Ilham Aliyev attended the Absheron EPS Project Marine Works Opening Ceremony
19 September 2020, 12:35
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev attended the opening ceremony for marine works in the Absheron field at the Heydar Aliyev Baku Deep Water Jackets Plant.
Following the ceremony, President Ilham Aliyev gave an interview to Azerbaijan Television, Ictimai Television and Real Television.
- Mr. President, today, we witnessed another milestone in the development of our country’s oil and gas sector – the opening ceremony for marine works in the Absheron field. How would you assess the significance of this project?
- This is a significant event because a new phase is beginning for the Absheron gas condensate field. I am confident that this phase will be successful too, and thus Azerbaijan will celebrate this landmark development and make a momentous step within its oil and gas strategy.
The Absheron field's history is somewhat different because the Absheron gas field's first contract was signed with foreign partners in the late 1990s. I remember those days vividly because we had high hopes for the Absheron field. Our geologists, especially Khoshbakht Yusifzade, were convinced that there were reasonably large gas reserves there. Besides, the Absheron field contract was signed after contract on Shah Deniz gas condensate field which was evidence that Azerbaijan was transitioning from an oil-producing country to a gas-producing one.
Unfortunately, after some time, the first contract was terminated. The reason was that the exploration well came out dry. I remember our prominent geologist Khoshbakht Yusifzade saying at the time that the location of the well was not chosen correctly and trying to convince foreign partners to make some adjustments to their operations program. Unfortunately, they did not listen to him, even though no-one else in the world knows the Caspian Sea better than Yusifzade does. But no result was achieved and a foreign company abandoned the field. But let me say again that we had full confidence that there are substantial gas reserves here. I am glad that Total came to the same conclusion, and relevant documents were signed with SOCAR. Then subsequent work followed and a large gas condensate field was ultimately discovered. I should say that Khoshbakht Yusifzade was the one to break the news of the field's discovery to me – a truly landmark event. So a vast resource has become available for the development of our oil and gas potential.
This field has gas reserves of 350-360 billion cubic meters. But I believe there will be even more. Our experience already shows that available resources are often more than expected, and 100 million tons of condensate is an equivalent of crude oil. So Azerbaijan will continue to be a reliable supplier of gas. I must also say that the gas produced from Absheron at the initial stage will cover domestic needs because there is a demand for that. The growing population and the ever-increasing industry require that. The gas to be extracted at the second stage will be exported to world markets. The full-field development of this field will be handled in stages.
In the meantime, this field is of great importance in keeping our oil production stable, because 100 million tons of condensate will also be delivered to world markets via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline. In this way, the Absheron field will partially compensate for the present natural decline in production happening on Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli.
So this is yet another significant development. All these installations have been produced in Azerbaijan. Last month, I attended the sail-away of the "Karabakh" jacket here. This jacket is already there, in front of us, offshore, and the sail-away of other jackets today is a significant event, of course. I am sure that the first gas and condensate will be produced at the Absheron field on schedule - in two years.
- Mr. President, the professional holiday of oil workers, is approaching. Could you please share your wishes on this occasion?
I would like to congratulate the oil workers on the upcoming professional holiday and wish them continued success. Oil workers have always enjoyed great respect in Azerbaijan. It is still the case today, and the work of oil workers is true heroism. An oil worker's profession is both respectable and risky, and I want to say again that their work is real heroism.
Meanwhile, oil workers have contributed a great deal to our country's successful development. Today, the critical part of the country's economy is associated with the oil and gas sector, which will continue to be the case for many years to come. I am not saying that other sectors are not developing, but they will not soon catch up with oil and gas revenues no matter how much they may develop. Simultaneously, our new projects such as Absheron today, "Karabakh" a month ago, and other projects' implementation will further reinforce oil and gas's vital role.
Therefore, our country's prosperous future will largely depend on oil workers' profession and their achievements. I am delighted that I spent nine years of my life working for the State Oil Company. The experience gained in those years is precious for me. I have fond memories. This experience and knowledge are still helping me today. As Vice President of the company, I was in charge of external contacts and played an active role in preparing and signing key contracts. It was a great pleasure to work alongside our outstanding oil workers. The legendary “Oil Worker Gurban” – Gurban Abbasov. This giant derrick barge carries his name. I worked with him and knew him as a competent, professional and courageous man with a position of principle. It has been a great experience to contact such a person and work with him. We regularly met at the board of the State Oil Company to discuss issues. I think that “Oil Worker Gurban” should be regarded as the number one oil worker in the world.
At the same time, I worked alongside Khoshbakht Yusifzade, our legendary oil worker and geologist. In the State Oil Company's old building, our offices were next to each other, and we shared one reception. We met every day and still meet today. I am glad that Khoshbakht Yusifzade is taking part in today's ceremony, that we pressed the button together because he has played a tremendous role in the development of the Absheron field.
Today, oil workers see that their work serves the Azerbaijani people's interests, which is very important. They know that both today and in the future, our country's political and economic achievements will be underpinned further by the oil and gas factor. It inspires them even more. I want to say again that I have always been proud to have spent nine years of my life in the State Oil Company. As a colleague of oil workers, I sincerely congratulate them and wish them continued success.
- Mr. President, Azerbaijan is an ancient home to oil. Oil has been extracted in our country for a long time – during the reign of Tsarist Russia, in the Soviet period, and current years of independence. How would you characterize the role of the oil factor back then and throughout the years of independence?
Yes, Azerbaijan is a country where oil was industrially produced for the first time in the middle of the 19th century. In the mid-20th century, for the first time in history, oil was produced from an offshore field in Azerbaijan. But if we look at history, we will see that Azerbaijan's oil did not serve the Azerbaijani people's interests. During the reign of Tsarist Russia, the rich were becoming even more prosperous. The poor were finding themselves in an even more difficult situation. People worked extremely hard. Let me say again: oil produced in Azerbaijan did not serve the interests of the Azerbaijani people.
If we had been an independent country then, I am sure that Azerbaijan could have become the world's wealthiest country. But we were not independent. Wealthy oil tycoons indeed spent a part of their income on charity, especially Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev, Mukhtarov, and Asadullayev. As you know, Taghiyev laid the Shollar water pipeline to Baku. Moreover, he attached great importance to education as he saw that the Azerbaijani youth was left on the sidelines of the education process. As such, its development and advancement to higher positions in the future could be problematic. Therefore, I believe that among the oil magnates of Azerbaijan, he had a unique role. He helped our family, as well. My grandfather Aziz Aliyev was born into a low-income family in the ancient Azerbaijani land of Iravan Khanate and wanted to study. But he did not have the money to do so. He wrote a letter to Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev, asking him to provide him with financial assistance. He wanted to be a doctor. Of course, Taghiyev did not know him. Still, as a patriot and a noble person, he sent him money. Aziz Aliyev entered St. Petersburg Military Medical Academy with that money, where he studied and became a great doctor and later a prominent statesman.
I would also like to note that during World War II, he was sent to Dagestan to take up the post of First Secretary and led Dagestan during the war. At that time, secret plans were nurtured on the deportation of Dagestanis and other peoples of the Caucasus. This decision was already practically made by Soviet leadership. Thanks to the efforts by Aziz Aliyev, his very courageous actions, the Dagestanis were saved from this tragedy. The memory of him is still cherished in Dagestan and there is a statue of him there. In other words, those were our wealthy oil magnates at that time. But, of course, they could not help everyone. Besides, there were many Armenians among Baku's oil magnates at the time. They spent the money they had earned in Azerbaijan against the Azerbaijani people's interests in many cases. Thus, during Tsarist Russia, the income of the Azerbaijani people from oil was zero.
Before Soviet times, if Azerbaijan had not lost its state independence in 1920, I think it could have become one of the wealthiest countries since the oil produced in Azerbaijan made up most of the world oil market. However, in 1920 the independence was lost and Azerbaijani oil did not help the Azerbaijani people. At that time, especially during the war, people working in the oil fields lived in severe conditions and worked day and night. I can cite a figure that, during the war, Azerbaijan produced a record level of 23 million tons of oil. So oil production was increased almost twice in just two years. Modern technologies did not exist at the time, and this growth, for the most part, was due to the exploitation of human labor. I should say that this also affected our family because my other grandfather Alirza Aliyev came to Baku from Nakhchivan to earn money and worked in the oil industry for months. It had a detrimental impact on his health, so he died at a young age.
In other words, Azerbaijan's oil was being fully taken advantage of. Azerbaijani oil workers had made an exceptional contribution to the Soviet army's victory in World War II. At that time, Azerbaijan provided 80 percent of the Soviet Union's fuel and 90 percent of lubricants. Military equipment was produced in Azerbaijan, while more than 300,000 Azerbaijanis perished in that war. But let us recall the circumstances that we faced when the Soviet Union collapsed: rundown oil infrastructure. According to today's presentation I saw, the Oil Rocks would be given a new life because the Absheron field will be linked to the Oil Rocks. But what state were the Oil Rocks in back then? I remember first visiting Oil Rocks as President in 2004. The situation was dire as all the platforms had eroded and fallen apart. Working there was very difficult and dangerous. Oil production declined and gas production failed to meet our country's demand. Half of Baku was left without natural gas. As far as the regions are concerned, there was no such thing as gas there at all. So the economic situation was challenging.
In the final years of the Soviet Union, great injustices were committed against Azerbaijan. In particular, Azerbaijani people's executioner - Gorbachev and his gang hated Azerbaijan – in fact, not only Azerbaijanis but also all the Muslims. I know for sure that they had a strong feeling of hatred. As a result, the Armenians revolted and demanded that Nagorno-Karabakh be separated from Azerbaijan and annexed to Armenia. It happened just two weeks after Heydar Aliyev was ousted from the Politburo. The Heydar Aliyev factor used to curtail their brazenness. However, Gorbachev's immediate entourage consisted of Armenians and no action was taken to address this groundless claim.
On the contrary, Gorbachev's government 100 percent sided with the Armenians and the first steps were taken to separate Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan. Of course, some people in Azerbaijan may not remember or know this, but this history must be recognized. Back then, the Soviet government decided to establish a select committee in Nagorno-Karabakh, and Gorbachev's aide Volsky was appointed to that committee. Volsky was a staunch pro-Armenian, and while he was working there, he did his best to erase Azerbaijan's historical heritage from Nagorno-Karabakh. The first signs of the policy of ethnic cleansing appeared in Khankandi. The Azerbaijanis were practically driven out of Khankandi while Volsky was in office. In this way, the opportunity of alienation of Nagorno-Karabakh from the rest of Azerbaijan emerged. Unfortunately, the then Azerbaijan's leadership remained a mere spectator and failed to raise its voice. They acted very cowardly as they did not want to harm relations with the center. The people who governed Azerbaijan at the time betrayed the Azerbaijani people.
The bloody January tragedy followed. Gorbachev the Executioner committed a massacre against peaceful citizens. The blood of the Azerbaijani people was shed. The Khojaly genocide was next. Together with ruthless Armenian detachments, the 366th Regiment of the Soviet Union perpetrated the Khojaly genocide. Yes, the Armenians made up the overwhelming majority of servicemen in this regiment. Still, it was a Soviet Union’s regiment that played a decisive role in ethnic cleansing against the Azerbaijanis, the Khojaly genocide, and our lands' occupation. Otherwise, the Armenians could not have occupied our lands on their own. So we have witnessed all this.
Azerbaijan has made an invaluable contribution to the Soviet Union's victory in World War II – both here in the rear and at the front line. A ceremony commemorating liberation of the Sambek Heights was recently held in the Rostov Region of Russia. I am very grateful to the governor of Rostov for recognizing heroic deeds and the selflessness of Azerbaijanis. In the meantime, Russia's state television, Rossiya-1, interviewed me on this occasion, because it was the Azerbaijanis, the 416th Taganrog Division, who cleared the Sambek Heights and the Rostov Region from the Nazis. About 12,000 people served in this division. But the absolute majority of them, more than 11,000 people, were Azerbaijanis. The division was reorganized three times because there were incredibly many casualties. They cleared Rostov from the Nazis, did not allow the Nazis in Mozdok to cross into Baku. We did that, the heroic people of Azerbaijan did. Azerbaijani officer Majidov planted the Victory flag on the Brandenburg Gate. But is this in the history books? No! Whomever you ask, most people do not know. Why, because this history was erased. The Azerbaijanis' heroism was erased from history.
Those sitting in Moscow – Mikoyans and similar anti-Azerbaijani elements – bent over backward to conceal the Azerbaijanis heroism. Mehdi Huseynzade is a legendary paramilitary who was given the title of a Hero of the Soviet Union years after the war and only at the Azerbaijani side's insistence. While in Slovenia, I visited his grave. We held a large ceremony there. There I saw Slovenians that fought alongside him. They cried as I spoke to them because their impressions were fascinating. They told me that there was no such hero elsewhere in the world. In other words, this was concealed and deliberately hushed up.
So we saw all this during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Notice that we have been independent for less than 30 years, but look at what we have achieved. Today, Azerbaijan's oil fully serves the Azerbaijani people's interests - our major oil and gas projects and all others across different spheres. Azerbaijan holds top tiers in all international rankings. The infrastructure policy pursued by Azerbaijan and the implementation of infrastructure projects are recognized as examples. In Soviet times, there were no gas pipelines in our mountain regions. We have extended the first gas lines to Dashkasan, Gadabay and Lerik. At that time, Azerbaijani gas was transported to other republics, but there was no gas in some parts country. Now gasification has reached 96 percent. Today, we are in leading places globally in terms of infrastructure projects. The Davos Forum ranks Azerbaijan 11th and 12th in terms of air and rail transport.
We are ranked 27th in the world for the quality of the road infrastructure. Look at other infrastructure and social infrastructure projects – 3,700 schools have been built and renovated in independence years. More than 700 hospitals have been built and provided with the latest equipment. We have become a spacefaring nation. We implement colossal oil and gas projects. It is not just the economic and industrial spheres but also sports. We finished 14th in the world for the number of medals at the Olympics. Was this possible to imagine in the Soviet era? If someone had said at the time that one of these was possible, people would probably laugh at them. This is the advantage of independence.
We live in a free and independent country; we are masters of our destiny. Our natural resources serve the interests of our people. We have invested oil revenues very efficiently. We are protecting them and strengthening our army. Therefore, the advantages of independence are apparent. If someone remembers the past with nostalgia, we must stand up to these people. Every individual who opposes independence and tries to downgrade it betrays our nation. Independence is our core value, and the stronger we are, the stronger is our independence.
- Mr. President, oil production in our country over the years has caused severe environmental problems. On your instructions, large-scale work is underway to improve the ecological situation, to protect the environment. What can you say about this?
- Yes, you are right. This is a grave issue because Baku, the Absheron Peninsula and Sumgayit were presented as zones of an environmental disaster at that time. And in fact, they were an environmental disaster. Many things have been forgotten now, but our most oil-polluted area was the Bibi-Heybat Harbor. The Bibi-Heybat Harbor has now turned into a zone of beautiful parks and recreation. The Bibi-Heybat settlement has actually been rebuilt. In other words, the Bibi-Heybat Harbor was a zone of environmental disaster and many probably recall that landscape. Another disastrous area was Balakhani and its oil fields. But look at Balakhani now! It has turned into a beautiful settlement, and work is already being completed there. I will travel there myself to inspect how my instructions are being fulfilled. And this is true for not only Balakhani, but all the settlements. I said that Baku's suburban settlements should be improved, with better conditions for people, and all their concerns addressed. The aesthetic appearance of these settlements must correspond to the modern standards. All historical sites in the settlements need to be restored, and we will give them a new life. Let us recall the Balakhani landfill. Poisonous smoke from there enveloped the whole city – it was poison. When I started working on this issue, some said that it was impossible to extinguish it because it smolders from within, that gases were formed down below, this was a hazardous place and they could not approach it. Some even suggested building a sarcophagus over it. There were such ridiculous proposals too. But we found a way out and thoroughly cleaned the place. Today a beautiful park has been built there, and an incineration plant operates there. Next to it is another zone of environmental disaster – Lake Boyukshor. Part of it has been cleared. It was also an ecological disaster zone because it was an open oil reservoir. At the same time, all sewage water was discharged there. Currently, a boulevard has been created there and birds sit on the lake.
There are other projects. Let's recall the Black City. This concept no longer exists, and instead, the White City has been built there. When we implemented the White City urban development project, at least two meters of the ground layer was removed. All these were oil deposits, tar, and poison. The "AzerNeftYag" oil refinery is located nearby. Its service life is also coming to an end, as two years from now, the reconstruction at the Heydar Aliyev Oil Refinery will be completed, and Euro-5 gasoline will be produced. So vehicles that pollute the air the most will be provided with clean petrol, and the "AzerNeftYag" refinery will be dismantled. All tanks and installations will be removed, making way for a large park. There was also the iodine-bromine plant. Some may not know this, but it was also located along the airport road. It was also poisonous. We disposed of it and transported the sediment to a landfill. Or look at the environmental situation in Sumgayit. Earlier, when driving past Sumgayit, people rolled up their car windows so that the stench and poisons would not penetrate the car. Today Sumgayit resembles a resort city. As the industrial potential of it strengthened, modern treatment plants and industrial parks were created. Sumgayit was considered possibly the most polluted city in the Soviet Union, but today it is one of the cleanest cities. We did all this because it is our people's lives, our children's health, and that of the coming generation is at stake. Did they pay any attention to this during the times of Tsarist Russia or the Soviet period? No! They only cared about a plan, about production, exploitation – give us oil, provide us with gas; but what about people's lives, their livelihood and health? Therefore, these issues are a priority for us.
After being elected President, I said, and this was one of my first statements, that we must turn "black gold" into human capital and serve our people. In this area, we must consider the human factor because oil is not an end; it is a means for creating a better life, better conditions, building a better country, and we are doing precisely that.
Environmental projects are not over yet. There is still much to be done. At present, oil dams on the Absheron Peninsula are being cleaned. I ordered to carry out cleaning work at all oil fields, plant trees there, as was the case here in Bibi-Heybat. We must turn the zones of ecological disaster into zones of ecological paradise. This work will continue.
- Mr. President, what is the status of projects carried out in the country's oil and gas sector?
Projects are well underway. Our primary source of income is Azeri, Chirag and Gunashli fields. Work there is going according to plan. A new project, called "Azeri Central East" is being implemented there now. The cost of this project is about $7 billion. Thanks, to this project's implementation, production from new sources will increase, which will compensate for the decline.
There are currently more than 120 wells operating at the Azeri, Chirag and Gunashli fields. At the same time, these fields have ample gas reserves. It is conditionally called "deep gas", and now the State Oil Company, together with partners, is carrying out relevant work to develop the "deep gas". The Shah Deniz-2 project is being implemented. The volume of gas supplied to Turkey via the TANAP pipeline is increasing every year.
Whereas a year ago, Azerbaijan's gas volumes were in fourth or fifth place on the Turkish market, we are in the first place now, which is very important for us and Turkey, because gas ensures the energy security of any country. Today gas is supplied to Turkey from a brotherly country, and additional steps will be taken to boost volumes. The gas produced in the second phase of the Absheron field development will also be supplied to Turkey via the TANAP pipeline. It may also be supplied to other markets. At the same time, work to develop the "Karabakh" field is progressing on schedule. The jacket we see here now will be sailed away offshore. I hope that the first oil will be produced at the "Karabakh" field in a year or two. This field's peculiarity is that there are more oil reserves there, which is of great importance for maintaining production at a stable level.
Another up-and-coming project is called "Shallow Water Absheron". This project also has excellent prospects. Drilling operations will begin in these fields in a few months. I do hope that we will discover large oil reserves there as well. Work is going according to plan in the "Umid" and "Babak" projects, in which SOCAR is the sole operator. These are also very promising projects, and we plan to increase these projects' investment capacity because, I repeat, we always need energy resources for domestic needs. At the same time, our export potential will be secured. There are other promising projects as well. In general, I can say that although the "Contract of the Century" was signed in 1994 and many contracts have been signed since then, 26 years have passed; the interest in Azerbaijan's oil potential in the world is not decreasing. On the contrary, it is growing.
- Mr. President, my question is related to the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. How would you assess the current state of negotiations?
My assessment of the current state of negotiations is negative. I think the Azerbaijani people fully agree with me. As you know, I have always told the truth to the people of Azerbaijan. I believe this is the only right policy. The people must understand what is happening, where we are and what our policy is. In my speeches and meetings with the media, I clarify topical issues, which is very important. Citizens must know this, and they need to get the right information to do the proper analysis.
Negotiations are virtually non-existent. I have said that we will not participate in negotiations for the sake of their imitation. It does not mean that we are refusing to negotiate. It means that we do not want to join Armenia's cunning policy. Our participation in imitation of negotiations would correspond to the essence of this imitation. The Armenian leader has disrupted the negotiations process. He is not disrupting it but has already disrupted it. Their absurd statements and provocative actions render the talks useless. Unfortunately, Armenia’s current leadership fails to realize this responsibility. They also fail to analyze the consequences of their actions appropriately. However, there are rationally thinking people and politicians in Armenia. These politicians are already raising this issue and telling the Armenian public that the incumbent Armenian leadership is dragging Armenia into the abyss.
As you know, two years ago, when a coup took place in Armenia, Azerbaijan remained neutral. In other words, we did not attempt to capitalize on the situation. We thought it was inevitable because the previous Armenian government only evoked abhorrence among the Armenian people. This military-criminal regime had brought Armenia to an appalling state. So the new government began to make very encouraging statements that they wanted to resolve this issue. They criticized the previous government and sent us positive signals through unofficial channels, asking us for some time. We also lived with hope that the new government would reform all areas, including this area, and would correct the previous erroneous policy. This idea became even stronger after I met with the prime minister of Armenia in Dushanbe. At that time, I was asked to give them some time because Armenia's domestic situation was difficult; representatives of the previous government sought revenge, which would negatively impact the negotiations. They claimed to be inclined to negotiate and wanted to resolve the issue. The request was made to strengthen the ceasefire. My word was that we must hold serious talks and, of course, the ceasefire would be even stronger.
After that meeting, both sides made separate statements, as agreed. The statements’ main essence was that we met, held an informal and unofficial meeting, and agreed to accelerate the negotiations and strengthen the ceasefire. These two matters go hand-in-hand. Otherwise, it would mean reinforcing the status quo, and we can never agree to that. For some time, the Minsk Group's co-chairs also lived with hopes and occasionally, during meetings, put forward theories that were full of hope.
However, ridiculous ideas voiced by Armenia's Prime Minister last year have dealt a serious blow to the negotiations process. By claiming "Karabakh is Armenia", he not only spread a lie around the world, and this continues to this day, but also made the negotiations process pointless. If he thinks that Karabakh is Armenia, then what can we talk about? If he believes Karabakh is Armenia, although the whole world rejected this nonsense, what kind of peace agreement can we talk about? In other words, it was a political provocation.
The second political provocation was that Azerbaijan should negotiate with Nagorno-Karabakh, not Armenia. It also means changing the format, and, of course, we can never agree to that because we have no contact with this puppet regime of the criminal junta. At the same time, the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, of course, could never agree to that. True, they are diplomats and try to use diplomatic language. However, I think the Armenian side has already been told about such statements' harmfulness, which creates problems.
These statements give grounds to say that Armenia has withdrawn from the talks – not us but Armenia. This being the case, it will just be irresponsible, if we were to initiate the re-start of negotiations or continue them. We should deceive neither ourselves nor our people. Negotiations are not going on, and this is not due to the pandemic. Of course, the pandemic has intervened, but negotiations are not happening even without the pandemic. These politically flawed and harmful statements do not leave room for negotiations. But look at their other actions. Armenia is conducting an illegal settlement. It contravenes every international convention. They are not smart enough; they do not have the experience or knowledge if they demonstrate this so explicitly. These actions are entirely contrary to the Geneva Convention. It amounts to a crime. It is a crime to bring people to the occupied territories and settle them there illegally.
The Pashinyan regime is doing this consciously. It is a provocation against us. Armenians post it on the Internet – some Lebanese Armenian family has arrived and is doing something there. After that, the puppet regime's so-called leader held a pseudo inauguration in our ancient, historical city of Shusha. It is another provocation and an open insult to us. Do they think we can tolerate that? Who is doing this provocation? They are! We do not commit any provocations. We simply stand our ground.
Armenia's Prime Minister puts forward conditions. Who do you think you are to speak in the manner of putting forward conditions? If we were to talk to him in such a way, his political path would soon come to an end. I have said that we are rejecting these preposterous conditions. We have only one condition – they must withdraw from our lands unconditionally and completely. It is reflected in UN Security Council resolutions. They are staging some travesty exercises there. In other words, every single step is an open provocation against us.
The July provocation was an armed provocation, and it is no secret to anyone that Armenia instigated it. A high-ranking official of one of the Minsk Group co-chair countries has openly confirmed that. I said back then and I am saying today that we have no military objectives in Armenia. If we wanted to, we could have crossed into Armenia and had every military capability to do so. We chose not to because this is not part of our military concept – unless we are seriously provoked, if they do, then there will be no limits for us. Let everyone know that there will be no limits. If they are flouting international law, why should we abide by it? We will defy it too, but the end will be bitter for them.
After the July provocation, the one in August followed. Acts of terror against our civilians - a subversion group was sent to commit military provocations against our servicemen, and the leader of that group was captured. He gave evidence, made a confession, mentioned names of those who sent them and how. In other words, he is not a shepherd or a child who got lost. They usually call all their spies “herders” or “mentally ill”. We already have five or six of them. So they are all herders or mentally ill? It turns out that the most people in Armenia are either shepherds or deranged. They wanted to call this one a herder too, but they can no longer do that. Who committed this provocation? Did we send a subversion group? No, they did! Did we commit the July events? They did! Did we kill their citizens? No, they did! There were no civilian casualties among the Armenians, but our 76-year-old elder was dead, and many homes were destroyed.
Therefore, these provocations are, in fact, the logical outcome of that policy. The aim is to undermine the negotiations, to put the blame for that on Azerbaijan and maintain the status-quo unchanged. This is their goal. This is why they think they can do it but they are wrong. The sooner they understand this, the better.
Mr. President, in July Armenia committed a military provocation on the state border and received a worthy response by Azerbaijan's army. The provocations of the occupying country continue to this day. In your opinion, what objective Armenia pursues by doing all this?
I believe I have already expressed my thoughts in sufficient detail about one of the goals of this provocation. Another goal was that a month after Pashinyan came to power through a coup; we have carried out a successful Gunnut operation. The Gunnut operation was yet another defeat for them. To be honest, at that time, shortly after the operation, I gave orders not to disclose detailed information about it because, in contrast to the Armenian leadership, we are not after PR. It is the essence that matters. We carried out this operation. The Nakhchivan Standalone Military units captured critical strategic heights very skillfully, professionally and without a single casualty. We strengthened our positions. The Armenians woke up to realize that we were already there. They did not dare and were too afraid to push us out of there. The road leading from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh is already under our control. Let them not forget this. We see what vehicles are passing by and how. They were concealing that because Pashinyan had just come to power, and immediately there was such a bitter and humiliating defeat. So they were covering that up. I thought that if they were hiding this, then so will we. First of all, why was that necessary? We achieved our goal. Secondly, let me repeat that we did not want to give the previous Armenian government ammunition in this way because the situation in Armenia was very turbulent at that time. It is unstable even now. If that had immediately become clear, perhaps there may have been some internal revanchist sentiments. Yet journalists affiliated with the former government did go there and saw Azerbaijani soldiers sitting at the top of their village. They gradually began to develop this subject. Then, when it was already publicized, I allowed disclosing our actions to everyone. A film crew went there and did some shooting. You were there too and saw it all.
So the second goal was for Pashinyan to achieve at least some kind of a victory. This is how they planned the July events because they knew that we have border troops stationed along an extensive part of our state border. This speaks volumes about our intentions. It shows that we have already deployed border guards on a significant section of this border, not an army. They believed that they could easily cross into our territory; seize some lands, and then report that they have occupied Azerbaijani lands – just like their defense minister said there would be a “new war over new territories”. This is also one of the manifestations of their provocations. But that did not work either. They could not seize an inch of our land. We dealt them crushing blows. Some of these strikes were shown on the Internet. Their strongholds were destroyed by precision fire. I want to reiterate: we no longer have any military obstacles in our way to move into the territory of Armenia. I was briefed several times throughout the day. On my orders, Azerbaijan's army could have crossed into Armenia's territory. But we did not do that. First, we are a responsible country. Second, we do not yet have any objectives across Armenia's territory. But if the provocations persist, then, of course, we will reconsider our policy.
So that did not work either. Now Armenians are trying to portray this defeat as a victory. Where this victory is? Now this is the question. This is the first. Secondly, if this was a victory, why did you call on the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)? Why are you raising a hue and cry? Why are you trying to involve the CSTO? I believe that one of the reasons for their provocation was to test the response of their allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation because they are preparing for another large-scale war. We have operational intelligence. We know what is happening around us. We are aware, and we must be. Our intelligence agencies work very efficiently. I can say that much, no more. Therefore, probing is carried out to involve the Collective Security Treaty Organization and its allies. But that did not work out either. The Collective Security Treaty Organization did not make any statement, only commented. Seeing that their attempts had failed, they retreated. Today they are re-inventing the myths that they allegedly won a significant victory. But the reality is this.
It shows again that Armenia is an aggressive state. Their hatred for Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis is reflected in their ugly policies. Again, I want to warn them that if they do not give up their sordid plans, they will face dire consequences. They are preparing for a new war. They are concentrating their forces near the line of contact. We see and monitor everything. We follow all of their movements. Of course, we will defend ourselves. Just as we protected ourselves in Tovuz, we will defend ourselves in all other directions. The events in Tovuz were yet another lesson for them. If they want to learn a new lesson, bring it on.
- Mr. President, during the provocation in July and afterward, the local and foreign media circulated reports about the supply of weapons from Russia and Serbia to Armenia. What is your take on that?
First of all, I want to say again that Armenia is a constant threat to us. Therefore, we must monitor and be aware of all the events related to Armenia. This begs the question: how did we learn about the supply of weapons to them from Serbia and Russia, especially from Serbia? Of course, we learned about this from reliable sources. Signals on this matter were communicated to these countries through diplomatic channels. Simultaneously, I had telephone conversations with both countries' presidents and expressed my concern. I noted that this raises many questions for the Azerbaijani public, mainly because these goods' delivery became very frequent, occurred immediately after the end of the clashes and lasted from July to September. This is already a fact. Therefore, I thought that as a responsible country, we must clarify this issue. In general, I believe that if there is any problem, question or concern, then why should we conceal it? We have to talk about it, and we did. The President's press service published relevant statements related to telephone conversations. I believe that the information they contain is sufficient.
Of course, this troubles us very much because Armenia has unleashed an armed aggression against Azerbaijan. Armenia is a country sponsoring terrorism. The intensive nature of the weapons supply, of course, seriously bothers us because they are used against us. These weapons are used to kill our children and other citizens. Therefore, this issue, like any other, is in the spotlight. We will continue to monitor the situation.
By the way, I must say that I highly appreciate the Georgian government's actions in these events. As you know, Georgia did not allow the transportation of weapons to Armenia through its territory. That is why transport planes delivered weapons to Armenia across the Caspian countries' territories and by air. Georgia acted like a very reliable partner. I would like to express my gratitude to the Georgian government for this. I can say that we see the Georgian government as a reliable partner and friend. Intergovernmental ties are strengthening every day, and many important projects are being implemented. Soon, our Foreign Minister will pay an official visit to Georgia. It will be his first visit to Georgia in this capacity. The program of the visit is being prepared now. There are many issues on the agenda. Both historical ties and shared interests bind us. Today, the relations and developing cooperation between Georgia and Azerbaijan serve the interests of both countries. I want to reiterate that Georgia and Azerbaijan's governments are in close contact with each other, and it will remain the case.
But it is also true that the Armenians living in Armenia and Georgia and ethnic Armenians disguised under Georgian names are doing their utmost to undermine Azerbaijan-Georgia ties. The Armenians of the world were the source of some provocative events in Georgia last year. Their main goal is to disrupt Azerbaijan-Georgia relations. But they will not achieve this, because, let me say again, we are reliable partners and openly discuss all issues. Azerbaijan has always been close to Georgia. I do not want to list these historical facts now, but Azerbaijan has always stood for Georgia's development, prosperity, and stability. But look at how Armenia is behaving. At the instigation of Armenia's leadership, some local Armenians living in Georgia are engaged in provocative actions. They display separatist tendencies. They secretly conduct provocative work there, ideological work.
Is Armenia sincere towards Georgia? No! They are putting forward unfounded claims against Georgian churches. Historical sites in the region where Armenians live are being Armenianized. They do not show due respect for the state symbols of Georgia. At the same time, Armenia has always voted against Georgia in the UN and other international organizations. In matters of territorial integrity, it has always opposed Georgia. How is this possible that you do not recognize the territorial integrity of this country? At the same time, I am sure that the Georgian people have not forgotten what atrocities the Armenian battalion under Baghramyan committed during the war in Abkhazia, whose side it fought and whose side it is on today. The Armenians living in Abkhazia have already seized a significant part of power there. Azerbaijan has always been close to Georgia. We have demonstrated and will demonstrate an unambiguous position connected with Georgia's territorial integrity in all international organizations. The difference is this. Of course, I think that the Georgian people know very well who their friend is and who their enemy is.
As you know, Armenia is taking action to establish close contacts with some Muslim countries, causing a legitimate backlash by the Azerbaijani public. Recently, the Egyptian leadership received the Armenian foreign minister who was on a visit to this country. To what extent does all this affect Muslim solidarity?
It has a very negative impact. The Azerbaijani public quite rightly expresses its concern. We also express concern at the state level. As you know, Azerbaijan has always been very active on the cause of Islamic solidarity. Many events have been organized in our country. We have always tried to help Muslim countries and defend their interests in international organizations. Meanwhile, if a Muslim country nominated its candidacy within an international organization, we have always supported it during the voting. That is to say; this solidarity should be proven through deeds, not words. We are one of the countries that have always attached great importance to Islamic solidarity in our foreign policy. You can see this in my foreign policy speeches. One of our top priorities is relations with Muslim countries because we are part of the Muslim world. The countries that support us the most at the UN are also Muslim. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has always taken the right position on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Many resolutions have been adopted, including one related to the Tovuz provocation. That is why we are always very sensitive to Muslim countries' rapprochement with Armenia because Armenia has occupied our lands. In the meantime, Muslim nations should know that Armenia has committed genocide against Muslim religious sites and cultural genocide in the occupied territories. Look at the state of our mosques! Do not people in Muslim countries know that Armenians keep animals, pigs and cows in our ruined mosques? Is not this an affront to the Muslim world? Every Muslim official must visualize those scenes while shaking a hand of an Armenian official whose hands are stained with Azerbaijani people's blood. At the same time, I am told that the Armenian foreign minister met with a particular religious leader in Egypt. Did not anyone tell this religious leader that these people have desecrated Muslim mosques, insulted the entire Muslim world?
We know for sure that the official representatives of Armenia, while in Europe, to gain Europeans' sympathy towards them, cite living among Muslim countries as the main argument. They say that their three neighbors are Muslim countries and that they are the ones who have preserved Christianity in this region. The Muslim states around them are enemies. Yes, Armenia considers Turkey and Azerbaijan its enemies. But in its relations with Iran, it always hypocritically speaks of friendship. How is this possible? What kind of friendship is this? You destroy, demolish, desecrate Muslim mosques, keep cows and pigs there, and offend Muslims' dignity, and then you say, let us be friends. I do not understand such friendships. Both bilaterally and multilaterally, in official speeches, I have repeatedly addressed Muslim countries' leaders, urging them to take this issue into account.
Let me say again that Armenia is not an ordinary country. Armenia is a country where Islamophobia is a state policy. They raise their children in the spirit of hatred for the Muslims. They want to instill this ideology in their children.
Therefore, we will adhere to our principled position. We will always pay attention to this issue. I want to say to the leaders of all Muslim countries again: Armenia is not your friend. Secondly, what interests can there be in Armenia? It is a failed state. It has only one international name – a failed state. The economy has collapsed, the market is limited, the population is shrinking, and it is not attractive for any investment. It does not invest in any country, either. This country is a transportation dead end. What interests can there be? If such steps are taken due to a particular situation, due to someone, then this is only regrettable.
-In connection with Armenia's provocation against Azerbaijan in July, Turkey unequivocally supported our fair position and, as always, declared that it was next to Azerbaijan. Following this, Azerbaijan-Turkey joint exercises were held, causing great fear in Armenia and some countries' concern. What can you say about this?
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to my dear brother, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once again. The people of Azerbaijan were delighted with the unequivocal, explicit and harsh statements by the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the aftermath of the events in Tovuz. It once again demonstrated that Turkey has always stood by Azerbaijan. That was an embodiment of Azerbaijan-Turkey unity and brotherhood. At the same time, other officials, the Chairman of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey and other brothers have repeatedly demonstrated solidarity with Azerbaijan and expressed support. It shows again that Turkey sides with justice, truth and stands with its brothers. We, too, are always close to Turkey in all matters – this is known very well in Turkey, in Azerbaijan and worldwide. We will be next to each other and we will be together. Our unity is our greatest asset. We share a common history, ethnic roots, religion, language and culture with Turkey. Based on this heritage, we have built strong ties in all spheres – political, economic, energy, transport, cultural, military. That is why the trade turnover between us has been growing rapidly lately. Among foreign countries, Azerbaijan has made the largest investments in Turkey, and Turkey has been the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan, and this process continues. The ties between our peoples are at the highest level. Therefore, these events once again demonstrated this reality to the world. We already knew this – both in Turkey and in Azerbaijan. Our ties are strengthening every year, and new topics are regularly included in this bilateral format every year. There is no area where we would not interact and provide support to each other today.
As for the exercises, I must say that they are held regularly. A plan of activities to be conducted by Azerbaijani servicemen jointly with foreign countries is approved annually. All these exercises are carried out according to the program. In recent years, I must say that on the instructions of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and my orders, the number of exercises has significantly increased. Last year, more than ten joint exercises were held in Turkey and Azerbaijan, including the "TurAz Qartalı" exercise, held several times by now. During "TurAz Qartalı", F-16 fighter jets arrive in Azerbaijan from Turkey to conduct joint activities with our aircraft and pilots. Exercises were held in Nakhchivan, and the Turkish Defense Minister attended one of them. In other words, there is nothing extraordinary here. Yes, they coincided with the events in Tovuz. Whether it is accidental or not, let Armenia figure it out. But these exercises demonstrate our unity yet again.
Of course, the Armenian leader is also well aware that the distance from the Nakhchivan direction of the Azerbaijan-Armenia border to Iravan is approximately 70-80 kilometers. They know it, and this makes them afraid. I believe that they are experiencing psychological stress because of this fear, because, according to our information, there are no doors left they have not knocked on. They are worried about these exercises. What will happen to us? So they are demonstrating their helplessness, as they say, their powerlessness.
In principle, their policy's main idea is one of self-humiliation, presenting themselves as long-suffering and unfortunate people, crying and snatching some privileges, a donation, a grant or some kind of assistance. It has already taken root in people's psychology. This shows that this country is not independent, cannot pursue a dignified policy, and is dependent. It does not befit anyone to scratch someone else's back. Independence in Armenia is formal. What kind of an independent country is it if it cannot make decisions on its own? What kind of an independent state is it if Soros rules it? Pashinyan is a product of the Soros regime. Today, the right to vote in Armenia belongs to Soros. Look at the biographies of members of Pashinyan's ruling team. All of them come from Soros, Transparency or another human rights organization. They turn a blind eye to the despotic actions that have taken place in Armenia. One of the journalists in Armenia went on a hunger strike and died in prison, but no organization ever raised that issue. In Armenia, at present, two former presidents are under investigation – two former presidents, and solely because of their political activities. Everyone knows this, but they are turning a blind eye to that. The leader of the main opposition party is stripped of parliamentary immunity, but no-one reacts to that. Why is the Council of Europe tight-lipped? Why are the rapporteurs on Armenia silent? Where are the Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International? Because of Soros! Soros is the head of Armenia; Soros is the sponsor of these "human rights organizations". They have one sponsor.
Going back to these exercises, I want to say once again that they have been and will be held for as long as necessary. We need these exercises, and so does Turkey. Regional stability also needs them because Armenia poses a threat to regional stability. Armenia has put forward territorial claims against Turkey. It is reflected and enshrined in their constitution. Today Armenia is trying to "revive" the Treaty of Sevres. No competent historian or politician will ever allow this to happen because it will be their end. How can a small, impoverished country, having established a state on someone else's lands, put forward claims against a country like Turkey? How can you accuse of anything? Look at your potential and then at that of Turkey. However, their hatred against Azerbaijan and Turkey, toward our people, drives this irrational thinking in a perilous direction.
So our close ties with Turkey will continue to develop, as great leader Heydar Aliyev once said, based on the principle "One nation, two states". We are together in all matters, next to each other in every matter.
- Mr. President, at the ceremony marking the sail-away of the jacket to the "Karabakh" field, you noted that "just as we are returning to the abandoned "Karabakh" field today, we will return to our native Karabakh lands in the same fashion". We are sure that this day is not far off.
Yes, we will, by all means, return to our lands. Nagorno-Karabakh is the ancestral and historic Azerbaijani land. In the early 1990s, as a result of betrayal and treachery of the people who were in power in Azerbaijan at the time, we temporarily lost Nagorno-Karabakh. In today's conversation, I mentioned some periods of time before our independence, so that the Azerbaijani public does not forget these events so that the younger generation knows that. Nagorno-Karabakh is our ancient and historical land, and we will return to these lands. We will restore all destroyed historic sites and houses. We will give the streets Azerbaijani names and return the renamed villages their real names. We will certainly do that because the truth is on our side. We do not lay claim to other countries' lands, but we will not give our lands to anyone either. Present-day Armenia was established on historically Azerbaijani lands. There are sufficient historical documents to corroborate that. We will never allow for the creation of a second Armenian state. Karabakh is ours, Karabakh is Azerbaijan! Thank you!