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South Caucasus


Samvel Beglaryan
Samvel Beglaryan
Church of the Virgin,
VII century,
saved by J. Mirzayev

Javanshir (Alik) Mirzaev from the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan saved Voskepar’s church during the war, did not allow Azerbaijani nationalists to blow it up.

From Samvel Beglaryan’s book “Sunset at Dawn”, Yerevan, 2007
On the first day of the film festival “Nationality - Human” taken place in Noyemberyan I saw a strong and grey-haired man of sixty years of age with a beard. He did not miss a single day to watch all the films. He probably became one of the most active participants of the discussion.

Later I learnt that his name was Samvel Beglaryan. He worked in a town administration. He used to fight during the war. He yielded himself prisoner to Azerbaijanians so as to rescue the Armenian hostages. Once his life was saved by an Azerbaijanian woman… Later he himself told me that he had many Azerbaijanian friends and that an Azerbaijanian field commander saved from blasting the Blessed Virgin Church built in the seventh century located near Voskepar village…

We recorded the interview with him only a few days after the end of the film festival in Noyemberyan.

You had an active participation in the discussions after the screening of the documental films of the festival “Nationality - Human” and for the most part you expressed your negativity towards it. What did you not like in the festival?

I do not like being taught and I do not like somebody to try to prove me something. I think under certain circumstances it would be better to have facts put forward and give an audience a chance to decide for himself or herself who is right and who is guilty. For example, one of the films tells about a Kurdish girl who is now living in one of the Scandinavian countries. She is leading a very pure and innocent life. She goes to school. In one of the episodes the girl says that she rarely remembers about her homeland… One cannot rarely remember about his or her homeland. Homeland is always to live inside of you! I wonder if one should remember about his or her homeland only for the sake of the fact that it feeds and nourishes you and that everything around is clean and tidy. I am fully conscious of the processes related to integration, globalization. But it does not mean that it must be all the same to me where, with whom and how I will live. The film tells us how people lose their roots, nationality and the national culture. It must not be all the same to me who my neighbour is. Thus, it follows that it must be all the same to me what is happening with Georgia, my neighbour. The film depicts a quiet and beautiful life of a little girl who is living far from her homeland, without her homeland and who remembers about it from time to time…

Did you not like the idea of the film festival or the selection of the films?

I didn’t like the selection of the film. The films tell us that they have been selected deliberately. A slight tendency could be observed in them because an opinion of another side was not heard. The organizers wished to create a certain opinion among the audience. Wouldn’t it be better to show Azerbaijanian films in Armenia and Armenian ones in Azerbaijan? They can be feature or documentary films. It is not necessary to show films about wars and conflicts. What would be much better is that Azerbaijanians and Armenians would sit in the same hall and watch the films together. Should the Ossetians and Georgians sit in the same hall and view the films they will realize that it is Russia which is to blame and not Ossetia or Georgia.

Azerbaijanians used to live next to us before. My father used to speak to them in fluent Azerbaijanian. We used to sing their songs. I remember clearly how Azerbaijanians used to save my father’s life for many times. I know that in the year 1918 Azerbaijanians killed my relatives. One single film festival will never be able to make the enemies of yesterday become our friends. We need time for that. Some events are to take place first.

In other words, you think that a man should maintain an image of an enemy inside of him and live with it?

If the image of an enemy, the image of grief did not live on, then we will not be able to value the life and our friendship. An image of an enemy is to live somewhere inside of you! But you should not kill an enemy. One is able to live next to enemies, too.

Is it possible that you can always live with the image of an enemy inside of you and value the life?

I might not have expressed myself clearly. Perhaps, the image of a neighbour, friend who treated you badly. But if the Turks admitted the fact of the Armenian Genocide we would not have been enemies any more. After World War II, the Germans admitted the genocide of Jews; they admitted their guilt before the Soviet Union. Now these nations are friends. Armenia was at war with Persia, but today we are friends with Iranians.

Do you think it is only one side that should make a compromise? After all, even in case of everyday quarrels it is both of the sides that are guilty…

If only one side makes a compromise, it is not a compromise, it is a retreat. It is usually both of the sides that should make a compromise.

Noyemberyan is located at the turn of two borders with Georgia and Azerbaijan. Do you think it is necessary to organize similar festivals under the conditions of unsettled conflicts? Can these festivals help people to understand one another?

If an ordinary market in Sadakhlo, where Azerbaijanians, Georgians and Armenians are engaged in trade, helped them to work together and make friends, then a festival can also do them good. In the frontier regions like ours, similar projects are really required to be materialized. But the films displayed during the festival were awfully long. To understand the idea of a documentary film, it should be short. After all, one should consider the fact of what kind of audience is to gather. Simple peasants, children, journalists, veterans, merchants and students were watching the films in the hall. It would be better to make a film understood by everybody regardless of their social status and the level of education.

The films displayed during the festival represented an outside glance at the conflict. There is a feeling here that the authors of the films did not experience grief and pain on their skins. They were merely watching others’ pain from the outside. To better understand the conflict situation, one should live in the environment about which you are shooting a film. It is not all the same to me who my neighbour is: a Chinese or a Georgian! I will never understand a Chinese, but I will understand a Georgian. It is evident that the authors of the films feel the breathing of the heroes of their films, but they do not feel their pulsation, their soul. It is necessary that the authors feel themselves as Georgians, Ossetians, Kurds, Armenians. And it appears here that the authors of the films give a series of advice by evaluating the situation from the outside, but they did fail to understand it thoroughly. A good teacher is the one who can represent himself or herself in place of a pupil. We do not require advice. Many people give out advice, but, for some reason, they do not work. We need a straight way, close contacts. It would be better to shoot a film regarding the opinions of the audience expressed after the screening of these films. Personally I heard too many various opinions expressed after the screening of the film.

Do you think these films can help the audience to understand the other side, in this case Azerbaijanians or it might produce a reverse effect?

The devil is not so terrible as he is painted! The children who viewed the films can conclude that Azerbaijanians is a nation which has its own land, its culture and principles. My laws end at the point where your laws start. The rights of Armenians end at the point where the rights of Azerbaijanian and Turkish people emerge. After all, it appears that a Turkish soldier is a recidivist and our Andranik-pasha is a hero. How can it be so when a national hero of one nation is perceived as a murderer and monster by another nation. You should regard the other the way you wish so that he will regard you in the same way. If we want Georgians, Turks, Azerbaijanians to respect our rights, we ourselves ought to commence to respect their rights. This is what our children ought to be taught. Armenia and Azerbaijan will never vanish from the world map. An image of an enemy is living inside of me, but I don’t want an image of an enemy to live inside of my son. The image of an enemy living inside of me is torturing me. I am unable to get rid of it, but at the same time I am unable to live with it.

Our region is rich in continuous conflicts… Do you think the new generation will be able to get rid of the image of an enemy?

The conflicts are not created by people, but the government. The ordinary Azerbaijanians and Armenians, Georgians and Russians do not want anything from one another. We are very alike each other. Armenian dances and songs are very like the Azerbaijanian ones. People are not enemies. But if one of the governments resolves to start a war, the war is sure to start the next day. We have no place to hide from each other. If we have common interests, then we are sure to make friendship. Today, a Georgian director Robert Sturua is staging a performance “Sayat Nova” in Yerevan. Before he was intending to work in Russia, but he refused and now he is working in Armenia. He is a very talented person. But the fact that he refused to stage performances in Russia suggests that he is likely to develop the image of an enemy inside of him, too.

Talking of the August events in Georgia, do you think the Russian aggression will or will not be able to favour the development and strengthening of the relations between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia?

Surely. If Georgia is pressed from the North, then it is to establish close contacts with the South. But will Russia allow this to happen? Moscow can make use of Karabakh, the relations with Turkey etc. as a lever of pressure. Russia, USA, great powers always leave unsettled problems so as to exert a lever of pressure on us. If our countries start establishing close contacts with each other, then Russia can raise a question of Javakheti, provoke the requirements of autonomy, remind the Armenians that the pipelines Baku-Jeikhan is passing through the Georgian territory and that during the times of Georgi IV the Lorinsk region was in the composition of Georgia. They will also persuade the Armenians that today Georgia is willing to return these lands… Russia will be against the intimacy of our countries… The South Caucuses is in possession of huge cultural, natural, geographical riches and values and all of them are willing to possess them. Russia will maintain and support Armenia but it will never allow an intimacy to be established with Turkey and Iran. Russia is the cat which catches mice for its own stomach.

How does Armenia see today’s events in Georgia?

Today, Armenians think whether the same events will take place in Nagorno Karabakh. So do Azerbaijanians. After meeting the president Serzh Sargsyan, Medvediev met with Aliev. It suggests that Moscow pursues its own interests. In Armenia many people try on the situation as a shirt. Many think that it is Sahakashvili who is to blame for the existing situation. Many people even find him an enemy to the Georgian people.

Isn’t it to some extent a reflection of a one-sided coverage in the Russian and Armenian mass medias?

It is of an Armenian nature and character to resist whenever somebody dictates its will. When Moscow is constantly criticizing Sahakashvili on TV and affirms that it (Moscow) is right in everything, most people doubt as to the fact whether the situation is indeed the way Moscow describes. A similar approach of Moscow makes me feel sick and I wish to see the dark side of the Russian propaganda.

Under the conditions of the frozen Karabakh conflict, “frozen” Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are our societies in condition to do something to establish an intimacy between them or each country must solve its own problems without bothering its neighbours?

Unfortunately, there also exist various interests within our societies. The society can be called fully-fledged when it pursues common interests. The leading players in the region will never agree to the consolidation of interests of the societies of our countries. It is easy for them to monitor and control disconnected societies and countries.

During the war in Karabakh you yielded yourself prisoner to Azerbaijanians so as to liberate the Armenian hostages. Today, you declare that there is no national diplomacy. Hence, it follows that today the situation became worse, didn’t it?

I did yield myself prisoner at that time since I knew they would not kill me. Today, if I am faced with the similar situation, I will never yield myself prisoner. At that time an ordinary Azerbaijanian woman threw her handkerchief between me and those who wanted to kill me and she saved my life… Today, if the same woman threw the handkerchief, somebody, say a Russian or an Azerbaijanian from Baku, may shoot at me so that they will not come to an agreement. At that time a woman decided the matter of life and death…

During the war and after it, the market was functioning in Sadakhlo and Bagratashen. Today, it is closed and we communicate with each other less and less. We do not work together. We have already missed our chance to reconcile with each other. Today, Armenians and Azerbaijanians require that the market be reopened on the border between Ijevan and Kazakh. If today a new Karabakh war starts, you think Armenians will go to the war and be killed there? They will never do that because many of us are offended by Karabakh people. And such small personal insults are ranked higher than the national interests.

Whose fault was it that we have missed the chance of reconciliation? What prevented it from happening?

During the war we exchanged the prisoners on the Red Bridge in Georgia. We met with Azerbaijanians in Georgia. I have many friends in Azerbaijan. They refused to hand over the prisoners on the Red Bridge and handed them over to us personally. During the war we were on a closer terms with Azerbaijanians than today. This fact should be considered and highly valued instead of constantly remembering about the fact when and who killed whom…

How can we become closer to each other if all the chances were missed and the third sides are not interested in the establishment of intimacy between us?

No need to make efforts ourselves. Time will someday clear things up. If we attempt to establish the intimacy ourselves, then we might face a reverse effect. The people are not ready for the reconciliation, separate individuals are ready. Do you think the Russians will support the actions of its government in Georgia? Of course, not. But the opinion of an individual is not the opinion of the society.

In the course of the discussion of the festival films many Armenian children said that they wanted to get acquainted with Azerbaijanian children, study in the same school with them. Hence, it follows that there is an interest and I think that the same situation is in Azerbaijan.

Everybody knows that a wolf is living in the forest but they are curious about going there. It is a child’s interest but they simply wish to see Azerbaijanians since they have never seen them. Their parents told them that there was a terrible war and that the Azerbaijanians shot, killed, but their children want to get to know them themselves. And if the children are convinced that the Azerbaijanians are absolutely normal people with whom they can make friends, play football, it can create a new society in the life of a new generation which will be devoid of blood and violence. A similar opinion is to be formed but not during our generation. Today, it is necessary to play football, watch films, draw together. The children should understand that Azerbaijanians are the same people as we. But it is necessary that children know that even ordinary people can shoot and kill. A beast is living in every person and a man is living in every beast. But unless there are common interests, reconciliation will be out of question!

Made by Irakli Chikhladze
Armenia, Noyemberyan
September 2008

Published: 19-10-08
This interview is made during the South Caucasus Film Festival of Peace and Human Rights in Armenia implemented by Caucasus Center of Peace-Making Initiative by support of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)