Artsakh is one of our neighbors, with which we have a common border of about 135 kilometers. Perhaps many Iranians do not know that we have such a neighbor, because it is not visible on the map. In general, I would like to know what your policy towards Iran is.
In general, we have a positive attitude towards Iran. We appreciate Iran's policy on the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict, which is balanced and mostly neutral. It is noteworthy that in the first half of 1992, Iran acted as a mediator in the settlement of this conflict, which speaks of the fact that Iran is interested in ensuring peace in the region. Another evidence of this is that today Tehran expresses readiness to mediate again in the the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict settlement process.
It should be noted that Iran is the only country in the region that has common borders with all the three conflicting parties - the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Artsakh, and Azerbaijan.
Artsakh has common borders with three states - the Republic of Armenia in the west, Azerbaijan in the east, and the Islamic Republic of Iran in the south. The borders with the Republic of Armenia are open, and the RA is the only path to connect Artsakh with the outer world. The border with Azerbaijan can rather be called a front line. Despite the friendly relations between our peoples, the border between Artsakh and Iran remains closed, which is unnatural.
We are interested in having functioning borders and friendly relations with all the neighboring countries, including Iran. I am convinced that it is also in the interests of Iran to preserve a common border with Artsakh. I believe it is also in tune with the interests of other concerned actors in the region.
You are the Foreign Minister of a country, which hasn’t officially achieved international recognition. There is a slight contradiction in this notion. What is your experience as a Foreign Minister of such a state, what are your relations with other states, and how are they shaping?
I see no contradiction. Our Republic was proclaimed in 1991 and, naturally, we should have foreign relations, also for achieving international recognition. We carry out the functions of recognized states, among which, first of all, is creating favorable external conditions for safe development.
It should also be noted that the Republic of Artsakh fully complies with international legal criteria set by the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Obligations of States, one of which is the capacity to enter into relations with other states.
The circumstance that the UN member-states have not yet recognized the Republic of Artsakh cannot question the fact that Artsakh is an important military and political factor in the region.
There are many states, which gained international recognition decades after their establishment. It is also worth mentioning the example of Switzerland, which was internationally recognized a few hundred years later.
The process of international recognition of Artsakh is underway. Currently, it is implemented at the level of separate administrative units of foreign countries - states, regions, and cities. For example, a parliamentary delegation from one of the American States, which have recognized our Republic, the State of California, is currently in Artsakh.
If a lasting peace agreement is signed with Baku, according to negotiations, you will probably loose most of these cities, i.e. the territories outside Artsakh. Is it possible that we no longer will be neighbors with Artsakh if such peace agreement is signed?
Our current state borders are not out of historical Artsakh. It should also be noted that some territories of the Republic of Artsakh, such as the Shahumyan region, parts of Martakert and Martuni regions, which constitute about 15 percent of the territory of the Republic, are still occupied by Azerbaijan.
The territories under the jurisdiction of Artsakh are enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Artsakh, which was adopted at a nationwide referendum and which expresses the will of our people. It means that the same law and the same legal field operates both in capital Stepanakert and on the left bank of the Arax River, without any difference.
Does this approach really comply with the negotiations held under the aegis of the Minsk Group?
It should be noted that the three parties to the conflict consider the issues of territories, the status of Artsakh, refugees, security, and lifting the blockade of Artsakh and the Republic of Armenia crucial for the settlement, and in due time, the parties put forward them as a subject of negotiations.
In general, as to the negotiations and the prospects for a lasting settlement, I can say that the negotiation process has its history. The negotiations on the conflict settlement within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group (OSCE MG) started back in 1992 and had different stages.
It should be noted that Artsakh is recognized by the OSCE as a party to the conflict. The OSCE documents clearly point out that three parties are involved in the conflict - two OSCE member-states and the third party - Nagorno Karabakh. This is a very important point.
Until 1997, full-fledged trilateral negotiations took place in a classical way. And it was in that period that unique and tangible results were achieved in the settlement process: in 1994 and 1995, trilateral agreements on ceasefire and its strengthening were signed, to which Artsakh was a signatory. However, since 1997, the peace process has been taking place in a distorted format, without the direct participation of Artsakh, which has a negative impact on the effectiveness of the settlement process.
In the classical sense, there is no negotiation process similar to that, which took place before 1997. Since 1997, the mediators have been implementing a shuttle diplomacy method – works are underway on the coordination of a number of principles, based on which the negotiations can be continued.
However, this process was difficult, and the war unleashed by Azerbaijan against Artsakh in April 2016, which was also a major blow to the peace process, pushed the prospects for a final settlement of the conflict further back. Currently, the main task is to maintain peace and stability in the region, and the efforts of the mediators are mostly aimed at this.
Do you think that during the April war Russia really changed its policy for the benefit of Baku?
I do not think there was any change in Russia's position. Russia, the United States of America and France are the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair states and they have agreed-upon approaches towards ensuring peace in the region.
As to the April war, it should be noted that it was with the consent of two other co-chairing states that Russia played a more active role in halting the military activities in those days, which is conditioned by the fact that of the three co-chairing states only Russia has the relevant tools to influence the parties during military operations. Therefore, it is not accidental that on April 5, through the mediation of Russia, the parties achieved a verbal agreement to cease the hostilities and to restore the ceasefire regime established on May 12, 1994.
Generally, in different periods we witness that one of the co-chairing states - the U.S., Russia or France - is more active in the settlement process. However, this is coordinated with the other mediating states.
As far as I know, the OSCE Minsk Group has prohibited any country to sell weapons to Armenia or Azerbaijan. But, for the last three or four years, Russia has sold ammunition at about $ 6 billion to Azerbaijan. Can Russia pursue one policy within the framework of the Minsk Group and another one beyond it?
As a rule, the Western countries do not supply weapons to the sides of the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict. However, Russia supplies arms to both Azerbaijan and Armenia within the military-technical cooperation. Russia is also Armenia's strategic ally and sells weapons to it at domestic prices, lower than those for Azerbaijan.
However, given the allied relations of Russia with Armenia, such cooperation with Azerbaijan is perceived, in a moral sense, as negative both in Artsakh and Armenia.
Russia argues that if it does not supply weapons to Azerbaijan, others will do it. It states that maintaining such trade relations with Azerbaijan, it also tries to maintain a military balance in the region.
We could agree to such approach, if Russia were the only supplier for Azerbaijan, but we know that Azerbaijan has purchased weapons and ammunition at the same amount from Israel. Among other suppliers are Turkey, Pakistan, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Azerbaijan also cooperates with South Africa in the military-industrial sphere. Besides, according to the recent media reports, Azerbaijan has also acquired Czech-production weapons.
If Azerbaijani forces launch a land attack, from where do you think they will attack, and where are your defensive lines located?
The answer to this question is known to the leadership of the Azerbaijani military units, as well as to the intelligence agencies of Artsakh. To ensure the military security of our country, we continue to implement active works along the entire defense line.
As we witnessed, during the four-day war in April 2016, Azerbaijan launched offensives in a few directions. And the Defense Army of Artsakh proved that it was able to halt the attacks of Azerbaijan and to ensure the reliable defense of the country. Surely, during the April military operations, volunteers from both Artsakh and the Republic of Armenia also stood by the Defense Army, considering it their duty to participate in the protection of the homeland, without waiting for mobilization.
Issues related to the security of Artsakh are under the attention and direct control of Artsakh Republic President Bako Sahakyan. I can stress that after the April war, we grew stronger and we continue creating different mechanisms of deterrence to prevent new aggression by Azerbaijan.
There are certain sources affirming the participation of Turkish forces in the April war. Can you confirm this fact?
It is a fact that Turkey is an ally of Azerbaijan, that they closely cooperate in the military and military-technical fields and often hold joint military exercises, including in Nakhijevan. It is not a secret that numerous military advisors from Turkey have long served in the Azerbaijani Army, and Azerbaijani officers are mainly trained in Turkey. Thus, it is not excluded that Turkey played a certain role during the April war.
Regardless of the public opinion, if the Azerbaijanis, who lived here before desired to return and live along with you, without any preconditions, would you receive them or not?
We consider that the conflict caused sufferings to certain groups of people on the three sides. Among them are refugees and internally displaced persons, and this is not only the problem of Azerbaijan.
According to the last census of the Soviet Union conducted in 1989, 390,000 Armenians lived in Azerbaijan, and according to some other sources - about half a million Armenians. About 40,000 Azerbaijanis lived in Artsakh. So, there were ten times more Armenians living in Azerbaijan than Azerbaijanis living in Artsakh, and they all suffered, due to Azerbaijan's policy and especially as a result of the war unleashed by Azerbaijan against Artsakh.
Our approach is to respect the rights of all the refugees and displaced persons. At the negotiations held under the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, in which I participated as a member of the official delegation of Artsakh, the mediators stressed the need to create conditions for ensuring the guaranteed, safe, voluntary, and balanced return, as well as dignified life for the displaced persons and refugees, regardless of their nationality.
Except for some cases, the right of Armenians and Azerbaijanis to repatriation is indisputable. The problem is that to date, there are no legal-political conditions for excersizing this right. At the same time, repatriation is just one of the ways to solve this problem. The alternative forms of reimbursement for damages, as provided for by international law and internationally recognized practices, include exchange of people, reimbursement, guarantees for the non-recurrence of the events, etc.
The issue of refugees is one of the key issues in the settlement process, and all these issues are closely interconnected. For achieving a complex solution to this issue, first of all, it is necessary to recognize the independent status of Artsakh.
We are interested in the soonest settlement of the conflict, which will ensure stability and prosperity for all the peoples in the region.