"I AM A HUMANIST. IN MY SOUL," Azerbaijan's ex-president says about himself.
Czech journalist Dana Mazalova has been engaged in Transcaucasia problems for ten years now. She was the only journalist to whom Ayaz Mutallibov gave an exclusive interview a month after his resignation. For her part, she provided the interview to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
– How do you feel?
– I feel all right now, although at first, after the session, I was said to feel bad.
– What was the cause of your resignation?
– My resignation was forced – I had no plans to quit, but realizing that everything was staged properly and the rights closed up with the lefts against the president, I decided not to go for a confrontation. Yet I had legal capabilities for it (and the world would support me because I am a constitutional president elected in a nationwide vote).
I think it damaged Azerbaijan's image, although we showed that we sharply differ from Georgia in that respect. Yes, there were many intrigues in the presidential environment, like in any "royal court." But my task was to show the legitimacy of power and take Azerbaijan out to the international community. Sentiments in the West are not in favor of what happened. Currently, there is no recognized personality in Azerbaijan, whereas over the past six months, my modest international efforts resulted in the formation of a political image, which – let it not sound immodest – was noticed. But now they come to me and ask: "Whom shall we deal with here?" I don't know what they have in mind now. I had a clear plan, and what about them? For some reason, my opponents consider that fact insignificant. They played on it in order to corner me.
I understood the geopolitical situation in which Azerbaijan is today, I knew its place in the former Union, I was aware of the problems of CIS. I was for constructive and consistent realization of independence, which does not come immediately, directly. As a politician and economist, I always thought that if to stop at nothing and disregard the realities of life, then both the democracy and the level of independence we achieved may go to ruin. Unfortunately, the Azerbaijani Popular Front set a different task before itself. They believed that we absolutely do not need a membership in the Commonwealth, just like we do not need to participate in the joint command of armed forces. It was a serious mistake and it allowed some forces to take advantage of Azerbaijan's position and aggravate the situation. We are not Ukraine, at least as yet, and we needn't compare ourselves with it. Let us compare ourselves with Georgia or Moldova. If I hadn't gone to Alma-Ata (where, by the way, no one expected me) and signed documents there, the process of Azerbaijan's recognition would be protracted and we would have the same situation as in the neighboring Georgia.
I tried to balance the interests of the rights and the lefts and now the communist regime is being replaced by the Popular Front regime. It is a regime. It is not democracy.
From the very start, I did not accept that word – front.
Front against whom? It is the invention of Gorbachev or his ideologists. By its extremism, form and structure it is a communist, Bolshevik movement. They have supporting cells and functionaries – they invented nothing new except the name. Popular Front turned into a real supernationalist movement.
On the session day, I analyzed the mistakes we made because of the domestic political struggle for power. I offered a compromise – coalition government in compliance with the status quo existing in Azerbaijan. By adopting a law on parties, creating equal conditions for political struggle, we would form a new parliament and dissolve the old one. The party that would get a majority in parliament would form a government of national confidence.
– Why didn't they go for it?
– I don't know. I suppose that they feared they could not get a majority of votes from the people. That is why they chose the revolutionary way similar to the Romanian one – they came to power, removing the president, seized the key positions and cracked down on the oppositionists.
– Would the Georgian scenario be possible here if there hadn't been Karabakh?
– No. It would not have happened there either if it hadn't been for Ossetia. It is a detonating device causing tension in society, moral depression which must have some way out. Dogs are unleashed against the victim…And who is the victim? The authorities, the president.
– But on the other hand, the war distracts the attention from the internal political situation…
– During these two years, I was one of the few who sincerely did not want a war which neither we nor the Armenians needed. I said, "We are moving towards an independent development, we need to engage in economy." What are we doing?! The people's money is wasted, we are weakening ourselves and may reach a point when we will become poverty-stricken again. And then a third person will come and say, "I will save you."
– Some observers think that the Karabakh conflict will be used in the domestic political struggle in Azerbaijan after your resignation and it cannot be stopped.
– These apprehensions are appropriate. Popular Front blamed us for failing to resolve the Karabakh conflict. Now they should give guarantees to the people that they will be able to do it. There are two ways: either more resolute actions (since I was accused of indecision) or a compromise.
– Through the CIS?
– Yes. But they deny the CIS. They deny any compromises. They are against the restoration of the autonomous region within the existing boundaries. Then only one way is left – to fight till final victory. But I always said, "The world will not let you do it because the Karabakh problem has gone far beyond the boundaries of Armenia and Azerbaijan." We assumed commitments and joined UN and CSCE, and so did Armenia.
Let us suppose that the opposition will make a decision to restore the status quo. Then it will disavow itself and will have to explain to the people why it prevented president Mutallibov from doing it. They cornered themselves, when there is nothing else to do but shoot. Let us suppose that they will mobilize all our forces. It may grow into a major war and it is not known yet who will win it, although no one wants to fight here anymore.
If we manage to win in Nagorno-Karabakh, we will get a new Karabakh in Nakhijevan. When I went there in 1990, I told the Nakhijevan people, "My brothers, don't listen to what they say in Baku. Baku is far from Armenia, while you are close, you should have a different policy."
– The Karabakh conflict has reached a bloody stage when it is very hard to stop it. How, in your opinion, will it develop if we take into account the interests of the third parties – Turkey, Iran and Russia?
– Everyone is now trying to stick to that conflict, showing an initiative based on their own ambitions. Turkey and Iran are competing in the level of their influence on Azerbaijan. Regrettably, Russia has not renounced the course that existed under Gorbachev. But I thought that the democrats, coming to power in Russia, will use their whole influence to stop the conflict, not giving the warring parties complete control over it.
And what can happen now? Our side hopes that Turkey may help somehow. But given its political goals, it will not get involved in the conflict because of Azerbaijan. It does not have such plans. Turkey is not alone, either, and is a part of a bloc system. There is a general line, economic plots it must stick to. I warned that the development of the Karabakh conflict would cause unrest among the people against the country leaders in Turkey itself. Unfortunately, this is just how it is happening – unrests in Ankara, Istanbul, and they are also shouting, "Go out." Demirel declared that he might not take into account the opinion of the people that demand an intervention. And what does it mean at the end of the 20th century?
This is not the way we should do it. We stepped forward on the way to independence, we joined the UN. The next stage is a good economic program and privatization. The rest will come. The internal problems is the second issue. But my concept was not beneficial because it is right and masses of people understand it. Where is the cause to struggle for power then? They needed either everything or nothing.
– What is your opinion of the Yugoslavian scenario to settle the national conflict – the republics get independence regardless of the principle of inviolability of borders – with respect to Nagorno-Karabakh?
– It is a delay-action mine that will constantly go off. It is a violation of the generally accepted norms and the side which considers itself hurt will never forgive anyone for it. Any forces may take advantage of the existing tension.
The Karabakh model could be used in any region. The experience of Karabakh was first used internationally in Kosovo. Currently, that model is being perfected by some forces in the Crimea which both Russia and Ukraine consider their indigenous territory.
– Did you and Ter-Petrosyan appreciate some qualities in each other?
– He saw my refinement. I also understood and saw his refinement, his political essence. Many thought we were out of touch with each other. No, we were not. But I always tried to determine the common interests to help us go further. I always offered to settle the situation and ensure peace together, without third parties – then we both would pass into the history of our peoples.
– What can the international community do for peace in Karabakh? Commissions and observers come here…
– The international commissions should restore the status quo, bringing the situation to the starting point. There is no autonomy now, by the decision of our parliament. For their part, they formed NKR, which, naturally, cannot be agreed with – it is a withdrawal from Azerbaijan. To reach a compromise, Armenia should officially announce the annulment of all decisions on annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh, irrespective of their legal ground. Our parliament should cancel the anti-constitutional decision – as long as there is no new constitution – on the dissolution of the autonomy, and restore it within its former boundaries. After that, the communities of Nagorno-Karabakh – the Armenian and Azerbaijani ones – will conduct negotiations.
– Now, when the Union no longer exists, what do you think of the role the CIS troops play in the Karabakh conflict? On the one hand, there are talks about a desire to stop the conflict. On the other hand, how, for instance, did the Azerbaijanis manage to "conquer" the depot of Transcaucasian Military District in Aghdam, intended for a war, because only generals knew about its control system?
– Even I did not know that the depot was taken and pilfered. But how could the Armenians steal 150 flame-throwers? A decomposition, you know, a decomposition. Tacit consent… I have always called it an outrage. When they demanded that I form national armed forces, I understood that desire and opportunity are absolutely different things. We have no legal sources to purchase weapons. Back in October, I officially set the question before Shaposhnikov and Gorbachev – we wish to form our armed forces within the limits of 20,000 people. By legally providing arms to the national self-defense forces, we cut off the possibility of its spontaneous seizure from the Soviet Army, just like it happened in Armenia in 1990. I said, "If you are worried about Armenia's reaction, give them just as much." There is a principle in international practice – two states either sign an agreement on neutrality or there is military parity between them. We have no parity, so you yourself incite us to plunder military units. I foresaw it. On the one hand, there was a huge desire to keep the army in all the republics; on the other hand, there were anti-army moods after the proclamation of independence. If there is independence, then there should be an independent army. We could always agree on its status, consider the jurisdiction, double subordination empowering the head of state in case of an aggression. It was not done, either.
– Don't you think you made a mistake by not signing the agreement on the CIS Joint Armed Forces in Minsk?
– I think as president I should have used this right.
– What do you think of the Khojaly events after which you resigned? Khojaly residents' bodies were found not far from Aghdam. At first, someone shot them in the legs so that they could not go further. Then they finished them off with an axe. On February 29, my colleagues filmed them. During a new filming on March 2 those corpses were scalped. A strange game…
– The Khojaly residents who survived say it was organized to make me resign. Some force acted to discredit the president. I don't think that the Armenians, who acted clearly and knowledgeably in such situations, could allow the Azerbaijanis to get documents exposing their fascist activities. It may be supposed that someone was interested to show those shots at the Supreme Council meeting later and turn the focus on me.
If I declare that the Azerbaijani opposition is to blame for it, they may say that I slander them. But the general reasoning is that the Armenians left a corridor for the people to escape. So, why did they need to shoot? Especially on the territory close to Aghdam, where there were enough forces at that time to come and help the people, or simply agree that the civilians could leave. Such practice always existed.
I was constantly told that the Khojaly residents stand firm, and they need weapons, manpower and food. I ordered helicopters to do it. However, the pilots, as I was explained, refused to fly there as they did not have the necessary devices to escape stingers. Almost a week passed this way. Aghdam forces were deployed nearby, tasked to follow the developments. When the equipment encircled Khojaly, the population had to be evacuated. Earlier, I gave a similar order for Shushi – to leave the men and evacuate the women and children. It is also a rule of war – they should be saved. I behaved objectively and definitely, I did give such orders, but why they did not carry them out in Khojaly is unclear to me.
By the way, in that period I several times talked to Mkrtchyan, chairman of NKR Supreme Council, "You laid thousands of people, give us an opportunity to take out their bodies." But he replied that there must be no corpses, they hold our people, and feed them, although they are short of food, and are ready to release them in exchange for their hostages.
– When were you informed about those dead people?
– The day after it was reported that there were only a few dead in Khojaly. The information came from the interior minister.
– Who was responsible for that information?
– The minister himself. By that time, a press office had been established under the ministry of defense. After the helicopter story, we reached an agreement that no one will provide unverified information.
– Do you think prime minister Hasan Hasanov is also responsible?
– The head of government is of course responsible for everything, although he refuses to have anything to do with it, saying that he does not deal with such issues. But government is government.
– Did you participate in the new presidential elections set for July 7?
– I want to be left in peace. I don't want them to blame me for all failures, to scapegoat me, as it is done here. If they do not keep the promise they made at the session and guarantee president's immunity and normal life, I will have to get involved in the political struggle and gather supporters.
– If Popular Front lost the people's confidence and the people asked you to come back, would you do so?
– I will come back if the people ask me. I am a resolute person, but by sacrificing myself, I tried to show that the power is not the most important thing. I am in the prime of life, I know much about politics. I am a normal, sociable and outgoing person. I am a humanist in my soul and I do not long for blood and revenge. But they do not need such a person today.
– Did your resignation do you any good?
– First, that unpleasant fact did not change my human character. If it happens so that I will be a ruler again, I should be much tougher and should take into consideration the fact that individual representatives of society are not the entire people.
– Thank you.
№ 64 (235), April 1, 1992