Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by BBC News09 November 2020, 12:05
On November 6, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by BBC News.
-President Aliyev, thank you for your time for speaking to us on BBC News. Do you intent to fight for every square inch of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding seven territories?
-Our position was very clear from the very beginning. We are ready, and are still ready to stop any time when Armenian side will commit itself to the liberation of the occupied territories. I am saying this from the very beginning of the war that if Armenian prime minister publicly will make a commitment that they will liberate the occupied territories we will stop. But so far it’s already forty days and there is no sign of him saying this.
-So, that means you will be fighting to the finish.
-We will fight until the end if Armenia does not make a commitment that they will withdraw from occupied territories. I think Armenia is making a big mistake, because if they listened to us from the very beginning the war would have stopped long time ago, and we would have been already on the negotiation table.
-But with respect Mr. President, you are delivering an ultimatum. You are saying they have to agree to give up all of this territory, and then there can be talks. That’s a very big precondition for talks.
-No, not exactly, because what I am saying is based on the basic principles and the basic principles are very clear with respect to the liberation of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. It is a very clear message to Armenia and unfortunately, Armenia did not agree to the basic principles which have been elaborated by the Minsk Group co-chairs and the previous Armenian leadership. These basic principles say that in the first stage they have to liberate five occupied territories, at the second stage-two. But four out of the five have already been liberated. Therefore, if they do it when they will liberate part of Aghdam, when they will liberate Kalbajar and Lachin, we will stop.
-So, just to be clear, President, because these locations are not familiar to our international audience. Are you saying that if the Armenian leadership agrees to vacate the territories outside of Nagorno-Karabakh you will stop, you will not fight on?
-Exactly. That is the position which I articulated many times, at the same time, this is not the whole issue on the negotiation table. Of course, after that we will work on the return of Azerbaijani refugees to Nagorno-Karabakh. Because before the war in 1990s, there have been 40 thousand Azerbaijanis living in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the percentage of Azerbaijani population was 25%. So, they expelled them all, and after that, committed ethnic cleansing, and then, announced independence.
-But the fear is, that if you take control of Nagorno-Karabakh by force, that you may do exactly the same. There are very strong fears being expressed by Armenia that there will be ethnic cleansing of their people.
-These are groundless accusations. First, if Armenia is really concerned about that, why they do not agree to the basic principles? Because if the basic principles are confirmed, and Armenia will make a commitment which I already demand from them for many times, then everything will stop.
-So, you are not asking them to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. You are asking only for the territories alongside.
-We ask and we demand the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions which were adopted back in 1993, which demanded immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories. With respect to the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, they will continue to live there. They are our citizens, and I on many occasions expressed this position.
-Well, with respect President Aliyev, you are saying that the Armenians will consider to live there as your citizens. You have very recently said and I am quoting you here: “If they do not leave we will chase them like dogs.” Now, that’s hardly the kind of statement that would make people feel safe.
-No. Please be accurate with my statements. What I said, I meant those who continue to occupy our territories, I meant Armenian military-political leadership, I meant the so-called “authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh”, this criminal junta which has already, by the way, run away. And I got information that the so-called “leader of Nagorno-Karabakh” is already in Yerevan. So, I meant them, I didn’t mean Armenian people.
-So, are you saying that you will give an absolute guarantee that there will be no ethnic cleansing of Armenian citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh?
-Yes. We are not Armenians. They committed ethnic cleansing against us. They expelled all Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts. Thus, we have one million refugees as a result of the ethnic cleansing policy of Armenia. But we will not behave the same way, we will not take revenge. I said many times even when they bombed Ganja, when they bombed Barda, when they bombed other cities and killed 92 people, civilians, I said we will take revenge on the battlefield. Therefore, taking into account, this official position and the fact that there are thousands of Armenians who live in Azerbaijan, and nobody is ethnically cleansing them, why should we do it there?
-Well, with regard to the Armenians who are living here in Azerbaijan, we have been told that many live in fear that they change their surnames, because they do not want to be identified openly as Armenians. So, how can Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh have confidence that they will be safe?
-No. This is wrong information.
-Well, it’s coming from people who are here.
-Well, maybe somebody got married and changed the name that’s a usual practice here. But no. There are many Armenians who live here and we know that they are Armenians. And by the way, I can tell you, not many people know that the sister of the former Armenian defense minister Arutunyan lives in Azerbaijan. If you would like we can organize the meeting with her. Therefore, this is not actually fear, this is Armenian propaganda.
-But, if this is a propaganda President Aliyev, there is clearly propaganda on both sides. There is institutionalized messaging against the Armenians which takes place here as part of the state dialogue. People have been primed to have hatred for the other side. Are you actually expecting them to be able to co-exist?
-Why they can co-exist in other parts of the world? Do you know that there are villages in the neighboring Georgia, where Armenians and Azerbaijanis live together in the same village? They live together in Russia, they live together in Ukraine, they live together in Azerbaijan, in many other parts of the world. And if you observe the situation in the world now, apart from some pro-Armenian rallies in the West, the situation between Armenians and Azerbaijanis is very calm and quiet. Why can they live there and cannot live here?
-Do you honestly expect a single Armenian to stay and remain in Nagorno-Karabakh, if you take control, and live under the rule of Azerbaijan?
-I think it is possible, because I, as a President, say today and said many times that we want to live side by side. And if we did not want to live side by side why should I say that? Today, as you know, Azerbaijani Army is winning the battle. Today, we liberate one city after another, one village after another. And in principle, anyone in Azerbaijan can say, look, they committed a genocide in Khojaly, they expelled Azerbaijanis from their native lands, they destroyed all our cities and villages.
-Armenians, of course, also claim that they were expelled, and they were the victims of massacres over the years?
-From where have they been expelled? From where? They have not been expelled. We did not commit ethnic cleansing against Armenians. No. Armenians live in Azerbaijan. They expelled us not only from Nagorno-Karabakh, but from seven districts on the administrative border of Nagorno-Karabakh where Armenian population have never lived. They changed the names of the cities, of the villages.
-Well talking about religion President Aliyev, we have had an attack in Armenia. A church, a cathedral attacked.
-That was not in Armenia.
-We have had an attack in Nagorno-Karabakh, I beg your pardon, a church which was shelled twice on the same day. Now, you have said that possibly it was a mistake, you have said you will carry out an investigation. What’s the result of the investigation?
-In order to investigate it, we have to be there to investigate. I said many times, either it was a mistake of our artillery or it was a deliberate provocation by Armenians themselves.
-So, they shelled their own church?
-They, of course, deny this.
-Of course, they deny, they deny everything. They denied that they hit Ganja with ballistic missiles from the territory of Armenia. Armenian prime minister said that it is false information. Though your country, United States, France, Russia can easily detect from where the ballistic missile was launched.
-But with regards to the church…
-With regards to the church, I said, either it was a mistake or they did it deliberately, because the images of that church which I have seen, show that it is a very minor damage. And this damage can be repaired within maximum two weeks. This is first. Second, you are here in Baku, probably you have seen Armenian church in the city center which we restored and we keep thousands of Armenian books. If we are destroying churches as Armenians say, why didn’t we destroy it here in Baku?
-But can you say categorically that your forces did not attack the church?
-I say categorically that many times, either it was a mistake or…
-So, you may have done it.
-Who you? Who do you mean by saying you?
-Your forces may have done it.
-It could have been by mistake only. Because there was no military target. Church was not among the military targets. We had military targets in Stepanakert, which is the city called Khankandi in Azerbaijani. We had military targets in Shusha and we hit those military targets because they attacked us. So, probably that was a mistake.
-But could you have made a mistake twice in the same day? It was hit twice?
-Why not? Have you seen the images of Azerbaijani mosques on the occupied territories? They are all destroyed. They keep pigs in our mosques. And the recent video footage of mosque in Zangilan which was liberated show that they kept pigs there.
-But you have made a point, President Aliyev, of talking about the military superiority of your army. You have a 100 thousand men. You have the most sophisticated weapons that can be bought from Israel, from Turkey, particularly the Turkish drones. So, with all of that expertise at your disposal, could there be two mistaken episodes of shelling a church?
-Absolutely, there could be. Because we need to be there in order to investigate. And when we will be there we will repair it. We will restore it. You will see. When we go back to Shusha we will restore it.
-But doesn’t that mean if these weapons can be so precise and mistakes can be made so easily that you shouldn’t be using them in civilian areas.
-We are not using in civilian areas. We are using them in order to destroy military infrastructure.
-With respect, President Aliyev…
-The city of Khankandi was full of military objects. The city of Shusha was full of military objects. We do not attack civilians unlike them. They attacked Ganja with ballistic missiles, deliberately destroying the civilian compound.
-Well, let me tell you President Aliyev, for our own BBC colleagues have seen that this is not hearsay, this is what was filmed, this was what experienced by BBC colleagues. They were in Stepanakert, in Nagorno-Karabakh on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of October. They witnessed random shelling of the town, including at an Emergency Service Center, an apartment block destroyed. As people tried to flee there was a drone overhead. Shortly afterwards more shelling nearby. They characterized it as indiscriminate shelling of a town without clear military targets. Now this is not hearsay, this was witnessed and filmed by the BBC.
-I doubt this witnessing. I doubt it.
-Well, they were there President Aliyev.
-So what, they were there. It doesn’t mean anything. That can be fake news. We had military…
-And why would that be fake news? Why would any journalist go in there to sight to broadcast fake news?
-Because of the biased approach to the conflict. Because of this black propaganda against Azerbaijan in international media.
-So you cannot be guilty of any wrong. Everything is false news.
-Absolutely. It is false news. We closely watch the western media and during these 40 days I had maybe almost 30 interviews. All of them were very aggressive and as if it was not an interview, as if it was a kind of accusation. Nothing is happening on Armenian side? Nobody is asking Pashinyan why he hits with ballistic missile Ganja. Why he killed 92 people, why they attack funeral in Tartar, why they use Smerch with cluster bombs to attack Barda, killing 21 persons, and injuring 70. No one asks him, where does he get weapons? Only attack on us. Only demonizing Azerbaijan by international media. So, that’s why what BBC, your colleagues, so-called witnessed there, I do not believe that.
-Well, in fact, they filmed it President Aliyev. But of course, it is important to say that there has been killing of civilians on both sides. There has been an indiscriminate shelling on both sides. We have witnessed here ourselves the aftermath of the attack in Ganja and which ballistic missile was used. So there is no doubt that there have been casualties on this side as well.
-Thank you for that.
-But equally, when you mention cluster munitions there is evidence that you have used cluster munitions in civilian areas, in the streets of Stepanakert, documented extensively by Human Rights Watch, photographs, videos, testimony from witnesses and they actually had the opportunity to go to the scene. Now why are you using cluster munitions which can be so imprecise in a civilian area?
-We are not using them. This is another fake news. It is Armenia who uses the cluster bombs.
-So everything is fake news.
-Of course. Why not? We are facing this fake news for decades. Do you know how many fake news were published in the British press about Azerbaijan? Thousands.
-But you admit President Aliyev you are fighting a war. You are making advances. But then you are telling us on the other hand you are not using these weapons.
-No, we are not, because we are fighting on the battlefield. We are fighting against Armenian army. We are not fighting against civilians. No sense in that, because our task is to liberate the territories. And we liberate one village, one city after another. And we do not use cluster bombs. We don’t need it. We have enough other…
-So, the evidence uncovered by Human Rights Watch is fake also.
-Of course, because Human Rights Watch due to very biased approach to Azerbaijan, due to the fact they did not notice any wrong doing in Armenia even when journalists are dying in prison, even when main opposition leader is in prison. They don’t report on that. Only against us. Therefore, we stopped cooperation with Human Rights Watch some 5-6 years ago and only now, when this war started, we invited them to come and see, because we wanted them to testify, because there was no way for them to say no. That’s why we invited them. So, this organization is not credible in Azerbaijan.
-May I ask President Aliyev how many civilians have been killed on this side now? What is the death toll?
-92 civilians were killed, 405 were wounded, almost 3000 houses either demolished or seriously damaged by Pashinyan regime. So, this is the fact. And you can verify it, when you go there and see.
-We would like to be able to see the frontline for ourselves and during our last trip here we were prevented from travelling independently. Can you give us an assurance that we would be able to go there this time?
-Yes, I think it is possible, but the security measures must be taken in order to protect you. But I think it is possible. It is regulated by the general situation, by the martial law in Azerbaijan. Therefore, it must be in line with these temporary regulations.
-So we can’t have free movement at the frontline.
What do you mean, on frontline? Going where the battle is?
There have been journalists there. There have been from…
-But not moving independently.
-What do you mean by saying, “independently”?
-Moving independently without minders from the government. Moving at their own discretion, which is what we do in other conflicts. We decide where we wish to go. We make our own choices we go there, we film.
-I am not sure about that. I think that must be checked with our authorities whether there is a possibility or not. Any company which foreign journalists have, only have one purpose, to protect them and to advise them where they can go and where they cannot go. But there is nothing to hide. You can see our destroyed villages. You have been to Ganja, probably you could go to Barda also. Therefore, we have nothing to hide. We are fighting on our own land. Armenian army is on our land. They are aggressors. We have been the victims of aggression, but today we pay back. Today we show them their place, and we will move them until the end, as I said, if they do not liberate voluntarily the remaining part of the territories.
-That sounds like a very chilling message to Armenian civilians.
-No. Why? We already talked about Armenian civilians. We have nothing wrong in communications with them. I said many times and I mean what I say. I keep my words that after we liberate the territory from this criminal gangs which occupied our territory, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh will live much better. They will have more salaries, because the salaries in Azerbaijan are higher. More pensions, because pensions in Azerbaijan are three times higher than in Armenia. They will have all the social protection. We will invest in those areas largely. They will get rid of poverty.
-Will they have the full range of human rights which people here in Azerbaijan do not have? Will they have a fully free media? Will they have an opposition that’s allowed to raise its voice. Will they be allowed to have the things that people here in Azerbaijan do not have?
-You think they do not have it? Why do you think that people in Azerbaijan do not have free media and opposition?
-Because this is what I am told by independent sources in this country.
-Which independent sources?
-Many independent sources.
-Tell me which.
-I certainly couldn’t name sources.
-Oh, if you couldn’t name that means you are just inventing the stories.
-So, you are saying that the media is not under a state control.
-Not at all.
-And there is a vibrant free opposition media.
-Where do I see this?
-You can see it on internet. You can see it everywhere.
- But not in newspapers.
-Why? You can see it in newspapers. Whom do you call opposition here? Can I ask you?
-Well, is there allowed to be an opposition here?
-Yes, it is allowed of course.
-I mean NGOs are the subject of the crackdown, journalists are the subject of the crackdown.
-Not at all.
-Critics are in jail.
-No, not at all.
-None of this is true.
-Absolutely fake, absolutely. We have free media, we have free internet. Now, due to the martial law we have some restrictions but before there have been no restrictions. The number of internet users in Azerbaijan is more than 80 percent. Can you imagine the restriction of media in a country where internet is free, there is no censorship, and there are 80 percent of internet users? We have millions of people on Facebook. How can you say that we don’t have free media. This is again, a biased approach. This is an attempt to create a perception in Western audience about Azerbaijan. We have opposition, we have NGOs, we have free political activity, we have free media, we have freedom of speech. But if you raise this question, can I ask you also one? How do you assess what happened to Mr Assange? Isn’t it the reflection of free media in your country?
-We are not here to discuss my country.
-No, let’s discuss. Let’s discuss.
-No, President Aliyev.
-In order to accuse me saying that Armenians will not have free media here, let’s talk about Assange. How many years, sorry, how many years he spent in Ecuadorian embassy and for what? And where is he now? For journalistic activity you kept that person hostage actually killing him morally and physically. You did it, not us. And now he is in prison. So you have no moral right to talk about free media when you do these things.
-Returning to the conflict…
-Yes, better return to the conflict, because this is not what you like. You like only to accuse, only to attack. But look at the mirror. I told many times. Before coming and lecturing us and in your question, accusing me. It’s not a question, it’s an accusation. You talk like a prosecutor. Why? If you are so democratic and so objective why do you keep Assange in prison? For what? You keep him in prison because of his journalistic activity.
-I am not keeping him in prison President Aliyev.
-You don’t like this.
-It’s not a question you don’t like this.
- You are not used to this.
-It is not the subject of our interview.
-Because you are used only to attack.
-It is not the subject of our interview.
It is not the subject of your interview, but you raise it.
-You raised it.
-No. You raised it.
-You raised the case of Assange.
-You said if you don’t have a free media in your country how Armenians can live without opposition? That was your accusation.
-You have answered the question President Aliyev. Could I ask you going back to the conflict? As you say, forty days and counting. How long do you expect this to continue? Is this going to be a battle through the winter?
-Nobody knows. Again, coming back to the beginning of our conversation, if Pashinyan says today that yes, I accept basic principles and I will liberate part of Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin in one week, or in two weeks, we will stop immediately.
-But he doesn’t need to give you a guarantee for liberating the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh. You are speaking about the territories on the outside. I just want to be very clear to understand your position.
-Yes, that’s the basic principles. On the basic principles we have very clear picture. Liberation of seven districts, then return of Azerbaijani IDPs, then return of Azerbaijani people, refugees to Nagorno-Karabakh.
-So he has to give you Nagorno-Karabakh also.
-He has to allow Azerbaijanis to go back there. To go back to Shusha.
-So you don’t need to be in control of Nagorno-Karabakh.
-Well, what do you mean by the “control”?
-Do you need to take physical control of Nagorno-Karabakh and remove the Nagorno-Karabakh defense forces, remove any Armenian official presence or are you saying that you will be satisfied if your civilians are allowed to return?
-In the basic principles which Armenia did not accept, and actually they are not valid because Armenia did not accept them, in the basic principles there is a provision that Azerbaijanis will return there and they will be living there in peace, in security, with security guarantees. We did not go too far in negotiation process in order to specify what kind of governance will be there. Our position is there must be a certain level of self-governance, like municipal governance or cultural autonomy for Armenians. But we didn’t go too far. And if Pashinyan did what I ask from the very beginning, when we liberated Fuzuli, then the war would have stopped, and we would have talked now about how to move on the negotiation table. But he doesn’t make this commitment. Therefore, if it continues like that we will continue. There is no other way. We will go until the end before we restore the territorial integrity of the country, which is recognized by the whole world.
-So, President Aliyev, you have made significant advances already and taking territory alongside Nagorno-Karabakh. How soon do you plan to start sending your civilians back?
-First we will need to evaluate the damage caused by Armenian state against Azerbaijan and against the property of our citizens. Because in the liberated territories almost everything is destroyed. I said many times that in the big city of Fuzuli, where ten thousands of people live we could not find any building in order to put a flag on. So, we raised it on a derrick. Therefore, first, we will evaluate the damage, we will invite international experts in order to evaluate the damage which was caused to our ecology, to our infrastructure, to our civilians who lost their houses and to our state, to our historical heritage, because all the mosques were destroyed, all the museums were destroyed. This is first. And after that, of course, there will be lawsuits, lawsuits against Armenian state, and we are already preparing for that. Second, we will need to create at least initial conditions for people to live there. We need to provide construction materials we need to invest in infrastructure.
-So, do you think, it is a matter of years realistically?
-You know, we have already resettled 300 thousand refugees and IDPs during all these times of occupation. And the last years were the most impressive, because only this year we are resettling seven thousand families of refugees. So, we can, I think manage to resettle from 7 to 10 thousand families a year, but of course, for that we need to have infrastructure. We do it in Baku where everything is ready. But in those areas where everything is destroyed we need power stations, we need roads we need water supply. So, all that will take time. I don’t know how long it will take but we will try to do everything to do it in a maximum shortest period.
-One or two final quick questions President Aliyev, if I may?
You have huge support from Turkey which is a very strong ally of Azerbaijan. How often do you speak to President Erdogan?
-Very often, especially now several times a week.
-Not daily, but if necessary, may be several times a day. We are brothers, we are friends, and you say huge support, you are right, but I want to specify, this is a political support and moral support. Nothing more than that.
-Are there Turkish pilots here, piloting the drones that are being used?
-So they are being used by your forces?
-Yes. Everything is used by our forces, not only Turkish drones, but Israeli drones and Russian military equipment and military equipment from other countries which we purchase and which we pay for, unlike Armenia which gets it free of charge. Everything is done by us.
-Do you foresee a day when you might want Turkish direct military involvement? We have seen that Armenia has already gone to Russia, and said ‘what are you prepared to do?’ Do you see a day when you would be asking Turkey to become more involved?
-I don’t want to look too far ahead, because it will depend on the situation on the battlefield. It will depend on Armenia’s behavior, and on other countries’ behavior. Because on many occasions I said that we are against internationalization of the conflict, we asked all the countries, neighboring countries, and not neighboring countries to stay away from this conflict. We are fighting on our land, internationally recognized. So, this is our position. And I think that what is happening now will continue. So there will be no need for any kind of military involvement of Turkey. But, with Turkey, many years ago, we signed the document which provides also military support in case of aggression. So, with Turkey we have more or less the same format legal basis like Armenia and Russia has. So, if Azerbaijan will face an aggression and if Azerbaijan will see that the Turkish military support is needed, then we will consider this option.
-I’m going to beg your assistance just for two more questions, President Aliyev, if I may.
What would you say to those who argue and I’m sure you’ve heard this argument being made that one of the reasons why the conflict has reignited now and why you are pursuing such a strong advance is because of this very strong backing from Turkey that this really has been the clincher for you.
-No, not at all. And by the way, where is this Turkish military involvement? Who can verify that, who have seen any Turkish soldiers.
-Not involvement on the ground, but the strong political support the constant statements, the very strong backing from a very strong regional power. Has that not been a factor in this?
-Yes. This is a factor, but this factor became very important after the conflict started. Because if you follow the chronology of the conflict, so, this statement started hours after Armenia attacked us and we pushed back. But Turkish political support to Azerbaijan has always been here. It is not just like it happened all of a sudden. It has always been like that. Why the conflict started? I can tell you, because Armenia wanted to disrupt negotiations. They launched an attack on us on 12 July, on the state border, and they entered our territory, we had to push back. And that clash lasted four days. And we stopped after we pushed them back from Azerbaijan and we did not cross the state border. Then in the middle of August, they sent a sabotage group, which crossed the line of contact, and the head of that group was detained, he confessed that they were planning terror acts against civilians. And then they started to shell our cities on the 27th of September, and we had the first victims in the early hours, maybe early minutes among civilians and among our military servicemen. They shelled us with heavy artillery. So, that’s how it started. Why it started?
-President, forgive me, because I know you wish to tell us the history. You mentioned the loss of military servicemen. Why is it that you are not releasing figures for your military losses are you concerned that support might wane if people knew how many young men are being killed in this war?
No, not at all. First, we don’t have many. If you how to say, look at the scale of the war, and the fact that we had to break those engineering constructions and all those positions which Armenians built for 30 years our losses are minimal. Of course, we cannot talk like that because every life of the human being is priceless. But we have much less losses than Armenians because our military capability is much better. And we have modern weapons which allow us to have minimum losses particularly those drones. Because without those drones all those tanks and guns would have killed so many people. So, it is not a reason because we think we will not have public support. On the contrary, those people who lost there, close relatives, their sons, their brothers, they ask us not to stop. Can you imagine? I receive thousands of letters every day, thousands of letters, and in no one of those letters I saw that, stop. No. They say, I lost my son, I lost my brother, I lost my husband. Please go until the end. Please go until the end. Because our people have lived in this situation for almost thirty years.
-But that almost sounds President Aliyev like you have nowhere out of this war like you must fight to recover every last inch.
-Yes, that’s what I am saying. But at the same time, I said from the very beginning that if Pashinyan, him personally, not his foreign minister, him personally, says Armenia withdraws its troops from Aghdam, from Kalbajar, from Lachin, the three remaining regions which they have to liberate and give us a timetable, we will stop immediately. We don’t want to continue this war. We don’t want. We want to stop, and what I am saying now I was saying from the very beginning and people who know me, they know that I am a man of my word. What I say, I do. If Pashinyan tells that today, I promise you that we will stop immediately, but he doesn’t do it. He doesn’t do it. He wants to regain back. He wants to use these ceasefire opportunities to regroup his forces, to mobilize more people. He is now as you said sent a letter to President Putin for military assistance. Thus, admitting his defeat, and if he admits his defeat why he cannot say that he will liberate the territories. These territories do not belong to Armenia. These are our lands. They have to give them back to us. If they don’t do it, as I said, we will go until the end. No way to stop.
-Do you know how many civillians have been killed inside Nagorno-Karabakh by the activities of your forces?
-No, we don’t know. We heard the official information from Armenian defense ministry. We do not believe this official information.
-They say 45 civilians.
-Yes. I know. 45 or 47. We don’t know. I cannot say anything which I don’t know. But I think that it is much exaggerated, because we did not attack their villages, we did not attack their cities. We only attacked
-With respect, President Aliyev, there is a documentary, evidence of attacks on their villages and on their cities.
-I did not finish yet. We attacked Khankandi, because Khankandi was full of military installations. So, we had to destroy them.
-Civilian houses have been destroyed.
-It happens sometimes during the war. It happens. We are not so accurate you know, if their artillery is just next to the house. It is not like Ganja when they hit deliberately by ballistic missiles the civilian compounds where there was no in the radius of maybe 20-30 km a military object.
-But are you troubled by reports of civilian loss of life?
-Yes, of course. I regret. I regret that it happened, and I express condolences to all those who lost their relatives. I mean civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh. But again, taking into account the scope of conflict, again saying that every life of the person is priceless, still, their losses are very low.
-And this shows that we are not fighting against civilians. Do you know how many civilians they killed during the war of the 90s? Thousands. Thousands.
-There are concerns…
-The Khojaly genocide. They killed 613 innocent people among them 63 children and 106 women only because they were Azerbaijanis. The Khojaly genocide is a well-known documented fact.
-Do you accept that there is a danger now of a humanitarian catastrophe this winter in Nagorno-Karabakh? You are closing in. You could be in a position soon to besiege the area. What is going to be the fate of the civilians inside?
-That’s the question not to me but to Pashinyan to stop, and I say how to stop.
-But you could cut them off. If they are cut off by your forces how can they survive?
-We will take care of them. We will take care of them. Absolutely, no doubt about that. We will provide them with everything, with food with water with everything. No doubt about that. And all our, all our military commanders got a direct instruction from me in the first hours of the conflict that civilians must be taken care of. Do you know the story about two elderly persons whom we found in Hadrut? Their relatives and military they just left them and ran away. So, one lady and one gentleman of almost 90 years old. And we brought them here to Baku. We put them to the hospital, and we surrendered them to Armenia. But do you know what happened? When that old gentleman was already on the border in Gazakh far away from here, Armenians refused to accept him. They said ‘he is ill and he will die soon, we don’t want him’. You know. That’s what they’ve done and this person under the care of Red Cross was put to the hospital and the lady was surrendered to them and the man, unfortunately, died. That’s how we treat civilians. Therefore, those who live in Nagorno-Karabakh now, they can be absolutely sure that we will take care of them and they will live under Azerbaijani umbrella much better.
-But 90 thousand of them approximately have already fled, they don’t seem to be comforted by these assurances.
-According to our information, the real population of those who lived in Nagorno-Karabakh was from 60 to 70 thousand people. All those figures are highly exaggerated. Therefore, I doubt that 90 thousand could flee, because maximum 70.
-May I ask you a long-term question President Aliyev? How do you see the future of the South Caucasus how do you see peace coming here? I mean do you ever see a day when there will be peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia?
-Yes, if you ask my position, I think it is possible. But it depends not only on me, it depends only on Armenian side. And during this forty days of war, on several occasions, I said that I wish to see the day when three South Caucasian countries would be working together. As for instance we do with Georgia. Our close strategic partner and friend. Look how many projects we implemented with them. How close our relations are. They are based on historical legacy and they are based on pragmatism on balance of our interests. So why Armenia became isolated? Because of occupation. And if you look at the map for instance, our energy and transportation projects, you will see that they bypass Armenia. The shortest way for us to deliver our resources to the international markets was through Armenia and we offered them that in the 1990s. We said, ‘look, liberate the territories let’s build the pipeline through Armenian territory, and then entering Nakhchivan and then Turkey, we will then combine the interests of all countries’. We will make all countries of the region in a certain way inter dependent. And that will be a guarantee for peace. They said ‘no’. I offered many times through the Minsk Group co-chairs, they can approve it, financial assistance, social programs in Nagorno-Karabakh financing from our budget, if they liberate territories. They said no. I offered autonomy, the highest possible autonomy in the world, I offered to Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenians said no. They said no to everything. So, what happens now is their fault. By the way, the first president who was overthrown by Karabakh clan published an article saying that what Azerbaijanis are offering now to us they will not offer again. That was in the middle of 90s.
-And you would accept an autonomus status now for Nagorno-Karabakh.
-Now, I prefer not to talk about that, because now situation on the ground has changed. But I offered this many times and Armenians rejected it.
-So, now what do you want for Nagorno-Karabakh?
-Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. It will be part of Azerbaijan as any other region of Azerbaijan. If it will depend again on what will be Armenian government’s behavior? It is still not too late for them to be reasonable. It is still not too late for them to get more on the negotiation table. Because after we take control of other cities and villages, there will be nothing to talk about. So, they are losing time. And if they behave reasonably, we can work on some forms of self-governance. We are not against it. But they should not violate territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. They should be based on the best practice which European countries, like Italy like Sweden and Finland have between themselves. Why there should be something different? And then of course, the peace will come to the region and I think that, but frankly speaking, with this prime minister of Armenia I don’t think that there is any possibility for peace. There must be a change of government in Armenia, reasonable people must come, those people which are not affiliated with bloodshed and military crimes. And then, I think, by joint actions we can create a new format of cooperation in the Southern Caucasus among Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia which used to be in Soviet times. We had friendly relations, we lived together.
-Is there any compromise that you can offer for the sake of peace? Is there anything that you can say now you are prepared to give?
-You know I cannot offer compromise when other side just is not willing to compromise. During these times Armenian prime minister also on several occasions was interviewed by foreign journalists, and he was asked. There was one program Russian TV, they were asking same questions to me and to him. And when I was asked about compromise I said what I am saying to you. When he was asked about compromise three times he said self-determination for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. But this is not a compromise. What compromise they are ready to do? And by the way, today their opportunities to compromise is shrinking, because we are getting those territories back by force. Our compromise is still on the table. But it is not 100% sure that it will be on the table if we take all these territories back. Then, what will we talk about? So, for Armenian prime minister for him, for his own sake, the best thing is now to listen to me and to say publicly ‘we liberate Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin’. And we stop, and there will be a ceasefire, and if they don’t violate it again, and we will come back to those issues which you refer to-status, autonomy, cultural autonomy, community, et cetera. But we can be fair and I have always been honest with our people. Today situation changed therefore, what I offered to them a year ago, two years ago maybe is not valid. But it is premature to talk about it. Let’s see.
-Have you a hope of a peaceful settlement?
-Yes. I have a hope, because my hope is based now on our success on the battlefield. My hope is not based on Armenian constructive position, because what we have seen on the battlefield, what we have seen in Fuzuli, in Jabrayil. We saw that they were not planning to liberate the territories. They were just lying to us, they were lying to co-chairs of the Minsk Group, because they invested so much in these fortifications, that they would have never, never liberated that. It took us a lot of time to take control of Fuzuli because of that. And then, when we were moving by the Araz river towards the state border with Armenia, in several villages there have been very severe clashes and it took us several days to break that defense.
-President Aliyev, I wanted to ask you, if I may, a question on behalf of our Azerbaijan service of BBC and if you would be happy to reply in your own language? I think they would be very happy to have that. What kind of future do you see here for the people of Azerbaijan after this conflict? Some would say here, and I know you disagree but some would say that this is a society which still does not have full freedom, full human rights. Do you see a peace dividend if this conflict finishes? Do you see the society here being able to move on from the Nagorno-Karabakh issue which is so consuming what future do you see here?
- I think that the future of our country will be very bright. We have made great strides in recent years. Today, our country’s successes in both political and economic spheres are recognized by international organizations. Great successes have also been achieved in the international arena. Azerbaijan has become a very strong country. All issues within the country are being resolved. Of course, the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will give our country a new breathp of life. First of all, people will be able to return to their ancestral lands and visit the graves of their relatives. The Azerbaijani state will definitely provide them with maximum assistance in this. We will rebuild the occupied lands, build houses, office buildings, schools. Thus, a new era will begin for our country. This new period will usher ample opportunities, and I believe that the positive trends will intensify not only in the economic sphere but also in political relations. Azerbaijan will further enhance its role in the international arena. Respect for Azerbaijan will increase. As a strong state, we are restoring our territorial integrity, we are restoring justice and international law. So I am confident that the future development of our country will be very successful. We have achieved all our goals so far. We have achieved all the goals I have stated. The restoration of our territorial integrity and the return of our lands have been my primary tasks as President. I am glad that I have managed these tasks with dignity, and we are returning to our lands thanks to the support, hard work and courage of the Azerbaijani people. The selflessness of the Azerbaijani people shows once again that we are a great nation, we have demonstrated unity, and this unity will strengthen us even more, will make our country even stronger.
-Great. President Aliyev thank you so much. You have been very generous with your time this morning, and we are very grateful.
-Thank you for your questions.
His Excellency Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Dear Mr. President,
I take this opportunity to congratulate you on the historic achievement of reuniting your beautiful country. Azerbaijan suffered for far too long from...28 September 2023, 15:30