We will divert our attention from politics and get back to the vital problems of Khojaly, will learn what happened in Khojaly and how the Khojaly people lived. Chairman of Khojaly Executive Committee Elman Mammadov could perhaps best of all describe the life in Khojaly. This is what he said in his video interview to Cingiz Mustafayev:
Cingiz Mustafayev: Elman muallim, you headed the Executive Committee of Khojaly.
Elman Mammadov: Yes.
Cingiz Mustafayev: I understand that it is hard to recall all that, but if possible, could you please tell about the recent events, and from what the capture of Khojaly began?
Elman Mammadov: Khojaly's occupation by the Armenians began back in late August of 1991. Until that time, we were at an advantage. We were building, creating, excelling, travelling to former Khankendi, though with a guard, nevertheless, we could travel there. The Armenians were already beginning to feel our strength. But then some force, for some reasons, began playing such games in the republic, so that we yielded the advantage all across Nagorno-Karabakh. (I think it is not difficult to guess what force it was). The villages began to empty, our villages were set on fire one after another, and our people were killed and deported. What was strange was that the republican authorities, who were to attend to it, ignored that problem, as if it was something normal.
And, at last, before the Khojaly tragedy, for the last time military helicopters brought bread and fuel to Khojaly from Ganja on February 13, 1992. With the help of those helicopters, we managed to transport 200-300 women, children, old people and the sick to a safe zone. Thank God we evacuated them at that time.
Cingiz Mustafayev: Wait a minute, my apologies. You spoke about the August of 1991. Was there an Organization Committee in Stepanakert by that time?
Elman Mammadov: An Organization Committee worked in Stepanakert by that time, and not badly.
Cingiz Mustafayev: Do you know what I want to ask you? I want to ask about the changes in politics after 1991.
Elman Mammadov: We lost our advantage after the Organization Committee resigned. The construction works and allocation of resources stopped, all the ministries began leaving Nagorno-Karabakh. We last traveled to Khojaly by motor road on October 30, 1991. After that date, from November 1 to February 25, one could travel to Khojaly by helicopter only, and only when it was possible. The last civil helicopters flew to Khojaly on January 28.
On February 4 and 5, helicopters brought us bread, as well as after February 9 and last time on February 13. From February 13 to 25, 1992, there was no communication with Azerbaijan, despite the everyday promises that the motor road would open soon and they were sending aid to us. But we were living and waiting. On February 23, I opened the last sacks of flour and gave 1-2 kg of flour to each family so that the children would not die from hunger. On February 24, the Azerbaijani authorities in Aghdam were informed via portable radio transmitters, so that everyone could hear, that according to the information we received from a captured Armenian fighter, the Armenians were going to destroy Khojaly in honor of those who were killed during the Sumgait pogroms, and that the operation was ready. We asked to send helicopters and evacuate women and children. But they did nothing. On February 25, around 8:30pm…
Cingiz Mustafayev: My apologies. How many people were there in Khojaly on February 25?
Elman Mammadov: There were at least 3,000 people in Khojaly on February 25. The rest had been evacuated earlier in parts – mainly children, women, sick and old people. Yet some of the men who had gone in the direction of Aghdam failed to come back as there were no helicopters.
Cingiz Mustafayev: I see. So, you informed about the Armenians' preparations in advance…
Elman Mammadov: Yes, I informed of the impending attack, saying that the operation had been prepared for a long time and that it was in honor of the Sumgait events. At around 8:30pm, military equipment, namely military vehicles like IFVs, APCs and BDMs, and even tanks, from Stepanakert's 366th regiment, began to surround Khojaly from all sides. They were surrounding Khojaly for about two hours. They took their positions. They did not come up and stood at the distance of 1-1.5-2 km. Shelling began at around 10:30pm.
Cingiz Mustafayev: But why didn't you shoot at those tanks seeing that you are being surrounded by tanks and APCs?
Elman Mammadov: We had no weapons to shoot down such military equipment and resist. Absolutely no weapons. Second, the resistance should have been offered from the main forces, from
Aghdam and Shushi. They should have been shot to be muddled and fail to start the operation. We could gain several hours to save ourselves. In addition, we thought that it would not be courageous to flee Khojaly, we thought it could be a provocation and they aimed to frighten us. But when the shelling started, we felt that we would be annihilated, because the shelling began from all weapons simultaneously. The ground shook. It was impossible to move. Khojaly was set on fire from all sides by means of military equipment and flame-throwers. Khojaly was surrounded by a large number of wooden Finnish and Czech houses, which were set on fire. Our fighters resisted appropriately. They resisted until 2 o'clock. Many of our sons remained there, in the battlefields.
Cingiz Mustafayev: Perhaps you know that at that time the Public Television reported that one person had been killed and another had been wounded and the next day it was reported that the Azerbaijani forces returned Khojaly. What do you think about it?
Elman Mammadov: When we heard the news …that 2 died in Khojaly as a result of an attack by the Armenians, that the Armenians were repulsed and thrown back and Khojaly is being defended from our side, at that moment we had about one thousand dead, more than 300 were taken captive, over 200 were wounded, people were dying and we heard that news in Aghdam. Hearing the news, we wondered who gave such information.
Cingiz Mustafayev: Did the remaining people manage to leave Khojaly later?
Elman Mammadov: On that winter night, we led the remaining people – women, children and old people – through those icy rivers and forests, in the dark, we walked over 10 km. In the morning, we were 2-3 km away from Aghdam. But regrettably, no one met us. We appeared in an open area with no forests, and the day was already breaking. It turned out that the Armenians were waiting for us there, sitting on the hills with machine guns. They began killing the women, the children, the sick and old people, everyone. Everyone! They spared no one. The infants were killed by machine guns, and they were shot in their heads. It is Armenian fascism. As it turned out, there is no worse fascism in the world than the Armenian one and we saw it with our own eyes.
Cingiz Mustafayev: And lastly, many wonder what happened to the Khojaly airport, which was the only one in Karabakh and was of strategic significance? I wonder whether the Armenians can use the airport now.
Elman Mammadov: Yes, the airport is currently in the Armenians' hands. Although the planes do not fly yet, the helicopters already land there. That's for sure. Khojaly was a strategic point and if we had managed to keep Khojaly, we would not have lost Karabakh. Khojaly was the spinal cord of Karabakh, it was a control point. Because we were stationed in a place, where there was the airport, the railway and the main road. The small Khojaly with a population of 5,000-6,000 people blocked the way to Askeran, Aghdam, etc.
Cingiz Mustafayev: And lastly, what do you think is the cause of our misfortunes?
Elman Mammadov: I will say frankly and I do not want to conceal anything, as we got this because of concealing our misfortunes. I think the cause of our misfortunes is the senseless fight for power! One republic must have one president. The people must select one person, they must vote for him so that he rules the country skillfully. And the others must help him! In the current situation, you never know what someone engages in. Who is the president and who is the opposition. Who tells the truth and who lies. It is unclear who serves whom and what aims he/she has. We don't know whom to blame for this tragedy. We don't know whether to put it on the account of those who try to shake the president's seat, using the rights given them by the president, which threw us under bullets. Or, we don't know whether to put it on the account of the president for him to try those to whom he gave power, yet they deceived him and did not defend Khojaly. We don't know on whose account to put this misfortune and whom the history will blame for it.