Europnews chief international correspondent Anelise Borges recently traveled to Lachin and Armenia and interviewed Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan individually.
She posed the same questions to both leaders and presented the responses in a special report that aired on the influential European news channel on Tuesday.
“We have been negotiating for months to get the opportunity to meet with two of the leading politicians of the countries involved in one of the longest conflicts in the world. We offered to ask the same questions to Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan and give them the opportunity to express their point of view on the conflict and on perspectives of the world,” Borges said in her introduction.
While Pashinyan was interviewed in the prime minister’s palace in Yerevan, it appears that Aliyev was interviewed in the occupied Artsakh city of Shushi, on the margins of a media conference the Azerbaijani leader hosted there a few weeks back.
Borges also traveled to Lachin on an Azerbaijani military helicopter and filed a separate report from there, also speaking to Stepanakert-based journalist Marut Vanyan.
“Perhaps the most interesting thing during my trips to Azerbaijan and Armenia was what I saw and heard, talking not with politicians, but with locals — from both sides. Resentment, pain and that inextricable connection with the land of Karabakh that they feel, all this unites and divides them equally,” Borges observed in her report.
“Whether diplomats in Europe, the United States or Moscow agree, efforts to achieve peace must be done with an eye on the people and for the people.This will take generations, but only in this way it will be possible to build a new reality for the inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan,” she concluded.
Below is a close transcription of the interview, the YouTube video of which is provided below.
“Not a Peace Treaty”
Euronews: Mr. President Aliyev, Mr. Prime Minister Pashinyan, thank you for this conversation. Nagorno-Karabakh has become the scene of one of the most violent conflicts in the recent history of Transcaucasia. And after the signing of the peace agreement in 2020, tensions are not decreasing. How do you explain this unrelenting hostility?
Ilham Aliyev: Declaration signed on November 10*, 2020 ( the document entered into force on the night of November 9-10, 2020 – Euronews), did not really provide for the establishment of a lasting peace. A ceasefire declaration is not a peace treaty. This declaration was a de facto act of surrender on the part of Armenia. Therefore, we began to put forward initiatives for the final settlement of the conflict with Armenia on the basis of such principles as mutual recognition of territorial integrity, sovereignty, international borders, delimitation of borders, non-use of force or renunciation of the threat of use of force. And we put this proposal on the negotiating table. It is we, a country that has suffered from occupation for 30 years and that has restored justice by force, who have become the founders of a new peace process. I wouldn’t say it’s going very smoothly. But we do not lose optimism, because very active negotiations are now underway at the level of foreign ministers of both countries.
Nikol Pashinyan: The document signed on November 9, 2020 is not a peace treaty or a peace agreement as you called it. Moreover, it is not such in a legal sense, and not that de facto: a number of its provisions are grossly, maliciously violated.
I agree with you: this is rather a certain concept of a future peaceful architecture that can be implemented.
Unfortunately, many provisions are regularly violated by Azerbaijan. This is happening now. You see, you asked a question about Nagorno-Karabakh, and everyone understands this, but Azerbaijan, for example, continues to assert that there is no Nagorno-Karabakh.
Closely from intermediaries?
Euronews: You have just returned from Brussels, where another round of discussions was held under the auspices of the European Union , and you met several times with the President of Azerbaijan. These peace talks gave hope for a lasting peace in the region, but judging by what you say, these hopes are in vain. So is it possible to achieve peace? What can you say about the results of these negotiations?
Nikol Pashinyan: Peace is not only possible, but necessary. This is my belief, my position. This is what I believe in. But for that to happen, it is important that the international community understands the important nuances, that it clearly understands why we are not moving forward at a rapid pace. Let me return to our penultimate meeting in Brussels, which was attended by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. Then the President of Azerbaijan and I agreed, or rather, reached an understanding that Armenia and Azerbaijan recognize each other’s territorial integrity: the territory of Armenia is 29,800 km², the territory of Azerbaijan is 86,600 km². Mutual recognition of territorial integrity. So far, the President of Azerbaijan has not publicly confirmed our agreement. But he didn’t refute it either. This is a detail that does not contribute to creating a trusting atmosphere.
Ilham Aliyev: I think it’s right to have hope. In fact, these meetings allow touching on very sensitive issues: what will the border look like? After all, the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan has not yet been defined. As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed, we faced this aggression. So, the main thing is the border. What will be the real situation on the ground? What will happen to transport links? Let me remind you that following the results of the Second Second Karabakh War, Armenia undertook to provide access to our Nakhichevan exclave. But so far this has not happened. Therefore, the main work on specific clauses of the peace treaty is being carried out by the ministers. The meetings between the leaders of the two countries simply create, it seems to me, a favorable background. But if we see a constructive approach from the Armenian side, and most importantly,
Euronews: What does the EU offer at the negotiating table?
Ilham Aliyev: Initially, the EU did not participate in the mediation process during the period of occupation, when we have been negotiating since 1992. It was an initiative of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who invited us to the negotiations, and we supported this process, because, given the level of cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU, Armenia and the EU, I think that the EU can be the best mediator, because our relations based on mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual interest. So this initiative is now developing into a very active dialogue format. And we meet not only in Brussels, but also, for example, on the sidelines of the last summit of the European Political Community in Chisinau. It seems to me that this is important, because we do not allow the situation to stagnate, because if there is a stagnation, if a kind of respite is taken again, then we are not immune from any dangerous scenario.
Nikol Pashinyan: First of all, I would like to emphasize that the benefits of mediation have long been known to everyone. But such discussions also have certain disadvantages. And if I may, I’ll tell you about one of them. I proceed from the premise that effective mediation is when non-fulfillment of agreements is followed by at least a demonstration of an appropriate political attitude towards those who have violated their obligations. On the Brussels site, for example, we do not observe this. I raise this question all the time. I’ll tell you a secret, we even prepared a document, which we called an “audit”, which lists all the agreements that were reached in Brussels, but subsequently were not implemented. And it’s a pretty impressive package. This cannot but be alarming.
Euronews: Do you think that the traditional regional mediator, Russia, is annoyed that the West (we are talking about the US and the EU) is playing an increasingly significant role in the region? Or has the fact that Russia got bogged down in Ukraine worked in favor of other players who are now also trying to help you and the Azerbaijanis find a common language?
Nikol Pashinyan: Let me remind you that all this rivalry between powers is not directly related to us. You are aware of the work of the OSCE Minsk Group, which was created to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But since February 24, 2022, the co-chairs of the group simply stopped interacting. Individual countries have decided that they no longer want to interact with other participants in the process, hence all the problems.
Ilham Aliyev: Well, Russia mediated a ceasefire agreement or declaration on November 10, 2020. It was not the United States or the European Union. And our first meetings with my Armenian colleague were organized by Russia on Russian territory. After the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the situation has changed, and we have seen the United States and Europe become more active. In fact, for us there is no significant difference who will lead the process or, let’s say, who will appropriate the laurels of mediation. It’s important to get results.
Euronews: I understand that you have a long and complicated relationship with Russia. In your opinion, does Russia retain its influence in the region?
Ilham Aliyev: As for Azerbaijan’s position, little has changed here, because our relations with Russia will remain balanced. They are based on the recognition of each other’s national interests and, of course, territorial integrity and sovereignty. Russia is our neighbor and partner.
Nikol Pashinyan: Of course, due to the events in Ukraine, the interest of not only Russia, but also other geopolitical players in our region is declining, since in practice all international attention is focused on Ukraine. This is one of the factors.
Lachin: man-made crisis?
Euronews: Let’s talk about the situation on the ground, shall we? Both the EU and the US demanded free passage through the Lachin corridor. What happens on this road, which is of vital importance for the population of Nagorno-Karabakh?
Nikol Pashinyan: What is happening in Nagorno-Karabakh is a humanitarian crisis. What is a humanitarian crisis? Food is not supplied to Nagorno-Karabakh, there is not enough food. Foreign food supplies have been cut off. A number of essential goods are not supplied. Baby food is not supplied, there are no medicines. There are no hygiene products. There are no other essentials. Natural gas supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh were interrupted by Azerbaijan. The supply of electricity to Nagorno-Karabakh was interrupted by Azerbaijan. Fuel supplies were also interrupted by Azerbaijan. So there is a real threat of famine, we are also facing health problems and so on.
Euronews: You know Azerbaijan denies this. They say in Baku that the route through Aghdam is open.
Nikol Pashinyan: I don’t know what you mean, because I’m talking about a statement that I myself signed and which has the status of an international document. It clearly states that the Lachin corridor is under the control of Russian peacekeepers, and this is not only a road, but a 5 km wide zone, which should be beyond the control of Azerbaijan, it is this corridor that should provide a connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.
Ilham Aliyev: Freedom of movement is not blocked. Since we established a border post on April 23, more than 2,000 residents of Karabakh have freely crossed into and out of Armenia. On June 15, Armenia committed another military provocation, wounding one of our border guards, and the road was blocked for the duration of the investigation. But then it was reopened. The Red Cross has resumed the transportation of medicines and the evacuation of patients in need of treatment in Armenia. But, unfortunately, illegal goods such as cigarettes, iPhones and gasoline were found in the Red Cross trucks during the check. The Red Cross acknowledged this and told us that they were not responsible for the smuggling. At the same time, the emblem of the organization was depicted on the trucks and on the uniform of the drivers.
Armenians of Karabakh before the “choice”
Euronews: About 5,000 people died on both sides in 2020. I came to Nagorno-Karabakh and met with many mothers of the dead Armenian soldiers. I was also able to observe pain and suffering from a different perspective, thanks to the work of my colleagues in Azerbaijan. I remember a conversation with a woman who said that she blamed politicians for the war and the death of her sons. According to her, politicians should resolve issues through diplomacy, and not fall into the traps of war. What do you think your mission is? Establish a lasting peace or win the war?
Ilham Aliyev: Well, to win the war was the mission of my life, or at least my political life, and I successfully coped with it. We have won the war. We have restored justice, we have restored our territorial integrity. And now we’re talking about the world. If Armenia wants peace, we will achieve it, because we have no territorial claims against Armenia, and we do not want them to have territorial claims against us. I mean, the people who live in Karabakh, on the territory that is now temporarily controlled by Russian peacekeepers, are in Azerbaijan. They have to make a choice: stay here to live as our citizens and ethnic minority – you know, we have a lot of them – or leave.
“Demanding peace from politicians”
Nikol Pashinyan: You know, in any case, war is wrong. If there is a war going on, then someone somewhere has done something wrong or a group of people have made mistakes. But on the other hand, what is the reason for the war? The reason for the war lies in the impossibility of achieving a lasting peace or maintaining peace. But is this reason genuine? Infallible? Isn’t this slyness? This is another question. My son was also in the war. And my wife was in the war. And now you are asking a very serious question. But I think it has many different levels of meaning. Throughout its existence, mankind has been talking about the need to avoid wars, about the need to strive for peace …
Euronews: Do you have something you would like to convey to the other side? It’s not about the politicians you meet during negotiations, but about ordinary people?
Nikol Pashinyan: I think that all the words have already been said. People usually say: we have lived on this earth for a long time and will continue to live here. Although, perhaps, there is still something that I would like to address to the public of Armenia and the public of Azerbaijan, because in both countries people should demand peace from their governments. This should be formulated precisely as a social requirement. And it must be carried out with competence, peacefulness and flexibility.
“We offer them a normal life”
Ilham Aliyev: I never thought about it, because for the first time in my life I am asked such a question. My message to the Armenians in Armenia: we want peace with your state. Another call is to clearly understand the current geopolitical situation and the alignment of forces. For many years, the leaders of Armenia have been convincing their people that they have the strongest army in the world, that if a war starts, they will come to Baku, the war broke this narrative. We don’t want another war. Not today, not ever in the future. As for the Armenians in Karabakh, they should not follow their so-called leaders. They lied to them all the time. Karabakh Armenians must understand that, being part of the Azerbaijani society with security guarantees and rights, including educational, cultural, religious, municipal, they will be able to live a normal life, they will no longer be manipulated. We offer them a normal life. And I think that if they hear me, they should understand it. And they know that I wouldn’t say it just like that.