Investigator: Contrary to Armenian tales, 26 Armenians, 7 Azerbaijanis killed during Sumgayit events - INTERVIEW

“The KGB administration ordered that the organizers of the riots not be identified”


“It remains a mystery how many Azerbaijanis were killed being driven out of Armenia”


APA presents an interview with Vladimir Ivanovich, who was an investigator for especially important cases at the USSR Prosecutor General’s Office (1980-1992) and who was sent by the USSR Prosecutor General’s Office to Azerbaijan the day after the Sumgayit events


Q: Vladimir Ivanovich, how well do you remember what happened 30 years ago? We have learned that you had been to Azerbaijan before the Sumgayit events.


A: Thirty years is not a long time. But it is a great thing to draw a conclusion from this history, particularly the Sumgayit events... It is certainly bad to distort history and it is no use drawing a lesson from a distorted history. That is right. I had been to Azerbaijan prior to the Sumgayit events—first in 1979. I had been sent to Baku to investigate the criminal case of former prosecutor of the Azerbaijan SSR Gambay Mammadov. I stayed in Azerbaijan for almost half a year, traveling to Shusha, Stepanakert (Khankendi), and others pats of Nagorno-Karabakh. The party leadership, executive committee, as well as those working for KGB and militia, were made up primarily of Armenians. Second secretaries in Baku and other districts were Armenians. The central committee also had some Armenians. I was staying near the Sabunchu railway station at the time. There was an Armenian investigator named Armen Isagulov working for the prosecutor’s office. He was then appointed Interior Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijani investigator Elman Aghayev, Armen Isagulov and I used to have lunch together every day. No one expected there would be such events. After the Sumgayit events, I come across Armen Isagulov at a hotel in Yerevan and he got furious the moment Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis were mentioned to him.


Q: How were you sent to Sumgayit? How did it happen?


A: I was in Kazakhstan in February 1988. On February 28, I received a call. Back then, I was unaware of what had happened in Azerbaijan. I was told that the situation is worrying in Baku and Sumgayit and that I had to leave for Azerbaijan. So the USSR Prosecutor General’s Office sent me to Azerbaijan to investigate the incidents. It was not known for sure whether the Sumgayit case would be assigned to me or to a Baku-born investigator named Vladimir. On the second day of the events, I was already in Baku. What was happening took me by surprise, because I never believed that there would occur an ethnic hostility between Azerbaijanis and Armenians. Nevertheless, they presented to me an archive of historical importance at the prosecutor’s office.



The document showed that Armenians had carried out a massacre in Baku in 1905-1906, during the existence of the Russian Empire. The document also said that Emperor Nikolai II (Nikolai II) had been reported to about these massacres. After familiarizing myself with these documents, I found it easier to learn the reasons behind the Sumgayit events. I realized that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict was an old one. Sumgayit’s prosecutor at the time was Ismat Gayibov. He was an expert in the field. The Sumgayit events were so unexpected that all USSR investigators and operators were sent there. About 600 operators, investigators, prosecutors, and KGB workers were sent to Azerbaijan. What came to me as a surprise at the time was that there was no place large enough to host 600 people. The place where the meeting took place was 150-seated. Thus there was no point in requiring those investigators to work efficiently.


Q: When the Sumgayit events took place, you were an investigator for especially important cases at the USSR Prosecutor General’s Office. In the highest echelons of power of the USSR, who was seen as an instigator of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict?  


A: After Gorbachev came to power, articles by Zori Balayan, Silva Kaputikian and academician Aganbegyan about the problems in Nagorno-Karabakh and the necessity of uniting this region to Armenia appeared on the media. However, Armenians’ desire was impossible from a geographical point of view. Ethnographer Galina Starovoitova joined these Armenians. In fact, a person, who is an ethnographer, should not be engaged in such things. But she supported the Armenians. And who was Gorbachev? He was born in Stavropol Krai. Gorbachev graduated from the Moscow State University and was appointed to prosecuting authorities in Stavropol. Although Gorbachev was sent to work in prosecuting authorities, he did not fulfill this mission a day, instead, he soon joined the Komsomol and party organs. Stavropol was the most difficult region of the Soviet Union in terms of interethnic problems. For example, the North Caucasus, which was a part of Stavropol Krai. Gorbachev was well-informed about the existing ethnic problems in this region. Despite this, he unexpectedly supported the proposal of Balayan, Kaputikian and Aganbegyan. Thus, fire was set to the wick of a bomb. In fact, first unrests broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian nationalists in Armenia also joined this process and began to expel hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from their native lands. Most of them were forced to flee Armenia by mountain roads. Until now, no one knows how many losses were among the Azerbaijanis during their deportation from Armenia. How many Azerbaijanis died there? Majority of those Azerbaijanis were living in Armenia’s villages, that is, they were rural residents. After the expulsion from Armenia, they arrived in Baku. They didn’t have any houses, money… Many of them could not live in Baku and moved to Sumgayit. As you see, the reason for all these events begins from here. The Azerbaijanis, expelled from Armenia, began holding rallies in Sumgayit. These rallies were masterminded by KGB. They saw Armenians as instigators of all these events. Plus, the events that were taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh… All this further escalated the tensions. On the second day of the events, I was already in Sumgayit. Houses were on fire. The city was surrounded. One could enter the city only with a special permit. 


Q: Armenians claim thousands of their compatriots were killed in Sumgayit. What can you say about the exact number of those killed during the riots?  


A: Contrary to the tales of Armenians, 26 Armenians were killed during the Sumgayit events in February 1988. If my memory serves me correctly, some seven Azerbaijanis were killed in the riots. However, I remember exactly the number of Armenians killed – they were 26. Of them, one woman’s body was not found. She was raped and murdered. 


I think that the investigation of Sumgayit events was organized incorrectly. So, the cases of rape and murder should have been investigated by the prosecutor’s office, the cases of robbery and damage to health by the police, and the masterminds of the events should have been identified by KGB. I protested it, because the riots were taking place in one place, crimes were committed and all these crimes were committed by the same people. Therefore, the investigation into criminal cases should have not been conducted by episodes, but by persons.


At that time, I was conducting an investigation into one of the episodes in the most affects 4th micro-district in Sumgayit. An Armenian family, the Trdatovs, for self-defense, poured boiled water on those who attacked them. I was searching for the attackers, and my colleague from police was investigating the case related to persons who received burn injuries. It was absurd. I stated this at a meeting and recommended the criminal cases be merged. My comments aroused the wrath of the leadership, and a month and a half later I was sent to Kazakhstan. However, I witnessed many events during this period. An Azerbaijani woman saved the Trdatovs from the attacks. When moving, the Armenians were thanking the Azerbaijani woman named Semengul, who saved them. We detained a man surnamed Ismayilov during the riots. In his testimony, Ismayilov said that other rioters were dropping children from the upper floors of the houses. We went with Ismailov to the apartment he indicated in his testimony. It was the fifth floor, the apartment was completely destroyed. But it was revealed that no one in this apartment was killed. It turned out that the rioters threw pillows and blankets out of the windows. No child was thrown out of the windows. And so in this way tales and myths were invented about nonexistent victims and tragedies. Of course, cruelty took place, but there is no need to inflate figures and invest myths.


Shortly after these events, a meeting was held at the Column House of the USSR Trade Unions House to discuss the Sumgayit events. Many Armenians joined this meeting. In my speech at the meeting, I stated that 26 people lost their lives during the riots. At that moment, the noise began in the hall, and other participants began accusing the Prosecutor General’s Office of concealing the number of victims of the Sumgayit events. I showed them the book, titled “Victims of the Sumgayit Tragedy”, which was published in Yerevan. It was mentioned in the book that 26 Armenians were murdered during the Sumgayit events. The book also contained the photographs of the victims. I told them that there were 26 victims, and if they believe that the USSR Prosecutor General’s Office is lying then they should name the other victims. At this time, all the Armenians present at the meeting stood up and left the hall. It had a bad effect on me. After all, I presented the facts. 


Q: Did Azerbaijan’s law enforcement authorities influence the investigation process on the Sumgayit events? 


A: I would especially like to point out my Azerbaijani colleagues’ objectivity during the investigation of the events. They were helpful to us. I would like to recall one episode. There was one detained Azerbaijani, accused of raping an Armenian woman named Karina. The Azerbaijani investigators beat him so severely that he almost died. Why am I talking about this? Because Armenians are claiming that an act of genocide was committed against him in Sumgayit. If an act of genocide was committed against the Armenians then why would the Azerbaijani operatives beat their compatriot? There was no Azerbaijani sabotage in connection with the investigation of the Sumgayit events.



Q: You said that KGB was engaged in searching for the riot organizers? Were any of the organizers brought to justice?    


A: A number of eyewitnesses in their testimony pointed to the signs of the riot organizers. According to the testimony, the organizers were well-dressed, unlike criminals. It was impossible to find them. None of the organizers could be identified, and brought to criminal liability. When I launched a search for the organizers, I was told that I had to hand this case over to KGB. Then I became convinced that the Sumgayit events were masterminded by KGB itself.


A few years after the events, in 1988, I met my close friend and colleague from KGB who was investigating the Sumgayit events. I told him that the Sumgayit riots had been committed through KGB. He confirmed this and said he could not have told me back then. According to him, the USSR KGB ordered that the masterminds behind the riots not be identified. It was Gorbachev who gave the command. The fact that Gorbachev approved of Balayan, Aganbegyan and Kaputikian’s calls and his statement that the Nagorno-Karabakh problem should be resolved were part of this major provocation.


Q: Were there any Armenians among those brought to criminal responsibility during the riots?


A: As I said, I was investigating cases of rape and murder at the time. The Mezhlumyan sisters had been raped and an Armenian named Edward Grigoryan had been charged with the crime. The victims did recognize him as soon as they saw him. I’m the one who issued the resolution that Grigoryan be arrested. Investigation revealed that he was among those guilty of the riots.


I want to also make it clear that Grigoryan was a key figure in the riots, unlike Ismayilov. He was an intermediate level organizer of the riots. There were only 5-6 people against whom I issued the resolution of arrest when I was in Azerbaijan. One of them was Grigoryan. I had plenty of evidence for his arrest. Grigoryan was guilty on many episodes, not just one. After many years, Azerbaijan’s First Deputy Prosecutor General Rustam Usubov, presented to me a copy of my resolution on Edward Grigoryan’s arrest.


Q: Did you investigate the criminal cases of the riot organizers including Grigoryan afterwards?


A: No. My job was to capture them and hand them over to KGB. Later I came to know that KGB had ordered not to ‘bother’ the organizers.


Q: Did you know that Grigoryan is currently living in Moscow Province?


A: No. It’s the first time I’ve heard this. I don’t know the court’s verdict concerning him, either.


Q: Who do you think were more interest in the Sumgayit events at the time? What could have been Gorbachev’s reason for taking such a step?


A: The Soviet Union was a multinational country. There was a reason behind the flaming of ethnic confrontations: to divide the USSR. Gorbachev and his Armenian backers were enthusiastic about this. Born not far from the South Caucasus, Gorbachev knew the region better than anyone else. So he had a purpose in supporting Armenians in respect of the Karabakh issue. Everything had been planned beforehand. Abdurrahman Vazirov’s appointment as First Secretary to Azerbaijan was a wrong decision. Gorbachev was aggravating the situation. This is what was happening not only in the Caucasus, but also across the Soviet Union. That Armenian-Gorbachev alliance caused the USSR to collapse.



Q: But why did the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office not take any action about Mikhail Gorbachev. Why was he not brought to criminal responsibility?


A: The book I’m the author of makes a mention of the fact that Gorbachev received a bribe from the Korean president. That is a fact that is not paid much attention to. This fact alone would be enough to bring Gorbachev to criminal responsibility. Moreover, the last chairman of the USSR KGB Vadim Bakatin sold to Americans at a billion dollars an audio system which had not been seen before. This all was treason against the homeland. The current Russian leadership has a tradition of not criticizing the previous leadership. Are you not wondering why the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office does not open a criminal case against Gorbachev. The answer lies in the fact that the Prosecutor General’s Office was not an independent body during the Soviet area, nor is it now.


Let’s go back to the Sumgayit events again. If pro-Armenian Gorbachev had so much authority, did he never make claims on Mount Agri, Kars, and other areas that Armenians claim belong to them? He couldn’t have done so; he had a different purpose. Today Armenians claim to have been subject to atrocities. If so, what should Uzbeks do about the Kyrgyz atrocities against them? The Kyrgyz mercilessly killed 550 Uzbeks during the Osh events. They took fetuses out of pregnant women’s wombs. The Sumgayit events are nothing comparable to the Osh events. I have witnessed the attitude towards Armenians in Sumgayit and all over Azerbaijan. I have witnessed how Azerbaijanis were protecting their Armenian neighbors. All this happened before my eyes.

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/ 24 March, 2018