President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by CNN-Türk television.
Mr. President Ilham Aliyev, welcome to CNN-Türk. Thank you for giving this interview on such historic days for Azerbaijan. Without further ado, let me immediately move on to the questions. First of all, what is the latest situation in the operations? Are they going as planned? What territory has been liberated from occupation?
-Everything is going according to plan. The Azerbaijani army is restoring the territorial integrity of the country these days. The operation continues successfully. One city and many villages have already been liberated from the occupation. This once again proves that the Azerbaijani people will never put up with the occupation. We have repeatedly said this: Karabakh is our historical and ancestral land! Unfortunately, the negotiations held for a long time did not lead to any results. Therefore, of course, Azerbaijan had to restore its territorial integrity on its own and is doing exactly that.
As you know, on 27 September the Armenian armed forces launched a new offensive against us. Many of our cities and villages are being shelled. Today the death toll among our civilians is about 30 people. The Armenian armed forces are shelling our cities and villages, about a thousand houses have been destroyed or seriously damaged. But everything is going according to plan, and I hope that the tasks before us will be fulfilled.
-Mr. President, I would like to return to the processes in the zone of operations again. As we know, the Armenian army began shelling Azerbaijani cities outside the conflict zone with ballistic missiles. In particular, it is targeting settlements in the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Ganja, a power plant in Mingachevir with ballistic missiles. What do you think was the goal?
-In my opinion, this is a sign of helplessness of the Armenian army and the crimes of the military-political leadership of Armenia because violence against civilians, the shelling of settlements and the destruction of peaceful cities with ballistic missiles is considered a war crime. This indicates that Armenia cannot resist us on the battlefield. Losing the battle and in an effort to stop us, and in order to harm the civilian population as much as possible, it resorts to such heinous acts. As you noted, Ganja and Mingachevir are cities that are far from the war zone. At the same time, our cities located near the front zone are bombarded every day. The nearest district is Tartar. From one to two thousand shells are dropped on the city of Tartar every day. The main purpose of this is violence against civilians. This once again demonstrates the fascist essence of Armenia, the fascist essence of its regime. But this does not frighten the Azerbaijani people and has no impact whatsoever. Our citizens living in these regions, in these cities and villages stand firmly. They say: long live the Motherland, may our lands be liberated from occupation as soon as possible. They will remain in these places to the end and will provide our army with moral support.
-If Armenia continues shelling civilian settlements, will there be any change in your current position?
-No, there should be no change in our position. We are not fighting against the Armenian people. I have already spoken about this many times. We are waging a fair fight. We want to restore our territorial integrity, we are doing this and we have achieved success in this matter and in this direction. Azerbaijan has never fought against the civilian population and against civilians. The other day I said that we have no problems with the Armenian people. Thousands of Armenians live in Azerbaijan, and they are our citizens. The Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh today are also our citizens. All our goals are military. We have every right to destroy military targets because they have caused great damage to our army and cities. Therefore, our duty is to destroy them and ensure the safety of our population.
-Armenia's bombardment of civilian settlements with ballistic missiles is essentially a war crime, an act contrary to the Geneva Convention. In this context, do you plan to put forward any initiatives regarding war crimes before the UN? Do you collect evidence of these crimes on the ground?
-We certainly do. All of their war crimes are already being recorded. Unfortunately, the international community did not react to the war crimes that were committed against Azerbaijan and our people earlier. The Khojaly massacre is an act of genocide that took place in front of the whole world. However, the then military-political leadership of Armenia was not held accountable for this. The destruction of our cities and villages, the appearance of more than a million internally displaced persons – the international community did not take any action in this regard. Therefore, this issue has not been resolved for many years because no distinction is made between the occupier and the victim of the occupation. And the shelling of our cities and villages by the Armenian armed forces with ballistic missiles today is a war crime. The leadership of Armenia, of course, must and will bear responsibility for this.
-So far you have received several calls for a ceasefire. You have personally answered them. But looking at the 30-year history of the conflict, do you think that these calls will produce results?
-I believe that these calls should not be just calls for a ceasefire. We have repeatedly said that sanctions should have been applied to the occupying state of Armenia. If sanctions had been applied in due time, then, perhaps, this issue would have been resolved long ago. Very serious pressure should have been put on Armenia – not in word but in deed. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Therefore, this process dragged on for 30 years. Negotiations that have been fruitless for 30 years are already losing their point. In addition, recently, the military-political leadership of Armenia, both with aggressive actions and aggressive statements, disrupted the process of negotiations. In other words, it dealt a crushing blow to the talks. To say that “Karabakh is Armenia” essentially means an end to the negotiations because the essence of the negotiations is that the occupied lands should be gradually and on a step-by-step basis returned to Azerbaijan. This is enshrined in the fundamental principles. To say that “Karabakh is Armenia” actually means an end to this process. There were other similar statements. After that, in July, Armenia attacked Azerbaijan in the direction of the state border, killing many soldiers and one civilian. Therefore, the restoration of the ceasefire must be ensured on certain conditions. First of all, we should be given a schedule for the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied lands. We have already communicated our position on this issue to the Minsk Group. I hope that our calls and proposals will not remain unanswered.
-I think that speaking about the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, France should be mentioned separately. What can you say in connection with France's position on this issue?
-I have already spoken about this several times. We have always perceived the Minsk Group as a group, and this is still the case today. We believed that the co-chair countries of this group should remain neutral, not support any of the parties, because otherwise their mediation mission would be called into question. Until recent events, they managed to maintain neutrality to a certain extent. We know that the Armenian lobby is strong in these countries. It can and does influence the governments of these countries. We see today that the Armenians living in various countries are conducting an organized black propaganda campaign against Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, some countries have recently demonstrated a lop-sided position. There were cases of support for one of the parties. This is unacceptable. We have expressed our position on this matter. If mediators want to remain mediators and continue to deal with this issue, then they should be more responsible and not take sides. They should try to take actions intended to resolve this issue so that the conflict is resolved as soon as possible, so that the ceasefire can then be restored and a lasting peace can be established.
-Why did you say that French President Emmanuel Macron should apologize?
-You also know that there have been accusations against us. Official statements said that Azerbaijan and Turkey had allegedly transferred members of terrorist groups to the region even though there is no evidence of that. Ten days have passed since those statements. So far, we have not been presented with any evidence. This is injustice to us. These statements were made on the basis of false information. This was said either on the basis of unverified and unconfirmed information or on purpose. It is hard to say. In any case, each country must defend itself. Naturally, we are responding to injustice against us. We cannot but react to this. There was another statement – “Azerbaijan wants to conquer Nagorno-Karabakh”. This statement is also completely contrary to international laws because Nagorno-Karabakh is our land. How can a country conquer its own land? Such statements completely contradict the mandate of the Minsk Group. We just want the internally displaced persons who have been expelled from their native lands for about 30 years to return to their homes so that the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is ensured. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is as important as the territorial integrity of other countries.
-Speaking of black propaganda, since the start of the counter-offensive, a black propaganda campaign against Azerbaijan has been carried out on social media. What can you say about this? What facts do you have in this regard?
-You know, black propaganda against us has been going on for many years. There are several reasons for this. One of them is that Azerbaijan is pursuing an independent policy on a global scale. The interests of the Azerbaijani people are at the center of our policy. We have not been, do not want to be and will not become an instrument in the hands of other countries. The development of today's Azerbaijan, the development achieved in all directions testifies that Azerbaijan is on the right path. Look at the successes we have achieved in international relations. Azerbaijan is recognized as a responsible and reliable country on a global scale now. We currently chair the second-largest international organization after the United Nations – the Non-Aligned Movement. We were able to achieve this with the support of 120 countries. Today Azerbaijan is a political, geographic and energy bridge between Europe and Asia. In other words, we have achieved all these successes also thanks to an independent policy. Some countries did not like this, some countries tried to look down on Azerbaijan but our resolute position did not allow them to do this. Therefore, one of the reasons for the pressure exerted on us is precisely the fact that we are pursuing an independent policy, we are going our own way, we are not acting on anyone's order and we are not bowing to anyone. There are other reasons as well. This is a long story, it may well be the topic of a separate interview. As soon as these events occurred, those who regularly conducted black propaganda against us, non-governmental organizations, circles, media representatives of some countries immediately took action to tarnish the image of Azerbaijan, slander us, invent utter lies about us in order to form a false opinion and a wrong idea about this conflict.
Of course, by fighting against these accusations on our own, we have achieved some success. But our possibilities are also limited. Our voice often falls on deaf ears. We are not provided with an international platform. International media structures are more on the side of Armenia and spread false information about the conflict. Therefore, taking this opportunity, I want to thank the representatives of the media of brotherly Turkey for the fact that these days they are communicating the truth about this war to the whole world, transmitting information live – the destroyed cities, dropped missiles, the city of Ganja, the city of Mingachevir, the city of Tartar. In other words, this information, transmitted mostly by Turkish media, serves to form a fair opinion about the conflict.
-Mr. President, a few days before the start of the operation, you made an appeal to the leaders attending the UN General Assembly in New York, the United States. You appealed to the whole world. In your speech, you said that some terrorist groups were being sent to Armenia, and you drew attention to this issue. You emphasized, in particular, the need to pay attention to this issue. Three days after this statement, Armenia launched an offensive against Azerbaijan. What intelligence does Azerbaijan have on this issue today?
-In that speech, I also said that Armenia is preparing for a new war, we have information about this and Armenia must be stopped. As for the existence of camps of terrorist organizations in Armenia, we had these data before.
-What are these terrorist groups?
-First of all, there were camps of PKK terrorist groups in the Azerbaijani lands occupied by Armenia. We have new intelligence information – some of it has already been published in the media. There are already documents and audio information about their negotiations and contacts. This question did not raise any doubts in us because Armenia is a terrorist country. During the first Karabakh war, dozens of terrorist acts were committed against us – in the metro, buses, ships. I believe that the world should recognize the Armenian terror as a disgusting fact known in the world. The man who committed the terrorist act in the French airport in the 1980s was subsequently handed over to Armenia, then released and declared a hero. Therefore, terrorists from various countries flock to Armenia these days. According to our information, Armenians and representatives of other nationalities from the Middle East flock to Armenia to participate in the unjust war against Azerbaijan.
-I would like to return to the topic of the OSCE Minsk Group. Russia is one of its co-chairs. What are your expectations from Russia in the region?
-Russia as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group also carries out a mediation mission, of course. We have no problem with this. At the same time, Russia is the only country among the three co-chair countries that is our neighbor. Naturally, we have long-term historical relations with Russia. At present, Russia is developing ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is a very important fact. Therefore, there are no problems either in the bilateral format or within the Minsk Group. During these events, Russia's position has been responsible.
-Mr. President, what is Iran's position on this issue?
-Iranian officials have supported Azerbaijan's just cause. A few days ago, Iranian officials said that the occupation must be stopped, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored and our IDPs must return to their native lands. This is a fair position.
-Have you had any contact with US President Donald Trump in this process? Do you consider the presence of the United States in it important?
-America is also a co-chair of the Minsk Group. Together with two other co-chairs, they participate in these affairs. I had no contact with the President of America. However, high-ranking US officials have naturally expressed their opinion on this issue and in connection with these events. At the same time, the distinguished Donald Trump also made a statement on this matter. I believe that his statement was complete and logical. Our bilateral ties with America are developing successfully. In many areas, we act as partners. Naturally, America as a superpower expresses its position on this issue. We are satisfied with their position as well.
-In July, Armenia attacked the city of Tovuz. Now, in the course of this operation, it strikes at civilian sites and settlements again. You have already said that Armenia is doing this in order to drag Azerbaijan into a provocation. Apart from being drawn into a provocation, does the shelling of these settlements, in particular the city of Tovuz, the Mingachevir power plant and other similar targets, pose a threat to energy security in the region? Can this be viewed as a transformation of energy infrastructure into a target? In particular, I mean the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the TANAP project. What is your take on that?
-This, of course, is also one of Armenia’s goals. They did not even conceal this, and the statements of the Armenian leadership before these events indicated that they intended to strike at our strategic energy infrastructure – pipelines, as well as the Sangachal oil and gas terminal, one of the largest oil and gas terminals in the world. In fact, one of the reasons for the Tovuz events was precisely this – to occupy new Azerbaijani lands, then strengthen their positions at the negotiating table and, at the same time, either approach our strategic energy communications or take them under control and then dictate their will to us. This is always part of the plans of the Armenian state. They don't conceal that. The strike on the Mingachevir power plant is also an integral part of this plan because it is the largest plant not only in Azerbaijan but also throughout the entire South Caucasus. Even though we have built many stations in recent years, the Mingachevir station today is our largest station providing electricity to a significant part of the country. If it failed, then certain problems could have arisen in relation to energy issues, of course. Today Azerbaijan exports crude oil, natural gas and electricity. We export our surplus electricity. These actions were aimed at our economic potential and once again showed the whole world the criminal essence of Armenia and the Armenian regime.
-Mr. Aliyev, how big is the Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh?
-Today there is not a single Azerbaijani in Nagorno-Karabakh. They have all been expelled from there. The entire Azerbaijani population was expelled both from the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and from seven districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh – in Soviet times, Nagorno-Karabakh was an autonomous region. In Soviet times, in the late 1980s, Azerbaijanis constituted 25 percent of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijanis accounted for 98 percent of the population of the city of Shusha. Shusha is our ancient historical city. At the first stage, all Azerbaijanis were expelled from Shusha, then from Khankandi, other cities and villages, and after that from seven districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh. Today, there is no Azerbaijani population in Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent occupied districts. We will now go back there. We already started going back four years ago. But after the end of this confrontation, we will, of course, return to these regions.
-You said that Azerbaijanis were expelled from the occupied Karabakh lands. But at present, a large Armenian population also lives in other Azerbaijani lands. What can you say in this regard?
-This is natural because there are representatives of many nationalities living in Azerbaijan. They live like one family. Azerbaijan is known as a multicultural country worldwide. This is acknowledged by the United Nations, as well as other international organizations operating in the humanitarian field. Azerbaijan is the land of tolerance, ethnic and religious tolerance. Thousands of Armenians live in our country today and they are our citizens. They also live normally, like all other nationalities. Of course, I am sure that after the end of this war and conflict, the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh today will live with us. Azerbaijan is a multinational country. This has been the case throughout history. I think this is our great advantage.
Representatives of other nationalities do not live in Armenia. Armenia is one of a handful of countries in the world where 99 percent of the population is Armenian. All other nationalities were expelled from there. First of all, the Azerbaijanis were expelled, then the rest. Armenia is a mono-ethnic state, and this once again proves that it is a racist country. Representatives of no other nationality can live there. They are either unable to withstand the torment and leave or they are expelled by force.
-Dear President, I have a few more questions left, let me ask them. If we come back to the topic related to the theater of operations, has there been a difference after the inclusion of unmanned aerial vehicles and armed unmanned aerial vehicles in the arsenal of the Azerbaijani army?
-There is a big difference. Armed unmanned aerial vehicles made in Turkey are a type of weapon created on the basis of the latest and modern technologies, only a few countries in the world have such capabilities. This is a manifestation of the technological, economic and intellectual potential of Turkey. Of course, the possession of such opportunities facilitates our work and saves the lives of our citizens, soldiers, because without them we would have to strike at tanks, cannons and other Armenian equipment from the ground. And this could lead to great human losses. These vehicles give us a great advantage in keeping human losses low. At the same time, they are technologically advanced.
-By the way, speaking of air defense systems, the Armenian side has, in particular, such modern air defense systems as S-300 which it had acquired from Russia. The Azerbaijani army also has defense systems, but not these weapons. Do you think this creates a double standard?
-No, we have anti-aircraft guns for S-300 which we bought from Russia. We have purchased a large amount of weapons from Russia. There are no restrictions in that area. Therefore, I cannot speak of double standards. The only difference is that we buy them and they are very expensive systems. Armenia often receives them free of charge – either as a gift or as a loan. But this loan remains on paper and is never repaid. Naturally, if this expensive armament had not been provided to Armenia free of charge, then Armenia’s possession of it could not even be a subject of discussion and the conflict would have been settled long ago. The free armament has instilled confidence in them that they would be able to hold these lands under occupation forever. The difference is this. We have the opportunity to acquire weapons from Russia. We buy weapons from other countries as well. There are no restrictions on this issue. There are some countries that have imposed an embargo on the sale of weapons to us but this does not create any particular problems for us because the arms market is now more diversified and its geography is expanding. I recently said that the Turkish defense industry is developing so rapidly today that, I hope our equipment with Turkish weapons will rise to an even higher level in the future.
-I would like to touch upon the issue that has drawn our attention here. Wherever we were, in Baku or cities in the conflict zone, in Tartar, we saw the flags of Turkey everywhere next to the flags of Azerbaijan. What would you like to say about this?
-In fact, it has always been this way, because Turkey is not only an ally and the closest country for us. Turkey is a fraternal country for us, just like Azerbaijan is for Turkey. The flag of Turkey is a native flag for us, as native as the flag of Azerbaijan. But, of course, this conflict, the clear position of Turkey during these battles, the statements of Mr. President, my brother Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the support provided to Azerbaijan, the words that “Azerbaijan is not alone” in people’s letters coming from Turkey have, of course, further increased the love of Turkey. You are also witnessing that the flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan are waving together in all our regions. At the same time, the flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan are waving together in Turkey today. The video footage shown to me is also very touching and we are glad that our Turkish brothers there decorate cars and buildings with the flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan. In other words, it is a symbol of true brotherhood and solidarity. There is no other country that would support Azerbaijan like Turkey. There is no country in the world that would support Turkey the way Azerbaijan does. This is our great asset.
-My last question, dear President. If the prime minister of Armenia Pashinyan were in front of you instead of me now, what would you tell him?
-Basically I have nothing to say to him. We have met many times. Two years ago, in our first contacts after he came to power, I think we had a very good conversation. I had hopes that he, as the new prime minister, would introduce amendments and changes to Armenia’s aggressive policy and understand that as long as this conflict remains unresolved, peace will not come to this region. As a person who came to power as a result of a coup and made big promises, he will not be able to fulfill them because if the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia are not normalized. And then there is no need to talk about the economic development of Armenia. I was hoping that he understood this and the first messages from Armenia were very positive. We showed restraint, taking into account their request, and strengthened the ceasefire. It is possible to say that the ceasefire was rigorously observed in the last two years. The Minsk Group co-chairs also noted this in their statements. But what happened next? We realized that he deceived us. I think that this is a very wrong path in politics. You can't lie. Our words do not differ from our deeds. But the words given to us turned out to be a lie. His words that “Karabakh is Armenia, full stop” actually put an end to the negotiations. After that, there were other provocative statements, including such that Azerbaijan should negotiate with Nagorno-Karabakh, i.e. the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh republic”. This was a blow to the format of the negotiations. Not only we but also the Minsk Group opposed this. Then in July, they carried out a military provocation in Tovuz, in August they sent a sabotage group and last month they already carried out a large-scale offensive. Therefore, I have said everything to him. Addressing the Armenian people, I want to say that they should hold their government accountable, demand that it stop the fire, end the occupation, not send their children to war, do not send them to Azerbaijan because the so-called “army of the Nagorno-Karabakh republic” consists of citizens of Armenia by 90 percent. In other words, there is no such thing as the “army of Nagorno-Karabakh”. Why should a person born in Armenia fight against us on Azerbaijani soil? Therefore, I want to tell the Armenian people that the Armenians live in peace today and will continue to live in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani state is doing everything possible for their normal life. I want to tell the Armenian leadership: the sooner you leave the occupied lands, the better it will be for you.
-Dear President, on these historic days when the fighting continues, you have expressed very important thoughts. Once again, on behalf of the CNN Türk TV channel, I express my deep gratitude to you.
-I also thank you and CNN Türk TV channel, which broadcasts wonderful reports every day. Interesting live discussions with renowned people are organized in your studios. I express my gratitude to your channel for the unequivocal support of Azerbaijan. Let me also thank all representatives of the Turkish media for being with us on these difficult days.