Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told Dmitry Kiselev about his assessment of the current situation in the region, as well as about the losses of the parties to the conflict and whether it is true that Syrian and Libyan mercenaries are fighting for Azerbaijan.
He also explained Baku’s position on the basic principles of the resolution, as well as where reconciliation should start. Aliyev shared Azerbaijan’s vision of a compromise on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and spoke about the red lines, which the country would never cross. The Azerbaijani President also shared his opinion on whether Azerbaijanis and Armenians can coexist peacefully.
Dmitry Kiselev: I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to talk to you at such a difficult time for Azerbaijan and the entire world. What’s your assessment of the results of the hostilities, which have been taking place since 27 September? According to your estimates, what are the sides’ losses, and are there many prisoners?
Ilham Aliyev: On 27 September, Azerbaijan suffered another attack by the Armenian army; that was not the first attack in the past three months. Something similar but smaller-scale took place in July on the state border; that attack was repelled.
There was another attack in August when a sabotage group was sent by the Armenian side to carry out terrorist attacks against the civilian population and the military; the head of that the group was detained, he is giving testimony. In late September, our settlements also suffered artillery fire, there were both civilian and military casualties in the very first hours [of the attack].
As of now, we have 43 civilians killed and over 200 civilians injured. Around 2,000 houses located in the cities and villages adjacent to the line of contact were either destroyed or damaged. Unfortunately, artillery shelling by the Armenian side continues, including the savage bombardment of the city of Ganja, in which around 10 civilians were killed and around 40 others were injured. As for the casualties on the battlefield, according to our information, the Armenian side's losses are much higher than ours. We will announce the casualties among our servicemen when the hot phase of the conflict is over.
As for the results of the military campaign, the Azerbaijani armed forces have been very successful, we have been able to break through the deeply-echeloned enemy defence. There were as many as four lines of defence in some places.
The mountainous terrain is much more conducive to defence than counterattacks. To date, dozens of settlements have been rid of occupation, including the city of Jabrayil and most of the villages of the Jabrayil region, the majority of villages in the Füzuli region, and the village of Suqovuşan, which is of strategic importance. We’ve ousted the occupiers from the strategic heights on the Murovdağ mountain range, and we are successfully restoring our country’s territorial integrity.
Dmitry Kiselev: There’s much talk about mercenaries from Syria or Libya fighting for the Azerbaijani army, to what extent can we believe this?
Ilham Aliyev: I’ve many times spoken about this. Azerbaijan doesn’t need any foreign military involvement. Our army has more than 100,000 soldiers and, if necessary, this figure can be increased several times through mobilization. Today, the existing armed formations are fully capable of performing any assigned task.
On the Internet, there is footage of Armenian military equipment being destroyed. Of course, no mercenary possesses such qualifications and technical capabilities. We have destroyed more than $1 billion worth of enemy military equipment with unmanned attack aircraft alone, besides other means at our disposal.
The capabilities of the Azerbaijani army are not a secret for anyone. We have no need for additional military forces. Azerbaijan has always been consistently fighting international terrorism.
We will never allow terrorist organisations to have 'nests' on our territory and pose a threat to our people and our neighbours. We will never allow this. No one has presented any proof to support the claims that foreign armed formations are present on the Azerbaijani territory and take part in the ongoing clashes. We have no foreign mercenaries, this is our official stand.
Dmitry Kiselev: The Moscow agreements of October 10 mention the basic principles of resolving this conflict. Could you tell us about these principles? How do you understand them?
Ilham Aliyev: These principles have been developed over the years. More than 10 years, I would say. When I was working with Armenia’s previous leadership, we were quite actively advancing in the process of coordinating positions. That was very difficult.
Negotiations are a difficult process in any case, and even more so on such an important issue. Nevertheless, both sides expressed a desire to follow the path of a political settlement.
Unfortunately, when the current government came to power in Armenia, everything that had been accumulated was simply thrown away. There was also an attempt to change the format of negotiations and involve the authorities of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the talks, which was rejected both by Azerbaijan and by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.
As for the basic principles, everything is clear there. The phased plan suggests the liberation of the occupied Azerbaijani regions. The first stage is about [liberating] the southeastern part of the occupied territories, five regions in total.
The second stage involves [liberating] the territories between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, the Lachin and Kelbajar regions. There is also the opening of all communications, including those located in other parts of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, the return of refugees and IDPs [internally-displaced people] to their places of origin, which entails the return of Azerbaijani refugees to Shusha and other areas of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, as well as holding talks on Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status, which should be agreed by the parties.
In short, these are the basic principles that Azerbaijan has always respected; it is we that have developed them. But the new Armenian government has repeatedly said that it was unacceptable; and that they were not going to return a single centimetre of land.
This is what the [Armenian] Prime Minister said. The Armenian defence minister said that Armenia was preparing for a new war for new territories. There were constant threats and insults against us, which resulted in such a confrontation. I think that the Armenian side should make a sober estimate of the new situation and be committed to the ceasefire, which it barbarically violated by bombing the peaceful sleeping city of Ganja.
Dmitry Kiselev: Speaking of compromises, what compromises would you be ready to make? Is there a line which you won’t cross under any circumstances?
Ilham Aliyev: Our stance has always been very consistent and constructive. It relied on the norms of international law in terms of implementing the four UN Security Council resolutions, which demanded the complete, immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from our territories.
Our stance has always been based on pragmatism and I think that the ideas that already exist at the negotiation table show this clearly. As for the red lines, we have stated this clearly and the co-chairs of the Minsk Group know this very well — under no circumstances can the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan be compromised, under no circumstances can Azerbaijan agree to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh.
At the same time, our proposal was based on the fact that the Armenian community and the Azerbaijani one can peacefully live and coexist in Nagorno-Karabakh in the future. As it is, by the way, in other Azerbaijani settlements, including in Baku, where there is a many-thousand-strong Armenian community, in Russia, in Georgia, in other countries, where Armenians and Azerbaijanis live and work in the same village and have no disagreements.
Why can’t we have it here? We are committed to this, but, of course, the consequences of ethnic cleansing have to be eliminated, all our IDPs should return to their homes. I have explained a little more than the basic principles, our approach to possible compromises.
Dmitry Kiselev: The brutality of this war has already gone down in history. You are already a part of this war’s history. In what way would you like to go down in history?
Ilham Aliyev: Any war means cruelty, victims, human suffering, loss of loved ones, but the difference is that this is a war of liberation for Azerbaijan and a war of conquest for Armenia. It is no secret — and it is something that international mediators are aware of — that there are no so-called armed forces of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ninety percent of the troops in the group that Armenia calls by this name are Armenian citizens. The Armenian military summons them and sends them to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan: Agdam, Fizuli, Gebrayil, Kalbajar, Qubadli, Lachin, Zangilan. The question is: what are they doing there?
Today, the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan are occupied by Armenian occupation forces. Nothing can justify this, be it from the international law perspective, or from the perspective of human morality. You can’t pursue a policy of preventing Azerbaijanis from entering their ancestral lands for 30 years.
These are the territories where the Armenian population has never lived. Another question is that everything is destroyed there, and returning there will require much time and effort, but such a position cannot be justified in any way. Therefore, we and our soldiers fight and die on Azerbaijani soil, while the Armenian soldiers die on the land that their government wants to keep under occupation.
As for the role in history, I have never thought about it before, and even more so now. My main task is to justify the confidence of the Azerbaijani people, to keep the promises that I have given throughout my years in office, as well as to lead the country along the path of development and ensure its territorial integrity.
How my role will be assessed in the future will depend on the will of the Azerbaijani people, on what we achieve. Therefore, I think this question should be left to those whose opinion I have always considered dominant in making certain decisions, including on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
Dmitry Kiselev: I asked you all the questions I wanted to ask you. Would you like to add anything to what has been said?
Ilham Aliyev: I’d like to use this opportunity to address the multi-million Russian audience. I wish there were more understanding of Azerbaijan’s position, because sometimes there are different opinions on the conflict, with its history and today’s situation. Based on the facts, I want to bring the audience’s attention to what actually happened and is happening.
In the early 19th century, Karabakh and Shusha Khan Ibrahim Khalil signed an agreement with Tsarist Russia represented by General Tsitsianov on the Karabakh Khanate’s entry into Russia. This agreement is called the Kurekchay Treaty; it can be found on the Internet, everyone can read it.
This agreement doesn’t say a word about the Karabakh Khanate’s Armenian population. The Armenian population started migrating en masse to this region during the two Russian-Persian wars of 1813 and 1828. Since then, Armenians started migrating en masse to the Karabakh region from the territory of modern Iran and partly Eastern Anatolia. This is about who this land belongs to historically.
After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1918, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and the Armenian independent state were established. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was created within all these territories; moreover, the day after the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic's establishment had been announced, it was decided to transfer the city of Yerevan to Armenia as the capital. This is also a historical fact.
In 1921, the Caucasian Bureau decided to leave Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, and not transfer it, as some pseudo-historians interpret it. This is the history of this region. I think everyone knows what happened at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The collapse of the Soviet Union indeed started with separatism in Nagorno-Karabakh. That was the trigger. People often forget about those rallies, who organised all this, who was behind it. I often say that Pashinyan is a product of [George] Soros, and I believe everyone would agree with that.
Soros is not just an individual, he is a concept. I in no way rule out that such instruments were used back then to disintegrate the great nation. Just explode it from the inside, sow discord, play off the people, and disintegrate the country. And, by the way, it has happened. Therefore, I’d just like to draw the Russian public’s attention to this historic evidence and say that Azerbaijan and Russia are tied with centuries-long friendship, cooperation and mutual understanding.
I am sure that no power can influence that, even though we see attempts, made from different directions, to sow discord and mistrust. However, thanks to the consecutive policies of the Russian and the Azerbaijani leadership we do not regress, we make progress.
So, I would like to use this opportunity to extend my best wishes to all Russians.
Last year, one million Russians visited Azerbaijan. I hope this dynamic will be restored after the pandemic. We always welcome our guests from Russia. And they know that they feel at home when they come to Azerbaijan.