The renown Russian politician, writer-publicist, assistant for humanitarian and public affairs to the USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachov in 1990 Georgiy Pryaxin’s interview with ONA’s Moscow correspondent
Note: Georgiy Vladimirovich Pryaxin. Russia’s renowned politician, writer-publicist and publisher. He has worked in the positions of Deputy General Director of the USSR State Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee, deputy head of the department of Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party during 1988-90, and later the Assistant to Gorbachov, the USSR leader. Currently, he leads the "Khudojhestvennaya Literatura" printing house.
– Georgiy Vladimirovich, this year marks 30 years since January 20 tragedy committed in Baku by order of the USSR leaders and is a stain on the conscience of mankind. During those times you occupied one of the important positions in the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party and one of the men who permanently contacted Gorbachov. How do you remember those days?
– The decision on bringing troops into Baku city was delivered with great difficulty because this was a very painful decision. Before rendering this decision, Gorbachov chose the most liberal person from his team namely Yevgeniy Primakov and charged him with studying the situation in Baku. Primakov was a political star in those times. Gorbachov had a hidden goal in choosing Primakov because Primakov grew up in Baku. He knew Azerbaijan well. And people in Azerbaijan also knew Primakov well. When he visited Baku I was in permanent contact with him.
We frequently talked by phone. Guess what, when the USSR leaders brought troops into Baku they knew well that this would result in massive killings because the result of bringing troops into the city couldn’t be different at all. The decision on bringing troops into the city was kept in utmost secrecy. But I violated this secrecy because my close friend Arif Mansurov, the then Chairman of State Committee for Ecology and Control over Use of Nature of Azerbaijan Republic lived in Baku. I made a phone call to him on January 19 and told him not to go out into the street and also not let his family members to do so at night of that day and to stay at home. I told Arif Mansurov that I couldn’t explain the reason of my warning. When I made a phone call to him a few hours were left till bringing the troops in Baku city. But Arif did the opposite to what I had said. He brought his son along with him and went out into the city’s streets carrying a video camera in his hands. They shot with the camera the incidents which took place there and the images of the USSR servicemen.
I was a living witness of all these processes. The decision on bringing troops into Baku wasn’t rendered suddenly. Sometimes when speaking about delivery of this decision by Gorbachov, the Armenians being in his team are mentioned. Yes, during that period Georgiy Shahnazarov was a member of Gorbachov’s team. It was regretful that in those times the inter-ethnic conflicts had already arisen on the territory of USSR. But Moscow didn’t want to lose Azerbaijan having great energy resources. One of the biggest mistakes of the then USSR leaders was just removal of Heydar Aliyev from his position. I knew Heydar Aliyev very closely. Gorbachov committed a big mistake by dismissing Heydar Aliyev from his position. The consequent events also proved the wrongness of this decision.
"The first bullet was shot by the Armenians, the young Azerbaijani girl was shot"
– What was the attitude of the Central Committee, the upper echelons of the USSR leadership to the conflict on the national ground between Armenia and Azerbaijan? Which side they mostly see as guilty?
– I am one of the first witnesses to the beginning of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. I remember, I went to Armenia on the morning of December 8 in connection with the earthquake in Spitak. The first bullet shot by the Armenian side... I remember, the young Azerbaijani girl was shot. Everyone knew this. This incident was also known to the USSR leadership.
The decision on bringing troops into Baku was made by higher position of USSR leadership and the decision was approved collectively. At that time, I was at "Staraya Ploshad" (The Kremlin administration, the location of the Central Committee – F.A.). I spent all night at work. That night was very painful for me in all respects. Because I was sure that innocent people would be sacrificed. My friends from Baku could be among them.
“Nearly 40 thousand Azerbaijanis were protesting in the streets of Moscow”
− The largest protest action in the history of the USSR regarding the tragedy committed in Baku was held in Moscow. What was the reaction of the Central Committee to the rally of Azerbaijanis?
− On January 20, early in the morning, Azerbaijani Community to Moscow invited 10 thousands of Azerbaijanis to streets. It was the first and the largest protest due to a number of participants held in Moscow during the Soviet era. Thousands of people in front of the Central Committee’s building. It was an unprecedented event. I and the deputy head of the Central Committee's organizational unit, Vladimir Babich, met with the protesting Azerbaijanis. Vladimir Stepanovich already passed away. The protesting crowd was very excited. To tell the truth, we were scared, too. Among them, I saw one of my acquaintances. That person was Abuzar Baghirov, correspondent of the Azerbaijan State Television and Radio in Moscow. I have known Abuzar since I was Deputy Chairman of the USSR State Television. After seeing him, I calmed down a little bit. The protestors behaved cultured. At this time, I was convinced that the notion of peoples’ friendship, which the Soviet leadership instilled in the minds of people, was nothing but a fantasy. I believe more in friendship among individuals of different nations. We approved the petition prepared by the participant of protest and submitted the petition to Mikhail Gorbachev.
That day Gorbachev phoned me. He asked me how many people attended the rallies of Azerbaijanis in Moscow. He was informed that about 100,000 Azerbaijanis participated at the rally. Although not 100,000 people, but some 40,000 Azerbaijanis protested on the streets of Moscow. It was a rally of Azerbaijani intellectuals in Moscow. Therefore, there were no violations during the rally. It was a quiet protest. Now no one is surprised by the protest. But this was a rare event for the time, and it was a "novelty" for Moscow.
"These events could not have happened without Gorbachev's permission"
– How was Gorbachev's attitude to the protest rally and the petition of the Azerbaijani community in Moscow?
– Of course, Gorbachev met it grievously. But he understood the meaning and consequences of the tragedy. Because he was responsible for the decisions made by the political bureau under his leadership. Without his permission, these events could not have happened. A serious military contingent was deployed to Baku.
No empire is eternal. As every Empire has an end, the Soviet Union empire also collapsed. The tragedy of January 20 was one of the events that neared the end of the Soviet empire. The problem is that it was possible to prevent human losses during the collapse of the empire. But for this, the country had to have economic power and leadership had to be talented. Unfortunately, none of them were in the USSR.
"There was no need to bring the troops into Baku"
– You are one of the people who were close to Gorbachev. In your opinion, could this tragedy be prevented? Did the USSR leadership have the opportunity for this?
– I think that there was no need to bring the troops into Baku. Had to visit Azerbaijan with a large group for talks. This group was to be led by an influential Azerbaijani, and it was Heydar Aliyev. Gorbachev had to then send Heydar Aliyev to Baku for talks. He could have prevented this tragedy by sending Heydar Aliyev to Baku. Unfortunately, he did not take this step. The result is obvious.