Kamala Murad is an independent consultant in international development, graduated from Panthéon-Assas with a Master’s degree in Communication and Information, and from the Paris School of Management, with an MBA in Business and Administration. She has extensive international experience in the areas of communication, security and infrastructure, particularly in bilateral relations between France and Azerbaijan. She was a member of the International Union of the Francophone Press and founder of the first newspaper in French in Azerbaijan in 1998. She spent her childhood in Azerbaijan, then an integral part of the USSR, alongside and in parental ties with families Armenians who lived in brotherhood with Azerbaijanis.
Presentation of the book : Beyond good and evil
– Hello Kamala Murad. You have lived in France for many years and you have of course been following the evolution of this conflict for a long time as well as its media coverage, particularly in France. Why publish a book and make your voice heard now?
The conflict around Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been going on for 30 years, but it has never been so much in the media headlines in France, and in political discourse it has never taken so much space. Before the second Karabakh war in 2020, this subject was somewhat forgotten. In 2020, the Azerbaijani military takeover of its territories occupied by the Armenian separatists has aroused great interest and curiosity at the international level. So the subject has become very topical. Since 1993-94, this subject was confined to very political spheres at the level of the Minsk group. Very little space has been given to the conflict in the media. However, the first Karabakh war led to the occupation of 20% of Azerbaijani territories and caused the displacement of nearly one million civilians from two countries. The subject in 2020 is very widely covered and has given rise to very lively debates. By following the French media, I found that there was a lot of misinformation and that there was a pro-Armenian presentation that misled French public opinion. The Azerbaijani point of view being almost absent, the media deprived the French public of the right to be informed impartially of what was happening 3000 km away from France. I did not write it as an Azerbaijani woman directly concerned who takes sides in the conflict, but rather with the desire to explain and make people understand the origin of the conflict and why this conflict is so passionate about French politicians and the media. Why are French readers not given a choice, why the information is not balanced, and why the French do not really have access to information without bias for one or the other part of the conflict.
– Precisely, it seems that most of the sources you used are Western, Armenian and Russian but there are few Azerbaijani sources…Why this choice?
I did this on purpose in order to have a neutral and balanced point of view and to provide access to information about this conflict that would be disregarded by Azerbaijani opinion. I wanted to make my pitch even more believable in the eyes of readers and less likely to be questioned. I therefore preferred to use non-Azerbaijani historical sources for the sake of objectivity.
– You specifically address the means used by the Azerbaijani and Armenian parties in the manipulation of information during the conflict…why such an interest and how did you proceed methodologically to study this question?
The purpose of the book is not only to explain the reasons for the conflict, but also to provide an answer to a very biased media coverage of this conflict, which provides an Armenian perspective and which is marked by the absence of balance. In all classic conflicts, there are at least two participants, two interests. But this second war was presented according to the uniquely Armenian version of the facts and it seems to me unacceptable in our French democracy to lack freedom of expression, freedom to inform and above all to be informed. The Azerbaijani side have not been given enough opportunities to express themselves on the subject. There is very little space, except for a few articles, to develop his version. On television, there was only one report on TF1 directed by Liseron Boudoul which received many threats from the Armenian community in France, or on Russian Today. It is sad that the French public did not have access to all this information which could give a possibility of seeing things more objectively. You cannot impose an enemy, it is up to the public to make their choice and identify them as responsible for the war: Armenia or Azerbaijan.
The subject was treated starting from an analysis of media coverage, the use of social networks by the antagonists for the construction of the enemy including Azerbaijan, through the stories imagined for the most part in the French media. It is also a question of dismantling the arguments advanced by the media by presenting Karabakh as an Armenian land and that this war was an Azerbaijani aggression against Armenia, while the military actions took place on the territories of Azerbaijan. Or even as if it were a war of religions. From this media analysis I took four untruths that I developed and argued. The most distressing is the use of the victimhood of the 1915 genocide, with which Azerbaijan has nothing to do.
Personally, the knowledge acquired on the role of propaganda during wars during my studies at Panthéon Assas made my task easier. The problem today is the internet. Information and production tools before were not as accessible. Information was produced by professionals but today everyone participates in its production, the media as well as politicians and the public itself, who use all means to contradict others. Verification is very difficult. All means are good for faking and we are at the same time manufacturers and consumers. We do not have the means to verify information right away or to make or request rectification because once a lie has spread, it affects thousands of people the second it is broadcast. It has been observed that both parties have felt vested with the duty to participate in this information war in which there are no rules or controls.
“I did not write it as an Azerbaijani woman directly concerned who takes sides but rather with the desire to explain and make people understand the origin of the conflict and why this conflict is so passionate about French politicians and the media. Why are French readers not given a choice, why the information is not balanced, and why the French do not really have access to information without bias for one or the other part of the conflict. »
– What were the characteristics and respective objectives of these mobilizations, the tools and strategies used by the two opposing sides? And for what result?
The effectiveness of this battle is complicated to measure, but there are things that can be said and that are visible. Both sides used social media mostly, and even officials from both countries bypassed traditional media. It was about both being in the front row to show off and reach the public as quickly as possible, faster than the opponent. With a goal also to keep the advantage of the psychological influence. But the game was unbalanced because on the Armenian side they were stronger, more mobilized. First, because there are large Armenian communities in all major countries such as the United States, France and other European countries, or Russia. They were able to take advantage of the possibility of easy access, facilitated by democracy, to new technologies and the Internet to mobilize international opinion against Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan the state has restricted internet access in the country for security reasons according to the official version, which has been rather advantageous for the Armenians. This restriction made them use the VPN networks of neighboring countries like Turkey and Russia. The Armenians used the victimization argument of the aggression, and Azerbaijan, for its part, put forward the legitimacy of recovering its lost territories and the fight against extremist separatism acting on its territory. Above all, the fact that the war was taking place on Azerbaijani territory. They highlighted their legitimacy to act within their internationally recognized borders and to restore Azerbaijani sovereignty. They based themselves on international law while Armenia presented itself as a victim of external aggression by playing on this image already somewhat conveyed around the world by consolidating the strong image of a people victim of a historic genocide. It is easier to disseminate this image, of which the public already has an idea. It is easier to consolidate an existing image than to create another one. Under this aspect we can say that the Armenians won because in truth, in France, in England and in Germany also, even if it is less obvious, there was support from politicians and journalists for the Armenian cause without ever speak of the right to territorial integrity, to the sovereignty of Azerbaijan or of the 800,000 refugees and displaced because of this conflict. In part, Armenia has won the information war.
– You speak in particular of “construction of the enemy” using the title of a book by Pierre Conesa… How does this concept shed light on this media war during the 2020 war?
By following the media and seeing the reports on the first days of the war, I saw the way in which information was presented, particularly concerning the victimization of Armenians. It was said that Azerbaijan attacked Armenia, which is false information, that the Azerbaijanis are killing “the poor unfortunate last Christians of the East” and that the Azerbaijanis, were bearded , wicked Turks, in fact everything we could hear to demonize an enemy. Methodologically, it was very well constructed. By using stories, playing with emotions and using all means of propaganda. There was a use of “story telling”, I gave the example of an article published in the Point full of lies. Anyone paying attention to the way the facts are laid out in the article could notice the glaring lie. This concept of building the enemy is perfectly embodied in the situation of this war. These are well-known, traditional techniques that have always existed. I think that no journalistic ethics were respected during this war. Which is sad in our democracy. It is unacceptable to see the media and politics influenced to such an extent by a community, lobbies and diasporas.
“It is easier to consolidate one image than to create another […] In part, Armenia has won the information war. »
– What are the main biases and analytical shortcuts that you have identified regarding the Karabakh conflict in the French press and also in its audiovisual coverage?
It is first of all to present the conflict as opposing Christians to Muslims, Muslim Turks because the Azerbaijani population is of Turkish origin and there is this very strong traditional, cultural link with Turkey. Based on this, a conflict was created of “Muslim Turks attacking poor Armenians, the last Eastern Christians stuck between Turkey and Azerbaijan, the last bulwark against Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman expansion”. There is the idea that Azerbaijan is part of this neo-Ottoman empire created by the latter. It is also about presenting a conflict between an authoritarian regime against a democratic regime in Armenia, and that the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijan where there is no freedom of the press and of expression attacks a democratic regime, while knowing that having supposedly a democratic regime does not legitimize the occupation of the territories of its neighbors regardless of the regime in place. Finally, the idea that Azerbaijan is occupying the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh which is Armenian, which has always been Armenian, and that Azerbaijan is carrying out an ethnic cleansing of this territory which is historically Armenian. Azerbaijan is therefore presented as an evil, Islamist, bearded, Ottoman Turk who has already committed genocide and continues to do so.
– Concerning the historical construction of the conflict and a presentation commonly accepted in France which hardly goes back before 1921 and the division orchestrated by the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, you wanted to provide a vision over a longer period and in particular over any the period of confrontation between the Russian and Turkish empires in the region during the 19th century, a period also corresponding to the emergence of national identities, then to the Armenian-Tatar clashes (the Azerbaijanis thus called by the Russians) of the beginning of the 20th century century….Why? What does a close study of this period tell us?
As you know, Azerbaijan and Armenia were integrated into the Soviet Union in 1920. Nagorno-Karabakh was promised to Armenians in these contexts. The development of events and the resistance of the Azerbaijani authorities of the time meant that this territory remained in Azerbaijan. In France, all the studies that are made on these territories, are for the most part by Armenian authors, especially by those who settled in France after the period of the genocide and it is logical that they only speak of 1921. Because, before this period, there is no region of Nagorno-Karabakh, there is the Karabakh Khanate, an Azerbaijani principality since the fall of the Safavid Empire which created several principalities in Azerbaijan such as the Khanate of Yerevan, Derbent, Sheki, Karabakh, Tabriz etc…. In history, there was not a single war around this region between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The conflict has its roots in the massive immigration of Armenians following the Russo-Turkish wars and the Russo-Iranian wars during the 18th and 19th centuries. That’s why they only talk about that, because it’s easier to appropriate this territory at this time when we are starting to create the Soviet administration under the order of Stalin who was People’s Commissar. All historical sources, apart from Armenian sources, claim that Karabakh was a land inhabited and ruled by Azerbaijanis. The Armenian minority grew numerically after the conflicts with the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
I took the story more broadly because we will not be able to understand this conflict if we do not look at where it comes from. Because it is said that the majority of the inhabitants of Karabakh are Armenians but how come these Armenians are there. The question is there. Why, if this has always been an Armenian region attached to Armenia, why is there not this direct physical connection between Armenia and Karabakh? Instead, I used Armenian sources that even admit the creation of present-day Armenia with the help of the Russians. You have to look at things in their context because in the South Caucasus, everything changed from the invasion of the Russians. Until then, there is no Armenia, no Armenian state in the South Caucasus. Historical Armenia was under the Ottoman Empire. I tried to give this timeline of Armenian migration to the South Caucasus that came from Turkey and Iran. There are hundreds of minorities in the Caucasus, some of which have a state and some of which do not. On the territory of Azerbaijan there are more than thirty minorities. But it is normal that as a minority the Armenians were scattered in the South Caucasus and that they did not have a state. Their immigration intensified with the arrival of Russians in the region. They decided to make it a bulwark against the Ottomans. My sources come from the Russian archives, the archives of Congress in the United States, French or English archives which have studied this region well at the time of the oil boom. Before the arrival of the Russians, we have no statistical data on the population of the region. There are descriptions in travelogues and everywhere there is talk of Azerbaijani Muslim Tatars. We only speak of Armenians after 1700 and especially the Russo-Ottoman wars or with the Safavids of Iran.
– Concerning the presentation of Armenia as the last Christian rampart against the Islamist threat, relayed by many French columnists (Franz Olivier Giesbert, Michel Onfray, etc.) and exploited in the French presidential campaign (travel to Armenia by Eric Zemmour and Valérie Pecresse au Karabakh after the publication of your book), what elements did you wish to highlight in relation to this Huntigtonian analysis of the “clash of civilizations”?
First of all, I very much regret that French politicians are instrumentalizing the Armenian cause for their own political ends. It’s really sad, and it’s also a shame that the Armenian diaspora creates this opportunity for politicians. For Eric Zemmour known for his anti-Muslim remarks, for Valérie Pecresse… It is easier to marginalize the Azerbaijanis, to stigmatize, to consolidate an image already conveyed than to create another. Azerbaijanis are said to be Islamists, radicals, expansionists against Christians. So one wonders why Saudi Arabia, which spread and financed jihadist Salafism on the planet, is considered less dangerous. I do not know of a mosque in France financed by Azerbaijan. Victimizing Armenians is easy because we know the history of Islamism in France, we have been victims of Islamist terrorism. It is more tangible to reach the public. But Azerbaijan is a secular country, which has a secularism similar to that of France. In this country, religion has never created the slightest conflict. Azerbaijan has the largest Jewish community in the world living together in the Qouba region of Azerbaijan, after Israel and the United States. For a supposedly Islamist country, if Jews were mistreated, it would be a long time in the news. We also know that the Jewish diaspora is strong, more than the Armenian diaspora whether in France or in the United States, so if there was a problem of religion in Azerbaijan, we would know. There is no religious conflict and moreover a large part of the Armenians of Armenia and certain Armenian elites in France say that it is an ethnic and territorial conflict and not a religious conflict. It’s more about the words of politicians and the media, of “know-it-all gentlemen” like BHL or Michel Onfray who just have their vision constructed not based on the truth and who know what is easy to exploit to make people talk about them. Once again, the image of the “savage Muslim” is reinforced for French internal political purposes or for media purposes to remain trendy. Even if the Armenians themselves do not say so. These are words of people who claim to “be more Christian” than the pope himself. This makes it possible to be popular with the Armenian community for electoral purposes and also to be thanked by Mourad Papazian. There is not a conflict in which BHL did not intervene. We can’t know everything about everything, that completely discredits him. He needs to own up to his existence.
But if this is a religious war, why has Iran always supported and continues to support Christian Armenia? There are two Shia countries in the region, Iran and Azerbaijan, and Iran has never supported Azerbaijan. And why is Israel the great reliable ally of Azerbaijan which is a Muslim country? This pattern of religion does not work at all.
“You have to look at things in context because in the South Caucasus everything changed from the invasion of the Russians. Until then, there is no Armenian state in the South Caucasus. I tried to give this timeline of Armenian migration to the South Caucasus that came from Turkey and Iran.”
– Regarding the accusations of “genocide” in the 2020 war to qualify the fight of the Azerbaijanis, often assimilated in the speech to “Turks”, you also wanted to bring elements of reflection… what are they?
This story of genocide not recognized by the Turks is well known. Today the rapprochement of Azerbaijan and Turkey has given a means of pressure, of falsification of the truth by the Armenian community, by politicians who want to settle their account with Erdogan. We know the story of the conflict with Greece or the Syrian refugees who have installed an image of an anti-European villain.
But it doesn’t help anyone to know the truth. During the genocide, in 1915, during the 1st world war, Azerbaijan was under the control of the tsarist and fought against the Ottomans. They were not massacring Armenians. During this period, there was a great emigration of Armenians to Azerbaijan, to Karabakh, to Baku, to Gandja (at the time Elisabetpol). Azerbaijan has opened its arms to the Armenians, and it has never participated in this genocide neither by financial means, nor by human or military means. Today, accusing Azerbaijan of genocide is just aberrant and it is a historical falsification. As with the religious scheme, the genocide scheme does not work. We don’t know this story in France, we already have a hard time knowing our story so how do you expect people to know the history of countries 3500km away from here? So opportunistic people like Zemmour, Pecresse or BHL have this opportunity to manipulate and present this conflict in a way that meets their interest.
“During the genocide, in 1915, during the 1st World War, Azerbaijan was under the control of the tsarist and fought against the Ottomans. They weren’t massacring Armenians.”
– What is your view of the different conflict resolution formats in progress: are they juxtaposed or are they articulated with different missions? What are their respective advantages and disadvantages? It seems that we are witnessing a very competitive field between Russian initiatives, the Minsk group of the OSCE whose French and American actors are losing momentum, the 3+3 format proposed by Turkey, which has begun its work without Georgia and which refocuses the stakes on economic exchanges and transport and relocates discussions between Caucasian countries and the immediate neighborhood, the alternative format proposed by Georgia with Western countries without Russia which does not seem to be able to see the light of day. Russia is the only one of all active formats to date and it seems to continue to play the game in the region….is this good news for Armenia and Azerbaijan? What do you think would be the ideal format for negotiations right now?
The ideal format would be for these two countries to negotiate directly without a third intruder. That they can decide together what they want and how they want it. As long as there is a third or a fourth party involved, there will always be interests that will take precedence over those of the principals concerned. The region is under the influence of Russia, that much is clear. We have seen that the United States is no longer interested in this region, that it has more important concerns. That is why they gradually withdrew from this region and from the Karabakh conflict. France could play a much bigger role but what it did during this war made her burn all those cards. There is a reality on the ground today which dictates the conditions for peace in the region and which are the Russian interests. We cannot neglect this element to study this conflict. Azerbaijan was the only country where there were no Russian military bases. What is sad is that for thirty years, the members of the Minsk group have done nothing to solve this problem without war and to find a peaceful solution, to ensure that Armenia respects international law, liberates the occupied territories in addition to Karabakh whose occupation has caused 800,000 refugees. They did not find or did not want to find ways to influence Armenia to respect international law and thus arrive at a peace treaty. So Armenia had a 25-year contract to house Russian military bases, we know the fate of Georgia, and only Azerbaijan, which had no Russian soldiers on its territories and which was more pro-European before this war now lies with Russian peacekeepers on its territory. We can no longer go back. What is happening today in Kazakhstan will show whether the army is really going to leave. Putin’s Russia sends the message: “this region is ours and we are not going to share it with others”. The ceasefire agreement was signed under the Russian aegis without the other members of the Minsk group, which means that the other members either lost interest in the issue or they neglected the issue in favor of of the Russians. We can no longer negotiate without them and as long as they are there, there will be no ideal agreement because Russia will always maximize its own interests and it will dictate its conditions.
“If this is a religious war, why has Iran always supported and continues to support Christian Armenia? There are two Shia countries in the region, Iran and Azerbaijan, and Iran has never supported Azerbaijan. And why is Israel the great reliable ally of Azerbaijan which is a Muslim country? This pattern of religion doesn’t work at all.”
Does Russia have less leeway than before due to Turkey’s return to the South Caucasian game?
Turkey is a member of NATO and it is as such that it acts in the region. Turkey is not acting alone. Russia did not give more to Turkey and therefore to NATO than it could give. NATO cannot come into conflict with the Russians in the Caucasus. But we will see what will happen in Kazakhstan. They should come out gradually. They arrived in a few hours and they need two weeks to leave the territory. When the ceasefire agreement was signed with Azerbaijan, the Russian army was already on the border. An hour later, the army was in Karabakh. Things are planned. 3000 soldiers moved in a few hours in Kazakhstan. Europe once again abandoned the Caucasus as it already did in 1920. Europe has shown that it does not wish to enter into conflict with the Russians for this region which is far from the borders of Europe. It sends the following message “let them work it out!” “.
“What is sad is that for thirty years, the members of the Minsk group did nothing to solve this problem without war and to find a peaceful solution, to ensure that Armenia respects international law, liberates the occupied territories in addition to Karabakh whose occupation has caused 800,000 refugees. They did not find or did not want to find ways to influence Armenia to respect international law and thus arrive at a peace treaty.”
– What is France’s place in these negotiations? It seems that the November 25, 2020 Senate vote calling for the recognition of Karabakh’s independence, although not followed by the state, has caused a lot of damage to French-Azerbaijani relations as much as it seems, having discredited it in the context of the resolution of this conflict…Some specialists even propose a replacement of France within the Minsk group… What do you think?
Recognition by the Senate and then by the National Assembly has made France the only country on the international scene recognizing the independence of a territory that the Armenians themselves do not recognize. Which goes against international law. This exceeds all imaginable fantasies and assumptions. It is necessary to take into consideration the international law which recognizes the territory of Azerbaijan within its borders of 1991, which is recognized by Armenia, and that Nagorno-Karabakh is included in this territory, which is confirmed by resolutions of the Nations- United that France also voted. Going against international law and recognizing the territory of another country as independent is in addition to discrediting the position of France, ridiculing it on the international scene. It was not taken seriously.
Regarding the Minsk Group, France should have remained neutral and played its role of peace mediator instead of supporting Armenia, and it should have shared its successful peace experience with Germany with the stakeholders. But in my opinion, the Minsk Group, as Emmanuel Macron says for NATO, is “brain dead”. There is none left. There is Russia. This group must be cancelled, deleted. It did nothing credible for thirty years. It is useless. Replacing France will not give this group the means of action.
– Does your activity as an international development consultant also lead you to notice France’s loss of momentum in terms of investment in Azerbaijan…the markets that are opening up in the context of the reconstruction of Karabakh escape completely unlike the Italians, the English, the Russians or the Israelis for example?
Clearly! France has remained outside this field of reconstruction of Karabakh and in the regions surrounding it, and French companies are not participating in it for reasons already known. I don’t know if there will be a change in French policy towards Azerbaijan following this conflict. Maybe economic relations will resume as before but currently this is not the subject of discussion. Of course, there are the Russians, the Turks, and then there are the Italians, the Israelis who are very active in the region, and all the major projects are done without the French because of this biased position of France.
“The recognition by the Senate and the National Assembly has made France the only country on the international scene recognizing the independence of a territory that the Armenians themselves do not recognize. Which goes against international law. It exceeds all imaginable fantasies and assumptions.”
– You imagine the creation in Karabakh of a “great protected nature reserve, a symbol of peace”…it’s a great idea! But is this project being discussed in decision-making circles? Who would be the possible actors to be part of such a project? And does the Azerbaijani state have any real ambition to integrate the Armenian community into such projects?
We must not forget that the Armenians of Karabakh are Azerbaijanis and it is up to the Azerbaijani state to take care of all its citizens, to involve them in all the economic, social and political projects of the country. There must be a reintegration of Armenians into the Azerbaijani state. They are Armenians, and in Azerbaijan there are Armenians in all major cities of Azerbaijan, in Baku, Sumgait or Ganja and there are no problems for them. For those in Karabakh, everything must be restored to the way it was before. We must do this statistical research and restore the sovereignty of the State on its territory.
With regard to this project to establish a nature reserve, what is happening is going in this direction. For example, Choucha was declared a cultural capital. There was a great destruction of Karabakh at all levels. We often talk about human losses but there was also a huge destructive impact on the environment, on the nature reserve. Forests are completely destroyed and must be replanted. It’s not just housing and infrastructure. The impact of the Armenian occupation is terrible. Agdam is a ghost town. There are no more trees. Everything was razed and exported to Armenia.
The projects are there. As in France, in Azerbaijan either, we do not make a difference between minorities. We make no distinction. I hope that once Azerbaijani sovereignty is restored over these territories, Armenian citizens will find comfort in Karabakh and other regions.
– You also mention the “Zangezour Corridor” as a way to energize the region and include it in the “New Silk Roads” project… But doesn’t this corridor plan to cut Armenia and Iran from their common border? What would be Armenia’s interest in such a project?
First of all, this project corresponds to a condition imposed by the winner but which also suits the Armenians, Turks and Russians. There is also the counterpart of the Lachin corridor for the Armenians. It is a win-win exchange. The Zangezour corridor only includes railroads and remains under Armenian sovereignty, the two States having already recognized each other’s territorial integrity in 1991. It is not a territory linking Azerbaijan to Nakhitchevan and which would pass under Azerbaijani sovereignty. Armenia would agree to use railroads.
Armenia today has an economy that has become very fragile, a massive and continuous emigration of young Armenians. However, if this border with Iran allowed for sustainable and strong economic development, why was it not done. It’s not that important. Armenia lived in a blockade in relation to which the only solution was Iranian but if Armenia agrees to restore relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, there will be no more questions of blockade and it will no longer be dependent from Iran. Armenia’s ties with these two countries are more important to it than those with Iran. Only a peace agreement will allow the integration of Armenia into all major regional projects.
Yes, Azerbaijan will establish a physical relationship with Nakhchivan. There is a desire from the major regional powers to create a corridor and for Armenia to come out of this blockade because its economy is completely collapsing. We cannot live forever with the money of the diaspora. Every year, 200,000 people leave Armenia. As long as it is conditioned by the Russians and the Iranians, it does not have much leeway. Armenia can emerge a winner from this conflict. It will be able to reduce its dependence on these two powers. The Zangezur corridor project is more beneficial for Armenia. At the time of the USSR, this railway connection existed and this link between Azerbaijan and its region of Nakhichevan passed through this border between Iran and Armenia.
– You rightly say that we must make the difference between the “peace that appears on paper and that which is built between men”… But Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani President is not going a little too quickly in supporting that the conflict is already over and is definitely in the past?
This is a political discourse but both parties must accept that the conflict is over and that it belongs to the past. This is in the interests of Azerbaijanis and Armenians. There are always things you can make up for. We missed the opportunity to create a union of Caucasian countries that could be built without the Russians, in good agreement, if the Armenians had a real political will to break away from Russia. The idea has existed since 1918 of an economic and commercial union between these three countries, to get rid of the Russians and integrate into Europe. This chance was missed in 1920 and then after independence in 1991. It is in the interest of both countries. Ilham Aliyev makes a political speech that shows the will for peace but I’m not sure he believes it 100%, he’s not that naive. Now this requires the confidence and commitment of the men on the ground. We must discuss together because it is useless to fight for a small portion of territory while Armenia is emptying at high speed. It seems that the Armenians no longer want war but in France all politicians and journalists seem to want one for them. We are sending the message “wage war to take back Karabakh” but who is going to live there? What do we want for Armenia? To see them fall apart so that they then accuse the Turks, the Muslims, the Azerbaijanis. They are pushed into a dynamic of revanchism contrary to its interests.
“We missed the opportunity to create a union of Caucasian countries that could be built without the Russians, in good agreement, if the Armenians had a real political will to break away from Russia. The idea has existed since 1918 of an economic and commercial union between these three countries and of getting rid of the Russians and integrating into Europe. This chance was missed in 1920 and again after independence in 1991”.
– In your opinion, what are the socio-cultural representations that prevent Armenians and Azerbaijanis from creating “commons” in the region? You seem to have lived as a young woman in good harmony with the Armenians in Azerbaijan… could you tell us about this period? What is the difference with what the current young generation, on which the future of the region depends in part, is experiencing? How do you think it would be possible to re-establish ties between the two communities, beyond the expected resumption of economic exchanges between the two countries?
It will be very difficult because, as I mentioned, there are always attempts to push the Armenians into a dynamic of hatred, like for the genocide which dates from a hundred years ago, but it does not stop. We continue in the same logic to accuse Azerbaijan as well. Unlike relations between Israel and Germany when the genocide of the Jews is more recent. They have moved on to another stage. We root this hatred between peoples. Recently Armenia was condemned by international justice for incitement to hatred against Azerbaijanis. By following social and traditional media, Azerbaijanis are increasingly carrying a discourse of peace. There is a Youtube channel in Russian hosted by an Azerbaijani residing in the United States who produces programs inviting Armenians and Azerbaijanis, journalists, political scientists to discuss and try to find ways for civil societies to get along, but there has many Armenians who refuse to participate. Also out of fear and not just because they don’t want to talk. For fear of nationalists if they take a more peaceful position.
There are no major cultural differences between Azerbaijanis and Armenians apart from religion, but this does not have much impact within Azerbaijani society on the ties between people and peoples. I grew up in an environment where most of our neighbours were Armenians, I have parental ties with Armenians who now live in Baku, I have first cousins from mixed couples. They spoke Azerbaijani, we grew up together, we lived together. We never felt any differences. In Soviet times, when there was no nurse, grandmothers were always available to look after the children, all the children met with my grandmother, who was a caring woman, and all the neighbours and Armenian and Azerbaijani children were together. We eat the same thing, the food is the same, the music is the same, the clothes are the same. It should not be forgotten that if Azerbaijan has a natural cultural connection with Turkey, it is the same for the Armenians who come from Turkey. Their homeland and historic state is in Turkey. We forgot that we are influenced by the same culture. It is different with the Georgians for example, with whom we have less proximity than with the Armenians.
“I grew up in an environment where most of our neighbors were Armenians, I have parental ties with Armenians who now live in Baku, I have first cousins from mixed couples. They spoke Azerbaijani, we grew up together, we lived together. We never felt any differences.”
– How do you see conflict resolution evolving in 2022 and beyond?
Currently, it is very difficult to predict anything in the current rather complex international context, and given what is also happening in Kazakhstan at the moment, or in Ukraine. I might have said something if we did this interview later. But before the date of the exit of the Russian army from Kazakhstan, I could not say anything. If they stay, everything is ruined because it would mean that the Soviet Union recovers and that everything starts again like thirty years ago. This is why I cannot predict in the long term what will happen. There have been tensions again this week between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There will be no further appeasement until there is a demarcation of the borders, until the two presidents sign a peace treaty detailing all the stages of peace building. Nothing is detailed. There should be a step-by-step plan but nothing is clarified. Armenia is not in a position to restart the war in the short term because it does not have the means and Azerbaijan has no interest in it either. Turkey is not in a position to revive anything either. Currently the master of the game, as usual, is Mr Putin. We will see what happens in Kazakhstan. Will he give up his ambitions to extend Russia to China as during the USSR and find a lasting peace solution, the one that suits him first and then the one that suits the whole of the region? It’s hard to tell. It won’t be easy but I’m trying to believe it will happen.