Correspondent: Thank you so much for accepting this interview. We’ve been here in Baku for three days only, but we’re really impressed by how modern the city and this country is. Everywhere you go, there is Azerbaijani touch.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, this is true. First of all, welcome to Azerbaijan. Thank you for coming, and thank you for paying attention to our country. I’m very glad that you’re spending several days in Azerbaijan. So, that will be a good time in order to know our country, our people more. You’re absolutely right that we preserve the authentic origin and achievements of our cities. At the same time, we are modernizing the country. So, what you see in Baku is a combination of modernity and traditionalism. I think they do not confront, they’re not in contradiction. That was done deliberately, because in such a historical city as Baku first objective is to preserve our history, our architectural monuments, and at the same time, to allow the city to develop. And in Baku you can see both. So, I think, it’s really an important asset and thank you for noticing that.
Correspondent: We’ve been to quite a number of cities, not as many as you have been. But I must say Baku is unlike any city that I’ve been to.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.
Correspondent: First of all, to begin our interview, Mr. President, we want to acknowledge that this is the 100th birth anniversary of your late father, National Leader Heydar Aliyev, who was not only considered the Great Leader, the founding father of modern Azerbaijan, but really a founder of Chinese-Azerbaijani friendship. So, first of all, our respect.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much, you are absolutely right. Heydar Aliyev was a man, who built the statehood and put Azerbaijan on the track of development, put an end to the civil war, to the disorganization of the country, to chaotic situation, which existed in the beginning of 1990s, and elaborated the foreign policy and domestic policy priorities, which we are following now. Of course, the world has changed for 30 years, but our primary objectives has not changed. This is the strengthening of our statehood, our proactive foreign policy based on our national interests, and economic and social development of Azerbaijan, along with very active regional policy. And of course, the main objective from the first days of independence was restoration of territorial integrity of our country, which has been achieved something more than two years ago.
And you’re absolutely right. He played a very important role in the development of Chinese-Azerbaijani relations. His visits to China and meetings with the Chinese leaders actually created the framework for our cooperation. At that time, Azerbaijan was not very well-known in the world. Therefore, that was the foundation and I’m very glad that now relations between our two countries develop very successfully, cover many more areas. So, the agenda is much broader than it was 30 years ago, and they are based on the mutual respect and friendship.
Correspondent: Many Chinese viewers noticed that besides the official agendas of your father, the late President’s visits to China, he would visit every Chinese family to check out the lives of everyday Chinese people. He met with primary school kids, visited the Chinese countryside. Actually, we got some photos here that we thought might need some further elaboration from you. This photo with him and the Chinese family was taken in the 1990s, right?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, exactly.
Correspondent: This is a great photo.
President Ilham Aliyev: This actually illustrates what you said that he was really very interested not only in official contacts, but also in establishing people-to-people relations. And this photo actually demonstrates that.
Correspondent: And this one? He was obviously interacting with the primary school student.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes.
Correspondent: He presented a gift. Do you like it?
President Ilham Aliyev: That is a good illustration of what you’ve mentioned. Thank you.
Correspondent: And of course, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City. The tours over there.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes.
Correspondent: So, how would your father tell you about China and his China trips? What was China like to him? Then, how do you see the continuity of this friendship from one generation to another?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, actually, for him, China was not something, which he had to discover. He was well aware about the development of China in different times. When he was First Deputy Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, he had many occasions to meet Chinese representatives. He was well aware about the dynamism, the development of your country. When he became President of independent Azerbaijan, of course, one of the main foreign policy priorities was to establish bilateral relations. I remember when he returned from his official visit to China, he was very impressed. He saw the growing power. That was almost 30 years ago.
He saw consolidated society and the country, which has its very clear objectives. And meeting with ordinary people actually, was part of his character. He did the same here as you can imagine in Azerbaijan, always trying to feel the pulse of society, to see how people live, what they think, what their problems with their aspirations are. Therefore, it was natural that he wanted also to have this feedback from ordinary Chinese people.
Actually, the foundation of our bilateral relations were laid after that historical visit and since that time, we have a very big potential for dynamic development.
Correspondent: We see statues of your father in a lot of places here in Baku, and also a lot of streets were made in his name, memorials in his honor. I feel that there’s something deeper than what everything appears. There’s something deeper about the respect and affection from you to your father. What does your father mean to you personally?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, as for many persons, the parents, especially in the society like Azerbaijan, are always very dear to the children. Azerbaijan’s society is based on traditional values, values of the family, and these traditions are very deep. It is important that we now managed to preserve these family values and respect to the elderly living in the global environment after more than 30 years of independence. This is the foundation of our society. For me, as for any other Azerbaijanis, the father is a very dear person, the person who you want to look like, especially, when you can be proud of your father.
This is a big happiness for me, because I was with him during the most difficult times for him personally, and for the Azerbaijani people – especially, when the Soviet army attacked Azerbaijan on the 20th January 1990. He almost was the only one, who raised his voice denouncing that bloody attack. He really understood that it can cost him a lot. We were living in the Soviet country. It was still two years before the Soviet Union collapsed. No one could imagine that this may happen in January 1990. There should have been a lot of courage and love to your people to publicly denounce the brutal bloody attack on civilians, which cost the lives of more than 100 innocent people.
And he was the one who left the Communist Party of Soviet Union as a result of anti-Azerbaijani position of the Soviet government. That was also very courageous step, because the Soviet government and Soviet system were still very strong and very suppressive. He had to take that into account but for him, the matter of national interest for the Azerbaijani people, national pride and justice were prevailing all his personal concern. So, that was a difficult time for him and for all of us, but our family was together.
The same was when Azerbaijan was always full of disturbance, disorientation and chaos during the civil war. When people of Azerbaijan only saw the salvation in him, and invited him to come in the most difficult times. He was already 70. He was not a young man. Coming to leadership in Azerbaijan in 1993 was really a very courageous step, and once again demonstrated his love and commitment to Azerbaijani people. And when Azerbaijanis consider him as a founder of modern Azerbaijan, they absolutely right and respect to him is based on several layers. It’s not just one factor. It’s all his life. In the most difficult times to lead the country, to find the best solution, to demonstrate wisdom and courage at the same time is a very rare quality for politicians, especially taking into account Azerbaijan is not a big power.
Azerbaijan was already occupied by Armenia and we faced enormous economic difficulties. Inflation was more than a 1000 %. There was a total unemployment and poverty. Army basically did not exist. So, in the circumstances to keep country together, and to put it onto track of development and to come to where we are now – it’s a big personality can achieve that.
Our target and mine personally was to continue his policy was taking into account the changing world and changing Azerbaijan, to modernize the country, to strengthen our independence – so that never again we live under domination of others – to build strong economy, self-sufficient economy and to provide better conditions for people to live.
So, when we talk about the modern Azerbaijan, not only when we celebrate his 100th anniversary, but in general, we all should understand that the foundation was laid by him, and if not, for his leadership in the difficult times of 1990s, today’s Azerbaijan would have been absolutely different. Even very dangerous and scary to imagine what kind of problems we may have had.
Correspondent: I think it’d be fair to say that Azerbaijan has come a long way, carving out his unique path politically, economically, and socially, and in terms of playing this delicate role in the evolving geopolitical landscape of the world. I wish a little bit talk about China- Azerbaijan relations. You recently described China Azerbaijan relations as excellent. Where do you think it is and how do you want to take it to the next level?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, I can only confirm what I said. I could see the relations are excellent and this analysis, this word also cover a very broad agenda of bilateral relations and very clear prospect for future cooperation. I think what has been achieved in bilateral relations between us was only the beginning of a very long journey. I hope journey of strategic cooperation. Because today when we look at a political map of the region, and also on a map of transportation routes, we see how our countries are closely aligned with each other. For instance, if we take basic issues on global international agenda, our positions coincide. They coincide on issues related to sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, non-interference into affairs of other countries. They coincide on issues related to economic cooperation and we see the growing numbers of mutual trade and especially the potential. We see the emerging new transportation routes, which will unite our countries even more in the future. And that will be also a big contribution to regional security and stability, because when countries are united in a format of cooperation, which is mutually beneficial, it adds to regional stability, predictability, prosperity, and development.
So, with respect to foreign policy, priorities and agenda, I see a lot of similarities between the policies of China and Azerbaijan, as well as in any other direction. And relatively recently, our relations have been intensified even more and, of course, my meetings with President Xi Jinping play important role in elaboration of the direction and they put very clear targets for development. But at the same time, communications on the lower level, on the level of governmental officials, level of parliamentarians, and representatives of society and also relations between our parties – this also create a very special format of cooperation. Therefore, when I say that it’s only the beginning of a long journey, I think that covers these views. And with respect to the future of bilateral relations, we have a unanimity policy between China and Azerbaijan. So, I can really only reconfirm what I said that relations are excellent and they will be even better than that.
Correspondent: It is about your meeting with President Xi Jinping, you met him on several occasions. What do you think of him as a leader, what kind of person does he strike you as?
President Ilham Aliyev: I had the chance to meet President Xi Jinping many times in China, and also on the sidelines of international events. I have great respect for him. I always was impressed with his vision, his intelligence, openness, and being deeply aware about bilateral relations between us. Because China as a global power has very broad foreign policy agenda, much broader than one of Azerbaijan’s.
But at the same time, being deeply aware about the substance of our cooperation, about prospect of our cooperation really demonstrate that President Xi Jinping is a very responsible person, which resulted in the very successful foreign policy. You know that year after year, the number of friends of China in the world is growing, and this is due to this wise policy. We can only applaud to what he’s doing in developing his country, in providing assistance to those who need this assistance. This is one of the unique cases on global arena, especially now when you just help countries, which need help and which cannot get assistance on time and from other sources. I can give you one example about Azerbaijan. When COVID started, we were in big trouble, because we didn’t have vaccines, and the only country, which helped us with vaccines was China. I wrote a letter to President Xi Jinping asking to help and immediately there was a response. We got the first portion of a million doses. We started vaccination in the middle of January, so, one of the first in the world. That was because his policy to help, you know, and how can we forget that?!
So, I can tell you, after all, that there have been countries in the west, which stockpiled five times more vaccines than they needed, and they left countries, who could not produce and could not get access, just without vaccination. So, they just were demonstrating this vaccine nationalism. And also I can tell you that Azerbaijan was one of the countries, which publicly struggled against the vaccine nationalism as a chair of the Non-Aligned Movement. So, what I’m trying to say that this is an example, which demonstrates the Chinese policy towards Azerbaijan, I’m sure, the same policies towards every country, which needs help at the time when it is needed.
Therefore, as a person, as I said, I had many meetings with President Xi Jinping. And as a person, he is very friendly, very respectful, very open, and really I also as a person enjoy communicating with him.
Correspondent: Talking about connectivity and infrastructure projects cooperation, actually, Azerbaijan holds a record. It has the shortest implementation time, one of the shortest implementation time among all the countries for the Belt and Road infrastructure projects. Only 307 days and we’re talking about huge infrastructure projects here. How did Azerbaijan do it? How do you look at the merits of the Belt and Road Initiative?
President Ilham Aliyev: One of the targets for our development was to transform Azerbaijan into one of the regional centers for connectivity. Because if you look at the map, you’ll see the advantages of Azerbaijani geography, which is situated just on routes from North to South and East to West and backwards. But lack of transportation infrastructure actually created a situation that our geography was not used. I was absolutely sure that we can improve that. So, we started to invest largely in transportation infrastructure fifteen years ago. We started to put large investments in domestic infrastructure, because first we needed to upgrade transportation infrastructure at home, and at the same time to build connectivity bridges with our neighbors. So, we wanted really to become an important transitor, but geography is not enough for that. Even infrastructure is not enough. You need something more, which is good relations with your neighbors. Because you cannot become a transit country, if you do not cooperate with your neighbors. And that was also part of our foreign policy priorities to build strong relations with the neighboring countries based on shared interest.
So, when we were incorporated in Belt and Road Initiative, we already came with infrastructure, which was available. What we are doing now? We are now only upgrading. For instance, we are expanding our trade sea port, because the growing number of cargoes from East to West will create problems in handling the cargoes. Our trade sea port was inaugurated several years ago with a capacity of 15 million tons. Now we are upgrading it up to 25 million tons. We are building more vessels in the Caspian. Though, we have the biggest trade fleet in the Caspian among all other Caspian littoral states, but we are building new vessels, tankers and cargo fleet in order to be able to bring more cargoes. Now, we are planning to expand our shipyard, so that we can produce not from 6 to 8, but maybe from 10 to 20 vessels per year. Because the need for vessels in Azerbaijan and also in the Caspian is growing.
We are now modernizing the existing railroad in order to allow more cargo to pass. So, the speed of trains will be higher. So, we’re doing a lot in order to be well prepared for big cargo flow. We enjoy year after year the growing transportation, cargo transportation across Azerbaijan. But I think that the figures can be several times higher. For that we are actively working also with our Chinese partners and our neighbors to establish this infrastructure connectivity and also administrative connectivity, because we need to have single policy on tariffs. We need to have more inter-connection with respect to customs regulations and open this gate broadly. So, relations between our countries in the future also will play an important role in a growing number of cargoes going through Azerbaijan. And as you said, we did everything on time and within a short period of time. Today, Azerbaijani transportation infrastructure already is corresponding to the high international standards.
Correspondent: Azerbaijan has launched this Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, how significant is that?
President Ilham Aliyev: This is actually part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Because we clearly understand that in the current geopolitical situation, the Trans-Caspian Route is becoming one of the most important for countries of Central Asia. Again, if you look at the map, we will see that there are not many ways for Central Asian countries to transport their cargoes in European direction and backwards.
Correspondent: There is Sea, there is a Trans-Siberian route, but that takes a lot longer.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, this is one reason. Second reason, of course, the certain geopolitical changes and restrictions on transportation routes, sanctions on transportation routes make that transit more complicated. Therefore, if not through the Caspian then how? The countries of Central Asia are developing, producing more goods for export and also buying more, therefore, routes across the Caspian become vital. Fortunately, we did our homework a while ago and prepared everything. Now it will be easier to expand. And the investments in expansion of transportation infrastructure will be based on the figures of assumed cargo transportation.
I visited all the countries of the Central Asia last year and this year, and their leaders visited Azerbaijan. Now we have more dynamism in our bilateral relations. First, because we see the need for that and we always enjoyed excellent relations. But at the same time, the issue of transportation routes dictate more active interaction. So, I’m sure that when we look year after year at statistics of transit across the Caspian, we will see growing and growing numbers.
Correspondent: I have a set of very impressive data that I want to share with you. Data show that shipping goods from China to Europe takes 36 days on average by sea, 20 days through the Trans-Siberian route, you know without political disruptions, as you said, obviously. I believe 12 days through the Middle Corridor using the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and that is big.
President Ilham Aliyev: Exactly, yes, this is true. By the way, we launched and we initiated the construction of this route, because this route did not exist. It’s a new transportation connectivity infrastructure, which was initiated by Azerbaijan and was actively supported by our partners in Türkiye and Georgia. In 2017 here in Baku, we had an official inauguration of that project. And at that time, the transportation through the Middle Corridor was not yet a kind of one of the priorities. Therefore, we invested as much as it was needed for volume of cargoes. But what are we doing now? We already started several months ago to upgrade this road and it will handle five times more cargo than originally above.
We are working very actively on the Zangezur corridor, which will be an additional road from Azerbaijan to Türkiye and Europe. About 70% of construction work has already been done in the Azerbaijani territory. So, through Azerbaijan, there’ll not be only one route through the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, but also through the Zangezur corridor. So, all these will create additional opportunities for more cargoes. At the same time the transportation through Azerbaijan will also go through the Georgian seaports. We are looking with big interest at some investment opportunities with respect to that. So, really transportation cooperation will be extremely beneficial for all the countries, but at the same time, which is not less important, it will strengthen ties between the countries. The countries will become more interconnected, more integrated. En route of the corridor, we plan to create a lot of new manufacturing facilities. We don’t want only to be a transitor. Yes, it is good from a geo-political point of view. It gives you additional money. We want to create big industrial zones in Azerbaijan and we are actually moving in that direction. I think it could be attractive for Chinese companies to have the manufacturing in our Alat Free Economic Zone, which is already operational and was inaugurated this month. So really, it’s a broader picture that one can imagine now.
Correspondent: You talked about the cultural value of connectivity of the Belt and Road Initiative. Actually, we were at the Mugham Club restaurant two days ago, and we were thoroughly impressed by what we saw there. That was, of course, the old Caravanserai for people to rest and recover from the ancient Silk Road. In there, it feels like you know – the time stopped. As if you could see, history unfolding. As if you could see people, commerce, cultures mingle and blend. How do you see the cultural value of trade, you know this, what Chinese call the Belt and Road Initiative? I know in this country you have this plan to revive the ancient Silk Road as early as the 1990s.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yeah, definitely, this will create additional spirit or will contribute to the spirit of friendship and interaction. Because the countries, which were situated on the ancient Silk Road, one of their specifics of similarity is that they have a diverse societies, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional societies. Azerbaijan is part of that positive scenario. Therefore, cultural heritage of Azerbaijan, as you can see with your own eyes, is something, which is duly protected by our state. And for us, it is an asset, which we need to keep, preserve and handover to new generations, so that they do the same. We managed to preserve our cultural heritage for centuries. Though, for a long time Azerbaijan was deprived from its statehood. We were not independent country. But at the same time, we kept our national identity, our language, our literature, our music, our traditions, our cultural heritage. So, even in the times, when we were not independent, we managed to do it. Therefore, definitely, we will continue to preserve our cultural heritage, which is part of the world heritage. At the same time, more connectivity projects with partners will lead to more visits, more tourists, more trade, more interaction. And that will only make richer our culture and our society. So, we look at this from this point of view. We’re very fortunate that Azerbaijan throughout the centuries, and especially during the times of independence, really demonstrates high standards of ethnic and religious tolerance, coexistence. All the ethnic groups who live in Azerbaijan live as one family, and this is one of the biggest assets. So, we are trying to preserve it, and I’m sure we will succeed.
Correspondent: I’m reminded of the old saying that says when trade stops war may start.
President Ilham Aliyev: It is true.
Correspondent: The converse is maybe true when there is more trade, there is a better chance of people in countries to get along.
President Ilham Aliyev: Absolutely right. It will strengthen stability, security, to a certain degree, in good sense of the word, interdependence. So, there’ll be a lot of benefits for people and for countries, and in this circumstances, of course, it will be stable.
Correspondent: President Aliyev, I must tell you that you became quite famous in China thanks to your interview with a BBC journalist two years ago. Many people are like, wow, this is what’s a leader can do to an unbalanced coverage of the West. What was it like back then?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, I had numerous interviews during the 44 days of the Patriotic War, mainly with journalists from the West. Majority of them were, I would say, very aggressive and they were trying to present Azerbaijan as an aggressor. You know, while we were liberating our territories, we were fighting for our territorial integrity, we did not step on the territory of other country. We were just eliminating the 30-year consequences of occupation and ethnic cleansing, which we were facing. Of course, I was sure that the Western journalists, who came to Azerbaijan to make some video footage and also to meet with me, they are well prepared. It would be naive to imagine that they do not know the history of the conflict. Who is an aggressor, who is a victim of aggression and what is happening? But, at the same time, they were trying to present situation, not only during our meeting, because they made a lot of reportage in Azerbaijan. As if Azerbaijan is an aggressor, so that was absolutely unacceptable, and that once again demonstrates the bias and unbalanced and anti-Azerbaijani approach of the Western media, which reality in which we have lived for 30 years. This is true.
Correspondent: Many people think that Julian Assange hit was a great counter-punch. How did you come up with that?
President Ilham Aliyev: Actually, if you are trying to accuse something of violation, first thing which you should do is to look in the mirror and see if you have spots on your face or not? What happened to Julian Assange is absolutely unacceptable. This is a brutal violation of freedom of speech. The person is tortured. He was tortured for several years in one embassy, he is tortured now. I’m talking about moral tortures. I don’t know whether he is physically tortured or not. I cannot say what I don’t know. But the person is suffering just because he produced some information, which he got from some sources. Maybe he was wrong, maybe he made violation, but in the West, they present situation like journalists can do whatever they want, and they’re immune from any criminal case. And if you arrest journalist, it means that you are dictator. So, I said, look at Julian Assange case, what you’ve done to the guy? And how can you accuse anyone having this? This event is very dark page in your history. And as you mentioned, it was more than two years ago. Where is Julius Assange now? Still in prison. Does anyone talk about him? No.
Correspondent: I was in Washington DC as correspondent for eight years and I learned a lot in both directions. So, talking about the biased portrait from the Western media of Non-Western countries such as Azerbaijan and China, of course, you don’t think that they did justice to these countries. But why do you think it is the case? What are the factors behind their misrepresentation and mis-portrait of the Non-Western World, including China, Azerbaijan?
President Ilham Aliyev: It’s difficult for me to say why they use the same techniques against China. Most probably, there are reasons for that. But with respect to Azerbaijan, there are a variety of factors. One of them – which is not the main one – is that Armenian lobby, which has a big infrastructure in the United States, in France, in some other Western countries, is attacking Azerbaijan on a regular basis. They corrupt politicians, they penetrate into establishment, in parliaments, in media, in governmental offices. They target all their arrows at Azerbaijan and they are creating a kind of atmosphere of Azerbaijanophobia. But this is not the only reason. The main reason, I think, is that Azerbaijan pursues an independent policy based on its national interests. Azerbaijan, unlike some countries, does not engage in any adventure, which is not in line with our priorities and our national interests. In other words, we behave independently and our policy is independent. We will defend our identity and our dignity with all the means, which we have. So, I think this is a basic reason, why Azerbaijan continues to be a target for media attacks, attacks from so-called independent NGOs. We all know that they’re not independent. Who can say that “Human Rights Watch”, “Amnesty International” and “Freedom House” are independent? Look from whom they get the money, who ordered the music, and then you will see that they are totally dependent.
Correspondent: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace…
President Ilham Aliyev: Exactly. They are totally dependent and cannot afford even one step right and left, which is not agreed with their bosses. But you know, we managed to live in this environment. For me the most important is not what Western media write about Azerbaijan, but what people of Azerbaijan think about the policy of our government. As you can see and talk to the people, you will see what they think about our government – whether they are doing the right thing or not.
The consolidation of our society and strong support from public support is not only, of course, mainly generated by our policy, and also liberation of the former occupied territories. But also it is a reaction to anti-Azerbaijani propaganda. If somebody in the West think that by insulting the government officials, by spreading slander and rumors, they can influence public opinion of Azerbaijan, maybe they’re right, but their influence is not in the directions they would like to see. On the contrary, society consolidates even more, because we see that this is unjust. We have been occupied for 30 years and there was no denouncement of Armenian occupation.
Correspondent: There is only mentioning of peaceful settlement.
President Ilham Aliyev: Exactly, only peaceful settlement, not mentioning of territorial integrity.
Correspondent: It is the jargon of double standards.
President Ilham Aliyev: Exactly, these are double standards and our society very well understands that. And also, it’s important once again to see it’s not only interview of some journalists, but the governments. Now we’re facing very, how to say, unjustified attacks from the French government. Can you imagine France that became the biggest advocate for Armenia. Okay, it’s their business, but they became the biggest anti-Azerbaijani source in Europe. They attack us on every direction. Their foreign policy statements and statements of officials are beyond any political ethics. So, they’re accusing us of what we have not done during the war, and did not apologize for that. They accuse us now of what we’re doing on our territory. And look who is doing that? The country, which bans Corsican language, which suppresses brutally self-determination movement in Corsica. They advocate for self-determination of Armenians in Karabakh. How can this happen? During the war, when their political aggression was beyond any borders, I said that if they want to have “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” somewhere, they can have it on their own territory. For instance, around the city of Marseille, where there are so many Armenians. Let them announce “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” there, and we will recognize it. This country still continues its colonial policy. Look at the island of Mayotte, the French colony. New Caledonia, the French colony. And they talk about human rights. So, this is a political hypocrisy. When we say what I say now, you will see immediately as they will again organize all the media and will start insulting, attacking, spreading rumors about Azerbaijan, its leaders and his policy.
Correspondent: Talking about territorial integrity. There’s something that’s very near and dear to the hearts of many Chinese – the issue of Taiwan. You earlier said that you don’t support efforts to try to split China. Can you elaborate?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, we always support it and continue to support China’s territorial integrity and the policy of One China and the policy of reunification of China. This policy has been articulated many years ago, and was reconfirmed on many occasions and it is absolutely unchanged and never be changed. First, because China for us is a friendly country. Second, because we always support the laws and principles of international law. The international law cannot be treated selectively. And those countries, who want to treat international law selectively, will only lose their reputation. Because international law clearly elaborates that territorial integrity principle is a fundamental principle of international law. Self-determination of people should not contradict with territorial integrity with any country. This is a fundamental principle of international law. Therefore, our position on One China policy is absolutely clear and I hope that some Western governments also follow this position.
Correspondent: On Armenia, Azerbaijan-Armenia relations, we know that there has been a ceasefire, but the situation remains complex. Given all the history behind it, so, Mr. President, what do you think of a peace agreement? And when can we expect it? And if so, what would it look like?
President Ilham Aliyev: I think it can be achieved in the nearest future. Why I think so, because Armenia already had to make a very important statement that, they not only recognize territorial integrity of Azerbaijan – which they officially confirmed last October and reconfirmed many times – but also this May they specified, because we demanded to specify that they recognize Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. They recognize Azerbaijan`s territorial integrity on the territory of 86,600 square kilometres, which means Karabakh and eight Azerbaijani enclaves on Armenian territory included. So, this actually is the important statement. And after that the only thing which is left just to put it on paper and to sign it. Our position on a peace agreement after the Second Karabakh War ended was that this agreement must be based on international law norms and principles. We elaborated five basic international principles, which should be the basis for a peace agreement. And negotiations we held several times and will continue in the end of June. And the only major point of this agreement was exactly what I`ve said about Karabakh being a part of Azerbaijan to be officially recognized by Armenia. So, as I already said, they said A – saying that Karabakh is Azerbaijan, now they need to say B – to sign it. And after that an agreement can be achieved, and I think that if what they say, I mean what Armenia say, is not again a political maneuverer, is not again old story when they tried to delay the process then we can reach the peace agreement, and sign it by the end of the year. And that will really be important geopolitical factor that will put an end to long-lasting confrontation, will create real peace in the Caucasus, will lead to opening of all communications. And also I’d like to add that with respect to the Armenian minority in Azerbaijan, we already officially stated that their rights and their security will be duly protected by us based on Azerbaijani Constitution. But Azerbaijan is a country, which hosts tens of different ethnic groups, including Armenians. We never had any problem based on religious or ethnic grounds. Therefore, Armenians who live in Karabakh region of Azerbaijan will have the same rights and security guarantees as any other Azerbaijani citizen. So, I think this is completely in line with international law norms and I think that this position of Azerbaijan is appreciated by international community.
Correspondent: President Aliyev, let’s talk about one of your favorite subjects – sports and fitness.
President Ilham Aliyev: Good.
Correspondent: You posted a video of you doing pull-ups on your 60th birthday.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes.
Correspondent: Fifteen times. I mean, wow that was impressive. But you could have done more, right?
President Ilham Aliyev: I used to do more. I showed it only for the first time. When I was younger, I never showed it, because I saw it for young men to do many times is natural. Why I did it? Because I want our young generation to do the same. I want to say that when you are 60, if you don’t have bad habits, if you have regular sport exercises, you can do it. So, that was my message to young generations. If you think that when you’re 60 you cannot do it, you’re wrong, you can do it. Whether, I could have done more or no, maybe yes, but that would not look very pleasant.
Correspondent: Very wise, you also made no secret about your passion for weightlifting, even in front of your good friend President Erdogan.
President Ilham Aliyev: That was the easy part. It was not very heavy.
Correspondent: But you did it. It was impressive that you were transforming a personal passion for sport into something bigger. I mean, look at Baku, even the F1 sign in downtown city, and Baku hosted the Euro 2020 and the 2015 European Games – the first of its kind. Really talk to us about your passion for sports, why sport?
President Ilham Aliyev: First, because I love sport. Second, because I did sport during my life with certain breaks. Unfortunately, I just abandoned it but then restarted. When I was young and doing very active sport and when I stopped and I re-started, it was very easy for me to bring my shape back. Second, because sport is an important factor of life of society. During the times of occupation, sporting victories were kind of a symbolic compensation in the consciousness of our people for defeat in the First Karabakh War. So, we demonstrated that we can win and that became a very important factor of patriotism in Azerbaijan. Because when your athletes win, raise the flag, when your anthem was played – you are full of emotions and full of pride. So, that was an important factor of young generation to be patriotic, because I clearly understood that without that we would not be able to win. Yes, we invested a lot of in our defense capability, in training of our military servicemen. We did a lot in preparing ourselves for the Second Karabakh War. But I can tell you now, after two and half year that passed, that the main factor of our victory was spirit. Those, who liberated the land, they never seen Karabakh in the life, because they were very young. They were not born, when Karabakh was occupied. So, what led them to that? These were the spirit of victory, patriotism and dignity. Sport is that, also for physical health, because we want our society to be healthy, to be physically fit. So for that sport is number one. Of course, good nutrition, no bad habits, but sport is on top of that, probably. And also now we work on mass sport. So that we have sporting infrastructure in every region, and we already done it. At the same time, this is international prestige, because the first European Games really opened Azerbaijan to Europe. We have already held Formula 1 seven times, specially taking into account that it takes place on the city roads. It is a city presentation for those, who have never seen Baku. Formula 1 has 500 million audience. After first Formula 1, we had 20 percent growth of tourism, before COVID every year 10-15 percent. So, it brought us a lot of international tourists, a lot foreign currency into the country. So, there are a lot of factors. which dictate that every government should pay big attention to sport development.
Correspondent: I remember Euro 2020.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes. The final match of the Europa League in 2019 and the UEFA 2020 matches were held in Baku in 2021. So, Baku has already become the international destination for big sporting events. We also hosted the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017. So, you can imagine – the 2015 first European Games and 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games in one city in two years. This also is a demonstration of what Azerbaijan is. It is just on the edge of Europe and Asia. It is part of a Muslim world, at the same time it is part of Europe. This is a very unique position of our country. The policy of the country and the status of society is the reflection of all these.
Correspondent: President Ilham Aliyev, coming up are the Hangzhou Asian Games and also Summer World University Games in Chengdu, China. What do you wanna say to the athletes, participants? What are your expectations for those games to take place in China?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, only wish success to organizers. I am sure the Games will be organized on the highest possible level. I know how sporting events are being organized in China. I was at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and spent several days in your beautiful country. As you can imagine we are not participants to Asian Games, but we will be present with big team at the University Games with more than 150 athletes, so it will be several times more than ever before. So, I wish athletes the victory, organizers success and the Chinese people to enjoy this festival.
Correspondent: Finally, Azerbaijan is a still a mysterious and remote country in the opinion of many everyday Chinese. I am sitting with the President of the country. Can you maybe say a few words why the Chinese must consider Azerbaijan as their next tourist destination?
President Ilham Aliyev: First of all, the people of Azerbaijan are very friendly and hospitable. Second, we have a very modern hotel infrastructure. We have a very diverse nature. We have nine climatic zones. The country`s territory is not very big, so you can reach either by train or by car or maximum by plain easily. Road infrastructure is one of the best. Cuisine, I think, is one of the best.
Correspondent: We ate a lot of kebabs.
President Ilham Aliyev: The weather is very friendly. You can ski in the mountain. You can swim in the Caspian Sea. You can go hiking, you can go to see the mud volcanoes, you can go to the Karabakh mountains and the woods. We have lakes and rivers. Also I think that Chinese tourists will feel that people of Azerbaijan have very big sympathy with China. They know your country and they know that we are friends. So, they will feel themselves like at home.
Correspondent: President Aliyev, thank you so much once again for welcoming us in your country. Thank you for this interview.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.