News > UAE Armenians > Caucasus conflict could turn tragedy into wider disaster
See Azad-Hye comment at the end of the article
By Frank Kane
I’ve got to know Parviz Ismailzadeh pretty well over the past couple of years.
Parviz is the consul of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Dubai, and since my marriage to an Azeri lady he has been a great help in facilitating the documentation necessary to regularise matters for us and for our young daughter.
It was a shock how much paperwork was needed, but Parviz guided us cheerfully through the minefield of post-Soviet bureaucracy and has become a friend. He is an affable man, good company over a good steak, and he has taught me much about the political and economic affairs of Azerbaijan, a fascinating country at an equally fascinating stage in its history.
My trips to Baku, where my in-laws live, are much better informed as a result of my briefings with him. The business and financial affairs of the city, the oil-rich capital of the Caspian, are complex, but a working knowledge of them is crucial to understanding the strategic role of Azerbaijan in the area.
Parviz was in unusually sombre mood at an event last Thursday night in Dubai. Along with the ambassador to the UAE, Elkhan Gahramanov, some of the leading lights in the Azeri business and diplomatic community in the Emirates were gathering to commemorate the anniversary of a tragic event in Azerbaijan’s history: the massacre of Azeri citizens at the town of Khojali in 1992.
Khojali is in the centre of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Mountainous Black Garden, historically part of Azerbaijan but occupied by forces of the neighbouring (though not neighbourly) republic of Armenia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In February 1992, Armenian forces, with the aid of Russian regular troops, surrounded Khojali as part of their campaign to extend their control of Azeri territory. They offered civilians one exit route to a nearby Azeri-controlled town. When the old men, women and children tried to take that road to safety, they were attacked by soldiers who left 631 dead and seriously injured a couple of thousand more. The American journalist Thomas Goltz describes the result at a nearby morgue in cold, hard prose in his book Azerbaijan Diary, the best single volume on the country’s tortured history.
I felt like an interloper at a private tragedy at the Dubai event. My view is coloured by my marital ties with Azerbaijan, and I know Armenia disputes the version of a cold-hearted massacre. They say their forces were fired on by Azeri soldiers among the refugees, and the resulting firefight caused most of the deaths.
But you did not need any of this background to understand that something terrible had happened in the burnt-out houses and corpse-strewn fields of Khojali. In the comfort of a Dubai hotel we watched grainy, shaky footage of the consequences of the attack. It was a powerful, disturbing reinforcement – like images of My Lai in Vietnam or Fallujah in Iraq – of what happens when civilians get caught in the military machine.
The Azeris have a list of 31 names of those they believe responsible for the massacre, and have been trying for years to get international police forces and courts involved in their apprehension. The Dubai event was the latest stage of a campaign to get Middle Eastern countries to take up the cause of the Muslim victims of Khojali.
The Azeri government also wants the international community to implement its historical claims to Nagorno Karabakh, which have been recognised many times by the UN.
There is a strategic backdrop to this that has repercussions for the UAE, the Gulf countries and the global energy industry. The UAE has been increasing its trade links with Azerbaijan significantly over the past few years. Sultan al Mansouri, the Minister of Economy, heads a committee to further develop UAE-Azerbaijan relations.
The GCC has a legitimate interest in matters in the southern Caucasus, through which a large part of central Asian oil and gas supplies pass, and which is increasingly drawing the attention of American and European energy investors. Any conflict there could spark Russian, Iranian and Turkish strategic intervention, for reasons of their historical ties to Azerbaijan and the security of their energy supplies from the Caspian region.
Conflict could still be averted. The Russians have hosted a number of meetings to try to resolve the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, so far unsuccessfully.
But at about the same time as I left the sombre men in Dubai, the foreign minister in Baku was telling diplomats that a “great war” in the south Caucasus was inevitable unless Armenia withdrew. That would turn the tragedy of Khojali into the makings of a global disaster.
Source: "The National", Abu Dhabi, 27 February 2010 (Link)
It is obvious that the writer has found himself attending a gathering organized by Azeri officials in Dubai by virtue of his "marital ties with Azerbaijan", as he points out. His views, for that matter, are much colored with this fact, to the extent that he gives only one line to the Armenian viewpoint (and even this line happens to be not void of Azeri propaganda).
We can only suggest to the writer to search more about Khojali killings on the net and be prepared to face some unfriendly looks from his Azeri in-laws and (until now) sympathetic officials, if he mentions the names of places like Sumgait, Baku and Maragh in their country, were more than 300 thousand Armenians lived during the Soviet times, many of them lost their lives in the course of several weeks of well-documented anti-Armenian pogroms in the declining months of the Soviet Empire. At a certain time, the Russian navy in the Caspian Sea intervened, to secure the safe outgoing of the remaining helpless population.
The writer is referring to only one "academic": Thomas Goltz, the author of several controversial books on the Caucasus. In his website, Goltz describes himself as an “author, academic and adventurer”. His writings about Armenia are more related to the “adventurer” part inside him and hardly could be classified as academic (you can easily find several pages of the book on the internet to form you own view about his writings).
Regarding the Khojali killings, it is worth here at least to mention one highly credible reference: Azerbaijan's president Ayaz Mutalibov's statement on 02 April 2004 in an interview published in the Russian well known Nezavisimaya Gazeta (made to Czech journalist Yana Mazalova), where Mutalibov has said that the then opposition National Front of Azerbaijan, was behind the killings, to undermine his authority.
We agree with the writer when he says "... you did not need any of this background to understand that something terrible had happened in the burnt-out houses and corpse-strewn fields of Khojali". However, it would have been better if he had asked his Azeri contacts to explain why the bodies of the unfortunate victims were found more than 10 kilometers far from the town of Khojali, practically near the fortified Azeri city of Aghdam (which later fell to the Armenians)? According to the same Czech journalist Mazalova, the bodies were mutilated days after the officially pronounced date of the massacres.
If the writer intends to travel to Azerbaijan, he should refrain from criticizing the government's version. Last time an Azeri journalist Eynulla Fatullayev doubted about it was jailed for eight and half years. Search the journalist's name online and you will know the story behind him.
At the end of his article, the writer mentions that the Azeri Foreign Minister is warning a "great war" against Armenia in case the later did not withdraw. The Minister forgets, that the Armenians of Karabakh have been in their stronghold for centuries (before even the advent of the Azeris from Central Asia) and they do not intend to withdraw at all from their ancestral land. Armenia, as a country, is there to support them, but the case at the end of the day is in the hands of Karabakh (Artsakh) Armenians, because it is their fatherland that we are talking about. Failing to see this basic fact is not strange for a Minister who uses the Khojali killings to artificially cast shadow on the legitimate demands of Karabakh Armenians.