Karen Shahnazarov: “Ilham Aliyev is the most successful politician in the South Caucasus for the last 30 years” - Interview

Karen Shahnazarov: “Ilham Aliyev is the most successful politician in the South Caucasus for the last 30 years”  - Interview
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  • calendar-gray 09 December 2020

"Territorial claims against neighbors only hinder Armenia today"

Interview of Karen Shahnazarov, Director General of Mosfilm, Russian film director of Armenian origin, to APA's Moscow correspondent

- Karen Georgievich, I would like to start my interview with you, a well-known Russian film director, with a question about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Do you think that this 44-day war, which resulted in the victory of Azerbaijan, ended the conflict?

- I really hope that this conflict is over. Because I do not see an alternative to this. Revenge for this conflict is impossible. If there is revenge, it will lead to the destruction of nations. Note that Azerbaijan and Armenia are small countries with small populations. The population of Armenia is very small. Neither Armenians nor Azerbaijanis will fly away from those territories. They will always be neighbors. Azerbaijanis will not fly to Mars, Armenians will not fly to the moon. Therefore, I believe that ways should be found for the two peoples to live and develop together, cooperate and be good neighbors. I should also note that all this has happened in many periods of history, Armenians and Azerbaijanis have lived and cooperated very well together. I really hope that this conflict is the last war in the South Caucasus.

"Ilham Aliyev showed himself as a great politician"

- In your opinion, what forces prevent the two peoples from living together? Armenians and Azerbaijanis live peacefully in some parts of the world. Let's take Russia ...

 

- It is clear that the long period of conflict, the first Karabakh war, the current war, 30 years of hostility, the lack of contact have pleased the nationalist, irreconcilable forces in both nations. It is clear that both Azerbaijanis and Armenians have extremist and nationalist forces. They want war, they want revenge. It seems to me that these forces will continue to inflame the conflict and commit provocations. I have a feeling that in general, neither the Azerbaijani people nor the Armenian people want to go to war again. I think both nations understand that this must end. There were two wars. The score is 1: 1. It is not necessary to score the second goal. We need to put an end to this. It seems to me that the Azerbaijani leadership, President Ilham Aliyev, understands this. The President of Azerbaijan made a new discovery during this conflict. Ilham Aliyev proved to be a great politician. We can say that Ilham Aliyev is the most successful politician in the South Caucasus for the last 30 years. Today, the President of Azerbaijan gives the impression of a politician who measures everything. He understands the responsibility of Azerbaijan and his country for the victory in the war. Therefore, I hope that the political elite of Armenia will nominate a politician who will understand that revenge is unnecessary and that it is insignificant to prepare for revenge. This politician should think about finding ways to restore good-neighborly and friendly relations, not neutral relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I believe that only friendly relations between these two peoples can be a guarantee of peace in the entire South Caucasus. It is possible to achieve something not through neutral relations, but through cooperation and normal friendly relations. It is desirable that Georgia also participate in this cooperation. In the South Caucasus, three small countries can live and create in such a way that they have good-neighborly and friendly relations with each other. Otherwise, it will not be possible. Because around these countries there are such political giants - Russia, Turkey, and Iran, which will always drag the Caucasus countries in different directions. Therefore, I believe that the joint cooperation of the South Caucasus countries in good neighborly relations is a successful direction.

"Azerbaijanis were forced to leave Armenia"

- Tens of thousands of Armenians currently live in Azerbaijan. I know you said in your speeches that you do not believe in these figures. But I am an Azerbaijani citizen. I was born and raised in Baku. At present, our Armenian neighbor Svetlana Hakobyan lives in the building where I grew up. Even today, the residents of the building know that Aunt Sveta is Armenian, and I must say that all the neighbors have a good attitude towards her. I am not giving you this example from the press, I am telling you an event I witnessed. But I can also give an example from the press. During the military operation, an interview was broadcast with the sister of the former Armenian Defense Minister living in the Kurdamir region of Azerbaijan.

- Nobody showed those Armenians. To be honest, I have never seen Armenians living in Baku to have speech. If so, you need to show them. Let them talk. I know that there were very difficult situations. There were events in Sumgayit. Tens of thousands of Armenians were forced to leave Azerbaijan. Of course, there were opposite processes. Azerbaijanis were forced to leave Armenia. I understand that anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric has been used in Armenia and anti-Armenian rhetoric in Azerbaijan for 30 years. Probably, you will not deny that there are people in Azerbaijan who have a nationalist, uncompromising position against Armenians. I think that in order to normalize relations, it is necessary to stop the rhetoric at the state level. Anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric in Armenia and anti-Armenian rhetoric in Azerbaijan must end. It is clear that during these 30 years, a generation has grown up looking at each other as enemies. It seems to me that now both countries should focus on educating a new generation. The new generation must be brought up in such a way that they are tolerant and friendly. I must say that such relations have existed between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in certain periods of history. I have many Azerbaijani friends in Moscow. We have never had any problems. I know this is a long process. It is necessary to deal with it. I repeat that Azerbaijanis and Armenians are doomed to be neighbors. Cooperation and contact are better than war. This is very important. All of this requires wisdom from the heads of state.

"There is no need to sink into the past and prove who is the oldest nation"

- I want to go back to recent history. Towards the end of the 20th century, on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Armenians claim that the conflict started in Sumgayit. But this is not a distant history. Azerbaijanis living in Armenia before Sumgayit were expelled from their native lands. At the end of 1987, atrocities were committed against Azerbaijanis in Gafan. Do you also deny this fact?

- You see, I can't say ... Of course, I lived at that time, I remember those events. I cannot say that I had any relations with Armenia at that time. Our family had nothing to do with Armenia. Our relatives were not there either. Yes, I am a Karabakh Armenian on my father's side. But in principle, we have not had any relations with Armenia for a long time.

I read Azerbaijani and Armenian historians. You know, if we eradicate the past forever, it will not lead to anything good. In my opinion, this should be stopped. Let historians do their research and argue with each other. It seems to me that Azerbaijani historians are trying to prove that Armenians were not in Karabakh, in general, Armenians have nothing to do with Karabakh. I think this is not true. On the other hand, Armenian historians say that Azerbaijanis have never been there and it is not known where they come from. Obviously, this is not true. All this has a detrimental effect on the thinking of both peoples. I think the past should be put aside. There is no need to dwell on the past and prove who the older people are and what they are doing. It is necessary to put all this aside and build mutual cooperation. It seems to me that both nations must set themselves a task: we must live and develop together. We must build a new partnership together. Let the historians gather at conferences, argue, and then go and sit in a good restaurant and end their arguments, as is customary in the Caucasus. Therefore, in my opinion, perpetuating history does not lead to good things. We need to take the good aspects of history. There are beautiful pages in the history of Azerbaijanis and Armenians that can be taken as an example. We lived together in the Soviet Union. Both peoples have a long history within the Russian Empire. I myself served in the army with Azerbaijanis. Our fathers and grandfathers fought together in the Great Patriotic War. There are many examples of both peoples living and cooperating normally together. We must emphasize this. If we always look for the points of conflict in the past, it happened in the lives of all peoples. Look, the French and the Germans have been at war for hundreds of years, killing each other, killing each other, taking each other's lands, Alsace has been in Germany or France, what have they not done ... As a result, these nations have reached a point where France and Germany are now Europe's best allies. They had the opportunity to find something in common, or they did not always think that more than a million people had died around Verdun, and so on. Therefore, I think it is very important to find the right, positive things in the common past of both peoples, not conflicting moments. Conflicts occur within the family and between husband and wife. If you live with this conflict all the time, you will never be able to get married. As people live together, they try to make their lives better. Azerbaijanis and Armenians must take this as a basis. If you are always ready for revenge, it will not work. In 1994, Armenia won. Now Azerbaijan has won the war. Well, Armenia being prepared now, in 30-40 years it will start a war again, then Azerbaijan again? Will it go on like this forever? What will it give? But the nations will be destroyed. Both nations and countries are small. They need to develop. They need to protect their youth. The population of Armenia is very small. Therefore, the past should be left to specialists. If they need it ... Although they can also find positive moments in our common past.

 

"My father was strongly against the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, this conflict"

- Three years ago, I interviewed Vladimir Kalinichenko, an investigator on important cases at the USSR Prosecutor General's Office, who was investigating the events in Sumgayit. He said that the Sumgayit case was fabricated and carried out by the KGB. It was even proved that one of the organizers of the massacre was Eduard Grigoryan, an Armenian.

- I do not know about it. To be honest, I don't believe it very much. In my opinion, the Soviet KGB was not engaged in this work. I do not see any meaning here. The Sumgayit incident was a tragedy. I understand that the Azerbaijani public blames the KGB here.

- This is not said by the Azerbaijani side, but by the Russian investigator Kalinichenko ...

- I think it was a tragedy. There is nothing scary about admitting this. It is clear that the robbers did it. I know that Azerbaijani historians say that my father took an anti-Azerbaijani position on the Karabakh issue. My father was Gorbachev's adviser at the time. Armenians, on the other hand, said they were anti-Armenian.

In fact, how did it happen?

- In fact, my father was strongly against this conflict. My father was also against Karabakh declaring its independence. He said it would lead to conflict. He was right. However, in Azerbaijan he is almost considered one of the perpetrators of the conflict. In Armenia, they think the opposite. They think that my father hindered them. My father was a Soviet man. He was a Karabakh Armenian. On the other hand, he grew up in Baku and knew Baku and Azerbaijan well. My father was generally a supporter of the Soviet Union. He tried to calm the conflict on both sides. Despite all this, both sides perceive it negatively.

"There were such people around Gorbachev"

- Karen Georgievich, do you accept the role of a number of Armenians around Gorbachev, for example, academician Aganbekyan, in igniting this conflict?

- I do not know these nuances. I know for sure that my father tried to prevent this conflict. Of course, there were such people around Gorbachev. At that time, there were also extremists in Armenia. I think that the main role here was played not by the Armenians of Moscow, but by extremist forces in the Armenian intelligentsia. At that time, local nationalism was flourishing in Armenia. In the last days of the Soviet Union, this nationalism was everywhere. I think that the meaningless steps of the nationalists eventually led to this conflict.

"Armenia's territorial claims against its neighbors do not seem convincing"

- How do you see the salvation of Armenia? What do you think awaits the Armenians who do not give up the dream of a "Greater Armenia" and territorial claims against neighbors?

- I do not consider it reasonable. Armenia is a small country with a small population. Which today is surrounded by unfriendly countries. This, of course, hinders the development of Armenia. It seems to me that Armenia and the Armenian people must first of all think about their own development. For this, Armenia must turn the hostile countries around it into a friendly country. In my opinion, territorial claims against its neighbors only hinder Armenia today. It must be understood that Armenia is in fact under blockade. Azerbaijan, which is not friendly on the one hand, Turkey, on the other hand, and Georgia, which is not very friendly on the third hand. Iran remains. However, it is clear that Iran has relations with Turkey on the one hand, and with Azerbaijan on the other. He also has good relations with Armenia. But all this can change. Therefore, I think that Armenia should find a solution that allows it to communicate with its neighbors. Of course, Armenia's territorial claims against its neighbors do not seem convincing here.

"I have always said that the issue of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity must be recognized."

- I was watching your speeches on political talk shows broadcast on Russian TV channels. Let me be clear. In the first days of the conflict, your position against Azerbaijan was also tough. But then I saw a slight softening in your position ...

- What was the harshness of my speeches? I said in advance that the war is meaningless, it is necessary to look for concessions.

- You said that Azerbaijan could not win this war ...

- Yes. To be honest, I thought the Armenian army was better prepared. But I always said that war does not solve all problems. I have always said that the issue of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity must be recognized. This has always been my position. On the other hand, Azerbaijan must admit that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have a problem of existence, a guarantee of their survival and development. It is not up to me what political decision will be made there now. It must be acknowledged that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh must live, develop and feel safe in their territories. This was my position. Yes, I thought the Armenian army was better prepared for war. But I knew they would not win. This position of mine has caused dissatisfaction in the Armenian society. All right. I am a Russian citizen. I say what I think is necessary. In fact, my position is very simple. I feel sorry for the youth of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The peoples of the South Caucasus should not fight with each other, on the contrary, they should have the opportunity to live together.

"Nagorno-Karabakh is the territory of Azerbaijan"

- In your speeches, you stressed the importance of ensuring the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Today, this problem has already been solved. The President of Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated in his speeches that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are also citizens of Azerbaijan. It would be interesting to know your opinion on this.

- Yes, it is clear that Azerbaijan has won this military campaign. Now the advantage is on the side of Azerbaijan. In my opinion, what is important for Azerbaijan now is to convince the Karabakh Armenians that there is no threat to their lives. This issue requires some time and the right decisions. People need to be reassured. They must understand that there is no danger of extinction and land loss. I think the deployment of Russian peacekeepers is the right decision. It is also the right decision because President Ilham Aliyev agreed to it. It is clear that Azerbaijan had a military advantage and could go to the end. What could have happened then? It would happen that the Armenians would leave Nagorno-Karabakh completely. This means expelling people from their territories. In this case, the situation would not be good for Azerbaijan. In this sense, I think the President of Azerbaijan made the right decision. This shows that President Ilham Aliyev is a great politician. When he made that decision, he measured everything correctly. Now it takes time. People need to get used to each other. In fact, you need something very simple, to trade, to shop. Azerbaijanis and Armenians are enterprising peoples. They are able to trade and communicate. It seems to me that when trade relations between the two peoples begin, they will soon reach an agreement. Cooperation will begin on a regular basis. I am sure that from now on everything will be in the past. Therefore, it is necessary to give people the opportunity to build relationships. Borders must be opened, economic ties must be established. I think that after all this, everything will be forgotten. Nagorno-Karabakh is the territory of Azerbaijan. Karabakh is recognized by all countries as the territory of Azerbaijan.

"Azerbaijan is a country with great cultural traditions"

- You are probably aware of the concerns of a number of Russian artists about the fate of Christian temples in Karabakh. However, these artists are not worried about keeping pigs in Azerbaijani mosques that have been under occupation for 30 years. Do you think this is a hypocritical approach?

- I think that all temples - both Muslim and Christian - should be unequivocally preserved. It does not matter, if someone from the parties damages these temples, it is completely unacceptable. People who do not understand the attitude to Religious temples and God do not understand this. I have said this several times. Apparently, it needs to be repeated. Islam and Christianity are very close religions. It is the greatness of the Prophet Muhammad that he included Jesus Christ and other prophets in Islam, in the Qur'an. In Islam, Jesus Christ and Mary are considered important saints. It talks about the Bible. Therefore, when someone tells me that Islam is a threat to Christianity, I tell them to read the Qur'an. Read the Qur'an and see that there is no danger to Christianity. On the contrary, this religion is very close to Christianity. The Prophet Muhammad was an extraordinary genius. Therefore, I strongly condemn the damage to mosques. If someone is concerned about religious temples, I think it is their right. Azerbaijan is a country with great cultural traditions. The Azerbaijani leadership is a wise people. Therefore, it is clear that Azerbaijan will preserve all religious temples in Karabakh.

- In one of your interviews, you said that you are from Karabakh, a descendant of the ruler of Karabakh. I was very interested. In 1805, the Karabakh khanate became part of the Russian Empire. The agreement called Kurakchay was signed by Karabakh khan Ibrahimkhalil khan. It turns out that you are a descendant of Ibrahimkhalil khan. Is that so?

- Our roots are Malik-Shahnazarovs. After the Karabakh khanate became part of Russia, they were called Shahnazarovs. Some say that we changed our surname to Shahnazarov during the Soviet era. No, it is not. We have a document in our family. This document is the decree of Nadir Shah to give the territory called Varanda to Malik Shahnazarov.

- Varanda was one of the kingdoms within the Karabakh khanate. However, the ruler of Karabakh was Ibrahimkhalil khan, an Azerbaijani who signed the Kurakchay agreement.

- To be honest, I do not know such nuances. All these historical subtleties are certainly interesting.

"There is no other alternative to cooperation and good neighborly relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia"

- Karen Georgievich, my last question. How do you think events will develop? What will be the fate of the South Caucasus region?

- I hope that the development of events will be such that the peoples of the South Caucasus will cooperate and develop good neighborly relations. Indeed, it is necessary to understand that the peoples of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are small nations. Understandably, they are surrounded by heavy political giants. It seems to me that the only guarantee of the independence and national policy of the South Caucasus states is, first of all, their mutual cooperation. In my opinion, these nations can cooperate very well with each other. Because these nations are very talented and enterprising. There is no alternative to cooperation and good neighborly relations. For this, borders must be opened. In my opinion, it is necessary to start joint activities and implement economic projects. In my opinion, the peoples of the South Caucasus are well aware of the economy, trade, what to sell and where to buy. It seems to me that time will pass, a new generation will grow up, all this will be forgotten. This is the only opportunity. If we are constantly at war, it will not be good for anyone. It will be an endless war. Again, young children will die. Again, large sums of money will be spent on armaments. Small nations do not have the opportunity to live like this. They must find a way to work closely together. I think all this is possible. It should be understood that Armenia is currently in a difficult psychological situation. I think that the Azerbaijani political elite should understand this. Today, much depends on the steps taken by the political leadership of Azerbaijan, primarily President Ilham Aliyev. What happened is very painful in Armenia. But it will pass. First of all, the right steps must be taken. In my opinion, it is necessary to simply stop constantly throwing history, to prove who is the oldest people, who is the smartest, and to throw it aside. Anti-Azerbaijani and anti-Armenian rhetoric must also end. Mutual relations must be established so that Azerbaijanis can go to Yerevan without asking anyone, and Armenians can go to Baku and Ganja ... It is necessary to make efforts to establish such relations. I think this can be achieved. However, this will take some time.

Now you need to be a little patient.

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