25 January 2021

Monday, 06:00



André WIDMER: “Apparently, the only solution to this conflict today is on the battlefield”



André Widmer is an eye-witness of the events ongoing in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. The famous Swiss journalist, researcher on the post-Soviet space, columnist of the prestigious German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is also the author of the book Forgotten Conflict on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, which is based on materials collected during his trips to the occupied Azerbaijani territories. Mr. Widmer was again in the conflict zone after the start of Azerbaijan's successful counter-offensive operation; this time to witness how Azerbaijan liberates its lands from occupation. He shared his impressions and vision of the situation with us.


“You immediately headed to the line of contact as soon as you arrived to Azerbaijan. What are the chances of both conflicting parties today?”

“I am not a military journalist. I am a freelancer writing about the former Soviet republics, as well as about the conflicts in this territory. I think both sides have reached a point of no return after the outbreak of hostilities in September. Azerbaijan reclaims the territories under the Armenian occupation since 1990s, and the progress of the Azerbaijani troops seems significant. Your army has so far liberated many villages and several cities. However, even if the Armenian military is poorly equipped, as it became obvious after the first victories of Azerbaijan in the south, I expect fierce resistance of the Armenian troops around Shusha and Khankendi. It will be difficult for the Armenian leadership to admit the defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh. It seems that the only solution to this conflict is on the battlefield today.”

“You spoke with Azerbaijanis while in the country. What is the general mood among the people? What is your opinion of the actions of the Azerbaijani authorities and military command?”

“In general, I can very well feel the rise of patriotic feelings among the people and the support of the authorities in Baku. One can even find lots of people near the front line who do not want to leave the area despite warnings, because they hope to be helpful to the troops when necessary. I met a veteran of the first Karabakh war there who would join the fight if he could because of his age. But he does not leave the area, as he is waiting for his chance to join the troops. Of course, it is mostly the Azerbaijani refugees who hope for the final liberation of their lands. For many years, refugees and internally displaced persons have wanted to return to their homes. 90 percent of the population of the occupied seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh were Azerbaijanis, who were expelled from these places. And today these people hope that after all these long years of suffering and expectation, they will finally be able to return to their ancestral lands, to their homes. During my previous visit to Azerbaijan back in 2012, I saw settlements of refugees in many places nationwide. But it is a tragedy when one can see the same refugees, who live near the front line, hiding from the Armenian artillery shelling in cellars. As if they become refugees for the second time. I hope this nightmare ends soon.”

“One of your first destinations this time was Ganja. You were close to the epicentre of events when the Armenian missile strike killed and wounded many civilians. What was happening in the city then?”

“Indeed, we were in the city of Terter not far from Ganja, when we heard the news on the third missile strike on Ganja. We rushed there and arrived in the city about three hours after the attack. The destruction was terrible; the crater from the missile strike in the middle of the residential area was several meters wide. The search of the dead and wounded people continued with no survivors found as of the time of our arrival. As a result of the attack, about 20 buildings in the residential area were destroyed with the nearby houses significantly damaged by the shock wave. It is still hard for me to revive those moments, when I saw a destroyed residential area in a peaceful city that is not even in a combat zone. I still can see a huge crater open by a missile, which ended with severe destruction and a large number of dead and wounded civilians, including children.”

“What do you think of the actions of Yerevan against the civilian population? Why did Armenia make this attack?”

“I believe that Armenia did not have any military and strategic reasons behind these missile strikes on Ganja and other cities, especially those located kilometres away from the front line. However, the Armenian military command immediately after the attack published a new list of military facilities in Ganja, which it was going to subject to missile attacks, making it clear that Armenia would not stop. Even if the tactical missile systems Skad, which they used to hit Ganja, are not so accurate, it is difficult to believe that after three strikes at civilian targets the Armenian military simply made a mistake. On the other hand, it is clear that Armenia pursued a political and strategic goal: to provoke an attack by Azerbaijan on the Armenian territory so that Yerevan could guarantee the involvement of Russia to the conflict in line with the requirements of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.”

“What is Europe’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? Why is the European media often so biased in its coverage of the conflict?”

“When you read the European articles covering the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, you soon begin to realise that most European journalists are more interested in talking about the so-called separatists or the self-proclaimed republic rather than about the real state of affairs such as the occupation of Azerbaijani territories. The same reflex worked this time too, when many of them rushed to Khankendi to cover the conflict only from the Armenian position. Given the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe and the so-called second wave of the virus, I think that many governments are now actually focused on solving this problem, and do not care too much about the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In general, their efforts have been too insignificant over the past 26 years. That’s why Azerbaijan loses only a bit from Europe's non-intervention policy. Indeed, for more than 20 years it has not been possible to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group and numerous bilateral meetings.”

“What is the most likely scenario of the conflict given the changed status quo and the partial liberation of Azerbaijani territories? What steps will Armenia take?”

“We can only guess the turn of the events, especially the steps of Armenian authorities. At the same time, it is quite clear that in order to end the bloodshed, it is necessary that both sides again begin to seek a solution at the negotiating table. But not following the same path of negotiations we have seen in the past thirty years, but with a clear objective to find a real solution quickly. However, in the current situation, this seems unrealistic. Considering today's realities, apparently, all issues will still be resolved as soon as possible, and not at the negotiating table, but on the battlefield.”