Elmar Mammadyarov: European partners, including France would benefit from resolution of Karabakh conflict

Fri 09 February 2018 08:31 GMT | 08:31 Local Time

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French Parliament's Le Journal Du Parlement published an interview with Azerbaijani FM Elmar Mammadyarov as part of his visit to France.

Mr. Minister, Azerbaijan appears as a pivot between Europe and Asia, which gives it a central role in a region of numerous tensions. What are the main lines that your diplomacy intends to implement? In this spirit, what partnerships do you want to implement with your big neighbors, Russia, Turkey, Iran?

Azerbaijan is a bridge at the intersection of civilizations, East and West, Asia and Europe. Our country promotes the strengthening of strong regional cooperation and friendship, the expansion of peace, stability and security in a geopolitically ultra-sensitive region. It also plays the role of a center of regional cooperation thanks to its multi-vector, balanced and independent foreign policy. In this sense, the development of mutually beneficial cooperation with neighboring countries is a priority orientation of Azerbaijan's foreign policy. We are satisfied with the current level of development of bilateral friendly relations and strategic partnerships between Turkey, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan, which is currently undertaking initiatives on the development of these relations in the form of trilateral regional cooperation.

The Azerbaijan-Iran-Turkey and Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia cooperation formats are a perfect example. One of the major projects of Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia cooperation is the North-South Transport Corridor. This project involves the creation of a new efficient and accessible transport corridor from the Indian Ocean to Northern Europe and integration of the railway systems of the three countries. Our country is developing the East-West transport corridor with neighboring and strategic partner countries, Georgia and Turkey. As such, we are pleased to see the start of operation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway since 2017. EU's experience shows that the railways are a serious tool, contributing to the well-being of nations, uniting peoples and strengthening the dialogue between cultures and civilizations.

Your country attaches real importance to religious freedom and recognizes the right of all confessions to worship freely. This is one of the specificities of Azerbaijan that borders Iran. Do you think this is one of the keys to successfully staying at the center of the international political spectrum?

Historically, representatives of various religions and cultures have always lived in peace and security in Azerbaijan. Diversity is a social component and almost a way of life of the Azerbaijani people. It is not by chance that at the initiative of the President of Azerbaijan, the year 2016 was declared the "Year of Multiculturalism" and 2017 the "Year of Islamic Solidarity". The Azerbaijani Government promotes the development of the cultural traditions of different components of society by pursuing a proactive policy. Muslims, Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Jews and representatives of other religions live in an atmosphere of respect and mutual understanding and invite each other to their religious holidays. Shia Muslims and Sunnis pray together.

Being a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is also one of the very few countries that launched the "Baku Process" by inviting these two institutions and their member states. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the "Baku Process". Based on its national experience, Azerbaijan actively contributes to the process of dialogue between cultures and civilizations, hosts events such as the "Baku International Humanitarian Forum" or the "World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue".

Welcoming the first European Games in 2015 and the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017 in its capital Baku, is a strong sign of the voluntarist policy of dialogue between cultures and civilizations. It is no coincidence that during his visit to Azerbaijan in September 2016, Pope Francis described the country as a "bridge between civilizations".

Azerbaijan considers the elements of soft power, such as diversity and dialogue among civilizations, as fundamental components to guarantee peace and international security; it will continue to work systematically as much as possible.         

Azerbaijani foreign policy remains dominated by the Nagorno-Karabakh issue ... Where are we in this conflict?

The basis of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is the result of aggression and military occupation by Armenia. Launched in the late 1980s in the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh and accompanied by terrorist acts, aggressive separatism took the form of an open military aggression by Armenia against Azerbaijan just after the collapse of USSR. Armenia perpetrated ethnic cleansing against more than one million Azerbaijanis by occupying the Nagorno-Karabakh region and adjacent regions of Azerbaijan. The lack of a preventive mechanism against separatism, the "double standard" led to the tragedy we are experiencing today. Therefore, serious measures should be taken to counter the emerging separatist tendencies in Europe and to prevent them. There must be a definite and unambiguous position against all forms and manifestations of separatism.

Armenia's occupation of the Azerbaijani territories and the physical presence of the Armenian armed forces in the occupied territories of our country constitute a most serious threat to the peace and security of Azerbaijan and the region. As in the First World War, troops in the occupied territories dug trenches that left the soldiers in a dangerous confrontation.

The four UN Security Council resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 adopted in 1993 constitute the clear and unequivocal position of the international community on the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan. These resolutions affirm the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, its sovereignty, the inviolability of its borders and confirm that Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. They demand the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of occupation forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan. These resolutions form the basis of the mandate of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, of which France is a member. To make progress in the political settlement of the conflict, the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan should be a prerequisite and the military risk factor should be eliminated.

A war, a cease-fire, 25,000 dead and 1 million refugees and displaced people ...

I thank you for addressing the humanitarian aspect of the conflict. Our European partners often put human rights issues ahead in our discussions. But at the same time, they ignore the rights of 250,000 Azerbaijanis expelled from Armenia, their ancestral homes, more than 40,000 expelled from Nagorno-Karabakh, where they accounted for more than 20% of its population according to the state in 1989, and about 700,000 Azerbaijanis deported from 7 adjacent occupied areas of Azerbaijan. Their right to live in peace and security, to return to their homes, villages and cities, should receive the full attention of our EU partners and human rights organizations.

In this respect, the policy of ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis in Armenia and also in the occupied territories is the worst humanitarian disaster in Europe since the Second World War. As part of Armenia's occupation policy, numerous war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide have been committed. The Khodjaly genocide is one of the bloodiest pages in the history of the conflict: 600 civilians, including children, women and the elderly, were exterminated as a result of the attack by the Armenian armed forces in February 1992.
Another humanitarian aspect of the conflict, not to say the least tragic, are the war prisoners and the missing persons. More than 4,000 prisoners of war, including many civilians, are considered missing. Families have been waiting for information about the fate of their loved ones for more than 25 years. A few years ago, two Azerbaijani nationals, Dilgam Asgerov and Shahbaz Quliyev, were taken hostage by Armenian armed forces as they visited their parents' gravesites in the Kelbajar region, which is under Armenian occupation. They are still held captive by Armenia to this day.

Considering what has just been mentioned, we welcome the attention that France, as the Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, is paying to the humanitarian aspects of the conflict, specifically the issue of missing persons.

What is the solution to the conflict, in your opinion?

The entire international community, including the UN SC resolutions, recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan and support its territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders. Armenia continues, using force, to violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country by carrying out a policy of ignoring the will and position of the international community.

The resources of the negotiation process to resolve the conflict are not yet exhausted. The resolution of the conflict will contribute to the complete building of regional cooperation, the assurance of lasting peace and security in the region. First, the Armenian population will be able to benefit from cooperation opportunities. For that, as stated in UN Security Council resolutions, the fact of occupation must be ended. Armenian armed forces must withdraw from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and ensure the return of Azerbaijani IDPs. Today, Armenia is stubborn in its occupation policy, and at the same time speaks of peace. This attitude is in no way serious and responsible. Finally, Armenian leaders must understand that attempts to change the internationally recognized boundaries of states are not acceptable and above all they are inadmissible.

How do you see the continuation of the peace process mediated by the Minsk Group?

The answer to this question will unfortunately be short: the lack of results. As a result of more than 25 years of the mediation activity, the liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and the return of displaced persons to their native homes have not yet been ensured. The mandate document of the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group specifies that they should be guided by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, the Helsinki Act and the norms and principles of international law. In accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 822 and 853, the Minsk Group drafted and approved a plan of action for immediate measures to withdraw Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. But so far, this action plan has not been implemented and remains a dead letter.

It must be taken into account that the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group are permanent members of the SC and, according to the UN rules, bear the responsibility for peace and security.

I would like to recall a fact. At the initiative of the French President, in November 2014, a meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian Presidents was held in Paris. Concrete issues were discussed during the meeting, but just after that meeting, Armenia launched military exercises in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, with the participation of more than 40,000 soldiers and attempted to disrupt the negotiations.

We support the efforts of the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group to resolve the conflict, but more concrete and effective measures are needed. Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group should not allow negotiations to be halted by Armenia; the withdrawal of Armenian army from the occupied force must be ensured through political and diplomatic pressure. In this case, progress could be made through negotiations.

Currently, we can observe an intensity of exchanges and talks to promote the negotiation process. Azerbaijan will continue to work with the Co-Chairs in this regard. As a victim of occupation and ethnic cleansing against one million of its citizens, Azerbaijan is the party most interested in the soonest resolution of the conflict by peaceful means. In this regard, we hope that Paris will continue to participate actively in the process of settling the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Indeed, a fair settlement of this conflict on the basis of respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of States will create the conditions for sustainable development of the South Caucasus region and for broad regional cooperation. Not only the countries in the region, but also our European partners, including France would benefit from this.

How would you define relations between France and Azerbaijan?

Relations between our two countries are at a very high level and are developing steadily in different areas. Our agenda includes a regular political dialogue on bilateral relations and regional security, major projects in the fields of trade, economics and investment, active inter-regional cooperation and cooperation in the  scientific, educational and cultural spheres. Azerbaijan is a leading trading partner for France in the South Caucasus region. It is also a regional center for the study of the French language.

We are also interested in developing cooperation with France, our main partner in the EU, within the framework of international organizations. As such, it is very important for us to work with France on the European integration of Azerbaijan. This is the crucial element of the strategy of balancing our country's foreign policy and progress in complex geopolitical conditions.

We are grateful to Paris for its constructive position and contribution to the success of the Brussels Eastern Partnership Summit, held on 24 November, to support our European integration policy. The final declaration of the Summit reaffirmed support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan, marking progress in the work on a new agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan.

The pro-European orientation of Baku is important for our country, and also for the EU itself. Azerbaijan is a secular Muslim country, an active bridge of dialogue and cooperation between Europe and Asia, Europe and the world of Islam. It is a factor of stability and security for the entire region, a thunderbolt for religious fanaticism and extremism. As we have pointed out, it is also a factor of development, because Baku initiates and implements projects that today connect the continents and create thousands of jobs in the Asian countries, Caucasus and Europe. We expect the EU and its members to understand the strategic role of Azerbaijan in the region and the world.

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