|I DON'T BELIEVE THAT THERE IS A "MAGIC SOLUTION" TO THE KARABAKH PROBLEM
Interview with Thomas de Waal.
Thomas de Waal. is a research associate with the non-governmental organisation Conciliation Resources. He was Caucasus editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. He is co-author of Chechnya: calamity in the Caucasus (New York, 1998) and author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through peace and war (New York, 2003).
Firstly, letís talk about appearing this book. How was born your idea to write a book on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
In the mid-1990s I worked in Moscow, traveled to Chechnya and, with a colleague, wrote the first book in English about the conflict in Chechnya. I became interested in conflict and why it happens. I also started traveling to the South Caucasus -- to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh. And I wanted to read a book about the origins and events of the Karabakh conflict. But I didn't find such a book, only rather propagandistic versions by both sides. And eventually I decided to write myself the book that I wanted to read. I spent two years on this project, 2000 and 2001 and a lot of time in the region and in Moscow.
What difficulties did you have while writing this book?
The main difficulty was inside my mind. When you spend time on one side of this dispute, you begin to see the conflict through the eyes of one side and accept their point of view. Then you cross to the other side and your views change. After a while my brain was suffering, I felt rather schizophrenic! The versions of reality, of events, were so different and both sides had real facts on their sides, as well as rumours and myths. Eventually however I began to detect the myths and the lies and to construct my own -- third -- version of the Karabakh conflict from all the different sources I had. Of course I had a huge advantage, which is that I was able to visit both sides of the conflict. And I should add an interesting detail -- I began also to play the role of postman between friends who hadn't seen each other for more than 10 years and were divided by war.
And what interesting facts did you come across?
The reader is the best judge of what facts are interesting in the book! I know that many readers have been interested, and also angry, about information that I produce in the book. Many people in Armenia didn't know about the destruction of the mosque that I wrote about. And denied the fact of the Khojali massacre. Or were shocked when former president Levon Ter-Petrosian confirmed that Russia sent weapons to Armenia. And Azerbaijanis found it hard to accept my chapter about the "Albanian controversy" or when I write that the figure of "20 per cent of territory occupied" is in fact false.
- But Azerbaijani side tells that you did not pay much attention Khojali massacre. Even there were not any pictures from of that day in the book, where are some photographs.
Some people pick up a book about Karabakh and do not read the text, but they count the photographs, look for the number of references to this event or that. To me this is a primitive approach. I even heard a complaint that I was biased because I quoted Sayat Nova, an Armenian poet, at the beginning of the book! That means you are pro-Armenian. But he even did not think that, Sayat Nova wrote in Azerbaijani and was a poet for the whole Caucasus. I have received analogous complaints that I did not give enough attention to the expulsion of Armenians from Baku in 1990 or publish photographs of Armenian refugees. I wrote several pages about Khojali and I wrote that it was the worst massacre of the Karabakh war -- the worst human tragedy. I hope that is clear. I was not planning to write a terrifying book. It is just a book of analysis.
Again I return to the point -- I am not interested in a contest between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, where each side tries to pick points from the number of references or photographs they receive. And it is dangerous to construct a "hierarchy of suffering" where one side is said to have "suffered more" than the other. It is the whole picture which is important
Do you think your book changed anything? How do you estimate the role of your?
Of course book cannot change a political situation. I hope however it has helped people both in the Caucasus and outside understand things more clearly and understand the fears and hopes of others better. I have had many good responses from ordinary readers. I got one good response from a Bakinets of mixed parentage now living in Australia who feels alienated from the world he grew up in that was destroyed by the Karabakh conflict and who told me "For the first time I have read a book which is about me" Now it is being translated into Armenian and Azerbaijani and I hope the conversation around the book will grow.
What kind of responses have you got from your readers?
There has been a wide range of responses to the book. In the West the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with most readers saying it is the most detailed and balanced version of the conflict they have seen. I had some good letters from natives of the region as well. One bakuvian wrote to me to say that "for the first time I read a book that describes my own experience, what I felt" and one Armenian who studies the Karabakh issue very closely said he thought the book was near to reality. There has of course been criticism -- and from both sides. Some of it has been on a very primitive level, of the nature of "Why did you quote the Armenian Sayat Nova at the beginning of the book?. Some of it has been quite detailed and interesting. The Armenians for example question my version of what happened in Kafan in January 1988. I am glad it has stimulated so much debate.
What is the reason of little attention paid by foreign authors to this conflict? Why have not been written more books on this conflict?
The Caucasus is far away and very complicated -- even more complicated for the international reader than the Balkans. So it is hard to engage the interest of Westerners in this issue. This is also a subject which requires a big investment of time and energy to understand -- this book took me two years full time. Of course other issues like Iraq or Israel-Palestine will always get more attention. But I think the new pipelines such as BTC and the expansion of the EU and NATO to the Black Sea mean that the rest of the world is slowly paying more attention to the Caucasus. And it certainly deserves more attention
How do you see the future of Nagorno-Karabakh problem?
I don't believe that there is a "magic solution" to the Karabakh problem. But I do believe that a real peace process has not even started, even though this subject has been debated for almost 20 years, and that peace will take at least 10 years. And I also know that a new war would be a big catastrophe not just for Karabakh and for Azerbaijan, but for the wider region. The first victims would be thousands of young Azerbaijani boys in the mine fields around Karabakh. And if I can use my expertise to warn about this, I will be doing something useful. For real progress to be made, some important things need to happen. Both sides need to start treating the other with respect. Both sides need to discuss what kind of common future they would like to have when the 'line of contact' is finally removed and the borders reopen. People in Azerbaijan should remember that there is not just a land called Karabakh but people called Karabakh Armenians and start talking to them and making them an offer of what they will receive if they become part of the Azerbaijani state. The Karabakh Armenians should remember that there are people called Karabakh Azerbaijanis who also have a right to share their territory with them. Everyone should start talking about the benefits of peace, not just wishing for victory and humiliation of the enemy. It is obvious to me, a foreigner, that Armenians and Azerbaijanis have much more in common with each other than they do with me. And you can't change the map.