This is an excerpt from Svante Lundgren’s article in the anthology Armenia, Mon Amour. Ten Europeans Speak (2020), edited by Lundgren and Serafim Seppälä. In it, 10 persons from 10 different European countries share their experiences of Armenia and Artsakh.
Swedish scholar and writer Svante Lundgren recalls his visit to Artsakh in 2019.
After 59 years of endeavour in this vale of tears I finally reached paradise. Alive. Two friends of mine, one Armenian and the other Assyrian, had independently of each other called Artsakh paradise. There are places on this earth labelled paradise which do not appeal to me. But an Armenian paradise. I had to go there. I kept saying that the next time I come to Armenia I will go to Artsakh, but there was never enough time the next time.
Then finally, a window of opportunity opened up. I was lecturing in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Yerevan State University. I had made it a condition with the Faculty that I could go to Artsakh for the weekend between my lectures and they arranged for me to do that.
When people call Artsakh paradise it is because of its nature. Its beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. I happen to like mountains. Best if they are high and green, and if there are rivers which run through them and waterfalls here and there. Extra bonus for old monasteries. This is Artsakh. Yet there is always a snake in paradise. Many people who are unfamiliar with Artsakh have heard its other name, Nagorno-Karabakh. And they know one thing about it: war. The war ended in the mid-1990s but there is still gun fire at the border every day. As late as April 2016 there was a war at the border, although only for four days.
I came to Artsakh not only to enjoy the views, but most of all to listen to its residents. It was a short visit, but I met many interesting people with stories to tell. In the village of Nor Maragha I met some old women who had survived the Azeri massacre in Maragha in April 1992. More than 50 villagers did not survive. They told me about a villager whose body had been cut into 15 pieces. I asked them whether this was hearsay or whether they saw it with their own eyes. They insisted that they had seen it. They told me what had happened that terrible day calmly, and in a matter-of-fact manner. They have done so several times before. But they brightened up when I asked them about returning to Maragha. That is their biggest dream.
Earlier I had asked the leader of the village what the world can do for Artsakh. “Help us achieve peace. Our boys are still dying at the front line.”
My host was a most remarkable man, Artak Beglaryan, the gifted and energetic Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh. He told me that I would be meeting students at Artsakh State University to talk to them. We had agreed on that, so I was prepared. He also informed me that Artsakh Public TV would like to come and interview me. “Is that OK for you?”
I hesitated for a second. I knew what this meant. The bureaucrats in Baku monitoring Artsakh Public TV would notice me and sooner or later an official protest would reach my employer, Lund University. The most convenient thing would have been to refrain from any interviews and to keep a low profile. However, although I am not a brave man, there are fights which I am ready to fight. This was one of them. Azerbaijan was not going to dictate what I can and cannot do.
“Yes, it is OK,” I answered.
The interview was shown in the news that evening. A month later my unit at the university, The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology, received a letter from two representatives of the Congress of Azerbaijanis in Sweden. They protested against my visit to the “occupied Azerbaijani enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh” where I furthermore had paid tribute to the fight for independence of the occupying power. The authors found it completely unacceptable that an employee at a very respected European university had used his position to “propagate his personal views which were completely groundless.” My behaviour would contribute to “increasing hatred and calls for a new war as not all parties concerned understand that Svante Lundgren does not represent Sweden nor the Church of Sweden.”
I do not understand what the Church of Sweden has to do with this. I do belong to it, but I don’t have any formal position therein, and neither have I ever claimed to have one.
The dean of our faculties gave a short, clear answer, in which he stated that when employees from the university express views they are his or her own and not the views of the university unless it is an official delegation making an official visit. “Svante Lundgren’s visit to Nagorno-Karabakh was not an official visit and is therefore not a matter for Lund University.”
After this event I was put on the Azerbaijani black list of people who have illegally visited the enclave. I take that as an honour.