Azerbaijan's ex-President Ayaz Mutallibov gave an interview on the Khojaly tragedy to the Turkish service of Al Jazeera TV Channel, in which he told about the causes of the tragedy, the political processes of that time, as well as dwelt on the moments that are rather serious and notable.
Question: Was it possible to prevent the conflict with the Armenians in Karabakh?
Mutallibov: The confrontation by the Armenian nationalists in Karabakh began back under the USSR. It was nonsense as in the Soviet country the Armenians raised the issue that they no longer want to be as part of Azerbaijan, and want to join Armenia. It was unprecedented. <…> In the course of 70 years, they repeatedly raised that issue. However, the system of that time did not allow that.
Answer: Here, there is Mutallibov's lack of legal knowledge, his lack of information, unwillingness to know or deliberate delusion of the audience. The system not only allowed, but also had exact realizations of its possibilities. Suffice it to open the Constitution of the USSR, for all years of its existence, as well as the history of union and autonomous republics, regions or okrugs to make sure of the abundance of "unprecedented nonsense."
Look at the example of the Tajik SSR whose path went from Autonomous Republic to independent union republic that seceded from Uzbekistan. The example of the transfer of Crimea region from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR is also memorable. And, by the decision of the Caucasian Bureau, Nagorno-Karabakh was transferred to Azerbaijan already after the appearance of the USSR and the two republics' inclusion in it.
And the demand of the NKAO Armenians was absolutely conforming to the laws, lawful and precedented: they applied to the Authority that made a decision in its time – both on the Tajik Autonomous Region and Crimea region. It is strange that the party figure never "heard" of it. Though he should have heard.
Mutallibov: At that time, I did not resort to military means as I knew that a war was unlikely to yield any result. There was a strength behind the Armenians. They did not go to the square on their own. By saying "the Armenians," I mean the Armenian nationalists, which was really this way. We expressed our complaints and sent letters; I personally had several serious and very strict telephone conversations with Gorbachev. I said: what do you want from Azerbaijan? What is our fault that you left us under the Armenians' feet? It cannot be this way. Where is the ideology of internationalism, friendship and other statements? Whereas, he, as they say, hit both the nail and the horseshoe: he promised one thing to the Armenians and absolutely a different thing to us.
Answer: Mr Mutallibov, probably, forgot, about the Operation Ring – he had initiated together with Gorbachev to whom they "expressed their complaints and sent letters" – when with the forces of the USSR Armed Forces and the Azerbaijani OMON, as part of the total ethnic cleansing, "hunt" was declared against the unarmed Armenian population in Northern Karabakh and NKAO, which was deported from its native land at gun point.
And there was really a strength behind the Armenians. Strength of anger and strength of justice. Mutallibov's fault was only that he did not know the elementary legal foundations, and solved the matters of the 70-year-old "friendship" in a non-military way, dearmenizing the region with the help of tanks and submachine guns.
Mutallibov: From the second month of 1988, the beginning of the confrontation, when the Armenians made these assertions, no Azerbaijani was left in Armenia by December, all of them were expelled. But they were agricultural workers who came and filled the towns, and the towns were populated by the Armenians. They should at least have thought about it, even if partially, they should have returned the Azerbaijanis to Armenia so that there would be a balance – of Armenians in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis in Armenia, so that there would be conformity. Whereas, you, Armenians, stopped that and expelled the Azerbaijanis, but it should not be this way.
Answer: The roundabout wording "from the second month" hides behind itself the monstrous massacres of the Armenians in the Azerbaijani town of Sumgait. Mutallibov's desire to avoid this "inconvenient" moment and to immediately pass to the "expulsion of the Azerbaijanis from Armenia" is understandable, yet inadmissible. It is necessary either to tell everything or nothing. Otherwise, the picture is getting distorted.
It is also strange that the addressee of the indefinite "they should at least have thought about balance" is not clear. Having on conscience the blood and grief of the Armenians of Sumgait, Baku, Hadrut, Getashen, Martunashen, etc., to state pompously "whereas, you, Armenians, stopped that and expelled the Azerbaijanis" is hypocrisy of the highest degree. As for the "expulsion of the Azerbaijanis," suffice it to state that no "sumgaits" and "bakus" happened in Armenia. (Anticipating the story on "Kapan refugees," that set the teeth on edge, a request will follow: to provide reliable sources in press and reports by competent authorities).
Mutallibov: We waited for a year. We waited until the January of 1990. Then we understood that there would be a massacre, and there would be losses, and if we had permitted that, you know, the Armenians would catch us by throat as they caught the Turks, as from 1914-15 they are constantly saying: genocide. If we had not deported them from Baku, in the future, after 100 years, they would cause a problem for us, as they are doing it to the Turks. We deported them immediately. Because, as I already said, if there had been bloodshed – which had already started – there would be a disaster.
Answer: Two pogroms of Armenians had already taken place by the January of 1990 (Sumgait (1988), Kirovabad (1988)), while the "salvational deportation" was accompanied by the third pogrom that took place from January 13 to 19, 1990. Thus, they did not sit on their hands while waiting. It is clear that Mutallibov, broadcasting for the Turkish audience, is trying to speak with categories that are accessible to them, but his attempt to look wiser and more sagacious than the Turks in 1915 is just laughable.
Mutallibov: The events in Khojaly really had a very bad impact on the Azerbaijani people, the Azerbaijani people fell under psychological pressure at that time, and those people, wounded, scared, willy-nilly turned against me, incited by the People's Front. As I was the president, and they told me: why didn't you protect them?
How was I to protect them? Were we fighting in Karabakh? And Khojaly was in Karabakh. Could we enter Karabakh? No.
Answer: Slyness, again. Shushi was also in Karabakh. Nevertheless, Azerbaijani troops were dislocated there and Stepanakert was shot from there every day, with women and children, including refugees who remained homeless as a result of the previous "non-military" operation Ring. Azerbaijan's armed formations not only "could," but also entered, drove and flew into Karabakh, seeking to exterminate the Armenian population by means of bombs or by taking them by starvation.
Question: Why couldn't you enter Karabakh? Wasn't there enough support, armed forces?
Mutallibov: There was, there was everything. Put in other words, the aim was to cross the border in Aghdam district, neighboring Askeran. To protect the refugees, it was just necessary to get in front of them there, we had everything. <…> But we did not succeed.
Answer: Or did not want. As the late Heydar Aliyev said, "The bloodshed will do good to us."
Mutallibov: Because there was struggle for power (cannot conceal anger). The worse for Mutallibov, the better for the political structures opposing Mutallibov. Yes, yes… that is what our national concept is. Yes…
Answer: The anger and envy of Mutallibov – who resigned the presidency – comes to mind: "And the Uzbek is sitting long, he is lucky not to have an Armenian neighbor."