Today, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, has been interviewed by local TV channels.
İn the interview, the head of state took journalists' questions about the work done in Azerbaijan in the economic and social spheres in 2021, relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, reconstruction work carried out in the liberated territories, as well as the country's foreign policy and other issues.
Rufat Hamzayev from Azerbaijan Television: Mr. President, it is a pleasure to see you. First of all, let me express my gratitude both on my behalf and on behalf of our colleagues for taking the time for the first interview in 2022, the Year of Shusha.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.
Rufat Hamzayev: First of all, we would like to begin with economic issues. At the end of last year, in your address to the nation on the occasion of the Day of Solidarity and the New Year, you noted and announced the results of 11 months of last year. We are witnessing economic growth. Based on this reality, and if we add the postwar and pandemic realities, how would you evaluate the basis of success? What do last year's successes suggest about a forecast for this year?
President Ilham Aliyev: In my address, I informed the people of Azerbaijan about the results of 11 months. I recently received the figures for the year, and the results are as expected. Economic growth is more than 5 percent. This is an excellent indicator, especially for a post-war country. The most gratifying thing is that our non-oil economy has grown by 7.2 percent. This shows that all our plans for developing the non-oil sector are being implemented.
As for industrial production, our total industrial production has increased by more than 5 percent, and our non-oil industry has grown by about 20 percent. I think this is perhaps the highest figure in the world. Because if we put aside the oil factor, this figure reflects real economic and industrial growth.
Our foreign exchange reserves have increased even though we had significant expenses last year. The investment program has been fully implemented, especially in the Karabakh and East Zangazur regions and other parts of the country. Nevertheless, our foreign exchange reserves have increased by $2.5 billion. As you know, my general instruction to the government has been that we should not allow the reduction of foreign exchange reserves. If necessary, we can reduce costs, especially investment costs, but we must keep our foreign exchange reserves stable and increase them. Because this gives us economic independence, and without economic independence, it is impossible to talk about political independence.
Azerbaijan is perhaps one of a handful of countries where the foreign trade balance is positive. In most countries of the world, imports exceed exports. Our exports exceeded imports by far at the end of the year, and the positive balance is more than $10 billion. Everyone involved in the economy sees how important this is. Of course, it has the most significant impact on the stability of the manat. The manat has been stable for many years, and both the population and the country have benefited greatly from that. The volume of manat deposits is growing and already dominates the balance of total deposits. This is a great benefit for investors. Because investors also see that the national currency is stable. Under such circumstances, investments, including foreign, can be attracted in higher volumes.
I should note that a milestone event in the life of our country will take place tomorrow. The foundation of a 240-megawatt wind power plant will be laid in Azerbaijan, and foreign investors will fully provide the funds. In other words, this is a manifestation of confidence in the development and future of our country. Therefore, all these economic figures are not just statistics. For ordinary citizens, these figures are not that important, perhaps. However, every citizen experiences the impact of these figures and these achievements in their lives.
Our plans related to exports are also being implemented. Our non-oil exports have increased by more than 40 percent. This allows us the opportunity to bring currency to our country not only at
the expense of oil and gas but also at the expense of other products. We must consider that the country's population is growing, which means that demand is growing along with domestic consumption. This being the case, the fact that non-oil exports are increasing can be viewed as an outstanding achievement. All these figures are not just last year's figures. These figures are based on our long-term economic strategy. Last year we saw very good results from this strategy.
As for this year, this year's budget, which is due to last year's achievements, will be the biggest in history. Budget expenditures will reach about 30 billion manats. For a country that has just emerged from the war, these achievements show that there is a splendid panorama in the economic sphere. This year, reforms will be continued both in the liberated lands, where investment projects will be implemented, and the rest of the country. We see the results of these reforms. Last year alone, tax authorities were able to raise about 1.4 billion manats in addition to the forecast. Entrepreneurs have become accustomed to the new and transparent rules of relations and welcome that. In other words, the policy of purification and transparency in our country is manifested in all areas. Of course, the economic sphere is no exception.
Rasim Sharifov from ARB 24 channel: Mr. President, in the field of maintaining the economic growth rates you have just mentioned, a number of projects are implemented in our country to improve further and strengthen the social and material well-being of the population every year. We observed such projects last year too. In particular, at the end of last year, a social package covering hundreds of thousands of people was implemented. We would like to know what plans and strategies for economic and social projects Azerbaijan's government has for what is predicted to be a challenging year ahead.
In general, you know, our economic and social policies complement each other. Because if we look at the experience of many countries, we can see that the population of countries implementing only a scientifically based economic model usually suffers from that. Because, in principle, if we look at history, we can see that economic reforms, I mean drastic economic reforms, often have a negative impact on people's well-being. In Azerbaijan, however, we are pursuing a policy in which the social sphere is always in the spotlight, and drastic economic reforms do not have a negative impact on people's livelihoods. True, there have been exceptions.
As you know, a few years ago, we had to take a challenging step. The depreciation of the manat had a negative impact on people's well-being, but we had to take that step. Because if we hadn't taken that step, we could have spent all our foreign exchange reserves. The fact that this step was delayed already led to a significant depletion of the Central Bank's foreign exchange reserves. About $10 billion was spent on maintaining the stability of the manat. As a result, the Central Bank could not keep the manat stable, and we also lost $10 billion.
In other words, there have been such cases. But I can only remember this situation during my presidency. And this step was inevitable. In principle, special attention has always been paid to the social sphere because human factors are at the heart of our policies. The social package, which includes raising salaries, pensions, social benefits, and the creation of social facilities, the attention being paid to the families of martyrs and former IDPs, allowed us to successfully implement economic reforms. This factor is behind the decision made last year. The increase in the price of bread was inevitable. The price of grain and wheat has risen sharply in the world. Our leading supplier is the Russian side because we buy the cheapest wheat from Russia. Both prices and export duties have risen and continue to rise there.
Of course, we could not artificially keep the price of bread at the previous level. Taking this into account, we are also strengthening the regulatory function of government agencies so that there are no artificial price hikes or speculation in this area. At the same time, a substantial social package has been implemented. As you know, the minimum wage has been increased by 20 percent, the minimum pension by 20 percent, pensions and social benefits have also been increased. In total, it cost the budget 1.5 billion manats and covers more than 2 million people. We believe that the new wages can be seen as compensation for the rise in bread prices, and this is not the first time this step has been taken. We regularly raise salaries. For example, if we look at the history of the past ten years, we can see how much the minimum wage has been increased. Are we content with that? Of course not! But we must do everything possible. Comprehensive measures are being taken to improve people's social well-being. The increase in salaries and pensions is only a part of this.
There are other tools too, and we are using them. The people of Azerbaijan can rest assured that we will channel any additional funds raised primarily into social issues. As I mentioned, the tax authorities have already collected 1.4 billion manats above the forecast, and a social package worth 1.5 billion manats was immediately implemented. In other words, all additional funds raised were spent only on social projects, which once again shows how much importance we attach to the social sphere.
Murad Huseynov from Public Television: Mr. President, you have just touched upon the price of wheat in the world market, and it should be noted that Azerbaijan also imports other types of food and that food prices are rising in the world. According to the UN, prices have risen by about 21 percent. These are the consequences of the pandemic. What steps do you consider essential for strengthening Azerbaijan's food security?
-This is one of the most critical issues. I have been working on this issue for many years and have repeatedly given instructions to the government. We are taking the necessary steps to address this issue as much as possible. However, we must take into account the reality. The per capita land area in Azerbaijan is smaller than in neighboring and many other countries. Given that about 20 percent of our territory was under occupation for many years, given that a part of our territory is unsuitable for agriculture due to the climate and quality of the soil, this complicates our work, of course. In other words, this is a reality we cannot go beyond. This is our geographical location.
At the same time, our rivers were under occupation for many years, along with our lands. The Armenians deprived us of these opportunities by changing the course of those rivers, mainly by cutting off the waters of the Tartar River. Irrigation is also one of the critical factors for food security. Nevertheless, we worked hard and, at the same time, steps had to be taken about exports. The figures I cited were based on agricultural exports. If we look at the Soviet era, we can see that there was a single agricultural and national economic complex in the Soviet Union at the time. The division was carried out. Azerbaijan produced cotton, grapes, tobacco, fruits and vegetables and imported meat, milk and wheat from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. At that time, we could not provide ourselves with these essential food products at all. Therefore, we had two objectives. The first was to ensure maximum food security to insure ourselves against crises in other countries. And the second was that we need to develop traditional agricultural sectors to increase employment and local production and exports. Therefore, this task is still on the agenda today.
If we look at the cultivation of traditional agricultural products, I can say that fruit production in Azerbaijan has doubled over the past 15 years. It has doubled, which is a considerable number. Grape production has also doubled, while vegetable production increased 40 times. Cotton production has increased many times. We have almost revived the cotton industry over the past five years, and the share of cotton in non-oil exports is growing by the year. At the same time, we have taken tangible steps to provide ourselves with basic foodstuffs. For example, if we look at beef today, we are self-sufficient by about 90 percent and for lamb by 100 percent. Azerbaijan had never produced milk, and we were traditionally regarded as being unsuitable for cattle breeding. This is why we have spent much money to purchase pedigree cattle, and if there are more than 1 million head of cattle in Azerbaijan today, 70,000 head are pedigree cattle. It is a breed of cattle that we brought to Azerbaijan in recent years and raised through specific measures, and their number will undoubtedly increase in a few years. For example, in the production of milk and dairy products, we have been able to reach 80 percent. We have also been able to increase chicken production by 80 percent. In other words, we had never reached these figures before – during the Soviet era or during independence. But we are still unable to provide ourselves, especially with wheat. We consume about 3.3 to 3.4 million tons of wheat, and only 2 million of that is produced in Azerbaijan. We import the rest, and if I say today that we can be 100 percent self-sufficient in terms of wheat, it would probably be wrong in the current situation. But we must work to increase local production, primarily through productivity. The grain yield today is 32 quintals or 3.2 tons. If this figure reaches 4 or 4.5 tons, it will be possible, because in some large farms it is at 7 tons, in others, it is 6 tons. I visited these farms and was involved in the establishment of these farms. Then we can provide ourselves with a maximum amount of wheat from the available land.
We started planting work on the liberated lands without wasting time, mobilized large amounts of money, and instructed private companies and farmers. Planting has already begun there. But we also need to know that liberated lands were mainly used for livestock breeding during the Soviet era. In other words, there was no tradition of growing crops in mountainous areas, especially in Kalbajar, Lachin and Zangilan districts. Viticulture, tobacco growing, animal husbandry and cotton growing flourished there. Armenians planted grain on 100,000 hectares during the occupation and harvested about 100,000 tons of wheat. It is a significant volume for Armenia. But for us, this is not a lot. If planting is carried out of the liberated lands, in areas suitable and acceptable for grain growing, it is possible to get about 200,000 tons of wheat with the current yield. So this is the reality. In other words, it does not cover our deficit of 1.3 million. We should also know that the population is growing. The demand is growing every year. The number of foreigners visiting our country has decreased due to the pandemic. Millions of tourists will be coming to Azerbaijan after the pandemic. Therefore, to provide ourselves with a view to the demographic prospects, we only need to create modern technologies, modern irrigation systems and large farms. Assistance is being provided to small farmers. Subsidies and methodological guidance are provided. We must also improve this work. It is not ruled out – and we have already started dealing with this issue – that we will lease fertile land suitable for grain growing in other countries to grow crops there and bring them to Azerbaijan. Therefore, this is an actual picture. Our wishes and opportunities do not coincide today. Therefore, everyone should know this real situation and the fact that we are doing our best. I am working on this almost daily. Thanks to the reforms carried out in our country, including agriculture, and the improvement of the economic and business environment, I hope that we will achieve most of these goals. In any case, we must provide ourselves with staple foods other than wheat. And I believe we will.
Sabina Agayeva from Real TV: Mr. President, both when the second Karabakh war began, and when it ended, you went to the Military Hospital and visited the wounded. You are with them also today. How would you evaluate the state's care and attention to them and the families of martyrs and those disabled in the war and the work done to improve their well-being in general?
-In general, I can say that Azerbaijan is setting its model in this area because many countries of the world have gone through war. We know and study the experience of those countries. We see that attention paid to the families of martyrs, war veterans, and those affected by the war in Azerbaijan can be considered quite exemplary. The initiatives put forward in Azerbaijan are not observed in other countries. For example, the state provides housing to the families of martyrs and disabled veterans. That was our initiative. About 10,000 people of this category have been provided with housing. Cars are provided as well – a total of 7400 cars have been provided. Those in the line, i.e., those who participated in the first Karabakh war, will be fully provided with cars soon. Last year alone, 850 families of martyrs and disabled veterans of the first Karabakh war were provided with housing. Participants of the second Karabakh war, i.e., disabled veterans and families of martyrs, were also provided with 750 apartments, and this process continues. People of this category, who took part in the first Karabakh war, will be provided entirely with apartments possibly in two years, i.e., those who are in the line. The same conditions will be created for the veterans of the second Karabakh war in the next few years. I want to say again that this is our initiative. We have not seen it anywhere else. We did not bring this experience from anywhere. We are taking this step to comfort people of this vulnerable category and to share their pain. Of course, this requires significant funds. Everyone knows how much an apartment costs, and it is a considerable burden on the budget. But we have taken this commitment and will continue to do so to the end - until the last person of this category is provided with an apartment and a car.
At the same time, the social security of the families of martyrs is improving. The amount of benefits provided to them is regularly increased. We will always keep them in the spotlight. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population has been instructed to provide jobs for this category of people, especially after the second Karabakh war. This process has already begun. Veterans who lost their limbs during the war are provided with the most modern prostheses. This process is nearing completion. We are doing this to bring them back to everyday life, and these prostheses are the latest technology. In other words, these are the most valuable, the most expensive and the latest technology prostheses from Europe that a person can normally live with, walk and even play football. Even a person who has lost an arm can now return to everyday life. So these are the main factors. Of course, this policy and my constant contact with this category of people are a serious signal to the public. I see that the public also has an exceptional warmth towards this category, in particular business entities. I have repeatedly appealed to them to take care of this category of people, each of them as much as possible – both in terms of employment and financial assistance. In other words, let them take this initiative. In general, I think that our society has a correct approach to this issue, and there is a common opinion. Each of us must always help these people as much we can. We must and will help those who have lost their father.
- Mr. President, with your permission, we would like you to expand on your views on the post-war situation. You noted that social support measures are being taken. At the same time, if we look at the past year, we will see that you have made a retrospective journey into history. In other words, if we look at history, we will see that many plans for post-war reconstruction have been implemented. No support from international donors has been used. Of course, Azerbaijan relies on its resources, but it is not only about financial resources. As a continuation of last year's work, what work will be done in the liberated territories this year?
- A very extensive program was launched last year. It would take a long time to list all these activities. However, I should emphasize the main issues again so that the people of Azerbaijan can see that, looking at the experience of post-war countries, this is indeed the most extensive program in history in terms of its proportions. As you mentioned, what makes this program unique is that we are doing it at our own expense, without asking for or receiving help from anyone. Of course, there had to be a sequence here as well. This sequence has to be based on logic. First of all, what do we need? First of all, demining work should be carried out. Both ANAMA and the Ministry of Defense are active in this area, as is the Ministry of Emergency Situations. This process is going on. Unfortunately, we are still losing people. Since the war ended, about 200 Azerbaijani citizens – civilians and soldiers – have been killed or seriously injured. Therefore, we cannot start a large-scale return program without doing this. For this reason, first of all, the focus of the demining work has been on places where there is infrastructure, i.e., power lines and roads. Those areas had to be cleared first to start this work. On the other hand, the process of demining the cities for which a master plan has been prepared is progressing fast, especially in Shusha and Aghdam. First of all, we had to create electricity infrastructure because the local terrain of the liberated territories, especially in the mountains, is such that if there is no infrastructure, it will be challenging, perhaps even impossible, for the military to serve there. Imagine that there were no settlements in some arts of Kalbadjar and Lachin districts bordering Armenia in Soviet times. No one lived there, and there were no roads for tens of kilometers from the border. It starts to snow there in October, and the snow melts in May. Just imagine the scale of the work we had to carry out in a short time. I can say that many don't know this. In those regions alone – in Kalbajar, Lachin, Zangilan and Gubadli – on the border with Armenia, we have built about 700 kilometers of roads. These can be considered service roads, military roads. These are roads leading to our positions, roads to borders, roads to high mountains, roads to hills.
We had to bring in equipment; we had to bring in specialists. Our workers are regularly fired upon from that side. Unfortunately, Armenia did not learn the lessons of the second Karabakh war. Therefore, we were able to do it in a harsh environment, and today we are settled in all significant checkpoints along the border. Not only have we settled there, but we have also built a modern infrastructure to serve there. Because the weather is frigid there and the service conditions are pretty harsh. The thickness of the snow is around 3-4 meters. We now have food supplies, roads and power lines, so there are conditions for routine service. But when we look at Armenian posts, we see how deplorable they are. In other words, they are stationed in tents and have to fight the cold while serving. Therefore, both roads and power lines are needed for this purpose. Because we had to access those borders, we had to protect this border. And we have achieved this now – all along the border from the Araz to Murov Mountain. At the same time, the process of creating electricity infrastructure has begun, as we built seven substations on all liberated lands in one year and connected all these substations to a shared circular network. In other words, for example, the power received from there now and the power produced at hydropower plants are fed into the general grid. This allows us the opportunity to avoid a crisis. It was a tremendous and challenging job. Just imagine – seven substations in one year, in places where there is no housing, mines, and no infrastructure. This is a great sacrifice. In particular, in winter, in the snowy conditions in Kalbajar district, electric pylons were installed from Dashkasan, which is 3,500 meters high. This is a great sacrifice indeed and shows our potential. So this shows that we are not only financially but also technically and professionally independent. We did not get help from anyone and did everything ourselves.
Then intercity roads. This process was started and then expanded a great deal. A tunnel more than 11 kilometers long is being built from Goygol to Kalbajar because it is difficult to use this road in winter. A second 4-kilometer tunnel is under construction between Kalbajar and Lachin. What will it give us? It will allow us to travel to Kalbajar from the direction of Goygol-Ganja easily, and we can solve all the issues both from the strategic point of view and from the point of view of the return of citizens there. The Barda-Aghdam highway is under construction. We are connecting Naftalan with Talish and Sugovushan. It will be crucial both from a strategic point of view and from the point of view of tourism. Because Naftalan has become an international tourist center, the distance from there to Lake Sugovushan is very short. We intend to turn both that area and Aghdara into a tourist center, and at the same time, we must ensure that people return there. Other roads, such as the Fuzuli-Shusha road and the Zafar road, were built in one year. The second road is being built – the Fuzuli-Hadrut, Fuzuli-Jabrayil, Horadiz-Aghband, Zangilan-Gubadli-Lachin road, and other roads in the direction of Lachin. I can't list them all because there are so many that it's hard to remember.
Railways. We have already started the construction of the Barda-Aghdam railway, and we have started the construction of the railway, which is a part of the Horadiz-Aghband-Zangazur corridor.
The restoration of historical monuments. Notice how much work has been done in Shusha. At the same time, the foundations of Aghdam, Zangilan, Hadrut and Dashalti mosques have been laid, and repairs have started. In other words, it would take a long time to list everything, and I try to pay attention to each project. Therefore, I visited the liberated lands many times in 2021, and along with these infrastructure projects, urban development projects will be implemented this year.
We have now laid the foundations of schools and hospitals. The master plans of Aghdam and Fuzuli cities are ready. Agreements have been signed with relevant companies to develop master plans for other cities. We want everything to be done comprehensively – both quickly and, at the same time, not in haste. Because everything must be comprehensive and the people who are about to return there must be provided with the best conditions because these people lived under challenging conditions for 30 years. Many of them indeed lived in beautiful apartments provided by the state, but they always lived with a longing for the homeland, longing for their native land. We must create conditions for them to live comfortably from now on. Therefore, we should not waste any time, but we should not do things in haste either. Everything must be done in a comprehensive manner; all construction work must be carried out transparently through tenders. Special instructions have been given, and maximum transparency must be ensured. If we face unpleasant situations, our punishment will be very severe, and everyone should know that.
Let me repeat that along with infrastructure projects, for example, the construction of a residential complex in Shusha has already begun, the foundation has been laid, and we will begin construction soon. Schools and hospitals in Aghdam, other places and villages. There are plans to put Aghali village into operation. So it is large-scale work, extensive work – both from a technical point of view and in terms of financial capacity and responsibility. Because this is a very responsible job, we must not make any mistakes here.
Mr. President, does the socio-economic development and implementation of that also mean the fight against corruption and bribery? You have spoken about transparency, and your uncompromising position on this area, on the fight against corruption, is evident. Therefore, we would like to know that despite all these serious reforms, we face bureaucracy and government officials engaged in business – such negative things. What reforms do you envisage in this area this year?
- The fight against these phenomena will be continued this year. The unity between the determination we have shown, the words and deeds in recent years should be a lesson for everyone. Because I have repeatedly instructed government officials, both officially and during meetings when appointing them to office, that corruption and bribery must be seriously combated. If government officials stain themselves, the punishment will be very severe. The result shows that the highest-level officials have been held accountable by investigating authorities and courts and received the punishment they deserve. I want to say again that no one can evade this responsibility, no one is above the law, everyone is equal before the law, and no one's past merits will be taken into account. In particular, the previous merits of people going down this crooked path have done them a huge disservice. Therefore, I think that everyone has already seen and knows this. Therefore, our steps will be very severe. Our punishment will be very severe.
But this is only one side of the issue. I have been working as President for 18 years, and many personnel changes have been made on my initiative. Unfortunately, in some cases, personnel changes do not lead to a positive change in the situation. When a new person is appointed, they act per the instructions for a certain time, but then, over time, as they say, they go the old crooked way. Therefore, along with punitive measures, the issue of proper selection of personnel should play a role here.
The Azerbaijani public has recently seen very serious personnel reforms in this area. Serious personnel reforms have been carried out in almost all branches of the government. The government, the Milli Majlis, the Presidential Administration, ministries, and local executive authorities have already undergone significant personnel changes. I believe this will play an essential role in the fight against corruption. At the same time, we must create an atmosphere in society to strengthen public oversight. You know perfectly well that I have repeatedly expressed my views on this issue, and not just for the sake of saying it. Because if this were the case, I would say it only once. I always say this; I appeal to our citizens not to remain indifferent and exercise control. Public oversight will deter many officials from engaging in such criminal activities. Therefore, some institutional format of public oversight needs to be developed. You, the media, have a significant role in this area. I can say that I sometimes learn about an unpleasant situation from you. I get this news from you and react immediately. I can say that the information provided in the media is, in many cases, confirmed. There is also biased information, but the vast majority of it is confirmed, and measures are taken immediately. Therefore, government officials should know that their work is monitored by the Presidential Administration and the public and the media.
One of the crucial factors is to narrow the field for corruption. Here, of course, institutional measures must be taken, additional steps must be taken in terms of transparency and accountability. To put it simply, the ASAN model should be applied to all areas because the ASAN model has already stood the test of time. It was also our initiative. There had been no such service area of such scale and scope before us. We have done it. We have managed to do it. Therefore, the approval rating of ASAN service is about 98 percent, perhaps even more. I am wondering why it is not at 100 percent. There is an entirely transparent picture there. Therefore, this model should be applied to economic, social, and government-citizen relations. Government-citizen contacts, i.e., the area where there are opportunities for corruption, should be minimized. If this is the case, the success will be even more impressive. But I think that our political resolve is already evident to everyone. I said earlier that if government officials do not want to find themselves behind bars and can't give up their ugly deeds, they should resign of their own accord - not to ruin their lives.
Elmira Musazadeh from CBC: Mr. President, since CBC is an international channel, with your permission, I would like to ask my question in Russian. You spoke today about the large-scale projects being implemented in the liberated territories. In this regard, I would like to talk a little about army building. On 24 December, during your visit to Hadrut settlement of Khojavand District, you took part in the opening ceremony of a new military unit for commando forces. You mentioned there that, I would like to quote you with your permission: "The greatest importance of this military unit is that after the war we did not stop the process of army building, did not reduce the costs of the army, but even increased them." Why is this so important, and how will army building be carried out in the coming years after Azerbaijan's victory in the Patriotic War?
-Given the occupation, the issue of army building has always been at the top of my agenda. This topic has always dominated my work schedule, public speeches and contacts with colleagues. Of course, this topic united our entire nation, and we all tried to secure the restoration of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. It is no coincidence that when we reviewed and prepared the state budget, I always ordered that the most significant expenditures should be allocated for army building. This, among other factors, proved correct. As for the current stage, I did speak about that, and you rightly reminded me of my own words that we should not stop for several factors. First of all, unfortunately, there are strong revanchist sentiments in Armenia, both in the government and in the opposition and society. Unfortunately, we are seeing this in real life. Just yesterday, another military provocation was committed against Azerbaijani servicemen. As a result of this baseless aggression, an Azerbaijani serviceman was killed. It is not the first time this has happened since the war. Unfortunately, Armenia did not learn from all our previous punitive measures. Yesterday's incident is no exception. The
Azerbaijani Armed Forces have taken decisive measures to punish the criminals. According to the information I received from the Minister of Defense today, six to eight enemy servicemen were killed, and many others were wounded. Shortly after this incident, the Armenian side insistently requested a ceasefire. However, they must understand that the death of an Azerbaijani serviceman will never be forgiven. Despite numerous requests from the Armenian side, I would even say pleas – since this incident took place, not in the area of responsibility of Russian peacekeepers, but the direction of Kalbadjar. Based on the requests of Russian peacekeepers, I ordered the Defense Minister at 21:30 to cease fire and let the Armenian side collect their numerous wounded servicemen. In other words, both this incident and all previous incidents ended in this way – crimes, provocations, covert provocations, punitive measures by the Azerbaijani side, and then pleas for a ceasefire. As a result, Azerbaijan has once again demonstrated humanism, but only after we concluded that the punitive operation should be stopped.
This explains why we continue the army-building process. There are several aspects here. First of all, of course, we used up a lot of the ammunition during the war, so we have to replenish that now, and the new contacts signed will provide us with this opportunity. The supply of weapons and ammunition is already underway. The next issue is the purchase of modern weapons systems of different types. We have permanently attached great importance to this issue. Military technology is evolving fast, and we always want to get the best equipment available.
As you know, we do not have a problem with the number of parties interested in selling weapons to us. The third issue is to increase the combat capability of the Armed Forces. The second Karabakh war is not only a great victory for us, but it is also a great experience in the field of operations. It has been a practical test of the Armed Forces, not in training but actual operations, and our Armed Forces came out of this test with dignity. However, the second Karabakh war also showed us what to do next and what elements of the military infrastructure we did not use, used minimally, or were weak. This is also a great experience. For obvious reasons, I can't say more now. Creating a commando force is just one of the elements of improving our military capabilities, but it is also a vital element. As I have already said, this process has begun and will be continued.
Our special forces showed their best during the second Karabakh war. I have said this many times. Therefore, the improvement of these forces and the creation of a new special force is a necessity dictated by the situation. We are talking about attempts at exacting revenge. The point is that we do not know what will happen in a year, two or five years. Today, the Armenian army is completely dilapidated and cannot resist us on a scale more significant than in the second Karabakh war. We are closely following all military-building efforts in Armenia, both with their resources and their partners' help. Therefore, I have sincerely and openly stated that if we see even the slightest threat to our security, we will immediately crush it no matter where it is and no matter how deep it is in the territory of Armenia. Everyone, first of all, the Armenian leadership should know and understand this.
Therefore, due to our measures, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces will become even more potent than they were during the second Karabakh war. However, as we all know, the experts and the public of a number of countries do not conceal their admiration for what we demonstrated during the war. Of course, this unexpected and explicit admiration made all of us feel very proud of ourselves. But at the same time, we must not become complacent or arrogant, as they say, and not repeat the mistakes of the Armenian side, which considers themselves to be great fighters but, in reality, set a new record in the sprint. Of course, this will not happen, but in any case, my actions now, including those within the framework of army building, aim to keep our feet on the ground. We have done what is necessary, and we have done it with dignity, honor and justice. And now, we must think about the future and the ability of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces to protect our people and state from all possible threats. In my opinion, a lot has happened in the year since the war, and this has shown – not only to Armenia – that we are capable of defending ourselves properly.
- Mr. President, you touched upon the tendencies of revanchism in Armenia. I would like to know your opinion on this issue. There are always Zrevanchist sentiments in the Armenian media. It is as if someone is trying to restore the myths of decades, especially the time of Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan – the Armenian army, the myths of a “Great Armenia”. What do you think the purpose of these forces is and what could the result be?
-Yes, of course I am following it. I can say that revanchist tendencies in Armenia are manifested not only by former government officials, but also by current ones officials. Because first of all, as I said, we saw military provocations in the post-war period, and there were several such attempts – in November, prior to that, yesterday and it is possible that such attempts will be made in the future too. Of course, the Armenian leadership and society as a whole have not yet recovered from the defeat in the war. They have been hit so hard psychologically that all their ideological foundations have been shattered. In other words, all the myths they invented and believed in have been blown to smithereens. We showed it in a matter of 44 days. Therefore, such tendencies do exist in Armenian society. Any government must take into account public opinion. Therefore, such tendencies will be continued. This is first. Secondly, we must not forget that whereas the current government is acting more constructive today, it is actually responsible for making the war an inevitability in the pre-war period. After all, it was a representative of the current government who said that “Karabakh is Armenia, full stop”. It was a representative of the current government who threatened us with a “new war for new territories”. It was a representative of the current government who danced in the Jidir Duzu and insulted the dignity of the Azerbaijani people. In other words, we shouldn’t be misled by the conduct of the current government. We must not deceive ourselves. It was them who intended to keep the territories of Azerbaijan under constant occupation. The current government wanted to move the parliament of the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” to Shusha and even completed the masonry work on a building there. We have destroyed it now. It was the current government who said that we should negotiate with the self-styled “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” and the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” should be represented at the negotiating table. In other words, it wasn’t Kocharyan-Sargsyan, but the current government who did all this. Therefore, I repeat, we must never be deceived by the kind words of the current government. We must never forget what kind a neighbor lives next door. The provocations committed at the border also stem from this. They want to test us again. It is possible that the source of yesterday's provocation is the recent events in the CIS, and they believe that their opportunities have increased or they can get support from somewhere. But they must not forget, as was the case in the second Karabakh war, that no matter who will help them, we will achieve what we want and no-one can stop us. Nothing can stop us. The only thing that stops us is that we do not want a third war, which is not in our plans. We want the war to end. We want normal relations to be established and Armenia to finally recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We want that. But if we see that, as I said, there is a threat to us, that threat will be crushed on the spot.
As for the Armenian opposition, or the Sargsyan-Kocharyan duo which calls itself the opposition, of course, they hate the Azerbaijani people so much that they do not want to give up their ugly deeds. However, the second Karabakh war was their defeat. Because it was their army that we have crushed. In two years, Pashinyan could neither have created nor disbanded an army. It was the Kocharyan-Sargsyan army that we destroyed. They both came to Khankandi during the war and allegedly wanted to lead a resistance movement there. When they saw that the Azerbaijani Army was approaching Shusha, they fled in a cowardly manner. In other words, they are deserters, they are false heroes. They could only wage war against the civilian population. They are both Khojaly executioners. They seem to be Siamese twins. Both were party members, both were Gevorkov's henchmen and both were approved by the Central Committee in Baku. When my father came to Khankandi, they both greeted him on their feet and applauded. They have made so many speeches about the Armenia-Azerbaijan, Armenian-Azerbaijani friendship. So they are ungrateful people who ate Azerbaijani bread and then betrayed us. In the first Karabakh war, they simply created a myth that they were war heroes. I said that the scrap on their chests belongs to a trash can. Because the second Karabakh war showed who is who. In the first Karabakh war, they fought against the civilian population, committed genocide and massacres. At that time, the Azerbaijani army was unable to resist. But this time we brought them to their knees, and they will live the rest of their poor lives like defeated deserters. Of course, such people are always ready to take advantage of any opportunity to strike at us. But they must know, the current government must know and any government must know that Armenia can never stand in front of us. Again, nothing can stop us. The only thing that stops us is that we do not want war. This is why yesterday, at 21:30, I instructed the Ministry of Defense to stop firing. If I had not given this instruction, their situation would even be worse today. So we have once again shown that they shouldn’t mess with us. I do hope that this attempt, this attempt of provocation will be the last such attempt. Otherwise, the result will be the same.
- Mr. President, Baku offers Yerevan peace today. But, as you mentioned, Armenia resorts to provocations from time to time again. You spoke about the serious clashes that took place in May, November and yesterday. What levers will Azerbaijan use to prevent such cases from happening again and what measures are to be taken this year in connection with delimitation and demarcation?
-We have actually presented this peace agenda to them and made very clear proposals on delimitation, and if it happens, then demarcation. As you know, at the initial stage, Armenia did not respond, did not say yes or no. In other words, this shows again that the Armenian leadership does not have a clear vision of the future. Our policy is very clear – whether it is related to the war, to the settlement of the past Karabakh conflict or to the future. We suggested that the two countries should recognize each other's territorial integrity, start work on the delimitation of borders, start the process of opening communications and sign a peace agreement. In other words, the signing of a peace agreement is not a 100 percent guarantee, but in any case it would greatly minimize the risk of war. However, we must also know that any peace agreement can be just a piece of paper for Armenia. Whether it is signed now or not, as I said, we will always increase and must build up our military capacity. The Armenian side is hesitant. Again, this shows that their official circles have not yet been able to form an opinion on this issue. On the one hand, they understand that without a peace agreement and with a strong Azerbaijan, they may have some concerns. On the other hand, they understand that if a peace agreement is signed, there must be a provision for both countries to recognize each other's territorial integrity, and they must be ready for that. You know, as they say, they are caught up between two stones. But they have to make a choice, they have to make the right choice. I have said that our benevolent behavior does not have to be eternal, and these proposals do not have to remain on the table forever. If they do not want to recognize our territorial integrity, then we will not recognize their territorial integrity. We have perhaps a hundred times more grounds not to recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia than they have not to recognize our territorial integrity. Because everyone already knows this, and so does the world community, that in November 1920 our historical lands of Zangazur, as well as Goycha, were severed from us and annexed to Armenia. The city of Yerevan was ceded to Armenia on 29 May 1918. So there are many factors for us, as they say, not to recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia. Nevertheless, we are ready for this for the sake of future peace and the establishment of relations between the countries. But I cannot guarantee that things will be the same six months later. If they do not want it, well, then we will see what happens.
- I am very sorry, a brief clarification. We have made a comparative analysis, i.e. Armenia’s ongoing provocations, the hesitation of the current government, the occurrence of unstable processes. The issue you mentioned – do you think there are prospects for a peace agreement and recognition of each other's territories?
-No, I do not see it happening. Because Armenia has not yet responded to this proposal. An answer has already been given regarding the opening of communications. However, when we put this issue on the agenda, they also raised an objection. Everyone remembers quite well that they protested at the construction of the railway, especially the highway, and said no, this would not happen. Then I said in one of my interviews that we would do it whether they wanted it or not. I think I said this in April, and as a result, they have now agreed to the construction of a highway, a highway between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. I am not saying that we forced them, we did not use any force. It is possible that our political steps, as they say, our diplomatic steps, as well as the processes taking place in the region, show that this is something not only Azerbaijan but many countries in the region want. Therefore, if we look at this history, we can see that Armenia’s position is changing. Therefore, it is not ruled out that one day they will be ready to sign the peace agreement they are refusing to sign today. But again, they should not think that we will always demand peace from them. We are making this proposal simply for the sake of the future of the region and in order to reduce the risk of war to zero. I repeat – if Armenia is not ready for this, then it will not happen. What will happen if it is not signed? Nothing. What will we lose? We will not lose anything, neither today nor tomorrow. Maybe vice versa. But Armenia will be the losing side.
- Mr. President, we clearly see today, as you have repeatedly stressed, that the Karabakh conflict has been consigned to history. It is beyond doubt that this creates a new geopolitical reality. What is your opinion? Are you satisfied with the way some countries, international organizations and political leaders perceive this new reality?
-Yes, I must say that a year after the war, I am satisfied with the reaction of the international community. But I must say that this is largely the result of our work. Because, after the war ended, the very next day, on my instructions, we started working for the results of the war to be accepted by the entire international community. In other words, we didn’t stop for a single day, both in terms of restoring the territories and, as I have already said, in regulating the hundreds of kilometers of the border and in terms of acceptance by the international community. This work has been gradual but we have still achieved it. It we recall the early statements by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, we will see that they were completely detached from the new realities. From time to time, we observed issues both related to the conflict and other unacceptable matters. However, if we look at their statements later, we will see references to both the 10 November Trilateral Statement and other documents. So the reality already prevails. And, as you know, Azerbaijan is no longer a country whose interests can be ignored. Of course, we have never exaggerated and should not exaggerate ourselves, but we should not underestimate ourselves either. We have created a new reality within the framework of our constitutional rights, the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and everyone must take this reality into account. This was not an easy task. It was work invisible to the public because we could not do it openly. Otherwise, we could have hurt ourselves. Therefore, it was a permanent job. As a result, international organizations – the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement, the OSCE, the European Union, the CIS – have now fully accepted these realities. We see this both in a formal sense and through interpersonal contacts. Moreover, as I have been in contact with many heads of international organizations and heads of state, I see that we now have more and more support for our cause. True, it happened after everything was over. Of course, many are telling us that we were right, that we did everything right, that they have always been on our side. But for some reason many preferred to remain silent. You know, winners always have a lot of friends. We have seen this many times in history, but at least this is a positive step, and I must say that it has probably been influenced by the course of the second Karabakh war. We fought that war with dignity, as men, without violating international humanitarian norms. I have repeatedly said that there were few casualties among Armenian civilians. The victims were only their civilians who fought in the war. The Armenian side has committed mean attacks and constantly bombed our cities. A total of 16,000 shells landed on Tartar alone. Just imagine a small town and 16,000 shells landing on it. What about Ganja, what about Shusha, what about Scuds, what about Iskanders!
I have not yet talked about another episode of the war. This conversation probably took place for the first time when we were moving towards Zangilan on the border with Armenia and were a few kilometers from Aghband settlement. We received information that the Armenian side requested that Russia send a part of the contingent of the Russian military base in Gyumri there, to the border, to Zangilan. They wanted to justify this by claiming that Azerbaijan intends to seize the Mehri part of Armenia's territory. We had no such intentions. However, a very limited contingent of the Russian base in Gyumri was sent there. We got this operative information. Immediately after this, the Armenian armed forces began firing on Azerbaijani troops from behind Russian servicemen. The distance was very small, so they were using mortars. We had casualties there. Of course, we responded and they immediately appealed to Russia claiming that Azerbaijan was allegedly firing on Russian servicemen. Can you imagine such ignominy? By the way, the Russian side, in subsequent contacts with us, accepted this incident the way I have described it. This is nothing but ignominy. In other words, they wanted us to harm the Russian servicemen by firing back at Armenian positions, so that they could achieve their goals and involve Russia in this war.
Many events that took place during the war are evidence of the mean nature of the Armenian side’s actions. Even in relation to their own servicemen. We have found so many bodies of Armenian servicemen who were chained to their vehicles and trucks. The Armenian military and political command ordered that deserters should be shot on the spot. We have all this information because we watched the whole area not only in Karabakh, but also most parts of Armenia. Therefore, we had reliable information about what was happening. By the way, things are the same now.
I think that this factor has also played a role. In my opinion, another factor is that we immediately organized visits of diplomats, journalists and public figures from different countries to the liberated territories. They were all in shock. And so are we all. Everyone there was simply shocked. We hadn’t known the scale of vandalism and barbarism. This completely subverted the whole ideological concept of the Armenians of being a civilized people, an ancient people surrounded by barbaric Muslims, a noble people in the Caucasus and a product of Christianity. Can a noble nation do such a thing? To dig the dead out of the graves, to extract their gold teeth, to break the gravestones and sell them to neighboring countries, to destroy mosques, to keep pigs there. We have shown all this, although there was no need for showing anything because could come there and see it themselves. When I said to the Muslim countries during the occupation that the Armenians were committing horrific acts there, insulting the holy shrines of all Muslims, many may not have believed it, but how will they react when they see it now? In other words, another turnaround has taken place in understanding what is happening here, in realizing that we are right not only historically, legally and politically, but also in terms of sheer humanity. We have not committed anything like that. Everything in the villages under our control – I mean the villages inhabited by Armenians – is safe and sound. When I was in Hadrut a year later, not a single building has been touched. During the occupation, mainly Armenians lived there. This, in general, contradicts the nature of the Azerbaijani people. No tombstones were broken. No churches were destroyed. But as you probably know, I am talking about the UNESCO saga, they tried to accuse us almost of vandalism. They thought that we would destroy the churches now. We agreed the route of the Armenians' arrival here with them. They and some countries associated with them wanted to come here very much. When we organized visits of foreign diplomats and foreign journalists to the liberated territories, when they saw that these churches and these graves were in place, the topic of UNESCO's visit was removed from the agenda. This is the story. We were inviting them throughout the years. What was the answer? It was said that UNESCO did not deal with political issues. As soon as the second Karabakh war ended, they started insisting on coming here. We agreed on the routes and so on. What happened during this period is known too well. They saw themselves that we are not destroying anything, but if they come here, they will see the destroyed mosques, the destroyed cemeteries and historical monuments, the destroyed cities, so they will just have to acknowledge who did it. They don't want to do that. All these factors, as well as our active diplomatic work, created conditions for the acceptance of these realities in the world. I think this is a great success. Because after this war, in fact, we overturned all the predictions and assumptions of Armenia, a country with its world-class patrons, about what will happen if the war starts. Of course, I think that the world has seen how attached the Azerbaijani people are to their land, how prepared they are to make sacrifice and take great risks. This factor has also played a role. Because the reaction of Armenia’s patrons on 27 September could not have been predicted even by me – someone who knew or could have predicted it. All this has played a role. Therefore, respect for our people and our country has incredibly increased. We are seeing that. Everyone, every Azerbaijani, everyone living far from Azerbaijan can see and feel it now. The second Karabakh war does not only mean the liberation of the territories, the awakening of the national spirit and the return of dignity, it has a huge multiplier and positive effect, and I think it will always have a positive effect.
- Mr. President, during the conflict there was a group called the OSCE Minsk Group, and you have just mentioned it. This OSCE Minsk Group made virtually no progress in 30 years, and Azerbaijan has both restored international law and implemented the well-known UN resolutions on its own. After the conflict was resolved, the Minsk Group issued several statements and then disappeared. There is no news from them. Do you have any information? What are they doing?
-No, I do not have information. I think they are now preparing for the anniversary events. Because, as you know, the Minsk Group was established in 1992 and this year it will celebrate its 30th anniversary. They are probably busy preparing for these events. But if we put these jokes aside, I think they should formulate an agenda for themselves. This is not our job. However, I have an idea of what they should be doing and what they should not be doing. I can say what they should not be doing. They should not be dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict because it has been resolved. We have resolved this issue instead of them. I think this is the reason for their absence. Because no matter how difficult it is for them, they must accept this new reality. They should know that they will no longer deal with the Karabakh issue. Because we will not allow it. We were a party to this conflict. If one side says that the conflict has been resolved, then there is no room for mediation and our position has been communicated to them. They will probably have to think about what they should be doing. As far as I know, there is no unity among the co-chairs, as was the case in the past. My judgments are evidence of that. The relations between these countries have recently become particularly tense, and they have differing views on the past conflict and the current situation. I don't think they can come to an agreement. In any case, such a low level of their activity does not concern us at all. Actually the other way round. In principle, 30 years is a lot of experience. They are on the verge of retirement. Therefore, I wish them good health and a long life.
- France is one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Not only French parliamentarians, but also several presidential candidates have visited Armenia and Karabakh illegally and begun to make some provocative statements there. Can these statements change anything?
-No, of course not. I think that those making such statements understand that it will not change anything. The reason for these statements is clear: to win the votes of Armenian organizations in the next presidential election. This provocative visit by presidential candidate Pecresse to the territory of Azerbaijan was, first of all, a visit against President Macron. I am simply surprised that President Macron was the most advanced politician to support Armenia during the war. The issue even reached a point where French-Azerbaijani relations were already in question. Nevertheless, throughout the war, he unequivocally sided with Armenia. I am amazed at how ungrateful Pashinyan is now to send his main rival, Mrs. Pecresse, to Karabakh, thus giving her greater opportunities to win Armenian votes. So this is what surprises me. Secondly, I want to say again that it will not change anything.
In principle, both you and the Azerbaijani public in general are well aware of the behavior of these three countries during and after the war. Russia was completely neutral from a political point of view. The Trump administration in the United States did not intend to deal with this issue at all. Since the war took place in the last months of the Trump administration, we did not see any position from the American side. The European Union has had telephone conversations with the leadership of both Armenia and Azerbaijan at the leadership level. France unequivocally supported the position of Armenia. It made baseless accusations against Azerbaijan, and, of course, the recognition of the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” by both houses of parliament is a major blow to French-Azerbaijani relations. After the war, this policy was continued for some time. But returning to your question, I can say that France has also accepted the results of the war, and a trilateral meeting was held at the initiative of President Macron in Brussels last month. This meeting was also important for French-Azerbaijani relations. Because we have clarified many issues with President Macron. I think there are opportunities out there to return to the format of normal relations. You know, in politics, I have always been a supporter of not getting caught up in emotions. Emotions should never be confused with politics. Our conduct in the war is also evidence of that. After the bombing of Ganja, Tartar and other cities, we did not give a commensurate answer. However, you probably understand what I felt like. At the same time, at the international level, as they now say, France understands that it has made a mistake and has not achieved anything. By its steps during and after the way, it simply lost the confidence of the Azerbaijani public. As a result, the Armenian government has shown them such ingratitude. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan continues to move forward. Therefore, we welcome the steps France has taken to normalize relations.
- Mr. President, there are always certain questions in Azerbaijani society, to put it mildly, about the activities of Russian peacekeepers temporarily stationed in our country. This is particularly the case during illegal visits, as you mentioned, which annoys and disturbs our society. How would you assess the work of peacekeepers and what additional tools can be used to prevent such cases?
-In assessing the work of peacekeepers, I think we need to look at it from a broader perspective, and, of course, there are many sources of concern. At the same time, it would be unfair not to mention their positive function. They are performing an important function now. At the same time, they accompany the sending and transportation of both our servicemen and cargo to Kalbajar and Lachin districts, and I can say in principle that I am positive about their overall activities. Last year clarified many things, because at the same time, a new element emerged in our relations with Russia, which did not exist before. Azerbaijani-Russian relations have always been very positive. But last year, these relations became more dynamic and there were more contacts, including those at the presidential level and various other levels. This was a novelty for our relations, and this innovation could have created problems for bilateral relations or strengthened them. I can say that when analyzing last year and this year, the peacekeeping mission has had a positive impact on bilateral relations with Azerbaijani partners. Therefore, we must know this. The citizens of Azerbaijan must know this.
As for the issues of concern, this, of course, annoys us, and several claims have been made to Russia regarding such illegal visits. The defense minister has sent several letters to his counterpart, and objections were made to the head of the peacekeeping mission. The same steps were taken in connection with the recent illegal visit of Valerie Pecresse. We were told that they did not see it, did not know of it, that it fell out of focus that she went there in an ordinary car, and so on. However, this doesn't sound very convincing. I have to state everything the way it is – positive and negative things. It was an organized trip; because Valerie Pecresse could not go there with the escort, she wanted and went with a few people. She was accompanied by France's former foreign minister, ex-EU Commissioner Barnier, and an MP. They went there secretly and returned. The news came out only when they had returned. They were probably afraid that we would have stopped them in the Lachin corridor.
Because if we knew they were there, we wouldn't have allowed them back. The Lachin corridor is under our control. You have been to Shusha and seen it. We can stop any car there, and no one can do anything about it. Therefore, such cases do occur, and it is absolutely unacceptable and must be stopped. According to my information, Armenian representatives visiting Karabakh appeal to the peacekeeping mission regarding the visits of foreign citizens. These are either allowed or not allowed. In general, I can say that we have accurate information about all the events taking place at the entrance and exit to and from Khankandi and in surrounding areas. Therefore, it is far from seriousness to try to conceal something from us or to say, "We did not see or did not know about that."
Another irritating issue is that we see that the number of arrivals in Karabakh, Khankandi and other places controlled by Russian peacekeeping forces is very different from the number of departures. More people are leaving. We are watching it. We can also see that 91 percent of inbound cars – notice how accurate out information is, 91 percent – are not checked. However, only 46 percent of outbound cars are not checked. What does this show? It shows that Russian peacekeeping forces are trying to make the entrance easy and create certain problems for those leaving. In other words, they stop cars, question them and so on. So they want people not to leave. This cannot be a coincidence. There cannot be such a difference. We know the number of cars and people, we know how many people have entered and how many have left, and this is not acceptable. According to our information, 38,000 of the population who left during the second Karabakh war have now returned, and 11,000 of those who returned left permanently. It is estimated that 27,000 people now live in the area controlled by Russian peacekeepers. With the exception of these two issues, in general, I repeat, I have a good assessment of their mission. There were no serious incidents. The incidents have taken place on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, i.e. there were no serious incidents in that area.
- Mr. President, if you would allow me, I have another question about the OSCE Minsk Group. To justify themselves, the co-chairs and the countries that support them are saying that in 30 years, which is actually a long time, they have gained some experience. All of us have seen the results of both the second Karabakh war and their work before the war. Given their inactivity during this period, do you think it is necessary to change this format in order to restore the lost confidence?
-It will also depend on what they are preparing to do. I have expressed my position on this issue through our Foreign Minister. As I said, I told them what they should not be doing. They should formulate their agenda and present it to us. Then we will either approve or disapprove it, or approve the agenda in part. In other words, we are talking about the items they want to deal with as such a consolidated group. However, I must emphasize again that the recent events between Russia and the United States, Russia and the European Union give grounds to say that this single format of cooperation between these countries will be maintained not in a formal sense, but in such a consolidated form. Therefore, first of all, we need to clarify for ourselves how the co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group meets the realities of the time today, whether there is a need to change the co-chairs because the Minsk Group does not consist only of these three countries. As a matter of tact, these three countries have isolated the other countries, to be honest. In addition, all other organizations that expressed a desire to help the settlement in any way were blocked. I know this for sure. As far as I know, in 2005, when we managed to pass a resolution in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that condemned the occupation, a major hue was raised by the Minsk Group, which claimed that PACE was trying to engage in things that were outside its responsibility. They were just as jealous of the efforts of the European Union. If you remember, some time ago, last year, I think, a delegation of foreign ministers of three EU member states came to Azerbaijan. The attitude to this visit was also very jealous.
In other words, the attempt to completely monopolize the process, to exclude not only other actors but also members of the Minsk Group causes them to remain in the role of statisticians. Many don’t even know who this group consists of. The sequence should be like this. First, the viability of this group needs to be clarified. Second, they should present an agenda of what they plan to do, and this agenda should be agreed between the three of them. Then the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides must express their attitude to it. These first two points are not there yet. Therefore, in principle, there is nothing to talk about.
When it comes to experience, experience is a good thing, but only if it is a positive experience. Therefore, I think that they should think of something and come to a decision.
Mr. President, Azerbaijan is also fighting an invisible enemy today – the coronavirus. Let’s recall that whereas two years ago most countries set an example for Azerbaijan, it is now Azerbaijan that can serve as an example for the world in the fight against this virus. Unfortunately, cases of “omicron” infection have already been confirmed in our country. What measures will be taken to continue this policy in order to get out of this situation with minimum losses?
-As you know, the measures being taken are proving their worth. I think Azerbaijan is one of the countries that are taking this difficult test with dignity. However, our losses are not small either, and every dying person is our citizen, of course. I want to express my condolences to the families of all the victims. We started addressing this issue seriously from the very beginning. As you probably remember, we were the first country in the CIS to start vaccination. I remember exactly that on 18 January last year, we already received vaccines. At that time, it was a big problem to import vaccines, but it is no longer the case. Because the number of vaccines was very limited and brotherly Turkey helped us a lot at the first stage. Through Turkey, we brought in Sinovac vaccines and started the process of vaccination. After that, we signed direct contracts with both Sinovac and Pfizer. These are the mainly used vaccines, and we have greatly expanded our capabilities in the field of medicine. As you know, modular hospitals have been brought to our country, we have provided the “Yeni klinika”, the best hospital, for the disposal of COVID patients. A total of 46 of our hospitals are currently treating COVID patients. I think the results in this area are not too bad.
According to the latest data on vaccination, about 64 percent of the population over the age of 18 have already received two doses, while the figure for the total population is smaller. At the same time, more than 1.5 million people have received the booster dose, including myself. I am saying this for the first time. I have been vaccinated for the third time and I recommend that everyone do the same.
Currently, the main problem in many countries is associated with the number of patients and the lack of hospital beds. In our case, the situation is positive. We currently have 10,000 beds, of which only 10 percent are occupied. That is, 9,000 beds are vacant. God forbid, if the pandemic spreads, we have enough opportunities. An important issue here is the availability of resuscitation facilities. We have 875 intensive care units, 26 percent of which is occupied. We also have enough vacant resuscitation facilities here. So from this point of view, we can feel comfortable. This is why we have removed almost all restrictions. Many countries are now going into lockdown again and imposing new restrictions. This has a very negative impact on people's psychological condition and economic activity. We did everything according to the situation, closed and opened if necessary. So the main issue here is to reduce the spread of this virus. I must also say that the people of Azerbaijan also behave very responsibly. We do not have any anti-COVID tendencies, anti-COVID campaigns. People consciously get vaccinated and understand that it protects them. There are very few deaths among vaccinated people. Some of the vaccinated people may die from a serious illness or a chronic condition. There are many people I know who have been vaccinated and then infected, but mostly very mildly. I even know people who got infected with “omicron” and recovered in five to six days without any serious symptoms. It seems that “omicron” is a weaker virus. To be honest, I am not an expert, so I would not want to comment on it so broadly. But my observations show that it is more contagious, but the complications are less severe.
But no-one knows that for sure. Of course, we must follow the situation. The main thing is to protect ourselves, all of us. Each of us should get a vaccine and check the number of those antibodies from time to time. I also check myself, give blood tests and look. Why was I vaccinated for the third time? Because I saw that I already had a low level of antibodies. They may drop to a level equal to not having been vaccinated, so I took the third dose, the booster dose. There was no impact. There are no complications in Azerbaijan at all. Because both Sinovac and Pfizer seem to be very healthy and high-quality vaccines. So this is my advice, and of course, protect yourselves and your parents. Older people need to protect themselves in particular. We need to adapt to all these new rules of conduct. Let's see now. It is said that these viruses lose their strength over the years and then turn into a common flu. I hope we will see that too.
- Mr. President, with your permission, let's return to the issue of the Zangazur corridor. You have reiterated that this corridor will be opened in any way, and we have talked about the results of last year. Last year, at the political and diplomatic level, we saw that this was part of the rhetoric which was used by the media during your visit to Brussels. In fact, last year we saw that a corridor was opened over the Zangazur corridor in the field of civil aviation, in airspace. So what is the status of the opening of the overland corridor?
-As for the use of airspace, I should also note that we used this corridor without permission from Armenia. Everyone should know that we did not seek their permission. This is our right and this is an international corridor. There are rules in the world of aviation, i.e. an existing corridor can be used. We decided to use this to implement the air version of the Zangazur corridor. Planes flying to Nakhchivan save both time and fuel. But the main thing, of course, is not this. The main task was to open this corridor.
As you know, the Armenian side is very jealous of the Zangazur corridor expression. I don’t know why. But I can say that I am the author of this expression, even if this might not be very modest to say that. Why did I call it Zangazur? Because, first of all, this is Zangazur, it’s a historical name of it. It is a place name in Azerbaijan, just as Zangilan, Zangazur, the Zangi river, which the Armenians now call the Razdan. These are Azerbaijani toponyms. Secondly, we do not look at this corridor simply as a railway because both the railway and the highway will pass through this corridor. We plan to build power lines from there to Nakhchivan in the future. Because we have ambitious plans to export electricity. I have mentioned that the foundation of a 240-megawatt wind power plant will be laid tomorrow. Foreign investors have already officially applied to us for the construction of a new 240-megawatt solar power plant in Jabrayil district. In Khudafarin, in “Giz Galasi”, we can get 140 megawatts of electricity. In Kalbajar and Lachin, there is potential for about 10,000 megawatts, and we also have the opportunity to buy wind and energy. This is why we also intend to build power lines there. Then it is possible that gas pipelines will pass through there. One line can pass through Gafan and another through Mehri. A line can pass through Garakilsa, which they call Sisyan. Therefore, the Zangazur corridor should cover the entire Zangazur region. As you know, the Armenian side initially objected to this statement and to this as a whole. Even today, there are opinions in the Armenian political space that this corridor is unfavorable for Armenia.
We have consistently worked to resolve this issue. As you know, there is a working group at the level of Deputy Prime Ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. This is his main task. The working group visited the territory of Armenia and examined the possible routes of the highway. Because at the initial stage, the Armenian side was claiming that it was impossible to build a road there. However, we know that it is possible, and there was such a project in Soviet times. In Soviet times, Armenia objected to the project, saying that it was impossible. At that time, Heydar Aliyev was a member of the Politburo in Moscow and First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet government. It was on his instruction and insistence that the then leadership of Armenia, the first secretary and the head of the government, was forced to approve the project. How did they allow it? At that time, the State Planning Committee and other relevant agencies got acquainted with the project on the spot and made plans regarding it. The construction of a highway had already begun. You see, even then the Armenians did not want an automobile connection to be established between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Even then, they protested under various pretexts. So there are opportunities. This working group has also confirmed this now. At the initial stage, Armenia seems to have agreed to the railway, but then they agreed to the construction of the highway. This has already been confirmed. Currently, the issue of the highway route is being discussed – where exactly it will pass. Our main condition is to have the shortest route and to be able to use this route in all seasons of the year. Because the weather in some places there is unfavorable, as well as the natural terrain. So this is the situation with the corridor.
I should also note that as a result of our efforts, this expression has already been included in the international lexicon. As you mentioned, even when foreign journalists ask me questions, they refer to the Zangazur corridor. Every time I hear it, I am very pleased. And every time this happens, I imagine the Armenian side hitting its head against the wall again. Because it has already been included in the international lexicon and, of course, will be implemented.
As you know, within the 3+3 format – although the first meeting was mainly of the nature of introduction and I am sure that there will be more substantive discussions at the second meeting, first of all, on the opening of communications. It is obvious that every country will benefit. Armenia simply has to give up its anti-Azerbaijani, Islamophobic and anti-Turkic qualities. Armenia can also benefit from this, of course.
- Mr. President, we know that you have a personal history of Zangazur. You visited your ancestors during your visit to Nakhchivan. Can we consider your visit to the grave of the great leader in the Alley of Honors as a continuation of this when Shusha was liberated?
-Yes, this is the case. Thank you for treating it like that, yes. These were the feelings I had in my heart, but I will not say what else there is there yet. But while visiting my grandfather's grave, I said the words that were in my heart – although I did not see my grandfather, I was not born when he died. But as you know, he was born in Zangazur and was a victim of the Armenian policy of ethnic cleansing. His family was forced to move from there to Shahbuz and then to Nakhchivan.
Of course, we must follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. We should always try to cheer their spirits. The advantage of the Azerbaijani people is that we are faithful to our ancient traditions. From this point of view, for each of us, our family, our ancestors, our predecessors are of great importance, including myself. Perhaps one day I will reveal the words I said there, in front of my grandfather's grave.
- Mr. President, speaking about the post-conflict period, the post-war period, it is impossible not to mention the growing role of Azerbaijan in the international arena. As you said, Azerbaijan does not just observe the processes taking place in the region, Azerbaijan dictates the agenda of the region. What are the underlying factors and how is this reflected in the country's chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement?
-Yes, you are absolutely right. The issues on the regional agenda today are in many ways related to our activities, and many of our initiatives, most of our partners' initiatives are realized with our participation and positive attitude. At the same time, I must say that it is aimed at mutually beneficial cooperation. All initiatives related to energy, transport, humanitarian issues and multiculturalism are aimed at creating the most predictable situation in the region, both politically and economically. Therefore, in this case, everything related to the initiatives of Azerbaijan has now been considered a priori for many years, well-thought-out and grounded initiatives. I must also say that there has never been a time when we were engaged in some fantasy, populism, airy wording or articulation of some simple and hackneyed terms in order to look smart or to please someone. In other words, everything we initiated was feasible and was eventually accomplished.
As for the Non-Aligned Movement, of course, this is a new role for Azerbaijan, especially because our country is one of the last countries to have joined this organization. We are a new member. However, we immediately won the trust and respect of all countries. Therefore, the countries have voted twice in our favor. That is, once they entrusted the leadership to us and then unanimously proposed that we extend our chairmanship for another year. We approach it not from a formal point of view, not for any benefit or concession, but from the point of view of what we can do and how we can strengthen this organization. I call it organization for purely mechanical reason, but it is not an organization, it is a Movement, and in international terminology it is not called an organization. However, I think that we need to go the way of institutionalization. We have taken certain steps in this direction. The first is the forthcoming Baku meeting of the heads of parliaments that are members of the Movement. We want to create a parliamentary component. An agreement has already been reached. We also want to create a youth component of this Movement and thus go through structural changes. Of course, this will require the consent of all countries. As you know, there are complicated relations between some member countries of the Movement. We take all this into account and therefore act very carefully but persistently.
What we did during the pandemic, the international initiatives, the Movement's summit, the initiative to hold a special session of the UN General Assembly, the support we received from the UN Human Rights Council, the discussion recently planned in the General Assembly which was postponed due to COVID-19 – all this increases enhances the authority of the movement. This is becoming better known and more noticeable in the international arena. At the same time, we had helped member countries even before the COVID pandemic. We have many humanitarian programs the Azerbaijani public may not be aware of. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we provide humanitarian assistance to many countries through the International Aid Agency, and during the pandemic we provided both financial and material assistance to more than 80 countries. This, of course, is very much appreciated, especially because these countries have limited resources and suffer from vaccine nationalism. In my opinion, no-one has raised this issue at the international level more than we did. It is an outrageous injustice that countries that try to present themselves as cradles of democracy and human rights receive three to four times more vaccines than they need, and then these vaccines expire and are discarded. Poor countries, meanwhile, have nothing. After all, this statistics is very well known. This is an outrageous injustice. This is a complete loss of all moral landmarks and the right to speak of any rights or justice. Azerbaijan has taken on this difficult mission. We understand that at a time when people are dying in African countries and elsewhere – there is simply no statistics there – we are confronting a number of countries that feel very good after they have provided their population with three doses. We went for it consciously. Precisely because we believe in this and because we are guided by principles, not conjuncture. This earned out country more respect. Many member states now see Azerbaijan as a country that can openly defend its interests. By the way, during the summit in Baku when I took over the chairmanship, I said that we would protect the interests of member countries, international law and justice. We are doing this and will try to increase the authority of the Movement and follow the path of structural change.
- Mr. President, I would also like to ask about Azerbaijan's relations with the European Union. In July last year, the President of the European Union visited Azerbaijan. You visited Brussels in December. How would you assess the prospects for the Baku-Brussels relations?
-I have a positive assessment. The visit of President Charles Michel to Azerbaijan and the meeting we had here were very positive. I can say the same about our meeting in Brussels last month. The main task for us was to properly formulate our future plans with the European Union. I have repeatedly stated this during meetings with the former leadership. I said, as you may know, that we don't have any special expectations. As you know, we did not join the association agreement. Life is showing that we were right. I would not want to say anything about the countries that joined. If we look realistically, what did this association agreement give? Of course, this is a legitimate question. So, is there a prospect of membership? There isn’t – not in the near future and in the medium term at least. Are there any other benefits? I don’t know. I am saying this again. Our position has always been realistic. I said that we should not cling to the skirts of things we could not do, so to speak. Let’s be realistic. We want closer ties with Europe. Europe also wants the situation on its borders to be stable. I think that during the meetings with Mr. Michel, we were able to formulate this agenda. I do hope that this joint approach will allow the new agreement to be fully agreed soon. At present, about 90-92 percent of the agreement has been agreed. There are several articles we disagree on. But I think that if there is a serious determination, we can achieve this on both sides.
Of course, a new page will be opened in our relations. At the same time, our agenda with the European Union is already quite broad. I have said many times that we are strategic partners with nine countries. We are actively cooperating in terms of energy security, especially in the current situation. Europe is experiencing a gas crisis. There is a great need for our gas. This is already published in the media. I mean the issues with Bulgaria. As you know, this wasn’t disclosed by us, but by Bulgaria. The essence of the issue is probably clear now. Therefore, there is a great need for that. Azerbaijan is also a reliable supplier. For many years, it has played a role as a reliable partner, as an oil supplier and as a gas supplier for Europe. They are very interested in our transport opportunities. I must also say that the former President of the Council of the European Union, Mr. Tusk, visited Baku in 2019, specifically Alat. He went to the International Seaport and got acquainted with the situation there. During his visit to Shamakhi, the current President Michel was given a presentation on both the Alat Economic Zone and the port. In other words, there is a great interest in this area.
The transport infrastructure available in Azerbaijan is the most modern. Almost the entire work has already been completed. This is of great interest to Europe. While in Azerbaijan, Charles Michel also visited “Azercosmos” on his way to Shamakhi. A new format of space cooperation with Azerbaijan's European partners is being created. This is also very positive. We are, of course, interested in bringing technology to Azerbaijan. We get these technologies from Europe and Europe gets our energy resources. So there is a convergence of interests here. There are almost no concerns. Or at least there weren’t any until the recent events. I said this to Mr. Michel both in Baku and in Brussels. It is also related to the volume of the financial package envisaged for Armenia and Azerbaijan. We were very surprised that a financial package of only 140 million euros was envisaged for Azerbaijan, which has experienced major destruction, and 2.6 billion euros are envisaged for Armenia. This is an injustice. I can even say that an Italian journalist asked me in an interview in Brussels in December how fair it was. I mean I am not the only one saying that. This is already a widespread issue in Europe. I have always said this in public. This is an injustice and we need an explanation. If this injustice is reflected in life, of course, we will not remain silent. Not only will we not remain silent, it will have a huge negative impact on EU-Azerbaijan relations. Because in terms of population and territory, Azerbaijan is five times larger than Armenia. Not a single building has been destroyed in Armenia. Our territory the size of Lebanon has been completely ravaged. Only 140 million to us and 2.6 billion to them? On what basis, what is the basis? Let them explain. I have set the issue in such a way that the amount of money given to Armenia should be given to us on the same conditions. The explanation is that Azerbaijan has a lot of money, while Armenia doesn’t. How fair is that? This can’t be right. Therefore, this is the only issue that may cause concern and problems in these recent events. There is no other disagreement between us. The recent Eastern Partnership Summit also showed this. I am confident that our relations with the European Union will be continued successfully. This is important for us. It is an integral part of our foreign policy concept.
- Mr. President, I would like to ask a short question about the European Union. Unlike in the past, the European Union is trying to play a role in the regulation of Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. This was evident from the meeting in Brussels. Sometimes the expert community thinks that there is some competition between Moscow and Brussels on this issue. Do you think that the European Union can play a role as a partner and a mediator in bringing Azerbaijan and Armenia closer?
-Yes, of course it can. When I was in Brussels, I told the EU leadership that this could happen. The main thing is that this agenda should be properly prepared and that Armenia should act sincerely. Because, as you know, in many cases Armenia has said one word to one partner, exactly the opposite to another and the third version to a third partner. In other words, this cannot be a long-term policy because sooner or later things will be revealed. Our position is unequivocal and I have openly stated it. And yes, I think that the European Union can play a role in the normalization of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. I welcome this, and to put it simply, the principle of justice should play the key role here. So far, unlike some countries, the European Union has maintained justice. As I mentioned earlier, during the war, France, which was supposed to be neutral as a mediator, unequivocally sided with Armenia. After the war, the United States, which should be neutral as a mediator, openly sided with Armenia too. This can be proved by mentioning only two incidents in the media. The first was the invitation of Armenia to the so-called “summit of democracy”, even though Armenia and democracy are located on different poles. Human rights are grossly violated in Armenia, political opposition is imprisoned and political rivals are persecuted. What deeds was Armenia invited there and Azerbaijan was not? That is open discrimination. Secondly, the Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia was recently invited to Washington, where he held meetings. The Secretary of the Security Council of Azerbaijan was not invited. It is a different matter that we are not invited. We did not lose anything and one should actually not bother to speak for two minutes at the so-called “democracy summit”. But the fact is that the balance is being disrupted, it is demonstrated that the current American administration is unilaterally on the side of Armenia, which is their own business. We, as they say, simply express our views, and, of course, we will take this into account in our policy. The European Union has not been in such balance disrupting situations. At the last meeting in Brussels, full parity was maintained, which gives us reason to believe that they can play a positive role in the normalization of relations between the two countries. It can be, at the same time, related to the activities of the Zangazur corridor, economic and financial assistance, as I said, if it is fair. There is a great intellectual potential in Europe, there is experience and they can give their recommendations on defining the borders. So they can be of help in many areas. In any case, we welcome it.
- Mr. President, if we expand on the issue of Europe and mutual interests, you have already mentioned that Azerbaijan has played a key role in European energy security for many years, and this status has been strengthened by the opening of the Southern Gas Corridor on the last day of 2020. You also stressed that the world, especially Europe, was currently experiencing a gas crisis. We also know that the export potential of the Southern Gas Corridor is even wider. If we analyze this mutually and comparatively, what realities are emerging and what do the prospects look like?
- First of all, I must say that the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor is unequivocally a historic event, and the implementation of this huge energy project with such a high quality and in a difficult geopolitical situation required tremendous effort. Azerbaijan has mobilized several countries as a team. We achieved this together, and next month Baku will once again host a meeting of the Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council, which is traditionally held in Baku on our initiative. Every time I personally attend these meetings and there is a broad exchange of views on the work to be done. The number of participating countries is already increasing. In addition, all leading banks are involved – the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Infrastructure Bank. So these are all leading financial institutions, as well as companies. Therefore, the importance of the Southern Gas Corridor is perhaps more visible in Europe now. Because this gas crisis has shaken them to a great extent – both prices, gas shortages and the fact that gas storage facilities are not full.
Winter is only just beginning and is expected to be very harsh. Therefore, the lack of gas will lead to serious complications. The volume of Azerbaijani gas is not so great, but it can prove critical for several countries. And, of course, first of all, our interests are served here. Because if this pipeline had not been built, we would have been sitting on the rich gas reserves, as they say, waiting for something to happen. If it hadn’t been for this prospect, no company would have invested billions, tens of billions of dollars in the development of these fields. At present, exports are growing, new figures have been presented to me. About 19 billion cubic meters of gas will be exported this year. More than 8 billion of it will be exported to Turkey and more than 7 billion to Italy. The remaining gas will be divided between Georgia, Bulgaria and Greece. This is a large number. At the same time, domestic demand is growing and will continue to grow. We are meeting domestic demand. In general, Azerbaijan is expected to produce 45 billion cubic meters of gas. As I mentioned, 19 billion will go to exports and the rest will be spent on re-injection into the oil fields to maintain domestic demand and reservoir pressure. This is a large volume and, of course, it will enable us to meet our needs, as well as enter the European space with larger volumes. It is our project that has also facilitated the construction of interconnectors and connections between European countries, and work is being done in this area. Thus, physically, i.e. from the point of view of infrastructure, we can deliver our gas to other countries, taking into account the fact that Shah Deniz has great potential. It is true that the approved volume is more than 1 trillion cubic meters. But I am sure that there will be more, as was the case in Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli. Preliminary estimates put the figure at 500 million tons, but its potential already exceeds 1 billion tons. In addition, the Absheron gas field will be commissioned in the future. Umid, Babek, Asiman, i.e. many of our gas fields will gradually become operational and our volume will increase significantly. This is our great advantage. It will also bring additional funds to our country, expand our country's international capabilities and, of course, this factor will continue to play an important role in EU-Azerbaijan relations.
- Mr. President, with your permission, I would like to ask the last question, because this interview has been going on for about three hours now. Thank you for answering our question without even getting tired. This is our last question. The world is currently experiencing a serious crisis in international law. The legal factor is being put overshadowed and the power factor comes to the fore. This is what many political researchers say. There are those who go deeper and say that a new world order is shaping up and there are desires and intentions to divide the world into spheres of influence again. There are those who say call it a New Yalta. What is your take on these processes? What new challenges do these processes create for Azerbaijan?
- I agree with you and must say that I have been observing these tendencies for many years. Because now I see through many contacts and meetings that the traditional rules of behavior are already about to be exhausted. Although they are still pronounced verbally, the statements made do not correspond to real life. If you remember, in recent years, even before the pandemic, I have repeatedly said in my speeches that the power factor is coming to the fore now and we must be prepared for that. I said that this is not our choice. We have always defended the rule of international law and hoped that it would help us resolve our problem. But we see that it doesn’t work, it doesn’t. When conflicts are not resolved for a long time, those involved in these conflicts and the people we refer to as the international community get tired of these conflicts. This tiredness is now felt in other conflicts too. You are probably watching that too. Therefore, it has become clear to me in recent years that we will not be able to regain our lands by traditional means, i.e. through the Minsk Group or through mediation. So this is not something I arrived at today. I already saw this and the fact that Armenia had become even more impudent and got away with everything it had done reinforced this idea in me. Therefore, I always said that we must rely on our own strength, get stronger, increase our strength and create a stronger army. We must strengthen the economy so that we do not depend on anyone. Because imagine where we would be if we were economically dependent on anyone now. No-one would allow us the opportunity to liberate our lands by force. Therefore, we have consistently worked in all these areas, of course, subject to international rules of conduct. Of course, we needed time to gain confidence. Because we only had to succeed in liberating our lands. In general, if we go beyond the context of Azerbaijan, we can see that the big countries are already openly declaring that international law does not matter to them. Whilst in the past they wanted to cover it up with some statements, it is no longer the case now. I describe this as political cynicism and it has already reached an extreme level. Under such circumstances, if the countries that developed these rules and approved them after World War II behave in this way, what should other countries do? Then other countries, as they say, should take action on their own. We have been doing this for a long time. Some countries believed in international law, were deceived by it and expected that someone would resolve their problems for them in the future. I think they regret it now.
There was such a period for us as well, and I am not hiding that. After being elected president, I also had hopes. At the initial stage, I also believed that this issue, the Karabakh issue, could be resolved peacefully. It seemed to us that the options we proposed were logical, fair and fully in line with international law. I even wondered why the other side or the mediators did not understand. I was 41 years old when I was elected president, I wasn’t very experienced and believed in international law at the time. I believed that justice would come down from heaven and resolve the problem for us. Then I realized that we must restore justice ourselves. In the first stage of the talks, when I was present, I had such hopes. Then I realized that it didn't matter anymore. Especially when the current Armenian government made their position clear again, when it actually disrupted the talks by its statements and inappropriate steps, it became clear that we couldn’t waste any more time. You know, I have to say one thing: everything has to be done at the right time. The second Karabakh war also showed that. A year earlier it would probably have been too early, a year later it would have been too late, so everything had to be done at the right time. It is, of course, a matter of hard work to select this time, to choose it correctly, not to go on an adventure, not to risk the country and to achieve success as much as possible. I can say this quite openly.
Nevertheless, as a responsible member of the international community and a country chairing the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan will, of course, continue to defend the rule of international law. We will take an active part in the activities of world institutions – the United Nations and other institutions established after the second World war, and we will be able to avail ourselves of these opportunities more easily today. Because we have already lifted the heavy burden of the Karabakh problem off our chest, and I think we will be one of the countries initiating the new world order. Because this has already happened de facto, and we are fully prepared for this de facto situation with all the internal resources. Both the moral side and the mobilization of our people, the unity of the people and the government, our economic independence, our energy independence, our political agenda and growing opportunities, especially after the Karabakh Victory – we are fully prepared and ready for any option. If the world continues to develop in the traditional way – although I do not believe in that – we are ready. If the world and international architecture completely collapses, we are ready for that too. So we are like a team. We must be ready to perform any task anywhere and at any moment based on our own strength, and always hold our flag high.
- Mr. President, on behalf of my colleagues, please allow me to thank you for the interesting interview and for the time you have given us. We also wish you success in 2022, continued success so that you could plant our flag wherever you want.