Transcript of interview by Thomas de Waal with Serzh Sargsyan, then minister of defense of Armenia (now president of Armenia) 15 December, 2000
Thomas de Waal published the transcript of his interview with Serzh Sargsyan, conducted in December 2000.
British journalist and researcher Thomas de Waal published, on the website of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the transcript of his interview with Armenian defense minister Serzh Sargsyan, which he conducted in December 2000.
Thomas de Waal explained his decision to publish the transcript as follows:
"Every year I am besieged with requests to give an interview about the murders in Khojaly and Sargsyan's words on this subject from my book. This year, which marks the 20th anniversary of Khojaly events, I decided that it would be better to publish the full transcript in Russian, confirming Sargsyan's words, and given in the full context."
The talk began with the topic of Serzh Sargsyan's meeting with Azerbaijani defense minister Safar Abiyev on the day of the interview.
Serzh Sargsyan: As you know, the Co-Chairs [of the OSCE Minsk Group] were here on the 10th days of the month and they proposed us to meet. I met with Abiyev in Brussels, we found that we would not manage to meet on the 10th day, so we agreed to meet on December 15 in Sadarak. We met today. In principle, I am contented. I first met Abiyev this way in Martakert in 1992.
Thomas de Waal: In 1992?
S. S. Yes, he was still acting minister at that time. He is a constructive person; I am convinced that he does not want a resumption of war. We talked about the confidence building measures. We agreed to take further measures to rule out the separate conflicts that occur at present. First, it is no secret that both sides sustain losses. It is necessary to find new ways, to do so that there will be no losses. Second, we agreed to return the prisoners of war unconditionally. In principle, this is what we do with the prisoners of war for more than one year, as we believe that it is pointless to keep them here. Third, we agreed to keep in touch and get in touch on the phone regarding any matter.
T. W. Did you meet at the border with Nakhijevan?
S. S. Yes.
T. W. On the one hand, probably it is good that there are no separating troops, on the other hand, it causes problems. Do you have information about how many people die on the frontline?
S. S. It was also noted at today's meeting with Abiyev that it is bad that the troops are at a short distance from each other. But to speak frankly, I do not see yet how it can be changed and I do not know whether it is possible at all because while it is possible in some sections (I mean, for instance from Horadiz approximately to Aghdam, that is where there are no civilians, at least on this side), it is almost impossible in other places as civilians live there and it is impossible to create a corridor or a zone.
I think both I and he need to be stricter towards subordinate commanders so that they will not shoot. The temptation, however, probably works sometimes. There are places on the frontline where the troops are at a distance of two or three hundred meters from each other and when you see an unprotected soldier of the opposite side, you may always be tempted to shoot. However, later they understand that by doing so they provoke a return fire.
There are other reasons as well. Let us suppose that young, raw soldiers arrive at the frontline. With every rustle, they fancy they see an enemy and they even shoot aimlessly. Of course, emotions also have a role, for instance, some holidays, and sometimes one shot may be fraught with consequences.
Therefore, I think that if we are stricter, we can reduce these losses to a minimum.
T. W. Do the commanders keep in touch with each other?
S. S. Well…
T. W. Very little?
S. S. I may say almost not. This also varies in different sections. For instance, they sometimes meet in the Nakhijevan section. They have a boundary commissioner there, and we also have one. Such meetings also sometimes occur in Tovuz and Ijevan regions. But as a matter of fact no meetings take place from Horadiz to Aghdam.
T. W. Don't they even talk on the phone?
S. S. Yes, they have no telephone contact either. I must say that they have some fears and refuse to get in contact with each other. We have no such problems. Six months ago, when the Co-Chairs [of the OSCE Minsk Group] were here and crossed the frontline on the initiative of [Andrzej] Kasprzyk, they proposed keeping the communication line. We would be pleased. I even proposed doing so in other places as well. But the Azerbaijanis did not keep. I understand why they sometimes refuse to meet. Had we such territorial losses, perhaps we would also have some malice.
But we have no malice now in principle, since we think that we have fulfilled our task, and we have no such problems.
T. W. Is the fact that you are from Karabakh and worked in Azerbaijan formerly helps you establish mutual confidence, or not so much?
S. S. Well, I think there is no particular confidence, although we talk with each other very warmly when we meet. In general, I had good ties (and not only on this post) with the defense minister, I had excellent ties with the minister of internal affairs with whom I worked in Karabakh back in the Soviet years.
T. W. With Usubov?
S. S. Yes, with Ramil Usubov. I had normal relations with [minister of national security] Namig Abbasov. And of course, knowledge of the Azerbaijani language and the Azerbaijanis cannot have a negative impact.
T. W. I am interested in the process of army building both here and in Karabakh. In fact, in 1991 there were separate detachments, but suddenly (well, not suddenly but gradually) the army in fact emerged in 1994 and you are one of those who built it. What are the biggest lessons of that process? But there was a time in 1992 when you lost a great number of territories. Perhaps it was also a big lesson. What key moments do you see in that process?
S. S. I think the first key moment was when a decision was made to oppose – the Azerbaijani militia and the internal Soviet troops.
Apparently, it was the hardest and most responsible time because we had lived in the Soviet Union many years, we knew the strength of that machine, and it was not easy to come to such a decision.
T. W. Was it 1991?
S. S. Yes, it was 1990-1991. I think the second stage was when we made a decision, regardless of the complexity, to try to reduce the frontline, to try seriously this time… by means of military operations. At that time, we had to defend ourselves with scarce forces, both inside and outside. There were a great number of Azerbaijani settlements in Karabakh and there was a need to somehow keep the people both on this and that side. If you look at the map, we were in principle completely cut off from Armenia, so we had to take all-round defense. There was no single point in Karabakh which the Azerbaijanis could not reach with artillery.
And then we carried out a series of operations: Khojaly, Malibeyli, Shushi and later Aghdam and the rest. It was not like it is today when there is a possibility to capture some region or settlement. It was just the result of a cold calculation – to draw the frontline like this, only this way.
T. W. I was even told that you held a consultation meeting in 1991, you chose in order where…
S. S. I would not say that necessarily in order, but actually we started where it was easier, for the guys to get confidence that they can do it. We decided and reduced the frontline three- or four- fold. We had no other way out, we could not, with the small Karabakh, carry out such operations against Azerbaijan. And the third stage, certainly, when the Azerbaijanis began a large-scale war with the help of Russian specialists. It was the June of 1992.
Then we decided that we could not fight against tanks and planes with separate detachments because before it there were no tanks, air force and strong artillery, while they had Grad and other different things. In the summer of 1992, Azerbaijan got all armaments that were on its territory.
By the way, the Azerbaijanis are saying all the time that the Russians helped us, they supplied armaments to us, amounting to almost many billions of dollars, and so on …and the Russian Prosecutor's Office filed a criminal case on the basis of the application by renowned General [Lev] Rokhlin claiming that the Russian property was given to the Armenians. The criminal case was closed in May because of the absence of a
corpus delicti and the Prosecutor's Office (and we also simultaneously), after all, calculated what we received and what Azerbaijan received. It turned out that Azerbaijan had received 15 times more ammunition compared with us, and three times more armaments, and if the Azerbaijanis continue making noise, I will have to make public these figures. By the way, I conveyed these data to both the Americans and the NATO representatives, with no account taken of the air force on Azerbaijan's territory.
That is, if it is also taken into account, they certainly received much more. And over 50 times more on several types. For example, on planes – we received none.
T. W. But you also received assistance…
S. S. I do not deny it. First, it was not a free aid. As you know, the well-known agreement was signed in Tashkent in 1992, which stated that Russia (that is, Soviet Union's successor) should be guided by the principle of parity while forming the national armed forces. So, they were obliged to give us as much as they gave Azerbaijan. It turns out, I tell my colleagues in Russia, that the Russians are still indebted to us. For there is an intergovernmental agreement, co-signed by Pavel Grachev and Vazgen Sargsyan, stipulating that we keep part of the armaments and give another part to the Russians who are dislocated in our country and Russia, in return, shall give us armament for one motorized infantry division, something it has not done so far.
Therefore, all this is relative.
T. W. Yes, but I can say that according to my information, for example, the 366th regiment helped you, and you received assistance in Khojaly, and some other assistance from Russia to stop Azerbaijan's attack in September 1992.
S. S. I do not deny that officers from the 366th regiment had some participation, but first, that regiment helped not us, but itself as the Azerbaijanis struck not only us, but also the 366th regiment with Grad. So, they should think about their own actions. Second, many Armenian officers served in the 366th regiment and they could help us without the knowledge of the command. And this was what they did. Current commander of Karabakh army, Lieutenant General [Seyran] Ohanyan was a battalion commander there. How could he not help us? But the fact that, for instance, several officers helped us has nothing to do with the 366th regiment.
As regards assistance by other Russians, don't believe it, it is a lie. The only Russian on our side was Lieutenant General [Anatoly] Zinevich, he died, but he had retired long ago, and worked as an advisor at the Armenian Defense Ministry. They came to me there together with General [Christopher] Ivanyan in the summer of 1992, for three days, together with Vazgen Sargsyan. They stayed with me there, until the last moment. Don't believe, there were no other Russians there. 16 Cossacks came, got drunk, shot at one another, and left. Why, were there few Russians on Azerbaijan's side? Who drove the tanks which they received in May 1992? I saw with my own eyes those crews, Russian crews. Why, didn't the Azerbaijanis have other mercenaries? And what about Shamil Basayev? I spoke to him on air in Martakert.
T. W. You with Basayev?
S. S. Of course. He visited Martakert twice. There were so many Mujahidins…So, do you know where this stems from? Just from our relationships, from our nation's blind faith and great love towards the Russians…It is widely known, and therefore, when they say that the Russians helped us, they suppose: how could they not help? But, actually, you will see, I think these data will, however, be made public in the coming months. And then you will see whether or not the Russians will refute them. They just can't, you know. For really there were armaments on the territory of Armenia and on the territory of Azerbaijan. These armaments remained. Where did it disappear?
T.W. Tell me why Pavel Grachev became an honorary citizen of Yerevan. He visited you frequently.
S. S. I did not say that we were on bad terms with Grachev. No. We were on excellent terms. Look. This, first of all, comes from the relations between, for example, Vazgen Sargsyan and Grachev, between me and Grachev. Actually we had friendly relations. But it does not mean that Grachev acted against Russia's interests, it does not mean that Grachev took something from there and nevertheless gave it back. But while we had almost nothing, even the smallest aid mattered to us.
Look, the troops deployed on Azerbaijan's territory surpassed two- or three-fold, in terms of their capabilities and armament, the troops deployed on Armenia's territory. No one can deny this because, according to the Soviet doctrine, the direction of the main strike [of a potential enemy] was Azerbaijan. Ammunition depots were located on Azerbaijan's territory, an airborne division was there, as well as, given Azerbaijan's industrial capacities, oil and other enterprises, there was a separate unit of air defense forces there. Armenia had nothing of it.
They had a lot, while we had little. But we took half of that little and left the other half to the Russians. A military base remained here. That is, we took half of that little. Azerbaijan took what was there completely. Therefore, they are still saying that not everything is compensated yet. Yes, it is no secret that we brought ammunition from Georgia during the military operations. Why, didn't the Azerbaijanis bring? They brought as well. Both we and they brought. But they kept silent about it due to some reasons and relationships, while we spoke about it. I am not familiar with such a strategy, perhaps this is some kind of tactics. Anyway, I do not deny the aid. However, I say that Azerbaijan received much more.
T. W. When it comes to the level of army's professionalization, I would also like to ask you about Khojaly. For no one denies that a great number of Azerbaijanis died while fleeing Khojaly, and that it was the doing of some Karabakh detachments from near Askeran. But what do you ascribe this to? Do you ascribe this to the fact that it was done by resentful people and not professional Karabakh soldiers and you did not have it later? Why?
S. S. You know, such issues are not spoken of aloud. Only what is possible is spoken of. I will do so as well. First, Azerbaijan's former leader said those were not Armenians, but Azerbaijanis.
But I will say that the truth could be different. Nevertheless, Khojaly once badly disturbed the entire Karabakh because the airport was located there, because air transport was our only communication with Armenia, because OMON was there, they were ransacking something and many people were arrested.
Besides, being near Stepanakert, they allowed themselves to shoot at it. But I think the most important is not this. Before the Khojaly events, the Azerbaijanis thought they were just joking with us. The Azerbaijanis thought that the Armenians were not capable of lifting their hand against civilians. It was necessary to change that. And it happened just that way. Also, it must be taken into consideration that those who fled Baku and Sumgait were among those guys.
I think, however, that there is too much exaggeration.
The Azerbaijanis needed an occasion to equate something to Sumgait. But they cannot be compared in any way. Yes, actually, there were civilians in Khojaly. But besides civilians, there were also soldiers. And a falling shell cannot distinguish between a civilian and a soldier, it has no eyes. If civilians stay there, although they had an excellent opportunity to leave, it means they also take part in the military operations…And the corridor was left for them not for shooting them somewhere – it was possible to shoot them in Khojaly, not on the approaches to Aghdam.
T. W. I think you just usually left a corridor, if something…
S. S. It was this way mainly after the Khojaly events. For actually, our war was somewhat different from the other wars. It happened so that there was some ethnic cleansing. It can't be another way. But it is not we who invented that method. They invented it when they expelled our people from Hadrut and Shushi regions by means of police.
T. W. Another moment, which remained mysterious. The operation to capture Shushi began in May. The Armenian president was in Tehran at that time, conducting negotiations. Is this a game? He actually was aware and just covered himself or actually you had not coordinated your actions?
S. S. You know, the Armenian leadership did not agree with all our actions in those times. I can't say with a 100 percent certainty whether or not Levon [Ter-Petrosyan] was aware of that day because we had not spoken about it. Of course, Vazgen Sargsyan was aware. But it was somewhat different there, that operation had been planned a week before. It is ridiculous to speak about it now, but because of several tank shells, just because of several shells we postponed the operation for a week. Therefore, in any case, we did not take any well-considered and serious actions – we have gathered there in Tehran and we will do it. We did not have such possibilities at that time. You know, when the people went against Shushi, it was a festive occasion. It was just a festive occasion in Stepanakert, as Stepanakert was so much tired of Shushi. 350-400 shells fell on Stepanakert every day. And we all were already half-crazy at that time. No one felt the shells any longer. The shell is flying – the hell with it. When I came home, my little daughter would sit on the stairs, and once she told me: "Look, dad, a shell is flying. It is not dangerous, it is Alazan, a good shell, while the one over there is dangerous." You see, it was indeed a festive occasion.
And of course everything was very successful later on, the Azerbaijanis virtually offered no resistance and retreated. They were seized by panic.
T. W. Then, we already mentioned the summer offensive, their most successful one. Naturally, armor appeared on their side, and what omissions do you see on your side?
S. S. I think only God knows how it happened that way. For actually it was almost a hopeless option. It happened so (I think it was not accidental) that Azerbaijan got its armament a week earlier than we did. When the Azerbaijanis launched that serious offensive, we had only nine tanks, out of which only eight were in operation. There were only nine tanks in the 366th regiment. Then they damaged one, burned it. And with those eight tanks we…
T. W. Was it the one near Shushi?
S. S. No, no, no. First deputy commander of Transcaucasian Military District [Yuri] Grekov came to us while withdrawing the 366th regiment, and tried to remove the equipment. They removed, if I am not mistaken, some 30 infantry fighting vehicles by helicopters, and burned one tank, just damaged it.
I think the first and main reason is that the Azerbaijanis did not take us seriously. They thought: if not today, then tomorrow, if not tomorrow, then the day after tomorrow…Why, what is Karabakh, what is Armenia – they have strength and such a huge thing, they received armament. And they did not plan their actions seriously, there was no serious general command… Sacrilegious though it may sound, I sometimes compare that situation with a football match, when the kicks are weak at the beginning of the game and they train the goalkeeper, you see. It happened just that way to us, we began training.
The second reason is what was during the entire history of the Soviet Union, and profited us. There is no Karabakh resident who has served in the Soviet army somewhere in the depot, in the kitchen. All our guys served in combatant units and we already had people who could drive tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, who knew what a weapon was. It is no secret that many Azerbaijanis in the Soviet army served in non-combatant military units.
Third, in principle we were obliged to do it, we had to do it. We just had no other way out as we were protecting our home, our land and our children. And everyone knew that behind him were his family and his children and therefore we certainly had an advantage.
It also had to do with the fact that Karabakh people were always good fighters. It was established historically. For all Armenian marshals were from there, hundreds, thousands of generals in tsar's time, in the Soviet era and during the Great Patriotic War.
The calm and quiet people looked absolutely different in such conditions. Of course, knowledge of the terrain is also a very serious factor. I don't know, maybe so it was pleasing to God. Perhaps it is the main reason.
T. W. Did the internal discords (maybe it is not the right word) play a role?
S. S. Of course, they also played a serious role. The domestic political situation in Azerbaijan was very complex, while we had no such problems. We had directed everything towards that, everything starting from women to tractors (excuse me for the rude expression) and it never happened that I needed something but someone told me that it was impossible.
Well, and gradualness. It strengthened us and weakened them. You shoot down a tank somewhere, and take it. A week later, that tank is already shooting from your side. This is serious. And it happened that in the spring of 1993 we already had as much tanks as the Azerbaijanis. But they had three or four times more tanks in the beginning. We captured 156 tanks from them.
T. W. President Kocharyan said recently: "I began the war with 6 tanks, but ended with 146." How do you think it was possible to stop the war without capturing a huge territory beyond Karabakh?
S. S. No, it was inevitable.
T. W. Inevitable?
S. S. It could not be differently, otherwise we just would not hold out for two or three months.
T. W. I know that the Armenian president and many around him were certainly displeased…
S. S. Yes, they were displeased, but we had to do it because, I reiterate, the key issues were land, family and children. We had no other way out. Perhaps the people in Yerevan and Gyumri very much wanted it not to happen. They tried, they came and fought, however, they could not feel like a person living in Martakert region. This does not concern only Armenia. It is this way everywhere. I do not think that in the Soviet Union, a person who lived in Sverdlovsk felt the war the same way as a person who lived in Belarus. There is a difference.
T. W. But you also know fairly well, being already in Armenia, that it is the capture of those regions, Aghdam, etc. that causes the biggest political and humanitarian problems.
So, had only Nagorno-Karabakh, and maybe Lachin, been taken, there would not be such a sharp problem.
S. S. I think we just did what was necessary. If in 1994 we had had a common opinion, if we had had some more ammunition, we could have solved a big problem, which might be perceived negatively at first, but would play a very positive role later.
In principle we were able to reach Kura and in that case of course Azerbaijan would become much weaker, perhaps there would be two or three times more refugees and two or three times more territories would be lost. I think they would be more compliant then. You see, it is not we who began it. And I know no case in global practice when the results of war were not taken into account.
T. W. I had a conversation with Levon Ter-Petrosyan and I would like to hear your opinion. He says that before his resignation Vazgen Sargsyan, Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan did not wish at all to negotiate with Azerbaijan, thinking that it was possible to live in that situation and with that status.
S. S. No, it was not so.
T. W. Were there any disagreements?
S. S. There were disagreements. He believed that the time came when we had to make concessions. We thought that there still were some reserves, and the possibilities to achieve more in a peaceful way were not exhausted completely. I even asked him: "Levon, give us at least six months, let us try once again and maybe we will succeed." He, to be more exact, the people who pushed him to it, kept to another extreme. They thought that if it would not happen at that moment, nothing would develop in Armenia and they would lose the power. But we thought that there were some reserves. So, it was not that we were not willing to speak to them seriously.
Why should we want it? Why? Weren't we tired of that war? Didn't we want to develop peaceful life? Didn't we want to reap the fruits which we could have in that case? But we could not make such a concession. I understand that Levon directed all that, I understand that he was president. But we led those guys to the battle, you see. So, we lost…I lost almost all of my friends, almost all of them. I lost my 18-year-old nephew who came to help me together with his father. The boy was killed there. But we could not just…
T. W. But what was unacceptable to you?
S. S. What was unacceptable was that we were about to return to the status quo, that is, to what we had started with.
T. W. In 1988?
S. S. Yes, of course. In principle we were returning. And we had just to trust some fine words by the Azerbaijanis or the mediators. And what if they changed their mind? What would happen next? Once we had gone for such a war and I do not think we could go for it for a second time. That was just impossible. It could be possible maybe in fifty or one hundred years. But when you tell a soldier to withdraw, he will never go there again. He simply will not go. There were no serious guarantees. You know, we will return the territory now and then will consider. But why should they consider later? Why? There was no sense in doing so.
T. W. What does the situation look like now, has it improved or worsened, what are the perspectives?
S. S. I think it is far better now. You know, those who were on that position at that time, now say that there is no difference and that the situation has worsened. They cannot say differently. But if we think soberly and realistically…I understand that I am also interested and I am on another extreme position. Now look, before 1998 absolutely no one spoke about Karabakh's independence, about transfer, even through exchange of some territories. After 1998, for more than two years and a half, we never heard such a proposal. So, hasn't the situation changed?
For two years and a half, neither the Azerbaijanis nor the mediators gave a single hint of returning Karabakh to Azerbaijan's authority. Isn't it a change?
With their proposal on exchange of territories the Azerbaijanis confirmed that Karabakh is already Armenian, you see. Therefore, no matter who says what, this is what the fact is.
T. W. Well, I will tell you (and you shouldn't react sharply to it): in Baku I met a man who considers himself your old friend. It is Zahid Abbasov.
S. S. Zahid?
T. W. Yes, he worked with you in the Young Communist League. Of course, a very strange fate: you worked with those people and suddenly began fighting each other. One state became two. Of course, it was a romantic epoch, but it is not so now. Don't you, however, think that there was a deep miscalculation in the romantic movement, and that you could have acted differently?
S. S. No, I have absolutely no regrets. For such shocks are apparently necessary.
T. W. Even when thousands of people die?
S. S. Well, what can you do about it? Yes, thousands of people die. But now we much more seldom do what we used to do before, accusing each other almost every day. I do not want to blame anyone. But how should we have acted? How?
T. W. At the same time, maybe it was necessary to sit down and talk seriously.
S. S. Why, didn't we sit down, didn't we talk? If you are interested, I can give some arguments and go back to that period.
Look, what would you do if, for instance, someone came to your house and said: "This is my house!"?
T. W. But this is a common house.
S. S. No, I mean a concrete house. Let us suppose that they come and say: "This temple is ours." Well, I will say elementary things. Why should I not have spoken my native language at work in my town? Why did I have to speak Russian?
Why did I have to hold some plenary sessions in Russian? Why not in Armenian? Why, for instance, should there have not been a single Armenian letter in my passport? Why should I have been a kind of a social outcast if I studied in Yerevan? I am one of the rarest people who worked in the Soviet-party bodies in Karabakh and studied in Yerevan. There are millions of reasons. How could it be so: that region was created in 1920, and it was 99 percent populated by Armenians at that time, while in 1988 that number was 70 percent? How could it be so? Why isn't it the opposite?
T. W. Yes, both here and there, I can see people who sincerely believe that it is their homeland. Why did they fight each other?
S. S. It is a relative homeland, you know. Zahid says that this is his homeland. But Zahid should have been asked: "Where was your father born, Zahid? Or your grandfather?" If his grandfather had been born there, in Shushi, I would say that Zahid is from Shushi and it is his homeland. But I do not mean Zahid specifically. Zahid's grandfather was maybe born in Shushi.
Many worked with Zahid whose fathers – not grandfathers, but fathers – were born in Aghdam, in Kurdamir, in other places. Why did they work not in Kurdamir, but in Stepanakert, can you tell me? Why? How did it happen that the population of Shushi was 3,000-4,000 and suddenly it rose to 15,000, while in other places it declined? Why wasn't there any operating church in Karabakh which has more than one thousand historical monuments? Why couldn't I see any priest there? Why did my grandmother fast secretly? Why was cattle kept in the wonderful church of Shushi?
For cattle was not kept in any mosque. If it is their homeland, why isn't there any historical monument there? There is one mosque in Shushi, built with Soviet funds. Why aren't there any historical monuments? Why aren't there any traces? How can it be so: people live 800-1,000 years near a church and leave no traces? It can't be so.
T. W. But you at least do not regret that the peaceful existence…
S. S. No, what I mean is not this. I do not regret that we went that way. Of course, if it were possible to reach today's level when an Armenian feels himself/herself an Armenian in Karabakh, and lives a normal life… It would be wonderful if it were possible to achieve this in a peaceful way. But how can I not wish it if I could have died a hundred times? How could I know that I would survive?
T. W. That, however, did not happen just one fine day; it is a process. You all were Soviet citizens, communicated with each other, were members of Komsomol, traveled to Baku. What was the key moment for you to view Karabakh differently?
S. S. You know, I have humanitarian education, I know Armenian history very well.
T. W. Are you a historian?
S. S. No, I am a philologist. Unlike many of the movement's leaders, I received purely Armenian education and, of course, these things were stranger to me. I would not say that I was engaged in underground activities before 1988. Absolutely not. Even in the February of 1988 I was not among the leaders. I and Kocharyan joined in later. These things were unacceptable to me, you see. Still, it came from the inside. Most of names in Karabakh are Russian. My name is not Armenian and Kocharyan's name is not Armenian either. Whether automatically or not, I don't know, I gave Armenian names to my children, purely Armenian names…This is on the one hand. On the other hand, in principle I knew the Azerbaijani language and I am a sociable person. Therefore, I had a great number of Azerbaijani friends. Not only Azerbaijani, but also Avarian, Lezghin. Still, the problem was perhaps not only in the Azerbaijanis, but apparently also in the Soviet system. The very same Zahid, the very same Rohangiz, first secretary of Komsomol in Shushi region, a normal, pleasant woman. I do not think they wanted it. Originally, when people came to the square and the village of Kerkijan was located near Stepanakert, the Azerbaijanis also came there, and whether a part of Armenia or a part of Azerbaijan – it was all the same to them. For they lived there much better than in other places. You see, if in Azerbaijan the population grew at the same rate as, for instance, the number of Azerbaijanis in Karabakh, we would say that they live far better here. But of course this is a system, if the system is arranged differently…
T. W. You also worked inside that system.
S. S. That's right. Both good and bad people, both careerists and those who were capable, for instance, of kneeling down for some position, worked inside that system…There were excellent people inside the system, very good people, and therefore, I never felt ashamed in those times, never. By the way, the work in Komsomol apparently could be compared, in some way, with my initial activities during the hostilities. You know, in Komsomol, you had no rights, but you had a lot of obligations. And you had to do something under such conditions.
T. W. It was you who made a recommendation for Robert Kocharyan to become second…
S. S. Yes. I made a recommendation. As a matter of fact, we became friends at that time. We were very close friends. We went hunting or fishing almost every week. We were very close.
T. W. Was there, nevertheless, one moment or is this simply a process when…
S. S. No, there was one moment when the people went to the square. And then…But why is it impossible… Perhaps Gorbachev is to blame for letting the people speak.
Susanna Poghosyan (Thomas de Waal's aide): Yes, we communicated with Mr Shugaryan…in the 1960s he also…it always existed.
S. S. Why in the 1960s? It was in 1924 for the first time, when NKAO was formed. There are no questions here. I am friends with a very famous and a very clever man. He is former first deputy chairman of Council of Ministers of Armenia Alexander Kirakosyan; he is aged above 80; we meet once in two weeks or ten days. He is simply a walking encyclopedia. He showed me the letters which former first secretary of Armenian Communist Party [Grigory] Arutyunov had written to his son. It was in the 1940s.
T. W. Is the fact that you and Kocharyan began rising a sign that the local authorities failed to cope?
S. S. I do not know how to explain it, perhaps it depends on our character – we could not stay aside. Perhaps the reason was that some leaders were simply appointees, and there was no leader.
Well, it happened this way. We really joined in much later.
T. W. In fact in 1992?
S. S. No. In 1988, when [Boris] Kevorkov had resigned, Henrikh Poghosyan came and offered me to work as his assistant, but I refused the offer. Kocharyan already was one of the leaders at that time. Then the deputy chairman of the regional executive committee gave me an assignment, everything was official. So, for sure it was in that period.
T. W. But there were two movements – Dashnaks and non-Dashnaks, we can say so, and was it also a fundamental moment for you?
S. S. Yes, it was fundamental for me. To tell the truth, I was not keen on working in party organizations. I had graduated from university and intended to engage in scientific work. Simultaneously, I worked at Yerevan Electrotechnical Factory and I was admitted to the party, as a worker. It would be stupid to refuse – to engage in scientific work, it was necessary to join the party. And when I went to Stepanakert, they told me…I may say I was forced to work, I was not keen on it. It is not in my nature. I do not like parties. Until now, by the way.
The Dashnaks could not appear earlier than 1990-1991. But they could not be open due to the structure of the party. You see, many parties suppress individual's independence. Very many, if not all.
It is like a person is no longer the master of his fate. I could not be a Dashnak, irrespective of whether or not there were Dashnaks there, I don't know. I told them in the face: "Well, how can you be Dashnaks? You don't even know how and when Dashnaktsutyun was created. You don't know the Dashnak leaders. You don't know anything at all." Well, a person with Russian education comes and says that he is a Dashnak. Listen, how can you be a Dashnak?
T. W. The fact that you were not a Dashnak also drew the confidence of ANM [Armenian National Movement], didn't it? It was in 1991…
S. S. I think yes. And not only ANM and the guys who were there. I don't think that ANM would elect us if there had been no trust.
Neither I nor Robert knew the leaders before. Neither Levon [Ter-Petrosyan] nor Vazgen [Manukyan] nor Vano [Siradeghyan]…If we were something, we would get acquainted later. It would be different if we had studied together and they knew us. It was not so. I understand your question. But I have never been a member of ANM. I have never been elected to any local bodies, although they get it from somewhere and publish in newspapers. Yes, I participated in the congress, but how could one not participate then? Actually, I was a member of ANM, but not ANM as a party. Yes, I was. But who was not a member of Armenian National Movement in Armenia at that time? I have never been a member of that party, and could not be. But of course there were such possibilities at every turn. I was not a member and even my name was not in the lists for the 1995 parliamentary elections.
S. P. How did it happen that you, in principle, a man of a peaceful profession…Robert Kocharyan went rather in the political direction, while you went in the military direction. Is this due to your character or something else?
S. S. No, I think it was simply accidental; someone had to do it. But who? If someone could do it better…Perhaps he would do it.
You see, guys who had to some extent a criminal character took arms for the first time then. And it must not have been allowed.
S. P. This happened in Armenia, and what about Karabakh?
S. S. Of course. Originally, yes…
S. P. A tough struggle against criminal elements began in Armenia. And what about Karabakh?
S. S. No, there was no such problem in Karabakh because we managed to control the situation at the very beginning. There was no such thing that someone was uncontrolled. There were two people there…Samvel Avoyan, who was shot. We could not allow ourselves to give someone more independence, it could not be another way. For, however, it should be taken into account that Soviet troops were there, deployed compactly, since 1988. Very compactly. Some careless actions under the influence of alcohol or drugs could lead to tragic consequences. There could be such guys there, of course, they also understood this. Therefore, we had strict discipline and it is objective as Karabakh is, nevertheless, small. On the other hand, there was no danger in Armenia. In Armenia, there was a fear for Karabakh, there was a wish for Karabakh, while there was simply a danger there. Danger.
You know, I and Kocharyan for a long time carried a grenade in our pocket, with its pin tied.