Ilham Aliyev attended “New vision for South Caucasus: Post-conflict development and cooperation” international conference held at ADA University
13 April 2021, 10:00
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has participated in the “New Vision for South Caucasus: Post-Conflict Development and Cooperation” international conference held at ADA University.
In his opening remarks at the conference which is attended by representatives of world’s leading think tanks, Rector of the ADA University, Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev said:
-Your Excellency, Mr President, dear participants of conference.
On behalf of all attendees I am honored to thank President Ilham Aliyev for his participation today at our conference, and for willingness to share his vision for the future of the region. President Aliyev is the founder of our university and has always been a strong supporter of educational reform in the country. His vision for modern university in Azerbaijan and turning it into international platform for academic and policy discussions is serving our today’s event very well as ADA university is one of the main organizers of the conference. Mr. President, welcoming you at our university I would like to take this opportunity and on behalf of faculty and students congratulate you with decisive victory in Karabakh war which has resulted in the liberation of internationally recognized lands of Azerbaijan, and restoration of territorial integrity of our country. We have longed and dreamed of these days for thirty years and your leadership, as well as heroic sacrifice of our fallen heroes have given Azerbaijani nation this wonderful moment of joy and glory. Dear participants, we are holding these discussions following your trip to Aghdam, one of the liberated regions of Karabakh, where you have witnessed destruction and the horrible impact of Armenian occupation. The war is over and now is a time for the new vision for South Caucasus with the focus on development and cooperation in order to make Karabakh one of the best regions of the world. Faculty of our university have been involved in various policy formulation meetings as well as conduct of repatriation survey among the IDPs to help our government in reconstruction efforts. Your contribution, ideas and input in this regard come very helpful to us and we thank you for travelling to Baku and joining our conference. Mr. President, once again, we thank you for your time and it is my great honor to pass floor to you. Thank you.
Addressing the event, President Ilham Aliyev said:
-Thank you. First of all, I would like to express gratitude to ADA university, and to rector Mr. Pashayev for organizing such an event. I am glad that ADA University within the relatively short period of time became one of the leading universities in Azerbaijan and has a very broad international connections. Also, I’m very grateful to the participants of the conference for their participation, because as you can imagine the situation after war is very fragile. Though the ceasefire is being maintained still there are a lot of questions about post-conflict development and the topic of the conference is post-conflict development and cooperation. Therefore, once again, thank you to all the participants for your attendance. We consider this as not only a sign of interest to what is happening here in the region but also as a sign of your solidarity with the people of Azerbaijan who suffered from Armenian occupation for 30 years. Before talking about post-conflict development we need to understand that our lands were under occupation for 30 years and we cannot exclude our memory, the memory of those who lost their family members, the member of those who were deprived from the fundamental right to live on their own lands.
We cannot forget the atrocities committed by Armenian army. We cannot and will never forget Khojaly genocide and the innocent victims of Khojaly genocide organized by the leaders of Armenia and the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh regime. Therefore, it’s very important to understand that this memory will be with us. We will keep it in our heart. At the same time, we need to look to the future. Also, the destructions on the territories which we liberated are beyond all our worst expectations. Because we more or less knew what Armenians have done to our cities and villages. Because there have been from time to time some video footages some information from some international representatives who managed to visit those lands.
Probably you know that foreigners who were illegally visiting then Nagorno-Karabakh were deprived of visiting the territories which you have visited. They were deprived of going to Aghdam, to Fuzuli, to other territories which surrounded the former Nagorno-Karabakh administrative district. Because Armenian government didn’t want foreigners to see the devastation and to see their hatred to Azerbaijanis, because it’s clear that those destructions and devastations were done after the first Karabakh war stopped. Because it’s not possible to destroy the cities and villages during the war.
They did it deliberately in order to erase the legacy of Azerbaijani culture in order to erase these territories from our memories, in order to change the origin of those lands. Therefore, we need to understand the feelings of Azerbaijani people and now when we returned to those lands and we see with our own eyes what the occupation of Armenian forces did to our historical monuments, religious monuments, to our cities and villages. Of course, this is a very important factor in order to understand our steps with respect to post-conflict situation. You are all very well aware of what happened. You were involved in this process you know. So, there’s no need for me to make a long speech talking about 30 years of occupation. Probably I will conclude now in order to have more time for discussions. So, thank you once again for being with us.
Assistant to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan-Head of the Department of Foreign Policy Affairs of the Presidential Administration Hikmat Hajiyev: Thank you Mr. President. With your permission, we can start our question and answer section. As we have more than ten speakers, who have subscribed for asking questions and expressing their comments. Our first question and comments starts with Matthew Bryza, former co-chair of the Minsk Group.
Senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, international expert Matthew Bryza: Thank you Mr. Hajiyev, thank you Mr. President. It’s an honor to be with you. Very-very nice to see you in this new world. I want to pick up on where you just left off-about the mindsets both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The fact that this decisive victory that Azerbaijan won through combination of innovative technologies, and tactics, but also incredible bravery. I don’t think people understand that you conducted the war in a restrained way. The collateral damage, or civilian casualties were at the minimum. You showed strategic vision by pausing after you won the military phase of war in Shusha. Consistently the war aims that were articulated, were also consistent with years of negotiations and preliminary agreement back in 2009, and the so-called basic principles. I mean that November 9-10 agreement is essentially the basic principles, except there is no possibility in the change of Nagorno-Karabakh’s legal status, because Armenia didn’t accept throughout the war that solution and then lost the war. So, my question is, is there any sense in Armenia, do you feel it at all that there is an appreciation that the way the war was conducted was actually quite restrained and then should create an opening for some sort of over time a reconciliation? And the second question is I’m supposed to ask, if you might be willing to take a group photo with us later?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, sure, of course. Thank you very much, thank you for your comments. You are a person who was directly involved in the negotiation process. Therefore, you know what was our position and you know what was Armenian position. The Azerbaijani position was always constructive, because as I said many times, during our meetings with your formal colleagues, ambassadors of the Minsk Group from France and Russia that Azerbaijan always was interested in finding soonest solutions to the conflict because we were the suffering side.
I had a strong feeling during negotiations and I shared it with you that Armenia doesn’t want a solution. They say they want but they do everything in order not to have this solution. What we have seen after we liberated the territories, those fortifications, those huge hundred millions of dollars investments in mining, in building this defense lines.
We clearly understand that they were doing it in order to keep these lands under occupation forever. So, their tactics was actually to be in the process of negotiations, I mean the previous governments, to have kind of a process, to imitate, to negotiate, to agree on something, to disagree on other things. But when it comes to make a decisive step to step back as it was in France, in Rambouillet, as it was in 2009 after Armenian side actually rejected the formula of settlement which provided the liberation of the surrounding territories of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan and leaving the so-called status for future negotiations. Therefore, this is how it works. So, you know it very well. With respect to our behaviour during the war from the very beginning it was very clear that Azerbaijan is conducting not only the war of 21st century but the war of new morality if I may say so. When war started my immediate commands to our military servicemen was to behave with dignity to behave in a moderate way, and to do maximum in order not to do damage civilians. And the fact that there have been less than 40 victims on Armenian side among civilians clearly demonstrated. Because we were liberating territories.
“Some territories were illegally inhabited. Therefore, our attacks, our technical capability was aimed only on military objects. And those less than 40 victims which Armenian side had most of those people were participating in the military operations. They were civilians who were recruited to the military units and they were part of military operations. The way how we treated those who were left behind also is a clear demonstration of the human nature of our policy and human behaviour of our army. There have been several elderly people left behind for instance in the province of Hadrut. And when our soldiers came, they saw these people. They were frightened. The elderly people, they spoke very good Azerbaijani, because they lived together with Azerbaijanis, and they were taken to the hospital. They were treated in our hospitals. Then, when we decided and the Red Cross was involved to return them back, Armenians refused to receive them. One of the elderly who was in poor health condition, they refused to receive him, because they said that they don’t want to take care of him. So, we, together with the Red Cross put him to the hospital in Azerbaijan. And with respect to the question “do they in Armenia appreciate our behaviour”, I would say “no”. And this is a very unfortunate development of events, because if we are talking now about post-conflict situation, we need to concentrate on some elements which can lead to future reconciliation. But there have been such a long period of deliberate policy of demonization of Azerbaijan, inventing stories, presenting Azerbaijanis as enemies as those who occupied Armenia or occupied Karabakh. So, it probably takes time for the society to understand and not only during the war, but even after war what we have done. We returned more than 1500 dead bodies of Armenian soldiers. We are still participating together with the Russian peacekeepers in these searching operations. And I can tell you that in the first Karabakh war we had almost 4000 missing Azerbaijani soldiers. None of them was returned. None of them. So, this is a difference. We provide easy transportation, logistical support to Russian peacekeeping forces through our railroad. They bring the goods by the railroad to Barda. It is much easier and cheaper rather than to fly to Yerevan and then go 5 hours or 6 hours by Lachin corridor. And many other elements I can bring. We allowed Russian Gazprom to transport natural gas to Armenia through Azerbaijani territory because of the repair work on Russian territory. We could have said no, but we said yes. This is another sign, another gesture. We allow Armenians to use 21 kilometres of our road in Zangilan and Gubadli districts which is a road situated on Azerbaijani territory but was used by Armenians and we allow. We did not block it. Did they allow us to move one meter to the territories which were occupied during the war? No. So, these are all unilateral steps and it’s not only a gesture. It’s a deliberate policy of turning the page of the war. I said, despite of what I said in the introductory comment that we will never forget, at the same time, we need to look to the future. I think here we expect more activity from civil society of Armenia. Because neither government, nor opposition today will not even afford them to say any even not a positive and neutral word about Azerbaijan, because it’s a concept of Azerbaijanophobia. It’s decades of cultivation of hatred against Azerbaijanis now actually deprive them of their right. But I think they should find courage and they should start telling truth to Armenian people, because the war is already in the history, the conflict is resolved and we need to look to the future.
UK Conciliation Resources Laurence Broers: Mr. President, in the late 1990s there was a view in Azerbaijan that civil society and NGOs could come in and work with populations to build confidence once the conflict was solved. I wanted to pick up on where you left off there by asking you what is your thinking now given what you have said that the conflict is resolved. What should be the roles of civil society and peacebuilding in this new vision for the region? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: I think that they can play a crucial role especially with respect to what I said about my expectations from the political segment of Armenian society. Therefore, it’s a big room for civil society to make steps with respect to reconciliation. But I can tell you probably you know that even those very few representatives of Armenian civil society who speak for peace with Azerbaijan are becoming a subject of attacks and public attacks and sometimes physical attacks. They are announced as traitors. Armenian politicians call them Turks. In their political slang it is probably very insulting word and they are being frightened by politicians. We made steps of building bridges between our civil society members even during the conflict as there have been two delegations visiting Armenia, Karabakh and coming to Baku. But after the second trip of representatives of civil society, journalists and some members of parliament, Armenian side stopped it. And when I asked then former Armenian President Sargsyan why they stopped it, there was no answer. Then we found out that they were afraid that there could be some rapprochement, there could be some elements of cooperation. They were always blocking that. But now, I don’t think that they are in this position but we need to be able to deliver our messages to Armenian society. Our resources are very limited. The public space in Armenia is strongly controlled by the government. As I said any positive sign or word about Azerbaijan is considered to be a treason. Therefore, I think that international organizations, especially those who have experience in dealing with this kind of issues of post-conflict reconciliation or normalization, confidence-building measures, I think we should count a lot on the support from international NGOs. Azerbaijan is ready to work with them on this issue.
University of Venice, Italy Carlo Frappi: Thanks Mr. President. It’s an honor being here. My question revolves around a need for reconstruction again and how Azerbaijan’s partners maybe helpful in that and particularly on Italian-Azerbaijani relations. 2020 was a watershed in our relations. This is not only because of the inauguration of the Southern Gas Corridor finally. But I would say it’s the result of a wider engagement especially as a result of the state visit last February in Italy which can be seen as a watershed. Declaration or joint declaration on multi-dimensional strategic partnership for signing whereby would highlight this. Italy for the first time made an open commitment to Azerbaijani territorial integrity. So, somehow, even without the departure from previous policy of equal distance. And also somehow kind of departure from what our European friends were doing and are still doing. So, this kind of commitment was symbolically reiterated also in the aftermath of the war. I remember this very high profile visit to the liberated territories by high profile Italian delegation and on that occasion Mr. President you said that you express Azerbaijani determination to closely work with Italy on this reconstruction process. So, my question is what is currently the state of the art and especially what we may expect in the coming future and how Italy can be helpful not only in the reconstruction process but also in this need for reconciliation. Thank you so much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I fully agree with what you said about our bilateral partnership.
Italy is a very close friend and partner for us. I still remember my state visit to Italy last February. As you know, before that President of Italy Mr. Mattarella paid a state visit to Azerbaijan and my visit was also a continuation of our strategic dialogue. We signed a document on strategic partnership. By the way, it was the second. We already signed one, it was signed several years ago. So, this really demonstrates our mutual commitment. And also, as you correctly mentioned we are very grateful to Italy for their straightforward, just approach with respect to the resolution of the conflict, which we know that was not easy to articulate, especially in the European Union family, where there are very strong, powerful Armenian supporters who always tried to put on the same scale the victim of occupation and the occupational forces. So, that was really very important sign of cooperation.
Also I can tell you that we have already signed documents on strategic partnership with nine EU member states. I think some of them were also encouraged by what we have done with Italy. So, our political relations are excellent. We continue strong cooperation and this cooperation was already tested during the conflict and in post war period. And as you correctly mentioned, the visit of Italian delegation to the liberated territories is considered by us as another sign of support. I can tell you that from the very first days of our plans for reconstruction we invited Italian companies. We invited them through Italian Embassy. Here by the way, the Ambassador who already terminated his duties was very active in promoting Italian interests and Italian business and he is a very good friend of Azerbaijan. So, we approached Italian embassy in order to give us some recommendations with respect to Italian companies. We had previous contacts, because Italian companies implemented big projects here, in petrochemicals, refinery, construction, and architectural projects. They already started and we want to expand the presence of Italian companies. As I said, after war we will invite the companies from friendly countries. And this is natural, because the period of war was a kind of clear indicator for us who is who. Of course, we had some assumptions. We more or less could predict what will be the position of this country or that country. But to say 100 percent we are not sure. But the war made everything clear. Among the areas where Italian companies already have been invited, I can tell you maybe one of the most important, we invited Italian companies to participate in the project of different museums and war memorials, because we will have museums of victory and war memorials not only in Baku, but also in other cities liberated. So, this is one area. Another area where we invited Italian companies already, is power generation. The contacts have already started and after war not only contacts, but also some preliminary documents have already been signed, because there is a huge potential of power generation on the liberated territories, particularly renewable water, sun and wind. Preliminary documents have already been signed. We count very much on using Italian experience in developing agriculture on the liberated territories, because it’s a very good fertile soil on those areas and we can have maximum productivity. I can tell you that now at this moment among foreign companies we have only Turkish, Italian and British companies who already are working with the Azerbaijani counterparts. Of course, we are only now in the first stage of development. Though physical reconstruction have already started, infrastructure projects have already been launched. But there will be huge potential for the future. Of course, there will be more other companies from different countries. We want all our friends to be part of reconstruction, all our friends to benefit from this opportunities, because we as a nation and we as a government are very grateful . This is our nature. If someone does us something good, we will always keep it in our heart and will try to do everything to reciprocate. So, taking all that into account, our friendly relations, strong political ties, great experience of Italian companies and also our plans to restore our historical and religious sights and Italy is a world center of culture. That’s my opinion I’m sure you will share it with me. Therefore, there will be huge and diversified opportunities for working together.
International Crisis Group Turkish branch, Nigar Goksel: Mr. President, yesterday we were in Aghdam and we saw the massive physical destruction but we were also able to imagine that the tragedy of the lives torn apart and sort of human cost. And I imagine besides reconstruction, when the local people of Aghdam returned to their homes it’s going to take some time and effort for them to build trust with the Armenian villages nearby to be able to interact. So, I was wondering what kind of steps you expect from the Armenian side, also the Armenians in Karabakh to build that trust again so that they can live side by side without peacekeepers Inshallah one day. And also, in the bigger picture, I was wondering whether in the short or medium term you think it will be useful for Turkey to open its border with Armenia both for a regional integration and to address the demonization and the Turkophobia that we see so rampant in the society. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Of course, it is difficult to predict how Azerbaijanis and Armenians will interact in the future. I think to a large degree it will depend on the will and political wisdom of politicians, because I think we need to be more active here and in Yerevan in order to try to build bridges, of course, if Armenia wants that. We don’t know what are their intentions. They never elaborated on that.
“I already on several occasions made it very clear that we consider the page of the conflict turned down. We even can talk and I already said it a couple of times about a possible peace agreement with Armenia. These are our plans. But we do not have any messages of this kind from Armenian side. Armenian prime minister is silent, Armenian foreign minister is very aggressive and Armenia is not in the situation now to afford themselves to be aggressive against Azerbaijan. They should remember what happened during the war. Armenian opposition is now actually in hysteria. And Azerbaijanophobia, Turkophobia became one of the main, it always was very important but now, I think, it is the only factor. I am sure that they will build their election campaign on Azerbaijanophobia, Turkophobia on the feelings of revanchism. Therefore we cannot establish this interaction unilaterally. Our position is clear. We are ready for that. It will not be easy.
Those former refugees who will return to Aghdam and other territories they will see what Armenians have done to their lands, to the graves of their beloved ones, to their religious monuments. What will they feel? I can predict. I felt the same. When I was approaching the line of contact during the war, and was only able to see Aghdam through lenses from binoculars and when I went there, to all the occupied territories. Yes, I am a President and I must be in line with my duties, but we are all people we have feelings, we can hide them, we can control them but sometimes it is very difficult. So, I can predict what will be the feelings of former Azerbaijani refugees but as a President, as a person who looks to the future we will do everything if Armenia has positive signals to us to try to build these connections. And what already have been done from our side unilaterally, I already mentioned, is a clear demonstration of that.
And believe me, we could have not allowed any of these things happen and nobody could have forced us. We did it deliberately. So, this is as far as the first question is concerned. With respect to the second question, we see some signs and some very low voices in Armenian establishment about reconsidering it their policy, towards Turkey. Even during the conflict on several occasions I was talking about that saying that this is absolutely unacceptable and strange that such a small and impoverished and weak country as Armenia has territorial claims against such a great and powerful country as Turkey. They were so much under their ideological dogmas and this Turkophobia became a national policy that they even lost the feeling of reality. And as far as I know, the Turkish government is planning their steps in a very constructive way. But of course, they need to have an adequate response. First, what Armenia should do? They should refrain from territorial claims against Turkey. They should rewrite their constitution. They should adopt a new constitution, they are planning to do it. But that’s for political agenda of the government. The government wants to strengthen their political position. But at the same time, I think I can give them a good advice-to remove from their constitution territorial claims against Turkey. I don’t know in which country’s constitution there is a territorial claim against other country. I think it’s a unique situation and everybody should understand that there have been wars and wars and wars throughout the history, and their fake history with respect to the so-called genocide has nothing to do with reality. It was war for situation when people were fighting with each other, countries were fighting with each other but then, there was a reconciliation. By the way, at that time, Armenia had difficulties not only with Ottoman Empire. They also had difficulties with other neighbors and why they only selected Turkey for their unjustified attacks. So, Turkish government on several occasions publicly offered some creation of some joint groups of historians to look impartially, objectively to these issues. But they rejected. Why? Because they need this fake history in order to get political dividends. They were exploiting this fake story in order to get protection, to get now some assistance from some countries. So, that’s my position. At the same time, what I can add, of course, I cannot speak on behalf of Turkey but what I can say is not a secret that as you know today we are discussing the unblocking of communications and particularly Zangazur corridor. Zangazur corridor cannot be unblocked without Turkey’s agreement and their participation. Though, Turkey is not present in a trilateral working group on the level of deputy prime ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia but Turkey is informed by us about what we discuss and if Armenia wants to put an end to difficulties with communications. If they want to have any opportunity to become a transit country it’s only Turkey which can provide them with that. And as far as I know, Turkish government is ready. So, again the ball is on Armenian side. They need good doctors. I said many times, they are poisoned with poison. This poison mainly comes from their diaspora which sits in a very quiet and nice places in Southern France, in California, in Krasnodar Krai, in some other capitals and enjoy their life. And they want those Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh in former Nagorno-Karabakh and in Armenia to be their hostages and be their tools for them to pursue some ambitious and chauvinistic ideas. Armenian society needs to destroy the iron curtain if I can talk about these anologies. They are living in the iron curtain and they have been influenced by this poisonous ideas. We are ready to help them with that.
Senior Research Fellow at Academy of Sciences of the Russian Federation, Stanislav Pritchin: Mr President, it’s a great privilege to be with you today. Thank you for your time. My question is about future of Azerbaijan. Everybody knows that in less than two months Azerbaijan will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its independence and by this time probably Azerbaijan has resolved the key question, key goal for its independency, restoration of territorial integrity. From my perspective now the time to set up the long-term goals for the next 30 years and in this regard I would like to ask you how your vision of the future of Azerbaijan which goals now Azerbaijan as a state sets up for the future. How do you see Azerbaijan in 10-20 years regarding in terms of GDP, development of economy and strategy generally as a state? Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. In order to answer these questions we need probably a special session for several hours but I will try to be very brief.
We actually have elaborated the mid-term and long term development strategy for Azerbaijan even before the war. Of course, the liberation of territories will be additional opportunities, because though the restoration of territories will demand a lot of resources, at the same time these resources will be spent in Azerbaijan. They will stimulate business, they will stimulate construction sector of our economy, they will create jobs, they will create opportunities, they will create additional values in agriculture. Therefore, now we, in a way, have two development programs; first is an annual development program which we approve every year, and also the development program until 2030, and the second is the development program for Karabakh reconstruction which is now only in the phase of beginning. So, now our governmental structures work on combination or coordination between two, in order not to spend twice for the same purpose. And for that purpose in the liberated territories we are now introducing an absolutely new model of governance. There will be different model of governance of presidential administration and there will be very modern approach to development not only during the reconstruction but also after it. Therefore, we are now evaluating all our resources which have been illegally exploited by Armenia. There is a big potential for mining in those areas. By the way, we already started illegal procedures against some so-called businessmen who were illegally exploiting our copper and gold resources on the liberated territories.
There is a huge potential for renewable energy, especially, energy of wind, and in some parts of the liberated territories for instance, in Lachin, Kalbajar. There is a huge potential for wind in Jabrayil, Zangilan huge potential for solar and also water. Now we have got access to our main water resources after we liberated Lachin and Kalbajar, because the most part of the water resources which Armenian population in Karabakh is using, are taking source there. We are now in the process of restoration of twelve hydropower stations which Armenians destroyed after the war stopped until they left Kalbajar. So, within 15 days they destroyed twelve hydropower stations. This also demonstrates their feelings and their policy. Of course, we want to create very special living standards on those territories, because people who will go back there suffered for 30 years. They need to have a decent life. Therefore, the first pilot project of smart village already started. City planning already started. So, Karabakh will generate a lot of GDP in non-energy sector of our economy, also transportation. Three airports are already in the process, in one airport works have already started. Railroad connections. Zangilan can become an important transportation and logistical hub taking into account its location and close proximity to the neighbors. With respect to the rest part of Azerbaijan, our main strategy is to develop non-energy sector of economy. Reforms which we implement bring good results. Mainly we see these results in good governance. We have collected more taxes and custom duties these three months than we planned. The surplus is around 400-500 million manats. So, our budget is based on 40 dollars per barrel and even if it’s 30 dollar per barrel, people of Azerbaijan will not feel it. So, industrialization, attracting more investments in non-energy sector, business opportunities. You all probably heard that the leading rating agencies improved our ratings. On the World Bank Doing Business report we are number 28.
So, business climate is improving and we have very educated people and young generation which now is generating ideas and its hope for the future. As I said during the war, the biggest burden of war was on the shoulders of those who were children when I came to power. So, we managed to help young generation to develop. Taking into account, energy resources and completion of all major oil and gas pipelines that will feed our economy with additional sources of supply. We do not depend on foreign aid, our foreign debt is something around 18 percent of GDP, and I put a target to reduce it to 10 percent of GDP which will be then one of the best results in the world. We have very low rate of poverty around 5 percent, when I came to this position it was 49 percent. So, we actually feel that we will be able to implement all our plans, which is with a strategic vision. But for that we need stability not only inside Azerbaijan, which we have for already 28 years, but we need stability beyond our borders. And one of the main concerns will be our steps in order to minimize risks. We have taken obligation of the chair of Non-Aligned Movement with a great success. Our international efforts in the region led to the creation of new formats of cooperation or a trilateral cooperation with Turkey-Iran, Georgia-Turkey, Russia-Iran. So this is also contribution to stability and predictability. Of course, there should be zero risk of revenge attempts from Armenian side. If they do it, I said we want peace, but we will destroy them completely. Destroy them completely and let them not forget what I say now.
Director of Institute for Security and Development Policy, Sweden, Svante Cornell (online): Thank you very much dear Mr. President. First of all, let me congratulate you and the people of Azerbaijan on the restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. It is clear that this historic achievement has changed the politics of the Caucasus region and far beyond. Most importantly I think it has shown to the world the capabilities of Azerbaijan and the resolve of the Azerbaijan statehood. It has proven that Azerbaijan is not an object of some real or imaginary geo-political games between great powers, but actually a power and an actor on its own right. And I would add that this is a trend we are seeing across the region with increasingly several states developing into real actors and such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan alongside with Azerbaijan. As this is becoming clear Mr. President, my question is how will this impact Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, its relations with surrounding countries including regional powers but also the countries to the East, and Central Asia with whom you share many interests? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much, thank you for your comments and for your congratulations with respect to restoration of territorial integrity and you are absolutely right we demonstrated our capacity which I am absolutely sure was not known to many members of international community. Actually, all these years we were doing our homework in a quiet atmosphere. It was not that we were hiding something. No. Everything what we have done, was done openly. But we were not trying to advocate for us, we were not trying to make presentations, to make some PR actions. We were doing what was right for the country, for the people, addressing a lot of social issues, resettling refugees, providing restoration by force our territorial integrity if Armenia does not do it peacefully. So, war was a kind of a concentrated implementation of our capacity. And we never over-estimated ourselves. We never thought that Azerbaijan is a number one or number ten issue on the agenda of the leading countries. No, they have another issues and we are fine with that, because the less big powers remember or think about us the better for us. What will happen or what is happening now? With respect to the neighboring countries, relations develop successfully. The war demonstrated once again-I don’t want to go into much details-but basically we are satisfied with the behaviour or actions of our neighbors. Of course, we are very grateful to brotherly Turkey for the very strong political and moral support from the first until the last day of the war. But with respect to our three other neighbors, our main target was that they be neutral and it happened to a certain degree, in some countries to a large degree. But nevertheless, I don’t want to go in much details, and after war situation also demonstrates that now our neighbors share our views with the regional development. By the way, we already discussed it with our neighboring countries how the region should develop, what should be the projects of transportation, of logistics, energy cooperation, trade, etc. So, we don’t have any division. It’s true that Armenia did not yet publicly declare their policy, but what they do de facto I think is also satisfactory, I mean the government. With respect to our neighbors across the Caspian also relations were developing very successfully and with each of them we have a special track of cooperation. The biggest part is related to transportation, because Azerbaijan after completing all the transportation and logistical projects here like railroad connection with Turkey, sea port and highways became already an important transportation hub. Though we are landlocked but nevertheless we participate actively on East-West and South-North transportation corridors and now more countries are involved in these projects. So, main area of our cooperation with our neighbors across the Caspian is transportation, but not only. We are working very closely on how to increase the volume of mutual trade, how to provide better opportunities for mutual investments.
Executive Director of Center for Global and Strategic Studies Lieutenant Colonel Khalid Taimur Akram: Thank you very much and Mr. President. On behalf of people of Pakistan and Pakistan, I would first like to congratulate you on this victory. The people of Pakistan are very proud of you and you have become a celebrity in Pakistan, because every day you are in newspapers in Pakistan. And now even in the international relations departments of various universities, big universities in Pakistan they are studying the Karabakh war and the success of Azerbaijan. In Pakistan we are very proud of you, and the Azerbaijani nation. So, coming over to my question sir, during the last 44-days war Azerbaijan was fighting only in its own territory. Precisely targeting the military positions and military equipment of Armenia in the occupied territories. But Azerbaijan was faced with the constant war crimes of Armenia. Armenia deliberately targeted densely populated areas and civilians of Azerbaijan in the 44 days of war. We remember the ballistic missile launch to Ganja, Tartar, Barda and other cities and recently from the media we saw that the remains of Iskander M ballistic missile which was found in Shusha, launched by Armenia. Before it was also mentioned by the Armenian prime minister that Armenia has launched Iskander M missile on Azerbaijan during the war. This ballistic missile is very dangerous and can carry a nuclear warheads also. What is your opinion on it and what should be the actions of the international community on this action?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you for the congratulations. Thank you to Pakistan. I would like to ask you to convey my gratitude to the people of Pakistan for continuous support during the war and Pakistan was among the countries which openly supported Azerbaijan from the first days of the confrontation. Until the last days Pakistan was always on our side. We are very grateful to Pakistani government and Pakistani people for a very consistent approach to the issues related to our territorial integrity. Maybe many of our participants do not know but Pakistan is one of the very few countries which did not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia because of their aggression and occupation. There are only very few countries like Pakistan. So, we are always grateful for that and this is a real sign of our brotherhood. And probably you know that during the war there have been many flags of Turkey and Pakistan in our cities and we, of course, were telling who is supporting us. And that was coming from the hearts of the people.
With respect to the war crimes committed by Armenia, it’s not for the first time. They committed war crimes during the first Karabakh war but at that time it was different information environment. And many facts of atrocities and barbarism were not documented or if documented they did not reach the international audience. Therefore, they managed to hide their war crimes. At that time it was not only Khojaly, but many other villages like the village Aghdaban in Kalbajar, not many people in the world know about that. But that was more or less the same. They were killing and burning innocent civilians and many other villages have been victims of Armenian barbarism. And during the second Karabakh war, as you said, it was in front of the eyes of international community how they bombed our cities and villages and not only with ballistic missiles, they were bombing with artillery and mortars every day. 16 thousand bombs were thrown on Tartar which is a small city. They even bombed the ceremony on the cemetery killing a family. They were bombing Barda, they were bombing Naftalan when they killed a family of five. They were deliberately attacking our cities and villages and they thought that they will stop us by doing that. We did not do the same, we never hit any village or any city. We hit only, yes, military objects which were in Khankandi, but we hit military objects. Using ballistic missiles on the sleeping city of Ganja was a clear indication of their barbarism, because that ballistic missile, it had a target. It was not by chance that it hit a residential compound. It was a targeted attack at night when people were sleeping, and not once, several times. What have they done after that? They said it was not them. Officially, Armenian officials said it was not Armenians who did it, but then who did it? Who? Ourselves? You probably know that they even wanted to put a blame for Khojaly genocide on Azerbaijan. They were inventing these stories and trying to persuade international community that Azerbaijanis themselves killed innocent victims in Khojaly and they did the same with respect to Tochka U and Elbrus missiles.
They even hit Khizi which is situated hundred kilometres from Baku. They wanted to reach Baku. They were attacking Gabala. Gabala is far away from the area of conflict. So, Barda, Aghdam, Aghjabadi, Fuzuli, Goranboy, Naftalan, Khizi, Gabala. That’s what they were doing. There were no military installations. And, of course, the news about Iskander attack was a surprise for us. When Armenian prime minister said that they used Iskander but it exploded by only ten percent, everybody was laughing. Probably, he could not properly deliver the message which he wanted to say. And when I was asked in the end of February, I didn’t say they didn’t do it. I said we did not detect it. It is different things. At that time we did not detect it. But after he said that after former president Sargsyan said that they launched Iskander, but he was regretting that they did not launch Iskander on our pipelines. This war criminal Sargsyan whose hands are in blood of innocent victims of Khojaly was accusing Pashinyan that they did not hit the pipelines. Then former chief of staff of Armenian army Movsesyan, I don’t remember his name, he said they used. Then we had a video footage how they launch Iskander missiles. I gave instructions to search and we found it. Why we did not found it before. I don’t know, because there was snow in Shusha. After war it started snowing and even when I was there in January, in February there was snow. So, after snow melted it was found. So, what happened after it was found, is very strange. There have been a comment of the Armenian army chief of staff. He said that he cannot comment on that. How should we understand it? Yes or no? Probably yes, because if it was no, he would have said “no, we didn’t”. If he said “I cannot comment”, it means yes, they did it. There was a comment of former defense minister of Armenia, who said that he cannot tell it because it is a war secret. You see the level of this people. You know these people are the ones who were making decisions about military actions. Saying that it is a war secret means that yes, they did it. Unfortunately, we did not get any answer from Russia, because as you know Russian official representative of Ministry of Defense said ‘no’, when Pashinyan said that they used it. Well, Pashinyan is a prime minister of Armenia. He says we use it and Russian official from Ministry of Defense says “no they did not use it”. So, what does that mean? Does that mean that Russian Defense Ministry controls the Ministry of Defense of Armenia? Is that the meaning of what Mr Konashenkov said? So, when he said Armenia did not use it, all Iskander missiles are in the storage. How do they know? Do they control Armenian storage? If they control Armenian storage, then who is in the disposition of these missiles? Then, there was a statement of press secretary of Mr. Putin, Mr. Peskov. He said that Iskander was not used. Iskander is here, you can go and see. It’s about 15 minutes. I saw it myself yesterday at the Military Trophies Park. It is not only Iskander. It is Iskander M, which Armenian army could have never had. I can tell you more, because we’ve been waiting for a long time. I can tell you more, because this is such a sensitive issue that I cannot hide it from Azerbaijani people. I raised this issue during my telephone conversation with Mr. Putin on 1 April. This was not part of the official disclosure of telephone conversation, because we gave the same disclosure of the conversation as they did. You can compare it. But I asked this question he said that we need to know the answer, the people of Azerbaijan need to know that answer, what happened. And it’s almost two weeks. On April 4, our Defense Ministry wrote an official letter to Russian Defense Ministry with this respect providing them with photo, video and other materials, asking for response-what are these rockets, missiles and what happened? Already nine days have passed. There is no answer. A group of Azerbaijani journalists wrote an open letter to Russian Embassy in Baku. This letter was open. Probably you have seen it. No answer. Iskander is here, Iskander-M which was not supposed to be exported to anywhere. How did it get to Shusha? From where was it launched? Who launched it? We are waiting for answers. I can tell you one more thing that to some questions we already have answers. But we are waiting for official answers from Armenia, because these missiles were launched from the territory of Armenia. We know precisely from where and these questions must be answered. It’s a serious issue. It’s not just an ordinary missile. It was launched and how many of them were launched we also know, and when and from where. But we need, the Azerbaijani people need to have answers to these questions.
Director, LINKS, United Kingdom, Dennis Sammut (online)
Mr. President, thank you very much for being with us this morning and answering these questions so comprehensively. War is always a costly affair and the 44-day war has resulted in the death of thousands of people on both sides. Yet, we also know that as a result of this war hundreds of thousands of refugees and IDPs now have the prospects of going back home. That is certainly something that I think we can all celebrate. The war and the results of the war have opened a number of prospects for regional cooperation. Yet, as I think you hinted already in your presentation there are still some unresolved issues. I want to ask two questions. The first is, you have said many times that the Karabakh conflict is over now. Does that mean that Azerbaijan is renouncing the use of force to regain what is left of Nagorno-Karabakh under Armenian control? And the second question is related to the 10 November trilateral declaration. So, this declaration, we all agree, is of great importance and has the potential of changing the dynamic in the South Caucasus. Yet, it remains a trilateral declaration. Does Azerbaijan consider the idea that this trilateral declaration be embedded in the United Nations Security Council resolution that would somehow give it global and international legitimacy and make sure that all the bodies abide by its provisions?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I fully agree that declaration of 10 November is of great importance and though it’s not a big declaration, it actually covers all the important elements and also shows that Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is over. Frankly speaking, we did not think about any kind of international legitimization of this resolution. We were not approached by neither Russian nor Armenian side with that respect. So, that was not something which we considered. We thought that declaration is signed and Russian peacekeepers are there. Declaration is fully implemented. The most important is that it is being implemented. And most parts of this declaration are already implemented. With respect to UN Security Council resolutions we know what happened to those resolutions which were adopted in 1993. They have been on paper, and would have been on paper maybe for 30 more years if we did not do what was right on the battlefield. Therefore, what it will add to what we have. We have declaration. Azerbaijan is implementing all the items. Armenia was forced to implement items of declaration with respect to return of the remaining occupied territories and Russia is providing the peacekeeping services. With respect to use of force against the territory of Karabakh which is now inhabited by Armenians, no, we don’t have such plans. I said Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is over. It was resolved. Those Armenians, who live now in the territory controlled by Russian peacekeepers, we consider them as our citizens. And what we’ve done so far with respect to our humanitarian assistance, logistical support, demonstrate these intentions. I can tell you even more. Today already there are contacts on the level of some experts with respect to the issues related to water management, because for many years, for thirty years we were deprived of the water of Tartar River because of the two water storages which were controlled by separatists. So, one of those water storages have been liberated and now we have full access to Tartar River water. Now, to a certain degree those who live under Russian peacekeeping control, need more water cooperation with us. So, it started. So, in this respect also Azerbaijan behaves constructively. But as I said, if Armenia would plan any kind of hostile operations against Azerbaijan- if we see and we can see now everything what we need in Armenia and everywhere-if we see that there is a one percent of the risk to Azerbaijani people or to our territorial integrity we will use all our means in order to protect ourselves. But we will never in the future initiate any kind of hostile operations if we are not provoked.
Senior Scholar of Strategic Research Center George Gvimradze: Thank you Mr. President for your time for this meeting. I would like to express my appreciations to the organizers for inviting me here and to having this opportunity to give you a question. Let me move you back to the regional cooperation. Soon after the war ended Mr. President Erdogan of Turkey visited Baku and he once again raised the question of the regional cooperation, known as the 3+3 format which is actually counts about more than one decade of its existence, but I believe that he decided that this is a good time to raise this question. I would like to stress your attention to what this cooperation and the prospect of this kind of cooperation especially with the prospective of one particular potential participant of this format I speak about Georgia, and you mentioned before that you have discussed some kind of cooperation prospects with your colleagues from the regional countries. How much do you believe that Georgia can participate in this kind of project, in this kind of cooperation while it has quite complicated relations with Russia on one hand and on the other it has its aspirations to integrate in the Western community, and we know while that the Western community and the regional big powers and relations so far are continuing to deteriorate it?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I was actually supposed to discuss this issue with Georgian prime minister yesterday, but unfortunately he got coronavirus. I wish him good health and soonest recovery. His visit was scheduled on the 12 April, but, of course, after he got coronavirus, it was postponed. Therefore, I did not have a chance to talk to him directly about that. But as soon as he recovers we will be waiting him to visit us. But with other neighbors, with President Erdogan, with President Putin, I discussed it openly and also there have been discussions on the very high levels of officials of Azerbaijan and Iran. I see that there is no difference in our approach. Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, and Iran share the same approach to regional cooperation. The main area of concentration now is the transportation, because it’s a situation which is called “win-win”. Everybody wins from that. Armenia silently is also in the boat, but publicly they say “no” because of what I already said, this disease which they need to be treated – Azerbaijanophobia and Turkophobia. So, what could be the advantages of this cooperation for countries, is obvious. I think Armenia is a country which also will get a big share of advantage, because today they don’t have a railroad connection with Russia. They don’t have railroad connection with Iran. There was one unrealistic plan to build a railroad from Armenia to Iran, but I think they calculated and saw that it will cost three billion dollars. Good project but who is going to pay? That’s a question. So, that project has been already abandoned. Any possibility of connection with Russian railroad for Georgia, I think, is not realistic, you know better because of what. Through Azerbaijan it was not possible either. So, if this project is implemented, Armenia will have access to Russia, to Iran and also, potentially to Turkey by railroad. That will of course, create additional opportunities for the development of the country. Azerbaijan will connect its railroad with Nakhchivan, through Zangazur corridor and with Turkey, though, with Turkey we have already connections through Georgia, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars. Russia will have an additional connection with Turkey through the territories of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Iran with Armenia. And also, that could be part of the South-North transportation corridor from Iran to Russia, because you probably know that the last segment of the railroad on Iranian territory, Astara-Rasht, is not built. The works are going on there. But we are planning to build a railroad connection to our border with Armenia within next 2 maximum 2.5 years. This is for sure will be built, because already we allocated the budget and the work has started. As soon as it is done and 40 km of Zangazur also. But that should be done by Russian railroad, because Armenian railroad belongs to Russian Railroad Company, and we already got information that they are planning to do it. So, it’s the South-North corridor, through Armenia also, through Nakhchivan, Armenia, Zangilan etc. Therefore, this is obvious advantages and we need to work in these directions. With respect to Georgia’s reservations, I heard about them. I cannot say anything about that. I need to talk to prime minister, to listen to his position. But Georgia for us is not only a strategic partner but also a brotherly country, very close country, country which today, Georgia and Azerbaijan play extremely important role for European energy security. So, I think we can find a proper format of cooperation. Our intentions are that. With respect to tensions between Western countries and some regional countries, this is not something new. It has been always. It has kind of periods of aggravation, recession, but it’s something which is permanent here in our region. So, we are used to that. I don’t think that this kind of misunderstanding or confrontation or whatever will seriously damage our plans. We all very well remember as some of our Western partners were acting against the construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, trying to involve Armenia in this project so that the road goes not through Georgia but through Armenia. I remember, when I worked at the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, how Western partners were advocating construction of their pipeline not through Georgia, but through Armenia. I am a witness and participant of all that. And how difficult it was for us to build this pipeline, because the World Bank for one year stopped financing it because of that. But did it change anything? No. And it will not change anything now. Therefore, I think those who do not support it okay, let them not support it. We don’t mind but I don’t think that any kind of interference or attempts to stop us from that will succeed. Therefore, I invite all those who are hesitant to be a part of that. That could be also an additional corridor to Europe. And actually through Turkey it will go to Europe. So, everybody will benefit. Those who were against Baku-Tbilisi-Kars today are grateful to us for that. So, I think it will be the same. But we will of course, take into consideration any possible Georgian reservations with this issue.
Associate Professor at Princeton University United States, Michael Reynolds: Thank you very much Mr. President for taking the time to meet with us. I and my colleagues are genuinely grateful to you for giving us this opportunity to sit with you physically or virtually to discuss Azerbaijan’s future and the future of the region. I also would like to say that I very much share your faith in the youth of Azerbaijan. The students I’ve met at ADA and other Azerbaijani universities have impressed me and I hope that we can continue to develop the ties with educational institutions in Azerbaijan. I can say that I am genuinely given the quality of Azerbaijan’s youth as well as the opportunities have now been opened up for Azerbaijan and for the region with Azerbaijan’s victory. I am genuinely optimistic about the future of this country. I am also optimistic about the region. For my question, I’d like to return to the issue of territory that you touched on in your response. As an outside to this conflict, an outside observer, I can say that I think one of the prime drivers of the tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been the expansive Armenian claims to territory. Again, and I don’t need to tell you but just to go over it first Armenia claims the territory mountainous Karabakh, then they started to claim the territory surrounding provinces and then as you mentioned, they also went on and threatened the possibility of taking more territory from Azerbaijan. And then in August of last year began revising claims to eastern Turkey. This is, I think, delusional. It’s irresponsible, it’s extraordinarily provocative, and I honestly don’t know how to describe it perhaps, but as madness. During the recent war some Azerbaijanis made reference to Yerevan and other parts of territory of today’s Republic of Armenia as being Azerbaijani lands. And as a historian I know that there is in fact some historical truth to that claim. And I also understand that in the context of a conflict for one side Armenia is making this outlandish, delusional claims to vast amounts of territory. There may be utility in reminding them that look you’re not the only one who can play this game. I understand when Azerbaijanis have said that sort of thing to Armenians. But when I look at things from the Armenian perspective knowing their history and the current state of Republic of Armenia which is very small. As you know the population is tiny, they can barely populate their own country. This is one of the things about their claims to all these vast territories when they are barely able to hold on in their own country and the Armenians today who wonder if they, even with the status quo will they be able to sustain it? So, my question is this. Azerbaijan refrained from making insinuations that the territory of the current republic of Armenia belongs to Armenians. We refrain from making insinuations that this land is historically Azerbaijani and Azerbaijan might one day wish to take that territory.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you for your analysis. I fully share your views. You found the right word “madness” to put forward territorial claims to Turkey and to the neighbors. But again, in the 21st century it’s very unusual that one country with a very limited capacity which can hardly provide normal living standards for its people has territorial claims to a country which is ten times bigger and a 100 times more powerful. But again, it is, I think, the part of the psychology that was based on the feeling that the whole world owes them everything. And this psychology let them to this humiliated situation which they are now situated. Still they think that everybody should help them. Probably you know that official Armenian government in their behind the doors discussions is accusing European union for not helping them. They are accusing NATO being a member of ODKB kind of a counter NATO military organization. They are accusing NATO for not helping them, they are accusing Russia of not helping them. They accuse everybody except themselves. They cannot understand that the problem is within themselves. There is the biggest threat to Armenia. The biggest threat to Armenia is now the Armenian psychology. They need to change. Maybe this very painful lesson which we taught them could be a turning point in their understanding of reality and understanding that if you called yourself an independent country then the tale of your people is in your hand. If you want to be protected, that’s clear, they can join the Union State. There is a Union State between Russia and Belarus. Armenia, I know that some in Armenia talk about the Union State. Then, let them put down their flag and become “guberniya” of some other country and then they will be protected. So, this is kind of addition to what you have said. And you are absolutely right. First they said that Nagorno-Karabakh is an independent county, and then they started to publish maps of all the occupied territories calling it Nagorno-Karabakh, changing the names of our cities and villages, and then trying to frighten us with this new war for new territories. It was their defense minister Tonoyan who was saying that Armenia is preparing for new war for new territories. So, we showed what is a new war for old territories and now Tonoyan was kicked out. This is a lesson to all the rest who still think that they can talk with us in this manner. We did during the war what was necessary. We went until those limits which were right limits, and we did not do more than was needed. I understand that you in a very diplomatic way are saying that some Azerbaijanis claim that part of Armenia is an ancient Azerbaijani territory you mean me, of course, I understand. Thank you. Thank you for being so polite. Thank you for this question, because it’s also a part of manipulation in Armenia that I have territorial claims. No, I don’t. I can tell it publicly but at the same time we need to know the history. I fully agree with what you said about young generation. Sometimes young generation don’t know the history, for instance. Even ourselves, our generation. We were taught fake history. Those who were presented as heroes when I was studying at school were actually criminals. And those who were eliminating Azerbaijani people, for instance, 26 Baku commissars. We were taught that they are heroes, they saved our homeland. But they were criminals, Shaumyan and others who were killing Azerbaijanis, conducting a massacre here and many other examples like that. Therefore, we don’t want this generation, young generation either to be not aware about the realities. So, when I say that Zangazur is an ancient Azerbaijani land, this is truth. Zangazur was given to Armenia in 1920-101 years ago. Before that it belonged to us. When I say that Goyche, which they call Sevan now, is the lake where Azerbaijanis lived, it is also the truth. It’s enough to look at the map of beginning of the 20th century and you will not find Sevan there, you will see Goyche. The same with Yerevan. They destroyed the historical part of Yerevan. It is an obvious fact. Azerbaijanis lived there, including my ancestors. So, this is the fact, but it does not mean that we have territorial claims. Yes, I can tell you even more, maybe you know but don’t want to mention, maybe you don’t know. I even said that we will return there. Yes, I said that. But I didn’t say we will return there on tanks. I said that we will return. It means that why not. If we are returning to Zangazur corridor, if we are using the road, why should not we return to Yerevan? I think that the time will come and we will do it. So, once again, thank you for this question. It allowed me to make clarification and also to present my position we will remember our history, but we don’t have any territorial claims against any country including Armenia. Thank you.
Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, Romania Iulian Chifu: Thank you very much Mr. President. I am very happy to come again to Baku and to see you. I will have two questions. The first one goes on how do you think that EU, Romania especially could help and assist in the reconstruction in the region, including the modern Azerbaijani multicultural, multi-faith society in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the difficult part of the institutional integration and reconciliation? And my second question is how do you Mr. President see Nagorno-Karabakh in five years from now with Nakhchivan, Azerbaijani territories, corridor achieved with Armenia integrated in the Turkish-Azerbaijani transportation corridors, with the retreat of the Russian troops from the northern part of the Nagorno-Karabakh, with the control of the border by the Azerbaijani Lachin corridor? So, if you can elaborate on that? Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. With respect to the first question, how EU can help, frankly speaking I don’t know, because we were not approached yet from EU with respect to providing assistance in the reconstruction. Therefore, what we plan now on the liberated territories is only based on our own budget. We did not get any message yet from any international organization or any country with respect to assistance. So, if they help we will be grateful, if not, anyway, we have to do what we have to do, and we will restore those territories. Of course, the companies from Europe as I said, from EU space are already present there, but it’s company to company cooperation. It’s not the investments, it’s the contracts. With respect to what will be in five years in those areas, it’s difficult to predict. We can predict what we will do in five years. We are not completely finalized the road map yet, but basically we know what will happen. I think in the coming three years we will complete all the major infrastructure projects like railroads highways, power generation, water supply and will be in active phase of construction. We need to do everything properly, to plan properly, to have a proper master plan for all the liberated cities, to have proper master plan for reconstruction of villages so that people who return there have decent means of living. So, they do not depend on the state, especially the area is very appropriate and the soil is good and water resources too. We want people who live there, will be financially independent. So we will be in active phase of construction. I think by that time the Zangazur corridor will be in operation, definitely. Because we put a target of 2-2.5 years, and construction of 44 km of the road in Meghri district will not take more than that. Of course, if there is a coordination and if Armenia do not put artificial obstacles. With respect to what will happen after Russian peacekeepers leave, well, today there is a state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Tovuz, Gazakh, Aghstafa. There are no peacekeepers there and nothing happens. I can tell you even more. Azerbaijani border servicemen are now standing five metres from Armenian villages in Zangilan, in a famous village of Shurnukhu which Armenians claim that it is theirs, but then, when they looked at the map they realized it’s part on Azerbaijani territory. We sent our border security there, and I said to them that they go, they stand on the line and they do not cross the line, and they do not touch Armenians who live in this village. And even those Armenians who had to leave the territories, part of Shurnukhu village, we gave them time. Now, I can tell you Armenian army was demolished. It does not exist neither does Armenian border service. So, no one can stop us from taking control of this Shurnukhu village. Do we do it? No. Do we plan to do it? No. This is an answer what may happen, because today I think this example demonstrates our will. The same on this 21 km of the road which connects the city of Qafan with Irevan. It crosses our territory. Yes, we put our border security there. We put even a poster “Welcome to Azerbaijan”. I don’t know why it irritated Armenians so much. We just wanted to welcome them on our territory. It’s our territory, but they were shooting on that poster. After that we had to respond to that. So, are they using this road? Yes. Are they protected by peacekeepers? No. Only in two places there are two posts. Can we cut this road? Yes. Do we cut it? No. So, I think this is an answer. But, of course, if Armenia behaves as they behave now, because now they are totally demoralized, disorganized. There is no army, there is no way even to think about revenge. Therefore, I said that we are very concerned when they have negotiations with Russia on modernization of Armenian army and this concern was delivered to Russian officials. Modernization, why? Any possibility for revenge will only create unnecessary tensions. Therefore, if the situation continues like that I think there will be no problem living side by side. On many occasions I as example mentioned Georgia where Azerbaijanis and Armenians live not only in the same region, but sometimes in the same village. Nothing happens between them.
Professor of University of Haifa, Israel, Brenda Shaffer (online)
-Thank you Mr. President and congratulations on the restoration of justice. Peaceful Ramadan to the families of the martyrs. From independent Azerbaijan succeeded in building an exceptional, modern and highly capable military force. The second Armenia-Azerbaijan war has been studied as the model of 21st century warfare with Azerbaijan having demonstrated possession of highly skilled special forces and not only possession of modern technologies but unique integration and application in the battlefield of these technologies. In the 1990s I visited Azerbaijan. It was hard to get people even to go to the battlefield, to go to the military. By this war you had people standing in line being turned away and volunteers from going to the military. My question is Mr. President-what are your lessons for the building of the modern high-level military? What were the changes that happened in the Azerbaijani society that created the swell of support for the Azerbaijani military? Well, many think the war began in fall or late September 2020. Did it really begin with the Armenian attacks in Tovuz as you said according to the doctrine of new wars for new territories? Were they really the stage one of the war? And the September battles were the continuation of this war.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you for your congratulations. You as a person who knows Azerbaijan for a long time, of course, have a lot of information and a lot of opportunities to compare and you are absolutely right. The difference between the second and first Karabakh war was particularly what you said. People were standing in the line. We announced partial mobilization and certain age groups were recruited. Those who were not feeling those criteria were complaining. I know many cases that our people were complaining and writing a letter why they do not take me, I also want to go to fight. I also want to defend our motherland. I think this is the main factor of our victory. Of course, we build a strong army, we did a lot of trainings, we bought a lot of sophisticated weapons which helped us a lot to win and to save lives, because without those weapons we could have had much more victims. We had, I think, 2.5-3 times less lost lives than Armenian army taking into account that we were on counter-offensive and we were going from down to the hills. The main factor was that even those young people who have never seen those lands, their parents were born there, they thought as if they were fighting for their own hopes. We have seen the unity of all peoples who live in Azerbaijan. This is also one of the biggest assets. On many occasions conducting international events on multiculturalism and cultural diversity, I always was saying that one of the biggest assets of Azerbaijan is a multicultural, multi-faith society.
During this war, representatives of all nationalities, all ethnic groups were fighting until the last drop of their blood. They were fighting for their motherland. It’s was such a strong consolidation, such a strong consolidation of Azerbaijani nation which consists of representatives of different ethnic groups which are united by the feeling of motherland, by our language, by our statehood. So, really I was very proud and I am very proud that we managed to grow these people, because as I said most of those who were fighting and who lost their lives were children when I came to power in 2003. But always Karabakh was number one item on all agendas inside the country, outside the country.
On all international events whether related to war and peace or related to social and economic development, Karabakh was always a priority in my comments. This is really a new Azerbaijan. Armenians did not know us well. They thought they are going to fight with Azerbaijan of 1992. But Azerbaijan is different, people are different, society is different, motivation is different. They thought, and I know it exactly, their previous leaders thought that we will forget, that time will pass, everybody will be tired, nobody wants war. There has been such a speculation sometimes in international media that Azerbaijan will never start anything, because their country is developing. They will never risk, President Aliyev will never risk stability for some uncertain advantage. But they did not understand what is inside us, what is in our soil. They did not understand that Karabakh for all of us is more than land. Karabakh is our dignity, is our destiny, it’s our blood. That’s why we demonstrated heroism, we demonstrated courage, and we went until the end and no one could have stopped us. Though you know that there have been many attempts to stop us from different sides but we went until the end. What happened in July was another provocation of Pashinyan, because Pashinyan was considered not to be part of this military gangster group. Therefore, previous leaders of Armenia were always treating him like a person who did not serve in the army, like a person who is weak, who doesn’t have courage etc. Therefore, he wanted to have a military victory. Especially after they lost in Nakhchivan just months after he came to power, but that was not his blame. Because he just came to power. He wanted a military victory.We know exactly that they were planning to retake Lalatapa, the territory which we gained during the April 2016 war. And he was trying to demonstrate that the previous regime of Sargsyan lost those territories and “brave” Pashinyan, chief commander retakes it. By the way, now, when they themselves start to understand more about the war, they start to publish articles and making statements that their attempt during the war to retake Lalatapa caused them a lot of lives. Actually part of the army was totally destroyed there. In July they wanted to occupy territories in Tovuz. It is clear, because we were accused by them that two our soldiers with the UAZ car came to attack their positions. This is ridiculous. We demonstrated during 44 days what our army is. If we wanted to take those lands we would have taken it, first and then why should we take the lands of Armenia? Why should we give Armenia a chance to apply to CSTO for military support? Are we crazy? No, they wanted to take the lands and so Pashinyan could come then and say “I am a brave commander of an unbeatable Armenian army. I came here and stand in Tovuz”. That’s what they wanted. We pushed them back. And when we pushed them back, I can tell you even more, we could have moved forward, because they killed our general, they killed our officers. We had to take revenge. But I stopped our army. We did not cross the border. We just kicked them out of our territories and stopped though, already there in Tovuz mountain there were no Armenian troops. We could have easily gone kilometres ahead. But I said ‘no, the time hasn’t come’. Then they did another in August, in Goranboy. They sent a group to penetrate our positions and the head of that group was detained. And then September. So, that’s because again, because of miscalculation, overestimation of themselves and underestimation of Azerbaijan. But they made a fatal mistake. And they now have to pay the prize for that.
European Policy Center, Belgium Amanda Paul: Thankyou very much President Aliyev.It’s a great pleasure to join you here today. Based in Belgium, I want to ask a question about EU.Many in Azerbaijan criticized the approach of the EU during the war. How can EU regain its credibility and influence in the post war period?
President Ilham Aliyev: Frankly speaking, I did not see any serious criticism of EU during the conflict. Neither myself nor any of our establishment criticized EU as EU. I received a phone call from the President of European Council during the war.He expressed concern about that, what happened. So, we discussed. I informed him about the situation. Yes, there had been criticism about some EU leading member states. But they acted in their national capacity during the war but not as the EU member states. Therefore, with respect to EU, it’s now Armenia who is criticizing EU for not helping. But it’s a big question how EU could have help? EU should have send the troops there, or what? I don’t know. So, with respect to post conflict development and EU role, I said already, we did not get any messages from EU how they want or plan, if they want or planned help us with reconstruction, with resettlement of refugees. It will be a huge task for us. Not only from point of financial resources but also from methodology. We have been never in this situation when we had to recover the territories, which are leveled to ground. There could be some international experience to give us advice how to properly plan it, what could be the steps, in which consequences the steps must be taken. And of course, if international organizations including EU will consider any provision of any assistance we will be grateful. I can tell you even more, with regard to pandemic, our negotiationswith EUon the new agreement were a little bit frozen. But I already publicly said that as soon as COVID is over more or less, the situation will be more stable, we will restart. A big part of that agreement have already been agreed, only some 7-8 % of it needs to be agreed. Therefore, we are planning to continue our close cooperation with EU and even those member states of EU which during the war and after war were attacking us, I think they also need to, some of them already made changes in their attitude. After war, I can tell you there was only one EU member state, whose foreign minister allowed himself very improper comments about Azerbaijan but we almost kept silent.Only our foreign ministry responded, because we were very “afraid” of this country. I advise you also to be “afraid” of this country which attacked us brutally. I told all our officials keep silent, otherwise they will come and “occupy” us. Do you know which country is that? The country is called Luxembourg. I can tell you just for comparison, the territories which we liberated are a size of four Luxembourgs. Therefore, foreign minister of Luxembourg had better take care of himself and stop this insinuation. But apart from that, after war there have been nothing negative. We hope that EU will continue to be our big partner, especially as I said before, with nine members of EU we already have strategic partnership format of cooperation.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Thank you Mr. President, Amanda Pole was a last speaker in our list, on behalf of our entire group I would like to extend our warmest appreciation, in regards for the time you have spent together with us,your valuable and precious time.You have provided us with a guidance and vision, and thoughts. And based on that together with Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev we will continue our discussion.We are also looking forward to visit Trophies Museum in a beautiful Baku Boulevard. Thank you Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I would like to ask maybe someone else has questions, because it may seem as if Hikmat had a kind of a list of speakers a little bit Soviet style, maybe someone wants to add.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Mr. President it was open process and we asked them to subscribe for the list.
Israel’s Tel-Aviv University Steven Klein: I want to thank you very much for your time. My two questions; the first is about messaging. You talked earlier about the solidarity in Azerbaijani society. I think we can see that. I have seen a lot of this signs around the country like “Shusha is ours”, “Karabakh is ours”in Azerbaijani. With a big sign of the hashtag #don’tbelieveArmenia. So, I think that this is important. I can understand that from Israel we have experienced that too the messaging that comes down to the people. The messaging has created very strong commitmenttowards Karabakh at the same time you could imagine I mean I`ve talked to Azerbaijanis who feel hostility towards Armenians and justifiedly so. But it also makes Armenians feel unsafe particularly those in Nagorno-Karabakh. We know that you can try to make what is called “emotional deposit” the gestures you have done for Nagorno-Karabakh and using Azerbaijani territory. It is done as a positive gesture. But when it is done in a wrong time it can be emotional withdrawal. Because there still feeling that trauma that you have also spoken up and recognized. So, my question here is now Karabakh is under Azerbaijani control again. How all the messaging can be changed? What is next going to be beyond those billboards instead of saying Shusha is our Karabakh is Azerbaijani. What will the next message be to create a new `narrative where Azerbaijanis feel less hostile towards Armenians and Armenians of Karabakh will feel safe enough they would want to live when time comes to live under full Azerbaijani sovereignty authority. My second question is about the status of women which we haven’t addressed within that. The status of women according to research is highly correlated with the economic development and peace. I understand that Azerbaijan made a lot of progress in last 20 years or so. But sometimes closing that gap you can make a lot of progress.Closing that gap gets further gets harder. So, I want to know how you see that and what do you see the government’s role in furthering, advancing the status of women. So, there can be more diversity, more women around the table, making the decisions which shows according to the research will contribute to post-conflict development and cooperation. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I will start from the second question, because women are always a priority. So, you will understand me. I think that the role of the women in Azerbaijan is pretty high in different sectors of our life and that was historically.Respect to women is a kind of historical tradition of Azerbaijani people. As you probablyknow, one of the first decisions of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic which was established in 1918 was to give the right to women to vote. It was in 1918.Emancipation of women at that time was one of the priorities and really today I think the achievements are obvious. For me, frankly speaking it is sometimes strange when Azerbaijan is perceived as a country where women do not have enough rights, or women`s rights are deteriorating or the kind of discrimination, not at all. The fact that there is not many women here is because we have guests here. So, it is your table now. But women in Azerbaijanhave very high ranking positions and you know, chairman of Parliament and even a higher position is also held by women. With respect to reconstruction, of course, we count very much, because women usually in Azerbaijan are working in the sectors of education and healthcare. That will be the first priority on the liberated territories. The first hospitals, the first schools that’s what we plan to build in the first place. Therefore, women will be provided with decent job.
With respect to the slogans and billboards, you know,“Karabakh is Azerbaijan” was said by me at Valdai conference in Sochi. Why? Because Prime Minister of Armenia Pashinyan being in Krabakh on rally said that “Karabakh is Armenia and period”. That was the end of negotiations. That was wrong, first, it is not true. Second that was contradicting his own previous statements when he was saying that Karabakh is an independent country. So, how can it be Armenia and an independent country at the same time? That is a question to Mr. Pashinyan. Probably now, there is no need to ask him anymore. When I had a chance to speak in the conference and that was live. I could have said that in Baku maybe not many people could have heard. I said that live on Russian TV that “Karabakh is Azerbaijan and exclamation mark”. That immediately became a hashtag, or how you call it,a slogan. Therefore, that was a main slogan for our victory, for all my statements That’s why, we see it everywhere and probably this will continue, because this is true. “Karabakh is Azerbaijan!” But with respect to the new billboards I already said about one.We put one “Welcome to Azerbaijan” on the roads which Armenians considered to be theirs. But it also irritates them. I don’t know what to write.When we write “Karabakh is ours” they are not happy,when we write “Welcome to Azerbaijan”, they are not happy. Probably, they need to have this post traumatic period to be treated well and as I said by politicians, by international community to guide them to adjust themselves with the new reality. But during the war and after war, we completely refrained from any hostile rhetoric. My comments, statements and messages to Azerbaijani people always added that Armenia should give us a timetable for withdrawal and we will stop war.And it happened. So, we didn’t do something which was wrong we did only what was appropriate and on time.
Member of Presidential Council of Security and Foreign Policy Issues Cagri Erhan: I would also like to congratulate you personally as Ali Bash Komandan of Azerbaijani Army and each and every member of Azerbaijani nation who wanted this victory, highly precious victory.You mentioned that Azerbaijani people had Turkish flags along with Azerbaijani flags in Azerbaijani cities. But I am sure you also know in every Turkish city we had Azerbaijani flags throughout this 44days of war. We celebrated the victory as we are Azerbaijani citizens in Turkey as well. This period of high cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey showed that the sentence that two states one nation was not only rhetoric but also a reality. We commemorate late Heydar Aliyev with his leadership at this moment. I would like to ask a very shot question.After the current developments, current situation and need dynamics in the region, do you think there is a need for Minsk Group and what will be the functions if there will be Minsk Group, new functions. Should they renew their functions in their existence? What is the aim of 25 years old Group now? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Thank you for your kind words and for congratulations.We know that in Turkey our victory was received as a victory of all of us. We are very grateful for such a strong brotherly support as I said, from all segments of Turkish society, from ordinary people from everyone. So, we felt this solidarity and support which gave us additional power and strength. With respect to the Minsk Group, I met the ambassadors of the Minsk Group after war. I told them that when they were asking me how I can see the future, I asked them to give me some proposals, because it was basically Minsk Group, the group which always was giving proposals, of course, based on positions of Azerbaijan and Armenia but the principles and topics on the table were elaborated by them. Of course, the internal composition and internal relations within Minsk Group were always their priority. Therefore, first of all, we need to know what is the position of the co-chairs- Russia, the United States, France.How they see the Minsk Group future functioning, because, it is them who actually are co-chairing this group. We think that the conflict is resolved. That is our position. Is there a room for a group which was supposed to help to resolve the conflict after the conflict is resolved? I don’t know.At the same time, I am not in a position to say we don’t need Minsk Group any longer, go away, No. Why should I? Therefore, I diplomatically asked them to think about to show creativity.They have been so creative during all these 29 years. So, showsome more creativity. But I think if we talk seriously, there could be some areas where they can play their role, because as the post-conflict situation, not as a group which needs to help to resolve the conflict.Here I completely disagree with some of the representatives of the Minsk Group countries, that the conflict must be resolved yet. It has been resolved. If I say that it is resolved, it means that it is resolved. If Armenia says that it is not resolved, then I can ask the Armenian side how they see the resolution? What should we do? So, I think that, they need to think something for themselves to be creative, to be supportive not to do something which can damage this fragile peace, not to give some unrealistic promises to Armenia and to try to be neutral, to try to be impartial and to try to seal this situation.When I talk about future peace agreement with Armenia, if Armenia would consider this option, then there could be a lot of room for international players.There are the issues of demarcation, delimitation interaction.So, we are part of international community we are part of the OSCE and the OSCE has a very special role in the region. Therefore, I think that they can be useful. But it has been quite some time that they did not visit us. I hope they will come soon with some proposals and we will definitely look at these proposals with due attention.
Professor of National University of Kyiv Mohyla AcademyTaras Kuzio: Congratulations as well from Ukraine on liberation of your territories. It was not just Turkey which was unanimous in supporting Azerbaijan. Ukraine was also unanimous from every political force, every media outlet in the country. That was very important. Joking before I say a question. When I have been listening to this very interesting exchange of opinions, I am wondering whether the Armenian intelligence services were on a holiday for the last 10 or 20 years or maybe they did not know how to use Google. Perhaps,Yandex is not as good as Google, I don’t know. But my serious question to you which I don’t think has come up yet, relates to the previous question on the Minsk Group.The problem with the Minsk Group was that the US was absent from the region under two presidents.It is not a question of a political party, two different parties and France was biased. Both Houses of the French Parliament voted in November to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. So, France was supporting separatism in Azerbaijan and then at the same time claiming to support Ukraine`s territorial integrity in the Minsk Group over Dombas over Eastern Ukraine. So, kind of a contradictory very strange multivector foreign policy. The US here. What would you like to see from the new US administration in this region? Broader than the Minsk Group.What would you as the President of Azerbaijanlike to see the US become more active, more involved, more on the ground. Is it not time for the US to return? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much.Thank you first of all for your congratulations and convey gratitude to our friends in Ukraine who supported Azerbaijan. We followed that. Of course, during the war we were very sensitive to how countries react to what happens. Therefore, strong position from Ukrainian society was highly appreciated. Thank you. With respect to the questions, I fully agree with you that France was acting on the side of the separatists and this is true. I, on several occasions, during the war was talking openly about that. That was, of course, inappropriate, because maybe many of you don’t know. They can tell you the story how France became the co-chair, because France was not from the very beginning the co-chair. France became the co-chair of the Minsk Group upon the request of President Chirac. He insisted very much and he was asking my late father many times and then during my numerous meetings with late President Chirac he was always telling me the same story how he persuaded my father to allow France to be the co-chair of the Minsk Group. And he said your father was objecting and openly saying “no”, because he said we have nothing to do against you. But you have very strong Armenian diaspora. This diaspora will influence on your decision making process and you eventually will be on the side of Armenia. And the President Chirac persuaded him and promised him that it will not be the case. France will be neutral. After that my father gave agreement,because if he didn’t give agreement, France would not be there. Just a reminder to some French politicians who probably do not know this story. I can tell you during all period of our close cooperation with France, this neutrality and impartiality wasobserved with different level of neutrality, if I may say so. Even I can tell you that when President Hollande was attending the ceremony in Armenia on 24 April, the same day he took the plane and came to Baku, the same day. I was at that time in Chanakkala together with President Erdogan celebrating the victory in Chanakkala and it happened that I arrived in Baku later than President Hollande. He came earlier and we met the next morning. I highly appreciated that. Really appreciate it until today. I remember it as a real sign of politician, statesman, responsible person, who was a co-chair of the Minsk Group. He clearly understood that if he goes to Yerevan on this occasion which will be highly unpopular in Azerbaijan, he should come here in order to show respect to us, to have balance, to demonstrate neutrality. Unfortunately, this diplomatic practice was lost during the war and even before the war. An unbalanced approach to Armenia and Azerbaijanfrom France was not only during the war, it was before the war. There are main indicators for that, I don’t want to take much of your time. What happened during the war was absolutely strange and unfortunately what happened, that happened. But did it stop us from what we planned? No. Could they influence our will? No. And that was also miscalculation. I want to talk openly. You know, big countries are sometimes used that whatever they say to some other countries immediately is being implemented. They are used to that. It is a bad habit. They need to get rid of this bad habit. It is like smoking. They become addicted to that. And when somebody doesn’t do what you want or what you say they become angry. Their anger bothers them. Nothing which was said to me during the war by anyone to stop or to give back territories we have already liberated, was done. But I should also say that after war situation changed and there have been delegations from France, there have been messages and proposals to normalize relations. I said we didn’t do anything wrong to our relations. We always were persistent, always were committed to cooperation. But what happened, happened and you are absolutely right when you say that France strongly supports Ukrainian territorial integrity and at the same time didnot support territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. So, I know how it called, I just don’t want to be rude. With respect to what US can do.You said yourself in the beginning of your comment that US was absent. So, US was absent and we resolved the problem. So, I am not saying that US should be absent. But we didn’t get any message from new administration so far, any message. Zero. Administration has been established since January, even before because the process is underway. Today it is April. Zero message. Mr. Blinken called Pashinyan. I don’t know what they talked about. But again the balances disturbed. I am not saying that we are waiting for the call of Mr. Blinken. No. But it is a co-chair. They should at least behave in a way that is balanced. So, we didn’t get any messages. We don’t know what is the position of US government on issue related to our region. I received a kind letter from President Biden with respect to Novruz Holidays. I am grateful for that. But that was probably the only message of congratulations. I know this kind of messages are sent to some other countries. So that is probably all.
Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM), Turkey, Professor Dr. Ahmad Uysal: Thank you, Mr. President. I want to congratulate one more time. We are very proud of you, from Turkey, from ORSAM Centre. We yesterday visited the Aghdam region and we observed destruction. Honestly, it was like a war zone without fighting a war. I mean, fighting was not there, but it was like a war zone. And destruction honestly disappointed us. The only thing they did was dig holes like moles, like “Kostebek” in Turkish we say. They didn’t bring any investment, they didn’t build anything there. It was like very sad history. They destroyed houses, and theatres, and mosques and etc. I suggest under your, of course, permission, maybe you are also thinking of that, and International Karabakh Forum that we can be also a part of it or a partner to it. It will attract a lot of Turkish tourists also, academicians, businessmen and etc. Thank you very much again.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Very good idea. I think ADA can work on that. I fully support the idea of International Karabakh Forum. Good idea with broad international participation. Events may be also here, in the liberated territories. What you have seen in Aghdam is almost everywhere. Fuzuli is even worse, because in Fuzuli there is no building at all. In Aghdam they kept a half destroyed mosque for two purposes. First, it was kind of a landmark for Armenian artillery to measure the distance and second, it was an observation point. Because that direction of our possible attack was expected by them. And if you look precisely on the way how we liberated territories you will see that we didn’t go directly to Aghdam, because Armenians were waiting us there. They built a very multi-stage defense lines. So, there could have been a lot of losses. Therefore, our road to Aghdam was opened after and Aghdam was next after Shusha. So, we were planning to go there from other side. As Armenian prime minster said, if he didn’t sign a capitulation act on 10 November, they could have had 20 thousand losses. I am not sure about the number, because if they had 20 thousand soldiers in Aghdam why they didn’t fight. It is a question. Why did they keep 20 thousand soldiers in Aghdam while they lost the territories which they occupied? But it is another story. In Fuzui it is even worse. In Fuzui there is no building at all. Everything is demolished. In Gubadli, they kept only two or three buildings which they used as a military storage. In Zangilan, they made some settlement in Zangilan. They wanted the people to settle but they didn’t have human resources. I can also tell you what they have done to Shusha. They were always saying that Shusha is an Armenian city while it is a relatively new city. It was established in 1752 by Panahali khan who came from Aghdam region and who selected that territory as a fortress in order to defend himself, because he was attacked from different sides. Shusha was settled by Panahali khan and ruled by him and his children and grandchildren until Ibrahimkhalil khan signed a Kurakchay treaty with Russia in 1805. And he thought he saves his life, but after one year Ibrahimkhalil khan and his family members were killed. It is a different story. But we need to know this history. Definitely. I ask you to look at that history of Kurakchay peace agreement and what happened to the ruler of Karabakh after he signed it. So, in Shusha they said it is Armenian, but it was in such a terrible shape. When I came there first time, I was really surprised. It is an absolute devastation. They didn’t build any building. Only two villas they built for leaders of Armenia and the so-called Karabakh regime in the area which was in Soviet times a sanatorium. Only destruction. I can tell you even more. When we entered Hadrut region and the territories where there have been Armenian settlements, I have not seen such a poverty anywhere maybe for the last 20 years. The question is, what did they do with all those money, which they were collecting from diaspora? Every year they were conducting marathons collecting tens of millions of dollars in California, in France, in Russia, everywhere. You cannot see it there. It doesn’t exist. So, we will have to restore it and we will restore it. And I think Karabakh Forum is a good idea. So, thank you for this initiative.
Sapienza University, Rome, Daniel Pommier Vincelli: Congratulations for restoring your national integrity. I think it is a lifetime achievement for a political leader. So, compliments on personal with this too. I want to ask, when do you think the IDPs will be allowed to return to the liberated territories? I know it is a long process that takes time. But I guess you can give us some highlights in terms of the returning process. Thank you, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: We want to return them as soon as possible. They have been waiting for so long time. But the biggest problem is mines. Armenia didn’t give us the mine map, though, we know that they have it. After the war stopped we have more than one hundred casualties only among civilians, not to mention military servicemen. And among those more than one hundred, more than twenty were killed by the mines. So, this is another war crime. The war is over why don’t you give us the mine maps so we can clean those territories. Therefore, a lot of things are to be done with demining. Demining is a very long process and it takes time because we don’t have enough qualified personnel. We are now organizing training and also purchasing equipment. The second important issue, and it has already started, is assessment of the damage, because we plan to sue Armenia in international legal institutions for these devastations what they have done. Therefore, we are documenting all the devastations and destructions. We are creating special passports for every building so that it is in the history and it will be a document to have a legal procedure. And of course, infrastructure projects, because we cannot send the people in the middle of nowhere. There should be decent living standards. We already started the projects. I can name some of them. For instance, construction of highways already started from Fuzuli to Shusha, from Shusha to Jabrayil, from Horadiz to Zangilan, from Barda to Aghdam. All these are already in the process. The budget has been approved. Power generation, the lines, the line to Shusha have already been built. Power station in Shusha will be opened soon. And they said maximum two years all Karabakh will be electrified and we will have access capacity. Then water supply. There are no water pipes. If people go there, what are they going to eat? What are they going to drink? How are they going to have their agricultural activity? We need to plan properly. And city planning, of course, because everything is leveled to the ground. Therefore, there will be new city planning project. It is also now in the process. We started immediately. I can tell you that the first city planning project which we will approve is Aghdam and other cities also. We started already one pilot project in one of the villages in Zangilan-“smart village”. I think the beginning of the reconstruction will start next moth maybe in June. Hopefully by the end of the year that pilot project can be already implemented. At the same time, in my communications with our partners from different countries, I already raised this issue to attract companies who can provide us with some ideas of city planning, village planning. We want to invite these companies to work with us, because our construction capability is not enough to rebuild these territories. As I said, four Luxembourgs we have to rebuild. It is a serious task. Therefore, it is difficult to say when all of them will be returned but they will be returned in stages. Most probably, the return will start from those villages which are situated close to infrastructure. For instance, in Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, there will be easier to bring lines of electricity and water and slowly-slowly we will continue. At the same time, we are planning to build an airport in Lachin, because to get to Lachin is not easy. We need to have a cargo plane there in order to develop. And the road to Kalbajar is also being built. Existing road now is under control of the Russian peacekeepers. We are using this road but sometimes it is not known when and how. Therefore, we need to build a lot of tunnels because the height of the mountains is 3,500 meters and these roads didn’t exist before. So, again it is a little bit difficult for me to say exactly when but in stages probably, hopefully starting from the next year first IDPs already must be settled.
Executive Director of Center for Global and Strategic Studies of Pakistan Lieutenant Colonel Khalid Taimur Akram:
I would suggest to break the protocol. Actually, we had arranged live coverage of this conference in Pakistan through your Facebook page and a lot of young people are watching. Just texted me to tell you that your leadership is not only the source of motivation for the Azerbaijani youth but for the youth in Pakistan also. And especially, told me to ask all the participants to have a special clap for the President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Thank you very much. It has been already presented to you. It is a first edition, first edition of what we have done, about the forma, look of the cities and the destruction. There will be many books like that. But this is the first edition and it is already distributed. So, you are the first receivers of this book. So, thank you once again for being with us, thank you for your questions.