After a brief meeting on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process on Saturday in an unusual panel discussion during which the two leaders answered questions from the audience.
The moderator of the discussion, veteran Eurasian security policy expert Celeste Wallander, first allowed Aliyev to make opening remarks, during which the Azerbaijani president, citing obscure treaties claimed that Armenians did not exist in the Caucasus, perhaps attempting to bolster his long-standing claims that he will “reclaim Yerevan.”
Below is a readout of the Pashinyan’s responses provided by the prime minister’s press office.
Pashinyan retorted by saying: “I would ask President Aliyev not to go that far into history because when Armenian King Tigran the Great was negotiating with Pompeus, there was no such country in the South Caucasus and in the world in general named Azerbaijan. Therefore, I do not think that it is right to go that far back in history, since I can go even further and start from 405 BC, for example, but I would not do so because I do not think that it is the right way to go.
Coming to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh as a state, I would rather disagree with President Aliyev, because the Caucasian Bureau made a legitimate decision that Karabakh should be part of Armenia, but after that the decision was reversed in Moscow on the personal initiative of Joseph Stalin. It seemed like a plot, an arrangement between Stalin, Lenin and Ataturk. Karabakh has never been part of an independent Azerbaijani state. Karabakh was handed over to Azerbaijan in the process of forming the Soviet Union. And when we are talking about territorial integrity, we have to decide which country we are talking about.
My question is whether Azerbaijan respected the territorial integrity of the Soviet Union when it broke away from the Soviet Union just as Nagorno-Karabakh did. If you think that I am now speaking about a country that does not exist any longer – I mean the Soviet Union – I would counter by saying that either the Soviet Republic, of which Nagorno-Karabakh used to be part, is inexistent; there is no Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan, and that is true. Nagorno-Karabakh gained independence from both the Soviet Union and Soviet Azerbaijan in the same way as Azerbaijan broke away from the Soviet Union.
As for Khojalu, in the mid-1990s, former President of Azerbaijan Ayaz Mutalibov said in an interview with Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper that Khojalu’s provocation was organized by the Azerbaijani opposition with a view to ousting him from power.
As regards the UN Security Council documents, let us see what those documents implied after all? They called for an unconditional and immediate ceasefire, that is, to stop violence and hostilities. And when we look at UN Security Council Resolution 8.8.4, we can see that it says that Azerbaijan was the one to have violated the ceasefire, due to which it lost territories. And I deem it important to state that Azerbaijan failed to respect the provisions of the Security Council Resolution.
I think that instead of repeating over and over the same things for the past 25 or 30 years, the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders ought to come up with new approaches and ideas, as I am afraid that the international community is tired hearing the same things.
When I became Prime Minister following a non-violent people’s revolution, I realized that it is impossible to settle a long-standing conflict in one or two steps. And I felt that in order to resolve this conflict we need revolutions. And I started the process of micro-revolutions.
Next time I have the opportunity to address the audience, I will try to explain the importance of micro-revolutions in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process that I have initiated. Thank you.”
Question – You are in this international audience: there are many experienced negotiators who have been working on this challenge for almost 30 years trying to bring about a peaceful settlement of the dispute. What would you like the international community to do to help you advance the option that you believe is a just and peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – There is a very specific contribution that the international community can make, namely to make it clear, to stress that there can be no military solution to the Karabakh conflict. If someone thinks otherwise and says that there is a military solution to the conflict, I think the people of Nagorno Karabakh will answer that the conflict is already resolved. However, I think that we need a lasting peace.
Armenia does not represent Nagorno-Karabakh in the negotiation process, but I know that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are ready to make real efforts to achieve a lasting peace in our region. And as the Prime Minister of Armenia, I consider this situation not only my responsibility for the security of my country, but I see it as my responsibility for regional and global security.
And I suggest that President Aliyev, too, should perceive this situation as a common task. That is, to achieve a lasting peace and stability and to view this situation not only as a matter of our national agenda, but also as a matter of global and regional security. And our responsibility, our duty is to do our best in order to contribute to global security. I can assure you that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are ready for it.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan responded to the remarks made by President Ilham Aliyev: “I would like to make some comments. First of all, the UN Security Council resolutions do not feature the wording “Armenian troops,” we read “local Armenian forces” there. That is, people in Nagorno-Karabakh formed self-defense forces and, therefore, there is no mention of the Armenian army in the texts of UN Security Council resolutions. As for the victims, yes, it is a tragedy, it is a conflict and thousands of people died as a result of that conflict, both Armenian and Azeri, and that is a fact.
However, I myself have read ex-president Ayaz Mutalibov’s interview in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, and I think we can find it on the internet. As for historical facts, there is a book, entitled “Nagorno-Karabakh: legal aspects.” What I said about city names and ethnic cleansing can be found in that very book and in history textbooks.
There was a Shahumyan region where there is no Armenian living now, though formerly it used to be populated solely by Armenians. Shahumyan region now has an Azerbaijani name, which is a very difficult word for me to utter. In addition, President Aliyev noted that an Azeri soldier was killed by an Armenian, while earlier today an Armenian soldier was wounded by an Azerbaijani sniper. And our mutual task is to stop this process.”
Question – I am a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for International Law. President Aliyev mentioned the role of international law. My question is addressed to both speakers. Why not submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice by special agreement?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – We, too, are committed to the negotiation process, to the peace process, and I think that the negotiations should take place in the OSCE Minsk Group format. As I said, we are prepared to make real efforts to change the situation and reach a solution to the conflict. But no one asked me about those mini revolutions I have made in the negotiation process.
My principled approach is as follows: it is impossible to solve this conflict in one or two steps. I feel that we need micro-revolutions in order to translate them into mini-revolutions after which we will have a breakthrough in the negotiation process.
What was that micro-revolution? In September 2018, I announced that any solution in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should be acceptable to the people of Armenia, the people of Karabakh and the people of Azerbaijan. This is a micro-revolution because I am the first leader of Armenia who says that any solution should be acceptable for the people of Azerbaijan as well. I am not only the only leader of Armenia, but also I am the only one from the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan who says that any solution should be acceptable for all sides. And now a year has passed since that Revolution. This is a very important micro-revolution.
The next revolution is that during one of my press conferences I called on Armenian and Azeri social media users not to use social media to insult and threaten each other. I called on social media to use new technologies to try to understand each other better.
This is another approach, and I have tried to speak directly to the people of Azerbaijan. I do not mind if President Aliyev speaks to the Armenian people. However, the President of Azerbaijan is refusing to speak to the people of Karabakh.
But we are faced up with a very strange fact: President Aliyev is reluctant to talk to Nagorno-Karabakh’s representatives, which is a very strange fact. It is impossible to solve the Karabakh conflict without talking to the people of Karabakh, is it?
By the way, Nagorno Karabakh was twice recognized by the OSCE as a party to the conflict and a negotiating party. It happened on March 24, 1992 and at the 1994 OSCE Summit in Budapest. Thank you.
Question – Russia is one of those countries that are trying to find a solution. One suggestion was that maybe the status issue should be left over at this point, and the mediators should be trying to do something that the parties might agree upon, for example, concerning the formation of a corridor, the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, and so on. Do you see any possibility for an intermediate solution?
The question was first answered by President Ilham Aliyev, to which Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan responded, saying: “By the way, we have managed a mutual micro revolution on either side, and I hope to have the opportunity to dwell thereon. When we first met in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, we just made a mini-revolution together with President Aliyev. Our meeting was followed by an unprecedented fall in tensions and we were able to create a direct line for communication and exchange of information. I must admit that President Aliyev was a co-author in this case.
President Aliyev talks about territories, while for Karabakh it is a matter of security. We need to understand why today’s status quo was established, because when Nagorno-Karabakh tried to exercise its right to self-determination, hostilities began against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh were forced to organize themselves for self-defense.
President Aliyev referred to Shushi and Stepanakert, which is the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. Stepanakert used to be shelled from Shushi for many years in a row. Civilians used to live in underground shelters for a long time, and that is the truth. Now, it is impossible for anyone to compromise Karabakh’s security.
President Aliyev spoke about Azerbaijan’s armed forces. My son is doing his military service in Nagorno-Karabakh; he went there as a volunteer. He went to defend his compatriots because he knows history very well; he knows what has been going on since 1988. I mentioned Shahumyan region, where the population was 100% Armenian, now there is not a single Armenian living there. We also remember the fate of Nakhichevan, where there was a huge Armenian population. Nakhichevan is an autonomous republic within Azerbaijan, and now there is no Armenian there.
Also, President Aliyev says that Nagorno-Karabakh is not a party to negotiations and to the conflict, but Azerbaijan has twice signed agreements with Nagorno-Karabakh. For the first time in 1994, it was a ceasefire agreement between Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. The defense ministers signed the document. Three months later. in July, 1994 they reaffirmed that the ceasefire should be maintained until a political settlement is reached.”
At the end of the discussion, responding to Azerbaijani President’s statement, Pashinyan said: “Mr. President, it was not too constructive, but I would say that in the times of Tigran the Great there were only two nations in our region – Armenians and Georgians. And this was the case not only in the times of Tigran the Great, but also during the rule of the Bagratides and the Arshakunis. It can be found in any history book. I am happy for this discussion. I would like to reaffirm that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are ready to make real efforts to resolve the conflict.”