Autumn 1999 (7.3)

Documenting the Horrors of Karabakh
Chingiz Mustafayev in Action

by Vahid Mustafayev

Chingiz Mustafayev (1960-1992) was one of Azerbaijan's most noted journalists, even though the corpus of his work spans less than a year. With no formal journalistic training, he created a video anthology of the Karabakh war-an incalculable contribution documenting the brutality of a war that ultimately snuffed out his own life. Here Vahid Mustafayev, who now heads ANS (Azerbaijan News Service), one of the country's most dynamic television and radio services, tells about his brother's passion for life and truth.

Most Azerbaijanis think of my brother, Chingiz Mustafayev, as the man behind the TV camera, who dared to film the Karabakh town of Khojali the morning after it was savagely attacked in February 1992. Chingiz' footage taken from an army helicopter showed hundreds of dead bodies strewn across snow-covered fields-innocent victims who had tried to run away from the surprise attack. Azerbaijan's official media had covered up the fact that the town had been wiped out and Armenians had ruthlessly slaughtered women, children and the elderly. But with Chingiz' film, the evidence was irrefutable. There had been a full-scale massacre.

Azerbaijani woman on a mountain trail in Nagorno Karabakh passing Azerbaijani soldiers before the region was occupied by Armenian troops. Photo: Reza, 1992.

In the course of eight months, Chingiz shot 18 documentaries about the war in Karabakh, leaving behind a substantial historical archive. Today, everybody remembers him for his camera work, but there was really much more to him than that. My brother followed the beat of a different drummer throughout his entire life and was passionate about everything he did. In the end, he risked everything to expose the truth.

A Strict Upbringing

I think our family could best be described as rather average or ordinary. My mom and dad were quite different from each other. Dad was a military man involved with missiles and rockets. Mom was from Shaki; they were married when she was 19. Chingiz was the oldest child, born in 1960, and then my brother Seyfulla came in 1962. Six years later in 1968, my parents, still hoping for a daughter, had me.

Chingiz Mustafayev (center) interviewing Turkey's President, Turgut Ozal, in Baku shortly before the President returned to Turkey and died of a sudden heart attack. April 1993.

In general, you could say that all of us kids had a rebellious streak. We were quite mischievous, especially Chingiz. Once he bit another child who, as a precaution, had to get 40 rabies shots!

When someone in the family had a birthday, the rest of us would buy presents and leave them on the table as a surprise for the next morning. Once when it was Mom's birthday, Dad had bought a large chocolate bear for her. He showed it to us but warned us not to touch it as he planned to give it to Mom the next day. The next morning, Dad came out of the bedroom yelling: "Who ate the bear's ear?" Everybody looked at me since I was the youngest. But I squealed on Chingiz. I was always telling on him. Then Chingiz came out of the bedroom with chocolate smeared all over his mouth.

Chingiz was like an owl. He would work at night and sleep during the day, and if he ever got into trouble, he knew how to sweet talk his way out of most situations.

Once I was sitting in the kitchen preparing for the next day's history class. I was reading about the abolition of slavery. Chingiz was sitting in the living room, right next to the phone. It started ringing and he yelled: "Vahid! Vahid!" I went to see what the problem was and he told me to answer the phone. That made me mad. I yelled at him: "Am I your slave? Pick up the phone yourself! Stop insulting and exploiting me! You are debasing my dignity! We have to fight against slavery."

Chingiz looked at me in astonishment, then picked up the phone and hurled it at me. It made a deep gash on my forehead which started bleeding all over the place. At first, Chingiz didn't know what to do. Then he started hugging and kissing me, saying: "Please, please. You know how much I love you. Please don't tell Mom and Dad about this." We washed the wound with soap and let it go at that. It really should have been stitched up by a doctor.

An Uncertain Future
Dad wanted Chingiz to be a military man just like he was, so he enrolled him in Azerbaijan's Military High School named after Jamshid Nakchivansky. Eventually, he left military school and entered a regular secondary school.

Then he got admitted into medical school. God knows how he did it as he wasn't a very ambitious student. Besides, he had no inclination for chemistry, physics and math. Mom wanted him to become a doctor; she had always wanted to be one herself.

But as Chingiz wasn't really interested in medicine, he spent a lot of his time starting up discos and organizing parties rather than studying. He was an innovator par excellence. In the 1970s, he opened the first disco in the USSR. In 1983 he was the first Azerbaijani to perform rap music, even though he didn't have much of a singing voice. It was a song called: "Yesterday is Past." Then he opened a little café called Sevinj (Joy). During the following decade, he also brought new types of TV programs to Azerbaijani TV such as "Impromptu" and "Thursday" and organized the "Ganjlik" (Youth) variety show and the "Ozan" (Ashug) rock group as well.

After graduating from medical school, he was appointed chief doctor at the dormitory of the Construction Engineers' Institute. Actually, it was more like a fashionable hotel-free of charge-where students could go when they wanted to relax. In six or seven months, Chingiz transformed the dormitory, adding things like TV and radio, a bar and a huge, comfortable study area.

Rebel with a Cause
Like any other military family, we were brought up to respect authority. The law was absolute and you had to obey it. You could question it but in the end you had to obey it as long as it was in force. Even to this day, our family doesn't talk about politics. The one exception was the Karabakh conflict that started in 1988.

In January 1990 when the Soviet troops killed hundreds of people in Baku, Chingiz used the therapeutic center as a clinic. As no professional doctors or surgeons worked there, it really wasn't a hospital, but they did their best to provide emergency care for the wounded. Chingiz took an enormous risk. Today, it's easy to applaud his actions and say that he was doing the right thing. But at that time treating the wounded was illegal as demonstrators were viewed as "criminals" or "extremists". Chingiz could easily have been shot. Mom and Dad told him that the whole family could have been exiled to Siberia for such involvement. It was these "Black January" events that transformed Chingiz into an activist.

At one demonstration, Chingiz started yelling at the soldiers. Of course they attacked him and threw him in jail. The next day, he came home with his face bruised and bloody.

Chingiz didn't actually start working as a journalist until November 1991, eight months before his death. I had started two years earlier working as an Azerbaijani correspondent for the "Vesti" (News) program on Russian TV. I was also working for "Azerbaijan", the only independent newspaper in the country at the time.

Even though Chingiz had never formally been trained as a journalist, soon the Democratic Russia Press Agency gave him papers certifying that he was a correspondent for them. I laughed when I saw it. "Oh yeah, you're a real professional now," I told him.

Then he started making contributions to "Vesti", too. I didn't like him competing with me and asked him not to interfere with my earning a living. For Chingiz there were more important things than money. The news from an Azerbaijani perspective had to get out.

Karabakh Footage
Before long, Chingiz became ABC News' Azerbaijan correspondent. In journalism, this was an incredible leap to get involved on an international level so quickly.

Some of his films are classic. For instance, Chingiz once followed a soldier to the front. Two days later, the soldier was wounded and taken to the hospital, but the doctors couldn't save his life and he died. Chingiz captured all of this on camera. The footage ends with him interviewing the soldier's grieving mother.

In February 1992, Chingiz and I were both assigned to cover Shusha when the Armenian troops took the city. Shusha was considered the cultural heart of Karabakh. As usual, Chingiz was having trouble with his camera. It was always jamming in the middle of a shoot. But I had my footage and wanted to broadcast it. Chingiz argued with me, saying that I should wait to do that as Azerbaijanis might lose courage if they knew what was really happening. He wanted me to get the approval of the Defense Minister first.

That next week, the official media reported that the Azerbaijani Army had reclaimed Shusha. They wove so many lies into their coverage. I decided to broadcast the real truth on Azerbaijan News Service (ANS). The news exploded like a bombshell. People started demonstrating in front of the Supreme Soviet building after our broadcast. Soon afterward, the Defense Minister called me and said: "I'll shoot you if you ever go to Karabakh again." Then his bodyguard beat me up.

There was hardly a battlefront that Chingiz didn't cover. Despite the fact that he had no formal training, he created an anthology of 18 films about the war in just eight months! His legacy provides evidence of the atrocities of this war for future generations.

Even so, Chingiz never received the respect he deserved. He was a revolutionary, so naturally he stood out from other journalists. Newspapers wrote nasty things about him, calling him a traitor. They said that his long hair made him look like a woman. AzTV fired him because he "lacked discipline."

All of these charges depressed Chingiz. He couldn't understand why he was being treated this way since everything he did was for his nation. He felt he didn't deserve such criticism. In Karabakh, however, he was like a fish in water-he had found his own element.

One Last Film
The last time we were together was in June 1992 in Nakhchivanik, a village south of Agdam. I told him we should leave. He said that no, he was staying. I argued with him: "Listen, we both have plenty of footage. We have enough film to show everyone what's happening here. Let's go." But Chingiz wouldn't budge: "No, I'm staying. I want to go to nearby Shaumyan village tomorrow and shoot more footage." So he stayed and I headed to Moscow carrying my film.

When I arrived there, one of my Russian friends told me that Chingiz had been killed. I couldn't believe it. I had just been with him the day before. But he insisted that it was true. I went to the Azerbaijan Embassy to call the Defense Minister. He confirmed my greatest fear: Chingiz was dead.

When Seyfulla and I showed up at the Zabrat Airport in Baku to take Chingiz' body, one of his "friends" from AzTV was there as well. We thanked him for coming. "I'm here for the camera," he replied, took the camera and left. I didn't have much money at the time but I offered him everything I had just to hang onto that equipment which had been so special to Chingiz. But he wouldn't give it to me. He said that they would open a museum and put the camera on display there. I later learned that it was taken and used at a private wedding where it got broken.

It turns out that Chingiz had not gone on to the village as he intended. On his way back to Agdam, one of the battalions had stopped him. The soldiers had taunted him: "You just show up, take your pictures and run off. You're just showing off. If you're a real man, come and shoot the front."

So Chingiz had returned to Nakhchivanik with the battalion. This army unit was especially inept in their operations. Our soldiers had taken the village back, but the surrounding mountains were swarming with Armenian soldiers.

To show off in front of the camera, the soldiers started shooting their guns into the air. Soon, the Armenians replied with mortar fire. I've watched Chingiz' last footage many times and now I realize what he was trying to do. He wanted to show how a mortar explodes. Several times, he jumped out of the trench trying to get a better angle. You can even hear his voice on the tape, saying: "Too late. I missed it." The last time he tried it, a shell exploded right beside him and knocked him to the ground.

A splinter from the shell had severed one of his major arteries. The stupid soldiers removed the shell and the blood gushed out. There was no doctor around so they had to rush him to Agdam, 20 kilometers away. Chingiz was still alive when they arrived at the hospital but as they lifted him onto the operating table, his heart stopped.

When Chingiz was wounded, one of the soldiers stole his pistol. I promised Mom that I would find that pistol and bring it back to her. For days, I traipsed all over the country in search of it. At last, I tracked it to Sumgayit near Baku. By the time I found the guy, I was so angry I could have killed him. He tried to excuse himself by saying that he was planning to give it back. I took it from him and brought it back to Mom 39 days after Chingiz' death.

Chingiz is truly a National Hero of Azerbaijan. I say that not just because he was my brother. He taught me to love life, to love my Motherland and to embrace worthy ideals. He also taught me how to die. Of course, a lot of people have come and gone during this century. But Chingiz was at the peak of his activity when death took him. It takes a special ability and strength to do that. Not everyone can succeed at that.

These days we need Chingiz more than he needs us. People don't believe that he was just an ordinary guy, but he really was. Ordinary people need to know that they, too, can become heroes and make a real difference in the world.

Vahid Mustafayev is President of ANS (Azerbaijan News Service) Concern, which includes both ANS Radio and ANS Television, one of the most dynamic and respected news services in the country.

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