Ilham Aliyev attended Forum titled "Karabakh: Back Home After 30 Years. Accomplishments and Challenges"

Ilham Aliyev attended Forum titled "Karabakh: Back Home After 30 Years. Accomplishments and Challenges"

Co-organized by ADA University and the Center of Analysis of International Relations, the Forum titled "Karabakh: Back Home After 30 Years. Accomplishments and Challenges" has been held with the participation of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev at ADA University.

Opening the Forum, Rector of ADA University Hafiz Pashayev said: Your Excellency, President Ilham Aliyev, dear participants of the ADA University Forum.

It is great honor and pleasure to welcome you, Mr. President, and all participants at our university at this historic time, when we can proudly say that Azerbaijan fully restored its territorial integrity and sovereignty. This remarkable achievement has been possible due to the visionary leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, who did outstanding long-lasting efforts in uniting all Azerbaijani nation behind common mission. This decisive victory has ended 30-year long occupation of Karabakh. Mr. President, please allow me to congratulate you with this unique achievement, and wish you great success in the redevelopment and reconstruction efforts in Karabakh.

The task ahead of us is gigantic. Alongside with infrastructure projects, the most important goal is a smooth return and resettlement of Azerbaijani IDPs. Close to 1 million ethnic Azerbaijanis were victims of the occupation with their homes being looted and ruined. At the request of the government, in the past three years, ADA university researchers have been meeting with IDP families and conducting various surveys in order to better understand their needs and priorities. Big majority of the respondents have expressed great desire to return back to their native towns and villages.

Yesterday, the participants of the forum have been able to witness amazing developments, which have taken place in the smart and eco-friendly village of Aghali in the liberated Zangilan region.

This forum with more than 60 foreign participants from renowned think tanks and research centers will allow us to further discuss the various social, economic, security and infrastructure aspects of the return process and the possible usage of the international experience in Azerbaijani context.

Mr. President, we thank you for agreeing to meet with participants of the forum and discussing issues related to the return of IDPs. Your vision on this matter will be very useful to all analysts and researchers who study our region and beyond. The floor is yours, Your Excellency.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, I'd like to express gratitude to Rector Hafiz Pashayev for the invitation. It's not the first time I participate in the ADA University Forum. Actually, I think, I didn't miss any of them. Last time, we met with a group of international experts in Shusha this May. I'm glad that this time you visited another liberated region of Azerbaijan, Zangilan, and witnessed the process of resettlement and reconstruction. I consider these kinds of gatherings very useful for me, because during this interaction we discuss many important issues. I also understand better what the questions are in the international expert community with respect to recent developments in our region.

Because situation in the region is changing. To a large degree, the initiator of the changes is Azerbaijan. This is natural, because we needed to fully restore our sovereignty over internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan. We wanted to do it peacefully, the same way like we wanted to find a peaceful solution to conflict with Armenia for almost thirty years. But, unfortunately, it was not possible due to many reasons, which we already discussed broadly during our previous meetings.

Since May, when we met last time – not with the same group – but many of those, who were there in Shusha, are here today. The situation was different. We still had hopes that it would be possible to persuade Armenia’s leadership to comply with its international commitments, particularly, with the declaration, which the Armenian Prime Minister, the Russian President and myself signed in the early hours of the 10th November, 2020. We hoped that they would respect their own signature and make an important step in order to complete the long-lasting standoff. In other words, they had to withdraw their forces from Karabakh. They did not do it due to different reasons.

When we restored our sovereignty, two and a half years ago, we once again saw what we anticipated – a large number of Armenian military servicemen in Karabakh was positioned there without any respect to international law. Their numbers were close to 15,000 people. For three years, we were very patient and we hoped that finally, it would be possible to find the solution to the situation. We realized that the situation is not normal. Our proposals from the very beginning of the time - when the Second Karabakh War ended - were very clear. People who live in Karabakh have two options: either to become Azerbaijani citizens – we provided all the necessary legal and also security framework for that – or to find another place to live. There can be no other option. The other option can be a residence permit or work permit to live and to work in the country, which you don't consider to be your country.

So, that option was on the table and unfortunately, our appeals and our statements were not properly addressed.

After our meeting in Shusha last May, in the end of May, at the meeting with people who returned to Lachin - former refuges - I expressed my position on the situation and said that there is an opportunity to find a normal solution to this issue. I also said that the leaders of separatists have a chance for amnesty if they surrender. That was a public statement. But unfortunately again, my words were not properly assessed. So now, the leaders of separatists are in Azerbaijan. They wanted to come here and threatened us that they would come on tanks. But now, they are waiting for the Azerbaijani justice to say its word.

Despite that, we still hoped that we can establish contacts with the representatives of Karabakh Armenians. Unfortunately, those people there who monopolized the so-called power did not allow that to happen. Moreover, in September, there were two events, which actually were considered by us as crossing over the last red lines. First, the congratulation from the Armenian Prime Minister to the so-called nagorno-karabakh republic with respect to its so-called independence, which was totally in contradiction with what the Armenian Prime Minister said and signed. Because October last year was the time when the Armenian Prime Minister officially recognized Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. After that, after many statements in the same direction, sending a congratulation letter to separatists is absolutely unacceptable, and is very contradictory.

And the second - just the week after that - and the last red line was so-called elections of the so-called president of the so-called nagorno-karabakh republic, which was also a total violation of verbal agreements after the Second Karabakh War, that nothing is going to be changed in that area.

So, one day, in even less than one day, the anti-terror operation totally allowed us to restore our sovereignty. As soon as the operation started – by the way, the operation was held without any damage to civilian infrastructure, any casualty among civilians – we announced that if the army laid down its weapons, we would stop and allow them to leave. So, it lasted less than 24 hours. After they announced that they surrender, all the actions on the ground had stopped.

So, this is actually what happened. I think, the most important events that happened since our last meeting in May. Now we are in the face of addressing several international challenges. Unfortunately, we face some misunderstanding from the countries, which we considered to be our partners. And we are trying to explain our position and also trying to explain that international law norms are obligatory for all. They should not be selective. And what has Azerbaijan done? It has done the right for self-defense based on UN Charter, Article 51. It was done based on international law and the sovereign right of Azerbaijan to control fully its territory as any other country should do.

You was in Zangilan yesterday. I know that my representatives in the liberated areas informed you about the reconstruction. I don't want to go much into details. Of course, if you have questions about that, I will be ready to answer, but I don't want to take much of your time, because if I start talking about what has been done during the last three years, our time will expire. So, I would prefer to stop now and continue our discussions.

Assistant to the President Hikmet Hajiyev: Mr. President, with your permission we can start our interactive discussion and a Q&A session. I will ask our distinguished participants present themselves. Please also identify your institution and country that you represent. First question, we will start with Ambassador Matthew Bryza.

Ambassador Matthew Bryza: Mr. President, Matthew Bryza, the Jamestown Foundation. Yeah, I agree that we're not gonna talk about the reconstruction. But, I have to say it was really impressive. The degree of strategic planning, the execution that's happening, the massive coordination, removing mines, restoring infrastructure, bringing people back already - and just talking to the rector before this. In our lifetimes, there's nowhere else where there's been such a huge area of devastation that’s going to be totally rebuilt. I mean, it's unprecedented and it's happening and we got to see it, so thank you for that. But my question is that… It is a comment and a question.

In my experience, working on the conflict for a while, a long time, it was consistently Azerbaijan's position and yours, that of course, you want to restore the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. First and foremost, Azerbaijani displaced persons will return to their homes, but also your position as I recall, was that you wanted the Armenian population to remain, return and be neighbors again with Azerbaijanis and you gave several interviews during the war when you said that. Does Prime Minister Pashinyan really realize that and if so, is he trying to persuade his voters of the same? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: First of all, thank you for your words about what you've seen and about our plans for reconstruction. We really try to do maximum in order to create most comfortable conditions for former refugees.

They deserve it, because they lived in difficult conditions for 30 years. It was not only physical conditions, but also psychological situation of people who were deprived from their homes for 30 years. And they lived waiting for the time when they can return. Now, when we liberated the territories, we do everything in order to speed up the process with full understanding about the dangers, as you mentioned, the mines is a major danger. At the same time, we want to do everything properly. We want the process to be as fast as possible, but with understanding that it must be done using the best architectural experience, the best technology, including green technology, and the best conditions for living.

So, actually, liberated territories will be a kind of a demonstration of a new approach in building of cities. So, I think, this experience will be very useful for many other countries and many cities, which face more or less the same.

For us, of course, the most important was to provide former refugees with decent conditions and with jobs. By the way, I'd like to tell you that employment is also one of the important areas, which we concentrate while planning the return process. So, most of the people who have been returned already have jobs and this once again demonstrates that the approach is absolutely comprehensive.

With respect to your question, I'd like to say that during these three years - after the end of the Second Karabakh War - on several occasions, I publicly stated that we consider Armenians living in Karabakh as our citizens. We think that they have been the subject of manipulation by the leaders of separatists. We offered them conditions under which they can stay and continue to live on that area. And that was totally in line with international law, as I already said. The only thing they had to do was that they had to apply for the Azerbaijani citizenship. The issues related to their security and rights have also been addressed. On many occasions, we said that their security will be provided in line with the Azerbaijani constitution, and the Azerbaijani commitment in front of international organizations. With respect to their rights, we publicly stated that their rights will also be provided based on that. The process was taking a long time, and then, we realized that there is a kind of barrier between us and Armenians in Karabakh. I don't know whether that barrier was built by the Armenian government or local separatists. Then, we decided to start talking, and I appointed a special representative of the President - one of members of our parliament – and assigned him with a task to start talking with the representatives of Armenian community. We even agreed that the first meeting would take place in Khojaly – at that time still under occupation – in the premises of the Russian peacekeeping forces. That meeting took place. It was the first meeting, where we made a proposal that we want them to stay and to integrate. And the word reintegration, which I use many times, unfortunately, was met with a kind of irony, both from the Armenian government and also from separatists. The same separatists who now wait for the verdict in the detention center. Our proposal was to organize the second meeting in the city of Yevlakh, which is very close to Karabakh area, less than one hour drive and to have these meetings regularly. Unfortunately, the Karabakh Armenians, I mean those who consider themselves leaders refused. So, many times, at least twice, we made a public statement that we invite them and they refused.

So, there were no contacts. They did not want even to talk to us. Then, we decided to go through different channels. We made it public. We made public our proposal for reintegration. It was published, you can find it. Anyone can get acquainted with that. We opened a reintegration electronic portal, where everyone can register as a person who wants to get the Azerbaijani citizenship. All the rights, which we offered to them, of course, was also a subject for further consultations. But what we offered to them was absolutely acceptable and based on the best practices based on European conventions on national minorities, European Conventional languages, the right for education in their own language, religious rights, cultural rights, municipal rights – to select their representatives through municipal elections. We even deliver the message to them that we will have a municipal elections in the end of 2024, so, they will participate. They will select their representatives, who will be the leaders of the municipalities.

So, what else should we have provided or offered? It was maximum and it was totally transparent. This proposal was sent by us to those capitals, which wanted to be mediators. I mean the European Union, Brussels and Washington. So, we did it absolutely transparently. But their answer was no. And you know, when they agreed to meet? Only after 20 September. After September 20, when we already had to use force in order to restore our sovereignty, the representatives came to Yevlakh. They came twice, not once. The question is why didn't they come before? If they came before, there would have been no need for anti-terror operation. So, this is history, the recent history.

So, what about now? Now this proposal is on the table. Our electronic portal is functioning. We had already several appeals from the Karabakh Armenians. Some of them prefer to stay there and they live there. We assigned our representatives from the State Migration Agency and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Population to take care of those who cannot provide their own comfort. Because, now it's the area, where you have to be protected by social agency, because you have to eat, you have to have heating, you have to have other means of living. Not many of them, I would say remained. But those who remain, they have been taken care of and those who want to come back, they can use a mechanism, which I already informed you about.

Hikmet Hajiyev: The next question. Mr. Glen Howard.

Glenn Howard, the former President of The Jamestown Foundation: Thank you very much. It's a great opportunity to be here and thank you for the opportunity to travel to Zangilan and to see the reconstruction efforts that are occurring. Congratulations that all the special representatives speak excellent English and are able to explain their thoughts in very clear and concise ways with PowerPoint slides. So, that helps get the message across. It's great to be back in Azerbaijan again with many friends and colleagues that are here. My question for you is - Is that your vision about the future of the Organization of Turkic States? As the President, you attend the November 4th Organization of Turkic States Summit in Astana, and you said at that meeting that security to defense and defense industry cooperation should be increased. So, my question is for you. Do you believe that the Organization of Turkic States can evolve into a security alliance, a bloc of states, a sort of Turkic version of NATO, to counter outside powers, but what is your vision for going forward with the Organization of Turkic states? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you for quoting what I said. I said that taking into account today's geopolitical reality. If you look at my previous statements – I participated in these events many times – I mainly cover the issues of humanitarian cooperation, issues related to our cultural heritage, our historical and ethnic and linguistic roots. But this time, I think it was proper to talk about that. Because we are facing absolutely new situation in the world unpredictable and still, at least, we here in Azerbaijan – I think as many other countries – do not know what will be the end of this geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the West. Therefore, taking into account the situation in our region, in the Caucasus, situation on the borders of the countries of Central Asia, particularly in Afghanistan, the issues of security should be top priority. For us it was top priority, at least for the last 20-25 years, because of the conflict. Because we understood that if we would not be able to resolve it peacefully, we would have to do it by force.

Therefore, we built our army, we built a lot of other security infrastructure, and, of course, and organized a lot of training for military servicemen. The time demonstrated that it was the right policy, because without that, today, we would have been talking with Armenians about nobody knows what.

So, my message was that let's concentrate on that. We have big potential. We have big geography. We have huge energy resources, which is today, matter of national security more than ever before. It's actually the source of existence, independent existence. We have geography, which covers the area from Europe to Asia and even to Eastern Asia. We have already some of transportation infrastructure, which can be used now and we're using now. We have friendly environment en route of the East-West Corridor, and why not to unite our efforts?

So far, we don't go as far as talking about some quasi-NATO institution. I think, at the first stage, there must be a kind of a common consensus about how we move with respect to providing our shared security, if all the countries agree on that. I just expressed Azerbaijan's position. If you asked me about some additional ideas about that, yes, I think that we need to have a very close cooperation in defense, in defense industry, joint manufacturing, joint trainings of military servicemen, joint efforts with respect to the protection of our borders. Because this is one of the most important issues from point of view of national security and stability for the countries of the Organization of Turkic States to elaborate kind of a roadmap to achieve that target. I think it would be very useful from the practical point of view and each country can contribute to this common cause. Of course, this is only the preliminary stage. What I said at the last Summit was my message to my colleagues.

Now in the process of consultations, we will see how far we can go. I just expressed Azerbaijan's position how far we can go. I think that this position is based not only on our experience in recent years, but also on the unpredictable situation in the region and in the world in general.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Dennis Sammut. Please Dennis, introduce your institution and the country that you represent.

Dennis Sammut, the Director of LINKS Europe (The Netherlands): Dennis Sammut, Director of LINKS Europe, European foundation based in the Netherlands. Mr. President, the history will remember you as the leader who won the 2020 Karabakh War. In many ways, that victory has defined your presidency. However, I wonder, do you also want to be remembered as the leader who brought peace to your country and to the South Caucasus region? And what steps are you taking in this direction? I read your speeches very carefully and on many occasions you have spoken about the need for a peace agreement with Armenia. But for a number of years now, this objective seems to have been elusive. Do you consider that there are risks and the delay in signing this peace agreement? Will spoilers try to use the opportunity to stop Armenia and Azerbaijan from actually coming to an agreement? And do you think that a sense of urgency should be introduced into the process of finalizing this process?

President Ilham Aliyev: In one of the interviews, I’ve said that liberation of territories was a main goal of my political life. And I'm proud that these goals have been achieved. How I will be remembered will depend on many factors. Frankly speaking, I don't even have time to think about it. And even if I think about that, it is beyond my capability to influence that. With respect to peace, I think we brought peace. We brought peace by war. I think this is something, which should also be evaluated broader than just a local situation in the Caucasus. How to achieve peace by military means? For many years during the times of negotiations and occupation, I heard from the Minsk Group co-chairs – three of them in one voice saying that there is no military solution to the conflict. It happens that they were wrong, all the three.

Despite history of statehood, great international experience, being permanent members of the UN Security Council, they were wrong. I think that either they just were wrong, because of the wrong assessment or it was a kind of a message to Azerbaijan that you will not succeed, if you resort to non-peaceful scenario. We proved that there is a military solution to the conflict. So, the conflict is resolved.

Actually, the conflict was resolved three years ago, when we liberated a big part of the occupied territories. Restoration of our sovereignty was just a matter of time. It was clear that at that time, with the geographical situation, the so-called nagorno-karabakh republic, which has not been recognized even by Armenia, has no chance to survive as so-called independent quasi-state. They had two chances: either to integrate with the rest of Azerbaijan or to go to history. So, I clearly realized that at that time. One of the reasons why we were not in a hurry was that I clearly realized that, okay, in a five-year time we will achieve what we want. So, the anti-terror operation was not planned by us in November 2020. That's what I can say very openly. So, the war as a facilitator to peace. I think it clearly proves that it is possible.

Another thing is with respect to the formal peace, and I think that you mentioned particularly that peace agreement. I think it's also must be analyzed by international experts that a country, which suffered the thirty years of occupation, devastation, total destruction of its territory, ethnic cleansing and genocide, right after the liberation by itself, not by international mediators, offered peace. So, it was us, who offered peace to Armenia.

I remember after the war when at that time former Minsk Group was coming and going, I felt that they themselves do not know what to do. Because their job now is not needed any longer. Azerbaijan implemented most of the provisions of the so-called Madrid principles, which were considered as a basis for settlement. They didn't know what to do.

It was again Azerbaijan, we said “we need to have a peace agreement”. We said “we need to have commissions on delimitation”. It was not Armenia, it was not Brussels, it was not Washington, Paris or Moscow, it was us. And that's how the process started. Then, we saw that nothing happens. So, we decided to elaborate the principles for a peace agreement. We elaborated them and sent them to Armenia. And then again, there was silence and then we made it public. So, we made public those famous five principles, which Armenia seems now more ready to accept. If they accepted them or basically accepted them three years ago, there'll be no need for anti-terror operation.

So, this is again the history, but we must know that it demonstrates that Azerbaijan was an advocate for peace, and not Armenia. Another example of just recent months. There have been five or six exchanges of comments - comments to the original Azerbaijani draft. Armenian comments, Azerbaijani comments, pieces of disagreement, agreement. Several times, the foreign ministers met in different places. The last comment we sent was on September 11. So just for more detailed information about what this peace agreement is — it’s a document of maybe six-seven pages maximum with less than 20 articles. So for such a small document, Armenia needed 70 days to respond to us. And they responded only after the Azerbaijani foreign minister publicly disclosed that. Look, we're waiting for two months. Why don't you respond?

So, this shows that the side, which delays the process is not Azerbaijan, it is Armenia. Why did they delay? I don't know, whether it was their own decision or they were advised by their new friends in some European capitals. I don't know, I can only suspect. But the fact is that the comments, which we sent on September 11, we received on November 21. So, now our Foreign Ministry is evaluating those comments and we'll send it back.

I think after that the meeting of foreign ministers will be appropriate. Because now we see that still we are not close to the consensus, but many important issues, which Armenia insisted on in the beginning, now do not exist any longer. They do not exist on the ground, and they do not exist in their comments. I don't want to go much into the details, because you understand it's the confidential document.

I think now we are making one more step. But again, Azerbaijan was an initiator, Azerbaijan was a country, which actually demonstrated its will and I hope that it will not take much time to come to an agreement. But one just observation – the peace agreement does not actually, totally reflect peace. Peace agreements were signed between many countries, which violated that peace. Or there is no peace agreement between the Soviet Union then Russia now and Japan. At the same time, these countries before the Russian-Ukrainian war were very close partners and friends - a lot of businesses, a lot of investments, a lot of mutual contacts.

So for these countries, whether it was the Soviet Union or Russia and Japan, the formal peace agreement was not an obstacle for normal interaction. I don't want to seem like I am following the same historical pattern, but this is also one of the options. I think when we talk about peace agreement, we should not be preoccupied with the formal side of that. What do we need actually, now I mean Azerbaijan? We need firm, verified guarantees that there'll be no attempt of revanchism in Armenia. Why we need it? Because we know what is happening in Armenia, and also we know that Armenia have very bad advisors in some European capitals.

Even without mentioning that capital, I think everybody understands whom I mean. So, this could be a trigger. So far, these are provocative advices, but we do not exclude that they'll turn into destructive advices. So, we must have a guarantee that there'll be no more war between the two countries and that Armenia totally agrees with the situation, and what they say about territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, they really mean. They should forget about former nagorno-karabakh republic and be constructive on delimitation of border. So, that is actually peace.

The paper, which will be signed, of course, has importance, but important for us especially after 30 years of Armenian unwillingness to liberate even one centimeter of our land. Not previous Karabakh clan leaders, who became president, but Pashinyan himself when he said “Karabakh is Armenia, and that's it” in Khankendi in 2019 - what did he mean? And nobody asks him this question. And when his defense minister said that “there will be a new war for new territories” threatening Azerbaijan with occupation also in 2019, it was not Kocharyan-Sargsyan gang. It was Pashinyan, it was him. Now he tells “Karabakh is Azerbaijan”. Because we won the war, not because he transformed his ideology. Ideology is the same. They still live with this ideology. The difference between the Armenian government and opposition only is that the Armenian government clearly understands that if they continue to contest our territorial integrity, we will crush them again, no matter who stands behind them. No matter who tells them what in that famous, beautiful European capital. The opposition wants it, because they want to overthrow Pashinyan. They want this to happen. They want him to make this mistake, and then to come to power. So, we need the guarantees, which we can see with our eyes. So, that will be the best factor for peace in Caucasus.

Ekaterine Metreveli, the President of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies: Thank you, Mr. President for sharing with us your insights and I also want to join my predecessors in appreciating yesterday's visit. You know, to say very shortly, it was impressive. I wish you personally and Azerbaijan success on this future development of the region and repatriation of the IDPs, which, we all understand, is not an easy process. Now about my question. It is kind of diverting from what I've been discussing more in a different direction. Azerbaijan has been becoming important geopolitically, geo-economically to EU. The EU is Azerbaijan’s foremost trading partner, also Azerbaijan is an important energy supplier to the EU, and there are plans to advance on this direction. And in this context, Georgia also plays an important role as a partner and friend, as a transit country. Of course, our friendship is not based on the transit only, there are different dimensions but in this context. We aspire to become the part of the EU, as you know, and hope to get the positive answer in December and then there hopefully would be future steps. Azerbaijan remains just a partner for the EU. What do you think Georgia's drifting towards the EU, closer approximation will affect Azerbaijan and Georgia relations? How will you evaluate in general the increased EU role in the South Caucasus?

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much for your comments about what we're doing in Karabakh. Thank you for being with us. You're absolutely right, Georgia and Azerbaijan are close partners. And of course, our partnership is much broader than energy cooperation. Though, this cooperation allowed us to present ourselves in Europe as a consolidated team of strategic importance. My regular visits to Georgia and Georgian Prime Minister's regular visits to Azerbaijan are not only signs of cooperation, but during these visits very important issues are being discussed.

With respect to Georgia's aspirations to become a member of EU, we can understand it and wish Georgia success and congratulate our Georgian friends with this new developments and the status, which they got. Understanding that, of course, it's a process. We know some countries waited for many years. I don't want to mention Türkiye, because with Türkiye it was absolutely unacceptable and unjust approach to keep Türkiye far from Europe, despite of being a candidate for so many years. Also if you look to the Balkans, we'll see that the countries still have to wait. As far as I see the situation now with respect to discussions on the European track, there is not a consensus about expansion, but this is my observation, anyway, I wish success. When Georgia becomes a member of EU, I'm sure nothing will change in our relations and also with respect to the energy cooperation, because you know that Europe is a main destination for our energy resources, whether it's oil or gas. The European energy commission called Azerbaijan already a pan-European gas supplier, which is true. So, many countries are already receiving our gas. Most of them are European countries and many to come. Because we are now in the process not only of negotiations, but also physical connections between European countries and also in the process of negotiation with some, so, nothing will change. I think that though Azerbaijan does not have the target to become EU member in its foreign policy concept for very pragmatic reason, just because we will never be allowed in. And the reason is also very clear, and we understand it.

We live in real world, not in virtual. So, if you will not be allowed in, why should you knock the door? You will only irritate the home owner, and only humiliate yourself, if they don't want you.

We found a way how to build relations. Though, I would say that recent statement of Mr. Borrell are absolutely counterproductive. His yesterday’s statement about 150,000 of Armenians who left Karabakh are false. I regret such an experienced European diplomat is lying. Even Armenians themselves said there have been 100,000 of people who left Karabakh, not 150,000. If Mr. Borrell continues like that in one month, he will say there'll be 200,000. It will depend on the dreams, which he sees. But again, it is absolutely unacceptable, not only this manipulation with figures, but also accusations against Azerbaijan with respect to something, which we haven’t done. Especially, it is strange that his country as our Foreign Ministry already announced suffered from separatism. So, how can he defend separatists? This is very strange. So, approaching broader to your question, first, I'm sure that when Georgia becomes an EU member, nothing will change in our relations. On the contrary, we will have another close friend in EU, which will defend us. We hope that the Georgian members of European Parliament will educate European parliamentarians about Azerbaijan, and they will be more realistic.

Why I say that? In one of my telephone conversations with President of the European Council, Mr. Charles Michel, I told him that Chairman of the European Parliament Madame Metsola, after our anti-terror operation, said that gas relationship and gas contracts with Azerbaijan must be terminated. I told Mr. Charles Michel that probably she does not know how these things are being managed. Because if one side terminate the contract, it should pay a penalty. And first, she should ask those who are in charge of the energy policy of the European Union how the European Union asked Azerbaijan to help them last year with more gas for Europe, because of the cuts of supplies from Russia, and how we responded? Unfortunately, we have these kinds of people. I would say there are populist leaders in Europe like Mr. Borrell, like Madame Metsola. I always prefer to speak openly, because I fully disagree with their policy and their attitude to Azerbaijan, because it is not fair and it is not in the interests of the European Union and European institutions. But in general, if we talk about the European Commission, of course, we have excellent relations. We highly value this relations, they are of strategic importance and not only energy, not only gas, not only oil, soon it will be hydrogen. You know very well the project, which involved Georgia, Azerbaijan, Romania and Hungary. So, it's a big game changer, and we are already in the face of implementation.

Very soon, we will have a final report about feasibility study and hopefully we'll start physical construction. It is transportation, it is connectivity. For people like Josep Borrell, it's enough to look at the map and see where Azerbaijan is situated. If they want to be active in the Central Asia, and we see that they do want, and we see traffic in both directions. How they can avoid Azerbaijan? Are they going to contact the Central Asia countries through Iran or through Russia? Or they have wings? They have to think about that before making these statements.

Aziza Umarova (Uzbekistan): Your Excellency, it's a great pleasure to be here. I'm from Uzbekistan, we observe many state visits between the countries. But I think also what is definitely worth mentioning is that there is a very beautiful dynamic between the leaders of the two countries. I also have to say it was excellent to hear that Uzbekistan was one of the first countries to support the rebuilding efforts, specifically a school in Fuzuli. I think, it is a small contribution to the overall huge endeavor by your government. My question is about the connectivity efforts in light of Karabakh return and specifically, I would like to ask your opinion about the following. So, we know very well that for Central Asia, Trans-Caspian corridor will create the opportunities and it will be very promising in terms of connecting, as we know very well, the Black Sea, Mediterranean and further to Europe. In the meantime, we also have as a national priority, development of the railroad between China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that, if connected with the Middle Corridor, can create win-win for Central Asian countries connecting the South Asia all the way to Europe. We also understand very well the opportunities in light of the return of Karabakh and the EU geopolitical dynamic, but there are also some constraints. I would like to ask your opinion on what type of constraints you foresee and how we can possibly collectively work together to tackle them to make these beautiful projects happen. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I just want to a little bit correct you - Uzbekistan was not one of the first countries, but was the first country, which offered us this brotherly support. And as you know, with my brother President Mirziyoyev, we jointly inaugurated the school, which was named after the great son of Uzbek people Mirzo Ulugbek in Fuzuli, and this was a great contribution to reconstruction and also great contribution to our brotherly relations, because people of Azerbaijan, not only those who live in Fuzuli, will never forget that.

I just recently had a chance to see President Mirziyoyev in Baku. He told me that it’s his third visit during one year. I reminded him that last year I visited Uzbekistan three times. So, we have very active traffic of personal contacts, not to mention on the level of ministers.

We have elaborated a very broad agenda of cooperation in transportation, energy investments, in automobile industry. Really, it's a partnership, which both sides can be proud of, and with a great potential for the future. So, we just in the beginning of our mutual investment projects. We already created a joint investment fund with the initial reserves of 500 million dollars. Our teams are already identifying the projects in both countries and in third countries, which we will be jointly investing in.

With respect to connectivity, I congratulate you and also Kyrgyzstan and China with launching of this important railroad project. I know that it was discussed for many years, and now it's already officially announced to be started. Of course, it will be a huge contribution to the Middle Corridor, and for us, it will be, of course, very attractive, because the direction is towards the Caspian. Even now without this railroad, there are opportunities to use the Trans-Caspian route for Uzbek companies. They do indeed not in the large quantities, but I think now when we are actively working on issues related to digitalization of our transportation infrastructure, and also on common policy on tariffs, it will be more attractive. So, the route is definitely much more attractive from point of view of timing, but it is not competitive in comparison with the maritime route, which is obvious.

Our task is to make the route more commercially attractive. For that purpose, of course, we need to implement a joint policy on tariffs and digitalization, so that those who sent a cargo can trace the movement of their cargo and not only that but also physical investments in infrastructure. We already completed the full reconstruction of the railroad from Baku to the Georgian border. Now the train have a speed of 120 km/hr, which is faster in comparison with several years ago (50-60 km/hr).

At the same time, the expansion of a Georgian segment of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad also will be finished in a month or two. It is again 100% Azerbaijani investment, more than 100 million US dollars. That segment will be expanded from 1 million to 5 million tons maximum in a couple of months.

So, these are new opportunities for receiving new cargos. And also a road, which will go through the liberated territories, particularly through Zangilan - probably, you've seen the railroad, which is already there. We had a plan to continue this road through Armenia, but Armenia refused it. So, we agreed with the Iranian side, and we're already building a bridge for cars and then a bridge for trains to bypass Armenia and to build about 50 kilometers railroad on the southern bank of the Araz River. Then, it enters Nakhchivan and there'll be a connection with the Turkish railroad system. We were informed by the Turkish side that the Kars-Nakhchivan railroad is also planned to be built. So, it will be another extension of the Middle Corridor - one goes through Georgia to Kars and to Mediterranean ports, and another goes through Zangilan, Iran, Nakhchivan, and again Türkiye. So, this increases the physical capacity, but in the meantime, we need also to make this road more commercially attractive. For that purpose, we already created a very efficient cooperation format between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Türkiye.

I think that if other countries of Central Asia, particularly Uzbekistan, would consider joining the format, it will be only better for all of us. This really is a new map - new transportation map of Eurasia with great potential. With respect to Karabakh reconstruction, the main obstacles, of course, are landmines and time. So, our rival is time, because we want to do it as soon as possible. Apart from that, we don't have any other obstacles with accumulated financial resources for that. Reconstruction of Karabakh will be the main part of our investment program. Just for comparison, I would say that we will spend much more for Karabakh reconstruction – I mean state investments - more than for the rest of the country.

Not just we neglect the rest of the country. The rest of the country already enjoyed multi-billion investments during many years, and most of the infrastructure projects have already been completed. But now Karabakh is our top priority. The area and most importantly, the people who are waiting to go back home.

Jordi Xuclà, the Professor of international relations and former member of the Spanish Parliament and PACE: Thank you. Jordi Xuclà from Spain. Professor of international relations, former member of the Spanish Parliament and former member of PACE.

President, it is an honor to be here. It had been a very special visit to the liberated territories. When I was a chair of the Committee of the so-called Karabakh conflict in the Council of Europe, and I had the responsibility to organize on a regular basis meetings between Azerbaijani MPs and Armenian MPs in the very noising manner. It was difficult to imagine, to realize the end of this occupation and the solution based on international law and with respect to territorial integrity and diverse society. So, I think that in terms of the historical perspective, this is an historical moment. My question is about the new frame of relations between Azerbaijan and European Union. I guess that the President of the European Council Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen have a realistic and common sense approach about the relationship between Azerbaijan and European Union based on this new frame of bilateral relations, overcame the so called Easter Partnership, which is quite complex to harmonize. Based on geopolitical reasons European Union finds reliable partners not only for energy reason, for new economic projects and for geopolitical situations. On the other hand, we see how European Parliament and other bodies of PACE with zero competence, zero competence in international relations easily release some statements based on another level of politics. European Council and European Commission work in a realistic approach and the other works in another one. All in all, I think that the balance of the new frame of relation between your country and European Union could be very positive. Thank you very much.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I fully share your analysis and what you say for me is very important, because you are there, you are saying it from inside and this totally corresponds to my understanding of the situation. With respect to the European Council and the European Commission, as you said, we have very good contacts and the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission both visited Azerbaijan. And we broadly discussed issues related to our cooperation, not only energy, though it was one of the main topic of conversation. The European Union is our main trading partner. The trade with the European Union makes up almost 50% of our foreign trade. With nine members of the European Union, Azerbaijan signed or adopted declarations on strategic partnership. So, this is 1/3 of the member states. This really demonstrates that our cooperation on national level and on the level of institutional contacts is very good. Being a strategic partner means a lot, it's a big responsibility for cooperation. With respect to efforts of President of the European Council Charles Michel, Azerbaijan and me personally always supported his efforts in finding long-lasting solution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There have been several meetings organized by him in Brussels. We are now in the process of discussions about a potential new meeting. My assistant Hikmet Hajiyev is in regular contact with the team of President Charles Michel. There have been already five meetings. The next meeting should be result-oriented. We need to agree the draft statement before. It must be agreed between Azerbaijan, Armenia and the European Council. The meeting must be well-prepared and result-oriented. Because if it is not result-oriented, then it will send the wrong message to our peoples and also to international community. That's our position and I think it is met with understanding in Brussels. Also with the European Commission, we work on different tracks. One track is the commission for enlargement, when we have very active cooperation, and another one is the energy commission. We organize regularly meetings of the Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council, which is chaired by the European Energy Commission and Azerbaijan`s Ministry of Energy. The next meeting will take place within two-three months again in Baku. We got a request from the European Commission to increase our gas supply to Europe taking into account their shortage. We allocated substantial amounts of money - hundreds of millions of euros, if not billions - in order to increase the production from existing gas fields. One of the factor, which will help us to supply more gas to Europe, is energy efficiency and renewables. The more renewables we have, the more gas we will save, which we use for production of electricity. Very soon, there'll be a new important milestone – interconnector between Serbia and Bulgaria, which is ready. Serbia will soon start to receive Azerbaijani gas. Hungary already started receiving Azerbaijani gas, including Romania. Albania will also start receiving Azerbaijani gas after the completion of gasification project, which we finance in Albania. Members of the European Union - Italy, Bulgaria, Greece - they have already been recipients of the Azerbaijani gas for several years.

So, these are all very positive factors - we talk about connectivity, trade and investments. But I agree with you that there are the group of very irresponsible people in the European Parliament, behave like maniacs. Because of their anti-Azerbaijani sentiments and statements are beyond any normal psychological status of a human being. I want to use maximum diplomatic vocabulary. So, what can we do? They adopted more than 10 anti-Azerbaijan resolutions. One more, one less doesn't make any difference for us. It is regretful, and what we regret most of all is that – we don't consider all the members of European Union – but those who are organizing anti-Azerbaijani orchestra, they brainwash the others. And many of the members think that Azerbaijan is like these people present us. Some of their anti-Azerbaijani activists, fortunately, no longer are there, like Madame Eva Kaili, who was one of the activists of the anti-Azerbaijani front, but we know what happened to her and it was in media. I think this also reflects that the European Parliament needs to address its own issues with corruption, first before accusing someone of any wrongdoing.

Of course, it is not only for the government of Azerbaijan, but for the people of Azerbaijan. When they misinterpret the situation in the Caucasus, when they accuse us, the country, which suffered occupation, devastation and genocide, accuse us for restoration of our sovereignty and territorial integrity, they speak against 10 million Azerbaijani people. They need to understand it. If they select me as a target and use insulting statements against me, for me, it doesn't make anything. But for the people of Azerbaijan, who stand behind me and stood behind me during the war and during the anti-terror operation and now, this is a signal for them that this is a group of people, which treat Azerbaijan like an enemy. So, this is regretful. There's a noise, which they produce is not pleasant, it is not damaging, we can live with that. But it is not pleasant.

By the way, we already for many years stopped any official contacts with the European Parliament and officially announced that. And now, we have no interaction. But with the European Commission, as you mentioned, the situation is absolutely different, it is moving in the positive direction. Unfortunately, with the exception of the minor episodes, which I already mentioned the episode with respect to your countrymen.

Daria Isachenko, The German Institute for International and Security Affairs: Thank you very much for this opportunity. My question is also related to your current position about the Western platforms for peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan. What is your current position? Because Baku has recently chosen not to participate in Granada, Brussels and Washington negotiations. So, how do you see the future potential? You already touched upon the role of EU and I would like to ask you to focus specifically on the role of the EU given its interest in energy and connectivity. And in connection to this, relatedly or unrelatedly what is also your assessment of the future potential of the 3+2 platform, which Baku has initiated and has been recently revived? How do you see the future of this regional platform of solving regional problems with regional partners? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I already spoke a little bit about the EU mediation, it was basically a mediation of the President of the European Council. When, last year, on the sidelines of the European Political Community Summit in Prague, there was a proposal to invite the President of France to that meeting between President Michel, Prime Minister Pashinyan and myself, I did not object. At that time, I think that can be useful. At that meeting, on October 6, Prime Minister Pashinyan officially recognized Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. But later, he made different statements, including those, which I already referred to this September, congratulating the so-called nagorno-karabakh republic. At the same time, we considered as positive the result of the meeting in Prague. And we were ready to continue in this format.

But unfortunately, a week after President of France in one of his TV interviews, used very strange and inappropriate wording about Azerbaijan. But what we've done? He actually cut himself from the process. Because our position was very clear - you can be a mediator, when you are neutral. If you take sides, you lose the chance to be a mediator. We cannot influence the country not to take sides. There are different reasons for that. But in this case, the chance to the mediator is lost. We officially announced that we do not consider any longer, as appropriate, any participation of any representative of France in normalization process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Therefore, and for that particular reason, I did not go to Granada.

But before Granada, there was also Chișinău. Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz also was in Chișinău, who said and I remember, “when you need us, you tell us”. And that was very a wise approach. Because you cannot impose yourself to be a mediator, when somebody doesn't want.

Granada meeting was scheduled on October 5, and coming back to the previous question, the same day, the European Parliament organized discussions on Azerbaijan. So, they deliberately planned this anti-Azerbaijan resolution to be adopted the day, I was supposed to be in Granada in order to demonstrate their position on Azerbaijan. That was also a reason, why I did not go. The first reason was France, and third reason was that meeting was not prepared. This meeting was supposed to take place after two weeks of the anti-terror operation. Two weeks after the total change of the situation on the ground. Therefore, the meeting should have been prepared. What kind of documents are we are planning to adopt? What will be the statements? How the statement should be agreed? There was nothing about that. No information about that. So, that's why I didn't participate, but I was very surprised that they convened this meeting without me. So, there is a Russian saying - без меня меня женили - it means that you married me without myself. So, how can they adopt the resolution on Azerbaijan-Armenia, four of them, without me? I still cannot understand.

This is the current situation. What we have now on the table? We have mediation process, which is organized by the European Council. We have one track of negotiations between foreign ministers, which we call the Moscow track. And we had until recent famous hearings in the US Congress, the so-called Washington track, where the foreign ministers met in Washington. So, now it seems that Washington track is also out of the picture. Because official representative of a State Department, who is today here in Baku, said that “there'll be no business as usual” with Azerbaijan. He accused Azerbaijan of what Azerbaijan hasn't done. So, if “there is no business as usual”, it means “no business as usual” on every track. And at the same time, it was announced that they put a restriction on the visits of high-ranking Azerbaijan officials to the United States for the first time in the history of our relations with the United States, which are of strategic importance for both countries. This administration is trying to ruin them. I don't know for which reason.

We said okay, if there will be no high-ranking official visits from Azerbaijan to United States, then how can our foreign minister go there? You say there will be no visits, but you invite our foreign minister. Can you explain us?

And well, I don't want to go much into details. So, if no business as usual, okay, we accept it. Then, it means that Washington is also out of the picture. So either, they should say that business as usual continues, and I hope to hear it today and we will restore the Washington process, or there'll be only Brussels and Moscow. And maybe, there'll be also bilateral negotiations. Because, for instance, I can tell you that co-chairs of the commissions on delimitation of Armenia and Azerbaijan met on November 30 on our conditional border, and discuss the issues of delimitation. So, there can be even just a bilateral track between Azerbaijan and Armenia without any mediation. This is also an option. Mediation, I think can be helpful from point of view of elaboration, maybe of some ideas from the mediator, which both sides cannot due to some reasons elaborate. But if mediation process is over, then it will be a bilateral track. So, this is with respect to the negotiation process. Apart from that, I already said, with European Union, our relations are well-balanced, basically, positive. We were working actively on the new document of cooperation. It is now on standby, but I hope soon we can restart our joint activity on finalizing. Because more than 90% of that new cooperation agreement was already agreed. Thank you.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Thank you. Our next question is Stephanie Fenkart.

Stephanie Fenkart, the Director of the International Institute for Peace (Austria): Thank you very much, Mr. President for hosting us here. It is my first time that I'm participating in this forum and my question goes a little bit back to what you already said earlier. I'm from Austria. I am working for the International Institute for Peace. So, it is going to be about peace. And with a long history of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, you know, it's so much trauma, so much lack of trust, especially and obviously, as well as other feelings of injustice. So, you also said, and research and data also shows that peace agreements are most sustainable if they are also perceived as just by all parties involved. So, that is one thing. So, my question would be if justice is a very important thing for that, do you think that tackling issues of transitional justice, truth and reconciliation from all the wars, including also the terror operation, if you put it all together could actually lead to more successful and sustainable peace or even peace process? And if so, you know, I'm thinking about examples of German-French rapprochement, a very long-term perspective, maybe even the South African example, even though knowing it, there is no blueprint for that. But how would you assess this and who could be maybe a moderator or facilitator in this and since I'm from Austria, what about Austria? Maybe, we are neutral country, but having like all the international organizations still there. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I think Austria can be a good mediator for those particular reasons, which you mentioned. And also because at international events, we all sit next to each another due to the alphabet. We always have a chance sitting on international events to exchange views with Austrian and Armenian colleagues. With respect to the peace agreement, as I said already, now we're closer to that, because when we initiated the process, one of the issues of disagreement was Armenian side`s efforts to integrate into peace agreement, reference to so-called nagorno-karabakh republic, which, of course, we could not accept. They tried to integrate it through different wording schemes, but it was more or less the same. Our approach was that we cannot specify on that, and the agreement between two countries must be fully reciprocal. Therefore, if they want to reflect in their draft agreement issue of Armenians, who live in Azerbaijan as national minorities, then it must also reciprocally reflect the rights of Azerbaijanis, who were deported forcefully from Armenia, to come back there, and to live there. Their rights and security must be protected the same way like rights and security of Armenians in Karabakh. Unfortunately, the Armenian side always rejected that, which was not very logical, because we did not offer something extraordinary, just reciprocal. Or another option was not to reflect this topic at all. So, after the anti-terror operation on September 19, it seems that this obstacle no longer exists. Either we will reflect both national minorities in peace agreement or it will not be reflected at all. Other paragraphs or articles of the peace agreement are less problematic. I would not say that they're all already agreed, but I think that with respect to phraseology, with respect to the wording, of course, every word has some political meaning behind it, but it is agreeable. It's a matter of political will only. And as I said, when we were waiting for the Armenian response for 70 days, just for example, I can tell you, when we were sending our comments to Armenia, usually it didn't take more than 14-15 days. So, when they delayed for 70 days, this means something. Of course, it is not a unilateral process. If Armenia thinks that we need peace more than they do, I think, they are wrong. We need peace the same way they do. If they need it, we need it. If they don't need, we don't need. Even before anti-terror operations, in my contacts with the Armenian side, whether it was in Brussels in the presence of President Charles Michel or on the sidelines of some international events, I said if you do not recognize Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, included Karabakh, we will not recognize your territorial integrity. If you will continue to contest our integrity, we will contest your integrity. I told him that believe me we have more rights, more historical rights, not to recognize your territorial integrity, because we all know how the maps of the Southern Caucasus look like in the beginning of the 20th century. They are available. We all know how the Bolsheviks took Zangezur from Azerbaijan in November 1920, and adjusted it to Armenia just less than six months after sovietization of Azerbaijan. This part was taken from us. So, I told him that we have more historical, political and legal rights to contest your territorial integrity. So, I don't advise you this approach. And now it is the same. So, if they recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan not by statement, but by signature, we will do the same. Many times, I said that we do not have any plans to occupy Armenian territory, as sometimes we are accused without any grounds of that. If we wanted, we would have done it. I can tell absolutely openly, from all points of view, it is not a bi

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