The Italian analytical news portal "In Terris" has published an interview with Representative of the Azerbaijani President on Special Assignments, Ambassador Elchin Amirbayov, who highlighted the Karabakh war, the migration of Armenians, their return, and plans for the establishment of sustainable peace in the South Caucasus.
The ambassador also touched upon the relations with the Holy See, religious coexistence, as well as the situation of Catholics in a Muslim-majority country of Azerbaijan.
Answering the journalist's question, whether "Azerbaijan intend to invade Armenia in the near future", Ambassador Elchin Amirbayov said: "Definitely not. This is fake news that has been spreading in recent days, the origin of which we cannot understand until the end. The reason or excuse for such false news is the transport link that will be created between Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakhchivan called "Zangazur Corridor": in fact, it is not only a link connecting Azerbaijan and Armenia or regional countries, but also Asia in a wider sense. It can be also an alternative route of the middle transport corridor that can connect with Europe, and actually, it is a strategic project that can give world trade a strong boost. If Armenia does not like the word "corridor", it should be a passage, road, connection, etc. such terms can be used". The corridor is "a purely economic and transport concept".
"If Armenia does not fulfill its obligation on this matter, we actually have an alternative option, and the project that will connect the main part of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic through the territory of Iran by rail and road will be implemented in a short time. As for Armenia, it will remain the deadlock in the region, as it has been until now, and this will be the choice of the Armenians themselves. Let me say once again that in any case, Azerbaijan does not have a territorial claim against Armenia, and this is most likely a groundless claim deliberately spread by Armenia," the diplomat added.
Ambassador Elchin Amirbayov, in his answer to a question on the number of Armenian residents in Karabakh, as well as their possible return, noted that "they are not citizens because they have not yet applied for Azerbaijani citizenship".
"Most of them already have Armenian passports, and at least a third of them are not originally from Karabakh, but came from Armenia and illegally settled in Karabakh in recent decades under the influence of a kind of "colonial" spirit. There are less than a thousand people who have applied for Azerbaijani citizenship and pledged to give up separatist actions." Aggressive separatism, which is a serious threat to the state, is prohibited in many constitutions, including the Italian constitution. Returning them is a complicated matter. We understand that after 30 years of conflict, fleeing is a predictable choice, but it was their personal choice, even though the government of Azerbaijan urged them not to leave the country. We have created a portal that allows for a quick return to Azerbaijan, and we are committed to guaranteeing the safety, rights, and economic well-being of these people. We believe that the remaining few people can play an attractive role, given that they are in contact with those who have fled," Amirbayov underlined.
Highlighting Azerbaijan's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Elchin Amirbayov mentioned that Azerbaijan is perhaps the Muslim-majority country with the best relationship with Israel in the world. "This is more than simple friendship. It is enough to understand this with the peaceful conditions that the Jewish community enjoys in our country. We believe that the conflict has a territorial origin, not a religious one. We are saddened by the loss of life on both sides, and therefore, we, like the majority of the United Nations, voted in favor of a ceasefire in the fighting in Gaza. We believe that the conditions of peace should be restored soon, innocent people should not lose their lives, and we support the well-known solution, which includes the formula of "two peoples, two states," the ambassador emphasized.
Touching upon the situation of Catholicism and Christianity in general in Azerbaijan, Ambassador Elchin Amirbayov noted: "Of course, the number of Catholics in our country is small, but all their rights are protected by the state, as the rights of other citizens of the country. Azerbaijan is a secular, as well as a multicultural and multi-confessional country. And this diversity is a source of pride for us. Muslims, Orthodox, Jews, Catholics, and others live peacefully together here. They can have their own places of worship, and fulfill their religious needs according to the law."
"When St. John Paul II visited Baku in 2002, the then President Heydar Aliyev issued an order on allocation of free land to Catholics in Baku for the construction of a church. The church was inaugurated in 2008 with the participation of the then Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. When Pope Francis visited Azerbaijan in 2016 he praised the religious tolerance and the degree of religious freedom prevailing in our country. During his traditional inflight press conference with journalists traveling with him on the papal plane returning to Rome, he spoke about the Azerbaijani model, which is a platform for religious coexistence and secularism, promoting freedom and mutual respect, describing it as an example for many countries," Elchin Amirbayov noted.
"As for churches, monasteries, religious works and objects belonging to Christians, they are an integral part of the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Azerbaijan, and therefore are protected by the state. We are currently carrying out a census of all religious monuments, including Christian monuments, in Karabakh, in the recently liberated territories. If cultural and religious heritage was insulted on the territory of our country, in relation to those of Islamic origin, it was carried out by the occupying forces of Armenia. I would like to draw your attention to only one terrible figure: 65 out of 67 mosques in the Azerbaijani lands under the occupation were completely destroyed by the Armenians, with the remaining two mosques severely damaged. Unfortunately, no one in the world expresses concern about this," the Azerbaijani diplomat underscored.
Speaking about the relations between Azerbaijan and the Holy See, Ambassador Elchin Amirbayov said: "I am visiting Rome to hold a series of high-level meetings, both in the Vatican and Italy. Needless to say, Italy is Azerbaijan's most important partner in the European Union. As for the Holy See, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the two countries last year, and our relations continue to grow. We hope that the Vatican will soon open its own nunciature in Baku, just as we sent our own ambassador to the Holy See in Rome. One of the main goals in the negotiations with my interlocutors is to inform the other side about the current situation, prospects, and challenges of the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus, as well as conduct a useful exchange of views on this issue," the ambassador added.
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