Watch: Azerbaijan and Armenia leaders speak exclusively to EuronewsComments
The heavy fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh keeps escalating. The historic dispute flared up again recently. Both sides contest who is responsible this time around. Both sides have lost civilians and soldiers in the fighting.
Last year both countries agreed to take “concrete measures to prepare the populations for peace.” Yet in the last fortnight – we’re now reporting on the longest period violence in the region for 30 years. And this time, the conflict has now actively drawn in other countries, increasing the danger of a regional conflict.
What are the next steps for both countries? How far and for how long will the hostilities go – and at what cost? And as the international community repeatedly calls for a ceasefire, what would it take to engineer peace? And is that even still possible, now?
Euronews asked those questions directly to the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, and the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev.
Watch the interviews in the video player, above, or read the full transcripts of both interviews, below.
Full interview transcripts
Euronews: The UN, the Minsk Group, the EU have all called for an immediate ceasefire yet the fighting continues so can you explain to us what are you aiming to achieve here?
"You see the most important thing is that we welcomed the international community and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs acknowledgement of what has been happening. We have welcomed the statements of OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries presidents and foreign affairs ministers. Turkey has announced that Azerbaijan should not stop the hostilities.
"And Azerbaijan has essentially remained within the instruction given to it by Turkey. And the statement today by the EU Commissioner for External Affairs confirms this situation.
"Taking into consideration that there are terrorist groups fighting on [the] Azerbaijani side, which are involved in the hostilities, they are recruited and transported to the conflict zone, by Turkey. And the fact that the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, at this very moment that I speak to you, are under an existential threat, because all the towns and villages are under constant shelling by rockets and missiles, including the capital city Stepanakert. I think the international community in this situation should decisively act now and recognise the independence of Karabakh."
Azerbaijan's defence ministry has said that your forces are shelling some of its towns. We must be clear that there are civilian casualties on both sides of this, I'd like to understand, are you pursuing peace?
"Absolutely, defence army of Nagorno-Karabakh has struck, and the defence ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh, clearly explained that the strikes had to be made because nothing else was possible. It was the only way to stop the Azerbaijani rocket attacks and the missile attacks against towns and villages of Nagorno Karabagh and against civilians."
There is no consensus from either side for who is responsible for the violence starting again on September 27. You made a statement last year, your foreign minister, that you were going to prepare civilian populations for peace. That is not what we're seeing. I'd like to understand, do what extent you feel emboldened or at least supported to act because perhaps you feel that you are supported from Russia? To what extent is that driving some of your decisions and actions?
"Peace, as always, has been our primary and ultimate goal from the day I was elected prime minister, I said we have to strive to find a solution that will be acceptable to the people of Armenia, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and the people of Azerbaijan. And I am the first leader involved in the negotiations who officially says any solution must be acceptable to the people of the other side as well. The whole problem is that Azerbaijan does not and has not accepted officially this approach. For them the only solution is through ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh, to be fully cleaned of Armenians and will fall completely under Azerbaijani control. This is a threat of genocide.
"Today international terrorists are involved in the implementation of that genocide. They were recruited, brought to the region by Turkey. They are fighting on the side of Azerbaijan. And this fact has essentially been recognised already by countries in the region and a number of European countries. So I wish to highlight, if we want to stop the humanitarian catastrophe, if we want to stop this conflict growing any wider, the international community needs to show determination and recognise the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh."
The international community are also looking to your actions and we must stress that there are civilian casualties on both sides. People have died in Azerbaijan as a result of actions that you have overseen. What measures are you taking to try to limit the suffering of people caught up in this violence?
"Going back to your previous question, it's very important to set the record clear, asked as to who unleashed this attack. And I think in the international media and amongst the international community, there is sufficient information Armenia and Karabakh could not start this war for the simple reason that we have no military tasks to accomplish here. The task we have is a political one.
"Azerbaijan is the one, which in the last 15 years and in the last 15 days before this war, please allow me to finish. And in the 15 days preceding the war and I am answering your question, if you will give me a minute, please. In the 15 years preceding the war, the 15 months, 15 weeks, 15 days and 15 hours preceding the war, Azerbaijan has constantly threatened that it will solve this issue by military means. This is no secret. Let us publicly analyse the statements, which were made by Azerbaijan and Turkey.
"Let us analyse publicly why terrorists had to brought to Azerbaijan to the line of contact. What other purpose could there be in recruiting terrorists from another country, bringing them to one's country? If that country is not planning a military aggression, why would Azerbaijan agree to terrorists being transported to its territory? But we think that the most important thing today is to stop the violence. And for this, Azerbaijan needs to stop its attacks. And, of course, peace in the region. And the best tool for it, in our opinion, is the international community's recognition of the independence of Karabakh."
Are you prepared to stop the attacks?
"Yes, of course. But, this does not mean that we would wait then they would come and commit genocide on our people. We have not attacked anyone. Our actions and the actions of Karabakh are only for self-defence. We have not and do not have the purpose to kill anyone. Our only purpose is to protect the Armenian people from another genocide. It is a self-defence purpose."
What would be an acceptable resolution for you? Is there a different way of finding a resolution to this conflict which doesn't involve violence?
"Our position has been and remains that the Karabakh issue can not be solved through violence. Any solution cannot be achieved through violence. But Azerbaijan's policy has been a plan to violently solve the Karabakh issue. Armenia has always been ready for compromise. Azerbaijan is the one which does not in any way want any compromise. They do not want compromise. Their only solution is that the Armenians of Karabakh, who always have been 80 plus per cent of the population of Karabakh, should be displaced and they are going to get Karabakh through ethnic cleansing and that area becomes free of Armenians and a non-Armenian inhabited area.
"These people cannot just leave their thousands of years’ homelands just because Azerbaijan demands so, they have to defend themselves and they have that right to self-defence. There is no other aim for Nagorno Karabagh here, but self-defence."
Euronews: There has been strong and repeated international pressure for a ceasefire and to de-escalate tensions. Fighting's ongoing, if not escalating. What is your objective now in the conflict?
"[A] ceasefire cannot be achieved unilaterally. It must be a bilateral decision. And also it must be implemented on the ground. As you know, Armenia attacked us on the 27th September, attacking our military positions and damaging our infrastructure, attacking civilians. So far, we have almost 30 civilians killed as a result of Armenian attack, including their ballistic missiles and cluster bombs.
"So our counter-attack was successful. We've managed to liberate part of the occupied territories and our main objective is [the] restoration of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Armenia must give us a timetable for [the] withdrawal of their troops from the occupied territories. And this timetable must be approved by the Minsk Group co-chairs, the countries which are mediators, and after that, I think the effort must be imposed on achieving the cease-fire."
The countries that you're referencing have repeatedly asked for a ceasefire. Why isn't that happening, now? Why are you not pushing for that to happen immediately?
"Because we have been the subject of attack for, er, many times. During the last three months, there have been three attacks on Azerbaijan. One in July on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, far away from the region of Nagorno Karabakh, and the goal of Armenia was to occupy new territories of Azerbaijan, and they did not manage to do it. Our army defeated them. Then August 23rd, they sent a sabotage group to commit terror acts against our civilians and military personnel. That also was a failure for them because the head of the sabotage group was detained. And he gives evidence exactly about what I'm saying. And at the end of September, they launched a massive attack on our villages and cities.
"I can tell you that up to today, we have almost 900 houses totally demolished or damaged and many casualties and wounded people among civilians. And now after Armenia is suffering a very bitter defeat. They're pleading for a ceasefire. They made [a] violation of ceasefires themselves.
"They ignore the United Nations Security Council resolutions, which demand full, complete, immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops. They want to keep [the] status quo unchanged. And the Minsk Group Co-chairs - [the] United States, Russia and France - their presidents, many times made a statement, the status quo is unacceptable. Armenia ignored it. But now, Azerbaijan itself is changing the status quo, and I think that will be an important step towards soonest resolution of the conflict."
Mr President, civilians have been killed on both sides of this conflict. How do you reconcile that with your aims?
"Of course we regret that civilians are being killed. And of course, we were not the purpose.
"We were not the source of this attack because it was the first seen on the morning of the 27th September what they did: they attacked our cities and villages and we had to respond. But our response mainly is and primarily is on their military positions, on their tanks and guns.
"And what we are doing on the battlefield is available in [the] internet.
"Our drones and our other equipment demolished only military objectives on the occupied territories. Unfortunately, Armenia is using civilians in order to have more people on the ground because the demographic situation is very bad, and we have video about the civilians being just next to the guns and of course.....
Armenia would be able to say..."
I'm sorry to interject Mr President, that civilians on their side have been killed in this fighting and they would dispute exactly why it was that on the 27th September, this violence flared up again. Let me bring you to a promise that your foreign minister made last year that said it was necessary to take concrete measures to prepare the populations for peace. What we are seeing right now is the opposite of that. How are you trying to limit the suffering of civilians?
"You know, we are not responsible for this outbreak. As I said, we were the subject of a physical attack from [the] Armenian Army, which is situated on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Apart from that, the current Armenian regime did everything in order to destroy the negotiation process.
"Exactly one year ago, Armenian Prime Minister at a rally in the occupied area of Azerbaijan made a statement that Karabakh is Armenian. And that statement actually destroyed [the] negotiation process because the principles, which are on the table and which are the basis for settlement, they demand the return of the occupied territories to Azerbaijan. And when Armenian prime minister says, that there'll be not a centimetre of land to return to Azerbaijan, when he says that Karabakh, his Armenia, when they organised illegal settlement of foreign people on the occupied territories, which is a brutal violation of the Geneva Convention, they destroy negotiation process. After that, in order to make us responsible for that, they attack us three times - July, August and September. And when we beat them on the battlefield, they call everywhere, they make a plea to everyone, stop Azerbaijan. We want to stop, but we want [the] occupation to stop. Therefore the main message should be to Armenia. We are not on Armenian land. We are on our land. During 27 years our land... ."
... Yes but one thing Armenia will say is that Turkey is really providing quite a strong influence here, including supplying things like military aid. To what extent would you say Turkey are accelerating and pushing your country and your actions in this conflict?
"This is absolutely false information. Turkey for us is a strong ally, partner and brotherly country. And of course, the statements expressed their position, and we're very grateful to the Turkish government, the Turkish president, Turkish people for this support. But Turkey in no other way is involved in this conflict.
"Armenia bringing such fake news to the media wants to diminish the capacity of the Azerbaijani army. We are fighting ourselves. Yes, the purchase, we purchased weapons from Turkey, but not only, our main supply of weapons is not Turkey, and probably everybody knows about that. So the fact that we buy modern Turkish equipment, including the fighter drones, should not be a problem for anyone because Armenia gets weapons free of charge. We pay for them and that Armenia gets free of charge.
"Turkey is not..."
We keep talking about weapons and we keep talking about fighting here. Is diplomacy still an option? Will you sit down and have talks with the prime minister of Armenia to find a different way out of this conflict?
"I can tell you that during my term as a president, I had maybe tens of talks with two former Armenian presidents and the current prime minister.
"And during those previous debates, we made substantial progress on [the] negotiation table. We elaborated the principles which today as a basis for [the] settlement of the conflict. And we were constructive. Negotiations are taking place since 1992. Can you imagine, for almost 30 years and we were living with hopes, mediators were telling us that you should wait a little bit, they'll be more constructive approach from [the] Armenian side. But when this prime minister came to power, as a result of the coup d'etat two years ago, he destroyed completely negotiation process.
"And I had meetings with him many times, but these meetings are absolutely senseless. And he told me that they are not going to give territories back. They told me that Nagorno-Karabakh, must be, how do you say, adjusted to Armenia. So this absolute unacceptable demand to me and also unacceptable for mediators. [The] Armenian government should change their position, should refrain from [a] maximalist position, should stop telling that Karabakh is Armenia because this is not true and this is destroying [the] negotiation process. And of course, we are going back. By the way tomorrow, our foreign minister will be in Geneva meeting with ambassadors of the Minsk Group. And as far as I know. the Armenian foreign minister was supposed to go there at the beginning of the month, but he ignored it. He is not there. Our foreign minister is there. It shows who wants negotiations and who was just [throwing] accusations against Azerbaijan."