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Q & A: Emile Ghessen and Liam Garman discuss Ghessen's recent documentary 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation

This Q&A is a transcript of a recent podcast between Liam Garman and film maker Emile Ghessen, which can be viewed here

This Q&A is a transcript of a recent podcast between Liam Garman and film maker Emile Ghessen, which can be viewed here

Liam Garman:

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Well, good day, everyone. It's Liam Garman here, editor of Defence Connect. And this week it's been a very interesting time in defence in Australia with 120 Australians, I think it's 120 Australians announced that they can no longer visit Russia. Which is I think at the moment, quite an interesting suggestion. That one might be planning a holiday or a business trip to Russia, but no less. We've also given some M113 APCs to Ukraine as well.

                So come at a time where Australia is leading in a bit in the Ukraine, Russia crisis. But today I'm joined by a very special guest. Emile Ghessen. Emile has joined us very kindly. 12 years in the British Royal Marines, and he is now a documentary maker, fresh from his return from filming in Ukraine. Emile, thank you so much for joining us today.

Emile Ghessen:

No, thanks for your time.

Liam Garman:

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Tell us a bit about your background. 12 years in the Royal Marines and you've moved, you've gone into private security. You've gone into documentary making. Tell us a little bit about your background and the journey that got you here.

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah, so it's quite a colourful past. So I served 12 years as a British Royal Marine commando. Joined at the age of 18 and then very quickly 9/11 happened and that catapulted the British military really into frontline action. Where I was in the mountains of Afghanistan, on the border of Pakistan, hunting down Bin Laden, looking for Al-Qaeda training camps. And then 2003, the invasion of Iraq. Was involved in that.

                And then from there, the British shifted back to Afghanistan where we took over Helmand Province. And then several tours on Helmand Province. So very kinetic operations. I was involved in with all three commando units, 40, 42, 45 Commando. And then towards the end I went off and specialised into interrogation stuff. Then support for Libya. And then I decided at 12 year point that I've done enough. And I left. Then I went into the security industry like so many guys from the forces.

                I was doing bodyguarding work. And then the anti piracy work in Indian ocean off the coast of Nigeria. And then all of a sudden, I wasn't content with that. It was rather boring. And then I met a guy in a pub that was going out to fight ISIS in Syria. And my father is Syrian, he's from Damascus, a Christian Arab. And I just thought, "Why is this guy going out to fight ISIS?" So I found him on Facebook the next day. Met up with him and him with a contingent of American Canadians and Australians were going to Northern Iraq then to Syria to go fight ISIS.

                So I spoke with a TV company, "Got a great idea. I'm a former commando. My family in Syria. I've got military expertise, but I don't want to fight. But this guy in a bar wants to go fight ISIS." Which was all over the media. So they said, "Oh, yeah. Let's make a documentary." And then two days before they pulled out. So I just went on eBay, bought a camera and the rest is history. So I spent two years making that one.

Liam Garman:

And that's where you filmed the fight against the Islamic State. Is that correct?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. And it focuses on international volunteers and what motivates them to fight in other people's wars.

Liam Garman:

Yeah. And from that point, you then two years later filmed Europe's Forgotten War, which was your first foray into Ukraine and Russia as Russian troops kind of came in, the little green men, very covertly and overnight just dominated sways of Ukrainian land.

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. So I then after I'd done the fight against Islamic State, I then went to film school to learn how to actually make documentaries. Even though I just made a feature documentary, I wanted to improve on my skills. So I went to film school and then went back into Ukraine to then make a second feature documentary. Once again, on volunteer fighters that were fighting in that war. So that was the second documentary. And then the war in Artsakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan was my third feature.

Liam Garman:

Could you tell us about your most recent documentary that you've been filming? I believe you're in Australia at the moment promoting your new documentary. Can you walk us through that?

Emile Ghessen:

Yes. I'm currently in Sydney. I've just spent the last three months in Ukraine filming. I'm going back to Ukraine again tomorrow. But I'm here for my documentary for 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation. It's about the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that started in September, 2020. Which the world doesn't really know about. Many people that even come to the screenings didn't even know this war happened. So it was at the height of COVID. There's an area called Nagorno-Karabakh, which sandwiches between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And it's a disputed territory that ethnic Armenians control.

                It was given to Azerbaijan by Stalin in 1925. And there's always been a bone of attention between the two sides. So what happens in September, 2020, Azerbaijan launched a full scale attack onto the region to try to claim the land. And so that's what the documentary focuses on.

                So there's times in the documentary I'm on the front line, but really it's ultimately about the people and how the war impacts people. So, yeah. It's a really interesting documentary. We've done a full US tour. Starting at Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, all across America, Canada, London. And now we've been shown in Melbourne and Sydney. But yeah, it's a great documentary for people. Because it's a war that was forgotten about by the world that is an important story. And the story is told by the human perspective of the Armenians who have suffered heavily in this conflict.

Liam Garman:

And for those of our listeners who are listening now and they think, "No, this is something that I really would love to see and a documentary that I'd love to watch." How can they go about watching it?

Emile Ghessen:

So Instagram. So I have a decent following on social media. My main platform is Instagram. So when I'm in war zones, I cover it through social media. So people follow what's going on through my stories, through my posts and everything. So Emile Ghessen on Instagram. There's a link in my bio where people can watch it on Vimeo at the moment. We're still looking for a bigger distribution for television, but at a moment, because there's such interest and so many people wanting to watch it, they can watch it from Vimeo on my Instagram account.

                But we entered it into the Oscars. We were in running for the Oscars. Unfortunately we didn't make it to last final selection, but that then elevated the documentary to so many people wanting to watch it. Because they see, "Okay, it's in the Oscar running." And it's a great film. I'm very proud of it. The main reason I'm proud of it, because it was documented history. While the world forgot about what was going on. Or the world wasn't even interested what was going on, this documentary will go down in history when Azerbaijan and Turkey say, "Well, that didn't really happen." And it's like, "Well, no. Here's a feature documentary." And people see what happened and the suffering of so many people.

Liam Garman:

And that is, I mean the crux of documentary making to make sure that people on the ground like yourself, recording the events as they happened for history's sake and to make sure that they can't be changed after the fact.

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. And that's the importance of art. And I think the arts industry, film, photography, documentaries, it's cross genres that anyone can watch it anywhere in the world now. We live in a world where access to information is so readily available. So if people are actually interested, they can just look it up and find it and watch it and actually learn something about what happens. And knowing that is the history of the Armenian people. I'm not Armenian. Like I said, I'm British. But telling their story, it was a powerful story on just looking back at a history of genocide.

                Genocide that's not recognised by most countries around the world, including Australia, doesn't recognise the Armenian genocide of 1915. United Kingdom doesn't. So yeah, there's a massive intergenerational trauma amongst the Armenian people. And when this war started with Azerbaijan with the support of Turkey it was a massive blow mentally for the people, the diaspora. They're the people of Armenian descent who left Armenia because of the genocide and because of the fall of Soviet Union and now live around the world. And here in Australia's there's a big community of Armenians. Who, a lot of them came out to support the documentary, but are still suffering mentally from what happened.

                Because they haven't been able to process the brutality of Azerbaijan and Turkey. And we're talking several war crimes, we're talking about Turkish and Azeri soldiers literally cutting people's heads off and ethnic cleansing their lands after they captured it by destroying churches and monasteries and graves and everything. So it's definitely an important story that people need to be educated on to hopefully try to prevent it in future.

Liam Garman:

Absolutely. And I think what we'll do with this podcast, through our listeners, if you're interested in watching that we'll add some links into our podcast page. So you can find where to watch that. And as Emile said, documenting this history is important to make sure that we can fix this intergenerational trauma felt by the Armenian community. Where over the course of a very short period of time, you have a whole culture, a whole culture completely wiped out.

Emile Ghessen:

Yes. And that's the whole point of it. It's educational. And I think that's how people through diplomacy, through talking, that's how the world becomes a better place where people actually talk about things and use words rather than violence. And like you mentioned, I just come back from Ukraine. So really we're seeing that again. We're seeing the Russians brutality in Ukraine and that's a massive ongoing war.

Liam Garman:

So you just came back, three months in Ukraine. So throughout that time you were finalising your Armenia, Azerbaijan documentary? Or was it good to go? Or were you filming your next documentary in Ukraine simultaneously to finalising your previous documentary?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. So 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation, we started screening it. Like I said, we started in Hollywood. That was on the 16th of September. So the film was already made, a massive tour all the way up to Christmas. And then I went back to Los Angeles looking into another project, which we're looking into about homeless people. It is a massive issue in LA. And then the war started in Ukraine.

                I decided, obviously I wasn't going to go. And then very quickly. I was online, booking the flight within four days of the war starting and then travelled to Ukraine. So 45 Days are being completely finished, but we're still obviously travelling with it. We're touring with it. We're trying to get as many people out there to watch it. But yeah, so really this year is in... I keep forgetting what year we're in. 2022, is mainly focused at the moment, is promoting 45 Days, telling that story, but also covering the war in Ukraine.

Liam Garman:

Of course. So you are in the middle of promoting your previous documentary and then suddenly halfway through the war starts. And then you go over to Ukraine for a few months. Would you be able to talk us through your recent time in Ukraine? And I know on your website, you talk about, especially with 45 Days and the Armenia, Azerbaijan conflict, the role that dis and misinformation plays in what we see these conflicts to be like. From someone who has been there firsthand and for someone with such expansive military history like yourself, can you walk us through Ukraine at the moment? What it's like being there on the front lines?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. So Ukraine is a war on steroids. It's very different to what it was in 2014. We're talking a mass invasion of the Russians coming in from Belarus and from Russia to try to take the East, the South. And try to take the capital, Kiev. Which they failed miserably. Disinformation in this war is like I saw in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Where Azerbaijan were very efficient in their propaganda. Their disinformation campaign to discredit what was going on or just to whitewash what was going on.

                We're seeing it with the Russians now. We saw it with the Western media in the war in Syria. Where the Western media were constantly reporting stories of anti-Assad and anti-Syrian stories just to discredit in order to support terrorists. Britain and the West supported terrorists in Syria. You can't sugarcoat it any other way.

                My government were funding Syrian rebels, AKA terrorists, and the media covered that up. So disinformation is done on many different levels. What we're seeing in Ukraine now, currently is there is no... From my opinion, from being there firsthand, there is no cover up from the media here. It's literally they're reporting what's going on. And that report is Russian brutality. I supported the Russians in Syria, in supporting Assad. I supported them going into Nagorno-Karabakh as peacekeepers. I don't support them in Ukraine. And like I say to many people, you didn't pick a football team. It's not a football team that you always support them high and low.

                If your government was doing something they shouldn't be doing, people need to call them out. But the Russians are very experts. The Soviets were experts. Now, clearly the Russians are experts in propaganda disinformation. And it's rife. The disinformation they're spreading, the rhetoric about Ukrainians being Nazis constantly.

                It just, for me now is a very boring rhetoric. But people in Russia believe in it. The people in Russia believe that this war is a war against Nazis because they associate the Second World War with the great victory of the Soviets over Nazi Germany. And Putin is exploiting that on their emotional connection of the hatred towards Nazis. Also the Russians we saw when they shut down MH17, the commercial flight. Just the amount of propaganda that they were using to discredit that that even happened by the pro Russian separatists in the Donbas region is... Yeah, they're just experts in disinformation.

                And speaking to locals on the ground. I was with one woman who lost her home and she stood there with her niece. And she was telling me that her sister is in Russia. Doesn't believe their house has been destroyed. So families are now divided over this. Imagine you telling your brother or your sister that, "Look what happened. My building, our home has just been destroyed by the Russians." And them telling you, "No, no, no, no. That wasn't the Russians. That was the guys on your side that done it." That's how effective their propaganda is. That people in Russia, they don't even call it a war. They call it a special operation. And the reason that, is that rhetoric to call it special operation allows people to detract from the actual emotional connection to what's going on.

                So they feel like, "Oh, we're not at war. It's a special operation. It's just troops." But it's a full scale war where hundreds of people are dying a day. Tens of thousands of soldiers being killed on both sides. And at the moment, there's no light the end of tunnel on how it's going to stop.

Liam Garman:

I do appreciate, and I think a lot of our listeners would appreciate as well that perspective that you bought that it's not like a football team. And a lot of people do fall into the trap of assuming that you are either always right or you're always wrong. And I remember several years ago in Syria when the US was funding or the West in total was funding the Free Syrian Army. And one of their largest weapons caches, one of their largest weapons holding areas of the FSA, then defected to ISIS. And then suddenly overnight, billions... I think it was ISIS. One of the Jihadi groups. Overnight, billions of dollars of Western military tech then changed hands. And that was forgotten about very quickly.

                And I do think a lot of people would appreciate the fact that a one size fits all approach doesn't work in this world.

Emile Ghessen:

And all you have to do is look back at Afghanistan, with the CIA programme of funding and arming the Mujahidin. Mujahidin then turn into the guys that we were fighting, which were Taliban and Al-Qaeda. So it's not black and whites, there's a lot of grey areas. And us living in the Western world where we're open to information, we can be critical of our governments. People need to stand up when it's not right and say, "No, this is not right." Countries like Turkey for example, they don't have that luxury of freedom of speech. Because you speak up as a journalist or a filmmaker, would be very quickly rounded up if you're saying the wrong thing. We saw what happened in Turkey to the Saudi in the Saudi Arabian embassy.

Liam Garman:

Yeah, with Jamal Khashoggi.

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. When a guy is literally cut up. What has the world done about this? About Saudi Arabia cutting up a man, a journalist in an embassy. If that was the Iranians, there'd be a very different story. There'd be outcry around the world. But because the Saudis obviously are supported by us and we support them through arms and oil sales. It's very different. But people need to be critical thinkers. You can't, like I said, it's not just a football team. You can't just say yeah, I support you all the way through. We need to be able to call out governments and foreign policy when it's wrong.

Liam Garman:

Absolutely. That is Liam Garman. And Emile Ghessen, documentary filmmaker who is in Australia at the moment promoting his new film 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation about the recent Armenia, Azerbaijan conflict. We'll be back in just a second after a quick break.

                And we're back with Liam Garman and Emile Ghessen who is currently in Australia promoting his new film, 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation about the recent Azerbaijan, Armenia conflict. You touched on something, which I thought was very interesting that the special operation in Russia was sold as the denazification of Ukraine. Because Eastern Ukraine is notionally in their opinion under Nazi rule. What have you seen in Ukraine of the Azov Battalion and groups like that, which do have those links? Is Russia overstating their influence? Are they really in the public eye at all?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. So this is an interesting one. A lot of people want to talk about the Azov Battalion and what it actually means and how they are Nazis. Azov in 2014 were a group in the region from Azov Sea down in Mariupol. A group that were hooligans, thugs and such. And then when the Russians or the pro Russian separatists rose up in the Donbas region, these couple of hooligans who some of them were linked to Nazi organisations or far white groups went to go fight as nationalists. Went to go fight. Then what happened is 2015, they then got told to stop fighting. And then what happened is they saw that there was a threat, there was a gap in Mariupol region, the Donbas region. So they needed to reinforce that.

                So what happened is Azov then became a legitimate organisation that come under a national guard. They then very much changed their policies. They then became very anti-racist. It wasn't just the football hooligans anymore. It was professional soldiers and professional guys that joined Azov. And Azov then turned into a very elite fighting force that we're seeing now. We saw their fighting in Mariupol, in steel works and stuff. So the problem with Azov is because they had that legacy of the football hooligans back in 2014 and they never rebranded.

                That's their biggest failure. They never rebranded their symbols, their songs or anything else. They just changed as an organisation and became very professional. But because they never changed their branding, it was very easy for Western media to demonise them to say they're Nazis. And not only that, as I know many journalists have covered stories on Azov, who use me as a contact because, "I know you've got a lot of guys from Azov." And they go, "They're Nazis aren't they?" I go, "No, they're not." And they go, "Well, they're ultra nationalists." I go, "What's an ultranationalist? I'm British. I'm a royalist. Am I ultranationalist? What does it actually mean?"

                And a lot of journalists were writing stories about Azov, because it was a sexy story. It sold papers. Nazis in and amongst Ukrainian forces. So there was a lot of, once again, misinformation that was spread about Azov. Is there Nazis in Azov? Of course there is. Is there Nazis in every military organisation? Of course there is. But I totally do not stand by the rhetoric of that Azov are a full far right group, they're Nazis.

                They are guys who are fighting for their homeland. And it was too easy to start saying, "They're all Nazis and Ukraine is being denazified." And that's the problem. Their problem was them not having a good PR company or team to rebrand them. People go on about swastika. The Finnish Air Force were using the swastika only up to a few years ago.

Liam Garman:

Really?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. The Finish Air Force were using the swastika. They still use a swastika in places. Are they Nazis? No. Because they're using a swastika? There's a lot of symbols that are pre Nazis that countries have used. And their legacy is now still being used and people just identify it as being a Nazi symbol. Like we see with the Azov with the blades and stuff like that. So yeah, my opinion is, Azov are not a Nazi organisation. Yes. There are Nazis in there and far right men, but there are in a lot of organisations. And if anything, from my experience, I've seen more Nazis with the Russians than I have with the Ukrainians.

Liam Garman:

Interesting. Yeah. I think your point is quite pertinent about perhaps they needed a PR company because I think they only rebranded their unit patch recently. It would've been over the last few months. They got rid of that symbology. So by the time that the special operation rolled around Azov was staffed and manned by regular, normal, everyday Ukrainians. Is that correct?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah, totally. Majority of the guys are from the Eastern area of Ukraine. They specialise in a lot of stuff. Lots of dog handling, like attack dogs, fast roping out of helicopters, abseiling, raid work. So yeah, they are highly trained, the Azov Battalion. If you meet Azov, they're very proud men. They're all big strong men. There's a collection of Muslims in there. There's Jewish people in there. There's all walks of life and races within Azov, but they are highly trained guys and they are very effective. But they weren't no match overall to the strength of the Russian military that came into Mariupol where they've surrounded them into the steel works.

                So a lot of them now have been taken prisoner of war. A lot of them refuse to surrender because the propaganda within the Russians calling them Nazis, that they go, "If you surrender, we're not going to take you as a prisoner." So a lot of these men fought to the death because they just thought that better than what they're going to get from the Russians who've been fed this propaganda of them all being Nazis.

Liam Garman:

Well, it's that old quote from Stalin, wasn't it? That it takes a brave man to be a coward in the Red Army because they will treat you so terribly that you might as well fight really. And the defenders in Mariupol... Months, months, months. Would you have any insight from an outsider looking at the defence of the Azovstal steel works was every day there was updates and, "Oh, it's going to come. It's going to come." But then they just kept surviving, kept surviving.

                From an outsider, I'm looking at this, how have you not run out of food, ammunition, water? How did they keep going for so long?

Emile Ghessen:

Well, Azov steel works was kilometres wide. It was a big old steel works. I had three friends that were in there. So they would still be able to communicate and give me updates on what was going on. A lot of them... There was the two different units. There was the Marines that were there as well as Azov. The Marines in the end, because they're based around the country in different areas and such, and then drafted into the East. A lot of them surrendered because they thought, it's not worth fighting for.

                So the Marine Corps guys, they ran out of ammo. Foods, did surrender a lot of them. Azov, like I mentioned a minute ago were very different. They were seeing as that, if you surrender you're dying anyway. And because they're from that local area, so they remained to fight. Underneath the steel works there's miles of tunnel systems, there's bunkers. So making defences, booby traps.

                And the Russians every time they went into steel works, were getting smashed. They were bombing it very heavily, day and night. Constantly trying to starve them out. Even Putin spoke to his defence minister and said, "Surround it. Hold them out. Let them starve them out." And then in the end, just before Russian Independence Day, they went in heavy and they managed to clear the whole steel works. And now the whole Mariupol is under control of Russia.

                But yeah, it was a massive final stand. I wouldn't be surprised if people make movies on what happened there. The bravery of the men. But yeah. It's a tough one. And can you imagine being underground constantly bombarded with knowing no reinforcements are coming for you. You're running out of bullets and above you is the Russians waiting to take you.

Liam Garman:

Well, and that was the shock looking at it from an outsider of, every day in Western media I think a lot of... Because a lot of journalists don't or have never worked in defence, it's very sensational. It's like, with a lack of understanding of war fighting or, today's the day, today's the day, today's the day. Like, every journalist knew that it was the last day for the steel works. But every day for months they held out and it was like you said, there will be, I assume a movie one day about their bravery.

                But taking a step further than that. Throughout your time in Ukraine what have you seen in terms of partisan warfare and irregular warfare? Because behind enemy lines, I would assume there are a lot of Ukrainian men that simply will not tolerate having their land taken over by invading forces. What is happening in that kind of gorilla, irregular warfare front?

Emile Ghessen:

So when the Russians invaded on the 27th of January, they thought they could very quickly take the capital city by punching armour down the road from Belarus, straight into Kiev. And then at the same time trying to take the Donbas region. That failed. And the reason that failed is because the armour and the tanks were taking roads, navigating down roads. And anyone who's in the military knows that tanks should not be using roads. Because they're easy to ambush. You're channelling yourself. The tanks are moving too quick for the infantry. Stay firm, wait for the infantry to come up and support them. And then the artillery.

                And then what was happening was the Ukrainians knew where they were and were just ambushing them. Small scale troops. Clandestine groups just popping them out with weapons that United Kingdom and America and other nations have been giving them. Anti rockets and just annihilating tank columns everywhere.

                So Ukrainians have now learned how to fight against the Russians. And that is small teams going in behind enemy lines, popping up, taking out targets and then sinking into the shadows with the weapons that we're providing them. The Russians haven't understood this. They're still fighting very Soviet. Their mentality is just to bomb the hell out of cities and towns. And then try to clear it up with their troops. That does not work all the time, especially when you've got civilians in the area. What they're doing is they're just reinforcing the rhetoric and the mentality that these people are bad.

                And the civilian population is now... Well, the majority of civilian population has turned against them. Even though some cities are very loyal to Russia because they obviously, over years, they're very similar. But even cities like Kharkiv, which is a pro Russia city in Ukraine, they weren't standing for the Russians at all.

                Civilians are reporting and we've got social media and that's very pertinent in warfare now, is a lot of people will see a tank drive down the road for example, upload it to TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram with a time, location and a direction. And the Ukrainian intelligence service and the Ukrainians on the ground are using that to their advantages to go, "Okay. Right. We've now got position in on Russian tanks." What they're also using is off the shelf drones. So your Mavics, your other small scale, $1000, $2000 drones. What they do is they're popping up in the sky, sending them forward with controller on his phone, looking at the screen, identifying where the Russians are.

                And then all of a sudden they're calling in artillery, rockets, or even just sending out little teams to go attack. So they're very efficient in using drone warfare. During my documentary 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation between... The war, Armenia and Azerbaijan, we saw drone warfare being used similar to this. But we were seeing bigger scale drones of loitering drones that were given by Israel. Bayraktars that were given by Turkey and the psychological impact them drones had on the Armenian soldiers was massive.

                What we're seeing now in Ukraine is a development of that, of people using off the shelf drones. Very cheap scale drones that are being used. That aren't even military grade and have been used effectively in taking out the Russians.

Liam Garman:

And these are the drones that are using the dumb bombs as well, where they kind of go up just holding like a mortar round. And then I've seen the videos all over social media where it really is just like a DIY drone carrying a dumb bomb. And then they just hover over and drop it. It strikes me as we're in this new era of distributed lethality, right? Where really it's DIY. Anyone can do it.

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. Like we're saying, anyone can go on eBay, Amazon and buy these drones. Or any website. And in Ukraine, there's a lot of intelligent people that are strapping bombs to the bottom of them. And then little devices that can drop it. And like you said, there's so much footage online. You're seeing these grenades, these mortar bombs that just can drop from drones and they're effective. When you think of how much the tank costs compared to one of these drones with a grenade strapped under it, dropping it. I went to a drone factory in Kiev where guys were all programmers, engineers and this massive factory they had decided where they were adapting and making drones for these Kamikazes. Kamikaze drones, ones that could drop, surveillance drones.

                And they also used 3D printers to produce parts for these drones. So they've just evolved on how to fight warfare. Every war that goes on around the world, other countries learn from. But the problem we've got with these cheap scale drones that anyone can strap a grenade to is that it's only a matter of time before terrorists start using these to their advantage. Imagine Anzac Day, for example, and then all of a sudden, you've got Jihadists with one of these drones that's dropping grenades onto the crowd.

                So it's a danger that civilian emergency services and security services need to start looking into because it's going to be used effectively for terrorism.

Liam Garman:

That makes a lot of sense about just how easy it is for regular people to inflict such widespread damage. That is Liam Garman and a Emile Ghessen. Documentary filmmaker, who is in Australia at the moment promoting his new film 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation about the recent Armenia, Azerbaijan conflict. We'll be back in just a second after a quick break.

                And we're back with Liam Garman and Emile Ghessen. Who is currently in Australia promoting his new film 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation about the recent Azerbaijan, Armenia conflict. Your original documentary about Russia and the Ukraine conflicts. Europe's Forgotten War in 2019, which documents Russia's occupation from 2014 to 2019. And for our listeners, that's up online. So you can watch that as well on YouTube. I've actually got it up right in front of me. And it's on your website as well. The entire documentary.

                What's kind of changed over that time? Over those eight years, since the little green men started coming into Russia to the invasion. Broad question, what changed? Did Ukraine become more nationalistic? How did they update their war fighting? Did people even expect a full scale invasion? What has lapsed over those eight years?

Emile Ghessen:

What we're seeing this year in Ukraine is if Putin had done that in 2014, Ukraine would now be Russia. Because they weren't prepared. Obviously with all the little green men off the of Crimea, the rising up in Donbas. Men were sat in trenches. They were fighting in trenches and they have been for years. What's happened in this eight year period is Ukraine realised the threat that Russia poses to them. They've become more westernised. So they've had 8 years preparation to go, "Okay, we need to prepare ourselves in case there is a war." A lot of weapons have been pumped into Ukraine. A lot of training has been given to Ukraine by the West.

                So Ukraine now is a very different army. The Ukraine army is very different now than what it was in 2014. And I think that's why they're giving Russia a bloody nose because they were prepared for this.

                They were ready for it. Of course, they keep asking for more weapons and pumping more weapons into Ukraine is just going to keep the war ongoing. But what's the alternative? Is the alternative to allow Russia to take over Ukraine, the sovereign borders off Ukraine, which they're trying to do. They're trying to make the country landlocked in the south by trying to take Nikolaev and Odessa. So, yeah. It's a tough one. What is the solution to the country? But Ukraine is definitely in a better position than it was back in 2014 to fight against the Russians.

                And knowing that, my personal opinion is the Russian military is a myth. The strength of the Russians has been a myth that's been bigged up for so long. And we've seen that in Ukraine of how they're struggling to take city cities. One city at a time. And they're really struggling doing that. And that's just the Ukrainians working, let alone against NATO. So yeah, I think the mean machine of Russia has been just hyped up for so many years. I remember when I was in the military, always talking about the Russians and how scary the Russians are and the Chechens and all that stuff. And from what I'm seeing in Ukraine, they're not at all. Yeah. Putin needs to be put back in his box.

Liam Garman:

It's funny you should mention that. Because that was... I think you preempted my next question about, when it first happened... Well actually, well, before the invasion, we're like, how scary is it that these Russian troops can walk in and then just intimidate their way into taking over 10%, 15% of the country. And you saw garrisons of troops in Eastern Ukraine just surrendering immediately and thinking, "Wow, yeah." Like you said, the myth of the Russian army and thinking, "Wow, we overestimated their capabilities." And now we wrote an article on Defence Connect about a month after the invasion, which was an analysis of that long column that was driving towards Kiev with a Twitter expert in tyres analysed that the tyres had been... That the Russian vehicles had had such poor maintenance done on their tyres. They weren't turned over.

                So the tyres were starting to crack because they'd been sitting in the same position for so long. And the second that they tried to let a little bit of air out of the tyres to reduce the air pressure to go on the mud and get the traction. These tyres were just bursting. Which meant that none of these trucks designed to go off road could go off road. And they all had to go on the highways to Kiev, then creating a huge traffic jam, then being blown to smithereens by Ukrainian drones.

                And it does seem to us to be a bit of a myth, but would you be able to dig a little bit deeper on Russian capabilities and where Russia can go from here?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. So what I've seen with the Russians and their position and stuff like that, they're very ill disciplined. They were literally, like you're saying sat in this column around Kiev for a very long time. Because their logistics were so poor. They couldn't move their logistics. The only thing the Russians have got going for them is artillery. They focus on heavy artillery and rockets to bombard areas so their troops can then go into clear up operation.

                That's very old school thinking. Their vehicles have been in bad order. Like you're saying with the tyres and stuff. Their logistics for their fuel has been a nightmare. Because the Russians actually thought... They're very arrogant in how they thought they would win this war is by moving so quick that they could just take areas and then all of a sudden the logistics will come in because there'd be no resistance.

                They didn't plan for the resistance of the Ukrainian people. And that's why they've been getting ambushed. That's why they've been cut off. This is why soldiers, Russian soldiers have been going into villages and begging civilians to give them food. They were running out of ammo in some areas and they logistics just forgot about them. So they couldn't reinforce them because there's so many battle fronts going on at the same time. The Russians weren't prepared for a long scale war, which we're seeing now. It's been dragged out. They were expecting it to be over in a couple of weeks. So yeah, they really failed in their logistics.

                You also be mindful that a lot of these soldiers... We saw before the war, that the defence minister, the foreign minister from Russia were all saying that, "We're not going to war in Ukraine. We're not. We're just training in Belarus. Training in Russia. It's not happening."

                A lot of these soldiers, have] been away from home for about two, three months before the war even started. So their will to fight was very limited. They didn't really want to be mainly in the Kiev area. They didn't really want to fight because they'd been away from home for so long. These young boys, they want to go home and sit on Instagram, go find a girl, go to the cinema. They don't really want to be fighting in their neighbor's country. So their will and their desire to fight was low. But yeah, overall, they just underestimated how to fight a 21st century war. The Russians, the last war that they really fought is the war in Syria supporting Assad. Where they heavily bombed areas, especially cities like Aleppo.

                And once again, we see that that's how they fight. They just bomb it all and then move in. So yeah, they really haven't been trained. They haven't been tested like the Western militaries with the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan have been over the years. So they were still working very Soviet mentality. And the way they even move across the ground is quite embarrassing, really?.

Liam Garman:

That is very insightful. So this is going to form the basis for your next documentary, correct?

Emile Ghessen:

I'm not sure at the moment. My main focus was Kiev, on the battle for Kiev. The Russians didn't make it into Kiev. So really that's what I was focusing on. Many companies out there making documentaries, some companies. I know one company from the UK that came out for four days. They filmed what they did in four days and they've already released a documentary. So as an independent, which I'm still funded for films is... I don't know if I'm going to make a full documentary this time round. I still need to look into it.

                But I'm going back to Ukraine tomorrow, actually. Yeah. Tomorrow… losing track of my days. And I'll be there for about another week or so doing a bit more collection of information and what's going on with films and stuff. So I'll see if I'm going to make a full documentary this time or not.

Liam Garman:

Well, I mean, it's critically important to have independent media fact checking and checking what it is like on the ground there. This is, I mean, perhaps unlikely, but have you had a chance in Ukraine to actually speak to a Russian?

Emile Ghessen:

No. So the Russians won't allow Western journalists on their side. Also all the Russian prisoners of war. They're very limited on access to them. So I haven't spoke to a direct Russian in Ukraine as such, because really the only Russians in Ukraine are the ones that are fighting the war. So you have to be mindful. There's a lot of pro Russians in Ukraine. So I've spoken to a lot of people that are pro Russian that are living in Ukraine.

                So yeah, no, it's limited. But I've got lots of friends that are Russians that live around the world who tell me that it's all Western propaganda. It's all lies about this war. That it's not happening. The sanctions aren't affecting them. X, Y and Z. So yeah, people are divided about what's going on. Even here in Australia, talk with the people. Some people don't support that Putin is destroying Ukraine. They're saying, "No. It's Western fake news." And stuff. And because people lose trust in the media. Many people have lost trust. What happened in the war in Syria, what happened with COVID, what's happening with politicians.

                So when it comes to stories like this, where in my opinion, everyone is telling the truth about what's going on in Ukraine is, people are still sceptic. They're like, "No, we've been lied to so many times." So I get it. It's tough. What is true, and what's not.

Liam Garman:

On the ground that subset of society that does support Russia, what arguments do they raise to support Russia even though you would think that seeing the tanks or seeing the missiles, seeing the destruction would perhaps make them change their mind, what arguments do they use to support their position? Or is it that they really just do support a greater Russia?

Emile Ghessen:

What it comes down to is no one that's pro Russian that's in Ukraine would tell or mention Nazis. They won't even mention that. Because they know it's not true. They know it's a fake narrative. What their excuse will be is that the government is corrupt. The government is led by America. And they're just very Soviet thinking. It's generally an older generation of people that have been brought up under the Soviet Union who support Russia. Because it's that mindset of Mother Russia is the greater good over the West. So yeah, that's their real main reason for supporting Russia.

Liam Garman:

Well, I think that is soon all we have time for, but I want to give a Emile one last chance because I brought you onto this podcast promising that we would talk more about your documentary. And unfortunately I've railroaded it a little bit.

Emile Ghessen:

No, it's cool.

Liam Garman:

Talking about Russia. So I do apologise. Turning back to the Armenia, Azerbaijan conflict, which is in your film 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation. Looking back on it now, what has changed about your opinions of the Armenia, Azerbaijan conflict, from what you've seen in Ukraine? Has that influenced or changed your opinion of your time in Armenia, Azerbaijan? Could you walk us through that?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. So Azerbaijan and Armenia, both former Soviet countries. After war was ended when there was a trilateral peace agreement. The Russians moved in as the peacekeepers. So very much so Russia still sees them as the political master of the region. The puppet master as such who controls geopolitics in that region. So they still see Armenia and Azerbaijan as satellite states of old Soviet Union. So yeah, very much so, the Russians now have a grip on that region.

                A lot of Russians have moved into Armenia because the sanctions in Russia, they have to move the money into Armenia. They use it as a hub. A lot of people now are living there. And so that's twofold. That's potentially a good thing and a bad thing for Armenia. Good thing, it's bringing money to the economy. Bad thing is the world has blacklisted Russia. So will that have a knock on effect to Armenia potentially being blacklisted?

                What we have to remember is Armenia is a small country. There's two to three million people living there. There's 10 million or so of Armenians living around the world in the diaspora, is the GDP of Armenia is very small. They're military is very small. They don't have the money that the Turks and the Azeris have for defence. So they need to look to someone for protection. And currently at the moment, the only protection they're going to get is from Russia. So yeah, documentary was an eyeopener it seems. I spent 11 months in Armenia filming and we edited there. The team flew in from America and we edited there.

                Just getting to know the people and seeing their culture and see the pain and suffering that has been caused there for so long. So it is very insightful. I suggest people go out, watch it. It is a great watch and it is educational. People watch and they'll actually learn something that they didn't know at the beginning. And like I said, people can find it through my Instagram, Emile Ghessen. G-H-E-S-S-E-N. And the link is in my bio.

Liam Garman:

So the war lasted 45 days. And you spent 11 months there afterwards. What was the timing? Did you come in during the war or were you there before the war or did you come in after the war to look at the humanitarian impact?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah, so the war was officially 44 days, not 45 days. The documentary is called 45 Days because we focus on what happens on the 45th day. That's when the Russian peacekeepers go in. So I went there during the war. Because no one was really talking about it. So I thought, "I'm going to get myself out there and find out what's going on." So I was there during the war and then postwar, and we were editing in Armenia. Just for logistics, it was easy. And we're still doing some more filming here and there. So yeah, that's the reason why I spent so long there and the food is great.

Liam Garman:

I mean, my memory of the conflict apart from the drones, which we've already spoken about was... And correct me if I'm wrong because perhaps I'm editorialising it, even though I really don't want to. By the war's end, when the Armenian president was looking to make peace with the Azeris, there was quite public outcry among many of the Armenian population that they didn't necessarily want to stop fighting. Is that correct? Is that what the mood was on the ground?

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah, totally. The war ended on the 10th of November, when the trilateral peace agreement was signed. I was in Yerevan, the capital. And people broke into the government building because they were disgusted that a deal had been signed. People were very triggered. They wanted to fight. They see Nagorno-Karabakh as their homeland. As part of their territory. Throughout time the Armenian people's nation has shrunk smaller and smaller and they just see losing that territory as an erosion of their identity.

                And knowing that is bringing their enemy closer to them. So a lot of people were upset. The soldiers were very upset that they were told to stop fighting. So just across the board, there was a lot of bitterness towards the prime minister for signing the deal rather than actually allowing people to fight on. But it's that catch 22. What happens? You continue fighting and lose everything or do you negotiate and keep something rather than nothing? So it's a tough one. And I think this is the responsibility of being a leader. A leader of a country comes with great responsibility. And sometimes you make right decisions. Sometimes you make wrong decisions. It's just part and parcel of being a leader. But obviously when you've got to answer to the people and the people are angry, it's an issue.

Liam Garman:

So what's next for Armenia, Azerbaijan? Because it seems both perhaps like Ukraine and Russian now, it seems that both will be locked into competition and conflict forever.

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. That's a great question. What is next? There's still issues going on. Azerbaijan still holds onto Armenian prisoners of war. We're talking 18 months now, after the end of the war. And Azerbaijan is still holding onto Armenian prisoners. That's something that needs to be addressed. That's something that everyone in the world can talk about and highlight, and send an email to the Azeri embassy and saying, "What's going on with the Armenian prisoners that you still are holding?"

                So that needs to be addressed because the Azeris are using this as psychological warfare against the Armenian people. They're still carrying out attacks on the border regions, even though the Russian peace keepers are there, there's still flare ups now and then, when the Azeris are carrying out mortar and artillery strikes. And trying to land grab. Until the Russian peacekeepers tell them to move back. There constantly is that threat, that they're using psychological warfare against the Armenian people.

                So that needs to be stopped. The Russians need to step up in their peace keeping in that region. But the Russians signed the deal for five years really, to be in Nagorno-Karabakh. So after five years, no one knows what's going to happen. Are they going to move out? And the gap's going to be filled by the Turks and Azeris. Who knows? But I think really there needs to be diplomacy between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Turkey, it's the only way forward. A lot of people won't support that opinion because they're emotionally connected to what's going on. They go, "We can't talk to our enemies."

                And I think it's the only way to do it, is build relationships.

Liam Garman:

Well, the enemy always gets a vote.

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. And I think the big key issue is Turkey to recognise Armenian genocide. I think that's the first step in identifying, that Armenians go, "Okay, right. We're ready to move on." As victims, they want that recognition. And I think it's time that Turkey should recognise that. Even though I don't think Erdogan would recognise anything.

Liam Garman:

No. Well, if we can't get Western states to recognise it as well, it's going to be a very big ask for Turkey.

Emile Ghessen:

Yeah. But the reason Western state countries won't recognise Armenian genocide is because they don't want to break relationships with Turkey. Turkey is a very aggressive country around the world. It geopolitically is needed by a lot of people. It's the second biggest army in NATO. So people want to recognise things and then Turkey will blacklist them and go, "Well, we're not happy with you doing that." It is political blackmail that they're constantly using.

Liam Garman:

Yeah. Perhaps it takes a few Western states to stand up and turn the tide. But I think that's all we have time for today. That is a Emile Ghessen. If you want to watch any of the documentaries, you can go on a emileghessen.com/documentaries. He is in Australia at the moment for one more day touring for his documentary, 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation. But also has documentaries as well. Europe's Forgotten War, which was released in 2019, which we discussed. Which was about Russia's initial encroachment into Ukraine. And the fight against Islamic State, 2017. Which we discussed earlier on. After a meeting in a bar. Thank you so much for your time, Emile

Emile Ghessen:

Cheers. Thanks.

Liam Garman:

And for those of you who are interested in watching any of the documentaries, read the text below on the podcast. We'll provide links to see Emile's socials and to his website to watch the documentaries. But anyway, thank you all so much for listening and we'll be back at the same time next week. Bye-bye.

 

Q & A: Emile Ghessen and Liam Garman discuss Ghessen's recent documentary 45 Days: The Fight for a Nation
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