efe-epaBy Céline Aemisegger

Azerbaijan will stop the war in Nagorno-Karabakh immediately if Armenia withdraws and its prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, personally and publicly announces his retreat and defeat, the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev told Efe in an interview.

In power since 2003, the Azeri head of state spoke to Efe via video link from the presidential palace in Baku. His demeanor is one of defiance. He claims that Azerbaijan has a clear military advantage over Armenia in the conflict over the territory, which is internationally recognized as belonging to Azerbaijan, although is populated predominantly by Armenians and de facto governed by Armenian separatists.

QUESTION: The war in Nagorno-Karabakh has entered its sixth week. What is the situation on the front-line?

ANSWER: The situation at the frontline is showing the dominance of the Azerbaijani Army. We liberate one village and one city after another. And, during this time on the battlefield, Azerbaijan liberated a large part of its territory which was under occupation for almost 30 years and the successful offensive operation of the Azerbaijani Army continues.

Q: You want to retake all seven occupied districts. How many of those have you recaptured?

A: Actually, four of the five occupied districts have already been liberated, either completely or partially, and today we are in an active phase of the 'de-occupation' of other districts that have been under occupation.

And as I said, we implement United Nations Security Council resolutions and, by the way, we already implemented part of the Basic Principles, because the Basic Principles for settlement which have been proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group actually demanded the liberation of occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, Armenia was not willing to do it voluntarily, therefore we had to force them to do it.

Q: Both sides have agreed already to three humanitarian ceasefires, but none have worked. Why is it impossible to sit down and negotiate?

A: I think one of the reasons why the ceasefire didn’t work was the attempt of Armenia to regain the territories which have already been liberated by us. In other words, they wanted to occupy them again. Therefore, they tried to use the ceasefire, which as you correctly mentioned was announced on humanitarian grounds, in order to mobilize their resources and launch a new attack.

And when they failed to do it, they launched a ballistic missile attack from the territory of Armenia on the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Ganja, they did it twice. The first time on the 10th of October, right after the ceasefire was announced, and that caused the deaths of 10 civilians and tens were wounded. So they brutally violated the first ceasefire.

The second was also violated by them about 5 minutes after it was announced and the third they violated by attacking the peaceful city of Barda, where 21 civilians were killed and 70 wounded. All three times it was Armenia deliberately, aggressively attacking us and we had to respond, we had to defend ourselves.

Q: Yerevan has said it is willing to compromise but not capitulate. Are you also willing to compromise?

A:  On many occasions, I said that our task is to restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, return one million Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons to their homelands, to the territories where they used to live for centuries, and after that to provide peaceful coexistence between Azerbaijani and Armenian communities in that area.

Armenia, when they talk about compromise, they do not say anything concrete. They only talk about self-determination, but self-determination is not a compromise on their side. They should be more accurate in their position, because it is very ambiguous now.

Therefore we demanded the timetable for the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from the occupied territories and we demanded it from the first day of the clashes. So if Armenia (had) listened to us and behaved in a reasonable way, today we would not have the situation we are now facing. The war would have stopped maybe a month ago.

Compromise from the Armenian side should be very precise. And the timetable for withdrawing from part of Agdam district, which is still under occupation, and from Kalbajar and Lachin should be presented to us and the Armenian prime minister should personally declare that.

So, we expect the Armenian prime minister to say openly, publicly, that they will withdraw from Kalbajarn, Lachin and the remaining part of Agdam.

Q: And if not, there’s only the military option for you?

A: Nothing is left, there is no other option. We do not want to continue military operations. And I said many times and can repeat today, if the Armenian prime minister, the person who is responsible for this bloodshed, personally makes such a statement, we are ready to stop immediately. Immediately.

And I am a person who keeps his word and we will do it. But he does not say it. He wants to win time, he wants to have the ceasefire in order to get some more military assistance, he wants to use the ceasefire to launch new attacks on Azerbaijan and to regain back the territories we liberated. That is what he is after.

Q: There are accusations that both Azerbaijan and Armenia have used weapons prohibited by international conventions in the conflict. What do you say to that?

A: We do not use forbidden weapons. We have enough ammunition in order to restore our territorial integrity, first. Second, we do not attack civilians. We have not attacked cities in Nagorno-Karabakh after the 10th of October. Before, yes, we admit it, but that was because most of the military units and infrastructure of the Armenian Army was concentrated in the so-called capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Jankendi, so we had to. We had to hit those important military objects in order to provide security for us and to make our operation more efficient. But after the humanitarian ceasefire was announced, and many times we announced it, we never hit any city or any village where people live.

What Armenia did, on the contrary, is they launched ballistic missiles from Armenian territory to Ganja and it is proved, though the Armenian prime minister said it was not them. But it is ridiculous because the ballistic missile launch is being monitored by satellites. They hit Barda two times with very destructive SMERCH missiles and 21 persons were killed and 70 wounded only by one attack.

They attacked a funeral ceremony in Terter. That is absolutely beyond any norms of human behavior. When people were burying the person who died they hit the cemetery and four people were killed.

And the cluster bombs they used have been verified by international media and NGOs. And I am sure the first who reported on it were international media who visited. And Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch didn't have any other option than to acknowledge that.

But the question is why they didn't come in the first place to Azerbaijan? Why were they only working on the Armenian side?

Q: Russia says there are around 2,000 mercenaries in Karabakh. What do you have to say to that?

A: I answered many times to this groundless accusation. And I, frankly speaking, regret that high ranking officials of the countries which are supposed to be neutral and are supposed to be acting within their mandate that was given to them by the OSCE use this unverified, groundless so-called information and rumors.

Second, we do not have any mercenaries. I have said it many times. We do not need them. We have an army with 100,000 fighters and we can recruit several times more if we announce total mobilization, which we don't do, unlike Armenia. There is no evidence of any foreign fighters fighting on our side. No evidence during this time.

Not a single document, not a single proof was given to us, only statements. But then why don't they see what is happening on the Armenian side?

How many mercenaries are fighting on the Armenian side? Why do neither Russia nor France, which try to accuse us, say anything about them? We have a list of people already eliminated with foreign passports: American, French, Canadian, Lebanese, from Iraq, from countries from the post-Soviet area, tens of them from Georgia. Yes, they are native Armenians, but that does not make any difference. If they are citizens from other countries they are considered to be acting there illegally. And so far nothing has been said about them.

Q: What do you say to those who state that Turkey does not only give you political support but also military help?

A:  I would say this is another provocation, another fake news. There is not any military support from Turkey, apart from the fact that we are buying modern military equipment from Turkey. This is true. This is sophisticated, modern equipment that I think every army in the world would have envied.

We buy it, we sign contracts, everything is transparent, everything is legal. We buy weapons from other countries. Why does nobody talk about how many weapons we bought from Russia? Only Turkey, because Turkey is now in the center of attack from, unfortunately, different European politicians. There are attempts to demonize Turkey, there are attempts to blackmail Turkey. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Those who always keep saying Turkey provides military support to us, why don't they say Russia provides military support to Armenia? Mediator, Mink Group co-chair. We have proof in our hands, we delivered this information to Russian officials. How many weapons were delivered to Armenia during these 40 days? Why does nobody talk about that? Let's talk about that. Let's be fair.

Q: Do you fear an internationalization of the war?

A: That's what Armenia wanted to do from the very beginning and we were always against. I said many times to other countries: stay away from this conflict. It is our business, it is our battle for territorial integrity. And there should be no attempts to internationalize the conflict.

But Armenia did everything to do it. And the letter the Armenian prime minister sent to the Russian president not only demonstrates that they already admit defeat, that we beat them on the battlefield, it also shows that they want to internationalize the conflict, they want to drag Russia into direct participation on the ground, which is absolutely unacceptable. As far as I know, it was rejected by Russia.

Probably you’ve heard about the Iranian plan or the settlement which provides for the territorial integrity of countries and recently the Iranian religious leader made a statement that Armenia should liberate internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan. This is the reaction of two neighbors. The position of Turkey is well known, it always stands for international law and UN Security Council resolutions. Georgia on many occasions also supported Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. This is the position of our neighbors. So Armenia is in isolation.

Q: How would you react if Armenia decided to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh?

A: If they wanted to recognize they would have recognized it a long time ago. Why didn't they recognize it before? Because they clearly understand that with this very irrational step the negotiations would stop. So if they do it, there will be nothing to talk about. And then no peaceful initiative, no Basic Principles, no future settlement, nothing will be on the table. So I think they understand it. They always wanted to use it as a kind of instrument in order to frighten us, saying if Azerbaijan does that, we will recognize it.

I told them many times during this conflict, and I say now — Armenian prime minister, recognize Nagorno-Karabakh, do it, show your courage, show that your words mean something. You will see that they will not do it because they are cowards they can fight only against peaceful civilians.

Q: Would you be willing to accept an autonomous region?

A: This should be part of the future discussions on the Basic Principles because the first part of the Basic Principles demanded the withdrawal of the occupied territories.

Then there were other elements of Basic Principles like security, peacekeeping operations, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and we were always very open to discussing it. We offered them many different ways, but they rejected it. We offered them autonomy inside Azerbaijan. We offered them cultural autonomy.

We said there are good examples in the world, in Europe. In Scandinavia these Aland islands, in Italy this Southern Tyrol district, in many others, but they rejected everything.

They demanded independence only and they wanted us to recognize this independence. By doing that, actually knowing that we will never do it, they are doing everything to freeze the conflict. So I do not know, we need first to end this hot stage of the conflict, come back to the negotiation table, Armenia should make these commitments I already said and then we can talk about what will be happening in the future. I can not say anything about this now. EFE-EPA