As part of the visit to Dashkasan district on July 22, President Aliyev was interviewed by the Azerbaijan Television, Azertag has reported.
Interview of President Ilham Aliyev to the Azerbaijan Television
-Hello, Mr. President, it is a pleasure to see you. Mr. President, you are visiting the western region of Azerbaijan – Dashkasan, Naftalan and Goranboy – today. You will attend the opening of several facilities. We would like to know your thoughts about the visit.
-These visits are regular in nature. The instructions I have issued in connection with the implementation of the State Program on the socioeconomic development of the regions are monitored on the ground. I have visited the regions hundreds of times in recent years. This visit is also an ordinary one. I will attend several opening ceremonies during the visit. These ceremonies actually show the volume of work we do. At the same time, it shows that the country is developing comprehensively. This visit will mark the commissioning of infrastructure projects, as well as the launch of industrial enterprises, sports facilities, roads, drinking water and sewage projects.
This region, which is an important part of the western region of the country, certainly has its own development prospects. I want to say again that my visits to the regions are regular in nature. For example, today we celebrated the commissioning of a new gold deposit in Dashkasan. This is a very important event because this area has particular prospects for the development of the non-oil sector. The mining sector is becoming a leading driver in our non-oil sector, and the prospects are very good. Today we celebrated the opening of that. At the same time, there was a presentation about the work to be done. Not only gold but also other precious metals will be produced on a larger scale in Azerbaijan in the future.
At the same time, there are concrete plans on the development of iron ore deposits, which is a traditional sector for Dashkasan. Some time ago, a special program was designed on my instructions and public investment was attracted. This will be a very lucrative area. At the same time, thousands of jobs will be created and our dependence on imports will be reduced. Because over the past five years – and the presentation shows that – the country spent a total of 1.7 billion manats on the imports of iron products. The development of this sector will allow us the opportunity to dramatically reduce our dependence on imports, will create a more viable value chain and, at the same time, we will have export opportunities. Because the development of our mining industry must follow this path today.
I must also say that this area has great prospects in the liberated lands. As you know, foreign companies have been illegally exploiting our gold and other mines for many years. This is a crime. I have already said this but I want to say it again. These companies have two options: either they will pay us compensation and accept our terms or face the other alternative of resolving this issue in the legal plain. I must also say that all the preparations are nearing completion. All our gold deposits illegally exploited by foreign companies in both Zangilan and Kalbajar districts have been analyzed. International consultants have been invited. I want to say again that they should reimburse the damage caused of their own free will, pay the damages to the Azerbaijani state and only then can they live comfortably. Otherwise, these companies have operations in other places and their business reputation will be severely damaged. In any case, we have explicitly defined our position.
As for the opening of other facilities related to the visit, there is a sports center in Goranboy district. This is the 48th sports center in the country and it shows that majority of our districts have the most modern sports facilities. A new sanatorium will be opened in Naftalan. This is a very significant event because the city of Naftalan should become a travel destination. I stated this for the first time when I was on a visit in Naftalan. At that time, IDPs were housed in all Soviet-era sanatoria in Naftalan. We have built modern houses for them in this area nearby, built settlements for them and relocated them there. Since then, large investments have been made, and 13 hotels and sanatoria are already in operation. I personally attended the opening of three – five-star hotels “Chinar”, “Karabakh” and “Gashalti”. I said that there should be recreation areas of different levels, of all categories – five-star, four-star, three-star, so that both Azerbaijani citizens and foreign visitors could use them.
In Soviet times, 50,000-60,000 tourists from various parts of the Soviet Union visited Naftalan every year. As a result of the work done over the past 15 years, more than 2,300 hotel rooms have been opened for tourists, and this process continues.
I should also note that the Sugovushan settlement was liberated during the second Karabakh war, and the distance from Naftalan to the Sugovushan settlement is not very large. A new road is under construction on my instructions, so this area will be a single travel destination. Visitors to Naftalan – both Azerbaijani citizens and foreign guests – should have more opportunities to get acquainted with our country, go to Ganja and other cities, as well as the Sugovushan settlement. It will be interesting for them to visit an area where there was intense fighting. Sugovushan is also a very scenic place – mountains, a large reservoir. So life is finally returning to these areas.
Let me also note that great work has been done for agricultural development of this region, especially Goranboy. On my instructions, the Shamkir canal has been built. The length of this canal is about 30 kilometers. This canal is already improving water supply to more than 30,000 hectares of land, which has greatly contributed to the development of agriculture.
Other projects have been implemented in Naftalan, Goranboy and Dashkasan districts. Roads, drinking water lines have been built, hospitals, social facilities have been built, jobs have been created. In other words, this region is developing fast, and I can say that everything is going according to plan. The State Program on the socioeconomic development of the regions is being implemented. Of course, after the second Karabakh war our main focus has been on liberated lands. However, our traditional work and programs related to the regions should not be forgotten either.
-Mr. President, the first half of the year is over. How would you assess the socioeconomic results of the first six months?
-I have a positive assessment, because the results of the first six months indicate that the economy of Azerbaijan has already overcome the recession. If we pay attention to the economic performance of each of these six months, we can see that the economic slowdown at the beginning of the year was measured in larger numbers. The decline decreased every month and by the end of May we were able to achieve slight economic development. The results of the first six months show that our economy has grown by 2 percent. This is a good indicator. If we look at the developments unfolding in the world, we can see that the vast majority of countries of the world are still experiencing an economic downturn. Our economy is growing, and I am sure that it will grow even more by the end of the year. It is even more gratifying that the growth in our non-oil sector amounted to more than 5 percent. This is quite a high figure, a good indicator and a manifestation of the work done.
If we turn our attention to industrial production, we can see that it has dropped by 0.3 percent. However, the main reason here is related to oil production and the implementation of the OPEC+ agreement. As you know, we have reduced production, and I would like to draw your attention to another indicator which confirms this theory, so to speak. Our non-oil industry has increased by 16.6 percent and will continue to grow. Today's opening ceremony and other work ahead will further enhance the industrial potential of the non-oil sector. We have registered growth of 16.6 percent. I don't know of another country that would achieve such growth.
Agriculture grew by 5.6 percent. This is also a significant increase. Last year, even before the pandemic, growth in agriculture was lower, at about 3-3.5 percent, but now it is 5.6 percent. This is also the result of the work done, the reforms implemented, and farmers are seeing that. This sector will always receive government support. Because agriculture will not be able to develop the way we want without government support.
Inflation is within the acceptable range of 4.3 percent. I think this is also a good indicator. Our foreign exchange reserves have grown. In six months, they increased by 1 billion dollars. But this growth could have been even greater, because a part of our reserves is kept in various currencies, including the majority in euros and dollars. Changes in the exchange rate have affected our absolute figures. If it hadn’t been for these changes and the decline in gold prices – because we have fairly large reserves invested in gold – the growth would have amounted to 1.7 billion dollars. So we actually earned so much extra money, but the difference in the exchange rate and the price of gold are temporarily affecting it. What does this mean? Even though we are carrying out large-scale reconstruction work, we are rapidly restoring Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur, not only have our foreign exchange reserves not reduced, but we have even increased them and not applied for any loans. What does this suggest? This suggests that we have resources, a resource base. At the same time, it shows that we are spending our funds very carefully, not allowing waste and unnecessary expenses. The once uncontrolled spending is a thing of the past now, all government officials must and do follow my instructions because we must save every single manat. Public investment will not be provided for unnecessary and unbeneficial projects, projects implemented to create a vision or for the sake of some other interests. Everyone knows that. So the growth of foreign exchange reserves is also a very important issue. The more currency we have, the more confident we feel.
I should also note that foreign exchange reserves in Azerbaijan are almost six times higher than the external public debt. This is a very rare occasion in the world, because the public debt of the absolute majority of countries is measured in numbers that are many times higher than their foreign exchange reserves. With us, everything is completely different. What does this show? This shows that we can zero our external public debt at any time. There is simply no need for that at the moment, because there are long-term loans we took on good terms and we are repaying them on time. This indicates that we do not need anyone's help and are therefore capable of pursuing an independent policy in both political and economic spheres.
I would like to voice another figure. It is related to exports. Exports have increased by 15 percent. This is also a very good indicator. Non-oil exports have increased by more than 27 percent. This is the tangible result of our plans, because we should earn currency not only from oil and gas, we should also earn it from the non-oil sector and bring it to the country. An increase of 27 percent is a large figure.
The positive balance of our foreign trade is 3.4 billion dollars in the first six months alone. If it continues this way, then the surplus will amount to approximately 6-7 billion dollars by the end of the year. In most countries of the world, the balance is negative. In other words, they import more than they export. Therefore, this affects the exchange rate and countries’ debts increase. The external debt of developed countries is 100 and sometimes even 120 percent of their gross domestic product. When it is at 50 percent, it is considered a positive phenomenon. In Azerbaijan, it is 19 percent and will be even lower, because I have ordered to keep reducing the debt every year. Of course, I wouldn’t want to compare Armenia to Azerbaijan because the difference is like between chalk and cheese. However, Armenia today is head over ears in debt. Their external debt has reached almost 70 percent of the gross domestic product. Their external debt is at the level of ours, approximately at 8-9 billion dollars, but we have foreign exchange reserves of 52 billion dollars, whereas in Armenia it is 1 billion. And then these are the funds of the Central Bank. They cannot use them. They are intended to somewhat stabilize the domestic exchange rate. So they have no free funds. This is the difference.
As a result of the reforms carried out, tax and customs authorities have collected more funds in six months than it was planned. Tax authorities have collected 810 million manats above the plan and customs authorities 206 million manats. How? Because of reforms. Thanks to what? Thanks to accuracy, transparency, accounting and reforms carried out. Businesses were allowed some time and advised to work so that there is no shadow economy and everyone pays tax. There should be no illegal payments. No government official should own a business. This approach has gone down very well with the business community. They also needed time to get used to the rules of new relationships, to work correctly, honestly, and we are already seeing this. We have received an additional income in the amount of more than one billion manats, and thanks to this we are making social payments, providing martyr families with houses, increasing wages, pensions, and implementing infrastructure projects. If it continues this way, then the figures will be even higher by the end of the year, of course.
These are the key economic indicators in brief. Every impartial specialist seeing these indicators would be convinced that any country can be proud of our indicators.
-Mr. President, restoration and reconstruction work is underway in our liberated territories. What innovations can we talk about in this direction?
-We provide the Azerbaijani public with regular updates on the work going on. The entire work done is approved and supported by the people. Of course, people from those regions, former IDPs are involved in the implementation of these projects, and their opinions are taken into account. Only eight months have passed since the war, but see how much work is being done. Of course, we have to deal with demining in the first place, and we are doing that. It takes a lot of time and money. Unfortunately, about 150 Azerbaijani citizens have been killed or lost their health because of landmines since the war ended.
The fact that landmine maps are not provided to Azerbaijan and are provided on certain conditions is another act of immorality and dishonesty on the part of Armenia, an approach that runs counter to normal human behavior. This is another manifestation of the hatred and hostility of the Armenian leadership towards us. Because there are no grounds for not giving landmine maps to us. The war is over. We have won the war. Armenia was defeated and has had to come to terms with this defeat, we forced it to do so. What is the goal behind not giving landmine maps to us? They want more Azerbaijanis to die, more people to be disabled. If this is not animosity, then what is it? This shows their nature yet again. It shows again that the Azerbaijani people must not forget anything. The people of Azerbaijan are a very kind people, a very benevolent people. In some cases, we forget some historical moments quickly. We must not and we will not ever forget Armenian savagery, the Khojaly genocide, the occupation of our lands, the urbicide committed. Therefore, demining is one of the key issues. At the same time, notice how much work is being done. By the end of this year, we will build all the power facilities in the liberated lands – both in Karabakh and in Eastern Zangazur: new lines, new transmission lines, transformers, substations, power plants. The Armenians set on fire and destroyed 12 hydroelectric power plants in Kalbajar and Lachin districts after they were allowed a two-week period to leave. So this is the main issue because there can be no development without that. We plan to complete it by the end of the year. But, of course, as I said later, the green energy project will be implemented. Interest has already been shown by a foreign company. We agreed to build a 200-megawatt solar power plant at the expense of a foreign company. This is a hugely important event. At the same time, it is a signal for other companies. I know that various energy companies around the world have identified renewable energy as their priority. We are also inviting them to come and invest here. We have a diversified energy network. We have high-voltage power lines with all neighboring countries – Turkey, Russia, Iran, Georgia. We can transfer energy anywhere. For example, we are now exporting it to Iran, we both export and import to and from Russia, but we export more. At the same time, we export it to Georgia and Turkey. Domestic demand will increase. Therefore, this area is of special importance.
In addition to energy, the second most important area is road infrastructure. Notice how much work has been done here in a matter of eight months. The Barda-Aghdam highway is under construction, the asphalt pavement on Victory Road will be completed in September. Victory Road wasn’t there before. This road, passing through ravines, mountains and forests, had to be established, a ground road had to be built first and then an asphalt road. We have done it in just eight to nine months. In parallel, the Fuzuli-Shusha highway and the Horadiz-Aghband road are under construction. They have 4-6 lanes. The Zangilan-Gubadli-Lachin road is under construction. This is a very important road. The Fuzuli-Hadrut-Jabrayil roads – work is underway on all roads. To reach Kalbajar easily, a road is being built from Goygol across Omar pass. This road didn’t exist before, there was only a trail. It has never been used in winter months. We are now building roads and tunnels so that we can use that road in all seasons of the year. At the same time, we are linking Goygol as a tourist center with the future tourist centers of Kalbajar. Other roads are being built in Kalbajar and Lachin districts. The total length of these roads is up to 700 kilometers because there was no road there before. There was no road leading to the border. The snow melted there in May. So we have to build a lot of roads there before winter arrives – and winter will arrive in October. This is large-scale work, which is not widely covered in the media. Of course, these roads are very important from a strategic point of view and from the point of view of strengthening our positions on the border.
Three airports are under construction. I have already said when these airports will be commissioned. These are just the main infrastructure projects. Our people are doing a great job in urban planning. They are very active. The master plan of Aghdam has been approved. The initial version of Fuzuli and Jabrayil master plans has been submitted to me. Work is now in progress on a detailed plan. The master plans of Fuzuli and Jabrayil will be presented to the public in the coming months. The process of preparing a master plan for the city of Zangilan has already begun. Several foreign companies, renowned world-class companies have submitted their proposals. The choice is being made now. At the same time, of course, Gubadli, Lachin and Kalbajar – these cities will be rebuilt. In other words, it is a truly great heroism to do such large-scale work in a matter of eight months. I must also say that we are doing all this work at our own expense. We are paying for everything ourselves and have not received a single manat from anywhere. Yes, we have invited foreign companies, but as contractors. All funding come from the state budget. This is a major burden for the state budget. Of course, but we are doing that. We will do that. As I said, we will turn Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur into a paradise.
-Mr. President, Azerbaijan's chairmanship in the Non-Aligned Movement has been extended for another year at the invitation of member states. First of all, let me congratulate you on this historic diplomatic decision. Mr. President, what are the reasons for the extension of Azerbaijan's chairmanship in this Movement for another year?
-I think there are several reasons for that. First of all, all member states have seen during our chairmanship that there is no difference between our words and our deeds. Azerbaijan officially took over the chairmanship at the Baku Summit. In my speech, I said that we would defend the interests of member countries, we would defend international law and justice, and we are doing that. The best example of this is the second Karabakh war. We have restored international law and justice alone despite all the pressure and threats. Of course, this historic victory has increased the respect of all member states for us. At the same time, we have treated our chairmanship with great responsibility. I said in the first months of our chairmanship that we were not treating it as a formality. Because the Non-Aligned Movement has a 60-year history, and there have been various chairing countries during this time. Some have been indifferent. They simply treated it as a status, so to speak. Our approach is very precise, responsible and focused. We represent the interests of member countries in international forums, and they defend us as well. A COVID Summit was held on our initiative. We have provided humanitarian and material assistance to more than 30 countries. Most of them are members of the Non-Aligned Movement. A special session of the UN General Assembly on COVID was held on our initiative as well. Other steps have been taken within the UN framework as well. We have raised our voice against vaccine nationalism. I have repeatedly cited figures from the highest platforms that rich countries have seized and appropriated 82 percent of the vaccines, whereas poor countries have access to only 0.3 percent. How fair is that? Of course, this is an injustice. It seems to be yet another manifestation of colonialism. We are actively fighting against vaccine nationalism. I can say that we are at the forefront of the world. There is no other country that would speak on this issue as much as we do. True, the World Health Organization does that, the UN does that, but I can say that we initiated this. Member states also see that we are really trying to protect them, we are helping them to the best of our ability, we are defending them in the international arena. All these factors and, of course, our historic victory have increased our respect. I think that member states have seen that we practice what we preach. They saw that if Azerbaijan chairs the Non-Aligned Movement for another year, the authority of this Movement will increase by 2023, and so will its influence. Also, the Non-Aligned Movement Summit was attended by a high-ranking EU official – the Special Representative for Foreign Affairs – in the capacity of Vice President for the first time in history. This is unprecedented, and cooperation of the Non-Aligned Movement with other international organizations is on our agenda. I recently discussed this issue with Mr. Michel, President of the European Council, who was on a visit to Azerbaijan, and I believe that there are prospects for this cooperation. These factors have contributed to that and, first of all, they appealed to us. We provided our consent. I gave this consent. Then, at a recent interim conference, this issue was put on the agenda and all member countries expressed their gratitude to Azerbaijan.
-Mr. President, you have mentioned the visit of the President of the European Council, Mr. Charles Michel, to our country. What would be your assessment of the results of this visit and what are the areas that have prospects for expanding cooperation between Azerbaijan and the European Union?
-I have a high assessment of the visit. It was a visit that served the development of political ties between the European Union and Azerbaijan. I should also note that our political ties are developing very successfully. I have paid a number of visits to the European Union. Leaders of the European Union have also paid numerous visits to Azerbaijan. Two years ago, the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, paid a visit to Azerbaijan. Two years later, the new President, Mr. Charles Michel, came to Azerbaijan within the framework of a regional visit. What does this mean? This suggests that we have created an excellent basis for cooperation. Over the years, the scope of cooperation and the areas covered have increased. Whereas it was mostly energy issues that were on the agenda at the initial stage, we have resolved them now. We have completed the Southern Gas Corridor. It was built on the initiative of Azerbaijan. The European Union has also played a positive role in it, because Azerbaijan and the European Union chair the Advisory Council of the Southern Gas Corridor. I should also add that the initiative to have the Advisory Council was also put forward by me. I suggested this to the European Union and they reacted positively. The Advisory Council is held very fruitfully every year. Whereas our active cooperation began with energy issues, today it covers a broader agenda. Therefore, this visit is of great importance from a political point of view.
During the meeting, I also informed Mr. Michel that we had adopted or signed documents – agreements or declarations on strategic partnership – with nine member countries. This is a third of the European Union. What does that mean? This means that a third of the European Union considers Azerbaijan a strategic partner. And again, I don’t want to compare Azerbaijan to anyone, but can any other country say that it has such a format of cooperation, a bilateral format? As for the relations between the European Union and Azerbaijan, in general, as you know, we are now working on a new agreement. Ninety percent of the agreement has been agreed. If the principles of realism prevail and our concerns about some problems are taken into account, then, I think that the agreement can be signed in the coming days or months. The European Union is our main trading partner – it accounts for about 40 percent of our trade. The European Union is also our main export partner. Our annual exports to the European Union amount to 6.8 billion dollars. Imports amount to about 2.5 billion dollars. We also have a positive balance with them.
The European Union has been attaching tremendous great importance to the transport sector of late. For example, I can say that a very brief visit of Mr. Donald Tusk to Azerbaijan took place two years ago. Despite this, he visited the Alat International Trade Seaport. He visited there, got acquainted with the situation and a presentation was made for him. What does this mean? This is evidence of interest. I should also note that while visiting Azerbaijan, Mr. Charles Michel as head of the European Union, made a trip to the regions of Azerbaijan for the first time. He visited Shamakhi and the Shamakhi Juma mosque. I have a very high assessment of that. This is a wonderful message, a wonderful gesture, especially on the eve of Eid al-Adha. We should appreciate this. The Azerbaijani people should also know this. In Shamakhi, a presentation was made for him about the operation of the Alat International Trade Seaport, the future of the Alat Free Economic Zone and tourism opportunities. In other words, the transport sector is of great interest in Europe. The European Commissioner for Enlargement, Mr. Varhelyi, who recently visited Azerbaijan, also went to see the Alat Trade Seaport. The European Union not only recognizes Azerbaijan as an important transport and logistical center, but can also count on our potential. But let's recall that when we put forward the initiative to build the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, Europe did not support us. America not only failed to support us, but also opposed the initiative. I remember all this. We made so much effort at the time so that the United States of America did not disrupt this project, because America had great opportunities to influence Georgia at the time. I know that Georgia was openly persuaded not to participate in this project. I remember history well. Why? Because of Armenia. The Armenian lobby, which still dictates its will in the capitals of large countries, mobilized all its resources at the time to prevent this from happening, because Armenia would remain on the sidelines. But the reason for Armenia staying on the sidelines is Armenia itself. I told them to stop the occupation and communications would open. Just as I am saying this now, and we are doing exactly that. Therefore, we even applied for loans at that time. But no-one responded. We did it ourselves – Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia. And you are probably aware of the financial burden Azerbaijan took upon itself. But this very Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and other infrastructure – the port, the free economic zone and the Zangezur corridor the future – are of great interest today. Why? Because it is beneficial to them. Remembering this now, I do not want to blame anyone. Let bygones be bygones. The key thing is that we managed to achieve our goal. But this history shows that our initiatives were timely and correct. If someone does not understand this at the first, at the initial stage, they begin to understand this over the years. Today, the relations between the European Union and Azerbaijan in the transport sector have a special agenda.
-Mr. President, while in Baku, Charles Michel never used the words “Nagorno-Karabakh” and “status”. It was evident that he did this in order not to hear some harsh words from you, so to speak. What does this indicate? At the same time, while in Yerevan, he used the words “disputed territories” in relation to the border with Armenia. This caused great disappointment in Armenia.
-Indeed, Armenia’s disappointment will last long because, as we can see, they have not yet learned the lesson from the war. Some of their inappropriate statements and steps indicate that they still have a lesson to learn. They shouldn't forget the second Karabakh war. While in Yerevan, Charles Michel described the border territories as disputed. To be honest, I also disagree with this expression because we believe that these territories are ours. I believe that this is the territory of Zangazur, and Zangazur is the land of our ancestors, so we are in our own territory.
Of course, this issue was discussed during the visit, and I tried to clarify that we had reached our border. Why did we reach it in May? Because the snow has melted. There was snow two or three meters thick. It was impossible to access the border. As soon as the snow melted, we went out, took the necessary points, settled there, strengthened and will strengthen our positions there. Therefore, Armenia’s disappointment is caused by the fact that they are still daydreaming, of course. They cannot come to terms with the post-war realities. I believe that the psychological factor also plays a role here. Apparently, they need some time to get used to the new realities from a psychological point of view, because our Victory smashed all their ideological foundations to smithereens. For 30 years, they had been spreading utter lies about themselves, trying to force the world to accept that they have a supposedly victorious army, an invincible army, that the Armenian people have a fighting spirit and the Armenian army is the strongest. But what happened? We crushed it, we defeated it, we destroyed it in a matter of 44 days. We have shown that the Azerbaijani people are a victorious people. We showed that all their propaganda is nothing but a myth, mythology. We have demonstrated that in the first Karabakh war they gained an advantage thanks to external support. This is no secret to anyone. Of course, I understand that it is not easy to realize this, to live with this reality and to get used to it. Therefore, we must take this psychological reality into account. But at the same time, I have to say that Armenia should not make the same mistakes again because their inappropriate and unacceptable actions and statements cost them very dearly. The second Karabakh war showed this. Therefore, there is no need to waste breath. The fact that Charles Michel did not use the words “status” and “Nagorno-Karabakh” was a very wise step, of course. It was the step of a statesman. We appreciate this and Armenia must draw the right conclusion. There is neither a status nor Nagorno-Karabakh. The Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region was established on 7 July 1923 as an artificial formation. The Armenians represented in the Soviet government at the time simply made this illegal and completely unfounded decision, and Soviet Azerbaijan, of course, had to agree and come to terms with that at that time. Nobody even asked us. But it was a completely unfounded and artificial entity. A month after the restoration of independence, in November 1991, the parliament of Azerbaijan abolished the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region. These are documents, and it was abolished legally. It had the powers to do this. Why was the word “Nagorno-Karabakh” used after that? Because of the conflict – in international documents and then at the negotiating table. I myself have repeatedly used the expression “Nagorno-Karabakh” in connection with the conflict, but not in connection with the territory. I should also add that every time this or that issue related to the conflict was touched upon, I always used the phrase “the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh”. I have never used the words “Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” without saying “Armenian-Azerbaijani” one. There is a reason for that. It means something. Of course, it is inappropriate to talk about Nagorno-Karabakh after the war ended and the conflict was resolved. Therefore, I said that there is no such territorial unit in Azerbaijan. If someone likes these words, then I don't mind that, let them establish a region called Nagorno-Karabakh in their countries or give this name to some region. Let them create a republic – it is up to them. In other words, there is no administrative unit in the territory of Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh, and the fact that Charles Michel did not use these words, of course, should be taken as a sign of respect for our position. The same holds true for the issue of status. On 10 November, after the end of the war, I said where the status is. It is still there and it will stay there, burning in flames, forever. So there can be no other opinions on this issue either.
You know, let's say it quite frankly that it was a provocation committed by the Soviet government to artificially create a permanent hotbed of conflict in Azerbaijan. To create the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region on our historical land, to turn one of its villages, Khankandi, which was a village, into its center and to name it after executioner Shaumyan was an extremely negative step towards the Azerbaijani people. This was an insult to us. History has put everything in its place. As for the status, 25,000 people live there today. We have fairly wide and varied information about the processes taking place there. We knew what was happening there even before the war. Of course, we know it now as well because they are below us. The real number of residents there is 25,000. Other figures were also mentioned, suggesting that more than 50,000 people had allegedly returned there after the war. Possibly, but returning does not mean staying there. They have returned, but then went back. Secondly, we have various technical means, a satellite. We know the number of cars there. We see the movement of people. There are other objective means available to us, and if we take this as a basis, we know exactly how many people live there – a maximum of 25,000. We conduct daily monitoring – how many vehicles have entered the Lachin corridor and how many have left. At the same time, we see vehicles arriving from abroad. We have said that this must end, this is not good, this is our territory. How can a foreign vehicle enter there without our permission? Also, if someone thinks that we do not see this, then they are wrong. Sometimes Armenian number plates are attached to these cars. But we are there, we are in the corridor. We see everything – both Khankandi and the corridor. So this must end. The number of outbound vehicles significantly exceeds that of incoming entering every day. What is the logic behind creating a status for 25,000 people? I am asking. The Azerbaijani people are expressing their legitimate discontent when statements are made in France and America that do not reflect the reality and state that the conflict must be resolved. I am asking how should it be resolved. I am saying this as President of Azerbaijan that I have resolved this issue, that is all! There is no Nagorno-Karabakh and there is no status. There is Eastern Zangazur along with the Karabakh economic zone. This is reflected in my Order of 7 July 2021. On 7 July 1923, a century ago, the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region was established. On 7 July 2021, the Eastern Zangazur and Karabakh economic zones were created. So there is no such thing, and I repeat that if someone wants to grant a status – there are about a million Armenians living in America, more than 500,000 in France, more than 100,000 Armenians in Marseille and around it – why isn’t the status being granted there? Why should it be granted in Azerbaijan? What are the legal, political and historical grounds for this? None! The Armenians began to live there earlier than in our territory. They began to be resettled to our lands in 1828 – after 1812 and 1828. They have no historical grounds to live there. We show humanism and say that we do not mind that. We say that they are our citizens. If the leaders of this junta allowed them, then, I am sure, they would live and work with great pleasure as citizens of Azerbaijan, they would come and go, including for work, they would come to Aghdam and Fuzuli and even ask us. Therefore, the question of status should merit this assessment. If not, then let them create Nagorno-Karabakh even in five different places – I don't mind that. I will recognize them all. But not in Azerbaijan.
-Mr. President, Charles Michel stated in Armenia that the European Union would allocate 2.6 billion euros to Armenia. In Georgia, he said that the European Union would allocate 2.3 billion euros to Georgia. No funds are being allocated to Azerbaijan. How fair is this position?
-This is an unfair position, of course. As for Azerbaijan, a figure of 150 million euros was announced, but we were not specifically told what this figure was, when the funds would be provided, whether they would be provided at all and on what conditions. Of course, I think this position is unfair, because Azerbaijan is the largest country in the South Caucasus in terms of territory, population and potential. Until now, such large funds have not been provided to the countries of the South Caucasus. So this suggests that these funds are provided precisely after the war. In other words, the reason for providing these funds is war. Otherwise, they could have provided them 30 years ago, why now? If so, then Azerbaijan is the country worst affected by the war. These funds should be provided to Azerbaijan. An area of 10,000 square kilometers is completely destroyed, destroyed by Armenian vandals. Hundreds of thousands of mines have been planted, all buildings, historical sites and the entire infrastructure is destroyed. But the money is being provided to Armenia. Is there any destruction in Armenia? No. Have we planted any mines there? No. Is there a country that suffered so much from the occupation? No. Of course, this is unfair. There was an exchange of views on this issue, of course. The answer was that Azerbaijan did not need funds, as it were. First, no-one offered it to us. So why don’t you offer it first and I will say whether we need it or not. Although no-one offered it to us, they are saying that Azerbaijan does not need the money. But are we supposed to rebuild the liberated lands? We need billions of dollars. Are they falling from the sky? Azerbaijan is a transparent country. Its financial resources are also known. True, we are a country that supports itself. But if we are given funds as a grant, as is the case with Armenia, we will never reject it. The second thesis is that a part of the provided 2.6 billion euros is a loan and a part is a grant. This sounds as if Azerbaijan does not take loans. We don’t take loans, but if there are favorable conditions, why not take? We will take them. Besides, Armenia is given a grant, a gift, but we are not. But we need it more. Therefore, these issues should always be on the agenda. Of course, in the course of regular contacts with the European Union, we will always discuss this issue, we will see what grant is provided to Armenia and insist that at least the same should be provided to us. If they don't do that, then they should tell us why. Let them say that they have a pro-Armenian position, let them say that quite frankly – I am in favor of a candid conversation. In all our meetings, including those with Mr. Michel, we talked very sincerely and openly, because we talk in order to resolve issues and to study each other's position. We shouldn't hide behind diplomatic words. Therefore, we do hope that this issue will be clarified. We should be offered as much as Armenia and on the same conditions. Whether we accept this proposal or not is another matter.
-Mr. President, on 20 July you were on a working visit to Russia and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What can you say about the results of the visit?
-I have a positive assessment of the visit results. I paid another visit to Russia at the invitation of the Russian President, and a broad exchange of views took place primarily related to bilateral issues and, of course, the post-conflict situation. As for bilateral relations, Russia and Azerbaijan are strategic partners, and not just in words. We are strategic partners in real life, because there are no disagreements related to the prospects for long-term strategic cooperation. There is a strong friendship between us. I personally have very close contacts with Mr. Putin. We are politicians who trust each other. It is very important. During the visit, we discussed the agenda of bilateral issues. We are currently working on seven roadmaps. Each roadmap addresses a specific area and there are good results in each area. This time we discussed more trade, economic, transport and humanitarian issues. As for transport issues, of course, we discussed both the previously agreed issues, the North-South transport corridor, its prospects and the situation that has evolved after the war, including the Zangazur corridor and the post-conflict period. There is no disagreement in our approaches. We, Russia and Azerbaijan, believe that the war is over, that the conflict is over. No revanchist tendencies should be allowed in Armenia and there should be peace in the region from now on. The risks of war must be minimized and eliminated. There are no disagreements between us in that and our opinions are the same. As for the Zangazur corridor, I told Mr. Putin that, according to the information we have, Armenia is acting insincerely in connection with this issue again. If you noticed, I said at a press conference with Mr. Charles Michel that all roads should be opened in parallel and that there should be no selective approaches or discrimination. But we are seeing that Armenia is once again trying to play some kind of game here. It gave its consent for the railway to should pass through the Zangazur corridor, although immediately after the war it was opposed to that. I said that we would force them and some saw this as a threat. But I meant that we would convince them of that. But it is opposed to the opening of the road, which runs counter to the statement signed on 10 November because it states in the ninth paragraph: roads will be opening – railways and highways. How is it possible that the railway is opened and Armenia has a railway connection with Iran and Russia, whereas we can’t travel to Nakhchivan by car? How is this possible? This is impossible. The President of Russia and I exchanged views on this issue, and I believe that we will receive more encouraging news from Yerevan at the next stage. Armenia has temporarily put an end to the trilateral working group. The group has not met since the beginning of June. The Deputy Prime Minister of Russia visits Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss issues in a bilateral format. In any case, our position remains unchanged – the Zangazur corridor must be opened. The sooner Armenia realizes this, the better for it.
I would like to draw the attention of our citizens to another issue. Have a look – the President of the European Council pays a visit to Azerbaijan, the relations are developing, my visit to Russia takes place, and during the discussions – our meeting lasted several hours – there was not a single controversial issue. There was not a single issue of concern. In June, we signed a Declaration on Allied Relations with Turkey and raised our relations to an even higher level. Our friendly ties with other neighboring countries – Iran and Georgia – are strengthening. The Non-Aligned Movement gives us another mandate and provides further support. This organization brings together 120 countries, including Azerbaijan. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation always supports us – both during the occupation and after the war. The Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation came to Azerbaijan specifically to express this support. Notice how sincere and effective our ties are with the world's leading forces and how they meet our goals. What is the reason? The reason is in our correct policy, our honesty, the unity between our words and deeds, and our inner strength. All our partners know perfectly well that Azerbaijan has a powerful internal potential. We demonstrated that during the war and in the post-war period. They know that there is national solidarity in Azerbaijan, the unity of the people and the government, that we, as a decent country, have managed to build equitable relations with all partners on the basis of friendship and cooperation. I think this is our great achievement.
-Mr. President, eight months have passed since the end of the patriotic war. How would you assess the post-conflict period?
-I have a positive assessment, because both during the war and in the post-war period we have achieved and are still achieving what we want. I should also add that I have a very precise idea of the steps before, during and after the war, I know what, when and how we need to do everything. In this area, and indeed in all areas, there is a conceptual approach. Short-term, medium-term and long-term goals are outlined. Of course, not all of these goals have been announced because it is too early. But we know what we want, what we want now and how we can achieve that. We are taking all our steps in accordance with this, and I can say that these eight months are going according to our scenario. Although the post-war period is not as difficult as the war itself, it has been a very uncertain time because no-one could tell how exactly the processes would develop. During the war, some countries openly took action against us, groundlessly accused us, threatened us, threatened us with sanctions, tried to bring this issue up for discussion in the UN Security Council. All this is an integral part of the anti-Azerbaijani scenario, and we have not forgotten this either.
In the post-war period, we worked quickly and actively, were able to achieve the adoption of our agenda, and work is proceeding on the basis of this agenda today. We have succeeded in having our agenda adopted in the territories under the control of Russian peacekeeping forces and around them, in the political plane on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Not a single step was accidental. Every step was based on a thought-out program. During the war, I thought about the post-war period and further steps. I was absolutely sure that we would win. I was absolutely sure and said that no-one could stop us, not a single force. There was no going back. But the post-war period is also full of great challenges, and we are going through it with great skill. I can say that the agenda for the post-war period has been largely drawn up by us. Of course, on the condition of constant contacts with neighboring countries and taking into account their concerns, but all this work is also taking place on the basis of our agenda. I have already noted the scale of the restoration work, so I do not want to return to that. At the same time, we are currently implementing major social programs for martyr families. By the end of this year, 3,000 families of martyrs and disabled veterans of the Karabakh war will be provided with apartments. Just imagine – 3,000. A total of 1,300 have already been provided, and this area is also in the spotlight.
On the diplomatic plane: the European Union, the United States of America, neighboring countries – Turkey, Iran, Georgia, the Muslim world, the Non-Aligned Movement – all these contacts are developing in a positive direction. Today, we are shaping the political agenda of Armenia to a certain extent. I cannot say that this is a large extent, but a certain extent, and this is reality. Armenia cannot form even 0.1 percent of our agenda, but we are shaping a certain political agenda in Armenia, and our opportunities will gradually expand. We have included the word “Zangazur Corridor” in the political lexicon. Leading media not only of the region but also of the whole world speak and write about the Zangezur corridor. Why? We have done this through regular effort, and this is already a reality. We sent an agenda to Armenia – a peace treaty. Let them say that they don’t want it, that they are refusing. I have said many times and am saying again: we are ready to start negotiations. Is the war over? It is. Do you want peace, Armenia? Apparently you do. Then why not sign a peace treaty? Recognize our territorial integrity, let a peace treaty be signed and the delimitation of borders resolved. Notice that our agenda on this issue overlaps with that of the European Union, Turkey and Russia. They are talking about the need for carrying out delimitation work, and so are we. What does Armenia say? It says no and let Azerbaijan leave our lands. We are on our own land. We have created a new reality, and not only in the Karabakh zone. The new agenda leaves out the status issue, the word “Nagorno-Karabakh” is not used. We had to achieve this. These issues did not arise by themselves, they did not fall from the sky. Why? Courage, determination, correct steps and offensive policy. Earlier I spoke about offensive diplomacy, it is in place, but now there is an offensive policy in general. And Armenia will have to reckon with this and accept new realities – whether it wants it or not. It must never forget that the iron fist is in place.
-Mr. President, thank you for taking the time to answer the questions. Thank you very much.
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