16 мая 2013 г.

Mark Kramer: "The US policy in the region is increasingly taking the importance of the Azerbaijani factor into account"

Rizvan Huseynov 


Professor Mark Kramer is Director of the Cold War Studies Program at Harvard University. He is the author of numerous scientific articles and publications dedicated to the USSR's policies, the causes of the collapse of the Soviet empire and the revolutionary developments and national liberating movements in Eastern European and former Soviet countries. In early May Prof. KRAMER visited Azerbaijan for the first time and kindly agreed to talk to us. 

- Professor Kramer, the West usually refers to the USSR as "an empire of evil". As a person well familiar with the region, what do you think of this? 

- It depends on the period in the USSR history you are referring to. If we speak about the Stalin era, I do believe that the Soviet Union was an "empire of evil" at the time. Stalin himself was a terrible dictator and Azerbaijan, among others, seriously suffered from his policy. I know that Stalin initiated repressions against the Azerbaijani people. He wanted to resettle the entire Azerbaijani people to Kazakhstan and Siberia and it was through his order that a large number of Azerbaijanis were resettled from Armenia in the 1940-1950s. This however did not happen without the help of Stalin's comrade-in-arms, Anastas Mikoyan. The latter was responsible for ethnic cleansing and repressions against Azerbaijanis. 

- How much of your work have you dedicated to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Karabakh, which was one of the catalysts of the collapse of the USSR?

- I am delighted to have been given an opportunity to work in the Baku archive. I am interested in the archive materials that are kept here. I also intend to study documents pertaining to the beginning of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Karabakh and its causes. I have already conducted relevant work in the archives of Russia and other former Soviet countries. 

- As you know, Azerbaijan was one of the first Soviet countries to start fighting for independence. To what do you attribute the fact that the Soviet government was particularly relentless in suppressing the national-liberating movement in Azerbaijan at a time when it did not employ such large-scale punitive measures against other republics?

- Mikhail Gorbachev demonstrated weakness in the national policy. He took a pro-Armenian stance. However, I do not think he intended to hand over Karabakh to Armenians. Nevertheless, he should have countered Armenian separatism and Armenian nationalists in Karabakh. By doing so he would have prevented the exacerbation of the conflict. Instead of this, in January 1990, Gorbachev used force against Azerbaijani people in Baku. That is to say, his moves fuelled the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and left no room for the prevention of armed confrontation. 

- As early as in mid 1980s, Gorbachev knew full well that Azerbaijanis were being banished from Armenia and a separatist movement was starting in Karabakh. Nevertheless, he did not use force against Armenian nationalists in Yerevan and Xankandi (Stepanakert). 

- I understand your point. The thing is that at the time Gorbachev was overwhelmed by the collapse of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the ongoing unification of Germany and the fact that close ties between the former Socialist bloc countries were falling apart. Gorbachev was apprehended by all this and he feared that the same fate awaited the USSR. All this resulted in his decision to deploy Soviet troops in Baku and brutally attack Azerbaijani people in January 1990. 

- Back on 21 February 1985, at his very first politburo session, Gorbachev raised the issue of the necessity to hold various events in the USSR in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Armenian "genocide". This caused mixed reaction among politburo members and demonstrated the fact that Gorbachev was "not indifferent" to Armenians. 

- I do agree that Gorbachev's behaviour was odd. However, we need to take into consideration the fact that Armenian diaspora's influence extended to the West, as well as the Kremlin itself at the time. The point is that Gorbachev's Armenian entourage strongly influenced his decision-making, including regarding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. His advisors included G. Shakhnazarov, A. Migranyan, A. Agambegyan and others. The role of the Armenian diaspora in the USA and Europe is also significant in shaping Gorbachev's opinion regarding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. 

- It is no secret that in the West Gorbachev is known as a progressive and positive politician at a time when in former Soviet countries he is associated with many negative developments of the period of the collapse of the Soviet Union. What do you think of Gorbachev's role?

- I think people in former Soviet Union will have a more positive opinion about his role in the future. He managed to stop the senseless Cold War and arms race between the USSR and the USA. It is true that Gorbachev made numerous mistakes in the Soviet Union's domestic policy. One of such mistakes is the wrong attitude to Azerbaijan and the Karabakh conflict. When it came to making snap brave decisions and assuming responsibility he was often unpredictable and inconsistent. 

- Do you think it was possible to prevent the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict?

- I think that until the end of the year 1989 and even 1990 it was possible to address the Karabakh conflict differently and prevent the bloody war. However, the Soviet authorities failed to use this chance. 

- What do you think of Azerbaijan's intention to return its lands, currently occupied by Armenian troops, at any cost?

- I opposed the deployment of NATO troops in Serbia in the 1990s and the subsequent recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. I also opposed Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the recognition of Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's sovereignty. I am against any attempts to resolve the Karabakh conflict by such methods. I support countries' territorial integrity. 

- What do you make of the fact that the West sometimes toes Armenian line and does not take sufficient effort to speedily resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, something that could lead to an unprecedented leap in the development of the South Caucasus? 

- The point is that the Armenian factor and diaspora play an important role in the USA's and Europe's sociopolitical life. For example, in the USA Armenians can influence decisions of local authorities. They also take an active part in elections and other political events which is why American politicians pay heed to their opinion. Nevertheless, I can see that the USA's interest in Azerbaijan is steadily increasing. This is linked to Azerbaijan's great potential which cannot be disregarded by American politicians. It is very beneficial for the USA to develop cooperation with Azerbaijan, both in economic and political terms because the US policy in the region is increasingly taking the importance of the Azerbaijani factor into consideration. 

- As a rule, when it comes to Azerbaijan and profitable cooperation, the first thing that comes to people's mind is oil and gas. What else could Azerbaijan offer to the international community? 

- Many experts, including myself, have discovered Azerbaijan's unique model of tolerance. Countries in the West and the rest of the would could learn from your model of tolerance. Azerbaijan's public and state model leaves no room for extremism and accommodates various religious and ethnic communities. This unique model of co-existence and development, created by Azerbaijan, can be of interest and importance for the international community. This is the positive example and experience the West needs so much.