“Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh will live side-by-side as in any other country with a multi-ethnic population”
On October 9th, “Connect the World” program of CNN International TV channel has broadcast an interview with President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev.
AZERTAC presents the interview.
-Sir, I spoke to the President of Armenia, and he told me that this conflict is dramatically different from the previous clashes, because of the open support that Turkey is providing Azerbaijan. Specifically, he told me this. Turkey with its military officials, generals, mercenaries, terroristic jihadists brought in thousands to Azerbaijan to fight Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey with his military might pretending they are there in order to protect some international logistic structures. Are there any Turkish forces or Turkish equipment in Azerbaijan right now sir?
-Turkish equipment yes, Turkish forces no. And frankly speaking, I regret that Armenian president is using this opportunity to address the world through CNN to spread rumors. I cannot call it otherwise, because what he said as you presented to me I didn’t see his presentation but what I heard from you is absolutely wrong. It is false information. Turkey is supporting us, but this is a political support. This is a diplomatic support, and if not for this support if not for very open position of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying that Azerbaijan is not alone, Turkey is with Azerbaijan, probably today Armenia would have achieved its goal, which is actually to spread the geography of this conflict and to involve as many countries as possible so these countries help them on the battlefield. And I would also like to remind Armenian president who was behind Armenia when Armenia in the beginning of 90s was occupying our territories We have enough evidences who was helping them to occupy our territories. Therefore, from Armenian side to say that somebody is helping Azerbaijan is absolutely wrong, is false information and we reject it.
-You have said that there is Turkish equipment in Azerbaijan. What Turkish equipment sir?
-Weapons, Turkish weapons, not only Turkish weapons, Russian weapons, Israeli weapons, Belarusian weapons, Ukrainian weapons, you name it. Because today the geography of our purchases of military equipment is getting broader and broader, and we pay for that. If you look how Armenia gets their weapons and from where, you will see that they could not afford to pay for those weapons which they have, because that’s billions of dollars. For a poor country it’s impossible. They get weapons free of charge from their ally, we get weapons paying for them.
-Okay, let me put this to you sir. We have seen satellite imagery that would suggest Turkish F-16s are on at least one of your bases. You haven’t bought F-16s. So, is that correct? Are there F-16s on the ground that would suggest significant support for Azerbaijan?
-I agree with you when you say on the ground. F-16s came to Azerbaijan for military exercise. Last year Azerbaijan and Turkey had ten joint military exercises. Turkey is our ally and it is common here to have military exercises, including air force. By the way this year due to the pandemic we had only two military exercises. One of them was just before the Armenian attack on Azerbaijan happened. So F-16s are on the ground, they are not flying. They are not in any way participating in any kind of battle. And by the way…
-You are categorical about that. That F-16s are not in use.
-I am categorical and even more I want to tell you about one Armenian fake in the first days of the clashes they said that Turkish F-16 shot down Armenian SU-25. This is fake and those who are accusing us of this now should apologize. Because everybody knows that this is a fake. F-16s are here, but they are on the ground as you correctly mentioned.
-OSCE’s Minsk Group which has sought a solution to this long-standing dispute since the 1990s is co-chaired by France, by the US and by Russia. The French foreign minister has specifically warned that Turkey’s backing of Azerbaijan risks fueling the internationalization of this conflict. You say you are supported by Turkey. But what do you say to the French when they say this support risks this conflict getting worse?
-I do not agree with that. As I said, Turkey plays a stabilizing role in the region and in particular in the situation with respect to Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Every country can afford to have a partner, and an ally. And Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani people are happy to have such a partner, such an ally and such a brother like Turkey. We do not object when Armenia considers France their ally and France is a country which at this moment supports most of all Armenia. At the same time we see that it’s up to countries themselves to choose allies. For instance, French foreign minister is not concerned about Russia supporting Armenia with weapons free of charge and he doesn’t think that it is internationalization of the conflict. But when Turkey expresses legitimate, political support it becomes a concern and I, frankly speaking, cannot understand that how one NATO country can act in such a way against another NATO country? NATO members are supposed to be allies. But we don’t see it.
-Can you explicitly lay out the goals of your campaign at present?
Our goal is to defend our people, to defend our country and to defend our right to live on our land. It was Armenia who on September 27th launched an artillery attack on Azerbaijani military position and on our villages and cities. During these days of clashes we have 31 victims among civilians, almost 200 wounded, and more than 1,000 houses demolished, or seriously damaged by Armenian army. We had to respond, had to defend ourselves. Our respond was very sensitive to Armenia, was very painful. They suffer very serious defeat, they run away from us, we liberate part of our territory, we install our national flag on the occupied territories, we restore our territorial integrity and we are right. We are fighting on our soil, Armenia is fighting on the soil of another country.
-How many military casualties have you sustained sir?
-With respect to military casualties I already referred to that, we will disclose this information after the active phase of the clashes is over.
Do you intend to retake all of Nagorno-Karabakh, all disputed lands?
-We are talking about Nagorno-Karabakh and seven districts which surround former Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous district. Because Armenia not only occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and expelled all Azerbaijanis who were about 25 percent of the population of autonomous district but also occupied seven districts of Azerbaijan with the population of 700,000 people. So, our main objective is to liberate those territories and to allow Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons to go back. As far as Nagorno-Karabakh is concerned we think and that was officially declared many times that after the war is over, after occupational forces are withdrawn, Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh will live side-by-side as in any other country with a multi-ethnic population, and one day, I am sure, they will again become good neighbors to each other.
-The Armenian president told me that your demand that Armenia set a time-table for withdrawing troops should be put to the “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh” because your dispute is with them. He added though that in Nagorno-Karabakh 95 percent of the population were Armenians, because they are living there for thousands of years. You say that Karabakh is Azerbaijan. But how would you address the fears of ethnic-Armenians there?
-First of all…
-Hold on sir, that they might be ethnically cleansed if the government of Azerbaijan retakes the territory.
-I understand, today in Azerbaijan thousands of Armenians live in different cities of our country primarily in the capital city of Baku. One of the Armenian long-range destructive missile, ‘Smerch’, which they use to attack our second largest city of Ganja hit the house of native Armenian woman. So, today in Azerbaijan there are thousands of Armenians who live in peace, and dignity. But in Armenia, all Azerbaijanis have been expelled. Armenia’s population is 99 percent Armenians. They committed ethnic cleansing against us. What Armenian president said, he is lying again. Today it is not 95 percent, today it is 100 percent Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, because 25 percent of Azerbaijanis who lived there were ethnically cleansed by the Armenian regime. I regret that such a person with such an important position is spreading lies. Look in the internet, look at Kurekchay Peace Agreement, which was signed in the beginning of the 19th century, between Azerbaijani khan of Karabakh and Russian general. Nothing is said about Armenian population. Armenian population was resettled to our land by Russian Empire in order to change the religious composition of the region after the Russo-Persian wars. This is a historical fact and what Armenian president says is fake, absolutely fake.
-I must point out that as you suggest that the Armenian president is spreading lies and fake information so he has said the same thing about Azerbaijan and yourself.
-Look at the internet, look at the documents and you will see who is telling the truth and who is lying.
-I have to make the point that each side is trading insults at this point. How would Azerbaijan accept international mediation and stop military action? What are your bottom lines here?
-We have international mediation for 28 years. OSCE Minsk Group is in “action”, actually is passive form for 28 years since 1992 and this mediation led to nothing. This mediation led to what is happening today. This mediation was not enough in order to press Armenia to leave the territories which do not belong to them.
-Have you been in touch with Washington on this? I mean what is the Trump administration telling you? US, of course, is one of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group.
-We have very diverse relations with the United States, relations are developing very successfully in many areas. As far as Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is concerned, three countries of the Minsk Group co-chairs have the same right and the same responsibility to mediate and when representatives from these countries come, they come altogether, representatives of three countries. Therefore, there is no distinction in their performance. But of course we understand that some countries are more pro-Armenian some countries are even more pro-Armenian.
-So, can I just ask you who are you speaking to in Washington? Is it state or is it the Trump administration? The Armenian president certainly told us that they have spoken to Robert O’Brien, for example.
-Well, Armenian prime minister I think the only person whom he did not speak during these days is a head of a tribe in some far away you know remote island. He called everyone. He called President Putin five times, he called President Macron, I don’t know four times. He called Chancellor Merkel. The only one left is a tribal chief. I advice to call him and to complain on Azerbaijan and to send some people from his tribe to help poor poor Armenia whom Azerbaijan is destroying.
-So, that wasn’t the question, the question was who are you speaking to in Washington is it the state or is it the Trump administration?
-We speak with administration, we speak to State Department. Actually, they contacted us. I gave instructions to our foreign ministry, to my administration to be in touch with all those who call us, who want to express their position and express their view on how to move forward. But it is actually doesn’t make any difference whether it is State Department or White House because for us it is US Administration anyway.
-What’s the position as you understand it in Washington?
-The position in Washington is not different from the position of other co-chairs. They are supporting the principles based on which the solution must be found. It is Armenia who is against those principles. Those principles say that territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh should be returned to Azerbaijan in time and when you were referring to my statement time-table, that is exactly what is in the documents. It is not me who invented them. It is Armenia who is against.
-Let’s have a look at Russia’s position then, because it is not clear to me what Washington’s position is from what we have just discussed. But let’s have a look at Russia’s position. Let me play out some sound from the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. He said we remain deeply concerned by the situation in the region and we believe that the sides must stop the fire and come to the negotiating table. They are asking that you go to the negotiating table. The Russian president has described the fighting as a tragedy. You personally spoke to Vladimir Putin as I understand it on Wednesday. What did he tell you? What are Russia’s red lines here?
-I called President Putin in order to congratulate him on the occasion of his birthday on the 7th of October. I do it every year and so does he. So every year we congratulate each other on our birthdays. And that was a coincidence that his birthday is coincided with the events. Therefore, of course, we discussed this issue and our press service has issued a press-release about that, I think it will not be right for me to say something more than it was released in the press.
-I wish you would, I mean are you prepared to defy Moscow’s appeal? For peace talks?
-We are for peace talks. If you allow me, I will just give you two examples. Azerbaijan is a constructive partner to negotiation table. We think that the principles which have been elaborated by the United States, Russia and France should be basis for settlement. Armenian President rejects them, I am sorry, Armenian prime minister rejects them. Because the person who is in charge in Armenia is not a president, but prime minister, and with whom I had negotiations. So he said that "Karabakh is Armenia". That makes negotiations senseless. Because how you can say "Karabakh is Armenia" and negotiate to return the territories back? He said Azerbaijan should negotiate not with Armenia, but with Nagorno-Karabakh which is a change of format. So we are ready for negotiations if Armenian prime minister returns back from the skies where he is flying, back to earth.
-That is not the position, as I understand it, from the Russians who said both sides must stop the fire and come to the negotiating table.
-Those who started fire, should stop first and we will do the same. But to go back to negotiation table. Pashinyan regime did everything to destroy negotiations. They made the statement, they attacked us in July, they attacked us in August, they attacked us in September. They do everything in order to disrupt negotiations. We are ready. But they are not.
If you won’t stop, and they won’t stop. What happens next? Where does this leave the conflict which so many people are now concerned could escalate into much wider, regional war?
-It should not escalate wider, I call all the countries to stay away from this situation. It is our bilateral issue with Armenia. Mediators they have, they have their mandate. Their mandate is not to interfere on the ground, their mandate is to facilitate to find the solution. So, they will continue, I am sure within the framework of their mandate. Armenians' attempt to make this conflict international is very counter-productive, destructive and dangerous for many countries. So, Armenia should understand that occupation cannot last forever. Status quo must be changed. And by the way presidents, former presidents of France, former presidents of United States and President of Russia made a statement, when all of them were in charge, status-quo is unacceptable and must be changed. I support it but Armenia is against.
-I want to get your response to a new report from Amnesty International claiming they have identified Israeli-made MO-95 DPICM cluster munitions. That appear to have been fired by Azerbaijani forces. Now CNN cannot independently verify those claims nor the apparent video of the explosions. But sir, how do you respond to Amnesty’s claims?
-I would say that we don’t have any contact with the organization which you named, because of their pro-Armenian and anti-Azerbaijani position. First, it is wrong, it is false and second, I would recommend them to see how cluster bombs are being used against our civilians. How they use "Smerch", how they use "Elbrus", "Tochka U", ballistic missiles on our cities - Ganja, Goranboy, Naftalan, Yevlakh and other cities are under Armenian bombardment. Why does Amnesty International see or want to see only one side? Why they do not see another side? That’s a question.
-Let me just push you on this. Are you categorically saying that cluster munitions have not being used by Azerbaijani forces? And if so, are you prepared to allow independent observers to verify that?
-Yes, we are prepared to do it, also we are prepared to see how Armenia will allow independent observers to see what they have been doing. And though it should be not unilateral, it should be bilateral. We defend ourselves and we must do it. But our targets are only military objectives. And almost all of what we have destroyed, we destroyed from the very modern equipment. You can find it on internet. It’s Turkish brand new, excellent, marvelous fighter drones. It is other equipment which destroys you know tanks, guns, military positions. So we don’t need to use these kind of weapons in order to achieve our goal. Our target are not civilians. Our target are occupants, we must return our land to those whom it belongs to.
-Sir, Armenia can and will speak for themselves. I am asking you specifically, you categorically deny do you, that cluster munitions have been used by Azerbaijani forces.
-Yes, I deny it and I want to ask you. Did you ask this question to Armenian president?
-We didn’t have the information at the time.
-That’s the point,that's the point. You ask me, ask him, ask him. Let the Amnesty International ask him what they do.
-We will certainly ask him for a statement. I’m asking you.
-Ask him. I already answered. No. Ask him.
-I will. Thank you, sir.