Azerbaijani journalist Zeynal Ibrahimov is literally a bone in the throat of official Baku. In his book “35 Letters to His Son,” he was not afraid to speak truthfully about Azerbaijan and its society, including the most “uncomfortable” topics, as a result of which he became a political emigrant. Ibrahimov also distanced himself from the Azerbaijani opposition and human rights defenders, who do not hesitate to throw mud at the journalist with no less enthusiasm than the pro-government media for his honest and balanced position on Artsakh.
In early January, a book by an Azerbaijani journalist and writer, now a political émigré, Zeynal Ibrahimov, entitled “35 Letters to My Son” was published. In it, he traces the path to power of Heydar Aliyev and examines the causes of hatred towards Armenians in Azerbaijani society. The victims of Baku, Sumgait and Khojaly are revived and rethought there, Ibragimov analyzes historical myths and their origins. In this sense, the book is unique and unexpected. Yesterday, January 20, Azerbaijan marked the tragic date of the suppression of the rally of the political opposition in Baku in 1990 by the troops of the Soviet army. The journalist “Echo of the Caucasus” Katerina Prokofieva writes about this, who spoke with the author of the book. (The link to Echo Kavkaza does not work, since by the decision of the Radio Liberty management this publication was removed from the site).
Let’s start with the date of January 20, Zeynal – how do you interpret this day, how do you understand this “black January” and did you mention it in your book?
Yes, I mentioned him, of course. Firstly, the date January 20 cannot be separated from the date January 13 – they are inextricably linked, because the Armenian pogroms began on January 13. One thing followed from another: if there were no pogroms, there would not have been January 20, but I believe that both of these dates were planned in advance and, in general, all this was predetermined. There is one more thing: the troops were brought in on January 20, when the pogroms began to subside – for some reason they were not introduced either on the 13th, or on the 14th, or on the 15th. And one more thing: the then “People’s Front of Azerbaijan” took people to the streets, knowing perfectly well how it would end. If the troops entered an empty city, they simply would not have anyone to shoot at. So I think that January 20 was a pre-planned action.
And for what reason were they introduced when these protests subsided?
The official reason is to prevent pogroms. It’s funny because the pogroms began on January 13th. And I don’t believe that even in the “outgoing” Soviet Union, the command was so sluggish that it brought in troops a week later – this is ridiculous to assume, of course. The first stage – these pogroms provoked the final and irrevocable departure of the Armenian population, but the introduction of troops has already provoked the outflow of the Russian sector, because the army was associated only with the Russians. Literally the next day after the introduction of troops, the departure of the Russians began. Thus, two birds with one stone were killed: the Armenian community left, the Russian community left. The city was actually liberated for those who wanted to go there, and people from the districts were eager to go there. Why was it beneficial? This was the future electorate. Naturally, the next stage was the departure of the Jewish population of Baku, and the final, last, was the departure of the Russian-speaking Azerbaijanis. As a result, now Baku has turned into a huge village inhabited by the corresponding residents.
Do you think this is the result of these very events?
Yes, absolutely. All these events gradually led to the fact that more than a million population of the city was squeezed out, and when Azerbaijan starts talking about genocide, for some reason it forgets that more than a million of the indigenous inhabitants of Baku were actually expelled. Is this not genocide? I think this is genocide.
Tell me about your book, why is it published right now?
It was written back in 2015. Why now? It took time to comprehend everything, to digest it, to look from the outside – time had to pass.
Zeynal, just try to introduce a little into the course what it is about.
The book deals with how Heydar Aliyev gradually regained his country – he was also the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijan Communist Party since 1969 – and how he achieved his goal. Basically, he played a brilliant chess game, eventually coming to power in 1993.
He secured power not only for himself, but also inherited it …
You know, Azerbaijan is not a country, it is a territory turned into a commercial object of one single family. Of course, this strange formation cannot be called a country now. This man privatized the whole state, turned it into a feeding trough for his family, absolutely did not care about the Constitution himself, and this was continued by his family. He turned it into a very strange monarchy: first he, then, in violation of all the norms of the Constitution, which was rewritten more than once, his son, now the son’s wife becomes the first vice president – what is it called otherwise? I believe that this is the colonization of an entire territory for their own personal interests.
Still, I’m interested: the journalists who write about how the Aliyev clan enslaved this territory and how they govern it, and the journalists who are engaged in deep investigations, none of them mention the Armenian-Azerbaijani aspect.
Yes, that’s right, they don’t mention, they avoid these topics. Firstly, fear is very dangerous, secondly, one thing is to oppose the Aliyev regime, and secondly, to go against the whole society, these are two different things. Because those who support Aliyev’s opponents, naturally, immediately fall silent as soon as the conversation turns to the topic of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. You know, there is a very strange unity of the authorities, the opposition and the whole society in general. It was hammered into his head that it should be hostile to the Armenians. In fact, this man zombified an entire country. Yes, they are afraid to speak on this topic, that’s true.
And how, when did it start, why does it all continue like this, and are there any contours of reconciliation?
Chronologically, it began in 1988, although the coals, of course, were still in Soviet times. As for reconciliation, now, at the moment, I believe that any attempt to change something will turn this conflict either into a fire or into a fire that will flare up in the near future. If something moves in one direction or another, then it will not be a peaceful solution, and I will tell you why: it is not only about the authorities – the point is that there are several “cancerous tumors” in Azerbaijan. The first one is that the society was hammered into the head that Karabakh is its territory. Well, this is not the territory of Azerbaijan, this territory was artificially pinned to Azerbaijan in 1921. The second is a very painful and kind of maniacal desire to falsify history and present themselves as a people that has millennial roots. This is nonsense, this was not, I believe that it is even humiliating for the people to do this with their own history: to ascribe to themselves some mythical heroes that do not belong to them, to invent some completely absurd, on the verge of idiocy, historical facts.
In one of the Azerbaijani history textbooks it was written that Columbus was consulted by an Azerbaijani scientist – this, I think, is in the field of psychiatrists. If we talk about the fact that some very strange information appears about the fact that Leonardo da Vinci’s mother was an Azerbaijani, I believe that this is generally a clinic, and this is also the field of a psychiatrist. I’m talking about the most extreme examples.
No, you just have to be very condescending to this, because any nation is sick with it.
Perhaps this kind of outburst should be treated with condescension, but when history is globally falsified, it seems to me that this should cause a slightly different reaction. This is another matter when a lie is purposefully hammered into the head of the population. The story was simply invented, it was not. And one more thing: a very strange attitude, even more hostile than in Turkey, to the topic of recognizing the Armenian genocide is completely absurd. Firstly, when all this happened in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire, Azerbaijan not only did not exist on the world map, but did not exist at all. In addition, Armenia does not make any claims to the Azerbaijanis in this regard, because they simply did not exist then. And this is also some kind of manic attitude to this topic. How does it relate to Azerbaijan? None. Just because Armenians and Azerbaijanis are fighting now? You know, it really amazes me that Turkey is more loyal to this than Azerbaijan.
Where did this rejection come from, why is it now elevated to such, almost a national slogan?
Firstly, it is beneficial to the authorities, because it is very easy to govern under such a slogan. The slightest disobedience – and you are immediately credited with an Armenian grandmother, grandfather, great-grandfather, you become an outcast – this is a very convenient method and a very convenient policy. Hatred has become, in fact, state policy. Although Azerbaijan is screaming at every corner about its tolerance and multiculturalism, in reality there is now a fascist regime in the country – in this regard, it is fascist, because almost from kindergarten this hatred is hammered into the head of children. Moreover, we must pay tribute, in the neighboring country this is not, there is no such thing, and I know that for sure.
Tell me, Zeynal, but if we take this conflict, what role do you think Russia is playing there? In the past year, it was very often said that there was some progress in deciding that Lavrov was offering something there, that some regions would be transferred to Azerbaijan by agreement, some territories for, for example, Azerbaijan’s membership in The Eurasian Union, etc. How do you see the role of Russia in general in the settlement of this conflict, and can it somehow influence, besides the fact that it sells weapons to both sides?
Russia’s role is the most negative in this conflict. Let’s start with the fact that the first conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis was registered in 1905 – also with the go-ahead of Russia. The role of Russia in this conflict from the very beginning is simply disgusting, because Russia wants to keep the South Caucasus region by the tail, it has its own geopolitical interests. Perhaps this is understandable, but in reality it plays a very negative role. Firstly, it sells arms to both sides, and secondly, Russia has not got rid of its imperial ambitions, and, naturally, it wants to lay its hands on both countries, which it has been able to do so far.
Well, okay, but what are the forecasts? What development options can there be?
What I can say is very unpopular and may even seem absurd. There is a very strange union of the opposition and the authorities in Azerbaijan. You rightly said: none of the opposition touches on this topic, this is a taboo topic – the topic of Karabakh, the topic of genocide, the topic of Khojaly, the topic of falsification of history. As soon as it comes to these four points, everyone is surprisingly united, and this, I can tell you, is not the unity of the nation. Fazil Iskander has a wonderful expression that “sometimes the collective stench is taken for the unity of the people” – maybe, I did not quite accurately quote – this is exactly what is happening in Azerbaijan. As for reconciliation, now no reconciliation is possible. First, let’s start with the fact that Azerbaijan actually cultivates hatred towards Armenians – it is. What kind of reconciliation can we talk about if the head of state publicly pardoned the person who killed in Hungary with an ax (an Armenian – ed.), Even if the enemy, but sleeping, killed meanly. What kind of reconciliation can we talk about if the head of state sinks to such things and if society welcomes him? After all, there was not a single protest.
This case, by the way, Zeynal, is not welcomed, it is condemned in society …
Yes, in the kitchen it is condemned, quietly, calmly, out of fear – maybe. Have there been public protests anywhere? I have not heard of them. Naturally, one hundred percent of people cannot approve of this act, but they are afraid, they will only talk about it privately. Did the press write that this was an outrageous disgrace and shame? Not.
Well, then it is not clear to me that all these activists who are against the system, against the government, against this clan, they are not afraid when they do it. Then why are they not afraid to open all these gold-bearing schemes, offshore, to endure all this, but they are afraid to talk about Karabakh – why? If we are dealing with fear, then it must be some kind of global?
And he is global. One is to go against the Aliyev regime and beat oneself in the chest, calling himself a patriot and shouting that these people adore the Azerbaijani people, and the other is to say everything as it is. These are two different things, because one is to become the enemy of Aliyev, and the other is to become the enemy of the whole people. Basically, I did it. I know perfectly well that they will curse me, call me a traitor to my homeland, a scum, a scoundrel, etc. You know, I am constantly faced with the fact that, as soon as something is said against, you are called a traitor to your homeland. A traitor is a person who once swore an oath of allegiance to someone or swore an oath of allegiance to someone and broke it. For some reason, society does not understand this – I did not give an oath of allegiance to anyone, I have the right to say and think everything that I say and think.
Zeynal, as regards your book, which I consider sensational, you say that you were forced to write this book by shame for your own people, for power, for falsifications, and you think that this frankness of yours and this book will help, contribute to something?
No I do not think so. Maybe some very small part of people in the quiet of their kitchen will say: “yes, he is right,” but no more. I understand perfectly well that all this will be condemned. She will not teach you anything, because these people have hammered into their heads an absurd, manic idea, and it is very difficult to get rid of it. It may be human nature to believe that everything is as presented. Of course, one wants to be an ancient people, to have an ancient culture, but there is none. Look at what the country has become. What kind of ancient culture can we talk about when everything that is possible is profane? Moreover, the population has been reduced to such humiliation that it is simply silent. She won’t wake up anything there, except hatred for me.
Nevertheless, now you still cannot return to Azerbaijan …
Let’s start with the fact that if I return to Azerbaijan, I will be imprisoned for life, declared a traitor to my homeland and will be tried for treason. You are talking about the fact that there are journalists, human rights activists who oppose the Aliyev regime – until they understand that they must oppose not the Aliyev regime, but against all these diseases of society, they will not succeed, they just have to realize.
Why? You can take it pointwise, as Khadija (Ismail) did …
Did she do something wrong? She did the right thing, of course.
That’s right, I say that she took a point and began to unravel this tangle, not taking on everything at once, for all the diseases of society, falsifications, and so on. I took it and did it.
Yes, I completely agree with you. Did I say that this should not be done?
No, you said that opposing the Aliyev clan is not enough …
This is certainly not enough. Until this society understands that it was slipped a falsified history, until this society comes back and realizes that artificial boundaries were slipped into it, until this society realizes that it has nothing to do with the events that took place in 1915, this is not it’s their business, until they stop believing this absurd propaganda, nothing will work.
… You know, there is one very strange thing: for some reason the Azerbaijanis never ask themselves the question, at what referendum, where, when was Heydar Aliyev proclaimed and recognized as the national leader of Azerbaijanis? This is pure imposture. Yes, I am perfectly aware that I say things that are terrible for any citizen of Azerbaijan, he can go crazy from this, but this is so. Where, when? Self-styled leader of all Azerbaijanis in the world – this, of course, sounds, but how can it be called? I’ll tell you more: the very rule of this family is illegitimate. There was a first president, a second president in Azerbaijan, elected quite legitimately. Heydar Aliyev is actually a usurper by the letter of the law, he came and seized power. According to any international norms, this power is illegitimate, it is simply unprofitable for Azerbaijan, Russia or the West to recall this. And it is unprofitable for one simple reason – oil, energy, and that’s it. Because of this, anything is forgiven. Yes, they touch it a little against the grain: “you have human rights violations”, “you have political prisoners”. What are Azerbaijani human rights defenders doing? They count the number of political prisoners like chickens – this is not enough, you know. Well, you counted them, and what next? They counted and proudly sat back in the chair.
I must say that, yes, human rights activists believe, without exception, and we know these numbers and these names, but the Western community, which seems to be supposed to react, does not react …
That’s right, sort of like. It doesn’t react. Human rights protection in many ways now, and not only in Azerbaijan, is simply turned into a business. These people ride around Europe, speak at various conferences, spend colossal money, but the result, the return is zero, there is practically none. I have watched this for many years and I am not saying this unfounded. I worked for many years in an organization that hosted similar meetings in the European Parliament, in Geneva, in Vienna, in Rome – anywhere. Very little return. Human rights defenders come, peep, shout, go to a restaurant and go to their home, and proudly believe that they are human rights defenders. This is not human rights protection, this is imitation. This is a kind of political tourism. Ask any of the human rights defenders a question: who owns Karabakh – once, was there two Armenian genocide, who was responsible for the events in Khojaly – three, and how they relate to the falsification of history in Azerbaijan, and I am sure that the vast majority of them simply either will not answer your questions, or they will lie. What do you think – the regime in Armenia is absolutely similar to the Azerbaijani one, just less money and less stealing. There are fewer opportunities to steal. Do you think current regime is somehow different from Aliyev’s? No, no different.
It’s just that there are stones and no oil …
For what I saw with my own eyes
For what I observed in a country that has descended to fascist ideology and the degradation of all human values
For the lies that have been presented to the world for three decades. And for the world. who silently swallows this lie, washing it down with millions of barrels of oil
What I wrote has been endured by years of dictatorship and ignorance of a crowd of intimidated slaves, into which the Aliyev family turned the population of Azerbaijan
Lies and hatred sit even in those who, for one reason or another, oppose the government, because none of them dared to openly admit the total falsification of history in Azerbaijan and did not dare to challenge Azerbaijan’s belonging to Nagorno-Karabakh
Not a single person in the country dared to recognize the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire
I know that I will be cursed in Azerbaijan not only by the authorities, but also by those, without whose tacit consent no dictatorship can exist
For the dictator sits not on the throne
He sits in everyone who lies, fears, hates and is silent.
Prepared by: Marina Galoyan