YEREVAN, December 12. /ARКА/. In an exclusive interview with Novosti-Armenia news agency the Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs Konstantin Zatulin shares his vision of the situation with Christian monuments in Nagorno-Karabakh, speaks about the prospects for allied relations between Armenia and Russia, the latest statements made by the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey at the military parade in Baku, as well as about whether Azerbaijan is a friend of Russia.
Question – Mr. Zatulin, you said earlier that no one would believe the ranting of Turkey and Azerbaijan, which refuse to recognize the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians committed by Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century, that Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians may have cultural autonomy within Azerbaijan. Numerous acts of vandalism committed by Azerbaijani military against Armenian cultural monuments and cemeteries have proved you were right. How the Armenian cultural heritage in the territories of Artsakh now controlled by Azerbaijan can be protected?
K. Zatulin – First of all, I would like to say that cultural monuments, like national minorities, old people and children, should be protected by the honor and dignity of the people that inherited these monuments and control the territory on which they are located. The honor and dignity of that people should guarantee that nothing will happen to them. But, unfortunately, not everyone has this feeling and this honor and dignity. And because of this, they settle scores not even with today, but with the past days of history. We witnessed this in Palmyra in Syria; we witnessed this in Afghanistan, when the Taliban shot and destroyed monuments of Buddhist culture. Barbarism, like great art and great culture, unfortunately, accompanies human history.
Regarding the Armenian monuments in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), the responsibility for their protection, first of all, lies with the authorities and people of Azerbaijan. But, unfortunately, we have witnessed a situation when they did not demonstrate respect for the monuments of Armenian history and culture. Moreover, what is especially disturbing at this stage, when we look at the statements of the Azerbaijani side, is that over the past time, a revision of history has taken place in Azerbaijan. Representatives of Azerbaijan claim publicly that the monuments of Armenian culture on the territory of Karabakh are not Armenian, but belong to Caucasian Albanians, who, according to Azerbaijani historians and politicians, are the historical ancestors of the present day Azerbaijani people.
Any historian who has some knowledge of the history of this period, understands that this is a lie and blatant falsification. But this falsification is supported in Azerbaijan at the highest official level. And this is alarming. Moreover, there are reasons for this alarm: many monuments of Armenian culture during the existence of Soviet Azerbaijan and after its collapse have practically disappeared from the territory of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Region. Actually, the same fate can befall the monuments of Christian culture in the territories that have now come under the control of Azerbaijan.
Question – Should we expect that Russia, realizing the seriousness of this threat, will intensify efforts to neutralize it?
K. Zatulin – Many political and public figures in Russia have already conveyed this concern in a letter (I am one of its signatories) they sent to UNESCO. Wherever possible, I try to draw attention to these concerns too. You know that our efforts were not at all in vain: we turned to the President of the Russian Federation, and the result was a decision that is not mentioned in the trilateral agreement (to stop the war in Karabakh) that Russian peacekeepers would guard also the Monastery of Dadivank. And they do it today. Although we understand that it is hardly possible to protect everyone and every monument in Karabakh. Therefore, the point is to make the international community address this problem and secondly, to provide constant monitoring not only by the Russian side, but also by other countries and peoples.
I would also add, and I think it is not a secret that there are supporters and lobbyists of Azerbaijan in Russia. Russia has a fairly large Azerbaijani Diaspora. And I’m not even talking about its now – their point of view and priorities are clear. I am talking about those politicians and public figures in Russia who, for their own reasons, do not want to go into details, choosing instead to argue for the need of Russia’s special attention, partnership and friendship with Azerbaijan. Moreover, some of them do not hesitate to advance this argument against the background of what is happening now in Armenia. Moreover, they demand that we renounce the support for the Armenians and shift the center of gravity to cooperation with Azerbaijan.
Some are talking about it publicly, some are more sophisticated. The latter are such iconic figures as Mikhail Shvydkoy, Mikhail Gusman, Sergey Markov, Maxim Shvechenko and Igor Korotchenko. The fact that some of these people are forced to speak about the monuments and reject all concerns for their fate is another proof that their conscience is not quite asleep and they, feeling pricks of conscience, are trying to convince themselves and others that such a problem does not exist. I hope that we will not let their conscience fall asleep completely, we will agitate it from time to time so that no one has doubts that the problem really exists.
And this is not only a problem of monuments. This is a problem of those Armenians, who have remained and live in these territories. All the assurances of the leadership of Azerbaijan or Turkey about the happy life of Armenians in their states, which are accompanied by stories about the active Christian churches in Azerbaijan or thousands of Armenians in Turkey, are in fact so unconvincing that it is not even serious to refute them.
We can find a huge number of different facts contradicting the official versions of Turkey and Azerbaijan. But the most important thing is that their leaders themselves do not miss a chance – and the military parade in Baku confirmed it – to once again emphasize their contempt for historical facts, their exorbitant claims to everything that today does not belong to them geographically, including Armenian Zangezur, Yerevan and so on.
Question – Statements made by Turkish president Erdogan in Baku show that this country has not given up its genocidal policy towards Armenians. How would you comment on this?
K. Zatulin – A very peculiar historical memory allows Mr. Erdogan to remember Enver Pasha, ignoring what he did to the Armenians during the First World War, or how he ended his life. The elder brother of Azerbaijan, President Erdogan, demonstrated how he treats museums and Christian values, when he converted the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul, built 1000 years before the appearance of the Turks in Constantinople, to a mosque.
Question – At the military parade in Baku, Aliyev said that Syunik in the south of Armenia, as well as Lake Sevan and Yerevan are ‘historical territories of Azerbaijan.’ How do you like that?
K. Zatulin – I am once again convinced that some of my colleagues are involved in praising Aliyev, perhaps because of the modest charm of hydrocarbons, maybe for other reasons. I want to say that Ilham Aliyev, who is a graduate of the Moscow Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), understands history in a very peculiar way, which makes me think there is something wrong with teaching history at MGIMO. I too graduated from the Faculty of History. And I have never heard anyone in our country expound such versions of history, according to which Yerevan is the ancient Azerbaijani land. As far as I know history, Azerbaijanis legalized their title name only in the 20th century. In the Russian Empire they were referred to as Turkish Tatars.
As for the Albanian Christian churches in the territory of Karabakh, despite the fact that in the most magical way representatives of today’s Azerbaijani society claim to be descendants of the Caucasian Albanians, it seems that these claims would be ridiculous if we were not witnesses to the tragedy that is being played out today. It seems to me that a leader of such a level as president of country must not make such statements. These statements lead to the concerns that are being expressed around the world – not only in Russia – about the current alliance between Turkey and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.
Question – What are the consequences for Armenia and the entire region of the Aliyev-Erdogan tandem?
K. Zatulin – The only consequence is that Armenia must strengthen its defense capability. It is necessary to restore the spirit of the Armenian people, their faith in their own strength and trust in the government that governs them. Personally, now I do not see any prospects for either, if the current prime minister and his administration continue to exercise power. I am saying this straightforwardly, without hesitation, because it has already ceased to be an internal affair of Armenia only.
I believe that everything that happened, including the peacekeeping commitment, which Russia has assumed, requires a leadership attitude in Armenia, which is adequate to Russia’s obligations. The agreement (reached by Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan to stop the Karabakh war) must be implemented, because the alternative to it is war, which Armenia is not in a position to conduct.
The alternative is the breach of the agreement. But this does not mean at all that by this agreement someone assumed obligation in Russia, and even in Azerbaijan to make every effort to ensure that the signatory of this agreement – Nikol Pashinyan – rules Armenia forever.
People, who demagogically, as Nikol Pashinyan has done recently, abuse the right to speak on behalf of the people, and this is a common practice of any dictator, always believe that they are “the state is me” and “the people are me.” For Pashinyan, this is not “the state is me”, but “the people are me.” I think this is very transparent and obvious. And it is obvious not only in Armenia, but also abroad.
Russia, which is determined to help Armenia, must be sure that its assistance will not be wasted. The people we are helping are worthy of trust and they proceed from the same goals as we do, namely, the preservation of the Armenian people in their historical land, the prevention of hostilities, and further bloodshed.
In this respect, there is no way to believe that the person who has failed both the negotiations and the defense of Armenians and Armenia will cope with this task. This, of course, is an internal affair of Armenia; no one from Russia will indicate who exactly should be entrusted with power in Armenia. But with this administration in Yerevan, it is very difficult to convince the citizens of Russia that they must sacrifice something in favor of Armenia, when there are people still in power there who turned out to be unworthy of the trust – not of ours, but of the Armenian people.
Question – Taking into account that Armenia and Artsakh are in a deep economic and political crisis, what ways do you see to overcome it and what role can Armenia’s strategic ally – Russia play in this?
K. Zatulin – First of all, the internal problems in Armenia must be resolved. This is certainly true. As for Russia, it is not going to abandon its obligations. It took on additional one- a peacekeeping mission. Russia is obliged, of course, to analyze everything what is happening in the region, including the military parade in Baku. Based on this, we must simply understand that Azerbaijan is a problem country to Russia, despite the its leaders’ public assurances of friendship. In fact, we cannot rely on relations with Azerbaijan: it is friends with us on a leftover principle – in order to benefit from this friendship.
No one blames Azerbaijan for this: any country is looking for its own benefit, but the benefit of Azerbaijan, which is quite obvious now, has been demonstrated. It relies on relations with Turkey, including militarily and politically. This is not at all what can be called sincere relations of friendship and cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is “two countries, one people” with Turkey, not with Russia. This is what we must proceed from. This does not mean that we should undertake a demarche – we will not do that. But this means that we must draw our own conclusions: who is our friend, who is our enemy. And I am very glad that the military parade in Baku seems to have made all the things absolutely clear. -0-