Baku, February 26, AZERTAC
On 26 February, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev gave a press conference for representatives of local and foreign media.
According to AZERTAC, addressing the media representatives, President Ilham Aliyev said:
- It is the 29th anniversary of the Khojaly genocide today. The Khojaly tragedy is a bloody crime, an act of genocide Armenia committed against the Azerbaijani population. As a result of the genocide, 613 civilians were killed with special brutality. Among them were 106 women and 63 children. Those who committed the Khojaly genocide are war criminals. Many of them were killed by the Azerbaijani army in the second Karabakh war.
The Khojaly genocide was a manifestation of Armenian fascism. At that time, Armenian fascism was raising its head and dealt a huge blow to the Azerbaijani people from 1992 until the recent events. The military provocations, the acts of terror, the brutality against civilians, the shelling of our cities and villages, as well as the bombing of peaceful cities with ballistic missiles during the second Karabakh war – all these are manifestations of Armenian fascism.
The Khojaly genocide is recognized by the international community. More than 10 countries have officially recognized and confirmed what happened as an act of genocide, and this process continues. The Azerbaijani state, as well as public organizations of our country, are very active in this area. There is comprehensive information in the world about the Khojaly genocide today. The war crimes of the Armenian state have been documented. Video and photographic materials have been presented to a fairly broad audience. The whole world sees and knows that the Azerbaijani people were subjected to genocide at the end of the 20th century.
By committing the Khojaly genocide, Armenia essentially wanted to break the will of the Azerbaijani people. It is no coincidence that the leaders of Armenia, the war criminals, when answering a question about that in an interview with foreign journalists, noted with a sense of pride that Armenia had indeed committed this war crime against the civilian population, so that the Azerbaijani people could see that the Armenian leadership could also raise its hand against the civilian population. We, for our part, have avenged the victims of Khojaly on the battlefield. Having defeated the Armenian army in the 44-day second Karabakh war and liberated our historical lands from invaders, we also avenged the victims of Khojaly. Azerbaijan as a strong state will never allow Armenian fascism to raise its head again, although such tendencies are discernible. Azerbaijan through its activities is contributing to the further development of the region and taking tangible steps to fully establish stability in the region.
Numerous events are being held in Azerbaijan these days, and a large group of journalists has come to Azerbaijan from abroad to cover them. I would like to express my gratitude to you for being in Azerbaijan today to cover these events, to cover this act of genocide. I also know that some of you have visited the liberated lands and seen this destruction with your own eyes. You will continue to travel there. Thank you very much again for that.
I was informed that foreign journalists want to meet with me and do an interview. Given their large number, I decided to meet with them in this format. Of course, the pandemic does affect our work as well, but I believe that this direct connection will allow me the opportunity to answer questions of interest to journalists. Please.
Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmat Hajiyev:
- Dear Mr. President, please let me start our press conference with the participation of representatives of local and foreign media. The floor is given to the representative of the Azerbaijan Television and Radio Broadcasting Closed Joint-Stock Company.
Azerbaijan Television: First of all, I would like to express our gratitude for this opportunity. You have already noted that in the 29 years since the Khojaly genocide was committed, parliaments of many countries, as well as international organizations, have assessed this massacre as an act of genocide. How would you currently assess the attitude of the international community towards the Khojaly genocide. How would you assess their position? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: You know, many international organizations have expressed their attitude to this bloody event on Azerbaijan’s initiative, and work in this direction will be continued. Of course, when the genocide was committed, Azerbaijan was practically in an information blockade. There were no modern possibilities at the time. Therefore, this issue was not very clear for many, especially if you consider that Azerbaijan did not have great opportunities in the international arena in those years. In contrast to this, the Armenian lobby was working hard to circulate false and distorted information about the events that took place. The international community developed certain misconceptions. Of course, we had to make great efforts to change and refute those opinions, and, as I have already noted, our state and public organizations have consistently carried out this activity in recent years. Among public organizations, of course, I would like to specifically note the activities of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Under the “Justice for Khojaly!” slogan, various events were held in many countries, and there is complete information about the Khojaly tragedy in countries of the world. Our main goal is that this bloody crime is never forgotten, so that it is not repeated in Azerbaijan or elsewhere in the world, so that Azerbaijan never finds itself in such a helpless situation as it did in the early 1990s, so that Azerbaijan is always able to protect itself and its citizens.
I believe that there is already comprehensive information about the Khojaly genocide in the world today, although the Armenian side, spreading false information in various ways, tried to blame this bloody crime on the Azerbaijani state. Allegedly, Azerbaijan perpetrated the Khojaly genocide itself. We saw a repeat of these actions in the second Karabakh war. By bombing Ganja, Tartar, Aghdam and other cities, the Armenian leadership said that Azerbaijan had done it itself. Meanwhile, the launch of ballistic missiles is tracked by satellites, and large states, primarily the Minsk Group co-chair countries, watched this entire picture. Ballistic missiles were fired at Ganja, Tartar, Barda and other cities from the territory of Armenia. So yet another attempt was made to spread Armenian lies, but it did not work because the situation is completely different today, and we have the opportunity to communicate information.
Therefore, I am absolutely convinced that the whole world will learn the truth about the Khojaly genocide over the years, and this is our goal. We will continue to strive for the countries of the world to officially recognize this genocide as an act genocide. Consistent work in this direction will be continued.
Turkish “TRT Haber” TV channel: Mr. President, first of all, we pay tribute to the memory of the martyrs of Khojaly. Once again, we congratulate you on the Victory in Karabakh. In the immediate aftermath of this Victory, there has been constant internal political strife in Armenia. How would you assess this issue, the events in Armenia? Could what is happening there negatively affect the format of cooperation proposed by you and President Erdogan? On the other hand, does Azerbaijan plan to step up military measures if there is a change of power?
President Ilham Aliyev: The events taking place in Armenia are an internal affair of Armenia. Yesterday, in my speech at a meeting with martyr families, I touched upon the situation in Armenia as well. However, I want to say that I made my remarks before the events. In other words, my meeting with martyr families was held at about 10:30, and I learned about the events in Armenia after that. Therefore, I want everyone to know: my comments were made before these events.
However, the events show that I was absolutely right. Because Armenia today is in such a difficult situation that the processes taking place there to a large extent undermine the foundations of the country's statehood. The previous and current leaders of Armenia are to blame for this, because the Kocharyan-Sargsyan junta actually led Armenia to an abyss and crisis for 20 years. The country has practically lost all signs of independence. It resembled a colony. The main reason for this is the occupying policy because the longer they tried to keep our lands under occupation, the deeper their dependent position became.
We have consistently isolated Armenia from all international and regional projects. Our policy was to economically undermine, destroy and isolate Armenia. I have never concealed this and have repeatedly said that as long as our lands remain under occupation, we will pursue this policy. I said that Armenia should withdraw its armed forces from our lands. Only after that can there be interaction and cooperation in the region and can our policy change. Unfortunately, neither the previous junta nor the government that came to power in 2018 heeded these calls. If they had listened to me in due time, they would not be in such a shameful position now.
There is a total crisis in Armenia today. I would not like to somehow comment on their internal situation. In principle, we never interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, especially at this sensitive time, but the results of the war remain and will remain unchanged. The statement signed on 10 November is being executed and must be fully implemented. A significant part of the provisions of this Statement has already been implemented. But there are issues that are a topic of discussion today. I hope that despite the situation in Armenia, the statement signed on 10 November will be implemented. Otherwise, Armenia will find itself in an even more difficult situation. In other words, there is not so much choice before Armenia. They need to come to terms with the new reality. We have created the new reality.
For 30 years, international organizations dealing with this issue, as well as individual countries, were sending us open or unofficial messages that there is reality, that Azerbaijan is the side that has lost in the war and that we, as they believed, should come to terms with the reality. Try to choose the most acceptable option for yourself from this reality, i.e. something between a bad and a very bad option. We, as you know, have always rejected such calls, never deviated from our position, and I openly declared that. And now it is my saying that a new reality has taken shape and that we have created this new reality. Armenia, as well as all other countries, must come to terms with this reality. Armenia has several options today, and the most acceptable of them is to fulfill the provisions of the Statement of 10 November. Otherwise, they may face even bigger problems.
Russian TASS agency: Good afternoon, Mr. President. If you will, I have two questions. The first concerns logistics. Not so long ago, there was a report on the start of construction of an airport in Fuzuli. Can you confirm that such work is under way, that nothing is in the way, when it may be commissioned and if this airport will be international?
The second question is about coronavirus vaccines. Can we expect that Russian vaccines will be registered in Azerbaijan? And if you don't mind, I also have a personal question. Will you be vaccinated yourself and which vaccine would you prefer? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. As for the airport in Fuzuli, work has already begun. We promptly started dealing with the issues related to mine clearance. Because, first of all, it was necessary to clear the territory there. This process is already close to completion, and the airport will be put into operation in operational terms – at least its runway and navigation systems that would ensure the functioning of the airport. The airport will be international. The runway will be able to accommodate all types of aircraft, including the heaviest cargo planes. The construction of the airport – of course, it is difficult to predict this because the issues related to mine clearance and access to this territory cause difficulties. However, we expect it will be commissioned this year, of course. We want it to be commissioned early in the fall. If everything goes according to plan, the airport will be put into operation in early fall of this year. This will allow us the opportunity to use it both for the restoration of territories, taking into account the goods that we will receive from abroad, and for convenient access of citizens of neighboring states to the city of Shusha. Because along with the airport, we are also building two highways to the city of Shusha. One of them, which I called the “Road of Victory”, is exactly the path along which the Azerbaijani special forces marched to the city of Shusha through forests and valleys. And the other road will run on a lower plane and also provide direct access from the airport. Therefore, I am sure that the Azerbaijanis living abroad, as well as citizens of other countries, will have this opportunity.
I should also say that our plans on the construction of airports are not limited only to the city of Fizuli. We also have plans for the construction of airports in Lachin and Zangilan, taking into account the plans for the development of the territory and also taking into account the fact that Zangilan will turn into a very important logistical center. Because, as you know, one of the provisions of the Statement of 10 November last year was the opening of a corridor on the territory of Armenia, which would connect Azerbaijan with its autonomous republic of Nakhchivan. At the same time, it will connect Azerbaijan with Turkey and Russia with Turkey. Therefore, we have major plans, and we will implement them. This year, a special investment program for the restoration of territories was approved, and it is quite extensive. We are already starting to make first payments under the contracts signed.
As for vaccines, I must say that we have been keeping the situation under control from the very beginning of the pandemic. The measures that were taken to tighten and ease the quarantine regime were quite effective. We have a fairly low level of those who were infected. We now have a little over 200,000 people who have been infected with the coronavirus. To date, there are just over 2,000 active patients. We have a lot of free beds in hospitals. Because in the first months of the pandemic, we established more than 10 new modular hospitals and also because there has been a positive dynamics between the number of those infected and those recovering in favor of the latter in the last two months. We are also the first country in the South Caucasus to start vaccination. We started vaccination on 18 January, just a month after vaccination began in Europe. We are using the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine.
I must say that we also joined the COVAX system from the very beginning, and we should receive other vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer through it. Also, we signed relevant documents for the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Azerbaijan with the Russian side in the very first days, because Russian companies are the distributors of this vaccine in post-Soviet republics. This also applies to the Sputnik vaccine. But we have not received these vaccines yet. We have information that the Sputnik vaccine is still being used to address the domestic needs of Russia and that very limited quantities of these vaccines have been supplied to foreign countries.
As for the CoronaVac vaccine, 4 million doses have been contracted. I am told that 15,000-20,000 people are vaccinated every day. So we will use all the opportunities in this direction. Relevant funds have been allocated for this and we will wait for vaccines from manufacturers.
Speaking of this, I would also like to note one issue that we raised at the international level, including as the country chairing the Non-Aligned Movement. On our initiative, a special session of the UN General Assembly dedicated to COVID-19 was held. More than 150 countries supported the initiative. This session took place in December last year. One of the theses that I voiced was the fair distribution of vaccines among countries of the world, so that there would be no protectionism or nationalism in this matter. Unfortunately, we see something completely different. We see that serious problems arise even between allies. They are beginning to count who used how many vaccines and who gave what to whom. Therefore, this situation once again suggests that, despite all the statements about solidarity, about the joint struggle against this scourge, we are seeing the exact opposite. Some countries, for example, have purchased three to four times more vaccines than they need. For example, Canada. I have already talked about it. It means that someone will not have enough. And they don't even need them. But what do they care? They speak out for equality, for human rights, for democracy, but in practice they infringe on the rights of millions of people, those living in poor countries and unable to afford it. Even if they could afford it, they would simply have no access to it. I will tell you quite frankly. If we had not concluded an agreement with all the manufacturers as we did, we would also be without vaccines today. We should have received the AstraZeneca vaccine long ago. We have not received it. We haven't received it for several months. Sputnik has not been received. Pfizer and Moderna should have been provided through COVAX, but they haven’t been. And we are not being told when we will get them. It is good that our Chinese partners are fulfilling their obligations. We have the means to buy it. But what about those who don’t have the money? Are these people supposed to die? This means that the rich will vaccinate themselves, take production for themselves, as they say, ignore the basic norms of human behavior, while poor countries must suffer. What kind of equality are we talking about then? This is the question I raised at the special session of the UN General Assembly, and we are actively discussing this issue within the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement today. My initiative has been supported by many countries. Additional consultations are underway now, and we must get down to business. Enough of voicing stereotyped statements that have no foundation at all. Everyone is already tired of this. This is a question that concerns every person. In this matter, we are showing integrity both in our national capacity and as a country that currently chairs the second largest international structure in the world after the UN.
Ukraine-24 TV channel: Mr. President, good afternoon. I am a journalist for “Ukraine-24” TV channel. With your permission, I have a question. Ukraine has been following the events in Azerbaijan all the time. Your experience is very important to us. Hopefully, we will also return our territories in the near future. So here is the question. Could you please tell us what difficulties Azerbaijan is facing now during the reintegration of liberated territories? I know that immediately after the end of hostilities there were attempts at sabotage and subversive partisan activities. How was this issue resolved? And how are you resolving the issue of returning civilians there, so that they could live peacefully and safely? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: You are right. According to our data, after the hostilities ended, a detachment of more than 60 people was dispatched from Armenia, from Shirak region, from the city of Gyumri and surrounding regions in the last 10 days of November. It is not clear how, but it made its way into the territories controlled by the Azerbaijani army through the Lachin corridor. As you know, after the end of hostilities, on 10 November, the peacekeeping troops of the Russian Federation published maps showing the areas of responsibility of the peacekeepers. These maps are always on the web site. So after the end of hostilities, we discovered that there were Armenian armed formations in the deep rear. First, we received information that they had lost their way, that they could not get out of the encirclement, and for some time the Azerbaijani servicemen, together with the peacekeeping mission, thinking that they were lost, tried to help these people and take them back. But it turned out that this was not the case. It turned out that it was a sabotage group that carried out attacks both on our military personnel and on civilians. As a result of their acts of sabotage and terrorist attacks, four of our servicemen and one civilian was killed. He was a representative of a mobile operator who was ambushed while traveling to the city of Shusha. Several people were also wounded.
Of course, we carried out a counter-terrorist operation, as a result of which several terrorists were completely neutralized and more than 60 were captured. When some people try to describe them as prisoners of war today, I think they are deliberately distorting the essence of the issue. There cannot be a prisoner of war 20 days after the war. We returned them all the prisoners of war we had. In fact, we returned them earlier than they returned ours. These people do not fall into this category. These are terrorists and saboteurs. So any speculation on the part of Armenia or some countries is inappropriate.
As for other complications, we certainly do not guarantee that other sabotage groups will not infiltrate. But so far we provide a sufficient level of security of the liberated territories, conduct regular raids and monitoring – both using unmanned aerial vehicles and visual monitoring. Therefore, the situation is fully under control.
Besides this, of course, the main difficulty is mining. Because the Armenian side did not provide us with maps of minefields. This, in fact, can also be considered a crime because we have had several cases both among military personnel and among civilians when people died after the end of hostilities only because we were not provided with maps of minefields. With the resources we have today, it is impossible to ensure rapid demining. So here too, of course, we see the Armenian side acting insincerely yet again, as it says one thing and does something different.
We handed over the prisoners of war to them and bodies of the dead to them. After the war, more than a thousand bodies of Armenian servicemen were found in the liberated territories together with representatives of the Armenian side, the peacekeeping mission and our representatives, and they were handed over to the Armenian side. We act in accordance with the norms of morality and universal human behavior. But not to give us maps of minefields means to deliberate doom civilians and military personnel to death and injury. What kind of cooperation can we talk about? In this case, cooperation cannot be one-sided.
Another issue we are discussing today is, of course, the timetable for the return of former refugees to the territories from which they were expelled. But in addition to minefields, everything is still completely destroyed there. The entire infrastructure is destroyed, there are no cities, there is nowhere to return. All villages are practically destroyed. I have repeatedly visited the liberated territories. You drive hundreds of kilometers by car and see only destroyed villages. There is not a single safe building. There is not a single building in Aghdam except for a dilapidated mosque and even that was used as a reference point for adjusting the fire, as an observation post – they looked to see if there was any advance of Azerbaijani troops. There is not a single building in Fuzuli. There wasn’t even a place to hang a flag. We eventually hung it on a flagpole. The same applies to Jabrayil. Several houses partly remain in Zangilan and Gubadli, where there were illegal settlements. Therefore, we are now engaged in demining. In parallel, we are assessing the damage using all the possibilities, including drones, in order to present justified claims to the invaders through international institutions. In parallel with this, instructions have already been issued to draw up master plans for the development of cities and villages. Therefore, these are the main stages for the return of our citizens.
We have also started pilot projects. One project has already started – it is a “smart village”. We want to create the most comfortable opportunities in the liberated territories for those who have been deprived of their land for 30 years. They deserve it, they deserve to live with dignity and enjoy all the benefits of the modern world. We have both the political will and financial resources to restore these territories, and we will do it.
British Telegraph News Agency: Thank you for meeting with us on the day of remembrance of the victims of this terrible genocide. In your opinion, is it possible to ensure sustainable peace in the future and prevent such genocides, and does Azerbaijan have a sincere intention to maintain sustainable peace in the future?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Of course, we want to achieve sustainable peace. This is the only way to turn the page of enmity. To see this, I urge you to read the 10 November statement. It was signed by me, the president of Russia and the prime minister of Armenia. As soon as the Armenian side gave us a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops, we stopped the war. From the first days of the war, in each of my interviews and statements, I emphasized that as soon as the prime minister of Armenia personally, not one of his officials, but himself personally, told us the date of the withdrawal of troops from Fuzuli, Shusha, Jabrayil and other districts, we would stop the war. So if we can do that peacefully, then the war will stop.
We have been waiting for the end of the conflict for 30 years. Our intention has always been clear and sincere. As long as Armenia showed at least some signs that the conflict could be resolved peacefully, we were involved in these negotiations. But when we realized that the Armenian government did not intend to return a single inch of land to us and committed a number of military provocations against us in July and August which were followed by another provocation in September, of course, we had to give an adequate response. Therefore, when the question is asked what a sustainable peace can be like, it can only be when there is a demonstration of commitment to the 10 November statement. This document was signed by the prime minister of Armenia: a part of Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin will be liberated. We stopped the war immediately. I have kept my word. However, everyone understands perfectly well that if we continued the war, it would lead to more serious and dire consequences for Armenia. We didn’t want more losses and sacrifices, and we demonstrated this. Today we are discussing the issue of permanent, sustainable peace and security in the region. The only way to do this is through collaboration. Our goal is to restore communications already in a trilateral manner – together with Armenia and Russia, create the Zangazur corridor and remove all transport obstacles. If this happens, then Armenia will also benefit. They will also see the benefits of peace. Another condition for us, a condition for peace is that political circles of Armenia should understand: any attempts at revenge will be severely punished by Azerbaijan. If we see any threat, if we consider it a serious threat to ourselves, then an immediate response will follow. Therefore, I warn that there should not be any attempts at exacting revenge. Armenia must fully implement the statement of 10 November, and peace will come to the region gradually, in a step-by-step manner.
I would like to mention another issue. Currently, there is no Azerbaijani army in the direction of eastern Zangazur we have liberated, on the border with Zangilan. There is the State Border Service of Azerbaijan there. Notice that there is no tension between the Armenian civilian population and Azerbaijani border guards. A peaceful life continues. We approached the border, settled there, but did not cross it. Currently, some of the villages are located on our territory and there are no Armenian armed forces there. Armenia did not even have a state border service, because I can tell you that the Armenian border with Turkey and Iran is guarded by Russian troops. So we stand on our border. We are not taking any negative steps towards the Armenian population. On the contrary, the 20km road connecting Armenian cities passes through the territory of Azerbaijan. We have created this opportunity. We even put up a big poster there: Welcome to Azerbaijan! I can't understand why this irritates Armenia in any way. Honestly, I don’t understand this because the vehicles passing there, the people should see that they are entering Azerbaijan, are using the territory of Azerbaijan quietly, and there are no problems. Therefore, we do not have to strive for anything else to achieve sustainable peace. We have returned what is ours and demonstrated that our words and deeds have equal value.
Turkish CNN TV channel: It is the anniversary of an important date today. When the Khojaly genocide was committed, when civilians were killed in the Karabakh war, many countries were silent. I would like to hear your thoughts about the fact that the world was silent when the tragedy was unfolding here. The second question is what is being done in Karabakh now. People who were forced to leave their lands 30 years ago are waiting to return to their native lands. Has a date been set in this regard? Have you prepared any road map or plan? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. You are absolutely right. When the Khojaly genocide was committed, the world was silent. One of the reasons for this was probably the lack of information that existed at the time. Information related to the war was lop-sided. Armenia used its propaganda, while the Azerbaijani side was in a completely helpless state because we did not have the foundations of statehood at the time. Azerbaijan was then in an uncontrollable state. The then Azerbaijan resembled today's Armenia – incompetent management, crisis, lack of discipline in the army. The army was actually out of the government’s control. We see the same picture in Armenia today. Our options were very limited back then. This was one reason. Another reason was that the world did not want to see this because, as we realized later, it was a picture that somewhat contradicted the prevailing stereotypes. Because when the first Karabakh war began, one might say that most countries believed that Armenia was right and Azerbaijan was wrong. Questions of territorial integrity were set aside and the question of self-determination of nations came to the fore. No-one asked the question: after all, the Armenian people have already determined themselves, they have an independent Armenian state, so why should a second Armenian state be created on historical Azerbaijani land? Nobody has been able to answer this. Therefore, these stereotypes continued to exist for many years. Over the years, we were treated unfairly. Have a look – after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US Congress passed the Freedom Support Act. This law was adopted with the aim of providing assistance to all former Soviet republics. Azerbaijan was excluded from there. Who did that! Representatives of the Armenian lobby. Many of them are still in high positions today. This was done under the pretext that Azerbaijan was allegedly keeping Armenia in a blockade. How could we do this if our lands were occupied? But sanctions were imposed against us. They remain valid to this day. They even have a reference number – Section 907. Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act implies sanctions against us. Could there be such injustice? Those who were in power at that time simply could not do anything to prevent this. It took us many years to change the mind of the world and present the truth. See how much effort we have put in to prove the obvious truth. The stereotype was that Armenia is always right. Whatever it did, it was always justified. Look how many opposition leaders have been arrested in Armenia over the past few years, how many people have had their rights breached. There were even political killings. Has any international organization condemned them? Not! They are allowed to do anything. We proved our case in struggle and succeeded. Your current visit to Azerbaijan and the communication of our position to the world are, of course, a great contribution to the restoration of justice.
As for your second question – when will our compatriots be able to return to their lands? You know, I ask myself the same question probably every day because I also want to achieve this as soon as possible. But for this to happen, of course, it is necessary to take comprehensive measures. I have already talked about this. At the end of the demining process, and in parallel with this, we are already beginning this work. The implementation of the “smart village” project has already begun. This project will be implemented in three villages of Zangilan district – Aghali 1, Aghali 2 and Ahgali 3. I have ordered to fully complete the project by the end of this year. About 1,000 people will be accommodated there. All the necessary infrastructure will be created, cultivated areas will be restored and people will return there. There may be many such pilot projects. We are working on that now.
As for the return to the cities, it is necessary to draw up master plans for the cities, of course. For example, the city of Aghdam. Before the war, it was home to about 40,000 people. Today the population has increased and now exceeds 50,000. We must plan a city of 50,000, perhaps even 70,000 people, and create the right infrastructure there. After that, buildings must be constructed, including schools and hospitals. So this takes a long time. I want to say again: for us it is a race against time, because we have the means. We also mobilized all our resources. However, time, of course, dictates its will. I would not like to name any dates. Although there are some dates in my mind, I would not like to delight people ahead of time, to excite some perhaps. But trust me that we will gradually return people to these regions as soon as possible. At the same time, a list of villages in the liberated territories is being drawn up, and they will be first to be restored. We are working hard on this issue as well.
Head of the Global Journalism Council of Turkey: Mr. President, first of all, thank you very much for receiving us here. The Global Council of Journalists of Turkey has offices in 40 countries. Azerbaijan is one of them. I came here together with representatives of foreign media, with foreign journalists, as the head of an organization headquartered in Ankara and with an office in Istanbul. We have a thank you plaque for you. It will be passed on to you. As for my question, as the victorious Commander-in-Chief, you successfully completed the 44-day Patriotic war, which, as you said, was seriously opposed by the international community. Congratulations on this! Naturally, the subsequent process is very important. The war is over. However, the international community is of the opinion that without a complete determination of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, this war will never end. Do you think this war has really ended? After that, will the two countries and two peoples have good-neighborly relations? What processes will come after that? This is a part of my question. Secondly, as you know, the Russian-Turkish Joint Monitoring Center has been set up. What does this center do? What is it doing? This is interesting too. Does this center have any functions? What responsibilities does it have? We know about Turkey's role in the 44-day war. We know the obligations it has assumed. But what will Turkey's mission be after peace? Can you talk about this? Thank you. I express my deepest respect and consideration for you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. First of all, I would like to answer your question about the status. I have already spoken about this and I will say it again: the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is over. Azerbaijan was a party to this conflict. We explicitly state that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has already been resolved. Azerbaijan has resolved it. Negotiations that lasted 30 years yielded no result. Although the Minsk Group carried out activities, the result was zero. Over the past two years, the Minsk Group co-chairs actually did not know what to do themselves. The inappropriate and very dangerous statements of the Armenian prime minister actually paralyzed their activities and made them meaningless. If the prime minister of Armenia says that “Karabakh is Armenia, full stop,” then what process can there be after that? What kind of negotiations can we talk about? In essence, this put the Minsk Group co-chairs in a very difficult situation. Because they had to react to it somehow. In fact, no negotiations were held in the past two years. In other words, Azerbaijan resolved this issue on its own. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been resolved. This is confirmed by the Statement signed on 10 November.
As for the status, I specified the address of the status in my previous speeches. I do not want to return to this question any more. Everyone knows where the status is. I believe that the less often this issue is mentioned, the better it will be for Armenia and the Armenian people. Because Armenia and the Armenian people should not be given false promises. One of the reasons why they are in this situation now is precisely this – myths, claims and unfounded desires. Politicians of some foreign countries who supported these aspirations also played a role in the fact that the Armenian people found themselves in such a miserable situation. Therefore, the issue of status should be completely removed from the agenda. Nagorno-Karabakh is ancestral Azerbaijani land. As a matter of fact, we should not be using the words “Nagorno-Karabakh” at all today. Karabakh with its flat and mountainous parts is an integral part of Azerbaijan. The Armenian people live in one part of it. We don't mind this even though the Armenian population was resettled there in the 19th century. We don't mind that. Armenians also live in our other places and there are no problems. Therefore, as far as the status is concerned, I believe that if anyone raises this issue today, then it does not serve peace, but rather confrontation. We have a clear idea of the further coexistence of the Azerbaijani and Armenian peoples. I spoke about this during the war, more than once.
Unfortunately, we did not hear such statements from Armenian leaders during the war. On the contrary, there were statements full of hostility and hatred. Meanwhile, I was saying that we have no problems with the Armenian people. Armenians are our citizens. Thousands of Armenians live in Azerbaijan. Our treatment of Armenian prisoners during the war confirms this again. I will give you one example. Two lonely elderly Armenian people remained in one of the liberated villages. In other words, “heroic” Armenian soldiers fled, leaving them behind – a woman and a man. They were very old. We brought them here and placed them in the hospital. Then we contacted the Armenian side, saying that we want to transfer them at the state border. When we brought them to the state border, they accepted the elderly woman, but did not take the old man. They said he was already sick. They said they couldn’t look after him. He has no relatives, and if we accept him, who will look after him? Just look at the degree of immorality! No matter how hard we tried – the Red Cross is a witness to this, we did it with the participation of the Red Cross – they refused. This elderly man stayed with us. The Red Cross, with our help, placed him in the hospital. Despite our best efforts, he died after a while.
We did that too. What was their answer? Therefore, we declare today, and I, as President, say that we have a long track record of living together with the Armenian people – in Armenia, in Azerbaijan and in other countries. For example, there are villages in Georgia where Azerbaijanis and Armenians live together. There is no disagreement between them. The same applies to Russia, Ukraine, Europe. This is our position. But this is not a one-sided question. The Armenian people should also be ready for this. Unfortunately, the Armenian people have been so disillusioned that great efforts must be made to get rid of this disease.
As for the activities of the Russian-Turkish Monitoring Center, I can say that this is partly reflected in the statement signed on 10 November. It did not specify that there would be a Russian-Turkish monitoring center. But when agreeing this statement, we stipulated that. Azerbaijan has created this monitoring center near the village of Marzili in Ahdam district at its own expense. All conditions have been created. As you know, the monitoring center is now in operation and its main goal is to exercise control in the post-war period, to conduct monitoring using drones in order to prevent any confrontation in this conflict zone and, if this happens, to establish who was the instigator, who is guilty. So far, with the exception of the sabotage group sent to Azerbaijan, as I mentioned earlier, there has been no serious confrontation. I believe that this monitoring center will function as a very important instrument for the post-war period.
Your next question was related to the activities of the Turkish side. What will be the mission of Turkey, as you said? From the first days, Turkey has demonstrated very positive conduct, conduct designed for peace and stability. At the same time, Turkey supported Azerbaijan in its rightful cause from the first days. My dear brother, dear President, made very clear statements in the very first days. So did other officials – the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, other ministers, the President of the Grand National Assembly. All these statements, this political and moral support gave us strength and, at the same time, were a very serious message for many. Turkey is showing a very positive attitude even after the war. Even yesterday, Turkish officials made statements regarding the situation in Armenia. Today, Turkey is aware of the meetings held between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia at the level of deputy prime ministers because these meetings are significant for the entire region. Both Turkey and Iran, and Georgia, if there is such a desire in the future, can join the common platform. Turkey as a global powerhouse plays a very positive role in all regions, including ours, and this is very important for stability in the region.
Russian RIA Novosti news agency: Good afternoon, Mr. President. We recently visited Lachin district, and it was for the first time for me. What is impressive at first glance, of course, is the beautiful and wonderful places, and we understand that they have great potential. But at the same time, we understand that in spite of what is there now, there is a lot of work ahead to restore these lands. Directly related to this process, of course, is the process of demining of these territories after the war. Perhaps these numbers have already been announced, but data may have emerged. How many territories still need to be cleared and what timeframe do you set for that? And as a representative of the Russian media, I would like to know if negotiations are under way, and if so, which Russian companies can take part in the process of restoring infrastructure on these lands? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. We are only at the beginning of the journey in mine clearance. We have cleared only a few thousand hectares so far. I ordered to establish new military units, new sapper and engineering battalions of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan, and have already been established. We recently purchased modern equipment from Turkey. It has already been delivered to Azerbaijan and will greatly facilitate this work for us. In parallel with this, I recently signed an order on the establishment of the State Agency for Mine Action. Before that, we had an agency the status of which was rather uncertain. It was called ANAMA. It was established during the existence of a commission on the restoration of liberated territories. So in order to strengthen this work, we have created a state agency. It has already been formed. This year, we are allocating about 100 million manats in the investment program, so that the agency could work effectively. Among other things, the most modern equipment will be purchased, including remotely operated units – robots and mine-clearing machines. So we will do our best to tackle this. In other words, one area is the Ministry of Defense and the second is the State Agency for Mine Action.
Also, more than 100 specialists from the Turkish Ministry of Defense were sent here immediately after the war to participate in mine clearance and trainings for our sappers. A group of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations is also involved in mine clearance in Agdam District. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations mainly works on the territory that is the responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers, but they are also involved here. We are currently in talks with several companies with experience in this field, but these negotiations are not over yet. A process of approvals is currently under way. so we will make the most of all the possibilities. By the way, when appointing the head of the agency, I also said that we want Azerbaijani companies to participate in this as well. Because this work is not for one year, unfortunately. The area to be cleared is quite large. Therefore, local companies will also join.
As for the methodology, it exists here. There is international experience as to what should be cleared of mines first of all. These are communications, settlements and places for agricultural activities. By the way, I should say that we have already begun agricultural activities in the liberated territory. Winter crops have already been sown on an area of more than 7,000 hectares. To do this, the area was previously cleared of mines. So we are ready for broad international cooperation. I know that a lot of proposals are coming from various companies, but there are two key factors here, as in many other issues – quality and price. A combination of these two factors, of course, will decide our preference to this or that company.
As for the other question about the participation of Russian companies in the restoration, I have already made statements on that. We will attract companies from friendly countries. Russia and Azerbaijan are friendly countries. Therefore, naturally, Russian companies will be involved. I think that they may also be interested. We are already receiving applications from various countries for certain types of work. This applies to urban planning. This also applies to the construction of facilities, including infrastructure facilities, roads, bridges, power plants. So the scope of work is immense. The territory of more than 10,000 square kilometers has been liberated. Therefore, I think there is enough work for all the friends of Azerbaijan.
Public Television: Mr. President, the counter-offensive operation of the Azerbaijani army in response to Armenia’s yet another aggression attempt on 27 September ended with a brilliant victory for our army. After the war, Azerbaijan has been busy with repair and restoration work in the territories liberated from occupation and is working on new platforms for multilateral regional cooperation. How would you assess the prospects for the development of the region after the war and what benefits will this bring to our country and other countries of the region?
President Ilham Aliyev: I have a very positive assessment of the situation. I believe that there are unique opportunities for the further development of the region today, because, I want to say again, we believe, and so do many of our partners believe, that the war is over and we need to turn this page of the book and look into the future. Another factor that gives rise to optimism is that our neighbors also share our opinion. There are no disagreements between us in relation to the further development of the region and the implementation of integration projects. I can say that I had numerous conversations on this issue with the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran. There were also consultations and contacts at the level of foreign ministers and deputy prime ministers. In fact, we are completely unanimous that it is necessary to take this opportunity. Because the post-war period really opens up new opportunities, creates unique opportunities for cooperation, mutual trade, opening communications, creating new transport corridors. If we look at the Zangazur corridor alone, we can see that it meets the interests of not only Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran and Armenia, but also of other neighboring countries. So a new transport artery of Eurasia may be opened. If these positive trends prevail, then, of course, each completed project will lead to a new project. I can give you an example from our activities in the energy sector. When we were taking the first step, we could not have imagined what large projects we would be implementing today. Look what the first oil pipeline led to – the Baku-Supsa pipeline commissioned in 1999 connected Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea with the Black Sea. So many projects have been implemented since then. Investments, new discoveries and the Southern Gas Corridor. In issues related to the implementation of this project, seven countries have already joined efforts, which in itself creates a new format of cooperation today. We can observe the same picture here. But on the condition that there will be no hidden things and thoughts – only sincerity, mutual trust and distribution of interests. Because the interests of all countries must be secured. Only then can we make the most of this situation. I want to say again that Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Iran – my meetings and exchange of views with the heads of state allow me the opportunity to say that we stick to the same position. Armenia adheres to this position only in word because it puts forward some thoughts during consultations that cannot be accepted. Therefore, if Armenia takes the same approach to this issue, then, of course, it can also become an integral part of the ongoing processes. If not, then we will resolve the planned issues without it. No-one can stop us. Recent history also showed that we have achieved all our goals. Armenia may simply waste this historic chance again, just as it did in the 1990s. It did not believe that we would implement all the projects, that they would bypass Armenia, which would not receive a dime of profit. If it sticks to the same opinion, then it will face the same fate. We are ready for cooperation and believe that it can become the main guarantor of long-term peace in the region.
Japanese JiJi News Agency : Hello, dear Mr. President. First of all, thank you very much. We also express our condolences again. Our question is related to Khojaly. Thirty years ago, many people lost their loved ones there. At present, the return of Azerbaijanis there is on the agenda. However, the people who survived there say, “Yes, we want to return there, but we do not want to see Armenians there”. In your opinion, is it possible for Armenians and Azerbaijanis to live there together? What measures are you taking in this regard? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: I have already answered this question to a certain extent. I think it is possible. In fact, the policy of Azerbaijan, its position and the opinions of our people confirm this. We are a country open to cooperation, and representatives of different peoples have lived in Azerbaijan like one family for centuries. There have never been any conflicts, misunderstandings on religious or ethnic grounds in Azerbaijan. The second Karabakh war has shown this again. In other words, representatives of all peoples rallied into a single fist under one banner, and each people living in Azerbaijan made their valuable contribution to this Victory.
As for living together with the Armenians in the future, I want to say again that this is happening in various countries, including Azerbaijan. I was informed recently that our journalists even found a sister of a former minister of defense of Armenia who lives in Azerbaijan. Have a look, the Armenian defense minister took part in the genocide of the Azerbaijanis in the 1990s but his own sister lives in Azerbaijan. Is she facing any problems? Not. This is the upbringing, the moral level of the Azerbaijani people. We are ready for this in the future.
I am absolutely sure that the Azerbaijanis should and will return to the lands that are under the control of the peacekeeping mission today. This is indicated in the statement signed on 10 November. Yes, it will take some time and require joint effort. However, this is inevitable. We will also return to Khojaly. There is no other option. The Armenian side must also understand that if it tries to create artificial obstacles, it will only harm itself.
At the same time, I understand the question you asked perfectly well. The wounds of the war have not yet healed. Khojaly's wounds will never heal. We will never forget the Khojaly genocide – both the relatives of the victims and the entire Azerbaijani people. It takes time to heal the wounds of war. We understand this and do not want to rush anyone. We do not want to force anyone.
For us, the first stage is the return of our citizens to the liberated lands. Parallel to this – I have already answered these questions – there are issues of building a lasting peace and minimizing the risks of war. Less than four months after the war, contacts are already being established between officials, officials of Armenia and Azerbaijan, meetings are being held, sometimes in an open form, sometimes in an unofficial format. However, this process is under way and it is moving in a positive direction. Therefore, realizing all the delicacy of the issue, I want to say again that in order to fully achieve what we want, we must be wise and take all steps in a timely manner. Just like in the second Karabakh war, the steps taken in good time had an effect.
Russian “Zvezda” and “Bolşaya Aziya” media holdings: Mr. President, I represent the Zvezda media holding of the Russian Armed Forces and the Bolşaya Aziya media holding. I will start with a question of the Big Asia media holding, which is quite simple. You have created a unique precedent in the eyes of the whole world because you acted as an absolute peacemaker during the Karabakh war. You talked about peace 23 times, whereas the other side did not make a single statement. How do you intend to further build your relations with Armenia at state level? Not with the Armenian people, but with Armenia as a state, to develop the initiatives that have really impressed the world.
The second question from the Zvezda media holding of the Russian Armed Forces concerns the surprising and contradictory statements made by Armenian officials in connection with the alleged use of heavy weapons, including the Iskander SRBM, Russian-made missiles. These statements were refuted by the Russian ministry of defense, but did cause a certain stir and, I would say, fear in all the states adjacent to Armenia, fear for their security and peace. What mechanisms do you think could be created in your opinion for the possible control over such weapons that may end up in the hands of irresponsible persons? And further, how would you imagine further relations with Russia under arms contracts, if I could ask you about this? Thank you for your attention.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Thank you for such close attention to the events that took place in September-November. Honestly, I did not count how many times I spoke about peace myself, but if you did, this suggests that you have delved into the essence of the question very closely, so it will be easier for me to answer. I have actually talked a lot about peace, and I want to repeat what I said today. From the first day of the war, I said that we were ready to stop as soon as we were given a timetable for withdrawal from all occupied territories. And if the Armenian side had heeded my words, then their defeat would not have been so humiliating and painful, and there would not have been so many victims. Moreover, the Armenian side represented by the prime minister did not listen to the words of President Putin either. I can say this because he has already said it personally that we were in contact several times during the war. I must say that, of course, we did not and do not have direct contact with the Armenian prime minister. But through President Putin, we somewhat conveyed different messages to each other. I am aware that the President of Russia talked about this, that the Armenian prime minister did not listen to his words and thereby aggravated the situation to such an extent that he was forced to sign an act of surrender somewhere in a dark room. If you remember, he wasn’t even there at the signing ceremony. So everything here will depend on what policy the Armenian leadership and the Armenian government will choose.
Our policy was unambiguous both during and after the war. I have articulated it quite clearly and am saying today that we are focused on peace. We didn't need war. This was an enforced measure. And this measure turned out to be more effective than all the many years, 30 years of useless negotiations. So everything will depend on the correct assessment of modern realities by the Armenian leadership, correct conclusions and exclusion of revanchist attempts. We are watching everything and will follow things even more closely. We monitored the situation not only in the occupied territories, but also in the territory of Armenia. We saw all their movements, we saw all the advancements, including the deployment of long-range missiles, and this is even more the case today. Therefore, I do not advise the Armenian leadership to act in a cunning manner, try to conceal something and deceive us. This is simply impossible. If the Armenian side takes the same approach, then we will build relations to further strengthen our contacts. Of course, if everything goes exactly as we think, we do not rule out a peace treaty may be signed at some stage. Because the de facto statement of 10 November is essentially a peace treaty. What else is there in a peace treaty? When one side defeats the other, the other side signs an act of surrender. But what was signed on 10 November is de facto an act of complete surrender of Armenia. Therefore, of course, we are ready to go this way.
As for the statement by the Armenian prime minister in connection with the Iskander missile system, it raised questions here as well us. I would not like to be ironic on this topic, there have already been enough comments among Russian officials, members of the Russian parliament and experts about the missile exploding by 10 percent. Of course, we must try very hard to make this happen. We didn’t see the launch of Iskander missiles. We didn’t see it. Therefore, when this statement was made, we asked again yesterday. No, we didn't see that. This is just another public blooper, I would say. There have been many of them. In principle, what is happening in Armenia now resembles some kind of a tragicomedy. This is how I would describe what is happening there.
Just imagine that their plane goes missing. They don't know where their plane is. It flew in one direction, then flew in another direction, the pilots disappeared, the plane disappeared, and they sit and think who stole or hijacked their plane. Further, at the IDEX exhibition in Abu Dhabi, the Armenian stand was as clean as ever, there was not a single exhibit there. On the one hand, what can they exhibit there? After all, they do not have military production. But on the other hand, why play the ape, so to speak, and try to put up a stand there by all means? They disgraced themselves to the whole world. Everyone brought their products, but there were only some books on the Armenian stand. It is a disgrace.
Then there were statements that the Iskander was fired. Where was it fired? And it exploded by 10 percent. Well, this is just an anecdote. This tragicomedy describes what is happening there today. They fired Scud and Tochka-U missiles at populated areas, and did it deliberately, at night, at the sleeping city of Ganja. This was all recorded. We immediately conveyed this information to the Russian side. And when I spoke with President Putin, I said this and called on the Russian side to urge Armenia to refrain from doing this, otherwise we will not have a choice – we will bomb their cities. We had everything in sight. Our missiles can easily reach Yerevan, and not only from the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, but also from other regions. We can demonstrate this at any time. Therefore, my appeal was meant to call on the enraged Armenian military-political leadership, which had already crossed all the red lines, to do a sober analysis of the situation. Otherwise, we will simply destroy them completely. I believe that the pressure of the Russian side worked because after the last attacks on Ganja there were no more such attempts. They attacked quite regularly before that. By the way, after that our cities were constantly attacked with artillery and mortars. I think 16,000 or 18,000 bombs landed on Tartar, including an attack on a funeral procession, i.e. in order to inflict maximum damage on the civilian population. This, apparently, stemmed from helplessness, from weakness, from defeat on the battlefield. They also thought that they would stop us in this way. Although, as I said, the people who lost their loved ones or those getting out of the rubble, all in blood, were saying: Forward, do not stop!
Answering the question about what to do and what containment mechanisms should be in place, I actually told the Russian leadership about this when the Iskander missiles were transferred to Armenia. I said that this is a wrong step, this step was not aimed at strengthening stability and that it would not deter us from anything. In fact, I spoke during the war too and suggested that the Russian side take the Iskander back. Yes, I did. I still hold the opinion that the only way to prevent such a tragic development of events in the regions is to take it back and not give them free weapons any more. I say this all the time. Unfortunately, it was happening. This has not happened since the war ended, and we regard it as a positive step. But I am told that the Armenian defense minister and, I think, the Russian Ambassador to Armenia said recently that Russia would take part in the modernization of the Armenian army. Why? For what purpose? I have a reasonable question. I am asking this question through your channel, through today's live broadcast. For what purpose? There is no need for this. If we want peace, long-term peace, then irresponsible people cannot have such means of destruction. It is a country where chaos prevails, where the army does not obey the leadership, where they have either carried out a military coup or not carried it out – this is also a part of the tragicomedy because a military coup is either committed or not. There is this tragicomic picture, with people walking about with megaphones, with night tents, with some homeless people on the streets. It is just a disgrace, just a disgrace. The whole world is laughing at them – both at the government and the opposition. Therefore, how can a dangerous weapon be given into such hands? Therefore, I want to say what to do so that no-one has any fears.
As for the further military-technical cooperation with the Russian Federation, our country does it in a planned manner. We also discussed this topic with the Russian leadership after the end of hostilities. Because we have spent both the resources and ammunition and there is a need to replenish our arsenal to the level that was before the war. Work in this direction is under way. Our main military equipment is made in Russia. And unlike Armenia, we never complained about it. Firstly, because there was no reason to complain. Russian military equipment is the best in the world for some indicators and, in general, is one of the best in the world. It simply needs to be in the able hands, so that there are no such unfounded accusations, which essentially led to the military-political crisis in Armenia.
British Independent newspaper: Twenty-nine years have passed since the Khojaly genocide. Azerbaijan has won the war. What is Azerbaijan's goal in connection with Karabakh after 29 years? Do you think foreign soldiers will continue to be observers in the region? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: We have achieved our goal. Our goal was to restore our territorial integrity. We achieved this and won a military victory. We have liberated our lands not through negotiations or discussions, but by military means. We have restored justice by fighting, shedding blood and giving martyrs. We did not leave the blood of our martyrs unavenged. We took revenge on the enemy on the battlefield.
As for foreign soldiers, their mission on the territory of Azerbaijan is temporary. These soldiers have a special mission. This cannot be perceived as a military base. Russian peacekeeping forces are carrying out a peacekeeping mission here, and I think they are doing it successfully. There are occasional problems sometimes, but on the whole, the activities of the Russian peacekeeping forces can be considered satisfactory. Their activity term here is intended to be five years. If Azerbaijan expresses a different opinion on this issue after five years, then, of course, their activities will be completed. At the same time, I have already expressed my opinion on this matter, the launch of the Turkish-Russian Joint Monitoring Center is also a very important step. This is an important factor for maintaining stability in our region. I must also say that not very accurate assumptions are made about the activities of the Russian peacekeeping mission in the world sometimes, including Azerbaijan,. Their presence on the territory of Azerbaijan today will play a positive role in the return of the Azerbaijani population to the liberated lands. This is testified by the sending of an Armenian sabotage group to liberated lands. Therefore, I have a positive opinion of their activities. I am sure that their activities will be continued. But the deployment of any other foreign forces on the territory of Azerbaijan is not a subject of discussion.
Russian RBC TV channel: Hello and greetings, Mr. President. I will have a question about people and, of course, about Karabakh. If we look at the map we have been seeing after the signing of the trilateral statement, we can see that the lands that are conditionally controlled by the Armenian forces are almost completely surrounded by the territories that now belong to Azerbaijan under this agreement. And there is a narrow path, the Lachin corridor, through which, relatively speaking, the Armenians of Karabakh can get to Khankandi, or, as they call it, Stepanakert, and so on. When will the presence of Russian peacekeepers on the territory of Karabakh end one day? And how do you think the passage through this corridor will take place then? Will people’s registration be checked in their passports? What will the passage of the Karabakh Armenians look like? In general and in principle, how are you going to integrate these people into your country and build relationships with them?
For example, you recently visited a church in Shusha. There may be a situation when some Karabakh Armenians will also want to come to pray in this church. I am asking about such life day-to-day issues. This is not the first time we have talked to people on the streets in Azerbaijan. They say, of course, that they are happy with the victory in the conflict this time. But they say that they are not completely satisfied. They still ask questions about Khankandi and other cities. Do you have any further plans? How will relationships be built in the future? They need to be built somehow. Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. As for the situation that exists now, you have described it very accurately. Azerbaijan has returned a significant part of its territory by military and peaceful means. Our main goal today is the restoration of these territories, the return of former refugees and the provision of normal life there. Everything must be done in stages, depending on the situation and depending on the strategic plans. We were moving towards the liberation of our territories for many years. Speaking of the negotiations, the negotiations I happened to be involved in, there were various periods in this process of negotiations, there were times when there were hopes and it seemed that we had got very close to agreeing the basic principles.
There is a lot of speculation in Armenia today as to what was proposed and how – both in the government and in the opposition. In order, as they say, not to add fuel to the fire of Armenia’s political life, I will refrain from my comments. The only thing I can say is that the principle of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity has never been questioned throughout the process of negotiations. This was a matter of principle I have always stressed to the Armenian leaders I negotiated with and to the OSCE Minsk Group. The return of Azerbaijanis to all the territories was my principled position. And why were the negotiations going on? Because the Armenian side agreed with this. This is all. They agreed to this. The two previous presidents agreed. As for the current leader, I will refrain from any comments for now. As they say, everything is fresh in the memory. Why didn’t this happen? Because they lied, because they said one thing and did another. As soon as we approach a glimmer of hope, they immediately staged a provocation. This has happened too many times. In the early 2000s and in 2014. As soon as some windows of opportunity appeared, a military provocation followed immediately. A good example of that was a helicopter that attacked our positions and was shot down. From this, they concluded that Azerbaijan had attacked them, although it was a military helicopter. It was not a training or transport helicopter. It was Mi-24. After that, the negotiations stopped. Then a new stage. Then came the period of 2016, the April war. The former president of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, is saying today that they won that war. A very interesting victory considering that we reached their trenches. We raised our flag, removed theirs and expelled them from the territory of Aghdara, Jabrayil and Fuzuli districts, returning to Boyuk Marjanli. This is how we lost, right? Great! Such is Armenian historiography, such is mythological Armenian science, including historical science, first of all. So we gave them a mouthful in 2016. I will put it that way. After that, we were given promises. Speaking of that, I will also say the following. We were given promises that they would get out of all our territories. These promises were made personally by Sargsyan at a meeting in Russia. He asked for two weeks to get out of these territories after the April defeat. Then why did he dismiss Ohanyan, who recently fled from Shusha at the last moment, from the post of defense minister? He went to Shusha to defend it. So why didn’t he? After all, he was born there, on our land. Why didn’t he defend it? Why did he run away? He is boasting of something incomprehensible in rallies now. So did Sargsyan dismiss him from his post for the military “victory” in April 2016? Specific dates were provided to us. He asked for two weeks. That was in the presence of President Putin and myself. Two weeks later – whether he organized it himself or something happened there with the seizure of a police station. Then he said that he could no longer do that, because the situation had worsened, that there were terrorists there and that he needed to deal with the terrorists. So he dragged things on and on until 2018. This was why nothing was decided.
Now that we have resolved all this ourselves, as they say, I want to say again that we have a clear position on the future. We must think about the future today. And speaking of integration today, we are ready for any form of integration. Not many people live in the part where Russian peacekeepers are located now. In general, I should also tell you, so that there are no different figures as to how many people used to live there before the war. There were a maximum of 60,000 people there. We didn’t take this figure out of nowhere. We are using objective control data, including Azerbaijani satellites and objective observation. Everyone understands that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh has always been and remains the number one issue for us. A state like Azerbaijan – how could we not take operational intelligence measures to know what is happening there? We knew and know what is happening there now. We knew everything during the war and before the war. And this helped us a lot during the war, of course. It is still helping us now. Therefore, when Russian peacekeepers incomprehensibly allow for a secret passage of foreigners to Nagorno-Karabakh, we are puzzled. We have agreed with the Russian side that foreigners can go there only with our permission. But this agreement is being violated. I won't say more than that for now. I may have to comment on this topic again, but this is a fact. The reason I am talking about this is that we practically know the names of people coming and going there. Therefore, having such opportunities today, we are watching everything and will continue to do that.
In terms of integration, we are ready to continue to offer various options. For example, I know that water resources management issues are being discussed now. Why weren’t they addressed all these years? Why did they, having occupied our territories, cut off our water from the Sarsang reservoir? They opened it in the winter, creating floods, and closed it in the summer so that our villagers could not irrigate their lands. Today, when we returned the Sugovushan reservoir, the situation is completely different. They are asking us now. Therefore, there will be many questions here, issues related to energy security.
In general, the integration of Khankandi and other territories where the Armenian population now lives is an inevitable process. One must understand this, understand the historical perspective. By the way, I spoke about this even before the war. Because if the Armenian leadership had made a sober assessment of the balance of forces – military, political, economic and demographic – it would have made the right decision. Our strength will only increase, including the population. Meanwhile, Armenia will continue to weaken without cooperation. There simply cannot be any other objective option here. There are simply no resources for restoration without cooperation with Azerbaijan and Turkey. They will continue to live in the sack, as they have done. But this sack is not a sack any more, it is a small pouch, I would say. And this is all. Therefore, they need to understand that they cannot say that they have some kind of a state called “artsakh”. There is no such state. It has never been there and never will be. They should throw these crazy ideas aside and live normally as citizens of Azerbaijan. We see them as citizens of Azerbaijan who have been brainwashed. The war criminals who are trying to come to power in Yerevan again have brainwashed them. They do not live there themselves. During the war, they didn't sit there either, they ran away. Sargsyan, Kocharyan and Ohanyan. Where are their heroic medals they glued to their chests as child killers and murderers of Khojaly? Why didn’t they defend? They were born there after all. One in Shusha and the other two in Khankendi. They should have defended. Or let them go there now, let them try to stick their nose in there. Let's see if they can even make it out of there. So it is necessary to treat these people, you know, to treat these innocent people who have become victims of Azerbaijanophobia, this propaganda against the Azerbaijanis. I think that time is the best healer. These are not my words. Many people have pronounced them. And it is necessary to allow some time for the wounds to heal, for understanding to come, and for Armenia to understand that all the attempts to demonize Azerbaijan, which they used to undertake and are still undertaking, are counterproductive for them in the first place.
As for religious sites, we protect all religious sites. The state protects and restores them. During the war, we opened a Christian church in the village of Nij in Gabala district after restoration. As for the Christian sites – religious and cultural – on the territory that has been liberated, no-one should have any doubts that they will be adequately protected. In fact, Armenian pilgrims can freely visit the ancient Albanian temple of Khudavang, which is located in Kalbajar district. We are creating conditions – both the Udi community of Azerbaijan, which owns this temple, and the Armenians who tried to Armenianize it are visiting the temple. So there will be no problems with that in the future. I am sure of that.
Spanish La Vanguardia newspaper: Good morning, Mr. President. First of all, thank you for this opportunity you created for us today. In December last year we visited Aghdam, and here I would like to specifically note your language ability. Our politicians in Spain can’t do that. Speaking of the language, people calling themselves the leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh claim that they allegedly adopted Russian as the official language. Mr. President, in your opinion, what will the issue of the official language or languages be there in the future? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you for your question. Regarding your question about the official language in Karabakh, I can say that this is a kind of manipulation. A manipulation of those who illegally call themselves leaders in this region of Azerbaijan. They can even declare the Swahili language as the official language of Karabakh. This cannot make any difference or have any result. Nagorno-Karabakh does not exist and everyone recognizes this region as an integral part of Azerbaijan. I think this is their last breath, the last attempt of this criminal junta to demonstrate that they are supposedly a state. The only official language in Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani, and no other language can have an official status on the territory of Azerbaijan. At the same time, we do not restrict other languages in any way. As you know, the Russian language is extensively used in Azerbaijan. We have more newspapers and Internet sites in Russian now than in Soviet times. We have about 340 schools with a Russian-language section. How many such schools are there in Armenia? None. There is only one school in Armenia for the children of the Russian military contingent stationed there. They even adopted a law, according to which Armenian children cannot attend Russian schools. So this is discrimination against their strategic partner, as they describe Russia themselves. They receive military resources from Russia. They received weapons worth about $3-5 billion, which we destroyed in the war, from Russia free of charge. It was a gift or was provided on the basis of a “loan agreement”, a loan they will never repay. Look at the level of discrimination against such a partner. New legislation has been adopted against Russian TV channels. After the war, they partially eliminated it. They prohibit the Russian language and Russian-language schools. But immediately after the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh, they suddenly adopt Russian as the official language. I suggest the Swahili language. In this case, they will be able to achieve the establishment of contacts with distant and linguistically remote countries.
As for the future, people speaking different languages in Azerbaijan enjoy all the rights and privileges. They are guaranteed access to education. All our state universities have a Russian-language section. It should be borne in mind that members of the Armenian community living in these territories can speak Armenian among themselves. In Soviet times, in this region of ours, there were newspapers in Armenian. There were also special programs. The Armenian language, like all other languages, will be protected in Azerbaijan.
Thank you for the compliment regarding my knowledge of various foreign languages. Yes, I have studied foreign languages and I always enjoy using them.
Greek Real Group Media company: Mr. President, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to take part in the press conference. It is wonderfully organized. I represent Greece. In your opinion, can the crisis that occurred in Armenia yesterday have a negative impact on the ceasefire and established contacts – contacts among Turkey, Iran and Russia? My second question is related to Aghdam. I visited it yesterday. I saw an area of thousands of square kilometers large that was razed to the ground. I witnessed disrespect, insults in relation to human civilization and religious sites. I could not imagine such destruction in Aghdam. I spoke with ordinary citizens yesterday. How long do you think it will take to restore these territories? There have been great cultural losses and disrespect for religious sites. How long, according to your plan and in your opinion, it will take to restore these territories?
President Ilham Aliyev: Regarding your first question, the crisis in Armenia and its impact on peace will again depend on the direction in which this crisis will develop. It is imperative that this crisis be stopped. As I said, this tragicomedy must end. In connection with the ceasefire and the implementation of the trilateral statement, I would like to draw your attention to the response of President Putin. He was asked what will happen if Armenia tries to evade the implementation of this statement. He replied that it would be suicidal for Armenia. I fully agree with President Putin on this issue.
As for the impact of the crisis in Armenia on regional cooperation, yes, we do have some concerns. Trilateral meetings are being held among deputy prime ministers of the three countries – Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Two such meetings have already taken place. The third meeting is due in Moscow tomorrow. I have not been informed yet whether this meeting has been postponed by Armenia. In other words, if it is postponed, it will be understandable. And yet, this will again depend on further developments in Armenia and the results of the political struggle taking place there. However, this cannot affect our plans. As I said, we have a clear vision of the future of the region. There is also a clear understanding of building bridges between Turkey, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan. Therefore, Armenia should not try to take any negative steps here. This would determine the dependence of their political, military and economic configuration. Azerbaijan is an integral part of this region and has always been an example of successful cooperation. There are formats Azerbaijan-Turkey-Georgia, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Iran. In addition, there is a format of cooperation involving Turkey, Iran and Russia. Armenia is the only country that does not have such a format of cooperation. So we are a responsible country in this region. There may be certain delays, certain activities being postponed. But in general, I think that regardless of who comes to political power in Armenia, Armenia will not be able to exert a significant influence on this, and it should not.
You have mentioned Aghdam and said that you witnessed a deplorable picture there. Everyone who goes there for the first time experiences shock and bewilderment. I cannot express the mixed feelings I experienced when I visited Aghdam and saw the trenches there: shock, suffering, regret. At the same time, I felt a sense of joy that we returned there. This, perhaps, could even become the topic of another press conference. As I have already noted, the population of Aghdam before the occupation was about 40,000 people. After the occupation, the population naturally increased. We have to re-develop the master plan for what is now a 70,000 city. I can give you an example. Last year we built apartments and houses for several thousand families. By my decision, they were actually intended for internally displaced persons. But after the liberation of the occupied territories, I decided to transfer these apartments to the families of martyrs, and yesterday I opened such a settlement for 1,572 families. Before the end of this year, another 3,000 families of martyrs will be provided with houses and apartments. We are already used to that. We have such experience. We can build 3,000-4,000 apartments and houses every year. So if we are talking about the city of Aghdam physically, I believe that it can be fully restored within two to three years, but before that it is necessary to carry out demining and implement infrastructure projects. As for the electrical infrastructure, we will create an interconnected energy network for all our cities and regions. The budget and program have already been approved, and by the end of this year the supply of electricity will be completed. Water supply, gas supply, roads ... We must build not only houses, but also hospitals, schools, kindergartens there. Jobs must be created there, because the people living there must be provided with jobs. In other words, all this work is an integral part of the program, which we call the Great Return. The head of the Presidential Administration is doing the coordination work. About the same situation is observed not only in Aghdam, but also in all other cities and settlements – Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Gubadli. Everything has been destroyed in Zangilan, with the exception of a few houses. This is a gigantic job. There is a lot of work in store for us. We will do all this only at our own expense, and have already started doing that. I mean not only financial resources. I am also talking about technical capabilities. We have professionals, intellectual resources.
I would like to emphasize that we must create the best conditions for our citizens there, because these people have been experiencing difficulties for many years. We understand that our compatriots want to return there as soon as possible. Again, I would not like to give a more exact date, because the restoration of a city like Agdam alone will take at least two years.
Iranian Mehr Agency : Mr. President, terrorism is a global threat these days. During the Karabakh war, there were reports of terrorist groups operating in the region. And this poses a great threat to the region. What collective effort is needed here? What steps will the Republic of Azerbaijan take in this regard? The second question is related to the assessment of the Azerbaijani-Iranian cooperation. The two nations are bound together through historical and cultural ties. What are the regional prospects for this cooperation?
President Ilham Aliyev: I would like to clarify this issue. You are talking about the operation of terrorist groups during the war. What sources and what information are you referring to?
Journalist: This information was circulated by the news agencies of the countries of the region. With your permission, I will not name them.
President Ilham Aliyev: You know, your question sounds like an accusation. You can talk about any information, but you have to specify the source. You said that information was circulated, so please name the source. What is the source of information about terrorist groups?
Journalist: In your opinion, what measures should be taken to suppress terrorist groups in the region?
President Ilham Aliyev: What region or what country are you talking about? You cannot specify the source. Blaming someone is easy. You can ask this as a question, but it doesn't change the essence. It is harder to stand behind your words. You are talking of some reports, but what sources are you referring to? If you named a source in your question, I could answer in more detail.
Journalist: In that case, I would be glad to receive an answer to the second question.
President Ilham Aliyev: I believe that you answered the first question yourself. The information you mentioned in your question does not exist. There is no information or evidence related to the participation of terrorist groups during the war. This is a deliberately made up story, and I regret that such a question is asked by a journalist from a friendly country. Usually such questions of an accusatory nature come from other countries. No terrorists took part in the operations for the liberation of the lands. This victory was won by the Azerbaijani army. There can be no talk of any written or verbal reports or evidence. This is nothing more than an accusation against Azerbaijan. When this is done by Armenia, one can understand. This is an excuse for the Armenians, because it is a psychologically painful issue for them – Azerbaijani soldier defeated them. They may say that some terrorists did it. But has anyone seen these terrorists? Can you or your colleagues just provide one name? You have enough time to share this information with your colleagues. Is there such information? Not. Therefore, I recommend that you do not engage in speculation. You are a lady, you have come, as I said, from a friendly country, so I would not like to go too much into detail of this topic. But please be more responsible when spreading such rumors.
As for the Azerbaijani-Iranian cooperation, it is at a very good level. The post-war period creates new opportunities. I know that Iranian companies are interested in participating in reconstruction activities in the destroyed territories. A high-ranking delegation from Azerbaijan has paid a visit to Iran. Important issues related to our cooperation, including the joint use of the Khudafarin reservoir, have been discussed here. We have already reached an agreement with the Iranian side on the construction of power plants. A budget has already been allocated for the construction of the Khudafarin and Giz Galasi power plants. The total production capacity will be 280 megawatts, and this volume will be distributed between the two countries.
There are many possibilities in connection with the new situation. We have restored our state border with Iran. Because of the occupation, a 132km stretch was not under our control. New business opportunities are already opening up today. This also includes transport and agriculture. Speaking about the transport sector, I would like to note the Zangazur corridor. This corridor will be beneficial for the Iranian side as well. Using this corridor, Iran can establish a railway connection with Armenia. Currently, the two countries do not have such a connection and, as I heard, the construction of such a railway line is no longer on the agenda because it is meaningless and too expensive. Iranian cargo can be transported to Armenia and back through Nakhchivan, Julfa. There are many opportunities, we will consider all of them, and I am sure our close cooperation will be continued in the future.
Journalist: Mr. President, I apologize, but I think my question related to terrorist groups was misunderstood. I did not mean that the terrorist groups acted from the Azerbaijani side. I was referring to the activities of groups such as ISIS in the region during the Karabakh war.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you for the clarification.
Iraqi Media Network: Mr. President, I express my deep gratitude to you for inviting us to participate in events organized in the territories liberated from occupation. Visiting the city of Aghdam liberated from occupation yesterday, we witnessed unprecedented destruction. It turned out that during the occupation, all houses were looted, including the bricks. It was also very painful for us to learn that during the occupation the destroyed mosque was used as a barn for animals. As far as we know, mosques, mausoleums, cemeteries and, in general, cultural sites belonging to the Azerbaijani people were completely destroyed in other territories occupied by Armenia. What specific claims in this regard does your government intend to bring against Armenia in the international legal field? At the same time, this is the largest-scale destruction of Islamic heritage and cultural sites in modern history. This can be compared to ISIS crimes against cultures in occupied lands. As far as I know, this fact was recently confirmed by representatives of ICESCO. In your opinion, what specific role can international organizations and Muslim countries play in the restoration of cultural sites in the liberated territories? Moreover, what common role can international organizations and Muslim countries play in rebuilding these territories? Thank you very much, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Indeed, the sight of the city of Aghdam causes pain for all of us, and the whole world should see that. Keeping pigs and cows in the Aghdam mosque is Armenia’s insult of the entire Muslim world. This is how we perceive it. Those who committed these insults are trying to find a place for themselves in the political arena of Armenia today. There are photographs of former Armenian president Kocharyan in front of the destroyed Aghdam mosque, with obscene words written on its walls. They committed this crime, and I have repeatedly noted at various events, in particular, summits of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other international events, that those who committed this crime and allowed themselves to offend Islamic shrines can never be friends with Muslim countries. Addressing the leaders of Muslim countries, I said: the people you shake hands with have destroyed and desecrated Muslim mosques, kept cows and pigs there. There is a new video footage after the liberation of Zangilan from occupation. It also appeared during the war. Pigs were kept in one of the mosques in Zangilan district. They transformed Panah Ali Khan's palace into a stable. So they did it on purpose. Shouldn't animals be kept elsewhere? They did it on purpose. See how great their hatred of Muslims is! And the criminals who committed this, these immoral people then meet with leaders of some Muslim countries and talk about some kind of friendship and cooperation. Therefore, I request that these videos be circulated all over the world. Let the whole world see that the leadership of Armenia is notorious for its Islamophobic nature. This is an insult not only to us, but also to the entire Muslim world.
According to reports, there were 67 mosques in the liberated lands, of which only one relatively survived. The rest are either completely or partly destroyed. We will restore all the mosques. Of course, representatives of Muslim countries are making their proposals on this issue. Recently, as you noted, an ISESCO delegation was in Azerbaijan. It visited the Aghdam mosque, after which, during a meeting with the Secretary General of ISESCO, it was suggested that ISESCO play a role in the restoration of our historical sites. We welcome this. We also welcome the initiatives of representatives of other Muslim countries. We must turn this restoration work into a celebration of Muslim solidarity, because Azerbaijan is pursuing a very consistent policy to strengthen Muslim solidarity. Various events held in our country through the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as our open position on fundamental issues, have earned us great authority in the Muslim world, of course. We all need unity and solidarity among Muslim countries. Therefore, I express my gratitude for such a proposal and ask you to familiarize the public of your countries with these realities.
Turkish Anadolu Agency: Dear Mr. President, after 10 November, the three countries that signed the statement had to do certain work in the region, which they have started doing. However, during this period, various reports appeared in the press about the number of foreign countries in the region, control over transport planes that started arriving in the region immediately after that, the number of Armenian citizens returning to the region. Some issues became part of your agenda too. You have previously expressed your comments on this matter. As the leader of a country that has won the war, are you satisfied with the period after 10 November and could it have been better?
President Ilham Aliyev: In principle, I am satisfied, because one of the main issues specified in the statement of 10 November was the return of Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin districts to us, and we have achieved this. On 1 December, these districts were returned to us.
At the same time, I believe that positive steps are being taken in relation to other issues mentioned in the statement. Certain issues, of course, have not been fulfilled yet. This requires a certain amount of time. However, I think that the issue, in principle, is developing in a positive direction.
The Turkish-Russian Joint Monitoring Center is also an important step in this direction. I am sure that this monitoring center will make a great contribution to strengthening stability and ceasefire in the region. As President of Azerbaijan, I want to note that no aggressive steps will be taken from the Azerbaijani side. We have never done this, and there is no need for that today. Therefore, in principle, the statement of 10 November is being implemented.
There are issues that are not reflected in the statement of 10 November, but they were agreed in the subsequent period. Some of these issues are being implemented, some are not yet. I repeat that there are some questions – Russian peacekeeping forces are not taking serious enough steps to prevent foreign citizens from entering our territory. This worries us, and we bring this concern to the Russian side. I am sure that these issues will also be regulated over time.
We should not forgot that a completely new situation has shaped in our region and throughout the world after 10 November. We must adapt to this situation, every country must get used to it. This is a new situation, both for us and for neighboring countries. There are logistical, technical, transport and psychological problems here. Some have too high expectations. But everything has its time and place. We were able to achieve our goal step by step and turned the impossible into reality in 44 days. Not only we, but also international experts are saying this today. The military operation we have carried out is being studied in military schools of leading countries of the world today. I believe that during the war and after it, we achieved the maximum possible result, but life goes on, it does not stand still, and new questions arise.
We have a strategic outlook: what we want, what we wanted until now and what we want in the future, and what we must do to achieve these desires and goals – we have clear views and ideas. Within the framework of this general plan, we will continue to take our steps. There will be new achievements and successes.
Ukrainian 1 + 1 TV channel: Good afternoon, Mr. President. I have two questions. One is quite short. Could you please describe in a nutshell the current nature of military and military-technical cooperation between Ukraine and Azerbaijan. Is there an opportunity for Azerbaijan to share the military experience of de-occupation with Ukraine? And then the second question. Despite all the differences in the nature of the wars in Ukraine and Azerbaijan, Ukraine resists Russian aggression, we have a lot in common. For example, the need to solve the problem of reintegration of the local population, which, to put it mildly, is not particularly friendly to the legitimate government. You are faced with this problem and we have to resolve it too. Here is the question: what are your plans in the short and long term regarding the Armenian population of Karabakh. In other words, what can you offer the Armenians of Karabakh - citizenship, full reintegration, cultural autonomy, etc.? Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. As for military-technical cooperation between Ukraine and Azerbaijan, this cooperation has a long history. In the first years of independence, Ukraine was our main partner in terms of military-technical cooperation. Gradually, this cooperation somewhat declined though. To be honest, it is not measured in very large volumes now. However, with regard to the formation of our military industry, when we began to create the military industry, Ukrainian enterprises helped us a lot in this, and many of our military production facilities were joint ventures with Ukrainian companies.
Today, as far as I know, the military-technical complex of Ukraine is going through a period of development, and so does Azerbaijan’s. Therefore, I believe that there are also opportunities for cooperation in this direction. But I will say frankly that there are no specific projects or proposals either from the Ukrainian or from the Azerbaijani side so far. Perhaps the time is not yet ripe for this.
As for the reintegration of the local population, to be honest, we haven’t started it yet because the war has just ended. Today, the Armenian population living in the territory of Karabakh has no contacts with the Azerbaijani population. But this is due to the fact that the Azerbaijani population is simply not there, it was not there for 30 years and hasn’t returned there yet. Also, the Armenian population is in the territory controlled by the Russian peacekeeping mission and does not go beyond that because there is nowhere to go – there are minefields everywhere. Therefore, for such everyday contacts between the Armenian and Azerbaijani populations to start, the situation must be ripe. First of all, I am talking about political conditions. As I said, the Armenian state should abandon any attempts to sever the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan, it should abandon any phraseology like “Artsakh is an independent state”. They should simply give up all this heresy and nonsense, stop deceiving themselves, stop trying to deceive the whole world and confusing people living there. They should recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. I think this is inevitable. I mentioned in an answer to an earlier question about a possible peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia – I understand that I am going a little further than it is perhaps necessary today – but it will also be possible when Armenia recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, which is recognized by the entire world.
Therefore, I think that the contacts already being established at the level of officials now – a working group with the participation of deputy prime ministers, a meeting of the heads of the border services of Azerbaijan and Armenia at the border, a meeting of the heads of intelligence agencies of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in Moscow and other contacts between government officials – must create the groundwork. Again, it is important for the Armenian side to understand that there is no need to try to deceive us. Unfortunately, we are seeing these tricks again, if I may say so: one thing is said in word, but something different happens. This is not necessary, it is not the right time, and they are clearly not in the position to afford it now. We must work sincerely if we agree on something, we must fulfil it, if not, if they can’t, they must say that they can’t, so that there are no such unjustified hopes and promises.
So when this foundation is created, if it is created at all, and when the Azerbaijani population returns to the liberated territories, then, of course, there will be contacts. Because they are simply inevitable for the normal functioning and for the life of people living in Khankandi and other settlements now. It is simply impossible to achieve this without Azerbaijan. Notice how cargoes are delivered to the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh now. How? Not by plane to Yerevan and then by trucks to Khankandi, as was the case before. Now they are delivered by rail to Barda. Quite soon, in one year, we will have a road to Aghdam. Russian trucks can already approach from there, get loaded and drive. Much cheaper and more convenient. How do Russian planes carrying cargo for military personnel fly now? They don’t fly to Yerevan to then drive along this corridor, especially covered with snow, for 10 hours. They fly to Ganja, and from there they can reach Khankandi in an hour, perhaps in a little more than hour. In other words, it is life that dictates this. When the Russian side addressed us with this request, we supported it because why should we create artificial problems for the peacekeepers. After all, the peacekeepers provide security for our residents as well. Secondly, by doing this, we are also sending a message to those who live there now that it is no coincidence that the Caucasian Bureau decided to leave Nagorno-Karabakh – I want to emphasize this again and dispel yet another Armenian lie, like many others – not to transfer Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, but to leave it there. This is the fundamental point they always manipulate with. Firstly, because this is a historical region of Azerbaijan, and secondly, how would they get there? Indeed, there were no roads in Lachin and Kalbajar until the 1930s. Those who don’t know this should. They rode horses there. How could people get there from Armenia? There was no way. Only on horseback. There were no roads at all in Kalbajar. It was a cut off region. We started building roads there in the 1930s. Of course, there were settlements there, there was civilization, there were ancient cities. The road to Khankandi passed through Aghdam. This is why. So everything should return to its natural state, completely depoliticized. I think that the people of Armenian nationality living there will understand this, and when they communicate with their Azerbaijani neighbors and former friends, I think they will quickly find a common language.
TRT World: Mr. President, how worried are you about the current situation in Armenia? Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is one of those who signed the 10 November document. Some politicians there are now calling for a revision of the issue. Does this bother you? My second question is whether you have official contacts with Nikol Pashinyan and is there any direct contact between you today?
President Ilham Aliyev: I would not like to go into the nitty-gritty of the situation in Armenia. Some political groups in Armenia may abuse my words. I think it is better for them to resolve the issue themselves. However, as a neighboring country and taking into account that the war is over, we, of course, cannot remain indifferent to the situation in Armenia. We are closely monitoring it. I believe that regardless of who is in power in Armenia, attempts to hinder the implementation of the Statement of 10 November can cause enormous harm to this country. I have already quoted President Putin. It will be suicidal for them and the situation will further deteriorate. Therefore, Armenia must understand that the current situation is the direct result of the aggressive policy against Azerbaijan. These events are not the result of what has happened over the past two years or several months. The direct reason for this is the occupation. At present, they have lost all ideological foundations, because their ideological foundations consisted of myths based on Azerbaijanophobia. They tried to present themselves as a victorious country and Azerbaijan as the losing side. But in a face to face battle, we proved who the winner is. So I am monitoring this situation, but I am not worried that any changes in Armenia may affect the implementation of the statement. First of all, because it is already an officially signed document. And secondly, because there is also the signature of the President of Russia on it. Armenia's dependence on Russia today is 10 times greater than in the pre-war period. Armenia depended on Russia even before the war. I do not blame Armenia for this. This is a reality. But after the war, this dependence increased tenfold. In other words, will Armenia have enough courage to treat the signature of the President of Russia like that? It is not just about this statement. The point is that there is a signature of the President of Russia on the document, and he acts as the guarantor of this document. So I would recommend that they not have any expectations. Armenian history proves that in order to come to power, politicians always make populist speeches there, but when they are faced with a real situation, they suffer. Therefore, I do not exclude certain revanchist statements, but they should refrain from doing so. In any case, regardless of the desire of the Armenian authorities, the statement of 10 November will be implemented.
My contacts with Pashinyan were interrupted when he began to make provocative statements, I have already cited them. Prior to that, in 2019, he initiated such a contact in the city of Dushanbe. The same politicians in Armenia are accusing him of some “elevator diplomacy” today. However, the situation is ridiculous. We happened to be in the same elevator for one minute. In other words, we were on our way to the meeting. We went up from one floor to another. What kind of diplomacy could this man be engaged in in an elevator for one minute? In Dushanbe, he suggested to me and promised that he would observe the ceasefire and make efforts to end the conflict. I agreed. Then, direct contacts were established between our representatives, and when an incident occurred on the line of contact, an exchange of information was carried out. Subsequently, Pashinyan himself noted that the situation on the contact line was not so peaceful. Why? Because he asked me, and I thought it could serve peace. I thought that he would not repeat the mistakes of his predecessors and would change his policy. But he misinterpreted my gesture. He saw a sign of weakness in it, although it was a sign of strength and greatness. Then came his notorious dance in Shusha and the ill-famed statements, which put an end to our contacts. Of course, we also could not have any contacts during the war either. In January, we held a trilateral meeting in Moscow at the invitation of President Putin. It was a trilateral meeting, so we did not have any bilateral ties and contacts.
REAL TV channel: Mr. President, in the territories of Azerbaijan, which Armenia held under occupation for 30 years, great damage was caused to the historical and cultural heritage of our people, mosques, historical sites and infrastructure were destroyed. We can say that the territory has actually been turned into a desert. This vandalism continued even after the 10 November statement. They were given a few days to leave the territory, but even during that time they committed atrocities and caused huge damage to Azerbaijan. What is being done to give this a political and legal assessment at the international level and how would you assess the prospects for holding Armenia accountable for the crimes committed? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. You are absolutely right. After 10 November, they did not give up their unsightly activities. On the contrary, for 20 days they tried to inflict maximum damage on our nature and property. Houses were burned and plundered, trees were cut down, window frames and toilets were taken away. And this happened right before the eyes of the whole world. It is good that representatives of foreign media also witnessed this vandalism, the whole world saw with we were facing and what evil forces we had defeated. To be honest, I did not expect such vandalism. In fact, it was completely unjustified. Have a look, they occupied someone else's lands, used force to expel the owner of this land and these homes without giving them any time – we gave them 20 days, although they didn’t give us even 20 hours. After that they lived in our houses and said that these are their houses and when they were forced to leave it, they destroyed, demolished and burned these houses. What a degree of immorality! The whole world saw this. The significance of the second Karabakh war is not limited to the restoration of our territories and territorial integrity alone. The whole world saw the true face of Armenian fascism. Of course, we must and we will count all the damage caused. On my instructions, relevant agencies of Azerbaijan are currently conducting video, photographic and drone filming. All damage caused will be calculated. Work has begun on recording all destroyed houses so that citizens could apply to international courts individually, first of all, to Azerbaijani and then to international courts to seek compensation for the damage caused.
At the second stage – work has already begun in this area and relevant documents have been signed – documents have been signed with international companies that have experience in calculating the damage caused in similar conflicts. They will come to Azerbaijan in the near future. Of course, they will conduct the research themselves, but we will provide them with the necessary materials. These international companies have experience in this area and, of course, claims will be filed with international courts to compensate for the damage caused, for compensation to be paid.
At the same time, foreign companies that exploited our natural resources without our permission will be held accountable. As you know, our gold mines on the liberated lands were exploited. This is an international crime. Preliminary work has already been carried out to bring some of the organizations that have committed this crime to justice. I have already expressed my opinion on this issue several times, I want to say again: either these companies will pay us compensation or they will go to court. If we go to court, then, I am absolutely sure that they will lose and, at the same time, disgrace themselves in the eyes of the whole world. Because it is a crime to engage in illegal business activities in a foreign country and to plunder the natural resources of this country. The international reputation of these companies will also be seriously undermined.
At the same time, our forest fund was destroyed, the Armenians cut down and destroyed 54,000 hectares of forests. Before the occupation, the total area of our forests was approximately 220,000-230,000 hectares, of which 54,000 hectares were cut down. They produced various materials from wood, and as far as I know, the parquet business had also gained a wide scope there. Foreign companies also participated in this. So all the damage caused will be calculated. Also, the companies that illegally used our land will be fined. On the liberated lands, there were about 100,000 hectares of area under grain alone. They illegally exploited them and received an income. This will be calculated too. This is one side of the matter. How will international courts react to this is another question. Of course, the main issue here is objectivity. If there is an objective approach, then, of course, they will have to pay this compensation. We have also got acquainted with international practices. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been instructed, and I was informed the other day what precedents there are, so these precedents exist. Not many but there are. Of course, we must analyze every precedent. Is it based on objectivity or political order? Because it is no secret that the international judicial system is not free from political pressure either and in some cases fulfills political orders. Therefore, everything will depend on this. In any case, we are fulfilling our mission and a detailed report will be prepared in the near future.
British Reuters news agency: Mr. President, you have just talked about investments, about investing in the restoration of Karabakh. I would like to ask if there are sufficient guarantees for a lasting peace in Karabakh to attract foreign investors and creditors to restore it? In general, what volumes are we talking about? As far as I know, 2.2 billion manats has been allocated from the budget this year. This is a small amount, given that there is a lot of restoration to be done. Will private investment also be attracted? How does Baku see this process as a whole?
I would like to ask one more question. By your decree, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan has been transferred to the Investment Holding and its corporatization is under way. Does this mean that Baku is going to open a number of large state-owned companies of the country for privatization? Can we assume that this is a message to foreign investors? In your opening remarks, you noted very well that a visit of foreign journalists was organized to a number of territories that have been liberated from occupation. Your administration has carried out this work very professionally, at a high level. But my colleagues will probably support me that we would all very much like to visit the city of Shusha, to see what state it is in now, how much it was destroyed, what work is going on and how this city lives now. I would venture to ask your help in organizing such a visit. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. As for foreign investors, I think that foreign investors will invest more actively in Azerbaijan, given that the war is over. Everyone understands that the risks of a resumption of hostilities are practically reduced to zero. As for Azerbaijan, there will be no aggressive actions on our part. As far as Armenia is concerned, they simply have no opportunities to do that. I think that the suicide I mentioned and quoted is not the best way out even in their situation. Therefore, I am sure that there will be investments.
I must tell you that even before the war we managed to attract investments in renewable energy. Two large international companies have expressed a desire to invest in the construction of solar and wind power plants with a total volume of 440 megawatts. A tender was held among the world's leading energy companies and two companies gave the best offers. But then I said that this does not mean that other companies, which, as it were, have not achieved success, should remain on the sidelines. Therefore, we are now attracting companies that would like to invest in this area. Indeed, there are very good opportunities for this in the liberated territories. Kalbajar-Lachin is a wind zone, because there are very strong winds. Zangilan-Jabrayil is a solar zone because the amount of sunshine is very large every year. Besides, the quality of sunshine is also conducive, so to speak. So instructions have already been given to relevant Azerbaijani agencies to work out these issues together with foreign partners. So this has great prospects. Plus, as I said, we have declared Karabakh a zone of “green energy” and, of course, we are waiting for investors.
As for state investments in the amount of 2.2 billion manats, I think this amount is acceptable for a start. Moreover, I will say that from the investment program on the restoration of Karabakh that was submitted to me, from the projects to will be implemented this year, the amount of somewhere in the region of one billion has already been practically distributed. What does this mean? It means that there are no projects yet. Because these are infrastructure projects and we allocate funds for them. These are electricity, roads, railways, demining, etc. As for the construction itself, we have not allocated funds for that yet, because there are no such projects. We want to plan everything correctly in order to avoid the mistakes made in urban planning even in the city of Baku at the beginning of the construction boom, in other cities where construction proceeded in a chaotic and uncontrolled manner, often according to some shady schemes. This should not happen in the Karabakh zone, and not only in there. And then this experience will be transferred to all other territories of Azerbaijan. Therefore, everything must be properly planned. Where things should be located, what infrastructure projects should be carried out – so that everything goes according to plan. Of course, the state will take over the entire infrastructure sector and plus a large part of the housing stock. But private companies will also be able to make investments there in accordance with agreed projects, in compliance with all the norms of urban planning and environment. This is how we see the approach.
As for the villages, hundreds of villages have been liberated in the freed territories. Some villages, which had five, six or seven houses in the past, should probably not be a priority.
Therefore, we are defining priorities now – which villages should be rebuilt in the first place and what needs to be done for this. Also, a survey is being conducted or is beginning to be conducted among former refugees on my instruction, so that we clearly know who is going to go. You see, I am also sure that everyone would want to go, and may God bless this. But someone may not want to go. Therefore, why should we spend money if someone doesn’t go or if they go there for the weekend but will live in Baku or Sumgayit? Is this a way out of the situation? Not! We need to place those who will live there, and to do this we need to conduct a survey. And not just ask people and then forget everything. People will have to sign a statement that I, such and such, am going to go to such and such district, such and such village, and live there. For that, we will address financial and all other issues. Otherwise, I do not want to predict, but I know what may happen. In fact, let me tell you more – the liberated lands are not summer cottages for those who live in Baku. This will not happen - that's for sure. We will exercise rigorous control over who lives there in general, so that those who want to go there could do that, and we will create all the conditions for them.
As for the Investment Holding, I will not speak for a long time, I think everyone knows why it was created, as it was clearly stated in my decree. First of all, in order to improve the management system. The management system in state-owned companies is lame. It does not meet modern requirements. She is a deterrent. It is a method of sucking money out of the budget. Almost no state-owned companies, perhaps with a few exceptions, can support themselves. Subsidies from the budget are required all the time. This is not good enough. Therefore, this can no longer be continued. On the other hand, the strategic infrastructure at this stage, especially taking into account the restoration of Karabakh, should remain in the hands of the state. This is unambiguous, otherwise we will simply be unable to restore the territories. Because if we assume that all our state-owned companies operate by the method of corporate governance of private western companies, then they simply will not invest in the restoration of territories. Therefore, the goal at this stage is to bring the corporate governance of state-owned companies into line with international standards and to ensure proper controls. For this, supervisory boards are being set up. The supervisory boards include representatives of the Presidential Administration, representatives of ministries, the government, so that there is no longer any lack of control or waste. Because state-owned companies today are in many ways a huge burden for the state. Even the State Oil Company, is the largest taxpayer, takes money or, was until recently, taking money from the budget for gasification. What is that good for? I am not even talking about others. With a few exceptions, our state-owned companies are ineffective. This will end – both in terms of strengthening management and improving governance. Whoever cannot or does not want to work in a new way, honestly and transparently, will be held to account, and not only administrative.
As for the privatization of state-owned companies, this will definitely not happen this year in any case. But some spheres of activity of state-owned companies, of course, should, among other things, develop at the expense of private capital. First of all, I mean the energy sector. We have already opened this sphere for foreign private capital and are opening it for Azerbaijan. I said that these are wind and solar stations. We have a great potential for hydropower in the Lachin-Kalbajar zone. Why can’t Azerbaijani companies give an offer to participate in these projects? There are not large investments required, these hydroelectric power plants are quite small in volume. This will be a good step, we will test how it works, how it integrates into our overall energy system, so that these companies work with a profit and the state is less burdened. So this is the situation now.
As for the trip to Shusha, I will give an instructions for journalists to go. There were difficulties with access because there was practically no road. Even when I was driving there – I was just lucky that the weather was sunny and dry, otherwise I myself would have stayed half way too. Therefore, I am ordering Hikmet Hajiyev – by the way, there have been appeals in this regard – to arrange this visit in the near future.
TV channel CBC Azerbaijan: Mr. President, for many years Azerbaijan sought to draw the attention of the world to the occupation of its territory and the plundering of its material and spiritual heritage. At the same time, Baku has repeatedly called on international organizations to take effective steps to resolve the conflict. But we all witnessed the domination of indifference and double standards, and as a result, Azerbaijan restored its territorial integrity on its own. In your opinion, has Azerbaijan's example broken the stereotypes that had existed regarding the settlement of frozen conflicts in other parts of the world?
President Ilham Aliyev: I believe it has to a large extent. We have created a new reality because there are frozen conflicts in many places in the world, not only in the post-Soviet space. If you look at these conflicts and analyze their origins and current state, you can see that both people of these countries and the international community seem to have reconciled to a certain extent, agreed with the current situation or perceive it as an uncontested option. There is a certain logic in that because the situation of neither war nor peace which lasts for years inevitably lead to such thoughts. This is the first thing. Secondly, several factors are required to break stereotypes. If these factors and their unity exist, then these stereotypes will be broken. First of all, a strong political will is necessary: a strong political will of leaders and their ability to withstand any pressure. I believe that this is a paramount issue because, referring to my own experience, I can say that over the course of 17 years, at various periods, attempts to put pressure on me have intensified and weakened, but they have always been there, always. I mentioned this earlier: there is a reality and we must accept it, be content with what is being offered to us, the rest of the lands should remain with them, Armenia does not agree, a referendum must be held there, a vote must be held there and so on. The public is aware of that now.
Leading countries of the world were or are the mediators in our conflict. To say no to permanent members of the Security Council, to these countries, to take steps that run counter to their will is not easy, of course. Therefore, first of all, there has to be a strong political will. Secondly, a lot depends on the position of the people. If people have come to terms with this situation, then the conflict will remain frozen. The Azerbaijani people never put up with this situation and, addressing the Azerbaijani people, I always said that we will never accept this. Some wondered why Ilham Aliyev raises the Karabakh issue everywhere. I raised this issue even at international events that are not related to this topic. I may have repeated the same words a thousand times to reach out to these people. This is the first thing. Secondly, I wanted this never to be forgotten here, inside the country. Never! The internally displaced persons should not have a feeling of hopelessness. At the same time, let our society never forget this topic. I believe that keeping this topic on the agenda is one of the important issues, especially if we consider – I am now saying everything as it is – the fact that the real situation suggested that the solution of this issue by military means could cost us very dearly. Even if we have all the possibilities, the consequences, as they say, may be very bitter. Thirdly, a powerful army is necessary, of course. No conflict can be resolved without that. And you have to be right. We had all the primary factors. We were right from a historical point of view, because these are our lands, from the point of view of international law and resolutions of international organizations. All this strengthened our position. But why did we lose these lands in the early 1990s? Because there was no leadership, there was no army. Here in Baku, thousands of people took to the street in 1992, while our positions remained empty. At that time, the Popular Front began a civil war, captured Azerbaijani soldiers and then our lands were under occupation. There was a struggle for power. So we could not rally in the interests of national unity, a single idea at that time, but we have done that now. Besides, a generation had to grow up. I have already spoken about this many times. The biggest role in the liberation of Karabakh was played by our citizens who have matured over the past 17 years. Of course, the older generation deserves a lot of credit. They have experience and knowledge but it was our sons brought up in a patriotic spirit over the past 17 years who went into battle and stood up to defend the Motherland. They gave their lives for their homeland. If these factors are present, any conflict can be resolved. Of course, there are other factors, economic development, etc. But if these factors do not exist, no frozen conflict can be resolved.
We have created a new reality, and everyone must put up with and reckon with it today. A new period begins for us. The post-war period has been difficult for many countries. Several months have passed since our war, but we are seeing that the post-war period in our country has been very quiet. This is a huge advantage of our society and greatness of our people. Today we are joining forces again in the name of these ideas, in the name of new ideas – how to restore Karabakh, how to return the former IDPs to these lands and then create a powerful state no-one can ever commit any provocations against us.
Freelance journalist from the UK: Mr. President, thank you for inviting us here. I believe you have already broken the world record for the duration of the press conference. I have been a journalist for 25 years, but I have never seen a President holding a press conference in four languages like you do. We also met with some of your ministers yesterday and they informed us about these issues in detail. Of course, we are paying tribute to the memory of the victims of the Khojaly genocide. Mr. President, you have already answered many questions. How would you assess the attitude of world media towards Azerbaijan? There are many journalists here, so what will be your message to them and how do you see the future? What are your plans in terms of communicating Azerbaijan's position to the world?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, I would surprise you, but I don’t remember the last time I held a press conference. I know that local journalists somewhat complained at times about Aliyev not organizing press conferences and not giving interviews. I think that everything has its time. Is there a message you would like to give and is there an audience that will listen to you? During the war, in 44 days, I gave more than 30 interviews because it was necessary. I wanted to communicate our message to the world. I wanted to communicate the truth and our position to the world. I made statements every day, addressed the Azerbaijani people because there was a need for that, because our people needed it, because the army needed it. I know that these addresses and messages played a major role in our common victory. I agree with you that it is also a special day today. When I was informed that a group of foreign journalists was here and Hikmat Hajiyev reported to me about that, I thought that it was a good opportunity. Therefore, I express my gratitude to each of you because if you had not come, this press conference would probably not have taken place.
As for the world media’s attitude towards Azerbaijan, I can say that it is already changing. The approach to this issue is changing, opinions are changing, and the reality is better understood now. The best way to do this is to come to Azerbaijan. If I met with you in another country and said the same words there, you could perceive it differently. But you are here today, all of you are professional and smart people, and you know what is right and what is wrong. When you visit those destroyed territories, this is more effective than any words, you have the opportunity to see everything with your own eyes. Frankly, I expected a slightly different approach during the war because injustice was shown against Azerbaijan for many years, there were attacks by opposition media groups on us. Sometimes this stemmed from a lack of information, but often it was due to Armenian lobbying organizations. They constantly attacked Azerbaijan. I think that some media companies were not independent enough. To be honest, I expected this injustice to be shown to us during the war. However, I can say that in general I was surprised by the fair position in relation to Azerbaijan. The reason, of course, was the fact that we were right. We liberated our lands from occupation. My message to international media is that they always tell the truth and be far from political orders. Why am I saying this? I know that we have been subjected to well-orchestrated and organized attacks. These actions were aimed at discrediting everything we do, tarnishing us and creating false ideas about Azerbaijan and its government. Therefore, turning to you, I want to say: speak the truth and openly state your position. Perhaps this is not the best recommendation I can give to journalists. However, it would be better if you did not always follow the directions of your managers.
Turkish Haber Global TV channel: Mr. President, first of all, thank you very much for receiving us on such an important day. We honor the memory of our martyrs and congratulate you on the victory in Karabakh. These issues have already been raised to some extent. First, to what extent will Turkey be involved in the process of restoration of Karabakh at the current stage? My second question is as follows: as you know, at present, cooperation between the two fraternal countries continues. At what stages will this cooperation continue, both in the defense industry and in the field of reconstruction and construction?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I can say that Turkish companies are already taking part in our projects. Turkish companies are involved in the construction of the Fizuli-Shusha highway, which is strategically important for us. At the same time, Turkish companies are involved in work on the road being built from Goygol District to Kalbajar. This road runs through difficult terrain and involves the construction of tunnels. Preliminary agreements have already been reached.
As you know, Turkish companies were active in Azerbaijan before too. Turkish companies have the biggest share of participation in the projects being implemented on behalf of the state. I don't remember the exact numbers, but Turkish companies participated in various construction projects in Azerbaijan – in Baku and many other regions – with a total value of over $10 billion.
Of course, Turkish companies were the first to sign the contracts. The scope of work to be carried out is very large. I have repeatedly discussed this with my dear brother, the distinguished President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. We will do all this work together, and there will be new opportunities for the activities of Turkish companies, especially if you consider that Turkish companies have a wealth of experience in construction and infrastructure work, as well as other areas, including reconstruction.
As for the defense industry, the whole world became convinced of the quality of the Turkish defense industry during the war. This is no secret to anyone. Azerbaijan skillfully used Turkish defense systems, which provided us with a great advantage in the war. Our contacts continue after the war as well. As a matter of fact, new contracts have already been signed. An agreement was reached on the supply of the most modern types of Turkish weapons to Azerbaijan. New contracts have been signed and this will greatly enhance our military power. As you know, joint Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercises are held on a regular basis. Last year there were fewer of them due to the pandemic, but in 2019 they were held more than 10 times, and this year they have already been held in Kars. Work will be carried out in this area as well.
We would like to see Turkish companies involved in many areas in the liberated lands. And I am sure that we will see that – in the construction, reconstruction, infrastructure and restoration of our historical sites. Because there is a lot of work to be done. Even after that, Inshallah, we will go hand in hand to shoulder.
Ukrainian Inter TV channel: Good afternoon, Mr. President. Thank you for the opportunity to personally find out your opinion on issues of interest. As a military journalist, I had the opportunity to cover dozens of different military conflicts around the globe, and I want to say that the special operation to liberate the occupied regions of Azerbaijan was exemplary from my point of view – both in terms of the use of military technologies and, most importantly, in terms of the minimization of casualties among the civilian population and military personnel. Azerbaijan has shown the whole world that the trench war is a thing of the past, and I am sure that this campaign will be in many textbooks of many military schools. This special operation was closely followed by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Ukrainian military circles actively discussed and highly appreciated the results of this operation. The impression is, perhaps erroneous but you may correct it if it is, that aerospace technologies played a huge role in the success of this operation – in the context of adjusting fire, delivering pinpoint strikes and collecting intelligence. How true is this? Moreover, Ukraine also has potential in this matter, relying on our military-industrial complex and on our aerospace industry. Moreover, thanks to Azerbaijan, there is someone to be guided by now because we see that the further we go, the less faith we have in a diplomatic way of resolving this conflict. We probably will not return our territory under our control in any other way than through the application of modern experience. Could you please comment on that and thank you in advance for your reply.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Thank you very much for your words about our actions. I would like to emphasize what you said about minimizing civilian casualties. This was one of the main directives that I as Commander-in-Chief gave when we carried out the liberation operation. If you look at statistics, according to our data, the losses among the civilian population of the opposite side were minimal. This is less than 40 people given that losses among their servicemen, according to the most conservative estimates, were somewhere between 6,500-7,000 people. Also, taking into account our observations and facts, most of the so-called civilian population on the part of the enemy died while they were carrying out actions related to military operations: they were there near artillery pieces and provided ammunition, so when we destroyed these weapons, they were affected. Therefore, the Armenian civilian population did not suffer in the war. Unfortunately, the Armenian side, on the contrary, sought to inflict maximum damage on the civilian population, and the bombing of Ganja, Barda, Tartar and other cities with ballistic missiles is evidence of that.
As for the liberation war, of course, I agree with you and I know that our experience is now studied in leading military institutions experience – both in terms of conducting special operations and coordinating the efforts of all branches of the armed forces. So this operation, when everything is already known about it, will go down in history as the most successful. We must understand that the opposite side had been actively strengthening the defense line for almost 30 years. Even when you visit the liberated territories – you probably also saw that, especially in the Fuzuli direction – there are several lines of defense, several ramparts, plus long-term firing points, plus even their own positions and trenches so that in case we enter there, they could cover us with artillery fire. Therefore, breaking the deeply echeloned defense required tremendous courage and fearlessness, and our assault detachments, which broke through the line of defense, showed genuine heroism. Unfortunately, there were many victims among them.
Our main task was to break through the line of defense. Moreover, we knew approximately where they were waiting for us and what they were doing, so we went from where it was even difficult for them to imagine. They still cannot understand how we ended up in Shusha. They cannot understand and are still asking each other. Sometimes it comes out in the media. One day they will understand this. It is also a separate story, a story of unparalleled courage, heroism and self-sacrifice of the Azerbaijani special forces and the special forces of other military units. It is no secret today that the special forces of the Border Service, the Internal Troops, the Security Service, the Intelligence Service, and special forces of the Nakhchivan Army took part in the fighting. Each had its own task under a single command. And the fact that in 44 days we liberated the territories is in great part due to the special forces. Also, it is due in large part to the army corps, which played a major role in the liberation of territories and holding positions. There was also frontline aviation and, as you said, unmanned aerial vehicles. They, of course, played a very large role in minimizing casualties, because if they had not been deployed, there would have been many more casualties. As you noted quite rightly, they not only performed the strike and reconnaissance functions, but also the function of correction. Watching the footage that was shown during the war sometimes, it is clear that after the aim was taken, the projectile hit it from the side. Therefore, a combination of all these actions led to success. Of course, it required proper planning. I can tell you that it would have been very difficult for us without proper planning. Not only were there long-term fortifications, there was also a natural terrain. After all, we had to climb the mountain, go up all the time. And the capture of Shusha is a separate epic. Because we could use only what we could carry yourself. And what can you carry yourself? Maximum, a grenade launcher. It required incredible physical effort and training – to go along these steep cliffs from several directions, into deeply fortified defense. Moreover, they had tanks and guns there, while we only had bayonets, knives and light weapons. Sometimes I review some expert opinions. Everyone has their own opinion, of course, which is understandable, because an expert cannot know the whole picture of hostilities. Therefore, there is some kind of a natural bias towards one type of warfare. But I can tell you that none of these elements in separate would have secured this victory for us without a single command and planning. It was the right combination of everything: reconnaissance, artillery, attack drones, kamikaze drones, special forces, army corps – all of this led us to victory. But as time passes, the secrecy label will be removed and more information will become available. However, I think that even what happened already provides sufficient grounds for correct conclusions. Thank you again for your comments.
British Middle East Eye media group: Hello Mr. President. I have two questions. First, how much money do you think will be spent on the restoration of the liberated territories in Karabakh? In other words, has it been calculated how many billions of dollars will be spent? And the second question: there is information in the international media that you are a mediator in the normalization of relations between Turkey and Israel. What can you say about this?
President Ilham Aliyev: Our investment plan for this year provides for 2.2 billion manats. As I have already noted, about half of this amount has been distributed and half remains unallocated. It is very difficult to calculate this because it depends on the amount of work to be done. We have just come to these lands. A complete analysis has not yet been carried out. After this analysis, of course, more accurate figures will emerge. But it is beyond any doubt that this will require several billion dollars. Just imagine that we are building three airports. We started building hundreds of kilometers of railways. Possibly thousands of kilometers of highways will be laid – both between cities and between villages. All villages will have asphalt roads. By the end of the year, projects related to electricity will be implemented in all our regions. Then come drinking water projects and related work, agricultural work, and then so much construction work needs to be done to take one million people back there. Schools, hospitals, sports centers, culture centers. It is very difficult to calculate. Therefore, we have allocated a certain budget for each year. The budget of 2.2 billion manats is not the final figure. If we see that this is not enough for this year, we will add. Because today we have nothing more important than the restoration of Karabakh. Major infrastructure projects have already been implemented. The country is not implementing very serious construction projects. Therefore, all our efforts are focused there.
Of course, private investment should also take an important place among the work to be done. If private organizations take on renewable energy, then, of course, the burden on the state will be less. In any case, quality, time and, of course, rational use of costs are important here.
As for mediation, Azerbaijan is known as a country providing cooperation in the region. We have no problems with any country. This is why we were unanimously elected to the Non-Aligned Movement as 119 out of 120 countries voted for us – although there are countries in the Non-Aligned Movement that do not get along with each other and there are serious differences between them. But each of them supported Azerbaijan. Because we have a very sincere policy. We intend to establish effective cooperation with all countries, and we are doing this. Therefore, Azerbaijan is recognized as a meeting place in the world. For example, it is no coincidence that meetings between the military leaders of NATO and Russia were held in Baku before the war, before COVID. The chief of the Russian General Staff and the head of the NATO Armed Forces met in Baku. Why did they meet in Baku and not elsewhere? Because there is confidence. We have already earned this reputation. There is confidence, there is trust and there is respect. They know that our word is as powerful as our signature.
Other important events are taking place. After the war, Azerbaijan has been making effort to bring together some of the countries between which there are disagreements. Why are we doing this? We want stability, peace, no enmity and less risks. We are living in this region. There are no threats or sources of risk inside Azerbaijan. They did not exist before the war, they do not exist now either. What could give us a headache? Certain tension outside our borders can cause us both political and economic problems. What should be done to fix that? We need to try to reconcile countries. You know, emotions may prevail, especially in some cases. Sometimes a word spoken is misunderstood or misinterpreted. So we have to clear our table of all these emotional issues and get to the bottom of things. What is the essence? For example, there are some serious disagreements between two countries. If there are, let's try to resolve them. If there are none, then the activities of a country like Azerbaijan may be appropriate. I can't say more than that. You probably also understand why. But I believe that if there is friendship between our friends, it will be better for us and for our friends.
Ukrainian Channel 5 TV Channel: Good afternoon, Mr. President. I would like to express my condolences on this tragic day for the country. My question will concern the GUAM organization and the commonwealth of the four countries in this format. We know that this format was set up back in the late 1990s, and the political vector of this community stated that the four countries involved in this format would support and help each other in resolving conflicts on the territory of participating countries. It's been 20 years since this format was established and a lot has changed. The war has been going on in Ukraine for seven years. Azerbaijan has already been able to return part of its territories. How do you as the President of one of the participating countries of this format see further cooperation among these countries? And more – this is not a question, but word of support for my colleague's wish – we really want to see Shusha.
President Ilham Aliyev: Good! Thank you very much. I would like to say that Azerbaijan has always been consistent in its foreign policy, and I occasionally touch upon the foundations of our foreign policy in my speeches. It is very open and principled. There are no secret niches in our foreign policy because, again, it is based on our national interests and is designed only to strengthen cooperation.
As for the GUAM organization, as you noted, it is already over 20 years old. You probably remember how it was established. There were various modifications of the composition of the participants depending on a particular political situation. But Azerbaijan has always remained committed to the basic principles of the organization, namely, support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. We have always declared this and, in practical terms, implemented this during the voting in various international organizations. I must say that the consolidated position of GUAM countries on issues related to the territorial integrity of member states is, I think, the important foundation on which we, in principle, base our relations. Within the framework of voting in the UN and other international organizations, Azerbaijan has always supported and supports the territorial integrity of Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine. Also, we have always seen support for our territorial integrity from these countries. There was a period when GUAM was more active, but there were also times when it was less active. I will tell you quite frankly that it largely depended on the position of Ukraine. Because Ukraine is the largest state among GUAM members, with the greatest potential, and the activation or, on the contrary, the deactivation of GUAM depended on the position of the Ukrainian leadership at one time or another.
As a veteran – I have been president for 17 years – I can say that all this happened before my very eyes. I remember quite vividly all the landmarks of this organization, including the numerous summits that we held in Baku, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. As soon as interest in GUAM declined in Ukraine, the organization faded, as soon as it increased, the organization slightly straightened its shoulders. Nevertheless, with regard to the political component, I think we have managed to preserve this basis with all the governments in our countries, and I think that this is a position that has already been tested over time. What I would like to see in the organization is more predictability and planning. I am always a supporter of planning steps taking into account specific goals – medium-term, short-term and long-term. This is what we are missing. If you ask me what the goals are, you will probably put me in a difficult situation although there are extensive opportunities for multilateral cooperation in the transport sector today. But are we using them in the GUAM format? We are using them in a bilateral format, in trilateral at best. And then we try to put together all pieces of the puzzle. If we approach this systematically, we can already identify very promising areas of transport and logistical cooperation between the Caspian-Black Sea region, especially taking into account the new possibilities of transport corridors and beyond. Therefore, I think that everything will depend on the activities of our partners in the future because, I would not like to delve into the nitty-gritty, but the frequent change of government sometimes leads to the fact that the new government must rethink all this, determine its priorities and find out where exactly GUAM is in these priorities. And when it is determined, then the new government arrives. So we have always been a stable member of this organization and continue to be as such today.
Turkish Yeni Şəfəq newspaper: Dear Mr. President, we thank you for your patience and answers to all our questions. First of all, speaking on behalf of Turkey, we share in the sorrow of the Azerbaijani people, the fraternal people, but at the same time we share in the pride of Victory. I have one question. In connection with the joint activities with the Turkish Armed Forces, you announced from the first day that joint activities would be carried out to ensure monitoring in Karabakh. The joint center has been established. Russian and Turkish soldiers are operating there. We also see joint activities in demining areas. Besides, what other joint activities of the Azerbaijani and Turkish armies are there? Are joint activities or more involvement of Turkish soldiers in eliminating threats possible in the coming period in the event of any shortcomings? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Cooperation between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry has a long history. The armed forces of Turkey and Azerbaijan have been together at all times. Answering one of the questions, I said that in 2019 alone, both Baku and Turkey held more than 10 joint military exercises. This year, too, the first exercise has already been held.
The establishment of a joint center means the arrival of the Turkish Armed Forces in the Karabakh region, in Azerbaijan. This, I think, can be considered a historic event. This makes us very happy. I must note that the establishment of the Turkish-Russian joint monitoring center is a common decision of the three countries. Armenia just had to agree to this because when the statement of 10 November was signed, Armenia was not in a position to object to that. Armenia, as they say, had no time for that. If there was a different political and military situation, then Armenia would object. But it could not object, and we said that this center was being created on the territory of Azerbaijan, so what does Armenia have to do with it?
Therefore, I think that the establishment of this center can be seen as a historic event. In addition, as you noted and I mentioned as well, a large delegation of more than 100 people came from Turkey to start mine clearance work and provide training courses. This activity continues.
After that, our cooperation will continue in various fields, in the military field. I said during the war and everyone knows that the Turkish army is one of the strongest armies in the world, the second most powerful army in NATO. We intend to create a small model of the Turkish army in Azerbaijan. specific work in this direction has already begun.
During the war, we gained new experience because our army had almost not participated in wars. We simply approached this area from a theoretical point of view, so to speak. War is a great experience. We must draw the right conclusions from this experience. We have achieved great success. At the same time, there were certain drawbacks during the war. We do not hide that either. The decisions I made during the war as the Commander-in-Chief, including the decisions related to the military composition, indicate that certain problems were identified, but we solved them.
There is a very broad legal framework between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Many documents and agreements have been signed. Among them are documents reflecting issues of mutual military assistance.
From the first days of the war, my dear brother, dear President made statements that Azerbaijan is not alone and that Turkey stands by Azerbaijan. This became a message for many: stay away, do not interfere, do not hamper Azerbaijan. The Minister of Defense of Turkey, distinguished Hulusi Akar, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, distinguished Mevlut Cavusoglu, and other high-ranking officials unequivocally supported Azerbaijan. This has become great political and moral support for us. At the same time, it was a signal to the whole world to stay away and not interfere.
This continues to this day. Turkey and Azerbaijan are two fraternal countries, the closest countries to each other on a global scale. Our military cooperation is growing stronger by the day. Work is under way to purchase new weapons in Turkey. I have already informed you about this and these weapons will be delivered shortly. Our army must become even stronger and more modern. The model of the Turkish Armed Forces is the most acceptable one for us. From now on, we will work together in this direction.
Turkish Sözçü newspaper: Thank you, Mr. President Ilham Aliyev, for giving me the opportunity to ask the last question. Mr. President, first of all, the Turkish people felt a sense of great pride over the victory you won. It was with great pleasure that we watched your victorious speech. My question is this: how will you react if Turkey opens the border with Armenia after the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: We once again express our gratitude to the Turkish state for all its support. At the same time, the closure of the borders was undoubtedly a symbol of brotherhood, a fraternal step. Turkey closed its borders with Armenia in 1993 after the occupation of Kalbajar. Before that, the borders between Turkey and Armenia were open. Turkey was one of the first countries to officially recognize Armenia. From the first days of Armenia's independence, Turkey intended to establish normal relations with Armenia. Unfortunately, the anti-Turkish propaganda in Armenia was extremely strong, and it continues to this day. The phobia of Turks has become the official ideology there. They have always seen Turkey and Azerbaijan as enemies. The closing of the borders at that time was an act of solidarity with Azerbaijan. The conflict is now over. Now Azerbaijan has restored its territorial integrity and, of course, a new situation has arisen in the region. But at the same time, Armenia's claims against Turkey are still valid. Notice what the President of Armenia said before the war. He said that the Treaty of Sevres should be revised. In other words, this is a territorial claim to Turkey. The constitution of Armenia contains territorial claims to Turkey. They have to give it up. They are waging a dirty campaign against Turkey all over the world. They are seeking recognition of the so-called “genocide” in the parliaments of various countries. How long can such a hostile policy last? They, as they say, must come to their senses. To put forward territorial claims to such a large country like Turkey is suicidal, it is stupidity.
Of course, given the new situation, we also have a positive attitude towards the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. Currently, we do not have a special opinion on the normalization of these relations. Turkey will determine itself when these borders can be opened and when relations can be normalized. In any case, from the Azerbaijani side, as they say, there will be no negative attitudes because I believe that the relations between all countries must be normal in the interests of stability in the region and long-term peace. Notice what we are talking about now. We are talking about the opening of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. So if the Armenian-Azerbaijani border is open, then, of course, there is no need for the Turkish-Armenian border to remain closed. If we are talking about these corridors and if we want to implement the Zangazur corridor, then, of course, the Turkish-Armenian border will also open. Of course, this is the decision of Turkey itself. If you ask me about this, Azerbaijan does not have any special position on this issue. In addition, what benefits Turkey will benefit us as well.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Dear Mr. President, thank you very much indeed. You have spent more than four hours with us despite your busy schedule, answering almost 50 questions from more than 35 world media outlets. Thank you for that.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you! I also thank you for listening carefully to my words. I think this press conference was very useful for me and for you. Through you, I was able to communicate some of the realities of Azerbaijan to the people of your countries. I am sure that there will be more such visits because you have now visited and seen the destroyed places. After a while, you will see these places already restored. Thank you again, and I wish you every success. Thank you.
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