Massacres of Armenians started 21 years ago in Baku. Valery Kiporenko, an investigator of KGB (USSR Committee for State Security), was then on a mission to Azerbaijani SSR.
Valery Kiporenko, a member of the investigators’ group of USSR Committee for State Security, worked in Sumgait and Baku for seven months, in 1990 he was the Senior Investigator of USSR Committee for State Security Special Department in Kiev Military District. Analitika.at.ua and PanARMENIAN.Net present an interview with Ukraine’s Reserve Colonel Valery Kiporenko.
- Please tell about your mission to Azerbaijan.
- Before the collapse of the USSR I served in the Special Department of Kiev Military District as a Senior Special Investigator, and after the 1988 events in Sumgait an operational investigation group was set up under the aegis of the Prosecutor General’s Office, with investigators from the whole Soviet Union. I must say that Ukrainian investigators made 70-80 percent in the group. Ukrainians have always been diligent, they often, if we may say so, “closed” serious problems in the USSR.
In Sumgait, we stopped at the Dalga (“Wave”) hotel, we were warned against going out, local bodies sabotaged our work and did not help us.
According to our information, a week or two before the mass disorders, several buses arrived in Sumgait with refugees from Yerevan, so-called “yerazes” (Yerevan-Azerbaijanis). They said that allegedly they had underwent violence in Yerevan, had been banished from their homes, etc. Indeed, they had a low income in Yerevan and taking advantage of the aggravation of the situation in Nagorno Karabakh they decided to come to the homeland, to get an apartment to spite Armenians. We had operational reports of USSR Committee for State Security with no mention of rape or banishment from Yerevan. It was merely a propaganda campaign, and as a result of it, poor Azerbaijanis hearing it, having no dwelling and permanent job, formed brigades who inquired where Armenians lived in Sumgait, robbed their apartments, banished the owners from their houses, killed them.
When I arrived in Sumgait, the town was completely destroyed; I remember that filtration was proceeding in the town, and we were immediately involved in it. Internal troops were brought from the Rostov region who detained all suspects, gathered them at the stadium, photographed them until the operational-investigation group arrived, and only then set them free. I remember my brigade investigate more than 18 crimes in Sumgait. In particular, there was a criminal band, with recidivist Edik Grigoryan. The band revealed apartments in Sumgait where Armenians lived, killed, raped them. The situation was extremely complicated and absolutely unique, they were the first serious mass disorders of purely ethnic nature. Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians suffered but these were rare cases, only when they were taken for Armenians.
- Was Grigoryan Armenian?
- Heading the investigation group I personally interrogated Grigoryan and brought a charge against him, he had an Armenian surname but was registered as an Azerbaijani. He was born in a problem family, his mother was Azerbaijani, his father left them when he was a child, that is why he treated Armenians very negatively. He had several convictions and though he had an Armenian surname, his attitude just to people of Armenian nationality was extremely negative.
- Did any Azerbaijanis suffer in the disorders?
- No Azerbaijani suffered in Sumgait disorders, Armenians killed none. The Armenian people was not ready to resist. Particularly, I remember an incident with Ohanesyan brothers who lived on the ground floor. They had been under siege for 2 or 3 hours. Their parents escaped to the upper floor to their Belarusian neighbors who hid them. The crowd surrounded their apartment, the brothers were armed with a pistol belonging to their relative and shot back but eventually the apartment was set on fire, the brothers were killed in the yard. I was present at the dissection, they had been beaten so strongly that their flesh separated from the bones.
For me, the most terrible was the rape of a 16-year-old Armenian girl in the presence of hundreds of people, they raped them, then burnt, and the crowd was watching, and no one interceded for her. While she was an excellent pupil, Sumgait’s “face,” everybody knew her.
- Do you think the massacres were spontaneous or were planned?
- It was an organized action. “Refugees” from Armenia stayed somewhere close to the House of Culture. They told about “horrors” in Armenia. We tried to explain to them that nothing of the kind had occurred and they must not tell such stories. But it was vain. And the criminals headed just them, they robbed, killed and raped based on the ethnic principle. Crowds rushed about the town, turned over cars, set cars on fire, etc.
- How would you describe the massacre against Azerbaijan’s peaceful Armenian population? Can it be called genocide, especially as Armenians were persecuted by the ethnic principle?
- Yes, what happened in Sumgait was just genocide because the slogans voiced by pogrom-makers were: kill Armenians, they took our best apartments, they are a secondary people, and no Armenian should remain in Sumgait.
- You were in the epicenter of the events. Tell about other towns – what happened there. What was the difference between pogroms in Sumgait and those in Baku or Kirovabad?
- Upon completion of criminal cases in Sumgait where I spent 5 or 6 months those guilty were punished. The very Grigoryan was under examination, his case was sent to the court and we departed. I don’t know about other towns of Azerbaijan, our group worked in Sumgait.
Mass disorders broke out in Baku in 1990 under the same slogans of extermination of Armenians. Troops were brought into Baku. Non-Azerbaijanis were treated badly in Baku. Once I went to buy bread but they refused to sell bread to me allegedly because we supported Armenians. Indeed, we just investigated crimes.
Ferryboats departed to the Caspian Sea from Baku, they took out Armenians under the pretext of evacuation, but those operations were headed by Azerbaijan’s nationalist elements, and we failed to establish whom exactly they took out and what happened to them.
- Taking into consideration everything you told, did the Nagorno Karabakh people have a choice but self-defense to stay in its land?
- The Nagorno Karabakh people had no other choice but self-defense. But for troops in Sumgait and Baku, violence would be used against all Armenians there in order to banish them from the country.
The Armenian people had no other way out, judging by the cruel treatment of Armenians in Sumgait and Baku.
Every people has a right of self-determination, and if historically it came that most Armenians lived in Nagorno Karabakh territory, they have a right of self-determination. Or this territory should have been redistributed in favor of Armenia as early as in the Soviet period.
- What are your wishes to our readers?
- I would like no one to face crimes on national ground.
Nationalism is a terrible thing, it is inadmissible when crime is committed only because someone has another nationality. I am deeply convinced that peoples cannot be bad, only individuals can be bad.
Translated by Maria Simonyan
Prepared with the assistance of the Public Relations and Information Center of the Office of the President of Armenia, Yerevan.
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