Baku hosted international conference under the motto “Along the Middle Corridor: Geopolitics, Security and Economy”
An international conference under the motto “Along the Middle Corridor: Geopolitics, Security and Economy” has been held at ADA University, Baku.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev attended the conference.
In his opening remarks, Rector of ADA University Hafiz Pashayev said:
Distinguished participants of international conference. It is already the third time that ADA University and Center for Analysis of İnternational Relations are jointly organizing an international conference in which President Ilham Aliyev honors us with his participation. This conference has become an important platform for the discussion of regional developments, with a special focus on post-war peace building process and reconstruction. Messages from this room became valuable agenda points for global analysts and researchers, as well as for publications in world renowned journals. We thank President Aliyev for his valuable time, which he spends with us today. This time, we have decided to focus on the issue of Middle Corridor which is a highly relevant and timely topic of today's regional focus. Azerbaijan’s geo strategic location, has always attracted attention from the times of the ancient Silk Road to modern times, when national leader Heydar Aliyev has masterfully crafted the new energy map of the greater Eurasia and successfully built energy corridors. It was not easy at all. It's a crossroad both commercially and politically for all major issues facing the region. Azerbaijan has always resisted efforts by those who wish to dominate it, regardless of where the efforts come from. I want to bring to your attention that back in 2010 ADA university together with Central Asia Caucasus Institutes at the Johns Hopkins University has published a research study on how to make Azerbaijan and the Caspian region a transit hub of the continent. President Ilham Aliyev’s long term vision and tireless efforts to create a better synergy between Europe and Asia via Azerbaijan and the Caspian region have significantly contributed to this course. Azerbaijan’s 44-day Patriotic War and the liberation of the occupied lands have opened new opportunities for the regional transport corridors including Zangazur corridor and several other initiatives in this regard. We strongly believe that this discussion today and tomorrow will further enhance regional transport and connectivity agenda and bring more sustainable peace to the region. Please allow me to thank all international experts for their participation in these discussions. And now with great appreciation to President Aliyev for his valuable time, I turn the floor to his Excellency. Please Mr. President.
The head of state made a speech at the conference.
Speech by President Ilham Aliyev
-Thank you very much. First of all, I would like to express gratitude to our guests, international experts for being with us and to address this important issues. Of course, special gratitude to ADA university for hosting this important event. As Mr. Pashayev already said, it’s for the third time in recent history we gather here. I think the discussions which we had previously and this time will contribute to better understanding about regional realities, plans of Azerbaijan, and also our interaction with the neighborhood. Today’s topic covers a particular issue of middle corridor but, of course, when I see how it is called, “geopolitics security and economy”, of course, their coverage will be much broader and this is natural. Because in order to implement such a large-scale project as middle corridor, the issues of security and economic capability, of course, must be addressed. Because without security and economic potential it will not be possible to achieve the goal of full commissioning of the middle corridor which will be beneficial to all the countries in the region. Of course one of the important elements for implementation of any large-scale project is the stability. Azerbaijan is a country which enjoys stability for many, many years, and this was one of the main factors of our economic development and the role which Azerbaijan plays now on international arena also generated by our internal politics. Because strong economy, political economic stability and predictability of the policy of our government, all these factors, along with building bridges and establishing closer relations with as many countries as possible led to today’s reality. Therefore, political stability, security, economy all these factors are very important. Along with that, of course, what every country which is part of the middle corridor have done internally, in other words, what was the level of accomplishment of their homework in order to build physical transportation and logistics infrastructure. Azerbaijani geography is very well known. We are a landlocked country. We don’t have a direct access to world oceans.
Therefore, whether it’s our energy project, or transportation project we needed to work very hard in order to achieve our target. At the same time, advantage of our geographical location is just we are situated between Europe and Asia, actually, in the middle between the two continents and this allows us to play an important role in connectivity issues. But, of course, physical availability of infrastructure was most important and we invested in that sector for many, many years. And now, when we look at our railroad connections and highway infrastructure, we see that everything in Azerbaijan is ready. Five years ago we inaugurated together with our partners Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project and now when we see the growing volume of cargo crossing our country we started to invest in the expansion of the Georgian segment of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars. This project will cost us more than hundred million US dollars and we plan to accomplish it within a year and maybe in a year and a half. At the same time, other transportation projects like the North-South corridor will add synergy to the East-West corridor. So, Azerbaijan actually is the participant of both corridors and most of the transportation and logistics infrastructure with respect to these corridors in Azerbaijan is ready. What we are doing now, we are just modernizing, we are building new railway lines in order to increase the speed of the trains and cargo trains. At the same time, we are investing in transportation infrastructure particularly, air cargo transportation infrastructure. Our trade sea port which is a relatively new element of transportation connectivity projects is going to be expanded. From today’s 15 million tons up to 25 million tons because of the necessity, because of the new geopolitical situation in the world and necessity to transport more cargo through Azerbaijan. And also we are in a process of completion of our airports projects. After Lachin airport is ready, which will be the third airport on the liberated territories, the number of international airports in Azerbaijan will be equal to nine. Of course, this is not only for passenger transportation, but also a cargo transportation. So we expect rapid growth of cargo transportation through Azerbaijan and we are ready for that. If we add our potential with respect to the shipping infrastructure and the availability of the brand new shipyard in Baku, we will see that we will definitely achieve what we planned. And in order to transport additional cargos from eastern shores of the Caspian through Azerbaijan, of course, we will need to have new tankers and ferry boats and cargo boats. So, probably now I will conclude this introduction to leave more time for our discussions. Once again, welcome. I know that you will be visiting one of the liberated cities, Aghdam, and also I am grateful for that. You will see with your own eyes the results of 30 years Armenian occupation. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev then responded to questions from the conference participants.
Former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Board Member of the Jamestown Foundation, Matthew Bryza: Hi Mr. President, Matthew Bryza from the United States. In terms of the East-West corridor, Middle Corridor and specifically an energy, how are things going in terms of Turkmenistan, its gas getting incorporated maybe via Iran through swaps and also across Turkiye where there are some intense discussions of maybe private companies getting involved in the gas transit across Turkiye. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes we are, of course, addressing this issue of looking at the very broad prospects of cooperation. I think these transportation routes which already are functioning will allow all the countries of the Caspian region to be more integrated. Our cooperation with Turkmenstan has a very good history, and today we provide important transit for cargos from Turkmenistan, and even in our Trade Sea Port in Alat we have allocated a special place for particular cargos from Turkmenistan. We started swap operations with respect to Turkmen gas. And the reason is that we are now facing a growth in our industry, and the big need for additional volumes of gas. Industry is growing, population is growing. We are now in the process of active reconstruction of Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur. Therefore, the demand for the natural gas definitely will grow. What is necessary to be done, of course, we will continue our cooperation with foreign oil companies which plan to increase gas production from existing fields and also the new fields which will be operational starting from next year, particularly, huge gas condensate Absheron field will start production next year and the first phase of production will be 1.5 billion cubic meters. Of course, there is a potential to increase several times the production. At the same time, we need to expand the existing pipeline system which also is brand new. We just completed less than two years ago the final segment of the Southern Gas Corridor Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) but already today, we see the demand to expand the capacity twice from ten to twenty bcm. That will need, of course, a consolidated position and investments of all shareholders. Azerbaijan has only twenty percent share in TAP. Therefore, we hope with partners we will get to that point, and also expansion of TANAP from 16 to 32 billion cubic meters. Because capacity of TANAP is almost fully engaged. So, all that will need, of course, additional investments. Of course for that we will need to have the arrangements of transit with our Turkish colleagues. Without that it will not be possible to satisfy the needs of European consumers and also growing needs of Turkish consumers. There is an opportunity now without losing time to engage Trans-Balkan pipeline, especially, after interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria was inaugurated last month, and we are ready. The capacity of that pipeline is 3 bcm. So, we are ready to supply necessary volumes maybe within one month. But for that we need a transit arrangement with Turkiye, unfortunately, we did not get to that point yet. Negotiations continue. They last more time than we anticipated but hopefully we will come to that agreement. Because if it is not reached due to some reasons then all our plans to supply additional gas to Turkiye and to Europe will be under threat. You know that this July we signed a MoU with the European Commission to increase twice the supply. There is a potential, because of first, as I said, new gas fields which we plan to commission in the coming years, I mentioned Absheron, I can mention Umid-Babak, I can mention Asiman, Shafag and many others. Second, serious reforms in our energy company SOCAR-new management, corporate management. Transparency and efficiency will save us additional volumes of gas. And also our projects which already started with international investors with respect to renewables. Two projects are already in the pipeline. 470 megawatt of wind and solar energy will be available probably by the end of next year. Plus, 230 solar megawatt plant in Jabrayil will be added to that. So, that will save us additional gas. In other words, we will be able to implement fully the MoU with the European Commission which we signed in July, but for that we need to finalize our arrangements with our Turkish friends and I hope that it will be the case sooner than later.
Executive Director of Center for Global and Strategic Studies of Pakistan Khalid Taimur Akram:
-Mr. President, my name is Khalid Taimur Akram and I am from Pakistan. First of all, thank you very much for inviting us. I am here for the third time and in the last one and a half year we have seen very intense diplomatic efforts by yourself in cooperating Central Asia, in cooperating Pakistan and other Asian countries. You were there in Samarkand also and in fact you attended almost every reasonable platform in last one and a half year. Before I move on to my question, first of all, I would like to thank you for exempting Pakistani guys from any kind of taxes for next five years. So, we are very grateful for that, and your gesture has been taken in a very, very positive for bringing up the trade between Pakistan and Azerbaijan. I would now like to ask you that how do you think you have been going around in all this inflation in other Asian countries. In your opinion, do you think that in times to come the dream of connecting Southern Asia, Central Asia and Azerbaijan is going to accomplish? Do you think that Iran and Armenia will be creating any kind of problems in times to come? Or will they be going along with in whatever the resident countries are doing? Because all these countries are making lots of efforts and we have practically seen you going around everywhere talking to the world leaders and especially the regional country leaders. So, your comments on that.
President Ilham Aliyev: I met twice Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Shehbaz Sharif during the last couple of months. We discussed broadly the agenda of our bilateral relations and this an agenda of friendship and brotherhood. We are very grateful to Pakistan for continuous support which the country demonstrates with respect to Azerbaijan-Armenia relations. During the times of occupation, during the war, and after liberation of our territories, Pakistan was always with us. And this political and moral support is highly appreciated by the people of Azerbaijan.
We discussed also with Prime Minister how to intensify the economic and trade cooperation and the decision which you referred to special regulations for rice from Pakistan is a reflection of that. Because we decided to make this step in order to stimulate the growth of mutual trade, and as we discussed with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif we need to see what kind of goods we can provide to each other and why should we buy rice from some other place if we have high quality rice in the brotherly country. So that decision was clearly based on our brotherly relations. With respect to my contacts with leaders of the region with context we have a very great level of dynamism especially now, after pandemic, when international travels again become part of our life. I spent a lot of time in Central Asian countries. I visited Uzbekistan three times since this April, on an official visit and for international events, I visited Kyrgyzstan on a state visit. President of Kazakhstan was on an official visit here this August, and also, before that I visited Turkmenistan. I am planning to visit Tajikistan next year. I have an invitation from President. Also on the sidelines of international events we always use time to talk, because a lot of things are happening and we must be ready for that. Speaking at the Summit of the Organization of Turkic States, I pointed to the issue of security, because now security becomes maybe more important than ever before. And countries which have traditional ties must address this issue on their bilateral track and also multilateral and see how we can support each other, because world has changed, international law is not working, or working selectively. Therefore, if you have a power, if you have a strong army, if you have good allies then you can feel yourself on the safe side. Therefore, I think that the connectivity projects which we are implementing will lead to more regional security and stability and there is a great chance to accomplish them. Again, as far as we are concerned in Azerbaijan, all the transportation projects whether it’s East-West or North-South, railroad or highway airports of lead, or sea port, everything is ready. So, the same level of readiness must be in all the countries on route of the corridor. Is it the case? No. But we see the positive dynamics. For instance at one of the international events which I participated relatively recently, there was an agreement signed on construction of railroad between China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. This project was on hold for many years. But now everybody understands that there is a need to bring cargoes towards the Caspian, to engage Trans Caspian opportunities to a large degree. Therefore, this project which is, as far as I know, financed by China has a great chance to contribute largely to transportation. We have excellent relations with Pakistan and I know that the Gwadar Port of Pakistan is transforming into a big international hub. And to connect Gwadar Port with our infrastructure is not a difficult thing, just to properly address the issue of tariffs, legal framework, coordination on regulation and to have a team work. For instance, we have started the trilateral format of active cooperation between Azerbaijan, Turkiye and Kazakhstan. The first meeting of foreign ministers and transportation ministers took place several months ago. Now the second meeting and our neighbor Georgia is invited. It will be a meeting of four countries, because we are all interconnected and we need to have a single policy. Because if any country will try to achieve more than it can then it will not work. What else we have done here. We have accumulated the synergy of our transportation entities, because previously there was a kind of a more corporate policy of these companies. I mean Azerbaijan Railroad, Sea Port, Caspian Shipping and some others. So, now we have full coordination, and the Ministry of Transport and Digital Development is coordinating this process. Therefore, there will be a single window in Azerbaijan, which will make very easy for companies which want to use this route in order to have minimum bureaucracy. And, of course, efficiency of our transportation companies. In all the transportation companies we have already introduced the corporate management criteria. So, it is already bringing results. You asked about whether Iran and Armenia will be able to disrupt this process. I don’t think so. First, Armenia have neither geographical nor any other capability or advantages in the region. It’s actually a deadlock country. No transportation route crosses Armenia. Their transportation network is outdated and do not belong to them. Their railroads belong to “Rossiyskie Jeleznie Dorogi”, RJD, Russian railroad company. Actually our discussions on the Zangazur corridor we have with Russia not with Armenia, because Armenia is a satellite country it’s a dependent country. Its independence is very symbolic and we are not going to waste time negotiating with them, we are negotiating with Russia. By the way, during my recent communications with Russian officials we discussed the Zangazur corridor, and I don’t think that Armenia will be able to block this project. As far as Iran is concerned, I also don’t think that will be the case, because Iran itself should be interested in regional connectivity projects. Because these projects are not against anyone. They are for the benefit. So, again if we manage to establish a platform of sincere cooperation and a shared benefit approach with all the players, it will work. If not then it will probably work partially. So, it will depend, of course, on our interaction with our partners. But again Azerbaijan as a geographical center of this project, and as a country which already, as I said, has full infrastructure in place and a country which has good relations with different international actors understands its responsibility and will do everything in order to move the project forward.
Chairman of the European Union-Azerbaijan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, former member of the European Parliament Sajjad Karim:
-Mr. President, thank you very much. Sajjad Karim, former member of European Parliament and Chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with Azerbaijan:
May I firstly thank you, of course, for your time yet again. This dialogue is extremely useful to say the least for those of us that are engaged on relations with Azerbaijan. And may I just start of firstly by congratulating you on your decision to establish an Embassy in Tel Aviv. As a British conservative, I find myself in a position to very much welcome that. And as a country support that decision that you have taken. Mr. President, your developments following liberation of the territories or preceding exactly as you stated they would do in terms of a vision not just for Azerbaijan but for the entirety of the South Caucuses. What I am interested in exploring a little more is digital connectivity and how that fits into your overall plan not just for Azerbaijan’s liberated territories but for the South Caucasus. We are seeing at the global level basically three different versions emerging when it comes to data protections. US model, European model and then the Chinese model. Where do you see Azerbaijan fitting in terms of data prospections? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much, the decision which was made to open the Embassy in Israel and also representative office in a Palestine is a decision made based on our national interests and it reflects long-lasting cooperation with Israel and Palestine. And I’m sure that this decision will serve the cause of peace and actually it is a formalization of long-lasting, very friendly cooperation. And thank you for your support to that decision, because as we clearly understand not every country in the region is happy about that. But our task is not to make happy those who have some prejudice, our task is to make happy our people. And to do what is right for Azerbaijan and we are doing that. With respect to issue related to digital connectivity, yes, we understand the trends of the modern world. By the way, when we decided to change the name of our former Ministry of Technologies and Transport to Transport and Digital Development, that was a reflection of the reality. Because now this is one of the most important elements of development and of security. Which model we will chose probably is difficult to say for me. I think the experts and specialists will give me the advices about that, because I am not a specialist in this area. But we will make a choice based again on the best practice, on best technology, and best protection. Because we need to take care of cybersecurity, because we see that the more and more countries become very vulnerable with respect to cyberattacks even the countries with much more sophisticated technologies, and we are. Therefore, of course, we will seriously address this issue. But coming to your comments about the liberated territories, I’d like to say that we are applying in the liberated territories the latest technologies. And when I was saying two years ago right after the war that we will rebuild Karabakh and we will demonstrate the good example of reconstruction, I meant exactly that. And now it happened. We are building and reconstructing our citizens’ villages based on smart technology platform. And the first village in Aghali is already inhabited. And everyone who visits can see what will be a model for the reconstruction of Karabakh. Because not only it should be the kind of reflection of our moral duty in front of the former refugees who suffered for thirty years from Armenian occupation and they deserve to live a decent life and fully protected but also we consider reconstruction of Karabakh and Zangazur as a model for the whole country. We will then or may be already now steadily transfer technological experience and also administrative management. Because in the liberated areas we have a different administrative structure rather than in other part of the country. The Institute of President’s Special Representatives is already installed in three areas and it proves to be very efficient. So we are testing the model not only of technological development and how then to transfer but we are also testing the model of management. Therefore of course, we will be very, very attentive and committed to digital transformation and we will make the best choice, which is suitable for our people.
Ahmed Taher, Al-Hevar Center for Political Studies, Egypt
-Your Excellency, thank you very much for attending this meeting. You participated in the Arab League Summit in Algeria. We listened to your speech with pleasure. You emphasized the deep relations between Azerbaijan and Arab countries. My question is: How do you see the future of relations between Azerbaijan and Arab countries, in particular Egypt in general? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: It was a big honor for me to be invited to attend the summit of Arab League and I consider it as a sign of friendship, and a sign of respect. Earlier this year, I hosted the Secretary General of Arab League, Mr. Ahmed Aboul Gheit and we discussed our future cooperation. Also, we are now in the process of discussion and also probably realization of the idea to establish the office of Arab League in Baku. We are ready to undertake all the necessary arrangements and to support this process, because this will reflect the substance of our cooperation. We are grateful to member states of Arab League for continuous support to Azerbaijan within the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement and Islamic Cooperation Organization. During the times of occupation, several resolutions have been adopted in our support, and accusing Armenians occupational policy and after the liberation also. Therefore, we consider it as a very obvious sign of support. We also actively work on strengthening the solidarity between the member states of Islamic Cooperation Organization. We held several international events here. During the times of pandemic, we provided financial and humanitarian assistance to more than 80 countries, including countries of Arab League and Islamic Cooperation Organization. We know that there is a big potential but we need to identify the main areas of economic cooperation because as far as political interaction is concerned, everything is clear. We are friends and my participation at the Summit once again, reflects that. But in trade and economic area our performance of course, cannot be satisfactory. And coming to our relations with Egypt, these relations also have a good history since the early years of Azerbaijan’s independence. We are actively communicating in different areas, and political economic, trade, tourism. I visited Egypt on an official visit and the President of Egypt also visited Azerbaijan on an official visit many years ago. So, we also had this format of cooperation and I think that the potential of this cooperation is really very, very big. Thank you.
Energy Security Expert from Scotland John Roberts:
My question is a follow-up to Matthew Bryza’s question. How far advanced are your talks with BP on developing the deep level of Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli field and expanding production in Shah Deniz? I will be cheeky perhaps than ask you: What keeps you awake at night?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, at night I sleep well. I don’t wake up. No, this is true. There is no reason for me to wake up at night, especially now, in this peaceful environment Azerbaijan lives for more than two years. Already without the burden of occupation, without the risk of escalation. Because you probably heard that even during the times of occupation, Armenian high-ranking officials were threatening us that they were planning a new war for new territories. That was a quote of former Armenian Defense Minister who is now imprisoned by Mr. Pashinyan. But that was an open threat to Azerbaijan. There were other very arrogant comments like “if the war starts, Armenian tanks will be in the streets of Baku”. But actually this arrogant comment became a reality. Armenian tanks were in the streets of Baku but they have been in the military parade and now they are in the Military Trophy Park. So, after this glorious victory, there is no reason not to use night for sleep.
With respect to our plans with bp, of course, we are continuing our cooperation. bp is a strategic investor in Azerbaijan, and as you know an operator of ACG and Shah Deniz. It has plans to expand its activity. The projects like deep gas from ACG is now needed more than ever before. I know that negotiations between bp and SOCAR on this particular projects are moving very successfully. There have been certain delay in previous times due to some miscommunication of SOCAR management with Azerbaijani governmental officials. But now everything is clear. So, gas is needed for the market, and it is time to engage this huge potential. Because deep gas from ACG is really a big separate gas field. Also you know about the energy transition of energy companies. So, bp is also leading the process and their decision to invest in solar plant in liberated Jabrayil is highly appreciated. So, it is not only a sign that their leading the process of international companies in Azerbaijan with respect to renewables, but selection of liberated territory for us has a special meaning. Therefore, we are very grateful. 230 megawatt solar plant will be the first renewable facility on the liberated territories. We already have preliminary, accurate analysis of the potential of Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur. So, solar and wind potential is minimum 9.200 megawatt, and hydro potential is minimum 600 megawatt. By the way, more than 30 small and medium hydro power stations are to be built on the liberated territories. Five of them are already commissioned. So, really this is a big potential. As I said previously, more energy we produce from the renewables, more gas we will save for international market. So, it is a win-win situation. So, I am sure that other major energy companies will concentrate not only on the Caspian Sea potential, because we found out that the Caspian Sea has the second potential after the North Sea with respect to the wind energy. But energy companies will also turn their eye like bp did to Kalbajar, to Lachin where we have a huge wind potential, and to Jabrayil where it is probably the sunniest part of our country.
Director of Middle Eastern Studies Center (ORSAM) Turkiye, Ahmet Uysal:
-Thank you Mr. President. I see it’s very obvious that Azerbaijan shows good diplomatic activity recently in energy, security areas, especially on the Organization of Turkic States. What can you say about Azerbaijan's activity with Africa, third world countries, including East Asia? Thank you. Also, any hints about Azerbaijan-Turkiye relations. We must strengthen and expand our relations in the future. Your views on this would be interesting.
President Ilham Aliyev: If I start to talk about Azerbaijani-Turkish relations we will need several days to spend here. Vision is absolutely clear. We are brothers and friends, we are allies. Last year in Shusha we formalized actually what has been already achieved. We officially became allies signing the Declaration on Allied Relations. Once again it was just a formalization of the reality, because for many years Azerbaijan and Turkiye act like allies. We highly value this level of cooperation, partnership and brotherhood. We are absolutely sure that our cooperation will only strengthen in all the areas. This is a very important factor of regional stability, because Turkish-Azerbaijani cooperation and actions in the region aim to strengthen regional stability and this factor must be taken into account by all. Because we, two countries, combine our potential and together we are stronger than when we are separate. This is clear. Potential of Turkiye is growing. Potential of Azerbaijan is growing. Not only economic, industrial, but also military. Today’s world demonstrates that this is the factor number 1 for every country. If don’t have strong military forces you will probably suffer bitter days. So, investments in defense infrastructure, joint initiatives, joint military trainings. We regularly have more than ten joint military trainings with Turkiye during one year in Turkiye, in Azerbaijan. So, this is an important factor of regional stability and our security. All those who have bad plans against Azerbaijan or Turkiye should know that the Turkish army is not only the Turkish army but it is our army, and our army is not only our army but it is the Turkish army. All those who plan provocations on our border trying to frighten us should never forget it. With respect to countries of Africa, we are now more actively working with countries of African continent. Decision to open the embassy in Israel and representative office in Palestine also was a component of decision to open an embassy in Albania and in Kenya, in an African country. We have an Ambassador to the African Union, who is at the same time the Ambassador to Ethiopia. And our interaction, of course, is much more dynamic since we have undertaken chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement back in 2019. And at the summit which was held in Azerbaijan I said that we will be defending the national interests of member-states, justice and international law. And a unanimous decision by 120 countries to extend our chairmanship until 2023 is a reflection of support and respect from countries, including African countries, shown to us. During the time of the pandemic, as I said, we provided assistance to more than 80 countries, most of them countries of the African continent. We, at the same time, provided a donation of 10 million dollars US to the World Health Organization apart from the donations to African countries. So, I think that they also understand that Azerbaijan is a friend. So, the fact that we are supported in the Non-Aligned Movement and, by the way, we plan to organize another summit in Azerbaijan in the spring of next year, demonstrates that there is big potential for that.
Senior Policy Analyst at European Policy Center, Amanda Paul:
-Thank you, good morning, Mr. President. I would like to ask you to elaborate a little bit on your relationship with the European Union. I mean what are the priority areas? How do you see the role of the EU in the mediation process with Armenia, particularly of Charles Michel? And maybe a second question also related to the EU. You were at the recent summit in Prague launching the European political community. What is your perception of this new initiative? Because it still seems to be unclear to many people. And last but not least, how do you see the future of the Eastern Partnership? Is there life left in it or is it dead?
President Ilham Aliyev: Many important questions, so I will try to address all of them. First, our relations with the EU. This is one of the priorities of our foreign policy and I have publicly spoken about that many times. We consider the EU as our very important partner. We are now in the final stage of consultations with respect to the new agreement, which is almost 90 percent ready. Several unresolved issues still remain but that by demonstrating mutual goodwill we can achieve that and sign a very important document with the EU. You know that Azerbaijan did not join the association format. We did not sign the association agreement, as some other countries of the Eastern Partnership did. We gave preference to the bilateral format.
With respect to the Eastern Partnership, from the very beginning of this initiative we supported it, but our position was very clear. We consider it as one of the elements of our cooperation with the EU but not as a platform for cooperation with other member-states. Because six member-states of the Eastern Partnership have different geopolitical priorities, a different geography and a different, how to say, situation. And two of them, Azerbaijan and Armenia, were at war. With respect to the future of the Eastern Partnership, I am not very optimistic, frankly speaking. I recently received a big group of European representatives traveling here and to Armenia and discussed our future ideas. So I think that every initiative is good for its time. The Eastern Partnership started in 2009, if I am not mistaken. So it is almost 15 years now. It is not for granted that it should continue like that. Because especially now, if you look at these six countries of the Eastern Partnership, you will see even more differences between them than ever before.
The European political community platform is new. We have been invited and I actually participated. I was satisfied with how it was organized. I think it was organized in a very professional way. There was an opportunity to have a very sincere discussion off the record and address important issues. So as a platform I think it was successful. With respect to its future, my impression from the Prague meeting is that even the initiators of this platform do not know what the future will be. I think it is in the process. And this is probably natural. Because you can expect that everything is already pre-organized and you have these directives what will happen next. The good thing is that the decision was made to hold these summits every six months. So this, I think, is a good sign. Because if it was yearly, you know, you come, you meet, you forget, you go home and everything is stuck. So every six months will allow to have more dynamism. The next meeting is due to be held in Moldova, which I also see as a very wise decision to have this meeting not in an EU member-state. So we will see. Anyway we are glad that we were invited and if we are invited to the next summit, of course, we will participate.
With respect to the mediation of the European Union and personally Mr. Charles Michel, we supported it from the very beginning. Because we thought that after the funeral of the Minsk Group, there must be some platform. Because we need to have some institution to help us and Armenia to come to certain agreements. And the initiative of President Charles Michel was a timely initiative. And you know that we have had several rounds of meetings in Brussels. And I think that all of them were successful. We adopted a press-release after the meeting and it actually helped us to formulate the formula for a settlement. Because after the second Karabakh war there have been certain illusions in Armenia that they will continue to talk to us about Karabakh. And we said from the very beginning that this was absolutely out of the question. We are not going to talk about Karabakh with any country or international institution. The Karabakh conflict has been resolved. It is our territory recognized by all and it is our internal matter. So we needed to formalize that, and it happened. If we go back to the Prague meeting and look at the communique of the meeting, we will see that Armenia officially recognized the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan for the first time, which means sovereignty over Karabakh. Also in the Prague press-release, there was a reference to the Almaty declaration of 1991, which actually formalized the administrative borders of former Soviet republics. That means that any speculations about some kind of a status or whatsoever for the Karabakh Armenians is out of the question. So, coming back to the EU format, it was important, because we also managed due to the interactions in Brussels to agree that we separate two tracks. One is the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations on the peace treaty and the other track is our communications with representatives of the Armenian minority in Karabakh with respect to addressing only two issues: rights and security. And that was agreed. What I am trying to say is that this event produced a result. The meeting in Prague had a little different format, because President of France Macron joined our group. And, well, I would just end my comments here. But again, the result of the Prague meeting was successful for us because, again, Armenia recognized the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. I can tell you one more thing which has not yet been disclosed but it probably will be. The next meeting in Brussels was supposed to be held on 7 December. Because at the last meeting we agreed to meet in November but then we had a meeting in Sochi organized by President Putin at the end of October. So it was supposed to be held on 7 December, but yesterday I got information from Hikmat Hajiyev that he was communicated from the office of Charles Michel and informed that Prime Minister Pashinyan agrees to the meeting on one condition – that President Macron also should participate. Of course, that means that this meeting will not take place because of what happened after Prague. The Prague meeting was on 6 October, and then less than one week later President Macron in his interview attacked Azerbaijan and accused us of what we hadn’t done. After that there was this famous French Senate resolution, which was absolutely unacceptable and insulting. Now there will be another resolution of the National Assembly of France of the same anti-Azerbaijani origin. And then there was an attempt by France to attack us through the Francophonie summit, which is absolutely unacceptable because Francophonie is a humanitarian organization. It never dealt with issues like that. We have the initial text, a draft text of the France-Armenia tandem, which is full of insinuation, accusations and insults. But we have friends not only in the Non-Aligned Movement. Some of them, by the way, are members of Francophonie and also in Europe. So this anti-Azerbaijani resolution was actually canceled or they adopted something very formal. So taking all that into account, it is clear that under these circumstances and with this attitude France cannot be a part of peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. And it wasn’t us who cut them from this format. It was them, because neither Russia nor the United States, other former Minsk Group co-chairs, never took, officially I mean, sides in the post-war period – only France. So that means that the meeting in Brussels on 7 December will not take place. We will see what alternatives we have, who will be a kind of a mediator or facilitator, or where the platform will be. I also consider this decision of the Armenian Prime Minister – because they could have imagine that we will be against it – as an attempt to undermine the peace process. Because the peace process will lead to the signing of the peace agreement in which they will have to admit that there is nothing about Karabakh. And in all the press-releases – whether adopted in Sochi or in Brussels – there is no reference to Karabakh. That’s why the Armenian side probably decided to use the old tactic which they used during the occupation to make this process endless without any result-oriented scenario. So if it is their choice, what can we do? We cannot force them to sign it. That means that there will be no peace treaty. That means that there will be no peace. And if there is no peace, then what do we have? So I think I have covered all your questions.
Senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East, Hudson Institute, United States, Michael Doran:
Thank you very much, Mr. President. It is a great pleasure and honor to be here. I wonder if I can ask you about the relations with the Azerbaijanis in Iran. You recently made some very interesting statements about your concern for the Azerbaijanis both at home and beyond your borders. You have made statements about the power of the Turkish-Azerbaijani relationship. I can see as this alliance between Turkiye and Azerbaijan develops, how it can bring great benefits to Azerbaijanis beyond your borders. It can bring great benefits even to my own country. I am not sure that the people running the country recognize that. If you could talk about any of that and how you see that developing, the relationship with the Azerbaijanis beyond your borders, I would be very interested. And, I was struck by your comments just now that the peace process being stalled. But you also said that you were negotiating with Russia about the Zangazur corridor. Can you imagine the Zangazur corridor proceeding without the peace agreement with Armenia? And what do the Russians want in return? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. You know, to answer your question comprehensively, I need to go a little bit back. Right after the second Karabakh war, Azerbaijain and Turkiye were advocating for broader regional cooperation, including connectivity projects but not only that. Therefore, this formula, 3+3, was introduced. That means Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia as South Caucasus, and Turkiye, Iran and Russia. Despite the fact that the post-war situation led to the creation of a joint monitoring center in Aghdam – the Turkish-Russian joint monitoring center which meant that these two countries of the region will play a role in the future configuration of the region, despite the fact that during and after the Second Karabakh War we didn’t see any activity of Iranian representatives, we said we need to have an inclusive scenario. Therefore, Iran was invited and Georgia was invited too. Georgia had reservations because they said that they cannot participate in a platform where Russia is also a participant because of the situation in the separatist provinces in Georgia. Iran supported that, and we considered it as a good sign of the fact that we will finally come together and we will address important issues, including corridors, because all of us are interested in those corridors. If we look at the map now, especially taking into account what we were talking about earlier, the need for additional cargo and the need to have additional routes. When we started to advocate for the Zangazur corridor, the Russian-Ukrainian war hadn’t started yet. The traditional transit route from China to Europe was not blocked. Now the situation is different and the route through the Caspian and also through Zangazur has a special importance. So it could be a win-win situation for every country, because a part of this railroad will eventually enter Iran through the city of Julfa where there is a railroad connection between Iran and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan. And Armenia will also be engaged, so Armenia will eventually have a railroad connection with Iran, which they don’t have now and will never have, because the geography on the Armenian-Iranian border and the necessity to build tunnels will bring the cost of this railroad to a minimum of 3-5 billion US dollars. Who is going to invest in this project? No-one. The only way for Armenia to have a railroad connection with Iran is through us. The only way for Armenia to have a railroad connection with Russia is through us. Because the traditional route through the separatist Abkhazia is blocked. The Georgian government is not willing to open it and it is natural, we understand that. So it is in Armenians interests to have this corridor more than it is in ours. Because with respect to our connections with Turkiye, we use Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, we use Georgian seaports. With respect to communication with Nakhchivan, we use Iranian territory. Nakhchivan has a border with Turkiye, we can have a connection through Georgia – Turkiye and Nakhchivan. So we suggested this 3+3 format taking into account all these advantages. And of course, for us we will have a connection with Nakhchivan via a railroad and by highway. But unfortunately, it got stuck because, unfortunately, the recent steps and actions undertaken by some Iranian officials are absolutely counterproductive. We cannot understand the origin of this dissatisfaction. On the one hand, everybody must be satisfied that the long-lasting stand-off between Azerbaijan and Armenia has come to an end. This means that there will be regional stability and potentially cooperation. To be unhappy about that – we do not understand what geopolitical reasons for that are. During the times of the occupation, the Iranian armed forces never held any military trainings on the border with Azerbaijan, which was occupied. They could have done that. A 132-kilometer section of the Azerbaijani border was under occupation. And this is a border between Azerbaijan and Iran. Why didn’t they hold military trainings on that border? Iranian officials, including very high-ranking personalities, said that Armenian territorial integrity is a red line for Iran. Why none of them said the same about us? For 30 years our territory was under occupation. Did anyone hear from Iranian officials that Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is a red line? No. These are the questions the Azerbaijani people are asking. It is not only me who asks these questions. Every Azerbaijani who cares about his country asks these questions. And we cannot get an answer. Therefore, everything happening between Iran and Azerbaijan now was not generated by us. We are only responding and we will respond to any kind of anti-Azerbaijani steps whether it is in words or in actions. And we had to organize a military training on the Iranian border in order to demonstrate that we are not afraid of them. And we are telling them that we are not afraid. We will do everything in order to protect our lifestyle, the secular development of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis, including Azerbaijanis in Iran. They are a part of our nation.
I can give you another example. We have 340 schools in Azerbaijan where lessons are conducted in the Russian language. We have 10 Georgian schools in Azerbaijan. In Georgia, there are 116 Azerbaijani schools although there is something like 200,000-300,000 Azerbaijanis in Georgia. There are Armenian schools in Iran. But there are no Azerbaijani schools in Iran. How can that happen? And if someone says that this is interference in internal affairs, we absolutely reject that. This is not an interference in internal affairs. Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is very clear – we never interfere in the internal affairs of any country. But this is a part of society which has the same ethnic origin, speaks the same language and has the same values with us. How can we be indifferent to that? Why can’t they learn their language at school. They are losing the language, you know. The problem is that. Why we are raising it is that the Azerbaijani language which is spoken in Iran is losing its literary component. It has become a language people speak at home. This issue must be addressed. And I am raising this issue also because this is a concern for us. I hope that the pro-Armenian actions of the Iranian government will not damage the very fragile peace, and I think, there will be more understanding of the necessity to take into account the feelings of the Azerbaijanis and our interests. And one last thing to illustrate that it wasn’t us who generated this situation. I worked with three previous Iranian presidents – with President Hatami, with President Ahmadinejad and with President Rouhani. And never, during all these years, did we have anything similar to what we have now. Never has there been a military training, two trainings within several months, on our border with words full of hatred and threats to Azerbaijan. Never! So it means that it was not us who is the generator of this situation. We want this situation to end sooner than later. We want peace and friendly relations with all our neighbors, but at the same time, we will always defend our dignity, our independence and our lifestyle. We will not allow any foreign player to impose its standards and its will on our government and our people.
Doctor, Professor, University of Utah, United States, Hakan Yavuz:
Thank you. Mr. President, I would like to congratulate you on freeing the occupied territories and also on ending the shame of the Azerbaijani nation because of what happened in the last 30 years. I was in Shusha and I saw the destruction of the major cultural center. And there was nothing constructed at the same time. One wonders what they did in the last 30 years in those territories. Mr. President, as a scholar, you wrote your dissertation in 1985 on “Peace movement in Great Britain”. And in your dissertation you talk about the social basis of the anti-war movement in Great Britain. Now as a scholar of a peace movement, not as a president, I would like to ask you. What do you see as a major society-level problem for creating a peace mentality in this region? Because you also rightly argue that peace requires a certain model of thinking and positioning yourself. I would like to know what you see at the societal level as an obstacle to creating a regional peace. And also as a scholar, I think that Azerbaijan should lead a working group about a textbook of the region. I read some of the textbooks in Armenia. They are so negative. I think the roads are important, transportation, railroads – I agree with you. But we also need to create this mentality, as you deal with in your own dissertation. I think that Azerbaijan should really call on all regional governments to examine their high school, middle school and elementary school textbooks and see how they can change and create this mentality of peace. My second question. I am trying to understand Armenian nationalism. Some of my work deals with the origin of Armenian nationalism, especially in the Ottoman Empire. So, I follow Armenian political thinking. I think the second Karabakh war did not only liberate the occupied territories. It also opened a new space in Armenian political thinking inside the country. Scholars such as Richard Liberidyan and others seek to question what kind of state we need. Do we need a state guided and shaped by the so-called past injustices or a state that cares about its own national interests? I have tried to examine some of Pashinyan’s positions. As a scholar on Armenian nationalism, I think that Pashinyan is so difficult to make sense from my own perspective. Since you met with him so many times, I want to know what Pashinyan wants, why he changes seven times a day. Is it because of Russia, France and Iran? Or is it Pashinyan himself who is actually manipulating these powers, not the regional powers manipulating him, but he himself? What is your take on this issue? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I will try to address all your questions. First of all, thank you for visiting Shusha and the liberated territories. So you have seen everything with your own eyes. Everyone who has visited Shusha, especially right after the war because now Shusha is changing, we are rebuilding it, we are restoring it, huge restoration works are taking place. But when I visited Shusha right after the war, apart from all the other feelings which each of us has approaching Shusha, the feelings of pride, dignity and, at the same time, sorrow that we were not able to be there for so many years, one feeling that shocked me was that if they thought that it was their city, why is it in such a bad shape? Because one cannot treat his own city like that. There was not a single building restored or not a single building built there. Only two villas sitting on the Lachin road, overseeing it. Two villas of the de factor Karabakh leaders which were built for them – with swimming pools, with the barbecue. And everyone visiting these two villas can once again see the level of hypocrisy and kleptocracy of the so-called Karabakh officials. Because not only Shusha – I have many times visited the villages where Armenians were settled illegally during the times of occupation. And I was absolutely shocked with what I saw. You will never find in any part of Azerbaijan devastation like that. It is a total poverty, as if you go back to the 60s or 70s of the previous century. And my question was where the millions and billions of dollars which Armenians collected every year were. Every year they held TV marathons to collect money from Armenians in America, in France and other parts of the world. And in every marathon they collected some 50 or 100 million dollars US. Where is this money? Where is the money of the so-called Armenian philanthropists who presented themselves as donators? So, everybody who visits Shusha can see that this is an ancient Azerbaijani city and now it belongs to our people, as it should be.
With respect to my dissertation, thank you for paying attention to that. You are absolutely right, its theme was anti-war movement in Great Britain and the position of political parties. But that was a dissertation written in a different country. That was the Soviet Union. It was 1985. And, of course, it was full of ideological stereotypes of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I can tell you one other thing. As a student of Moscow State University for International Relations, I was sent to London for diplomatic practice at the Soviet Embassy. It was 1981. And it was a time when this anti-war movement was gaining strength. There were huge rallies. There were very prominent personalities, including priests. One of them was the head of an NGO which was called a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). And it was a really serious political force. It was backed by the then Labor Party and its famous leader Michael Foot who was a frequent guest at the Soviet Embassy in London. I am a witness of that. So the anti-war movement in the UK at the time, even though it had a very good agenda, a world without nuclear weapons, was to a certain degree associated with Soviet connections, with Soviet propaganda. I am not sorry for what I wrote. I was also a member of the Communist Party at the time. I tried to be maximum objective. I don’t know to what degree I managed to do that. Sorry for bothering you with these details.
You have also asked a very important question. This is a question that doesn’t or questions that don’t have an answer. First of all, peace mentality in the region. The Armenian society was poisoned for decades. They were poisoned by propaganda of the diaspora and Armenian nationalists. And one of the reasons why they committed these brutal acts against the Azerbaijanis and why they destroyed our cities, for instance, Aghdam, Shusha, Fuzuli and others, is the fact that they were brainwashed by nationalists and the diaspora. Because we didn’t do anything harmful to them. Even if we wanted to, we had no time. Aghdam was occupied at the beginning of the 1990s. So, why was there so much hatred? Why did they dig out graves? Why did they destroy mosques? The answer is that their education is poisonous. They raise their children in the atmosphere of hatred towards Turkiye and Azerbaijan. So, the Turkophobia and Azerbaijanophobia is their ideology. And also they have invented so many legends about their history and their historical personalities that they started to believe in these fairy tales. All their history, all their historical products are fake. They take the history of other nations and present it as their own history. And I think, this ideology has led them to a disaster, because at a certain moment they really started to think that they are the bravest soldiers, the greatest nation, the cradle of civilization and the center of the world. This damaged reality played a bad joke with them. So the result of the war was a kind of a cold shower for them. They did not expect it to happen. They did not expect to be so humiliated by this defeat. And they themselves admitted that they had more than 10,000 deserters who ran away during the war. What is happening now I hope could be a remedy because they need treatment. Their society needs psychological assistance. I am not trying to insult them. Absolutely not! I am just trying to say what I feel and what I see during this post-war period. And the voices we are hearing now about peace and about normalization of relations with Azerbaijan – we didn’t hear those voices during the times of occupation. During the occupation, the previous president of Armenia, war criminal Serzhik Sargsyan, in one of the meetings with a young group, was asked about the historical territories of Armenia, the so-called historical territories. He said we have liberated Karabakh and you will liberate that part of Turkiye. You see how inadequate one can be – I am trying to find the word. To have territorial claims to Turkiye, which has the second army of the world, which is a country with an independent foreign policy and everybody in the world has to take it into account. Even Sweden and Finland have to take into account Turkiye’s legitimate demands with respect to putting an end to sheltering terrorists. And this small, impoverished and dependent Russian satellite, or even Russian slave says that one day they will occupy Turkish territory. So this is poisonous conscience. And the war for them is a chance, a chance to get rid of that, a chance to get rid of their manipulation with international public opinion, to invent stories about their great history and great nation.
With respect to Pashinyan, my comments will probably be inappropriate but just some piece of information, very objective and, as some say, no comments. During the times of occupation, I had several meetings with Mr. Pashinyan. I have already spoken once about our first meeting in September 2018 in Dushanbe, at the summit of CIS countries. By the way, it was on 27 September. Exactly two years later the second Karabakh war started. I don’t want to go into too much details, but after that meeting we agreed that we would strengthen the ceasefire regime on the border, we will stop shooting, and it happened. It happened for one year. It was the quietest period when there were almost no casualties. But what happened after that? He probably thought that it was a sign of weakness and then these famous statements came: “Karabakh is Armenia”, “a new war for new territories”. And then there were provocations in July, August, etc. What he says now is different from what he said at that time. And I always ask: did they really need this war to understand who is who? I was trying to explain, I was trying to say that we will never tolerate this situation, that our patience is coming to an end, that we will destroy you. This is my quote. If the war starts, we will destroy you. And it was not a kind of sign of some bravery or propaganda. This was a reality. We knew what we can do and we knew what they can do. And even if they had physical military support from other countries, that would not have stopped us. We were motivated. We were ready to die rather than to continue like that.
But now we see a change of rhetoric. Now they want to normalize relations with Turkiye. And we say that we support that. We do not object. On the contrary, we want these two tracks to go in parallel: Turkish-Armenian normalization and Azerbaijani-Armenian normalization. Now they are talking about peace, etc. I do not know to what degree it is sincere and whether they will need another cold shower to be treated completely and to get rid of this poisonous brainwashing or not. But they need to change the full paradigm of their education, they need to change their ideological grounds. It is painful but they have to do it. Otherwise, they will be completely lost. And they understood, especially after yesterday’s summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization members, when Mr. Pashinyan made a very undiplomatic and I would say harmful for himself demarche against his colleagues. He understands that if we want, we can do a lot. And no-one can stop it. The thing is that we don’t want it. We want peace. We want them to understand that they have nothing to do or say about Karabakh Armenians. We want the Zangazur corridor and we want border delimitation based on historical maps – historical maps, not the maps they are trying to introduce. This is not much. We don’t want their territory, we don’t want any war. If we had wanted it we would have done it. And no-one can stop us – neither his sponsors in Western Europe nor to the south of their border, nor to the east of their border.
Senior Associate Researcher, Institute for European Studies of Brussels University, Koert Debeuf:
-Thank you very much, Mr. President, for your time and for your frankness. We met for the first time 16 years ago, during a lunch in the Belgian parliament after you met with the Belgian Prime Minister. And back then we were all fascinated by your explaining the psychology of the Kremlin. And everything you predicted that would happen in the following years actually came true. So I would like to ask you again now, I know it is a big question, but what is going to happen in this conflict with Ukraine now? What is the psychology of the Kremlin in the next coming months and perhaps years? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: I think nobody knows what will happen. We are not actually directly involved and our information mainly from the open sources. But as far as we see international development with respect to this war, it is absolutely unpredictable. The most important question, I think, is when it ends and how it ends. And a lot in the world will depend on that. Therefore, for me it would be very irresponsible to comment about how it will continue. It depends on a variety of factors, it depends on the policy of the Russian government, the policy of the Ukrainian government and the western alliance which backs the Ukrainian army. So there must be an understanding that the war must come to an end. I think this is number one. And of course, Azerbaijan always in all the international fora spoke in favor of territorial integrity of all the countries and we remain in this position. We ourselves have suffered from the violation of the territorial integrity. Therefore, territorial integrity is a fundamental principle of international law. Another thing is that there is a selective approach to the territorial integrity of different countries. I can tell you during the times of occupation we were always disappointed to a certain degree, to put it mildly, that conflicts in the post-Soviet area are treated differently. With respect to the conflict in Georgia and Moldova even before Ukraine, there was an absolutely clear articulation of support for territorial integrity of these countries. In the case of Azerbaijan, we never heard from mediators this straightforward approach or statement. The narrative was that you have to agree. That was the public narrative. And the messages we sometimes received during private negotiations was that this is a reality and that every country should take into account the reality. And when we were asking what about the UN Security Council resolutions, there was no answer, what about territorial integrity, there was no answer, the Helsinki Final Act, there was no answer. And we said okay, if this is the reality, we will change this reality. And we started to prepare ourselves to change the reality. And that is how it happened. It was not international law, it was not the United Nations, it was not Armenia’s constructive approach which changed the situation. It was our army, our people and our political will. So realities must be changed. Do you have power to do it? If yes, you do it, if not, you accumulate power. If you want to have a quiet life, you agree with this reality. Our choice was different. I was asked about sleepless nights. Yes, I had many of them during the times of occupation, because of the feeling of anger, not because something will happen, but because of the feeling of anger and understanding that this injustice is how the world is being regulated. And my belief in justice only happened after we won the war. I started to believe in justice again. Therefore, once again, I don’t know what will be the end. What we have done is clear. How we were approaching the situation of restoration of our territorial integrity is also known. So you have to be strong. Unfortunately, this is the outcome of the 21st century international relations. Forget about resolutions, statements and good words. They are worth nothing. You, your people, your army and your feeling of justice.
Professor, US Naval Postgraduate School, Brenda Shaffer:
-Thank you for hosting us. It is wonderful to be here and thank you for sharing your time with us. I have two questions, if possible. Azerbaijan, for 30 years of its strategic projects, sees demand and needs ahead, ahead of time, strategically, often more than international oil companies and foreign governments. Take, for example, the Southern Gas Corridor. Azerbaijan identified that Europe is going to have increased natural gas demand even when European institutions thought that their needs would be modest. I remember doing the FID of a project turned into mega gas projects. It was believed that everything was going to be on LNG and renewables. But Azerbaijan understood, built scalable infrastructure, built double capacity and already within two years of operation the demand is already in place from Europe. Another infrastructure project that I had the honor of visiting this week was in Zangilan. If someone looks today and says, who needs an airport here, why here in this corner where these beautiful homes are being built in this modern city. Of course, for justice, as you mentioned, for refugees going back – we always hear about the suffering of refugees, about injustice, but I never recall a situation where refugees actually go home. And it is very exciting to see this. But I believe that there must be some vision here, similar to the Southern Gas Corridor, similar to the BTC. Where do you see the greater region around Zangilan in 10 years? Who will be using that airport? Will it be the cities of northern Iran or will it be eastern Turkiye? How do you see that region developing? And then my second question. We are seeing tremendous and significant developments in Muslim-majority countries. We can say everything from Abraham accords, which shifted all the cooperation lines, transportation lines in the Middle East. If Iran was standing up for Muslims, it is very clear after 30 years of occupation, as you said, not one word was said about the occupation. Having economic projects like Khudaferin hydropower plant and Giz Galasi hydropower plant in the occupied territories, or even restoring or building parts of mosques in Shusha. Obviously, Iran doesn’t speak for Islamic solidarity any more. We see the shift of Turkiye being involved in building militaries in many Muslim-majority countries. Saudi Arabia’s main cooperation on oil is with Russia, not with other OPEC producers. And Iran is basically calling itself Shia, but how could Shia and how could a truly religious government shoot women in the head and treat women the way they are treated? Are we seeing a new model, especially among Shia Muslims, developing where no longer looking to Qom, maybe looking to Najaf, looking to other places or maybe a completely different model like, for instance, the model of Azerbaijan where there is a very secular government and secular state institutions but religious and believing people, which is actually more connected with traditional Islam where religious leaders were not governors but were separate from state institutions? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. You have touched upon some very important issues. Answering these questions, I want to say that our strong belief in what we are doing for the development of the country and also giving messages to society that religion must be separated from the state. We are Muslims in Azerbaijan, there are also Christians, Jews and representatives of other religions. But religion should not interfere in political life. We do not understand when somebody talks about political Islam. This is not something which is common in Azerbaijan. One of our advantages as an independent country in this geography and one of our achievements is that we have managed to strengthen the secular character of our society, at the same time with full respect for the religious feelings of all our citizens. And what we are doing in Karabakh now, apart from the airports you have mentioned, is the restoration of mosques, including the mosque in Shusha, which was illegally “restored” but was actually damaged by one Iranian company. And that was a big scandal because when we invited the Iranian ambassador to our Foreign Ministry saying that you have no right to do it, you have no right to touch it, and you have no right, first of all, to visit Shusha, which is part of Azerbaijan, without our agreement. And that was again a sign of solidarity with Armenians who destroyed 65 mosques in Karabakh and Zangazur out of 67. And one in Aghdam, which you will see. They used it as a stable for cows and pigs and also the minaret they used as an observation point to see Azerbaijani troops. The mosque in Shusha was so-called “renovated” to demonstrate the so-called “tolerance” of Armenians – which looked renovated– and they called it a Persian mosque. First, mosques don’t have nationalities. You cannot call a mosque Persian or any other. This is part of our history and none of us forgot that. Therefore, total separation of religion from political life – this is our model and this model proves to be successful. So, we don’t have in Azerbaijan all what you described in your question. We have full unity among Muslims in Azerbaijan regardless of which part of the Muslim religion they belong to – Shia or Sunni. We have a unique experience of having a unity prayer in our mosque when Shia and Sunni Muslims pray together. And how can we separate if all of them are Azerbaijanis? The same blood, the same ethnicity. And this is probably the last question probably to be asked in Azerbaijan – you know our country very well. We are all Muslims and there is no division between us. And those who want to divide the Muslim world, they are doing great damage to all Muslims. The Muslim world must be united. And what are we doing? We are contributing to that by our efforts, by our initiatives, by our statements and by our policy. Therefore, I think that in today’s world traditional alliances can grow bigger. For instance, we have already discussed the Turkish-Azerbaijani cooperation format. One of the advantages of the Turkish-Azerbaijani cooperation format is that we have created a synergy, and countries which, for instance, Azerbaijan has better relations with or Turkiye has better relations with – these countries also create additional potential. You know that Azerbaijan has played a role in the normalization of relations between Turkiye and Israel. We have also played a role in the normalization of relations between Turkiye and some Arab countries. We consider this as part of our duty, because if we have these connections, we want our friends to be friends between themselves. This really creates additional opportunity to strengthen security and stability and to have more economic benefits. And I think know, what we see the configuration of political cooperation format in the broader region of Eurasia is going in the positive direction.
With respect to our reconstruction processes, of course, first of all what we are doing we are doing for the people who will come to live there. Zangilan airport has importance, because it will be easier to transport cargoes and one day probably Zangilan airport may have international flight connections. Why not? It is one of the most beautiful parts of Azerbaijan with very beautiful nature, natural springs, rivers and trees. It is a piece of heaven when we create all the necessary infrastructure for that. At the same time, it is not far from the Armenian border. Therefore, it is no secret that this airport will also be important from the point of view of security. And taking into account the growing volume of cargo going through Azerbaijan and the growing cargo fleet of Azerbaijan, I think it could and should be one of the destinations for our cargo fleet because of the location. It is closer to Europe, it is closer to the south. And Zangilan in general will be an important transportation center, which sits on the Zangazur transportation corridor. The railroad to Zangilan is already built. You have probably seen it. Next year it will reach almost the Armenian border. The airport in Fuzuli is now being actively used. Many visitors, including international visitors, are using it. The airport in Lachin has special importance, of course, because it is not easy to access Lachin. You can get it, now I mean, either through the Kalbajar mountains, which is sometimes inaccessible in the summer, or through Gubadli. So it is really important mainly for the people who will live there. Whether this will have an impact on the future additional benefits of the region, of course, yes. Because when we started to invest in the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, there were also questions why we were spending so much money, almost 800 million dollars US, if we have other connections. But now we see that the situation has changed, there is a need to expand it up to 5 million tons. We are already doing that and by the end of next year it must be ready. The same will happen in Karabakh. It will be the driving force for the development of Azerbaijan. It will accumulate a lot of labor resources. That will help us to keep unemployment at a low level. And of course, the Aghali village of Zangilan is an illustration of the will of the Azerbaijani people. Many thought that no-one would go back. But as you see, there are 70 children at school and representatives of the younger generation who were raised in Baku or Sumgayit have moved. They have moved from the capital city to the village to live on their own land. And this shows that the will of the Azerbaijani people cannot be damaged by occupation or any other threats. I am sure that the absolute majority of former refugees will go back. And this process has started.
Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan-Head of Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration Hikmat Hajiyev: Mr. President, you have already been spending two intense hours with us and we still have four more questions.
President Ilham Aliyev: Okay, let’s continue.
Hikmat Hajiyev: Thank you, Mr. President.
Vice-President of the General Geostrategic Observatory, Ventzeslav Sabev:
-Thank you. This question comes very rightly after Brenda’s question on the model of intercultural and interethnic solidarity in Azerbaijan, including now the liberated territories. Speaking on the public perception, and Geneva is a relevant place as a world hub of governance and human rights negotiations on how to portray this image of tolerance and intercultural solidary. If we had the opportunity to portray in the center of international Geneva one image, one object, one feature which symbolizes this solidarity in Karabakh in relation to the open hand it has to the neighbors and to the world, what would that object, or that image or that symbol be? You mentioned that it is a piece of heaven. It would be great to bring a piece of heaven into the Place des Nations in Geneva, a challenging but great prospect. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I think one of the advantages of Azerbaijani society is that it is multicultural and multiethnic. It has always been like that. Why? Probably the main answer is because every person regardless of their religious or ethnic roots feels comfortable here in Azerbaijan. And I think this is really one of our advantages, especially during the years of independence, which were not easy, especially in the first years of independence with war, occupation, and a million refugees. Our nation and our people have preserved their character, which is common to our people. This situation did not make us more angry or more aggressive. This is very important. That was also important for the consolidation of our society. And the events we organized in Azerbaijan, I mean international events like humanitarian forums or intercultural dialogue forums which we held every second year – by the way, we are restoring that after pandemic and next May we will have again international intercultural dialogue forum. So I invite our guests, if you have time, to be present there. Because this really demonstrates to the world the spirit of tolerance, intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding.
Also, in 2008 we initiated a process which was then called the Baku process, when for the first time in history we brought together ministers of culture of member-state of the Council of Europe and member-states of the Islamic Cooperation Organization – more than 100 countries for the first time. And now the United Nations strongly supports the Baku process. So, it is one of the most important platforms for intercultural dialogue. I can name a lot of events which reflect what I am saying, including the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Azerbaijan. It was one of the first Muslim countries he visited. He had his religious service at the Catholic Church and then he went to the mosque to meet with the religious leaders of Azerbaijan. All this actually is strengthening the spirit of solidarity inside Azerbaijan. During the Second Karabakh War, we had almost 3,000 martyrs, shahids. Among them were representatives of all ethnic groups inhabiting Azerbaijan. So it was a fight for land, for dignity regardless of who belongs to which ethnic group. We were united like one iron fist. So, I think if to present what has been done in one word or in one event, I can think of the Kharibulbul Music Festival, which has already been held in Shusha twice since the liberation. The first was in May last year. It was a traditional festival, which we have restored, and at that festival last year there were performers representing different ethnic groups of Azerbaijan. So that was symbolic. Frankly speaking, it was my idea. I wanted all Azerbaijani nationalities and ethnic groups to be there on Jidir Duzu, a place sacred to every Azerbaijani, and to demonstrate that it is our common victory. And each of Azerbaijani citizen is proud of that. There can be many other elements, but you asked for one thing, so I thought that this would be the best presentation.
Senior researcher, Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, Turkiye, Ferhad Pirincci:
-Thank you, Mr. President. Actually, the questions I was going to ask have already been asked, but I just wanted to learn. I also visited Shusha and saw all the damages Armenia caused in those occupied territories. I also visited Ganja last year and saw traces of missile strikes and destroyed buildings there. Including the occupation and the time of war, there were several war crimes and against humanity and damage to cultural property, etc. Do you have any plans to pursue legal action or ask for compensation from Armenia in the peace process? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, we have started this process. We have already hired international legal firms in order to assist us with that, with respect of the war crimes, which are obvious, and also before and during the Second Karabakh War, when Armenians were shelling peaceful cities, including Ganja and more than 10 other Azerbaijani cities situated far away from the conflict, with ballistic missiles – SCUD, Elbrus, they even used Iskander-M, which they could have by no means, because this is a missile only used by Russian armed forces. There is a missile called Iskander-E, or export, and it is for export. But the missile we found in Shusha, which is now demonstrated in the Trophies Park in Baku, is Iskander-M. So this is a brutal violation of international law. It is a war crime.
We have started the legal procedure. There has been other illegal activity too, such as illegal settlement. This is also considered to be a war crime based on Geneva conventions. Also the change of the historical legacy of an area and, of course, the illegal excavation of natural resources. There were several European companies involved in that, especially in the production of gold in Zangilan, but not only in Zangilan but also in other parts, and not only gold. So all that is already in the process. You know, it is not a quick process. It is a slow process. We are doing everything properly in order to achieve success. Of course, if the decision of international legal institutions is not politicized and if they are free from any kind of pressure from some of Armenia’s European sponsors, and if they treat it objectively, of course, there is a big chance that we will win the case. Also, all the destroyed villages are already monitored by our officials. We have prepared passports for every building and what the Armenians have done is obvious. It is all documented and that will be used by us with respect to the legal procedure. So we do not know how long this will last. We do it mostly without any kind of public presentation. It is routine work, which is being done, and I am sure that, if again justice prevails, we will punish the aggressor for what they did during the times of occupation.
Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, Ekaterina Metreveli:
-Thank you, Mr. President, for your time and for sharing your vision with us. As a Georgian, first of all I would like to thank you for your recent visit to Georgia. We in expert society greatly appreciate the cooperation between Azerbaijan and Georgia. We consider us as natural allies, and the foundations of that were laid by the late presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia. So we look forward to pushing this cooperation forward. I also would like to thank you and Azerbaijan for understanding Georgia’s reservations regarding 3+3 due to the occupation of our territories, but with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Iran behaving strangely, the 3+3 format does not have, even without Georgia’s creating problem for a future. I wanted to draw your attention to this very important initiative which you have put forward in Prague during the European political community meeting about this necessity to discuss cooperation platform between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to ensure peace and security in the region. I understand that with the recent developments, as you have mentioned regarding Armenia’s reservations to be part of the peace process, the meeting on 7 December might be on halt. But still it would be interesting to hear your position about what you envision under that cooperation format.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Our relations with Georgia have a strategic importance for us and for our Georgian friends. My visit to Georgia was a demonstration of our relations and the necessity to be together in all the situations – solidarity, mutual support, of course, energy transportation projects and some new ideas, which I discussed with my colleague, the Georgian Prime Minister. Taking into account the new opportunities for energy and transportation connectivity projects, we have very good results. So, we are working very actively now, not may be very publicly, but we are working very actively in order to be prepared for new volumes of hydrocarbons and cargoes. At the same time, as you correctly mentioned, Azerbaijan also supported the idea to establish, if not cooperation but at least a format of consultations between three South Caucasus countries. And we think it is natural, because we are situated in the same region. Georgia for us is a strategic partner. At the same time, Georgian-Armenian relations are also good. Therefore, we thought it was natural, but unfortunately, the Armenian side was very resistant to that. We could not understand what the reason is, but we can guess – they probably don’t want to disappoint some of their sponsors. But anyway, we managed to open a small window, when Armenia had to agree to the meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Georgia. Again, their strange behavior was absolutely difficult to understand by us and by Georgian hosts. They were saying that it should only be bilateral and that a Georgian representative should not participate. We cannot understand that. And during my visit to Georgia, I discussed with Prime Minister Garibashvili the prospects for having a trilateral summit in Georgia, and if Armenia is ready, we think it would be timely. Because, first, do they really want peace – that’s the question. Without that, everything doesn’t have any sense. If they really want peace, they should not avoid this format. Because connectivity, transportation, energy security, trade – all of that can be achieved. I think one of the negative consequences of the Armenian occupation, apart from what happened to our lands, is that South Caucasus lost this opportunity to be integrated. And now it is time. Maybe it would be premature to talk of any integration or trilateral cooperation, but I think the time has come to at least start consultations. I don’t know what are the obstacles in front of Armenia, who they are afraid of in not agreeing to that. But I think that if they really want peace, they must behave in a more independent manner. If that happens, that meeting can take place very soon. If not, then okay, it will continue like it is. Actually, for Azerbaijan and Georgia this cooperation, taking into account the geography, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea connections, Central Asia and Europe connections, we can do well without them, without the Armenians. If they want to benefit, we are ready. If not, then it will continue like that.
Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hungary, Laszlo Vasa:
-Thank you very much, Mr. President, for the opportunity to be here. My question is focused on the Organization of Turkic States. How do you see the role of this organization in regards economic cooperation along the Middle Corridor? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, we are glad, that Hungary has already been an observer for many years and Prime Minister Orban regularly participates at the summits. The organization has changed its name and is becoming more and more active on the international arena. We are also glad that we are seeing a much more active dialogue between member-states, much more than several years ago. The last summit also clearly reflects that. With respect to connectivity, I think this will be one of the main contributors. I means cooperation between Turkic states will be one of the main contributors to the Middle Corridor. Because if we look at the geography – Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and through Caspian Azerbaijan and then Georgia and Turkiye, this creates additional opportunities. And as we discussed earlier today, we already enjoy the growth of transit cargo, as I said 70 percent this year. Next year it may be even higher. And all these cargoes mainly come from Central Asia to Europe through the Trans-Caspian route. Also, during my visits to Central Asian countries, visits by the President of Turkiye and leaders of Turkic states visiting Turkiye, there are new opportunities to increase the level of bilateral trade. With Turkiye, we are now working actively to expand the list of items which are free from any customs duties. In other words, these are steps towards a free trade agreement. The trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Turkiye is already more than 4 billion dollars US and we see the same with other countries. So this will be the main contributor to the corridor. At the same time, it is also important that other big players consider this route as reliable, safe and economically attractive. Therefore, we have stability and reliability. We need to work broadly on the tariff policy to unify tariff policy, to coordinate the activities of customs administration, so that companies thinking where to send their cargo could use this corridor not only to save time but also to save money. And for that, we need a unified tariff policy, and customs administration to be predictable and fair. So, there is potential and we are moving in the right direction.
European House-Ambrosetti Middle East and Central Asia, Italy, Luca Miraglia:
-Thank you very much Mr. President. First of all, thank you very much for the kind invitation to this conference and congratulations to ADA University for the excellent organization. At the beginning of September, you honored with your presence our economic forum in Cernobbio. At that time, your intervention focused on bilateral cooperation. You covered education, which every country needs to develop capabilities and competencies to develop. And it is interesting and nice to be at ADA University today. Then, of course, you covered bilateral cooperation on energy. We did appreciate the effort Azerbaijan put in to increase gas supply at the critical moment. Even though going forward if it is very likely that there will be a new geopolitical order, this makes Azerbaijan’s role more and more strategically important. It is going to be about energy and it is going to be about that Middle Corridor, as is in the title of today’s conference. I would be personally very glad to have a chance to enlarge this kind of conversations and even bring it to Italy, and try to understand in bilateral or maybe multilateral dimensions what we can do to speed it up and help it develop. Italy and Azerbaijan are very important partners. We are now enjoying a new government – I mean, we have got used to that. And we have found our way of continuing through this continuity. What do you think are the main objectives in your relations with Italy and, if I may, where do you see bottlenecks? Because the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline was eventually done but it wasn’t easy. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. First of all, thank you for the hospitality in Cernobbio. I really enjoyed my stay in this beautiful part of your country, a beautiful part of the world. And also thank you for the invitation and for the opportunity to be able to address this distinguished audience. It was a good opportunity to talk about bilateral relations and also about some issues on the international agenda. I considered that as another sign of our close partnership relations between Italy and Azerbaijan. Italy is one of the nine EU states with which Azerbaijan has signed strategic partnership declarations. So we are strategic partners, and really we are increasing and broadening our bilateral agenda. During my last visit to Italy, which I started from Rome, I participated in the opening of a newly-built or renovated building of the Azerbaijani Embassy and also a cultural center. And then rector Hafiz Pashayev and five leaders of Italian Universities exchanged documents on the creation of the Italian-Azerbaijani University, which will be situated somewhere in this environment. The construction has already started, as far as I know, and we have a budget for the next year. It is not yet fully approved, but I can give you some information, open a secret that in our investment program the financing of a new building of the Italian-Azerbaijani University is provided. It will be very important for our bilateral relations, for education, as you mentioned, because five leading Italian universities are becoming co-founders of the Italian-Azerbaijani University.
Our Foreign Minister made a phone call to the Foreign Minister of Italy, congratulating him on this occasion, and we look forward to establishing close ties with members of the government, so I think we will continue our successful cooperation.
With respect to energy supplies, we are doing everything in order to increase the supply of natural gas. You mentioned that there were certain difficulties with the construction of TAP. We all know that. We also know that those obstacles were artificial. We dealt with those obstacles very seriously and I think everybody understands now that, first, olive trees did not suffer, they were replanted and, secondly, energy security in Italy is provided better now. There is a demand to increase the volume of natural gas from Azerbaijan to Italy, but, of course, for that we need to expand the capacity of TAP. And I discussed this with the previous Prime Minister, Mr. Mario Draghi. Due to the fact that Azerbaijan has only a 20-percent share in TAP, we cannot be the only contributor. We need to make this decision, and I think the sooner we make it, the better, because TAP is working at full capacity and with new volumes of gas, we need to do it quickly. Because there is a Trans-Balkan route also, but it also has certain limitations. After the Russian-Ukrainian war started, we got requests from more than 10 countries of Europe with respect to either increasing the existing supplies or starting the supplies. We are evaluating all these proposals. At the moment, we do not have enough gas to satisfy all the requests. Therefore, I think we need to start commercial negotiations immediately, primarily with countries that are already recipients of Azerbaijani gas, because the lines are already here and all the legal framework exists. But at the same time, we plan to expand the geography. We fully support the initiatives of Europe to build interconnectors. One of them was inaugurated last month and I participated in Sofia – the Greek-Bulgarian interconnector. Another interconnector between Bulgaria and Serbia will be ready by the end of next year. I was informed about that two days ago, during my visit to Serbia. We are now working with the government of Albania to invest in the gas distribution network in Albania, because it does not exist. And Albania is only a transit country, but they also need gas for domestic consumption. There is a project of Ionic-Adriatic gas pipeline, which covers three Balkan countries, but for that we need, all of us who want this project to be implemented, that EU steps in and expresses its attitude to that. Of course, all these interconnectors being built have one goal to provide energy security. Our resources are known. I have articulated the numbers many times. So, we are committed to increasing investments. As I said earlier, as soon as we complete our new transit arrangements with Turkiye, we will know then what the legal framework is and how much gas we will supply. Before this is achieved, it is not possible to do it. I hope that by the end of the year we will finalize it. Of course, this will be a part of our overall energy strategy. In the Memorandum of Understanding which was signed between Madam Ursula von der Leyen and myself this July in Baku, we addressed not only gas but also electricity, hydrogen, green hydrogen included. And there are big plans in order to increase the volume of electric energy, which we can supply to Europe. With respect to bottleneck, with gas it is, of course, TAP and with electricity it is gas transmission infrastructure in Turkiye. Today it can transport a limited volume of Azerbaijani electric energy. But our electric energy is needed in the Balkans, in Serbia, we discussed two days ago, in Bulgaria, in Romania and maybe in many other European countries. Therefore, we can achieve it only when we continue teamwork. Of course, investments will be needed. So, we are planning to become an important exporter of electric energy to Europe. The market is very attractive for us and electric energy is needed. So coming back to our bilateral relations with Italy, I would probably call them excellent. We are very committed to that and we will do everything in order to continue with the new government this strategic path.
Mr. President, that was our last question and on behalf of our group, I would like to extend our utmost and profound appreciation for the time you have spent with us. It is more than two and a half hours. Mr. President, you have also in a very comprehensive and detailed manner addressed more than 16 questions. Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Thank you very much for your patience. Thank you for being with us. I wish you all the best.
Hafiz Pashayev: Mr. President, if you allow me. Of course, I thank you very much for being with us. I remember your speech in Italy when everybody was expecting that you would say, at least in the initial part of your speech, about energy, about how the pipeline will go, but you spoke about education. And this for us is a great sign of your support of education in the country. And from the very beginning of the installation of this beautiful university, you, of course, always provided us with great support. I wanted to start my greeting remarks here by thanking you for supporting ADA University, but I want to thank the Italian representative who gave me this opportunity to remind you that during your official visit to Italy, among all other important issues, you raised this issue of creating the Italian-Azerbaijani University. Now thanks to the Italian representative, you have answered many questions I had.
President Ilham Aliyev: With respect to the budget, everything will be okay.
Hafiz Pashayev: Thank you, Mr. President for being with us. I also want to thank all the participants for coming to ADA University and I hope that we will meet another time very soon.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Thank you once again.
Then a picture was taken.
The participants of this important event included leaders and representatives of leading think tanks of USA, Belgium, Bulgaria, Great Britain, France, Israel, Switzerland, Italy, Georgia, Canada, Egypt, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia and Turkiye.
The conference featured discussions on security aspects of the Middle Corridor, and economic opportunities of the region. In this regard, particularly, the participants exchanged views on the importance of the Zangazur corridor, the new transport opportunities that the East-West corridor will create, and the expansion and diversification of international cargo transportation.
As a result of the policy pursued by President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan has gained great authority in the world and is already known as a country that has initiated and organized a number of prestigious international events discussing the most important topics. Special importance in the international events held since the Patriotic War is attached to the work done in the direction of revitalizing Azerbaijani territories liberated from occupation and their being transformed into an important component of international transport corridors. One of the most remarkable points is that the expansion of the scope of these conferences and forums, as well as the increase in the number of their participants, are evidence of the growing international interest in these events. This is also a clear indication of the international community's attention and growing interest in the consistent and progressive policy being implemented by the President of Azerbaijan in the direction of the transforming the South Caucasus into a region of peace and cooperation after Azerbaijan’s victory in the Patriotic War under the leadership of the President and Victorious Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev.
Along with other countries, the work done in this direction is carefully monitored by leading think tanks, well-known experts and analysts. This is evidenced by the high level of participation in the forums and conferences held, along with Baku, in the territories liberated from occupation in the current year alone. In particular, international conferences “New Vision for South Caucasus: Post-Conflict Development and Cooperation” on 10-13 April, and “South Caucasus: Development and Cooperation” on 29 October, both held at ADA University, as well as the National Urban Forum held in Aghdam on October 5-6 and other events aroused great interest.