The Khojaly massacre: A tragedy unknownThe day of 26th February marks another anniversary of the Khojaly massacre; the most atrocious occasion of civilian bloodshed happened during the Armenian-Azerbaijani armed conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. As Azerbaijani political experts, we perceive it our duty to raise awareness about this horrendous crime against humanity among international community which embodies the values of peace and justice- which we, Azerbaijanis, aspire for so much.

It is important to be familiarised with the historic context. The tension between then Socialist Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territorial status of Nagorno-Karabakh, an autonomous republic historically and territorially belonging to Azerbaijan but populated mostly by Armenians, arose in 1988; as the Soviet Union was moving towards disintegration, it gradually turned into a full-fledged war, especially after Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed its “independence” in September 1991. In fact, since the very beginning of the armed combat, the military personnel of the Republic of Armenia, as well as foreign mercenaries, were fighting on the separatists’ side. Military success in the winter of 1991-92 was shifting between the both sides, involving more and more troops. Khojaly, an Azerbaijani-populated town with the population of 6,000, represented an important target for the Armenian forces as it had the only airport in the region and could serve as a comfortable foothold to attack the downhill regions of Azerbaijan. The siege of the town started in February 1992, gradually bringing it to the humanitarian collapse. But hardly could the peaceful inhabitants imagine what would happen to them a few days later, when the Armenian side managed to wear down resistance and enter the town. Many of those people who were unable to leave the town were brutally murdered, while the procession of those fleeing from the occupation were fired upon by an Armenian military post. The overall death toll, according to most estimations, equalled 613 people, many of whom were children, women and the elderly.

Soon after the tragedy, international observers came to the place. In its report, Human Rights Watch confirmed the facts of a vicious murder of peaceful citizens, blaming the Armenian forces in neglecting the norm of minimising civil casualties. The Memorial Group was even more pronounced on the atrocities committed in Khojaly. The British media also didn’t leave the tragedy uncovered; “The Times” journalist Anatoly Lieven who arrived to the place a couple of days later, confirms that most of the victims were murdered in a very brutal manner. Helen Womack from “The independent” leaves no doubt about the perpetrators of this horrible crime.

The Khojaly massacre marked a watershed in the history of the conflict. Two ethnic groups had long lived along before the conflict erupted, and thus retained strong intercultural and personal ties. If before Khojaly many people believed that it was possible to find a mutually beneficial agreement and stop violence, the mass killing of civilians alienated the two peoples for long years ahead. The most bitter side of the tragedy was that never did anyone from the responsible party admit the crime or attempt to apologise. The British journalist Tomas de Waal, who is the author of “The Black Garden”- by far one of the best studies of the whole conflict, according to Serzh Sargsyan, the current President of the Republic of Armenia who at the time happened to be one of the commanders of the Karabakh forces (to the question of the “independence” of Nagorno-Karabakh), who in quite an audacious manner interprets Khojaly as “a message to Azerbaijanis indicating that we were not going to joke with them”. No sign of grief or repentance. Armenian mercenaries, who tended to be the most brutal and merciless against Azerbaijanis, unambiguously claimed it to be “the act of revenge” and proudly recalled having stabbed to death civilian peoples. Just to inform you, these people are still venerated by the official propaganda of the Republic of Armenia as an embodiment of Armenian patriotism and spirit. In an intellectually dishonest and deceitful manner, the events of 1915 are interpreted as a “proof” that it is the Azerbaijanis- i.e., the Turks- who are a priori responsible for any conflict with Armenians, and every crime committed. Indeed, their side still revokes the mistakes of the Azerbaijani commandment, or its deliberate mishandling of the exodus- as if it can in any way excuse a series of blatant atrocities against peaceful people. The above-mentioned “Memorial” was unable to find any evidence suggesting that the major Armenian claim, namely that they had allowed local people to leave through a secured corridor, even from the Armenians themselves; no leaflet out of those claimed to have been distributed to Azerbaijanis, was shown either.

However, the Azerbaijani side has been firm in its policy of reaching out foreign governments with the truth about Khojaly. This far, four states, besides Azerbaijan, officially recognised it as a massacre, those being Columbia, Pakistan, Mexico and Sudan, as well as 15 of the U.S. states, including Texas, Florida, Massachusets, Georgia and Arkansas. Indeed, the behaviour of the Armenian commandment may be classified as assistance to the separatist forces in committing a crime against humanity, i.e., the alleged unwillingness to prevent the slaughter from happening. It is still an open question whether the crime of genocide can be invoked in this case; indeed, the Legislative organs of Mexico and Pakistan along with the Islamic Cooperation Organization, recognise it as such, and, according to the ICJ’s judgment in Application of the Genocide Convention case, this crime is attributable to the state co-opting in its commitment.

What lessons can we all draw from Khojaly? The Ukraine today, in our view, is the best answer to the question. People all over the world should understand now much better who inspires separatism all over the Post-Soviet region and lends it its direct support- and how bloody and destructive this separatism happens to be. If the situation in Donbass stays the same, it will likely look like a bigger version of Nagorno-Karabakh now: a region without a proper economy, with ruined cities, infrastructure and cultural objects, turned into a hotbed of international crime. It is little secret that the 366th Motor Rifle Regiment of the former Soviet army, stationed in Armenia, took an active part in the attack on Khojaly and subsequent events- and of course, never did its commandment assume any responsibility for the personnel’s behaviour. The conflict between two South Caucasian peoples remains a major undermining factor which prevents the region from getting more economically and strategically independent from various foreign pressures. It is a natural thing that liberal-minded Armenians are mostly willing to relaunch, at least, an open discussion with Azerbaijan in order to establish piece and restore justice; these people are currently the only hope for Azerbaijan and Armenia to resolve the conflict to the good of the both sides.


First published here.