Karabakh: The big debate
Commonspace.eu today publishes the 6th 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 Gegham Baghdasaryan, Editor-in-Chief of Analyticon magazine and President of Stepanakert Press Club.
Interview with Havva Mammadova
Havva Mammadova was born in 1958 in the Barda district. She got her major in history at the Khankendi Pedagogical Institute in 1980 and worked as a teacher at the school Number 6 named after Samad Vurghun. Then she continued her education at the department of Political sciences at the Baku Institute of Social Management and Political Sciences. After the war started against Azerbaijan by Armenia she became an IDP from Khankendi and settled in Baku. She is the author of dozens of scientific articles about the Tsar and Soviet Empire's policy to change artificially the demographic balance in the region and to unify Karabakh with Armenia after giving the Azerbaijani Zangazur to Armenia, the massacre of Azerbaijanis by Armenian Dashnaksutyun separatist military forces in 1905-08 and the 1918-20 Khojaly massacre of 26 February in 1992 etc. She is also the author of the documentary titled "Karabakh: truth and lies", which was translated into English. She was an MP of the Republic of Azerbaijan from Khankendi, constituency number 122, from 2005 to 2010. Mammadova is a member of the Managing Board of the "Azerbaijani Community of Nagorno Karabagh" Public Union. She is married with 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:
Its already been 22 years that the Armenia-Azerbaijan-Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been going on. When it started I was living in Nagorno-Karabakh with my family, and the seeds of the conflict were already visible before the conflict officially started in 1988 - everything happened before my eyes, so I was a witness to and researcher of those processes. Since I was a teacher in Nagorno-Karabakh I was working with Armenian colleagues, and as the conflict started the organized Armenian groups in Nagorno-Karabakh started showing films in cinemas and on local TV stations of how as if the Turks during the Ottoman Empire supposedly killed many Armenians in 1915. The purpose of this was to irritate the local Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh and increase their animosity and hatred towards the Azerbaijanis living in Nagorno-Karabakh. The local Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh were not allowed to see these movies in the cinemas, and this was an intentional action to create tensions between the communities which led to the mass strikes of 13th February 1988, and the dismissal of Azerbaijani workers and employees from different institutions. All of these processes led to the mass eviction of the Azeri community from Nagorno-Karabakh.
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). Since I am a historian and a researcher it is my professional duty to pursue the truth, not to be based on lies and falsified facts. So I would like to say we must read the real history of Nagorno-Karabakh, and have our assessments based in true historical facts, but unfortunately Armenians always make arguments based in falsified historical facts. Nagorno-Karabakh has never had any direct border with Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh has always been a well developed region amongst the other regions of Azerbaijan. Even according to the Soviet statistics we can see that Nagorno-Karabakh was comparably better developed than the other regions of Azerbaijan, so that's why when the Armenians say that they were in dire need to be independent rather than part of the Azerbaijani Republic, its not based in true facts. In 1989 the then supreme council (today's parliament) of the Azerbaijani Republic canceled the special autonomous status of Nagorno-Karabakh, and by that decision Nagorno-Karabakh didn't have any distinctive status. But this didn't help the situation, and after that the seven surrounding districts were occupied.
The just resolution of the conflict first requires the return of the IDPs to their homelands, only after that can we talk about the real status of Nagorno-Karabakh. When we are able to go back to our homelands, we of course will demand the highest status for Nagorno-Karabakh to be enjoyed by its entire population of Armenians and Azerbaijanis. So my position is that Nagorno-Karabakh must be an integral part of Azerbaijan, but in the future it should receive a high status of self-management. I am the third generation of my family which has been deported from our homeland, my grandparents were also deported from Nagorno-Karabakh between 1905-1908 when Armenians began committing atrocities against Azerbaijanis then, and my parents between 1918-1920 also, and I lost everything in 1989. We have a big Armenian community living in Azerbaijan, around 35-40,000, but you cannot find a single Azerbaijani in Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh. So this should say something to the international community and they must pay attention to these facts.
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:
If you look at the official peace negotiation process you can see that the Armenians say all the time that Nagorno-Karabakh is an independent state, and they can take care of their own official destiny. So all the time Armenia is stressing the importance of the participation of the de facto authorities as a third party in the peace talks. But Nagorno-Karabakh is a narco-trafficking transit route since it is not controlled by Azerbaijan, and is used by the de facto authorities as a main area for conducting trans-national criminal actions. During the previous few years, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have brought up to 1,500 Armenia families from different countries such as Syria and Lebanon, so if the de facto authorities are only concerned with the local Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh, what are these families doing there? Most of the current residents of Nagorno-Karabakh are new comers from foreign countries. All of this is very illegal, so Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be part of Armenia or independent. Its not only a question about the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, we are also thinking about the fate of the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the region itself as a whole. Nagorno-Karabakh has already isolated itself for the last 22 years, because of Armenia, and has been excluded from all the regional projects - the railways and hydrocarbon pipelines. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are really suffering from this lack of finance, and have many deep and complex economic, social and financial problems. They should look at the economic flourishing of Azerbaijan, and realize that their best future lies with Azerbaijan and benefiting from this development process. At the moment the Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh is only surviving by donations from the Armenian international diaspora, this is not sustainable, so they should think strategically and give up their useless claims provoked by Armenia and accept to again peacefully coexist with Azerbaijan. The poverty level in Azerbaijan is 11%, whilst in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh it is 60% - more than half of the people are living in poverty.
Were you directly involved in the armed hostilities between 1989-94? If yes in what capacity?
As a resident of Nagorno-Karabakh when the conflict started, I and my family members were subject to aggression, and as a result of that we and the other residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have been scattered over 58 regions within Azerbaijan. In each district of Azerbaijan are now the graves of Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijanis. In Nagorno-Karabakh we were living all together as a compact community, as one family, and as a result of the armed hostilities we became victims of that process.
How do you evaluate the work of the OSCE Minsk Process?
Although the OSCE Minsk Group has been operating since 1992 as the main mediator in this conflict resolution process, trying to maintain the dialogue between the parties, and that during the last 20 years we have been receiving OSCE visits to the region - Armenian, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh - we still haven't seen any movement forward or fruits from the process. We understand that peace talks and negotiation processes are the main basis of all achieved peaces from conflicts across the world, but unfortunately we can't see any positive results after 20 years. The other problem is that the representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group say one thing when they go to Armenia, and when they come to Azerbaijan they make other statements and they don't match each other. So that causes doubt on our side that the OSCE Minsk Group is sincere, and thats why we can't deeply believe that all these people are sincerely doing their best to find a settlement in the conflict. Whilst analyzing all these issues demographics are also important, Azerbaijan has a population of 9 million with almost 1 million being refugees and IDPs, and you cannot find such a big figure in any other country in the world. So this explains the severity of our situation.
Do you have a publicly expressed position on the Madrid Principles?
There is a renewed Madrid Principles document which is welcomed by us, I really appreciate that document, it is acceptable. That document requires the return of IDPs to their homeland and the restoration of the infrastructure in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is also indicated in the document that the seven adjacent districts are to be returned, and this is also why I support them. Although Armenia started the conflict against Azerbaijan and we witnessed big atrocities in Nagorno-Karabakh, we still want to live together with our previous community - Azerbaijanis and Armenians all together. So this is a confirmation and further evidence that the Azerbaijanis are tolerant people and really want a sustainable peace to come to the region. As intellectual people and as human beings, we realize that the conflict must only be ended with peaceful means, and we know that the conflict cannot last forever. So that is why I only support peaceful resolution and am against a new war.
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?
I am against the involvement of the de facto authorities in the peace process. We know that it is the Armenian military in Nagorno-Karabakh, so the 'real authorities' are the Armenian Republic. But since Armenia is currently in a very deep crisis in all fields, they cannot help Nagorno-Karabakh, they just try to control the decisions of the local de facto authorities. The Armenian diaspora is also helping them, by putting pressure on US Congressmen and other officials in other countries. This is the way that they [the Armenian government] fulfill their plans, first they started the conflict and now they are saying that the de facto authorities should be a part of the peace process, and tomorrow they will put forward other preconditions. So this is part of the expansion strategy of the Armenian territory which started in the last century. Armenia have raised many territorial claims against Azerbaijan over the last century, and I would say unfortunately that they are not restricted to territorial claims against Azerbaijan, but also Georgia, Iran, Turkey and also one day Russia. This is their lifestyle, when they get settled in a part of the world, 50 years later they start to make these claims and manipulate the international community by claiming that they were the original inhabitants and that they have a right to independent status there. I believe that one day the Armenian communities living in other parts of the world will also become a headache to other nations in the world, and then the international community will understand the true sense of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since they will face the same problem.
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?
Over the years we have witnessed that Armenians never keep their promises, so as far as I know this issue has been raised on a couple of occasions by different international groups, but we have never seen the implementation or positive results of those initiatives. I don't believe that they would ever give the seven surrounding regions back to Azerbaijan, and also that Armenia is not even able to do this as it is dependent on the international superpowers and is furthermore only interested in the protraction of the conflict. So I think that the regions must first be given back after the withdrawal of Armenian troops as these seven regions have nothing to do with 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:
Generally speaking I would prefer to see the increased role of Turkey, to a Co-Chair position in the OSCE Minsk Group. Although this may been an obvious wish for us, as Turkey is a brother country and has always been supportive of us, I think that Turkey can really play a positive role for a final resolution of the conflict because they are a neighboring country and are genuinely interested in reaching a resolution of the conflict and sustainable peace in the region. Regarding the other countries which you mentioned who are also the Co- Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, unfortunately the decisions taken by the US, France and Russia do not affect Armenia in any way whatsoever, and Armenia is continuing to occupy our lands. So that's why I don't appreciate the work of the OSCE Minsk Group. It seems to me that all these superpowers are only interested in the protraction of the conflict in the region, as they can't find a solution to the problem. Another interesting point is the financial aid of the US to Armenia and to the Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is a ridiculous sign of bias and partiality in the conflict resolution process that the US renders a huge amount of financial aid to Armenia in comparison to Azerbaijan, and at the same time they also give finance to the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh but not the Azerbaijani community - this tells us something about the real position of the US. Of course I must also mention the amendment to the 'Freedom Support Act' which restricts the financial aid to Azerbaijan from Congress [Section 907]. This is a sign of injustice and bias, and this position cannot be considered as positive or constructive. Iran is never with Azerbaijan, and I don't accept their position, its never positive. Despite the fact that they are a neighboring country and should be interested in the resolution of the conflict fairly, we haven't witnessed a positive role from them.
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?
The Armenian and Azerbaijani people must be informed, they must know about each other and about the peace process, so that's why generally and in theory I think that they NGO-level contributions are quite important. We are also not against people-to-people contacts, as we understand that they can somehow positively contribute to the peace making process. But sometimes we see a hidden agenda in the activity of the NGOs, and they are trying to do something different from what they claim, which is unclear for us. I would also like to not only see the involvement of NGOs, but also of famous writers, poets and public figures from both sides trying to bring the people closer together, but unfortunately I don't see this. We have also seen some initiatives at the international level which instead of discovering and presenting the real truth, reproduced falsified historical evidence and were just trying to irritate the conflicting parties, so I don't appreciate these types of negative initiatives. But I do think that the involvement of famous public figures who are well respected in the Armenian and Azerbaijani community could push the process forward, help the people over come the stereotypes and create room for ordinary people to find a common language. Then we could say that we are well prepared for the final peace and people can easily communicate with each other.
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 think this would be possible at the NGO-level, to get the point of view of the opposite side. But at this stage it would not be possible at the grass-roots level amongst the ordinary people, as there are still land mines between Armenia and Azerbaijan and this is very dangerous, and if people were to move freely this could lead to tragic results. So it is not physically possible now. But at the NGO level it would be more professional, secure and safe. After the peace agreement is achieved, of course it will be possible.
Do you think that Armenians and Azerbaijanis will ever be able to live together peacefully in Karabakh again in the future?
I can assure you that the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh is really ready to coexist together with Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh again in the future. But the Armenian community must of course also be ready, and to my understanding they are more or less ready. We however need to also remove the external influences - as I already mentioned, the Armenian government is bringing foreign families from abroad to live in Nagorno-Karabakh and by this policy they are artificially altering the demography of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of a strategy to strengthen the Armenian community against the Azerbaijani IDPs when they return, and this could lead to future problems.
What is your opinion on the issue of return of refugees/IDPs to Nagorno-Karabakh?
It cannot happen overnight, first of all there needs to be a final peace agreement and there must be trust and confidence building processes started. Then the IDPs can go back to their homeland, and this process must be followed by the restoration of the infrastructure in Nagorno-Karabakh, so they can resume their normal lives. It will be difficult at first as Nagorno-Karabakh is still full of danger from mines and dilapidated structures. But the IDPs don't even want any infrastructure set up before their return, there are ready and happy to go to the destroyed houses to restart their lives there.
Read previous interviews in this series:
In this article, Yalchin Mammadov discusses the perceptions of young Azerbaijanis on the Western attitude towards the ongoing conflict.