?
- Every country, including Azerbaijan, can have its own foreign political priorities. We have closer relations with some countries and less close with others. Our relations with some countries are based on historical factors and with others on pragmatic factors. That is why we have always treated with understanding the fact that there are very well structured and active Armenian communities in the co- chairing countries, in the US, in France, and in Russia. Even when we analyzed this situation, it is very hard to tell where they have greater influence on decision- making. That is why we have always taken and are taking this factor into account.
If there were some deviations at the first stage of hostilities that made us doubt their neutrality, I think now everything is fine- tuned. My contacts with the leaders of the co- chairing countries, as well as, I am sure, international support that Azerbaijan got, resulted in the fact that we can see this neutrality now. Once again, what some people have on their mind is not our business, but, of course, the mediators must adhere to international law and neutrality, otherwise they will just forfeit the right to be mediators. A mediator must be impartial, it must leave emotions at home or leave them for the bilateral format, and as part of the settlement it must take into account the mandate that the OSCE gave it and the desire to settle the conflict in line with international law rather than in line with the wishes of Azerbaijan or Armenia.
- You have said recently said that there will be no referendum in Nagorno- Karabakh. This is the new reality. Does this mean that Azerbaijan has changed its position, made it tougher?
- I have been talking about this for 17 years, and the OSCE Minsk Group co- chairs know my position. I don’t remember how many co- chairs have changed over these years, how many diplomats have been co- chairmen, but all of them can confirm that I have always said that there will never be a referendum on the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan. Moreover, if we look at the fundamental principles, there is no such word as 'referendum' there. There is a certain wording related to the expression of will, to self- determination there.
We have always said that self- determination is an important principle of international law, but it cannot violate the territorial integrity of a country. Secondly, a country's territorial integrity cannot be changed without the consent of this country. And I naturally adhere to this position today: we will not let a second Armenian state be set up on Azerbaijan's territories. If someone is willing to create a second Armenian state, let them give a part of their territory and let them create it there.
- Armenia says that it can recognize the independence of Nagorno- Karabakh if hostilities continue. At the same time, there are calls for countries and international organizations to recognize Karabakh. How likely is this? And what could it lead to?
- What you are asking about once again proves the inconsistency and insincerity of the incumbent Armenian authorities, because while failing to recognize Nagorno- Karabakh themselves, they want other countries do that. And their regular blackmailing and threats that they will recognize Nagorno- Karabakh in case of escalation turned out to be yet another bluff. Military confrontation on Karabakh has lasted for more than a month. Why haven't they recognized Nagorno- Karabakh yet?
It is very easy to do, let them just say that they recognize it. This is the essence of their policies, when they have been always trying for many decades, but regrettably they have sometimes succeeded under the cover of other states to have other states solve their problems. This is the essence of the ideology of the present- day Armenian state. It is based on very deep historical roots, it has been this way for the whole history. If we look at the past 200 years of the history of the Caucasus, we can see how many wars started because of them, how many provocations they caused for other countries, and then going to the backstage, hiding behind someone's backs reaped the fruits of confrontation and the fruits of shedding the blood of other peoples.
We know the history of their appearance in the Caucasus well. Historically, there was no Armenian ethnicity in the region. How did they get here? This was their way, trickery, cunning attempts to use a cat's paw to take roasting chestnuts from a fire. They are doing the same now. Hence my call for them in response – recognize Nagorno- Karabakh, recognize its right today. By the way, I have spoken about it quite recently. Let them recognize Nagorno- Karabakh today, but asking other countries to do this once again proves the inappropriateness of the Armenian leadership and very low political literacy. That is why if the Armenian leadership knew at least the basics of international politics a little, it would understand that the whole world recognizes Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. It is common knowledge that we joined the UN and other international organizations as a single state encompassing Nagorno- Karabakh. The Non- Aligned Movement – 120 countries – voices unambiguous support for Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. The European Union – 27 countries – our document with the EU states the support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of Azerbaijan's borders. Altogether there are almost 150 countries. Should we add the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which, however, includes some NAM members but there are other countries that are not represented in the NAM, we get the whole international community.
Because of Armenia, its whim and caprice to recognize Nagorno- Karabakh, to spoil relations with Azerbaijan, and not just to spoil, as I said this will immediately lead to the rupture of diplomatic relations with any country that will do so, no- one will just do that. Moreover, they don't recognize it themselves. Moreover, they are aggressors in line with the reality on the Earth and in line with UN resolutions. This is why this is a very indecent attempt to pull somebody’s chestnuts out of the fire.
- Russia has proposed deploying military observers in the conflict zone. Prime Minister Pashinyan in general agreed to deploying peacekeepers to the conflict zone and didn't rule out that these could be Russian peacekeepers. So is it observers or peacekeepers? What is the position of Baku?
- This issue is reflected in the fundamental principles, but we have never seriously discussed it because we simply didn't get to it. It was planned to dispatch peacekeepers to the region at the final stage of the settlement, when the aftermath of the occupation is mitigated, when refugees return to Nagorno- Karabakh, then, yes, in order to ensure that Azerbaijani and Armenian population can live side by side, disengagement forces will be needed at the first stage. But the fundamental principles don't state for how long they should be deployed and what countries they should consist of. Simply because we didn't reach it. First of all, all main provisions of the agreement must be agreed on.
As for the desire of the Armenian prime minister to see peacekeepers in the conflict zone, then firstly, this is none of his business, because when we speak about the conflict zone, we should understand that this is Azerbaijan's territory. If we speak about peacekeepers at the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, this is another issue. But as far as I understand, it is the Azerbaijani territory that is in question now, that is why we should have the final say.
And since this topic wasn't broadly discussed, I think it is premature to speak about it. But for my part I would like to note that when we speak about it, we should firstly understand what mandate possible observers would have and where they would be deployed. One should understand that there is no contact line, so where will their posts be? Armenia breaches international law and ceasefire, shelling our cities. Just recently, Euronews aired footage that clearly shows a flying missile flying. And it was flying to our cities rather than military positions. So where they will be, what mandate, composition, numbers, arms, and functions will they have, and who will ensure their security? These questions require very thorough examination, and only afterwards will we be able to say whether we agree to it or not. That is why it is so far premature.
- In general, do military officials of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia discuss any mechanisms of ceasefire monitoring?
- No, there are no such discussions now.
- Are you ready to go to Moscow for negotiations on Karabakh with the Armenian prime minister? And on what conditions?
- I haven't received such an invitation. I have repeatedly taken part in trilateral meetings between the presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, but there have been no such meetings since Pashinyan came to power in Armenia. These meetings were with the previous presidents of Armenia, and I have never avoided such meetings. I considered them to be very positive, because Russia as a co- chair of the Minsk Group plays a special role in the settlement, and historically Russia has always maintained close ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia is very actively cooperating politically and economically with Azerbaijan and Armenia these days, it is our neighbor. Therefore, it is natural that most of these meetings have been held in Russian territory, but there have been no such meetings with Pashinyan. I don't know how efficient they are going to be now with regard to the Armenian leadership. But if such a proposal is made, we have always viewed them positively and will continue to do so.
- Does this mean that you are ready to go if there is such an invitation?
- Yes, and without any preconditions as you have said. This is evident from the fact that our foreign ministers will be meeting in Geneva tomorrow also without any preconditions. Moreover, I would like to say that, when the conflict only just began, our foreign minister had plans to visit Geneva to meet with the co-chairs, and he did go there. And the Armenian foreign minister, who had planned to travel there a week before, in early October, refused to go. And when a proposal from Moscow came on a meeting between the foreign ministers to coordinate a humanitarian ceasefire, our foreign minister flew there from Geneva. In other words, we are not setting any terms, but again, I really doubt that the current Armenian authorities are capable of constructively working toward a settlement.
- Prime Minister Pashinyan has repeatedly said that Turkish troops are directly involved in hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh. It was also said that Pakistani special units are also involved. Your comment?
- These are yet more of Pashinyan’s lies. I must say that there were no such things in my contacts with previous Armenian presidents. Yes, we are adversaries, we cannot have positive attitudes towards each other, but there have never been such open lies and such allegations at the negotiating table. This is all lies. There are no Turkish special units there. I have repeatedly said that, and there is no such need. He has now said that some kind of Pakistani special units are present here, and by the way I think he got a note of protest in return. This is nonsense, there is no such thing.
These are all attempts to firstly engage other countries into the conflict, make it international in order to conceal his shameful defeat, saying that allegedly it is not Azerbaijan that beats us up on the battlefield, but Turkish and Pakistani special units. He has recently made a ridiculous statement – as I was told – that the terrorists Azerbaijan had allegedly brought from Syria to Azerbaijan sneaked into Russia and staged a terrorist attack in Grozny. Just understand that this is absolute nonsense. Russian special services know for sure who staged the terrorist attack. Previously, he said that Turkey's F- 16 brought down Armenia's Su- 25. Everyone knows this is a lie. Such things are monitored by Russia and other co-chairing countries. We live in the era of technologies and nothing can be hidden.
This was simply idiocy when he said that it wasn't Armenia that had launched ballistic missiles against Ganja, because any launch of a ballistic missile is monitored. Russia, America and France are well aware that this missile was launched and what combat mission it had. The combat mission was to hit a residential neighborhood, and another residential neighborhood for the second time. We have no military bases, no military towns in Ganja. He is simply lying.
And he says it was not us, when hundreds of journalists take horrible footage of these destructions, when foreign diplomats give interviews right from the destruction site, Pashinyan says that it was not Armenia. Then who? Did we strike at Ganja ourselves? Just imagine the level of deceit and, what is more, idiocy. Any reasonable person should understand that this is impossible to hide. It is yet another lie when he speaks about Pakistani and Turkish special units. He will say tomorrow that Martians were brought there in order to liberate territories. Anything can be expected from him.
- I would still like to specify Turkey's future role in the conflict settlement...
- We see Turkey's role in the settlement as effective. Turkey is a fraternal state to us. Turkey is the only country of the world that borders on three South Caucasian countries. Turkey today has a decisive say in many discussions not only on a regional but also on a global scale. Turkey pursues an absolutely independent foreign policy, thus evoking, as far as I know, much irritation among those who have got used to ordering everyone about. That is why I think Turkey, as a secure partner and friend of Azerbaijan, which has also have very close relations with Russia, will definitely play an important role.
It is already playing this role, and the fact that the presidents of Russia and Turkey, the foreign ministers, and the defense ministers are in constant contact with each other discussing these questions proves that Turkey is already engaged, whether Armenia likes it or not. But I am certain that Armenia is forced to recognize and accept this.
- Is there a risk that the Azerbaijani- Armenian conflict will escalate into a regional confrontation involving big states?
- Frankly speaking, I cannot fully rule this out, but I must say that for our part we will take no actions that could lead to this, there will be no provocations that would make this conflict international. We don’t need this, and I have said many times over the past month that we are against this, and I called on countries to show restraint and not to interfere. I am glad this is happening this way.
Although Armenia's constant attempts to make this conflict international and constant requests of the Armenian leadership for Russia to almost send its troops to fight on Armenia's side are exactly what I was talking about - to pull somebody’s chestnuts out of the fire. That is why I am sure that regional countries, and these are the countries that Azerbaijan enjoys close historical, cultural, political and trustworthy relations with – Russia, Turkey, Iran, Georgia – will naturally abstain from any actions that would play into the aggressor's hands.
- Not long ago President Putin said that the death toll of the current escalation on both side is about 5,000 people. Do you have the same data?
- I said that we would publish the number of killed servicemen after the war is over. As for civilians, we are making data public. I told you about 69 people killed and more than 300 wounded.
As for the losses, I can say what losses Armenia could have according to our estimates. Just look, simple arithmetic, 256 tanks were destroyed as of yesterday, the figure is growing day to day, just multiply it by – how many crewmembers there are, three or four – this is almost 1,000. Next, over 50 infantry fighting vehicles were destroyed, it is roughly clear how many people are there. Hundreds of artillery guns, and each of them has several people, six S-300 systems, about 40 OSA air defense systems, the TOR, KUB, KRUG systems, more than 400 trucks – and the majority of them carried personnel and ammunition when they were destroyed. If we just calculate these figures... And how many people were killed in trenches? We were in those trenches, the contact lines – the footage is on the Internet. So according to our information, 5,000 Armenian troops may have been killed, and the number of wounded during war, as a rule, is two to three times higher.
As for our losses, I have said we will make them public after the fighting is over. But I have to say that they are a lot less, and bearing in mind the nature of the combat clashes, the difficult terrain, and the fortifications that the Armenians have built for 30 years, I believe that every human life is priceless, but our losses are minimal, bearing in mind all these factors.
- Military experts believe that Azerbaijan managed to minimize its losses during the active stage of hostilities thanks to the active use of drones. What is the reason for using drones?
- Of course, the arsenal of the Azerbaijani army consists not only of drones. We have modern air defense systems made in Russia, in Israel, in Belarus; several air defense systems are crisscross, which shoot down the bulk of missiles being sent from Armenian territory. Unfortunately, we can't shoot down all of them.
Our armor is the most modern: upgraded T-72 tanks, the most modern T-90 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, modern artillery that has a very long range. This includes Polonez rockets, LORA, Extra, Kasirga, etc. Our approach to the arming of our army was not one-sided.
But modern methods of warfare, of course, are different from those we had back in 1990s, and so unmanned aviation is an important factor of our combat capabilities, especially considering such fortified areas. That is why even the footage that we show on the Internet, just believe me that it is almost nothing compared to what is happening. This is what we can show.
They dug everything they could there. They have many kilometers of interconnected tunnels, rat holes where they get to as soon as they hear noise. There is a rat hole near every gun. That is why it would have been very hard to destroy this without modern hardware, this would result in a large number of casualties. We destroyed many Grad systems, and in this case unmanned aviation, Turkish and Israeli drones, helped us very much.
By using UAVs, we destroyed at least six S-300 air defense systems. In addition, modern UAVs conduct reconnaissance themselves, apart from independently carrying out strikes. They also coordinate artillery, which strikes afterwards. This is why it is an important factor of our success. But as I said, Azerbaijani soldiers and officers are liberating the lands, raising the flag. Because this is our heritage, and it is not by accident that the Azerbaijani army is considered as one of the most effective. I already know that this experience has been studied. In general, this experience will be useful for many countries in order to plan father military build-up.
And even for us. I recently held a meeting with the military and said that we should analyze both successes and shortcomings. And in the future, when we buy military hardware, we should be guided by experience in terms of what we need and what lies idle in storage depots.
- You spoke about Azerbaijan's civilian losses. What is the reaction of the international community to this? Does it condemn it or does everything end with calls to Baku and Yerevan to stop shelling each other?
- Yes, this is so. And this is not news for us. What kind of condemnation of Armenia has there been over these years of occupation? Has it been condemned? There has been none. Has anyone condemned Armenia for occupation? Yes, UN Security Council resolutions were adopted in 1993, yes, we then attained the adoption of UN General Assembly, the Non-Aligned Movement and even the European Parliament resolutions. Of course, they created a judicial framework, a legal framework for the settlement. But we have heard no condemnation. Even when it was clear that Armenia breached the ceasefire, not a single day elapsed after the ceasefire was agreed on in Moscow when they attacked Ganja.
And now, a day after the ceasefire was agreed on in Washington – and they begged for one, they begged for a ceasefire in Moscow and now, and what was reached thanks to the efforts of the French side – not a single day passed before they shelled Barda. And before that they fired at a funeral procession in Tartar. Four people were killed there. These are inhumane actions. This proves who we have to war against. This means there are no moral norms, no honor, dignity, and no understanding of how wars are fought.
You know, everyone, even an adversary, even an enemy, should be respected to a certain extent, because there are rules, in particular for fighting wars. There is nothing of the kind for the Armenian side. That is why we didn't pin much hope on condemnation. Fraternal Turkey backs us, Pakistan openly supports us. The Turkish president, the Pakistani prime minister have repeatedly voiced their support for us. Many countries support us. And when we say international community, almost every time the Western world is meant. But we haven't expected any sympathy from there.
- Could attacks on Azerbaijan's energy infrastructure, in particular Mingachevir and oil and gas pipelines, create certain risks for supplies of Azerbaijan's oil and gas to the global market?
- If they do what they promised, that is, the bombardment of the Sangachal terminal, or our oil and gas pipelines, this will certainly pose some risks. I think that they will be condemned in this case. As it is European consumers who need this oil and gas most of all. It is no secret that the gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to a certain extent, certainly not to a large extent, but somehow contributes and will contribute to energy security of some European countries.
As for the oil supplies, some European Union countries get 40 to 50 percent of their oil from Azerbaijan today. If something happens to these oil and gas pipelines, Armenia will face already serious international pressure. However, this does not stop them. They attempted to bomb the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline. This is a pipeline that connects Azerbaijan and Russia, a country Armenia constantly demands special relations from without giving anything in return. Absolutely nothing in both the political sense and international support. It is hard to expect anything different from the Soros team.
That is why the bombardment of the electric power plant in Mingachevir is aimed at destroying Azerbaijan’s energy system. This, of course, will have an effect to a certain extent, but we have already set up a branched power supply network, and new electric power plants.
This proves the predatory nature of the Armenian side. It is another thing that we have destroyed the majority of these missiles in mid-air, intercepted them, and some of them did not explode. This also speaks about their military potential. But such a threat certainly does exist, and we should respond to it adequately.
I have always said and continue saying that despite the barbaric bombardment of Barda, where a seven-year-old girl was killed and several more children were injured, I say that we are not them. We will respond on the battlefield, we will respond by liberating new lands, by raising the flag in new cities. We will bomb neither cities nor civilians.
Let me give you an absolutely recent example. It is an exchange of dead bodies and prisoners in question. Basically, this subject was first mentioned for humanitarian reasons in Moscow on 10 October. We contacted the Red Cross to say, 'Let's organize a swap.' Moreover, I will give you further detail. I have ordered to maximally preserve the bodies of Armenian servicemen – in refrigerators or cold places. We all understand what happens to human bodies...
- They are decaying...
- Yes, absolutely right. And the Armenian side refuses to take them every time. It says every time, let's do it where battles are under way. So, you understand, to put the lives of civilians in jeopardy. We say no. We have a state border. Let's do it in Tovuz district, in Gazakh district. Let's do it there. So yesterday, I decided to unilaterally hand over the bulk of the bodies of the killed Armenian servicemen. Plus, we have two civilians. These are elderly people who we are also handing over. And so we tried to do it yesterday. We sent cars with the bodies toward the border. We involved the office of the OSCE and the Red Cross. But the Armenian side doesn't accept them. You see, it doesn't take the dead! What are we talking about? How can this even be commented on? What norms of human moral does this fit into? That is why we will transfer the bodies in any case. Currently, we are looking at transferring their civilians and killed people via Georgia.
But if they refuse to accept them, I just don't know what to do. This is who we are fighting with, you see. Everyone should understand this. These are all their false and whining assurances. Their cries, their moans, these are just crocodile tears. We know this well. That is why the Russian public shouldn't be deceived by these lies and slander. Yes, it is clear that they got incorporated deep into Russia’s agencies. But that is not all. They are also there in France and America. They are in the media, they sometimes create a public background. But people should understand who we are fighting against and understand that we are right. We are fighting on our own land, and they are dying on our land.
- You have repeatedly said that the military phase of the conflict will end sooner or later. If Karabakh and seven districts are returned, how could this affect the pace of Azerbaijan's economic development?
- It is hard to say. You know, there are different assessments. Of course, the return of large territories under our control is a big potential for growth and development, primarily in agriculture and tourism spheres. Because the Karabakh region is one of the most beautiful and bountiful regions of our country. It is rich in natural resources – gold, zinc, lead. By the way, Armenia illegally produces gold in Kalbajar together with some foreign companies. But we, of course, will hold all of them to account through relevant legal procedures.
That is why prospects of this region will be very important for the sustainable development of Azerbaijan and for ensuring food security, primarily. But one should understand that this will entail enormous financial expenditures at the initial stage.
- Yes, of course. The footage that we demonstrate show that there is no house left there. When we liberated Fuzuli, we were unable to find a single building intact - just imagine. In the whole city. And tens of thousands people lived there. No building. I was called, and I said raise the flag on a flagpole. Do you understand? This is what they did. And look at the ruins of Aghdam, Jabrayil district. Everything is in ruins. It looked as if barbarians were there, not people. They took everything away, roofs, windows, toilets, sinks. They are just thieves. That is why we will face enormous expenditures. Infrastructure, roads, communications, housing, administrative buildings. Let me put it this way, at the first stage from the point of view of the gross domestic product this will probably have a positive impact on the construction industry, employment, and everything related to the production of construction materials. But from the point of view of expenditures, these will run to many billions.
We will calculate the damage. I have already ordered, given instructions to set up temporary command offices in liberated territories. I issued this order just a few days ago. We will take stock of everything that is left there, we will assess the damage inflicted there. Naturally, later, at the stage when our people will return there, we will employ relevant legal procedures and hold the aggressor accountable.
So I think in the long run, I think, in five or ten years this will add a good impetus to the non-oil industries, while this will be very costly in the short run. But there are no material dimensions that would stop us from restoring Karabakh and make it one of the most beautiful and comfortable place for living on earth.
- And my last question. What is your vision of the geopolitical development of the situation and alignment of forces in the region after the Karabakh conflict is settled?
- I believe the situation will certainly be different from what it used to be before the conflict. We have changed the geopolitical lie of the land in the region in many respects. It has already been changed, and a lot of stereotypes have become outdated - for instance, such a stereotype as confrontation between Russia and NATO. Now look: Russia and Turkey, a NATO member, have far more sincere and trusting relations than Turkey, a NATO member, has with some other country. It didn't use to be this way. This is a new reality. That is why this very structured stereotypic geopolitical thinking is being consigned to history. I think this is a positive factor. So we have to proceed from the reality. And politicians shape the reality by their actions. I think our region today sees a very positive format of cooperation between leading policy-makers, who determine the region's agenda and are focused on cooperation.
After all, we can talk about active cooperation between Turkey, Iran, Russia, and Azerbaijan in both trilateral and bilateral formats these days. I think one day we will start working in a quadrilateral format as well. This would be natural from the historical, economic, transport and geopolitical standpoints, and what is most important, from the standpoint of strengthening security in this region.
That is why Armenia should not remain foreign matter on the body of the Caucasus. It was the last to come here, and the Armenian state was created artificially on the lands that it never owned. I have said many times that the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic gave Yerevan to Armenia. This is a historical fact. On 29 May 1918, a day after the foundation of the republic was announced, Yerevan was given to Armenia. When this issue was being discussed, members of the legislative body from Yerevan were against it, but their opinion was ignored. So this is how Yerevan was given away, as simply as that. But, as they say, what is to be, will be.
Armenia shouldn't be a foreign body. It must end the occupation and normalize relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. This would only benefit them, believe me, this would only benefit them. All communications would be opened, and they would become part of energy and transport integration projects, they would become part of the common security system. After all, look, Turkey is buying S-400 systems from Russia. This is an absolutely new security system. This is not just the purchase of an air defense system, but this is a step toward a new security system and mutual confidence. This can't be accomplished without mutual confidence. We bought S-300 from Russia a long time ago, this is also a factor of mutual confidence, you see.
Therefore, this arrangement in the region benefits all. Armenia should come to understand that it is being marginalized, and nobody will fight for it. And what’s next? If it continues confrontation with us, if it keeps making territorial claims on Turkey, well, it should understand, how can it oppose us? But we don't want this opposition. We want peace, despite all the pain and tragedies that they have inflicted on our people. Therefore, I believe that geopolitical realities should be developing positively. At least as far as we are concerned, we will be doing all we can to make this happen.
- Thank you for your detailed answers.
Follow us on Twitter @AzerNewsAz