While on a working visit to the Kingdom of Belgium, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev gave an interview to "Euronews" TV Channel.
Euronews: President Aliyev, welcome to Euronews. Well, on the 24th of June, there will be an important meeting on the situation in Nagorno Karabakh. What do you think about Russian mediation?
President Aliyev: We are supporting the efforts of President Medvedev which are leading to positive development. The meeting on the 24th of June will be one of the meetings which were held during the last couple of years. Personal involvement of President Medvedev helps sides to come closer to a settlement. Therefore, our expectations are optimistic and we think that if the Armenian side will show a constructive approach and will find the political will to make important steps forward, the conflict can be resolved very soon.
Euronews: What should the Armenian side do in order to be constructive as you said?
President Aliyev: First of all, the need to implement the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions which were adopted many years ago demanding unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories. It is not a secret now for anyone that our lands are under occupation for almost twenty years, and not only Nagorno Karabakh, but also seven regions of Azerbaijan surrounding Nagorno Karabakh where Armenians never lived. We were the subject of ethnic cleansing policy and occupation. Therefore, the most important is to look at the problem from the point of view of international law norms. As far as the negotiation process is concerned, the basic principles which were offered by mediators to both sides are in line with internationally recognized law norms, which are territorial integrity of the countries and self-governance of the people. These two principles are not conflicting, they are both important, and both of them can be provided in the peace agreement.
Euronews: What is Azerbaijan prepared to give in the case of withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh? Is Azerbaijan offering something in return?
President Aliyev: Actually we do not own something which does not belong to us to give it back. Nagorno-Karabakh is a historic land of Azerbaijan and internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan.
Euronews: Yes, but the Armenians will only withdraw their troops under some peculiar conditions like, for instance, the self-determination or the strong autonomy of the region I suppose?
President Aliyev: For many years our position was very clear and several times I personally, publicly declared that we are ready to grant the highest possible autonomy existing in the world to people who live in Nagorno-Karabakh and who will return to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Euronews: How should this autonomy work according to you?
President Aliyev: That will be the subject for future negotiations and in our minds it could be a vast autonomy. The positive example of autonomies existing in Europe, I think, could be very attractive because it would be difficult for us to invent something new. We have positive examples in European countries.
Euronews: For instance?
President Aliyev: For instance in Italy, and Tyrol in Austria, and other places where central government pays a lot of attention, maybe much more attention, to autonomy, and financial support is much broader in order to provide decent living conditions for the people. We can do the same. Azerbaijan is a country with vast financial resources and for us it will not be a big problem to implement serious social and economic development programs for Nagorno-Karabakh.
Euronews: Do Armenians need the resources from Azerbaijan? Especially, when it comes to raw materials?
President Aliyev: Well it is difficult for me to say what they need. Of course, we have information about economic situation in Armenia. May be for me it will not be very polite to comment on that. But, of course, it could be an advantage for any country to have Azerbaijan as a friendly neighbor rather than to try preserving this status quo situation which Armenians try to do for many years.
Euronews: What is your impression of the current Armenian political leadership’s approach to this problem? Do you think that they are more open-minded than in the past? Do they take some step forward according to you?
President Aliyev: I can tell you that I am in the process of negotiations since 2004. During that period of time, we had the process of negotiations with positive dynamics, but zero result. I can say that the previous Armenian government and leadership and current leadership are partners in the negotiations process. We have made an important progress before 2008. Since 2008, the progress was less visible, but we still have hopes. Therefore I think that it is in the interest of both countries to find the soonest resolution of the conflict. I think and I hope that the Armenian leadership will realize that the first – the preservation of status quo is not possible any longer. The second – it does not lead to any advantage for them. Now, they are controlling the land which is a dead zone. Everything is destroyed. Everything is ruined. No life. No people. What did they gain from that? I think nothing because if they would move towards the resolution in good faith and with strong political will and if the conflict would find its resolution, then the situation in the region would be much better.
Euronews: So, do you think that the current situation in Nagorno Karabakh is a sort of zero some gain?
President Aliyev: Azerbaijan is the most interested side of the soonest resolution because our lands are under occupation. We have hundreds of thousands IDPs. Up until a certain point in time, there was a mood in Armenia that they would keep the status quo as long as they could, and they would succeed in doing that. But important developments in recent months show that the international community and the co-chairs of the Minsk Group – the United States, Russia and France, and their leaders - made a very straightforward statement saying that the status quo is not acceptable. These are the events of recent months.
Euronews: Why is the Minsk Group, as you said, - the United States, France and Russia – speeded up the process in the last months and years? What do you think? What is their interest?
President Aliyev: First of all, the Minsk Group was created since 1992. For almost twenty years, there is no progress.
Euronews: This progress not seen in twenty years time taking place just a couple of years ago.
President Aliyev: But, it was a long process with certain promising moments and certain disappointments in the past. Since 2004, we are in the new process. The concept of the settlement is absolutely different than it was in the past. The principles which are being discussed emerged on the agenda in last five-six years. This is the first. It was a process. It is not just suddenly we came to closer understanding. The second, I think, the most important is that there is a very clear understanding in the world that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not a frozen one. It is not. And the ceasefire is very fragile. The permanent violation of the ceasefire on the line of contact is of serious concern, I think, to all of us – to Azerbaijan, to Armenia, to the international community. Another important factor is that the balance of powers between Armenia and Azerbaijan changed dramatically during the last several years. Today, for instance, Azerbaijan’s budget spending is ten times more than Armenia. The whole military budget for Azerbaijan is more than the total budget for Armenia and this is a reality. The more time passes, the gap between the two countries will be even bigger. I think this is also playing an important role in creating more understanding that the resolution to the conflict must be found. The status quo cannot last for many years.
Euronews: According to your views, the current situation in Nagorno Karabakh is sort of sniper status quo. Shootings from time to time happen on the two sides.
President Aliyev: Well, you know, sometimes we hear about that, but on the line of contact, you do not need snipers because the distance between the trenches of both sides is around 40 or 50 meters. We do not need snipers to kill someone you can use a stone. The danger is consisted of the fact that there are no peace keeping forces there. There are only Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers. The ceasefire is being maintained by both sides. Yes, there are shootings, violations of ceasefire, death of civilians like 9 years old boy killed by Armenian soldiers in March. But this is the reality of war. War is not over. Ceasefire does not mean that we have peace. I think that the importance of this moment is the understanding by international community, mediators that the war is going on. We need to put an end to that. We need to put an end to hostility. In order to do it, status quo must be changed. Azerbaijani territories must be liberated. Our people have the right to go back to their homes. This is their right. They must be allowed to do it.
Euronews: Thank you very much.
President Aliyev: Thank you.