Azerbaijani Ambassador to Russia Polad Bulbul oglu told in an interview to RIA Novosti correspondent Dmitry Vinogradov about how Baku is considering the situation in Karabakh and the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, assessed the progress of the Russian peacekeeping mission, and Azerbaijani-Armenian border.
– Several months have passed since the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Russian Federation signed a statement on a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. Is the Azerbaijani side satisfied with the progress of its implementation? What items have not been completed yet?
– First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to once again convey to the Russian audience information about the current stage of implementation of the points of the trilateral statement. I want to especially draw your attention to the fact that a few days ago, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev gave an extensive interview to the state television of Azerbaijan, in which he touched upon almost all issues of regional stability and security. Taking this opportunity, I urge all interested parties to seriously familiarize themselves with this interview.
Regarding your question, in which you mentioned the term "Nagorno-Karabakh", I consider it important to emphasize that the Azerbaijani side at the highest level has repeatedly stated that there is no such territorial unit in Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region was created on July 7, 1923 as an artificial formation and was legally abolished by the Azerbaijani parliament in November 1991 after the restoration of state independence. By the way, on July 7 of this year, by a presidential decree, the economic regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan were approved, including the Karabakh region, which includes the city of Khankendi, Agjabedi, Agdam, Barda, Fizuli, Khojaly, Khojavend, Shushi and Terter regions and East Zangezur, which covers Jabrail, Kalbajar , Gubadli, Lachin and Zangilan districts. Therefore, there can be no talk of the mountainous part of Karabakh as a separate unit.
At the same time, we perceive the statement of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia not only as a document on a ceasefire, but also as an agreement on the final solution of the conflict and practically recognition by Armenia of its surrender in the Second Karabakh war.
Speaking about the progress in the implementation of the said statement, it should be noted that there is complete mutual understanding between Azerbaijan and Russia on the issue of the further post-conflict arrangement. Both countries proceed from the fact that the war is over and the conflict is over. A certain part of the points of the statement has already been fulfilled. At the same time, such important issues as the return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes and the unblocking of all economic and transport links in the region, the main component of which, naturally, is the Zangezur corridor, remain on the agenda. Undoubtedly, the emergence of new international transport communications is beneficial first of all to Armenia itself and will ensure the sustainable development of the entire region, create conditions for trade, improve the lives of people living there, and these plans are uncontested.
As you know, on January 11, 2021, the heads of the three countries signed another statement, which specifically touched upon the opening of rail and road communications in the region, as provided for in paragraph 9 of the statement of November 9 last year. A tripartite working group was created under the joint chairmanship of the vice-prime ministers of Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia, which began to work, held a number of meetings and determined the directions for further activities. But unfortunately, since June Armenia has been torpedoing the work of this group, which clearly shows the unwillingness of the Armenian side to fulfill its international obligations. Despite this, the Russian Federation, showing goodwill, continues to promote the implementation of the agreements reached, and the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia pays visits to Azerbaijan and Armenia, where he discusses issues in a bilateral format.
On July 20, at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev paid a working visit to the Russian Federation, during which our leaders exchanged views on a wide range of issues, including regional stability and security. At the end of the working trip, the President of Azerbaijan positively assessed the results of the visit, noting that both countries are strategic partners, between which there are no disagreements related to the prospects for long-term strategic cooperation, including on the issue related to the post-conflict situation.
– How do you assess the progress of the Russian peacekeeping mission? Is it likely that her mandate will be renewed after the expiration of her five-year mandate?
– As you know, the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation, temporarily stationed on the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, continues to carry out the military and humanitarian tasks assigned to it, despite the provocations that the Armenian side resorts to from time to time. And this negatively affects efforts aimed at achieving long-term peace in the region. During this time, I have already visited Shusha several times and myself witnessed the shooting from the Armenian side. But despite this, I can say about the great work carried out to restore this city, declared the cultural capital of Azerbaijan. As for the further extension of the stay of the Russian contingent on the territory of Azerbaijan, it is probably too early to talk about it today. We must make every effort to fulfill the tasks that have been determined by the heads of our states.
– According to the statement of the Armenian side, several dozen prisoners of war remain in the hands of Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan considers these people as saboteurs detained for committing terrorist acts. At the same time, we see that from time to time some of these people are handed over by the Azerbaijani side to Yerevan. Is the transfer of new groups possible in the near future, including in exchange for minefield maps or something else?
– The essence of the question is as follows. A group of people from the Shirak region of Armenia was captured as a result of the anti-terrorist operation of the special services of Azerbaijan. This sabotage group of terrorists was thrown into our territories at the end of November 2020 with the aim of committing terrorist acts against the armed forces of Azerbaijan and civilians. They managed to kill four servicemen of the Azerbaijani army and injure a civilian. Members of the sabotage group were neutralized in December last year, that is, a month after the end of the war, and prosecuted. The issue related to terrorists should not be politicized in any way, and the actions of such persons should be qualified within the framework of national legislation, taking into account international documents and practice of states. It is quite obvious that these persons cannot be considered as prisoners of war under any international conventions, and they are not subject to the provisions of the tripartite agreement. The members of the above-mentioned group were brought to criminal responsibility, and the corresponding decisions were made within the framework of the judicial process. The Azerbaijani side approached this issue objectively, proceeding from the composition and depending on the severity of the crimes committed by these persons. Many of them were transferred to the Armenian side, and some were sentenced to serve their sentences in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Committed to the norms of international humanitarian law, the Azerbaijani side fully complied with the relevant paragraph of the statement and has already transferred to Armenia all the prisoners of war and the bodies of soldiers killed during the war. I would like to say that the Azerbaijani side at the official level has repeatedly expressed its attitude to this issue. An identical opinion was also voiced by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation at an online press conference on January 18 this year. But the opposite side does not hear our arguments and tries to manipulate the situation.
– From time to time, disturbing news about shootings comes from the Azerbaijani-Armenian border, there are killed and wounded on both sides. What prevents the establishment of tranquility at the border?
– As I already said, answering the previous question, the Armenian side from time to time resorts to various kinds of provocations, creating tension. Just a couple of days ago, the Armenian armed forces in the Kalbajar section of the border shelled the positions of the Azerbaijani army. As a result of a sniper shot, our soldier was killed. I am sure that an adequate response will be given to such actions. The escalation of tension on the border is unacceptable, and the entire responsibility for any negative scenario of the development of the situation falls on the Armenian side. For our part, we have repeatedly stated that the war is over, the conflict is in the past, Armenia must recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, sign a peace treaty, and also constructively approach the issue of border delimitation. However, as we can see, the Armenian side is again trying to delay the process of regulating interstate relations and thereby hinders the creation of new conditions for the full development of the entire region. Sooner or later, Armenia will be forced to accept the new reality, and the sooner this happens, the sooner the world will be restored, and people will begin to live normally in the South Caucasus region.
– In June, the presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey signed the Shusha Declaration, which, in particular, provides for the opening of the Zangezur corridor. When can it be open? If it passes through the territory of Armenia, will Azerbaijan agree that the corridor remains under the control of Yerevan? Or should the corridor have an extraterritorial status?
– Yes, on June 15 of this year a historic event took place in Shusha. A declaration was signed between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey, which echoes the 1921 Kars Treaty, according to which Turkey acts as the guarantor of Nakhchivan's security. It laid the foundation for a new level of allied relations between the two countries. The opening of the Zangezur corridor is noted not only in the Shusha declaration, but also indicated in a statement dated November 9, 2020, which clearly spells out the obligations to establish a connection between the western regions of Azerbaijan with its Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.
Recently, the Armenian side in numerous media has been discussing the topic of territorial claims to Armenia by Azerbaijan. Here you need to understand that such statements from Armenia, which has occupied our territories for 30 years, carried out ethnic cleansing, destroyed the once flourishing cities and villages to the ground, has no moral and moral right to speak on this topic at all. All this time, Armenia made territorial claims to Azerbaijan, based on invented historical facts. However, the reality speaks of something else. Western Zangezur, now located on the territory of Armenia, was historically Azerbaijani land until the beginning of the last century, and only in the 1920s, without any legal basis, was torn away from Azerbaijan and transferred by the Soviet government to Armenia.
As for your question about control over the Zangezur corridor, here it is necessary to once again refer to the text of the trilateral statement, which clearly states that such control will be carried out by the Border Service of the FSB of Russia, which already ensures the security of the external borders of modern Armenia. Abstracting from the specific situation, I want to note: how can one consider an independent country, whose state borders are guarded by the troops of another state?
– After the signing of the Shusha Declaration, there were reports that a Turkish military base could be created in Azerbaijan. Is it known where and when it is possible to create such a base? Are its parameters known?
– The answer to this question should be sought in the official statements of the Azerbaijani side, any talk and speculation should not be the basis for conclusions. In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to the statement on this topic by the most experienced diplomat, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said during a press conference that "we are not commenting on rumors." I believe that today the entire region is on the verge of serious changes, and everything possible must be done not to miss this historic chance of a new reality.