RENOWNED RUSSIAN JOURNALIST, POLITICIAN AND PUBLIC FIGURE, MR. MAXIM SHEVCHENKO, IS ONE OF THE BEST RUSSIAN EXPERTS ON THE CAUCASUS. IN AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AZERI OBSERVER, HE SPEAKS ABOUT THE PAST AND FUTURE OF KARABAKH, EXPLAINS WHAT FORMED HIS OPINION ON THIS ISSUE, AND WHAT THE VICTORY OF AZERBAIJAN MEANS FOR RUSSIA.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: You have always supported Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and continue fighting against Armenian propaganda in the Russian information space. What are your reasons for such a stance?
Answer: My philosophical views, perception of life, and basic life principles. I consider it disgraceful when someone occupies someone else’s home, expels the owners, saying that he has a right to do it because of some kind of ‘ancient history’. I absolutely don’t oppose the right of Armenians to live within Azerbaijan’s territory, as they did before, but I cannot understand the reasons causing them to seize foreign territory and drive Azerbaijanis out. Though international law and the existing borders can be imperfect, this is not the solution. As a person of sound mind I cannot support Pashinyan (Ed. note: Armenian Prime Minister), who claimed that these borders did not make any sense. I always oppose prejudice and fascism, based on the superiority of one ethnic group or race over another and the ‘struggle for living space’, which supposedly belongs to them according to some ‘sacred historical right’. My grandfather fought against such ideas during the Great Patriotic War (Ed. note: a term used in Russia for the war against Nazi Germany), and it is a pity that Armenian people are obsessed by them now. On the other hand, I see Azerbaijan, where different ethnic groups coexist harmoniously. Therefore, I support Azerbaijan as a state with a fair stance based on international law and the dialogue between the people. I’m not an enemy of Armenia, however, I really hope that someday people with sound views will win in Armenia and build a modern country, without causing problems for their neighbors.
Q.: Famous US specialist in international relations, John Arquilla, noted that “in today’s global information age, victory may sometimes depend not on whose army wins, but on whose story wins.” Do you share this opinion?
A.: This opinion is a largely fair statement, though he somewhat exaggerates the importance of the media, and belittles the importance of a person who risks not just a salary and a reputation, but his life on the battlefield. In the Karabakh war, the real heroes were the Azerbaijani soldiers who liberated the occupied territories. Actually, they helped not just Azerbaijani people, but also the Armenians – to free themselves from the chimera of fascism, just like the Soviet Union helped Germany many years ago. There is still a monument to a Russian soldier in the center of Berlin, and Germans perceive it not as an occupier, but as a liberator, who helped German people to eliminate the terrible chimera of Nazism. Meanwhile, it is undoubtedly important to be able to tell and explain your story; to implement media and PR activities in a professional and technological way, and to form an international understanding of what is happening now, what happened in the past and what will happen in the future. I believe that Azerbaijan can successfully deal with this task, since there are a lot of Azerbaijanis with degrees in human sciences from very good Universities in London, Paris, New York, etc.
Q.: Do you think that those who fought Armenian propaganda in the world information space somehow contributed to Azerbaijan’s victory in the real war?
A.: There are many factors, which, combined, lead to the victory, but the main author of it is the Azerbaijani soldier in a broad sense – from the one who liberated the city of Shusha with a machine gun, to the Commander-in-Chief, Ilham Aliyev, who, together with his generals, planned the battles and strikes, precisely and delicately, and repeatedly proposed a humanitarian solution to the conflict during the war. However, information is also an important factor in contemporary politics and confrontation. Here I would like to recall the American lieutenant general, Philip Davidson, who was the chief of US intelligence in Vietnam and later published a book about the Vietnam War. He wrote about the military strategy of the Vietnamese army general, Vo Nguyen Giap, which led him to the victory over the US. Giap’s strategy of war integrated two concepts – armed force, or military dau tranh, and political force, or political dau tranh. The political dau tranh incorporated psychological campaigns aimed both at the internal audience – in order to rally Vietnamese people and inspire them for the fight against American invaders – and at an external audience – in order to lower enemy military effectiveness through promoting pacifist ideas and showing the senselessness of the war. Coming back to Azerbaijan, I can say that it excellently coped with the internal political dau tranh; it perfectly motivated the country’s population for the fight, which is, undoubtedly, a huge success, first of all for the Azerbaijani President. Even those who usually criticize Ilham Aliyev, fully supported him in this war. Breaking the information blockade with the external political dau tranh was more difficult, and I, among many other Russian public figures, considered it my duty to help. Being a patriot of Russia, I think that the victory of Azerbaijan meets Russian geopolitical interests. Azerbaijan is our neighbor, friend and potential ally. We are bound by huge economic, cultural and political ties. I believe we must strengthen our relations with Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Iran, and we will help both Azerbaijani and Armenian people, come to a mutual understanding.
Q.: How did you feel when you saw the news about Azerbaijan’s victory and the liberation of Azerbaijani territory?
A.:I felt happy for my Azerbaijani friends when they took the city of Shusha back. I personally know Azerbaijani Ambassador to Russia, Polad Bulbuloglu, and have great respect for him. I remember how he once told me that he would want to see his father’s house in Shusha before the end of his lifetime. The ancestors of my close friend, Orkhan Dzhemal (renowned Russian journalist of Azerbaijani origin, killed while working on an investigative journalist project in the Central African Republic) also came from Shusha. Unfortunately, he did not make it till this day, but his son can see these places now. I wanted peace to be established, people to return home. Therefore, it was definitely a moment of joy for me, and I cannot hide it.
Q.: How do you see the future of Karabakh?
A.: I see a wonderful future ahead. I look forward to new modern roads, railways and airports built in Karabakh, and people, both Azerbaijanis and Armenians, returning there. I expect new houses, modern schools and hospitals to be built in the region with the support of the Azerbaijani government. I await the resumption of legal gold mining in the Azerbaijani town of Zangilan and the reasonable use of water resources. I anticipate that Karabakh will have everything that other regions of Azerbaijan do. I expect both mosques and churches to be restored there, with no one destroying them. I see a normal life, without fascism and xenophobia in Karabakh. It should become a place of peace, harmonious interethnic relations and modern development. I am sure this will happen. I have no doubt that is how Ilham Aliyev and Mehriban Aliyeva see this region developing in the very near future.