February 25-26 are days of national mourning for the events of Khojaly in 1992 when, during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, there was a massacre of Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly by Armenian armed forces. According to Azerbaijan’s official data, 613 people died (including 63 children, 106 women and 70 elderly).
On February 26, mourning ceremonies, events and activities are routinely held not only in Azerbaijan but also throughout the world. Their goal is to draw the world’s attention to the atrocity.
However, with Azerbaijan and Armenia’s relations still acrimonious, the two sides have differing official accounts of what happened more than 23 years ago in Khojaly. Baku unambiguously qualifies the incident as genocide and a war crime.
On February 28, 1992 a group of journalists on two helicopters reached the site of the mass killings and visited Aghdam. What they saw was unspeakable.
Helen Womack, reporting in The Independent wrote: “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.”
Russian journalist Vadim Belikh from “Izvestia” reported: “This is beyond a nightmare: eyes dug out, ears cut off, scalps, severed heads ...”
Anatoli Lieven wrote in The Times: “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.”
Some of the residents of Khojaly, trying to reach Aghdam, froze to death in the mountains. The same fate also befell Georgian refugees fleeing Abkhazia.
In 1997, President Heydar Aliyev ordered a decree about the “genocide of Khojali”.
In 2012, the President of Azerbaijan evaluated these events as one of the bloodiest crimes of the 20th century and genocide of the Azerbaijani people. Turkey’s Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin stated during his official visit to Baku that the Khojali genocide is one of the most shameful stains in the history of mankind and Turkey will always stand next to its brother Azerbaijan.
When discussing the issue, MPs of Germany’s Bundestag assessed the Khojali tragedy as a heavy military crime.
Senator Nathalie Goulet spoke at the French Senate meeting about the Khojali tragedy and reminded the audience that over 30 thousand people died in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict; and despite four resolutions of the UN Security Council, which called on Armenia to return the occupied territories to Azerbaijan, none of them was fulfilled.
Historians, experts and governments have for several years sought to investigate what triggered those bloody events in Khojaly, which remains one of the darkest chapters in over two decades of hatred between Armenia and Azerbaijan.