Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by Spanish EFE news agency

05 november 2020, 14:00

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by the Spanish EFE news agency.

-Good morning, Mr. President. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions in your busy time.

-Thank you for this opportunity.

-You are now entering the 6th week of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. What is, at this point, the situation on the frontline?

-Situation on the frontline is showing the dominance of the Azerbaijani army. We liberate one village in one city after another. And during this time on the battlefield, Azerbaijan liberated a large part of its territory, which was under occupation for almost thirty years, and Azerbaijani Army's successful offensive operation continues. And this once again shows that we are a strong country, and we are fighting on our soil. We restore the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. By the way, we implement the United Nations Security Council resolutions, which demanded the withdrawal of Armenian troops from our territories but were not implemented by Armenia for almost thirty years.

-You want to recover the seven occupied districts-5+2. How much of those lands have you already recovered?

-Actually, four of the five occupied districts have already been liberated, either entirely or partially. Today we are in an active phase of de-occupation of other districts that have been under occupation. And as I said, we implement the UN Security Council resolutions, and by the way, we implement a part of the basic principles. Because the basic principles for settlement, which have been proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group, actually demanded the liberation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories. Unfortunately, Armenia was not willing to do it voluntarily. Therefore, we had to force them to do it.

-Both sides have already agreed to three humanitarian ceasefires. But it helped not even a few minutes. Why wasn't it possible to stop the war and sit down to talks?

I think one of the reasons these ceasefires didn't work was Armenia's attempt to regain back the territories that have been already liberated by us. In other words, they wanted to occupy them again. Therefore, they tried to use the ceasefire, which, as you correctly mentioned, was announced on humanitarian grounds, to mobilize their resources and launch a new attack. And when they failed to do it, they launched a ballistic missile attack from Armenia's territory on the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Gandja. They did it twice. But the first time on the 10th of October, right after the ceasefire was announced. And that caused the killings of almost ten civilians, and tens of others have been wounded. So, they brutally violated the first ceasefire. The second ceasefire also was violated by them about five minutes after the announced time. And the third ceasefire they violated by attacking the peaceful city of Barda, where 21 civilians were killed and 70 wounded. So, all three times, it was Armenia's deliberate, aggressive attack on us, and we had to respond. We had to defend ourselves.

-You said that you want a concrete calendar for the withdrawal of Armenian troops. Armenia said they are willing to compromise and not to surrender or capitulate those territories. Are you willing to compromise, too and what does the compromise looks like?

-First of all, our position has already been declared many times during these almost forty days. On many occasions, I said that our task is to restore Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, return one million Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons to their homelands, to the territories they lived for centuries. And after that, to provide peaceful co-existence between Azerbaijani and Armenian community in that area. Our position is based on common sense, on humanitarian grounds and is supported by the international community. So, it is obvious, Armenia, when they talk about compromise, they do not say anything concrete. They talk only about self-determination. But self-determination is not a compromise on their side. They should be more accurate in their position because it is very ambiguous now. Therefore, we demanded the timetable for the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories. And we demanded it from the very first day of the clashes. So, had Armenia listened to us and behaved reasonably today, we wouldn't have had the situation we are now facing. The war would have stopped maybe a month ago. Therefore, compromise from the Armenian side should be very precise. And the timetable for withdrawal from part of Aghdam district, which is still under occupation and from Kalbajar and Lachin, should be presented to us. And Armenian prime minister should personally declare that. Not only do they give us the timetable, but they also do not say that they will liberate those territories. During all this time, since the 27th of September, never Armenian military-political leadership said anything about the liberation of territories. In this case, they actually show disrespect to Minsk Group co-chairs, who elaborated these principles, providing a return of seven territories, and they lead to more escalation. So, we expect the Armenian prime minister to publicly say that they will withdraw from Kalbajar, Lachin, and the remaining part of Aghdam.

-And if not, there is only the military option for you?

-Nothing is left. There is no other option. We don't want to continue military operations. I said many times and can repeat today that if the Armenian prime minister, personally him, the person responsible for this bloodshed, makes such a statement, we are ready to stop immediately. I am a person who keeps his words, and we will do it. But he doesn't say. He wants to win time. He wants to have the ceasefire to get some more military assistance. He wants to use this ceasefire to launch new attacks on Azerbaijan and regain the territories we liberated. That's what he is after.

-Are you willing to sit down at this point with Mr. Pashinyan, or is there no point in it?

-No. No point in that at all. I had many meetings with him over the last two years. But all of them were absolutely useless and senseless. Except for the first meetings, he promised me that if Azerbaijan gives him time after the so-called revolution, he will do his homework and strengthen his political position in Armenia. Then, he will be willing to work constructively to implement the basic principles. That was what he told me in the early months of his leadership in Armenia. But after a year, he said completely different things. He said that there would be no centimeter of land to be returned to Azerbaijan. He said, "Karabakh is Armenia". He said that Azerbaijan has to negotiate with the so-called "authorities of this quasi entity Nagorno-Karabakh". So, he did everything to destroy the negotiation process. Therefore, at this point, I don't see any sense in meeting with him. Our foreign ministers recently met in Geneva. And I think this is the proper format now for the communications.

-You said that almost during thirty years, the Minsk Group did nothing or didn't reach any to recover the occupied territories. Now, what do you expect from the US, Russia and France?

-Yes, you are right. I said that the Minsk Group did not deliver any result. But at the same time, I said that I could not completely ignore their activity and only criticize them. Because the basic principles that are on the table now, it is the principles elaborated with the Minsk Group's assistance. So, they worked, they tried. But they did not use all their tools, which they have to press Armenia to liberate the territories. Each of these countries unilaterally has enough leverages on Armenia, whether it's military support, political support, economic support, diaspora support, etcetera. But they did not use these instruments in their hands. They did not insist on implementing the UN Security Council resolutions, which they themselves adopted as permanent members of the UN Security Council. Therefore, the fact that there was no result, of course, demonstrates their unwillingness rather than they could not. If they could not, then who can? Can you find more powerful countries in the world? The three permanent members of the Security Council cannot influence small, impoverished, dependent Armenia? They just didn't want. They wanted the situation to be stable. This is true. They wanted a peaceful scenario. But when they saw no peaceful scenario for almost thirty years, and the new Armenian government actually destroys the process by statements and actions, I think they should have acted.

And I called many times, talking with their leaders, talking with their high-ranking officials, 'insert pressure on Armenia, put sanctions'. If you don't want to put sanctions, at least pronounce it. Announce it that the sanctions will be imposed; otherwise, there will be no other mechanism to influence this aggressor. Today, I think they realized that what they were saying many years, that 'there is no military solution to the conflict' was wrong. And we changed that reality. There is a military solution. But today, what we are talking about, let's just close that page of a military solution and move to the political solutions. So, the military-political solution must prevail. We are ready to stop today if the Armenian prime minister says what I already demanded from him. The peace process should be based on implementing the rest of the basic principles that have already been implemented. We need a precise timetable for Kalbajar, Lachin and part of Aghdam to be liberated. And then, I think peace will come to the region.

-I now want to ask you about the statements of Amnesty International that both sides actually have used cluster bombs, and now you and also Yerevan is saying that both sides use phosphorous weapons against the civilians. Do you use internationally forbidden weapons?

-We do not use forbidden weapons. We have enough ammunition to restore our territorial integrity - first. Second, we do not attack civilians. We do not attack cities in Nagorno-Karabakh after the 10th of October. Before, yes, we admit it. But that was because most of the Armenian army's military units and infrastructure were concentrated in the so-called capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Khankandi. So we had to. We had to hit those important military objects to provide security for us and make our operation more efficient. But after the humanitarian ceasefire was announced, and many times we announced that we never hit any city or any village where people lived. Armenians did it. On the contrary, they launched ballistic missiles from Armenian territory to Gandja, and it has been proved. Though the Armenian prime minister said it was not them, it is ridiculous. Because ballistic missile launch is being monitored by the satellites. Everybody knows from where it was launched and what was the goal of that missile. It was deliberately hitting the civilian compounds in Ganja, two times. They hit Barda two times with very destructive "Smerch" missiles. Twenty-one persons were killed and 70 wounded only by one attack. There have been many attacks. They attacked a funeral ceremony in Tartar. That is absolutely beyond any norms of human behavior. When people were burying the person who died, they hit the cemetery, and four people were killed. And the cluster bombs which they used have been verified by international media and NGOs. I am sure that the first who reported about that were international media who visited them. And Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch just didn't have any other option rather than to acknowledge that. But the question is why they didn't come in the first place to Azerbaijan. Why were they working only on the Armenian side? Only after international media, Western media showed those cluster bombs which Armenians' use, then these two NGOs confirmed that. It is good that they did. But frankly speaking, I cannot imagine how they could not confirm it, because when it's obvious.

-Russia, Mr. Lavrov said yesterday nearly 2000 mercenaries are battling or combatting in Nagorno-Karabakh. What do you say regarding this?

-I answered many times to these groundless accusations. Frankly speaking, I regret that high-ranking officials of countries that are supposed to be neutral, which are supposed to be acting within their mandate, given to them by OSCE, use this unverified, groundless so-called information and rumors - first. Second, we don't have any mercenaries. Many times I said that we don't need them. We have an army of 100 thousand fighters. We can recruit several times more if we announce total mobilization, which we don't do, unlike what Armenia did. There is no evidence of any foreign fighters fighting on our side. No evidence during this time - for more than one month. Not a single document, not a single proof was given to us, only statements. But then why they don't see what is happening on the Armenian side? How many mercenaries are fighting on the Armenian side? Why neither Russia nor France, which try to accuse us, why didn't they say anything about that? We have a list of people already eliminated with foreign passports. American, French, Canadian, Lebanese, from Iraq, from countries of the post-Soviet area. Tens of them coming from Georgia. Yes, they are native Armenians, but it doesn't make any difference. If they are citizens of other countries, they are considered to be acting there illegally. And so far, nothing was said about that. Though we have proofs. We have passports in our hands. We have evidence, video. Nothing is said about that. So, this is a selective approach that cannot be accepted by us. It is not in line with the mandate of mediators. I said many times; mediators must be neutral. If they take sides, it's up to them, but then they have to step down from mediation. Every country can have good or bad relations with any country. We understand there are special feelings towards Armenians due to some reasons from some countries. But in a national capacity, we don't mind. But if you are a mediator, please, be neutral. And stay away from accusations. If we start to accuse those who accuse us of mercenaries about what they do in different parts of the world, it will be a long story, a very long story. We don't do it. Therefore, we expect the same from our partners.

-What do you say to those who state that Turkey is not only giving you political help, but also a military one?

-I would say that this is another provocation, another false news. There is no military support from Turkey, apart from the fact that we are buying modern military equipment from Turkey. This is true. And this is sophisticated, modern equipment that I think every army in the world would have envied. And Turkey's military-industrial complex really demonstrates miracles. And this equipment helps us a lot on the battlefield. But we buy it. We sign contracts. Everything is transparent. Everything is legal. We buy weapons from other countries. Why nobody talks about how many weapons we bought from Russia? Only Turkey. Because Turkey is now in the center of attack from, unfortunately, different European politicians. There are attempts to demonize Turkey. There are attempts to blackmail Turkey, to press it. This is absolutely unacceptable. We buy, main of our weapons from Russia. We buy weapons from other countries. Only Turkey is here. So, this is the first. Second, those who always keep saying that Turkey provides military support to us, why don't they say that Russia provides military support to Armenia? A mediator, Minsk Group co-chair. We have proofs in our hands. We delivered this information to Russian officials. How many weapons were delivered to Armenia during these forty days? Why does nobody talk about that? Let's talk about that. Let's be fair. Therefore, first, this is wrong. Second, we buy Turkish military equipment, and we will continue to do it. And third, there should be no double standards about that. And those, by the way, who say that Turkey militarily supports Azerbaijan, I think, should refrain from these absurd accusations.

-Turkey obviously has interests in the region, as has Iran and Russia. Armenia has asked Russia for a possibility to guarantee its security. Do you fear an internationalization of the war?

-That is what Armenia wanted to do from the very beginning. And we were always against. I said many times to all the countries, 'stay away from this conflict'. It is our business. It's our battle for territorial integrity. And there should be no attempts to internationalize the conflict. But Armenia did everything to do it. And the letter which the Armenian prime minister sent to the Russian president demonstrates that they already admit their defeat, that we beat them on the battlefield, and that they want to internationalize the conflict. They want to drag Russia into direct participation on the ground, which is absolutely unacceptable. As far as I know, Russia rejected it, and the Russian foreign minister issued a statement about that. That maybe I'm not precisely correct in my words, but the sense was that the fight is taking place on the territory of Azerbaijan. If Azerbaijan attacks, or if any country attacks Armenia, then Russia will have their obligations. But the battle is going on our soil. So, these attempts, I think, are absolutely useless. The Russian position was articulated by the foreign minister. Iranian position was also articulated. Probably you heard about the Iranian plan for the settlement, which provides territorial integrity of countries. The Iranian religious leader recently made a statement that Armenia should liberate internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan. So, this is a reaction of two neighbors. The position of Turkey is well-known. It always stands for international law and UN Security Council resolutions. Georgia, on many occasions before, also supported Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. This is the position of our neighbors. So, Armenia is in isolation. So, they want to internationalize the conflict. They want to exploit some fake news and some fake news from history to get support. But the best way for Armenia to act now is to admit their defeat, admit our victory, and commit that they will liberate the remaining part of the territories.

-If they recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, what would your reaction be?

-You know, if they wanted to recognize, they would have recognized a long time ago. Why didn't they recognize it before? Because they clearly understand that by this very irrational step, negotiations will stop. Absolutely. So, if they do it, there will be nothing to talk about. And then, no peaceful initiative, no basic principles, no future settlement, nothing will be on the table. So, I think that they understand it. They always wanted to use it as a kind of instrument to frighten us, saying that we will recognize if Azerbaijan does that. I told them many times during these days of the war, and I tell now, the Armenian prime minister, to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh today. Do it. Show your courage. Show that your words mean something. Recognize Nagorno-Karabakh today. Again, and you will see that they will not do it. Because they are cowards. They can fight only against peaceful civilians, and when they see our strength and our unity, they run away.

-Will you be willing to accept the autonomy of the region?

-This should be part of future discussions on the basic principles. Because the first part of the basic principles demanded the withdrawal of occupied territories. Five plus two in the timetable, then, there were other elements of the basic principles, like security, peacekeeping operations, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, and we always were very open to discussing it. We offered them many times in different ways, but they rejected it. We offered them autonomy inside Azerbaijan. We offered them cultural autonomy. We said that there are good examples in the world, in Europe, in Scandinavia this Aland Islands, in Italy this South Tyrol district, in many others. But they rejected everything. They demanded independence only. And they wanted us to recognize this independence. By doing that, they actually know that we will never do it. They were doing everything to freeze the conflict. So, I don't know. We need first to end this hot stage of the conflict, come back to the negotiation table. Armenia should make these commitments, which I already said. And then we can talk about what will be happening in the future. I cannot say anything about that now.

-Thank you very much, Mr. President. I really appreciate your time.

-Thank you very much for your questions, for your interest in Azerbaijan.