“I told Armenia’s Ambassador to France that even if you were 500 million, not 500,000, I would still tell the truth”
Baku, November 21, AZERTAC
We called Reza Deghati several times. The phone was busy. Then he called back. He said he was on his way to Karabakh. We agreed that he would answer our questions via “WhatsApp”...
Reza Deghati, a world-famous photojournalist who came to Azerbaijan from Paris during the fateful days of the Patriotic War, communicates the realities of Karabakh to the world through the language of his art. He says the French media are not interested in sending a photojournalist to Azerbaijan. He was even offered to go to Armenia for any payment he would have asked for in exchange for his services. Originally from Tabriz, the Azerbaijani photojournalist bought a plane ticket with his own money and came to Azerbaijan to capture the historic days of our country on his camera. His photos are being widely circulated by TV channels, news agencies and news sites these days. Reza Deghati captures the events of Karabakh and other parts of the country during and after the war, gives interviews to the media and is invited to various TV channels. In other words, there is not even a minute of free time left. He answered our questions on the way to Fuzuli and said that AZERTAC could publish as many photos from his Instagram page as it wants on its website.
- You have been in Azerbaijan for more than a month. Where did you go and what did you capture on camera?
- These days I was working in two directions: both in the liberated territories, and in Barda, Tartar, Ganja and other places that came under cluster munitions shelling from Armenia. As our soldiers advanced, I followed them...
Reza Deghati shared his new photos from the Khudafarin Bridge with the following caption: “IDPs from Jabrayil will see these places for the first time in 27 years”.
Sharing photos from the funeral of 16-year-old Orkhan Ismayilzade, a resident of Tartar district, Reza Deghati wrote: “Orkhan was killed as a result of Armenian shelling of Tartar while picking pomegranates in his garden. The red color of the pomegranate sadly reminds us of its blood”.
Photos from the funeral of 7-year-old Aysu Isgandarova, who died during the bombing of Barda, are accompanied with the following comment: “When the bombing took place, she and her younger sister were collecting flowers”.
- What do you feel when you see destroyed cities, villages and historical sites?
- You know, I am actually an architect, and I look at them through the eyes of an architect. I did not find a single safe house in the villages I went to. There were only two mosques that were relatively safe. Pigs and cattle were kept in the ancient mosques in Mamar village of Gubadli and Alkhanli village of Fuzuli. I took photos of all that...
Photos with the caption “Mosque turned into a pigsty” are also accompanied with the following comment: “I entered the mosque, looked around, the floor was covered with feces, the smell was horrible. I saw two pots of water for the animals. The soldiers told me that when they entered the mosque, it was full of pigs”.
Reza Deghati writes about a mosque in Fuzuli’s Alkhanli village: “The scene I saw here was not any different from what I saw earlier. Apparently the Armenians have a tradition of turning mosques into barns. This shows their attitude to Muslim places of worship”.
Our interviewee says he heard that our liberated cities and villages used to be beautiful in the past. When these places are restored, it would be better to give preference to traditional style rather than modern architecture. For example, ancient villages have been preserved in Italy, France and Spain, and millions of tourists visit them. The Karabakh region could be the same.
Reza Deghati currently shares thousands of photos he took in Karabakh and other parts of Azerbaijan on social networks. “National Geographic”, “Time Photo” and other popular magazines publish his works. They are also posted on “PixPalace” platform.
The photojournalist has also met with witnesses of the 20 January tragedy, the Khojaly genocide, refugees and IDPs, captured scenes depicting the atrocities of Armenian fascists and people suffering from the loss of their loved ones. The works of Reza Deghati, who speaks about the realities of Azerbaijan in a language understandable to everyone, the language of photos, have been exhibited in many European countries.
- You live in France, where the Armenian lobby is strong. Have you experienced any pressure, persecution or obstacles?
- I have lived in France for 40 years. I am a citizen of this country. Since 1992, I have been trying to communicate the Khojaly tragedy and the issue of IDPs to the world, and since then I have been the target of the Armenian lobby. For example, they come to my exhibitions and tear up the photos displayed there. Once, just a few hours before the opening of the exhibition, some swear words were written on all the pictures. It has also happened that when I spoke at conferences, they shouted that I was a man of the Azerbaijani government. They write a lot against me on the Internet. Once the Armenian Ambassador to France invited me to a conversation in Paris. Ministers, diplomats and ambassadors working in this country usually have respect to artists of other nationalities. There was a time when, for example, the President of France invited me to sit next to him during lunch at an event. When the Armenian Ambassador to France invited me to dinner, I asked him what he would like to talk about. He said he liked my photos. In those days, a large exhibition of my photos was underway near the parliament building in Paris. There was a famous photo from Khojaly in that exhibition – a photo I took of a woman screaming after finding the bodies of her son and husband with their eyes hollowed out. The Armenian Ambassador tried to intimidate me and turn me away from my path by saying that there were 500,000 Armenians in France and I was alone. He even said: “You are originally from Tabriz and Armenia has very good relations with Iran and Iranians, so work with us.”
I objected. I said that as a photojournalist I was responsible for telling the world what I saw, including the massacre the Armenians committed in Khojaly. I said that even if you were 5 million or 500 million, not 500,000, I would still tell the truth, stood up and left. The next day, they sent a man who tore up that famous photo at the exhibition. I left that stand blank and wrote that I was not being allowed to hold an exhibition in Paris where everyone is supposed to be able to speak their mind. So I posted this photo on my website and anyone can see it. I also posted other photos on my website. The Armenian lobby also hired a lawyer to sue me... Another form of pressure is financial. Over the years, they have prevented me from implementing 20-30 projects. For example, any museum in France would want to exhibit my photos, but such museums come under pressure and the exhibitions do not take place.
Reza Deghati has been traveling the world for over 40 years. He is the author of more than 30 books. He has received a number of international awards. He was awarded the Honor Medal of the University of Missouri and is an Honorary Doctor of the American University of Paris. The French government has awarded him the Knight of the National Order of Merit. He has held exhibitions “Emigrant’s Thoughts” and “Crossroads of Destinies” in Paris, “One World, One Tribe” in Washington, “War + Peace” in Normandy and “Hope” in Doha. The photographer has participated in a total of 250 exhibitions.
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