Karabakh: The big debate
Commonspace.eu today publishes the 20th in a series of twenty interviews with key personalities from Nagorno-Karabakh. The interviews give a vivid, even if sombre picture, of the attitude of Armenians and Azerbaijanis from Karabakh whose lives have been deeply affected by the conflict, and whose destiny will be at the heart of any future conflict settlement. Those interviewed sometimes use harsh language. Their opinion is almost inevitably controversial, as are sometimes their biographical notes. However it is through listening to these opinions that a path through the labyrinth that is the Karabakh conflict can be found. A full editorial policy of commonspace.eu is available at the About Us section.
Interview with Rizvan Hasanov
Rizvan Hasanov was born in Shusha city of Azerbaijan. He studied at the schools Number 4 and mathematics-oriented boarding school Number 2 in Shusha. He got his major in engineering of metallurgy in Dnepropetrovsk city in Ukraine in 1983-88. Despite getting an assignment to work in Dnepropetrovsk he postponed and went back to Shusha in 1989 due to Armenian aggression already started. Then he worked as an engineer and chief engineer at the plant of Automatics and Tele-mechanics in Shusha until November 1990. In the same year he joined the Shusha city self-defense battalion, which was later named after Ramiz Gambarov, and took active part in the defense of Shusha from joint Armenian-Mercenary military forces. On May 8, 1992 Shusha was occupied and he got wounded in the last battle and was hospitalized to Baku. Since then he settled in the dormitory in Pirshaghi settlement in Baku. He is married and has two sons.
Biographical notes are provided by the interviewees themselves.
Can you summarize your overall position on the Karabakh conflict and the conflict resolution process:
We had some hope for the Kazan meeting which took place recently, but it failed. If there are two sides having a conflict with each other you reach peace when the one who made the mistake apologizes, in our conflict we are trying to do our best for peace, but the criminal authority of Armenia does not want to reach an agreement – to accept responsibility and then come to peace. Today's Armenian government came to power through the Nagorno-Karabakh war, so unless the authority in Armenia is changed we won't see any progress in the resolution process. We grew up under the Soviets and then we had social justice to some extent, if someone committed a crime they were punished, but now we don't see this. First the ones who did wrong must be punished, and then we can talk about a peace agreement. In the former Yugoslavia for example, during the conflict we didn't know the full details – who was the aggressor and so on – but at the end of the conflict the war criminals were brought to justice and punished. In our conflict we know who the criminals are and they must first be punished, then we can sit around the negotiating table. Although the world knows who is right and who is wrong in this conflict, I understand that there cannot be sincerity in politics – sincerity and politics are not compatible. The Russian side is not sincere in this process for example. Until we see justice, the guilty parties must be excluded from the process. After the exclusion of these guilty parties, I think that the people will be able to give their consent and a peace agreement reached, but I understand that this will be a time consuming process. We never expected for a war to start in Nagorno-Karabakh, if we had known we would have prepared ourselves. I would not have left my homeland by choice, but during the conflict I was injured and hospitalized, so that’s how I came to Baku.
In the long term do you want to see Nagorno-Karabakh as (a) an independent state, (b) as part of Armenia, (c) as part of Azerbaijan, (d) none of the above but in an as of yet undefined status. Comment on your choice:
(c). I deeply believe that Nagorno-Karabakh will again be a part of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan as it was before, and that the current status quo is only a temporary status. I understand that the Armenians are also people and that we cannot blame them because, as usual, this conflict was initiated by the politicians not by the people themselves – they are also victims in this conflict. The Armenian community must continue to live in Nagorno-Karabakh, but Nagorno-Karabakh must also be a part of Azerbaijan. At the beginning of the last century it was a mistake to give Nagorno-Karabakh a special status [as a Soviet oblast], as this was a step towards cutting Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan and giving it to Armenia. So I don't blame the ordinary Armenians or even the ordinary soldiers who used their weapons against us innocent civilians, because they were just obeying orders, but I blame the high-ranking officers and officials who are really guilty – as they are the ones who gave the illegal orders. We can live in peace – there is a big community of Azerbaijanis living in Georgia amongst a big community of Armenians and there are no problems there, and even many Armenians are still living in Azerbaijan peacefully.
What is your biggest objection/concern to Nagorno-Karabakh being independent or part of Armenia or under some as of yet undetermined status that is not part of Azerbaijan:
There is no logic to say that Nagorno-Karabakh can be part of Armenia or as an independent state, because with its whole soul and spirit Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan. Armenians are not the original inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh – to give independence to them would be like me coming to London to study and then one day saying 'I want to make an independent state here' – this could not happen of course. If you are a guest and came to a land later than others, you must respect those people and know your place. I was educated in Russia, so I could of stayed there and built a good life for myself, but my homeland is Nagorno-Karabakh and that is a part of Azerbaijan. We know many historical facts and details which make the issue very clear to us, but which maybe the international community doesn't know. For example, after the peace agreement between Russia and Iran in 1828, the Armenians from Iran were brought to Nagorno-Karabakh and resettled there – so this is a bright fact which shows that Armenians don't go as far back in the history of Nagorno-Karabakh as we do, and this fact is not confirmed just by us but by the Armenians also. They had erected a monument in 1978 or ‘79 in the Aghdere region of Karabakh on which it was written “Maragha - 150” to celebrate their first appearance in Karabakh as a result of migration of Armenians from the Maragha city of Iran to Karabagh planned, guided and forced by Russia according to Turkmenchay peace treaty of 1828 signed between Russia and Iran. But in the late 1980s they realized that this is a fact against their false claims and destroyed that monument.
Were you directly involved in the armed hostilities between 1989-94? If yes in what capacity?
I was finishing my studies in Ukraine when I heard that the conflict was starting in December 1988, so that is why I decided to come back to my homeland and this was a matter of honor. At this stage the conflict was not that intense, but after civilians began to be killed the conflict took on a new character. I saw at that time that the Armenians were better equipped than us, and were destroying bridges and roads and killing people everywhere, but the police forces in Nagorno-Karabakh were doing nothing. At that time Russian troops were also based in Nagorno-Karabakh, and we had normal relations with them, but we felt that they were biased towards the Armenians. We realized that we were being regularly attacked by Armenians but lacked the resources to respond, so we started to form self-defense groups to protect ourselves. The Russian military unit in Khankendi number 366, was a highly mobilized unit and very well equipped, and we realized that the majority were Armenians doing their military service. So on 5th February 1992 we successfully formed a self-defense battalion. But we only formed these groups to defend our own villages and towns and never imagined that the Armenians would invade the cities such as Shusha, and because of the peace talks conducted in Iran during this time we thought that this was only a temporary tension which would pass and previous life would resume. So as a local resident and soldier I did my best to defend my home, but it failed.
How do you evaluate the work of the OSCE Minsk Process?
The OSCE Minsk Group has a great role in the protraction of the conflict, and is just helping some people to earn money out of this process. The aggressor and the victim cannot be put on the same level – the aggressor Armenia must be punished.
Do you have a publicly expressed position on the Madrid Principles?
Frankly speaking the whole content of the Madrid Principles is not known to us, so all the times which they mention that document we don't know what they are talking about. The conflict is being protracted, if the international community had been just at the beginning of the conflict and had a fair approach to the conflict resolution, we wouldn't have faced all of these atrocities.
Do you think that it is important/appropriate that the de facto authorities of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic be part of the peace process facilitated by the Minsk Group? If yes should they be there instead of the Armenian Government?
My evaluation is very negative, I don't wish to see the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh involved in the process, as this conflict is a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan – and this is not the first conflict between them, we have seen many over the years, and each time the aim of Armenia is to get more lands from Azerbaijan. In my opinion the OSCE Minsk Group is not doing there best and they are a useless organization, just making an imitation for the manipulation of the international community. I don't have any positive expectation from them.
Sometimes the possibility is mentioned that the territories around Nagorno-Karabakh under Armenian control since 1994 should be returned to Azerbaijan as part of an interim peace agreement, leaving the issues of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh to a later date. Do you have an opinion on this issue?
In any war one side must be the winner and the other the loser, this is understandable. But the problem is that all the time the Armenians are insulting us, there is no logic to keep all the regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, they should have been returned 10-15 years ago. It should not only now be a subject for discussion, so that’s why it seems to be just a word game to me – to return or not to return. They must be returned, they have nothing to do with Nagorno-Karabakh. Once they return these territories we will see if we are able to sit around the negotiation table with these criminals, such as the President of Armenia, who committed many war crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh with the killing of civilians. Resolutions from the international community demanding the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories have already been made 20 years ago, so why are we still discussing these issues?
What is your opinion with regards to the role of Turkey, Russia, Iran, the United States, the European Union or any other country or international organisation, or the international community in general, with regards to the Karabakh conflict and its settlement:
In my understanding each country must have friendly relations with their neighbors. We have always been friendly towards Russia, but unfortunately Russia has always been friendly with Armenia and has been supporting them all the time. Armenians have always supported terrorist organisations which have carried out attacks and assassinations throughout the region, even in Russia when someone is killed you will find the trace of Armenians there. Despite this Russia has always been friendly with Armenia, and this is because they have greater global interests in the region and Armenia has been an instrument for Russia. You can find no such separatist movements in Azerbaijan. Turkey is a real brother country to us, and they really understand our position in the conflict. Iran has always been biased in this conflict [towards Armenia]. The US is a giant superpower, and is not that interested in resolving the conflict in favor of the party which is right. Generally speaking this conflict is now our problem, so we understand that we should not expect a warm attitude from the individual actors of the international community.
How do you evaluate the role of informal, NGO-level contributions to the peace process? Do you believe that informal contacts have a useful role to play prior to or after a formal agreement?
In my opinion 50% of the NGOs operating on the issues of this conflict are really controlled by the international think-tank centers based in the superpowers who are controlling their activities. But of course I do believe that the other half are really good people with a goodwill and intent to help people in desperate situations. I deeply believe that one day the conflict will reach its solution, and if the NGO community is sincerely making goodwill efforts and valuable contributions to the process like you, I appreciate them and would like to thank them.
Do you have a position on the desirability or not of free movement of Armenians and Azeris between their two countries before a final peace agreement?
Whenever the Armenians and Azerbaijanis wish to meet together they can do that, in Georgia and Russia for example. But as for Armenians coming to Azerbaijan and vice versa, I think that at this point it would be impossible, as our territories are still under occupation, so when they come here they probably won't be welcomed by the local people here. So first we must take some steps forward in reducing the hate between the communities by liberating the territories, and then it can work out. So personally, despite the fact that I say I want peace and an agreement with Armenians, at this point it would be impossible to receive them here.
Do you think that Armenians and Azerbaijanis will ever be able to live together peacefully in Karabakh again in the future?
The current state of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh is surely worse now than it can be for them in the future. Now they are very scared and their position is insecure and their situation uncertain, they don't know if one day Azerbaijan will take back the region by force and they will lose everything. So their life now is not good, but if we can find a way out of the conflict in the future, they will feel better than they feel now. So this is of course why we can live together in the future.
What is your opinion on the issue of return of refugees/IDPs to Nagorno-Karabakh?
I strongly believe that if the Armenian government can change and be replaced by someone else, they will definitely understand that they must return all our territories back to us, and this will provide an opportunity for us to return to our liberated lands. Otherwise Azerbaijan will look for another opportunity and way to get back these territories. When we left we were forced to leave our houses overnight, but now we have had a lot of time to prepare and we are well prepared to go back, and we won't face the same difficulties we suffered when we were forced to move.
Read previous interviews in this series: