Richardas Lapaitis: This Victory will forever go down in history of Azerbaijan
Baku, September 23, Nigar Jafarli, AZERTAC
Richardas Lapaitis is one of a handful of foreign correspondents who know the truth about the Karabakh war firsthand. Richardas was an eyewitness to the bloody military events in Lachin, Nakhchivan and Aghdam. His camera recorded the tragic consequences of the Khojaly genocide. During 30 years of occupation of Azerbaijani territories, Richardas Lapaitis stayed in close contact with Azerbaijan, with its IDPs and refugees, among whom he had many friends. He has been a voice for the truth about this brutal war. Richardas says that he knows and has seen the truth, which is why he could not remain silent, because remaining silent, as Richardas notes, is tantamount to being on the side of evil. After the Khojaly genocide, Richardas realized that he was obliged to make a film about the most horrific page of the Karabakh war – Khojaly. He did not consider his film “Endless Corridor” as some kind of a feat: “This is a human return, a small candle in memory of the victims of the Khojaly genocide. I do hope that at the end of the corridor there will be light, and that justice will prevail. And justice did prevail in the 44-day Patriotic War, in which Azerbaijan dealt a crushing blow to the enemy, liberated its lands and won a brilliant victory! Our interview with Richardas took place on the eve of local anti-terrorist measures carried out in Karabakh by the courageous Azerbaijani Army under the leadership of victorious Supreme Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev. Richardas called me immediately after the end of the campaign was over.
- I want to tell you that I was a little worried about the future situation in Karabakh and the separatists operating there before, but the anti-terror measures showed that Karabakh has finally returned home, victory has finally come home, and all those filtration camps where innocent Azerbaijanis were subjected to terrible torture for 30 years are over. The end has come to all those ideas of Dashnaks who wanted to create a “state” on the bones and blood of innocent people. The end has come to ethnic cleansing, the atrocities that were committed throughout the occupied territory. Look what they did to the historical and cultural monuments of Azerbaijan, to its holy places. Everything was destroyed, no stone was left of the once prosperous towns and villages. Therefore, I would like to congratulate the Azerbaijani people on the deserved victory from the bottom of my heart, especially President Ilham Aliyev, for taking a timely decision to stop this evil. At last, a pseudo-state within the state has disappeared, historical and international law has been restored. The long-awaited peace has come to the land of Azerbaijan. All of Kalbajar will be opened, the roadblocks near Aghdam and other places will finally be removed. This region will prosper again. And the Armenians who want to live peacefully will be able to live in Azerbaijan under the flag and Constitution of Azerbaijan. This Victory will forever go down in the history of Azerbaijan.
- Richardas, as you know, 2023 has been declared a “Year of Heydar Aliyev” by the order of the President of Azerbaijan. I know that you met and interviewed our great leader. Please tell me a little about that meeting.
At that time, I was a special correspondent for the leading Lithuanian newspaper “Respublika”. In 1993, Nakhchivan was under blockade. There was very little information about this region. I had an idea to interview Heydar Aliyev, perhaps the most famous personality of that period, and also visit Sadarak and Ordubad. The question was: how do I get to Nakhchivan? My newspaper doubted that I could get there. I needed a special pass and the consent of the authorities of that time. It was a difficult time in every sense of the word. Of course, I didn't have a pass. And I got to Nakhchivan by a miracle, as I was allowed to board the plane without a ticket.
On the first day of my arrival, I was interviewed by a local TV channel.
The next day, I was received by Heydar Aliyev himself. I had a long list of questions. The interview dragged on for some time. There was no light. There was a kerosene lamp on the table. Heydar Aliyevich was very much worried about what was happening in Azerbaijan and indeed in Nakhchivan itself. Blockade is a horrific thing. It is even more horrific when a country loses 20 percent of its territory and finds itself on the threshold of civil war. After the interview, Heydar Aliyev asked me what I needed. I asked for a driver, a car and, also for permission to stay in the guest house. I said I wanted to go to Ordubad and Sadarak. My request was immediately granted. Heydar Aliyev was a unique personality.
He said that I could return at any time and, of course, thanked me for the journey I had made to get to Nakhchivan. He understood perfectly well that it was journalists who were not allowed to enter Nakhchivan. It was quite a unique meeting that left a deep mark on my whole life!
- This year, you have repeatedly traveled to Azerbaijan and visited our territories liberated from occupation. As a military journalist who witnessed the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and the Khojaly genocide from the very first days, what feelings did you experience when you visited these lands?
- I felt a sense of pride and celebration of justice. After all, so many lives have been lost for the Day of Freedom to come at last. The Day of Victory over the aggressor! Armenia has been carrying out aggression against Azerbaijan for all these decades. And the aggressor, often hiding behind false slogans, presented itself as a victim in the eyes of the West. Of course, there were major forces behind the aggressor. I never doubted that the day would come when Azerbaijan would liberate its territories from occupation.
During the entire period of occupation, I visited refugee camps more than once. As a volunteer, I worked in the frontline zone. It was obvious to me that a million refugees cannot live like that forever and 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territories cannot remain under Armenian control. Therefore, the justice that Azerbaijan achieved after the second Karabakh war was simply inevitable. The Azerbaijani army was at its best. One can fight like that only for one's homeland. Taking into account the fact that every Azerbaijani had so much pain in their soul for 30 years of occupation of their native lands that there was only one question: either liberation of Karabakh or death. It was another matter when I actually saw the barbarity of Armenians, the apocalyptic atrocities committed of Armenian authorities. It is incomprehensible to me how it was possible to dislike this land so much! How could they raise their hand against holy places?
- September 27 is the anniversary of the beginning of the Karabakh war. Were you in Azerbaijan on those days?
- On September 27, I was in Lithuania. For all 44 days of the war, I was with Azerbaijan with my heart and soul. During the Patriotic War, I saw the unity of the entire Azerbaijani people, the unity around the country’s leadership. And this had an unparalleled impact on the determination of the Azerbaijani army and each soldier personally! For 30 years, Azerbaijanis were faced with such a barrage of lies, experienced betrayal and provocations, saw empty talks that yielded no results. There are not many facts in the history of mankind when ancestral lands were returned after 30 years. Azerbaijan demonstrated not only the strength of its modern army, but also high human qualities. The second Karabakh war ushered opportunities for building a peaceful future not only in Azerbaijan, but also in the whole region. Azerbaijan's authority is at its highest today. I have always said and will continue to say that the final victory in the region will come when there are no Armenian gangs left in Karabakh.
Until then, there will be provocations and loss of life, especially due to the mines. You have already made huge strides, but it is too early to trust the former enemy. I wish Azerbaijan vigilance and bow my head to the fallen Azerbaijani soldiers! Thanks to them, Karabakh stands on the path of Freedom today.
- How did the Baltic States react to Azerbaijan's victory in the Patriotic War?
- The reaction was rather strange, to put it mildly. Everyone was in shock. It seems that everyone was satisfied with the Minsk option: eternal negotiations for the sake of negotiations and eternal night shelling of Azerbaijani villages. Nobody was interested in the fate of Azerbaijani prisoners kept in the Shusha prison, the fate of 4,000 Azerbaijanis who had gone missing. The fate of the town of Khojaly, the villages of Meshali, Garadaghli and Aghdaban. After all, for 30 years everyone had already started to believe the lies of the Armenian leadership, which convinced the world community that it was them who were the victims. It was a true shock. How could Azerbaijan liberate its ancestral homeland in a matter of 44 days? For some it was just a territory, but for Azerbaijanis it was their homeland, their roots, without which life has no meaning. Yes, the Baltic States were in shock! But if they had learned what Armenia had done on the occupied territories, the shock would have been stronger! Unfortunately, many turned a blind eye to that. Being on the side of the truth is only for the brave.
- In July this year, the Global Media Forum was held in Shusha. You were there too. What was particularly memorable for you at that event? What meetings did you hold within the framework of the media forum?
- The forum was very well organized. The participation of media representatives from 54 countries and major news agencies speaks volumes about the scale and importance of the forum. I will remember the meeting with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev for a long time. I thanked him for the liberation of Karabakh, for the dignity and love of the Motherland, and for the faith he returned to every Azerbaijani. And for the first time, I could say a big thank you for the attention to me personally, for the “Dostlug” Order, which I was awarded by the President of Azerbaijan just before the second Karabakh war, on the day of the 145th anniversary of Azerbaijani journalism. Shusha has always been and will always remain in my heart. The homeland of mugham, as well as famous Azerbaijani poets, musicians and thinkers cannot but stir my soul.
- Everyone knows and loves you in Azerbaijan, especially the residents of the former frontline zone. You have friends there. Do you stay in touch with them?
- You know, speaking about the former frontline zone, I would like to thank the President of the International Eurasia Press Fund, Umud Mirzayev. He always supports my journalistic activities and trips. I want to thank Ilgar Gasimov from Tartar. Thanks to him, I was able to visit the most dangerous Azerbaijani refugee accommodations, where Armenian night-time shootings have become an everyday occurrence. Thank you to Eyvaz Huseynov, the head of executive authority of Khojavand district. His support is invaluable. Thank you to everyone in Tovuz and Alibayli. Thank you to Valeh Huseynov and many others. After all, my journey went from the border with Iran to Gazakh district. Hundreds of people helped to collect information about Armenian crimes against humanity, information about ethnic cleansing. It was the hardest path. Many Azerbaijanis in refugee camps asked the same question, “When? When are we going home? When will all this stop?” Many of my acquaintances never lived to see that day. Believe me, it was not easy to say to them that this will happen soon when the whole world was full of lies! But it seems to me that in places I have visited, faith has taken root. To believe, you have to love. Only by loving your job, your mission, your path, can you do so much that people immediately feel who you are. I always miss them. And I can openly say that my devotion is not without a reason! I saw Khojaly. And today I can see justice coming to these lands!
- Today, as you know, work is underway in the liberated territories to restore and improve the regained lands. How would you assess the progress of this work?
- Only a blind man could fail to notice Azerbaijan's efforts to restore everything that was destroyed during the 30 years of Armenian occupation, given the fact that in some areas 90 percent of all historical and cultural heritage was completed ravaged. The pace of construction work is simply amazing. Schools have been opened in many districts this year. look at the complex reconstruction work underway in Aghdam, Shusha, Fuzuli, Zangilan, and Lachin! New roads are being built throughout the liberated territories and first refugees are already returning to their native lands. This is certainly a huge joy. I raise my hat to all those who, sparing no effort, are carrying out this work. This is a sign that life is returning and it has a great future! After the victory in the second Karabakh war, this is perhaps the greatest achievement of Azerbaijan.
- As a friend of Azerbaijan, what would you like to wish our country?
- Mammad Emin Rasulzadeh said, “The flag once raised will never be lowered!” This is what I wish for Azerbaijan! I want this faith, unity and connection at the level of soul to live on in the heart of every Azerbaijani. You have proved to yourselves so many times that even you can change your future in the most difficult situation! Let the future of Azerbaijan be special! I believe that Karabakh will turn into a blooming garden! After the last visit of the President of Azerbaijan to Vilnius in May this year, I am sure that our interstate relations have a great future. I always come to Azerbaijan with such feelings! I fell in love with your country in the most difficult days of the history of modern Azerbaijan. This love will stay with me forever, and I think this says it all! Just be happy!