Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov answers media questions following the results of 2019.
-How do you assess 2019 from the point of view of negotiations being conducted to resolve the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? What specific issues were discussed by the sides? During the year, the sides made proposals for the implementation of humanitarian measures to resolve the conflict, in this vein, mutual visits of media representatives took place. Do you find these initiatives useful, and are these visits expected to continue in the future?
This year, as part of the negotiation process to resolve the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through the mediation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, a meeting of the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia took place on March 29 in Vienna, as well as 5 meetings at the level of the foreign ministers of the two countries: January 16 in Paris, April 15 in Moscow, June 20 in Washington, September 23 in New York and December 4 in Bratislava. Based on the intensity of these meetings, it seems that the conclusion is that both parties are interested in advancing the negotiation process. However, given the completely baseless and contradictory statements made by the Armenian side during the year, as well as the fact that no specific results were achieved at the meetings, it should be noted with regret that 2019 can be considered as “a year of missed opportunities” to resolve the conflict.
On the one hand, the Armenian leadership, declaring its interest in a peaceful settlement of the conflict, on the other hand, with its inconsistent statements about either the so-called “independence” or the “miatsum”, undermined the negotiation process and the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries. Indeed, as a result of the meetings, initiatives were put forward to implement measures in the humanitarian sphere and to prepare the population of the two countries for peace, in this regard, as a first step, mutual visits of the press of Azerbaijan and Armenia were held. However, Armenia’s further attempts to politicize this initiative and use it as a propaganda tool raised the questions on the readiness of this country to prepare its people for peace. While in fact, the journalists involved in this initiative and especially the party supporting them, should feel responsible and not undermine the process. Otherwise, such initiatives and attempts to build bridges between the two nations will not make any sense. Thus, in the future, it is necessary to look at the development of these initiatives through this prism, and then we can talk about the next steps.
I would like to repeat what I always said: we are two neighbouring countries, and sooner or later after the resolution of the conflict, representatives of both communities will again have to live together in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of our country. In this regard, ongoing confidence-building measures and humanitarian initiatives should serve precisely to advance the resolution of the conflict, eliminate the factor of occupation of the territories of Azerbaijan and ensure the return of internally displaced persons to their homes and property.
-Given the fact that no new proposals were put forward during the negotiations to resolve the conflict, can we say that they have reached an impasse? What has the negotiations given us over the years, what is their effectiveness? Can negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan be conducted without intermediaries, and how can the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh be involved in these negotiations?
It is true, this year it was not possible to achieve concrete progress in the negotiation process to resolve the conflict, but it would not be true to regard this as "negotiations have reached an impasse." Numerous meetings and specific initiatives put forward during the year demonstrate a certain need to continue the negotiation process. We have always stated that as long as there is an opportunity for a peaceful settlement of the conflict through negotiations, we will use it. Of course, the goal is to move the process forward through substantive negotiations on the substance of the matter.
For this, all principles, elements, stages were developed, they were discussed and renewed. All documents prepared to date clarify the issues of a step-by-step settlement of the conflict, the liberation of our occupied territories, the return of internally displaced persons and the settlement of the status problem at a subsequent stage. To get acquainted with these elements, it is enough to read the statement of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group of March 9 this year. As for the security and status issues that are constantly being raised by Armenia, I would like to emphasize again that both issues should be regulated within the framework of the settlement process in accordance with the relevant OSCE decisions, as well as UN Security Council resolutions, which, as you know, do not have a statute of limitations. What status can one talk about without return of the Azerbaijani population of Karabakh? In addition, the security issue, along with the Armenian community, is quite important for the Azerbaijani community in the region, and everyone knows that the use of international peacekeeping mechanisms is necessary.
You ask what the negotiations gave us. But what then is a conflict resolution, if not negotiating? Even if the conflict breaks out again, negotiations will still resume later, because there is neither eternal war, nor eternal negotiations. We are negotiating to restore violated international law, restore Azerbaijan’s sovereignty within internationally recognized borders and demonstrate that Azerbaijan is united in its word and deed and is committed to negotiations until the potential for a peaceful settlement has been exhausted. We are negotiating in order to free the territories of Azerbaijan from occupation!
Today, due to the aggressive policy of Armenia, there are no diplomatic relations between our countries, and negotiations between the parties are carried out through the mediation efforts of the three leading countries of the world, permanent members of the UN Security Council, the main international body responsible for maintaining international peace and security.
-Armenia does not give consent to the exchange of prisoners and hostages on the principle of "all for all", this country does not want to release the illegally detained Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev. How does this step, contrary to the ideas of mutual trust, affect the process of conflict resolution?
Indeed, Azerbaijan, guided by the norms of international humanitarian law, took the initiative to carry out the exchange of captured and held civilians on the principle of "all for all." The Armenian side, in violation of the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols thereto, which prohibit the seizure of civilian hostages and require a humane treatment of civilians during armed conflicts, continues to flagrantly violate its international obligations. For more than 5 years, our compatriots Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev have been held hostage by Armenia, which is also provided by the alleged “court order” of the illegal regime created in our occupied territories. These people, who appear to be “criminals” by the Armenian side, went to their native lands to visit the graves of their ancestors in the Kelbajar region of Azerbaijan, now under military occupation. If returning to their homes is a crime, then what is the forceful expulsion of these people from their native lands, and thereby violating their fundamental rights?!
You know, the Armenian side must finally realize that progress in resolving the conflict is impossible without restoring the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis subjected to ethnic cleansing, and their return to homes. The European Court of Human Rights in its decision in the case of “Chiragov and Others versus Armenia”, along with establishing the responsibility of Armenia as the occupying party, reaffirmed the right of Azerbaijani IDPs to return to their homes or permanent places of residence. I would like to note that the lawyers of Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, and the Government of Azerbaijan is also involved in this case. We hope that the Court will soon announce its position on this issue.
-How do you assess the activities of Azerbaijan in foreign policy during the current year and the results of 2019 as a whole?
This year, the successful implementation of our country's foreign policy continued under the leadership of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev. Our country’s active participation in both bilateral and multilateral platforms, expansion of cooperation and partnerships with foreign countries and organizations, bringing the truth about Azerbaijan to the world community, especially about the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, organization of high-level international events in our country, as well as our participation in important international initiatives and contribution to their implementation has been further developed.
It is noteworthy that this year our country hosted the summits of two international organizations. The chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Turkic Council next year will be carried out by Azerbaijan. Next year, our country will also chair two other regional organizations: GUAM and TRACECA. This, of course, is a great example of the trust shown to Azerbaijan by the numerous member countries of these organizations. This year Azerbaijan, having further expanded the geography of its representation in international and regional organizations, joined the Group of 77, uniting 135 states, and also received observer status in the Pacific Alliance.
The Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continued to remain on the agenda of all international platforms with our participation, where statements, resolutions, recommendations and other documents were adopted that serve to further strengthen the legal framework of the conflict settlement.
This year, the Joint Communiqués on establishing diplomatic relations with the United Republic of Tanzania, Barbados and the Republic of Namibia were signed, thereby the number of countries with which the Republic of Azerbaijan established diplomatic relations increased to 185. This year embassies of Montenegro and Slovak Republic began to operate in our country.
As President Ilham Aliyev said in his recent interview to local journalists, during the year more than 40 heads of states and governments visited Azerbaijan, including both in bilateral format and participation at international events held in our country. Also, in the same frame foreign ministers of 61 countries visited Baku last year. In addition, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, I paid official and business visits to 27 countries. Taking into account that each visit is a contribution to the development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation, we can conclude how significant is the year 2019 in terms of expanding the framework of the international activity of our country.
-Azerbaijan and the European Union this year were not able to sign the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which is aimed at creating a legal basis for bilateral relations. How can we assess the situation in the negotiations? Given the fact that the composition of the European Commission has been updated, is it possible to say that this will affect the delay in negotiations?
Partnership between Azerbaijan and the European Union (EU) is based on equality, mutual respect and trust. The numerous statements by EU officials, as well as the resolutions adopted by the European Parliament, express unequivocal support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and our country is considered as a reliable and important partner of the Union.
As you know, the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Azerbaijan entered into force in 1999, but over the past 20 years, there have been many changes in Azerbaijan, we have become one of the most important geopolitical players in the region and the world. Our country was the initiator and implementer of a number of transport, energy, cultural and political projects of global and regional level. Successful reforms are being carried out in the field of improving public welfare of citizens, justice, social and public administration. Currently, Azerbaijan has become one of the largest investors with the goal of implementing economic projects in the region and the first among the countries of the Eastern Partnership in terms of investment in the EU. In the midst of the European economic crisis, through the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor project in Greece alone, we supported the creation of five thousand new jobs and invested 15 billion euros in the European economy. In the first half of 2020, it is planned to deliver the first Azerbaijani gas to Europe under the TAP project, which plays an important role in the energy security of the EU. Our country has transformed from needing the EU assistance in the 1990s into a state that is now providing real support for the development of Europe. In short, a completely new situation has arisen in Azerbaijan-EU relations.
For this reason, Azerbaijan has chosen a special path based on the principles of equality and mutual respect for the development and expansion of its relations with the EU, proposing to hold negotiations on the "Agreement on Strategic Partnership", and Brussels accepted this proposal. Thus, the expansion of the framework of political and economic relations between the Parties, the realization of the partnership in the energy sector at the strategic level, as well as the signing of strategic documents with nine EU Member States, necessitated the development of a new comprehensive agreement. Since February 2017, based on a draft submitted by the Azerbaijani side, negotiations have begun with the EU on a new document.
In less than 3 years, many rounds of negotiations were held on this very voluminous project, and most of the document was agreed. The parties have never set any binding deadlines for the completion of negotiations, as well as initialing and signing of a document. For us in negotiations, it is not quantity and time restrictions that are important, but quality. A template-free, reality-based and satisfying both sides approach is one of the key factors for achieving a positive result. The Azerbaijani side will continue to work in this direction with the new leadership of the European Commission. Azerbaijan is a supporter of a quality agreement, and it must certainly meet the national interests of our country.
-The year 2019 was very fruitful and effective in terms of the development of Azerbaijani-Russian relations. The visits of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva to Russia, as well as the regular visits of Russian officials to Azerbaijan should be noted here. In addition, the practice of annual mutual official visits at the level of Foreign Ministers has been developed, in which your Russian colleague recently visited Baku. In this regard, is your return visit to Moscow expected in 2020? And in general, in your opinion, what will be remembered for the next year in our bilateral relations?
First of all, I would like to agree with your high assessment of the outcome of the year ending in terms of the development of relations between Azerbaijan and Russia. I should note with satisfaction that these relations demonstrate stability and dynamism from year to year. This year, which is nearing completion, this positive dynamics has also been developed. Of course, close contacts and trustworthy dialogue at the level of senior political leadership, which you mentioned in your question, continue to play a decisive role. This creates a favorable framework for the further development of strategic partnership, covering the entire spectrum of our relations from political interaction to trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation.
As you know, the development of our ties is target oriented and programmatic. The measures are provided for by the so-called “road maps” in specific areas, six of which were signed during the last year’s official visit of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev to the Russian Federation, and two - on the results of the eighteenth meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation held in December this year in Baku. Preliminary estimates suggest that the trade turnover between our countries in 2019 will reach the level of about 3 billion US dollars.
A positive trend in 2019 was the continued growth of tourist flow from Russia, which approached the mark of one million people. This is a very impressive indicator, and it pleases us, as it is a clear confirmation of the intensity of human contacts. And, of course, this suggests that Russians feel comfortable in Azerbaijan, where they are greeted with a warm welcome and take advantage of the absence of a language barrier.
We expect that all these positive trends will continue in the coming year. I hope that the continuation of the practice of exchanging mutual visits at the level of foreign Ministers, which I find very useful, will be able to contribute to this process.
Of course, we have particular hopes for intensifying the negotiation process to resolve the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through the mediation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, one of which is the Russian Federation. We believe that the interests of peace and stability in the region dictate the need for the speediest achievement of tangible political results. We believe that Russia is able to play one of the key roles in starting to unravel the conflict node.
So, in general, we look to the future with optimism and for our part are determined to act towards the realization of the strategic goals of our development.
-Among experts, there is an opinion that post-Soviet countries are forced to make a choice between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union. But can we say the same about Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan does not think in terms of choice on the basis of the “either-or” principle. All our foreign policy decisions are dictated primarily by the interests of the development of our country. And any attempts from outside to impose one or another choice are doomed to failure, which is demonstrated by all recent history, including the experience of the last decade. And those external forces that have made this kind of attempts are already unambiguously aware of these realities.
Pursuing a course on the development of mutually beneficial equal cooperation both with neighboring states and with major global partners, Azerbaijan has already achieved significant results. We are sure that by correctly building the line of expansion and deepening of this interaction, we will be able to achieve even more significant successes.
But in general, we proceed from the position, which, by the way, was reiterated during the recent meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava - the unity and indivisibility of a common security space that does not interfere with the development of multifaceted cooperation on different vectors.
-One of the issues that were in the focus of attention this year was the delimitation of borders between Azerbaijan and Georgia. We would like to know your thoughts on this matter. Is it possible to resolve disagreement between the parties over border delimitation over the next year?
The delimitation of the state border between Azerbaijan and Georgia is carried out in accordance with the rules applicable in international practice. As you know, the State Commission on the delimitation and demarcation of the state border between the two countries has been operating since 1996. The last meeting of the Commission was held this year in Baku. 314 kilometers of the 480-kilometer border between the two countries have been agreed, and negotiations on the remaining uncoordinated sections of 166 km are continuing. Two expert meetings were held this year, the next one is expected to take place in Tbilisi at the beginning of the next year.
The disagreement that you are referring is about the existence of areas that are not agreed so far, and to resolve it, the experts should take measures such as relevant research, including the study of archival and cartographic materials. But it is important that both Azerbaijan and Georgia are committed to the early completion of the delimitation process. I hope that the issue of delimiting the state border between the two countries will find its solution based on international practice, in the legal sphere and in accordance with our strategic partnership relations.
-Over the past two years, active cooperation has been observed between the Caspian littoral countries and the factors hindering cooperation between the countries of the region have been eliminated. How do you assess the prospects for more efficient activities in the Caspian region in the future?
Last year, the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea was an important step for our region and country. This document contributes to the further development of relations between the Caspian states, as well as the development of a climate of stability, progress and mutual trust in the Caspian region. Cooperation in the Caspian region is based on respect for the interests of the parties, territorial integrity and sovereignty of each other. The Convention, ensuring the consistency and safety of economic activities at sea, creates favourable conditions for the further expansion of such activities in the future. At present, the ratification of the Convention by all parties is one of the main challenges facing us. At the next stage, it is important that the Convention enters into force and the issues arising from it find their solution. It should be noted that in order to effectively implement the Convention, a High Level Working Group on the Caspian Sea is functioning.
Determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea will be an important contribution to the implementation of North-South and East-West transport corridors, which are of great importance for our region and the world. Thus, for the entities operating in the region, the period of uncertainty with the legal status of the Caspian Sea has ended. The Convention takes into account the importance of unleashing the sea transit potential, enshrines the principle of ensuring freedom and security of merchant shipping for the Caspian littoral states. Azerbaijan closely cooperates with each Caspian littoral country in the political and economic spheres. This is an important factor in ensuring mutual security and trust in the Caspian.
-We would like to clarify the relations of Azerbaijan with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. When will Azerbaijan get the status of a dialogue partner with this organization?
As you know, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is considered one of the most important regional organizations in Asia and a joint work to achieve peace, security and stability in the region is among the organisation’s main goals. Regarding the relations of our country with the SCO, it should be noted that at the Organization’s Summit in Ufa on July 9-10, 2015, it was decided to grant Azerbaijan the status of a SCO dialogue partner. The existing areas of cooperation between our country and the SCO are reflected in the Memorandum signed by the parties in 2016. Thus, the spheres of cooperation between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the SCO include the traditional priority areas of the organization’s activities, as well as issues of combating terrorism, extremism and separatism, ensuring regional security and stability which are of particular importance to Azerbaijan. The focus is also on the problems of intercultural dialogue, the promotion of multiculturalism and tolerance, on which our country plays an important role in the international arena. In addition, within the framework of promoting Azerbaijan as a trans-regional multimodal transport hub, cooperation in the fields of economy, transport and telecommunications, trade and investment, which plays an important role in the framework of the SCO, was identified as a direction of interaction with this organization.
The next step in cooperation within the framework of the SCO is observer status, and in 2018, our country officially applied to the Organization in order to obtain this status. This issue is currently being considered within the framework of the SCO, and we believe that the current active cooperation between the SCO and the Republic of Azerbaijan will be further developed after we obtain the aforementioned observer status.
-Azerbaijan, in the course of its chairmanship of the UN Security Council during its non-permanent membership in this body, for the first time in the history of the United Nations initiated a high-level meeting to strengthen partnership between the UN and OIC. During this period, members of the UN Security Council also paid a visit to Africa. Will Azerbaijan, during its chairmanship in the Non-Aligned Movement, make efforts to establish contacts between countries located in different regions that are members of various organizations?
First of all, I would like to once again emphasize the importance of Azerbaijan taking the chairmanship in the Non-Aligned Movement. The 18th Summit of the second after the United Nations global political platform in terms of its member states, which took place on October 25-26, 2019 in Baku with the participation of 159 delegations, as well as documents adopted following its results, including expression of support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders, clearly demonstrated the further growth of the authority of our country on the world stage. In this regard, it is indicative of the fact that Azerbaijan, having joined the Movement in 2011, headed it eight years later, proposing a chairmanship agenda that is relevant in today's dynamic conditions. Thus, in the spirit of developing the fundamental Bandung principles, we intend to contribute to giving a new impetus to the Movement’s activity in maintaining international peace and security, as well as creating favorable conditions for the development of cooperation.
In general, the chairmanship of Azerbaijan in the Non-Aligned Movement will be aimed at strengthening the position and influence of the Movement in the system of international relations. Strengthening the position of NAM will open up new opportunities for cooperation and expand its ability to contribute to international affairs. One of the priorities in this direction will be the establishment of dialogue mechanisms with other regional and international organizations. In particular, efforts will be made to expand the scope of cooperation with countries and organizations in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
-What are the priorities of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy for next year? Is it possible to note in which areas we will continue our diplomatic activities in 2020, and which areas will receive closer attention?
Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is carried out in accordance with the national interests of our country under the direct supervision of the head of state, and our foreign policy priorities remain unchanged. They include the restoration of the sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders, the continuation and further expansion of mutually beneficial cooperation with foreign states, active participation in international relations, participation in initiatives contributing to international peace, security, development and progress, worthy representation of Azerbaijan in the international arena and other issues.
As for the specific actions that should be taken during the year in each of the priority areas, in addition to the traditionally taken steps, attention will also be paid to issues arising from our chairmanship of four international / regional organizations (Non-Aligned Movement, TRACECA, Turkic Council, GUAM). And of course, with the direct participation of our diplomatic missions, the active promotion of the interests of Azerbaijan in bilateral and multilateral formats will continue.