Russian writer Inessa Burkova was one of the few human rights activists who told the truth about the tragedy of the Armenians of Artsakh deported by the Azerbaijani riot police during Operation Ring. She broke through the information blockade and reached the international community.
Inessa Yemelyanovna, please remember the events of those days…
At the end of April 1991, I managed to get to Shahumyanovsk. I already knew that something was happening here. But then, we could not even think that the Soviet army could shoot at Soviet citizens.
It all started on April 30. I remember very well the voice of the female radio operator who transmitted from Getashen: “Save us! They are shooting at us, shooting at women, children, old people, shooting from the air, from guns.” Then, she reported that tanks had entered the village. I immediately transmitted all this to radio “Svoboda.”
Then, refugees from Getashen began to appear in Shahumyanovsk. I talked to many of them. Later, in Yerevan, I also spoke with former hostages who had been captured in Getashen. I remember especially the story of father and son Chilingarians.
They said that after the Azerbaijanis captured them and took them away, they were beaten up on the bus. It is hard to imagine such a thing, but the disabled old man was beaten with his own crutch. They also tortured his son in front of him – they extinguished cigarettes on his body, threw him onto the floor, and several people stomped on him, beaten him, and mocked him. And then, they lifted him by his hair and took the scalp off of him – and all this before his father’s eyes…
The Azerbaijani riot police in those days raged with terrible force. They broke into Armenian houses under the pretext of checking the passport regime and searching for militants. In reality, they were not interested in any passports: they simply robbed, took away entire herds of cattle, behaved towards civilians like savages, gangsters, and even raped women in front of their husbands. All this, naturally, caused reciprocal hatred: fedayi detachments were created to defended the villages.
As the refugees would say later, at first, the inhabitants of Getashen were not even allowed to leave the village – they were simply massacred. However, they would eventually be taken out by helicopters. All appeals from Armenian leaders from Moscow were turned down. They were told that an operation was underway to eliminate Armenian militants.
I happened to see them: none of them were militants, they were people who defended their wives, children, the elderly, and their native villages. They were real men who were saving the defenseless civilians.
All these days, sitting in Shahumyanovsk, I wrote appeals and letters to different addresses. And this did its job: at least in three small villages adjacent to Getashen – Buzlukh, Manashid, and Yerkech – they eventually left a corridor for the residents who, having left their homes, were walking through the mountains towards Stepanakert with children on their hands and elders in their company. I remember that one woman lost a small child to the abyss.
Gorbachev later, probably, also received the Nobel Peace Prize for this operation… Indeed, without the approval and support of Moscow in Baku, they would hardly dare to do that.
Of course, the “permission” for this whole nightmare was given by none other than the “architect of perestroika” Mikhail Gorbachev. Without his consent, there would be nothing — neither Sumgayit, nor Baku, nor other bloody events. The deportation scheme was tested in Afghanistan and, with absolute accuracy, one to one, carried out in Karabakh.
At first, the villages were simply surrounded. Then, fire from machine guns, assault rifles, and from the air would be poured onto them. The Azerbaijani OMON troops and residents of neighboring Azerbaijani villages broke in as well. They killed elderly people in bed, raped and killed women, beat, raped and killed even children, robbed and carried away everything that could be stolen. All this was of an organized nature – such was the answer to the national question, apparently.
It is also necessary to recall the information blockade: the publicity announced by Gorbachev wasn’t applied to Karabakh – there was just a “wall” here. It was impossible to print anything from what you saw. This was an organized genocide of a whole nation – this way, they were going to drive out all Armenians from the native Armenian lands. And they did it with the most terrible methods, just like the Turks during the Genocide in the late 19th – early 20th century.
In your opinion, what goal did the leadership of Azerbaijan pursue in carrying out Operation Ring?
They sought to cleanse this land of Armenians. Back in the days, they seized these lands. But it was necessary to imitate friendship of the peoples under the Soviet regime. Although, I must say, people were really friends. And if there were no orders from above, maybe they would continue to live side by side. But instead, one side turned into beasts and the others were mercilessly cast out.
In the spring and summer of 1991, during Operation Ring, the population of about 30 Armenian villages of Artsakh was subjected to terrorist acts, violence, and was deported from their homes.