More Than Silk Scarves on Aliyev’s Trip to Basqal
Aliyev and his wife, the First Deputy President, who here sports one of Basqal’s trademark kelaghayi scarves. Image: president.az
A viral video on Instagram filmed by his wife on August 12 shows Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, in a relaxed mood (polo shirt, sunglasses, jaunty music playing) driving along the road that leads west out of Baku towards the Caucasian foothill villages. His destination was Basqal, a historic village famed for producing distinctively patterned kelaghayi silk scarves, a craft recognized by Unesco as an intangible aspect of world heritage. En route, he stopped to visit the historic Diri Baba shrine, a former hermit cell clinging to a ravine cliff in Gobustan-Maraza. On a hilltop near Basqal, the presidential couple declared open the 179-room Basqal Resort and Spa, a luxurious rural getaway complete with a giant banqueting hall and no less than 8 restaurants and cafes.
While it was mainly this, plus the driving video, that made the news locally, Aliyev also delivered an interesting interview in Basqal. This covered several aspects of Azerbaijan’s policy directions, especially on the ever-important subject of Karabakh. About the flare-up of violence at the start of August in which soldiers on both sides died, Aliyev underlined the need for “Armenian armed forces to leave Karabakh once and for all,” stating:
“We have regained our territorial integrity. Why should our children die after the war is over? Why should they get killed by the Armenians? We cannot allow that.”
The death he was referring to was that of Anar Kazimov in the Lachin region on August 3rd, the exact circumstances of which remain somewhat unclear. As a response, Azerbaijan launched what it called “Operation Revenge,” regaining some critical heights in the Lachin area, which would prove strategically important should Armenia try to dispute Baku’s timetable for moving the safe-transit corridor – protected by Russian peacekeepers – from the current Khankendi-Lachin-Zabukh route to that following a newly constructed bypass road.
In his Basqal interview, Aliyev regretted that it had taken another burst of conflict for Yerevan to realize the seriousness of Baku’s resolve:
“This shows, unfortunately, that such operations have an effect. The reason I say “unfortunately” is that it was not necessary to do this. If Armenia had correctly analyzed our warnings and drawn the right conclusions, there would have simply been no need for this. Anyway, we weren’t the ones who started it.”
And while it was unfortunate personally for the people who would have to leave their homes in Zabukh, Sus and Lachin, he reminded the interviewer that their presence in those occupied settlements was illegal and could even be said to constitute a “war crime.”
Speaking more generally of the Armenians living elsewhere in Karabakh, Aliyev reiterated his earlier statements that they must “understand that their future lies only in integration into the Azerbaijani society,” stressing that economically, geographically, and from the point of view of international law, the region is an integral part of Azerbaijan. “If someone in Karabakh still talks about some status or independence, be it for the sake of some kind of populism or, as they say, because they are afraid of someone, one should know that they are the first enemy of the Armenian people. Because the Armenians living in Karabakh will have no status, no independence and no special privilege. They are the same as the citizens of Azerbaijan.”