“The February victims near Aghdam are a consequence of criminal inaction and, at the same time, no less criminal actions of Azerbaijan’s political elite …”
- Director of Information and PR Center Ara Saghatelyan argues.
Director of Information and PR Center Ara Saghatelyan during the presentation of documentary Maragha. 10 April 1992 in the beginning of October informed about the next in the Ordinary Genocide series, devoted to the so-called events in Khojali. xocali.net web-site, launched this spring, is regularly updated with proofs of multiple falsifications and juggling by Azeri propaganda in the issue of death of civilians near Azeri-controlled Khojali (at present - Ivanyan). Based on request from Golos Armenii, Ara Saghatelyan presented some of the new proofs, as well as details of the events from 18 years ago, which will be included into the new film.
- M-r Saghatelyan, how would you shape the key outcome of the work of the task force studying the events in Khojali, which make the cornerstone of Baku’s anti-Armenian propaganda?
- In the first place, the accumulated and systematized materials confirm the reality which is the following: the Azeri version of the so-called events in Khojali is now entirely exhausted. This has been proved yet not by three or five counter-arguments, but by dozens. Doubtlessly, the death of dozens of civilians gives us nothing but a sense of deep sorry. However, for those who studied this matter profoundly and objectively, one thing is clear: the events of the area completely in control of Azeri forces (this relates to both the village of Khojali and Aghdam vicinity) became the direct consequence of at least inaction and targeted policy of the authorities, and at the same time – coordinated actions of political elites of Azerbaijan of the time. The scope of arguments and facts available to the international community, which is now accessible by Armenians as well, is more than convincing to substantiate: official Baku’s version, which for long has made a speculative political asset of Azeri propaganda, is no longer capable of persuading anyone worldwide, with a possible exception of a part of Azeri public. The reason is trivial: excessiveness of falsifications and fictions, gathered in the so-called Khojali file of Azeri propaganda, resulted in rejection from Azeri version by all the experts and stakeholders, this or that way interested in identifying the truth of those events.
- Why do the Azeris persistently name the events “Khojali”, whereas it is known that execution of civilians occurred near Baku-controlled Aghdam?
- Bodies of those who died, the video and photo footage of whom has been voluntarily edited and re-shot later and which are attributed to now deceased cameraman Chingiz Mustafaev, were located close to Nakhichevanik village, and it’s a fact (with the exception of a couple of photos by journalist Viktoriya Ivleva, who pictured victims of fighting in Khojali streets). It is just as irrefutable that all of those areas were in full control of Azeris from Aghdam. Besides overall control over the area in general, immediately in Aghdam, according to the reports of Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, 26 Azeri military units were located, who were dealing mainly with looting and marauding, of which we have written proofs: copies of reports to the military leadership of Azerbaijan, as well as reports of their General Staff. After all, we need to consider that it was Azeri “political” opposition that made use and took advantage of death of civilians in the first place. Thorough study of documents and circumstances of the situation, including direct confession in 2009 in the program of Liberty Radio (Azadlyg) by Ramiz Fataliev, who chaired Parliament’s commission investigating those events, leaves no doubt that Azeri authorities of the time were deliberately using the civilians as a live shield. And they were executed already in the territory controlled by military units which were subject to various political forces. There is a highly important thing I want to mention here: there was a considerable number of people in military uniform among the dead (the footage of this is contained in our archive as well as in Associated Press’ archive), which means that civilians who in the last hours were deviating from the route of the humanitarian corridor were used by military personnel to save their lives, hiding themselves behind the civilian population.
These are the facts confirmed by people acknowledged and brought in by Azerbaijanis as experts. Moreover, these facts are contained in the testimonies of Azeri political figures, noted in 1992 and, as I mentioned, in the interview of Fataliev. He acknowledged that there was a decision made at the level of Security Council of Azerbaijan: not to take people out of Khojali.
- Can you name such experts?
- Russian photo correspondent Viktorija Ivleva, whose photos were referred to by Azeris to prove their version, argues in an article published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta in 1992 that even after the operation to liberate Khojali the street fighting in the village was under way. This proves that Azeri military personnel were continuing armed resistance. Ivleva said that nearly 1,000 civilians were taken in an organized way and transported by Armenian side to Karabakh, and then returned to Azerbaijan. She also testifies that those people were treated well, and they were provided with food and clothing.
Another example. English expert Thom de Waal, who is pretty frequently cited by Azeris, in one of his latest interviews directly states that there had been no intention on the Armenians’ side, and that the death of the civilians was a consequence of military activities, which unfortunately happens during a war. The video recording of an interview with him is at our disposal and it will be incorporated into the documentary. And after all, the president of Azerbaijan of the time himself, who openly accused the opposition in organizing of a slaughter near Aghdam, in another interview that we have, bitterly confesses to the journalists that “there are people who do not care who to shoot” and that the opposition has various objectives.
- Are there any new proofs of existence of humanitarian corridor left by Karabakh military for the retreat of civilians?
- The corridor existed – that’s a fact. Generally speaking, during the military operation to break the blockade of Stepanakert, destroyed by regular shelling, in the Khojali direction all the norms of international humanitarian law were preserved. If there was no corridor, how could the former Khojali mayor Elman Mamedov leave the town and take his family with him? In 1992, in an interview to Moscow newspaper Megapolis Express (#17, 1992) Mamedov was saying: “We knew that the corridor was left for the civilians”. And then: “After we got the message about the operation to seize the town I asked Aghdam to send in choppers to move the elderly, children and women out of the town. We were told the blockade will be broken the next day, after the operation. But help never came…”
Today Mamedov is a deputy of Milli Majlis and of course he says completely different things. But recently his video interview was uploaded on YouTube, recorded in 1992 with Azeri reporter and cameraman Chingiz Mustafaev, where Mamedov directly accuses the authorities and the opposition of his country. His words confirm what the president of Azerbaijan Ajaz Mutalibov said in an interview with Czech journalist Dana Mazalova and what was published in the Moscow News: “I see the reason of our troubles in pointless and unreasonable fight for power! There has to be only one president in a republic… it is not clear who serves whom and who pursues what objectives. We do not know whom to blame in this tragedy. We do not know whether to put this on the record of those who was trying to dethrone the president, taking advantage of their rights granted by the president and who sent us under the bullets…”
There are many proofs of the existence of humanitarian corridor. For instance, that is the article of Arif Yunusov in Zerkalo newspaper (June 1992), where a map was published with arrows marking direction of the corridor. The map shows as well another route, which was taken by part of the civilians due to an unknown reason, in the direction of Nakhichevanik, which had been firmly controlled by Karabakh soldiers for a long time; this is also testified by the Azerbaijanis themselves. Suleiman Abbasov, who was retreating together with those who remained of defenders and part of Khojali villagers, said “We, together with part of the civilians, reached Nakhichevanik village, in a hope to find a shelter there; before, they told us by radio that the village had been liberated from Armenians. (Megapolis-Express, N17, 1992.)
- A key argument from Baku is the footage attributed to deceased cameramen Mustafaev. You mentioned there is a different footage as well. What is it about and what does that footage shed light on?
- As it is known, Chingiz Mustafaev died in unclear circumstances. Much speaks of his attempts to discover the underlying reasons of what happened in Khojali, which became the key motive for his murder. This is why it is really hard to identify the ownership of that footage. Still, in this specific case it is not the most important. What is much more important is that there is a shooting authored by an Austrian journalist Vera Frankl. The footage done by her is still preserved in the archive of Associated Press agency, AzTV; we also have that footage. The contents of her shootings explain much, in particular, the reason why the Azeri side never publicized that footage. The footage shows that among the dead bodies of those who supposedly died in Khojali there are many people in military uniform. The tape recorded the chopper coming in and picking up one specific dead body, leaving behind bodies of women and children. This shows, in the first place, attitude of Azeri authorities towards the died compatriots, and secondly, proves that someone was striving to exclude possibility of that specific body being caught by camera and aired in the future. Apparently, existence of that specific person among other dead people was extremely unwanted for the Azeri authorities due to certain reasons. Essentially, if it was not for the footage by Vera Frankl, appearance of people in military uniform among the dead bodies would have remained unknown. Meanwhile, this is just another proof that according to a decision made in Baku, the civilian population of Khojali was doomed to become the victims of Azeri internal political bickering.
- But in this case, who and why needed to desecrate the dead bodies?
- Falsifications by Azeris around the bodies of the dead near Aghdam and, as it is accepted to name now, “post-mortal raping of the corpses” is a topic of a separate project, implemented by Initiative against Xenophobia. A regularly updated web-site xocali.net has been created, which has been subject to multiple attacks from Azeri hackers. In a nut shell, we are dealing with numerous manipulations and staged shootings. The bodies were re-located many times, reshuffled and mutilated. And all that was happening on the territory controlled by Azeris. The footage shows the same body first dressed, then – undressed; first intact and then – scalped; first lying in one position then – in a different one. Plus to that a great amount of materials not having any link to Karabakh has been customized for Khojali events – there are photos from Afghanistan, Kosovo. The impression is that in their aspiration to gain favor some activists of the Azeri propaganda were using whatever they got handy. It is by no accident that after the web-site began functioning, certain sound media and experts in Azerbaijan noted some photos and proofs, not having any relation to Khojali.
- You were mentioning that in this disgusting political game various political powers were involved. Anti-Armenian objectives are obvious; it is also easy to understand the desire to get rid of Mutalibov. Who else had a stake in that kind of development?
- Various political forces relate to the Khojali events. Besides the People’s Front, which came to power, I have to mention Heydar Aliev, who at that time lived in Nakhijevan. It is a common knowledge that two days prior the Khojali libration operation the village’s mayor Elman Mamedov visited Nakhijevan and met with him. There is also a testimony of one of the organizers of Baku pogrom of Armenians Neymat Panakhov, who in January 2000 in an interview to Bylik Dunjasy agency argued that before the events in Khojali he applied to Aliev, who at that time was a member of Supreme Council of Azerbaijan and leader of Nakhijevan, with a request “to do something in order to prevent the tragedy.” The response was “blood-shed will be of benefit to us. We should not be interfering into the course of events”. Therefore, the death of civilians of Khojali became the consequence of actions and at the same time – inaction of Mutalibov with his Security Council, military leadership, who allowed an entire chaos in the military units, People’s Front, who were striving for power and who got it right after the events in Aghdam, and Heydar Aliev, who in all that was pursuing his own far-reaching objectives.
- When will the documentary be ready and what is its main objective?
- To give you an idea I want to inform that most likely there will be more than one movie. And we are not doing it for the Azeris – there is nothing we would like to prove to them. We will build a logical chain and display how everything started, what the developments were and who took advantage of them. The key objective is to sort out the piles of propaganda garbage, dumped upon the international agencies by our neighbors. With creation of this documentary the concept of Aghdam tragedy, replicated by Azeri propaganda for years, will be closed once and for all, as not a single sound person having received such quantity of irrefutable proofs will not be able to still believe the Azeri falsifications and concoctions.
Interview by Marina Grigoryan