What is Ilham Aliyev’s position and role in the settlement of the conflict?

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been one of the most important issues on Ilham Aliyev’s agenda since 2003, when he was elected as 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, and he fully supported the peaceful settlement of the conflict. Therefore, between 2003 and 2007 alone, Ilham Aliyev had 8 meetings with the President of Armenia, 22 meetings with the chairs of the OSCE Minsk group, and a number of meetings with foreign leaders.

Aliyev believes that the settlement of the conflict should be based on a step-by-step process. Therefore, he has stated 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 in order 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] However, it should be noted that Aliyev’s point of view on the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh is based on a high degree of autonomy, which is possible in practical terms as long as it does not challenge Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. In this context, Aliyev stated that Azerbaijan would never allow the establishment of a second Armenian state in the region and the future of Nagorno-Karbakh is possible only within the territorial borders of Azerbaijan.[3]

However, he does not rule out the use of force in order to restore Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, if the conflict were to continue for an unknown length of time.[4] He has thus devoted much time and significant effort for strengthening the country’s military capability. Hence, Azerbaijan’s military budget has been increased substantially in comparison to previous years, and this has allowed 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]

[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 October 3, 2020.

[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 October 3, 2020.

[4] “Interview with Ilham Aliyev”, European Dialogue; http://eurodialogue.org/Interview-with-Ilham-Aliyev-president-of-Azerbaijan. Accessed on October 3, 2020.

[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 October 3, 2020.