Ilham Aliyev attended the international conference themed “South Caucasus: Development and Cooperation” at ADA University
An international conference under the motto “South Caucasus: Development and Cooperation” has been held at ADA University.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev attended the conference.
Rector of ADA University, Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev, said: Your Excellency Mr. President. It is our great honor and immense pleasure to welcome Your Excellency to our annual international conference. It also gives me pleasure to welcome 40 participants of the conference who traveled to Azerbaijan from 23 countries. Last year during our first forum, which was devoted to the great victory, and the liberation of the Azerbaijani lands, you, Mr. President have, kindly supported the proposal of professor Ahmad Uysal to make it an annual event and invite international experts and think tank representatives to discuss regional peace, security and development.
You instructed us to do it, and we are glad that this year we can fulfill this task under the new brand name- Shusha International Forum. Yesterday, our foreign participants traveled to the jewel of Azerbaijani culture-city of Shusha. They could get to know some vital reconstruction and development projects in the liberated Karabakh, including an airport in Fuzuli and a new road-Zafar Yolu. This is the road along which our brave soldiers went and liberated the city of Shusha. Our guests on their way were also able to see some parts of barbarian destructions left after the Armenian occupation. Now, this is an important goal of our nation and a well-articulated personal mission of President Ilham Aliyev to turn Karabakh into the most prosperous and peaceful region of the world.
I believe our participants came back from Shusha full of joy and impressions. The history of Karabakh, consequences of the liberation war, regional integration, security, and challenges to the development issues. These are some topics that are under the forum’s discussion. We hope that the messages and points coming from panel discussions will spread worldwide through articles and social media networks. During the Shusha session, a number of speakers made some suggestions and recommendations, which I guess, participants might raise today to get your, Mr. President, reaction. On behalf of all participants, I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to you, Mr. President, for your strong support of this forum and your visionary leadership in building sustainable peace in the region. Mr. President, taking this opportunity, I also want to thank you for the support you continuously extend to ADA University. Now, giving the floor to Your Excellency, we look forward to and are delighted to hear your introductory remarks. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev said: Thank you very much. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, dear guests. First of all, I would like to express gratitude to ADA University for hosting this event. It’s already a tradition. We met last April and discussed a broad range of issues related to the post-conflict situation. Of course, having these traditional meetings is very important for us, I think for the international community to understand better our plans, our intentions and to look at what has been done. I am glad that ADA University took this very important initiative. As you know, this is one of the leading universities in Azerbaijan with an already a very high level of education, excellent international contacts and also a university that is growing. Relatively recently, a new international partnership format on education was established.
Soon, I am sure the Italian-Azerbaijani University here under the ADA umbrella will open its doors for students. I want to express gratitude to all the participants, to our guests, for visiting us and for traveling to Shusha. I am sure it was an interesting journey to see the beauty of Karabakh and, at the same time, the devastations along the route to Shusha and in Shusha also. Well, what you’ve seen is, I think, the best illustration of what we had to experience during the 30 years of occupation. These mass destructions and devastations were not a result of the first Karabakh war. That resulted from barbarism and vandalism committed by Armenia throughout the 30 years of occupation. So, all our villages, most of our cities have been destroyed, knocked to the ground. In some regions like Kalbajar, Lachin, and partly Zangilan and Shusha, illegal settlement programs have been officially sponsored by the Armenian government, which is a brutal violation of international conventions. You have been informed about our plans to rebuild Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur. The plans really are large-scale, and we are implementing them with our own resources allocating the financial resources of our budget and supporting international companies. But apart from that, the last year since we have met and discussed last April, one of the important tasks in front of us was to strengthen the new realities and to work with leading international organizations to present our case, to present our vision for the region and also it was very important that the international community, the leading international organizations accept the new realities on the ground, and it happened.
And also, in the meantime, we’ve been actively advocating for a new era in the Caucasus, an era of peace and cooperation. And finally, we got a positive response from Armenia just recently. Their government accepted five basic principles which Azerbaijan put forward, the principles which should be a foundation for a peace agreement with Armenia. At the same time, also, based on Azerbaijan’s proposal Armenia finally agreed to establish joint working groups with Azerbaijan to start the process of delimitation of our border. I think these are important signs of recent development. Also, it shows that now after a year and a half passed since the second Karabakh war, the Armenian leadership and, I hope population understand the necessity of peace. And if a peace agreement is signed and those basic principles are known, then the peace in the Caucasus will be long-lasting and sustainable. This is what we want, and I think that what we demonstrate and what we announce is a clear example of our will to contribute to the peace in the Caucasus. We are rebuilding Karabakh. We are mobilizing our resources to strengthen our economy because, without that, it will not be straightforward to allocate substantial funds. At the same time, we advocate for peace agenda in the Caucasus, and I think on all the tracks, the initiative is in our hands. This initiative serves and should serve the cause of peace. So, probably, I would conclude my introductory remarks here and maybe leave more time for our discussions. Once again, thank you for being with us, and I am sure that this traditional format of gathering will continue, maybe as one of the ideas I heard from Hafiz Pashayev is that there will be some proposals from the participants. I want to add to that by saying that maybe there could also be some time of interaction between the Shusha international fora which will take place regularly. Maybe we can think about some other forms of meetings and conferences in between maybe in other cities, in Aghdam, Zangilan, in other cities which have been liberated. So, to make, I think, our interaction more efficient, because, for us, importance is that the international community knows what has happened, knows the full truth about the years of occupation and knows about our plans and intentions to build peace. For that reason, I think there should be a permanent line of contact between participants and those members of the expert society who didn’t manage to be with us today. So, that’s my proposal for maybe the next round of the working program, but of course, all the proposals you will represent will be very carefully addressed. So, once again, thank you, and I wish you a pleasant stay in Azerbaijan.
Rector Hafiz Pashayev: If you allow me, I have to add to what I have said already about the visit to Shusha. There is already one proposal to make the next one in Lachin.
President Ilham Aliyev: Agreed.
In Lachin, you know, we are now in the construction phase of an international airport, and in Zangilan, the airport will open this year. In Lachin, probably in 2024, we will find a way to get there more comfortably.
Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan, Head of Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration, Hikmat Hajiyev: Thank you, Mr. President. And with your permission, we can start our question-and-answer session. Quite a substantial number of our participants have subscribed for the questions. And I would like to start our first question with your permission with Mr. Svante Cornell. I will ask just our participants please present the country that you are presenting and the institution that you have come from. Thank you.
Svante Cornel, Director of Institute for Security and Development Policy, Sweden
Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. President, for the invitation to this conference. It's an honor to be here. And it was particularly an honor to see the liberated Shusha for the first time. I am Svante Cornell with Central Asia Caucasus Institute in Washington and the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Sweden. My question follows up on your point about an era of peace. We understand especially, I think, after seeing Shusha, you know, studying something for 25-30 years is one thing. Seeing it with your own eyes is very different. And we understand the difficulty of looking forward in view of the devastation that was imposed on these lands. But for an era of peace, my question to you regards whether you believe in the need for developing institutions to support on a regional level a new era for the Caucasus. My perspective is that the liberation of Karabakh could be a changing point for the whole region, providing a historic opportunity to reverse the processes of division and conflict that really started with the separatism that led to the occupation of Karabakh in the late 1980s, and replaced this with a different process, a different era but not only in Karabakh but in the broader Caucasus the process of cooperation and development that is truly regional. For this to develop, it seems to me institutions would be needed, and Azerbaijan is the only country that has the credibility and the resources to lead the process of creation of such institutions. Do you see the possibility of yourself taking the lead in creating regional institutions for the South Caucasus, particularly financial ones, such as regional development funds and the like? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, it’s a fascinating issue which you touched upon. We need to consult with the expert society and the government on what kind of a regional financial package we can put forward. Still, of course, it’s evident that for the time being, our primary engagement is on how to rebuild Karabakh and how to return the former refugees as soon as possible. At the same time, our peace agenda and initiatives, which have been publicly articulated and were supported by the international community, are aimed at regional development and new opportunities for regional development in the South Caucasus. Not only between Azerbaijan and Armenia, of course, this is one of the essential elements of regional cooperation, but in the Southern Caucasus in general. We lost this opportunity for thirty years because of separatism, Armenian aggression, and the South Caucasus was not integrated. Yes, there is very close cooperation between Azerbaijan and Georgia, which on a bilateral level and international level already presents its importance.
At the same time, I think that there should also be an understanding in Armenia that they cannot continue to live like an isolated island in this region. They need to normalize relations with us. They need to put down territorial claims to Azerbaijan and Turkey and not be hesitant in any interaction on a trilateral level in the South Caucasus. Why am I saying that? Because there have already been several proposals from Azerbaijan supported by leading international organizations to organize trilateral meetings on different levels. We suggested the levels of foreign ministers. Armenia refused. Then, there was a suggestion to have this meeting on the level of experts. Again Armenia refused. Then we suggested having this meeting on the level of civil society representatives, and again Armenia refused. Our partners know this, and we do not understand why. Because we think it is counter-productive if we look to the future of the South Caucasus as an integrated area of security, cooperation, and shared prosperity, then this policy of Armenia is beyond any logic. Probably, they need some time. Probably, they need to evaluate risks that they think may occur from that. But I think it’s inevitable, and we are ready, and our Georgian colleagues are ready. So, I think that could be the first step. Concerning the financial package for the region, you know how Azerbaijan and Georgia have integrated; taking into account the energy and transportation routes, you are a good expert on that. And I think there is also an opportunity to invite Armenia to be a part of regional development, and they will benefit from that. They will benefit from getting access to our energy resources. They can be, to a certain degree, a part of the international transportation corridors. So that in itself will generate additional wealth. And also, normalizing relations with Azerbaijan will open such opportunities for Armenia that probably today it is difficult even to predict. So these are our plans. Building institutions, I think, should be in different directions. First, we need to start, I think, from a kind of a political dimension, because this is the most important. To what degree is Armenia willing to go forward? Because during the times of occupation, during my numerous contacts with Armenian leaders, we had always seen that when we came to a very decisive moment to have a break-through, they always made a step back. There was very little trust, and still, I can say that there is not much trust with their behavior, if I may say so, because sometimes they make very contradictory statements. So, the political dimension, I think, a significant contribution will also be a kind of engagement of their representatives in our discussions. We, for instance, will support that. We also think about some contacts, people-to-people contacts on the level of NGOs. As I said before, we can have some regional dimensions and look at a broader regional development because you know that European Union already announced a massive financial package for Armenia, 2.6 bln euros and also, later, for Azerbaijan. So, part of that resources can build connectivity and create better opportunities for people. Considering the very small population of Armenia, I think that will be more than enough if it is used for the cause of peace but not again try to take revenge or to pose a threat to its neighbors.
Chief Executive Officer of Haider Global BVBA Brussels and London Sajjad Karim: Mr. President, Sajjad Karim, a former member of the European Parliament and chair of the South Caucasus delegation. Thank you very much. It's good to be back in Baku. Since we last met, the situation has changed considerably. I certainly find it possible to congratulate you personally and the people of Azerbaijan for this significant achievement in putting an end to this long-lasting injustice that existed for far too long. One of the things that stays with me, Mr. President, of all of the meetings you had with my delegation is that you never limited your vision for development to Azerbaijan. You always spoke about peace and development for the entire South Caucasus. With the current progress being made both in negotiations for a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia with the EU facilitation and Turkiye-Armenia relations. Is it now reaching the time for Azerbaijan with its friends and allies to help create political space for Prime minister Nikol Pashinyan within Armenia, and with the Armenian diaspora in Europe and USA, he can really push for his people's backing for peace? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. We hope that will be the case. Of course, every government has its own agenda, and we heard that the Armenian government also announced a peace agenda. It is a very positive statement, but at the same time, we need to see actions. And now, I think, we see these actions, we see statements coming from the Armenian government, which are aimed at peace, based on the new realities in the region, and based on international law. That's what we always were advocating for. The realities have changed, and even the mediators have acknowledged this. Even before the Russia-Ukraine War, there was a kind of frustration among the co-chairs of the Minsk Group on what they should do. Because Azerbaijan itself implemented the Madrid principles. When I met the representatives of the Minsk Group just after the end of the war, I told them to give a proposal on what they were going to do and what will be their agenda. And I know that it was difficult for them to put forward some practical proposals. But after the Russia-Ukraine War, it was already announced that the Minsk Group co-chairmanship was no longer functional. It is dysfunctional. In this respect, it shows that the new realities, of course, have their impact. So, it is important that the Armenian government and Armenian political spectrum fully realize the new realities and refrain from any attempts to take revenge. First, it will be counter-productive. If that happens, the result will be even more painful for Armenia. Second, it will contradict the region's demand and the international community's demand to achieve a long-lasting peace. From our side, we do everything to support the positive trends. If you look at the history of long-lasting wars, occupations, and devastations, we will see that, in our case, the move from finalizing the hostile stage toward peace was very rapid. And that was again based on our proposal, because we and I personally, who said for more than one year that we needed to have a peace agreement with Armenia, finally, they agreed, most recently. It was just weeks before. Before that, there was silence. And there were statements again, statements related to contesting our territorial integrity. And at the same time, it was we who said let's start work on border delimitation. Again, there was silence on the Armenian side for more than one year. Finally, they agreed and soon, I would say, very soon, the joint working groups will meet. Why should they lose one year? It's not understandable. Therefore, all our efforts will be aimed at strengthening the positive trends. But we cannot do it unilaterally. In the Armenian government, we need to see a partner whom we can trust and with whom we can agree on a long-term peace. So, I think it is possible, but of course, it will depend on the internal political development in Armenia. Because, understandably, all the ideological foundations have been seriously damaged. Because all their ideology was based on aggression, on attempts to legitimize the occupation. Everything they've done, starting from erasing Azerbaijani cultural heritage, ending with changing the names of our cities, including Aghdam and Shusha and others, all aimed at turning de facto occupation into de jure legitimization of secession. So now, this ideological basis no longer exists, and we understand it is not easy for them to find a new goal. In our case, our goal was very clear, to strengthen independence. During the times of occupation, we always were thinking about how to return Karabakh and how to strengthen independence, making it irreversible. Not be dependent on anyone, whether it is political, economic, financial or energy matters. And we achieved that. We achieved both full independence and the ability to conduct an independent policy, and we achieved the return of Karabakh. Armenia lost its chance to be a really independent country. I don't want to go into many details. Everybody knows the real political configuration there. They lost lands that did not belong to them. So, they need to understand it and find for themselves a new goal. And I think that will be peace and benefits of cooperation and putting down territorial claims to Azerbaijan and Turkiye. And you know, it is absolutely irrational to put territorial claims to Turkiye, one of the world's leading economies and one of the few leading armies. We support the Turkish-Armenian process, and I think it's a chance for the Armenian government and politicians to think thoroughly about their future and how they want to see themselves in the region. They don't have a clear understanding. They need to put down all the illusions, put down all attempts to rebuild the army, become stronger, have a five million population they announced as their state program, and then take back the territories. That will be the end of their statehood, the official end. We are ready to support positive tendencies, and we are doing that. So, we have hopes, but we need to test Armenians because we never had negotiations with them on peace. So now, it's time when we start. As I said, on the border, it will start very soon. We are ready for the talks on a peace agreement, and we are waiting for the date from the Armenian government when we will start.
Professor of Political Science and International Relations of Turkiye's Maltepe University Hasan Unal: Mr. President, Your Excellency, you were with us last year, and I was here, and I congratulated you in particular on your great victory, a victory of an unprecedented scale last year which basically changed the whole political landscape here. Under your great leadership, the Azerbaijani armed forces did a very, very good job indeed. You not only put a sharp end to the irredentist dreams of Armenia, but you also managed to wake them up to the reality that they can't get what they want with impunity. This year, I would like to congratulate you, particularly on two things: your concerted efforts to reconstruct the liberated territories, a large part of which we saw yesterday both in Fuzuli and Shusha. And for your relentless efforts for a diplomatic solution to the conflict region-wise, both between Azerbaijan and Armenia, of course, between Turkiye and Armenia. Here, I would like to ask you about Russia because I think it's quite timely as in the West, there is so much Russia-bashing. You seem to be dealing with Russia quite professionally and from a quite professional point of view, and last year you concluded a defense pact with Turkiye, you called it, you know, quite nicely Turkish-Azerbaijani NATO pact, about which we were quite happy in Turkiye. This year, you have signed an agreement, a declaration with Moscow. You have agreed on a number of schemes for cooperation, including defense matters and the political solution to the conflict in the South Caucasus. And it seems as if there is a triangle now, which seems to be working in good order between Ankara, Baku and Moscow. Now. Would you comment on that first? You know, at the time when there is so much Russia-bashing across the western world, would you also please comment on how your handling of Russia impacts Armenia's behavior if any? Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Thank you for your kind words about what we are doing in the liberated territories, and thank you for being with us last year and this year. With respect to the question you asked, I think what you said also demonstrates what I have said before, the independent character of Azerbaijan's foreign policy, which is based on our national interests and based on the maximum level of achievements. And in our region, we need to think about security and cooperation as an integral part of today and our future. Because without security, there will be no cooperation, and there will be no economic benefits. The economic performance of Azerbaijan, which is also based on our resources, also was generated by stability, long-lasting stability, which is part of security. Therefore, these important events you mentioned, Shusha Declaration signed last June with President Erdogan in Shusha, reflect the character of our brotherly cooperation with Turkiye. Today we have just officialized the substance of this cooperation. We have been allies already, in all forms, including military cooperation and the defense industry. So now, by signing Shusha Declaration in this historical city, we demonstrated to the whole world that we are together by word and by signature. The signing of a Declaration on Allied Interaction with Russia also was based on our strategic interests because it's our neighbor. It's a country that actively participated in ending the Second Karabakh War and whose peacekeepers are in Azerbaijan, in Karabakh. Plus, there is an extensive range of issues that we have worked on with Russia for many years, including economic, energy, transportation, cultural, and humanitarian areas. Of course, we were purchasing much military equipment from Russia. True, we were purchasing it at a market price, unlike Armenia, which got it free. The so-called loans covered it, but these loans have never been returned. So, that's a difference. But at the same time, I think it was also a kind of message to the regional players that there should be peace, and Turkiye and Russia participated in the new configuration of the region after the war. You know that the Turkish-Russian monitoring center to observe the situation is based in Aghdam. So this is, I think this kind of arrangement is possible for the first time in history. And also the Turkey-Russia relationship. Now we see the efforts of President Erdogan to facilitate a ceasefire in Ukraine. So, all that is serving the regional security and stability, simultaneously, as I said, demonstrates the independent character of our cooperation once again. We do what is in the interests of the Azerbaijani people, which are the people who want peace after so many years of occupation. Of course, economic and political dialogue should continue, and we favor that. You also mentioned a kind of triangle between Turkiye, Russia and Azerbaijan. It didn't happen yet. We didn't have any formal engagement at any level. But at the same time, many issues are interrelated. Particularly transportation and energy. And we have an active dialogue with both of these countries on separate tracks. They have it on their track, but it has never been a trilateral format. Today I think it's a little premature to talk about that. We are satisfied with the regional configuration. We have good relations with all our neighbors, with Turkiye and Russia and with Georgia and Iran. We hope to have good relations with Armenia, and thus, we will be surrounded by the area of stability. We want to concentrate on the peace agenda and economy to not spend billions of dollars every year on purchasing arms but rather divert it into economy and reconstruction.
A question: Do you think that Russia can influence Armenia's behavior?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, it's difficult to say, but we all know that there have been a lot of expectations in Armenia that Russia will interfere in the war in Karabakh. It didn't happen because we fought on our territory. And Armenia was trying to manipulate this Collective Security Treaty Organization's obligation. But Collective Security Treaty Organization has the mandate to support member states on their territory, and we were fighting on our territory. So that did not happen. But at the same time, we all know, and we publicly said many times during the 44-day war regularly, there were cargo planes carrying weapons from Russia to Armenia several times a day. We traced all the routes from Rostov and Mazdok.
We asked our Georgian friends to close the airspace, and they did. Also, we asked our Georgian friends to block the land route from Russia to Georgia to transport weapons to Armenia, and they did it also. And we are grateful. We send letters to all Caspian littoral states not to allow Russian cargo planes carrying weapons to Armenia. We send it to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran. But unfortunately, these planes were using the airspace of these countries to enter Armenia. That is how it was, and we should not hide this part of the 44-day war. But Armenian expectations were much bigger. They thought that the Russian army should come and fight and defend separatism. It did not happen. There was a kind of frustration there, but we know how the Armenian government and diaspora work because of the years of occupation. They think that the whole world owes them everything. And someone will come and defend them; someone will come and fight for them. Someone will come and give them money and everything while they sit and exploit their questionable and very doubtful so-called tragedy. Every country and every people had tragic moments in its history. But their problem is that they made their central ideology these doubtful and fake historical facts rather than looking to the future. So now, we need to take into account that Prime minister Pashinyan paid an official visit to Russia on 19 April, just almost two months after the war between Russia and Ukraine, and it was an official visit. So, it demonstrates that relations between these two countries are excellent. We always want relations between countries which surround us to be good. That's part of our peace agenda.
Professor Brenda Shaffer from US Naval Post Graduate School Energy Academy:
Hello Mr. President. Thank you for hosting us, especially in the beautiful Shusha. I'm currently a professor at the US Naval post-graduate school, and I'm very happy to be here in Azerbaijan. So you talked about the exceptional behavior of Armenian and the conflict. One issue that there seems to be an almost uncontested agreement in the international system is the use of mines. You can hardly find any country you know sometimes with terror, we see different interpretations one man has its liberation and another man has its territory right. We did not find anyone who says that the use of mines has something legitimate. And in this conflict, the use has been exceptional and not just in the military zones. However, I think something like asking for ten days reprise for humanitarian reasons before leaving Kalbadjar and then using that to throw thousands of additional mines, placing mines on the bodies of the shahids of Azerbaijani soldiers. So, medical doctors and nurses were injured and killed when preparing the shahids for the burial. Unprecedented in our modern era. But should the international community enable this behavior? I can even think about the US Congress almost every year giving earmarked funds to Karabakh for demining, which it seems they were using for mining. As you said that the EU throws 3 billion dollars with no strings attached of saying maybe you should use this for demining. Shouldn't the international community be obligated to enable this behavior, to provide funding for this important work to demine the regions?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, I fully agree with you, and thank you for raising this issue. It's one of the big problems and big tragedies because after the war ended, more than 200 people, military and civilians, were killed or seriously injured because of the mines. As you correctly mentioned, they planted mines after the war ended, and we had tragic events. Two journalists were killed in Kalbadjar on the newly-planed mine. It is very difficult now to demine the area because physically we don't have the capacity. Our demining agency was created many years ago. Now we are increasing the number of personnel. We purchase new equipment and machines, including very sophisticated drones that can detect the mine-contaminated area, but it takes time and effort. So far, we have had groups of Turkish specialists who helped us demine, but, of course, we will need broad international cooperation. Armenia, unfortunately, was not even reprimanded for that terrible behavior. We find mines now which are newly-planted and in the area which makes finding them very difficult. So, this is another demonstration of their behavior.
As we correctly mentioned, we gave them ten to twenty days to leave the territories they had to leave based on the agreement signed on 10 November. But they used it to plant mines. They burnt houses they did not build but settled in there. They cut trees and caused other ecological disasters. So, it demonstrates the behavior. And it's not only the behavior of the government, and we must be very open, the level of hatred against those who did not do anything wrong to you, who came only to return their territory and be able to live on that land. Unfortunately, with respect to international support, we have not gotten any support from any international organization. What we do, we do it at our own expense. We wanted to contract several international companies that could help us speed up the process. Unfortunately, the price they want to charge is several times higher than the cost we pay to our demining agency. So, they look at it from a commercial point of view.
Well, we can, to a certain degree, understand it because they are private companies. But that means that we will not be able because it's an astronomical figure they want to charge for one meter of demining. When the EU announced EUR 2.6 billion support to Armenia and 140 or 160 million to Azerbaijan, of course, we raised our voice on a very high level. That was another demonstration of double standards because I said that not a single house was demolished in Armenia.
Why do you give them EUR 2.6 billion? And a big part of that will not be a loan; it will be a grant, just a gift. And only a hundred something million to Azerbaijan, the country ten thousand square kilometers of which is totally destroyed, and there was no answer. But it was good that later EU started to address this issue. During my last conversation with the President of the European Council, Mr. Charles Michel, he told me they would allocate five million euros for demining.
We are grateful for that, but it will not make a big difference. We need serious support from international NGOs who deal with mine problems. None of them so far turned their eye toward Azerbaijan. We know that several NGOs and foundations help countries get rid of the mines, but in our case, nobody is helping. And everything that is done on the liberated territories is done with the financial source of Azerbaijan's budget only. Not a single dollar we got from any country or any international organization. And, of course, it is not fair. It is a double standard, but there is nothing we can do; we live in this world. No matter who will help us or not, we will clean the area. Of course, it will take more time. We will resettle former refugees and rebuild Karabakh, which will be an example for the world. Thank you, Brenda; I am very glad to see you again.
John Roberts Energy Security Specialist (UK): First of all, thank you very much for being here and organizing a conference, because winning the peace is always as hard as winning a war and very often a lot harder. I've got two related questions concerning energy because that is my field. The first is the situation regarding the supply of oil and gas to Karabakh and Armenia as a peace-building mechanism. And the second is how the plans are developing for a tripartite summit with Turkiye and Turkmenistan and what energy issues will be discussed.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, with respect to oil and gas delivery to Karabakh, it did not start yet. But of course, we have plans to build gas lines, I mean to that part of Karabakh where we are now implementing the reconstruction works. And of course, we built power stations and already, not a considerable number, but more than 20 megawatts of new power stations were built last year. And 25 megawatts will be built this year. So, all of Karabakh and East Zangazur are already connected with electric lines. We had to bring these lines across high mountains of 3.500 m which have snow six months a year. So, that has been done. Now, we have electricity. With respect to the area now under temporary control of the Russian peacekeepers, we do not supply any energy there. But the gas pipeline that goes from Armenia to Khankandi is going through the territory under our control. There was recently an explosion, and there was no gas for several days. Unfortunately, we were immediately accused of causing a humanitarian catastrophe. Again, double standards because when the First Karabakh War started, Armenians cut the gas supply from Azerbaijan's mainland to Nakhchivan. For fifteen years, Nakhchivan, with a population of more than 400 thousand people at the time, lived without natural gas. And the winter there is much more severe. It goes beyond 30, and nobody accused Armenia of causing a humanitarian disaster for Nakhchivan. In 2005, we agreed with Iran to build a pipeline, and now Nakhchivan is 100 percent gasified. But what we did was to restore the pipeline going from Armenia to the temporarily Russian-controlled part of Karabakh, and now the supply has been restored. What it will be in the future, I don't know. If there is a need to use our energy, I think it will be possible. It will be much easier and less costly to deliver electric energy and natural gas from Aghdam to Khankandi rather than bringing this gas from Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Khankandi. But again, if there is such a request, we will look at that. With respect to a trilateral meeting between Azerbaijan-Turkiye and Turkmenistan, yes, there were plans to organize such a meeting, but the dates have not yet been fixed, and we are waiting for our partners to give us one. Turkmenistan initiated it, and the summit is due to take place in Turkmenistan. Therefore, we are waiting for the dates.
Hikmat Hajiyev: We have on our list also Amanda Paul.
European Policy Center, Belgium Amanda Paul: Good morning, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Good morning.
Amanda Paul: Thank you very much for the invitation. It was a real pleasure and honor to come here and have the opportunity to visit Shusha, and that's something that I have wanted to do for a very long time. So a dream come true. Suppose I can put it that way. I'm from the European Policy Center, a think tank in Brussels. So coming from the EU, I would like to ask you a question about the EU. Charles Michel has been very proactive in facilitating dialogue between yourself and Prime Minister Pashinyan and progressing the agenda. How would you characterize the role of the EU so far in this process? So far, there have been two meetings, if my memory serves me correctly. Could you elaborate on how you see the role of the EU? Is it doing the right thing? Could it do more? And what would you like to see the EU do more?
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Thank you for this question. It is very important to understand better our plans and prospects for regional cooperation. We highly appreciate the role of the EU in the post-conflict normalization, particularly the President of the European Council, Mr. Charles Michel. He visited the region - Azerbaijan and Armenia last year when we had very long and very constructive discussions with him about our plans for the EU position. Also, we are grateful that they seriously addressed our concern. I already mentioned an immense disproportion between the financial package to Armenia and Azerbaijan, and that was corrected. Now we are only waiting for some more specific details. Because our position was delivered to European Union leadership, Azerbaijan wants to get as much as Armenia in the same proportion. As many loans with the same interest rate from European banks and as many grants. I think that is a very fair position.
Then we had, as you know, several sessions of interaction in Brussels. Mr. Charles Michel organized December and April trilateral meetings. There was a video conference in February with the participation of the President of France. We also regularly communicate by telephone. And there is a plan to organize a follow-up of our Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives at the beginning of May, again in Brussels. So we highly welcome these efforts. For us, European Union is a very important partner. And we have a very broad agenda with the EU. The Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict was never part of that because the Minsk Group dealt with it and the EU was a little bit distant. But now, it is also on our agenda along with the issues like trade, energy, transportation, humanitarian issues and issues related to democratic development. So, we consider the EU as a fair broker and welcome the efforts. I think that's now when the Minsk Group co-chairmanship is dysfunctional. I think the EU can play, and it already plays a very active role in the normalization process. We support it, and we see the benefits. And by the way, my recent contacts with the Armenian colleague were in Brussels. Brussels has now become my main travel destination. And one more thing to add is that we are now in the final stage of agreeing on some issues on our new agreement with the EU, which is, according to our and EU's assessment, more than 90% ready. There was a war, then COVID put it on standby a little bit. But I think that we can finalize it pretty soon. We have an agreement, but it was signed many years ago. The new agreement is very comprehensive. It incorporates the new realities after Second Karabakh War and will definitely address the new situation in the world.
Hikmat Hajiyev: On our list, we also have doctor Maxime Gauin from France. Mr. President, for your information, Maxime Gauin, in a French court for more than ten years, fights against Armenian lobby groups. Mr. Gauin, the floor is yours.
Researcher, Center for Eurasian Studies, France, Dr. Maxime Gauin. Thank you very much, Mr. President, for welcoming us to this conference. I would like to ask you two questions. The first is about the destruction of cultural monuments in previously occupied territories. We all saw who destroyed what in these territories and who was ready to rebuild these territories. Unfortunately, not everybody understands that. The European Parliament prefers to blame the victim. UNESCO, as far as they understood, didn't understand quite well. Unfortunately, I am among the signatories of the letter to the UNESCO Chairwoman. So, what belongs to bad faith, and what belongs to lack of information? Can we assess that? And what could be done in both cases for better understanding, considering that I am firmly convinced that most European Union citizens and most American citizens are ready for fair assessment if they have the correct data.
My second question is, what would you see for the ethnic Armenians who remain loyal to their country, Azerbaijan, in the future for cooperation for rebuilding the previously occupied territories and thinking above all to those in Baku and Ganca today. Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. With respect to the first question, I would say that we are very disappointed that not only lack of information causes the wrong attitude to the conflict and the years of occupation, but deliberate manipulation of facts. Because first, when we started to face this injustice, it seemed that we needed to work harder, present our case, and explain that it is Azerbaijani people who are suffering from occupation. We have been a victim of aggression, and we thought everybody would understand it and treat us fairly after making that clear. But then we realized that no matter what we say, there are strong pro-Armenian groups and sentiments and perceptions and beliefs. No matter what Armenians did throughout the occupation, it was never the subject of any punishment or even criticism. For many years, I was calling for sanctions against Armenia. It is the only way to resolve the conflict and the only way to avoid war. If you don't sanction Armenia, they will never leave the territories. They will never leave voluntarily with such strong lobbying positions in the three co-chair countries and notable military and political arrangements with these countries. But unfortunately, it didn't happen. In contrast, sanctions were imposed in other conflicts. We again see the double standard.
After the war, a kind of narrative was very strange and based again on fake facts that I would call Azerbaijanofobia. That Azerbaijan will destroy Armenian cultural heritage on the territories, we returned. UNESCO was knocking on the door and was planning to come, and, of course, we worked with them. We need to have proper wording in our correspondence. We needed to have full compliance with the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in their public communications. And finally, we already agreed on the text and agreed on the mission's composition. I would like to say that for 30 years, we have been asking UNESCO to come to occupied territories and testify, and they have always refused. Just one year or maybe a year and a half before the Second Karabakh War, our then foreign minister was in UNESCO asking for that, and the answer was that UNESCO was not involved in political issues. After the war ended, the situation changed. Why? Because it was a kind of a perception that Armenian historical heritage could be damaged. But, the fact that 65 out of 67 mosques were knocked down by Armenians is absolutely ignored, as if this is not historical heritage and as if it is not religious heritage. That is the situation which we are facing. But, now, after thousands of international representatives visited Shusha and all of them saw that the Armenian church is untouched, on the contrary, it will also be restored, unlike the mosques which Armenians destroyed, now the interest of UNESCO to come to the region goes down. Because, when they come or if they come, what will they have to report? They will have to report about 65 destroyed mosques. They will have to report that the Armenians kept pigs and cows in Aghdam Mosque. They will have to report that Armenian, Christian and Alban religious heritage is untouched. We will never do it, and we never did it. Here in Baku, you can find the Armenian church in the city's center. We keep there 5,000 Armenian books. What do we see in Yerevan? They changed the name of an Azerbaijani mosque. They called it a Persian mosque. The mosque in Shusha they also called a Persian mosque. They even invited specialists from Iran to make some repairs to change its origin. There was a diplomatic note, and the Iranian ambassador then was invited to the Foreign Ministry, and we demanded to end that. Because that was also part of the legitimization of the destruction of Muslim heritage, this is the difference.
Our religious and historical heritage in Azerbaijan belongs to all people of Azerbaijan. The Zoroastrian temple, mosque, catholic church, orthodox church, Armenian church and synagogue are all our national heritage, and we preserve them. Everybody who visits Baku, Shusha, Guba and other places can see it. But, of course, this double-standard approach is something we are already used to living with, unfortunately. But, again, I think the meetings like this one and Shusha being a city now hosting every week significant international events and soon we will have another Khari Bulbul festival there with the participation of folklore groups from 10 countries, that will also be something which no one can ignore or neglect or turn a blind eye on.
And the second question. With that respect also, our position is very clear. I already said that Armenians who live in Karabakh - we consider them our citizens. We hope that they will also soon understand that living as citizens of Azerbaijan, they will have all rights, and their security will be ensured. Azerbaijan, unlike Armenia, is a multiethnic country and all ethnic groups who live here live in peace and dignity, including Armenians. We have an Armenian minority, and there was never any issue with that respect. But, of course, there should be an end to Azerbaijanofobic propaganda in Armenia. Demonizing Azerbaijanis and creating a mythology about us will not serve the cause of peace. Plus, what happened after the war demonstrates that we don't have any bad intentions. We want peace. We want recognition of our territorial integrity.
Living standards in Azerbaijan are much higher than in Armenia, not to mention the part of Karabakh temporarily controlled by Russian peacekeepers. Therefore, I think that understanding will come, and we have already gotten some messages from Armenians in Karabakh. Very positive messages. We have already started some preliminary contacts on different levels. I don't want to go into many details, but it has already started, and this once again demonstrates our intention. They can be part of the rapid economic development, and they can feel much more safe, more secure and more comfortable within a single Azerbaijani state. However, they need to abandon the separatist trends and separatist aspirations. They also need to understand the reality. They need to look at the map. They need to see the geography and understand that hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis will return within a visible future to Kalbajar, Lachin, Shush and Aghdam, and they have to live in this environment. They have to live like neighbors, put down the hostility, isolate separatists, bring separatists to justice, and then, I think, see the benefit.
Hikmat Hajiyev: In our list we have Ventzeslav Sabev.
Founder at University Center on Governance Faith and Values, Geneva, Switzerland, Ventzeslav Sabev. Thank you, Your Excellency. Good morning, Mr. President. My name also reveals my country of origin. Even if I come from Switzerland, the brothers in Bulgaria are very grateful to your country for restoring their safety this week. It was a significant help.
Now, coming from Bulgaria, Switzerland, and representing the University of Geneva, I am working on interfaith and intercultural dialogue. In your previous response, you answered, reminding Azerbaijan's cultural filter and tradition that this is a model working well in the region. We are looking forward to seeing it replicated across the region and beyond. A very clear message you also gave again was an appeal to the organizations in western Europe. You said that time is ripe for people-to-people contacts at NGO levels, and when we tried in the last few months to organize such events, we were told to be careful about the balance in the narrative between history and the message toward the future. We want to focus on reconstruction, putting efforts into building communities and integrating communities. What would be your advice in managing this balance between countering fake history and distorted historical messages versus focusing on the future for an integrated message?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, I think that first of all, there be a clear understanding about which part of history is fake and which part of history is not, because, unfortunately, in Armenian historiographic signs, every step you make, you see the fakes, including with respect to Azerbaijani lands, including with respect to the history of Karabakh. By the way, I can tell you that this fake history policy lasted 5-6 years and even had a new dimension. They started to officially name Azerbaijani cities with Armenian names, with fake names, including, for instance, the city of Shusha, which they started to call Shushi, which never was Shushi. By the way, I don't know what Shushi means and why Shushi must be considered an Armenian name. I don't understand. If you look at all the maps, historical maps, if you look at the Soviet encyclopedia, you will see Shusha. But, that is a product of the recent 5-6 years, the fake history of Armenians in Azerbaijan. We know the history, and it is clear. Also, it can be seen on Wikipedia. Look at the Kurakchay peace agreement, 1805. Who signed it? Ibrahim Khan, Karabakh and Shusha, and Russia general. There was no mention of Armenians. Armenians started to be brought to that area from Persia and Eastern Anatolia later, after the Turkmanchay and Gulustan agreements. All these are historical facts. We don't say that they should be ethnically cleansed because they have lived in Karabakh for 200 years. No. But history should not be manipulated. And the same is with some other historical so-called documents they try to present. But, I think that if we want to achieve the goal, the main focus should be on the future. You do not want to go too far back in history. That is the reason for Armenian failure. They always dreamed of achieving something they thought they had lost. They always based their ideology and education on the past and therefore lost the future.
As far as the future is concerned, I think what will be important now is to start contact with representatives of civil society. We are ready for that, and we discussed it with EU representatives, with representatives of the United States government and made a proposal to organize this kind of contact. The Russian government has also organized one contact in Moscow. A group of intellectuals from Azerbaijan and Armenia met there, and I think this format can also be continued. We can also have these meetings in Baku and Yerevan, in other words, to start talking to each other. If we reach an agreement with the Armenian government on peace, this agreement must also be part of the national consensus. We understand it. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to sign this agreement and implement it. But, how to achieve national consensus when they continue to demonize Azerbaijan and present us as a people and country who wants to destroy them. No, we wanted only to restore our territorial integrity and live in peace. So, my recommendation would be, because I think it's time has already come, one year and a half have passed, time passes very quickly, to organize these kinds of events in Europe, Russia, Turkiye, and America to start public diplomacy. And also maybe on the level of experts, I think it is also possible. I said in the beginning that there could be some events in-between Shusha international forums. One of the events can be to invite experts from Armenia, those who want peace, who advocate for peace, not for hatred, and start this. I think ADA can be a perfect home for that. Thank you.
Hikmat Hajiyev: In our list we have Rick Fawn. Rick, please.
Professor, University of St. Andrews, the United Kingdom, Rick Fawn. Thank you very much, Excellency. This is a tremendous opportunity for us, and the trip yesterday was extraordinary and made the seemingly impossible possible. It was also very important to see what Azerbaijan has achieved in such a short time. The question I would ask, also seeing that we have recognized some of the obstacles ahead, is to hear from you what the region could look like and Azerbaijan's contribution to the South Caucasus in ten years.
President Ilham Aliyev: It would be responsible from my side to give such a prognosis because, you know, the situation in the region is closely connected to the situation in the world. And I think the situation in the world in the post-Soviet area will seriously influence the regional situation. Therefore, having this prognosis, I think we need to have in mind two scenarios. One scenario is a peaceful future for the post-Soviet area. Another scenario is not a peaceful future. Considering now the war between Russia and Ukraine, we do not know when that war will stop and what will be the post-war situation. But, with respect to Azerbaijan, I think we will be much stronger in ten years, of course, and I hope that by that time, maybe even earlier, all the disagreements and problems with Armenia will be resolved. So, the region of the Southern Caucasus will be firmly integrated, and three countries of the Southern Caucasus will already have close cooperation. There are opportunities for that. Azerbaijan is a generator of regional projects, whether transportation or energy. It already played an important role in the trilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan, Turkiye and Georgia, which became a foundation for broad European cooperation. Without that, which we did in 2006, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, today's energy security of Europe would be much more vulnerable because the gas pipeline wouldn't have been built. So, as a generator and as, of course, the biggest economy in the Southern Caucasus with the great potential to grow, because only these three months our economy grew 7% and our export more than 90%, including 45% in non-energy related export, and a generator of wealth and a generator of stability. But, it will depend, of course, on the agenda in Armenia, what will happen there, the plans of the Armenian government for peace agenda, and whether they will be implemented. But, I think politically, it should be an absolutely new composition. From an economic point of view, there should be a new map in terms of regional transportation ties because we have already created a new transportation map. Looking from 2008 when we started working on Baku-Tbilisi-Kars and 2017 when it was done, it is an absolutely new picture. Maybe before that, there could be more interaction between South Caucasus and Central Asia. Today, it doesn't happen. It is kind of sporadic, and mainly it comes through Azerbaijan, through our infrastructure facilities. However, as a Caspian littoral state, a Caucasian state, I think Azerbaijan has a special role in this format. It can happen. So, these are our plans. Usually, once officially announced, our plans are eventually implemented. What I am saying now is my thoughts. I do not yet make it an official agenda, but we are working on that. I think Azerbaijan has a considerable potential to join political consultations that Central Asian countries have between themselves. You know there is a format of five countries. We are very close historical connections and traditional ties with these countries and their peoples. Plus, the Caspian Sea should be a bigger bridge between cultures and between economies. Will Armenia be part of that? I don't know. I think it will be good for all that they are and there is an opportunity, what we offered and which is called Zangazur corridor will cross their territory. I am sure it will, but again they are losing time because we already are building the highway and railroad to the Armenian border, and the railroad will be ready by the end of this year, and the highway perhaps later. So, if they are not part of that, they will be bypassed, and last month we already signed an MOU with Iran on building bridges bypassing Armenia. So, we bypass them in the projects related to gas and oil pipelines, and Georgia is benefiting from that, getting good money from carriers. We bypass them, building the road to Kars through Tbilisi and now, when they have a historical chance to demonstrate to their people that there can be benefits of their military failure at war. That benefit is being part of the region and getting access to the wealth. For a year and a half, they blocked it. They did not give us the geographical coordinates of where the road will go through the Megri region, and they did not even start a feasibility study on the construction of the railroad. However, our 60 kilometers of the railroad are already ready. And 40 kilometers left, as I said, maybe by the end of the year or at the beginning of next year, it will be ready. And then, we will build a bridge, and we already agreed with the Iranian government, and they will be bypassed. So, my prognoses are based, of course, on our agenda. However, I do not know what will be the agenda in Armenia and the global situation in the world because since we met last time, the situation in the world has already been different. Of course, the world will never be as it was before February.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Now, we have on the list Doctor Ji Yingfeng.
Doctor Ji Yingfeng, Doctoral Researcher, University of Cambridge, the UK: Thank you, Your Excellency. Thank you for arranging the time to communicate with us and openly answering questions. I am a researcher from the University of Cambridge in the UK, and my research area focuses on China's relationships with Eurasian countries and decarbonization in Eurasian countries. I have two questions: the first one is regarding China's relationship with Azerbaijan under the framework of the Belt Road Initiative. In 2013 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Kazakhstan, he proposed and called for Eurasian countries to jointly build a Silk Road economic belt to promote the integration of Eurasian countries.
Azerbaijan and China signed a cooperation document, an MOU, on that. But from external sources, it is feared that cooperation areas and projects are not clear to observers, so I would like to ask you to elaborate a bit on the cooperation areas between the two countries under this framework. And with Azerbaijan's recent efforts to promote integration in the South Caucasus, where do you foresee more prospects to strengthen cooperation with Chinese partners. The second question is regarding renewable energy development in Azerbaijan. With the global decarbonization trend in Azerbaijan, we gave decarbonization and renewable energy development two meanings by promoting renewable energy development nationwide and building the smart city in the Karabakh region. In this context, we gave two meanings of renewable energy development not only in the context of decarbonization but also in the context of post-conflict reconstruction. So, following the government's vision, I want to invite you to update us on the current status of implementing green energy development in the Karabakh region and nationwide. What are the main challenges foreseen ahead? Thank you very much.