Fifteen years ago Azerbaijan went through one of its most traumatic events in modern history. For many Azeris this date represents the consolidation in power of a brutal dictatorship that rules Azerbaijan to this day.
On March 17, 1995 Geidar Aliyev publicly accused members of the Special Operations Police Unit, better known in Azerbaijan under its Russian acronym OMON, of a coup plot. He had already launched a military assault on OMON headquarters in Baku four days earlier. The inability of government forces to overcome OMON militarily forced Aliyev to agree to a negotiated settlement with the founder of OMON, then Deputy Interior Minister, Colonel Rovshan Djavadov. On the way to meet Aliyev on March 17, Colonel Djavadov was shot and died in hospital because security forces loyal to the president prevented medical treatment. Along with Colonel Djavadov, nearly 20 other OMON members were killed and thousands were later imprisoned, sentenced to lengthy jail terms.
In Azeri politics, the word OMON was transformed into a political idea and became synonymous with a free and independent Azerbaijan. Many former members of OMON still spearhead the struggle for a free Azerbaijan. One such person is Eldar Orujev.
He had served in the elite airborne forces of the Soviet army and from 1992 to 1993 he was commander of the reconnaissance division of OMON. In 1994 he was imprisoned by Aliyev’s regime for four years on fabricated charges of being a “foreign spy”. He is currently Chairman of the Movement for Free Azerbaijan.
To understand the significance of OMON and the events of those momentous days, Crescent International conducted an interview with Eldar Orujev.
CI: How significant was OMON to the defense strategy of Azerbaijan during the aggression launched by Armenian extremists?
Eldar Orujev: During all stages of the struggle for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity OMON was a major component of the struggle. It was the most effective and efficient military structure which defended Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. OMON was primarily composed of people who had previously served in the armed forces of the USSR and many of them were in the special forces of the Soviet army. OMON was an elite unit of the Azeri armed forces which was highly respected by all Azeris and feared by the Armenian nationalists in Karabakh.
However, if we are to talk of OMON in terms of its strategic contribution to the Azeri defense strategy we must note that OMON went through three stages of Azerbaijan’s history which were very different.
The first period of OMON’s active role was during the Presidency of Ayaz Mutalibov (1990-1992). During this period OMON was at the core of Azerbaijan’s defense strategy. Major responsibilities for leading the war in Karabakh were placed on OMON.
After the 1992 massacre in Khojali by Armenian nationalists, Abulfaz Elchibey took power in Azerbaijan. During this stage, the war in Karabakh turned into a large-scale conflict and it became obvious that OMON alone could not fight on all fronts. Therefore, the ruling Popular Front Party (PFP) hastily began creating a national army. Even during this stage, OMON played a crucial role in Azerbaijan’s national defense strategy because the newly formed National Armed Forces (NAF) were not professional and lacked combat experience. Therefore, OMON detachments were used as offensive troops and conducted all major offensive operations. Once OMON troops captured any territory, responsibility for securing its defenses would be transferred to the NAF.
The third stage in the process of OMON’s evolution was the period when on the basis of treachery the KGB General, Geidar Aliyev usurped power in 1993. During this stage of Azerbaijan’s history, OMON was pulled into politics. Once OMON and its leader Colonel Rovshan Djavadov became the guarantors of Aliyev’s security, OMON and its leader signed their own death warrants.
Aliyev’s accession to power marks the period when Azerbaijan began losing the war in Karabakh. One of the key reasons for Azeri armed forces’ defeat in Karabakh was Aliyev’s disbanding of 30 volunteer brigades of the national army who by that time had gained an extensive combat experience and were effective in fighting the Armenian nationalists. Aliyev perceived the volunteer brigades as politically dangerous. Even though the regime began literally handing over the territories to Armenian nationalists, OMON was still fighting in Karabakh attempting to change the course of the war. The situation on the war front convinced Colonel Rovshan Djavadov that Aliyev was not interested in preserving the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and began to perceive OMON as a danger to his [Aliyev] rule.
CI: Why did you choose to enroll in OMON and not in the National Army of Azerbaijan?
Eldar Orujev: After the 1992 massacre in Khojali by Armenian nationalists I decided to go and fight in Karabakh. I had heard about OMON long before the Khojali massacre and knew that it was spearheading the resistance in Karabakh against Armenian nationalists. Therefore, I chose OMON because it was at the forefront of the resistance.
CI: Why do you think Geidar Aliyev decided to disband OMON and kill many of its members?
Eldar Orujev: OMON and its leader Colonel Djavadov were highly respected in Azerbaijan and turned into the last real obstacle to Aliyev’s authoritarian rule. Therefore, Aliyev not only decided to disband OMON, but to kill many of its members in order to instill fear in Azeri society.
CI: Currently you are the Chairman of the Movement for Free Azerbaijan (MFA). What are the primary objectives of MFA?
Eldar Orujev: The main objective of the Movement for Free Azerbaijan is to free Azerbaijan from the corrupt dictatorship of the Aliyev clan. The second objective is to free Karabakh which is currently occupied by Armenian nationalists. We also want to create an atmosphere in the country where we could hold free elections and create a law abiding state system that would protect legal, social, economic and political rights of all citizens of our country.
CI: Does MFA plan to participate in the current political process in Azerbaijan?
Eldar Orujev: The current political situation in Azerbaijan excludes legal possibilities for a genuine opposition movement to function. Therefore, at the moment MFA’s only involvement in the political process is to conduct intensive informational work to inform people about the reality in the country. The decision to participate through other ways in the political process will be made by the leadership of the MFA which will depend on the evolving situation in Azerbaijan.
CI: How do you think the situation will evolve in the near future?
Eldar Orujev: There is no reason to believe that the political, social or economic situation will improve in Azerbaijan under the present setup. Corruption, looting of national resources and constant human rights violations will remain the bases of Aliyev’s rule. Such unlawful and brutal policies leave no room for Azerbaijan to resolve any of its fundamental problems. It is obvious that the political and economic crises in Azerbaijan will not be resolved as long as the present system remains in place which uses power only for the ruling oligarchy’s personal benefit. No gas or oil money will help our society since people do not see the income from natural resources. It is usurped by the current clan in power. There is no doubt that the current regime will be overthrown by the people, the only question is when.
CI: What is you view of Azerbaijan’s current foreign policy?
Eldar Orujev: If we define foreign policy as an obligation of the government to preserve the interests of the people and the state, then the foreign policy of the current regime is a complete failure. Over the past 15 years the regime has formulated its “foreign policy” priorities within the framework of securing its illegitimate grip on power. It is not interested in preserving the interests of the state. The “foreign policy” of the regime is merely pretence for a policy. The regime is only interested in securing its own survival.