03 May 2023, 11:15
The 4th international conference on “Shaping the Geopolitics of the Greater Eurasia: From Past to Present to Future,” organized by ADA University to mark the 100th anniversary of National Leader Heydar Aliyev, has been held in Shusha.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev attended the conference.
Opening the conference, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said:
– Good Morning. Dear guests, welcome to Karabakh. Welcome to Shusha. Very glad to see you here.
First of all, I want to express gratitude to ADA University for organizing this conference dedicated to the memory of the architect of independent Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev. I was invited and decided to meet here in Karabakh.
I have been at many events organized by ADA University, meeting with international experts and public figures in Baku and first time here. I hope you will enjoy your visit to Azerbaijan and your trip to Shusha. Shusha has a special place in the history of Azerbaijan. And now Shusha is being rebuilt almost from scratch.
This year was announced the “Year of Heydar Aliyev” in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of our Great Leader. And throughout the year, we organize numerous events and conferences in Azerbaijan and abroad, paying respect to the memory of the founder of independent Azerbaijan and, at the same time, addressing the important issues of our domestic politics, regional development, and international affairs. We wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Heydar Aliyev not through formal events but by addressing real issues which need special attention because the geopolitics in the region has changed, and the topic of the conference also is covering this issue.
Heydar Aliyev was always a person who was protecting the interests of the people of Azerbaijan. Regardless of the time, regardless of the political situation, during the times of Soviet Azerbaijan, when he was for more than ten years the leader of Soviet Azerbaijan even in the framework of those ideological barriers, he was defending the interests of the Azerbaijani people. He was trying to do everything so that we keep our identity. And many steps he took during the times of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. Now we see that they were targeted to the time when Azerbaijan would be independent. So, throughout the year, the events dedicated to his memory will continue until the end of the year. We wanted to fill this space with practical steps, with the exchange of views and ideas, mainly concerning the future development of Azerbaijan and regional development. Because we cannot ignore the situation in our region, and though we don’t have any risks anymore after the liberation of Karabakh inside the country, we are not living on an island. Meeting here in Shusha has a special meaning for all of us. Last year, I announced the “Year of Shusha” because it was the 270th anniversary of the city’s foundation by Karabakh khan Panah Ali, and Shusha always was an Azerbaijani city. Only during the times of occupation, for more than 28 years, Shusha was under foreign domination. Still, I know that you will be making a city tour after our meeting, and you will see that Shusha was almost destroyed during the occupation. Though it again demonstrates that Shusha has never been a native city for Armenians.
If it were, they would have kept it and not destroyed it. They would have developed it. All that you’ve seen or will see, most of what you will see – the buildings have either been renovated during the last two and a half years or built from scratch. Heydar Aliyev’s biggest dream was to see Shusha free, and we made his dream come true. So, we are proud of that. We are happy; all Azerbaijanis, not only citizens of Azerbaijan but all Azerbaijanis of the world, are proud of our victory. That was a victory of justice, historical justice, victory of international law. So, once again, thank you for making a trip here. The weather is not very friendly, but this is how Shusha is, as we can never predict. It can be storming, raining and then sunshine comes all of a sudden, and I hope you will enjoy your trip. Thank you.
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Rector of ADA University Hafiz Pashayev: Mr. President, thank you very much. Yesterday we had a very fruitful discussion in Baku at our University. More than 60 scholars, politicians, and political practitioners came to Baku to discuss this topic and commemorate our national leader`s 100th anniversary. We had a very good discussion and were, including myself, very much excited that we had the opportunity to be in Shusha, a magnificent city, the Turkic world’s cultural capital. So, we’re now here, and we’re happy. Among 60 participants, at least half participate in our conference for the first time. So, if you allow me, we will move to a discussion part. First, I would like to ask Michael Reynolds from the United States Princeton University. He has a question.
Michael Reynolds, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University, the US: Thank you, Mr. President. In April last year, you were speaking here in Shusha. I think it was the 5th Congress of the World Azerbaijanis. And you said that negotiations do not result in a treaty. Negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan do not result in a treaty wherein Armenia recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan will not recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia either and will officially declare that. Today, although many of us are hopeful that a peace treaty of some form will be and the solution will be found between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Soon, perhaps even as we speak in Washington, DC. It has already been two and a half years since the end of the Second Karabakh War. And still, there’s no final solution to this conflict. If Armenia continues to refuse to come to an agreement with Azerbaijan, what options are on the table for Azerbaijan? And are there any options not on the table?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, I several times elaborated on that. If Armenia doesn’t want peace, there’ll be no peace. And some countries didn’t sign a peace agreement. We know it from history, but that will not be good for Armenia or the region and, of course, not for Azerbaijan. Therefore, we still hope that they will be reasonable. And they will not use the same tactics as they used during the times of occupation when the former Minsk Group was in the picture, and for 28 years, did nothing by the way from the point of view of results. And main reason for that was because Armenia didn’t want to liberate the territories. Yes, the Minsk Group was not very popular in Azerbaijan during the times of occupation. We should not go too far on it now that it has actually resigned. But the main reason why we could not find a peaceful settlement of the conflict was because Armenia didn’t want it. They used these tactics to delay and make one step forward, two or three, maybe five steps back, and they wanted to seal the situation to freeze it. They thought that they would be able to legitimize the occupation. They thought we would agree to a compromise on our territorial integrity. They thought their international sponsors would always stand behind them and fight for them. But that was a miscalculation; they were wrong.
So, now, what can happen? The same thing can happen. They can delay; they can use a negotiation format, which already has been established not to come to an agreement, but to make the process endless, waiting for something, waiting for a miracle, waiting for changes. And they will miss the opportunity because almost thirty years of occupation did not give them any advantage. On the contrary, they have been isolated from the regional development. They lost the chance to become a really independent country, not formally but in fact. They are looking now for a new master or masters. But the history, the recent history, should teach them a lesson. So, we hope that they will understand it. In my communications with the Armenian counterpart, I tried to explain that a peace treaty is in their interest, and the opening of communications is in their interest. They will be able to have access to different markets. And, of course, it will be beneficial for us because we want this chapter to be closed. And if you follow the chronology of statements and events, you will see that Azerbaijan offered to start talking about a peace agreement.
Because when Second Karabakh War ended, not many actors knew what would be next. Because the trilateral declaration, it is not a ceasefire agreement, but it is also not a peace agreement. So, what should happen next was under a big question mark. So, it was us who took the initiative. We put forward the vision for the future, for integrated Southern Caucasus, regional cooperation, and normalization of relations. Therefore, we put the initiative to start peace talks; there was silence from all directions. Then after some time, we put forward these famous five principles, which are entirely in line with the norms and principles of international law. Armenia formally had to either reject it or accept it. Rejecting it would have demonstrated them again being unconstructive because there was nothing in contradiction with international law in these principles. Accepting it was probably difficult for them from a psychological point of view and from the point of view of agreeing to normal behavior. So, then we had a long, how to say, break again because of Armenian unwillingness to engage in serious negotiations.
We’ve sent them four copies, four new variants of a draft of the peace agreement. They return their comments. We’ve been waiting for more than 40 days for the last comments, which we received just a week ago, just before the Washington meeting, because they realize that the Washington meeting will be absolutely useless without that. But we’ve seen in these comments again territorial claims against Azerbaijan. It was clear to Armenia and international players during my numerous communications with the US and EU officials that there should be a two-track approach. One is Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization and other communications between Azerbaijan`s authorities and the Armenian community in Karabakh. Therefore, any attempt to put the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which does not exist, into the text of the peace treaty is counterproductive.
Therefore, we hope that they will be constructive. If not, well, we are not planning to undertake any other measures other than diplomatic. We had enough of that. Therefore, there’ll be just no peace, no communication. They will be isolated again. And they will have to find a place for them in this new geopolitical configuration. Because all geopolitical situations, not only in the region but globally, have changed. We have our place there, which is very stable and which is becoming more and more solid. But for them, it will be a big challenge. So, I hope Washington negotiations will produce – if not results, but at least signs of progress.
Hafiz Pashayev: Next, Vladimir Socor, the Jamestown Foundation.
Vladimir Socor, Senior Fellow, the Jamestown Foundation, the US: Mr. President, Azerbaijan has established a bilateral alliance outside NATO’s framework with a NATO member country and regional power, Türkiye. This is a unique achievement of Azerbaijan in the entire post-Soviet context. This relationship amounts to a military security alliance, and it is closer than most strategic partnerships. And it is rooted not only in personal relationships, important as these are, but more deeply in the shared national interests. Many of us would like to be confident that this alliance will continue regardless of the results of the Turkish elections and will become a permanent feature. Also, with Türkiye involved in several contested theaters simultaneously, all were making claims on Turkish resources at the same time, many of us would like to be reassured or rather feel that there is a strong case to be made for Azerbaijan, to hold the top priority among Türkiye’s national interests. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I fully share your views on this issue. The Shusha Declaration, which made Türkiye and Azerbaijan officially allies, was signed here in Shusha, several meters from this building. And that was a historical event. Though de-facto relations between Azerbaijan and Türkiye were relations between allies. And we’ve demonstrated it, especially during the last 20 years. During the last 20 years, when President Erdogan has led Türkiye, our relations transformed by our joint efforts with him into relations between brothers and allies, and we’ve demonstrated it many times. Therefore, of course, this is an essential factor of regional development, and you’re absolutely right. Azerbaijan, becoming a military ally to Türkiye, indirectly becomes a military ally to a certain degree to NATO. And by the way, there was, for several years, a kind of misperception of the road to Euro-Atlantic integration and cooperation by different countries of the former Soviet Union, whether it’s NATO, whether it’s EU. Yes, Azerbaijan did not engage formally in any form of agreement. We even did not sign an association agreement with the EU, unlike some of the members of the Eastern Partnership Program. But that was not because we didn’t want to be closer. We don’t want to have a kind of unilateral format of cooperation. To my mind, I am frank with you; the association agreement is not an agreement in the usual sense of the word. It’s just a list of instructions presented to countries that joined this format. It is their choice, and we will respect it, but this is not our choice. We have chosen a different path. And we signed strategic partnership agreements and declarations with nine members of the EU. So, this is one-third of member states. And strategic partnership declarations, signed or adopted, do not make a difference and have a much higher value than association agreements.
The same with NATO. Some countries may seem to be very close. Some countries announced, I mean the countries of the Eastern Partnership, their target to be a NATO member. Some countries announced it for more than 15 years. By the way, NATO promised Ukraine and Georgia 15 years ago to become member states. I remember being present at the Bucharest NATO Summit when Ukraine and Georgia were rejected by some leaders of some leading European countries from the Membership Action Plan. But instead, it was announced that they would become a member. When? Nobody said it. Fifteen years have passed. So, we’re there where they are. But we signed an agreement with the NATO member state with the second largest military potential, which is serious. So, we always have chosen the paths of practical steps rather than declarations, which did not transform into tangible results. Concerning relations between Azerbaijan and Türkiye in the future, I’m sure both countries will keep and strengthen the format of this alliance and strengthen it. Because in these new geopolitical realities, this already became an important factor of regional stability and regional security, whether it is a military component, energy, communications, trade, etc. So, I’m very optimistic, and I think nothing will change the fraternal character of relations between Türkiye and Azerbaijan.
Hafiz Pashayev: Margarita Assenova, The Jamestown Foundation.
Margarita Assenova, Senior Fellow, the Jamestown Foundation, the US: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for taking the time and coming to Shusha to meet with us today. I have a question that concerns security and potential developments in the region. Russia’s potential collapse or disintegration could have serious security implications for Azerbaijan and the Caucasus. Would Moscow try to stir up trouble between Azerbaijan and its neighbors – Dagestan and Chechnya – to deflect attention from its rupture? That’s one of the possible scenarios. My question is, how can Azerbaijan prepare for such a scenario? And who would be Baku’s partners in such a case?
President Ilham Aliyev: First of all, I think that we will not see the time when as you put it, Russia will be disintegrated. We don’t foresee this scenario for Russia. We support the territorial integrity of Russia and all the countries. And any disintegration of any country, especially your neighbor, can pose a potential threat to you. With respect to our neighbors – our historical neighbors and brothers in Dagestan and Chechnya – we have relations based on our history, shared history and brotherhood. And Azerbaijan in the Southern Caucasus was always – throughout all the times, during the times of Soviet Union, during the times of Czarist Russia and before – has always been the closest to the peoples of Northern Caucasus by historical ties, religious ties, many ties, like kindred ties. So, we always wanted our brothers in Dagestan and Chechnya to realize their great potential fully. And today, we have a very active interaction format on different levels. Many delegations come from these two republics to Azerbaijan and from Azerbaijan. We’ve signed cooperation agreements and, just recently, a program for several years with Dagestan. So, the Caucasus is a complicated area, unfortunately, like the Balkans. I think one of the most beautiful areas of the world – the Balkans and the Caucasus – but the most complicated and with a tragic history. And we know the tragic history of our brothers in the North Caucasus; they know the tragic history of Azerbaijanis in the Southern Caucasus. We will never forget this history because if we forget it, we will not have a future and cannot measure our steps in time and actions appropriately. But that also is something that unites us. And, of course, in relations between Azerbaijan and Russia, communications between Azerbaijan and the republics of the North Caucasus were always an important factor. And it is well understood in Moscow and Baku. During numerous high-level engagements, we always reflected on the importance of stability and peace in the North and South Caucasus, particularly Azerbaijan. Although there are dividing lines, administrative borders, and state borders in the Caucasus, the Caucasus is one organism, and you cannot divide the body in two. And I think today’s level of mutual understanding of threats and potential, I think, is more visible because of the change in the geopolitical situation and because of the growing importance of Azerbaijan, also, for stability in the North Caucasus.
Hafiz Pashayev: Next, John Roberts, Energy Security Specialist, Methinks Ltd., the United Kingdom.
John Roberts: Mr. President, thank you very much for coming here today. I have a question: How seriously do you think Kazakhstan’s problems are regarding its energy export routes through Russia? And what can Azerbaijan do to help Kazakhstan find alternative export routes?
President Ilham Aliyev: According to my information, Kazakhstan has no problem exporting its hydrocarbons through traditional routes. And I know there have been some technical problems in the pipelines or terminal, but they’ve been fixed. And then today, the oil from Kazakhstan is going through traditional routes. But at the same time, during my official visit to Kazakhstan last month, we also discussed the prospects of cooperation in the energy area. And several delegations have been from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan and backward to discuss this issue. And the agreement was reached to start oil transportation from Kazakhstan through Azerbaijan’s pipeline infrastructure. So, the process has started just recently, and the agreement was signed to deliver 1.5 million tonnes of oil and to ship it through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to the Mediterranean coast. Also, there are plans, and the negotiations are continued. Our pipeline infrastructure allows us to increase the volume of Kazakhstan’s oil through Azerbaijan. With respect to the increase through Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, the problem can be the quality of the final product because Kazakhstani oil is different from Azeri Light. And suppose a substantial volume is shipped through Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. In that case, we will lose the premium quality because Azeri Light oil, which we export through Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, is more precious even than Brent. But there are other options; of course, we can work on some commercial terms. If the quality of the final oil in Ceyhan changes or we have a pipeline, which is now empty, it goes from Baku to the Georgian Supsa Seaport and can also be engaged because there is a big market in the Black Sea – I know that Kazakhstan owns refining capacity, facilities in some Black Sea countries – so, we always were supportive to the plans of our neighbors across the Caspian to use Azerbaijan’s infrastructure for their exports. By the way, for many years, oil from Turkmenistan has been shipped through Azerbaijan through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. So, these are all, you know, commercial issues. And I think we should not look for geopolitical changes or political preferences. They will do it if Russia decides to ship its oil through Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan because it’s more beneficial. So, today we are a transit country for oil from Russia, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. If the volume of oil grows, we will be only happy. Who would not like to have more transit fees? So, in the future and not only oil, by the way. We are providing important transportation for Kazakhstan for uranium exports. And this is very important not only for Kazakhstan but also for those countries – two countries – which are recipients of uranium and many other cargos, petrochemicals, and fertilizers from Turkmenistan. By the way, we are expanding our trade seaport’s capacity in anticipation of more cargo from Asia.
Hafiz Pashayev: Next, Vasa László, Research Professor, the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs.
Vasa László: Thank you very much, Your Excellency. Thanks again for being here and for being invited. My question is instead focusing on the economic issues of the region. There are some thoughts of the Central Asian countries to form a kind of cooperation among their markets and economies. It is not another development of the next year, but at least they are thinking of it. If it were realized, would Azerbaijan join such an economic community with Central Asian countries? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: It’s always tricky to answer the question, which has this if. You know, if something happens, what would you do? If that happens, we will see what we will do. Therefore, we should not get ahead of ourselves. Azerbaijan is not a Central Asian country but is closely linked by historical and cultural links to Central Asia and is now much more linked by political contacts. I visited this year, last month, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan on an official visit. In March, the presidents of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan visited Azerbaijan. I also visited Kyrgyzstan on an official visit at the end of last year. And last year, I visited Uzbekistan three times. So, you can see the active dialogue between Azerbaijan and Central Asian countries. And it has very positive dynamics. We think, in general, regardless of what may happen, if something happens regardless, I think Central Asia and Azerbaijan in the future can be more integrated because, of course, first of all, transportation and security issues, because today issues of transportation security and access to export markets for Central Asian countries become more important than a while ago. It’s understandable why. And here is a friendly country with already modern transportation infrastructure, whether it’s railroad, seaports, the most extensive fleet in the Caspian, and the growing number of vessels in the Black Sea. We have actively started to increase our transportation presence in the Black Sea with the biggest air cargo company in the region and with access to corridors like East-West and North-South. Of course, it is a significant asset, and we are doing everything to contribute to regional cooperation between Central Asia and Azerbaijan. What kind of partnership will be from a formal point of view is not so important. With countries of Central Asia like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan – we are in the Organization of Turkic States together with Türkiye. As I said, we have a very active political and economic dialogue with Tajikistan. So, this is a kind of reality of today’s time. And, of course, it’s important to activate even more. However, I can tell you that my interaction and mutual visits with my Central Asian partners during the last two years are unprecedentedly high. So, I think this answers also partly your question about what will happen if something happens.
Hafiz Pashayev: Brenda Shaffer, the US Naval Postgraduate School, please.
Brenda Shaffer, Professor, the Naval Postgraduate School, the US: President Aliyev, thank you for meeting with us. And it’s an honor to be here in Shusha. It’s still a dream, I think, for all of us. And as you said, international law was very clear about the status of Shusha and Karabakh. But Azerbaijan, under your leadership, had to implement the UN resolutions on its own. And so, I have two questions on this. One, as you know, is the principle of territorial integrity. We hear it unequivocally being applied to Ukraine and Georgia; even the most recently released US National Security Strategy mentions that the US must promote the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia and peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The words explicitly don’t promote your territorial integrity. Explain why this principle is applied to certain countries and not others and the implications. And if I can be a bit greedy, and have a second question. Energy calculations and energy policies are very difficult, right? There are technology, geopolitics or economics, and laws; figuring this out is difficult. But Azerbaijan always got this right, meaning extra capacity in the BTC when people asked why you needed to waste all this steel. And here we have Central Asian oil coming. President Heydar Aliyev said Central Asian oil will come. It was one of his statements. The Southern Gas Corridor built scalable extra capacity when people said this was the last major gas pipeline; gas is a thing of the past. When the commercial operation started in the Southern Gas Corridor in December 2020, people and countries were in line for extra gas. So, what must we consider to get energy forecasts right, as Azerbaijan has done so correctly? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Concerning the first question, how many times have I asked our American partners this question? Why? And never got an answer because it was obvious that there was a big injustice toward Azerbaijan and a kind of attempt to, again, put a dividing line in the methodological approach to the issues related to the territorial integrity of countries of the former Soviet Union. And always, we’ve heard in official statements, in letters by US presidents to the leaders of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, very straightforward wording about the support of territorial integrity. And when it comes to Azerbaijan, it is as if it is there, but at the same time, there is that peaceful settlement. So, during the times of occupation, it was even more unfair and unjust. And, of course, we were much more sensitive to that. Now, we are less sensitive because we’ve done what the international community was supposed to do, the UN Security Council permanent members were supposed to do – implement resolutions of the Security Council. So, we’ve done it ourselves. Therefore, as I said, we don’t pay much attention to that. But of course, we think that this injustice must be lifted, and a single standard approach must be applied not only to countries of the former Soviet Union but to all other countries. And there cannot be any justification for political preferences – if one country is closer and another country is not so close. However, it’s also questionable whose is, in fact, closer. Also, I think all the references and a justification or excuse pointing out the Armenian lobby are too exaggerated. It’s a very good excuse for those who want to avoid articulating a straightforward position in the United States and France. Even worse, even worse. France’s two chambers of Parliament recognized the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh, which no country in the world, including Armenia, recognized. Therefore, this is what they call real politics. Again, any kind of justification of the Armenian lobby is exaggerated. Yet, the question is still in the air. Why does it happen? We need to have an answer. But again, I’d like to say that now this answer is not as important as it was before. You remember, Brenda, very well how we in Azerbaijan were sensitive to the infamous Amendment 907 to Freedom Support Act. When I was not the president but in my previous capacity, I visited Washington at least twice a year. Ambassador Pashayev, at that time, also remembers very well how many doors we knocked on in the White House, National Security Council, Senate, in Congress, just asking to lift this amendment. It didn’t happen. So, I think nobody remembers the 907 amendment in Azerbaijan because we first no longer need this assistance. And second, there was a waiver to that made by President Clinton, and then the presidents who succeeded him continued that. And actually, it also demonstrates that it was resolved. So, with respect to the formal articulation of direct support of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan by the Western countries, I think the time will come. It’s already coming. And important is that Armenia itself, actually now, more openly than some of Armenia’s friends in the West, says it, as they de facto recognize it because they signed the Prague Declaration last October and the Sochi Declaration again last October, where they agreed that the Almaty Declaration of 1991 should be taken as a basis for normalization. Almaty Declaration draws administrative boundaries of former republics and considers them their official borders. That means that they already agreed that Karabakh is Azerbaijan. And I said recently that they just need to say the last word. They said A. They need to say B. They should say what I said, Karabakh is Azerbaijan; I am waiting for that. I hope the time will come.
And concerning energy security, you are absolutely right. We always did and measured our plans concerning the future because that was my father’s vision. And you’re absolutely right. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline has a capacity of 50 million tons. We have condensate from Shahdeniz. Hopefully, we will have condensate from Absheron this year and from many other fields. By the way, for our future gas production and transportation, several new fields will be activated soon. As I said, Absheron, with a capacity of 300 billion cubic meters, so-called Deep Gas of ACG with minimum the same amount – already the work has started and several others. So, there’ll be more condensate in the pipeline than we even anticipated. And one day, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline can be working at full capacity with oil from Azerbaijan, condensate from Azerbaijan, and oil from Central Asia. The same was with natural gas, and you know that the diameters of TANAP and TAP are different. And this is again because, in TAP, we didn’t have the majority share. We have only 20% in TAP. Therefore, if I may say so, we could not dictate to the partners that we need to have a bigger capacity. In TANAP, we have a majority share. So, TANAP is 16 bcm, and TAP is 10. So, we are trying to expand twice because there is a significant demand and the gas is here.
Those who said many years ago that Azerbaijan does not have oil now are saying that Azerbaijan does not have gas. And recently, I was informed that European Commissioner on Energy, Madam Simson, called Azerbaijan a Pan-European gas supplier, which is true. Most recently, I stated that we would supply gas in a maximum of a few years to 10 countries, including eight European countries. So, this demonstrates that we need not only to plan the project from a commercial point of view but also from a strategic point of view and need to continue this combination. Because companies, which are investing, and banks, which are lending money, of course, look at your potential today and some prospects for the future, and they think that this should be the diameter and the capacity. But we look strategically. We better have the capacity and have it not fully engaged rather than to have resources and not to be able to transport. So, the same will be, I’m sure, with our renewable projects. An original target for Black Sea cable was one gigawatt. But when Azerbaijan joined the project, we increased it to four gigawatts because we already signed contracts and MoUs with international companies to produce 25 gigawatts of solar and wind energy in Azerbaijan. So, MoU with these companies, leading companies, actually means a contract. So, 25 gigawatts will be available here in the Caspian and onshore, and we need to have the capacity; we need transmission. So, if everybody listened to what we advocated for today, European energy security would have been much better protected. Thank you.
Hafiz Pashayev: Thank you, Mr. President, for reminding me about Section 907.
President Ilham Aliyev: You forgot too.
Hafiz Pashayev: It was my favorite topic during my years in Washington. So, I remember how late President Heydar Aliyev was…
President Ilham Aliyev: We had, by the way, you probably remember, a kind of this mark when you have on the roads like 60 km or 100 km, we had 907 crossed.
Hafiz Pashayev: It was t-shirt.
President Ilham Aliyev: T-shirt.
Hafiz Pashayev: So, I remember how passionately late Heydar Aliyev was trying to explain to the members of Congress, a considerable number of them together, that it’s unjustifiable. And then, despite all this explanation, some members still insisted that you have to be very polite toward the demands of Armenians.
President Ilham Aliyev: Maybe, we need to explain a little bit about what 907 means because I think not everybody in the audience understands. The US Congress adopted the Freedom Support Act after the collapse of the Soviet Union to support newly emerged republics. And pro-Armenian lobby in Congress – they made amendment which was amendment 907, which deprived Azerbaijan of that right to receive direct US assistance and, it’s most important why because Azerbaijan was blockading Armenia. So, can you imagine the level of the manipulation? Armenia occupied Azerbaijan’s lands, and the territories adjacent to the Armenian border – Kalbadjar, Lachin, Gubadli and Zangilan – all were under occupation. How could we blockade Armenia if our territory was under occupation? So that was why we were frustrated when we could not explain this was unfair. Nevertheless, you see, Mr. Ambassador, now we have to explain what 907 was; nobody remembers it.
Hafiz Pashayev: Still, that’s the law in the United States. Injustice, which we still have and double standards that we still have. I think it’s very much the fact that it’s still a law of the United States government.
President Ilham Aliyev: The most important thing is to change the reality on the ground and continue.
Hafiz Pashayev: Exactly. Next, Neil Melvin, Director of International Security Studies, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the United Kingdom. Please.
Neil Melvin: Thank you, Mr. President. Azerbaijan has long been a part of European security through its membership with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. And you’ve already spoken today about the long-standing approach that you’ve taken to Euro-Atlantic integration. But European security is changing. Russia’s war against Ukraine is transforming European security. What used to be a collective project with Russia is now becoming a project about deterring and containing Russia. Russia is a threat to European security. And that will only become clearer with the Vilnius NATO Summit, in which we’re seeing a realignment of Europe and a transformation of the security environment on the Black Sea. So, my question is, given all of the plans you’ve been outlining for Azerbaijan’s role as a transit company country and an energy country, do you see new challenges as a result of this shift, particularly regarding the positioning toward Russia from the Western community? And do you anticipate that Azerbaijan may have to adjust some of its external policies in this new environment?
President Ilham Aliyev: It is difficult to predict what will be the end of the standoff, when and how Russia-Ukraine War will end and what the geopolitical situation after this war will be. Because sooner or later, the war will come to an end. Though, we cannot exclude that how the war is conducted could be modified. But again, it’s premature to talk about that. So, everything will depend on that, but it is clear that the world will never be the same as before the Russia-Ukraine War. This is absolutely clear. And I also think it is clear for many European countries, NATO members as they had to take more serious steps concerning security and defense capabilities because they, on the leadership level, admit that they did not do enough to supply their military with modern weapons and ammunitions. They probably discovered that some of their possession statistics need to be corrected. It happens sometimes. So, this new geopolitical change will lead to the militarization of Europe, of the world. And on the one hand, it can be a dangerous trigger. On the other hand, that could also be a factor of deterrence. In Azerbaijan, we realized many years ago that no one would help us, and all our illusions about the prevalence of international law disappeared. Not immediately but throughout the times of negotiations. So, we realized that if we don’t have a strong army and don’t raise a young generation ready to fight for dignity, not only for the land, we will always be occupied and complain. We were fed up with complaining, you know, let others complain about us now. That was how it was here in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s example is valuable. I know that how we conducted ourselves on the battlefield, particularly the liberation of Shusha, is being evaluated in international military academies. When you were approaching Shusha, you probably saw the rocks and cliffs, and it’s just a fortress. It is very difficult to conquer. And Shusha was occupied because of the treason of many who were in power in Azerbaijan or trying to come to power. So, the liberation of Shusha is a demonstration of our spirit. The geopolitical changes creating not a problem but an opportunity depends on you, your strategy, your proper analysis of the situation, and your principal policy. Because if countries start to maneuver, like, for instance, what we see now in Armenia, it’s an attempt to maneuver, attempt to sit now not on two chairs, but a minimum of four chairs, and it is impossible. Regarding Azerbaijan, whether it’s our regional development policy or international affairs, issues related to the territorial integrity of countries are clear and free from any current situation interests. And Azerbaijan will become much stronger as a result of geopolitical change. We already see it and how Armenia is coming closer to not only understanding but to publicly admitting Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, partly because of geopolitical change, partly because of the collapse of the illusions that someone will come and fight for them. So, of course, Azerbaijan’s energy resources are now much more needed to strengthen European energy security than ever before. So, I am not pessimistic concerning our country’s prospects, but somewhat more optimistic, but I always try to be realistic.
Hafiz Pashayev: Thank you. Arian Starova, Albania.
Arian Storova, Member of the Board, the Albanian Institute for International Studies: Very happy to be here and to share thoughts and your opinions, Mr. President. Thank you very much for that. I have two questions. In fact, the second question you`ve already given some answers, but probably, I would like to modify it a little bit. The first question is: What’s your opinion about the Belt and Road Initiative of China, about the future of that initiative? My second question has to do with the war of Russia in Ukraine. You said that it’s very difficult to foresee and predict the end of that, but I would rather put it differently and ask how you think this conflict might end. Thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: The Belt and Road Initiative always was supported by Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was among a limited number of countries that received invitations and participated in a high-level international conference. It was, I think, in the spring of 2019 in China dedicated to the Belt and Road Initiative. Azerbaijan is considered to be an important part of that project, especially now. So, we are very optimistic; what adds optimism is, first, that we made very good homework. As I said already, we modernized completely and are still in the process of the final touches, I would say, modernizing and preparing for more capacity of the transportation infrastructure. At the same time more interest from Central Asia to use our infrastructure. And also, I would like to say that at the end of last year, the projects of building new railroad connections between China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Caspian have also started. So, this project was in the phase of discussions for several years. So, it was officially already started, and it demonstrates that if it started that it will work, definitely there will be more cargo. So, we’re now working with our partners on the eastern shores of the Caspian and in general in Central Asia on issues related to the unification of tariffs, on making this road important not only from the point of view of transportation security but also from a commercial point of view. And it is possible. If each country, part of these projects behaves in a fair way, and we have agreement on tariff unification and also customs administration. This is also very important to limit bureaucratic procedures and to have more, how to say, digitalized forms of joint operability.
With respect to the Russia-Ukraine War, you ask a question that no one can answer. Maybe someone can know when it will come to an end. But definitely, it’s not Azerbaijan, and for me, it will be irresponsible to make any predictions. Of course, like most of the countries in the world, we want this war to stop sooner than later. But at the same time, as realists, we understand that it will be a challenging task. So, that is a big tragedy for the peoples of those countries, for Europe and the world.
Hafiz Pashayev: Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.
Hafiz Pashayev: Nigar Goksel, Türkiye Project Director, the International Crisis Group.
Nigar Goksel: Thank you very much, Mr. President. With the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington, hopes were raised that a peace agreement, a breakthrough might be seen towards a peace agreement. But I gather from what you said that you’re not very optimistic about this. I also gather that you don’t have much hope. So, the external actors play a very positive role in forging a peace agreement. So, I was wondering whether you could speak to whether any of the external actors are actually actively might try to prevent a peace agreement, whether there’s a spoiler role, and in my mind, I’m thinking about the interplay between the US and Iran, perhaps, between the US and Russia. How do the tensions between these powers play out in the South Caucasus and affect the chances of reaching a peace agreement with Armenia?
President Ilham Aliyev: I am less optimistic because of those comments which we received. As I said several days ago, after waiting for more than 40 days, where we saw that almost 95% of the comments were the same as the previous one. So again, attempts to put under question the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, again attempts to incorporate, in some way, the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh into a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, again attempts to cross out our proposal of combating jointly against terrorism, extremism, radicalism and separatism. Armenians kept everything but crossed out separatism. So, that means they will again trigger separatism in Azerbaijan. That reduced our optimism, but again we will see because this session of negotiations is different from the previous one. They were ongoing for the last couple of days and may last for a couple of days more. And our idea was that they should come up with some result. If not, it will be a big disappointment.
At the same time, I think that the best way how to come to an agreement is direct negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia without any mediator and without facilitator or spoiler. Before the Russia-Ukraine War, we have seen the attempts of the former Minsk Group co-chairs to reengage again. We were actively against that. Because our position was that the Minsk Group failed and, from 1992 until 2020, produced no result. The actual result was negative. Because we clearly understood at the end of the so-called negotiations, during the times of occupation, that the Minsk Group co-chairs simply wanted to keep the situation unchanged. In other words, to keep the status quo, which was very comfortable for them and for Armenia, but not comfortable for us. Therefore, we’ve changed the status quo. So, they were planning to join the efforts and persuade Azerbaijan that the Minsk Group should, in some form, continue to be around. And when asked about what that could be, I said, first, we don’t see any opportunity for that as this usual business had finished. What countries of the former Minsk Group co-chairs can do if they want to help to facilitate the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia? I said the Karabakh conflict had been resolved, and the absolute majority of the principles, which were called Madrid Principles, had been implemented by Azerbaijan. Therefore, if you want to help, please concentrate on a peace agreement and persuade Armenia to be constructive. Any of these countries, I mean, now, the United States and Russia, because after France took a unilateral pro-Armenian position, it actually deprived itself of any kind of mediation. It is absolutely clear and not only due to the so-called recognitions of separatists in Karabakh but also other very open anti-Azerbaijani statements and actions in the United Nations, in Francophonie and in other formats. The public statements of politicians isolated France from being a mediator. A mediator must at least pretend to be neutral. If you are not neutral in your soul, you at least have to pretend that you are neutral. They did not even try to do that. So, now we see these efforts from the United States and from Russia, you probably know that the next round of negotiations is supposed to take place between the ministers of the two countries – Armenia and Azerbaijan – in Russia this month. There is a European format of President Charles Michel, who several times convenes meetings on the level of country leaders. So, I think that may continue, but again I think direct negotiations between the two countries will be more useful and helpful. I think that we need to go in that direction. Of course, if Armenia also is ready to do it.
Hafiz Pashayev: David Merkel, Managing Director, the Summit International Advisors, the US.
David Merkel: Mr. President, good to see you again. I’m really honored to be here on the 100th anniversary of Heydar Aliyev. Because of the ambassador’s kindness, I had the opportunity of spending time with President Heydar Aliyev. It was at Yeni Azerbaijan Party Congress the first time I had the honor of meeting you. I have a request and a question. Being in Karabakh, I would love to have a picture with you in Karabakh to take back to my friends on a Hill with regard to 907, which I have heard a lot about from you and the ambassador and other Azerbaijani friends. My question has to do with Iran. A lot in the Western press has been discussed on increasing tension between Azerbaijan and Iran and even a suggestion of kind of a little bit of axis of Armenia and Russia and Iran, on the one side, and Türkiye and Azerbaijan and Israel on the other. So, if you could just give us your thoughts on relations with one of your neighbors.
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, we always tried to develop these relations, and as a President for almost 20 years, I was in Iran many times on official visits and previous presidents of Iran many times visited Azerbaijan. So, we had very active trade relations. We worked actively on issues related to transportation, particularly the North-South Transportation Corridor. And we saw that these relations have big potential because it is always good to have good relations with your neighbor, especially when we also have a lot to remember from our history.
But, of course, during the times of occupation, we expected more from Iran with respect to support of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. And they always supported Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and voted for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. So, we must be absolutely fair about that. And but of course, people in Azerbaijan were not very happy with Iran-Armenia relations. But as politicians, we understand that every country has its own foreign policy priorities. Iran and Armenia are neighbors. Many people in Azerbaijan expected the same attitude as Türkiye, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan demonstrated during the times of occupation. These three countries did not even have diplomatic relations with Armenia because of occupation. So, I am describing the popular mood in Azerbaijan. People thought that it would be natural if Iran could be among these three countries and demonstrate solidarity, especially because of the active use of the territory of Iran by Armenia with respect to transportation, including transportation of military ammunition and equipment. But nevertheless, our relations were very solid. We agreed, together with other Caspian littoral states, on the Caspian Sea Convention. It was not easy. It took almost 30 years for countries to agree, and there’ve been a lot of disagreements. I don’t want to go into details. But finally, in Aktau, Kazakhstan, we signed the convention. So, that was also important that we’ve already come to an agreement on how Caspian Sea boundaries and resources will be divided.
But unfortunately, after the Second Karabakh War, there were several steps that led to this escalation. And, of course, if you look at the chronology of these steps, you will see that Azerbaijan was not the initiator. And why should we be initiators? We have such a huge challenge and task in front of us – the reconstruction of Karabakh and East Zangezur. We do not have the need to have any problems with any country, especially with a neighboring country. But everything happened after we installed observation cameras on the road between Lachin and Khankendi, and we detected regular movement of Iranian trucks to Karabakh. That was absolutely illegal. Because Iran recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and should not do things like that. We started to monitor the situation. We thought that maybe it was just an accident, maybe the drivers who came from Iran to Armenia got lost and accidentally ended up in Karabakh. Things happen. But then we started to see that it was already a tendency. So, my assistant invited the Iranian ambassador for a meeting on my instruction – a private meeting, asking to convey to their officials that we requested to stop it. It is not good for our relations, and it is not good from any standpoint. We expected that would stop. But unfortunately, it did not stop. So, this traffic continued, and illegal access to Azerbaijan from Iran continued. Then, we had to take an official step. We issued a diplomatic note, and it was published, and the Iranian ambassador was invited to our Foreign Ministry, and that was made public that we expressed our dissatisfaction with that. This is a usual diplomatic procedure, nothing special. We thought that it would be the kind of message to be received. But unfortunately, not only did it not stop, but this traffic became more intensive, what they were doing, and everything is documented because we have cameras already there. They were putting up fake Armenian plaques and keeping the same trucks with the Arabic script over them. So, we had to stop it. Two of these trucks were detained, and the drivers were arrested. In the traffic papers, we saw that the cargo was sent from one of the Iranian cities, and the destination was Stepanakert, Armenia. Can you imagine that? And we have all these documents. It’s not just the word Stepanakert. First, it is not Stepanakert; it is Khankendi. Second, it is not Armenia. And that created a lot of waves in some parts of the Iranian establishment – accusations, threats, etc.
But we did the right thing. So, after a while, these drivers were released. It stopped, frankly speaking. So, we had to use these kinds of measures to protect our territorial integrity. Then there have been a lot of media attacks. A lot of statements from politicians and members of parliament, but we did not pay much attention to them because it sometimes happens someone is unhappy and wants to demonstrate his discontent. It is not something tangible. Even when they started to organize military drills on our border, we saw it also as something emotionally driven. Of course, it was difficult to understand it because, during the times of occupation, they never had any military drills in that area. And these two military drills also were accompanied by very hostile media campaign statements, insults, accusations, threats, etc. So, as always, we responded, and we had two military drills along their border. One, by our special forces, those who liberated Shusha, by the way. And second, with our ally, Türkiye, with Turkish F16s and Turkish special forces, it was not a demonstration. But it was a message that we can defend ourselves.
So, again, frankly, speaking as a President, I saw that it could create some difficulties, but nevertheless, we always wanted to have a diplomatic solution to any kind of disagreement. I had a couple of meetings with my Iranian colleague at some international events, not in Baku and not in Tehran, but in Turkmenistan and in Kazakhstan. And it seemed to me that we clarified everything, and this misunderstanding is in the past. Unfortunately, when we were very close to making a good step in re-engagement – the Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, the co-chair of the Joint Economic Commission, was due to visit Tehran because, in Iran, there was a change of co-chair. We decided to send our co-chair to meet because we have a lot of things on our agenda. Then this terror act on our embassy happened, and that ruined almost everything because there was video footage. I don’t want to go into much detail; everyone can see what kind of act of terror it was. It was a deliberate, organized act of terror to kill our diplomats and members of their families. Because in that building, not only do we have an embassy but also apartments and families live there. We have security officers in the embassies in several countries. But only in Iran they were not allowed to carry weapons. So, our security officers were with empty hands, and the person who broke in had a Kalashnikov, and he started shooting immediately, immediately killed and wounded two of them, and only one brave barehanded officer disarmed him and pushed him back. But for 40 minutes, there were no police, no security officers, nothing. For 40 minutes, he was trying to get back; he was shooting with Kalashnikov and used a hammer. He came with a hammer, and by the way, he came with a Molotov cocktail. He broke the door with a hammer and entered the premises again. The same wounded officer disarmed him again and threw him out. We have internal and external surveillance cameras there. Then, he approaches the police and puts down Kalashnikov. He also used his Molotov cocktail. How can that be non-organized?
And moreover, the same day, this person appears in the media. He gives interviews. Can you imagine a person who broke into an embassy of another country and killed one and wounded two, giving an interview, saying that he did it because of some other motives? And two days later, in Iran, he was declared mentally challenged to avoid any kind of legal prosecution. How can that happen? Mental disability cannot be examined and tested in two days. But that was not the end of the story. Yes, we pulled back completely all our diplomatic staff, all our embassy. Now our embassy in Tehran is closed. And that was my decision because, for me, the security and lives of our people are more important than what they will think in Iran about that. But that, unfortunately, was not the end of the story. Then, there was an act of terror against a member of the parliament of Azerbaijan, and only by chance, he was not killed. Allah saved his life. Again, Kalashnikov, six shots fired from just two meters, and he was seriously wounded.
And after several days, that group was detained. So, our law enforcement agencies worked very efficiently. We find and punish everyone, no matter where they hide. And they already testified where they hid their Kalashnikov. It was found. Their whole network was disclosed. They testified that they received orders from Iran. So, this is crossing the red line. You know, this is serious; this is terror. And we think that this terror is organized on a governmental level. We totally consider inappropriate any kind of statement that someone had done it. No. Therefore, we first demand the extradition of some terrorists from Azerbaijan who found shelter in Iran. And we demand a transparent investigation of the terror attack on our embassy. You can now imagine that relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are at the lowest level ever. It is very difficult to predict whether they will remain on that level, whether they will go down or they will go up. It’s very difficult to predict. We received some communication from Iranian officials, some phone calls and other communications, proposals to normalize relations, but definitely, as I said, our demands are absolutely legitimate and justified. If these demands are met, then we can talk about normalization. If not, then not. So, again, it was not our choice. But everybody in Iran, all segments of the establishment, should finally understand that the language of threats and terror will not work with Azerbaijan. The sooner they understand, the better we can see signs of normalization.
Hafiz Pashayev: Mr. President, if you will allow, continue.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, go ahead.
Hafiz Pashayev: Thank you. Next, Victor Kipiani, Chairman of Geocase, Georgia.
Victor Kipiani: Thank you very much, Mr. President Aliyev. Your Excellency, delighted to be in Shusha. Thank you for your time. You mentioned on a few occasions the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, the South Caucasus Pipeline. Undisputedly those projects laid down the foundations for good regional cooperation, which will benefit us up to this phase and hopefully will continue benefiting into decades to come. And this is really the great legacy of Heydar Aliyev and his counterpart President Shevardnadze. And this is something you know something, which we should be very much thankful for. In the context of those projects as well, at the start of the next phase of increasing regional interconnectedness. And that is about the Middle Corridor and the Black Sea cable. You’ve touched on, from time to time, in the course of this conversation, but if you could elaborate a little bit more on your outlook in relation to the projects and your expectations from the partners? When speaking about the expectations of the partners in that context, once again, elaborate on the good partnership of Azerbaijan and Georgia, which has always been critical for the overall success of any cross-border project, which we are witnessing, we have witnessed and we will be witnessing. Thank you so much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Yes, I fully agree with you, President Heydar Aliyev and President Eduard Shevardnadze – they laid down the foundation for the strong partnership and cooperation between our two countries. You know that they were leading Georgia and Azerbaijan during the Soviet times. They had very good friendly relations at that time, and as leaders of independent countries, they actually founded today’s Azerbaijan-Georgia partnership format. And, of course, it started with the Baku-Supsa Pipeline and the famous inauguration at the end of the 1990s in Supsa with the presence of President Shevardnadze and President Aliyev. And then they together laid down the foundation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. And when the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan was inaugurated in 2006 already, it was without their participation, unfortunately.
So, today, relations develop successfully based on that foundation. You know that recently, last month, Georgia’s Prime Minister visited Azerbaijan. I visited Georgia six months ago. So, we always keep in touch and try jointly to cement further relations between our countries, and there is a high level of mutual understanding that only together we can achieve our goals; only together can we be more powerful in the region and also in a relationship with our partners in Europe. Therefore, Georgia and Azerbaijan, interconnections and partnership in transportation energy in many other areas is an important factors of energy security and transportation security. During these two important visits and also during the visits of other high-ranking officials, mutual visits, these two important issues have been addressed.
With respect to the Middle Corridor, you probably know that Azerbaijan is now investing additional funds into the expansion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad on the Georgian territory. We’ve allocated about 140 million US dollars to expand the capacity to 5 million tons by railroad, and hopefully within the maximum one year from now, we will achieve that. At the same time, we are actively evaluating future cooperation with respect to the potential of Georgian seaports – existing and planned. I do not want to say something before some results are achieved. We are seriously evaluating. We see great potential because we can foresee huge cargo flow through the Middle Corridor across the Caspian and then further down to Georgia’s seaports and through Georgia to Türkiye, to Kars further down. So, this is a reality.
With respect to the Black Sea cable, you know that the project feasibility study was started a while ago, but now, we established a broader format of four countries, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Hungary and Romania. And First Advisory Council of that project took place in February in Baku and the second in Tbilisi, relatively recently, I think, last month. So, we looked at this project from a bigger perspective, not just a Black Sea cable, but a transportation route from Caspian offshore wind farms to Europe, and to have an integrated project. Unlike the Southern Gas Corridor, which was a fragmented one consisting of three independent integrated pipelines, now we want to have integrated projects from the source, and of course, the source will also be in Georgia to the final destinations. And after we started this formal cooperation, we already started to receive some messages from some other European countries which wanted to join. So, I think that it could be a really global project.
Already we have oil and gas. Now, why not have electricity transmission and cable? The European Union strongly supports that, and that adds to our optimism because European Commission President Madame Ursula von der Leyen was witnessing the signing ceremony last December in Bucharest. So, her presence there demonstrates that European Union will seriously participate. And this is a project of probably the coming decades because they have great potential for renewables in Georgia, Azerbaijan, including Karabakh, whether it’s hydro or wind. And as I already said, with several major international companies famous for renewables, we signed contracts and MOUs to produce 25 gigawatts. Almost 500 megawatts already are being constructed, 230 megawatts inauguration we are planning within several months. So, more than 700 megawatts of solar and wind we will have maximum by 2025 and the rest is in the pipeline. So, we have a great future and must always be together.
Hafiz Pashayev: Next, Victoria Coates, Senior Research Fellow, the Heritage Foundation, the US.
Victoria Coates: Thank you, Mr. President, for the warm welcome to both Baku and Shusha. This has been an extraordinary opportunity. And if I can get into David’s 907 picture, I’d appreciate that tangled with that issue myself. But having this chance to both look back at the extraordinary century that Azerbaijan has experienced under both your father and you and looking forward to the next century, which of course, will start in 2024. You had brought up the Belt and Road Initiative, which is obvious; this is sometimes in the paper. There are heightened tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, so that may have crossed your inbox. You know, I’m of the opinion that we can’t be surprised that a country like Azerbaijan would look both East and West. After all, in the United States, we faced the same challenge. We are both an Atlantic and a Pacific power. And in terms of positioning the United States as a partner of choice to Azerbaijan going forward, I think it is beholden on us to be more proactive in that space rather than, as I said, simply lecturing you on the evils of the PRC. I do have views on that, but I need to air them here.
As we go forward, if you look at something like 907 as an unnecessary irritant in a relationship, what can the United States do, particularly as we grow into our status as an energy superpower? Due to being from an Azerbaijan perspective to be the partner of choice to you, what would you see as the best engagement from both the United States government and from our private sector?
President Ilham Aliyev: Actually, I think I’m absolutely convinced that the agenda of bilateral relations between the United States and Azerbaijan is really very impressive. What we just were discussing about 907 and some, you know, sensitivity to the issues related to some wording with respect to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan did not mean at all that we had some kind of contradictions that cannot be resolved. On the contrary, with the United States, we have a very broad and very important bilateral agenda. First of all, on the issues related to energy security. The United States always supported Azerbaijan in its endeavors to diversify the energy supply routes and helped us to transform into a country that today’s considered, as I already said, by European Commission as a Pan-European gas supplier. I remember those years very well because when I worked in SOCAR in the 1990s, I knew very well how important US support was in the implementation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. There was a lot of opposition to that pipeline around. So, it was a very strong Armenian and pro-Armenian campaign. They even established the NGO, which was called, if I’m not mistaken, BTC Campaign. They issued letters everywhere, and by the way, unfortunately, some of these letters worked. So, World Bank delayed one year, lending money for the construction of BTC because of the so-called environmental concerns. So, they used just this pretext that it would damage the environment. Though it’s almost 20 years since BTC was in operation, there was not a single drop of oil that could damage the environment. In other words, the United States helped us to overcome those difficulties.
If talking about the gas, yes, as always, we`re joking with US partners that not a single drop of Azerbaijani gas will reach the US market, but the United States was instrumental in support of Azerbaijan’s vision for the Southern Gas Corridor. There have been a lot of obstacles in the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor and obstacles from unexpected sources. I think it is not a secret any longer. But again, the pretext was the environment. And this time, it was not turtles like in the case of BTC; it was olive trees. So, you see how creative they are. Actually, it was the same group of people who were concerned about turtles with BTC and olive trees in Italy. Because we made our own investigation and found who was behind this campaign against the Southern Gas Corridor. Unfortunately, we had difficult times in communications with previous governments, governments of Italy and also some local authorities. We’ve traced all the connections because we had to know who was behind this campaign in order to fix the project, and we found them. Maybe it’s premature to talk about that, but the time will come everything will be known. But what happened then, and I witnessed on the television. First of all, I’d like to say that the President of Italy, Mr. Sergio Mattarella was of great support and did a great job of moving the process forward. Because several olive trees’ relocation happens on a regular basis in Italy, in other Mediterranean countries, it happens. So, in this case, these olive trees, unfortunately, were a source of big concerns, and then they, by the way, were relocated, and I’m sure they’re safe. But then, at the press conference of then-President of the United States, Donald Trump and then-Italian Prime Minister, Donald Trump, openly said you have to support the project, and that was a turning point. And immediately, all the concerns about olive trees relocation were lifted, and we got the green light. So, this is how the United States is working. What I’m saying now, maybe I’m saying for the first time, but why should we keep it secret? Why should there be some ambiguity? No.
We have very profound relations with the United States. And now, in particular, I got several letters from President Biden, very positive. I got public communications from President, from Secretary Blinken with respect to our humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Azerbaijan was one of the two countries, along with Türkiye, who left the mission in Afghanistan last. We were the last two. And we stayed in Afghanistan from the very beginning. We’ve been in Iraq since 2003. Until we got a message from the United States that we can go home. So, we left. We had been in Kosovo before this process of recognition started. Security, energy, trade, and now renewables, we hope that American companies will be part of our big project of transforming Azerbaijan into a source of renewable energy. Because proven reserves of wind and solar power in Azerbaijan are close to 200 gigawatts, the IFC has already confirmed this with respect to the Caspian Sea. 157 gigawatts of wind power only in the Caspian Sea, which belongs to us.
So, once again, I maybe go too far, but only so that no one thinks of 907 or some other things – they are peanuts. Now they seem like peanuts, then it was maybe more sensitive, but we always need to look at the broader picture. There can be certain disappointments. Of course, we are disappointed that people like Senator Menendez, who has an Armenian family, always attack Azerbaijan. And he’s a big lobbyist, not an Armenia lobbyist, but an anti-Azerbaijani lobbyist. We regret that person like Adam Schiff also spreads hatred against Azerbaijan, and now he wants to put the kind of resolution to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. That resolution, if adopted, will have the same value as resolutions adopted by French Senate and National Assembly. So, we know these people, we know that the Armenian lobby sponsors them, and we know that, most probably, the background of this cooperation is not very clean. It is possible, but having people like Menendez and Schiff and Sherman, should not interfere with our relations. There was a case when American Ambassador Matthew Bryza, who, by the way, was a participant at the last meeting. His appointment was blocked by pro-Armenian senators because he was not too pro-Armenian and because he had a Turkish wife. Can you imagine the level of political consciousness of these people? If a person has a Turkish wife, he cannot be an ambassador to Azerbaijan. And the diplomatic career of Matthew Bryza was ruined. The person who served for the US State Department for a couple of decades career was ruined by one person, this pro-Armenian guy. So, this is something, which we, of course, take into account, but neither Menendez nor Schiff nor any other people like them will be able to interfere in relations between US and Azerbaijan. Our relations are very well-balanced, solid and based on mutual respect. And I’m sure that will be the case in the future.
Hafiz Pashayev: Mehmood Hassan Khan, the Center of South Asia and International Studies, Pakistan. Please.
Mehmood Hassan Khan: We have a special connection, passion and respect for you and the people of Azerbaijan. And we really appreciate your strategic vision in terms of the complete socio-economic transformation of Azerbaijan and the successful liberation of Karabakh. Since many questions related to geopolitics have already been asked, my questions pertain to geo-economics.
His Excellency, would Azerbaijan seek Chinese diplomatic assistance to resolve the issue of the Zangezur corridor? How do you foresee the role of Azerbaijan after the Chinese facilitated a peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the greater Eurasian region? Because it has changed the regional socio-economic dimension and geopolitics and, most recently, phenomenon, the pace of the process of de-dollarization and strategic expansion of SCO and the momentum of BRICS. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. First of all, I’d like to say that Pakistan and Azerbaijan are true friends and brotherly countries. We are very grateful to the people, government, and previous governments of Pakistan for their continuous support of Azerbaijan. With respect to our territorial integrity and sovereignty – during the times of occupation, during the war – there were very clear statements from high-ranking Pakistani leaders – President and Prime Minister – supporting Azerbaijan and after the war. So, once again, I would like to ask you to convey our gratitude to all our brothers. Pakistan is one of the three countries, along with Türkiye and Saudi Arabia, which did not have any diplomatic relations with Armenia because of occupation, and we highly value that.
Regarding the Zangezur corridor, and as far as I got it correctly, how can China facilitate it? I think there’s a big potential in the Zangezur corridor, and I already mentioned that the railroad connection between China, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan is started. The Zangezur corridor has a big potential to become one of the extensions of the One Belt and One Road and also can be part of the North-South Corridor. Because entering Nakhchivan already has a railroad connection with the Iranian railroad, which can deliver goods to the Persian Gulf. So, the Zangezur corridor is important not only for Azerbaijan and Armenia but also globally because we expect a growing cargo volume. So, the more roads we have, the better. As far as we’re concerned, next year, we will complete the construction of the railroad, which was dismantled during the times of occupation and was sold on the market by Armenians from Fuzuli to Zangilan, almost to the Armenian border and 40-something kilometers need to be built on the territory of Armenia. If built, that will be, of course, an international project. If Armenia puts artificial obstacles to that project, they would only lose. Because today we don’t have any problems transporting goods through Georgia, Türkiye, Georgia and the Black Sea ports, either through Russia or Iran, but Armenia doesn’t have these physical connections.
For the role of China in normalization between Saudi Arabia and Iran, we highly value the role of China; by the way, I’d like to say that we have excellent relations with China. I met the President of China, Xi Jinping, many times. And he called me a good friend of China during one of our meetings. So, I think only this is enough to demonstrate the level of our cooperation. And, of course, we support normalization between Saudi Arabia and Iran. We do not know the substance of the agreement. It’s unknown to us, but it’s very good anyway. Saudi Arabia, for us, is a brotherly country – a country with which we have excellent relations, and we wish them only progress, stability and development. As I said, they did not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia because of us. And this means a lot. And of course, Iran as a neighbor, of course, we want stability and predictability in Iran. So, I think that the role of China must be only appreciated.
Concerning the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, I was invited for the first time to the Summit, which took place in Uzbekistan, because Azerbaijan is not, as you know, a member is not even an observer; Azerbaijan status is a Partner for Dialogue. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan was invited, which was very important for us because we have very good relations with many countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Thank you.
Hafiz Pasayev: Mr. President, we are already two hours in session.
President Ilham Aliyev: So, you have the list. I haven’t seen your list, and everything is in your hands.
Hafiz Pashayev: The list is extensive, and even I see some signs that somebody wants to…
President Ilham Aliyev: We can continue if you are not tired.
Hafiz Pashayev: Ilayda Nijhar, the Overseas Development Institute, the United Kingdom. Please.
Ilayda Nijhar, Global Risks Analyst, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the United Kingdom: Thank you, Mr. President, for dedicating your time today, and it’s great to be here. We’ve touched upon many different themes and questions on the Middle Corridor. Yesterday, the Minister for Digital Development and Transport said that the Middle Corridor couldn’t just be an option to be used when things go wrong. In your view, what more can be done regarding engagement and support for developing the Middle Corridor from external partners? And if I may, just another quick one. The Organization of Turkic States (OTS) it’s already been mentioned. Still, I’d be keen to hear your views on what role you see Azerbaijan playing in the development of the OTS, particularly considering observer status and, of course, including Northern Cyprus as well. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Concerning the Middle Corridor, of course, we fully support this project, which has great potential. It is important for us to understand that we should not only be a transit route for cargo, but we should use this opportunity to stimulate business activity on the route. So, for all the countries involved in the Middle Corridor, it will be important not only to earn money from transit fees but to use this opportunity to stimulate local manufacturing. And we have big expectations concerning the future activity of the Alat Free Economic Zone, which has a very solid legal foundation and the rules of the zone; it should be very attractive for investors. And it is in the process of completion. I mean, the first installation of the first infrastructure. So, we want to use this opportunity to become the place for manufacturing, for more business opportunities. Taking into account the improving business climate in Azerbaijan, significant reforms in taxation and customs administration and, in general, reforms on transparency of the entire financial system, there’s enormous potential. Plus, of course, geographical location because Azerbaijan, as I already said, is not only an East-West Corridor country but North-South. We’re just at the juncture. And with all the transportation routes open and almost all of them fully modernized, there is considerable potential. But again, we want to look at these opportunities from the broader picture, not just to be a transit country; more is needed, and there is potential.
With respect to the Organization of Turkic States, Azerbaijan was always very active throughout the whole period of these organizations, though it had different names before. There were times when some countries were more active and some countries less. There were times when the summits were not regular. But Azerbaijan always was one of the important countries. It was not by chance that the Declaration about the creation of the Council was adopted in Nakhchivan more than ten years ago. And also, a change of the name means not only how it will be called but also the substance, and we see that there’s a significant need in all the organization’s member countries to consolidate the efforts. Because if we do it, we will transform this organization even more into a serious international player. I think everyone will benefit. Because look, we have extensive geography. We, in some countries, have substantial natural resources, including energy resources, and a strong military capability in some countries. If we unite all these efforts, of course, we will see a serious player on a global scale. It can be, and I think it should be one of the centers of global power. Because again, population geography, transportation routes, Eurasian, how to say, dimension, energy resources. Türkiye is a NATO member with the second most powerful army. Azerbaijan’s army also demonstrated that it is very capable. So, if we unite all these efforts, we will only benefit. I think the more we get together and interact, the more understanding is in our countries that this is how it should be. Moreover, you know, you have to live in your family. You have to live in your country. That’s my approach. Of course, I respect people who live in other countries. It’s now normal in a global world. But I think that for everyone, that’s my personal view, it is better to live in your country and your family. So, this is our family, and we must be in our families. This is a natural space for all of us. And with respect to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, they became observers. And we supported that from the very beginning until the very end. We only can congratulate our brothers. And by the way, we got certain messages from, you can imagine, from where. So, our answer was that first, they are our brothers. And second, they are observers already in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has many more member countries. So, I think that potential is here, and I witness a more common understanding about our future coordinated performance in the international arena.
Hafiz Pashayev: Next, Michael Ritchie.
Michael Ritchie, Editor, Energy Intelligence, the United Kingdom: Thank you, Mr. President. You’ve already addressed some of the issues I was interested in about the Southern Gas Corridor. Energy is my field, and discussing the available resources and their commerciality. So, can I be more specific and ask how much extra gas you think Azerbaijan can supply to the European Union by 2027? That’s called for in a Memorandum of Understanding signed last summer with the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. And also, do you see any flexibility in that timetable? I mean, it’s pretty tight. And finally, given that the EU aims gradually to phase out fossil fuels, what sort of long-term commitments will you require from the EU side?
President Ilham Aliyev: You touched on a very important long-term commitment issue. This is important because we’ve got many requests from many countries. After the Russia-Ukraine War started, we received requests from more than ten countries either to increase the supply or to find the opportunity to start the supply. And, of course, this needs additional investments and a lot of, how to say, technical things to be resolved. And, of course, we must know what will be the duration of that deficit and what will be the approach to fossil fuels in the future. As you know, now European Investment Bank no longer finances projects on fossil fuels. I don’t want to comment on that. But this is something we have to take into account. So, we don’t want to find ourselves in this situation where we invest additional billions of dollars, which we did not plan, by the way, and then, suddenly, someone will tell us thank you, goodbye. We would be told that we no longer need it because we have hydrogen or whatever now.
Therefore, one of the elements of our energy dialogue with the European Commission is exactly what you mentioned correctly – predictability. We are ready to help. We are already helping. We are investing additionally. We are taking many other diplomatic steps to supply as much as possible to European countries. Of course, we expect an understanding of our position in the European Commission. So that we can plan the future. In general, with European Union, we have an energy dialogue covering many areas, including gas, renewables, and green hydrogen. And so, the portfolio is very impressive. And concerning concrete figures, we signed an MOU to double our supply by 2027. And that will be around 20 bcm. I think this is absolutely realistic. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have signed it if we thought this was unrealistic. If no force majeure takes place. It is absolutely realistic. In 2021 our supply to the EU market was more than eight bcm. This year it will be 12. So, in two years, from 8 to 12. And I think going by these big steps, by 2027, it can be 20.
You may ask about the sources. I can tell you. First, we expect more gas from Shah Deniz. We expect additional gas, maybe in four years, maybe less, from a new phase of Shah Deniz. We have expected it for several years already, but I hope this year we will get the first gas from Absheron – the first phase of Absheron will produce 1.5 bcm. And then, we will have to decide what will be the second phase and what will be the market, whether it will be the domestic or international market. I don’t want to bother you with too many details. Of course, the Deep Gas from ACG has excellent potential. BP and SOCAR are already actively working on that. It’s a vast gas condensate field. When I say 300 billion cubic meters of gas, this is a minimum. Of course, there is enormous potential in Umid and Babek, which SOCAR itself partly develops, but we’re also ready to work with international companies. And the Karabakh oil field, which also has potential. So, this is a source of gas. Another source is management efficiency. Reduction of losses, modernization of our gas distribution network, and renewables. Because today we use about five bcm minimum to produce electricity. So, if we have enough renewables, this five bcm will be available for the market.
So, this is additional. But we come here to the problem, which we just raised in the beginning. We need to have the transportation capacity. TAP must be expanded. As I said, we have 20%, and other companies also have 20% almost, except one. So, it must be a joint decision to expand TAP. If TAP is not expanded, then there’ll be no gas in TAP. So, TAP is now at its maximum capacity already. Expanding TANAP is easier because, in TANAP, it is Azerbaijan, Türkiye and BP. It is easier to do. But in TAP, it is more complicated. We need to have access to the Trans-Balkan pipeline and be able to supply countries that are waiting for our gas. And if interconnectors in Europe are built on time, we can start supplying Hungary and Serbia by the end of this year.
Romania already started this year. So, Greece, Italy, and Bulgaria already started. In Albania, we are in the stage of negotiations for investment in the gas distribution network. Albania is a transit country, but it doesn’t have a gas distribution network. So, we plan to invest a substantial amount of money to create this distribution network. I was in Sofia just several days ago to attend the inauguration of the Solidarity Ring. So, Slovakia is joining. Now we export to six countries, within a year, if everything goes according to the schedule, without force majeure, it can be 10. And that’s why Commissioner Simson says Azerbaijan will be the Pan-European supplier, and this is not the end. I think we will find if there is a market and if there are enough interconnectors, the geography can expand because we still have requests from the countries, which I did not mention, in the Balkans and also in other parts of Europe, which can also be recipients of Azerbaijani gas. So, the real picture is very broad, but all these projects must be coordinated. If we don’t have an on-time implementation of green energy projects, that will also, how to say, delay all the rest.
Farhad Azima, Chairman, ALG Transportation, the US: Thank you, Mr. President. It is very special for me to be here, on this occasion, in this area. The dream of the late President was manifested in reality by you, Mr. President. I’m honored to be here. I have a simple question. Natural gas from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and possibly Kazakhstan could be easily transferred here underwater across the Caspian Sea to Baku and from Baku via Türkiye and Europe. What are the obstacles to the implementation?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, it’s difficult for me to say because, you know, the projects of gas infrastructure construction are usually the projects which are initiated and financed by those countries, which are the owners of these resources, as it was in our case. We are the owners of resources. We initiated the construction of the Southern Gas Corridor. We built together with our partners – with the help of international financial institutions – the 3,500 km-long pipelines from Baku to Italy, partly underwater. Significant investments are billions of dollars, and we have yet to recover the costs. So, it’s a long-term investment, but it was a strategic decision. And without that, none of what we’re talking about would have been possible. And by the way, for historical memory, Azerbaijan was an initiator of the Southern Gas Corridor. Before that, there were a lot of speculations and discussions about different projects. I participated many times, maybe ten times, in different conferences and international events on NABUCCO. So, if you remember, it’s like 907; also, everybody forgot about it. But it didn’t happen. Why? Because the question was, who is going to pay for that? And when this question was raised, everybody backed down. So, we initiated the Southern Gas Corridor and did it on time, and now we enjoy the benefits.
Concerning the gas from Central Asia, this decision must be made by the owners of these resources. Where are the owners planning to export, and in which direction, whether it will be East or West? If they choose the West, or if they choose both, of course, Azerbaijan will do everything to facilitate. We can provide technical assistance; we can provide our pipe-laying barges. Only we have them in the Caspian Sea. We can provide access to the Sangachal terminal, and we can provide access to our pipeline system, but they must make the decision. If made, the financial package must also be secured by them. In other words, the consortium, corporate capital and then borrowed money, who will be financing? So, this is one important part. This is a trigger. If this trigger is not pulled, it will not work. But even if the trigger is pulled, if everything that I said is done, then what happens after the gas comes to the shore of Azerbaijan? How it’s going to be exported? What will be the volumes? What will be the commercial terms between the owners and the consumers? So, we can only be a transit country and will definitely be a very fair transit partner. By the way, the cash flow we may have as a transit country is insignificant for Azerbaijan, given the cash flow we have from oil and gas. So, it’s not a matter of significant economic importance. It’s a matter of contribution to energy security and facilitation to our friends in the East and the West. So, in other words, we cannot initiate this project, and we cannot finance it. That’s why it didn’t happen, the question is not to me, but maybe your neighbor can answer.
Sodyq Safoev, First Deputy Chairman of the Senate of Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan, Rector of the University of World Economy and Diplomacy: Yesterday, when I was asked whether I am going to pose a question, I said I am going to listen. And I thank you very much for this meeting. And we highly appreciate your vision, inspiration, and in-depth analysis. I’m sure it was educational for all of us to listen to your assessments, predictions and analysis. A few days ago in Tashkent, we had a big conference dedicated to the centennial of the great leader, statesman Heydar Aliyev. We appreciate that the Milli Majlis of Azerbaijan members attended the referendum as observers. The main conclusion of our Congress, which was, by the way, only the beginning of a series of events to take place until the 10th of May in Uzbekistan, dedicated to the heritage of Heydar Aliyev, was that it was a man of caliber and magnitude and he possessed leadership what we need all now. Being here in Shusha, we’ve seen his dreams come true. And we’ve seen his legacy in splendid, magnificent Baku, in the minds and spirit of the military force of Azerbaijan, in the revival of Shusha. Thank you very much for allowing us to see it.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. You probably realize that we don’t need to have an interpreter. Our languages are so close, our people are so close, that we not only understand each other, but we feel the pulse of each other. I’m very grateful for what you said, very grateful to all our brothers in Uzbekistan for their respect for the memory of Heydar Aliyev. During my official visit to Tashkent, together with my brother President Mirziyoyev, we opened the monument in honor of Heydar Aliyev in the park named after him. It was a festival of our brotherhood and friendship. We’re very grateful for that.
And just using this opportunity, I’d like to congratulate the people of Uzbekistan on an important political event. This successful referendum will create better opportunities for the development of the political system, economic and social development. And you know that President Mirziyoyev and myself – we are good friends. And we told our ministers that we would personally monitor the implementation of all our instructions, and it already happened. So, I don’t want to take much of the time, but the substance and the spirit of cooperation are unique. As it should be between two brotherly peoples who speak more or less the same language and who share the same values. So, thank you and welcome to Karabakh.
Hafiz Pashayev: Mr. President, you are very generous with your time. But I want to stop, probably, questions. And I want to mention one person who is here with us. Yesterday, he presented a short movie about his vision and feelings about Karabakh and his meetings with Heydar Aliyev. And this is Thomas Goltz, who is with us. For health reasons, he could not make an even more active contribution to our conference, but what he did was very valuable, and we are very thankful to him that he came to Shusha, to Karabakh. Because in my memory, not any other journalist or other American did so much to make sure that Karabakh would be known to the American public in a true way that presents realities. So, we’re very thankful. Yesterday, he made this presentation of a movie, and as you know, he was the first person who visited Nakhchivan during Heydar Aliyev’s being there. In that movie, he was also on the backdrop. So, Thomas, thank you very much for coming. And I think he would be delighted to have a picture with you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, yes. With pleasure. I know, Mr. Goltz, we’ve met, I think, a couple of times at some events. And, of course, I heard a lot, and I know how committed he was to restoring justice. I think one of the elements of the restoration of justice is his being today in Shusha. And I think this is how justice prevails. So, thank you very much for all you have done and for being with us today.
Thank you very much. So, regarding the pictures, I think we can have a family picture and individual pictures outside. Yes, outside, we need to find a good place.
x x x
Then, a family photo was taken.