Arif Yunus

* 1955

  • "Then they tied me to a radiator or a pole and started beating me. They beat me with one-and-a-half-litre plastic water bottles. By the way, I never thought that when someone hits you on the head with a bottle filled with water, it's such a savage pain, a savage pain. Not with a baton, but that's the kind of thing they beat me with. And it's deliberate, because it leaves no marks. It means your whole body burns, and then they bring you to the cell in the morning. In the morning you can't see anything, but there's this wild and terrible pain. They usually tried to beat me up like that. I remember very well what I heard, and their eyes were shining: 'Treat him more carefully!' They meant to leave no marks on me. I didn't get it right away. The idea was to beat me so that there would be no trace of me if the Red Cross came to check. Most of the time, they beat me over the head. They hit me all over my body, but for some reason my head hurt the most. As a result, I often lost consciousness. They would beat me, then take a break and say, 'Are you going to sign or not sign?' Of course I sent them away. So they went on."

  • "The main thing is, Leyla and I are historians. And we were constantly confronted with problems that many Soviet people were not aware of. Because what was a historian in national countries? It mean you couldn't deal with the history of your own nation. One more remark. I was in the department of ethnogenesis, which dealt with the origin of the nation. And it turned out that, first of all, we had to do everything in Russian, especially when writing about fundamental problems. In the native language, one could write about the history of the Communist Party or praise the Soviet Union. But antiquity and the Middle Ages - only in Russian. Moscow had to give endorsement before publication. The dissertation was also approved there. We always felt this moment. Or who worked in the archives, certainly encountered scrutiny at various levels. If he wanted to work in the archives, he had to get permission. Every institution, especially our Academy of Sciences, had a so-called 'special department' - that was the KGB. Permission was given by a special department of the academy, then a special department in Moscow. Then you got permission and went to the archives, where you were checked again. Whether you liked it or not, you started thinking, 'Why all this? Why should I get materials about the history of my nation in this way?' And by the way, not everybody gave permission. When you had access to the special depository, a lot of questions arose. I saw the difference between the official history of my nation - the declared history, and the real history. I even knew that Soviet history was completely distorted. In Russia, by the way, it is distorted even now. Much of what we saw in movies and read was a complete lie. And as a historian, as a military historian, as an expert on wars, I knew this very well."

  • "While studying the pogroms in Armenia, I interviewed 928 refugees. And not just any interviewees. There were no computers in those days, I wrote by hand and made calluses on my fingers. Then I sent these materials to the General Prosecutor's Office of the USSR. On the basis of this, Moscow opened 26 criminal proceedings in the matter of the murders of Azerbaijanis in Armenia. I did the same in the case of the pogroms in Azerbaijan. Of course, both sides were unhappy with me. If I, as an Azerbaijani, had written only about the pogroms in Armenia against Azerbaijanis, they would have made me a hero in Azerbaijan. But I also wrote about pogroms against Armenians. So I broke the taboo of not writing bad things about one's own people in times of war. You can't. You become the enemy. That was the first time, by the way, that I was labeled an Armenian spy, an enemy of the nation. But I said then and I have always said that in the Karabakh conflict nobody is in the right, both sides have their hands up to their elbows in blood. There is blood on both sides. My job was to create awareness."

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    Praha, 03.09.2022

    délka: 02:17:53
    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Memory and Conscience of Nations
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We are alive, we are together again, we keep fighting

Arif Yunus in 2022
Arif Yunus in 2022
zdroj: Post Bellum

Arif Sejfulla ogly Yunus was born on 12 January 1955 in Baku, in the former Azerbaijani SSR. His father‘s parents were shot dead after a show trial in the 1930s. His mother‘s parents fled collectivisation into Nagorno-Karabakh at the same time. Arif studied history and postgraduate studies at Baku State University, and served in the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences. In his first year at university, he formed a youth organization, the „Union of Like-Minded People“, whose purpose was to return the USSR to the correct path of socialism, from which Arif believed it had strayed. He was arrested in 1976 for alleged anti-Soviet views, but was released two and a half months later. Arif married the future human rights activist Leyla, and together they wrote their dissertations, articles for the samizdat newspaper Express Chronicle, and read banned literature. Since 1988, Arif has been chronicling the events of the Armenian and Azerbaijani pogroms that were at the beginning of the conflict between the two countries. In 1992-1993 he headed the Information and Analysis Department of the Office of the President of Azerbaijan. In 1994-1997 he was the representative of the humanitarian organization Caritas in Azerbaijan. Since 1997 he has been a staff member of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, founded by his wife Leyla Yunus. He has written more than 200 articles and several books on the current situation in the Caucasus and Nagorno-Karabakh, religious, ethnic and military conflicts and refugee issues. He was arrested in 2014 and accused of being an Armenian spy. He was tortured in an Azerbaijani prison but no confession was extracted from him. In 2015, a court sent him to prison for seven years for alleged economic crimes, but under pressure from the world community his sentence was changed to a suspended one. In 2016, Arif was granted political asylum in the Netherlands, where he lives with his wife Leila and daughter Dinara. Together with his wife, he wrote the book „From a Soviet Camp to an Azerbaijani Prison“. He continues his human rights activities with the Institute for Peace and Democracy, which is now registered in the Netherlands. Arif Yunus was in Prague in late August and early September 2022 at the invitation of the Forum 2000 Foundation, to whom we are grateful for arranging this interview.