Ilham Aliyev: we can create new format of cooperation among Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev told BBC News that Azerbaijan and Armenia will be able to live in peace and cooperate in the future, after the end of the Karabakh war, although this will require certain internal political changes in the Republic of Armenia.
"Our position was very clear from the very beginning. We are ready and are still ready to stop any time when the Armenian side will commit itself to the liberation of the occupied territories. I am saying this from the very beginning of the war that if the Armenian prime minister publicly will make a commitment that they will liberate the occupied territories we will stop. But so far it’s already forty days and there is no sign of him to say this. We will fight until the end if Armenia does not make a commitment that they will withdraw from occupied territories. I think Armenia is making a big mistake because if they listened to us from the very beginning the war would have stopped a long time ago, and we would have been already on the negotiation table," Ilham Aliyev said.
The civilian Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh is certainly guaranteed security. "They committed ethnic cleansing against us. They expelled all Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts. Thus, we have one million refugees as a result of the ethnic cleansing policy of Armenia. But we will not behave the same way, we will not take revenge. I said many times even when they bombed Ganja, when they bombed Barda, when they bombed other cities and killed 93 people, civilians, I said we will take revenge on the battlefield. Therefore, taking into account, this official position and the fact that there are thousands of Armenians who live in Azerbaijan, and nobody is ethnically cleansing them, why should we do it there? There are many Armenians who live here and we know that they are Armenians. And by the way, I can tell you, not many people know that the sister of the former Armenian defense minister Arutunyan lives in Azerbaijan," he said.
"Do you know that there are villages in neighboring Georgia, where Armenians and Azerbaijanis live together in the same village? They live together in Russia, they live together in Ukraine, they live together in Azerbaijan, in many other parts of the world. And if you observe the situation in the world now, apart from some pro-Armenian rallies in the West, the situation between Armenians and Azerbaijanis is very calm and quiet. Why can they live there and cannot live here? I think it is possible, because I, as a President, say today and said many times that we want to live side by side. And if we did not want to live side by side why should I say that? the Azeri leader asked.
"I said many times and I think what I say. I keep the words that after we liberate the territory from these criminal gangs which occupied our territory, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh will live much better. They will have more salaries because the salaries in Azerbaijan are higher. More pensions, because pensions in Azerbaijan is three times higher than in Armenia. They will have all the social protection. We will invest in those areas largely. They will get rid of poverty," Ilham Aliyev stressed.
"If Pashinyan, him personally, not his foreign minister, him personally, says Armenia withdraws its troops from Aghdam, from Kalbajar, from Lachin, the three remaining regions which they have to liberate and give us a timetable, we will stop immediately. We don’t want to continue this war. We don’t want to. We want to stop, and what I am saying now I was saying from the very beginning, and people who know me, they know that I am a person of my word. What I say, I do. If Pashinyan tells that today, I promise you that we will stop immediately, but he doesn’t do it. He doesn’t do it. He wants to regain back. He wants to use these ceasefire opportunities to regroup his forces, to mobilize more people. He is now as you said sent a letter to President Putin for military assistance. Thus, admitting his defeat, and if he admits his defeat why he cannot say that he will liberate the territories. These territories do not belong to Armenia. These are our lands," he said.
The Azero leader said that peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia is possible. "But it depends not only on me, it depends only on the Armenian side. And during these forty days of the war, on several occasions, I said that I wish to see the day when three South Caucasian countries would be working together. As for instance, we do with Georgia. Our close strategic partner and friend. Look at how many projects we implemented with them. How close our relations are. They are based on historical legacy and they are based on pragmatism on the balance of our interests. So why Armenia became isolated? Because of the occupation. And if you look at the map, for instance, our energy and transportation projects, you will see that they bypass Armenia. The shortest way for us to deliver our resources to the international markets was through Armenia and we offered them that in the 1990s. We said, ‘look, liberate the territories let’s build the pipeline through Armenian territory, and then entering Nakhchivan and then Turkey, we will then combine the interests of all countries’. We will make all countries of the region in a certain way interdependent. And that will be a guarantee for peace. They said ‘no’," Ilham Aliyev said.
"I offered many times through the Minsk Group co-chairs, they can approve it, financial assistance, social programs in Nagorno-Karabakh financing from our budget, if they liberate territories. They said no. I offered autonomy, the highest possible autonomy in the world, I offered to Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenians said no. They said no to everything. So, what happens now is their fault...Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. It will be part of Azerbaijan as any other region of Azerbaijan. If it will depend again on what will be the Armenian government’s behavior? It is still not too late for them to be reasonable. It is still not too late for them to get more on the negotiation table. Because after we take control of other cities and villages, there will be nothing to talk about. So, they are losing time. And if they behave reasonably, we can work on some forms of self-governance," he noted.
"We are not against it. But they should not violate the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. They should be based on the best practice which European countries, like Italy like Sweden and Finland have between themselves. Why there should be something different? And then, of course, the peace will come to the region and I think that, but frankly speaking, with this prime minister of Armenia I don’t think that there is any possibility for peace. There must be a change of government in Armenia, reasonable people must come, those people which are not affiliated with bloodshed and military crimes. And then, I think, by joint actions, we can create a new format of cooperation in the Southern Caucasus among Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia which used to be in Soviet times. We had friendly relations, we lived together," the Azerbaijani president concluded.