A lot has been said and written about Khojaly recently. The name of this town in Nagorno-Karabakh, which had previously only been randomly mentioned in the news reports from a “constant flash point” in the CIS, today is a subject of common discussion. Ask anyone and they will almost certainly say that this is the place where violent Armenian fighters destroyed the civilian Azerbaijani population of Khojaly. This is exactly how the mass media has portrayed the events here, based on scarce and often controversial information from a hard-to-reach region. However, judging from a great number of testimonies given by the eyewitnesses of the tragedy, what took place in Khojaly was a big treason, unprecedented throughout the whole Karabakh war, to which hundreds of people fell victim.
The town of Khojaly is located on the territory of Askeran region of Karabakh, not far from the Stepanakert airport. Given its central location and proximity to the only airport in Karabakh, Khojaly is a strategically important point in the conflict region. Here live Armenians and Azerbaijanis as well as Turk Meskhetians who had been deported from Central Asia. In 1990-1991 Khojaly was the main base of the Azerbaijani OMON and from November 1991 to February 1992 it also served as a military base for the National Army of Azerbaijan. An armored division, Grad missile units, about 500 soldiers and OMON fighters as well as a large storage of weaponry and ammunition was stationed there.
The personnel of the military base were composed of local residents. It was not at all by chance that Khojaly had established а mildly speaking bad reputation in Karabakh. It was largely because the Azerbaijani OMON troops, serving in the Stepanakert airport, behaved like invaders in an occupied territory. They would engage in looting in broad daylight, frequently terrorize the population and gang rape the passengers travelling on Yerevan-Stepanakert and Stepanakert-Yerevan routes. The OMON soldiers likewise engaged in plundering the humanitarian aid. All this lawlessness forced the aviators from Yerevan to cancel the flights to Stepanakert in the summer of 1991. Karabakh’s connection with the outside world was totally disrupted. From January 1992 President Mutalibov had completely lost control over the developments in the region, while the command of military operations was transferred to the Agdam regiment of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan. It came to the point when Azerbaijani squads began frequently shooting at one another and in Shushi they even injured the member of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan Rahim Gaziyev.
After the Soviet troops left Karabakh the situation there immediately got worse. The Azerbaijanis stationed Grad missile systems in Shushi and Khojaly. Stepanakert was shelled from various types of weapons almost on daily basis. As a result the city was almost entirely destroyed, dozens of people died, hundreds were wounded. The Armenians were in fact faced with the choice - either to die or to drive the Azerbaijanis out of Khojaly and Shushi.
At the time of the assault the majority of Khojaly’s population had already moved to the surrounding villages and to the town of Agdam. But part of the civilians still remained in the danger zone. The seizing of Khojaly could result in a great number of victims; for that reason, starting from the end of January the Armenian radio operators constantly were on air and made persistent reports requesting to evacuate the civilians from the region. Three days prior to the assault the Armenian operators contacted the Azerbaijanis almost every hour, asking them to remove the personnel from the military base. They even informed about the exact date of the attack – February 25. However the OMON commanders at Khojaly had an order from Agdam - “Hold on till the end, we are sending large-scale forces to assistance.”
In the evening of February 25 the town was surrounded from all sides by armored vehicles and tanks of Karabakh Armenians who were firing at the OMON positions till midnight. At midnight the Karabakh Armenians once more turned to the OMON commanders by radio and loud-speakers demanding the evacuation of the civilians through the corridor opened for that very purpose. There were apparently disagreements among the defenders as some shooting took place in Khojaly for about half an hour. Then, a large number of Khojaly residents, mostly women, children and elderly went through the “corridor” and, “dissolving” in darkness, headed towards Agdam. At 1.00 am the assault on the military base began and it lasted for almost two hours. The last group of OMON officers, bravely defending the town, was liquidated at 5.00 am.
During the assault about 60 Azerbaijanis died, mostly OMON officers, and about 100 soldiers surrendered as hostages. At the same time it turned out that not all of the civilian population had left the town through the “corridor”. But the most horrid thing was that, using the darkness and the mess, together with civilians and deserters from the 366th Stepanakert regiment of CIS about 40 armed Azerbaijani soldiers and OMON officers fled Khojaly in the direction of Agdam. That was why there had been a shooting at the base – those soldiers had disobeyed their commanders. The road to Agdam passes near Armenian village Nakhichevanik. That village had been burnt by the Azerbaijanis earlier in January but an Armenian self-defense unit was still there… We will still come to the Khojaly residents who fled through the “corridor”, but now let us hear the testimonies of the eyewitnesses and the participants of the seizure of Khojaly.
Mayor of Khojaly Elman Mammadov: “We hoped to receive help from the government. Every hour we made calls to Agdam and each time they assured us that tomorrow they would supposedly launch an operation and break the blockade. I asked to send us helicopters for taking the children and the elderly out of the town. The aid never came…” (Bakinski Rabochi, 03 March 1992).
Salman Abasov, Khojaly resident: “A few days prior to the tragedy the Armenians more than once informed us by radio that they were preparing to attack the town and they demanded that we left. For a long time helicopters would not fly to Khojaly and we wondered whether anyone ever cared for our destiny. We in fact received no aid at all. Moreover, when it was still possible to take the women, children and the elderly out of the town, we were talked out of doing so. They promised us that soon they would launch an operation for seizing Askeran and breaking the blockade of Khojaly. It never happened… Why did they have to deceive us? What did our children die for? Who will answer for this?” (Bakinski Rabochi, 07 March 1992).
…The bloody tragedy which took place near Nakhichevanik will, for some reason, later be called Khojaly tragedy, while in fact there is a 5-6 kilometer distance and a hill ridge separating these two localities. The road from Khojaly to Nakhichevanik passes through a forest. The Khojaly residents passed through this road together with the Azerbaijani and the CIS deserters, being completely sure that they would be met by the victorious Azerbaijani army coming to the rescue of Khojaly (that’s what they were told by the radio from Agdam). They went quietly, without any military patrol. Ahead went Khojaly residents, behind them the deserters. When they approached Nakhichevanik, to their horror they suddenly heard Armenian speech and saw the silhouettes of Karabakh fighters in front of them. The soldiers that were following the civilians, assuming that they were in a trap, decided to break through by fighting and opened fire.
L. K., a native of NKR village Mushkapat, student at Erevan University, fighter in self-defense detachment of Nakhichevanik village: “We were informed by the radio that a group of civilians would be passing from Khojaly to Agdam through our village. It couldn’t even occur to us that there would be armed people among them. There were only four of us at the post including the commander. The rest were sleeping in half-burnt houses. The Khojaly residents appeared early in the morning, at dawn. While we let them pass, somewhere from their back rifles started firing. I did not at once understand what was happening. I came to myself when I saw the commander seize his belly and creep on the snow with a fierce cry. I took the rifle and fired somewhere ahead. The dark crowd started to run in different directions. Thanks God, soon officers with machine-guns came to our help and afterwards armored vehicles also came… We hardly managed to push them off.”
Here are the recollections of Azerbaijani soldier Suleiman Abasov: “We together with some of the residents reached Nakhichevanik village, hoping to find a shelter here. Before that we had been informed by the radio that the village was under the Azerbaijani control. We heard the first shots… Many people, who didn’t even manage to realise what was going on, fell being shot dead. A short fighting took place, as a result of which we managed to break through and make our way to the road leading to Agdam, but an armoured vehicle blocked our way…” (Bakinski Rabochi, 07 March 1992).
As we can see the stories told by the militiamen and the deserters about what had happened near Nakhichevanik village actually do coincide. These stories come to unequivocally prove that neither the Armenian nor the Azerbaijani soldiers expected in the morning of 26 February to get into a battle, which was going to be the last one for many of them. Everything was decided for them and the “khojaly scenario” was planned in detail in Agdam, where the only ruling power was the Popular Front of Azerbaijan. There in Agdam not only the aid but also the information on the actual situation in Khojaly was likewise blocked. With what purpose did they condemn the people to death? The main goal was to overthrow Mutalibov.
Ayaz Mutalibov, former President of Azerbaijan: “As the survivors of Khojaly say, all this was organized to create a cause for my resignation. A certain power was working for discrediting the President. I don’t think the Armenians, who are very accurate and who know how to behave in such situations, would have allowed the Azerbaijanis to obtain evidence from Khojaly, which would expose them in committing fascist acts… I assume that someone had a vested interest in showing these photos in the session of the Supreme Council and placing all the blame on my personality…
If I declare that the Azerbaijani opposition is guilty of this, they may say that I am slandering them. However, the common sense says that the Armenians had nevertheless left a “corridor” by which the people could escape. So why would they fire…?”
(Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 2 April 1992)
Later the tragic death of the civilians, who in darkness fell under the cross-fire between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians, was presented as ‘Khojaly massacre’ orchestrated by the Karabakh fighters.
There can be no victors in this war, just as in other pointless fratricides that break out on the territory of the former Soviet empire. Moreover, those who caused the killing of their own compatriots for the sake of a dirty political game will never be called victors. These kinds of people in all nations and at all times were given other names – traitors and rascals.
According to the verified data, during the assault on Khojaly and at the battle near Nakhichevanik about two hundred Azerbaijanis were killed. More than a half of those were civilians. The Supreme Council of the NKR sent a condolence message to the relatives and friends of those whose Azerbaijani compatriots had fallen victims.
Sobesednik joins these condolences