"As a person responsible for the Askeran section of the front, I announce responsibly that a corridor was left for civilians in Khojaly and it was guarded by both Armenian forces and armed Azerbaijanis. It was a railway – the shortest and safest way from Khojaly to Aghdam. We had announced several times in advance that the way would be open," former Deputy Defense Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, Lieutenant General Vitaly Balasanyan told Demo magazine in an interview.
"The Khojaly authorities were to lead the people through the corridor. However, the civilians, abandoned for some reason, chose their route themselves. Many died of cold, but most of them were shot by the Azerbaijanis who were waiting for them on the side of Aghdam. Currently, photos of people who died in those days are being widely published and there are reports that they were killed by the Armenians. I personally protected the corridor, so I can declare that they died at the hands of the Azerbaijanis.
At that time, it was beneficial to those who wished to take hold of power in Baku. Straight after the Khojaly events, they accused the Popular Front, now they accuse the Armenians. Together with Azerbaijani soldiers, at that time, we collected the dead bodies and handed them over to the Azerbaijanis. Those who participated in it should have honor and courage to tell about it and not poison the future generations with hatred," Vitaly Balasanyan said.
"I personally handed over around one hundred people to commander of Aghdam detachment Allaverdi Bashirov, also known as Goca Gartal. Allaverdi has died, but his fellow servicemen, who saw that, are living. Let the Khojaly people recall in what kind of conditions we transported them to the border. I also want to remind them how head of Khojaly executive board Elman Mammadov reached Aghdam. His family was in Aghdam at that time, and he reached them by the railway. Why is he lying to his own people? There were 735 units of small arms in Khojaly at that time and Mammadov was to assume the protection of his own people. However, instead of punishing the person who kept the people in the besieged settlement until the last moment and then was the first to flee, Azerbaijan blames the Armenians for everything. I am ready to meet with Mammadov and discuss all the matters," Balasanyan said.
Going back to those hard times, the general told that during the Artsakh movement, the Azerbaijanis turned Khojaly into a bandit den. Large-scale construction was done in the small settlement over several years; the village was settled by Meskhetian Turks.
The men were arming actively. "The danger coming from Khojaly was increasing from day to day.
Bandit attacks on the roads started soon – the running cars were hit by stones, they were stopped and the people were beaten up. What was taking place in Khojaly, Lesnoy, Karagava, Khojavend and other Azerbaijani-populated settlements in 1988-90 was controlled directly from Baku.
Numerous meetings were held with representatives of Azerbaijan on the initiative of the Armenian authorities and agreements were reached to stop the attacks against civilians. However, the Azerbaijanis continued their dirty deeds. On February 22, 1988, a militant crowd, armed with whatever was at hand, headed for Armenian Askeran from Aghdam. The roads from Stepanakert to several villages were blocked. Khojaly's neutralization became a necessity," says the general.
Like many other Karabakh villages, Khojaly was populated by Armenians in all times. It lost its native population as a result of the Azerbaijani policy. The Armenian fortress Askeran and the small village Khojaly prevented the Azerbaijanis from capturing the capital of Karabakh, Shushi, at the beginning of the last century. This was what made the Baku authorities actively populate the territories surrounding Shushi with Azerbaijanis and create around the capital of Karabakh a circle from Azerbaijani villages: Khojaly, Malibeyli, Janhasan, Kiosalar on the left side, Molanlar, Alimadatli, Aliagha on the right side, Avdal and Gyulaplu in the south. These were far-reaching and nearly implemented plans to capture Karabakh in a peaceful, demographic way as all military attempts by the nomadic tribes to take control of the country had failed.