Fifth Column and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: A self-review


The first game I have publicly released, Fifth Column, dealt with an alternate World War II scenario set in the 1960s where Britain and Nazi Germany fought a proxy war well into the 1960s due to Nazi Germany's victory over the Soviet Union and continued American neutrality. It also dealt with the Nagorno-Karabakh war. This is quite is pertinent for Total Rendition, because TR is many ways grounded in the lessons learned from FC and in more ways than one. I had intended to make Fifth Column a 40-hours long narrative experience, yet the way this was organised, it simply would never attract the investment needed to accomplish that. So, it became a concept game. With perhaps greater political implications than I thought it would have.

Now, Fifth Column only takes an active side against the Nazis. I attempted to not take any sides whether Armenia or Azerbaijan is right regarding the question of Nagorno-Karabakh. Yet, I have may have failed in that regard. I think in hindsight, it showed too much the story from the Azerbaijani perspective to the neglect of the Armenian side. I certainly did give players the ability to show their own perspective to Ibrahim Rahimov, the Azerbaijani resistance fighter who drags you away after the train crash, even if it is not necessarily the Azerbaijani side, although I think I gave the Armenian side too little opportunities to express themselves. In Fifth Column you play a British SOE commando who is forced to choose between either allying with Armenian or Azerbaijani nationalists, or with Soviet partisans who still look to the defeated USSR with nostalgia, to defeat the Nazi occupation, or maintaining a careful balancing act to avoid hostility between these groups. However, this means you take part in a moral trilemma, which may very well end up supporting the very power structures the Nazis created in the fictional 1960s Karabakh of Fifth Column.

I sometimes think I did NOT push the team sufficiently hard enough to respect the cultural sensibilities of either Armenia or Azerbaijan. Which is a shame since both countries really have great cultures. However, one of the narrative goals of Fifth Column was to show that if these countries were to come under Nazi occupation, the Nazis would likely stoke ethnic tensions up, both as a means of divide and impera, although to some extent also as an unintended side-effect stemming from the Nazi's teleological and ideological belief in race. You can judge for yourself whether I have actually accomplished that goal.

Being Jewish myself, I lament the fact Israel is openly supporting the Aliyev regime: For Aliyev, Nagorno-Karabakh is very much a way to distract Azerbaijanis from the oppression they must endure from his regime, much like Israel and Palestine are for the Ayatollahs in Iran towards Iranians. Like the Palestinian refugees in countries such as Syria, Azerbaijan refuses to resettle "Internally displaced persons"; ethnic Azerbaijanis from Karabakh who fled during the 1990s war, as to keep the flames of the conflict fanned. Armenia and Artsakh, on the other hand, have shown great promise to develop towards free societies that respect individual rights. Ethnic Armenians in Artsakh (or Azerbaijan if you really want to), are absolutely right to balk at the prospect of falling under Aliyev's rule.

-Mordechai Gabai