Listening to the conversations of my interlocutors and reading their interviews, we cannot be optimistic.
I think the expectations in Baku about the changes in Yerevan after the velvet revolution and the coming to power of Nikol Pashinyan"s team are exaggerated.
The political weather in Armenia and the mood of society today is formed not by the authorities, but by something else.
In private conversations, representatives of the Armenian public made it clear that it is possible to be liberal in everything except the Karabakh issue and the events of 1915. Publicly these issues have to be spoken about unequivocally. Any deviation is punishable by cruel public criticism and labels of a national traitor.
There is a feeling that society itself is a hostage of this situation and, just as importantly, in every possible way shy away from frank conversation.
Another important point: Armenians of Armenia and Armenians outside of it speak and think differently.
Perhaps, this is one of the key elements, without taking into account which, one cannot realize the state of the Armenian society.
So, the feeling of sacrifice for the Armenians is extremely important and they don"t want to refuse it.
Sacrifice in this case means: consider your sufferings as the consequence of the wildness of others.
The superiority of Armenians as a nation cannot be forgiven by their neighbors - this is another thesis that explains the negative attitude towards Armenians.
The conviction of the absence of their own mistakes and the falsity of their national idea is completely ruled out. So, the idea of fighting against the Turks for independence has a sacred status. There is no place in this idea for criticism and recognition that the Armenians are guilty of something and even that they have given rise to repression.
It is this "sacrifice" that rejects the very idea of reconciliation with Azerbaijan. One gets the impression that it is "more comfortable" for Armenians to lose some territories during the war, rather than agree on that peacefully and at the same time get something in return. Attempts by the interlocutors to convince me that the reason for the distrust of Azerbaijan is that, having received part of the territories, it will then begin to bomb Karabakh, does not stand up to criticism. Azerbaijan can bomb all of Karabakh and all of Armenia today, having the necessary weapons for this.
And one more fact that struck me is that the Armenians are sincerely convinced that during the events of 1988-89 no one in Armenia ever offended Azerbaijanis, and there were no victims among them. Nikol Pashinyan himself said this in his interview with Ekho Moskvy immediately after being elected Prime Minister.
My questions about the Gugark events caused sincere surprise in my interlocutors. They refused to admit that dozens of Azerbaijanis were brutally murdered in this region of Armenia in 1989, and thousands were expelled.
My interlocutors also did not want to talk about Khojaly, noting that the people were given a corridor to exit, and about what happened to them on the way to Agdam afterwards they just said, "Deal with your own people, as we have nothing to do with it".
My Armenian journalistic colleagues were interested in how I see Yerevan 20 years later.
The city today is different from what I saw in 1998, new residential buildings, randomly scattered in various areas, expensive villas of oligarchs and government officials, as well as Northern Avenue, built during the presidency of Robert Kocharyan. The residents of Yerevan themselves believe that the avenue is beautiful, but the quality of housing there leaves much to be desired.
There are many cafes and restaurants, hotels and shops in the capital of Armenia that do not look empty.
According to the people of Yerevan themselves, a significant part of the income comes from citizens working abroad and, above all, from Russia. The socio-economic situation in the regions is much worse.
There are a lot of Syrian Armenians in Yerevan, who are trying to engage in small business, rent small cafes and restaurants.
Response to Azerbaijani Team
I cannot say that my stay in Armenia was severe stress for me, although at the time of arrival at the Zvartnots airport an almost emergency situation arose. The Armenian-Russian border guard, taking my passport, ran off somewhere by calling on a mobile phone. A minute later, three officers came for me and took me to a separate room. A minute later, the major came to make sure that an Azerbaijani arrived in Yerevan and find out for what purpose.
The letter on accreditation of the Foreign Ministry of Armenia did not make much of an impression and I had to wait more than an hour before the state bodies of Armenia decided my fate. All this time border guard officers talked to me. At first, they talked strictly, but quite correctly. Then, they talked a little less formally, wondering what I would write about. At the same time, the border guards did not hide their surprise, stating that they had not received notifications from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the arrival of the Azerbaijani journalist.
The situation cleared up after an hour and a half, when the fact of accreditation was confirmed.
For the sake of objectivity, I will say that almost a similar situation exists at the Baku airport, where our border service could not find for an hour that my trip was coordinated with the authorities.
In general, the reaction of border guards is a separate story, deserving a special description.
I should add that the reaction of the Georgian border guards was also very violent.
"Fly to Yerevan?" A magnificent girl asked at the Tbilisi airport, looking at me incredulously. My answer "yes" confused her even more and, not finding an answer in my eyes, she talked about something with a nearby officer, and then called somewhere. Upon entering her position, I told her not to worry, as my trip was coordinated and nothing would happen to her. Shaking her head, the girl hit the stamp and, without looking, returned the passport.
Five days later, on the way back, the same frontier guard took my passport again and again her reaction was the same. Showing my document to a nearby employee, she again said something excitedly. "Are you traveling from Yerevan?" asked the employee sitting next to her and senior by the rank in a surprised voice. Trying to help the Georgian border guards, I repeated that I am a journalist, my trip was agreed and it was these magnificent border guards who permitted me last time.
I do not know the Georgian language, but I assumed by tone that the woman border guard said something like the following: "One can never understand you, Armenians and Azerbaijanis; you first fight, and then put up with it ..."
Vagif Mustafazadeh and Görməmiş
The attitude to me personally and to the two members of the team (one from Georgia, the second from Moscow) was quite friendly. About who we are they often asked the Georgian and the Russian. Their answers did not cause a special reaction, but when they addressed me, the answer "from Azerbaijan" was perceived as a joke.
In the hotel where we lived and in the organizations where we met with interlocutors, it was hard not to notice the intense looks and surprise of others.
But as one of the interviewers told me, the Azerbaijani language in Yerevan has not been surprising for anyone for long. The city is full of Iranian Azerbaijanis who speak our language. And local Armenians often use words and phrases that are common to Azerbaijanis: Görməmiş, Nisyə, Zir-zibil, Sag-salamat. These phrases and expressions have long been "adopted" by Armenians and are successfully applied as their own. At the same time, their Azerbaijani origin does not cause rejection.
You feel special feelings in a restaurant in Yerevan, where suddenly the most famous composition by Vagif Mustafazadeh, Reflections, was sounded (I did not dare to ask the administrator what the melody was).
By the way, everything that concerns Azerbaijanis is presented as Iranian or Turkmen - for example, a mosque in Yerevan or architectural monuments outside the capital.
What to Expect Next?
Conversations around the conflict were also conducted at different levels. Outside of official conversations, the dialogue boiled down to the fact that the situation is hopeless and no one knows what to do.
Attempts to achieve meetings and interviews with officials, unfortunately, were not crowned with success, with the exception of a conversation with an adviser to the President of the country on a voluntary basis.
The former authorities represented by the Republican Party and the most radical political force for today, Sasna Tsrer, refused to speak with me.
This political party is actually in favor of uniting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the Dashnaks. Sasna Tsrer also declares that the current government is temporary and it will last a year and a half, no more.
All this certainly affects the overall political situation. For example, the policies and actions of the authorities on the issue of conflict are subjected to sharp criticism and accusations of preparing for the surrender of areas.
As one of our interviewers said, for the time being Russia can do nothing with Pashinyan, given the tremendous confidence in the support of the population. However, Moscow will in every possible way compromise, demean and weaken him. "The Kremlin"s strategic task is to return Robert Kocharyan or his other protégé to power," said our interlocutor.
An indirect confirmation of this can be considered the recently duplicated sensational statements by little-known Russian experts that Pashinyan had already agreed with Aliyev and in May an agreement would be signed on the release of five regions around Karabakh.
Similar "optimistic" statements are heard only from Moscow. In Yerevan, they believe that this is done on purpose to set up the public against Pashinyan.
Apparently, the situation may be exacerbated in Nagorno-Karabakh, where there will be "presidential elections" next year. Observers are already openly talking about the inevitable clash between the main contenders for power. The main troublemaker is Samvel Babayan - the former commander of the Karabakh forces, who has a significant social base and supporters. His main opponent is Araik Harutyunyan - the former head of the "Karabakh government". Finally, the third candidate, Vitaly Balasanyan, was also an active participant in the war with Azerbaijan, but he is not as ambitious and decisive as Babayan.
If Babayan is elected, it is difficult to believe that he will act on orders from Yerevan, as is happening now. This means further aggravation in Karabakh, which depends heavily on Yerevan, primarily economically.
By the way, Samvel Babayan was the only known military who immediately agreed to an interview with Turan, but the technical delay of the visit for one week disrupted this agreement, and Babayan left for Karabakh, where he began the election campaign.
The subject of Karabakh also included the issue of relations between the Armenians of Armenia and Karabakh. In Armenia, they categorically reject any contradictions, but the facts show the opposite. In Armenia, the oppression of the Karabakh clan has actually begun. This is confirmed by media reports, such as the refusal of the richest Armenian of Russia, the head of the Tashir company Samvel Karapetyan to come to the inauguration of Nikol Pashinyan. The same sources assert that Karapetyan has curtailed his business projects in Armenia and is trying to transfer them to Karabakh.
The criminal prosecution of Robert Kocharyan and a number of other people from Karabakh also provoke discontent and protests of his countrymen, who organize protests in Yerevan and in Karabakh itself.
Concluding the cycle of materials about the visit to Armenia, I want to thank all those who helped to carry it out (in Baku and in Yerevan), and all those who agreed to meet and share their thoughts.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of such a trip to understand the real situation.
The final part of the project will be a video story, which will soon appear on Turan-Contact, and add visual information about what I saw and heard. It will also include some conversations and interviews that were not published in a written version.
I hope that what I saw and heard will help everyone who wants to understand more deeply what is happening around.