Azeri president restates position on Karabakh ahead of Turkish visit
9 Apr 04
Azerbaijan will never accept Nagornyy Karabakh becoming an independent
Armenian entity, President Ilham Aliyev has told Turkish newspaper
Hurriyet ahead of his official visit to Ankara. He restated his
position that if Armenia withdrew from five of the seven occupied
Azerbaijani districts, Baku would be ready to reopen the border and
railway through Armenia and begin negotiations. Aliyev said that it
would be a blow to Azerbaijani-Turkish relations if Turkey were to
open its border with Armenia. He said that his father, late President
Heydar Aliyev, had been suffering a great deal from “this disease”
towards the end, but did not name the illness. The following is the
text of Ertugrul Ozkok’s interview with Aliyev in Hurriyet (Ankara
edition) on 9 April headlined “Let them withdraw from five districts,
then let us open the border crossing immediately”; subheadings as
published by Hurriyet:
Azerbaijani flag used to fly at Black Sea
I became aware of the first change when I landed at Baku airport. The
name of the airport has clearly changed to Heydar Aliyev airport. But
this was not the only change. This time, there is a change in Baku in
the atmosphere towards Turkey. With whomever I talked, they asked me,
“Will Turkey open the border with Armenia?”
One day before I came here, close to 20 Azerbaijani reporters came to
Turkey via Naxcivan. There, they were campaigning for “the border with
Armenia not to be opened”. Some opposition newspapers even wanted the
Turkish ambassador to be deported if the border was opened.
In the evening, we were at the Izmir Restaurant in Izmir
Park. Singers, each with voices more beautiful than the other, came
onto the stage. A female singer, who came onto the stage at the end of
the programme, suddenly started to sing the song, “It will fly at the
Black Sea”. The hall suddenly started to sway. The Azerbaijani female
singer started to sway with a Turkish flag in one hand and an
Azerbaijani flag in the other. She changed the final refrain of the
song as follows: “We will hang the Azerbaijani flag in Nagornyy
Karabakh.” So it was in this atmosphere that we talked with President
Probably the reason why he talked with Guneri Civaoglu from the
Milliyet newspaper and me prior to his visit to Turkey was to convey
to Turkey this sensitivity in Baku.
[Ozkok] The death of President Heydar Aliyev was a great loss for
Azerbaijan and Turkey and for the entire Turkish world.
[Aliyev] It was a very great loss for us. It was a great
disaster. Towards the end, he was suffering a lot from this
disease. But still, it is impossible to be reconciled with his loss.
[Ozkok] When did you see the president last?
[Aliyev] I saw him in September .
[Ozkok] You had talked in the United States.
[Aliyev] Yes, I was the prime minister here and had gone to visit
him. There were elections here 20 days later. As soon as I returned, I
started the election campaign. I had planned to go and visit him once
again after the elections. I was going to go on the 16th, but he
passed away on the 12th.
Our growth rate has reached 11 per cent
[Ozkok] During this visit, I found that Baku has changed. There are a
large number of construction sites. How is the economy going?
[Aliyev] The economy is going well. Our growth rate has reached 11 per
cent. Azerbaijan came from the communist system, but today, the
dominance of the private sector in the economy has reached 74 per
cent. This shows that a market economy has become established.
[Ozkok] Are you pleased with the progress of the oil pipeline system?
[Aliyev] The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is being successfully
built. That is also the work of Heydar Aliyev. I am pleased with the
progress of the pipelines.
[Ozkok] I wonder if the incidents in Georgia will affect the petroleum
[Aliyev] No, they will not affect it.
[Ozkok] Could there be a search [for a new pipeline route] via one
place or another or through Iran?
[Aliyev] It could be possible in the future, but this is not an issue
for today or tomorrow. Perhaps there will be so much petroleum in
Azerbaijan that it will be necessary to build a new oil pipeline.
There is an Armenian lobby, not an environmental lobby
[Ozkok] Have those who opposed the project stopped talking?
[Aliyev] Those who are opposed to the Baku-Ceyhan project have not
given up these policies. In the first stage, the countries that did
not want the project were openly opposing it. Now, however, the
tactics have changed. Nongovernmental organizations, which are under
the influence of the Armenian lobby and have hidden under the name of
environmentalists, are making obstacles for the project.
[Ozkok] What do you think about the developments in the Caucasus?
There were three strong leaders in the Caucasus after the
disintegration of the Soviet Union: Suleyman Demirel in Turkey, Heydar
Aliyev in Azerbaijan and Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia. Thanks to
them, this critical period was overcome without a problem. But now
there are three inexperienced leaders in the three countries. Could a
[Aliyev] Unfortunately, there is instability in our region. Our region
has suffered a lot. Today as well, the Caucasus is such a sensitive
region that even the smallest wrong step could bring major
disasters. You said it correctly. There were very strong leaders in
this region. Their togetherness, friendship and personal relations
played a very important role. These leaders are not here any more. I
hope that we, the young leaders, will keep our traditions alive.
It should not be Nagornyy Karabakh after Cyprus
[Ozkok] Mr President, recently we have frequently heard the following
theory. The Cyprus problem is being solved. After that, it will be
the turn for the Palestine – Israel and Nagornyy Karabakh problems and
that the pressure on you will increase. Do you agree with this?
[Aliyev] I do not see a parallel on this subject. There have always
been pressures on Azerbaijan. But it is not justified behaviour to
apply pressure to us, because we are not the source of the
problem. Armenia occupied our lands. Nagornyy Karabakh and seven of
our districts around it are still under occupation. As the result of
this occupation, 40,000 Azerbaijanis were forced to emigrate from
Nagornyy Karabakh and 700,000 Azerbaijanis were forced to emigrate
from the seven districts surrounding it.
[Ozkok] Are there other emigrants?
[Aliyev] Of course, 250,000 Azeris living in Armenia were also forced
to emigrate. There are also 20-50,000 Akhaltsikhe Turks who emigrated
from Uzbekistan. That is, today Azerbaijan shelters more than one
[Ozkok] All right, will this problem ever be solved?
[Aliyev] The great nations, the OSCE and the Minsk Group, which are
taking an interest in this problem, should approach it from the aspect
of international legal standards. The territorial integrity of
Azerbaijan should be ensured once again.
[Ozkok] All right, what would happen to the Armenians in Nagornyy
Karabakh? They are also talking about the principle of determining
their own future.
[Aliyev] Now they have the independent state of Armenia. But if you
are talking about the principle of determining their own rights
everywhere the Armenians live, then could Armenia attempt to determine
these rights everywhere the Armenians live, such as in France, in
Georgia and in the United States?
[Ozkok] If you were to make a call to Armenia from here, what would
you propose in very clear terms to solve the problem?
[Aliyev] Let me express it very clearly. One: we will never accept a
fait accompli. Those lands will never be a part of Armenia. An
independent Armenian republic will not be established there.
[Ozkok] This is a very rigid and irreconcilable attitude, is it not?
Would it not be necessary to be somewhat more conciliatory, at least
to start negotiations?
[Aliyev] We also have a conciliatory proposal.
[Ozkok] What is it?
[Aliyev] We are saying that at the first stage, let them withdraw from
five of the seven districts that they have occupied, then we would
immediately start the negotiations. We would immediately open the
railway and the border crossings. Economic relations would start. Then
it would also be possible to open the border crossing between Turkey
Let us give highest autonomy to Nagornyy Karabakh
[Ozkok] What would happen to the Armenians in Nagornyy Karabakh? Do
they not have a different situation?
[Aliyev] Our proposal on this subject is as follows: we are prepared
to give the Armenians in Nagornyy Karabakh the highest status other
[Ozkok] What sort of status?
[Aliyev] For example, there are national minorities in various places
in the world. There are autonomous administrations. Whatever is the
highest level and most advanced form of autonomy, we are prepared to
You cannot give up national cause because of pressure
[Ozkok] Mr President, recently the Azerbaijani public has been
sensitive about the opening of the border crossing between Turkey and
Armenia. The Azerbaijanis are reacting strongly because Turkey is
preparing to open this border crossing. Why is this?
[Aliyev] This is an internal matter for Turkey. No official
information has come from Turkey to date. Consequently, it would also
not be appropriate for me to say anything on this subject.
[Ozkok] What would be your reaction if Turkey were to open this border
[Aliyev] Of course, it would strike a blow to Turkish-Azerbaijani
relations. President Heydar Aliyev said the following repeatedly: We
are one nation and two states. For that reason, I do not think that it
is likely that such a thing will happen. Furthermore, the Armenians do
not have claims related only to our territories. They also have claims
related to Turkey. It is good to have economic relations, but there is
also history. It is also necessary to take history into account. If
such a thing were done, then it would also create profound sadness in
the Azerbaijani people.
[Ozkok] But Turkey is preparing to enter the EU and it is also
important to open this border crossing. Turkey is also taking steps on
the Cyprus issue.
[Aliyev] We know that there are pressures on Turkey. We also sincerely
want Turkey to enter the EU. But Turkey is a great state. The fact
that there is pressure does not mean giving up a national cause. The
EU negotiations have not yet started. If these negotiations start,
then how much time will it take, one year or five years?
Armenians in Baku are wives of Azerbaijani men
[Ozkok] Do you not have direct contacts with the Armenian president at
[Aliyev] We talked once.
[Ozkok] For example, did he congratulate you after you became
[Ozkok] Did he send you a message of condolence after the death of
[Aliyev] Yes, he sent a telegram.
[Ozkok] The population of Armenia is also decreasing. People are going
away, escaping from there.
[Aliyev] But the Armenian lobby still remains. We should not consider
the Armenians only as a country. Their diaspora is very strong.
[Ozkok] Are there no more Armenians in Azerbaijan?
[Aliyev] There are more than 20,000 Armenians in Baku. Basically, they
are the wives of Azerbaijani men.
[Ozkok] All right. Are there Azerbaijani women who are married to
[Aliyev] There are very few. There were very rare cases in the past.
We have no Islamic movement
[Ozkok] Is there an Islamic movement in Azerbaijan? Is it strong?
[Aliyev] No. We do not have this problem in Azerbaijan. Our society is
[Ozkok] What is the size of the Christian population here?
[Aliyev] The Christian population here is around 5, 6 or 7 per cent of
the total population.
[Ozkok] Are there also Jews?
[Aliyev] There could be around 100,000 Jews.
[Ozkok] More Jews than there are in Turkey.
[Aliyev] There were always many Jews here, both now and in the Soviet
period. They live here comfortably.
[Ozkok] Are the Russians who remained here happy with their lives?
[Aliyev] I think that they are happy. If they were unhappy, then they
would leave. Our relations with them are very positive.