President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by the Azerbaijan Television in Basgal settlement of Ismayilli district.
- Mr. President, first of all, with your permission, we would like to find out what your impressions are of the visit today.
- My visits to the regions are regular in nature both in terms of familiarization and additional instructions. As you may know, I oversee the ongoing work myself. In recent years, construction and improvement activities have become widespread in all our regions. As part of my visit to Aghsu and Ismayilli districts today, instructions have been issued and reports made about the work already done and what more will be done here.
Major infrastructure projects have been implemented in both districts in recent years. It is possible to say that most of the infrastructure projects has been completed. Large-scale projects related to gas, electricity and water supply, as well as the construction of roads, have been implemented. Suffice it to say that despite being a mountainous district, gas supply in Ismayilli district exceeds 80 percent, while in Aghsu district it is close to 100 percent. More than 10 electricity substations have been built in these two districts in recent years and electricity supply is fully provided. In the area of construction of roads, work is under way both on village roads and the new section of the Ismayilli-Mughanli road.
Large-scale projects related to social infrastructure have been implemented as well. Hospitals for 160 patients have been built in both cities, Aghsu and Ismayilli, about 100 schools have been built or renovated. Major projects related to the creation of jobs have been implemented. In short, a very solid foundation has been created for the future development of this region. As you know, there can be no talk of development without infrastructure projects.
On the way here, I was familiarized with the work going on at the “Diri Baba” tomb. Some time ago, I issued an instructions to restore this historical monument, to preserve it and to create tourism infrastructure around it. The “Diri Baba” stands out for being a rare site in the entire Caucasus region. More than 500 years old, this tomb has been viewed as a holy site by the people of Azerbaijan for centuries. Of course, it is our duty to preserve this ancient historical site, to give it a new life, to restore it, so the conditions around it should also meet modern standards.
At the same time, I issued a special decree several years ago regarding the development of Basgal settlement and the protection of the historical heritage of Basgal. Based on that decree, the State Tourism Agency has been working here for some time. About 50 percent of the work has been completed and everyone can see that today. Basgal is one of our ancient settlements, a place with a unique history. Of course, I would very much like the historical appearance of this place to be preserved and, at the same time, better conditions to be created for the people living here. And we have done that – opening opportunities for creating jobs. I am sure that the settlement of Basgal, like the settlement of Lahij, will reveal its face to the whole world as an ancient historical settlement of this region. As you know, both citizens of Azerbaijan and visitors to our country are visiting Lahij all the time now. I am sure that the same fate is in store for Basgal settlement. For this purpose, the conservation of this historical place of residence and the protection of its historical appearance are of special importance.
A new modern hotel with 179 rooms was opened at the entrance of Basgal settlement today. Of course, the opening of this hotel will significantly expand the tourism potential of this region. At the same time, the creation of these facilities in Ismayilli district means the opening of hundreds of jobs. About 300 jobs are created in the hotel in Basgal alone, and those working there are also local residents.
At the same time, the operation of the large agricultural park in Aghsu district is also making an important contribution to the economy of this region. About 200 jobs have been created there.
In other words, job creation should become an ongoing process in Azerbaijan because our population is growing and the demand for jobs is increasing. As a result of the implementation of the projects I have mentioned, the state provides great support for the creation of jobs as a result of the conditions being created for the private sector.
Of course, both tourism and agricultural sectors of this region will facilitate the future development of the region. Decisions made in previous years regarding the development of agriculture are already bearing fruit. As you may know, there are huge concerns about food security in the world today. Azerbaijan is also actively working in this direction. As a result of the work done and to be done in the future, we will turn ourselves into a country that has secured itself in this field as well, and I am sure that food security in Azerbaijan will be ensured to the maximum extent.
- Mr. President, our next question is related to food security. You have already touched upon this issue. The constant increase in prices, especially the shortage of grain, has become one of the main topics on the global agenda today. What measures and steps are being taken in Azerbaijan in this direction?
- Of course, when we integrated our economy into the world economy, we applied all the fundamental principles of the market economy in Azerbaijan. If we look at the structure of the gross domestic product of Azerbaijan today, we will see that the private sector accounts for the majority of our gross domestic product – local companies, foreign investors and foreign companies. Under such circumstances, any economic processes going on in the world do not bypass us. They have an impact on us too. This includes the growing prices of food products in the world, which, of course, also affects us. This year, inflation in most countries of the world is in double digits. As you may know, inflation is usually very low in developed countries, but we are seeing double-digit inflation even in those countries now.
The growing food price has also been imported to Azerbaijan, so to speak. Because we are still unable to fully provide ourselves with staple foods. However, consistent work is being done in Azerbaijan in this direction. For example, in the field of animal husbandry, which is not a traditional sector for us – I am talking about the Soviet era, when animal husbandry was hardly developed in Azerbaijan – we provide ourselves with meat products by 90 percent, with poultry by 80 percent, and with milk and dairy products by 85 percent. I am sure that in the next three to five years, we will reach the level of one hundred percent, although the demand is also on the increase due to population growth.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to fully provide ourselves with grain for many more years. The self-sufficiency ratio for wheat in Azerbaijan was 62 percent at the beginning of this year. It is for this purpose that a special program has been developed, the introduction of new types of subsidies has been started, and as a result, I am sure that the production of food wheat in Azerbaijan will dramatically increase. But it will take time. I think that if we can provide ourselves with food wheat at the level of 80 percent in about three to four years, it will be a great result. Therefore, the increase in the price of grain in the world markets is affecting all countries. However, today's situation is that it is not only about the price – there is also a shortage of grain. As you know, as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war, many countries are physically unable to provide their population with wheat and grain. Because the main producers of grain are Russia and Ukraine, but the war has certainly caused great obstacles in this matter. However, there is no problem in this field in Azerbaijan. We traditionally buy both grain and fertilizer from Russia. As a result of the agreements reached with our Russian partners, we are importing and will continue to import as much fertilizer and grain as we want. As for fertilizer, as you may know, we have already become a fertilizer producer ourselves and even export urea. But other types of fertilizer are still being imported into Azerbaijan.
In short, these factors are a reality, and we are living in a real life. We are doing and will continue to do specific things to fully insure ourselves against all problems. I am sure that in the coming years we will be able to significantly increase productivity as a result of irrigation projects, proper agro-technical measures, other measures and subsidies provided with the aim of getting more crops from the existing cultivated areas. At the same time, we are already engaged in planting and harvesting on liberated lands. Planting and mine clearance work was carried out on my instructions without wasting time. I think that the products grown in Karabakh and East Zangazur will help us a lot in fully ensuring our food security in the future.
- As a continuation of this topic, planting work is under way on your instruction in the lands freed from Armenian occupation. What kind of agricultural work is being done in liberated territories in general?
- The liberated territories have a very favorable climate and natural conditions for agriculture, animal husbandry and plant growing. We should, of course, make the most of all this. At the same time, the current issues related to food security did not emerge today. This issue simply became more acute as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Of course, after we had liberated our lands from the occupiers, I issued an immediate instruction that we should start farming on these lands without wasting any time. This year, grain was planted on an area of 50,000 hectares, and the harvesting is drawing to a close. True, productivity is very low, which is natural because these lands remained unused for many years, there was no irrigation, grain was grown in dry conditions, and it is the first year that planting has been done. Therefore, the average productivity per hectare is below one ton. However, I am sure that in the coming years, the productivity will increase even more and cultivated areas will increase. I believe that we should envisage at least 100,000 hectares of liberated territories for grain cultivation – of course, provided that all modern agro-technical measures are taken, including the proper organization of irrigation, especially considering that our main rivers were also subjected to Armenian occupation. The loathsome enemy had deprived us of our own water. As you may know, we were unable to use the water of the Tartar River. We could not use the water of the Hakari and the Bazar rivers either. These are the main rivers in liberated lands, but there are many more.
Therefore, if we take into account this factor, the organization of agriculture in liberated territories on the basis of modern and planned specialization will allow the people returning there the opportunity to provide for themselves by farming and harvesting and get decent money. At the same time, the food supply and export capabilities of our country will significantly improve. For example, Kalbajar, Lachin and Zangilan districts have great prospects in terms of animal husbandry. Without wasting any time, we sent herders with their flocks of sheep there for the second year now, and we are already seeing the results. We have sent beekeepers there as well. Hundreds of beekeepers have already established their farms in Kalbajar and Lachin districts and are reaping abundant harvests. We have already become a honey exporter.
In Fuzuli, Aghdam, Jabrayil and Gubadli districts, grain, grape, fruit and nut growing should be developed. In other words, the state will provide its recommendations. Farmers and citizens returning there will be supported, subsidized, provided with recommendations and support in taking their produce to the market. Let me reiterate that the development of agriculture in these districts – East Zangazur and Karabakh regions – should be built on the most modern foundation. Because we are virtually starting everything from scratch. We can't afford to make a mistake. We cannot make the mistakes made during the agricultural reform in Azerbaijan. Everything should be correct, transparent, and I am sure that the greatest productivity will be achieved in the lands liberated from occupation.
- Mr. President, as is known, a standoff broke out in Karabakh in the aftermath of Armenian provocation in early August. What can you say about that event?
- Yes, the Armenian side resorted to yet another armed provocation. As a result of this military provocation, one of our soldiers became a martyr. May Allah rest his soul in peace. May Allah rest the souls of all our martyrs in peace. However, everyone saw and should see that the blood of our martyr did not remain unavenged. We immediately carried out Operation Revenge, avenged the death of our martyr and severely punished the enemy. Operation Revenge lasted several hours and was a punitive measure. The blood of the Azerbaijani martyr cost the enemy dearly, and they should not forget that. If a similar provocation is perpetrated again, the response will be the same. No-one can stop us, no-one can be in our way. We can conduct any operation on our lands at any time. Simply, the fact that Operation Revenge was very effective but short shows that our strength is in place. At the same time, it showed that we do not want a new war. Because the second Karabakh war showed our strength and we achieved what we wanted through military and then by military-political means. We will achieve our other dreams too. We will achieve them when the time is right. It is a reality that there are both tactical and strategic steps on our agenda. I am sure that Armenia is also aware that we know what to do and when to do it, and we always do what we say. We have repeatedly warned Armenia not to play with fire, to behave, to accept the new reality and not resort to military provocations.
Unfortunately, we have had to teach them another lesson. I do hope that this lesson will be remembered this time.
Operation Revenge was not only aimed at avenging the blood of our martyr. As supreme Commander-in-Chief, I also set other goals and objectives, and all of them were fulfilled. The result is obvious, so I wouldn’t want to talk too much about it. I simply want to say that we did what we wanted, and the other side has been forced to accept this again.
In principle, Armenia must come to terms with this situation, with the new reality in the future, because there is no other option. Operation Revenge showed Armenia again that no-one and nothing can stop us – not someone's statement, not someone's announcement, not some phone call. Nothing and nobody! The people of Azerbaijan know this perfectly well. The second Karabakh war showed this. I am sure that the other party also knows this. They simply forget this sometimes. This is why these tragic events happen.
We won the war. We have regained our territorial integrity. Why should our children die after the war is over? Why should they get killed by the Armenians? We cannot allow that. I want to say again that if a provocation like this is repeated, the response will be even harsher, they will be even more sorry and implore for help even louder. But let me say again that our intention is not to start a new war. Enough is enough. We have achieved what we wanted. We want the Armenian armed forces to leave Karabakh once and for all. This is Armenia's commitment. This was stipulated in the act of capitulation Armenia signed on 10 November 2020. We are achieving it and will continue to achieve it.
I should also note that hundreds of Armenian soldiers were withdrawn from the Karabakh region after Operation Revenge. This shows, unfortunately, that such operations have an effect. The reason I say “unfortunately” is that it was not necessary to do this. If Armenia had correctly analyzed our warnings and drawn the right conclusions, there would have simply been no need for this. Anyway, we weren’t the ones who started it. We have secured what we want, we have established ourselves in our own lands and this will continue to be the case.
- Mr. President, the Azerbaijani side gave Armenia time to vacate Lachin city, the villages of Zabukh and Sus, and surrender them to Azerbaijan by the end of August this year. What is the status on this issue?
- In fact, this date was requested from us by the local Armenians living in the area in Karabakh where the Russian peacekeeping forces are temporarily stationed. We agreed to that. I should note that the Statement of 10 November 2020 explicitly states that a new road will be built and that the planning and approval of this road must be completed within three years. Let me also state that I was the one who included this clause into the trilateral statement. Because when the final negotiations were held on 9 November 2020 – the negotiations were conducted through Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Armenian leadership and Russia itself were actively involved in these negotiations – I strongly insisted that this clause had to be included. Because the road connecting Armenia with Khankendi passes through the city of Lachin. If I hadn’t had this item included, then the city of Lachin would have fallen under this five-kilometer wide zone, and it wouldn’t have been possible to return the former IDPs there any time soon. This is why I insisted and succeeded in having it included. This is why this item was included in the document.
Of course, as you know, extensive work is currently under way in all of Karabakh and East Zangazur, including the construction of this road as soon as possible. We built this road in just one year. It is 32 kilometers long. Prior to that, immediately after the second Karabakh war, we started talks with the Russian side regarding the route of this road. In other words, this road did not fall out of the sky. We reached agreement on this road. There were several routes on the table and this route was eventually chosen. The Russian Ministry of Defense agreed and approved this route together with us at the highest level. If this had been otherwise, how could we have built a road in the territory under the temporary control of Russia? So this is natural. If anyone attempts to accuse us of having done something illegal or taking a unilateral step, it is absolutely not the case. We can prove it at any level. An inquiry can be sent to the official authorities of Russia as to how this road was built - all the documents and agreements are there. This route was agreed. Of course, we didn’t have to agree this route with Armenia because Armenia has nothing to do with it. Armenia was simply informed about the point the access to the Armenian border, so that they bring their own new road to that point. Unfortunately, they did not do that. Why? To mark time – there is no other reason.
When we started to build this new Lachin road, we appealed to Armenia through the Russian side and said that – because I had foreseen that they would resort to such escapades. We suggested that we could also build a road in their territory. It is only 8-9 kilometers long. They refused. They said no, they would do it themselves. And when did they start it? It is actually hardly possible to describe it as a start, because they are only working on the feasibility study now. At that time, we sent an official letter to the Russian side. We sent a notice saying that we would finish the construction of this road on 5 August and asking them to transfer the posts of the peacekeeping contingent from the old road to the new road. And this is also natural. When we sent out this letter, the Armenian side probably got acquainted with it as well. A day later, Armenia declared that it wanted to start the feasibility study of this road and would build it by the end of 2023. In other words, it is actually an act of manipulation. It is a completely hollow and inappropriate step. We said that if this was the case, then on 5 August we would enter the Lachin corridor, set up our posts there and see how you would act. Then the hullaballoo started. The Armenians living in Karabakh appealed to us, they asked us many times to give them time until the end of August. We agreed to that. After all, it doesn't matter whether it is 5 August, 25 August or 1 September. The Armenians living in Karabakh also asked us to build a 4-kilometer ground road to the point where it will be connected to the Armenian border. We agreed to that but, of course, those who had illegally settled in the city of Lachin, the villages of Zabukh and Sus should leave. This is natural. Their stay there is actually a war crime. It runs counter to the Geneva conversions. The occupying country cannot carry out illegal settlement in the occupied lands. This is a war crime. The Armenians from Syria and Lebanon who had settled may not know this, but the Armenian leadership knows it perfectly well. So news is coming in from there now, as someone says that they won't leave, others says they won't leave. It is up to them. They are war criminals. Let them not test our patience again. Let them leave of their own free will. We don't care where they go.
We must return to Lachin, Zabukh and Susa. I have ordered the state refugee committee to contact the natives of Lachin city, Sus and Zabukh villages, so that we could return them to their native places in the near future.
So this is how developments unfolded. Several conclusions can be drawn from this. First, Azerbaijan is committed to all its obligations. We have taken this path and our other steps have been based on these commitments. We have acted on the basis of that. But Armenia is still engaged in provocations. They have to understand that marking time will not do them any good. If they think that something may change in their favor in a year or a year and a half, they are wrong. Things may change, but in our favor. Because the geopolitical situation in the world and in the region is obvious. You don't have to be a great politician to see that. Azerbaijan's power is growing, both military, economic and political, while Armenia's isolation, if it is possible to say so, is because they are wrong. They are doing the wrong thing. They have not yet given up their territorial claims against Azerbaijan. However, I told them directly and officially. Abandon your territorial claims. If you don't, then we can raise a territorial claim against Armenia too. Therefore, delaying things will not give them anything. At the same time, they have to understand that one result is that Azerbaijan is achieving what it wants. No matter who says what, we succeed. We are working towards our goals and achieving the result.
Another result is that – I am saying this for the first time because there are already manifestations of this process, and the incident of the new Lachin road showed it even more clearly – the Armenian government are losing their influence over the Armenians living in Karabakh. It is a reality. Conversely, the Azerbaijani government is increasing its influence. This is a reality. I believe the reason for this is the fact that the Armenians living in Karabakh clearly see that the Armenian leadership is incapable of solving their problems – security, economic, finance or anything else. It is not able to solve any problem. On the contrary, they saw that the Azerbaijani government is treating them as its own citizens. I have said this before, this is not the first time I am saying it. The Armenians living in Karabakh are our citizens. The sooner they realize this and the process begins, the better for all of us.
Today, there is no Karabakh issue on the agenda of the normalization process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There were such attempts, but I never agreed to that. What does Armenia have to do with it? This is our own affair. There is no talk of a status at the negotiating table now. What is being discussed? The rights and security of the Armenians living in Karabakh. I have said yes, their rights and security will be ensured by the state of Azerbaijan, and I always do what I say. We saw this during the construction of new Lachin road. I can say that when we started building this road, the Russian peacekeepers were somewhat protecting our construction workers from the local population, or them from us, from our construction workers. I don't know who they were protecting, but they were there. After a while, they left, and for the last six to seven months, there was not a single Russian peacekeeper along the road at all. There was no need for them. Our construction workers were in contact with Armenians living in the villages there, some of them even came out to help and expressed their gratitude to us for building such a high-quality road. There has never been such a quality road in the history of Armenia, let alone Karabakh. The roads they have built are already falling apart less than a year later. So these contacts are already taking place. And this is very important – I welcome them. People-to-people contacts will contribute to lasting peace.
I am returning to this main topic. One of the important consequences of these events is that Armenia is about to lose its influence, and the positive influence of the Azerbaijani authorities is growing and will continue to grow. The Armenians living in Karabakh should take the right step and understand that their future lies only in integration into the Azerbaijani society. It is not possible otherwise. We are living real life. From the point of view of economy, geography and transport, Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. From the point of view of history, from the point of view of international law, it is an integral part of Azerbaijan. If someone in Karabakh still talks about some status or independence, be it for the sake of some kind of populism or, as they say, because they are afraid of someone, one should know that they are the first enemy of the Armenian people. Because the Armenians living in Karabakh will have no status, no independence and no special privilege. They are the same as the citizens of Azerbaijan. Just as the rights of Azerbaijani citizens are protected, so are theirs. Just as the rights of the peoples living in Azerbaijan are protected, so are theirs. This is the only way. These events showed that we are showing understanding. We could have said no, 5 August is the deadline and that's it. Get out, we are coming and we will stand here. Who can ever stop us? No-one can stop us. Who can stop an army of 100,000 troops? The road of Lachin itself is right under our feet. We didn't do that. Why? Because they asked us. We also fine, let’s wait until the end of the month. You have probably heard that the local Armenians, i.e. the influential people, are telling those leaving not to set the houses of fire, not to dismantle the roofs, not to remove plumbing, not to take things away. I mean, they were saying this two years ago? No! Two years ago, they were proud of that. They would put certain things on their backs and carry them with tem, thus disgracing themselves in front of the whole world. But now they are saying that it is not your house. When did you come here? In 1994. Who lived here before then? Azerbaijanis did, so leave.
So this is the situation. I can say that almost two years have passed since the second Karabakh war, but notice how many changes have taken place over the two years. I am not even mentioning the restoration and reconstruction work we are still carrying out there. This is obvious. So many changes have taken place in consciousness. Thanks to what? Thanks to our correct policy. Because immediately after the war, I said that we need peace. We should start peace talks with Armenia. We haven't received a positive response yet, but I hope we will. A delimitation commission should be established. They also objected to that, but they eventually agreed. The Zangazur corridor is necessary, but they objected to it. We are expecting the route of the Zangazur corridor from them in the coming weeks. The Armenians living in Karabakh also saw that they can only benefit from Azerbaijan.
This is why I am optimistic about the future. I want to say again that we always achieve what we want. What we want is peace in the region. There should be no war, Azerbaijan should develop successfully and our people should live well and prosper.
- Mr. President, thank you very much for the interview.