Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by TRT Haber TV channel
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by TRT Haber (News) TV channel.
– Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev, welcome to TRT Haber. Thank you for your time. How much of the occupied land has been retaken so far? What is the current stage of the fighting, and is it going according to plan?
– Yes, everything is going according to plan. So far, all the tasks set have been fulfilled. Azerbaijan’s Army is advancing successfully. Many settlements, one city and several villages have been liberated from occupation. Currently, fierce battles are ongoing in different directions.
As you already know, the city of Jabrayil and several villages of Jabrayil district were liberated yesterday. I hope that Azerbaijan’s Army will continue to fulfill its mission successfully, and Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity will be restored. It is our primary goal. This goal will secure historical justice. In the meantime, it should also be viewed as respect for international law because Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories are Azerbaijan’s historic lands. From the point of view of international law, these lands belong to the Azerbaijani state.
– In response to the ceasefire calls, you said you did not make phone calls to any country’s leader, but simply evaluated the situation with those who reached out. You stressed that the prime minister of Armenia Pashinyan, as usual, called and begged many heads of state. Based on your experience, do you think that other countries’ ceasefire calls will work this time?
– The ceasefire must be provided under certain conditions. The calls we have received so far are intended to ensure a truce, stop the war, and continue discussions. It is not elaborated on what kind of discussions there may be and based on what they may continue. We have been involved in these discussions for almost 30 years, and we have been doing that with certain hopes. If we had not had hopes, of course, we would not have participated in these discussions. Discussions have always been based on existing principles. Among these principles is the issue of restoring the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Issues of a phase-by-phase liberation of the occupied territories, their return to us, and maintaining peace were discussion subjects. But Armenia has launched a new attack on us, violating the principles we have established from the very beginning.
Of course, we launched a counter-offensive and are liberating our lands thanks to Azerbaijani soldiers. Therefore, the issue of restoring the ceasefire alone cannot be a discussion topic. We have demands, and I have already officially stated them. We must have solemn guarantees. International mediators must confirm these guarantees to us. At the same time, we must be given a timetable for Armenia’s withdrawal from the occupied territories, the dates on which it will leave each district. Of course, then the war will stop. We want this issue to be resolved peacefully, but it must be resolved. Some mediators want a ceasefire. The ceasefire has been in force since 1994. Why has this issue not been resolved over these years? Why were the United Nations’ resolutions not implemented, and why no sanctions were imposed on the aggressor state? All of these questions remain valid. There are no answers to these questions. Today, as the glorious Army of Azerbaijan conducts its successful operations and liberates our ancestral lands, these calls are being made: do not move forward, take a break. War has its own rules, its laws. Every day has its own significance. If we take a break, the other side will gather strength and deploy additional forces. Their remarks already show that they are also involving Armenians living outside Armenia in this war. Thus, they want to take this war beyond the region and turn it into a global war. Therefore, our position on the ceasefire is quite explicit. We are ready for that, but there are certain conditions that I have also announced.
– You have. You have mentioned guarantees. What kind of a guarantee do you mean?
– First guarantee – the prime minister of Armenia said, while on our lands, a year ago that “Karabakh is Armenia”. He must apologize to the Azerbaijani people. Secondly, he must say that Karabakh is not Armenia. Third, he must respect the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Fourth, he must declare the dates on which Armenian armed forces will leave each district. The Minsk Group co-chairs must approve these conditions. In that case, of course, the ceasefire will be restored, this issue will be resolved through discussion and the Azerbaijani people will return to their native lands. But we need to know when this will happen because we have been waiting for 30 years. The promises given to us and the words spoken for 30 years have not been implemented. The Azerbaijani people can no longer tolerate this. The government of Azerbaijan cannot stand this any longer. We need to be given specific dates of when they will vacate each district.
– A lot has been said in the 30 years, as you have mentioned. How will you trust the word that will be given now?
It is precisely why I say that we must be given specific dates in addition to words. If on that date – I do not know whether or not it will be provided – the Armenian armed forces do not withdraw from a given, then we will not honor the ceasefire.
– Can this confrontation lead to a bigger war, a major regional crisis? Are you worried?
– Armenia already wants that. That is the calculation behind their sordid deeds. We believe that this should not be allowed. This is a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia that we did not start. We have not caused this war – we are merely defending ourselves and want our lands back. We do not set our sights on Armenian lands. As a result of the clashes started by Armenians on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border in July, the Azerbaijani Army did not cross into Armenian territory, although we could have done that. We struck them hard and they retreated. There were no obstacles in front of us. We did not do that because, as I said, we do not have any military targets on the territory of the Republic of Armenia. Today, Armenia is attacking Azerbaijan from the territory of Armenia. Yesterday, Ganja was hit from the Armenia’s territory, and so was Mingachevirt. We have a large power station there. One of the shells hit the station, although their ammunition is in such shape that some of them did not explode. Some were destroyed by our air defense systems. They are provoking us to attack Armenia, to strike at Armenia proper. Then they will tell the whole world that Azerbaijan is attacking us, save Armenia – come to Armenia’s rescue.
– If these attacks continue from within the borders of Armenia, will you maintain your current posture or…?
– It is too early in the day to say that. We will continue to monitor conflict’s course. In any event, the source of every strike on us is a legitimate target. We will have to hit those targets. Today, Azerbaijan’s Army strikes military targets only. This has been obvious to everyone thanks to the released videos. Everyone can see that. We are fighting only against Armenia’s occupying army. We have never fought against the civilian population. We have not and will not do that.
-I saw in Gashalti Garagoyunlu that five Azerbaijani citizens, including two children, were killed. The campaign’s ultimate goal that started with the Azerbaijani Army’s retaliation to the Armenian attacks of September 27 is already apparent: resolute liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian occupation. From day one, you said that the fighting would be stopped only after an unconditional withdrawal of Armenia from Azerbaijan’s occupied territories. You maintain the same position, correct?
– Yes, my position has not changed. We must resolve this issue based on historical justice. Historical justice says that Karabakh is the land of ancient Azerbaijan, and all historical documents, all our historical sites confirm it. At the same time, we have always been very constructive at the negotiating table, and the proposals on the table make the resolution of this issue possible. There should be a step-by-step solution. At the first stage, Armenians must leave five districts, at the next stage, they must leave two more districts, then Azerbaijanis expelled from Nagorno-Karabakh must return to Nagorno-Karabakh, including Shusha, life is restored between two communities, the Armenia-Azerbaijan border is opened, trade begins, then people come into contact with each other and thus, peace comes to the region. So this is our position, and this is the attitude of international mediators and co-chairs. Armenia does not accept this. The Armenian defense minister even said a few months ago that they must start a new war for new territories.
– There are three co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – the United States, Russia and France. They are calling for a ceasefire. Has your answer changed? If your condition is not met, is there a possibility of a ceasefire before the Armenians withdraw from the occupied territories?
– There is no change in our position. I said this to you again today. We are even ready to start working on a ceasefire if we are given the dates for the Armenian armed forces’ withdrawal from our lands. But we must also remember that restoring the truce is not an easy task because a ceasefire is not restored unilaterally. There are very intense battles at the moment. Both sides should instruct their soldiers and officers on the ground. One side may follow it, but the other may not. So it is a complicated process. But if we are given the dates for the withdrawal, of course, we will provide this instruction. Then, if the Minsk Group’s co-chairs and other relevant countries join in, the ceasefire can be restored and thus, the fighting can be stopped.
– What do you mean by relevant countries?
– Turkey. Turkey is a powerful country, a country with great potential globally; it is our neighbor, Armenia’s neighbor, and the neighbor to the South Caucasus. Therefore, Turkey must be active in this process. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our Turkish brothers on my behalf, on behalf of the Azerbaijani people, especially my dear brother, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s support from the first hours is of particular importance. It is not just support for their brothers, and we are, all the people of Azerbaijan, are grateful for that. Turkey’s determination is crucial so that these battles do not escalate. Turkey has said that it stood by Azerbaijan, and it was with Azerbaijan until the end. That Azerbaijan is on the path of truth; justice is on its side. That was a warning to many other actors. Therefore, Turkey must be involved in the subsequent peace process. Of course, the peace process will begin, war cannot last forever, and the sooner it ends, the better. It is our opinion – a lasting peace can be established in the region.
– Mr. President, when you say the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, you are leaving out France.
– France is leaving itself out, not me. We treated the co-chairs equally during the entire process, and I have repeatedly said in my statements that Azerbaijan has different relations with each country. Of course, the level of these relations is also different. Meanwhile, we do not separate these countries on this issue, and I must say that these countries were united throughout the whole process until recently. They were impartial. They did not take sides. However, we knew that deep down, there probably was some bias. It is natural. But they never revealed it in their official engagements and interactions with us.
– You urged French President Macron to apologize.
– Yes, of course, because he accused us. He insinuated erroneous things. It is unacceptable for our country.
– What were the accusations?
– He said that Azerbaijan, together with Turkey, brought in terrorists to the region. His said this in a statement. He also noted that “Azerbaijan wants to conquer Nagorno-Karabakh and we will not allow that”. Nagorno-Karabakh is our land. How can one conquer its own lands? Does not the co-chair country know that the Armenians have illegally settled in these lands and destroyed all our historical sites, mosques, and graves and razed our houses to the ground? Look at the images of Aghdam and Fuzuli. They keep pigs and cows in our half-destroyed mosques. This is an insult to all Muslims. Don’t they see it? Therefore, the words “Azerbaijan wants to conquer Nagorno-Karabakh and we will not allow that” are unacceptable. This is why France is already excluding itself from this equal trio. We cannot remain silent.
– The United Nations Security Council has historic decisions on this issue.
– Of course, they voted for them. The French voted in 1993, so they should respect their vote.
– With your permission, I have a few more questions. On the roads leading to the front line, in the cities and villages we visited and in the capital Baku last night, we saw the Turkish flag flying next to the Azerbaijani; all over residential buildings, offices, cars – everywhere. There is a similar picture in Turkey, as you may have seen in the news. After the victory in Jabrayil, there were demonstrations in support of brotherly Azerbaijan in Turkey’s streets.
– That’s right. We are proud of that, and this is natural. Our brotherhood is eternal, and our brotherhood has stood the test of time. You know that the relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan are an example for the whole world. I have repeatedly spoken about this. I have often said at joint press conferences with my dear brother, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that there are no other countries in the world as close to each other as Turkey and Azerbaijan, and these are not empty words. These are heartfelt sentiments. Our unity is based on our history, our common ethnic roots, language, religion and brotherhood. The historic service of my dear brother Tayyib bey and myself is that we have created a modern Turkish-Azerbaijani union on a very solid foundation. Turkish flags have been present everywhere already in Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijani flags are everywhere in Turkey. We are not separate from each other. We are together. These events have once again shown that Turkey was the first to support us unequivocally and decisively. The President of Turkey’s very bold and resolute statements were a warning to many countries – stay away, do not interfere, Azerbaijan is not alone, Turkey is next to it, and Azerbaijan is always with Turkey! We support each other in all matters, across all platforms, and our unity must last forever.
– In the meantime, I would like to mention Pakistan. I see their flags everywhere too. Where do you think Russia stands? Russia has a special significance.
– I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all other friendly and brotherly countries. After Turkey, the second country that supported us was Pakistan, followed by Afghanistan, and then several other countries. I thank each of them, the presidents of those countries. In this challenging period, their solidarity and support are essential for us and give us moral strength.
Russia is our neighbor. Our relations with Russia are developing successfully. Today, the ties between Russia and Azerbaijan are at a very high level in many areas. Both countries view this relationship as a strategic partnership, which is confirmed by the joint agreements. Russia acts as a large and a very responsible country. Positive messages are coming from Russia, and support for any party is not an issue. However, Armenia had high hopes for that. Armenia’s goal in taking the conflict out of the region is to engage Russia. Why is Armenia currently attacking Azerbaijan from the territory of Armenia? Exactly to make us strike back so that they could appeal to the General Secretariat of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. They are a member together with Russia and other countries and say that Azerbaijan is attacking, come and help us. Why did they commit that provocation on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border this July? Tovuz is located far from the Karabakh region. What goals did they have there – one goal was to make us launch an attack, cross the state border – as I said, we had such an opportunity – and then ask the organization to come and fight with us against Azerbaijan. In other words, they want to involve Russia in this. It is yet another provocation, and I am sure it will fail.
– When attacking Tovuz in July, could Armenia pursue any other goals – undermining energy security, perhaps? The TANAP and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipelines are coming to mind.
– Yes, of course, this could have been the case. There were several objectives because they had announced before that in the event of battles around Nagorno-Karabakh, they were ready to strike our critical infrastructure projects –the Sangachal oil and gas terminal and pipelines. Therefore, another goal of the attack on Tovuz district was to see how far they could go. Their primary objective was to cross the state border, occupy Azerbaijani lands, approach the TANAP pipeline or take control of it. But when this did not work, they retreated and asked for help from all mediators. I said that we had no targets in Armenian territory. Therefore, after four days, the attack stopped.
There may have been another reason. I have already spoken about this. Currently, Armenia is undergoing a deep crisis – both political and economic. Due to the crisis, political relations within Armenia have been disrupted. Pashinyan’s authorities are imprisoning prominent opposition leaders. For example, they have deprived main opposition party’s chairman of parliamentary immunity and arrested him. Criminal proceedings have been launched against the two previous presidents. There is no freedom of speech or freedom of assembly. They have taken over Constitutional Court by force and brought their people. Therefore, there are mounting concerns in Armenia. Pashinyan has orchestrated this attack to distract public opinion, involve Russia, destroy our strategic infrastructure, stabilize the country’s situation, and occupy a part of Azerbaijani lands to then strengthen their hand in the talks.
– Mr. President, let me ask you two more questions. In the regions where such conflicts, clashes and crises occur, there is always a smear campaign. What did you observe in this regard after Armenia launched its attacks? I would like to know your assessment.
– You know, the smear campaign against Azerbaijan does not stop for a minute or a second. There are several reasons for this. First, the Armenian lobby constantly acts against us. Attempts to slander Azerbaijan, tarnish our reputation and sully our image never cease. There are Armenian lobbies in many countries of the world. This is no secret to anyone. They systematically and regularly attack us. They make up utter lies and slander. During this conflict, the Armenian lobby naturally mobilized all its forces and made efforts for a new smear campaign against us. But we are not worried about this. I told them to provide evidence, proof and facts. I also told the President of France – he called me twice – to provide facts. Eight days have passed since September 27.
– What is Macron saying?
– Nothing, he claims that they allegedly have intelligence. I asked him to share it with us. Where is this intelligence? It is not there and cannot be.
– What does your intelligence say in connection with Armenia? Your intelligence materials dwell on external forces in Armenia – Lebanon, Syria…
– We do have such information, and they are justified. We are now verifying that information. As a very responsible state, we do not mention that in our official statements. Of course, such information is available in the media, to politicians and political scientists. But we have to corroborate them. From the very beginning, we had intelligence that terrorists had been brought to Nagorno-Karabakh. They are being stationed and trained here.
– What terrorist groups?
– Terrorist groups such as PKK. There was plenty of information about this. A few years ago, we raised this issue on international platforms. They have been trained there and we cannot rule out that this remains the case. I will speak about it after I have 100-percent verified facts available to me. Today, the likelihood is very high. But unlike Armenia and some other countries, we do not provide information that has not been verified.
I can give you another example. We were accused that the Turkish F-16 fighter jet allegedly shot down the Armenian Su-25. I said: provide evidence. We have information that these are fabrications of the smear campaign. Today they became convinced that this was not true. But has anyone apologized to us? No! They began to slander us, tried to tarnish our reputation, and finally realized that it was a lie. Yet you have to apologize.
– Correct me if I am wrong, but the acquisition of armed unmanned aerial vehicles by Azerbaijan’s Army has made an enormous impact on the course of these events.
– Indeed. It has had a considerable impact. Mashallah, these armed aircraft are the most advanced globally, and the fact that the Azerbaijani Army deploys them has dramatically boosted our power.
These vehicles have created ample opportunities for us and, at the same time, enabled us to avoid significant human losses. Because if we had not had these capabilities, it would have been much more difficult to destroy the fortifications Armenia had built across Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied lands in 30 years – their tanks, cannons and multiple rocket launcher systems. More people could have died. So this perfect and technologically intelligent product testifies to the Turkish people’s potential. We are a delighted country because we have such an ally and brother as Turkey. Of course, Turkey’s moral support and the Turkish defense industry products at our disposal strengthen us, and the whole world can see that. The Turkish Army is the second strongest army in NATO today, and no-one can confront it. Everyone can see and understand this. We are also building an army based on the Turkish model but on a smaller scale. Inshallah, we will build it together. No-one in the region can confront us either. Our cause and that of Turkey is just. We are protecting ourselves and our citizens; we want to preserve our territorial integrity. We do not claim the lands of other countries. But what belongs to us must remain with us. For 30 years now, Armenians have been exploiting our ancient land, not allowing our people to return to these lands. International mediators have remained indifferent and paid no heed. That being the case, Azerbaijan will do it on its own.
– I have shared information about the injury of your Armenian citizen during the attack on Ganja. We had the opportunity to conduct round-the-clock observations at the frontline, and the commanders reported that you were calling them.
– Yes, this once again proves that Armenia is a terrorist country. Their actions fundamentally contravene the Geneva Convention. The shelling of civilians and cities is unacceptable. The city of Ganja is not a war zone. There are no guns or tanks in Ganja. Why are you firing at it? Out of hatred! Hatred of Azerbaijan and Turkey is in their blood. Unfortunately, the young generation in Armenia is raised in a spirit of such hatred. But this cannot make us deviate from our path. You know, the city of Tartar is practically destroyed. Our citizens in Tartar stand bravely and courageously. They are saying that we will rather die than leave our lands. How many shells have fallen on the city? There was a day when 2,000 shells fell on Tartar alone. And this is a small town.
As for my communications with the commanders, they are restoring historical justice. They are risking their lives. They are heroes; they save, liberate and return our lands. The liberation of Madagiz from the occupation is of great strategic importance. The settlement is not very large, but its strategic importance is tremendous. It is tough to capture it, as any military person can tell you. It is incredibly difficult. But they captured it, Azerbaijan’s flag was raised in Madagiz and on the same day, its historical name was returned to the village – Sugovushan. It is our historical name.
The capture of the city of Jabrayil requires extraordinary heroism, because, let me say again, for the past 30 years, during the ceasefire, several lines of fortifications were built there, and quite formidable ones. Also, the local terrain is a natural fortification in itself. Nagorno-Karabakh is located in the mountains. In other words, we are moving from bottom to top. Everyone understands how difficult it is. Therefore, Azerbaijani soldiers, Azerbaijani officers and generals show true heroism, courage, perseverance, and ensuring our territorial integrity at the cost of their lives. Inshallah, we will go forward to the end.
– After Karabakh and the occupied lands are returned to Azerbaijan, what will you say to the Armenians living there?
– I have already said it. A few days ago, I visited our wounded soldiers in a military hospital. I expressed my gratitude to them, and, during the meeting, I called on the Armenian people. I realized that it was not easy to say this in front of our servicemen because the Armenians wounded them. But I said that we have nothing against the Armenian people. The Armenian people must hold their government accountable. These battles were the result of the nefarious and dirty policies of their government. Our position remains unchanged. After our lands’ liberation and the end of the occupation, the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijanis, who will return there, will live together – as two communities in a single country. Today there are thousands of Armenians living in Azerbaijan. You also noted that the citizen wounded due to the Armenian attack on Ganja was an Armenian by nationality. Armenians live here. Nobody touches them as they are our citizens, and we have no problems with the Armenian people. They are just a hostage of their government.
Unfortunately, when Pashinyan came to power, he promised a lot. We also hoped that the old criminal regime was consigned to history. But instead, a new regime came and plunged its people into further suffering. This regime is killing our civilians and soldiers today. I am absolutely sure that the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples will reconcile. Today, Armenians and Azerbaijanis live together in many countries. In Georgia, there are about 300,000 Azerbaijanis and 200,000 Armenians. Sometimes they live in the same village. There are no problems between them. In Turkey, Russia – there are about 700,000 Azerbaijanis with Russian citizenship, and they live together. There are no problems. Why shouldn’t they live here? We used to live together. I remember my late father and I visiting Nagorno-Karabakh, Shusha in 1982. The mausoleum of our great poet Vagif was being inaugurated. During the ceremony at the mausoleum, Armenian and Azerbaijani poets recited poems in Azerbaijani and Armenian languages. It was a celebration of friendship. I witnessed that picture. Armenians used to live in Baku. We did not have any problems. We want to live together again – to live again as good neighbors with Armenia. The Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh are our citizens. We recognize them as such. I hope that after the end of this aggressive policy, our peoples will reconcile.
– Did your late father bequeath any wisdom regarding Nagorno-Karabakh? If yes, what?
– My father’s path is the guiding light for me. It is my duty as his son and as President to continue his policy. When I was elected President for the first time, at the inauguration ceremony, I said that I would follow the path of Heydar Aliyev; I would not deviate from this path, which is the only one for Azerbaijan. I am committed to this path in all areas, in foreign policy, in the economic and social spheres, including the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. He was also pressured. In his time, they also exerted pressure on him, demanded that independence be granted to Nagorno-Karabakh. They said that Nagorno-Karabakh had seceded from you, broke away from you. He endured and withstood this pressure. He did not sign a single document that would contradict the interests of the Azerbaijani people because he was our people’s leader. There was never any hesitation in my position on the Karabakh issue either. Today I am saying what I said 17 years ago: Nagorno-Karabakh is our land; the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be ensured! I will never allow a second Armenian state to be created on historically Azerbaijani lands. We are using all the means to restore our territorial integrity. We are getting close to that.
– On behalf of one nation in two states, I express my deep gratitude to the President of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Aliyev. You received us under such circumstances, during the war. We thank you as the Commander-in-Chief.
I also thank you, and I am glad that you referenced the famous saying by my father at the end of our conversation – these are the words of Heydar Aliyev, and one nation in two states is the guiding light for Turkey and Azerbaijan today. Turkey and Azerbaijan are one nation in two states.