What is Ilham Aliyev’s position regarding the Karabakh issue?

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been one of the most critical issues on Ilham Aliyev’s agenda since 2003, when he was elected president of the Republic of Azerbaijan. At the inauguration ceremony that year, he stressed that Azerbaijan’s position during his presidency would be based on resolving the conflict around the principles of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity that were developed by his father, Heydar Aliyev. As President of Azerbaijan, he welcomed all constructive initiatives by third parties, joint negotiations that were organized within the frame of the OSCE Minsk Group, and other unilateral attempts by external actors. He fully supported the peaceful settlement of the conflict. Therefore, during his first presidential term, Ilham Aliyev had several meetings with the President of Armenia, the chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, and foreign leaders.

Before the Second Karabakh War, the position of Ilham Aliyev was that conflict settlement should be based on a step-by-step process. Therefore, he has stated on various occasions that Armenian troops should withdraw from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, the displaced people should return to their homes, and communications and economic relations should be established to build confidence between communities.[1] After concluding these steps, the final stage regarding the status of Nagorno-Karabakh in the settlement process would be to discuss with all communities in Nagorno-Karabakh.[2] It should be noted that Ilham Aliyev’s point of view on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh before the Second Karabakh War was based on a high degree of autonomy, which was possible in practical terms as long as it did not challenge Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. In this context, he stated that Azerbaijan would never allow the establishment of a second Armenian state in the territory of Azerbaijan, and the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue would be possible only within the territorial borders of Azerbaijan.[3]

However, he never ruled out the use of force to restore Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity if the conflict continued for an unknown length of time.[4] He has thus devoted much time and significant effort to strengthen the country’s military capability. Hence, Azerbaijan’s military budget has increased substantially compared to previous years, allowing the arsenal and the army’s combat capability to be modernized.[5] In his speech at the official military parade on the occasion of the 95th anniversary of the Armed Forces, he particularly stressed that “Azerbaijan is in a state of war. The war is not over yet, only its first phase is… Our position is supported by a strong army. To this end, we have paid serious attention to army building in recent years.”[6]

In this respect, President Ilham Aliyev warned the Armenian side and international community on various occasions regarding the new Armenian leadership’s provocative political statements and actions since 2018, which increased tension and pushed the parties to the conflict into a deadly war on September 27, 2020. Thus, as stated before, when Armenia violated the ceasefire Azerbaijan Military Forces began the counter-offensive operation along the entire front to the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, on September 27, 2020, started the liberation of the territories, which had been occupied by Armenia in the wake of the First Karabakh War of the early 1990s. Regarding this, during his address to the nation on November 10, after signing the above-mentioned Trilateral Statement with Russian President and Armenian Prime Minister, President Ilham Aliyev stated that “It is a historic day for our country today. An end is being put to the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict today. I think that the trilateral statement that has just been signed will put a full stop in resolving the issue.”[7]

Since that time on, President Ilham Aliyev met various time with the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan with the initiative of the European Union and Russia in order to have final peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Regarding the existence of the Nagorno-Karabakh as an entity, President Ilham Aliyev stated that “We have resolved this issue. Whether Armenia wants it or not, the whole world has already accepted it. We have resolved the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As for the administrative territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, there is no such territory in Azerbaijan. Therefore, Nagorno-Karabakh is not in the lexicon of international organizations.”[8] In this regard, during a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on October 31, 2022, President Ilham Aliyev further elucidated “The Karabakh conflict has already been consigned to history. It was resolved two years ago, so there is practically nothing to discuss in this context.”[9] During the meeting, President Ilham Aliyev also highlighted that “In the final document, the term “Karabakh” or “Nagorno-Karabakh” is not used, not even a single word related to Karabakh is mentioned.”[10]

While demonstrated in Sochi meeting once again that he will not compromise the national interests of Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev declared that the Armenian population of the Karabakh region are citizens of Azerbaijan and it will not discuss with anybody that how Azerbaijan will organize their life within its territory. Regarding this he further stated that “Karabakh is Azerbaijan! The second Karabakh war proved this on the field. During the occupation, no country in the world, including Armenia, recognized this so-called institution. Therefore, we never discuss issues related to our internal affairs with international organizations or with any country, regardless of its size and potential.”[11]

[1] “Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly,” September 23, 2010; https://en.president.az/articles/764. Accessed on December 4, 2022.

[2] “Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly”.

[3] “President Ilham Aliyev’s Greetings to the Azerbaijani People on World Azerbaijanis’ Solidarity Day and the New Year,” January 01, 2011; https://en.president.az/articles/1374. Accessed on December 4, 2022.

[4] “Interview with Ilham Aliyev,” European Dialogue; http://eurodialogue.org/Interview-with-Ilham-Aliyev-president-of-Azerbaijan. Accessed on December 4, 2022.

[5] International Crises Group, “Armenia and Azerbaijan: Preventing War,” Europe Briefing, No. 60, February 8, 2011, pp. 5-6.

[6] “Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the official military parade on the occasion of the 95th anniversary of the Armed Forces,” The Official Internet Site of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, June 26, 2013; https://en.president.az/articles/8574. Accessed on December 4, 2022.

[7] “Ilham Aliyev addressed the nation,” President.az, November 10, 2020; https://president.az/en/articles/view/45924. Accessed on December 4, 2022.

[8] “Ilham Aliyev: “If we are defining borders, what NK status is there to talk about?” JAMnews, May 27, 2022; https://jam-news.net/if-we-define-the-borders-then-what-status-of-nk-can-we-talk-about-azerbaijan-stated-that-the-conflict-over-nagorno-karabakh-has-been-resolved/. Accessed on December 4, 2022.

[9] Akbarov, Farid, “Sochi meeting: Armenia was defeated, Azerbaijan’s position is firm,” Apa.az, November 1, 2022; https://apa.az/en/political/sochi-meeting-armenia-was-defeated-azerbaijans-position-is-firm-analysis-388504. Accessed on December 4, 2022.

[10] Akbarov, “Sochi meeting”.

[11] Akbarov, “Sochi meeting”.