(about Meskhetian Turks, Khojaly and Baku propaganda)
I first met Meskhetian Turks during a rally in their support, organized by Andrey Babushkin, one of the activists of the Moscow democratic movement of the late 80s and early 90s. As far as I remember, the rally was taking place not far from Fonvizin Street. The rally was attended by refugees from Fergana, as well as a great number of Armenians – residents of Moscow, refugees from Sumgait and other regions of Azerbaijan and I was convinced once again that despite their anti-Turkish sentiments (and, clearly, after Sumgait, also anti-Azerbaijani ones), the Armenians did not have general anti-Turkic and, especially, anti-Muslim mood. They listened with sympathy to the stories of the terrible pogrom's victims and those testimonies revived their memories of anti-Armenian atrocities in Sumgait. Among those attending were
many elderly Muscovites and even people from other towns.
Although not so much time, only ten years, have passed since then, the sentiments of that time and the people's reaction could hardly be compared with the present ones. Now we are more indifferent, ruder, maybe even more hard-hearted and callous than we were at that time.
Our "window to the world," television, showed us everything during those ten years: blasts, murders, hostages, reprisals, terrorist attacks, Budyonnovsk, Chechnya…
Those who visited Moscow in those times know that usually not everyone left after the end of a rally. A part of those who stayed divided into several "clusters" – mini rallies that conducted their own discussions, proposed and refuted their own theses. Those mini rallies had their own structure: usually some interesting person was in the spotlight, expressing thoughts that were echoed by those present. Our society is quite divided into layers: ("sandal to sandal, boot to boot"), however, people from different social layers, people of different professions and with different education levels often met during the rallies in those years.
Two groups attracted my attention during the rally dedicated to Meskhetian Turks. One of them was headed by a professional ethnographer (as I found out later) and the other by a school teacher. On that day, I learnt from the ethnographer about the internal documents on the national cause which specialists sent to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the late 70s and early 80s. Back then, much was clear to specialists. But the party bureaucracy had already lost its ability to react and, as we know from biology, decreased sensitiveness and inadequacy of reaction usually precede death (for an individual organism and even species). The ethnographer was convinced that the external factor was to blame for the pogroms: the Meskhetian Turks had no sharp conflict with another ethnic group; they did not have a dominant economic position and never spoke out against anyone. Why the Meskhetians? The ethnographer was perplexed and did not find an intelligible explanation.
Nearby, at another "mini rally," a school teacher was proving that as a rule, sick people commit atrocities. A healthy person can beat up, injure and even kill a man, in the heat of passion, he convinced the listeners, but cutting off the limbs of a living person and then burning him is a disease. The sources of the teacher's position were evident. In those times, many of us still had a strong consciousness of "we." We, Soviet people, citizens of one country. But those in Fergana, who killed and burned, were also "we." There was a need to move them aside, to distance themselves from them in some way. The easiest way was to declare them ill. Refugees from Azerbaijan disagreed with the teacher. "Did all the sick people gather in Sumgait?" asked one of them, and told that it was popular there to burn living people.
It's noteworthy that after the Fergana events, unlike Sumgait, the authorities eventually admitted to a conspiracy and organized crime. However, an attempt was likewise made to link everything to anonymous "corrupt circles."
Soviet propaganda immediately made use of the Fergana events to blacken the Karabakh movement. It was done by the well known "alpinist method" (single bunch method). The first signal came during the Congress of People's Deputies, though still in a mild form and "humanistic appearance." A group of deputies made an appeal to everyone – be they in Fergana or Nagorno-Karabakh – to refrain from manifestations of ethnic discord. A call to refrain from ethnic discord – it sounds humane. What is inhumane is the attempt to join "Fergana" and "Karabakh" together. But this was just what Soviet propaganda needed: Karabakh and Fergana "chained together." Nagorno-Karabakh residents immediately recognized the political essence of the linkage. Congress deputy from Karabakh Dadamyan received a telegram from voters expressing a protest against the obviously ideological link of "Karabakh" and "Fergana." Yet the Soviet propaganda machine was already moving ahead. For instance, this is what Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote (17.06.89):
"The evil is rooted much deeper. So, there is no need to simplify anything, but it is necessary to as quickly as possible find an answer to the question: who needed the interethnic discord at first in Nagorno-Karabakh, then the unrest in Tbilisi and now in Fergana region." Attention: there is no single mention of "sumgait," with its fires, knives, boiling water and iron rods.
It was time when Azerbaijan's ruling circles feverishly looked for ways of a quick "demographic" settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – ousting and forcing the Armenians from Karabakh. The funds allocated by Moscow that year for the "socioeconomic development of NKAO" were virtually completely spent for such purposes. However, despite the benefits, the Azerbaijanis unwillingly went to the restless region.
They failed to achieve the desired sharp demographic turn in favor of the Azerbaijanis.
Addressing XXII Congress of the Azerbaijan Communist Party, its first secretary Ayaz Mutallibov noted the "absence of scientifically grounded regional policy" in the republic, and called for new practical measures in the "Azerbaijani villages of NKAO."
"In short, unless resolute measures are taken, many villages will, as a matter of fact, go to ruin," Mutallibov noted (Baku Worker, 09.06.90). The "resolute measures" included an infernal plan concerning the Meskhetians: the authorities decided to carry out massive resettlement of Meskhetian Turks to Karabakh (including to Khojaly, which, according to the plans of the cunningly wise rulers, was, at a stepped up tempo, to be turned into a "town"). A special program was worked out, with republican headquarters in Aghdam to coordinate its implementation. This was how the Meskhetian Turks got into the focus of the Azerbaijani rulers' demographic adventure. The Meskhetian Turks came across difficulties both in Moscow and in the country's other cities where they went following the pogroms. There was no money and housing, the authorities refused to employ them. The people were in a desperate situation. All that had been cynically calculated by Baku. The Meskhetians received a great deal: their families were transported to Karabakh free of charge, they received a considerable sum to cover their removal expenses, they were immediately provided with housing in the villages, from which the Armenians had been expelled earlier. (For instance, the Meskhetian Turks settled in the former Armenian settlement Gaybulashen and a number of other villages after the deportation of the Armenians). They were given building materials, were promised land and job. As to possible danger, the Meskhetians were assured that the fate of the Armenians had already been decided and they would be finally expelled from Karabakh soon. And then the Azerbaijanis and the Meskhetian Turks will become masters of Karabakh.
Don't hurry to reproach them: one must know how desperate their situation was to understand why they so easily allowed themselves to be drawn into the dangerous venture of the Azerbaijani authorities.
The Armenian community of Moscow began to worry virtually straight after the Meskhetians' resettlement started. Frankly speaking, I was amazed at the quickness with which the Armenians in Moscow received detailed information. Soon they got detailed maps indicating those villages in Karabakh where the Meskhetian Turks settled. I still keep a copy of one of such maps.
Armenian activists displayed a poster with a Karabakh map, where the regions settled by Meskhetian Turks were marked, at a conference on humanitarian issues in Moscow in 1990, attended by delegates from European countries. I was told that the poster had caused obvious displeasure of Usuf Sarvarov, head of Moscow-based organization of Meskhetian Turks Vatan (Homeland).
The Armenian activists sought a meeting with the Meskhetian Turks' leaders. And it took place at last. A three-member delegation met with Usuf Sarvarov's deputy. The delegation included one of the authoritative representatives of Moscow's Armenian community, Gegham Khalatyan, as well as
member of Karabakh Committee, future mayor of Yerevan, late Hambartsum Galstyan. I would not like to mention the name of the third member, but I will say that not so many years later, he held one of the highest posts in the Republic of Armenia. In short, it was an imposing delegation. Hambartsum Galstyan asked: "Don't the Meskhetian Turks understand that they plan to use them as a human wall?" But the Meskhetian activist, admitting the possibility of resettlement of some families, meanwhile, denied that it was planned and that there was a massive relocation of Meskhetian Turks. Several months later, however, the resettlement increased so much that even the Vatan's leaders stopped denying it.
Unfortunately, it happened just the way Hambartsum Galstyan had predicted. With the aggravation of the situation around Shushi, Khojaly and other regions of Karabakh, many Azerbaijani families moved to their relatives. The Meskhetian Turks, of course, had far less possibilities to leave. Those who drew the Meskhetians into the adventure of resettlement did not care about their fate. Together with the Azerbaijanis who, for different reasons, failed to leave in time, they fell victim to anti-Mutallibov "party's" intrigues. Many of them were cynically shot by the Azerbaijanis – Mutallibov's opponents – in Aghdam region, after going away by the corridor left by the attacking Armenian forces (see the excerpt from Mutallibov's interview).
Of course, centuries-old experience worldwide shows: there are no crimes against their own nation which people longing for power at any price would not commit. But even against the backdrop of that bitter experience, the anti-Mutallibov forces' ruthless action in Azerbaijan is still shocking. The shooting of the ill-fated people, mostly Meskhetian Turks, who, suffering hardship, had passed through the humanitarian corridor, left by the attacking Armenians, is a shocking crime. However, the criminals not only did not get their comeuppance, the case was practically burked, despite the fact that not so few people had true information: a number of Azerbaijani military men, former president Mutallibov's environment, the perpetrators, a group of journalists from Moscow which appeared in the "hot spot" at that moment (not to mention the Karabakh Armenians). Later, when, with Heydar Aliyev's coming to power, the name of settlement Khojaly became a center of a powerful propaganda campaign, no one in Azerbaijan dared to tell the truth.
The human tragedy became a ground for the "promotion" of a propaganda campaign, unparalleled in its cynicism. If you open Azerbaijani newspapers, you will be surprised to discover such comparisons: Hiroshima, Lidice, Khojaly. The Azerbaijani authorities tried to derive benefit even from human grief, from brazen shooting of their own citizens.
Once I came across a comparison by Hemingway that struck me: "with the eyes of an unlucky violator." I think this comparison holds the key to the Azerbaijani authorities' behavior. They look at the world with the eyes of an unlucky violator. They organized pogroms of unprotected women, children, old people, men – teachers, doctors, workers, research officers, who could not offer resistance due to their education and nature of their peaceful profession. What, for instance, could a mathematics teacher from Baku's Lenin Avenue oppose to the pogrom crowd? Brutal pogroms of Armenians were organized throughout the republic.
Trying to reverse the demographic situation in any way possible, they, Azerbaijani authorities, by means of ruse and promises attracted the Meskhetian Turks to Karabakh, in particular Khojaly, causing yet another tragedy for the repressed nation. Together with the army of the collapsing USSR (Operation Ring) they killed Armenians in Armenian villages, burning their houses and expelling them. Deploying facilities of volley artillery fire in Shushi, they brought down their entire power upon Armenians in Stepanakert. They filled Karabakh with blood, angrily rejecting the possibility of other countries' participation in the conflict settlement, the possibility of "internationalization of the conflict," claiming that the idea of internationalization is the work of the Armenian lobby in the United States. Karabakh, they said, is Azerbaijan's internal affair. They spoke about the "internal affair" hoping to solve the problem with the Armenians with their own forces.
They miscalculated. They failed to bring to a close their dirty deed.
And when they were repulsed, when the Karabakh Armenians, legally protecting themselves from the war declared by Azerbaijan, threw the aggressors out of Karabakh, the Azerbaijani authorities suddenly remembered about the world community and began snatching the falls of leaders of states and international organizations. A violator begging others to come and help him commit, at last, the desired violence – is there anything more dishonorable, contemptible and shameless?
I think many Azerbaijanis who know even a little history of Transcaucasia (especially Russian Azerbaijanis) screw up their face while reading about the "Russian genocide of the Azerbaijani nation." I am convinced that most of them are strangers to the unworthy hysteria overwhelming Baku at present. Like other Caucasian nations, the Azerbaijanis disrespect puffing, hysteria, bustling and verbose complaints. It is alien to the nation. Unequivocally, that propaganda buffoonery has nothing to do with national traditions.
When you sort it out, the Azerbaijani people are in their own way a victim of misinformation. At first Soviet propaganda, instead of describing the events honestly to enable the Azerbaijanis to soberly assess issues of historical demarcation and reach some agreement with the Armenians, drummed into their heads clichés about separatists who wish to take away the "primordial Azerbaijani lands." Many sincerely believed that there had been historical forgery. Then the pogrom propaganda of the nationalists that led to atrocities against the Armenians. And at the third stage that anti-Armenian and anti-Russian bacchanalia was raised beyond the clouds by the Aliyev propaganda. The propaganda that united the Turkish forgery methods with the old, proven methods of KGB and Soviet past.
Sooner or later, the Armenians and Azerbaijanis must come together and make peace. The Aliyev propaganda cancels the possibility of national reconciliation. There can be only one explanation: no one in Baku thinks of reconciliation. They only think of war. And people must come to war extremely angry, nervous and driven to the extreme degree of fumes of nationalism.
They managed it once – in Sumgait, Kirovabad, Baku and other cities of Azerbaijan. Its rulers are confident that they will succeed once again, now under the colors of the regular army, incited and trained by Turkish officers.