Former head of the KGB of Nagorno-Karabakh: In 1967, Heydar Aliyev told me: the situation in Stepanakert is unsteady

Former head of the KGB of Nagorno-Karabakh: In 1967, Heydar Aliyev told me: the situation in Stepanakert is unsteady

The year 2023 will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the outstanding Azerbaijani, the founder of the Third Republic of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev. The editors of have decided to start a new column – 100 years – a man of an epoch. The author of the column is the Azerbaijani ambassador to Ukraine, and a well-known publicist, Ms. Elmira Akhundova.

In the last 20 years, Ms. Akhundova has carried out titanic work in many cities of the former USSR, meeting and talking with hundreds of well-known state, political and public figures who knew Heydar Aliyev personally and worked with him for decades. Elmira Akhundova can be called the author of an encyclopedia about Heydar Aliyev, as these conversations were included in the author’s numerous priceless books. But due to many restrictions, the publicist wasn’t able to include all of the conversations in her works. There are many unpublished interviews left.

In the column dedicated to the centenary of Heydar Aliyev, we will present to the readers the invaluable historical material collected by Ms. Akhundova. After all, many of the publicist’s interviewees have long since retired or passed away.

In previous issues, we presented to your attention the conversations with the head of the 5th department of the KGB of the USSR, the first deputy chairman of the KGB of the USSR Philip Denisovich Bobkov, with a high-ranking representative of the KGB of the USSR, ex-Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan (from 1989 to 2001) Albert Salamov, the head of security of L.I. Brezhnev and M.S. Gorbachev, a major-general of the KGB, Vladimir Medvedev, member of the Central Committee of the CPSU, deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, well-known dissident Roy Medvedev, high-ranking employees of the KGB of Azerbaijan, heads of departments Jabbar Beglyarov and Ramiz Mammadzade.

Today’s interesting conversation is with the former head of the KGB of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, Dmitry Georgievich Bystrov.

Brief information: Dmitry Georgievich Bystrov was born in 1919. He resides in Baku since 1947. For about 30 years he worked in the state security bodies of Azerbaijan. He specialized in scientific and technical counterintelligence, supervised the medical industry, factories, and the branches of the “Intourist” hotel. He worked in the central apparatus of the KGB of Azerbaijan since 1949.

When did you personally meet Heydar Aliyev?

I got to know Heydar Aliyevich Aliyev, one might say, closely in 1961. And I have known him since 1949, from the moment I started working in the state security agencies.

From the moment I joined the second department, I was elected deputy secretary of the party organization and my duty was to collect party dues. The first time I came to Heydar Alievich’s office was to receive party contributions from him. He told me: “Comrade Bystrov, the Communists themselves must come to you with party contributions, you shall never come to anyone. Go to your office and I’ll come to you.”

I left. Literally, 10 minutes later, he comes into my office, brings party contributions; since then, every 20th day of every month, he himself came to my room and made party contributions. What I can say about him is that he was a Chekist with a bright mind, clean hands, and a warm heart.

And he also said that a good employee will never think too much about titles and ranks. The title and rank itself find a good worker…

The events in Stepanakert (in Soviet times, Khankendi was renamed Stepanakert, in honor of the Bolshevik leader Stepan Shaumyan – ed.) took place on July 3, 1967. After that, you were appointed head of the Nagorno-Karabakh department of the KGB. How did it happen?

Once in July of 1967, Heydar Aliyevich himself called me. Said, “I heard you’re going on vacation.”

– Yes, I’m going. With my family, to Odessa.

– And when are you leaving?

– I took the tickets for Monday.

– Well, since you already have the tickets, I won’t stop you. Upon arrival immediately come to see me.

When I came to the KGB chairman after vacation, he asked me:

– Do you know why I invited you?

– No, I don’t.

– Recently there was a board meeting. We were discussing the issue of sending our employee to a managerial job in Karabakh. It’s a difficult situation there. We collectively studied various candidacies, specifically of Russian nationality. As a result, we concluded that of all the candidates, the most suitable one is you.

I asked why they chose me.

– Well, firstly, you are a combat officer, you have special military training, you fought in a battle, there were combat units under your command. In addition, while working in security agencies, you underwent Chekist training, and besides, you have a higher legal education. You have worked in many departments of the central office and have shown yourself positively everywhere. Therefore, we decided to recommend you for the position of head of the KGB department for the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region. What do you think about it?

I answered honestly:

– Of course, I have a family and children. It will not be easy for them to get used to the new place.

– Still, I think you should agree. You have to grow. Your rank is still not very high.

I was in the rank of major then and worked as a senior detective of the 3rd department of the 2nd division.

 In short, I had to agree, of course. What else could you do?

– Well, we will have another talk with you on the subject of what you will do there in the first place. In the meantime, wait for my call, we’ll go to a meeting at the Central Committee.

The next day, Heydar Aliyevich and I went to see the first secretary of the Central Committee, Akhundov Veli Yusupovich. I told him about myself, he asked me several questions, including about jurisprudence.

– Well, have you decided?

– Yes, Veli Yusupovich. I agreed, and since I agreed, I will not let you down.

– Good. Get a detailed briefing from Heydar Aliyevich. But I will tell you that you are going to a troubled area. There is an unsteady situation there now, we are renewing Party, Soviet and administrative bodies in the NKAR. We send mainly Bakuvians there to normalize the situation.

“I will take every measure to justify your trust,” I said.

Shortly before that, in Martuni, on the way of the escort car with prisoners to the courthouse, an angry crowd of Armenians beat off three arrested Azerbaijanis from the escorts, killed all three, made a fire and burned them.

An investigation into the brutal murder of Azerbaijanis has begun. Heydar Aliyev was at the head of this group; back then a group of up to 30 people worked in Nagorno-Karabakh. As a result of operational and investigative measures regarding these events, 22 people were identified and arrested, three of whom were sentenced to capital punishment.

Heydar Aliyev himself went to Stepanakert and spent 15 days there. The investigation of the case lasted for about a year, as a result, a large group of 20 Armenians was brought to justice.

The next day, the chairman of the KGB requested to see me again:

– Well, now listen very carefully. This is your first independent work. You are responsible for the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh with your head. You must organize the work in such a way that you are aware of all events. In particular, it is necessary to take a closer look at the apparatus that is currently working there. If the person is fit, leave him. If there are doubts about anyone, we will either transfer him to another region or even dismiss him. Figure out how many men you will need to reinforce the apparatus. You will also serve the Lachin and Kalbajar regions.

In addition, with the current staff that you have, you will not be able to do much. Therefore, it is necessary to create a strong intelligence apparatus and a circle of trusted persons. Communicate with the people yourself, speak among the people, and conduct explanatory work. Pay special attention to the emissaries from Armenia, who are corrupting the situation, disturbing the local population, and conducting propaganda about the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. Be always sober, literally and figuratively, and do not allow anything that could compromise you. Keep in touch with me. For all questions, I will provide immediate assistance.

– And how did the local population meet you? Former chief Gaik Markarov was removed from the KGB of the NKAO?

– He worked for some time as my deputy because there were not enough people. I was greeted cautiously and not entirely friendly, including the leadership of the region. Gurgen Allahverdovich Melkumyan was then the first secretary of the regional committee of the NKAO. Instead of an apartment, I was placed in a hotel, without any amenities. They were not resolving the issue with the apartment for a long time. I had to eat in the buffet, in the cafeteria, and live on guard. I had to make the arrangements myself, and even threaten Melkumyan that if they don’t provide me with housing in the near future, I will talk to Baku. After that, he called Agadzhanyan, the chairman of the regional executive committee, and instructed him to solve my housing problem within three days.

I began to work, strengthened the apparatus. I managed to expand the staff of the department by hiring two operatives of Azerbaijani nationality, two Armenians and one Russian. They were deployed in all districts of the region, and thanks to the strengthening of the apparatus, we managed to take control of the entire situation in the autonomous region. At that time, Nikolai Ivanovich Volodin from Baku was appointed second secretary of the regional committee of the NKAO, Podolsky was appointed deputy minister of internal affairs of the region, we studied law together with him. That is, we strengthened the personnel of the regional leadership.

But something was brewing. Among the youth, among the intelligentsia. There were enough emissaries from Yerevan. They incited people to provocations, to distribute leaflets. True, they were afraid to come, they acted more carefully, but we still spotted them through our agents. We held preventive conversations and lectures with people, analyzed the most serious cases at the Bureau of the Regional Committee, at party assets with public participation.

Heydar Aliyevich often came to Nagorno-Karabakh, for the opening of a railway connection, for party assets, and for harvest festivals. He has been to Aghdam, Shusha, Martuni, Mardakert. He always tried to control the situation in the NKAO. And under him, of course, there was order in the region. Some processes were implicitly going on all the time, but they were stopped and suppressed in time. And when the power weakened, the nationalists raised their heads again…

I worked there for almost 7 years, and then I was transferred to the Baku plant of household air conditioners as the head of the foreign economic relations department. I was responsible for all the exports.

– While working at the plant, did you continue to communicate with Heydar Aliyev?

– He often came to us, and I always met him. We talked briefly, discussed some issues. And the last time we met with him was on Victory Day at the monument to Hazi Aslanov. I came with the veterans of the Narimanov region, we all lined up in anticipation of the president. Heydar Aliyev got out of the car and began to greet everyone. Came up to me. I reported in a military way: “Colonel Bystrov.” – “Ah, Bystrov, hello! Where are you, how are you?” And then I was still working at the factory of air conditioners. “Do you still work there?” – “Still there.” “Is everything okay, any problems?” “No, not at all.”

At the end of the conversation, Colonel Bystrov recalled an interesting episode from 1969.

– I came to report to the chairman of the KGB. But he was not in the office. The officer on duty said that Heydar Aliyev was in the Central Committee for approval. I stayed to wait for him. After a while, with his energetic walk, he enters the reception room. I jump up and say hello. He nods to me, indicating to come in.

I came in.

– Sit down.

He did not sit down himself. He put a folder on the table, leaned against the wall in a clearly excited and at the same time high spirits.

– Can I congratulate you, Heydar Aliyevich?

– Yes. Can you imagine what burden and what responsibility is now entrusted to me?

And on that day he was approved at the plenum as the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan.

I say:

– Heydar Alievich, you have a great theoretical background and practical leadership experience. You can do it. And if it is difficult, contact the Chekists, we will not let you down.

Thus, I became the first of the Chekists who congratulated him, and, of course, jokingly, admonished him. And, by the way, he really often relied on the state security agencies in his daily work – both in the appointment of leading personnel and in the fight against corruption and other negative issues.

This interview was originally published in Haqqin News on October 1, 2022.