Interview / I talk to the journalist Thomas de Waal about his account of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
In 1988 the unthinkable happened: two Soviet republics—Armenia and Azerbaijan—entered into a violent territorial dispute and the previously omnipotent Kremlin was powerless to stop them. The dispute, revolving around the ethnically-Armenian Azerbaijani province, Nagorny-Karabakh, was the first in a series of nationalist uprisings that would contribute to bringing down the Soviet Union. Technically, the conflict ended when Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a ceasefire in 1994, but the agreement did not bring peace. To this day, the border between the two nations remains closed and heavily militarized. Not to mention that violent flareups between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces continue—the two sides clashed in April 2016; and, most recently, in May 2017, when Azerbaijan shot down an Armenian missile defense system.
Six years after the ceasefire agreement, journalist Thomas de Waal, currently senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, embarked on a book project about the conflict. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Institute of Peace, de Waal spent the year from 2000 to 2001 poring over archives, interviewing conflict victims, witnesses, and participants, and traveling intensively between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The logistics were complicated—to circumvent the closed border, he had to travel hundreds of miles each time he wanted to get from one country to the other. But the trouble was worth it—in 2003, de Waal published Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War (New York University Press), a nuanced portrayal of the conflict and its aftermath. The book was rereleased in an updated tenth anniversary addition in 2013, and continues to be the definitive account of the conflict.
Read the interview in the Spring 2018 issue of Harriman Magazine.