Q&A Ali Hasanov - Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan
The Report Company: Could you give us an overview of the main challenges faced by Azerbaijan?
Ali Hasanov: The geostrategic position of Azerbaijan and its rich natural resources have resulted in several attempts by powers having an interest in the region to displace its people. The appetite of the Armenians for more territory in 1905, 1918-1920, 1948-1953 and 1988-1993 resulted in a mass deportation of the Azeri population from their native lands.
By 1994, 250,000 ethnic Azeris had been ousted from their native lands in Armenia following an ethnic cleansing policy and had sought refuge in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, in 1990 up to 50,000 Meskhetian Turks who faced deportation in Central Asia fled to Azerbaijan.
On 26th February 1992 the Armenian Armed Forces backed by the 366th regiment of the Soviet Army stormed Kholali town in Nagorno-Karabakh, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent civilian people. Overall, as a result of Armenian military aggression, 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s land – Nagorno-Karabakh with 7 adjacent regions - has been occupied. Almost 700,000 Azerbaijani people from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions bordering Nagorno-Karabakh and/or Armenia lost permanent places of residence and became displaced from their homelands.
Azerbaijan also has around 11,000 asylum seekers, mainly Russian citizens of Chechen ethnicity as well as people from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Palestine. The number of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) and refugees in Azerbaijan has reached 1.2 million over the last 20 years.
TRC: What have been the socio-economic consequences of the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh?
AH: Armenian military aggression has resulted in the occupation of 17,000 square kilometres of fertile land and the destruction of 900 settlements, 130,939 households and agricultural entities, 1,025 educational and 798 health institutions and 1,510 cultural centres. In addition, we have lost 5,198km of motorway, 348 bridges, 7,568km of water mains and 76,940km of power lines.
The biggest loss is undoubtedly in terms of people. As a result of Armenia’s actions, 20,000 Azerbaijanis perished while more than 100,000 were wounded.
The state commission on prisoners of war, hostages and missing persons has registered 4,853 Azerbaijani citizens as missing in the conflict zone. Of them, 56 are children, 327 women, and 364 elderly. Between 1988 and 2012, 1,368 Azerbaijani citizens were freed from Armenian captivity. Of them, 169 were children, 338 women and 264 elderly.
In the occupied lands, the Armenians have destroyed Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage, plundering and burning down 12 museums and six art galleries as well as nine palaces of historical importance. 44 temples and 18 mosques were damaged. 927 libraries, which have been completely destroyed, contained over 4 million books and rare manuscripts.
It is impossible to put a price on the damage, both material and psychological, that has been done, although initial and incomplete estimations by independent international experts put the loss to the economy of Azerbaijan at over US$300 billion.
TRC: How have international organisations responded to the situation?
AH: All major international organisations have adopted resolutions and taken decisions with regard to the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The UN Security Council, as a universal guarantor of peace and stability, adopted resolutions in 1993 which called for a speedy and peaceful settlement of the conflict, the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied areas and the return of refugees and IDPs to their homeland.
At the OSCE Summits in Budapest in 1994, in Lisbon in 1996, in Istanbul in 1999 and in Astana in 2010, decisions were made on a peaceful political settlement of the conflict.
The European Union has declared its support of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan many times, and does not recognise the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2005, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted resolution 1416, which referred to Armenia as an occupier and supported the UN Security Council’s resolutions.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference has also adopted a number of resolutions condemning the military aggression against Azerbaijan, calling on Armenia to withdraw its armed forces from the occupied lands and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Furthermore, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on 14th March 2008 which recognised the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and called for the urgent, complete and unreserved withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied lands. Yet unfortunately no resolution or decision taken by major international organisations has been implemented due to Armenia’s approach and the conflict remains unresolved.
TRC: What is the Azerbaijani government doing to solve the problem of internally displaced peoples and refugees in the country?
AH: National leader of the Azerbaijani people Heydar Aliyev and current president Ilham Aliyev have always paid special attention to the problem of refugees and IDPs, declaring it the country’s top priority.
In November 1998, the position of deputy prime minister acting at the same time as a chairman of the State Committee on Refugees and IDPs, was created within the structure of the Cabinet of Ministers.
As the settlement process of the conflict is being protracted for reasons beyond our control, we in cooperation with state structures, international organisations and NGOs have set up priorities in this field which include the improvement of housing, employment opportunities, reduction of poverty and the creation of favourable conditions for the refugees’ and IDP’s return to their homeland. The government has done a lot to meet the demands of this sensitive segment of the population and continues to do so.
The very first financial resources of the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) were allocated to the improvement of refugee and IDP living conditions in 2001. Since then, 78 modern settlements have been built, with a living area of 2 million square metres, providing housing for 31,000 families. This year, a further 20,000 displaced people will move into newly-built homes.
From 1993 up to 2012 4.3 billion manat has been allocated to refugees and IDPs, of which 2 billion came from the state budget, 1.5 billion came from SOFAZ and 0.8 billion from international organisations.
TRC: How important is the UK as an ally?
AH: All UN members, including the UK, have declared that they recognise the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and support the peaceful resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We think that for the resolution of this issue, the attitude of all partner countries including the UK as a major and influential member of international community is very important. Azerbaijan is thankful for the help of British humanitarian organisations, including Oxfam and United Aid, who carry out different development projects in Azerbaijan.
TRC: How important is the resolution of the conflict for the stability of the greater region?
AH: President Ilham Aliyev is taking measures for the settlement of the conflict, based on the principle of territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the norms and principles of international law, as well as within the framework of international documents and decisions taken in this field. In the negotiations he takes the position of restoring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, the withdrawal of occupying forces from all territories currently under occupation, the return of refugees and IDPs to their homeland, the peaceful coexistence of both the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and the final determination of the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The policy of ‘naming and shaming’ Armenia’s military aggression against Azerbaijan is constantly carried out within the framework of bilateral relations and multilateral fora such as OSCE, the UN, NATO, the EU and many other major international organizations.
President Ilham Aliyev has stated many times that this conflict is a potential danger not for only our country but also for the greater region, because a huge amount of narcotics are cultivated in the uncontrolled and occupied territories, which are then sold for the purpose of purchasing weapons. These territories are widely used for narco-trafficking to other countries and are also home to international terrorist organisations. At the same time, contrary to international conventions Armenian families from elsewhere are being illegally settled in the occupied territories. The International Observers including UNHCR have witnessed this during their fact-finding mission in the occupied territories.
The solution of the conflict will open up opportunities for the long-term economic development of the countries in the region.
TRC: How would you like the international community to view the conflict and what actions would you like them to take?
AH: We would like the international community to take more decisive actions and have a more consistent position towards the fair resolution of the conflict, and urge Armenia to work on the final peace agreement based on the fundamental principles set out by the OSCE Minsk Group.
We have been impatiently waiting for this for 20 years and hope that the world community will at last take a just position. Otherwise, the state will resort to all opportunities to restore its territorial integrity and ensure liberation of the occupied territories.