This is the 28th Anniversary of the massacre at Khojaly, when Armenian forces destroyed an Azerbaijani town in Nagorno-Karabakh and killed over 600 people in cold blood. The following is the text of an interview I gave to Eurasia Diary/Eurasia Media Network with my thoughts on the event:
- ED: 28 years have now passed since the horrible massacre against humanity committed in Khojaly, part of Nagorno Karabakh, in the territory of the Republic Azerbaijan. As you know, on 26 February, 1992 Armenian armored groups attacked Khojaly and in one night more than 613 innocent Muslim people, including women, children, babies were brutally slaughtered, and more than 1000 people were taken hostage. Khojaly town was completely annihilated, and it is impossible to find any trace, today. Firstly, please share your opinion about this terrible tragedy of Khojaly.
PW: I can remember, as a young man, hearing of the “Nagorno-Karabakh war” on the TV. At that point the conflict in Northern Ireland, where I lived, was drawing to a close and a peace process was developing that would end the 28-year conflict. I think the vast majority of people in Ireland and the U.K. never knew about Khojaly or what happened there. I had to actively seek out details myself, later on when I wrote about the Ottomans and the Great War and people started asking me about Khojaly. When I began writing about this period, I was forced to understand the Armenian issue and it was this that prompted me to learn more about Khojaly.
We have had our share of massacres and killings in the North of Ireland and when I told people about what I learnt about Khojaly they were astonished. They were in disbelief because nothing of this magnitude was ever contemplated by either side in our conflict, let alone put into effect. It would have been considered far beyond the depths of depravity that something like this event should have taken place. Even the wildest people in our society would have been appalled at this massive and brutal act of terrorism, directed largely at civilians. Later we saw this type of thing in the Balkans but in 1992 it really was shocking.
I do not like to accept any event as “natural” or “inevitable” and have tried to understand Khojaly in a larger historical context since. The only way I can make sense of it is through the pernicious character of Armenian nationalism. One thing that runs through Armenian nationalism is a desire for maximalist territory – desiring any piece of land where Armenians live in any number. Of course, in 1914-20 this manifested itself in the Magna Armenia/Great Armenia project of the Dashnaks. All sorts of distortions of history, demography and general information were, and have been employed, in this irredentist pursuit with deadly implications. And the Armenian form of nationalism seems to be all too willing to not only sacrifice the lives of those who do not measure up to its uniquely pure race and religion character, but also the interests of its own people in the pursuit of land at any cost.
In 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the state that maintained the Karabakh settlement in an orderly way for 3 generations, it was imperative that the Karabakh issue be dealt with through dialogue and collaboration. Karabakh was a shared space and required some form of agreed solution before old wounds were deepened and blood ran again. However, Erivan, with old habits dying hard and obsession with its object of desire unrelenting, and heightened by an opportunity, implemented its land grab and ethnic cleansing to homogenize the population. This has had the most poisonous of effects for relations in the region, promoting blood feuds for generations and seriously damaging relations for peoples who need to live together for peace and prosperity. And Khojaly was really the ultimate manifestation of this disastrous form of nationalism, which can be reflected by responses of similar character as a terrible precedent is set.
- ED: Do you think that Khojaly genocide should be recognized internationally like the Holocaust and Srebrenitsa have been?
PW: Certainly, Khojaly was an event of similar character to Srebrenitsa and most people who have any interest in world events have heard of Srebrenitsa. If Khojaly, and other events of the same magnitude is not recognized in similar manner, from the same period of history, then there is something wrong with the idea of international law and justice. It is frankly brought into disrepute. This is because law has to be “blind” as the statue of Lady Justice signifies, or impartial, if it is to be given respect. When it is applied partially with massive “blind spots” it cannot be claimed to be actual law. It is something else, but it is not law.
- ED: Armenia has been trying, in the long-term, to bring information to the attention of the world about so-called genocide. However, Khojaly genocide, happened only 28 years ago, in recent history, and is still being prevented by the Armenian Lobby in being recognized in the West. What is your opinion about this? And what should we do to bring our tragedies to the public attention of the world?
PW: Armenia has a deeply hypocritical attitude to these things. It likes to portray itself as a victim to the world, without any responsibility for the calamity it certainly had some responsibility for bringing on its own people in 1915-20, through Dashnak nationalism, and will not tolerate the idea that it has created many victims of its own. These range from the large number of Moslems who died in Eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasia as a result of the Armenian Insurrection in support of the Great War on the Ottoman State and the objective of carving out Magna Armenia, to the latest sufferers of death and ethnic cleansing in Karabakh and the Erivan State itself.
The Armenians have, of course, great advantages in promoting their false narrative in the West (and indeed in Russia). They have a large English-speaking and monied diaspora of long standing, as a result of the calamity of a century ago. They have power and influence in the U.S. and many major European states. They have the sympathy of the Christian world, which although is not as Christian as it once was, still has latent tendencies toward support for its own kind. And they are quite single-minded in their pursuits – a single-mindedness I would say that is often destructive and detrimental to their own interests and development as a people.
Azerbaijan faces an uphill struggle, lets be frank. But its young academics need to produce popular, readable books about its history that appeal to western audiences and get across the Azeri case. It is a strong case and it will have effect if it is heard. It needs to be simply put and gain traction through stating the simple facts, without exaggeration and avoiding the type of wilder claims that the Armenian lobby indulges itself in.
When I started finding out the facts a while ago and researching the history of the region, I determined to write articles in Ireland and on my website (drpatwalsh.com), and to write a book about the geopolitics of the period as it related to Britain, Russia and the Azerbaijan Republic a century ago. I hope for this to be published this year. It is vital that the distorted version of history, pedaled by the lazy, unthinking media of today be challenged and an alternative case be presented in the West and particularly the Anglosphere, which is, for good or ill, the most important battlefield of ideas today. The most important aspect is to put events in a historical and geopolitical context, using the traditional means of cause and effect to explain developments. There is far too much “social science” masquerading as history, in which manipulation is used to construct false narratives.
In putting out the facts that describe the Azeri experience every little counts, and as one famous Irishman said: “Everyone has their part to play.”
- ED: History shows us that war criminals, including those involved in the Holocaust and Srebrenitsa were taken to the International court. Unfortunately, Armenian criminals, who led terrorist groups and perpetrated against innocent humans the dreadful crimes in Khojaly, have not been punished yet? What is main reason of this?
PW: Well, of course, this comes back to “victor’s justice”. War criminals invariably come from the losing side in war and there has to be a political will to pursue them. In all the massacres and destruction that have been perpetrated since the Nazis went on trial at Nuremberg there have been very few people convicted of war crimes.
With regard to Karabakh and Khojaly, in particular, I would say that the important geopolitical position of the Southern Caucasus has a lot to do with this. The region is an important arena of interests. It is possible that the U.S. could have pursued those responsible for Khojaly in the 1990s when there was effectively a unipolar world, before the Russian resurgence under Vladimir Putin. But the U.S. did not, perhaps owing to the strength of the Armenian lobby in America, and the desire to capture Armenia for the West and ultimately, NATO. Armenia is very much balanced between those in Erivan who understand that Armenia is ultimately dependent upon Russian patronage and its U.S. diaspora, which tends to be anti-Russian and would like to pull Armenia more into the United States’ hegemony. Obviously, the Armenian diaspora is the United States’ main instrument for influencing internal politics in Erivan so it would not wish to weaken their influence by demanding extradition for war crimes. Russia, similarly, has little interest in pursuing such matters. In fact, the Great Powers are probably exerting leverage over both Armenia and Azerbaijan through the unresolved state of the Karabakh, playing each off against the other in the new Cold War/Great Game. This is one of the most unfortunate products of the Armenian seizure of Karabakh 30 years ago. It has left all the countries of the Southern Caucasus pawns in great power politics, since the hinterland of Russia is the major battleground between the West and Moscow. Support for either Armenia or Azerbaijan on the Karabagh issue can be made dependent upon favourable influence for West or Moscow. And following on from this the Karabakh issue may remain better unresolved and a continued source of conflict for these external interests. It is undoubtedly the case that these Powers are playing double games in the region and tending to their own interests rather than to the interests of all parts of humanity in the region.
In such circumstances, and unless a major peace process is launched involving major players like the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Iran, I cannot see a resolution of these issues soon. In my opinion it would require something of the order of what the U.S. did in 1998 for the North of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement of that year, to begin a genuine process of peace and reconciliation in the area, involving justice for all victims, including the displaced and, in particular, those massacred at Khojaly in February 1992.
The report of the interview can be accessed here:
What Happened at Khojaly?
The massacre of over 600 civilians in the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly, which took place over the course of a single night during an assault by Armenian forces in February 1992, marked the bloodiest single incident in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. The Armenians used similar techniques that were later employed by Serbia in Kosovo and Bosnia. Heavy artillery belonging to Soviet forces was brought up to shell villages until local Azerbaijani defenders withdrew. The captured towns and villages were often looted, with the expulsion of non-Armenian civilians, and most buildings destroyed to eradicate all traces of the inhabitants.
The event, which is referred to as the Khojaly genocide in Azerbaijan, represented a significant point in the conflict. It led to the flight of Moslem civilians from other settlements in the path of the advance of Armenian forces, fearing what happened to the women and children of Khojaly would happen to them. This pattern continued and by the time the two sides signed a cease-fire agreement in 1994, Armenian forces had grabbed control of not only the disputed territory of mountainous Karabakh but also just under 20 per cent of Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized territory. By October 1993, all of mountainous Karabakh, as well as the Lachin corridor – a strategic territory connecting Karabakh to Armenia – had come under the occupation of Armenian forces. The Karabakh region which did not border Armenia and seven Azerbaijani-populated districts outside of it that did share a border with Armenia were occupied. Nearly 50,000 Azeris, along with other non-Armenian minorities, were expelled from Karabakh and around 600,000 were forced to leave the surrounding occupied territories. The Armenian war to grab Karabakh took the lives of around 30,000 people, the substantial majority being Moslem.
In 2003, the then Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan, admitted that the massacre served the effective purpose of the mass intimidation of Moslem civilians from Karabakh, achieving their complete ethnic cleansing. In an interview with the journalist Thomas DeWaal, which was later published in his book Black Garden, Sargsyan suggested that the Khojaly massacre laid down a marker to the Azerbaijani population of Karabakh and was meant as a warning to them – clear out or die.
“Before Khojaly, 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. 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.” (Black Garden, p. 172)
Sumgait, near Baku, had been the scene four years previously, of serious and obscure ethnic clashes that had left around two dozen Armenians dead and a smaller number of Azeris. There was possibly Soviet instigation in the event which was sparked off by the Armenian move on Karabakh in 1988 and the expulsion and killing of Moslems from both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Monte Melkonian, a California-born Armenian who came to fight to capture Karabakh for Armenia and who led a squad of around 4,000 fighters during the war, described Khojaly as a “strategic goal” and “an act of revenge” in his diaries that were published posthumously by his brother Marker Melkonian in a book called My Brother’s Road: An American’s Fateful Journey to Armenia. (p. 213). Monte Melkonian blamed out of control irregular forces for the massacre and its associated atrocities. His brother wrote:
“The Arabo fighters had·then unsheathed the knives they had.carried on their hips for so long, and began stabbing. Now, the only sound was the wind whistling through dry grass, a wind that was too early yet to blow away the stench of corpses. Monte crunched over the grass where women and girls lay scattered like broken dolls. ‘No discipline’, he muttered.” (p. 213)
The town had no military significance but it was strategically important. It controlled Stepanakert/Xankandi airport and commanded the Lachin corridor between Armenia and Karabakh, Kalbajar and Shusha. Prior to the attack, the Armenian forces had surrounded the town from three sides, leaving the fourth open as a funnel for civilians to flee through. The fleeing civilians were then ambushed and killed in brutal fashion in woods and open ground, often with the use of knives.
Journalists captured the scene of carnage in video footage that was aired on TV. The footage showed the mutilated corpses of civilians, including those of small children scattered on the ground. Many had been scalped, decapitated, or had their eyes gouged, with some pregnant women having been bayoneted in their stomachs.
Here are some press reports from the time:
The Sunday Тimes, 1 March 1992
ARMENIAN SOLDIERS MASSACRE HUNDREDS OF FLEEING FAMILIES
Ву Thomas Goltz, Agdam, Azerbaijan
Survivors reported that Armenian soldiers shot and bayoneted mоrе than 450 Azeris, manу of them women, children. Hundreds, possibly thousands, were missing and feared dead.
The attackers killed most of the soldiers and volunteers defending the women and children. They then turned their guns оn the terrified refugees. The few survivors later described what happened: “That is when the real slaughter began”, said Azer Hajiyev, оnе of three soldiers to survive. “The Armenians just shot and shot. And they саmе in and started carving up people with their bayonets and knives”.
“They were shooting, shooting, shooting”, echoed Rasia Aslanova, who arrived in Agdam with other women and children who made their way through Armenian lines. She said her husband, Кауun, and son-in law were massacred in front of her. Her daughter was still missing.
One bоу who arrived in Agdam had an ear sliced off.
Тhе survivors said 2000 others, some of whom had fled separately, were still missing in the grueling terrain: manу could perish from their wounds or the cold.
Ву late yesterday, 479 deaths had been registered at the morgue in Agdam, and 29 bodies had been buried in the cemetery. Of the seven corpses I saw awaiting burial, two were children and three were women, one shot through the chest at а blank range.
Agdam hospital was а scene of carnage and terror. Doctors said they had 140 patients who escaped slaughter, most with bullet injuries and stab wounds.
Nor were they safe in Agdam. Оn Friday night rockets fell оn the city which has а population of 150,000 destroying several buildings and killing one person.
The Washington Тimes, 3 March 1992
ATROCITY REPORTS HORRIFY AZERBAIJAN
Ву Brian KILLEN, Agdam, Azerbaijan
Dozens of bodies lay scattered around the killing fields of Daghlig Garabagh yesterday, evidence of the worst massacre in four years of fighting over the disputed territory.
Azeri officials who returned from the scene to this town about nine miles away brought back three dead children, the backs of their heads blown off.
At the local mosque, six other bodies lay stretched out, fully clothed, with their limbs frozen in the positions in which they were killed. Their faces were black from the cold.
“Telman!” screamed one woman, beating the breast furiously over the body of her dead father, who lay оn his back with his stiff right аrm jutting into the air.
Those who returned from а brief visit bу helicopter to Кhojaly, captured bу the Armenians last week, said they had seen similar sights – only more. One Russian journalist said he had counted about 30 bodies within а radius of 50 yards from where the helicopter landed.
Armenia has denied atrocities or mass killings of Azeris after its well-armed irregulars captured Кhojaly, the second-biggest Azeri town in Daghlig Garabagh, last Wednesday. Azerbaijan says 1000 people killed.
“Women and children had been scalped”, said Assad Faradzhev, an aide to Karabakh’s Azeri governor.
Мr. Faradzhev said the helicopter, bearing Red Cross markings and escorted bу MI-24 helicopters former Soviet armу, succeeded in picking uр only three children before Armenian militants opened fire. “When we began to pick uр bodies, they started firing at us”, he said.
Мr. Faradzhev said they were оп the ground for only 15 minutes.
“The combat helicopters fired red flares to signal that Armenians were approaching and it was time to leave. I was ready to blow myself uр if we were captured.” Не said pointing to а grenade in his coat pocket.
Reuters photographer Frederique Lengaigne saw two trucks full of Azeri corpses near Agdam.
“In the first оnе, I counted 35, and I looked as though there were almost as manу in the second. Some had their heads cut off and manу had been burned. They were all mеn, and а few had been wearing khaki uniforms”, she said.
In Agdam’s mosque the dead bodies lay оn mattresses under а naked light bulb. People screamed insults at Azerbaijani’s president, Ayaz Mutalibov, saying he had not done enough to protect Karabakh’s Azeri population.
Hundreds of people crowded outside chanting Islamic prayers. Some wept uncontrollably and collapsed near their dead relatives, brought to the town bу tuck only minutes еаrliеr.
Chilling film of dozens of stiffened corpses scattered over а snowy hillside backed accounts of the slaughter of women and children sobbed out bу refugees who made it safety out of the disputed Caucasus enclave.
Azerbaijani television showed picture of оnе truckload of bodies brought to the Azeri town of Agdam, some with their faces apparently scratched with knives оr their eyes gouged out. Оnе little girl had arms stretched out as if crying fоr help.
“The bodies аге lying there like flocks of sheep. Еven the fascists did nothing like this” said Agdam militia commander Rashid Mamedov, referring to the Nazi invaders in World War II.
“Give us help to bring back the bodies and show people what happened”, Karabakh Gov. Musa Mamedov pleaded bу telephone to the Soviet army base in Gyandzha, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city.
А helicopter pilot who took cameraman and Western correspondents over the аrеа reported seeing some corpses lying around Кhojaly and dozen mоre nеаr the Askeran Gap, а mountain pass only а few miles from Agdam.
A MASSACRE THAT THE WORLD CAN NEVER FORGET by Raoul Lowery-Contreras, author of Murder in the Mountains:
“Thanks to the Internet. we know of massacres that we might not have heard about five or ten years ago… That wasn’t the case a quarter of a century ago. On the night of February 26, 1992, Armenian troops supported by Russian soldiers of the 366th Motorized Infantry Regiment attacked the Azerbaijani mountain town of Khojaly. Its 3000 people were defended by a hundred police and volunteer teenage students. Rockets and artillery shells bombarded the town. Nightly barrages had occurred for the five months since Armenian forces had cut roads to the rest of Azerbaijan; no vehicles could enter or leave Khojaly. Supplies were helicoptered in, people out; the flights ended on the 14th. Food was scarce. The bombardment drove Khojaly residents into basement shelters. When it ended, Armenian and Russian soldiers attacked. Defenders knew they couldn’t hold against tanks, so they told all to flee Khojaly eastward to heavily defended Aghdam. From their GarGar River take-off point, groups of men, women and children started downhill through snow covered hills in freezing temperatures. With only the clothes they wore, they tripped and stumbled downhill towards safety through the night. Their elderly slowed everyone. Armenia claims to this day that the people of Khojaly were warned to evacuate through a “safe corridor” down the mountains. They say they promised safe passage. Between midnight and dawn 613 men, women and children were slaughtered by machine guns, rifles, knives and bayonets in that “safe passage.” Without a doubt, the killers were Armenians. Proof: Armenians took hundreds of hostages held for days and weeks to be traded with Azerbaijan for commodities and oil. Within hours of the massacre, American reporter Thomas Goltz made his way by helicopter to the killing fields and wrote a story for the Washington Post which he dictated over the phone from Aghdam by way of the Post’s Moscow bureau. The story was published February 27, 1992 in the Post, with another article in London’s Sunday Times the Sunday after the Massacre. The New York Times ran a story about the massacre on March 2 that described the Russian participation and that “scalping [was] reported” of bodies observed by reporter Goltz and others. Time Magazine ran a story on Khojaly on March 16, 1992. Despite some coverage by the Washington Post (2 articles), the New York Times, The Sunday Times and Time Magazine, few people in the United States knew anything about the massacre at Khojaly, which by definition of the 1948 Convention of Genocide was a genocidal act – a punishable war crime.
Armenians defend what happened at Khojaly. In a Horizon Weekly article entitled ·’Khojaly: The Chronicle of Unseen Forgery and Falsification·by Yahram Atanesyan. he, who probably has never spoken with a survivor of February 26, challenges Goltz. Goltz’ book ·’Azerbaijan Diary’ has been validated by another book. ‘Black Garden’ written by Caucasus expert Thomas DeWaal… Goltz was at the killing fields within a day of the massacre and is the only American reporter who visited Khojaly before the attack. He personally knew people whose bodies he saw. DeWaal reported on the battle 10 years later. Unlike Atanesyan and other Armenian critics, he did interview survivors…”