The Khojaly Massacre was the killing of hundreds of ethnic Azerbaijani civilians from the town of Khojaly on 25–26 February 1992 by the Armenian and, partially, by CIS armed forces during the Nagorno-Karabakh War.
Monument to the victims of the massacre in Baku.
|Date||25–26 February 1992|
|Perpetrators||Armenian and Russian military|
According to the Azerbaijani side, as well as Memorial Human Rights Center, Human Rights Watch and other international observers, the massacre was committed by the ethnic Armenian armed forces, reportedly with help of the Russian 366th Motor Rifle Regiment, apparently not acting on orders from the command. The death toll provided by Azerbaijani authorities is 613 civilians, including 106 women and 83 children. The event became the largest massacre in the course of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Western governments and the western media refer to it as the Khojaly Massacre or Khojaly Tragedy. Azerbaijani and Turkish sources occasionally refer to the massacre as Khojaly Genocide (Azerbaijani: Xocalı soyqırımı, Turkish: Hocalı soykırımı) and the Khojaly Tragedy (Azerbaijani: Xocalı faciəsi). Armenian sources usually give an estimate closer to the 161 deaths figure given by Human Rights Watch regarding the events and mostly refer to it as the Battle of Khojaly, Khojaly event (Armenian: Խոջալուի իրադարձություն-Khojalui Iradardzut’yun) or sometimes Khojaly tragedy (Armenian: Խոջալուի ողբերգություն-Khojalui Voghbergut’yun).
BackgroundEditFurther information: Nagorno-Karabakh WarData on Khojaly Memorial in Lankaran. During the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, both Armenians and Azerbaijanis became victims of pogroms and ethnic cleansing, which resulted in numerous casualties and displacement of large groups of people. The town of Khojaly was located on the road that connected Shusha and Stepanakert to Agdam and had the region's only airport. According to reports from Human Rights Watch, Khojaly was used as a base for Azerbaijani forces shelling the city of Stepanakert. The indiscriminate shelling and sniper shooting killed or maimed hundreds of civilians, destroyed homes, hospitals and other objects that are not legitimate military targets, and generally terrorized the civilian population. Khojaly itself was shelled by Armenian forces almost on a daily basis during the winter of 1991-1992, and people grew accustomed to spending nights in basements. During the winter of 1992, Armenian forces went on the offensive, forcing almost the entire Azerbaijani population of the enclave to flee, and committing what HRW describes as "unconscionable acts of violence against civilians" as they fled. In 1988 the town had 2,135 inhabitants. Due to the Nagorno-Karabakh War and the population exchanges between Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as Meskhetian Turk refugees leaving Central Asia and subsequently settling in the town, this number had grown to about 6,000 by 1991.
In October 1991, the Nagorno Karabakh forces cut the road connecting Khojaly and Aghdam, so that the only way to reach the town was by a helicopter. The town was defended by local OMON forces under the command of Alif Hajiyev, which numbered about 160 or so lightly armed men. Prior to the attack, the town had been without electricity and gas for several months.
According to Memorial, from fall 1991 Khojaly was practically blockaded by the Armenian armed forces, and after the withdrawal of the Soviet Internal Troops from Karabakh the blockade became total. Some inhabitants left the blockaded town, but the full evacuation of the civilian population was not carried out, despite insistent demands of the head of executive power of Khojaly E.Mamedov.
Ambulance cars carrying murdered Azerbaijanis in Khojaly. According to Human Rights Watch, the tragedy struck when “a large column of residents, accompanied by a few dozen retreating fighters, fled the city as it fell to Armenian forces. As they approached the border with Azerbaijan, they came across an Armenian military post and were cruelly fired upon”.
According to Memorial, part of the population started to leave Khojaly soon after the assault began, trying to flee in the direction of Agdam, and there were armed people from the town's garrison among some of the fleeing groups. People left in two directions: (1) from the eastern side of the town in the north-east direction along the river, passing Askeran to their left (this specific route, according to Armenian officials, was provided as a 'free corridor'); (2) from the northern side of the town in the north-east direction, passing Askeran to their right (it appears that a smaller number of refugees fled using this route). Thus, the majority of civilians left Khojaly, while around 200-300 people stayed in Khojaly, hiding in their houses and basements. As a result of the shelling of the town, an unascertained number of civilians were killed on the territory of Khojaly during the assault. The Armenian side practically refused to provide Memorial observers information about the number of people who so perished. The refugees in both groups were fired upon, as a result of which many of them were killed. Those who remained alive dispersed. Running refugees came across Armenian military posts and were fired upon. Some refugees managed to escape to Agdam, some, mainly women and children (the exact number is impossible to determine), froze to death while wandering around in mountains, some were captured near the villages of Nakhichevanik and Pirjamal.
Helsinki Watch concluded "that the militia, still in uniform, and some still carrying their guns, were interspersed with the masses of civilians." At the same time, Human Rights Watch and Memorial stated that the killing of civilians could not be justified under any circumstances. Human Rights Watch noted that “the attacking party [i.e., Karabakh Armenian forces] is still obliged to take precautionary measures to avoid or minimize civilian casualties. In particular, the party must suspend an attack if it becomes apparent that the attack may be expected to cause civilian casualties that are excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."
The Armenian side refers to Ayaz Mutalibov's interview to claim that the massacre had been committed not by Armenian soldiers but by Popular Front of Azerbaijan militants who allegedly shot their own civilians escaping through the corridor. In one of his interviews Mutalibov stated that the event was "organized" by his political opponents to force his resignation. He added that "he found it doubtful that the Armenians would have allowed the Azeri-Turks to collect the bodies had the allegations of a massacre been true." In later interviews, however, Mutalibov would go on to condemn the Armenians for what he said was a blatant misinterpretation of his words. He also stated that he never accused the Popular Front of Azerbaijan of having anything to do with these events, he only meant the PFA took advantage of the situation to focus the popular resentment on him.
The Armenian side officially asserts that the killings occurred as a result of wartime military operations, and were caused by the prevention of the evacuation of town inhabitants by Azerbaijani forces, who shot those who attempted to flee. This explanation however is widely disputed, among others, the executive director of Human Rights Watch has stated that: “we place direct responsibility for the civilian deaths with Karabakh Armenian forces. Indeed, neither our report nor that of Memorial includes any evidence to support the argument that Azerbaijani forces obstructed the flight of, or fired on Azeri civilians”. British journalist Thomas de Waal noted that "the overwhelming evidence of what happened has not stopped some Armenians, in distasteful fashion, trying to muddy the waters".
Committee to Protect Journalists states that the Azerbaijani journalist Chingiz Mustafayev who recorded the bodies after Khojaly Massacre was killed very suspiciously while he was reportedly trying to gather information alleging that the Armenian attack on civilians in Khojaly was a provocation by the Azerbaijani National Front to force the resignation of Azerbaijani president Ayaz Mutalibov. However according to his brother Vahid Mustafayev, Chingiz was fatally wounded while filming an exchange of fire between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces when a shell exploded right beside him and a splinter from the shell severed one of his major arteries.
At the same time, some Armenian sources admitted the guilt of the Armenian side. According to Markar Melkonian, the brother of the Armenian military leader Monte Melkonian, "Khojaly had been a strategic goal, but it had also been an act of revenge." The date of the massacre in Khojaly had a special significance: it was the run-up to the fourth anniversary of the anti-Armenian pogrom in the city of Sumgait. Melkonian particularly mentions the role of the fighters of two Armenian military detachments called the Arabo and Aramo, who stabbed to death many Azeri civilians.
According to Serge Sarkisian, long-time Defense Minister and Chairman of Security Council of Armenia who is the current president of Armenia, “A lot was exaggerated” in the casualties, and the fleeing Azerbaijanis had put up armed resistance. At the same time he stated: “Before Khojali, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that [stereotype]. And that's what happened. And we should also take into account that amongst those boys were people who had fled from Baku and Sumgait".
According to Memorial, Official representatives of the NKR and members of the Armenian armed forces explained the death of civilians in the zone of the 'free corridor' by the fact that there were armed people fleeing together with the refugees, who were firing at Armenian outposts, thus drawing return fire, as well as by an attempted breakthrough by the main Azerbaijani forces. According to members of the Armenian armed forces, the Azerbaijani forces attempted to battle through from Agdam in the direction of the 'free corridor'. At the moment when the Armenian outposts were fighting off this attack, the first groups of Khojaly refugees approached them from the rear. The armed people who were among the refugees began firing at the Armenian outposts. During the battle, one outpost was destroyed, but the fighters from another outpost, of whose existence the Azerbaijanis were unaware, opened fire from a close distance at the people coming from Khojaly. According to testimonies of Khojaly refugees (including those published in the press), the armed people inside the refugee column did exchange gunfire with Armenian outposts, but on each occasion the fire was opened first from the Armenian side. The site of the mass killing of Khojaly inhabitants was filmed on videotape by Azerbaijani journalist Chingiz Mustafayev. He was accompanied by the Russian journalist Yuri Romanov during the first helicopter flight to the scene of the tragedy. Romanov described in his memoir how he looked out of the window of the helicopter and literally jumped back from an incredibly horrible view. The whole area up to the horizon was covered with dead bodies of women, elder people and boys and girls of all ages, from newly born to teenagers. From the mass of bodies two figures caught his sight. An old woman with uncovered gray head was lying face down next to a small girl in a blue jacket. Their legs were tied with barbed wire, and the old woman's hands were tied as well. Both were shot in their heads, and the little girl in her last move was stretching out her hands to her dead grandmother. Shocked, Romanov even forgot about his camera, but after recovering from the shock started filming. However, the helicopter came under the fire, and they had to leave.
Anatol Lieven wrote in The Times after visiting the site of the massacre: "Scattered amid the withered grass and bushes along a small valley and across the hillside beyond are the bodies of last Wednesday’s massacre by Armenian forces of Azerbaijani refugees. ... Of the 31 we saw, only one policeman and two apparent national volunteers were wearing uniform. All the rest were civilians, including eight women and three small children. Two groups, apparently families, had fallen together, the children cradled in the women’s arms. Several of them, including one small girl, had terrible head injuries: only her face was left. Survivors have told how they saw Armenians shooting them point blank as they lay on the ground."
Helen Womack reported in The Independent: "The exact number of victims is still unclear, but there can be little doubt that Azeri civilians were massacred by Armenian fighters in the snowy mountains of Nagorny Karabakh last week. Refugees from the enclave town of Khojaly, sheltering in the Azeri border town of Agdam, give largely consistent accounts of how their enemies attacked their homes on the night of 25 February, chased those who fled and shot them in the surrounding forests. Yesterday I saw 75 freshly dug graves in one cemetery in addition to four mutilated corpses we were shown in the mosque when we arrived in Agdam late on Tuesday. I also saw women and children with bullet wounds, in a makeshift hospital in a string of railway carriages at the station", "I have little doubt that on this occasion, two weeks ago, the Azeris were the victims of Armenian brutality. In the past it has been the other way round"
Another Russian journalist, Victoria Ivleva entered Khojaly after it fell to the Armenian armed forces. She took the pictures of the streets of the town strewn with dead bodies of its inhabitants, including women and children. In the article that she wrote for a Russian newspaper she described how she saw a large crowd of Meskhetian Turks from Khojaly, who were led to captivity by the Armenian militants. She mentioned that she was hit by an Armenian soldier who took her for one of the captives, when she was helping a woman who was falling behind the crowd with four children, one of which was wounded, and the other one was newly born. The captives were later exchanged or released, and in 2011 Ivleva found in Azerbaijan that woman. Her little child grew up, but did not speak because of the shock she suffered in her childhood.
The Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev traveled in 2005 to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and wrote an article called "Karabakh Diary". He claimed that he met some refugees from Khojaly, temporarily settled in Naftalan, who said that the Armenian soldiers positioned behind the corridor had not opened fire on them. Some soldiers from the battalions of the National Front of Azerbaijan instead, for some reason, had led part of the refugees in the direction of the village of Nakhichevanik, which during that period had been under the control of the Armenians' Askeran battalion. The other group of refugees were hit by artillery volleys while they were reaching the Agdam Region.
However, in his statement to the European Court of Human Rights Fatullayev noted that in the article “The Karabakh Diary”, he had merely conveyed the statements of a local Armenian, who had told Fatullayev his version of the events during the interview. Fatullayev claimed that his article did not directly accuse any Azerbaijani national of committing any crime and that in his article, there was no statement asserting that any of the Khojaly victims had been killed or mutilated by Azerbaijani fighters.
Eynulla Fatullayev was sued for defamation and convicted in an Azerbaijani court to eight and a half years in prison and a penalty fee of $230,000. "Reporters without Borders" strongly condemned this decision, stating that the judgment was based on no evidence but is purely political. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Fatullayev must be released, because in their opinion "although “The Karabakh Diary” might have contained certain exaggerated or provocative assertions, the author did not cross the limits of journalistic freedom". The Court also noted that “The Karabakh Diary” did not constitute a piece of investigative journalism focusing specifically on the Khojaly events and considered that Fatullayev's statements about these events were made rather in passing, parallel to the main theme of the article. Fatullayev was subsequently pardoned by the Azerbaijani president and released from jail.
However, after being released from prison in May 2011, Eynulla Fatullayev defended his 2005 comments which held Azerbaijani fighters and not Armenians responsible for the 1992 killings in Khojaly and added that the Azerbaijani government has long sought to use the Khojaly events to persecute its opponents, like the first president of Azerbaijan, Ayaz Mutalibov, who is still under criminal investigation for complicity in the Khojaly events. He also mentions Fahmin Hajiyev, the head of Azerbaijan's interior troops of the country who spent 11 years in prison because of the Khojaly events.
A Khojaly survivor, Salman Abasov told that: Several days before the tragedy the Armenian told us several times over the radio that they would capture the town and demanded that we leave it. For a longtime helicopters flew into Khojali and it wasn't clear if anyone thought about our fate, took an interest in us. We received practically no help. Morever, when it was possible to take our women, children out of the town, we were persuaded not to do so.
Role of the 366th CIS regimentEdit
According to international observers, soldiers and officers of 366th regiment took part in the attack on Khojaly. Memorial called for investigation of the facts of participation of CIS soldiers in the military operations in the region and transfer of military equipment to the sides of the conflict. Soon after the massacre, in early March 1992, the regiment was withdrawn from Nagorno-Karabakh. Paratroopers evacuated the personnel of the regiment by helicopter, but over 100 soldiers and officers remained in Stepanakert and joined the Armenian forces, including the commander of the 2nd battalion major Seyran Ohanyan, who currently serves as a Minister of Defense of Armenia. Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper reported that: despite categorical orders of the command of the military district, some military personnel of the 366th regiment took part in military operations near Khojaly on Karabakhi side on the 20s of February. At least two such instances were recorded. And during evacuation of the military personnel of the regiment paratroopers selectively searched several servicemen and found large amounts of money on them, including foreign currency.
The report of Memorial stated that the Armenian side claimed that a free corridor was provided for fleeing civilians. The Memorial report says: According to the officials of the NKR and those taking part in the assault, the Khojaly population was informed about the existence of this 'corridor' through loudspeakers mounted on armoured personnel carriers. NKR officials also noted that, several days prior to the assault, leaflets had been dropped on Khojaly from helicopters, urging the Khojaly population to use the 'free corridor'. However, not a single copy of such a leaflet has been provided to Memorial's observers in support of this assertion. Likewise, no traces of such leaflets have been found by Memorial's observers in Khojaly. When interviewed, Khojaly refugees said that they had not heard about such leaflets. Several days prior to the assault, the representatives of the Armenian side had, on repeated occasions, informed the Khojaly authorities by radio about the upcoming assault and urged them to immediately evacuate the population from the town. The fact that this information had been received by the Azerbaijani side and transferred to Baku is confirmed by Baku newspapers (Bakinskiy Rabochiy) Yet Memorial stated that the declared granting of the "free corridor" for escape of civilian population from Khojaly could be considered either as deliberate actions of the officials of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians aimed at cleansing the town of its population, or as an admission by Armenian leaders of their inability to provide on the territory controlled by them the protection of human rights of the civilian population regardless of ethnic identity.
Elmar Mamedov, Mayor of Khojaly: On 25 February 1992 at 8:30 PM we were told that the tanks of the enemy have been placed around the city in a fighting position. We informed everybody about this over the radio. Furthermore on 24 February I called Aghdam and told them, that a captured Armenian fighter has informed us on the impending attack... There was no response. I have also asked to send a helicopter for the transportation of the elderly, woman and children. But no help came.
VictimsEditKhojaly refugees.The Khojaly Massacre was described by Human Rights Watch as "the largest massacre to date in the conflict" over Nagorno-Karabakh. Memorial, the Moscow-based human rights group, stated in their report that the mass killing of civilians in Khojaly could not be justified under any circumstances and that actions of Armenian militants were in gross violation of a number of basic international human rights conventions. However, Human Rights Watch also made clear, that all sides have committed violations of the rules of war and added that “both sides shelled each other's cities and towns and committed atrocities.“ Estimating the number of the civilians killed in the massacre, Human Rights Watch stated that "there are no exact figures for the number of Azeri civilians killed because Karabakh Armenian forces gained control of the area after the massacre". A 1993 report by Human Rights Watch put the number of deaths at least 161, although later reports state the number of deaths as at least 200. According to Human Rights Watch, "while it is widely accepted that 200 Azeris were murdered, as many as 500-1,000 may have died".
Memorial stated that by 28 March 1992 over 700 captive civilians from Khojaly, mostly woman and children detained both in the city and on their way to Aghdam, were delivered to the Azerbaijani side.
According to Dana Mazalova, who spoke about this issue on a press conference, the images that Chingiz Mustafayev had shown her, "have nothing in common with the videos and photographs, which the Azerbaijani side presents to the world". Mazalova claims to have seen the original footage shot by the Azerbaijani cameraman Chingiz Mustafiev of the dead bodies and says that she did not see there the signs of mutilation that were in later footage. That has the grisly implication that someone interfered with the corpses afterwards.
Armenian news agencies claim that the Azerbaijani side regularly presents pictures of victims of other wars, such as the Kosovo War from 1998/1999, Afghanistan, earthquake victims or refugees from other regions as "Azerbaijani victims of the Khojaly massacre". According to the Azerbaijani mass media, the Armenian side regularly present images of victims of the Khojaly massacre as "Armenian victims of Baku Pogrom, Sumgait pogrom, Armenian genocide", etc.
Recognition of the massacreEdit
According to Azerbaijani news agencies in 2011, over a million signatures gathered in Netherlands and sent to county’s parliament to support recognition of Khojaly.
On February 25, 2011, New Jersey became the first state that recognized Khojaly Massacre on both legislative and executive levels.
Resolution of the State of Texas to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Khojaly Massacre.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts Citation for acknowledgment of the 18th commemoration of Khojaly Massacre. A Written Declaration (No. 324), authored by Azerbaijan Popular Front member Gulamhuseyn Aliyev in 2001, was signed by 30 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, including members from Turkey (12), Azerbaijan (8), United Kingdom (3), Albania (2), Luxembourg (1), Republic of Macedonia (1), Poland (1), Bulgaria (1) and Norway (1), condemning the massacre of the entire population of Khojaly and destruction of the city by Armenians and recognizing genocide against Azerbaijanis.
On February 26, 2009, in congressional remarks, Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), solemnly recognized the 17th anniversary of the massacre at Khojaly, and honored the lives of those lost in this great tragedy. On February 25, 2010, in congressional remarks, Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA), co-chairman of the House Azerbaijani Caucus, called Khojaly a site of largest killing of Azerbaijani civilians.
In January 2010, the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States (PUIC), composed of parliaments of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) members states, which includes Azerbaijan but not Armenia, recognised the Justice for Khojaly awareness campaign initiated on 8 May 2008 by Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of the President of Azerbaijan and General Coordinator of Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue (ICYF-DC), describing the 1992 event as a "mass massacre by Armenian forces of Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly", and called upon "all member parliaments to give proper recognition to this crime against humanity and support the Campaign on national and international levels. In response, the Armenian foreign minister Eduard Nalbandyan said that OIC member-states would not recognize the Khojaly Massacre as a "genocide", and noted that no international or regional organization have made statements that were inconsistent with the Armenian approach to the Karabakh conflict.
On February 25, 2010, the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Robert A. DeLeo signed a citation, proposed by the state representative Ellen Story, offering "sincerest acknowledgment of the 18th commemoration of the Khojaly Massacre".
In February 2010, Azerbaijani media reported a claim by the Azeri-Czech Society that representatives of the Azeri administration of Khojaly in exile and the Czech town of Lidice were to sign an agreement making Khojaly and Lidice sister cities and that a street in Lidice was to be named "Khojaly". However, in March 2012, reports quoted the Mayor of Lidice, Veronika Kellerová, stating that Lidice and Khojali had never been sister cities and that no street exists in Lidice named "Khojaly".
On February 25, 2011, New Jersey became the first state that recognized Khojaly Massacre on both legislative and executive levels. In the same month five members of the US House of Representatives, Steve Cohen (D-TN), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Sue Myrick (R-NC) and Bill Shuster (R-PA), have issued Congressional statements remembering the victims of Khojaly massacre and condemning the crime. On March 3, 2011, the Texas House of Representatives passed a resolution 535 recognizing and commemorating victims of the Khojaly massacre. On February 24, 2012, the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution 1594 commemorating victims of the Khojaly massacre. The resolution stated following substantiation: Armenia continues to formally deny any responsibility for the tragedy while President Serzh Sargsyan depicted the massacre as an act of revenge to "break stereotypes".
During 20th anniversary of the event, 50,000 Azerbaijanis marched through Baku to commemorate the victims of this tragedy. A rally of 150,000 to 300,000 people with slogans "We are all Khojalians, we are all Karabakhians!" gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square. The protest reportedly had an ultranationalist undertone, with protesters carrying racist banners. The head of Turkish Parliament’s Human Rights Commission, Ayhan Sefer Üstün, called on the country’s prosecutors to take action against protesters who held up racist and discriminatory signs at the rally.
On 23 March 2012, U.S.House of Representatives of the state of Maine passed a resolution with regard to the 20th anniversary of the Khojaly tragedy.
Memorial dedicated to victims of Khojaly Massacre in Lankaran.
Poster on the wall of the skyscraper in Baku showing 20 years after massacre. 2012 There is a memorial in the Hague, the Netherlands, which was initiated by the Azerbaijani diaspora and another one built in Ankara, Turkey, commemorating the Khojaly Massacre.
In 2011, Turkish city Isparta's municipality also approved proposal for a memorial to the victims of Khojaly massacre. The same year, another monument for the victims of Khojaly massacre unveiled near Gottfried Benn library in Steglitz-Zehlendorf borough of Berlin.
- 2011 – Refugee: a long journey of Anar Yusubov (dir. Cem Oghuz)
- 2012 – Infinite Corridor / Sonu olmayan dəhliz (dir. Richardas Lopaytis)
- 1993 – Fəryad (dir. Jeyhun Mirzayev)
- 1993 – Haray (dir. Oruj Gurbanov)
- 2012 – Valley of the Wolves: Karabakh
- 2012 – Xoca (dir. Vahid Mustafayev)
- 1996 – Ya Qarabağ, Ya Ölüm (by Dayirman)
- 2010 – Justice for Khojaly (by Dayirman featuring Toni Blackman)