President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by the U.S. Fox News TV channel.
Azglobus.net presents the interview.
-Good morning to you
-I worked in Europe for 30 years. I have never been to your region. I apologize. We will have to correct that in the coming months.
-I hope you will have time to visit us also. Some time in the future.
-I also. It’s beautiful. Well, I like Formula 1, and I like Zaha Hadid architecture, I like the movies. You have done a wonderful job modernizing your country.
-I have heard many of your interviews. You eloquently explain in great detail the complex issues facing the region. I must be blunt and to the point, concise and short. So we can get more answers on. I fully understand these are very complex issues that go back hundreds of years.
-Yes, I will try to explain to the American audience what is happening, and why it happened, and what we want to see in the future.
-That’s great. Well, we are very interested. By many accounts, on September 27th your forces began this latest round of war. There was a relative peace in Nagorno-Karabakh region. There was some kind of a diplomatic framework that people had an idea to resolve this crisis, but the fighting started. Why did you decided to move on now?
-It was not Azerbaijan who started the firing on 27th of September. So far, no official representative from any country actually raise this issue in front of us. It was Armenia who launched an attack on the 27th of September. And the purpose was to disrupt completely the negotiation process. They did more or less the same on July, when they attacked our forces on the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. They were suffering the bitter defeat. Then they sent a sabotage group on August, to penetrate through our military positions, and to attack our civilians and military personnel. So,on 27th of September they started artillery bombardment from the heavy artillery weapons. And in the first hours of the attack we had victims among civilians and military servicemen. So far, we have 63 victims among civilians and almost 300 hundred of them wounded. So, it was Armenia. We just had to defend ourselves and to respond. And our response was very adequate and as a result of that we managed to liberate important part of the occupied territories.
-But regardless of who shot the first shot, there was fighting basically right away on both sides.In that period and in the follow up you said in fact that you would want to remove all Armenian forces from this area and that would only be the answer that could resolve this crisis. And in the months leading up to this September 27th day there was much talk of war and action in Azerbaijan. You have to admit you were looking for war.
-What I was saying was in line with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. Back in 1993 Security Council resolutions adopted by United Nations clearly demanded from Armenia complete, unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, during 27 years, these resolutions were not implemented. So, when I was saying that we want Armenian troops out of internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan, I am right from legal point of view and what I say is in line with Security Council resolutions Of United Nations. We were talking…
-Mr president, there is legal, and there is reality on the ground. Reality on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh and the region is that now after all the trouble that you went through back in 80s and the 90s are principally Armenian population. If you went in there you have to again remove Armenians and bring Azerbaijanis back, yet another displacement. There is a diplomatic plan on the table, to keep Nagorno-Karabakh independent, for Armenia to give back seven of the areas around it. Does diplomacy did and does diplomacy make no sense to you?
-What you said about diplomatic solution is not correct. Because there is no plan presented to us from the mediators, United States, Russia and France, to give Nagorno-Karabakh independence. Not at all. In the peaceful plan, there is a proposal...
-No, no. Not at all. In the peaceful plan, there is a proposal, there is a point that all the occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, the territories which have been inhabited by Azerbaijanis and more than 700 thousand Azerbaijanis were ethnically cleansed from those territories-these territories must be returned to Azerbaijan. And the reality is on the ground you are talking about is the realities as a result of aggressive separatism from Armenia and ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis. All Azerbaijanis have been expelled from Nagorno-Karabakh, there have been 40 thousand of them before the war. All Azerbaijanis have been expelled from 7 regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh with 700 thousand. My point is…
-Mr president, in 1994 you lost the war. Now in 2020 you want to restart the war to win the war.
-We did not lose the war, we lost the battle. That was due to objective reasons. First, there was an internal instability in Azerbaijan. Armenia took advantage of that.
-My point is that why in 2020 you want to restart the war? I mean, it has been calm for 20 years.
-And second, that was due to open external support to Armenia. We did not start the war, we just responded and we do it based on the United Nations Charter. United Nations charter provides the right of every country for self-defense. What we are doing? We are defending ourselves, and we are liberating internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan from Armenian occupation. Nothing more than that. And with respect to Armenian people I have said many times that Armenian people who live in Nagorno-Karabakh are our citizens. We will take care of them. They will live in dignity, in peace, side by side with Azerbaijanis who will return there.
-Mr president, why are you resisting calls from the UN as you mentioned Russia, Iran the United States, the EU, NATO, why are you resisting calls for a ceasefire? And in fact, breaking to the terms to create a ceasefire. And I know today, that’s what Secretary of State Pompeo will be asking for a ceasefire to exchange bodies, to exchange the wounded. Isn’t this a good time for a ceasefire?
-We were ready for a ceasefire and on the 10th of October, in Moscow, our foreign minister, Armenian foreign minister and Russian foreign minister issued a joint declaration about the ceasefire. But the next day, the next day, Armenians from the territory of Armenia launched an attack on the second largest city of Azerbaijan-Ganja, situated far away from the area of clashes with ballistic missiles killing 10 civilians and wounding more than 30. Then, there was a second ballistic attack on Ganja, killing 15 people. So it was Armenia…
-But you violated ceasefire as well.
-No, we just responded, because we agreed about ceasefire two times, the first time Armenians at night, at 1 am at night, launched a ballistic missile on a sleeping city. Second time, ceasefire lasted only for two minutes and Armenia violated it. There are no evidence that Azerbaijan violated the ceasefire.
-But let me put it this way, if Secretary of State Pompeo today puts it to your foreign minister, the US really wants a ceasefire another try. Will you give it another try?
-Yes, we are ready. I said many times publicly. We are ready to agree on ceasefire today, but at the same time Armenia, its prime minister should say that they are committed to the basic principles elaborated by the United States, Russia and France. Armenian prime minister two days ago said that there is no diplomatic solution to the conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh.
-So, this has got strings attached. Is there a ceasefire with no strings attached.
-We want a ceasefire, we want our territories back. Armenia should commit that they will liberate the territories. According to the United Nations Security Council resolutions and according to the peace plan presented by US, France and Russia. But he does not say this.
-Mr president, how do you respond to charges that your military is inordinately targeting civilian areas, homes, residences, stores even a very important church has been hit by your high tech weaponry. Thousands others have been killed or injured just in the past four weeks.
-We do not attack civilians. After Armenian brutal attack, an act of terror against the city of Ganja with ballistic missiles where dozens of people have been killed, we publicly said that we will take revenge but on the battlefield. We do not attack civilians, we do not attack religious sights. What happened to the church in Shusha was either a mistake, and I already publicly commented on that, or it was done by Armenians themselves in order to put a blame on us.
-Again, Mr. president, we are seeing video scenes of the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, all the population there has to live in basements. They are hearing artillery every twenty minutes. Their city where civilians are living is wrecked. You can’t call the entire city a military target.
-There have been military targets in the capital of the so-called "Nagorno-Karabakh republic" Khankandi and our attacks there were only before 9th of October. We didn’t attack any civilians or cities, in the Nagorno-Karabakh after that, but they attacked. Have you seen the images of what they have done to Ganja? What they done
-Were you targeting civilians from September 27 to October 19?
-No, no, no. we were targeting military infrastructure in the so-called "capital of Nagorno Karabakh" Khankandi, because military basis, military infrastructure is situated in the city.
-You have drones from Turkey, you have military gear from Israel, you have high-tech equipment from Russia. How can you use that and not also hit civilians?
-No, no. Our drones and these images, a lot of them are on the internet. You can look, how our drones destroy Armenian tanks and other weapons. So far, our drones destroyed more than 230 tanks. We destroyed 6 S-300 anti-air missile system. We destroyed hundreds of their armed vehicles. We do not use drones for civilians this is false information.
-Let’s talk about the soldiers, the troops that are in action. From multiple sources, from France, from Russia from independent respected journalists at the New-York Times for example, they absolutely assert that Syrians, militias gathered and transported by Turkey in a hundreds are now fighting your war. Why do you have Turkish backed Syrian militias fighting your war in Azerbaijan?
-This is another fake news. I regret that Russia and France, the only countries by the way, which publicly commented on that made such an irresponsible statement. And I demanded and still demand proofs, evidences. It is more than 20 days after the war has started again. So far, not a single evidence or proof was presented to us neither by Russia nor from France.
-The evidence was in the New-York Times. I direct you to the story five days ago that says that 57 Syrian fighters killed in Azerbaijan, were brought back across the border from Turkey and buried in Syria. Their families all attest that they went to Azerbaijan, to fight alongside your army.
-Do you know do you remember how President Trump calls New-York times? Fake news. This is fake news. No evidence, no proof. Give us evidence not only New-York Times.
-I’m just curious, you have a 100 thousand soldiers. Why do you need some scrappy mercenaries?
-Yes. Exactly. We don’t need them.
-That’s a good question. Why?
-We don’t need them. That was what I was talking about. A 100 thousand soldiers in the regular army, plus maybe couple or three times more soldiers we can recruit within couple of days plus more than equipment. We don’t need any mercenaries at all. This is fake news, just in order to damage the image of our country, and in order to diminish the bravery of our soldiers on the battlefield.
-Mr president, let’s get back to the timing of this. Why we are seeing military action now? Why we are seeing clashes? Critics of your government, of your presidency say that you are using this war as a smokescreen to deflect the tension from problems in your own country, social issues, economic stagnation, corruption, COVID-19. Are you using this just to overattention in a public maybe dissatisfied on a lot of different accounts towards the patriotic battle.
-No, no. This is absolutely wrong. First, our economic performance is one of the best in the world. Economic decline in Azerbaijan in the ten months is less than 4 percent. You can compare it with your own country, or with European countries. Level of unemployment in Azerbaijan is 7 percent, compare it with your own country. Level of poverty in Azerbaijan is five percent, compare it again. We don’t have serious social problems. On COVID-19, Azerbaijan is considered as an example by World Health Organization. We provided support to more than 30 countries, financial support, humanitarian support. Our economy is stable. Our economy is sustainable. And there was no need as you say to launch the war in order to cover some of internal problems. It was on the other side, Armenia which is completely now in economic and social problems. They need to distract attention. It is Armenian prime minister who puts leading opposition party leader to jail. He is pursuing two former presidents.
-We know that there are some accusations of human rights abuses with your own government and suppression of freedom of speech and specifically talking about the corruption and the family rule of both your government and many of the corporate structures. So this is not to pull the attention of your public or some members of your public away from those considered misdeeds by some people.
-No, no, no. Corruption is here and we are fighting against it. We have introduced a broad economic reforms program. Many people, many governmental officials and high ranking officials have been arrested recently for charges of corruption. Corruption is everywhere and we are fighting against it. With respect to the family rule, again, I would like to refer you to your own country, where important positions were held by father and son. Just Bush family, Clinton family, husband and wife, Kennedy family, and in many other countries. So, it’s nothing different from what is happening in the United States.
-They were all elected democratically and transparently.
-Yes, especially President Bush who was elected by the decision of the US Supreme Court.
-You know the American politics Mr President.
-I know yes. I am well prepared for that.
-Let’s go to the United States now. What would you like to see today and in the future Secretary of State Pompeo do? There has been some criticism of Secretary Pompeo and the US that they haven’t been enough engaged. I know, Russia is quite involved, Turkey in various ways involved, even Iran is offering help. What would you like? Has the US done enough would you like to see the US do more? What would you like Washington to do?
-I think that the US as one of the three co-chairs of the Minsk group has a mandate from OSCE to help parties to come to an agreement. And agreement must be based on international law it should not be based on what I want or what Armenian prime minister wants. It should be based on international law. Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized by the United States and all other countries as integral part of Azerbaijan. So what I can expect from Secretary Pompeo first? To tell prime minister Pashinyan’s envoy that statements like "there is no diplomatic solution" is wrong and dangerous. Second, statements by Armenian prime minister that "Karabakh is Armenia" is dangerous and wrong and they should be reasonable. They should give us a timetable for withdrawal from the occupied territories. They should agree for peaceful coexistence between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. And they should stop trying to internationalize the conflict. They should stop asking Russia for direct military involvement. This is counter-productive. All the efforts of Armenian prime minister during these times is to ask Russia to send troops to fight against Azerbaijan. And this is very dangerous.
-What’s your deadpoint, I mean another criticism of Secretary of State Pompeo, and he directly says, and certainly, the US and Turkey has as many areas of commonality but he says Turkey’s assistance of your effort is actually causing problems, it’s fueling the flames. How do you react to that?
-Turkey provides political support to Azerbaijan. It is our closest ally and friend. And we are proud and happy that we have such a great country as our partner. Every country has a right to have friends and allies. Armenia has its allies.
-Turkey has been pushing for war. Turkey says there is a military way to go.
-No, not at all. Not at all. Not a single evidence about that. Turkey only provides political support and this is enough, because when Turkey says that they stand side by side with Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan is not alone, this is a message to all those who want to penetrate and provide their interests with respect to the conflict.
-You did offered an important line when we were speaking just a short while ago. You said in our discussions in your discussions with the Secretary of State Pompeo that there is a diplomatic solution. Do you believe there is a diplomatic solution to this crisis?
-Yes, I believe, otherwise I wouldn not have been in the negotiations for 17 years. You were trying to say that I launched the war. But if I launched the war why should I wait for 17 years? Azerbaijani army is well-prepared already for at least ten years already. Therefore, the diplomatic solution is on the table. Armenia must liberate territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijanis must return to those territories and then live in peace and dignity with Armenians. That’s our position.
-So, you are saying diplomatic solution but with a military overlay.
-I said that I wish the military solutions stop today and we move on negotiation table. This military factor is causing a lot of damage and a lot of victims,unfortunately. Therefore, the sooner we start substantive negotiations, not imitation like Armenia wanted to do all these years but substantive negotiations, the sooner the resolution will be found. And if resolution is based on territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
-The worry of some outside of your country, outside of your region and perhaps what should be the worries of yours as well is that this contained conflict becomes a wider regional problem. You have Turkey, with a real interest, you have Russia with a real interest, you have Iran with a real interest. Are you risking your own standing as a country of stature, both economic and politically get lost in some kind of a regional maelstrom that you could have a part in starting?
-All our efforts during the conflict aimed to stop active phase as soon as possible. And we are completely against any form of internationalization of the conflict so that conflict spread over. That's what Armenia wants to do. And as I said, they asked Russia to send military personnel to the area of conflict which is absolutely counterproductive, and which is completely in violation of international law. We don’t want other countries to interfere.
-Well, there are Russian bases in Armenia already.
-Exactly, in Armenia, yes.
-They are not illegal.
-Yes, it is in Armenia but not in Nagorno-Karabakh. What they are asking Russians is to send troops to Nagorno-Karabakh and we know about that. Therefore, our position is all the regional countries, and all the countries should stay away from direct involvement in the conflict. Those who want to help and those who have a mandate, OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs must persuade Armenia. I hope it will happen today in Washington, to stop aggression, to commit to ceasefire, and to make commitment that they will leave the territories. They don’t do it.
-There was an expression during the Gulf War that it was all about the oil, okay? You got oil pipelines, energy pipelines, within, I don’t know, 50-60 miles of the fighting. Are you concerned that your very important energy pipelines and connections could be disrupted by fighting one side or another? And in fact maybe that is helping to drive your military to conduct this war.
-Actually, we are concerned because we heard the statements from high-ranking Armenian officials that they will attack our strategic oil infrastructure, including pipelines and one of the biggest oil and gas terminal in Sangachal district of Baku. And the July clashes where Armenia attacked us, took place 15 kilometers from the gas pipeline which is supposed to provide energy security to Europe. So, it was Armenian plans to disrupt oil and gas supplies from Azerbaijan to Europe and to the world.
-So, were part of motivational what you’re doing right now is to defend your economic interest against any threat like that?
-No, we are defending ourselves. You know, our oil pipeline from Baku to Mediterranean was commissioned in 2006 and it works without any disruption. Our gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey was commissioned in 2007. A big pipeline to connect Azerbaijan with European consumers is going to be opened in a couple of months probably, maybe even less. Therefore, why should we launch a war in order to protect the pipeline when the pipeline is already protected. It is Armenia which wants to disrupt the pipeline and to make economic damage to Azerbaijan.
-Are you satisfied with what President Trump and his administration has been saying about the conflict? He has been critical of Turkey. But frankly, he has been critical of both sides. He is outweighing very large Armenian diaspora in the United States. So there are political elements in this too. Do you think the United States is handling its role well?
-I think what President Trump does with respect to the conflict resolution is fully in line with international relations. We fully support his position, his personal comments on that. And we see that the position of the United States is balanced and as it should be, because United States is a mediator. President Trump’s comments on criticism on Turkey, I did not see it, by the way, in the press. But his comments were constructive. The United States does not take sides as other co-chairs should also don’t take sides. We understand internal politics not only in America, but also, in France and Russia. With a very large Armenian community which influences which has a lot of lobbying activity and which is now in full operation against Azerbaijan. And we understand the level of pressure which they can impose. But at the same time, very straight forward position of President Trump is highly supported here in Azerbaijan not only by me, but also our people.
-Mr president, you know politics. And I bet you know American politics too. We are ten days away from a major presidential election, in figuring out this move towards diplomacy in Washington. Do you think the idea of maybe a diplomatic success might be figuring in the minds of my Washington politicians and having said that do you find that’s okay any motivation to get things going?
-Any motivation in order to put an end to the hostility is supported by us. And I think that today’s meeting in Washington can have a very good result only if Armenia will commit to peaceful settlement, will stop attacking us and will make commitment that they will withdraw the troops.
-Do you think it is driven by US presidential politics this diplomatic effort today?
-Well, I don’t know, I think that the American voters will make the vote based on their approach and their assumption of what is the best for America. I don’t think that Karabakh conflict is something which American people are concerned about. Maybe most of them even do not know. But of course, America as a superpower has a very important say in this conflict resolution. And our position is that America as a mediator should continue to be neutral, and should try again and more and more to bring both sides closer to the common decision.
-But let me pick up on that point as we conclude this in the next two minutes. Why should the United States care? I think you probably are right. Most Americans could not find Nagorno-Karabakh on a map. But there were strategic issues you are dealing with, political, cultural, demographic. If you were talking to the United States people now, and said excuse me, I know you have got the presidential. I know you have got the world series baseball, but you should pay attention to this too. What would you tell a typical American. Why it is important for us to care and look at this?
-I would say that Azerbaijan has always been a very true partner to the United States. We are together on the fight against international terrorism, we are together in Afghanistan and we keep our military servicemen in Afghanistan, thus, providing the cause of our peacekeeping operations. We have an important topic on our agenda of energy security. The United States has always strongly supported Azerbaijan’s efforts to diversify its energy supply routes. And with a strong support of the United States we managed to complete important projects. Azerbaijan and the United States have a very strong partnership relations. And the United States considers Azerbaijan as a friend. And we are really friends. Therefore, it is in the interests of the United States that there is peace here. Azerbaijan continues its path on the route of independence, strengthening the independence. We are situated just between Europe and Asia, on the crossroads of transportation, energy. Our political importance is growing. Therefore, Azerbaijan is an important partner to the United States and the United States to Azerbaijan.
-So, stability in your country, in your region, politically, economically et cetera could be good for us as well 3000-5000 miles away.
-Yes. America is a superpower. The distance does not make any difference. And I think that the modern, secular, friendly Muslim country is also a big asset for our friends. And the United States from the very first years of independence, always supported Azerbaijan. Today I can tell you we have maybe the highest ever level of our bilateral cooperation and we hope that today’s meeting in Washington will be important to persuade Armenia to stop aggression, stop occupation and then peace will come to our land.
-There is a lot of support for Armenia as you know that earlier in the interview in the United States.
-The support for the Christian religion there, for the church is there. For the diaspora the punishment that they incurred many years ago by Turkey. So, you know that there is a warm emotional feeling towards Armenians as well in the United States
-Yes, I know that, I said before that we understand the internal politics, and the Armenian lobby organization. But when we look at the issues related to international relations, there must be principles. Emotions, feelings, some other expression of good will is different. It can be in the family, it can be at the dinner. But in international relations, there is an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, which is occupied by Armenia. So, the occupation must come to an end. And those Armenians who live in America, who live in France, who live in Russia, the rich people don’t care about those Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. How they live in poverty.
-They will probably disagree with you on that one. But okay. Two final questions. Back to presidential politics. Former vice president Joe Biden might be the president-elect in ten days time. Have you ever had any contact with him maybe in his vice-presidential role? And how do you take a Biden administration would deal with this conflict right there in your region?
-Yes, I met with vice-president Biden four years ago in Washington at the Nuclear Summit which was organized by President Obama. I had bilateral meeting with Mr. Biden and I saw that he was deeply involved in regional issues. We discussed many issues of our bilateral relations, of course, including Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. I can tell you that Obama’s administration was very active on the Nagorno-Karabakh track. Therefore, Mr. Biden and I am sure the people who support him there are well aware about that. So, I have very good memory of our meeting with him.
-Do you think he will be favorable to your position? Will he be favorable to Armenia? Well, he probably will talk against war. I mean he probably will also push for a ceasefire, push for a diplomacy. Do you think that would be an okay approach?
-I think, taking into account what we have just discussed, the Armenian lobbying organizations in America, in France and Russia, for Azerbaijan the most favorable situation will be that the leaders of these three countries stay neutral on the conflict and don’t take sides. Actually, that’s what their mandate dictates them. If they take sides, they cannot be mediators. And we expect from the US foreign policy team in the future also, to be neutral, and to be objective.
-Finally Mr. President, your prediction for the future. I mean your region, your country, Armenia. Such horror late 80s and early 90s. Tens of thousands of people were killed. What are we looking now? Tens of thousands of people more killed? More destructions? How do you see this going forward?
-It is difficult to predict now what will happen. It not only depends on us, because the war is not held by one country. It is not a unilateral process. But how I want to see the region I can tell you. I want the region of the Southern Caucasus to be deeply integrated. I want that the strategic relations which we have with another South Caucasian country, Georgia, can be to certain degree a model of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia once in the future. Because all wars stop and peace comes. We know how...
-You think there can be a peaceful resolution of this conflict?
-Fine, a diplomatic answer.
-I am absolutely confident. But it depends on the will from Armenian side. What happened after the second World War? Germany and the United States were killing each other. Soviet Union and Germany were killing each other. Tens of millions were killed. But look now. It is not any longer in the memory. It is not provoking hostility. Why Armenians and Azerbaijanis cannot live together in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, while they live together in Georgia, in Russia, in Ukraine, in many other countries? I think that the Southern Caucasus…
-Can be peace at the same time recognizing the rights of both sides?
-Yes, exactly. It must be based on the reasonable background, within the framework of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, with full protection of rights and concerns of Armenian population of Azerbaijan. That’s I think, that is doable.
-Mr president, thank you very much for this lengthy interview and I am sure, we will inform not just me, but our American public.