In terms of the Azerbaijani population Khojalu was the second after Shushi. The settlement is located in the strategically vital place and actually divides the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh into two. It was the military strategic importance of Khojalu that since the very beginning of the National-liberation movement of the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh that the Azerbaijani authorities initiated intensive construction works and settling the Azerbaijanis from remote regions in Khojalu as well as Meskhetian Turks – since 1989. As a result of this single-minded policy of changing the demographic situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and dissection of the Armenians of the region held by the Azerbaijani authorities the population of the settlement tripled from 2135 in 1988 to 6300 in 1991. Owing to this kind of artificial increase Khojalu was granted status of town.17 No doubt people were moving into a militarily and politically unstable region not on their own free will.
The following fact is another proof that the Azerbaijani authorities were informed on the forthcoming anticipatory assault of Armenians on Khojalu. By mid February 1992 before leaving for Minsk to the summit of the CIS, President A. Mutalibov ordered to throw all the accumulated reserves of the military equipment in the Aghdam region. 11 tanks and 12 infantry fighting machines BMP-2 were quickly delivered there, which together with the available in Aghdam 44 caterpillar armored machines of BRDM type, equipped with 12 millimeters calibers machine-guns presented an inspiring force, which could help the Khojalu settlers in case of an attack in any moment, but was also threaten Stepanakert itself.18
Besides, the Azerbaijani forces in Khojalu and the Aghdam region were equipped with over 35. 000 units of machine-guns and sub-machine guns with enough number of cartridges.19
R. Hajiev, member of the Aghdam department of PFA: «We could have helped the settlers of Khojalu, there were both forces and capabilities. But the leadership of the republic wanted to show the people that they lacked the force, and call for the help pf the CIS army once again, and to suppress the opposition with its help as well».20
Evidently, the authorities and the opposition claim one another responsible for the tragedy. Mutalibov is obviously speculating the Aghdam armed forces being under his control, and not the PFA. In their turn the functionaries of PFA tried to gain reputation of law-abiding citizens in the world. No wonder looters took advantage of the chaos to earn money on the tragedy of compatriots. For instance, the informal deputy defense minister of Azerbaijan Fahim Hajiev did not shrink from taking bribes from the widows and the relatives the killed Azerbaijanis to deliver their bodies.21
By the beginning of the assault part of the civilian population of Khojalu left the settlement, and by the end of February 1992, according to various sources, some 1000 to 2500 people still remained there, mostly peaceful civilians and soldiers of Azerbaijani armed formations. On February 15 the Armenian side made an ultimatum: the civilian population of Khojalu was offered to leave with a white flag.22
In the beginning of the attack, started on February 25, at 23:00 p.m., the Armeinan forces of NKR self-defense opened an aimed artillery fire against military objects and positions of the Azerbaijani forces, dislocated in the central part of the settlement. The successful shots spread havoc among the Azerbaijanis, which did not show serious resistance. Neither there was a more or less stubborn street fight in Khojalu; by 4 o’clock in the morning of February 26 the last centers of resistance were suppressed. Observers of the «Memorial» right protection organization inspecting the destructions in Khojalu confirmed the fact of artillery and not street fightings, which could result in a large number of casualties.23 It is worth mentioning that the order number 1, regulating the conduct of the members of the Armenian armed forces of NKR self-defense, strictly forbid any kind of violence against the civilians of the adversary.
Thus the assurances of the Azerbaijani side on a supposed mass elimination of peaceful Azerbaijani inhabitants of Khojalu are being discredited. Moreover, the radio intercepts of Azerbaijani military in Aghdam, later published in Azerbaijani mass media, also witness the latter. One of them reads: “Don’t kill children and women. Gather them in the center.”24 From our part we will mention that all the civilian population remaining in Khojalu was moved to Stepanakert and were passed without any conditions to the Azerbaijani side according to their will two days later. The fact of the voluntary handover of the inhabitants of Khojalu to Azerbaijan after a narrow inquiry was confirmed in the conclusion of the Moscow based right protection organization “Memorial”, as well as testified in a documentary film by a journalist from St. Petersburg Svetlana Kulchitskaya.
Part of the population began leaving Khojalu in Aghdam direction immediately after the start of the assault. Practically in all groups of the refugees there were armed people from the military garrison of the town. The people were leaving for two directions:
- from the eastern suburb of the town to north-east along the Karkar River bed, leaving Askeran on the left. The corridor was left by the Armenian side for the population to safely leave. The width of the corridor made from 100 to 300 meters;
- from the northern suburb of the town to north-east, leaving Askeran on the right. Only few used this way.25
Worthy to mention, the so called “corridors”, naturally, were not limited to certain meters, as it may possibly seem. These were directions from where Armenians did not advance and where no one shoot, letting people leave the zone of military actions. In reality the width of the directions made a kilometer or more.
As we can see, the Armenian forces did their best to escape unnecessary deaths on the side of the civilian population of Khojalu. The mayor of Khojalu Elman Mamedov also knew about the corridor: “We knew the corridor was left for the civilian population to leave…”.26
According to the report made by “Memorial”, nearly 200-300 people remained in Khojalu, hiding in the basements of the houses. After the assault they were moved to Stepanakert and were provided with food and medicines. The Armenian side stated it would agree to let them in exchange for its hostages.27
The Armenians informed Azerbaijanis about the existence of the humanitarian corridor also by loudspeakers, although it is possible that the greater part of the Khojalu inhabitants could had had not heard the messages.28
Indeed, it is likely, that not all the inhabitants of Khojalu had heard the warning, bu the masses of people moving in safe directions could have led the rest as well.
It is worth mentioning, that few days before the start of the assault the representatives of the Armenian side had repeatedly informed the authorities of Khojalu on the coming offensive using radio communication, calling them to take out the civilian population from the settlement immediately. The fact that this information was received by the Azerbaijani side and transmitted to Baku is confirmed also by a number of publications in Azerbaijani newspapers (Bakinskaya gazeta).29
After the Khojalu offensive 13 hostages of Armenian origin were found and released, including one child and 6 women. 30
On completion of the operation the troops of the Nagorno-Karabakh republican rescue service “Artsakh” found the bodies of 11 civilians, including one child and four women in Khojalu and its surroundings. This, of course, does not comprise the number of armed squadron members in military uniform. By the way, there number was not big either.
Thus all the rumors and accusations about the mass killings of civilian population in Khojalu are unmasked. On the other side, the fact of the death of many inhabitants of Khojalu remains unquestionable. How were hundreds of people killed and were exactly? The answer to this question reveals the truth and the fabrications about the events of February 1992.
17 Report of Memorial, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18.06.1992.
18 Kiril Stolyarov, op. cit. p. 251.
19 Kiril Stolyarov, op. cit. p. 268.
20 Izvestia, Moscow 12.04.1992.
21 Kiril Stolyarov, op. cit. pp. 255.
22 Helsinki Watch, op. cit., 1994, p. 20.
24 Azadlig, 26.02.1992.
25 Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18.06.1992, T. Goltz, op. cit., p. 122.
26 Russkaya misl’, 03.03.1992. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18.06.1992, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 02.04.1992.
27 Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18.06.1992, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 02.04.1992.
28 Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18.06.1992.
30 Statement of the Supreme Soviet of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, February, 1992.