President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by Turkish NTV TV channel on October 15, 2020.
Trend presents the interview.
- Mr. President, first of all, thank you very much on behalf of NTV. Thank you for receiving us at this historic time, on such important days for both the region and Azerbaijan despite your busy schedule.
- Thank you.
- Mr. President, the first question will be related to the frontline. What territories have been liberated under occupation since 27 September? Good news has been coming in the last two days.
- Yes, the news is coming. It is possible to say that the Azerbaijani Army is conducting successful operations every day. The public is also aware about these operations. Our main goal is to restore our territorial integrity. Therefore, the main goal on the battlefield is also to liberate strategic heights from the invaders and take control of large territories.
The statement I made yesterday made the people of Azerbaijan happy again. Three villages of Fuzuli and five villages of Khojavand districts have been liberated from the invaders. I must also say that we already control strategic heights in the northern, southern and eastern directions.
Our successful operation continues. To date – of course, these numbers change on a daily basis – about 40, perhaps even more settlements, cities and villages – have been liberated from the occupiers. Very soon there will be more good news, great news.
- I think you are close to Khankandi.
- We are currently conducting major operations in the northern and southern directions. As you know, as a result of a successful operation, we have liberated the city of Jabrayil from occupation. Most of the villages of Jabrayil district are already with us. At the same time, we have liberated many villages of Fuzuli district. I am sure that more good news will come from Fuzuli district in the near future. Also, as a result of a successful operation in the northern direction, the settlement of Sugovushan has been liberated from the invaders. It is also of strategic importance because the heights located there allow is the opportunity to control a vast territory. In addition, there is a very important water reservoir. Armenia had also masterminded a water terror against us and more than one hundred thousand hectares of our lands were left without water. We were forced to drill artesian wells. After the reservoir in Sugovushan settlement came under our control, water started to be supplied to a vast territory.
Therefore, we are carrying out the operation gradually and on the basis of a single plan. All goals have been identified. The Armenian side must reckon with this reality and stop the aggression, observe the ceasefire and leave the rest of the land of its own free will, so that no blood is shed, so that the issue is resolved peacefully.
- Mr. President, I would like to ask if it is still possible to talk about a ceasefire? As we can see, Armenia does not observe the ceasefire. During the attack on Ganja, I was also in that region. Apparently, Armenia is not going to observe it. Has this ceasefire reduced the speed of the Azerbaijani army? What can you say about this?
- You know, we made a huge gesture to the mediators because, as you know, from the first days we started receiving messages from various places related to the ceasefire. Naturally, peace has its own rules and war has its own rules and laws. If someone attacks you, you must defend your land and your citizens. As you know, the introduction of a ceasefire is primarily related to humanitarian issues. Certain work has been done in this direction. We have taken very important actions to exchange bodies. We have involved the International Organization of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in this work. Unfortunately, Armenia, taking advantage of the ceasefire, capitalizing on it, launched new attacks on us. It bombed not only the city of Ganja but also our other cities and villages. This is a war crime, an act of terrorism. Armenia as a terrorist country has once again shown its face to the whole world, and on the battlefield too. Following the ceasefire, they wanted to take this opportunity to launch several attacks on Hadrut. They tried to regain control over it. However, they could not do it and lost a lot of manpower and equipment there. Attacks were organized against us in other directions – in Jabrayil district, in the southern direction of Jabrayil along the Araz River. All these attacks, of course, were suppressed. This shows that Armenia is insincere at the negotiating table too. Therefore, if this dirty policy continues in Armenia, they will regret it. From the first hours of these battles, I appealed to them and the Armenian people. I said: leave these lands in a peaceful way so that blood is not shed and people do not die. Unfortunately, Armenia does not observe this. Today, the main culprit for the fact that the Armenian army is completely defeated on the battlefield is the military-political leadership of Armenia.
- You also spoke about the importance of Turkey's participation in the settlement of the Karabakh problem. Yesterday, after the conversation between Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin, Ankara made a statement on the settlement within the framework of the Minsk Group and bilateral relations. However, Sergey Lavrov yesterday objected and said that Turkey and Russia had different positions on the Karabakh issue. What do you think about this? Why does Russia object to Turkey's participation in the process that you support? What would you like to say about this?
- It would be better if you asked them. I would not like to comment on their statements. We simply have to consider the existing realities. These realities, the true situation is that no issue in the region can be resolved without Turkey's participation today. The history of recent years has already shown this. Someone may like it, some may not, but this is a fact, a reality. Of course, Turkey as a neighbor of Azerbaijan, Armenia and another South Caucasian country, Georgia, plays an active role in this region. This is the right of Turkey. This has been the case historically. We know history well.
Therefore, from the first hours of these battles, in order to move this problem from a military onto a political plane, a political process, we expressed a very open and precise position: Turkey must definitely participate in these matters. If this happens, the fighting will end and the peace process will begin very soon. I also said that Turkey was already in this process, as evidenced by yesterday's conversation between Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin. In addition, a few days earlier, there were telephone conversations between the foreign ministers, defense ministers of Turkey and Russia. They are discussing the Karabakh issue.
Therefore, our position is that Turkey must be there. The status is already a technical question. De facto Turkey is already present. It is already a member of the Minsk Group. Over the course of 30 years, the Minsk Group has failed to achieve any result and has not contributed to the implementation of four resolutions of the United Nations Security Council for these 30 years. This situation actually led to the freezing of the conflict. Ultimately, however, the attack on us in July of this year, the sending of an Armenian sabotage group to Azerbaijan in August and, finally, a large-scale offensive in September showed that this conflict is not frozen.
We stick to our position and, of course, hope that this issue will soon be resolved at the negotiating table. Turkey must and, I am sure, will play an active role in this issue.
- In the same statement, he said that if the two countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia, agree, then we can send a Russian military observation mission to the line of contact, that is, to the frontline. What is your attitude to this? If such a military observation mission is created, then which countries should be included in it? What can you say about this?
- You know, this issue – the introduction of peacekeeping forces into the region – is enshrined in the fundamental principles. So the fundamental principles include this too. However, this issue should be resolved at the final stage of the process. Considering that the fundamental principles have not been agreed upon and are just a topic of discussion, I don’t know how correct it would be to express an attitude to this issue.
In addition, this issue was not discussed in detail between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Therefore, it was not discussed at all who will be part of the peacekeeping forces, which countries would be represented and what the composition will be. Therefore, I believe that in the current circumstances, when the active phase of the conflict is still ongoing, it is a little too premature to talk about this. Of course, the position of Azerbaijan in this matter must and will be taken into account because everyone should know that the conflict is taking place on Azerbaijani lands now. This is our land from the point of view of both international law and historical justice, and it is impossible to send armed forces of another country to Azerbaijan without the consent of Azerbaijan.
- This is why I asked. For example, Turkey and Russia carry out certain cooperation in some parts of Syria. There are military units and observers are on patrol service. If such a format is proposed in the future, what can you say about it?
- I would not like to say anything about this now because I do not want to get ahead of the events. To resolve this or that issue, time must be right and the situation must be ripe. We cannot say when it will happen, we do not know whether it will or will not be the case. One thing is clear: after the end of the military confrontation, naturally, certain international efforts will be needed to ensure peace. What these efforts will consist in, whether they will be political or will they be proposals in the military sphere – we are ready to consider this. Of course, the Azerbaijani population that will return to the liberated territories must live in peace. It is necessary to ensure their safety. Armenia’s treacherous attack of Ganja from its territory proves that this terrorist state is capable of doing anything. Therefore, of course, this issue should be discussed on the international plane. However, I cannot say anything about when this will happen.
- Mr. President, there are military agreements with Turkey within a certain framework. How do you view the idea of stationing a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan within the framework of these agreements or on the basis of some new agreements? Do you have such thoughts?
- Until now, there have been no discussions about this within the framework of bilateral relations. We have a very extensive framework of legal documents with Turkey. In other words, the agreements we have signed in many areas remain in force, these agreements also contain clauses on cooperation and mutual assistance in the military sphere. This is our right. If such a situation arises, if there is a very serious threat to Azerbaijan, then, of course, Turkey is our ally and we can take advantage of these opportunities. But there were no discussions on the stationing of a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan. Our cooperation in the military sphere is strengthening every year. Last year alone, 10 joint exercises were held. This year, due to the coronavirus, we had to take a short break. The exercises were conducted only twice this year. But these exercises also caused a great deal of anxiety in our region. I believe that there are no reasons or grounds for concern because these exercises are not aimed at any country. These exercises are aimed at strengthening our cooperation in the military sphere, improving the Azerbaijani army, bringing it closer to the standards of the Turkish army and studying the positive experience of Turkey in the field of army building. Since late September, a lot of information has been published in international media about a Turkish military base. There is no reason for this. Cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan is so strong and diverse that we are next to each other anyway. Whether there is a base here or not, we rely on Turkey and Turkey relies on us.
- You either advocate a negotiated settlement of the problem or say that you will solve it by military means. Moscow, in turn, announced yesterday that it does not accept a military solution. How do you assess this, i.e. if you are told to stop the operation, will you stop it?
- You know, we have already expressed our position on this issue several times. I have spoken about this and stick to my opinion. All the messages we were receiving from everywhere, in fact, not only during this period but also earlier, were that this issue has no military solution. We, in turn, did not react ahead of time, so to speak. If they say so, well, let them say so, this is their opinion. Our opinion is also that this should be resolved peacefully, but this should be resolved. However, what did we see? No result has been achieved over these 30 years. For 30 years, using this ceasefire regime, Armenia has built powerful engineering and fortification structures on the occupied lands. Today, thanks to the professionalism and courage of the Azerbaijani army, we are breaking through these fortifications. For 30 years, Armenia has strived not for peace but for keeping these lands under occupation forever. Because if you strive for peace, then why are you building these fortifications in Fuzuli, in Jabrayil or in the Aghdam direction? You build structures to keep these lands under control forever. So the ceasefire brought the process to this situation. Then the leadership of Armenia became completely impudent. Notice what Pashinyan and his defense minister said. The minister of defense said that they would start a new war with Azerbaijan, a new war for new lands. This was an open threat to us. Pashinyan said, "Karabakh is Armenia, full stop". That is, not a centimeter of land will be returned to us. How can this conflict be resolved peacefully in this case? I said that we are now in the process of resolving this issue by military means. We want this process to end as soon as possible and then the diplomatic process will begin. So our approach is to resolve this issue by military-political means. It is impossible to resolve it only by military means. I accept that because after the phase of active clashes, the parties should think about a peace treaty and do this. So there will be political avenues. Therefore, the military-political path is the most acceptable. We want to stop the military path but Armenia still thinks that it can return the lost lands, the lands we have liberated. Therefore, it regularly attacks us on the battlefield.
- Mr. President, am I right in understanding that you will advance at the front until the opposite side sits down at the negotiating table?
- We will move forward. In addition, they must comply with the ceasefire. Because it was them who broke it. A ceasefire was announced at noon. We gave a strict order to all our military units to comply with the ceasefire and stop firing. It was not easy though. We stopped at 12 o'clock but they did not. Then, within an hour or so, we resumed actions in self-defense and liberated several more villages. Therefore, Armenia must finally understand that it will not achieve anything this way. They must abide by the ceasefire. I believe that the leadership of Armenia should make a new statement in this regard that they are committed to the ceasefire and are complying with it. Then we will stop too. But, of course, the process can no longer last for years. After that, we should be provided with a timetable. During our Moscow meetings, we did not particularly insist on this because it is very difficult to agree on this within one day. We understand this. But once the peace process begins, the first issue on the agenda will be the timetable for the withdrawal of troops. Specific dates must be provided. On what days the Armenian armed forces will leave the rest of the lands to which we will be returning. Otherwise, we will go, as I said, to the end.
- In other words, it can be understood from this that if Armenia stops attacks and observes the ceasefire, then the process of new discussions will begin and the basis will be formed. As far as we understand, the Madrid principles which were discussed within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group in 2007, 2009 and 2012 were not mentioned during the talks in Moscow. But if I am not mistaken, the first clause of these principles envisages the withdrawal of troops from seven districts.
- Yes, right.
- Are these principles still on the agenda or do they need to be updated?
- No, we keep them on the agenda. I have already stated this. We are committed to the fundamental principles, called the Madrid principles because they are in our interests. Armenia has already stated that it does not accept these principles. According to the information provided to me, the prime minister of Armenia made a statement yesterday or the day before that they were unacceptable for them. So who is disrupting the process of negotiations? Armenia! Now we are liberating our lands. We are already hoisting our flag on the mountains that surround our cities, we are hoisting them on buildings located in our cities, we are on the victory march. Demonstrating adherence to fundamental principles under these circumstances requires a lot of political will and responsibility. As you have already noted, it is indicated there that five districts are to be returned at the first stage, two more districts at the second and then the future of Nagorno-Karabakh will be discussed. Azerbaijani IDPs should return to Nagorno-Karabakh, including Shusha, because Azerbaijanis accounted for 98 percent of the population of Shusha. They should return to Khankandi, and after that the Azerbaijani and Armenian population should live there together, just like in other parts of Azerbaijan, in Baku and other cities. Our position is this. The position of Armenia is to drive the Azerbaijanis out of there, as they have already done, then not to allow the Azerbaijanis to return, to consolidate the results of the policy of ethnic cleansing there, to raze our historical, religious and cultural monuments to the ground, to erase the cultural heritage of Azerbaijanis, and then to Armenianize these lands. This is their approach and this is ours.
- I want to ask you another question. Pashinyan made a statement yesterday that the Azerbaijani army is advancing from the north and south, as you said. He said that they had actually retreated for tactical reasons. What can you say about this?
- This is another lie of Pashinyan’s. You know, a responsible person shouldn't lie. No-one, especially a politician, especially the head of the country. It doesn't befit anyone. All his actions, all his words are a lie – about history, about this conflict or about the events taking place today. If he does not know this, then what kind of a commander-in-chief is he? If the real situation is not reported to him, then he should make a remark to his military commanders. If he knows everything and lies – and I believe in this version more - then this is a great shame.
Today, the Azerbaijani army is inflicting crushing blows on the Armenian army in all directions. I have cited some figures, but they change on a daily basis. According to the exact data as of yesterday, we have destroyed 200 Armenian tanks and taken 33 tanks as trophies – not a single unit of Azerbaijani military equipment is in the hands of Armenia. A total of 33 tanks in operable condition are now in the hands of our army. In addition, two S-300 air defense systems have been destroyed, 35 "OSA", "KRUG", "KUB" and other equipment has been destroyed. Thus, the technical capabilities of the Armenian army have suffered a lot, i.e. they are coming to naught. We are advancing and liberating new and new lands every time, and this is a reality. There will be new statements in the near future. This will weaken them even more. The Armenian people should also know the truth. We provide the most accurate information. Therefore, if the Armenian people want to know the real situation, they should listen to us.
- Mr. President, will the 30-year-old problem be resolved? I think it will be but I want to ask you. Will this problem of the occupation, which has been going on since the 1990s, be resolved this time or will everyone stop at a certain point? Will a new status quo be established? Will there be a final settlement? This may be a premature question but what would you say?
- In my opinion, it is already being resolved. I believe that international organizations and countries directly involved in this issue are seeing this, and this is a new reality. We have created this reality, and this issue is being resolved because the fundamental principles indicate that five districts are to be returned to us at the first stage. Of these, most of two districts, not completely yet but most of them, are already with us. If Armenia behaves badly again, then I hope that we will have other districts as well in the near future. Isn't this a solution to the problem? So we are essentially implementing the fundamental principles on the battlefield. Was the Minsk Group capable of achieving this? No, I wasn’t! Therefore, I want to say once again that the solution to this issue is possible by military-political means. It is currently being done by military means. We want this period to end as soon as possible, so that a political process begins on the basis of fundamental principles after that.
The reason for the unresolved status of the issue is primarily the disrespectful attitude of international organizations for their own decisions because, as you know, the United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions in 1993 requiring an unconditional and complete withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from our lands, i.e. without putting forward any conditions. But have they been fulfilled? They have not! The Minsk Group was established a year before that, 28 years have passed, has anything happened? No! So it seemed to us that international organizations are in favor of preserving the conflict in the state it is in. Let the Azerbaijani IDPs remain in this status forever. Let Armenia gain a foothold in the occupied lands. You know, there was an illegal settlement there. Illegal! This is a war crime. This is contrary to the Geneva Convention. They resettle Armenians from Syria to Nagorno-Karabakh, to Shusha, create opportunities for them, give money and already openly demonstrate this on television. In the international arena this is recognized as a crime. They want time to pass and the Azerbaijani people to come to terms with the loss of these lands. A new generation will grow up that has not seen these lands and will not want to return there. Azerbaijan will come to terms with this situation, in parallel there will be resettlement of Armenians from other countries, the Armenian population there will increase, and then they will say: "you know, this is already a reality, so just accept it". That was their purpose and, unfortunately, their patrons helped them with this. We have ruined these treacherous and mean plans. We have created a new reality. Today, everyone must agree and come to terms with this reality.
- I want to share one message with you. During the bombing in Tartar, we entered a shelter. There was a person, an IDP there. When we were preparing the report, he said that he was no longer an IDP. He said, I am a free citizen now. He is from Sugovushan and asked me to convey to you, in case of our meeting, his respect, love and greetings. As far as we understand, the balance of power in the region has changed. So there is no status quo any longer. The balance of power will change even more. What message would you like to address to the world, to Turkey?
- First of all, I want to convey my words to this citizen through your TV. I am glad there are thousands of people who, like him, speak these words today. They cry with joy, they say that they are no longer IDPs, that they have finally got rid of this situation. You know, I get thousands of letters. Reading them, to be honest, sometimes I can't hold back tears of joy either. There are so many sincere, warm and proud words in these letters, messages. Reading these letters, I become even more convinced how great the Azerbaijani people are. To live for many years in such a position, to live with hope, the hope that the day will come and they will return to their homes – this is really a great dedication. I am very happy that we are all giving this joy of victory to our people.
I want to say this again. I have already noted that everything there is destroyed. Inshallah, after the end of this military clashes, you and all of us – all people will go and see what atrocities the Armenians have committed there. All cities are destroyed, the picture is worse than Stalingrad. Houses have been destroyed, all our property has been plundered, window frames and doors have been removed. In a word, this is robbery. There is nothing left. Our soldiers report from Fuzuli villages, send in material. Fuzuli city is also before our eyes. It is impossible to find even one building there in good condition. In other words, they have committed this atrocity. But our IDPs know that we will restore these cities and villages. We will build houses. They will return there, to the lands of their ancestors, and will live in peace and prosperity.
As for the situation in the region, it is changing, of course. If we look more broadly at the picture of our region changing in recent years, we will see that there are many innovations. Previously, there seemed to be some dogmas – these countries are allies, these are not allies or they are opposed to each other. Everything has changed now. For example, NATO member Turkey is currently very fruitfully cooperating with Russia – in Syria, in Libya, in other places, and, as we have already said, in our region. This is an innovation. If someone had said this 10 years ago, perhaps they would not have believed him. At the same time, the relations between some countries within NATO are not very sincere. And this is also an innovation. One gets the impression that there is no agreement. Look at the events related to the European Union. Who would have thought that Great Britain would leave the European Union and then a crisis would begin. No-one would have predicted. So there are no traditional hypotheses any more. Whatever country adapts to this the fastest will get ahead of the others.
Our policy has always been pragmatic – to analyze the real state of affairs correctly and consolidate our interests correctly. To think about how we can secure our interests, create tactics, make changes to tactical moves within the framework of a strategic vision. But along with this, we can’t deviate from our principled position. This policy is bringing us success today. I believe that Turkey and Azerbaijan are among countries that prepared for the new world order faster. At the same time, Turkey as a great power on a global scale plays a very active role in the formation of a new world order – not only in our region but also in the world.
As for our region, Turkish-Azerbaijani unity is already a reality and everyone must come to terms with it. Our unity will grow stronger over the years because the potential of Turkey, the natural resources of Azerbaijan, transport projects between our countries, the provision of energy security of Europe through Turkey and Azerbaijan, as well as the implementation of new transport projects from Central Asia, Afghanistan through the territory of Azerbaijan and Turkey, are all innovations. There is a new transport map. There is a new energy map. I am optimistic about the future. I am sure that we will achieve our goals. We are very glad that we have such a fraternal country, a strong state like Turkey which defends its position, defends its interests, is not afraid of anyone and moves forward. This increases our strength. Azerbaijan is Turkey's number one ally and Turkey is Azerbaijan's number one ally. This is a great asset. These events have further strengthened our ties.
- Mr. President, my last question is very short. You are saying that this time you will not stop until the occupied lands are liberated. Do I understand you correctly?
- Yes, you understand everything correctly. In the sense that our ultimate goal remains unchanged. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan recognized by international organizations and the world community must be ensured. We are ready to stop on the battlefield. If Armenia is ready for this and a timetable is presented to us, then we are ready to stop even tomorrow. But in terms of the process, we will not stop. We want the military process to already turn into a political one. If Armenia is ready for this and international organizations and large countries can convince it of this, then this will happen even earlier. If not, the Azerbaijani army will continue its victorious march.
- Mr. President, in the first months of 1993, I was here on the frontline. In 1994, I met with the late head of state, Mr. Heydar Aliyev. It seems that this place did not exist in Baku then.
- Really? You met? Yes, this place was built later.
- And today I am meeting with you. So I have had meetings with two heads of state. The current situation at the frontline is completely different from what it was in 1993. On behalf of NTV and on my own behalf, I express my deep gratitude to you for receiving us and for answering our questions.
- Thank you. Many thanks to you too. Please pass on my greetings to the NTV team. In Azerbaijan, Turkish channels were popular even before, but in the current period their audience has become even wider. When I turn on the TV in the morning, I also watch Turkish channels, including NTV. The support and solidarity with us in the media and in Turkish society these days is a manifestation of true brotherhood. We saw again that the famous expression of my father "One nation, two states" is not just an expression, but a reality. We have created this reality.
You know, there are many countries in the world whose peoples are close to each other – from the point of view of ethnicity, religion, culture. But this does not mean at all that there is close cooperation between these countries, that there are fraternal relations between them. There are many such examples, and you know this very well. Our advantage is that the presidents of Turkey and Azerbaijan, i.e. my dear brother Recep Tayyip Erdogan and myself, have erected such a solid building on the basis of a common history, ethnic roots and language, and this will last forever. If future generations also contribute to this, then this building will be magnificent – the building of Turkish-Azerbaijani brotherhood. On behalf of the Azerbaijani people, I express my deep gratitude to all our brothers, all people living in Turkey. We saw that we are not alone. As my brother Tayyip Bey has already said, "Azerbaijan should always know and knows that Turkey is next to him", and this gives us strength.
At the same time, I want to reiterate that the main reason that other countries do not interfere in these matters today are the statements the distinguished President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made from the very first hours that Azerbaijan is not alone, that Turkey is next to Azerbaijan and will be next to us until the end.
Thank you again, and I wish all our brothers in Turkey happiness and prosperity.
- Thank you very much, Mr. President!
- Thank you!
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