Farid Shafiev: "Baku expects to achieve results in Karabakh settlement this year"

Farid Shafiev: "Baku expects to achieve results in Karabakh settlement this year"

In February, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev appointed Farid Shafiyev chairman of the board of the International Relations Analytical Center, which was established on the basis of previously abolished Strategic Studies Center under President. Two months later, Farid Shafiyev gave an interview to Vestnik Kavkaza. This is his first interview with Russian media since accepting new post.

- How would you characterize the state of modern system of international relations, and how will your center work in this direction?

- If we talk about periodization of modern history, then, as you know, during the Cold War, the world was bipolar, and after the Soviet Union collapsed it became unipolar. Some time after the events of September 11, 2001, confrontation between Russia and the United States resumed with appearance of new centers of gravity. Perhaps there was a clash of civilizations. We see problems and conflicts in the Middle East, the Islamic-Christian confrontation, although, of course, we must be more careful in interpreting religious motives, since they are actually much more complicated. In the Middle East, there are also many other factors in addition to religious. Basically, the world has become much more complex and multipolar. At the same time, there are several other trends. It's like social Darwinism. There is a fight for resources: resources are decreasing, population of the Earth is increasing, demographic changes are taking place, somewhere population is aging, and somewhere it's growing thanks to migrants. Naturally, our Center takes all of these factors into account.

One of the tasks of our center is to analyze situation around the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The second is to analyze situation in the region: in the countries of the former USSR, in the Middle East, in Iran. We analyze challenges, threats and dangers that may appear or have already appeared, we will look for ways to deal with them, to respond to them.

The most important function of analytical centers is to search for positive trends, to analyze which projects can bring dividends. Right now Azerbaijan is promoting several projects related to energy, transport. President Ilham Aliyev is going to visit China, attend conference on the "One Belt - One Road" initiative. In addition, this year Azerbaijan will host a conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, which has certain prospects.

- One of the most acute problems of international relations is  intervention with participation of military blocs or coalitions. Azerbaijan is an active member of the Non-Aligned Movement and will even chair this organization until 2022. What areas in international relations should Azerbaijan develop more actively?

- For us, the status of non-alignment, which was determined over the past 20-25 years, is of fundamental importance. Azerbaijan considered participation in various projects, but instead decided to not join any blocks. Although situation may change in the future. Our center just has to analyze which blocks can bring us benefits, which can't. For the time being, the non-alignment formula will remain a prominent feature of our foreign policy.

If we're talking about what Azerbaijan is focusing on today, then this economic block (energy and transport) is what brings income, which helps to strengthen our independence. Moreover, in this context, there are not just economic projects, but also about political, new contacts that open up opportunities for good-neighborly cooperation. Azerbaijan has always tried to develop relations with its neighbors, but this doesn't mean that we have no problems. There are always some problems between neighbors, and our main goal is to resolve them. Remember, at one time many people were skeptical about signing of the Convention on the Caspian Sea's status, thinking that legal issues won't be resilved. However, this convention has been signed. Issues like that can be resolved peacefully. Azerbaijan should do everything possible to achieve this. As an analytical center, as a think tank, we will be directly involved in this. Our main goal is to resolve the conflict with Armenia. It's a separate block of issues, and we will deal with them.

- A meeting between President of Azerbaijan and Prime Minister of Armenia was held recently. One of the topics that was discussed at this meeting is humanitarian measures that can help to defuse tension on the contact line. How can such measures help resolve the conflict?

- Yes, it can help to reduce tensions. There's a concept of public diplomacy, when negotiations are conducted between representatives of civil society, journalists, and scientists. Humanitarian mission has slightly different meaning - exchange of prisoners of war, defusing of situation on the front line. In other words, when it comes to resolution of conflicts, humanitarian dimension has two directions. The first one is measures under the Geneva Conventions on military conflicts. The second one is public diplomacy. But these measures can be successful only if some basic progress is achieved. Humanitarian cooperation requires substantive progress in the settlement. If there's no such progress, then humanitarian measures and people's diplomacy will eventually become useless. That's why our main goal is to achieve substantive negotiations. And it's necessary to achieve results this year.

- In your opinion, what policy should Armenia pursue, taking into account the fact that military option is impossible for it?

- As representative of Azerbaijani side, I can't say how Armenia should behave. I can only say how we see this problem can be resolved. Military path is unacceptable, this conflict should be resolved peacefully, but it's also unacceptable to maintain status quo, recognition of results of the military conflict at a certain stage. If we admit this, then, logically, we can try to change current situation through military actions. By the way, Azerbaijan was close to this in 2016, but stopped, showing goodwill to resolve this conflict peacefully. That's why today we're simply waiting.

After change of power in Yerevan, experts expressed hope for progress in the settlement, but today these hopes are fading. We see inconsistency in the statements of Armenian leaders: they talk about humanitarian measures, about preparation for peaceful dialogue, but at the same time there are statements about the "new war for new territories". Moreover, explanation that this is being done for domestic audience can no longer be an excuse, since we have reached the point when it's necessary to take certain steps.

Armenia must make necessary decisions in order to direct the conflict on a peaceful course. Azerbaijan has made many steps over the past six months, in particular on de-escalation on the contact line. But this cannot continue forever, status quo cannot be maintained, and all negotiating partners say that. That's why we're waiting for progress.

There's also the fact that, from economic perpective, Armenia’s prospects pretty dim. It's obvious. There are nationalist forces in Armenia who declare: "We're ready to continue to starve, but we will not give up the territories." It's time to look at the world from different point of view: the world is developing; the experience of integration, good neighborly relations in Europe and other regions of the world shows that much more opportunities are currently opening up. Of course, difficulties in integration processes arise sometimes, but resolving problems peacefully is much better.

- Armenian media and some high-ranking officials believe that Azerbaijani and Armenian communities cannot co-exist. How do you feel about this position?

- It's wrong. From historical point of view, this conflict began not that long ago, about a hundred years. First clashes began in 1905. What's a hundred years in terms of history? It's a very small period. Before that, Azerbaijanis and Armenians lived quite peacefully. Communities lived and should live in peace. The idea of separation doesn't resolve the problem, since territories must be returned.

As European experience of the First World War shows, discontent with the result of confrontation causes desire for revenge. 30 years after the First World War, the Second World War began. But after the Second World War, there was a different approach, since previous borders remained as is, and the rights of minorities were upheld. Europe began to grow rapidly after the World War II thanks to that. Yes, there was a difficult Kosovo precedent, Europeans are still thinking how to deal with it. But it's clear that separation, construction of walls, barriers between communities bring bad results. It's necessary to ensure that there's a dialogue between communities, exchange of goods, ideas... That's how I see the future of our region.

- What influence do transport and energy projects with Baku's participation have on economy of Azerbaijan?

- We hope for profits. We hope that Azerbaijan will become one of the suppliers, while not competing with anyone. Azerbaijan has a certain niche, a market we're aiming for. The Southern Gas Corridor project will bring great benefits to both transit countries, seller and buyer countries, which will get new source of resources.

One country can't monopolize the European market. Europe came to this conclusion some time ago. Strategically, it has several major suppliers - Russia, North Africa, as well as British project of producing resources in the North Sea, the LNG project. Europe will have various suppliers, and Azerbaijan will be one of them. We see this as mutually beneficial project, and it's one of the priorities of Azerbaijan's energy policy.

- Does your center cooperate with Russian think tanks?

- Yes, we have projects, thoughts, ideas. But so far we're still in the process of forming a center. When all organizational and financial issues are settled, we will talk about development of cooperation.