Local TV channels have interviewed the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev.
Tofig Abbasov, Azerbaijan Television: Dear Mr. President, first of all, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, I would like to express our deep gratitude to you for making time for us today. This is a very important meeting for us. Because in all your interviews, you usually touch upon issues and motives that clarify the ongoing processes in the country. On the other hand, we share the information we receive with the public. You create an environment where we appropriately perceive all the reasons and insights surrounding the processes and their positive and negative effects on the world. So, thank you very much again.
Mr. President, of course, we are primarily interested in the results of 2022 in your analysis. Because the year was a challenging one, first of all, post-war and post-pandemic situations were on the agenda. On the other hand, we are witnessing very positive trends regarding the reforms under your leadership. There is a global recession, but despite that, Azerbaijan has minimized the impact thanks to preventive measures, neutralized some of them, and even achieved growth. It is not just us; Azerbaijani sources do not claim that, and foreign sources confirm it. Of course, all these processes are expected to continue. There is a need to talk about new priorities. Because 2023 will not be easy either, we sense that. We would like you to comment on this issue and share your thoughts on economic growth and new expectations.
President Ilham Aliyev: Of course, we must all work hard to make 2023 a successful year. Early last year, I expressed my opinion during a meeting with Azerbaijani media representatives that I hoped the tasks ahead would be fulfilled in 2022. We have achieved this as a whole. Today, at the outset of 2023, we will discuss these issues during this meeting. I am still hopeful, and I have reasons for hope because the position shown by Azerbaijan in the post-war period and the successes achieved on the international scale give me a reason to say this.
After the Second Karabakh War, our primary task was to substantiate our glorious military Victory on the political level. We started to work immediately. Because we understand perfectly well that if we do not reaffirm this Victory in the political sphere and do not urge the international community to accept this Victory, we may face particular challenges. We immediately began working hard, and today, two years after the war, we can say with complete certainty that the world has accepted the war’s outcome. Azerbaijan's just cause has been confirmed again, and we must strengthen the situation created at the war’s end, i.e., our positions. During the last two years, we have achieved what we wanted both at the level of international relations and within the country.
Today, it is no secret that Azerbaijan is recognized as a very reliable and serious partner worldwide. Azerbaijan is one of the countries that voice their position openly and conduct an independent policy. Of course, it is based on our military power and glorious Victory. Because I have witnessed that Azerbaijan’s policies have been embraced even more after the war. In other words, the sympathy towards us has grown. World’s political elite understands well at what cost we achieved this Victory, what risks we took, and what forces we were and are still up against. So even though the war is over, the struggle is still ongoing, and I am confident we will prevail. Because we are on the righteous path, and our military and political power, including our economic independence, certainly boost our prowess.
If I start speaking of the results of 2022 in detail, then there would be no time left for the rest of the questions. First, we should mention our economic achievements because this is not a common issue elsewhere. The world is still just adjusting to the post-pandemic era. A sharp price increase is observed in many countries, including Azerbaijan. Our economy is a part of the global economy, and sadly we have been affected by these negative impacts. However, we are trying to mitigate this global crisis with social projects and programs for our people. An extensive social package I recently signed shows this again. In other words, if a country that has just come out of the war, with 20 percent of its territory devastated, allocates such funds to the social sector, it means that our social policy remains unchanged, and, of course, it shows our economic power. Because we do all the work at our own expense. I have already said it. We have yet to receive help from anyone after the war. Only the presidents of two countries – Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan – initiated the construction of two schools in Fuzuli. Apart from that, we have not received a single manat of aid from anywhere.
Therefore, economic independence must be solidified; last year, our gross domestic product reached a record high. According to the latest information, it reached 134 billion manats, equivalent to some $ 80 billion. Of course, foreign trade also increased and exceeded $ 50 billion. The positive balance of foreign trade is $ 25 billion. Economists know what this means. At the same time, our foreign debt has decreased. In absolute terms – it is below $ 7 billion – and in relation to the GDP. Of course, it has decreased sharply. Our foreign debt accounted for 17 percent of the GDP at the beginning of last year. By the end of the last year, it dropped to 9.5 percent. For comparison, it accounts for 100 or even 130-150 percent in many developed countries. What does this mean? In means that we are economically independent. If we wanted, we could attract loans from international financial institutions. We have already started that. Because the ongoing projects with both the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are almost finished. High-ranking representatives of the world's leading financial institutions visited Baku last year, and new directions were identified during the discussions. So, I can confidently say that we will not encounter any problem attracting unlimited foreign loans. But there is no urgent need for that yet. Therefore, the economic and social spheres should always run in parallel. In countries where the focus is only on the economic sphere and the social sphere lags, people suffer from economic reforms. Our goal is to strengthen the country and improve every citizen’s life.
Narmin Salmanova, Public Television: Mr. President, the year 2022 was marked by steps towards strengthening the financial well-being of the Azerbaijani people and, as you mentioned, through the introduction of large-scale social packages. However, there is a sharp price increase and inflation in the world, which also affects Azerbaijan. What steps can be taken to reduce these impacts, especially toward boosting social well-being and supporting the low-income population?
President Ilham Aliyev: As I mentioned, inflation has become a severe problem worldwide. Even in developed Western countries, where inflation usually did not exceed one percent – one or a maximum of 1.5 percent – inflation exceeds 10 percent now. Inflation in Azerbaijan is an imported one because we are a part of the global economy and import many goods. We work in the direction that local production replacing imports becomes more extensive. But, of course, we are still dependent on imports. Therefore, we could say that inflation was imported to Azerbaijan. According to the results of last year, it was 13.9 percent. In other words, our ability to fight this imported inflation is quite limited. However, the last year’s reforms were successful, including improving the business environment, promoting healthy competition, fighting monopolistic trends, and eliminating customs violations. Personnel reforms will undoubtedly play a positive role here as well. But in parallel with that, first of all, as you mentioned, we had to not only think about social well-being but also take tangible steps. Therefore, the 15-percent increase in the minimum wage was intended to mitigate the consequences of inflation. The minimum wage has already reached 345 manats. Are we satisfied with this? Of course not! But we are doing our best because I repeat that the primary area for our expenses is restoring Karabakh and East Zangazur and strengthening our military potential. These two top priorities will remain as such for many years to come.
In the meantime, to improve the social security of pensioners, the minimum pension was increased by 16.7 percent to reach 280 manats, and this process will continue. So, the experience of recent years shows that this is not a one-off step; it is a part of a continuous process. As our economic opportunities increase, similar steps will certainly be taken in the future.
Much transparency has been achieved regarding the provision of targeted social assistance. In the past, numerous violations were allowed in this area. People not eligible for social assistance received it nonetheless – not for free, of course. In contrast, people who actually needed help could not receive it. Therefore, very extensive inspection work was carried out in this area. Today, about 60,000 families receive targeted social assistance from the government, which is increasing yearly. So, this year, the allowance per family is approximately 460 manats and, of course, it will be increased further during the year, including the average monthly salary. We expect the average monthly salary in Azerbaijan to exceed 900 manats this year. Thus, by taking these steps in the social sphere, we support people in need, and, at the same time, we are demonstrating our commitment to our policy.
Another direction is related to support for the families of martyrs and those disabled in the war. Last year, necessary steps were taken in this direction, as the government provided 1,500 families from this category with apartments. In 2021, 3,000 apartments were handed out, and at least 1,500 apartments will be presented this year. So, all the people from this category who are still in line will receive apartments from the government.
For your information, 13,000 families have benefited from these opportunities so far. This is our innovation among the countries that have gone through war. Because in many countries, there is no such practice. Why are we doing this? Because this is our moral duty to those families, and we are trying to fulfill this duty to the best of our abilities.
A total of 379 servicemen disabled in the Second Karabakh War have been provided with the most advanced prostheses. Although only two years have passed, this program related to the Second Karabakh War has been fully implemented. The implementation of this program was also covered in the media. Everyone can see that our disabled war veterans can even play football. Hand prostheses have more sophisticated technology. According to my information, state-of-the-art hand prostheses have a grip function of about 40. So, we provide maximum help to our countrymen who have lost their health. Of course, since these are high-tech prostheses, they need to be replaced repeatedly. All these programs are also on the agenda.
In other words, the social sphere is a diverse field. For example, we can add the self-employment program here. It is both a social and an economic area. Because this is an area that promotes small business. But I see it more as a social field. Such an initiative has been put forward for several years. It evoked great interest, and 60,000 families have been involved in the self-employment program. We have even involved international financial institutions in this program. It is an area that covers both social and economic aspects, as well as jobs – i.e., all these areas. Therefore, this year will be no exception. Because I want to say again that Azerbaijan is a social state, and we confirm it not by words but by our actions. These programs will be implemented as far as possible this year as well.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu, Real Television: Mr. President, 2022 has increased Azerbaijan's transport, transit and logistical potential. Additionally, given the Russia-Ukraine War, there is already a great need for a new transport direction. I want to ask you about the Middle Corridor passing through Azerbaijan and the Zangezur Corridor, which has an essential place in the development of the Middle Corridor project. How would you assess the prospects for realizing these issues and the importance of this corridor for the region?
President Ilham Aliyev: We have been implementing projects in the field of transport for many years. The Russia-Ukraine War has boosted the relevance of our efforts. However, we have been investing in this area for many years. Thus, all the main activities related to the Middle Corridor and the North-South transportation corridor crossing through Azerbaijan have been completed. We are only modernizing a part of the railway, especially the Baku-Yalama line, and after that, we will also modernize the Alat-Astara line. Because the current capacity of the railway limits the expected cargo volume, we believe that 15 million to 30 million tons of cargo can be transported across Azerbaijan through the North-South transportation corridor alone. It is a substantial volume. All of Azerbaijan’s transit opportunities make up a small fraction of that. Therefore, the North-South transportation corridor is a project that can compete with the Middle Corridor. Considering that, this has become one of the top priorities for Russia after the start of the Russia-Ukraine War, as you mentioned.
As for the Middle Corridor, we also have a consistent policy in this direction. As you know, we inaugurated the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway five years ago. We initiated this project, which took a long time to implement. Because of political challenges, certain major Western countries opposed this project and created serious obstacles. The reason was that this is a project that practically excludes Armenia. In other words, pro-Armenian trends manifested themselves in the implementation of this project. So, we lost a few years. Another problem was the need for more funding. Because no one was interested in investing in this project. Our appeals to international financial institutions remained unanswered. After we got the initial revenues from oil, we allocated substantial funds to this project ourselves. As you know, Georgia was given a loan of $ 775 million, and this project was completed. Currently, we are seriously engaged in expanding this project. An order was issued last year, and more than $ 100 million will be allocated from the budget, a part of which has already been allocated. We will increase the handling capacity of this railway from the present 1 million to 5 million tons. But even that will not be enough.
Indeed, there are other opportunities in the Western direction, including Georgia’s ports. Of course, we also use them, and one of the ports belongs to Azerbaijan. And yet, if we look at the expected cargo volume, we will see that it will not be enough. Last year I had numerous meetings with the leaders of Central Asian countries, and I can say that this topic was discussed in every meeting.
There should also be new routes for cargo from Central Asia. The route across the Caspian Sea is very attractive in terms of time. At the same time, we should make this route economically more viable by implementing a standard tariff policy. Negotiations are going in a positive direction here as well. So, given the shipping potential of the Central Asian countries and the cargo going there from Europe, we see that even if we implement and expand all these projects, it will still not be enough. Therefore, the economic viability of the Zangezur Corridor is beyond doubt. Of course, it is more than just an economic and transport project for us, it is a project of strategic significance. We are sure that the realization of this project is our natural right. In addition, the realization of this project was also reflected in the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020. Indeed, there is no mention of the “Zangezur Corridor” in it because I introduced the term “Zangezur Corridor” in the geopolitical lexicon afterward. However, it is explicitly stated that there should be a transport connection between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and Armenia should provide it. Armenia wants to shy away from that and has not fulfilled its obligations for more than two years. But that won't stop us. So, for us, this is a strategic project, not just for us but also for several neighboring countries and the broader geography.
That is why the work done in the transport field has created a solid foundation. What has already been done and what is to come will undoubtedly strengthen our positions. Because landlocked countries usually cannot take advantage of transit facilities. Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries that do not have access to the world ocean but has already become an international logistical and transportation center. Our infrastructure includes railways, airports, the Alat International Seaport and other transport infrastructure, the largest fleet in the Caspian. At the same time, our fleet also operates in the Black Sea. I have instructed the number of our ships in the Black Sea fleet to be increased. In other words, Azerbaijan has become a serious actor across a very extensive transport market. Of course, the realization of the Zangezur Corridor is a historical necessity. That is why I said it would happen whether Armenia wants it or not. Although they perceive it as another threat in Armenia, I had no such idea. It is simply inevitable. It will happen sooner or later. Of course, we want it to materialize soon.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu: I would like to touch upon another issue regarding Zangezur. In the interview you gave us at the beginning of last year, in response to a question about visiting the graves of your ancestors in Nakhchivan, you said that it was a fact. After the liberation of Shusha, we think it is right to consider that it was a continuation of the visit to the National Leader's grave. I want to quote you. You said, “Yes, it is, and I appreciate that you took it that way. Yes, these were the thoughts in my heart, but I will not say at this point what more is in my heart.” Now, let me ask, was what you said at the meeting about the Western Azerbaijan Community precisely what you had in your heart or is there something you haven't said yet?
President Ilham Aliyev: No, we should gradually share our views on this topic. During the meeting with the Western Azerbaijan Community, we went a little deeper as a continuation of the words you quoted earlier that year. Today, it is no secret that the Western Azerbaijan Community was denied its rights as a community that was deported for many years. Of course, talking about the rights of Western Azerbaijanis in a place where there was a problem with Karabakh might have looked like a premature fire. But today, we have brought this topic to the international arena. My recommendations, i.e., those I gave on 24 December, are being implemented. A special working group has been set up based on all the tasks I set and, at the same time, based on the suggestions from the ground. We have started working on a single concept. Of course, Western Azerbaijanis should return to their ancestral lands; this is their right, and all international conventions recognize this right of theirs. As the state of Azerbaijan, we must do our best to secure this right. Again, I said during the meeting with community representatives there that we wanted to do it peacefully, and I am sure we will achieve that. Because there are no mono-ethnic states in our area, in Eurasia in general, it would be good for Armenia, as they say, to escape this mono-ethnic state stigma. The best and fairest way for this is for Western Azerbaijanis to return to their native lands.
I also said during the meeting with the representatives of the Community that there was almost no life in the villages they had vacated after the deportation. Now there are videos, there are other documents, and there are people who visited those villages. They saw that everything was destroyed and there is no life there. Therefore, their return will not create a problem for the Armenians who occupied their houses, just as they did elsewhere, let us say Karabakh. Their return there does not mean the expulsion of the Armenians living there. Those villages are abandoned, and we will use all the opportunities available. Just as the Karabakh issue once united the entire Azerbaijani people and we achieved our wishes, we should apply the same approach here. Of course, there is a great need for media activities, both inside the country and abroad. I have also expressed my opinion about this. So, a comprehensive program is being prepared.
Let me add that all our programs are implemented in every area. We never come up with initiatives that cannot be realized. Therefore, work is already underway on a program in this domain. I am confident that we will achieve this and restore historical justice.
Sanan Rzayev, CBC TV channel: Mr. President, Azerbaijan took several additional steps last year to help ensure Europe’s energy security and that of the European Union. On July 18, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, visited Baku. A Memorandum on Strategic Partnership in the field of Energy was signed between Azerbaijan and the European Union. Mr. President, I would like to know how you would evaluate the pace of realization of that idea. And what do this Memorandum and this cooperation promise to Azerbaijan and the European Union this year and the next?
President Ilham Aliyev: It is a significant event in the development of Azerbaijan's oil and gas sector. Of course, the visit of the President of the European Commission testifies to the attention being paid to this issue by the European Commission and by Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen personally. In recent years, energy security issues have been the center stage of the global agenda. This issue has always been on the agenda of international organizations and the most influential international forums. The way Azerbaijan has been implementing its oil and gas industry projects has consistently earned us the great respect of our partners. But after the start of the Russia-Ukraine War, other issues may have overshadowed energy security issues and become a top priority on Europe’s agenda. This is understandable. Of course, interest in Azerbaijan's energy resources has increased significantly. However, even before that, there was an established opinion that Azerbaijan is a reliable partner for many countries, including countries that are members of the European Union. Azerbaijan's opportunities have increased, and we were successfully doing our work at home and moving toward more profitable markets. Of course, after the Southern Gas Corridor was commissioned, we also began exporting gas to the European Union countries. We took into account the fact that we expect additional production both from the “Shah Deniz” field and from other fields. For example, if everything goes according to plan, the so-called “deep gas” will be produced from the “Absheron” field this year and, if there is no force majeure obstacles, from the “Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli” field next year, in 2024. We plan to start producing “deep gas.”
In other words, there is potential that Azerbaijan’s confirmed reserves are well known. I have stated the figure many times - 2.6 trillion cubic meters, but I am sure it will be much more. Because our experience of operating the oil fields suggests that as drilling continues, the volume of reserves proves more significant than the initial estimates. Azerbaijan's fields will supply gas to international markets for at least another 100 years, i.e., as technologies develop, production opportunities will increase. Therefore, 2.6 trillion cubic meters is the confirmed minimum volume of our potential. Considering the construction of all the gas pipelines, we aim to increase the supply with the European Union. But to do this, of course, we must invest in production, and we are doing that because the existing gas pipelines require expansion. TANAP and TAP pipelines are designed for the volumes we contracted, and we did not consider the need to double the supply to Europe in such a short period. In other words, the document signed with Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen refers to this very matter.
Of course, the implementation of this Memorandum continues quite successfully. In 2021 we supplied a little more than 8 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe, whereas this year, it will be roughly 12 billion cubic meters. As a whole, about 24 billion cubic meters of exports are expected this year. Therefore, we are already becoming a serious actor in the gas market, including the European market. We are already thinking about doubling the throughput capacity of TANAP and TAP. Of course, we are consulting with our partners about this. As for the TANAP project, things are easy here because we are the primary participant and a shareholder in this project, and the main financial burden falls upon us. Our share in the TAP project is 20 percent, so we will have to work more on reaching a consensus. We have always approached oil and gas projects strategically because we understood that if gas and oil pipelines are not implemented, we will remain in a somewhat locked-up space with our resources.
International energy companies first consider the economic aspect of the issue – when to invest and when to expand. So, we cannot expect international energy companies to invest billions in projects that will be needed in five years. Therefore, we are trying to reconcile our strategic outlook– we have never been wrong in this matter yet – with our partners' economic opportunities and economic policy, and we are working in this direction now.
After the commissioning of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, new promising directions will open up and have already surfaced. Azerbaijan’s gas has already entered the Bulgarian market, and this year it will also enter the Romanian market. So, we are approaching a certain version of the Nabucco project. If you remember, there were active discussions about this project for years, but later it was deemed unnecessary. Work on creating a network of interconnectors, for example, the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, is progressing rapidly. I also know that work is underway on an interconnector connecting Serbia to the common system, including negotiations on gas supplies with Serbia. The creation of this network will allow us the opportunity to send our gas resources to that market. If the Ionian-Adriatic Sea project is implemented, this project will cover three more Balkan countries that currently do not receive Azerbaijani gas.
We have started active negotiations on the gas supply of Albania. For now, Albania is only a transit country without a gas network, and this work requires considerable expenditure. We have offered our services as close friends and partners, and work is currently underway on selecting gasification sites and agreeing on which cities to supply with gas.
So, if we take a broad look at the energy map of Europe, the Balkans, and Western Europe, this map is clearly crisscrossed by various arteries, allowing us to plan a long-term strategy. Of course, we should not forget the so-called “green transition” program of most European countries. Under such circumstances, it is assumed that fossil fuels will be abandoned altogether after a certain period. However, according to my observations and trends in the European gas market – this program is in play, of course – the current situation regarding energy security will encourage European institutions to approach energy security from a more realistic perspective. Therefore, I am sure that oil and gas will unlikely be abandoned in the foreseeable future.
Nigar Mahmudova, Khazar Television: I also wanted to follow up on the energy topic. You have already mentioned the rising demand for Azerbaijan's energy potential and that all this opens up new opportunities for us. What are the new opportunities opening up? We are talking about the economy and political strengthening of Azerbaijan. It would be interesting to hear from you on this, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Regarding new opportunities, in principle, I answered this in the previous question. What else can be done? Of course, we have now started energy negotiations with several countries, countries that were not our partners before. All the projects planned before the Russia-Ukraine War were almost progressing as planned. At the Advisory Council meeting for the Southern Gas Corridor held in Baku every year, there was already an exchange of views on the successful completion of the TAP project, which is the last segment of the Southern Gas Corridor. However, new topics will be discussed at the next Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council meeting, which will be held next month, and the number of participating countries will increase. For example, completing the TANAP project would mean completing our main work in this area. After that, we thought we needed to export our gas resources using the existing infrastructure. But as you can see, based on the request of the Romanian side, we have already been supplying gas to Romania as of January. Because during the year, Romania’s Energy Minister had been in Azerbaijan twice, and I visited Romania at the end of the year. In the meantime, our respective agencies were in talks, and the interconnector was already operational, making it technically feasible. Of course, without the technical capacity, we cannot expand the geography of our gas exports, and technical capacity in the European space is not within our competence. In other words, European countries do it themselves, and the more connections there are, the more potential customers we will have.
I do not want us to get ahead of ourselves. Still, since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine War, we have received requests from more than ten countries – from countries that are buying our gas now and are interested in additional volumes of gas, and also from those that have never bought gas from us but want to join this program too. Of course, the role of Azerbaijan is increasing here, and we must take advantage of that. We have never made our oil and gas policy a critical factor in the overall political context. Because we believe that these matters should be separated, but now, since the energy policy in the world is fully aligned with the overall geopolitical situation, this factor cannot be denied. Of course, our economic and political importance is growing, and if we look at the gas pipelines that feed Europe, we will see that there are not so many of them. In other words, existing suppliers are simply increasing gas production because there is a massive demand in Europe. Azerbaijan is the only one among the new suppliers. Considering that we have an extensive resource base, we already have the infrastructure and very active cooperation with the European Union in the energy field and all other fields; attention is focused on Azerbaijan. Of course, we understand our responsibility and try to be a reliable partner for new partners.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu: Mr. President, theories, opinions and statements were regularly voiced regarding the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline in 2022. But in reality, what is this information based on and our position on that?
President Ilham Aliyev: Discussions about the Trans-Caspian pipeline have been going on for many years, but there has yet to be a result. The total throughput capacity of the Trans-Caspian pipeline is estimated at 30 billion cubic meters of gas. There are several critical issues regarding the implementation of this project, one of which is who will finance this project. Because when it comes to our projects, whether it is Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan or the Southern Gas Corridor, everything was clear. Azerbaijan took the leadership upon itself, created a team of countries and companies, and attracted international financial institutions. Notice which institutions participated in financing the Southern Gas Corridor – the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Infrastructure and Investment Bank – the world's leading financial institutions. Azerbaijan, as a country, these institutions and companies invested their funds and implemented this project. There is still no clarity regarding the Trans-Caspian pipeline project. In other words, who will take this project forward and what will be its financial capacity? To calculate this, a feasibility study should be prepared. Companies should be involved in preparing it. That is to say; these are not issues that are resolved in one day or one year. If this project is launched today, it will take a few years to complete all the studies – geological surveys, environmental surveys, technical capacities, and financial capacity. All these are open questions. I believe it is erroneous to discuss the Trans-Caspian pipeline project without answering these questions first. We, as a country, have always supported this project, and I have stated several times that if we are approached, we are ready to present our capabilities, make our infrastructure available and address other necessary issues. But we cannot initiate this project because it is not our gas.
In parallel with this, even if all the issues I have listed are resolved, another issue will emerge in the second stage. Let us say that the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline has been built, and it reached Azerbaijan’s shores. What is next? What route will it follow toward Europe? TANAP? TANAP has a total throughput capacity of 16 billion cubic meters today, and almost all of it has now been supplied by us, Azerbaijan’s gas. The expansion of TANAP's capacity up to two times is also associated with our gas because we can produce at least 10 billion cubic meters of additional gas in the next five to six years if everything goes according to plan. Of course, the only way to do this is through TANAP and, as I said, interconnectors. In other words, what will happen beyond the borders of Azerbaijan? That is, will a new pipeline be built across Azerbaijan? Possibly. Who will build it? Therefore, these are all open questions. The topic of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline has been politicized for many years. I am against it. I have always been in favor of working on real projects. After answering all these questions, this project can be implemented. Because in principle, this project can be economically viable, but a feasibility study is required. It must be confirmed. Contracts must be signed with the owners of gas, and its price must be stipulated. Because the longer the distance, the higher the cost. But we have always given political support to this project. If we are approached about this project, we will do our best to help.
Sanan Rzayev: Mr. President, if you would allow me, I would like to continue the question about the gas price and the energy sector. When you answered the previous questions, you touched in detail upon the issue of the volume of our gas reserves, especially our plans in the Balkans and Europe. This is one side of the matter. On the other hand, bizarre opinions have been circulating in the foreign media recently that Azerbaijan is buying Russian gas for subsequent exports to Europe, world markets, etc. In this regard, I would like your opinion on this and the motive behind such claims.
President Ilham Aliyev: I think this is information manipulation, and I have every reason to think so. I must say that this was first announced by Mr. Schröder, former German Chancellor and former head of one of the Russian energy companies. Then this theory was circulated in the media, and our opponents welcomed it with joy, trying to accuse us of playing some unfair game. It completely defies all logic. Even if we look at the volume of our exports in absolute terms, it is clear that this is out of the question. Yes, we used to buy gas from Russia; it was long ago when I was still working in an industrial company. It was profitable. At that time, our gas was insufficient, and we bought gas not to consume petroleum in electricity production, i.e., to get more benefits. Of course, fuel-fired power plants pollute the environment. Today, all our power plants run on gas, water and other partially renewable sources. Also, if I am not mistaken, in 2006 or 2007, gas purchases from Russia were stopped due to a sharp increase in prices – they practically doubled. At that time, we were told that the price would be twice as high. The price was already relatively high compared to the price for the Western European countries, and the volumes offered were due to drop four times. We used to buy 4 billion cubic meters of gas, but they told us on behalf of “Gazprom” that they could supply us with only 1 billion cubic meters of gas. This conversation occurred at the end of the year, in November, after the country's energy balance had already been approved. Under such circumstances, we had only one month to decide. Instead of the expected 4 billion cubic meters, we could get only 1 billion cubic meters. But we got out of the situation. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. This situation compelled us to pay more attention to production in our own country, and we stopped buying gas from Russia. About 15 years have passed since then.
Now we are talking about buying 1 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia. The contract was signed at the end of last year, but we have yet to receive even half of that volume. Why are we doing this? Yes, our consumption is increasing, and the population is increasing. Enterprises that did not work at total capacity when the reserves were insufficient – methanol plant, urea plant, petrochemical plants – are now working at full capacity. Look at the volume of production and exports in Azerbaijan last year alone. We will see that we exported 22 billion cubic meters of gas, and I think we imported only 200 and 300 million cubic meters, i.e., one percent. This year we will export 24 billion cubic meters of gas and import the remainder of those 1 billion cubic meters. So, amateurs or provocateurs can claim that we would buy gas from Russia to resell it. In this case, we are facing both. However, attempts to constantly slander Azerbaijan and diminish our role and importance are not new. I remember that at one time, they used to say that Azerbaijan did not have oil and that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline would not be built. Then they said that Azerbaijan does not have gas, and now they are saying this. Let them say whatever they want. We have done our job, and we are doing it successfully.
Tofig Abbasov: Mr. President, one of the strategic events of last year was that a four-party agreement was signed with your participation in Bucharest on 17 December. We are talking about the Strategic Partnership Agreement, in which Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary envisage the production, then increase and transmit green energy in our territory. There is a tremendous knock-on effect behind this event. First, we have almost launched a new index of diversification of our energy policy. Then we created a new cooperation format. Because according to the information I have, that Agreement was reached in Baku, and our partners, i.e., Georgia, Hungary and Romania, warmly welcomed that document. First of all, I would like you to comment on the implementation prospects of this agreement. On the other hand, if we call everything by its name, you have just talked about the place of the pro-Armenian factor in politics. It is no secret that France was trying very hard to involve Romania in its anti-Azerbaijani front, and they even took into account what the Western media had written about it – that they would send arms and ammunition to Armenia through the Black Sea and on the condition of using the territory of Romania. Can we say that on the matter I have just mentioned, our diplomacy successfully prevented and thwarted that destructive plan?
President Ilham Aliyev: As far as this project is concerned, its essence has yet to be thoroughly analyzed. Because it was a novelty and came as a surprise to many, when we started working on this project, we clearly saw what steps should be taken to implement it. Therefore, it started to take shape after we joined this project. Because this project is an idea, a general concept that has preexisted for many years. Even the feasibility study has been underway, and the initial transmission capacity of the project was calculated at one thousand megawatts of electricity. After we joined the project and did all the analysis, we suggested that once we had joined it, let us do it on a larger scale. We proposed that it should be 4,000 megawatts instead of 1,000 megawatts. Because the costs are high and the cable will be laid anyway. Therefore, we can achieve more by laying the cable with greater capacity. The implementation of this project also raises investment interest in Azerbaijan. Because we currently cannot export so much electricity. We export, and our average export capacity is around 1,000 megawatts. However, the investment projects currently implemented in Azerbaijan – two projects are already being implemented, one is a solar power plant, one is a wind power plant, and the third project is to be implemented in the coming months – will provide us with more than 700 megawatts of clean green energy.
In parallel with this, according to the memorandums of intent signed with two of the world’s leading companies, the construction of solar and wind power plants with a capacity of up to 22,000 megawatts is planned in Azerbaijan. Time will tell whether these 22,000 megawatts will be harnessed or only half or 30 percent of this volume will be implemented. However, I think that at least half of this volume is entirely feasible, very feasible. The main issue is its future fate – how will it be transmitted? Because we need to expand our existing transmission lines. I am going back to the Zangezur Corridor. In our opinion, electricity should be transmitted through that corridor as well. For this purpose, we are building a large receiving and converting station in the Jabrayil district. If this project is realized, a station should be built on the border between Nakhchivan and Turkiye. At the same time, transmission opportunities in Turkiye should also be expanded because it is not designed to receive that much energy. So, it is a global project that can be fully realized. Because the companies investing billions of dollars in Azerbaijan today have calculated everything, they are confident that this energy will be consumed both in Azerbaijan – the current economic situation in Azerbaijan is such that they are satisfied – and there will also be export opportunities.
Another issue – it is also essential, as it has been somewhat left out of the general context – is that if we implement these projects together with our partners, I can say that Azerbaijan will not invest a single manat. All of it will be realized as foreign investment projects. Thus, the natural gas we use for electricity production will not be used and will be exported. So, our natural gas exports will rise because we will also export the gas saved in the new fields of “Absheron,” “Umid-Babek,” then “ACG,” and “Shah Deniz.” A second winning opportunity will present itself both for Europe and us. The viability of this project is relatively high. Why am I saying this? Because first of all, the President of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen, participated in the signing of this agreement. Her participation suggests that this is a priority project for Europe and that there will be no financial constraints related to the implementation of this project. So far, no decision has been made as to which countries will invest and, in what volumes, and what country will receive the funds allocated by financial institutions, i.e., who will return the loans later. There have been no talks on this yet. But everything will depend on the feasibility study. Thus, Azerbaijan will become a country of even greater importance for Europe.
We have already started the energy dialogue with the European Union. As part of this energy dialogue, natural gas, green energy, and hydrogen are on the agenda. Therefore, this field has excellent prospects and a project that can benefit Azerbaijan’s economy significantly.
Tofig Abbasov: Mr. President, I would like your opinion on another issue. We will export heat, electricity, and light, if you will, to the West through the Black Sea. However, some forces seek to transfer weapons and ammunition to our infamous neighbors. In other words, we have almost automatically crossed out that plan. Is that the case?
President Ilham Aliyev: In any case, we will do our best; we are doing everything in our power. I must also note that no matter what weapons are given to Armenia, it will not help them, and I have said this to the Armenian side several times. I told them not to waste money on that. Because, first of all, it will not help you, and secondly, it may create an illusion among the revanchist forces in your country. It can create the illusion that you can retaliate. You will not be able to! If we see a serious threat to us, we will crush this threat immediately – no matter where this threat emanates from, both within and beyond our borders. It is our legitimate right. That is why there are such attempts. We monitor and know which countries are preparing to supply arms to Armenia. Regrettably, India is now playing a role among them. We consider this an unfriendly action. Because these weapons, especially offensive weapons, have a target, and it is Azerbaijan. Therefore, of course, we are taking the necessary measures and cannot allow Armenia to pose a threat to us. We can never tolerate that.
Narmin Salmanova: Mr. President, in 2022, we witnessed some armed incidents on the conditional border between Azerbaijan and Armenia and also in the areas of Azerbaijan where Russian peacekeeping forces were temporarily deployed. We saw the “Farrukh” and “Revenge” operations and the clashes in mid-September. In general, can we expect the factors that led to these incidents to be eliminated in 2023? What are your predictions in this respect?
President Ilham Aliyev: I hope Armenia understands that these provocations are futile. After the Second Karabakh War, the signals we sent to the Armenian side were that you should come to terms with this situation, and the signing of the act of capitulation should end this conflict between us. Unfortunately, we did not see this. On the contrary, Armenia continued its plans in Karabakh and along the border. Therefore, we were forced to take measures. We had warned them. At the same time, we told our European partners that we would act immediately if we saw a threat. This was also why the reaction of the major international players to these events was reasonable. In other words, no one condemned or accused us because everyone could see that we did not instigate the clashes.
The primary reason for “Operation Farrukh” was not only to take control of those strategic heights. At the same time, a large area of our territory was under fire from those heights, and illegal Armenian armed groups that remained there occasionally fired in our direction. It was even impossible to repair the Khachinchay reservoir. “Operation Farrukh” eliminated that threat, unexpected for many, including Armenia and the separatists nested in Karabakh. They thought the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan would never conduct any operations in those areas. We have shattered this myth. It is our territory, and the reason for not conducting a large-scale combat operation is not because we are afraid of anyone but because we believe that we must achieve our goals through political means. Unfortunately, it was not a lesson learned, and an extensive mine-laying process was underway in Saribaba, Girkhgiz and other directions. All those mines were discovered. How did Armenian-made mines produced in 2021 even get there? The Russian peacekeeping forces cannot answer this question to this day. What can they answer after all? We even invited them there. We invited representatives of the Turkiye-Russia Monitoring Center and showed them – come and see for yourself. How did it cross into our territory, who transported it, and who is responsible? The Saribaba, Buzlukh and Girkhgiz operations, including “Operation Revenge,” were taken in retaliation for our military personnel's loss. We had martyrs and were compelled to show our strength again. We thought this would eventually be a lesson for them, but it was not. So, the September clashes were inevitable.
I now hope that there will be no such situations in the future. Because last year, since March, we have shown three times that no one can withstand us and we will achieve what we want. No Armenian patron can come to their rescue. Secondly, the heights controlled both in the direction of the Azerbaijan-Armenia border and in the direction of Karabakh provide us with a tremendous strategic advantage. Because as I said, a visual observation allows us to register any threat as it emerges and prevent it. I hope that Armenia, which has already suffered such military and political defeats three times, will understand that a peace agreement is inevitable. The sooner they understand this and find the strength to agree, the better off the region will be.
I repeat that we have no intention of starting a third war. Those accusing us of this are either victims of Armenian propaganda or are pursuing a fabrication and slander campaign against us again. I must also note that a new wave of a repulsive campaign of slander against us is circulated in some Western media. We see its first manifestations, but more sordid actions will likely follow. But that will not stop us. That is why I think and hope that 2023 brings an actual end to the Second Karabakh War and that such incidents do not happen this year. Let me say again – if we see a threat against us and Armenia and its patrons are planning some provocation against us, we will immediately eliminate this threat with all the means at our disposal. We are warning them and those behind them.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu: Mr. President, after the 2020 Patriotic War and its victorious end, work has been underway in the army regarding weapons and equipment acquisition, replenishing our arsenal and creating military units for various purposes, especially commando troops. Moreover, integrating advanced technology into the Armed Forces has completely changed the strength of our military. Although we are ranked 57th on the Global Firepower Index, I am somewhat skeptical of this ranking.
President Ilham Aliyev: So am I.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu: If we look at the countries ahead of us, they are countries with the 1960s technology. How did they get ahead of us? They have no combat experience. But fine, it is their ranking, but I am under the impression that in the last two years, we have been building an entirely new army, taking into account combat experience and technology.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, you are absolutely right. During the war, our Army showed its strength and resolve, and our people demonstrated their unwavering spirit. Our soldiers made great sacrifices, faced death, and nearly 3,000 of our sons fell as martyrs. Our army was potent enough. The strengthening of our army was not a secret to anyone. I remember a time when we started allocating substantial funds for military purposes. I was even accused by some international organizations that Azerbaijan should solve this issue peacefully and that there was no military solution. Why was so much being allocated? Even within the country, some criticized us for allocating so much money to the army. Some could have been more pleased by our parades. We were demonstrating our capabilities. We were showing that we would not come to terms with this occupation. We sought to eliminate the need for a war. All my efforts as President were focused on that. I tried to convince the co-chair countries of the former Minsk Group and our European partners that we would not put up with this situation. I told the previous and current leadership of Armenia – if they think the situation would continue like this, it will not. They thought that those were words spoken for the sake of propaganda. We were forced to show our strength because our messages fell on deaf ears. I even demanded that sanctions be imposed against Armenia. I thought that in the event of sanctions, Armenians would be forced to vacate our lands. However, this did not happen, and we had to show the strength of our Army in the war. At the same time, we saw a need for the further development of the army. Everyone knows this now. During the 44 days, we did not take a single step back; not a single person ran, and there was no deserter. Perhaps it is an unprecedented occurrence in the world’s military history. I am leaving aside the fact that there were 10,000 deserters in the Armenian army. The soldiers and officers on the offensive, charging the elevations from the lowlands and breaching six to seven fortified defense lines in the face of death, are the real heroes. That is the might of our Army.
At the same time, we started work immediately after the war without even a day's rest. We began to analyze all phases of the war. I said yes, it was a historic Victory, and we accomplished our historic mission. Now, instead of rejoicing, we must identify the shortcomings. Of course, there were and still are certain flaws. We are working hard to eliminate them and apply our combat experience based on the new military concept. Much has been done in two years. But this work still needs to be finished. I wouldn’t want to speak of that publicly. But I can say that our commando forces have already been fully formed, becoming a significant component, and this process is ongoing. New commando forces will be created. Their number will be increased. We have already at least doubled the size of our Special Forces, which bore the brunt of the war, and we will increase it further. They have been provided with top equipment and supplies.
I should also note that we have increased the number of special forces within the State Border Service, Internal Troops, State Security Service and Foreign Intelligence Service - new detachments and groups have been created. We have increased the number of marines several times. We have increased the number of special forces of the Nakhchivan Standalone Army. I will not disclose the numbers here for obvious reasons. Their numbers will grow as we have yet to reach our goal. We have and will continue to create such a force that it would be suicidal not to reckon with.
We have resolved the issue with Armenia. I am sure there will be no third war. But the threats have not disappeared. New threats emerged after the war. Confronting those threats is a challenge that requires resolve and self-confidence. We have never gone on an adventure, and we never will. If we have dealt a crushing blow to such provocations, it was not done for the sake of propaganda. We feel strong and confident, and no one should mess with us. We started it immediately after the war because we knew it would determine the world’s future. Look at the Russia-Ukraine War. Everyone is doing it, everyone. The largest countries in Europe, those that paid no attention to army building at all, are now boosting their military. They are now talking about a single European army. They began manufacturing military products or expanding production. When did we start this? It has been 15 years. We have also signed new contracts with major Turkish and Israeli companies and companies from elsewhere. At the same time, we are in the final stages of negotiations with several leading companies to expand local production.
A new era is beginning for Azerbaijan’s military industry. At the same time, it will be an export-oriented industry. Because, first of all, we must meet our demands to the fullest. I am sure several enterprises coming online will already start production this year. On the other hand, we currently sell military products to more than 30 countries. There is a shortage in the world’s arms market. Because Russia has practically left the world arms market. Now Russia's military industry works for its own domestic needs. America has shifted its military products to Ukraine, and so have European countries. Other well-known players have virtually left this market, which means it remains vacant. But the significant demand is still there. That is why we have to fill this market. I believe that we can be an exporter of military products worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In other words, we aim for this and will move towards this goal.
Of course, this will further expand the geopolitical opportunities for our country. Look – natural resources, a mighty army, a robust economy, a united nation, civil solidarity, and the military-industrial complex. Who can stand before us?
Nigar Mahmudova: Mr. President, we missed your tweets after the Patriotic War. You made us happy again with a tweet about the return of control over the center of Lachin, and the villages of Zabukh and Sus, in 2022. It became possible thanks to the construction of a new Lachin road in a very short period. We would like to hear from you about the importance of these issues and whether the people of Azerbaijan should expect such news this year, in 2023.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, I know the information I shared was eagerly anticipated and followed by the people during the war. The lexicon I used was very close and familiar to many. But every era has its own rule, functions and specifics. If I had used the language I used two years ago, it probably would not be correct. However, some of those phrases have now been memorized in Azerbaijan and neighboring Turkiye. I want to repeat those words from time to time myself, but I try not to. Unfortunately, there is still a need to use such language. The addressees may change, but the essence and transcription of the words remain unchanged.
The liberation of Lachin was a historic event for many reasons. First, it is our historical land and was the first district outside the borders of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous District to be occupied. In fact, after the occupation of the Lachin district, a geographical connection was established between Armenia and former Nagorno-Karabakh, which paved the way for our future defeat. On the other hand, we know that the road from Lachin to Khankendi passes through the center of Lachin. During the last conversation with the President of Russia on November 9, I insisted that a clause determining the fate of the city of Lachin should be included in that Statement. Of course, the Armenian side opposed that. But the Armenian side was not in a position to dictate anything at the time. That is why, on my insistence, a clause was inserted that the process of approval of the new road would take place within three years, but what would come next needed to be specified. We agreed on this route with the Russian side, with the Russian Ministry of Defense, and implemented it within a year and a half. Immediately after the end of the war, we started negotiations with the Russian Ministry of Defense. I sent a special team, and several options were discussed. Some options were unfavorable, and the most acceptable option was chosen. We started the work immediately. When the work was completed, I declared that the road was ready. However, we had to face Armenia's frivolous approach yet again. Because Armenia had to build a part of the road in its territory, they believed that this would never happen and that Lachin would remain in their hands since the peacekeepers were almost stationed there. Because, unlike the other cities, there were some surviving buildings in Lachin. But I declared that we had completed the road on the 2nd day of the month and gave them time until the 5th. Otherwise, we would enter the Lachin corridor no matter who or what. After that, the frenzy began – calls, requests and so on. Some Karabakh Armenians then asked us to give them time until 25 August. They promised that no one would set the houses on fire. They promised that they would vacate Lachin, Zabukh, and Sus. I said, well, I believe you, and my people take my word for it. But if they failed to deliver on their promise, I said we would enter the city. On August 25, Lachin and two villages were vacated. On August 26, we entered Lachin, and I experienced those unforgettable moments and feelings again. It was both a very emotional and proud day. In other words, we must finish the unfinished work. Who will do it for us? We have to do it ourselves. There is still unfinished work, and we are gradually putting things back on track.
But I should also note that the people of Lachin, especially the residents of the city of Lachin were probably somewhat hopeless. Because during the negotiations, in general, the Armenian side wanted to avoid talking about returning Lachin to Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, the former Minsk Group co-chairs also believed that the Lachin district should be given to Armenia. That is why the people of Lachin were rather hopeless. I should also state that the negotiations continued for a long time, even during the occupation period, i.e., they failed precisely, among other things, because of Lachin and Kalbadjar because they were ready to vacate five districts. But on the condition that Lachin and Kalbadjar remain in their hands forever. In other words, we remained patient because of the people of Lachin, the people of Kalbadjar, because of our historical lands, and our territorial integrity. But I think the people of Lachin will be the first to return to their native places. Because an instruction was given immediately, extensive construction and restoration work is underway in the city of Lachin. Now, we will decide when to return the first residents to the city of Lachin this year. This year, we will also return former IDPs to the villages of Zabukh and Sus. Some rich Armenians built houses in the village of Zabukh. I instructed our military personnel to be stationed there temporarily. I said that our citizens would not live in those houses. We use them as barracks. But a new settlement is being built for the residents in the village of Zabukh, and this year we will resettle them there.
Tofig Abbasov: Mr. President, you have just said that we had resolved the issue with Armenia. One gets the impression that Armenia has come to terms with its fate, but some misguide it. We know that; let us call a spade a spade - France. In this process, in this sordid endeavor, France is attempting to use all the means to convince Armenia that the matter is not over and you must stand up and face the enemy, referring to Azerbaijan. We see that they have failed in the UN, at the level of the UN Security Council. Because they tried to pass an anti-Azerbaijani resolution, but nothing worked. On the other hand, they tried to employ the Francophonie club against Azerbaijan, although it is a humanitarian organization. They wanted to politicize it, and Macron failed once again. Finally, their reaction and attacks against us in the media and within their political circles are apparent.
Mr. President, now to my point. They say the French Senate and National Assembly will not back down from their anti-Azerbaijani position. Yet the French government values its relations with us in this process and is not too eager to get involved. Do you share this view? Finally, what are France’s motives?
President Ilham Aliyev: There may be several reasons. First, the fact that we were victorious and won the war probably annoys many. Now, when we look back, we see and are further convinced that – although we have seen this for many years during the negotiations – the Minsk Group, especially France, has been trying hard not to resolve this issue, i.e., neither peace nor war, the issue should remain frozen, and Armenians should de facto live there. Time will pass, generations will change, Azerbaijanis will forget, and among other things, the theses of contacts between these people and the strengthening of cooperation with Armenia were thrown around, suggesting that we should reconcile and become friends. We did not come to terms with that, and I think the primary reason for such an anti-Azerbaijani position is that we have shattered their plans, and they could not save Armenia, which they took under their protection.
The second reason – I do not rule out that it is related to representatives of the French government. First of all, we must remember how France became the co-chair of the Minsk Group. I know this very well because my father told me about that. At the time, French President Jacques Chirac insisted on this. Heydar Aliyev repeatedly objected. Later, even Jacques Chirac told me this story many times. He treated my father with great respect, and quoting my father, Chirac told me that Heydar Aliyev was not against him but against France's co-chairmanship. Because Armenians had an immense influence on Chirac and thus would influence his policies. Chiraq told me, "I convinced him that we would always be neutral,” and Heydar Aliyev agreed. That was indeed the case. And it was only natural that they remained unbiased. Or they may have been impartial because the issue was left unresolved. I cannot say for sure.
But I must say that France always tried to maintain the balance until the current government. I would also like to remind you of one episode – perhaps many have missed it. On April 24, 2015, President Francois Hollande visited Armenia. Only four leaders went to Armenia on that day, and it was Armenia’s yet another fiasco and the debacle of its historical forgery. But he went there, and I went to Çanakkale, Turkiye. President Hollande came to Baku from Armenia on the same evening, arriving even earlier than me. Our event in Turkiye took longer than expected. I arrived, President Hollande was already in Baku, and we met the next morning – on April 25. What does this mean? It shows the conduct of a politician. It showed that France was and it respected both that capacity and us. Therefore, he came to Azerbaijan to maintain this balance. I highly appreciate it. But eventually, that balance was disturbed. Even before the war, that balance was disrupted. In other words, the balance might have been disrupted, then France should have given up the co-chairmanship. I am talking about that period in time. Drop out, be together, call each other relatives. I do not mind, but get out of here; you are in no position to be a mediator. But they wanted to be mediators – maybe they still do – and solidify their cozy relations.
Therefore, the current situation is the outcome of the efforts of the current French government. A future government will be formed in France that will value the relations with Azerbaijan because we have always cooperated with them in our policies only with friendship in mind. In previous years, more than 10 of our cities became sister cities. There were exchanges; many representatives came here. President Sarkozy and President Hollande visited Azerbaijan. Now the situation is entirely different. I recently said in a closed-door meeting that France could live without us, and so could we. It would not matter much to them or us. This is their path and their choice. Still, we have not done anything against them. We responded during the war. Now I want to refrain from saying anything about the high-level contacts during the war. Those were closed conversations. But during the war, we had very tense relations. During the war, France openly accused and slandered us. I now demand an apology from them. They slandered us and said that we had brought in jihadists. There is not a single piece of evidence. Have they apologized to us? No!
During the war, they launched an initiative against us in the UN. It did not work at the time; the countries - members of the Non-Aligned Movement prevented it. Then was the Francophonie endeavor you mentioned, followed by the Prague meeting. The Prague meeting was a continuation of the Brussels format. Charles Michel, the President of the Council of the European Union, launched that format. And it was a continuation of the Brussels format, only the President of France was also there. But what did he say about Azerbaijan a week later? I had to respond. Their Senate and National Assembly adopted anti-Azerbaijani resolutions, and our Milli Majlis responded with a statement. In Francophonie – you are right – they failed. They achieved nothing by keeping a few countries under pressure. They failed in the UN. Four countries disrupted their game. It begs the question, why? I cannot understand that. In other words, where is this inadequate attitude towards us coming from? I do not understand and do not even want to think about it. Let me say again: we both have gone on without one another. It has been the case so far. So, we do not need them. It is just that the situation is not normal, and we don’t believe that we are to blame. Therefore, if there is an idea to normalize this situation, we will not be the ones initiating it.
Narmin Salmanova: Mr. President, Azerbaijani eco-activists have been protesting on the Lachin-Khankendi road for a month despite the cold weather and snow. The heart of all Azerbaijan is beating with those on the road to Lachin. Most of the participants of that rally are young people. What would you like to tell them? In addition, Armenia and its patrons are trying to create an illusion worldwide that they have allegedly been under blockade for one month. Do you think it could have any real consequences?
President Ilham Aliyev: First of all, I salute those young people! They are a source of our pride. As you mentioned, they have been there day and night in freezing and snowy weather, demanding their rights and showing the whole world the high moral qualities of the Azerbaijani youth. One step away from there, separatists are busy transmitting false information to the world. First, everyone has already seen that there is no blockade. Some four hundred trucks of peacekeepers have passed through there – in less than a month. Of course, all the vehicles that passed there, even before this rally, were monitored by us. Else how did we learn that Iranian vehicles were delivering fuel there? We registered it there. However, the Iranian side tried to deny it. They even tried to deceive us in a primitive manner by attaching fake Armenian license plates on Iranian vehicles. How did we learn that about 20 Iranian nationals entered there illegally? Copies of their passports we obtained were evidence of that, and we are still waiting to receive an explanation.
So, we see everything, and we know everything. We know the number of trucks of the Russian peacekeeping contingent – how many enter and exit each month and how many enter and exit now. Of course, they also take food and other necessary goods to the Armenians living there. We do not object to that. Our goal is not a blockade. Permission is granted to the Red Cross every time they apply. That is why it is just another anti-Azerbaijani show. I cannot think of any other title. Armenians and their patrons think they will gain something by using this against us. They will get nothing. We have legitimate demands, and everyone knows the history of this event. They failed to provide us access to the mines that were exploited illegally. They staged another show there as well - as if there were some protesters. This rally there will likely continue until we have access. Our demands are also entirely legitimate. Monitoring, inspection and an end to illegal exploitation are necessary, and we will achieve that. Therefore, it is unfair to call the events happening on the Lachin-Khankendi road a blockade.
I have said this before, and I repeat that necessary conditions will be created for those who want to live there under the flag of Azerbaijan. Just like all the other citizens of Azerbaijan, their rights and security will be provided. In the case that happened there the other day, that person was returned with his hands full and was given two cartons of cigarettes because he came to ask for cigarettes. It shows that we will not only ensure their rights and safety, but they will live better.
Of course, we are capable of doing so much more for them. If the separatist movement had not started against us, they could live as people do in all the other parts of Azerbaijan now. The conditions they live in now are obvious; some people see it for themselves. Therefore, whoever does not want to become our citizen, the road is not closed; it is open. They can leave whenever they want; no one would stop them. They can travel in the back of peacekeepers' trucks or take a bus. The road is open.
Sanan Rzayev: Mr. President, talking about the prospects for peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia, you said that Armenia should find strength in itself. I want to clarify a few points. First of all, do you believe that these developments generate within Armenia or, under the current circumstances, it is not up to Armenia? How does the Armenian diaspora influence this process?
Mr. President, right after the war, there have been several places associated with peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The last time, an attempt was made to organize a meeting at the level of foreign ministers in Moscow, but the Armenian side disrupted that meeting, and the meeting did not take place. We currently see no negotiation process from a technical point of view. What do you think about the locations for negotiations and the prospect of continuing the negotiations? Are you under the impression that the Armenian side is simply flagrantly disrupting the negotiations?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, I fully agree with the last thesis that the Armenian side is disrupting this process, and I know why. As for the first thesis about whether or not Armenia has strength and whether the diaspora has an influence on this, I think that there is such an influence, and claiming that someone is preventing the process is a very convenient way of shifting responsibility. Because if the government is responsible, it must answer for its actions. Every country and every leader faces challenges, but this cannot be speculated on. It has to do with internal politics. Everyone should do their job not just by articulating peace in the daily agenda but by convincing the public and working on an actual peace agenda. But where is this agenda? What did we see in the two years after the war? Armenia has done none of the things it should have. If we leave aside the rhetoric and intonation of complaints. They complain in every meeting with the heads of foreign states. I cannot find another name for it. This is just petty gossip and slander. I would call it anonymous, but it is not anonymous; particular individuals say everything. Therefore, in this context, the Armenian authorities should take full responsibility and be ready to sign a peace agreement. When we put forward the five principles, I said it should not be some multivolume document. It should be a straightforward paper, a simple document outlining the fundamental principles. Of course, there cannot be a conversation about our internal problems and all issues related to Karabakh. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why the Armenian leadership is prolonging the issue. Because they have to make decisions and essentially state the issues recorded in Prague and then confirmed in Sochi in October; after all, the reference to territorial integrity and sovereignty, the Almaty declaration, clearly shows that they recognize Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan. Immediately after that meeting, I declared that yes, this is our success because Armenia has finally recognized Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and sovereignty. Anyone with a basic understanding of terms would know what sovereignty over the whole country and entire territory mean. But they do not want to say “B” after saying “A.” They are bending over backward to include the Karabakh issue in a possible peace agreement and block it. It is absolutely unacceptable that they ignored the meeting of foreign ministers in Moscow. But why did they ignore the meeting held in Prague on October 6? After all, an incident also had happened at the border less than a month before that. Quite serious events had happened there. I do not want to go back to the details of how this ended for Armenia. For some reason, the Armenian side went to Prague to meet with Macron but did not go to Moscow. Then the comments of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the conduct of the Armenian side purely from the diplomatic protocol standpoint are further evidence of that. In other words, it is convenient and suitable to take the position of an offended party, but this position is very harmful to both public figures and the country. Pity is not the best tool in a politician's arsenal, especially when it is all fake, as it is now common to say.
This year will bring clarity to many issues. By the way, I genuinely believed that we would be able to sign the agreement before the end of last year. But it did not happen. What is Armenia waiting for? Perhaps they are waiting for some geopolitical changes, perhaps for something someone promised them. Because it sure looks like someone has indeed promised them something. An objective analysis of the situation in the region, the balance of forces and the world's reaction to the events that happened two years ago, as well as the events that happened last September, and are currently happening on the Lachin-Khankendi road, shows that “every man is for himself.” We can help. Help them not to drown entirely in this quagmire of Azerbaijanophobia and hysteria. How can we help? By saying yes, let us make peace. It is tough for me to say this, both as President and as an ordinary person. When I go to territories liberated from occupation, I go through the same as you and every Azerbaijani. And I am not talking about the moving part.
Nevertheless, despite the suffering, pain, and destruction of everything so dear to us, we speak of peace. You do understand that it is not easy both from a political point of view and from a humanitarian standpoint. However, since we understand that it is in the long-term interests of Azerbaijan, we propose it. But it will be on the table just for a while. Then, we will not be particularly forcing this issue. If they are not interested, we do not need it either. We do not need it if they are not interested in delimitation. This means that the border will pass where we believe it should. I am already compelled to use such terms. If the border has yet to be delimited, who can say that the border passes here and not there? I think it should be here. I have all the reasons to say this – historically and based on the maps. Therefore, this issue should concern them more than us. We can live like this for a long time, and there is no need for a peace treaty. But what will happen then? Time will tell. That is why I think they will hear my messages and draw the correct conclusions. Again, I do not want to be seen as someone putting pressure. Under no circumstances have I shown any disrespect, not even about someone not deserving respect. I have to point it out again. Because I think this year will be the last chance for them. Because then comes 2024, and then in 2025, Russia's peacekeeping mission ends. They need to see slightly farther than their noses.
Nigar Mahmudova: Mr. President, the bias of French President Macron has been discussed here. The Prague meeting has also been touched upon. Even though Macron was there, we can say that Prague was one of our achievements last year. Armenia recognized our sovereignty and accepted that Karabakh is integral to Azerbaijan. At the moment of that meeting, when the first photos were released, we, as journalists, looked at the photos and tried to read the body language there. We guessed that there was a heated exchange at the table. Could you disclose the details, discussions and exchanges there? It would be fascinating to hear about that. Please touch on the importance of the Prague meeting.
President Ilham Aliyev: Regarding the details, I can say it was an unusual meeting. Because it took too long and consisted of two rounds, the first meeting lasted about an hour, and we saw that we could not come to an agreement. That was why we said that we would gather again after dinner. We got together again, and that meeting lasted about four hours. When the meeting ended, it was 5 a.m. in Baku. This is a detail that may be interesting.
The second interesting detail was that for a moment, I said to myself that it looked as though the Armenian-French team was on one side and we were on the other side, while Charles Michel was the referee. Because in difficult moments for the Armenian side, members of the Armenian delegation stepped aside with members of the French delegation, whispered, talked and discussed something. I mean, it was apparent. Because being in a small room for a few hours is certainly an opportunity to see these details. That is, sometimes it is difficult to conceal emotions.
As you mentioned, the essence of the meeting was very favorable for us. Because for the first time, the Armenian side recognized Azerbaijan's sovereignty, which should have been the end of negotiations regarding the future of Karabakh. We take it as such. Of course, after that, these theses were confirmed again at the Sochi meeting. There was also a moment at the Prague meeting. It remained outside the general context, which was sending a European observer mission to the territory of Armenia - to our border regions. That issue was also discussed extensively. One of the proposals was to send this mission to the Azerbaijani side. We objected to it. However, we agreed to this mission being sent to Armenia. It was also discussed and agreed at the time that this mission would be short-term, consist of 40 people and last only two months. I agreed to that. But then, for some reason, this conversation, that is, this arrangement, was disrupted. This, of course, was a very disappointing moment. Because we are serious people. Serious conversations are going on here. If we agree to something, even verbally, we must follow through on it. How can it be otherwise? After a while, a high-ranking official of the European Union said that the mission would be extended. After that, the French foreign minister said that we would extend the mission. Of course, we immediately took action and demanded an explanation. What is this? How will you extend it? After all, you agreed to send this mission with us. Why? Because it will be near our border. How can that not be agreed with us?
On 19 December, that mission should have ended, and members should have returned. In other words, it means that we were deceived. How can we work with you? How can we discuss anything if you deceive us on such a small matter – it is not a very serious matter – less than two months later? What did they do after that? After that, they officially stopped the mission operation on 19 December. But on 20 December, they sent a new mission. This is just manipulation. Representatives of the new mission are in Armenia now, holding meetings with high-ranking officials. According to our information, they will be sent there again in February with a large delegation. Again, without our agreement.
I want to mention one other thing. Simultaneously, Armenia's closest ally wanted to send an OSCE mission, but we objected. Because such issues are approved and resolved based on consensus in the OSCE. Of course, we said that we would disapprove. Then, finding a loophole in the rules, they sent a delegation of the OSCE without consensus. Again manipulation, again fraud. After this fraud was revealed and we protested, the most beloved ally of Armenia tried to blame it on the co-chair of the OSCE - Poland, claiming that they had nothing to do with it and that it was Poland’s fault.
By revealing some details, I want to bring to your and the public's attention the degree of hypocrisy we are dealing with and whom and what we have to face in defending our rights. Therefore, the sending of this mission is, of course, very unwelcome. This will not boost security; rather, it will undermine the format of negotiations with us. A question was asked about those negotiation formats. After the “demise” of the Minsk Group, the European Union started to play its role, and we supported it. I made a statement about it several times. I said that we appreciated it. However, if such games happen behind our backs, then the future of this format will be in doubt. France has virtually isolated itself from this process. America and Russia remain. In other words, this is how we see the negotiation at the moment. Of course, Europe can be there, but if, I say again, it treats us fairly.
Tofig Abbasov: Mr. President, I beg your pardon. My colleague asked an interesting question. In this context, how was Charles Michel's behavior in Prague and afterward?
President Ilham Aliyev: When?
Tofig Abbasov: After the Prague meeting, when Macron's games were revealed. Did Charles Michel react to that in any way?
President Ilham Aliyev: No, we had no contact after that. Before that, of course, we maintained close contact. We even had regular phone calls. I have always appreciated his efforts. He is very familiar with the issue’s essence, with in-depth knowledge. I saw that he is well-informed and wants to help. However, there was no reaction after the Prague meeting. As you know, the next meeting was scheduled for 7 December. It was communicated to us, but we objected to it. Because we do not see the French in this format after what they did. Therefore, we did not support the December 7 format. After that, there was no contact. Since the beginning of this year, neither I nor anyone else from the Azerbaijani side has had contact with representatives of the European Union. Perhaps they are now having internal discussions about the next steps.
Narmin Salmanova: Mr. President, after the Patriotic War, restoration and construction work was launched across the liberated territories of Azerbaijan under your leadership. I remember your interview with Turkiye’s Anadolu Agency on Remembrance Day in 2021. You got emotional when speaking about the former internally displaced people who lived with the dream of seeing their homeland for 30 years and did not break down after endless suffering. Now the Great Return has started, and at the beginning of the interview, you said that IDPs would return to Lachin this year. How many people of Lachin will experience this joy, and what feelings do you have when you see those former IDPs returning to their native lands?
President Ilham Aliyev: A feeling of happiness. I am as happy as they are; I am no different. Because to see them there, to see the joy in their eyes, gives me tremendous happiness. Of course, I want all former IDPs to return to their ancestral lands soon, and we will do our best to speed that t up. Hundreds of houses are being rebuilt and repaired in Lachin, including public buildings. As I said before the end of the year, we will resettle the first group of the natives of Lachin. More than 200 families will be settled in Zabukh and Sus villages.
In parallel, we have already started construction in many villages. Up to 100 settlements are to be reconstructed in the first stage. We have now started the construction of multi-story houses in Shusha, Aghdam, Fuzuli, and Zangilan. The foundation of several villages has been laid. In other words, 2023 will see one of the first steps of the Great Return. Of course, Aghali village was the first step. Inshallah, this year, we will do it on a grander scale. In parallel with this, schools and hospitals will be ready in Shusha, Aghdam and Fuzuli.
Of course, security issues must also be taken seriously. Unfortunately, 279 Azerbaijanis died or lost their health in mine explosions. Therefore, our fellow citizens returning there should exercise caution and remain within safe areas. We are already entering the rapid development phase of the Great Return this year.
Indeed, it was only possible to move people with the infrastructure. All issues related to electricity have been resolved, and Karabakh and East Zangezur have been connected to the nationwide energy grid. We have built 11 hydropower plants on liberated lands, and their generating capacity is about 55 megawatts. It is substantial and sufficient to provide the region in the current conditions. Since this is part of the overall system, it certainly increases the share of renewable energy in our energy production cycle. Currently, seven stations are under construction, and about 50 hydropower stations will be built there.
This year, we are due to begin the construction of the Solar Power Station in Jabrayil. Planting is underway because immediately after the war, instructions were given to ensure food security and achieve that without wasting any time. About 60,000 hectares of grain have been sown.
Horticulture is developing, and so are industrial parks. For example, investment projects worth 40 million manats have already been approved in the Aghdam Industrial Park and 10 million in the Jabrayil Industrial Park. So, these are quite large amounts for those regions. The number of applicants is quite large; more than a thousand entrepreneurs have applied, and all applications are being considered.
More than two thousand kilometers of highways and bridges are being built. The number of bridges will be more than 100. Fifty kilometers of tunnels are being built within the approved projects. Just imagine what 50 kilometers of tunnels could mean. I want to waste no time. Yet, I tell myself there should be no haste; everything must be in order, tenders must be announced, and all urban planning regulations should be observed. That is why it takes a little longer to approve these Master Plans and begin construction. Of course, this worries me, but on the other hand, we are starting from scratch. We need to build a space that will be a consolation for those longing for 30 years. They deserve that. On the other hand, we want to show the world that the owners of the land have returned - the lands that have been destroyed are being turned into flourishing gardens.
I said this once, but I want to repeat it. The approach in Karabakh and Zangezur will be applied throughout the country, including the governance mechanism. Now we are working on a new governance model. Of course, personnel potential is significant. Also, at the same time, new bodies have been created in the liberated lands that are more flexible and responsive, not mired in bureaucracy and unpleasantries. So, we will gradually transfer this experience to other parts of our country.
There are major irrigation projects. The Armenians also deprived us of our water. Kalbadjar, Lachin, and Zangilan are home to 25 percent of our water resources. There are plans to lay water pipes to supply that region with water, including drinking water – and, at the same time, to other regions of the country. So, we have grand plans, and, Allah willing, we will implement them all.
This is true happiness. To win the war, to fulfill the hopes of our people and, at the same time, to build and create – there can be no greater happiness than this. This again shows our nation's greatness, and it shows that it did not bend or forget its identity for many years. In the village of Aghali in Zangilan, you feel elevated when you see the children's looks and laughter. After all, they have only seen these places in books and heard about them at school. They heard from their parents, grandfathers and grandmothers, but now they have arrived. The land is calling, and I am sure all our former IDPs will return.
Tofig Abbasov: Mr. President, with your permission, this is our last question. We don’t want to tire you. May I?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes.
Tofig Abbasov: The world order evokes extremely pessimistic impressions. We see a problematic situation, and long-lasting crises and conflicts not only remain unresolved but actually become exacerbated due to some forces. Under such circumstances, a saying comes to mind – nature abhors a vacuum. Because some forces crave the void. However, under your leadership, Azerbaijan has made significant contributions to global integration processes, and it is impossible not to see this. For example, last year, while you were on a trip to Italy, you received an invitation from the world-famous “Ambrosetti House” think tank in Cernobbio and made an excellent speech there. The distinguished audience welcomed your ideas with enthusiasm. Of course, you talked, first of all, about the duties of international institutions and the pitfalls of ignoring those obligations. You shared some valuable ideas there. How would you estimate the role of Azerbaijan in the newly emerging socioeconomic and global configuration? Our share in these processes will probably increase steadily. How would you evaluate these parameters?
President Ilham Aliyev: The primary direction and goal of our foreign policy are to create a more favorable environment for our country at the international level so that the processes within the country remain in a positive course. There have been no risks or threats in Azerbaijan for many years. All possible risks and threats are formed outside our borders. To protect ourselves from those threats, foreign and military policy must play a role. Therefore, our policy has always been focused on cooperation. If someone asked us for help, we tried to help and make more friends. Of course, we had to convince the international community about the need to resolve the Karabakh issue. Because the Armenian propaganda had been working against us for many years, and the distorted assumption about the conflict had already taken root. It was not easy to shatter it.
Over the years, we found that we were gaining more respect for our policies. The world's leading forces have already accepted that we are right about the Karabakh issue. At the same time, in partnership with us, both bilaterally and multilaterally, they saw that we conduct ourselves with dignity and keep our promises, and respect and sympathy for us have increased. I see our election as chair of the Non-Aligned Movement as an outcome. Because there are countries within that body that are not exactly friends with each other, they unanimously supported Azerbaijan twice – both when we were elected, and our chairmanship was extended. This platform allowed us to show our intentions and policies, especially during the COVID era. International events, including the Summit, the organization of a Special Session of the UN General Assembly, and extending financial and humanitarian aid to more than 80 countries – Azerbaijan did all of that. I can say that not many countries in the world can do as much as we do. We are doing this with no charge – they should get to know us better, support us, and stand beside us in our time of need. That was precisely what happened, and we have already talked about it.
And now, especially after the Russia-Ukraine War, creating a new order is inevitable; there is no other option. Because traditional institutions do not function effectively and will not do so in the future. Azerbaijan changed after the Karabakh War, and so did the world after the Russia-Ukraine War. These two changes are almost parallel processes in terms of time. How we see ourselves in this new world, where we see ourselves, of course, we must define it very precisely because we should always be guided by reality and not set unrealistic goals. We should know and strengthen our position in the region and the world. Again, the primary issue is to reduce external risks to zero, which we have succeeded in doing so, and the steps we are taking today, the steps we are discussing, are calculated precisely for this.
As for the UN, our attitude towards the UN is now evident. Failure to implement four well-known resolutions of the Security Council certainly, to put it mildly, did not add value to the reputation of this organization. But in the current conditions, we and many other countries insist that serious reforms are required. In particular, the composition of the Security Council should be revised. I also support this idea. The format of the Security Council is outdated, and history shows it. It was created 80 years ago, after World War Two. Now, World War Three is raging, regardless of what some say. If we look at the number of countries that joined this conflict, we will see that it was actually World War Three. But it is conducted in a new way, different from World War One and World War Two.
Eighty years have passed. Therefore, of course, there should be new members of the Security Council. I believe a permanent place must be reserved for a Muslim country, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation must determine it. It must choose a country based on a two or three-year rotation principle. One place should be given to the Non-Aligned Movement and the country holding its chairmanship – I am not talking about Azerbaijan because our chairmanship ends this year. The country holding the chair should be in that permanent place. If the veto right remains, those two new members should be granted the right of veto because the number of countries in the Non-Aligned Movement is 120. The world is polarized, and the conflict deepens. The abyss between the West and Russia will deepen. This is how I see it. Once the war is over, its outcome will undoubtedly make an impact. But this conflict and mistrust is a far-reaching process. Of course, this space cannot remain a vacuum. Who can be the center of power here? I think it could be a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
We did much work on the institutionalization of the Non-Aligned Movement – a parliamentary platform and a Youth Network were created. Our actions targeted that because this body has potential; it needed leadership. I believe that all countries have seen this leadership in the example of Azerbaijan, and the policy we set should be continued by those who follow. In other words, we should not allow the Non-Aligned Movement to diminish itself to the previous level. Let us be honest - it was not treated with respect anywhere.
Of course, we should choose the right place for our country. As I said, we should not set a goal driven by unrealistic dreams. Our real interests must be served. We have opportunities to secure our political, economic, military and diplomatic interests. We use our strength with great caution. Long-distance runners usually set their pace to finish first, and we are a pacer, but we also throw in a sprint when needed.
Tofig Abbasov: Mr. President, thank you very much. We were very impressed today because we often see an abundance of information, but at the same time, hardly any truth. Today, thanks to you, we witnessed the complete opposite. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. And, of course, we were all waiting for your thoughts and forecasts as the new year has begun. 2023 will not be easy, maybe even very difficult. However, the successes achieved by Azerbaijan under your leadership give us confidence that we will face those challenges with dignity and our head held high. Your successes are the successes of the people and our state, and those accomplishments give us courage. Thank you very much. We wish you energy and lasting success.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Your questions have allowed me to talk about these critical topics. Indeed, I often address the Azerbaijani public and occasionally share my views on many essential topics. But interviews have their format and parameters. Perhaps it is only possible to cover some of these issues in one speech because speeches are usually related to a topic at some event.
Let me say that I do not doubt that we will achieve what we want. Our past accomplishments, the pace at which we are moving toward our goals, and the results we are achieving give us reason to say this. I am confident that there will be many memorable moments in 2023. Because, as you know, nothing is impossible in the world. Let us go back to that rally on the Lachin-Khankendi road. Who would have thought that a completely new situation would arise in 2022 – just two years after the war? Or let us go back to September. Who would have thought that Armenia today would, albeit unfairly, accuse us of occupation? Two or three years ago, if you had said this to anyone, they would say that you had lost your mind. But nothing is impossible. Everything is in our hands. But we want justice, only justice. We are restoring the broken justice, we have not yet fully restored it, but we will restore it. I do not doubt that. And I am sure that the people of Azerbaijan share this optimism. Thank you again.
Tofig Abbasov: Thank you very much.