President Ilham Aliyev’s meeting with intellectuals of Western Azerbaijan

On 24 December 2022, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev viewed conditions created in an administrative building of the Western Azerbaijan Community and met with a group of intellectuals from Western Azerbaijan.

The head of state was informed about the conditions created in the building.

President Ilham Aliyev then met with a group of intellectuals from Western Azerbaijan.

The head of state delivered remarks at the meeting.

Opening remarks by President Ilham Aliyev

– This is my second time visiting this building. I attended its opening 12 years ago. Let me also note that this building was constructed on my instructions and was intended for the then IDPs. The organization of IDPs from Karabakh was based here. This is my second time here, and now the building houses the Western Azerbaijan Community. We are celebrating the handover of this building to the Western Azerbaijan Community today.

As you may know, the Azerbaijan Refugee Society was turned into the Western Azerbaijan Community in August. This building was the most appropriate place, the most appropriate headquarters for it. Not only because it is a beautiful four-story building with all the necessary facilities but also because it is located almost opposite the Heydar Aliyev Center. The primary reason is that the IDP community of Karabakh, which was once settled here, is now going back to its lands. I am sure that there will come a time when our compatriots from Western Azerbaijan, their relatives, children and grandchildren will return to our historical land, to Western Azerbaijan. I am sure that this day will come. I am sure the Western Azerbaijanis will return to their native lands with great desire and enthusiasm.

There are many reasons for that. Perhaps the most important of them is the historical memory of our people. Today, the example of the Aghali village of Zangilan district gives reason to say this. Today, the vast majority of the people living in the Aghali village of Zangilan district, including children and youth, have never seen their native lands before. Their longing for the land and love of the Motherland compelled them to go there. There are quite a few people among them who have gone there from Baku and Sumgayit. In other words, this is a typical trait of our people – the land always draws people to it. I am sure that Western Azerbaijanis also live with this idea and dream.

Western Azerbaijan is our historical land, which is established by a number of historical documents, historical maps and our history itself. Unfortunately, as they did in Karabakh, the Armenians razed all our historical and religious monuments in Western Azerbaijan to the ground. They wanted to erase the historical heritage of the Azerbaijani people, but they failed. Because there is history, there are documents, and there are maps. The map displayed in this building, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, once again shows that Western Azerbaijan is the historical land of Azerbaijan. The names of cities and villages are of Azerbaijani origin, and we know perfectly well that the Azerbaijani people lived across present-day Armenia throughout history. The primary task now is to let the whole world know about that. Work in this direction has already started, but I am sure that the community will take on this matter in a more focused and result-oriented manner.

For centuries, our people have made great sacrifices to protect their rights and to live on their historical lands. Despite this, however, our people were deprived of their native lands at various times in history. In this regard, the 20th century was associated with formidable tragedies for our people. In one of its early decisions, the newly established Azerbaijan Democratic Republic practically presented our historical city, Iravan, to Armenia in 1918. It was an unforgivable action. It was treachery and a crime. We all know this very well, and our people should know it too. We must never allow our history to be distorted.

There have been glorious pages in our history, but there have been dark pages as well. I have repeatedly expressed my views on establishing the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and its short-term activities. I have given a high assessment of the activities of the founding fathers of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. It was indeed the first republic in the Muslim world on a global scale, although it only existed for two years. At the same time, we should not forget the black pages of our history. We should not cover them up. First of all, historical truth should not be presented in a distorted manner. Secondly, that tragic event should be a lesson for all of us.

At that time, some people tried to justify that decision with various arguments, and there are still such people. But I think no explanation is acceptable because the Armenians were not content with that. If anyone believed that Armenia and the Armenians would be content with depriving the people living in Iravan of their native land, they were making a grave mistake. Subsequent history showed that. In 1920, by a decision of the Soviet government and on the insistence of Armenian nationalists, Zangazur, another historical land of ours, was severed from Azerbaijan and annexed to Armenia. This was yet another crime against our people. And the goal behind that was quite clear. First, Armenian nationalists held essential positions in the Soviet government. On the other hand, it was a step taken to separate Azerbaijan from Nakhchivan and Turkiye from a geographical point of view.

In other words, notice how many tragedies were unleashed on our people in a matter of two years. For anyone to believe that by handing over Iravan to Armenia in 1918, we could have insured ourselves against more significant problems, the handover of Zangazur to Armenia showed again that it was an erroneous and wrongful act. As I said, an act of treason. One must stand firm and always defend one’s rights, especially the native land, even in the face of someone stronger than you.

The tragedies of Western Azerbaijanis did not end at that. We all know very well that our people were subjected to yet another act of deportation in 1948-1953. This was yet another crime committed by the Soviet government against Western Azerbaijanis and the people of Azerbaijan. It was also a great injustice and dishonesty because World War II had ended only three years ago. The people of Azerbaijan had shown tremendous sacrifice. A total of 300,000 people from Soviet Azerbaijan alone were killed in the war. Tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis who lived in Soviet Armenia at the time were also killed in the war. Azerbaijan played a notable role in the victory over fascism in World War II. If it hadn’t been for Azerbaijani oil, the Soviet state could never have won the war. Everyone knows that. These figures have been released a number of times. From 70 to 90 percent of gasoline, lubricants and oil were supplied from Azerbaijan. Despite all this, the perpetration of another crime against our people was, let me repeat, a great act of dishonesty. Our people were subjected to further deportation under a false pretext.

Finally, in the late 1980s, the Soviet government committed another crime against our people. This time, both Armenian nationalists and their patrons in the Soviet government took advantage of the resignation of the National Leader, Heydar Aliyev and immediately sprang into action. Two weeks after Heydar Aliyev had been removed from all positions in November 1987, Armenian nationalists raised their heads. The Soviet government supported them, and another crime was orchestrated against our people both in Karabakh and in the former Republic of Armenia. Azerbaijanis were deported from their historical lands in Western Azerbaijan. We all know and remember that history well. We also know the number of places where Azerbaijanis lived – more than 170 villages were populated solely by Azerbaijanis. I am talking about Armenia, the Republic of Armenia. The Azerbaijanis accounted for the majority of another 90 villages. At the time, Azerbaijanis had lived in more than 300 towns and villages across Armenia. All of them were forced out over the course of three years. They were expelled, and many of them were killed and tortured. All these crimes were taking place with the collusion of the Soviet government. Our last village, Nuvedi, was subjected to deportation in August 1991. As if that was not enough, a crime was committed against our people in Karabakh too.

The occupation of Karabakh and East Zangezur was another tragedy for us. So, pay attention to many tragedies that befell our people in the 20th century alone. But we did not break; we did not bend. We did not lose faith; we gathered strength and eventually achieved what we wanted. Two years ago, we fulfilled our historical mission with dignity, restored justice, expelled the enemy from our lands and restored the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Today, we live in liberated lands. We are building and creating there, removing the ruins and calling upon the world to come and look. Open your eyes; your beloved Armenian people have committed these atrocities. These crimes were committed not by some aliens but by your beloved and protected Armenians. They have destroyed mosques, historical sites and cemeteries. They have committed appalling atrocities. They did the same in Western Azerbaijan. The world community does not see or does not want to see all of that. Armenians’ atrocities in Karabakh were not evidenced by anyone either. Although two OSCE fact-finding missions were sent to the occupied lands, we saw double standards in their reports.

They had to acknowledge those atrocities, destruction and illegal settlement, but instead, they deemed the occupier and the victim of occupation as equivalents, opting for a balanced approach. Therefore, the devastation committed by the Armenians in Western Azerbaijan must be communicated to the rest of the world. I am sure that the Western Azerbaijan Community will do it with the support of the Azerbaijan state.

In general, it is necessary to provide the world with more information about the suffering and deprivation of our people in the 20th century. We always tell the truth. The tens of thousands of foreign visitors to the liberated lands can see the atrocities our people have been subjected to with their own eyes. The large-scale construction work there today shows our people’s resolve. Again, we see our people’s historical memory in the Aghali village’s example. Because the kids and youth who had never seen those lands have returned there. I am sure that we will see the same in Western Azerbaijan.

This year is coming to an end. Many important events have taken place during the year. We had to carry out a military operation on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border. As a result of this military operation, the historically Azerbaijani cities are now visible to us. We are already on the shores of Bala Goycha Lake now. We can already see Lake Goycha without binoculars. First of all, it is only fair. Secondly, the September clashes insure us against significant problems in the future. Because revanchist forces are emerging in Armenia – it makes no difference whether they are in the government or the opposition. Because the consciousness of Armenian society has been poisoned so badly and Azerbaijanophobia has become so ubiquitous that there is hardly anyone left there capable of sober thinking – I mean the political sphere. That is why they nurture the idea of revenge. They are still hoping that someone would come and fight against us in their stead, while they always hide behind some patron and pursue their insidious agenda against us. To insure ourselves against this, we most certainly had to secure more favorable positions in the direction of the Azerbaijan-Armenia border, and we achieved that.

Even the mountains of Nakhchivan are visible from the heights we are based at today. So, this is a truly historic achievement. The liberation of Karabakh and East Zangazur on the battlefield is a historic event and will remain in the history of Azerbaijan for as long as Azerbaijan stands. Our military and political successes achieved this year have laid the groundwork for the future. It served for our return and our security. And it served as a lesson for those who fail to accept Azerbaijan as a strong state. It showed once again that no one and nothing could stop us. I have already said this several times and want to repeat it. The developments along the Lachin road today have caused yet another anti-Azerbaijani hysteria. It is not so much Armenia, but its foreign patrons, the states behind them have started a smear campaign against Azerbaijan. And as we are meeting here today, another provocation is being prepared against us at the UN. For several days, some overzealous countries have been determined to realize their dirty plans against us, to no avail. They will continue their efforts next week.

The developments on Lachin road are clear as day. It is our legitimate right. Our natural resources are being exploited, and our natural resources are being shipped out. Those plundering our natural resources are criminals according to any international legal norm. This is our territory recognized by the international community, and we have a legitimate demand for our public representatives, first of all, representatives of state bodies, to be able to conduct monitoring there. They should see what is going on there and demand that all illegal activity be stopped. This is our legitimate demand. However, this situation is being presented in a completely distorted manner. There are lies again, there is slander again, and we all know who is behind that. Let me say again that the state of Armenia is not in the foreground here. But this will not deter us. We have repeatedly proven this – the Second Karabakh War and the subsequent two years have demonstrated that. No one can influence us. There may be some phone calls and some statements, but we do not need to pay attention. We take those phone calls simply out of political courtesy, but this will not change our position.

I think that it is crucial for all of us that the Western Azerbaijan Community functions in a more organized manner – it is essential both for the people from Western Azerbaijan and our people in general. I believe that we should now do this work more consistently. In other words, the organization has been established, the community is there, and state bodies have provided and will continue to provide their support. I will issue further instructions. Therefore, I believe the community should continue its work in several directions. Of course, the performance of this community should be more visible in the country. The efforts by this community can prove very significant for Azerbaijan.

At the same time, the Community should have an international agenda that would be equally important because we must communicate these realities to the world, just as we did with Karabakh. We have been able to completely reverse the distorted perception of the Karabakh conflict shaped in the early 1990s. The information war and the Second Karabakh War showed that it is significant. Therefore, the activity of the Community abroad is of particular importance here. Exhibitions, presentations and international conferences should be organized. Events should be held together with Azerbaijani diaspora organizations. We have diaspora organizations in many countries, and this year we held a historic congress of Azerbaijani diaspora organizations in Shusha. Contacts should be established with political circles, media and legislative bodies of different countries. In other words, we should seek respect for our legitimate rights. This is a right enshrined in all international conventions.

Western Azerbaijanis are a community that has been illegally deported many times. Their rights must be restored, and they must be able to return to their native lands. When I say this, I can foresee another hysteria in Armenia about Azerbaijan coming and invading them. No! We want to do it peacefully. We want to secure our rights through peaceful means. And let me say again, all conventions recognize this right. Therefore, to achieve this, we must also be more active at the international level. The Community should have a reliable digital platform, a domain. It should contain information about historical facts, our historical sites, palaces, mosques and cities destroyed by the Armenians, and facts about Azerbaijan’s historical heritage erased by the Armenians. For example, people in the world are beginning to know this. We asked one question, I mean the Azerbaijani representatives dealing with the issue – show us where the historical center of Iravan is. Where is the historical center of Iravan? If you claim that it is supposedly the most ancient city in the world, where is its historical center?

Look at other countries of the South Caucasus – Azerbaijan and Georgia. Most of our cities have historical sites and centers– Baku, Gandja, Nakhchivan, Sheki, Gabala or any other city. How is it that there is no historical center in Iravan? Let them answer this straightforward question. The answer is clear as day. This center was the heritage of the Azerbaijani people, which they destroyed. Under the guise of urban development, they have destroyed all our historical buildings, including the Iravan Castle and the Sardar Palace. So, all this should be exposed. In other words, the historical side is also important apart from the political and legal side of any issue. Therefore, our work should be based on this history.

As for the legal side, we should think together, and international lawyers should be involved. The state of Azerbaijan will help here as well. They will show us at the international level how we could realize this desire and right of return.

Of course, our history books should be updated. Books were published in a certain period, including a book reflecting the names of our historical cities and villages. You are the author of that book. I have seen it. But have many people seen it in Azerbaijan? No. I do not know what print run it had. You did it on your initiative and to the best of your abilities. But we have to do it at the state level. That brochure should be translated into all languages. It should also have a digital version. It should be translated into foreign languages. Promotion work is essential.

An international conference on Western Azerbaijan should be held in Baku once a year or every two years. We will invite scientists, archaeologists and historians from the countries we consider our friends so that we can hold a prestigious international conference. In other words, a number of steps need to be taken to keep this topic on the agenda. It even should be incorporated into the international agenda. Because Armenia today is a mono-ethnic state. When we say this, we rightly tell the world that this is unacceptable. What other country on the Eurasian continent and our region is mono-ethnic? It begs the question, why is Armenia a mono-ethnic state? The answer is clear – they did not allow other nationalities to live there. They expelled all ethnicities from there in every possible way, killed some, threatened others, and burned down their livelihoods. They expelled all other nationalities from there and established a state for themselves in someone else’s land. Armenia was never present in this region before. Present-day Armenia is our land. When I repeatedly said this before, they tried to object and allege that I have territorial claims. I am saying this as a historical fact. If someone can substantiate a different theory, let them come forward.

When were the Armenian people transferred to our lands? We all know this perfectly well. When were they transferred to Karabakh? When were they transferred to Zangazur? Whom were they transferred by? How and for what purpose? We know all this very well. They never had a state in this territory, in the South Caucasus. If it ever happened – and it is not yet clear whose state they claim to be their own – it happened elsewhere. Therefore, we must present these facts in a focused and organized manner, in a correct form. And I am sure we will achieve that.

In parallel with this, let us work together on returning to Western Azerbaijan. Now that the Karabakh conflict has been resolved, this is the issue on our agenda. Of course, it was premature to talk about it before the Karabakh conflict was resolved. But we should not waste any time now. A Concept of Return should be developed. Again, it should be a peaceful concept. We should proceed from the provisions of all relevant international conventions and seek our rights based on that. There must be a Concept of Return.

Many, the vast majority of our historical dwelling sites are now empty. We know that. We know our past well. Every person from Western Azerbaijan knows the places where their great-grandfathers lived. This information can be obtained in different ways these days. Nobody lives in most of the places where Azerbaijanis used to live. Armenia as a whole is now undergoing a period of depopulation. People are leaving the country. There is no natural growth, but at the same time, the intolerable political situation, repressions, actual dictatorship and economic difficulties compel them to leave. Our villages are being destroyed. We can’t tolerate that. This is why we have to work on the Concept of Return. This should be an authoritative document. Of course, there will be other propositions. During today’s meeting, I wanted to share my thoughts on your future activities. Of course, I look forward to your suggestions. The community should attach great importance to this work both n its capabilities and with the support of the Azerbaijani state. I am sure that we will achieve it.

I must say once again that this place was not chosen for the community by chance. It has a symbolic meaning. The natives of Karabakh who used to occupy this building have either returned to Karabakh or are preparing to do so. The Western Azerbaijanis living here will also return, Inshallah!

x x x

Other speakers at the event included the Chairman of the Board of the Western Azerbaijan Community, MP of the Milli Majlis Aziz Alakbarov, Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Director of the Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics, Corresponding Member of ANAS Misir Mardanov, Chairperson of the Women’s Council, MP Malahat Ibrahimgizi, Chairman of the Council of Elders, MP, Academician Ahliman Amiraslanov, Member of the Supervisory Board, Rector of Azerbaijan University of Architecture and Construction, Professor Gulchohra Mammadova and Member of the Supervisory Board, People’s Poet Vahid Aziz.

x x x

The head of state then delivered closing remarks.

Closing remarks by President Ilham Aliyev 

– Thank you very much. Of course, all of the suggestions made here will be extensively analyzed. I will also wait for the suggestions that have yet to be expressed today. Let me also note that this activity should be more targeted. For example, the newspapers and public associations working individually today should now join forces. This was the case when the Western Azerbaijan Community was created. There were separate associations and public and non-governmental organizations, but on our recommendation, all this was brought together, leading to a more focused activity. All information resources, such as newspapers and web domains, as I said, should have a digital platform. Work should be done focused and based on a single concept and policy. And the primary objective is our return. Now the Great Return Program for Karabakh is being implemented. Inshallah, there will come a time when we will develop a second Great Return Program.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you very much for all the warm words about me. In the past, I usually spent December 24 with the IDPs. I never celebrate my birthday; I only celebrate it with my family. And today is no exception; I am celebrating it with my family.

When I turned 50, I visited the IDPs settled in Aghjabadi. And I told them that the day would come when they welcome me to their native land, I would visit their land, and that day has come. Nine years after that day, we were in Shusha, and our flag is flying in Shusha today. I celebrated my 60th birthday on the Jidir Duzu. Before that, I attended the opening of a military unit in liberated Hadrut. I certainly had some ideas for December 24. That this year should also have symbolism. So, the most appropriate event would be this meeting today.

I have to say one other thing. When the Karabakh lands were under occupation, a particular mood of pessimism prevailed over the years, primarily among internally displaced persons. In other words, the manifestations of that were already visible. I have had dozens of meetings with displaced people, and I watched their hopes fade away in recent years. To me, that was natural. Of course, I could not tell them when, how and what would happen. I tried to convince them that the day would come. Yet it was natural because 30 years of longing for the homeland inevitably has a negative impact on anyone. However, we have been living as a victorious nation for two years. I want to say again today that not losing faith is of utmost importance. We believed that we would return. I had not lost that faith for a single day. We must believe, work and be active to bring this sacred day closer. In that case, we will achieve what we want.

During the years of occupation, I often thought that there was no justice in the world. I am sure that the absolute majority of the Azerbaijani people shared this view. Because it was hard to imagine such injustice. Although we were right, it was utterly incomprehensible that we were mistreated. But confidence and faith in justice are in people’s own hands. We have restored justice through our strength, at the cost of the blood of our martyrs, thanks to the sacrifice of our war veterans and the unity of our entire people and our Army. We have restored justice and set an extraordinary example on a global scale. Today, our military operation is studied in the world’s leading military schools. The determination, perseverance and unbending spirit of our people have become epitomes.

During these more than two years since the Second Karabakh War, I have had many meetings with my foreign colleagues, and most of them wondered how we made it happen and how we had achieved Victory. And I told them, to explain this, you should put yourself in our shoes and live those 30 years. How can I describe it? Confidence, unity, faith in justice, faith in strength! Therefore, as a people who have won this historic Victory, we have created an entirely new situation on a global scale. Those who lost their faith also believe now. They want to be like us. They want to act like us, and they consult with us.

That is why I repeat – as we celebrate December 24 together, Western Azerbaijanis and we should never lose faith. We have to believe and, at the same time, take steps, be active, and work hard. The day will come when we will have such a wonderful meeting in Western Azerbaijan, and recall this day. Thank you.