The Russian writer Inessa Burkova is one of those few human rights defenders who contributed to the truth about the tragedy of the Armenian villages of Artsakh that were deported by the Azerbaijani OMON in the framework of the Operation Ring, to break through the information blockade and reach the international community.
Karabakhrecords.info publishes the human rights defender’s interview.
- Inessa Yemelyanovna, remember, please, what happened on those days…
- In late April 1991 I managed to get to Shahumyanovsk. I was already aware that something was going on there. But then we could never imagine that the Soviet army could shoot at Soviet citizens. Everything started on April 30. I can very clearly recall the woman-radio-operator’s voice transmitting from Getashen by radio: “Help! We are under fire. They shoot at women, children, elderlies. They shoot guns from the air.” Then she said that tanks were entering into the village. I was immediately reporting on all that by RFE/RL.
Then refugees from Getashen started to appear in Shahumyanovsk. I talked with many of them. Later, in Yerevan, I also talked with the former captives who had been seized in Getashen. I can especially remember father and son Chilingaryans. The father was a Great Patriotic War participant and had lost his leg in the war. They said that when the Azerbaijanis took them hostage and drove away, they already started to beat them on the way in the bus. It is hard to imagine, but they beat the old disabled man with his own crutch. They tortured and mocked at his sun in front of him putting out cigarettes on his body. They threw him on the floor and several men jumped on him at a time, they hit him and mocked at him. Then they pulled him up holding his hair and took off his scalp – and all this before his father’s eyes...
The Azerbaijani OMON committed dreadful excesses. They broke into the houses on the plea of passport checks and allegedly searched for fighters. Indeed, they were not interested in any passports: they just plundered, drove off whole herds of cattle, behaved as savages, bandits towards the civilians to the point of raping women before their husbands’ eyes. All this naturally induced response hatred, fidayi detachments were formed which defended the village, and they did that very bravely.
The refugees said that the inhabitants of Getashen were not allowed to get out of the village in the beginning, they were just being exterminated. Though, they were later taken out on helicopters. To all the appeals of the Armenian leadership Moscow answered that, as it said, an operation of Armenian fighters’ liquidation was underway. I had a chance to see them, they were not fighters, but they were people having defended their wives, children, old people, native villages, real men who had saved defenseless civilians.
During the whole period in Shahumyanovsk, I was writing appeals and letters to different addresses. It did the job. In at least 3 small villages neighboring to Getashen - Buzlukh, Manashid and Erkech - they left a corridor for the inhabitants who left their homes making their way to Stepanakert on foot, in the mountains, over the abyss, with children on their hands and old people. I can remember that a woman then lost her small child who fell into the abyss.
- Eventually Gorbachev likely got his Nobel Peace Prize for that operation, too… After all, Baku would hardly decide on that without the approval and support from Moscow.
- Sure. The ‘OK’ for that nightmare could have been given by no one else but ‘the architect of perestroika,’ Mikhail Gorbachev. Nothing – neither ‘sumgait,’ nor ‘baku,’ nor other bloody events – would happen without his agreement. The deportation scheme had been tested in Afghanistan and executed with absolute one-to-one precision in Karabakh. The villages were first surrounded, after that they were subjected to intense shooting from all the sides with machine guns, assault rifles, guns, from the air. After that the Azerbaijani OMON officers and inhabitants from neighboring Azerbaijani villages were breaking in. They killed the elderly people right in their beds, raped and killed women, beat, abused and killed even children. They marauded and took away everything that could be stolen. All that went on in an organized way; the National Question was apparently being solved by that.
The information blockade is also important to mention. Glasnost declared by Gorbachev apparently did not refer only to Karabakh – there was just a wall there. It was impossible to publish anything you saw. But still, it was an organized genocide of a whole nation. In that way, they were going to exile all the Armenians from the native Armenian lands. And that was being done with the deadliest methods, exactly as the Turks did during the Genocide in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- In your opinion, what aim was the Azerbaijani leadership pursuing executing the Operation Ring?
- They were striving to clear that land from the Armenians. In their time, they seized those lands but under the Soviet authorities it was necessary to imitate friendship of nations, though, it must be stated that the people were really friends. And without the arrangement of the authorities, they might be still living side by side. Still, instead of that, one side turned into savages and the other one – into those being mercilessly exiled.
In spring-summer of 1991 the population of about 30 Armenian villages from Artsakh was subjected to terroristic acts and abuse and was deported from their native lands by the Azerbaijani OMON forces in the framework of the Operation Ring.
Prepared with the assistance of the Public Relations and Information Center of the Office of the President of Armenia, Yerevan.
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