What really happened in Khodgalou
The founder and commander of the detachment of “special appointment group” Vladimir Vardanov tells us about it.
The interview was conducted by Bakour Karapetian, 08.02.2006, Yerevan.
When the military action started in 1989, our forces in Armenia were divided according to directions. Baghdassarian Gevorg was appointed as the coordinator of the northern wing. I was appointed as a specialist of modern war or guerilla warfare methods. I served at the 12th brigade of “GRU” of the Soviet Union. I acquired military experience in Afghanistan, in Arabic countries and participated in rescue actions in Africa. In December 1989, Vano Siradeghian and Samvel Shahinian entrusted me to form a detachment from the secret service men who served in special appointment groups of the Soviet Union. The detachment was formed in January.
I know some facts about the case of Khodgalou. The action of Khodgalou was elaborated by Felix Dzoghlian as chief of the headquarters of the first and the only regiment and he was the main reporter. Others were Ivan Ghoukasich from the Soviet Secret Service who was a very literate man, Alik Petrossian, the chief of the headquarters of “Erkrapah” (Land Guards), Vazgen Sargssian, Smbat Hakobian and me as a specialist of guerilla warfare methods and special actions. We reduced to a common denominator: at least 150 men were needed to seize Khodgalou and if opposite happens, it will be beyond our power. I had a big zone of responsibility, starting from Krasnolesk till Noiemberian, that’s why I didn’t participate very often in the actions connected with Karabakh. Ghoukasov asked me to help in the case of Khodgalou, to reconnoiter in the direction of Aghdam on who are to come for assistance to Khodgalou.
2 days before the action of Khodgalou, I was sitting at the intersection of the two roads in the direction of Nakhijevanik positions 3 km far from Aghdam. I was sitting with a boy of Karabakh origin, whose name I don’t know till now. He had “Rambo” nickname (at that time everyone was called ”Rambo”). We returned the next day from Khodgalou actions. This was the way I participated in the Khodgalou action. We were coming back with a group of young people of the group of Smbat Hakobian by helicopter. Everyone had positive emotions that they seized a territory. But our friend Gevorgian Karen from Smbat Hakobian’s group was killed in action there.
B.K. – Did the elaboration of the action function?
V.V. – No, another action was elaborated. At first, the basic emphasis was done on special forces, i.e., on secret service men, on saboteurs as it was a landing and assaulting action – the intrusion of saboteurs and seizure by the landing force. I had to play one of the main roles in this action. They decided that for that special action, Armenia couldn’t devote other means except for well prepared human resources. They calculated that 150 people were needed, and it was beyond Armenia’s power. It is not enough to seize, one must seize and keep it. It turned to a simple, infantry action, on the elaboration of which I didn’t participate. I had the 4th or the 5th role in it, which was that I and my scouts were observers in the direction of Aghdam. What concerns Khodgalou, what I saw on TV – corpses of Azeri gathered numerously on a small field, is an obvious lie and I can prove it. The corpses belong to people who died long before it. As an observer, I was sitting right there, and these corpses appeared there after the end of the battle, some 7-8 hours later.
B.K. – Was the territory, where the corpses were lying, under the control of our people?
V.V. – I was sitting right at that place while being a secret service man on the territory of Turks.
B.K. – Our people could go there and hit, couldn’t they?
V.V. – Our people had the force there and could hit: we were the force, but we didn’t do it. Our forces were 4-5 km far from that place, these were the positions of Nakhijevanik and the only group on this side of the positions was our secret service group, which didn’t even fire once during the action in Khodgalou.
B.K. – So what kind of victims and where were they from?
V.V. – I don’t think that the governing body of Azerbaijan was so mean as to shoot up their escaping population biased. I would like to tell you whatever I saw that night, what could be seen. We hadn’t seen the group which started to approach, but the guys seeing them from the positions of Nakhijevanik, started to fire, the so-called “frightening fire”.
B.K. – How big was the group?
V.V. – It was dark, I couldn’t see. I saw an exchange of fire with the position of Nakhijevanik, which lasted some 1-2 minutes, not more. After it, the refugees, understanding that it was a wrong direction, didn’t go to the positions of Nakhijevanik. I don’t exclude that some refugees died during the exchange of fire. When Azeri refugees went to Nakhijevanik, they were forced back from the position. Some 15-20 minutes after it, a very fierce fire was opened from the Azerbaijan positions. I don’t exclude that Azeri, who were in front of the position of Nakhijevanik, while seeing the numerous group approaching them, thought that Armenians were attacking, because before that they had an exchange of fire with Armenians. When refugees appeared in front of Azeri, a very fierce firing started. It is possible that the soldier, who watching over the position, was sleeping, but during that firing, he opened his eyes and “started” to fire uninterruptedly. A very strong firing continued. I believe that soldiers, who were sitting on the Azerbaijan position, killed their population. If we objectively approach the situation, I think that the governing body cannot punish those soldiers: it was their position, they were keeping it safe and they didn’t have any information. If those people died in Khodgalou, they wouldn’t appear on the territory under the inspection of Azerbaijan, Azeri would not come to take photographs, the highly esteemed governing body wouldn’t cry over the dead population. Me, who was fighting against them, felt bad seeing it, but when they showed the place, it became clear for me. After a very fierce firing, Azeri soldiers, who were among the refugees, started to fire back and it became a real battle. I don’t exclude that the corpses were gathered from the Turkish firing point and shifted to a medium size clearing to blame Armenians and to take photographs of the corpses. There were no corpses there. When the fire ceased, I was informed by Soviet portable radio transmitters: “You can come back”. Next midday we returned and there was no exchange of fire there.
B.K. – At what time of the night was the firing?
V.V. – I can’t say, because I had other problems, had a specific task, I was inspecting the road. I heard all this from aside.