Hikmet Hajiyev: Azerbaijan committed to peace process

Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan - Head of the Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration Hikmet Hajiyev, in an exclusive interview with TASS, assessed the risks of a new war with Armenia, spoke about the prospects for signing a peace treaty between the republics by the end of the year and outlined geopolitical issues that Russia and Azerbaijan are able to resolve in the “3+3 format.”

Report presents this interview.

- How could you comment on the tense situation that we are seeing now between Azerbaijan and Armenia? Is there a risk of a new war?

- As you know, Azerbaijan and Armenia are negotiating to sign a peace treaty based on five basic principles proposed by Azerbaijan and accepted by Armenia.

Mutual recognition of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the two countries and a legal obligation not to make such claims in the future is the cornerstone of these principles. Unfortunately, recently a number of actions of the Armenian leadership, among which especially the congratulations on September 2 by the prime minister of Armenia to the unrecognized illegal regime in Karabakh on the occasion of “independence day,” have caused serious damage to the peace process.

Despite the declarative recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan by the Armenian leadership, in fact, the Armenian authorities continue to finance from the state budget of the Republic of Armenia the illegal “separatist junta” on the territory of our country, including armed formations, which largely consist of Armenian Armed Forces in Karabakh. Along the entire perimeter of the Armenian-fueled “gray zone” in Karabakh, Armenian illegal armed groups are carrying out massive mining of our territories - as if the more than 1 million mines laid by Armenia on our lands before 2020 were not enough for them. It can be stated that Armenia uses landmines as weapons of mass destruction against Azerbaijanis - only in the period after the 44-day war in 2020, more than 300 of our citizens became victims of landmine terror.

Another serious provocation is the holding of so-called presidential elections on September 9 by the illegal regime in Khankendi. The entire international community, including the UN, as well as the countries of the region, have once again confirmed the absolute illegality and illegitimacy of these elections, which grossly violate both the legislation of Azerbaijan and the norms of international law.

We are also concerned about the increasing frequency of military provocations and sabotage cases by the Armenian armed forces on the border and in Karabakh. Despite this, Azerbaijan is committed to the peace process and expects Armenia to return to the path of constructive negotiations. Answering the question posed, I will say that Azerbaijan is committed to a peaceful settlement and is not interested in escalation. We call on the Armenian leadership not to interfere with the process of integration of ethnic Armenians living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan into our state and not to work to undermine the sovereignty of our country.

- At what stage is the peace process now?

- At the moment, the peace process is being slowed down due to the unconstructive and insincere position of the Armenian political leadership. Under the pretext of the non-existent “blockade” of the Lachin road, a large-scale disinformation campaign was launched against Azerbaijan, which is coordinated by Yerevan and the Armenian diaspora in different countries of the world, especially in the West. Despite attempts to accuse Azerbaijan of blockading part of its sovereign territory, the opening of the Aghdam road for cargo from the Russian Red Cross Society on September 12 showed the groundlessness of such accusations. Thanks to the joint actions of the Russian Red Cross Society and the Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society, the Aghdam road became operational. Now we expect that the cargo of the International Committee of the Red Cross will simultaneously go along two routes - Aghdam and Lachin. Our international partners fully share and support this position.

Now the main obstacle to the peace process is the fact that Armenia continues to maintain a financially and military-politically illegal regime on our territory. It is the illegal regime in Khankendi that blocks the simultaneous opening of the Aghdam and Lachin routes, refuses to accept food cargo from Azerbaijan, justifying this with caveman racist motives that have no place in the civilized world. Also, the illegal regime is torpedoing attempts at dialogue between the central government of Azerbaijan and the Armenian ethnic minority living in Karabakh, despite Baku’s repeated invitations to such contacts. Armenia’s policy of supporting the illegal regime, which has taken 30,000 of our citizens of Armenian origin living in Karabakh hostage, must come to an end. There is no place for “gray zones” in Azerbaijan.

- What compromises is Baku ready to make in dialogue with Yerevan?

- We will not discuss either with Armenia or with any third country issues that call into question the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan. Attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of our state, including by pushing the topic of creating some kind of “international mechanisms” for dialogue between the central government of Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenian minority in Karabakh, are doomed to failure. Karabakh is an internal issue of Azerbaijan, and any attempt to challenge this is counterproductive from the perspective of achieving sustainable peace in the region.

- Can Azerbaijan again resort to force, as it did in 2020?

- I would not like to comment on hypothetical scenarios. Azerbaijan is a responsible member of the international community and always acts in accordance with the provisions of its constitution and international law. We are aimed at peaceful resolution of all existing issues

- How are things going with the opening of transport communications in the region, which was one of the points of the trilateral statement signed by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 9, 2020?

- Azerbaijan consistently advocates the opening of all transport communications in the region, since it believes that close trade and economic ties will contribute to peace, stability and prosperity of the region. In this context, we highly appreciate the position of the Russian Federation, which is making great efforts to making progress in this direction. However, a certain stagnation is observed in our talks with Armenia in negotiations on unblocking transport links.

As you know, the opening of the Zangazur Corridor, which means ensuring unimpeded communication between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic through the territory of the Republic of Armenia, is one of the provisions of the trilateral statement signed on the night of November 9-10, 2020 by the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia, and also prime minister of Armenia. Almost three years later, this clause of the agreement has still not been fulfilled by Armenia. The opening of the Zangazur Corridor is beneficial, first of all, to Armenia itself, which found itself on the sidelines of the transport and logistics architecture of the region as a result of its occupation policy against Azerbaijan for three decades. However, if Armenia refuses its obligations under various pretexts and wants to continue to remain isolated, Baku doesn’t intend to wait and is already actively working on alternative projects with other countries in the region. We will not tie our logistics needs to the whims of the Armenian government and will move forward with our regional partners.

- How effective, in your opinion, is international mediation after the end of the 44-day Karabakh war in 2020?

- The actions of Armenia that I mentioned above, calling into question the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan, unfortunately, undermine the progress on the issue of concluding a peace treaty achieved thanks to the efforts of international mediators. We still hope for the signing of a peace treaty before the end of this year and call on the Armenian political leadership to take the main step - officially, with their signature under the peace treaty, to record recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, including the Karabakh economic region of our republic, and to commit to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of our country in the future.

Including through attempts to bring our internal issues, such as issues of our interaction with our citizens of Armenian ethnic origin in Karabakh, to international platforms under the pretext of ensuring the rights and security of this population group. These are our citizens, and their rights and security will be ensured by the Constitution of Azerbaijan. It is important that Armenia abandon the policy of financing separatism in Azerbaijan.

As for the activities of international mediators, we highly appreciate their contribution to the normalization of Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. The role of Russia in this process, whose active mediation ensured the signing of a trilateral agreement in November 2020, which put an end to large-scale hostilities, is of paramount importance. The European Union and the United States also make their contribution to the negotiation process. In general, each of the negotiation tracks is unique in its own way and helps conduct a dialogue between Baku and Yerevan on the most problematic issues.

- How would you assess the current level of Russian-Azerbaijani relations?

- The Declaration on Allied Cooperation between our countries, signed on February 22, 2022, raises bilateral relations to a qualitatively new level and gives a tangible impetus to their development. Even in the current difficult geopolitical conditions, relations between our countries stand the test of strength. I am confident that through joint efforts Azerbaijan and Russia will be able to resolve the most complex regional issues, including in the “3+3” format, which implies the resolution of regional issues by regional players.

We closely interact both politically and economically. Data for the first half of this year indicate a significant increase in trade turnover, mutual tourism indicators are growing, and close cooperation continues in the cultural and humanitarian spheres. On September 15, a new academic season begins in Azerbaijan (started yesterday - ed.), and in our country, as every year, there is a great demand for teaching schoolchildren and students in Russian. Moreover, from year to year, interest in learning the Russian language is only growing. I cannot help but note that our state, in turn, is creating all the necessary conditions to satisfy this demand.

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