Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by German ARD TV channel31 October 2020, 12:05
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by German ARD TV channel.
-On the 27th of September, the war started. What is your answer to the question ‘who shot first?’
-The answer is Armenia and we have evidences, because the first victims among civilians and military personnel were Azerbaijanis. That was a third in a row military provocation against us. The first was in July, when they launched an attack on the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And we had casualties among the civilians and the military personnel. The second attempt was in August when Armenia sent a sabotage group, whose leader was detained and he gave evidence that he was sent in order to attack the civilians. And the third time on the 27th of September they launched a heavy artillery bombardment on some of the villages and cities situated close to the line of contact. We responded. So that’s how it started.
-You responded tough and harsh. Why like this, this time? Is it a pre-dominance of the Azerbaijan military, because of the drones from Israel and Turkey?
-We had these drones from Israel already for many years and by the way, some of them were used in 2016 during Armenian another provocation which launched in the liberation of the part of the occupied territories. But that clash lasted for several days because Armenia stopped. And if they stopped this time, we would have stopped also. But they did not. They wanted to make a big damage. They started to shell the cities which situated far beyond the line of contact. And we had many victims among civilians so far- 69. So we had to defend ourselves, defend our people and to respond. So our response was harsh, but they deserved it.
-As far as I understand, you gained some grounds in the south especially, but as well, I mean next to Karabakh, further in the north and how long will this war continue?
-It depends on Armenia, I said many times. We are ready to stop today. And by the way, the fact that three times we agreed for ceasefire demonstrates our will to stop military confrontation and to resolve this issue on the negotiation table by political purposes, political means. But 3 times Armenia brutally violated the ceasefire.
-But they say the same.
-But look yes, definitely they do. But look at what happened. On the 10th of October, the humanitarian ceasefire was announced. The next day they launched a ballistic missile attack on Ganja from the territory of Armenia. Probably you have seen the devastation which it caused. Ten people were killed, civilians. They said it was not them. But it is clear, because the launch of the ballistic missiles is observed by the satellite. So, the three co-chair countries of the Minsk Group definitely know who did it. The second time they did the same, they violated the ceasefire two minutes after it was announced. And the third time yesterday when they launched a cluster bomb on the city of Tartar. Four people were killed among them one seven year old girl. So it was them. There was no evidence that we did it. What we do is opposite. I said that we will not respond them the same way. We will respond them on the battlefield. We do not attack cities, we do not attack civilians, only on the battlefield. But we have to defend ourselves. If they attack, if they want to regain the positions which they lost, we cannot just stay calm. We need to defend and the more we defend the more territories we liberate.
-But exactly the same thing they claimed as well. They say that you use cluster bombs and I mean there was even like some proves from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that you used cluster bombs there in Karabakh. I mean, why do you use this kind of arms?
-We don’t use. We defend ourselves. We invited Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to come to Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, their coverage of the events is only from Armenian side. They did not approach us to come here, therefore, we have big doubts about their impartiality.
-But now they come. As far as I understand, Human Rights Watch, they are coming or they told me.
-They are coming, because we said “why don’t you come here?” After we made a request to them. “Please, do come here”, they agreed to come. But why didn’t they come in the first place?
-They told me that they wanted to come. They asked for several times, but you didn’t give them access.
-No, no. That is not possible. Because that was what we did. Just yesterday we said, why they don’t come, let them come and go to Ganja, go to Tartar, meet the people whom Armenians attacked. And again, the ballistic missile launch is seen from the satellite. No one can say that we launched a ballistic missile on any civilian compound in Nagorno-Karabakh or in Armenia.
-Let me ask you again about this cluster munition. Because, of course, you know it’s very serious subject. I had a look into the research of Human Rights Watch and the proof was quite interesting, they had pictures, and they even have names. The name of the weapon they said LAR 160 cluster bomb from Israel. Do you really want to dispute that fact?
-Yes, of course. There are no proofs about that. And I would like them to come here, and to give these proofs. At the same time, to go to Ganja, to go to Tartar, to go to Barda and see what kind of weapons Armenians are using. And be impartial…
-So, if they can find weapons here, you rely on their research.
-No, they will have to, because there is no way for them to say “no”. Let them say, because so far, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International was very aggressive against Azerbaijan. They never made any comment about violation of human rights in Armenia. When a journalist died in Armenian prison they were silent. When leader of main opposition party of Armenia was jailed, they were silent. When former presidents are on trial, they were silent. They don’t want to see it, because they have the so-called Armenian origin people in their structures. And these organizations are basically used in order to damage the image of Azerbaijan. But nevertheless, we invited them. Let them come. And say what they see.
-Actually, you never signed the UN Convention on cluster munition. So, why is it a problem for you? Actually you could use it.
-But did Armenia sign?
-We are talking about Azerbaijan and not Armenia.
-We are talking about the conflict. We are talking about the conflict and the fact that we sign or don’t sign any kind of convention doesn’t mean that we are using it or not. We have enough ammunition. We have modern weapons and we demonstrate it on the battlefield. And what we do, we liberate the territories not with bombs. We liberate the territories with our fighters which take one village after another, one city after another, raise the Azerbaijani flag. So, that’s how it is done.
-Coming to this subject, I mean, wouldn’t it be a goal somehow to take over those seven districts and afterwards to negotiate and maybe to come into autonomous zone of Karabakh?
-We suggested that but Armenians always rejected. The co-chairs of the Minsk Group can prove what I say. We always suggested, we always were committed to the peace plan, so-called basic principles which provided the liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan in phases. At the first stage five, at the second stage two. But now among those five, almost all of them have already been liberated. Therefore, Armenia was always against that. And frankly speaking, what we have seen on the battlefield after we liberated the territories. Those engineering constructions which were built there- they invested maybe hundreds of millions of dollars. They show that they were not planning to leave those territories. Because if they planned to leave the territories, they would not have invested so much. There were several lines of defense with the modern equipment, modern weapons, and modern engineering technology. Therefore, all their behavior on negotiation table was an attempt to mislead the mediators and us. They were making the negotiations endless and wanted to win time what they have managed to do for 27 years. Therefore, we committed to the basic principles. Seven districts must be returned to us. Armenians have never lived in those districts. Plus, Azerbaijanis who were expelled from Nagorno-Karabakh-there have been 40 thousand people of Azerbaijani origin in Nagorno-Karabakh before-must return there. Then, that’s how the plan should be implemented.
-An autonomous region without any Azerbaijani influence?
-That was part of the discussions. But we did not come to a final agreement about that.
-But would you agree about that?
-Well, we need to discuss it now. Because now there are new realities on the ground. Always we heard...
-What kind of influence do you want to have there-in an autonomous region? I mean is this contradicting by itself?
-No. First of all, we did not agree on any autonomous region. This is first. We did not come to this agreement. When we were suggesting that, Armenians were rejecting. They were demanding independence, which we did not agree. Now the realities on the ground have changed. We heard many times that there are realities and you have to take them into account. It is okay. So, we changed the realities. Now they will have to take it into account, and what we suggested them during these 27 years, maybe is not valid any longer. Therefore, we need to have discussions now and, by the way, we are ready to send our foreign minister to Geneva tomorrow to start a new round of negotiations if Armenia is ready, and to discuss the future of Nagorno-Karabakh at the negotiation table. But for that Armenia should stop. They always wanted during these months to regain back the territories which we liberated and that was a main reason for their defeat.
-When we were there in this area, among us the question came up. Why actually is Karabakh so important for Azerbaijan? I mean, is there a kind of resource or is it just symbolic?
- Alsace and Lorraine, is it important for you? Bavaria, is it important for you? Or Rhine-Westphalia? It is our land, our territory, internationally recognized. It is not a matter of resources. We have main resources here in Baku. It is a matter of justice, it is a matter of national pride and it is a matter of international law. International law and the whole international community recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan. And we are restoring justice and we are implementing the UN Security Council resolutions which were on paper for 27 years.
-Are you actually recognizing that the majority of the people in these region were Armenians as most historians say worldwide?
-With respect to the history, I can tell you that Armenians were transported or brought to this region after the peace agreement between the Karabakh khanate and Russian empire was signed by Ibrahim Khalil Khan and Russian general Tsitsianov in the beginning of the 19th century.
-Aren’t they living there for centuries?
-No, no, no. They started to be transported to Nagorno-Karabakh after Kurakchay peace agreement and then Gulustan peace agreement, Turkmenchay peace agreement- in 1805, 1813, 1828. You can see on internet. There is no mentioning of Armenians in this agreements. Armenians then were brought by Tsarist Russia from eastern Anatolia and from Persia in order to change the ethnic and religious composition of the region.
-So, most of the historians, experts on the Caucasus region are wrong?
-Yes, of course. Because look at the documents. Historians, which historians? There are different historians and history sometimes is motivated by political preferences. But look at those documents. They are on internet and you can see. If you find any mentioning of Armenian population you will say that I am wrong. So, that’s how it was. But the other thing is yes, they lived there for 200 years, and the word Karabakh is an Azerbaijani word, it is not an Armenian word. Do you know how they call the so-called capital of Nagorno-Karabakh? Stepanakert. Do you know whose honor is it called? Stepan Shaumyan. Stepan Shaumyan was an Armenian-Russian Bolshevik, head of the criminal gang here which committed a genocide against the Azerbaijanis in 1918. So, if it was an ancient Armenian territory, why is it named Karabakh? And why the capital city is named Stepanakert and not some ancient name? Because they lived there for 200 years. In 1978, Armenians who lived there, raised a monument on the 150 years of their arrival to Nagorno-Karabakh. This is a history, but again, they have lived there for 200 years and we want them to live. I said many times, we want Azerbaijanis to go back and Armenians live there, where they lived historically for 200 years. No matter.
-Nevertheless, this people experience your military action as how they say ethnical cleansing.
-No, no, not at all. We were the subject of ethnic cleansing. When they occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and seven districts surrounding it, we had 750 thousand Azerbaijanis ethnically cleansed from 7 districts plus from Shusha which was a part of Nagorno-Karabakh. We’ve been subject of ethnic cleansing. We didn’t do any ethnic cleansing against Armenians and we are not planning to do it now. Because I said that we will have to live together. It will not be easy but we will have to learn.
-But civilians were killed there right now, the last couples of weeks.
-Civilians were killed in Azerbaijan also-69
-There as well.
-Yes. Because it’s a war. But 69 civilians killed in the territories which are far away from the conflict zone, in Ganja, more than 300 civilians have been wounded by Armenians. It’s a war. It happens. Unfortunately.
-I used to live in Israel for five years. I know very well that the drones in Israel are very accurate. So, it wasn’t done by a drone as far as I understand, how does that come that the church was hit in Karabakh?
-That was as I said already, probably a mistake of our artillery or the second option could be that Armenians did it themselves. In order to put a blame on us.
-Christians are shooting on their churches?
-But it was a minor damage. It was not destroyed. Have you seen the images of that? It’s a minor damage. The church was not destroyed. It can be repaired within two weeks maximum. Therefore, we have a doubt that could be done by them, themselves, in order to put a blame on us. Look at the Armenian church in Baku. We preserve it. We restored it.
-Could you imagine Muslims to destroy, or to demoralize mosque by themselves to make something up like this?
-I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe it may happen. Why not? Armenian church here in Baku is preserved by us. We did not destroy it. We protect it. We keep thousands of Armenian books there. But in the mosque in Zangilan which was liberated, they kept pigs there. That’s the difference.
-As far as I understand, on the 1st of October, a man in Azerbaijan was put in prison because he demanded peace. I mean some human rights experts, defenders say you might have started this war as well to unite the nation behind you to somehow to distract from the problems in the country when it comes to democracy and human rights.
-That is absolutely wrong assessment. First of all, I don’t know about anyone who was arrested. If you can give me the name, if you have the name give me. Do you have the name?
-I don’t have the name right now but I will find out.
-When you find out, tell me. So, we can consider this question invalid, because you don’t have the name and I don’t have this information. With respect to distraction of attention there is no need to distract the attention. Our political system is efficient. Before this clash, and even before the parliamentary elections which we had, I launched a kind of a new process of political cooperation. We made a public appeal to all political parties to start practical cooperation, to put an end to hostility, and to start at least talking to each other. Except two parties, all the other parties, 50 of them supported it. We started a modern new political process. We have now many opposition members in our parliament. The political process is very efficient.
-Aren’t there many opposition members either in prison in Azerbaijan?
-No, no. Those who are in prison, they are in prison for the crimes they have committed. There are no one here on political charges and opposition is…
-What kind of crimes? Saying their opinion?
-No, no, different crimes as any other crimes. I don’t know exactly which but it is just ordinary crimes. So, we don’t have this kind of reason. Second, our economic performance during the pandemic is one of the best. Our economy declined only 3.9 percent, it is much lower than in some European countries. Poverty level in Azerbaijan is 5 percent, much lower. Unemployment level is 7 percent, much lower. We have hot currency reserves which exceed our foreign debt six times. So, I don’t have internal problems, why should I launch it?
-Would you call Azerbaijan an example for democracy?
--No, no, never. Would you call your country an example for democracy?
-But you ban opposition rallies.
-No, actually not.
-Yes, yes. Those extremists who wanted to have a rally, I forgot the name. You banned them.
-I don’t know about that. I mean even during those corona times they were doing demonstrations.
-No. it was before corona times. We are not, and we do not pretend to be. But there are countries which pretend to be, but they killed protesters. Do you know how many people were killed during these yellow-vest protests? Do you know? More than ten killed.
-But we are not talking about France.
-No, no, let’s talk about Europe.
-No, let’s talk about those who pretend to be democrats. We are not pretending. Yes, we have shortcomings.
-I will ask Mr. Macron about this.
-But those who kill protesters, who kill protestors on the street, ten of them killed. We look how in Europe you beat protesters, you beat them by forces. You bring dogs and this is considered democracy.
-How important is the country-where we came from right now-Turkey for you and especially during this military operation during this war? I mean there are Turkish soldiers here. Yesterday, we talked to some of them and they told us they are from Turkey.
-You talked to soldiers?
-On the battlefield?
-No, no, not on the battlefield
-In the city of Baku.
-They are fighting here, in Baku?
-No, they are here. Nevertheless, they are here.
-There can be German soldiers here now.
-You are doing military exercises together.
-Yes, we do.
-If, a third country would get involved into this conflict, do you expect the help from Turkey?
-We do not expect any third country to be involved. We do not see which country can be involved, because the countries which surround us are our partners and friends. We know that Armenians want to involve some of them into this battle. But I am sure it will not happen. It’s a battle between us and Armenia. And everybody should stay away from that. Turkish soldiers can be here, yes. Last year we had ten joint military trainings. But also, we have military trainings with other countries. We are part of the NATO partnership peace program. Nothing strange. You saw them in Baku, you didn’t see them in the battle.
-Do you feel safer with Turkish F-16s here in Azerbaijan?
-Turkish F-16s came here as a result of the military training and they stayed here because the Armenians launched an attack on us. And they are here as a sign of solidarity. They are not participating in any battle, and there are not a plan to be part of that.
-3 times ceasefires were broken. One negotiated by France, one negotiated by Russia one negotiated by the USA. Which international power could stop this war?
-I think, Armenia should stop it. International power-these 3 countries which you mentioned are co-chairs of the Minsk Group. They are leading countries of the world, members of the UN Security Council, permanent members. These countries adopted four resolutions demanding withdrawal of Armenian troops. But these countries did not do anything in order to implement these resolutions. These resolutions were on paper. That shows that this mediation was not efficient. But at the same time, we cannot think about some other countries which can be more powerful. Therefore, the only way to stop war is for Armenia to stop, to admit its defeat, to admit our victory and then to commit to liberation of the part of the territories. We will liberate them anyway. They did not believe when we started counter-attack. We said we will liberate, stop it now. They could have stopped even when we took Fuzuli back.
-Do you have the feeling that they are not very interested in this conflict?
-Whom do you mean?
-Those three countries for example?
-Well, no, I don’t have this feeling, because if they were not interested, they wouldn’t have been mediators. They have a mandate from the OSCE.
-But the mediation wasn’t successful.
-Yes it wasn’t successful. Because they did not put sanctions on Armenia. I raised it many times. Armenia should have been sanctioned like Iraq was sanctioned when Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait, immediately. And there were serious sanctions against Iraq. If the same happened to Armenia, then they would have moved the forces back.
-So they closed their eyes?
-Yes, they closed their eyes. They, I would say, not closed their eyes, they were always saying there is no military solution. They wanted that this situation continued more or less the same way. I think they were fine with the fact that the conflict seemed to be frozen. They thought that it may be frozen forever, and they only tried to think about some confidence-building measures, some monitors, so that there’s no outbreak. But they did not implement their mandate, in accordance with the OSCE decision and they should have forced Armenia. I think each of these countries unilaterally can send such a message to Armenia that it should listen to it, but they did not.
-Are you listening to them?
-I am listening to every partner. But it depends what I do after I listen. But I am listening.
-Two days ago, I heard you in the radio asking the question where has Armenia the money from to do this war? What is the answer?
-No answer. I’ve been asking this question for a month. We made a preliminary calculations.
-I mean, somebody asking this question continuously somehow has an answer in mind.
-Well, if I had an answer I would not have asked. If I am still asking, it means that I did not get an answer. We made a preliminary calculation about minimum, by the way, I did not disclose all of what we have destroyed. That will come. 2.7 billion dollars, cost of the ammunition which we destroyed and which we took as a trophy. Where the money comes from? Armenia is a poor country, its budget is less than 2 billion dollars. Its foreign debt is 8 billion dollars.
-They are supported by Russia.
-That’s your opinion.
-This is official. This is no secret. Somebody else?
-Maybe, I don’t know. So, I am asking but nobody is responding. So I will continue to ask.
-Your Excellency, Mr. President, thank you very much for the interview.
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