I did my best to win Karabakh war - Azeri ex-defence minister

Ekho, Baku
23 Mar 05

Azerbaijan's ex-defence minister, Rahim Qaziyev, who was recently
granted a presidential pardon, has denied any involvement in the fall
of the city of Susa during the Karabakh war in 1992. In his interview
with Ekho newspaper, Qaziyev said that when he was defence minister,
he did his best to set up a well-equipped army and win the war in
Karabakh. The following is an excerpt from A. Hasanov's report by
Azerbaijani newspaper Ekho on 23 March headlined "They wanted to blame
me for the fall of Susa". Subheadings have been inserted editorially:

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed a presidential pardon
last Sunday [20 March]. A total of 114 people were set free
under the decree. Fifty-three of the amnestied people were on the
Council of Europe list of "political prisoners". Among them was the
Azerbaijani ex-defence minister, Rahim Qaziyev, who was sentenced
to the death penalty in May 1995 and then to life imprisonment for
"high treason". The figure of the ex-defence minister has always
been very interesting. Rahim Qaziyev gave his first interview to Ekho
after he was released.

Qaziyev's authority in society caused enmity in some people

[Correspondent] How do you explain your release?

[Qaziyev] You'd better put this question not to me, but to the
authorities. I am sure that they would give you a more precise
answer. I can only tell you that my opinions and desires have never
coincided with those of the authorities. Otherwise, they would not
have put me in prison.

[Correspondent] Qaziyev is described in the country as a person who
surrendered Susa [seized by Armenians in 1992]. However, this point
was not included on the list of charges brought against you.

[Qaziyev] Sometimes, the "left" and the "right" are looking for a
specific person to blame for many crimes. I was the one to blame in
that period. Even in Soviet times, I understood that armed clashes
are unavoidable on the path chosen by the country. For this reason,
I channelled all my efforts into finding a sufficient number of
munitions and weapons. The material-technical base of our army was
established as a result of this. This could not go unnoticed. My
standing and authority in society were high in that period. This
could not but cause certain enmity in some people.

Relations with Heydar Aliyev deteriorated

Yes, I disagreed with many actions of the then authorities led by
[ex-President] Abulfaz Elcibay. But unlike many, I expressed my
opinions openly. On the other hand, [ex-President] Heydar Aliyev
was preparing to come to power. At first sight, it could seem that
I consciously expressed my opposition opinions regarding Elcibay in
order to bring Aliyev to power. But this is not the true.

[Correspondent] What sort of relations did you have with Heydar Aliyev?

[Qaziyev] I visited him in Naxcivan before he came to power. Later
on, he even thanked me for having helped him with a number of issues.
However, our relations deteriorated after he came to power. Once Aliyev
invited me to his office. We talked for about an hour. He offered
me the post of deputy prime minister for the military-industrial
complex. I refused this post. Our ties probably deteriorated after
that.

Ex-defence minister not guilty of the loss of Susa

[Correspondent] Who is to blame for the loss of Susa?

[Qaziyev] This is not an easy question. If you are interested, I am
ready to give you the 51 volumes of court materials and video tapes
in which I was accused of surrendering Susa. After you familiarize
yourself with these materials, I am ready to meet you again and answer
all your questions. The only thing I can say now is that they wanted
to blame me for the fall of Susa.

[Correspondent] Who ordered land mines to be cleared from the roads
leading to Susa? Why didn't the Armenians meet with resistance in
the city?

[Qaziyev] I did not issue any order to clear the roads from the land
mines. Incidentally, certain people tried to speculate with this fact,
but failed. When Susa's former military commandant, Elbrus Orucov,
was interrogated during the investigation against me, I asked him
some questions. For instance, I asked him whether the general staff
or I had issued an order to clear the land mines from the Xankandi
[Stepanakert]-Susa road.

"No, I had not received any such order from you or from the general
staff," Orucov answered. I asked him again whether I had ordered him to
withdraw armoured vehicles from Susa or leave the city. Orucov said no.

[Correspondent] What about the TV pictures in which you promise to blow
your brains out if Susa falls? The city fell, why are you still alive?

[Qaziyev] The pictures that were demonstrated on television showed
me only putting my hand to my temple. But for some reason, there is
a voice-over instead of me. In fact, everything was different. This
happened on 16 May 1992. I returned to Baku from Tashkent where I
had participated in a CIS summit. An agreement on the withdrawal of
Soviet troops from Azerbaijan was signed there. After arriving in the
country, I saw some sort of celebrations outside the Milli Maclis
[parliament]. The parliament building was surrounded by soldiers
holding assault rifles. On seeing this, I made a speech. "What are
you celebrating here? Susa has fallen and Lacin is in danger. Who
allowed these soldiers to gather outside the parliament? If they do
not return to their bases by tomorrow, then I'll just have to come
here and blow my brains out," this is what I said then.

[Passage omitted: Qaziyev said he prevented Azerbaijan's military
hardware from being taken away from the country]

[Correspondent] As a former defence minister, can you answer if
everything was done not to lose the war?

[Qaziyev] When I was defence minister, I did my best to win the war.
I can show you a map which indicates the forward positions of our
army when I was defence minister. Our troops had only 14-15 km to
reach Xankandi on a highway.

[Correspondent] And our last question. What are your future plans?

[Qaziyev] For the time being, I am getting used to freedom. I don't
know how much time it will take. If my motherland needs my help,
then I am ready to serve it loyally.