Rusif Huseynov l
Oradour-sur-Glane, Lidice, Khatyn, Srebrenica… This black list has unfortunately an addition from Azerbaijan as well: Khojaly…
It was harsh Karabakh winter of 1992, when the Armenian forces launched an offensive on Khojaly, a small but important town, which had region’s only airport. Inhabited by some 6,200 people, Khojaly was subject to what Human Rights Watch depicted as “unconscionable acts of violence against civilians” as they attempted to escape the advancing Armenian armed forces (which were accompanied by an ex-Soviet motor rifle regiment stationed in the region).
However, the exodus of the fleeing Azerbaijanis turned into a massacre, as at least 613 civilians, including 106 women and 63 children, were slaughtered in a most brutal manner on February 26. Many of those, who miraculously managed to make their way to a nearby town froze their limbs and got severely injured over that snowy February night.
A few Azerbaijanis, including a famous reporter, who went to the scene to collect the dead bodies near the town became shocked to find out mutilated corpses scattered across the field. The trembling voice of the crying cameraman, Chingiz Mustafayev, a veteran journalist, who recorded the terrible scene has been sounding in the ears of every Azerbaijani citizen and is still associated with Khojaly.
A helicopter pilot who participated in the process recounted later: “Some bright spots on the ground caught my eye. I went down, and then my flight mechanic shouted: “Look, there are women and children.” I myself have already seen about two hundred killed, scattered along the slope. Then we flew to pick up the corpses. A local police captain was with us. He saw there his four-year-old son with a shattered skull and went crazy. I saw the mutilated bodies of women, children and old people everywhere.”
Several foreign reporters from American, British and Russian media outlets also arrived in the area to record the unprecedented massacre and the collection of bodies. Their narratives, let alone the photos, could easily shock even the most phlegmatic person.
Despite the clumsy attempts of the Armenian side to wash their hands off and pass the blame to the Azerbaijani leadership over the death of hundreds of civilians, several high-ranking Armenian officials did assume the responsibility. The ex-Armenian president Serzh Sarkisyan (2008-2018), who was one of the warlords during the Karabakh war, once notoriously admitted: “Before Khojali, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that [stereotype]. And that’s what happened.”
The then Armenian presidential advisor Gerard J. Libaridian (1991–1994) also accepted that the Armenian troops had committed atrocities in Khojaly: “There was fighting, bystanders were killed. I do not rule out the possibility that the Armenians committed atrocities. The fact is that the population there has been brutalized, dehumanized over the past two years. That has consequences, and people do things that they normally wouldn’t.”
The Khojaly became the largest massacre in the course of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and triggered a consequential series of ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis from Karabakh. The event has inflicted a great trauma for the Azerbaijani society, which is still fresh and haunting despite the three decades that have passed since then.
The Second Karabakh War has brought a long-awaited victory, which secured – albeit partially – the restoration of justice and Azerbaijan`s territorial integrity. Despite the outcome of the recent conflict, the Khojaly massacre has not been properly addressed. Perhaps the Azerbaijani society may feel some justice toward this tragedy once a Khojaly Nuremberg or Hague is organized to punish the perpetrators. Foreign countries and international organizations should finally dare to address the Khojaly massacre not for the Azerbaijanis, but rather for justice and in order to prevent such tragedies in the future.
This article is not designed to incite hatred or to call for revenge. The main goal is to display the horror of the war and the scale of tragedy in order to prevent new Khojalys in the future…
Rusif Huseynov is the Co-founder and Director of Topchubashov Center, a Baku-based think tank. He obtained his Bachelor from the Baku State University and Master’s degree from the University of Tartu. His main interests are socio-political developments, frozen conflicts, ethnic minorities, in post-Soviet countries, while his focus areas mainly cover Eastern Europe, Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia.
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