Karabakh: The big debate
Commonspace.eu today publishes the 10th 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. The next interview in the series will be with Hrant Melkumyan, Chief of Staff of the Government of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and First Secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Communist Party Central Committee.
Interview with Arif Aliyev
Arif Aliyev was born in 1967 in the Sarijaly village of Aghdam district, which has been under Armenian occupation since 1993. He graduated from vocational school in 1985 in Aghdam and did his military service in the Soviet army in 1986-88 in Kazakhstan. He started his work in Aghdam in the night police in 1989. He was a member of self defense groups and participated in the fighting for defense of his homeland. Aliyev was heavily wounded in the battle in 1993 and lost both his legs and is an invalid of the 1st group category. He is married and has three children.
Biographical notes are provided by the interviewees themselves.
Can you summarize your overall position on the Karabakh conflict and the conflict resolution process:
You know my situation, I lost my two legs. I am 44 years old, and in two days it will be the 18th anniversary of the occupation of Aghdam and my becoming an invalid. So its already 18 years that I have been in prison. I was born in 1967 in Aghdam, and did my military service in the Soviet army between 1986-88. From 1990 like others I took up arms and started to defend my land, at that time we didn't have a regular army and it was the duty of the police to keep order at the beginning of the conflict. I took part in self-defense operations across Nagorno-Karabakh, and as Allah is my witness, everything I am telling you is the truth. I witnessed in these operations how they Armenians killed kids and the other innocent people. When we encountered elderly Armenian people we tried to save their lives because we understood it was not them we were fighting, but when Armenians captured our people they didn't give them any chance to live. In 1995, after the ceasefire we captured an Armenian soldier who had also lost both of this legs, and he was presented to me. The soldiers said that here is our enemy, and you can do what you like with him – you can torture him, you can kill him, you can take your revenge. But I didn't do anything to him, I understood that he is also a human being despite the fact that he is our enemy and probably killed many Azerbaijanis, but now he was in my hands I shouldn't kill him. If I encountered him on the battlefield I would kill him without any hesitation, but now he was no threat, so I decided to exchange him for some Azerbaijani prisoners of war. So I could have killed him but I didn't, and this is how the Azerbaijani people acted during the war. After the occupation of Aghdam on 23rd July 1993, I was wounded in the battle and evacuated to Baku. I am not a politician, I am a soldier. But I don't want another war, this would only be a last resort to get back our territories.
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 see the official status of Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan as it was before the start of the war. Armenians living there are also Azerbaijani citizens so we can go back there and live with them under a special status within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. I rule out the other options.
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:
Nagorno-Karabakh has always been an integral part of Azerbaijan and never a part of Armenia, so it must remain an integral part of Azerbaijan. We will not let Armenia cut it from us.
Were you directly involved in the armed hostilities between 1989-94? If yes in what capacity?
My involvement was in a position to maintain public order in Aghdam and some other regions, to stop the armed groups of Armenians – the bandit groups – from infiltrating the Azeri villages and killing our people. This was my main obligation and duty, up until 1993 when I was wounded.
How do you evaluate the work of the OSCE Minsk Process?
I don't expect anything positive from them. In my opinion their work is one-sided and biased, and I don't find a single thing in their efforts which is positive for Azerbaijan.
Do you have a publicly expressed position on the Madrid Principles?
I am not informed about this document. But which document has ever been fulfilled? Four UN Security Council resolutions adopted in 1993 (numbers 822, 853, 874 and 884) urging Armenia and the joint occupying forces to withdraw their troops from the occupied districts of Azerbaijan – Kelbajar, Lachin, Aghdam, Fizuli, Jabrayil, Gubadly, Zengilan and Goradiz city – have been ignored by Armenia up until now. It is already 18 years that they are not being implemented. I am not sure that Armenia would accept the Madrid Principles document until the end of the peace process.
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?
Since Nagorno-Karabakh is legally part of Azerbaijan, that authority de facto or de jure, is not recognized by us. We know who we are dealing with – that is Armenia with Russia standing behind them. So their involvement is not acceptable. But please don't confuse the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh with the ordinary Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, we have good relations with some of them. When we get a chance to meet them in a third country, we get the chance to talk to them and exchange our views, and most of them say that it was politicians and Armenian diaspora who started the war and put the local Armenians in hell, but they want to have a joint life with us and to coexist with us. The Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh are hostages to a handful of politicians with their own political agendas, who are keeping the community in Nagorno-Karabakh under their control as an instrument for their policy and staying in power in Armenia.
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?
The President of Azerbaijan and our people are thinking of how to get back the surrounding regions. But in my opinion I think that if we take the lands back piecemeal, when it comes to returning the remaining territories, there will be deadlock. So I think it is better to return all the lands at the same time as you suggest in your question. As the surrounding regions have nothing to do with Nagorno-Karabakh, they must be returned as a first stage and then we can discuss the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
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:
I only see the positive role of Turkey, and expect a positive contribution from them to the whole process. I don't expect any positive contributions from any of the other international actors which you mentioned. I would prefer to give a greater role to Turkey. Even Armenia would love to have a good relationship with Turkey in order to survive in the future as they don’t have normal relations with any of their neighbors except Iran. The other countries have their hidden agendas in the region.
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?
I would say that as they somehow know what is what in this conflict, the NGOs having a really sincere intention and goodwill to do something positive in order to find justice out of the process, are very welcomed by us.
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?
I don't see a possibility for this model of Armenians coming here and Azerbaijanis going there before the return of the occupied regions to Azerbaijan, only after that would it be possible. Any final agreement must guarantee the return of the territories for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, otherwise the Azerbaijani people will not welcome the Armenians here.
Do you think that Armenians and Azerbaijanis will ever be able to live together peacefully in Karabakh again in the future?
After getting the western Azerbaijani lands (Zangazur and Goycha) in 1918 under Russian Bolshevik pressure and its crafty policy following the massacre of Azerbaijanis and Jews by the Dashnaksutyun jointly with Russian armed groups, Armenians had a good appetite to put forward more territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh has always been an integral part of Azerbaijan and Armenians used to live with us peacefully there, so I have hope that we can again live together in Nagorno-Karabakh. But as I mentioned this problem was created by the Armenian politicians, and the Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh are their hostages.
What is your opinion on the issue of return of refugees/IDPs to Nagorno-Karabakh?
Once we reach a peace agreement by peaceful means, it will be very easy for the IDP community to return there. They won't look for any help from the government or anyone else. The only thing we would need at the very beginning is to clear the lands of the land mines, after that it won't be difficult at all for us to go there.
Read previous interviews in this series:
The public debate between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Munich on Saturday was not there to be won or lost, but was itself a confidence-building measure, argues Dennis Sammut in this week's Monday Commentary