Author: Namig MAYILOV
At least 50 questions from more than 35 global media outlets. It took the President of Azerbaijan four hours to answer the questions of foreign journalists covering in Baku the 29th anniversary of the Khojaly Genocide. Moreover, Mr. Aliyev answered each question in the language it was asked.
Participants of the press conference did not hide their surprise. “I think that you have already set the world record for the duration of the press conference. I have been a journalist for 25 years but I have never seen a president holding a press conference in four languages,” an independent journalist from the UK said.
“I would like to mention your aptitude for languages. In Spain, our politicians cannot do this,” the representative of the Spanish La Vanguardia said.
In fact, it should not be surprising. During 44 days of the Second Garabagh War, Ilham Aliyev gave more than 30 interviews to the leading media outlets in the languages the questions were asked. “I would like to convey our message, the truth and our position to the world. I made statements and addressed the Azerbaijani people every day, because our people and army needed this. I know that my messages played a big role in our common victory,” President Aliyev said.
In fact, the event was a scrupulous analysis of the post-war development of the region explained in the language that the journalists would understand easily, without complex diplomatic wordings.
Ilham Aliyev said that the liberation of Azerbaijan's territories created unique opportunities for cooperation, mutual trade, communications, as well as the development of new transport corridors. Almost all states of the region share Mr. Aliyev’s opinion. Apart from Azerbaijan and Russia, Turkey and Iran also show great interest in taking the advantage of the new realities. “In the future, Georgia is also welcome to join the common platform,” Mr. Aliyev said.
Today the parties discuss the opening of the Zangezur corridor, which may well become a new transport corridor in Eurasia. Construction of this corridor is also supposed in the joint statement of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia signed on November 10, 2020. Although Armenia verbally demonstrates its commitment to the agreement, it nevertheless tries to avoid the agreed actions during consultations. At the same time, Yerevan risks missing this historical opportunity, isolating itself again from the next, qualitatively new stage of regional cooperation.
Is Armenia ready?
But initially Armenia must recover from the deep internal political crisis following the defeat of the country in the war with Azerbaijan. As Ilham Aliyev noted, Baku is also concerned about the tragicomic situation in Armenia too. Because it slows down the progress of the post-war world. “But this cannot affect our plans. There may be certain delays and postponed measures. But in general, I think that regardless of political power in Armenia, it will not be able to significantly influence the ongoing process. It should not,” Mr. Aliyev said.
There is an obvious interest of all regional forces in the establishment of a stable and sustainable peace. This can only be guaranteed by full cooperation. Therefore, any revanchist attempts by radical Armenian circles are a priori doomed to failure. First, because Armenia is not in a position to think about revenge. Secondly, even if someone thinks about the revenge, they will get even a tougher response from Azerbaijan. In other words, according to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, any attempt to evade the implementation of the joint statement would be suicide for Yerevan.
Therefore, Baku is not worried that any changes in Armenia may hinder the implementation of the trilateral statement. “First, because it is already an officially signed document. Secondly, it was signed by the President of Russia. Armenia's dependence on Russia is ten times greater than before the war. Armenia has depended on Russia even before the war. I do not blame Armenia for this; just facts. After the war, this dependence increased ten times. Will Armenia dare mistreat the signature of the Russian president? It is not just about the declaration. Again, the document was signed by the President of Russia. He is the guarantor of this document. I would recommend them not to have any expectations. The flow of events demonstrated that the only thing Armenian politicians know is how to come to power, to make populist speeches, and then, challenged with the real situation, to suffer from it. Therefore, I do not exclude revanchist statements. But they should refrain from making such statements,” I. Aliyev said.
By the mandate of the peacekeeper
For Azerbaijan, it is important to use mechanisms to contain Armenia. And it is the guarantor of peace in the region, which plays an instrumental role in this issue. “By the way, I have told to the Russian leadership, when they handed over the Iskander missiles to Armenia, that this was a wrong step. I told them that it was not going to strengthen stability, nor to deter us from anything. I said the same during the war, and I suggested that they take the Iskanders back. Yes, I did. And I still hold the same opinion that the only way that could prevent such a tragic turn of events in the region was to take the missiles back and no longer give Armenians weapons for free. I say this all the time. And, unfortunately, it happened. This no longer happens after the war. We regard it as a positive step,” President of Azerbaijan noted.
At the same time, Mr. Aliyev drew attention to the statements of the Armenian Minister of Defense and the Russian Ambassador to Armenia that Russia intended to get involved in the modernization of the Armenian army. "Why? There is no need for this. If we all want long-term peace, then the irresponsible people cannot have such means of destruction. It is a country gripped by chaos, where the army does not obey the leadership of the country, where a military coup either happened or not. This is so tragicomic because you either have a military coup or you do not. There are people walking with loudspeakers, night tents; hooligans on the streets. What a shame! The whole world is laughing at both the Armenian authorities and opposition. How can one give weapons to such people?!" Mr. Aliyev said.
An important aspect of security in the post-war region is the activity of peacekeepers in Azerbaijan. Foreign journalists also asked the president about the cases when the Russian peacekeepers violated their mandate in Garabagh. Mr. Aliyev’s response showed that their fears were ungrounded. “We knew and know what is happening there now. We knew that during the war, and even before. This helped us a lot during the war. It helps us now. Now, the facts of Russian peacekeepers permitting the secret entry of foreign nationals to Daghlig Garabagh contribute to our confusion. We have agreed with the Russian side that foreign nationals can enter Garabagh only with our permission. But the agreement is violated. I will stop here for now. Maybe I'll have to comment on this issue again. But this is a fact. We know the names of all individuals entering and exiting Garabagh. Of course, we will follow the situation,” Ilham Aliyev said.
By the way, the day after the President's press conference, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan accused Armenia of dispatching its military to Garabagh in spite of the trilateral statement.
The ministry notes that according to international media reporting from Armenia, Armenian troopers were deceived or forcibly recruited to carry out military service in Garabagh, which caused protests from both the military and their family members.
Baku emphasizes that the November 10 statement provides for the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the territory of Azerbaijan in parallel with the deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces, guarantees the safety of citizens, vehicles and cargo in both directions of the Lachin corridor.
“The use of this corridor for military purposes, especially secretly, using civilian vehicles, is a grave violation of the regime agreed and set for the Lachin corridor. This is a violation of control mechanisms of the peacekeeping contingent and undermines their efforts to stabilize the situation in the region,” Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said.
Obviously, destructive activities of Armenia with the tacit consent of Russian peacekeepers worries Baku. In general, as President Aliyev noted, the activities of peacekeeping forces in Azerbaijan are considered satisfactory. Turkish-Russian Joint Monitoring Centre is supposed to play an instrumental role in supporting the peacekeeping mission. Either way, the presence of foreign military personnel on the territory of Azerbaijan is temporary. Peacekeepers in Garabagh is a temporary phenomenon and cannot be considered a military base.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has already begun the restoration of the liberated territories. We expect large scale works, given that the area of the liberated but completely ruined territory is about 10,000 sq.km. For this purpose, the government of Azerbaijan provided ₼2.2b from the state budget. Authorities continue to hold negotiations with potential investors. Earlier Azerbaijan announced that companies from friendly countries might take part in the big reconstruction initiative.
Obviously, the first priority is the demining process. It's a risky business, a dangerous job. Moreover, Armenian authorities refuse to provide Azerbaijan with the maps of minefields, which can also be considered a war crime. To speed up the process of demining, new engineering units are created in the Azerbaijan Army. National Agency for Demining expands its coverage and cooperates with the Russian Ministry of Emergencies and the Turkish military. Negotiations are underway with private companies too.
At the same time, the relevant authorities started the construction of the Shusha highway and an international airport in Fuzuli, as well as agricultural works on 7,000 hectares of arable land already cleared of mines. They also launched a series of ‘smart village’ projects in the district of Zangilan. It is difficult to forecast the period of these operations. But it is clear that, in general, the constructive process in the liberated territories will also make the integration of Khankendi and other Armenian-populated areas inevitable. It is important that Armenia itself understands the ongoing process and does not prevent the Armenians of Garabagh from understanding and accepting the historical perspective. “By the way, I have mentioned this even before the war. Had the Armenian leadership assessed the balance of military, political, economic and demographic forces rationally, it would make the right decision. Our strength and population will increase, while Armenia will get weak without cooperation. Objectively, there is no other way. Armenia does not have resources for recovery without cooperation with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Otherwise, they will continue to live in isolation, in a sack. But this sack is much smaller than before. That's all it has,” Mr. Aliyev said.
He noted that over the decades of peace negotiations, international mediators have actually offered Azerbaijan to choose either one of the two real options – a bad or a very bad option. But now, after Azerbaijan liberated its territories on its own, Armenia and its patrons have no choice but to deal with the new reality.