It is not unusual to hear that a tragedy of Khojaly is being referred to as genocide.
The problem is that the deaths of inhabitants of a small town of Khdzhaly in the vicinity of Aghdam cannot be qualified as genocide. The very term genocide implies intent to destroy partially or entirely a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such.
The expression ‘partially or entirely’ has been a subject of discussions and it is now accepted that the term ‘partially’ means such part of population whose destruction might affect the entire group. It is clear, that the tragic deaths of approximately 600 people near Aghdam could not possibly have been an attempt to destroy entirely or partially the eight million strong Azerbaijani people.
Despite that, the Azerbaijani authorities insist on qualifying the tragedy of the inhabitants of Khojaly as genocide. The term ‘Khojaly genocide’ is present practically on all official web-sites (see for example the web-site of the President, as well as the web-sites of the embassies of Azerbaijan).
It appears, however, that the main target audience is first of all the population of Azerbaijan and only then the international community.
Officially the ‘day of the genocide of Azerbaijani people’ was commemorated for the first time in 1998 during the presidency of Heidar Aliev – father of the current Azerbaijani president. Apparently, this was done having in mind two goals. On the one hand, the newly independent state faced a paramount task of creating the national identity. The tragic episodes similar to the one near Aghdam are ideally suited for the creation of the image of a victim when creating a national identity.
On the other hand, President Heidar Aliev who despite losing control over nearly 13% of the territory of the former Azerbaijani SSR in a war with Armenians managed to stay in power and needed to divert the popular attention. Simultaneous creation of the image of a victim and the image of an enemy were invoked to safeguard the ruling regime from the possible discontent of the Azerbaijani population.
Thus assigning the genocide status to the tragedy near Aghdam had as its primary goal the creation of such national identity that would allow the ruling regime to divert the possible social upheavals. After assent to power of Ilham Aliev in 2003 the propaganda of victimisation and image of the enemy were notably stepped up. This can be explained by the fact that in the eyes of population of Azerbaijan the position of the new President was unstable – he had less legitimacy and fewer achievements compared to his father. The solution in these circumstances was quite natural – stepping up the propaganda of victimisation in order to divert possible challenges, crash opposition and strengthen his position.
Even though the deaths of people from Khojaly near Aghdam cannot be qualified as genocide it nevertheless, has a number of strange inconsistencies which should to be clarified.