Baku, May 21, AZERTAC
The Nizami Ganjavi International Center’s web discussion themed “The South Caucasus: Regional Development and Prospective for Cooperation” has been held with the participation of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev.
According to AZERTAC, opening the discussions, the former Vice President of the World Bank and co-chair of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, Ismail Serageldin, said:
- Mr. President, Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, members and friends of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center!
This is a significant day for the center. We are very glad that President Ilham Aliyev is joining our dialogue and will share his plans and wishes related to the region. Mr. President, eight years ago you asked to create an International Center to promote the legacy of brilliant Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi. International members joined the organization and a board was set up. Then co-chairs were elected to determine the directions of activity and program of the Center, and the Secretary General was appointed.
Mr. President, you have shown us confidence, and we hope that we have managed to live up to it. A lot has been done in eight years, and you have provided it with a great deal of support. The Nizami Ganjavi International Center is gradually gaining more and more popularity at the international level. The Baku Global Forum has become the paramount event in the region and taken a special place in the international calendar. Many prominent personalities of the world have taken part in these events. In addition to the forum, the Center has organized many other events, brought up for discussions issues related to the Balkans, the South Caucasus and Europe. Then our organization expanded its international activities, adopted a strategy of forging relations with the United States and the UN, and also began to pay attention to an increasingly developing China.
Mr. President, in all spheres of our activities we promoted the legacy of Nizami and the position of Azerbaijan as a country with a rich culture. We have become a platform for the discussion of the challenges facing humanity. The Nizami Ganjavi International Center has become known as a platform for learning, tolerance, dialogue and mutual understanding. But then the pandemic occurred. We had to postpone the Baku Global Forum, which was initially scheduled for 2020. At the same time, you will probably be pleased with the fact that in the coming months of 2021 we intend to successfully hold the Baku Global Forum. According to the instructions of the Board, we, together with the Secretariat headed by Secretary General Rovshan Muradov, are closely cooperating with Hikmat Hajiyev and your protocol service on the organization of the “Baku Global Forum 2021” so that this event is held in accordance with the calendar and our wishes.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions and postponements of visits, our Center is working hard. We are making full use of new technologies and doing our best. We have held 28 conferences and 90 sessions. Our events featured a total of 370 speakers and brought together participants from 60 countries. We have covered all topics from global solidarity in the face of the pandemic to the emerging world order and ways to strengthen multilateralism. The issues of food security, education and the role of women in achieving peace have also been discussed. In doing all this work, we have established partnerships with influential organizations, famous laureates and individuals. We have doubled the number of our friends and partners. We are grateful to the representative from China, PhD Shan, for co-chairing our international council of friends.
Along with all these activities, we are very active in efforts and solidarity initiatives in the fight against the pandemic and its consequences. We are sure that Your Excellency has received positive feedback of this work from many places. We have also published and distributed numerous materials. Many renowned individuals have been involved in this work. Our activities are also appreciated by the media. Over the past year, we received 12 letters of appreciation. A significant part of them are related to the “Helping People in Need” initiatives. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is currently working on a final letter to be presented on our behalf to G-7 and G-20.
If we look at last year, we can say that this period will be remembered by growing international authority of the Center, hard work, the expansion of cooperation with important international organizations and academies of sciences and scientific institutes of the world. We have strengthened our positions in the media. We hope that in the coming weeks we will complete the work that was reported to Your Excellency during our last meeting.
Mr. President, I can speak for a long time. However, I know that everyone wants to listen to you. I promise that in the near future, after completing the report on our work, we will present it to your attention and distribute it at the Global Forum this year. We do hope that Your Excellency will be pleased with the activities of the Center both before and after the pandemic.
And now, with your permission, I will give the floor to co-chair Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.
Former President of the Republic of Latvia, co-chair of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center Vaira Vike-Freiberga said:
- Your Excellency, Mr. President! Ladies and Gentlemen!
Today we feel a sense of boundless pride due to our participation in a dialogue between the International Center of Nizami Ganjavi and the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, His Excellency Mr. Ilham Aliyev. We will begin our meeting with a speech by the President. Then we will move on to questions and answers. We are grateful to Mr. President for accepting our invitation.
Mr. President, we look forward to your view on the position of Azerbaijan in this difficult time for the planet, your plans related to the future of the country and how they are in line with the global agenda. Mr. President, we are looking forward to your words.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev made a speech at the event.
Speech of President Ilham Aliyev
-Dear co-chairs of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, Madame Vike-Freiberga and Mr. Serageldin.
First of all I would like to greet all the participants of today’s discussion. I would like to use this opportunity to express gratitude to the co-chairs and members of Nizami Center for initiating this discussion. Because I think it’s very timely and the topics which you have proposed-South Caucasus: Regional development and Prospective for Cooperation-I think it’s now one of the important topics on the global agenda because there have been very radical changes in the South Caucasus recently.
Of course the new situation needs new approaches. But first of all I would like to congratulate Nizami Ganjavi International Center for its excellent performance. During the time of the pandemic the center adjusted itself very wisely to a new situation and regardless the situation with the pandemic continued its activity and continued in a new form. But as Mr. Serageldin said we hope to get together in Azerbaijan later this year to organize our regular Baku Global Forum. Also, during these eight years of active performance the center became one of the leading international institutions in the world and its broad activity actually serves the cause of peace, cooperation, security, stability in the world. Members of the center are well-known, famous world politicians who run countries and international organizations for many years. So your experience really is unique. So, such a concentration of experience under one roof is really I think a very unique in today’s world. With respect to Azerbaijan’s views on what happened and what is going to happen. Of course, first of all I would like to say that the recent development in the region, the second Karabakh war, radically changed the situation. Therefore, the need for new approaches, the need for a new agenda for South Caucasus. I fully appreciate the topic of the discussion, regional development and prospective for cooperation, because that is what we really need.
Due to the fact of occupation which lasted almost 30 years, Azerbaijan openly declared its position that we will not cooperate with Armenia until the territories are liberated. I think that Armenia itself now understands that they made a very big mistake, because they lost time. If we look at today’s situation in Armenia we will see that the situation is much worse than when Armenia became an independent country. Because today Armenia doesn’t have army. It has been totally destroyed, it’s been in permanent political crisis for more than six months.
There is a big degree of mistrust in society, mutual accusations and some political leaders’ rhetoric is beyond any acceptable framework. So, they lost time, they were deprived of the initiatives of Azerbaijan with respect to energy and transportation development and finally they lost the territories which they occupied and the territories which never belonged to them neither by history nor by international law. But now, after the conflict is over, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been resolved, has been resolved primarily by Azerbaijan and then by a joint declaration of 10 November last year we need to look to the future. Despite 30 years of occupation and large-scale destruction and devastation on the liberated territories, Azerbaijan is ready to look to the future, to plan its future as a part of integrated region of the South Caucasus. We hope that the time will come that we will really talk about active cooperation in the South Caucasus and integration. We all already made very important proposals and initiatives, by the way, which are reflected in the joint declaration of 10 November 2020, particularly with respect to opening of communications and opening new transportation corridors. I can tell you that the work have already started, on implementation of this project. Azerbaijan already allocated technical and financial resources for that. And when Zangazur corridor opens, it will open new opportunities for all the countries of the region. Therefore, I would like to say that Azerbaijan is open for cooperation, open for planning our common future, because we are neighbors whether we like it or not. We have to live side by side, and we need to learn once again how to live side by side. It’s not easy, emotions are here, especially when Azerbaijani people visit liberated territories and see total destruction you can imagine what kind of emotions they have. But the role of politicians is to defend their agenda and to explain that only through interaction we can provide sustainable development and peace and security in the region.
Probably I will stop now, because during the several Baku Global Fora, you know that all the fora and all the events, I was talking about Nagorno-Karabakh. So you know exactly what happened, how it happened, the results I think there is no need to repeat. Better to have more time for our dialogue. So, thank you very much and I am ready to answer any question you have.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very much for your clear opening remarks and your support of the idea of establishing a dialogue with members and friends of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center. This is a very significant event, and there is great interest in it. Our audience is very happy to have the opportunity to ask you a question personally. As a result, we have received requests for participation in this dialogue from many participants in today's event. My first request to the audience and all participants as someone who acts as the moderator of this event: please try to formulate your question as briefly as possible so that those who join the meeting afterwards have the opportunity to ask a question in accordance with the time generously allocated by His Excellency Mr. President.
In accordance with the topics those asking questions are interested in, I have included them in groups of two or more people. For each general topic, I will introduce the first speaker and ask them to ask a question. I will then introduce the second speaker and create an opportunity for them to ask a question. Only then will His Excellency Mr. President answer the questions. This will help us to speed up the dialogue and ask as many questions as possible within the allotted time. So let's declare the question and answer session open. The first question is about the role of Azerbaijan as an important regional party and a significant country from a geostrategic point of view. I would like to give the floor for the first question to the Director of the South and Central Asian Department at the US National Security Council at the White House in 2005-2007, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and the Baord of Trustees member of Nazarbayev University, Mr. David Merkel. Mr. Merkel, the floor is yours.
David Merkel: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I am very glad to see you. I look forward to the opportunity to meet with you personally in Baku soon. The late Zbigniew Brzezinski, who had great respect for you and Azerbaijan, called Azerbaijan an important strategic center on a large chessboard and said that independent Azerbaijan would deliver the energy resources of the Caspian Sea to the West. He also said that if, on the contrary, Azerbaijan was unable to pursue an independent policy, this would lead to Russia's dominance in Central Asia. A lot has happened since that time and it is now time to look at the large chessboard again. What can you say about the role of Azerbaijan in the delivery of energy resources to Europe and the possibility of logistically linking Asia with geo-strategically important Europe, given the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and China's Belt and Road Initiative and the role of multilateral development banks after the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? Thank you
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Thank you very much.
There have been actually three questions put by Mr. Merkel and I would like to try to answer on the issues related to energy delivery to Europe. The last day of the last year was remarkable from point of view of completion of the historical project of the Southern Gas Corridor. So, 3.5 thousand km of three integrated gas pipelines have been put together and they are connected as a whole project. First delivery of Azerbaijani gas to Europe happened. That was really historical event because the project was really a big challenge from all points of view, from financial, political, technical point of view and we really worked as a good team, team of several countries. Some of them are members of EU. We really made a great contribution to Europe’s energy security. Taking into account the new discoveries in Azerbaijan and new level of production of natural gas, it’s a project for decades ahead. The gas from Azerbaijan is a new gas for European continent, is now the only new source of gas to Europe and really it also strengthened to a large degree the bilateral and multilateral relations between the countries involved. So that issue is considered to be completed. Talking about the logistical support to connect Asia and Europe and Chinese “One Belt and One Road” initiative, this is also a very important part of international agenda. Azerbaijan on its territory completed all the necessary transportation projects, and together with the partners already we have an important connection between Asia and Europe as part of the “One Belt and One Road” initiative. Providing our infrastructure, including our sea port, the biggest Caspian vessel fleet and railroad opportunities in order to be part of this important project. So, we invested in this project financially and politically and I hope that these two important dimensions, energy security and transportation security will play an important role not only for the future economic development in Azerbaijan, because it will generate additional revenues, but it will seriously contribute to regional stability, because the countries become inter-dependent, countries become members of one team, as we sit in one boat. Of course, the level of mutual support will definitely grow. With respect to the last questions of Mr. Merkel about international banks, I can tell you that when we were implementing the Southern Gas Corridor project all the major international financial institutions were our partners- the World Bank, EBRD, Asian Development Bank, European Investment Bank, and the bank which was founded by China, the Infrastructure and Investment Bank. So, all the leading international financial institutions were part of the project and also that was a clear message to commercial banks also to support. With respect to the projects on the liberated territories, we have allocated for this year reconstruction 1.3 bln USD from our budget, and frankly speaking, we are not looking for some loans from the banks. What we would appreciate is opportunities to invest. Because there is a lot of opportunities of investments on the liberated territories. We have great plans of reconstruction. Therefore, we will be happy that banks will help foreign and local investors to implement projects on the liberated territories rather than to provide direct financial support to Azerbaijan which actually we do not need. Thank you.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: I would like to ask for a question from our second participant – the Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia in 2010-2012 and the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2008, Mrs. Eka Tkeshelashvili. Please, Eka.
Eka Tkeshelashvili: Good afternoon, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Good afternoon.
Eka Tkeshelashvili: Your Excellency, Azerbaijan has played a pivotal role in transformational projects in the region. This creates opportunities for the transformation of Azerbaijan into an important country of the Caucasus in terms of the overall energy security of Europe, the development of international trade and relations on a global scale. How would you assess the processes that have taken place in this direction so far? In your opinion, has the moment come to expand the scale of progress? However, there are some missing links and challenges that we need to take into consideration.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you for your appreciation of the role Azerbaijan is playing but I can tell you that alone we wouldn’t have been able to complete this important project. Therefore, our cooperation with Georgia throughout the time of the implementation of all these projects was of strategic importance. As you very well know, the first pipeline which was built from Azerbaijan in the time of independence was a pipeline to Georgia, Baku-Supsa. It was commissioned in the end of 90s and actually allowed Azerbaijan to start exporting oil to international markets and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan was built 6-7 years later. So, that was really a milestone of development that was a reflection of our joint will to create absolutely new situation in the Southern Caucasus region. It’s obvious that energy and transportation projects transformed Southern Caucasus, two South Caucasian countries Georgia and Azerbaijan, allowed these countries to get additional financial resources, increased importance of our countries for our international partners and build a stronger partnership which allowed us later to invest in transportation projects in projects related to connectivity in power generation. So, this really foundation of what we have today in the Southern Caucasus was due to our joint efforts. With respect to the missing links what you asked, I think, after the completion of the last portion of the Southern Gas Corridor, Trans-Adriatic pipeline, all the links have been connected. At the same time, the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad several years ago also connected all the links in the area of Caspian Caucasus and Turkey. Therefore, we can think about future plans from the point of view of creating new links. For instance, one of the projects which we are now working on is expansion of our presence in European energy market by joining the infrastructure of the Western Balkans. We are now in the active phase of negotiations with several countries of former Yugoslavia with respect to gas delivery to those countries. You know, after you complete one important project and think that the mission is completed then some new ideas come and this is how the progress is showing itself. So, I am sure that we will find another dimensions of fruitful cooperation and expand the team of countries and expand our friendship.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Thank you, Mr. President. The next two questions are about Azerbaijan's relations with specific countries. I will now give the floor to Mrs. Tzipi Livni for the first question. Mrs. Livni was Israel's Foreign Minister in the 2002-2010.
Tzipi Livni: Thank you. First of all, I would like to express my appreciation for opening an office in Israel for enhancing tourism and commerce. Thank you for that. My question is related to the USA, the new US administration and Russia. What are your expectations regarding the policies of these countries regarding the region and the challenges it faces?
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, let's now give the floor to the President of Ukraine in 2005-2010, Victor Yushchenko, to ask a question.
Viktor Yushchenko: Dear Mr. President Ilham Heydarovich. First of all, I want to congratulate you on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which is the most important issue related to territorial integrity. It was a dream that took 30 years to come true. As you know, in 2006 we established the international organization GUAM, which included four countries. This organization was supposed to deal with issues of security, economy, cooperation, humanitarian cooperation and infrastructure. How would you see the roadmap for the further activities of this organization?
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, we are looking forward to your answers.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. First question is about our expectations regarding the policy of the United States and Russia in the region. Russia and the United States as the co-chairs of the Minsk Group for almost 30 years were part of the active processes of negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Unfortunately these negotiations did not produce any result, but at the same time, it’s also clear especially now when relations between the United States and Russia are at a very low level that the issue of conflict resolutions was probably the only one issue where Russia and the United States had a very active and very open cooperation. So in certain way, Azerbaijan with its conflict play an important role for at least having one area where these two superpowers can sincerely cooperate. At the same time, I’d like to say that before the pandemic, highest military officials of Russia and United States, chiefs of the staff of the armies of both countries had regular meetings in Baku. Also, chief of staff of Russian army and military commander of NATO several times had a round of negotiations again in Baku. They could have selected any other destination, but choosing Baku really is a good reflection of independent foreign policy of Azerbaijan first of all, and also is a reflection of the high-level respect to our country and trust to our country. We consider these factors as the main factors in choosing this location of Azerbaijan. With United States our relations are less diversified than with Russia and this is obvious because with Russia we have a long history of communications and we are neighbors. Therefore, with Russia our relations are very diversified. They cover almost every area. With the United States our main areas of cooperation are counter-terrorism, peace-keeping operations whether it’s in Iraq or in Afghanistan, now energy security and some other areas. The policy of both countries towards Azerbaijan has always been stable and predictable, as well as our policy towards these countries. With both countries we have relations of strategic importance. Of course it’s different agenda but very open, very clear and without any surprises, because we always say what we mean and we always stand behind the words we pronounce. I think that’s one of the reasons why we managed to establish good relations with many countries and not only Russia and United States are among these countries which don’t have good relations between themselves. So, I think that the policy of the United States and Russia with respect to Azerbaijan will continue to be very stable, and my recent communications with high-ranking officials, with President of Russia, with national Security Adviser of the United States and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia demonstrate that we really want to expand our cooperation and both sides consider these relations as strategically important. So, after resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, I think it will be easier to plan for the future because this conflict was to certain degree blocking some areas of cooperation where we could have very active format of cooperation and couldn’t have it due to that reason. So, resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict creates absolutely new atmosphere and we hope that Russia and the United States will continue to play big importance to our country. Also, I’d like to answer the question of dear President Yushchenko about GUAM. He reminded about a time when this organization transformed and it got a new name, Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. As Viktor Andreyevich correctly pointed out the agenda of GUAM was very broad and he remembers very well that during his term of presidency of Ukraine probably was the most active term of GUAM. We had regular summits every year in different capitals, we had informal discussions. We had really very active phase of development of this organization. Also presidents of some other countries on many occasions joined us because it showed that organization is attractive. But also my dear friend Viktor knows very well that it always was Ukraine who played a leading role in GUAM. Therefore, changes of political agenda after he left office actually led to some deterioration of organization. It stopped to be one of the priorities of Ukrainian foreign policy. Therefore, slowly-slowly we started to see that GUAM is losing momentum. There is less meetings, less communications and less joint projects. Despite that, what we have been discussing during that time, particularly, delivery of Azerbaijani oil to Ukraine happened, and not only that. Today Azerbaijan has a very broad distribution network in Ukraine. Oil supplies from Azerbaijan to Ukraine, the issue which we worked with Mr. President Yushchenko actively now is the reality. Again, it will largely depend on the agenda of Ukrainian government whether GUAM is still a priority of their foreign policy or not. Of course, that will be the main factor of organization either to activate itself or to stay in a kind of a standby position. And of course, issues related to some domestic issues in the member states to a certain degree also created some difficulties, because in some countries the changes of government took place so rapidly so that they could not even have time to formulate the foreign policy agenda. But Azerbaijan always was a stable country in this respect and if there is such a demand from all member states, of course, we will do what we think is right. At the same time, trade relations with Ukraine is growing, with Georgia is growing, energy cooperation is growing. Now transportation. Ukraine was using Azerbaijani logistical and transportation network to transport goods to Central Asia at some time. So all that is possible. We need only just to plan future steps based on pragmatism, mutual support which always GUAM countries demonstrated to each other. I would like to say that one of the important elements of organization is that always in United Nations we supported each other with respect to territorial integrity of our countries and that consolidated position was really very important for bringing painful issues of our countries to the attention of international community.
Vaira-Vike Freiberga: Thank you, Mr. President. You put it out earlier that we will be privileged to repeatedly hear your views related to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. But today's topic is related to the future of your ties with neighboring Armenia. Four questions on this general topic have been sent to us. Can we answer them in pairs? The floor for the question is given to the former US Ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan, Robert Cekuta. Please, Mr. Ambassador.
Robert Cekuta: Good afternoon, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Good afternoon.
Robert Cekuta: It is a great pleasure to be able to be here and see you, albeit virtually. I am currently in Baku with a delegation representing the Board of the Caspian Policy Center. I came here from the head office of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center. I have to tell you that a number of former US Ambassadors and myself are working with the Nizami Ganjavi International Center to involve world leaders in discussions related to Karabakh in accordance with the Chatham House rules. I can say in particular that your administration, Hikmat Hajiyev have rendered us great assistance in terms of interaction with the International Nizami Ganjavi Center. We are really grateful for that. Mr. President, in continuation of your words, I would like to ask what role do you think the United States should play? What actions should be taken to assist in building relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia? Thank you, Mr. President.
Vaira-Vike Freiberga: Mr. President, before you answer this question, can we also listen to the question of Mr. Franco Frattini, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy in 2002-2004, again in 2008-2011, and in 2004-2008 was the Commissioner of the European Union? Mr. Frattini, we are ready for your question.
Franco Frattini: Thank you, Mr. President. First of all, I am glad to see you, albeit virtually. First of all, I would like to reiterate the fact that Italy is pleased with the excellent functioning of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline after, as you have just noted, we overcame a number of obstacles together.
I have a question concerning Armenia. You have talked about this country. I have the impression that ordinary people living in Armenia, due to local political propaganda, may not know that they are held in isolated, that good contacts with the rest of the Caucasus and beyond are fully in their interests. In your opinion, what could be a specific proposal to extend a hand of friendship for the Armenian people to understand what politicians in Armenia probably don’t?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. With respect to what steps the United States can undertake in order to normalize relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, I think that the United States can do a lot. First of all, it’s a leading country of the world. It’s a country which is one of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group and OSCE. By the way as far as I understand, and what I feel is that now Minsk Group is in a certain way in a search for a new format of activity. Because as I said before, the conflict is resolved. Therefore, there should be a new agenda for the Minsk Group and of course, the three countries should agree between themselves first of all. When I met the Minsk Group ambassadors last time and we were discussing about future, I said I am expecting from them proposals, because it was them who generated the proposals, it was them who were trying to bring both countries closer in order to find the solution. Therefore, today as far as I understand, the Minsk Group is in a way in a search for if new identity but at least a new area of activity. As one of the co-chairs the United States of course, plays very important role. At the same time, we know that the United States plays an important role in every region of the world. Therefore, I think efforts in order to help to normalize relations and to explain to the communities that we have to live side by side will be highly appreciated. I think and also, answering the question of Mr. Frattini about what kind of proposal we can give to Armenian society, for them to understand better I would prefer to answer both questions because they are inter-connected. For many years Armenian political establishment was demonizing Azerbaijan. They were misleading their public opinion. They were creating absolutely unrealistic picture of Azerbaijan and what we want. We wanted just to restore our territorial integrity we wanted our territories back which belong to us by history and by international law. We wanted one million Azerbaijanis to be able to go back to their homeland, and our demand was legitimate. It was Armenia, the country which violated international law and occupied our territories. But the level of hatred towards Azerbaijan, Azerbaijanophobia and demonization of Azerbaijan was so high in Armenian society, that some part of Armenian society started really to believe that they are right. Therefore, what happened now is a very serious psychological I would say drama in Armenian society. They understand that the leaders who run this country for 30 years were lying to their people. They were lying even during these 44 days of second Karabakh war, when they were saying that they are winning the battle when they were saying they are taking control of new territories and de-facto and everybody knew that absolutely different is happening on the ground. So, the first I think should be a kind of a very clear understanding of the reality. The new reality emerged, was created, if I could put it more correctly, by Azerbaijan in the region, and Armenia, its society must get adjusted to this new reality. There is no one they can blame except their leaders. All the leaders since the beginning of their independence let their country to catastrophe. What happened during the war was just a triumph of justice and triumph of international law. It was implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Therefore, first what they should do, they should stop demonizing Azerbaijan, second, they should refrain completely from any even verbal attempt to take revenge. Unfortunately these revanchist feelings are very broadly presented in Armenian political spectrum. Now they are on the eve of parliamentary elections, and we see that the temperature is growing. The only factor which unites all the political forces which are ready to eliminate each other is Azerbaijanophobia. They continue this policy which is absolutely counter-productive, which led to the fact that Armenia could not become really independent country. It is totally dependent country-politically, economically, from military point of view, and the reason is occupation. If not for occupation, Armenia could have have much more leverage, much more opportunities for building independent or half independent foreign policy. But regardless, of what happened once again, we need to look to the future. I said it many times publicly, we need to turn the page. We need to look to the future, and we already made a proposal. But unfortunately, Armenian leadership did not respond. I several times said that we are ready, to start working on peace agreement with Armenia. In order to put an end to war, in order to minimize or eliminate any risk of potential military standoff, we need to have peace agreement, we need to have border delimitation with Armenia. All that needs joint effort. We cannot do it unilaterally. In a meantime, after the war stopped, after the 10th of November, we made several important gestures in order to demonstrate that we are ready. We are ready to work together on important issues. One of them is humanitarian. We immediately released all those who have been detained during the war, including civilians, who were just left behind when Armenian forces were running away. There were many elderly Armenian people who we took care of, put them to the hospital and delivered to the Red Cross. They safely returned back. When they occupied our territories in the beginning of 1990s, they didn’t do the same. We looked in the forests, in the mountains for dead bodies. We returned to Armenia almost 1600 dead bodies of their soldiers. Just for comparison I would say, after first Karabakh war we still have almost 4.000 missing Azerbaijani military servicemen. Most of them have been killed and they didn’t return us any dead body. So, this is a difference. Moreover, after war stopped, we had more than hundred people killed, or wounded severely wounded on the mines. Armenia refuses to give us the map of mines. We know exactly that they have maybe at least one million mines mapped where mines are planted. They refuse to give it to us. You know demining is a very difficult process and very costly. It takes a lot of time and we need to restore the territories. Without demining it is not possible. We allow Armenian citizens now to use 21 kilometers of the highway which connects Armenian cities through the territory which we liberated. That’s another gesture of good will. We allowed the Russian Gazprom to transport natural gas to Armenia through the territory of Azerbaijan, because there were repair works on the Russian side. For more than one month, Armenian consumers were getting gas from Azerbaijan. But did Armenian government inform their people about that? No. Even those detained military servicemen who have been released by us recently, 14 of them. We did it voluntarily. They didn’t even say thank you. They thanked everybody. They thanked Russian peacekeepers, they thanked American administration. But they didn’t thank us, those who released those people. So, it shows that they are not ready for a normal behavior. They are not ready to stop demonizing Azerbaijan. Today “Azerbaijani” is the worst insult in Armenian political vocabulary. If they want to insult each other, they call each other “Azerbaijani”. This is unacceptable for people who want to run the country. But again, what we have offered. We have offered cooperation on transportation issues, particularly on the issues of opening of Zangazur Corridor, which will connect Azerbaijan with its Autonomous Republic Nakhchivan. At the same time, Armenia will have a railroad connection with Russia and Iran, with two other close friends. Railroad connection does not exist. So, we offered that. I can tell you that the process is going on, the process have started. It’s not easy but it started and we need a support. As coming back to the question of Mr. Ambassador Cekuta. We need a support of Minsk Group co-chair countries, including the United States. We need a support from regional countries including Turkey, which always supports very positive development in the region. Of course, we need a support of the European Union, because that will be, I think, a unique format of cooperation. It will be very pity if Armenia misses this chance. So, it’s a last chance. Thirty years have passed and where they are now as I said, is worse than they have been in 1991. So, it’s a last chance. If they miss it, then probably it will be even more difficult.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Thank you Mr. President, for this very complete and deepened explanation of what is actually deplorable and sad situation. But which of course, will have to evolve in the future and it will have to improve at length. With your indulgence, we have two more questions. I would like to talk about the economic aspects of the relations with your neighbor. We are turning now to His Excellency Rosen Plevneliev, President of Bulgaria from 2012-2017 for his question.
Rosen Plevneliev: Thank you Mr. President. I am telling you on behalf all of us how proud we are being members of NGIC that also thanks to your leadership but also the great secretariat, young, capable people we have, is strong, is global, is efficient. As we are members of a lot of different organizations, we can see that NGIC is making a difference, and we thank you for that. Also, I want to tell you how excited we were with this great victory on the second Karabakh war under your leadership that restored the rule of law, reunified Azerbaijan and brought justice to people. My question is linked to the regional economy of Nagorno-Karabakh. Can you give us some examples about how difficult the situation, how devastated the economy during all those years of occupation was? What can we do as friends, as international community to help by restoring the regional economy of Nagorno-Karabakh? Thank you,
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: We shall go on now with a question from Mr. Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League during 1987-2015.
Abraham Foxman: Thank you, Mr. President, thank you for this opportunity to meet you, even though it is virtually. Hoping to see you in person not too long. Mr. President, would you describe for us please, Azerbaijan’s relationship with the state of Israel, especially at this moment of the current crisis?
President Ilham Aliyev: So, first I will answer the question of Mr. Plevneliev. Mr. President, thank you very much for your support, thank you very much for your kind words about the victory and restoration of rule of law. We discussed many times the issue of resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during my visit to your beautiful country and your visit to Azerbaijan. I always highly appreciated your very straightforward position based on justice, and based on international law. Thank you sincerely for your cordial congratulations. With respect to the area which has been liberated, as I said everything is destroyed there. I visited the liberated territories many times. When you go by car hundred kilometers like 400-450 kilometers you go by car and you see only destroyed villages and cities. I have been many times already during this 6 months on the liberated territories. 95% of the cities and villages are totally destroyed. This destruction was not made during the first Karabakh war, because it’s impossible to destroy by bombs these cities. It was destroyed after for several reasons. First, they were just taking the construction materials, they were taking the roofs, they were taking the windows, they were taking the stalls away. They were actually stealing these construction materials which we used to build houses and schools. The second reason was to erase Azerbaijani cultural heritage from those territories, because on the liberated territories which have been under occupation, more than 60 mosques were totally destroyed. Of course, another goal of Armenian occupants was to destroy the cities and villages so that never Azerbaijanis come back. Actually now there is nowhere to go back. Can you imagine, the city of Aghdam which in Soviet times was one of the most developed cities of Azerbaijan, of more than 40 thousand inhabitants only in the city, is totally destroyed. City of Fuzuli about 30 thousand inhabitants, 25-30 thousand lived before war, is totally destroyed. When we liberated Fuzuli in October, and I instructed our military servicemen to raise the flag on one of the buildings, they could not find a building. So, we just raised a flag in the field. All the other cities and villages are the same. Therefore, a lot is to be done. All the infrastructure is destroyed. But we started already. By the end of the year we will provide this big territory with electricity. 100% will be provided with electricity. We already started to build roads, we started to build highways. Armenians, when they were leaving, because there was a period after we signed a declaration on 10 November, there was a 20-day time, when Armenians had to leave from 3 districts. Because 3 districts we liberated as a result of the statement which was signed on 10 November. Actually, it was a capitulation act by Armenia. During these 20 days they were burning the houses which they lived, and these houses were not build by them. They were build by Azerbaijanis whom they just threw away. So they were cutting trees, they were burning trees burning houses, committing acts of vandalism. So, everything must be done from scratch. We already started, we already have master plans for development. We invited international companies to make assessment of the damage. We will sue occupants in international courts. They were illegally exploiting our national resources, particularly gold mines and the legal procedure against those companies which were involved there has already started. Infrastructure projects have already started. I declared the liberated territories as a green energy zone. There will be only mainly renewable water, solar and wind. Just for better understanding, the liberated territories are equal to the territory of Lebanon. So we need to restore and build houses and all the infrastructure for more than one million people at the territory of Lebanon, big part of it is high mountains which is very difficult to conduct works. But we are committed to do it and we will do it. But first we need to demine, because without demining it is very dangerous. On the second question relating to our relations with Israel, I would say that the relations are very diversified. We have active trade cooperation which is growing. Important area of cooperation is tourism. Before pandemic, there have been regular daily flights connecting Azerbaijan and Israel and many tourists from both sides were visiting each other and many relatives live, because there is a big Jewish-Azerbaijani diaspora in Israel which lives there. Also there is a very active Jewish community in Azerbaijan, it’s the biggest in the region. Jewish community in Azerbaijan played very important role in bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Israel, because they are very active citizens of Azerbaijan. They are doing a great job in creating closer ties between the two countries. Important sector of our cooperation is in the area of defense industry. This cooperation lasts for many years. Azerbaijan has opened access to Israeli defense industry products and it is not a secret. Now we are in the phase of a new development in that area. Also one of the very promising areas for cooperation is agriculture, because as you know, Israel in the difficult climatic situation managed to create one of the most developed agriculture in the world. Therefore, it’s a very good example for us especially in the liberated territories to use this technology not only in this area but in general, technology is one of the important factors of our cooperation. So that would be, I think, my answer to a question.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Thank you so much Mr. President, so shall we go on, with the question from Mr. Fareed Zakaria, who is the host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS”, Fareed Zakaria is a famous American journalist, he has been an invited speaker to the Baku Forum, and has participated in NGIC organized conferences as a valued contributor.
Fareed Zakaria: Thank you so much. It’s a great pleasure to be here. I missed having the opportunity to come to Baku, which is a glorious city, especially with the recent development set-up taken place over the last two decades, and I regret not being able to see you in person Your excellency. The question I have is, how do you view new administration in the United States-the Biden administration? What would you hope to see from the administration in terms of policies toward the region and Azerbaijan?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, Mr Zakaria. I am also very glad to see you. I hope you will join us later this year when we plan to organize the Global Forum in Baku. I remember our meeting here in Baku, and a very long discussion. Thank you very much for your very clear analysis of the past Azerbaijan, past during the times of independency. New administration in the United States is not new for us, because we worked closely with Obama-Biden administration. I remember my meeting with the then Vice President Biden in 2016 in Washington and very productive and good discussions on a broad range of issues of our bilateral agenda and international issues. I remember that President Biden at that time was very well informed about the regional problematic and highly valued importance of relations between the United States and Azerbaijan. We already have the contacts. Just recently I received a phone call from National Security Advisor to President Mr. Sullivan and we discussed issues related to post-conflict situation in the region, at the same time bilateral relations. We have been working closely on the issues like counter-terrorism, peace-keeping operations in Afghanistan. We have been, from the very beginning, and we are still there. In Afghanistan we keep our military servicemen. We have even increased their number relatively recently. Important area of our cooperation is energy security. US always was very helpful in implementation of the big energy projects and always supported Azerbaijan whether it was oil pipeline, or gas pipeline, or investments of American companies. So, really we have very diversified relations in those areas which I mentioned. But we want to diversify them even more, particularly to cover the area of modern technologies, trade, the level of mutual trade is still very low, and other issues. Of course, we want also to have access to US military equipment. Unfortunately, we don’t have access so far. That was probably related to the conflict with Armenia. But now, when conflict is over, it is resolved. I think there is no reasons why we shouldn’t have cooperation in the area of defense industries with the United States. With respect to the hopes for new administration, of course, it will depend on the agenda of new administration towards our region. Our initial communications were very positive and it gives us opportunity to make some and make some outcomes of this. But it will probably need some more time, before administration is fully established, and what will be their policy with respect to the Southern Caucasus in the priority lists. That will mainly be the driving force of our cooperation as you can understand in relations between US and Azerbaijan. Leading role is with US. It will be largely depending on their agenda, but we are ready to work closely as strategic partners to expand our cooperation. I think that US can play very important role in post-conflict development in the region. We know that there is a very active Armenian diaspora in United States which unfortunately, played very damaging role to Armenian state. Mainly because of their radical position, occupation lasted for so long. They thought that it will be forever. But they were wrong. So, now they mobilized all their efforts in order to present Azerbaijan as an aggressor. Though, we only liberated our own territories. Nothing more than that. We had a legitimate right to do it and we have been waiting for that for almost 30 years. Imagine, from 1992, until 2020, being in the phase of negotiations. In 1993, UN Security Council adopted 4 resolutions demanding withdrawal of Armenian troops which were on paper. So, I am sure that we will have new developments in our interaction with the new American administration. But post-conflict development is important. I think another area which will be important is testing the opportunities of kind of interaction in the Southern Caucasus in general, because until now we had relations with Georgia, Armenia had relations with Georgia, and no relations and no cooperation between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Maybe now, it’s time to see whether it’s possible to have a kind of a trilateral format of cooperation. We are ready for that. As I said before, we are ready to start working on peace agreement with Armenia. I think United States can use its potential and to persuade Armenia that this is the only way how to move forward. They should refrain from any even thoughts about revenge, because that will be for them very, very dangerous. So, a lot of opportunities and a lot of hopes, but we are waiting for administration to be fully established, and to have more clear messages how they want to build relations with us.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: I would like to introduce now, a very important and valuable guest to this meeting. I guess with whom the NGIC has established a fruitful collaboration and representing a country that is one of the very large major players in the world today. Mr. Wang Chao, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, between 2013 and 2019, and President of the Chinese Peoples’ Institute of Foreign Affairs at the moment. Mr. Wang Chao, the microphone is yours.
Wang Chao: Thank you very much, Madame President. Your Excellency Mr. President, as President of the People's Foreign Relations Institute of China, it is an honor for me to participate in today's videoconference, listen to Your Excellency's opening speech and answers to questions. The friendship between China and Azerbaijan has a long history. Your Excellency always attaches great importance to friendly relations with China. Azerbaijan became one of the first countries to join the “Belt and Road” initiative. The world today is undergoing profound changes and is facing the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that no country in the world is immune from these challenges and cannot cope with them on its own. The importance of bilateral and multilateral cooperation has grown even more, and it plays a decisive role more than ever before. In this context, I would like to ask Your Excellency about the areas in which our countries can achieve an even higher level of good bilateral relations and cooperation together. In addition, several years ago, Your Excellency presented a development strategy related to the restoration of the Great Silk Road, which will encourage development in such areas as infrastructure, transport, energy and exchange between peoples. China's “Belt and Road” initiative also covers these areas. I would like to know the opinion of Your Excellency on how our countries can link the strategy of Azerbaijan and the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative in the name of the welfare of the two peoples. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. We attach great importance to bilateral relations with China. I would like to note that these relations developed very successfully last year. As you rightly noted, Azerbaijan was one of the first countries to publicly support President Xi Jinping's “Belt and Road” initiative, and we have already become active participants in it. This, in turn, creates a new direction in our relationship. I have visited China several times and had the opportunity to hold a number of meetings with President Xi Jinping. I believe that there are constructive friendly relations between us. During a meeting with the President in Beijing during my last visit to China, he publicly called me a friend of China. I think this is a clear indicator of our relations. We also consider President Xi Jinping a friend of Azerbaijan.
Numerous documents in the field of politics, trade and investment have been signed between Azerbaijan and China. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to President Xi Jinping for his kind support in providing Azerbaijan with the “Sinovac” vaccine. Our request was granted immediately, which is why Azerbaijan is one of the leading countries in the fight against the pandemic today. Thanks to this, we have managed to vaccinate 1.9 million people to date. This represents approximately 20 percent of our population, and 99.99 percent of the vaccines we use are Chinese. We have ordered millions of vaccines, including those from other manufacturers. However, had it not been for this friendly gesture, we could find ourselves in a very difficult situation today. We highly value this as a friendly gesture and as an indicator of close and sincere relations.
As for the issue of the Silk Road, we did our homework in Azerbaijan. Together with our partners in Turkey and Georgia, we have connected our railway networks and built a modern port on the Caspian Sea to strengthen our ties even more. If the cargo handling capacity of this port is increased, it can receive 25 million tons of cargo. Our country has invested in the Azerbaijan Caspian Shipping Company and currently owns the largest fleet in the Caspian Sea. Along with this, we hope that preparatory work is completed and the foundation of the International Free Trade Zone is laid next to the seaport. We do hope that companies from China and other friendly countries will consider investing there.
In addition, a Chinese company is among the companies invited from five countries involved in the restoration work in the liberated territories. As part of our recently launched “smart village” project, Chinese company Huawei is expected present its technology. We are interested in broader participation of Chinese companies in reconstruction work in the liberated territories.
Speaking about the spheres with enormous potential, as you rightly noted, I believe that the transport sector is in the first place. We are offering our transit facilities to many Chinese companies today. Using the corridor through Azerbaijan across the Caspian Sea, these companies transport their goods to Europe. So this route has tremendous potential.
Chinese companies are investing in our energy sector. We believe that they can be more widely represented in our energy sector. Infrastructure projects in liberated territories are our top priority, and I hope that many Chinese companies are interested in working with us.
As you have mentioned, contacts between peoples are also important. You probably know that Chinese citizens do not need a visa to travel to Azerbaijan, and we observed a rapid increase in the number of visitors from China before the pandemic.
Let me also add that we have high expectations related to the growth of turnover with China. We are glad that such opportunities are emerging. We have already opened trade representations and houses of Azerbaijan in several cities of China. Our trade offices operate in three or four countries of the world, and China is one of them.
Therefore, I would say that we have great relations and the potential is even greater. I want to thank your institute and you personally for cooperation with the Nizami Ganjavi International Center. I highly appreciate this and consider it important for all of us, the activities of the center, our partnership and cooperation. Thank you.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Thank you, Mr. President. We now have to take a big step geographically and return to the West. We are moving on to the region of South-Eastern Europe. The first question is from Her Excellency Mrs. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President of Croatia in 2015-2020. Please, Mrs. Grabar-Kitarovic.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, Mr. President. I am very glad to see you, albeit virtually. The European Union, which is located, if I may say so, next to us, Western Balkans, has played and continues to play an exceptional role. A “Europeanization” process has helped all of us to create democratic institutions and develop a market economy. In addition, the stabilization and association process has contributed a great deal to resolving the regional issues that remain outstanding. I am confident that future membership of our neighboring countries in the European Union is the fundamental and initial condition for peace, stability and security in the entire region. Mr. President, how do you see the role of the European Union in your region? How can the European Union support the peace process, and what, in your opinion, should the European Union do to support Azerbaijan in its peace efforts? How do you see the development of your relations with the European Union and why is the involvement of the European Union so important? Thank you.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. Zlatko Lagumdzija, a member of the Board of Directors. In 2001-2002, he was Prime Minister and in 2012-2015 the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Zlatko Lagumdzija: First of all, Mr. President, I want to congratulate you on the leadership shown in the return of Nagorno-Karabakh using your legitimate right to secure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan in full compliance with international law and UN Security Council resolutions. I also want to express my gratitude and appreciation for the personal and concrete support of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the COVID-19 crisis, the presence of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center in the Western Balkans, as well as your leadership and commitment to its activities. I am sure this is also due to the fact that people who witnessed such monstrous events as tragedies in Srebrenica and Khojaly, real leaders always attach equal importance to such values and obligations as a common future in inclusive societies. Diversity in such societies is perceived as wealth. In this context, I would like you to share your thoughts on the Western Balkans as part of the Euro-Atlantic space, give your recommendations to leaders of the Western Balkans and key global actors in our region. At the same time, given that some of the directions you have proposed have already been revealed to us and we have substantially implemented them, we would be interested to know what you expect from the Nizami Ganjavi International Center. In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude for your personal support of our trips on behalf of the Center. The youth working in the secretariat have also done a great job on the instruction of our wise co-chairs. We hope that difficult moments have already been left in the past and the principle of communication of the brilliant Nizami finds its manifestation. In the face of the pandemic, we were further convinced that the Center will continue to guide us. Thank you very much, Mr. President, and I congratulate you. Thank you for being with us and supporting the Center. We look forward to your new instructions. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: First of all, I would like to greet Madame President. Once again, thank you very much for the hospitality extended to me and my delegation during our visit to Croatia. We also remember, Madame President, your visit to Azerbaijan. I do hope that in the second half of this year, I will see you again at the Global Forum in Baku and we will continue very fruitful and sincere discussions.
As for the role of the European Union in the region, we highly appreciate it. The European Union has always been a good partner for Azerbaijan. The European Union is our main trading partner. Our main exports are associated with member states of the European Union. Azerbaijan has signed or adopted documents and declarations on strategic partnership with a third of the member states. I believe that Azerbaijan is the only country with such a position among the countries participating in the Eastern Partnership, which we joined at the very beginning. The signing of strategic partnership documents with nine member states of the European Union proves that we are really good strategic partners. Several years ago, we initialed the Partnership Priorities Agreement between Azerbaijan and the European Union. It is an important stage. We are currently working on a new agreement between Azerbaijan and the European Union. Due to the pandemic and the second Karabakh war, this work was somewhat postponed. Following this, of course, there was a change in the composition of the European Commission. This also took some time. However, I do hope that we will restore the active phase of final negotiations in the near future. I would like to inform you that more than 90 percent of the deal has already been agreed on. Several issues remain outstanding. I do hope that we will reach an agreement on them soon.
As you know, the European Union and Azerbaijan are very good partners in the issue of energy security. Croatia is always heavily involved in the meetings of the Advisory Council of the Southern Gas Corridor organized by the European Union and Azerbaijan annually in Baku in February every year. Of course, the completion of the Southern Gas Corridor ushers new opportunities for our cooperation with the European Union because Azerbaijan has already started to play an important role in the energy security of the European Union. As I have already mentioned, our agenda and plans envisage the expansion of the Southern Gas Corridor towards your region. We are talking, in particular, about the Ionian-Adriatic pipeline. As far as I know, this is already becoming a part of the energy portfolio of the European Union. This is extremely important because the implementation of this project will allow Azerbaijan the opportunity to expand its presence in the gas market of the European Union and some non-member countries, that is, some of your neighbors such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. This will become an alternative source of gas supplies from Azerbaijan.
At the same time, I believe that after the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, more opportunities will open up in the issue of transportation. Yes, after the implementation of the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey railway project, we already have a direct rail link with Europe. We do hope that if Armenia does not create artificial obstacles, we may have another railway line passing through the territory of Armenia. So Armenia can also become a part of the regional development program. Additional security opportunities will appear.
The support the European Union will provide for peaceful development in the region is very important. I believe that the European Union can play a very important role in post-conflict development of the region because the European Union has a fairly broad agenda of cooperation with the three countries of the South Caucasus. In my opinion, one of the most effective programs is the Twinning project. It is a very effective program and we highly appreciate it. At the same time, of course, the European Union, along with the United States, Russia, China and Turkey, is one of the leading international actors in the world. I believe that the European Union is one of the five leading international actors, countries and institutions with the potential to influence in various parts of the world. Therefore, of course, we would like to see more active cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan. The presence of Europe on our territory has a long history. Since first oil in the world was produced in Baku in the middle of the 19th century, European business worked in Azerbaijan from that time on and returned here after the restoration of our country's independence. In short, to put it in a nutshell, I have high expectations from our cooperation.
As for the question of Mr. Lagumdzija, I would like to express my gratitude for the congratulations on the occasion of Victory in the second Karabakh war and the appreciation for the support we provided in connection with COVID-19. We have provided financial and humanitarian support to more than 30 countries around the world. Naturally, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a friendly country, was among them. I think that active work of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center in the Western Balkans is quite natural. I believe that the Western Balkans today play a more important role in the affairs of the world than before. There are many similarities between the Balkans and the Caucasus. These similarities are manifested in history and in the way countries gained independence. We can say that timing was also about the same. We have a lot in common with Croatia in protecting and restoring territorial integrity. There are many other similarities between peoples and traditions. Visiting that part of the world, I always feel at home. This is really the case, and it is a huge asset. I have met almost all current leaders of Balkan countries. I know all former leaders from 2004 to the present. I know that these are very competent and responsible individuals. Therefore, I wouldn’t want to give any recommendations. They know how to govern their countries and what is best for their peoples. With regard to your proposal regarding instructions to the Nizami Ganjavi International Center in the Western Balkans, I can simply once again congratulate the Center for keeping these issues in the spotlight because I believe that the issues of security, multiculturalism, those related to certain potential risks and radicalization in the Western Balkans are very important and should always remain on the agenda. I do hope that the peoples of the Western Balkans live in peace and prosperity. Azerbaijan has friendly relations with all of them. I will do my best to further strengthen these relationships. Thank you.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, there are two questions related to your closest neighbors. The first question will be asked by Boris Tadic, the President of Serbia in 2004-2012, and the second by Ehud Barak, the Prime Minister of Israel in 1999-2001. Mr. Boris Tadic, you have the floor.
Boris Tadic: Thank you. Mr. President. First of all, I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to talk with you about such important regional and global issues. I also want to thank the secretariat and co-chairs of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center for this opportunity to talk with you. Mr. President, in this regard I would like to ask you a question that I consider important. Given our experience with the conflict in the Western Balkans and the post-conflict situation, the reconciliation process is sometimes more difficult and sensitive. Do you see representatives of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center in the region play a role in the process of reconciliation with Armenia? I believe that the Nizami Ganjavi International Center as a think tank dealing with the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan can take interesting steps and measures. However, this can also become a specific goal of the organization. Secondly, the South Caucasus is a very sensitive area where geostrategic interests of Russia, the United States and China intersect. But we should also add here Turkey and Iran. Could problem issues between Turkey, Iran and these major forces have a negative impact on the South Caucasus region? Once again, thank you very much for this opportunity.
Ehud Barak: Mr. President, first of all, I congratulate you on the victory in Nagorno-Karabakh.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.
Ehud Barak: My question is related to Iran. What do you think about Iran's relations with its neighbors and its role in the region in general, given that the nuclear agreement will come into force again and, regardless of who is elected president, the authority to make decisions will remain with Ayatollah?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. As for the question about the role the Nizami Ganjavi International Center can play in reconciliation, I believe that it can be assessed quite highly because this Center has extensive experience in global political issues, multiculturalism and issues related to conflicts. During the Baku global forums and throughout its activities over the years, members and co-chairs of the Center have always demonstrated wisdom in the most important issues of the global agenda. Reconciliation will take time because the wounds have not yet healed. This is especially true for the Azerbaijani people, who have suffered from aggression and injustice. During the occupation, we did have an idea of the situation in the territories under occupation at the time because journalists and guests occasionally visited those lands. We had some information, but we could not imagine the extent of destruction and hostility. In the first Karabakh war, Armenia attacked us. Armenia committed the Khojaly genocide. Armenia carried out ethnic cleansing against the Azerbaijanis and drove a million Azerbaijanis out of their homes. We didn't do that. So it was very difficult for me to understand why they did it. Why do they have such hatred for people who have done them nothing wrong? On the contrary, when they were resettled to our region from Anatolia and Iran in the middle of the 19th century, these people embraced them with an open heart. Therefore, reconciliation will take time. The wounds have not yet healed. However, I consider it important to talk about this and choose the right development paradigm. Everything will depend on this. What will be the agenda? So far we do not see any positive commentaries on the political spectrum of Armenia – neither from the opposition nor from the government. Insulting the feelings of the Azerbaijani people and, as I said, portraying us as a half-enemy have become commonplace. We do not know what will happen after the June elections and what ideology will win. Until now, however, the ideology of Azerbaijanophobia, hatred and expansionism have turned into criteria for pushing their society to destruction. No-one but themselves and their leaders are to blame for the situation they have found themselves in today. However, I believe that the Center can play an important role in helping the Armenian side choose the right path. If they make the right choice, it will take time to make some progress. But we are ready. Even though we have been the affected party for these 30 years, we are ready, and I have repeatedly said that we need to turn the page and start a new chapter, think about the future, not the past.
The biggest mistake and problem of the Armenian government is that they only talk about the past. They often play with this past, use it for political purposes, try to present themselves as a victim of aggression in order to receive political dividends. Essentially, in most cases they abuse history they have created from scratch. They don't think about the future. We think about the future. Yes, we were subjected to occupation. One million people were left homeless and our economy was completely destroyed. Nevertheless, we thought about the future, about returning to our native lands, to the Karabakh land. We have done everything to achieve that. This is exactly how we won the Victory in the war. This was the main factor. They have to think about the future now. They should not think about the past and abuse these questions. However, I think that the post-conflict situation may be one of the topics of our upcoming meetings, perhaps at the next forum. Because it is very difficult. We have never been in this situation before. This is a new situation. It is new for Armenia. It is new for the world. So it is difficult to find an analogue of what happened in history. To restore territorial integrity in 44 days after many years, to hoist a flag on the Shusha fortress, to take this city, in fact, to do it in hand-to-hand combat – it was difficult even to imagine all this. In other words, we should also think about the participation of representatives of Armenia in some events, about what they will say in defense of their position, and I would assess these thoughts. I think it would be very helpful.
As for the other question of President Tadic, which was related to Russia, the United States and China, as well as neighbors Turkey and Iran, whether these difficulties may provoke conflicts or contradictions, I don't think so because we have established good relations with these countries over many years. With each of them, we have our own agenda, and it is quite positive. We have excellent bilateral relations with all countries President Tadic has mentioned. In some cases, we have a trilateral format. Turkey-Iran-Azerbaijan – we have a trilateral format of cooperation. Foreign ministers meet on a regular basis. Our policy has always been like this since the very beginning. We clearly understand that Azerbaijan has ample natural resources and an important location. Our country is located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. In the recent years of its development in particular, our country began to fully support itself economically. Economic independence has been secured. We clearly understand that there can be interests and they can collide. However, our policy is that Azerbaijan should be a space of cooperation, not collision. And as a matter of fact, this is what happens. Therefore, I do not see any difficulties between Azerbaijan and its neighbors or major powers in the future.
Regarding the question of Prime Minister Barak, Mr. Prime Minister, first of all, I am very grateful for the congratulations on the occasion of the Victory. I appreciate the words you said. As you have said, presidential elections will take place in Iran next month. We have established very fruitful bilateral cooperation with the current government of Iran, a very active dialogue, and numerous documents have been signed. At present, after the liberation of the territories, we have restored a 132-kilometer section of the state border with Iran. This territory was under Armenian occupation. In fact, one of the areas of our military operations was located near the border with Iran along the Araz River. The 132-kilometer section of the border with Iran has been restored, and this, of course, ushers new opportunities. We do hope that after the elections, the new government will also continue the policy of close ties with Azerbaijan because our economic cooperation is expanding. Transport projects also generate new opportunities. I think that after the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, all countries in the region can find new opportunities and economic privileges for themselves. We simply have to plan our joint steps correctly. These steps should lead to stability, security and economic development.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, let's move on to questions coming from international organizations. Let's start with an old friend and member of the Board of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, Mr. Amr Moussa. In 2001-2011, he was the Secretary General of the Arab League and in 1991-2001, he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt. Mr. Moussa, you have the floor.
Amr Moussa: Mr. President, thank you very much for the speech you made at this meeting. Let me also congratulate you on the Ramadan holiday celebrated last week. I will move right onto the question. The first question relates to the international situation, the growing tensions between two superpowers, the United States and China, and the role other countries can play in preventing these tensions. I believe that it is high time for us at the Nizami Ganjavi International Center to think about what to do and how to contribute. I also believe that a new model, similar to the Non-Aligned Movement for the 21st century, needs to be found, so that we all consolidate and work diligently to prevent any other tensions in order to be at the forefront of efforts to renew the multilateral system and address the pandemic and climate change. Thoughts related to the Non-Aligned Movement are important. As for Europe, it is not what it was in the last century. We need a new composition because we all, from north to south, from rich to poor, are interested in ensuring that there are no tensions in international relations that could lead to conflict. What do you think about this, Mr. President?
My second question is related to Jerusalem. In the Middle East and in many places, people feel in connection with the situation in Jerusalem that the international community should do everything in its power to defuse tensions and declare Jerusalem the capital of the two states. It is necessary to put forward this option of settlement. The Jews and Palestinians should take advantage of this – let one city become the capital of two states. What do you think about this, Mr. President?
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, Mr. Moussa has asked you several questions, but can we also hear a question from the President of the 73rd UN General Assembly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador in 2017-2018 and the Minister of National Defense of Ecuador in 2012-2014, Mrs. Maria Fernanda Espinosa? She is from another continent and her question is very short. Please, Mrs. Espinosa.
Maria Fernanda Espinosa: Thank you, Madame Co-Chair, thank you, Mr. President. I have a very short question. First, I cannot but praise the excellent work done by the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, our co-chairs and the Secretary General. I am proud to be a member of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center. I have a very short note. Mr. President, while listening to you, I remembered our peace process with Peru after 50 years of war on the border. Dialogue and diplomacy are the only ways of building trust and reconciliation. In particular, you spoke about the big challenges associated with the clearance of territories from mines. After the peace process, as Minister of Defense, I was personally responsible for mine clearance. My question is what role do you think the UN can play in building confidence in the post-conflict period? How do you see the role of this organization in the upcoming challenges also in the process of economic revival? You mentioned what economic challenges are, but what role do you see for the UN in supporting this process? The UN has extensive experience in establishing peace, so I think it would be good if you expressed your opinion on this matter. Thank you, President Aliyev, for the opportunity to conduct a dialogue with you. I hope to be able to see you in Baku personally soon. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. It would be very nice to see you in Baku this year, after a while. First of all, I want to start with Mr. Moussa's question related to global tensions between superpowers and the role that the Non-Aligned Movement can play. Of course, the Non-Aligned Movement is a movement, not even an organization. When Azerbaijan assumed chairmanship of the Movement at the summit held in Baku – we had a summit – I said that we would uphold justice and international law. We remain committed to this, we remain committed to the Bandung Principles which reflect the basic principles of international law. Since then, Azerbaijan has kept this word because we want to see a higher consolidation in the Non-Aligned Movement. There are 120 countries in the movement, and not all of them are on good terms with each other. But I want to note that they all voted for the chairmanship of Azerbaijan. This suggests that our sincere, open and friendly policy is highly appreciated by the broad international community because in terms of the number of member countries, it is the second largest international organization after the UN. The Non-Aligned Movement has never been involved in reducing tensions between major superpowers. As chairman, I believe that our interference in this process would be wrong. Of course, we would be glad to see a decrease in tensions. As we know, a dialogue has begun between the US and Russian administrations at the level of foreign ministers. We have high hopes that this dialogue will help reduce tensions because the international community is not interested in escalating tensions. We need a predictable and secure world, a world in which security and stability will become a priority issue, and, of course, we are ready to contribute to this cause. However, I believe that at the current stage we must look at what is happening in relations between superpowers, observe that.
At the same time, as chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, we launched a number of initiatives. First, we hosted an online COVID-19 summit. Then we initiated the UN General Assembly Special Session on COVID-19. Our initiative was supported by more than 190 countries, and this session took place in December last year. This was very important because we sent a very clear message related to the difficulties associated with the distribution of vaccines. The concept of “vaccine nationalism” is already being used by international leaders and heads of international organizations as a term. We have expressed a serious protest against the actions of some countries, which ordered several times more vaccines than necessary and effectively deprived developing countries of the right to vaccination, protection of life and health. We have also encouraged more vaccine support to developing countries. Most of the members of the Non-Aligned Movement are developing countries. We encouraged international donor organizations to provide support to countries unable to purchase vaccines. So the Non-Aligned Movement will continue its efforts.
As for Mr. Moussa’s second question related to the latest tensions in the Middle East, our position has always been clear. We urge respect for international justice, international law and the implementation of the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council. We have been the victim of a selective approach to the implementation of Security Council resolutions. In some cases, as you know, these resolutions are executed in a matter of days. When it comes to us, they remained unfulfilled for 27 years. We ourselves fulfilled them by restoring our territorial integrity. Of course, we are always in favor of a peaceful settlement of disputes. I believe that the international community is, of course, interested in reducing tensions in the Middle East. Our position in relation to the city of Jerusalem is very clear. It is based on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Several years ago, we held a donor conference in Baku in support of the Palestinians. I believe that this position is fully consistent with international law. A two-state settlement, a reduction in tensions, peaceful negotiations and a sincere desire to find a solution. It is difficult to find a solution. In our situation, it was also difficult to find a solution. However, I believe that the joint efforts of the international community and, of course, superpowers ... Of course, Azerbaijan is not a country capable of influencing relations between large countries, but as chair of the Non-Aligned Movement we will support the consolidated position of the participating countries. As chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, I addressed the General Assembly Summit and my speech was agreed with all Member States. So the approach to this issue will be the same.
The question asked by Mrs .Espinosa was about the role of the UN in the post-conflict period. First of all, I would like to note that it is no secret that there is a need for reforms in the United Nations. We need a clear view related to the implementation of resolutions adopted by the Security Council because their implementation should not be selective. This should not be based on double standards. In our case, there were four resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 1993. The three co-chair countries of the Minsk Group are three permanent members of the Security Council. They should have done everything possible to implement the resolutions they had adopted themselves. These resolutions explicitly stated that Armenian troops must completely and unconditionally withdraw from the occupied territories. But they didn't work. So first of all, it is necessary to carry out reforms and adopt a mechanism for the implementation of Security Council resolutions, which will increase confidence in this leading organization in the world. Of course, in the post-conflict period, we work closely with UN structures to resolve disputes. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has always been in close contact with us because at that time more than a million people out of an 8 million population were in the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons. We are still working with this organization.
We were in close contact with another UN organization, UNESCO. For many years, we tried to invite UNESCO to visit the occupied territories. We were told that UNESCO does not deal with issues related to political disputes. So not a single UNESCO delegation visited the occupied territories during the entire period of the occupation. However, as soon as the second Karabakh war ended, we began to receive appeals from UNESCO related to visiting the territories. I am very glad that this change has taken place, and we are currently in the final stages of coordinating logistical issues related to their visit. Hopefully next month they will come out on a mission. We want them to see what the Armenians have done to our cultural and national heritage.
With regard to confidence-building measures, we would be grateful for the activities of any organization that will assist us in contributing to confidence-building measures between Armenia and Azerbaijan, be it the OSCE, the Council of Europe, UNESCO or countries with a national position. We would highly appreciate this because without it, even if we sign a peace agreement, the people will not support it. The people must express their will. It is impossible to resolve the post-conflict situation without contacts between peoples. Therefore, I believe that the UN will do everything necessary to help the two countries heal the wounds inflicted by the war.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, we are pleased that our colleague, former President of Latvia Valdis Zatlers, has joined the conference.
Valdis Zatlers: Congratulations, Your Excellency. You never abandoned the efforts associated with the return of the territories occupied by Armenia. Let's slightly imagine the future. Can you imagine a comprehensive peace agreement being signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan one day, and possibly a security agreement with all countries in the region? Can you imagine a free trade agreement being signed between all Caucasian countries some day? If this is possible, what would be the roadmap in your opinion?
President Ilham Aliyev: Mr. Zatlers, thank you for your congratulations. At the global Baku forums, you always made statements that explicitly supported international law and justice in the issue of conflict resolution. We know and appreciate that. I am absolutely convinced that a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia is possible. In fact, let me tell you that this can be achieved in a relatively short time. Currently, there is not enough political will on the part of Armenia. I have openly said on a number of occasions that Azerbaijan is ready to work with Armenia on a peace agreement and, of course, if such an agreement is signed, then issues related to security, the non-use of force and the acceptance of realities in connection with the current situation will become an integral part of such a peace document. What should be done? I think we need to wait until after the parliamentary elections in Armenia. We understand that this period is sensitive in Armenia. I think that if someone in Armenia starts talking about a peace agreement with Azerbaijan today, it will not bring them any popularity. And yet, leaders should not think about their political careers, but about their state. From this point of view, we hope that there is more clarity on this issue after the elections. Of course, a peace agreement would be provide for a recognition of the territorial integrity of both countries, and we are ready to do this. We are ready to openly recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia, and of course, Armenia, in turn, must recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within its international borders. As you know, Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan and there is no doubt about that. Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan – it was during the occupation period, it is now and it will always be the case. Therefore, they must abandon all attempts related to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. This issue is not a subject of discussion. According to the information we have, 30,000 people currently live in the territory under the control of Russian peacekeepers. The people living there are our citizens. We consider them to be our citizens who have been brainwashed by Armenian propaganda. If a peace agreement is reached, then, of course, as you said, we can move on to the second stage – to conduct free trade between countries of the South Caucasus, which is also possible. In other words, we are ready for this. We will wait for a positive response from Armenia.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, you are very patient with us. You have devoted several hours of your time to us, which deserves great approval. Our tentative list has more questions waiting to be answered. After you answer them, I will ask you if you are ready to answer another and last question. Let's continue and move on to Yves Leterme, the Prime Minister of Belgium in 2008-2009-2011. Mr. Leterme, you have the floor.
Yves Leterme: Thank you very much. I hope you can hear me. Mr. President, greetings from Belgium. Let me thank you for the opportunity to meet online and also commend you for the leadership and change using the right historical arguments to reclaim the territories we are discussing today. Given the time constraints and agenda, my question will be short. Mrs. Kitarovic has already mentioned some aspects of relations with the European Union, the important role of Azerbaijan in energy security and the deepening of this cooperation. I want to briefly draw your attention to the diplomatic scene in Brussels. I will say it briefly and, perhaps, very bluntly and sincerely. I think you know better than me that in international politics there is always a difference between reality, support you have from international law and the actual conduct. In essence, conduct, unfortunately, sometimes plays a predominant role in foreign policy. At the beginning of our discussion, you noted the dynamic and actively negative influence of the Armenian diaspora. Considering that we are among friends here, it would be correct to say that this diaspora is still influencing the political leadership of various member states of the European Union, trying to change the reality in their favor. My question is very short. What initiatives can we, as the International Center of Nizami Ganjavi, which you generously support, can come forward with and what role can we play in creating a better balance between the very active Armenian diaspora, which puts pressure on the heads of state and government of the European Union member states, as well as people in Brussels, and the reality put forward by you strong arguments? I believe I can speak on behalf of many of my colleagues who really want to help restore this balance and, in a sense, restore reality. The reality is that international law is on your side, and the return of the occupied territories to Azerbaijan was a matter of justice. So my question is very short: do you have any proposals or initiatives of how we can establish contact with persons representing Azerbaijan in the capital of the European Union, in Brussels? How can we work together to try to influence public opinion and policymakers in Europe? Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you for the question. You have touched upon a very important issue. In fact, this issue poses the biggest problems to us and Armenia because, as you pointed out quite correctly, the difference between reality and conduct is one of the biggest challenges we face in defending our cause and communicating our messages. And we are still facing it after the second Karabakh war. Armenia always believes that it has a diaspora that helps it. However, if we look at the results of the second Karabakh war, we can see that it was actually their diaspora that was one of the key contributors to their humiliating defeat. After all, the statement that not a single centimeter of territory would be returned was the ideological essence of the Armenian diaspora. We all know perfectly well that in most cases they choose the best cities to live in. Whether it is California in the United States, southern France, southern Russia or Latin America. They live in a comfortable environment. Most of them have built good businesses for themselves. They set up numerous diaspora organizations and enjoy themselves. They are not particularly interested in living standards of those in Karabakh. After we had liberated the territories from occupation – some parts of these territories were illegally populated by Armenians – I visited the places where Armenians lived and was shocked because these territories looked like slums. It was completely beyond any normal understanding of 21st century living standards. Abject poverty. Complete poverty and unemployment. These people became hostages of some claims, emotions or goals of the diaspora living in the French Riviera or California. So one of the reasons why Armenia is in such a state now is the diaspora.
I have one more observation. We believed and were sure, at least I thought that the diaspora was spending a lot of money on the occupied territories because they were organizing annual fundraising marathons. They probably raised more than a hundred million each year. I want to say that these are large funds for a small territory, for a small population. But we did not see these funds. The Armenian-occupied Shusha, which, in their words, is an “Armenian city”, was completely destroyed and in complete poverty. We did not see any sign of these investments in the regions they lived in. Either these funds were not raised at all or they were sent to other places. The diaspora is still playing a very unproductive role today because the outcomes of the war are quite clear. If the war had not ended on 10 November, then Armenia would have found itself in an even more difficult situation. We stopped the war at the right time and achieved what we had planned. It is now a time of reconciliation. The Armenians living in Karabakh must understand that the only chance for them to protect their views or build a future is to live in good-neighborly relations with Azerbaijanis. Therefore, I believe that the diaspora must, first of all, come to terms with reality. They need to understand and make some changes to their policies. Whether they can do it or not, their policy has failed. I think that perhaps the first message can be sent from the Nizami Ganjavi International Center. The following messages should be that, “Your policy was wrong and failed. This led to a crisis in Armenia, which has been going on for more than six months”. Secondly, of course, in order to create a counterbalance, we must be able to convey our message. The Nizami Ganjavi International Center is one of the main structures for delivering messages related to reality. We hope that this will continue to be the case in the future. The diaspora was on the side of Armenia, while international law and justice were on ours. The development of events showed that we took the right side of history.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, you are very nice and tolerant with us. We are extremely interested in this informative, brilliant and inspiring dialogue. However, we still have an impressive list of people who want to speak with you. But we also have an agreement with you and do not want to abuse your patience. This is at your discretion.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes. First of all, this agreement was reached not with me, but with some representatives of my administration. Secondly, I am enjoying these fruitful and helpful discussions myself. So I am ready to continue. Please continue.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Great! Mrs. Ana Birchall from Romania has a question. In 2016-2019, she served as Prime Minister. Ana Birchall, please.
Ana Birchall: Good evening from Romania, Mr. President. It is indeed a great pleasure and honor for me to meet with you again. We look forward to meeting you personally as soon as the opportunity presents itself. As you know, there is a strong strategic partnership between Romania and Azerbaijan, and we are proud of that. We are also proud that Romania became the first European state among EU member states to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan. In addition, we were the first European member state of the European Union to sign a document on strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. Taking this into account, what do you think we can do not only to strengthen and deepen the existing strategic partnership, but also to bring it to a new level, including, for example, strategic issues related to transport, energy security, etc.? please allow me to conclude my remarks by saying that I am proud to be a member of the forum and congratulate the two co-chairs, who are always very kind to us. I would like to express special gratitude to the Secretary General, who has always been in contact with us, including the difficult times of 2020. Thank you again and hope to see you all as soon as possible.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I also look forward to seeing you in Baku soon and continuing our dialogue. You are absolutely right – Romania was one of the first states to recognize us as an independent state and the first country to sign a strategic partnership agreement with us. This opened the way for the signing of similar documents with other countries. I remember our meetings with you. As Deputy Prime Minister, you played a very important role in bringing the two countries closer together. If you remember, we have repeatedly discussed our joint plans related to how to build a partnership. We discussed the upcoming visits of high-ranking visitors from Romania. You were a high-ranking visitor, but we were referring to visitors in more senior positions. Then, the pandemic intervened in these matters, and we had some kind of a break in this active phase of cooperation. We want to resume these processes. You know my position. I have told you about it. I believe that we can outline many areas of beneficial cooperation. As you have pointed out, energy security is one of them, because today, after the completion of the Southern Gas Corridor, Romania is very close in terms of distance to our pipeline system. In addition, new opportunities for the development of transport in the post-conflict period create a truly unique situation for communication. This will be important both for us and for Romania. So we are ready. I do hope that when you come here within the framework of the global forum, we will have the opportunity to talk about this in greater detail. However, our position has always been very open and clear. We want to resume the active phase of cooperation with Romania.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, the next question comes from the Prime Minister of Moldova in 2015, Chiril Gaburici. Mr. Gaburici, the floor is yours.
Chiril Gaburici: Your Excellency, Mr. President Aliyev, good afternoon. I am glad to participate in this conference, although it is being held in an online format. I really miss Baku. As you know, COVID-19 has had a great impact on the whole world. The stability of the world has been disrupted. We have to adapt to a new way of life. On the other hand, humanity is still faced with problems that no country, in particular a small state like Moldova, can solve on its own. I mean such environmental problems as global warming and air pollution. Mr. President, you said that you are planning to use the energy of water, sun and wind in Nagorno-Karabakh. Your Excellency, in your opinion, can these problems unite us to create a new global balance and what is needs to be done to be ready for this? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. It is hard for me to think about where the global effort will lead. The process is going relatively well so far. However, I think it is important that each country at the national level send the correct messages to the population in this regard, not in word but in deed, and contribute to climate change issues. Because a lot of words have been spoken, sessions have been held, there has been a lot of applause, congratulations, a victory has been celebrated, but we did not make any headway.
As for us, Azerbaijan is probably a country that does not currently need investments in renewable energy because we have large deposits of natural gas. Today we use natural gas and water as a clean source of energy. We do not use coal and oil, so the damage to the environment is minimal. However, as a responsible country and a government with a vision of the future, we have started to attract investors into renewable energy. What I said about Karabakh and the “green zone” is not just a declaration but a plan, and it is already under way. A few months ago, the opening of the first hydroelectric power station took place in the territories liberated from the occupation – in Lachin District. Three to four months after the liberation of the territories from the occupation, I was already there, I pressed the button and we started. We plan to create more than 10 hydroelectric power plants on the territory of Karabakh. Secondly, large reservoirs on the border of Azerbaijan with Iran have great potential. During the occupation, Iran already built a reservoir. We are currently thinking about the joint construction of a hydroelectric power plant with a capacity of 240 megawatts. Last year, before the war, we signed two investment agreements for the construction of two power plants, solar and wind, with a total capacity of 440-480 megawatts with two leading companies in the world in the field of renewable energy – ACWA Power (Saudi Arabia) and Masdar (United Arab Emirates). The investments will be fully made by these companies. We are currently at the stage of implementing a master plan for the “green energy” zone for Karabakh.
We are doing this with a well-known Japanese company. They are preparing and an agreement has been signed. They are preparing a master plan so that we can implement this project not chaotically, but relying on the system, resources and needs. This should be consistent with the timetable for the return of the displaced. Thus, according to the calculations of our Ministry of Energy, the potential of solar energy in the liberated territories is 5,000 megawatts. This is more than we currently consume in the country. Considering that we are exporters of electricity today, we have the capacity to produce perhaps almost 1,000 megawatts above our needs. We have power lines with Russia, Iran, Georgia and Turkey, so we export in all directions. Electricity exports are already generating revenues of tens of millions of dollars and will bring hundreds of millions. It will actually be a reality. In addition, I would say that what we are planning to do on a territory four times larger than Luxembourg and equal to the territory of Lebanon will be a unique phenomenon in the world. No-one has ever done anything like that before. We believe that the correct construction of the infrastructure of “smart city” and “smart village” concepts will become a good model for development. We have invited well-known international companies to prepare the master plan. The master plan of the city of Aghdam is almost ready and will be approved soon. Master plans for other cities are also being implemented. Returning to your question, we thought that possessing natural resources such as oil and gas, we should invest in renewable energy, attract investors to renewable energy, and this will be a demonstration of our responsibility.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, we have three more questions. We will start with the question of the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2004-2014, Mr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. Then two questions will be asked at once. Let's start with Mr. Ihsanoglu.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu: Thank you, Madame Chair. Mr. President, it is an honor to meet with Your Excellency again, albeit not in person. First of all, let me convey congratulations on the historic success of Azerbaijan under your leadership – the liberation of territories in Karabakh from the occupation. I also want to express hope that, thanks to your active foreign policy in this region and beyond, peace and stability will be re-established in this corner of the world as a strategic turning point. What are the prospects for the future of the South Caucasus in terms of regional development and cooperation? What are Your Excellency's views of prospects for cooperation? Will this happen through such existing organizations as the CIS, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, or through a stability pact or new initiatives? Concluding my question, I would also like to give a high assessment to the great job the Nizami Ganjavi International Center and our esteemed co-chairs, the dynamic secretariat and its team have been doing. Thank you, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. Thank you for your congratulations. You have always actively supported the just cause of Azerbaijan, its efforts to end the occupation. We appreciate your efforts. I see a state order on your chest. This is an indicator of the feelings of the Azerbaijani people towards you, a recognition of what you have done for our partnership and cooperation.
As for the development of the South Caucasus, everything will depend on the political will and agenda in Armenia again. There is a very effective format of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Georgia in the South Caucasus today. Throughout all the years of independence, perhaps with the exception of the first years, cooperation has been very stable, predictable and friendly. As we have already discussed today, we are implementing joint projects that are important for our peoples and countries. I don't know if Armenia is ready to join this cooperation format. If we assume that they join it, then, of course, it will be possible. We will not object, because I believe that there is great potential for regional cooperation in the South Caucasus, for example, in energy-related sectors. We know that Azerbaijan can potentially become a supplier of energy resources to Armenia. This is possible, and in Soviet times Azerbaijan actually supplied Armenia with energy resources. Of course, after the completion of the construction of the Zangazur corridor, Armenia will have many opportunities for business development. Today, due to the small volume of the domestic market and a very complex logistical infrastructure – if the road between Georgia and Russia is closed due to snow, they will be lost – they have no access to the open sea. They have no rail links with anyone. They do not have a railway connection with international markets. If you cannot predict anything, if investors do not know what to expect, then no-one will invest there. This is why no-one invests there now. This will open up opportunities for them. But they must make their choice. They must put an end to territorial claims not only against Azerbaijan, but also against Turkey. I think that many members of the Nizami Center do not know that the Constitution of Armenia contains territorial claims to Turkey. I have spoken about this many times. This is ridiculous. A country with a small territory and population has territorial claims to a large country, Turkey, whose army is the second biggest army in NATO after the United States. This is ridiculous. It is in their own hands, they must put an end to territorial claims and then, perhaps, they will be able to open communications. Because if they do not normalize relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, they will find themselves in an even worse situation than before the war. Before the second war, they had fake ideologies associated with “their invincible army, brave soldiers and victories”, but this was fake. We demonstrated in a matter of 44 days and in a very difficult territory with five to six lines of defense. We inflicted a complete defeat on this army and destroyed it. They must think realistically, normalize relations with us and Turkey, and stop making claims to Georgian churches. You probably don't know this, but they officially claim that most churches in Georgia are Armenian. They have claims against everyone. During the second Karabakh war, they appealed to everyone – France, USA, Russia, others. You have probably heard about the border incident. Do you know what they did? The prime minister of Armenia called the President of Russia, the President of France and other heads of state. In an attempt to internationalize this small episode on the border, Armenia sent an official letter to the Collective Security Treaty Organization to involve it in the conflict. At the same time, they sent a letter to NATO, and it has been published. This creates exactly the opposite effect and shows that they have claims against everyone. They believe that the whole world should only think about how to help them. But if they consider themselves an independent state, then they must take care of themselves. We are ready. As far as I know, the Turkish side is also ready. However, returning to the question asked by Prime Minister Leterme about how the Nizami Center can help, I believe that it can help a lot by conveying this message through prominent politicians, members of the Center, people whose opinion is appreciated, and try to convince Armenia that it is on the wrong side of history, and perhaps today it has the last chance to fulfill the dream of independence, the dream of becoming a truly independent country.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Mr. President, we have last two questions. The first one will be asked by a great friend of the International Center Nizami Ganjavi and, of course, Azerbaijan, the former General Director of ICESCO, Abdulaziz al-Tuwaijri. Mr. al-Tuwaijri, you can ask your question.
Abdulaziz al-Tuwaijri: It is a great honor for me to participate in discussions with His Excellency President Ilham Aliyev. Once again, I cordially congratulate His Excellency and the Azerbaijani people on the Victory in the war and the restoration of the territories liberated from Armenian occupation. Mr. President, you have always been a supporter of peace, dialogue and cooperation. They had repeatedly wasted the chance, but this time you took the initiative into your own hands. The international community failed to put an end to the aggression, the Azerbaijani people did it. Now the goal is to restore the territories liberated from occupation, bring peace and prosperity there. Mr. President, my question is as follows: Armenia has always shown stubbornness, ignored your calls and the calls of the wise people in the world to come to an agreement and end the occupation. I still don’t think that after the liberation of these territories from occupation, they will come to their senses and put an end to the hostility with Azerbaijan. Do you believe that one day they will realize that they have wasted time, that they should participate in restoring peace and prosperity in the region? Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, all actors in the Caucasus can really cooperate and create a powerful bloc that encourages peace, cooperation and prosperity for all in the region. Secondly, I would like to express my gratitude for the support provided personally by you, the government of Azerbaijan and the people of Azerbaijan during my tenure as General Director of ISESCO. I am proud to be a member of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, whose efforts, activities and successes I highly appreciate. This happened thanks to your patronage, support and control over the activities of the Center. Yes, the Nizami Ganjavi Center can participate in creating conditions for peace and security in the region and convince those willing to participate in such a process. I wish Azerbaijan and Your Excellency every success.
Comment: Can I say a few words to President Aliyev? The former Romanian Prime Minister, Petre Roman, is speaking. May I say a few words to President Aliyev?
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Please.
Petre Roman: May I?
President Ilham Aliyev: Of course!
Petre Roman: Thank you, President Aliyev. I must say that your attitude made a great impression on me. Today you are a victorious leader, a victorious and worthy leader of your country. Even though are a victorious leader, you take pity on Armenian people. It really is a kind of a bridge. This can act as a bridge to reconciliation. We know that when reconciliation begins, war ends. I have a simple question. Mr. President, do you think the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, which has united so many world leaders, can invite some Armenian politicians to dialogue with us? I mean the leaders of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center. This is somewhat reminiscent of a recent question by Yves Leterme. I believe that inviting Armenian politicians to talk with us can become a kind of a first step towards dialogue. This is my question, and congratulations again.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Please, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Thank you very much, I appreciate that. First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. al-Tuwaijri. As General Director of ICESCO, he has always supported Azerbaijan in the liberation of the occupied territories. We remember the remarkable speeches of Mr. al-Tuwaijri at many forums held in Baku, including forums dedicated to multiculturalism. He often came to our country to participate in international events held in Azerbaijan before the pandemic and was our guest. As for his question about when Armenia realizes that it is wasting time, it is a little difficult to answer it. Because for many years the Armenian leaders, inventing myths about themselves and their history, poisoned the minds of their own citizens. Some of them, perhaps quite a few, began to believe in these myths. On closer examination of what is happening there, we saw that the tragedy of the current Armenian society is that many of them really began to believe that Karabakh belongs to them. None of them asked themselves why then this territory is called “Karabakh”? there is no such word in the Armenian language. If this is ancient Armenian land, then why, in Soviet times, the main city of Karabakh, then Nagorno-Karabakh, was named Stepanakert, which was named after Bolshevik terrorist Stepan Shaumyan? If it was an ancient Armenian city, why didn't they rename it? They have no idea about history. In order to find out that Shusha was founded by Azerbaijani Khan Panahali Khan in 1752, one simply needs to look this up in Wikipedia. Azerbaijanis always lived there before the occupation. After the occupation, they changed the names of our cities. They renamed Shusha to “Shushi”. Again, the word “Shushi” has no meaning in Armenian. But Shusha does. Shusha is “shushe” (glass) – because the air there is as transparent as glass. They renamed Aghdam to Akna. They renamed Fuzuli to Varandi or something like that. They changed everything and began to believe that these territories really belong to them. This is a tragedy, a tragedy of Armenian society. In order to understand that they are wasting time, they really need to change their ideological dogmas and undergo treatment. I would not want to be rude or offend anyone, but they really need that. They need to change their psychology and put an end to mythical ideological dogmas they had created themselves and began to believe in. I think that after a while they will understand this. I do hope that the Nizami Center will make effort to help them in this.
As for the question of the Romanian Prime Minister, Mr. Roman, as I have already noted, the conflict is over. There is no Nagorno-Karabakh conflict any more. In Azerbaijan, there is no such concept or entity as “Nagorno-Karabakh”. At the moment, we do not see a problem that might hinder our cooperation. In fact, we are already cooperating. Deputy prime ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia are working together on specific issues related to the Zangazur corridor. Therefore, I believe that the participation of Armenian politicians in the events and discussions organized by the the Nizami Center is possible, in principle. However, it is also clear that the Nizami Center, this unique international institution, was established thanks to the people sharing the same values. The number of outstanding personalities in the Nizami Center already determines the criteria in terms of human qualities and attitudes. All of you share such noble ideas as cooperation, security, good neighborly policy, etc. Therefore, if we talk about some Armenian politicians joining the Center, then I don’t mind that. However, such a person would have to meet these criteria so as not to turn the Nizami Center into a place of confrontation, claims and pretentions. If Mr. Roman and our other friends can find such a politician in Armenia, it would be very interesting to know who he is. But it is likely that there is such a person and my attitude to this will be quite normal.
Petre Roman: Just to start a dialogue...
President Ilham Aliyev: But there should be a dialogue...
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Thank you, Mr. President. It was a delightful dialogue. I can even say that it was a historic dialogue in terms of the geographical coverage of the countries participating here. It is possible to say that also given the high positions the participants held in the recent past. Most of all, it is possible to say this seeing your answers, which were distinguished by clarity and a wealth of information useful to us. At this event, in addition to the number of speeches, we also witness a large number of participants. This is evidence of the fact that serious preparation were made for the organization of such a historic event. With your permission, Mr. President, in conclusion, I would like to express my deep gratitude for your patience, determination, especially your good intentions and continuous support for the ideas of the International Center of Nizami Ganjavi, and their implementation. This was mainly your wish, and we supported it and did our best to create a space for dialogue. I think that today's event is an accurate reflection of the extent to which your wishes and wishes of the members of the Center have been fulfilled. We would also like to express our deep gratitude to Secretary General Rovshan Muradov. He took it upon himself to organize such a representative event, especially considering the participation of Mr. President. I do hope that my colleagues will not be offended by this, because we are former officials and our time in office is gone. You are the incumbent President. I express my gratitude to you and your staff for organizing this event in terms of both protocols, security and precautions. I would like to express my gratitude to the not very numerous but very active, intelligent, hardworking and determined youth in the secretariat. Mr. President, in conclusion and with your permission, I wish you good health and inexhaustible energy. Let me ask you to convey our greetings to the First Vice President of Azerbaijan, Mrs. Aliyeva. Everyone who has been in contact with her within the framework of their positions at the Nizami Ganjavi International Center and in our countries like her very much. It was a very significant event and it will remain in history. Thank you very much, thank you to all the participants for the great questions. Once again, I express my gratitude to Mr. President for the delightful answers.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, dear friends. Madame President, thank you very much for the thoughts about me, our joint work and kind words. Over the years, our partnership and friendship have been tested many times. I would like to thank you and Mr. Serageldin once again for giving me the opportunity to convey this message to everyone. We have talked a lot about a number of issues. I have said that one of the main features of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center is that the voice of Azerbaijan is heard all over the world through this important international organization today. In the first years of independence, we were deprived of this for objective reasons. I am grateful to you for this initiative and for the opportunity to raise these issues. As always, we have deep mutual respect for each other and are sincere. I want to thank all the participants. First of all, of course, I express my gratitude to the co-chairs. I want to say: I am waiting for you. I miss you. We must definitely get together this year.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: We will be there.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much, thank you. Good luck. See you in Baku.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: See you in Baku.
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