"Most impressive negotiating platform - positions of Azerbaijani armed forces"
    Interview with ex-FM Tofig Zulfugarov

    INTERVIEWS  23 May 2023 - 20:50

    Vadim Mansurov

    Negotiations on a peace agreement between Baku and Yerevan are going through a phase of an all-time high. At first glance, the situation is almost unprecedented: the parties are meeting on several platforms at once, and different centres of power, such as Washington, Brussels and Moscow, are acting as mediators simultaneously.

    What results should be expected from these contacts, which negotiation platform is more effective and closer to Azerbaijan’s interests? Azerbaijan’s former Foreign Minister, political analyst Tofig Zulfugarov expressed his opinion on the matter to Сaliber.Az.

    - Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers have just met in Moscow a few days ago, and very soon President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan will also hold talks at the highest level there. How positive, do you think, are the results of the ministerial discussions and what may be the outcome of the negotiations between the two leaders? Can Russia be trusted as a moderator in this sense?

    - As far as I am aware, there is practically a "Khovayev" project on the table [Igor Khovayev is a special representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry on normalisation of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations - ed.], but with one difference: it suggests postponing the discussion of “status” until later. At least that's what the leaks from the Armenian side say.

    There are other confirmations of this information: Vladimir Putin said straightforwardly at the meeting in Sochi last autumn “that the Washington project is for the recognition of Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan, and our project proposes to consider this question later”.

    Ilham Aliyev then said that "this issue is closed for us", but it seems that Moscow has not abandoned the desire to push through exactly this version of the agreement. It is not for nothing that Armenians allow such deliberate leakage of information, and we should take everything into account and take note of it.

    This is a form of propaganda warfare, so why should we refuse such opportunities? Who are we trying to please? I suggest that we also work using similar methods - what is the point of keeping a deafening silence with a serious face while the Armenian side works against us?

    In such a situation, of course, it is difficult to expect any decisive progress in Moscow on the peace treaty. But I do not exclude that at the meeting with the Armenian side in Moscow, more specific issues related to communications in Zangazur were discussed, because the positions on this issue are quite close: both Armenia and Azerbaijan consider it necessary to restore this communication.

    But Azerbaijan insists that the Zangazur corridor begins to function before other communications are launched. This is our country’s obligatory condition. The only thing remaining is to clarify under what conditions Azerbaijani citizens can move from one part of the country to another within this corridor, and how cargo will be transported. So, in my opinion, this is the point where progress can be made.

    In addition, the deputy prime ministers are scheduled to meet in Moscow, and we know that they are considering this very group of issues - including communication.

    - In your opinion, what is Tehran's current position on this issue? Isn't Iran trying to hinder the conclusion of a peace treaty, as its authorities are categorically against the launch of the Zangazur corridor, which was expressed in very aggressive statements? 

    - Iran, in fact, is not against the change of communications, it is against the change of borders. Tehran's statements, if to consider them without emotions, are rather confusing because the Armenian side agreed in 2020 with the clause of the Trilateral statement that the Zangazur corridor is an extraterritorial communication and that its safety will be ensured by Russian border guards.

    There seems to be no problem here - Russian border guards are in Armenia as it is. But why Iran perceives the situation in such a way is not quite clear to me, to be honest. After all, if we consider the situation logically, let's not forget that the Iranians have signed memorandums with us and are going to build bridges, and the traffic will be carried out on their roads.

    So, it turns out that Iran is not against the fact that a part of Azerbaijani communications will pass through their territory, but about the corridor on the territory of Armenia it is against it for some reason. In this sense, the logic of the Iranian authorities is quite contradictory and must be deciphered.

    - What are the chances of signing a peace treaty between Baku and Yerevan in the near future?

    - In general, if we are talking about a peace treaty, it is worth taking into account that a framework agreement is expected, where the further peace process and post-conflict rehabilitation will take place on the basis of known principles.

    But in my opinion, we cannot talk about the post-conflict settlement yet as the Armenian side de facto wants to continue its Karabakh policy already in the new conditions, which Pashinyan openly speaks about. I think that Armenia does not intend to literally, that is, in the form of a document, recognise our territorial integrity and sovereignty.

    And if everything is more or less clear with the recognition of territorial integrity, everything is more complicated with the sovereignty: what kind of sovereignty can we talk about in the neighbouring country, if in its state budget, there is a position on the financing of various informal structures in the territory of Azerbaijan? Moreover, there are military servicemen of Armenia whom Yerevan calls "volunteers" on Azerbaijani territory.

    And at the same time, Armenian continues to sing its old mocking tune, saying that they recognised our territorial integrity back in 1991... After that, as we remember, they occupied 20 per cent of our territory, carried out ethnic cleansing, and destroyed everything they could. And all that time, judging by statements from Yerevan, they recognised our territorial integrity. I think that this way of putting the question is just a mockery.

    My position on this matter is unequivocal: all these tricks with the clarification of the country's areas and their recognition, as well as other tricks of the Armenian side, are used solely to get away from the main thing - the official recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

    However, if the situation does not change, Azerbaijan will respond in a mirror-like manner - the Armenians understand this, they are afraid of this and are trying, travelling all over the world and crying out about their hardships, to build some kind of protection system, under the veil of which they intend to continue their policy.

    But the Azerbaijan president spoke very clearly on this subject: “If they do not recognise our borders, then we will not recognise their borders either. For us, the border of Azerbaijan is where the Azerbaijani flag stands.”

    - How do you assess the potential of the American negotiation platform, can Washington be of some use to us?

    - The last round in the USA showed that their policy is based on principles that are impeccably implemented in all matters. Therefore, the State Department, represented by Secretary of State Blinken, stated that the problem of national minorities in the respective states would be resolved.

    This means that the mirror approach works: there are no exclusive rights for Armenians in Karabakh and at the same time, the issue of Azerbaijanis in Zangazur is completely forgotten. Therefore, on a parallel basis, these issues can be considered.

    Armenia quickly became disillusioned about this, because they expected a special relationship there, so the Armenians yelled at Washington and rushed into the arms of Moscow.

    But even there they will be disappointed, because Russia is now unable to put pressure on Azerbaijan, and it is unlikely that it wants to. First of all, it means spoiling relations with Türkiye, which the Russian Federation does not need at all. And that is why Moscow frankly leads the Armenians by the nose.

    - What about Brussels?

    - Brussels has realised that it does not have the potential to be effective "on the ground". Therefore, we should rather expect some kind of incidental action - the allocation of money to Armenia for the implementation of certain provisions of the Trilateral Agreement, and assistance in humanitarian issues. But if we are talking about forcing Armenia to abandon its actionist policy, it should be borne in mind that some EU countries do not want this, while others simply cannot prevent it.

    - So, which is the best negotiating platform? Who should we rely on more?

    - I would say this: the most impressive platform is the position of the Azerbaijani armed forces after the 44-day war in 2020. It is a very strong, effective platform and instrument when the nice way doesn’t work out.

    If the international community finds the strength and determination to push and force Armenia to fulfil its obligations, that's a good thing and will remove the need for Azerbaijan to use force. But if the international community is still playing on two fronts, according to the scheme "both ours and yours", then we have to act ourselves: to stop the occupation of our settlements, remove the puppet regime in Khankandi, remove the terrorists in Karabakh, which the Armenian side calls "volunteers".

    One way or another, we will be steadfastly pursuing our goal. However, there is still hope that Armenia is a state that depends on outside forces, and the international community must press on it.

    Unless, of course, the Armenians really want a peaceful resolution. But the problem is also that the international players want the conflict to continue, in order to control and manipulate the region, and this is also a significant factor of destabilisation. That's why Armenia continues its antics...


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