Author: Nigar ALIYEVA
To hear the truth, one needs live communication with witnesses of certain events. This is what our guest, a military journalist from Lithuania, Ricardas Lapaitis, believes too. And since we are talking about the two Garabagh wars and the recent events in Azerbaijan, live communication with the eyewitness of the first Garabagh war is a good opportunity to remember the past and to have a perspective on the future of the region.
"What did prompt you to visit Garabagh in the 1990s? As a very young man, what were you going to see in Azerbaijan?"
"I’d travelled a lot before my first visit to Azerbaijan. I’d been to Northern Urals, Siberia, Transbaikalia, the Far East, Ukraine, Moldova and Yerevan. I’d travelled around the Arctic Circle (Taimyr Peninsula) for a whole year. Then I felt that I was grown up, and the vastness of the former USSR was not enough for my ambitions. However, before going to China, I’d planned to visit all the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Then I thought that I had never been to Azerbaijan, I wanted to see Baku, Gobustan, know the history and culture of this oriental city. Moreover, we had a common history: back in 1918, a Lithuanian consulate operated in the capital of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, and more than 3,000 Lithuanians lived in Baku. We were tied by a similar tragedy – the January events in Baku in 1990 and a year later in Vilnius. It was a cruel crime committed against the peoples of our countries. Yes, it wasn’t a good time for making trips, but still..."
"As a military journalist, you’ve been an eyewitness to a number of events during the first Garabagh war. Last year you watched the course of hostilities without being physically present here. Nevertheless, you expressed your position to the events in Garabagh. How do you assess the level of information confrontation between the two conflicting parties, taking into account the long-term information blockade of Azerbaijan and the powerful lobbying efforts of Armenia in global media?"
"It is difficult to answer straight away, and I’ll tell you why. First, we could hear many statements from the so called Russian experts. It has both good and bad implications. As a rule, they made statements against Azerbaijan, so I do not believe in their sincerity. That’s why I really wished to hear the opinion of foreign journalists. However, this shortage of information was compensated by the civil society and the solidarity of all Azerbaijanis around the world. Meanwhile, Yerevan has made great efforts to improve its image; Italians, French, Russians, and Lithuanians are still working there. The Armenian lobby has always been masterfully manipulating the world media investing in this business a lot. For example, during the war there were live reports from Khankendi in Lithuanian. In such conditions, it is very difficult to convince someone and convey the truth. Therefore, in order to break the information blockade, you need to work hard!"
"We have heard the most controversial pieces of information about the Garabagh war and the beginning of the conflict in the past 30 years. Which publication reflects the truth about those events most objectively?"
"I think the journalists Chingiz Mustafayev and Seyidagha Movsumov, the Latvian journalist Modris Auzens, Leonid Lazarevich, the writer from St. Petersburg Yuri Pompeev have made a huge contribution to the coverage of events in Daghlig Garabagh. We should not forget the wonderful work done by photojournalists Oleg Litvin, Ilgar Jafarov, Mirnaib Hasanoghlu and many others. I will also mention Thomas de Waal, Viktoria Ivleva. They all risked their lives to make the truths public."
"How would you name the events in Khojaly – a tragedy or a genocide?"
"As an eyewitness, I can firmly say that it was the genocide of Azerbaijanis. Old people, women and young children were killed only because of their ethnic background. It was nothing but a genocide indeed!"
"Your documentary, Endless Corridor, is based on your testimonies. It has become a kind of chronicle of that tragedy, showing truly disturbing facts of the event to the whole world. There were no social networks at that time, which would help you make any news public in a matter of seconds. How can we convey more effectively the true events of the beginning of the conflict and the first Garabagh war to the world community?"
"There are a lot of ways, but the best thing is of course live communication with witnesses of the Garabagh war. A story told firsthand, in a matter of seconds, makes any listener think. It is important to hold such events throughout Europe and other regions. Endless Corridor was a tremendous success because it was shot by foreign filmmakers and translated into many languages of the world! It also took part in many international film festivals. One of the components of the film’s success was that neither politicians nor random persons were allowed to work on the film. It is also very important not to use the Western journalists for personal purposes; you need well-established official contacts with the Western media. That’s where your diplomats should contribute a lot."
"Have you ever experienced a difference of opinions with your colleagues or ordinary people regarding your position on Garabagh?"
"Sometimes. Because they did not understand the essence of the problem or lacked accurate information. In such cases, I patiently try to explain the sequence of events and the reasons behind the conflict. This certainly requires fundamental knowledge of the issue, both historical facts and current affairs. But I often can convince my partners, since I am an eyewitness of the events in Garabagh."
"I know that you were threatened because of your publications. Who did threaten you and when?"
"It's hard to talk about it. Nevertheless, no one has ever sued me for my publications or blocked my accounts on social networks. There were threats, but I don't want to talk about them. I try to live here and now. As a military journalist, I am perfectly aware of where I am going and what I can face!"
"Some Russian experts believe that Azerbaijan’s victory in the second Garabagh war is incomplete due to the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Khankendi. What do you think?"
"What Azerbaijan achieved during 44 days in the second Garabagh war is a huge victory! After all, no one in the 1990s expected that the conflict would take so long. In the past thirty years, Armenians have strengthened their positions. Therefore, it is always harder to attack than to defend. Frankly, after the liberation of Zangelan, I called directly to the Azerbaijani embassy in Lithuania to send a congratulatory telegram to the President of Azerbaijan and the Commander-in-Chief of the Azerbaijani Army Ilham Aliyev. And this was even before the liberation of Shusha! If I, a Lithuanian, understand this, I think there is no doubt about the victory of Azerbaijan after thirty years of occupation. Everyone knows perfectly well who is behind Armenia, who is supplying it with weapons and ballistic missiles. We saw the terrorist attacks in Ganja and Barda, attempts to bomb the strategically important Mingachevir reservoir, read about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the Sarsang reservoir. They used all levers of pressure on Azerbaijan. Pashinyan called and complained to Putin every day, begging him to intervene. Everyone knew that there was a Russian base in Gyumri in Armenia, watched the flights of military aircraft through Iranian airspace, listened to Russian ‘experts’ who demanded that Azerbaijan stop the war within five days. But the Azerbaijani soldiers went further, entered Shusha and encircled the Armenian military! In other words, they brought the invaders to their knees! Shusha was freed in hand-to-hand combat. This victory will go down in history and will be discussed for a very long time! Azerbaijan forced Armenia to sign an act of capitulation, put Russia in such a position that only the introduction of peacekeepers slightly saved its face on the world stage. The West did not have time to react to the events at all. Isn't this a victory?! Azerbaijan will now also have a land road with Nakhchivan and Turkey. This will play an instrumental role in further events. It will put an end to the issue with Khankendi. I congratulate Azerbaijan from the bottom of my heart on a brilliant victory and express my deep condolences to the families of martyrs! I am proud of every soldier, happy for the entire Azerbaijani nation!"
"What do you think of the revanchist sentiments prevailing in the Armenian political establishment? Should we get prepared for the resumption of hostilities by Armenia? Ironically, Pashinyan is a kind of guarantor of compliance with the truce, when the internal political situation in Armenia may result in a change in the country's leadership."
"Armenians will see a new leader of the country for sure. I don't think Armenia will have enough strength to start an open war. May be some attacks here and there. This country has improved its negative ‘virtues’ over the centuries. The Dashnaks have always organized military and terrorist acts against the civilian population. But I don't think that Azerbaijan is not preparing for this! The world is now very unstable. In this situation, I believe Azerbaijan has thought scrupulously about the possible course of events. Peacekeepers too. There are and will undoubtedly be provocations. There is complete confusion in Armenia now, both economic, political and moral. This is not surprising, since almost everything is lost. But it was necessary to think about this earlier and leave the lands of Azerbaijan. Look at what they left behind! Aghdam, Fuzuli. Kelbajar, Zangelan... like after the explosion in Hiroshima."
"Is it possible to establish good-neighbourly relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia after the two bloody Garabagh wars? Is it possible to unite the three states of the South Caucasus to participate in common infrastructure projects?"
"There should be some progress, but so far there are no prerequisites for this. Everything takes time! When I see how brutally Azerbaijani prisoners of war are killed, we cannot talk of any cooperation. A lot depends on Armenia itself."
"We can many media reports about the creation of a military alliance among the Turkic states. How realistic does this project look like?"
"A new military alliance of the Turkic states is a difficult question. Due to its geopolitical position, Azerbaijan will choose a balanced policy and its own path. Indeed, it is also linked with Europe through close economic and cultural projects. Azerbaijan has always maintained friendly relations with almost all countries being the crossroads of the West and the East. I believe that Azerbaijan has great opportunities for prosperity. As for Armenia, they will either become wiser or return to the Stone Age. We live in the Age of Globalization, and good-neighbourly life can open new opportunities for Armenia itself. I am sure that Azerbaijan will never give up its sacred lands to anyone again. You should keep the memories of barbaric destruction, martyrs for the future generations forever. I wish the Azerbaijani people could return to historical lands as soon as possible!"