By the time of neutralizing the weapon emplacements in Khojalu already two years had passed since the siege of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the independence of which was declared on September 2, 1991. Besides, the majority of inhabitants of the 24 deported villages found asylum in Stepanakert. Together with the earlier arrived Armenians from Azerbaijan, who escaped from pogroms in Sumgait, Baku, Mingechaur, etc., the number of the refugees, deportees and forcefully removed people settled in Nagorno-Karabakh exceeded 35.000, which made the 25 percents of the total population of NKR.
Between spring and autumn 1991 the Armenian settlements of Karabakh had been daily attacked by the brigands of the Azerbaijani militia. More than 700 people among civilians were taken to hostage by the militia, tens of thousands of cattle was driven out, thousands of hectares of grain sowings had been set to fire. The greater part of the Nagorno-Karabakh population was deprived of energy and water supplies.
Since September 1991 the residential areas of Stepanakert and many border settlements of NKR were under daily continuous bombardments with the use of artillery and modified anti-hail jet missile mounts Alazan and Kristal. Since January 1992 the weapons used against the civil population included also military jet missile launchers BM-21 Grad, banned for the use against settlements. Since mid-February 1992 Stepanakert was being rained down by 160 shells of Grad and Alazan daily.6
Two years later State Secretary of Azerbaijan Lala Shovket Hajieva would be reproaching the flocking Azerbaijanis on the bank of Arax River with the following words: «For more than hundred days we have been shelling Stepanakert, day and night, but Armenians did not leave their homes. You run already when there is no sound of explosion of the Armenians’ shells».7 Lets not complain about the inaccuracy of the highly-ranked lady – Stepanakert had been bombed for more than one hundred days; the fact of acknowledgment by the official Baku on sanctioned shelling of residential areas in the capital of NKR is more important to us.
As a result of the continuous siege, large number of refugees, drinking water blow ups and poisoning, as well as tremendous agricultural losses, in NKR, especially in the capital of the state, famine broke up. The situation worsened also by the lack of fuel for transport that disabled the delivery of food from the relatively safe villages. It is worth mentioning also that the OMON units of Azerbaijan had cut off almost all the inner thruways. Thus, many settlements in Artsakh appeared in double ring siege. The only hope of Armenians remained the helicopter communication with the Republic of Armenia, which, however, was unable to solve all the problems with food, taken into account the large number of wounded and the necessity medicines move-in.
“On January 25-28 I was in Stepanakert. The town still has neither electricity nor water. It is so difficult to get water that one feels ashamed to drink tea. The food coupons cannot be realized. People are swelling up of famine…Stepanakert reminds the newsreel of Leningrad in blockade”.8
The NKR population escaping the deadly shells was forced to live in unadapted basements; as a result the number of infectious illnesses and the death toll in the settlements of the republic rose dramatically. All the medical institutions in NKR were also moved to basements. Shellings, water, electricity and raw material shortage in Nagorno-Karabakh absolutely dysfunctioned the industrial enterprises, including those providing the population with food – bakeries, meat-packing plant and diary factory…
To save the starving population of the republic, to get an opportunity to deliver food from outside, providing population with the minimal medical help the only airport in NKR, located nearby the Azerbaijani populated village of Khojalu, had to be released. Worthy to mention, A. Mutalibov fully realized the vitality of the Khojalu airport for the population of NKR. That was the reason he ordered to destroy the landing strip and the aerodrome facilities, despite the fact that the order was never carried out. 9
The necessity for assault and the neutralization of weapon emplacements in Khojalu was dictated also by the availability of offensive arsenals accumulated there.
The leadership of NKR had to prevent the offensive against the Armenian rayon center of Askeran, and likely, Stepanakert, prepared by the armed forces of Azerbaijan. Thus, the military operation of the Armenian armed formations also had a preventive, pre-emptive meaning.
By the time of the Khojalu offensive, the Azerbaijani forces of the village possessed two jet missile launchers BM-21 Grad, four modified jet missile mounts Alazan, one hundred millimeter caliber cannon and three armored units.10 All of the technique was dislocated in the residential areas of Khojalu, from where the Armenian populated settlements had been shelled to destruction.
The NKR military reconnaissance, certainly, was aware that in Khojalu the assaults on Askeran and Stepanakert were being prepared. Elbrus Aliev, the voluntary unit commander of Khojalu also testifies this: “That day that is on February 25th we received information from Aghdam that at 5 o’clock (17:00 – H.D., L. M.-Sh.) we will launch the assault. We were looking for the beginning of the offensive. But there were no new news from Aghdam at all.” 11
Neither were the Azerbaijani authorities surprised of the military operation of suppression of weapon emplacements on the side of Armenian units in Khojalu. The Azerbaijani side was informed about this by TV two months before the assault. An Azerbaijani author Arif Yunusov also wrote about this in the Moscow based Izvestiya newspaper. Long before the assault the Azerbaijani forces were suggested to take out the civil population from the village. The same suggestion was made to the Azerbaijani authorities in Baku. In fact, all the interested institutions and organizations were informed about the preparation for the assault in good time, which is confirmed by the data of the Azerbaijani mass media. 12
Here is an account of a woman living Khojalu given to Helsinki Watch on April 28th, 1992: “Armenians had brought an ultimatum that the settlers of Khojalu should better leave the town with a white flag. Alif Hajiev (leader of the Khojalu defense – H.D., L. M.Sh.) informed us about it on February 15 (10 days before the offensive! – H.D., L. M.-Sh.), but it didn’t frighten us. We never believed they could take Khojalu.” 13
However, as a result of these warnings the bigger part of the Khojalu inhabitants, aware of the prepared assault, moved to safe places in good time. The mass exodus of the population from Khojalu had been repeatedly recorded visually by the military reconnaissance of NKR, as well as been largely covered on Azerbaijani radio and television. At the same time, the Azerbaijani press purposefully formed a negative attitude towards population leaving Khojalu and constantly labeled them with shame.
Noteworthy, the forcefully moved people, despite the artificial obstacles, were the first to leave the once urbanized Khojalu. Moreover, informed by the Armenians beforehand the municipality of Khojalu had been asking for help in evacuating the population, although in vain. For instance, in an interview to the Moscow based “Megapolis -Express” newspaper the Khojalu mayor mentioned that “having received information on preparations for the seizure of the town, I asked the Aghdam authorities to send helicopters to evacuate the elders, the women and the children. We were being assured that a release operation was being prepared. But no help was given”.14
Thus, the Armenian side had been warning about the coming offensive, but Azerbaijanis did nothing to evacuate the civilians from the town. Neither attempts were made to save the population by helicopters, although Armenians did give such an opportunity. According to the survived Azerbaijani soldiers defending Khojalu, long before the bloody events the «food, medicines, arsenals delivery was suspended. And they were barehanded facing the enemy who fought under the cover of armored machines. Voluntarily or not, the outcome was prepared by the two sides».15
On February 24 the mayor of Khojalu E. Mamedov called to Aghdam, which informed about the coming attack and asked helicopters to evacuate the elders, women and children. «The help would not come».16
Apparently, the settlers of Khojalu were simply left to the mercy of fate. However, there still did not know about the most terrible – they had to pay with their own lives the tribute to the omnivorous Moloch, well known in Azerbaijan as POWER STRUGGLE.
6 Levon Melik-Shahnazaryan, Military crimes of Azerbaijan against peaceful population of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Yerevan, Nairi, 1997, pp. 249-267.
7 Azerbaijani State Television, 24.06.1994.
8 Novoye vremya weekly, Moscow, No. 8, 1992.
9 Kiril Stolyarov, op. cit. p. 255.
10 From the short version of report of Memorial human rights protection center “Memorial”, see Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18. 06.1992.
11 Nasiman Yakublu. Destruction of Khojalu, (in Azerb.), Baku, 1992, p. 74.
12 Azadlig, 28. 02. 1992.
13 See. Tomas Goltz, Azerbaijan: Requiem for a Would-Be Republic, ISIS, Istanbul, 1995.
14 Megapolis-Exspress, No. 17, 1992.
15 Vadim Belikh, Nagorni-Karabakh, Everyday horror of the war, Izvestia, No. 62, 1992.
16 Khojalu: Chronics of genocide, prepared by Elmira Akhundova, Baku, 1993, p. 16