Q. Relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey have been rapidly developing for many years since Azerbaijan gained independence. How do you feel about the current state of relations?
A. Today we are in a fraternal country, Azerbaijan. As late Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev said, “We are one nation, two states”. Indeed, Turkey's population of 81 million does not regard their Azerbaijani brothers as strangers. Turkey was the first to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence and to establish diplomatic relations with this country. Since then, we have always been together in the good and bad days of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s joy is our joy and Azerbaijan’s sorrow is our sorrow. Our bilateral relations are developing day by day. We are implementing many projects both in Turkey and Azerbaijan. Turkish investment made in Azerbaijan amounts to more than $10 billion. Similarly, Azerbaijan has invested more than $10 billion in Turkey. SOCAR has made huge investment. In addition, investments have been made in tourism and many other spheres. Of course, the existence of a strong Azerbaijan and a strong Turkey in the Caucasus region means is sure to bring security and well-being to the region. Thankfully, we’re making progress day after day.
Q. Turkey has become a leading force in the world today. Russia and Iran are working to resolve the Syrian issue. What does Turkey think the solution should be? To what extent is it possible to join forces with the United States in addressing this problem?
A. Syria is more important for Turkey than many other countries because Syria is a neighbor country with 911 km border with Turkey. Unfortunately, there has been a gap in Syria for the past 7 years. Civil war is going on. That's why more than 10 million people are refugees in order to survive. More than 3.5 million Syrians have been living in Turkey for 7 years. We host them and share our bread. The solution to the Syrian issue is more important for Turkey than for anyone else. That's why Turkey, together with Iran and Russia, is making an effort to resolve this issue. We are pioneering for a lasting cease-fire and a lasting solution to be found in Geneva under the UN watchdog. More than 70 countries are dealing with the Syria issue. Everyone is trying to solve the problem in Syria. However, if you look at some who are truly trying to find a solution, there is none other than Turkey. Syria is important for us because it is an issue that has to do with Turkey's national security. Any terrorist activity against Turkey comes from there because of the political chaos. Islamic State terrorist group (IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), PKK and its Syrian wing PYD/YPG all pose a threat to Turkey. We have no eyes on the Syrian land. We want to make sure there is no threat from that region to our country. For this reason, we are conducting an anti-terrorist operation in Afrin. The PKK, PYD, YPG and ISIL are there. We are fighting against all of them. Over the past seven months, there have been up to a thousand missile strikes and terrorist attacks on Turkey from this region. This is a matter of national security, as well as a matter of the security of our countrymen living there. We cannot remain indifferent to this. We continue to fight, within and outside of our country. More than 50 days have passed since the start of an operation in Afrin. Step by step, that land is being cleared of terrorists. Finally, the center of Afrin is in blockade. There are those who ask why this operation has been lasting for 50 days. We are not throwing bombs without distinguishing civilians from terrorists, as others are. If you look at the history of the countries that say this, there are civilian massacres. We’re carrying out this operation distinguishing civilians from terrorists. Even we have our losses. Our soldiers and Free Syrian Army soldiers are being martyred. Nevertheless, we are moving forward cautiously. We’re not throw bombs carelessly. We act in accord with the principle “Keep the people alive to keep the state alive". We’re concerned by our friends’ activities in the region. There are NATO countries which make the mistake of cooperating with a terrorist organization while wanting to destroy another one. We look forward for them to leave the wrong path.
Q. There were considerable tensions in the relations between Turkey and the United States. Later on, an agreement was reached on Manbij. But yesterday President Donald Trump sacked Rex Tillerson as the secretary of state, replacing him with CIA Chief Mike Pompeo. How will this resignation affect relations between the two countries?
A. How relations with the US will continue from now on depends entirely on the US. Turkey's red lines are clear. We will do what’s required in the fight against terrorism even if America is behind it. It does not matter. The US should not back the leader of the FETO organization, which attempted to change the democratic order in Turkey by force, and should hand him over to us. If America is Turkey's friend, that is what we expect from them. They must display a concrete position against terrorism, which is a serious threat to us, and should stop cooperating with terrorists. They should take steps to make positive impressions on the Turkish people. Turkey-US relations are not connected with individuals. It is the principles that matter. These principles will determine the future of relations. Turkey always stands for stability and peace in the region. In the absence of Turkey, chaos, confusion, terrorism in that region would prevail. We are neighbors with Iran and Iraq. We are also neighbors with Syria. We have neighbors like Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Caucasus. We want to establish good relations with our neighbors, increase the number of our friends and reduce our enemies. However, if someone has bad intentions towards our country, we will retaliate. Earlier, when Mike Pompeo led the Central Intelligence Agency, he visited Turkey and we had a meeting. It was such a productive meeting. We'll now observe his activity and will do what’s necessary.
Q. Azerbaijan has always seen full support from Turkey in respect of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There is an existing format for the resolution of the conflict, but no concrete steps have been taken since the beginning of the conflict. What does Turkey think is the solution to this problem?
A. The Nagorno-Karabakh issue is a bleeding wound, and all nations, as well as organizations such as the United Nations and the OSCE recognize Azerbaijan’s fair position regarding this issue. They pretend to be trying to resolve it but there is no progress. Twenty percent of Azerbaijani territories were occupied and a million people were expelled from their native lands. Of course, this situation cannot continue. No one would want it. Members of the Azerbaijani and Georgian parliament were recently in Turkey. An official exhibition was held in connection with the anniversary of the Khojaly massacre. There is a lesson to learn from this. That barbaric massacre cannot be forgotten. We are convinced that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan’s just cause, will sooner or later be resolved in the most successful way. Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan. Everyone accepts this. Sooner or later, a legal solution will be found. Turkey always stands by Azerbaijan. The settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue does not mean the settlement of an issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Rather this is a crucial issue for regional stability and security.
Q. Azerbaijan and Turkey are jointly implementing very important projects. Afteer the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum and TANAP projects, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project can be cited as an example. How can this project affect the relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan?
A. Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, Shahdeniz, TANAP and Baku-Tbilisi-Kars are regional projects. These projects are relevant not only to Turkey and Azerbaijan. They pass not only through Georgia, at the same time from China through the territories of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and connect this region with Turkey through the Caucasus, and with the Balkans and Europe through Turkey. They are important in terms of energy security and logistics, as well as re-implementing the historical Silk Road project. For me, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project has a special significance. I brought up this project when I was a minister. Then no one believed this project would be successfully implemented, but we insisted on our own and did not give up. The project was launched upon the tasks of presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ilham Aliyev, taking into account the interests of the Georgian side. Work on the project lasted a long time, despite the obstacles, we managed to complete it. In a word, the realization of this dream is important for everyone, but for me it has special significance.
Q. In conclusion, we would like to hear your message to the Azerbaijani people.
A. In Azerbaijan, I am asked about the fact that Turkey is fighting in Afrin and what do I think about this? Elderly, young people, women, in a word, everyone says, “We too will go to Afrin and fight together with Turkey”. Every visit to Azerbaijan is a happy event for us. Here we feel like we are at home. We speak the same language, we share common traditions. In a word, I convey the greetings from 81 million Turkish people to the fraternal people of Azerbaijan. I wish the April 11 presidential election to benefit the Azerbaijani people. I would like to thank you – APA News Agency – for giving me this opportunity.