Report presents an interview with Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan - Head of the Foreign Policy Department of the Presidential Administration Hikmat Hajiyev.
- What can you say about the recent statement of the Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia, Armen Grigoryan?
- Despite the 30-year occupation, ethnic cleansing and massive destruction committed by Armenia on the territory of Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev, shortly after the 44-day Patriotic War, showed goodwill and came up with a peace agenda based on the mutual recognition of each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly stressed that negotiations on a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan and contacts with Armenian citizens living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan are two completely separate issues.
In 2022, Azerbaijan sent the well-known 5 principles to Armenia that would form the basis of a peace agreement, the core of which is the mutual recognition of territorial integrity and sovereignty. At meetings in Prague and Sochi in October 2022, Azerbaijan and Armenia declared that they mutually recognize each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty on the base of the 1991 Almaty Declaration.
With the Almaty Declaration, the newly independent states recognized the administrative borders of the former Soviet republics as in the times of the USSR. Thus, with the Prague and Sochi documents, Armenia recognized the sovereignty of Azerbaijan over Karabakh.
We hoped to sign a peace agreement by the end of 2022, which was also discussed at the meeting in Washington in September. However, due to Armenia's non-constructive position, we could not achieve our goal.
From the very beginning, Armenia tried to include the Karabakh issue in the peace agreement, but this approach is unacceptable to Azerbaijan.
The issue regarding the personal rights and security of the Armenian population living in Karabakh is exclusively an internal affair of Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan will not discuss issues related to its sovereignty with any third parties, including the Republic of Hayastan.
The Karabakh conflict is resolved; Karabakh is the territory of Azerbaijan. For Azerbaijan, the Karabakh issue has left the international agenda. It is no coincidence that there is no mention of Karabakh in the documents adopted at the Brussels, Moscow, Prague, and Sochi meetings.
The issue of the rights and security of the Armenians living in Karabakh will be resolved under the Constitution and laws of Azerbaijan. There are no special privileges for them. As I said, this issue has nothing to do with Armenia and other countries.
The issue of ensuring the rights and security of the Armenian population living in Karabakh was discussed within the framework of the Azerbaijan Constitution both in the Brussels negotiations and in the meeting held in Washington in September last year.
There can be no talk of creating any international mechanism to discuss the rights and security of the Armenians living in Karabakh, and we have never agreed to this. There is no logic in Armenia's statements on this matter; they are aimed at creating artificial tension.
The legitimate position of Azerbaijan on the issue of the country's sovereignty has been accepted at the international level.
- You said that achieving a peace agreement was not possible in 2022 due to the non-constructive position of Armenia. Can you tell us more about this?
- First of all, let me point out that the provisions of the statement signed on November 10, 2020, are grossly violated by Armenia. The remnants of the Armenian army are still not completely withdrawn from the territory of Azerbaijan. According to our information, about 10,000 personnel remain in the Karabakh region. Illegal Armenian armed formations are creating new posts and engineering fortifications, polluting our territories with mines produced in Armenia in 2021, and shelling the positions of the Azerbaijani Army. In fact, they are trying to create a new "line of contact."
Seven villages of the Gazakh district and one village of Nakhchivan are still under occupation. The Lachin road was used for military purposes, including transporting ammunition, mines and personnel rotation. Contrary to the November 10 statement, Armenia does not fulfill its obligations regarding the Zangazur corridor either. Until now, not a single car has passed from the western districts of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan-proper) to Nakhchivan.
Despite the recognition of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and sovereignty by Armenia at the meetings in Prague and Sochi in 2022, the Prime Minister and other Armenian officials continue to threaten our country, making statements that call into question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. And there have been more and more such actions lately.
Armenia deliberately avoids signing a peace treaty with Azerbaijan, disrupting the peace process and trying to gain time.
The statements of Armenian officials about "creating a demilitarized zone around Karabakh" and "sending a UN fact-finding mission to Karabakh, to the Lachin road" are unacceptable.
On what basis does Armenia call for sending a UN or OSCE mission to the territory of another country? No organization can and will not take such steps without the consent of Azerbaijan. The UN resolutions clearly state that no mission can be sent to the territory of a sovereign state without its consent.
Armenia's statements about sending a mission to Karabakh and the Lachin road, and deploying external forces here, are nothing but a utopia, a geopolitical adventure and the creation of artificial tension.
Such irritative statements by Armenian officials are reminiscent of their arguments before the Second Karabakh War, such as "Karabakh is Armenia and period", "A new war for the sake of new territories", "We will not return an inch of land to Azerbaijan", "7 conditions".
Armenia is trying to speak with Azerbaijan using ultimatums. They must understand that their future depends on normalizing relations with Azerbaijan and Türkiye. Therefore, Armenia should abandon territorial claims, interfering in the internal affairs of Azerbaijan under the guise of various narratives, and accept the peace agenda of President Ilham Aliyev.
Armenia cannot secure its future with calls to world leaders, claims for the role of "stronghold of democracy," and various resolutions.
For 30 years, Armenia did not even want to hear anything about sovereignty and territorial integrity.
We do not see consistency in the policy of Armenia. The prime minister says one thing, and other officials say another.
First they say that a UN mission should be sent to the Lachin road, then they contradict themselves by saying that no, Armenia will not deal with the Lachin road.
First, they argue that the Almaty Declaration of 1991 should form the basis of the delimitation of borders between the two countries and then they claim that the enclave villages have no legal basis.
And then, the leader of Armenia says from the rostrum of the UN that Azerbaijan should show on the map which territories belong to Armenia.
- What can you say about contacts with the Armenian population living in Karabakh?
- Citizens of Armenian ethnicity living in Karabakh have been held hostage by Armenia and the illegal regime for the past 30 years.
After the end of the 30-year occupation, Azerbaijan expressed its readiness to establish contact with the Armenian population. Not so long ago, with the help of the Ruben Vardanyan project imported from abroad, attempts were made to create a new reality in Karabakh, return to the situation of 1988, and create a new status quo.
As you know, Azerbaijani MP Ramin Mammadov was appointed responsible for contacts with Armenian residents of Karabakh. The first contacts were established in Khojaly on March 1. Unfortunately, immediately after that, we witnessed unflattering statements by representatives of the Armenian side. But we intend to continue these contacts.
In our opinion, the provocation committed by Armenia on the Khankandi-Khalfali-Turshsu dirt road on March 5 was also aimed at preventing contacts with the Armenian side.
We consider the transfer of weapons by Armenia to the sovereign territories of Azerbaijan as a continuing policy of aggression and terror against our country. Why does Armenia continue to supply weapons and ammunition to the sovereign territory of another state? All responsibility for this tension lies with the military-political leadership of Armenia.
Associating Armenia's signing of the peace agreement with Azerbaijan with the rights and security of Armenian residents living in Karabakh and the establishment of an international mechanism is an entirely unacceptable and dangerous approach. This means that the tales of "self-determination" and "independence" that were told before the Second Karabakh War now continue under a different name. President Ilham Aliyev stressed at the Munich Security Conference that the Karabakh issue would not be included in the peace agreement with Armenia.
- How would you comment on the situation with Lachin road?
- Since December 12, representatives of civil society and environmental activists have been protesting against the illegal exploitation of our natural resources in the territories of Azerbaijan, where Russian peacekeepers are temporarily deployed. As Mr. President said, this is an honorable mission. Our natural resources in Karabakh were plundered before our eyes and exported to Armenia. What sovereign country would tolerate this?
This is a peaceful protest, its participants do not have rifles, guns and tanks, and they put forward legitimate demands.
But now Armenia has launched a new narrative: allegedly, the Lachin road is "blocked," and Azerbaijan is preparing to commit a "genocide" of Armenians living in Karabakh.
From the first day, we declared that the Lachin road is not closed, and Russian peacekeepers, International Committee of the Red Cross vehicles, and humanitarian cargoes move there freely. From December 12 to the present day, more than 3,600 cars have traveled along the Lachin-Khankandi road. Can this be called a blockade?
With such narratives, Armenia intends to mislead the international community, damage the positions of Azerbaijan, delay the signing of a peace agreement and prevent the reintegration of Armenians living in Karabakh into Azerbaijani society.
Another narrative claims: "Karabakh is isolated from the whole world." These people do not understand that "Nagorno-Karabakh" is not a separate entity and cannot live as an island. This territory is part of Azerbaijan. The reintegration of Armenian residents into Azerbaijani society is the only way out.
I believe that the provocation committed by Armenia on March 5 once again showed the need to create a border post at the endpoint of the Lachin road on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. President Ilham Aliyev made this proposal at the Munich Security Conference.
- Our compatriots, expelled from Western Azerbaijan, created their own organization last year - the Western Azerbaijan Community. What can you say about this?
- In the 20th century, Azerbaijanis were deported from Armenia four times. In 1991, the expulsion of Western Azerbaijanis from Armenia was completed. All our cultural heritage in Armenia was destroyed or appropriated. Only in Yerevan have they preserved the Blue Mosque, which they present as Persian.
The liberation of Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur from the occupation in 2020 inspired our compatriots from Western Azerbaijan. Their desire to return became even stronger. In 2022, they came together and created the Western Azerbaijan Community. On December 24, President Ilham Aliyev, at a meeting with its representatives, defined the issue of Western Azerbaijan as a new strategic goal of our people.
The return concept has recently been developed. They want a peaceful return to the lands of their ancestors and coexistence. But the return must take place under the condition of an international guarantee of security. The community also believes that the issue of returning to Western Azerbaijan should be enshrined in a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia as an obligation before Armenia.
The fact that Armenia considers the peaceful return of Western Azerbaijanis as a threat to its territorial integrity again shows its unconstructive position and the implementation of a policy of ethnic hatred.
Armenian officials believe they can continue to speculate about Karabakh forever. One thing is clear - if Armenia does not recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan or continues its destructive actions, recognizing it only on paper, then Azerbaijan will not officially recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia. If Armenia continues to demand a certain "status" for the Armenians living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, then Azerbaijan will also raise the issue of granting status to Western Azerbaijanis who were forcedly evicted from Armenia.
- We would also like to know your opinion about the mission of the European Union in Armenia.
- The inclusion of new items in the mandate of the EU mission, in addition to those agreed upon at the talks in Prague in October 2022, was unexpected for us and, frankly, made us distrust. Besides, after two months, a new mission was hastily created – this time for a period of two years.
Of course, Armenia can invite the mission of the EU and other countries to its territory. But since the mission is located on the border with Azerbaijan, it is necessary to take into account the position and concerns of Azerbaijan. And this mission is not civilian, as it was stated; it included former military and police officers.
Our assumptions were justified. Armenia is abusing the presence of the mission on its territory. Recently, the Armenian army fired at our positions on the conditional border. You are probably familiar with the statement of the Ministry of Defense, which says that Armenia is provoking Azerbaijan to fire back. The goal is to create a false impression for the EU mission and artificially exacerbate the situation. Armenia thinks that with the arrival of the EU mission, its security is assured, and now it can focus on continuing its destructive activities in Karabakh.
We believe the South Caucasus region should not be an arena of geopolitical rivalry. But Armenia takes a different position.
-Armenia's relations with the Collective Security Treaty Organization are deteriorating with every passing day.
- Armenia has always hoped that the CSTO countries will help it keep the territories of Azerbaijan under occupation. But they did not want to be an instrument of Armenia's adventurist policy. With its erroneous actions, Armenia has put itself in a difficult position. Everyone remembers how disrespectfully they treated Yuri Khachaturov by recalling him from the post of CSTO Secretary General and initiating a criminal case against him. In fact, it was an insult to all CSTO member countries.
Recently, Armenia refused to conduct CSTO exercises on its territory. And now it has refused the seat of the Deputy Secretary General.
The Republic of Hayastan believes that the whole world owes it, and everyone should come and fight Azerbaijan for it. And since these unfounded claims are not supported, they get offended by everyone. The CSTO member countries are well aware that Armenia is playing a double game.
- We see that Armenia is not interested in clarifying the fate of the missing Azerbaijanis.
- Yes, Armenia does not cooperate in the issue of clarifying the fate of up to 3,900 of our compatriots who went missing during the First Karabakh War, refusing to disclose the places of mass graves where their remains are.
We have certain questions for the International Committee of the Red Cross on this issue. The ICRC does almost nothing to shed light on the fate of the missing Azerbaijanis.
Besides, the ICRC office in Khankandi is still subordinate to Geneva, not Baku, and is logistically linked to Yerevan. Unfortunately, the committee is abusing our attitude. We have already officially called on the ICRC to end this practice, which is contrary to the sovereignty of Azerbaijan, and to provide us with a specific timetable for reassigning its Khankandi office to the one in Baku.