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Interview with Ruben Vardanyan on Dozhd (TV Rain)

Ruben Vardanyan
Joining our live broadcast is Ruben Vardanyan, social entrepreneur and founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative. Welcome to our broadcast on Dozhd. I trust you can hear us. I saw a message on your Instagram that the day before, correct me if I’m wrong, you were in Stepanakert. What did you see there?

– Yes, that’s right. Good evening! I was in Stepanakert on Sunday when the fighting broke out. I have seen people ready to die for their country, for their land. I have seen people who aren’t afraid of anything. I have seen people who, despite all the problems, believe that, they will triumph over everything. I have seen people who have united around the leadership of the Republic, who understand that this is a challenge that they must rise to. And there is no doubt that all the people of Artsakh are ready to take part in this uneasy, difficult situation, fully realising that there is no other way, unfortunately, but to win. For example, my own grandmother is from a village that the Azerbaijanis razed to the ground in the “Ring” operation, to leave no traces of Armenians living on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, we all understand very well – those who live in Karabakh, who live in Armenia, that, unfortunately, the Armenians and Karabakhis have no other solution but to win, to find a peaceful agreement.

– Can you explain, I apologize, Ruben, you say: there is no other way – only to win. Does this mean that negotiations are currently impossible?

– Negotiations are possible only in a situation when both sides understand that it is impossible to solve this problem by military force. It’s very unfortunate that Azerbaijan has this delusion, which they themseleves inflate, that they can solve the problem through a military action, which always comes to nothing. When one of the parties has a misconception like this, it is very difficult to sit down at the negotiating table. So pressure through military force, hardware, leads to some people feeling that now we will solve this with one big blow. It’s come to nothing and it will never solve anything. And currently neither Azerbaijan nor Turkey clearly understand that there is no other way except for negotiations where compromises must be made, and compromises are not an easy thing for any political power, but they have to be made because nothing else will work.

– Tell me, how can Russia participate in the settling the situation happening now and why is it still uninvolved in your opinion? Or does it seem sufficient to you?

– I’m not a politician, I can’t judge political processes. I can say as a Russian – I do not have Armenian citizenship, I am a Russian citizen and I am proud of it. I think that this is a very serious challenge for Russia, because Turkey’s participation in this conflict, and the undisguised support of Azerbaijan, makes this situation very vulnerable for Russia. The loss of the southern Transcaucasia is a mortal threat for Russia, because then we understand what the consequences will be for the entire North Caucasus and the South of Russia. And in this sense, I am worried that part of the Russian elite has an illusion or a misconception that this is a problem of Armenians and Armenia, that they are not grateful for Russia’s help, so let them figure it out there themselves.

In fact, this is a problem for Russia. It is no less important for Russia than the problem in Ukraine and Belarus, because not only are Russian troops stationed in Armenia, but Armenia is the only outpost that has remained an ally of Russia. Some may like it, some may not like it, but this really is a key challenge for Russia. Will Russia be able to maintain its allied relations with a country that, yes, is small, yes, does not have oil and gas, yes, does not have any strategic position, but is the only point of support that Russia has left in this area?

– Tell me, Ruben, how do you answer one of the most important questions in recent days: why did it start now? For more than 25 years, we have all witnessed a frozen conflict flaring up from time to time, but after a day or two it died down once again. Either way, it has not burned as actively and on such a large scale as in the last three days. What happened this weekend? Why did it begin this way on Sunday morning?

– Well, first of all, I want to remind you of some history, because not all viewers of the Dozhd channel know that by 1994, Azerbaijan’s military campaigns ended in tatters. Their army collapsed, and they were practically exposed on all fronts. And in this sense, the armistice that was signed – I also want to remind everyone: the trilateral truce, in which the leadership of the Republic of Nagorno–Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan participated separately, was an attempt to stop the further collapse of the country of Azerbaijan. Then there was a build-up of military power, the price of oil and gas and gold impacted the country’s budget. This led to the fact that there is a greater sense of military superiority. There have been some attempts, however they have not been significant. In 2016, there was a four-day war. A continual attempt to blitzkrieg for several days to achieve a military solution, in order to somehow show a quick victory.

This time, I think Turkey has played a big role, the joint Turkish and Azerbaijani exercises that took place over the past few months, the presence of Turkish aircraft that joined in Azerbaijan, and also what Georgia did by stopping Armenia from receiving weapons from Russia. In the past month, as you know, Azerbaijan has expressed official gratitude to Georgia for halting a delivery of weapons through its country that were purchased by Armenia. And America’s warning to its citizens not to go to Azerbaijan and Armenia showed that all the key players in the global geopolitical space were well aware of what was happening and why it was happening.

I think that in this situation, Aliyev, who – I also want to remind everyone – is one of the last dictators in the post-Soviet space, who, together with his father has had an uninterrupted grip on power since 1994, also has a very difficult situation in Azerbaijan. He needs a victory, some external enemies.
I must say that the level of hatred and rejection towards Armenia and the Armenian people is dizzying in Azerbaijan. I would like to remind you that in Armenia, for example, Azerbaijanis can easily come to visit, and children from Turkey study at our school in Dilijan. But it is impossible to imagine, for example, that a child with an Armenian surname could go to Azerbaijan. Therefore, the level of emotional negativity and the desire to divert attention from internal problems at any cost, I think, has played a big role in sparking this conflict.

By the way, it symbolically began a hundred years after the Armenian-Turkish war, which began in 1920. So in this sense, it is a continuation of the illusion that military action can solve a problem that has no solution at the moment. Because no matter what Azerbaijan buys from Israel or Turkey, no matter what kind of drones they have, it is still impossible to defeat Armenia and Armenians in spirit, because people are fighting for their Homeland, for their land. In this sense, I am deeply convinced that the only solution is through peace talks, but peace talks with the understanding of both sides that neither side will be able to resolve this issue by military force. Moreover, Armenia has never had a the goal of solving the issue by military force. We don’t have any interest in it. We have a commitment to preserve Artsakh, the ancient Armenian land where our ancestors lived, where different people can live. You know, for example, a Muslim mosque has been restored in Artsakh, and in this sense, we respect the past – not only our own, but also the fact that other nationalities lived there.

And so we have two completely different approaches. We believe that when a person kills someone while sleeping, they cannot become a hero, as they did in Azerbaijan with the killer who murdered an Armenian officer by chopping him with an axe in Hungary, and then immediately pardoned and awarded a title. So, in this sense, these are two different approaches.

We need to understand, and Russia needs to understand: yes, it is not easy to have an ally who won, not lost; yes, it is not easy to have an ally who in this situation has the superiority and advantage over a much stronger and more powerful opponent. But this is a very difficult situation, including for many intellectuals in Russia, who express sympathy, but at the same time avert their eyes: yes, you still occupied some territory. I want to say to everyone: my dear Russians, my dear friends of other nationalities, believe me, this is not a question of aggression. The question is that this is a very serious conflict that has been going on for decades and centuries. We managed to win this conflict for the first time in many, many years in a very difficult situation. We really want a peaceful settlement. A peaceful settlement can only be achieved with mutual respect and understanding that the issue will not be resolved the way Azerbaijan solves it.

Thank you, thank you. Ruben Vardanyan, social entrepreneur, co-founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.