Haunted by horror of Khojaly Massacre, Azerbaijanis demand justice

On the 29th anniversary of the Khojaly Massacre, Azerbaijanis still wait for those responsible to be held accountable for their crimes while Armenian authorities are far from acknowledging responsibility despite all the evidence.

While horrors of the Khojaly Massacre still continue to haunt the Azerbaijani community, Armenian authorities are far from acknowledging responsibility despite all the evidence of the incident. On the 29th anniversary of the tragedy, Azerbaijani officials and surviving victims reiterated their call for justice and for those responsible to be punished.

On Feb. 26, 1992, with the Soviet Union newly dissolved, Armenian forces took over the town of Khojaly in the occupied region of Nagorno-Karabakh after battering it using heavy artillery and tanks, assisted by infantry. A total of 613 civilians were killed by Armenian soldiers in Khojaly, a strategically important settlement originally inhabited by 7,000 people. The attack killed 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly people. The massacre is seen as one of the bloodiest atrocities by Armenian forces against Azerbaijani civilians in the region, which was mostly liberated by Azerbaijan forces last fall after decades of occupation.

Some 487 people, including 76 children, were critically injured, while 150 of the 1,275 Azerbaijanis the Armenians captured during the massacre still remain missing. Eight families were completely wiped out, 130 children lost their fathers, and some 25 children became orphans in the massacre. According to the investigations launched by the Azerbaijani government based on expert statements and the testimonies of 2,000 survivors, Armenian forces tortured the captives by burning them alive, slaughtering people, peeling off their scalps, cutting off ears, noses or sexual organs, and removing their eyes, alongside mass killings.

However, despite all the evidence, Armenian authorities are still far from acknowledging responsibility.

Durdane Agayeva survived the massacre when she was 20. Captured by Armenian forces and subjected to horrendous torture, Agayeva told Anadolu Agency (AA) that Armenian forces started to target the town on the night of Feb. 25, 1992, with missiles and artillery. As Armenian tanks and armored vehicles came closer, they decided to leave their hometown, she said.

Saying that they moved toward the Aghdam region in very cold and snowy conditions, she added: "My mother, grandmother and my brothers and sisters were with me. Armenian forces blocked our way and started shooting. Innocent civilians, children and old people were brutally murdered. Everyone tried to run away to save their lives."

Bullet-scarred Agayeva and her brother Elşad were captured by Armenian forces and taken prisoner. They took them to the town of Askeran and locked them in a cell.

"May God not show the scene I witnessed there to any nation. I cannot forget the screams of women and children ... Armenians committed such ferocity. I cannot call them warriors. They were terrorists," she said.

After being tortured for eight days, Agayeva and her brother were released as a result of Azerbaijani commander Allahverdi Bagirov's efforts.

"It is not possible for me to forget my days in captivity. The word captivity includes many things. It means death, torture and suffering. Our honor was swallowed. We left a stain on us. However, our victorious army cleaned that stain in the 44-day war. The Azerbaijani army took our revenge in this 44-day war. This year is different," she said.

Agayeva also wrote a book called "Eight Days in an Armenian Dungeon," and it was translated into four languages. Recalling her visit to Turkey and her meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2019, Agayeva said Erdoğan had called her "Azerbaijan's hero woman."

Agayeva also reiterated her call for the perpetrators of the massacre to be held responsible for what they did.

Relations between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

Several U.N. Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, as well as decisions by many other international organizations, demanded the withdrawal of the Armenian forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group – co-chaired by France, Russia and the U.S. – was formed to find a peaceful solution to the conflict but had not yielded results.

When new clashes over the region erupted last year, Baku liberated several strategic cities, towns and nearly 300 of its settlements and villages from the Armenian occupation during the fighting. Before this, about 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory had been under illegal Armenian occupation for nearly three decades.

The ex-Soviet rivals signed a Moscow-brokered peace deal on Nov. 9, 2020, ending weeks of heavy fighting and documenting that Armenia would surrender several territories to Baku.

Still, both sides accuse each other of crimes against humanity. Last month, Azerbaijan applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), suing Armenia for its human rights violations during its nearly 30-year occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

‘Perpetrators should be punished’

The head of the World Azerbaijani Congress also said Wednesday that the perpetrators of the massacre by Armenian forces in the town of Khojaly should be punished.

Asif Kurban said in a statement that Armenian armed forces, terrorist groups and the 366th Motorized Rifle Regiment of the Soviet Army committed an unprecedented genocide against civilians by violating all international legal norms and human rights.

"The images that were taken at that time and the stories of the survivors of the massacre show that there was a real genocide in Khojaly. Also, a document presented by 30 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe signed on April 26, 2001, the report prepared by the Memorial Human Rights Organization on Khojaly and the reply letter of U.N. Human Rights Organization President Holly Cartner to the Armenian representative in 1997 prove that the Armenians committed genocide in Khojaly," he added.

Underlining that the parliaments of 15 countries and 16 state assemblies in the U.S. recognized the genocide, he called on all parliaments to do the same.

"The 'modern' world of the 21st century is still silent and ignoring the Khojaly Massacre," he said, adding Armenia violated its obligation to prevent genocide and the actions of its perpetrators since it had effective control over those who carried out the actions in Khojaly.

"As the World Azerbaijani Congress, we consider what was done in Khojaly a violation of many conventions such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," it said, demanding that the perpetrators be punished.

It said the failure to ensure that those responsible for the Khojaly genocide are held accountable before the law will pave the way for new genocides that may be committed by Armenians in the future.

Speaking in the capital Ankara during the opening of an exhibition marking the 29th anniversary of the massacre, Turkey's Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop also said that the struggle will continue until those murderers who try to legitimize this atrocity are held accountable for their crimes.

"We, as Turkey, always feel the pain of this ferocity, which took place in front of the eyes of the whole world, ignored by the international community and written as a disgrace in the history of humanity. We exert great effort to keep this massacre on the international agenda," he said.