Military successes in Tog and Sarinashen marked the beginning of a massive armed conflict between Artsakh Armenians and Azeribaijani occupants.
Following these victories our troops carried out operations to free Lesnoe (Meshali), Malibeili, Ashagy (Nerkin), and Gushchular. The operations were planned by Commandos (Arkady Ter-Tadevosian), and carried out by Valery Balayan, commander of operations. In Karadagli, the commander of operations was Karen Babayan. There were long bouts of heavy fighting resulting in freeing both Stepanakert's suburbs and Krkzhan, as well as lifting the blockade around the only airport in NKR [Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh] and taking the Azerbaijani Special Police (OMON) base - Khojaly.
With the hope of later returning to the stories about these battles that preceded the Khojaly conflict, I would like to break from the chronology for the time being to offer readers an account of the liberation of this village and the deaths of many hundreds of civilians from Khojaly.
Strategic Importance of Khojaly
It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Khojaly for us as well as the Azerbaijani side. The village is situated on the main highway connecting Stepanakert and Askeran, actually blocking Askeran’s district center.
Artillery fire from Khojaly was methodically destroying Stepanakert and Askeran. In addition, Khojaly practically cut off the northern part of Artsakh from the southern part.
To provide a broader picture, I should say that the only airport in Artsakh, which connected this isolated Armenian province to the rest of the world, was situated in Khojaly.
Both the Azerbaijanis and we knew well the strategic importance of this village, and both sides were preparing for a fight over Khojaly.
Beginning in 1989, Azerbaijan had begun extensive construction and repopulation projects in Khojaly. In particular, they brought in more than 1,000 Meskhetian Turks who had been exiled from Uzbekistan. In addition to the Meskhetians, as well as volunteers from Azerbaijan proper, Khojaly also saw an influx of military troops. As a result of this policy to change the demographic situation, the population of Khojaly practically tripled, going from 2,135 residents in 1989 to 6,300 in 1991 (1). In 1991, Khojaly was given the status of a town.
Azerbaijan did not limit itself to demographic measures. Baku made a strong effort to arm the town by spending unlimited money and resources. Thus, in the vicinity of Khojaly and the nearest county seat, Agdam, Azerbaijani military forces had 35,000 automatic rifles and machine guns with sufficient supplies of ammunition (2). Additionally, in mid-February of 1992, before flying to the CIS (3) Summit in Minsk, the President of Azerbaijan Mutalibov ordered 11 tanks and 12 BMP-2 Armored Personnel Carriers to be moved to Agdam county in order to protect Khojaly and threaten Stepanakert (4). The current NKR Defense Army would not view these numbers as significant, of course, however in 1992 they represented a serious threat.
Our field intelligence knew about these Azerbaijani preparations. We completely understood how difficult it would be to silence the guns spread across the town and de-blockade the nearby airport. On the other hand, we also understood that without completing this difficult task, further defense of Artsakh from the enemy would be pointless as Artsakh would not be able to sustain a prolonged blockade. The region was already affected by hunger. As Anjelika Chechina, a Russian journalist and human rights activist wrote, "January 21-25 I was in Stepanakert. The city still had no electricity or water. Water is obtained with such difficulty that it is almost shameful to drink tea. There are no products to trade for food stamps. There are cases of hunger edema in the city. Stepanakert reminds me of documentaries about Nazi-blockaded Leningrad” (5).
The Azerbaijanis also understood the situation in Artsakh. They understood that the Armenians must try to silence the guns placed in Khojaly and de-blockade the airport. Because of this and in an effort to lower Armenian interest in this strategic town, A. Mutalibov ordered the airport facilities and equipment destroyed (6).
In light of the growing Azerbaijani military presence in Agdam, the Armenians had another equally important reason for storming Khojaly, and that was providing the highest level of defense for Stepanakert. The presence of a fast growing and well-armed Azerbaijani town [Agdam] had seriously complicated the defense of the NKR capital [Stepanakert]. Thus, there was a natural need for a preventive strike to stop the destruction of Stepanakert and nearby Armenian villages and assure survival of the Armenian state.
It is said that the conflicting sides clearly placed a heavy strategic value on Khojaly. This new and growing town was poised to become the arena of unmerciful fights, and both sides were preparing for exactly this situation.
The need to silence the guns in Khojaly was understood by everybody. However, it was also understood how difficult this task would be. On the other hand, Armenian forces had become better armed compared to only a few months earlier. At the end of fall 1991, the Armenians were successful in disarming a Soviet police regiment stationed in Stepanakert, taking possession of the arms and ammunition. The regiment had been sent to Stepanakert earlier by the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs to prevent inter-ethnic violence in Artsakh. However, in anticipation of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the regiment’s commanders disappeared and the remaining soldiers were not willing to shed their blood defending equipment belonging to a dying country. Of course, negotiations played a role too, and it only helped that the negotiators from our side were in a very decisive mood.
In any case, the arms of this regiment, including armored vehicles, got into our hands. The fact that the Armenians had used three Armored Personnel Carriers was, by the way, used later by Azerbaijanis in their propaganda. To this day they claim to the world that troops from the 366th Regiment of the USSR Ministry of Defense, which had been stationed in Stepanakert, participated in this attack. However, as was seen, we did not need help from outside forces. We were thoroughly prepared for this operation. Although I have at hand the exact statistics for this fight, I will withhold the total number of our troops involved in this operation for now. For now I will say only that significant improvements in quality within the Armenian forces had taken place by that time, and I am not referring only to weapons. I will note one more fact; that many of our volunteer squads had advanced to the level of military companies.
The operation was planned and commanded by Kommandos. On the map that he drew you can see that our forces were to enter Khojaly from four directions. The first was from the Mekhtishen side. From this side the detachments commanded by Sasun, Suren, Levon, Akop, Vitaly, and Afo, as well as some troops from the 6th Company. The second direction was from the Noragjukh side. Here the attack was performed by troops from the 3rd and 9th Companies (Commanders Tigran and Yura), and also the detachments led by Aramo, Gagik and Edik. From the third direction, from the side of the village of Katuk, were fighters of the 1st Company – Commander Ashot Gulyan (Bekor), 2nd Company – Commander Karen Babayan (Karo), 4th Company, Albert’s detachments and a group of volunteers from Ballugi and Kert. The most important was the fourth direction, which was designated in the Military Order and in the Forces Distribution Account as the "special direction.” In this direction our soldiers were to enter the airport territory from which they would fight their way into the center of the town. It was from this direction that we used the Armored Personnel Vehicles and also Smbat’s small mobile group.
I should also mention that our forces did not use the majority of the territory on the right embankment of the river Karkar. This territory was designated for exit of the civilian population and the flight of Azerbaijani Askers (7). We were striving to avoid any unnecessary losses of civilian population. In addition, we understood that if the Azerbaijanis had no opportunity for escape they would have not option other than a fight to the end. It would not, of course, influence the outcome of the operation, however we were trying to avoid unnecessary deaths.
During the preparations for this operation we discovered that not all of our commanders (formerly farmers, workers, engineers, etc.) could read maps. The solution we found was very original. We asked an architect from Stepanakert named Volodya Stepanyan, I believe, to make a model of the town. The "builder” of this project was Warrant Officer Samvel. These two worked hard through the night to build the model of Khojaly, an exact copy of the town with all its newly constructed apartment buildings.
After the operation was decided on the map and walked through on the model it was time to brief each commander so they would understand their respective objectives. At the same time, the importance of the upcoming operation was explained to all the soldiers. Everybody understood that losses would be unavoidable, and although we could see the resolve in their eyes, we felt the need to motivate them and get them "fired up.” We explained that the planned operation was completely thought through, down to the smallest detail, and there would be only a small number of losses.
At this time something occurred that caused the operation to be delayed by four days. I don’t remember the exact date, the 19th or 20th of February, there was a meeting where Kommandos reviewed the details of the operation and gave the company and platoon commanders final directions. After the meeting I went to work, and about 20 minutes later I got a call from Ashot Khachatryan who asked me to return to the headquarters immediately. Understanding that something unusual was going on, I rushed to headquarters. At the entrance I met Vardan (Dushman) who was literally rabid, I can’t find another word to describe it. He was ranting about the "dumb general who doesn’t understand anything” (his actual words were much more expressive). After calming him down a little, I rushed up the stairs and entered Kommandos’ office where I witnessed the end of a very nasty talk between him and a "very highly ranked military officer” who had recently arrived in Stepanakert from Yerevan.
It is necessary to say that the highly ranked military bureaucrat was at headquarters at this time. After the meeting, he went to the troops and started to "reinforce their warrior spirit.” He was telling the commanders that according to military science the attacking side loses 25-30% when taking a fortified inhabited place. It’s no surprise that our guys felt demoralized. They all knew that for each killed there are usually 3-4 wounded. We are all pretty good with math, and this highly ranked officer’s math predicted a complete loss of all of our troops even in the most favorable scenario. At that time Kommandos entered the room, quickly evaluated the situation and cancelled the operation. After that, the highly ranked officer began to accuse Kommandos of derailing a strategically important military task. Quite a nasty conversation took place between them and I arrived at the very end of it.
The highly ranked officer insisted that the guys going into the fight ought to know the truth. Kommandos did not disagree but felt certain that comparatively fewer losses were closer to the truth, which the highly ranked officer refused to understand. At that moment, the visitor said something along the lines of, "as a superior rank officer he was relieving Kommandos from his position.” Now Kommandos was really angry and his speech became richly mixed with professional, virtuoso-level swear words of the Russian Army. He quickly explained to the highly ranked officer in very simple terms that nobody has the right to remove him from his position because nobody installed him in this position. He was elected by people. The visitor backed down and we returned to our troops.
It was necessary to again raise their spirits and fighting will, and explain to them that everything the highly ranking officer had learned and the way he acted his whole life was according to instructions developed for countries where nobody cared about the number of war casualties. We told our troops that our small Armenian nation has no right to fight using such instructions, that each and every soldier matters, and that the operation was designed to avoid casualties to the greatest extent possible. Additionally, the troops were reminded about the contents of the Order No. 1, in which it was said that violence against the civilian population and prisoners was unacceptable. Anyhow, the operation was delayed and, as is now well known, began on February 25th at 23:00.
The Storm of Khojaly
Khojaly, please note on the map, is a well-fortified town with enormous amounts of weapons and practically unlimited supplies of ammunition. Our field intelligence quite naturally was studying Khojaly for a long time trying to identify locations of Azerbaijani military units, storage locations for ammunition, and fortified places in the town. The Azerbaijani military that was tasked to defend the town installed machine guns in all possible directions where the Armenians could advance. In addition, in the most dangerous places they built shelters out of cement and closed roads with cement blocks. There were Armored Personnel Carriers in town and two BM-21 "Grad” rocket launchers. Plus, all major access points around Khojaly were flat landscape with a direct line of fire from the town. Even with all of these factors, the defenders of the town were overwhelmed so quickly that afterwards it gave the Azerbaijani side reason to talk about the possibility of treason committed by the highest levels of power in Baku.
In reality, the success of this operation was guaranteed by the very detailed plan and amazingly well coordinated and heroic actions of our troops. The operation itself started with an artillery bombardment that was quite limited due to the resources at hand. However, the shots were effective enough as the fire was concentrated where Azerbaijani troops were known to be located, as identified by our scouts in advance. After this, our troops attacked from all four directions simultaneously.
The units advancing from the 4th (special) direction on three Armored Personnel Carriers pushed into the territory of the airport and, going around the cement blocks, advanced to a flat area from which the whole town was visible providing an unobstructed view for shooting. At the same time our troops advancing from Mekhtishen destroyed one of the enemy’s Armored Personnel Vehicles and, going around a building construction plant, took a local high point from which they opened fire on an Azerbaijani police detachment. The police retreated practically immediately.
The second wing on the Mekhtishen direction went around the building construction plant from the other side and, passing the Azerbaijani cement shelters, took out a Special Police station situated at the cemetery. From this station they took control of all paths of approach to the airport from the Azerbaijani side and also the center of the town. Attacks from the Noragyukh side were also developing successfully. Here our troops also divided into two wings and surrounded two newly constructed apartment blocks in town where they destroyed Azerbaijani defense points and began to push the Azerbaijanis towards the river. At the same time, these same troops took control over the road between Agdam-Askeran-Khojaly-Stepanakert taking out one more machine gun nest on the outskirts of the town.
Finally, the third direction was from the village Katuk. Here the troops had the task of going down from Katuk and, dividing into two wings, take over a dairy, destroy two machine gun nests, and enter the most populated and central part of the town from two sides. After this they were to block movement on the road between Stepanakert-Khojaly-Askeran-Agdam from the side of Artsakh’s capital and start pushing the Azerbaijanis toward the river.
All our units carried out their missions with outstanding results. Although, nobody on our side doubted the final success of the operation, frankly speaking we did not expect such a quick victory. At approximately 01:15 AM on February 26th, having returned to headquarters, I put on headphones of our technical surveillance to listen to conversations between Azerbaijani radio communications. After about 10-15 minutes I was lucky to intercept a radio report from Alif Ghadjiev, Azerbaijani commander of the Khojaly defense. He was cursing Mutalibov, Baku, Agdam and Shushi, and reported that they were leaving Khojaly, following the civilian population using the safe corridor left by Armenians. I took off the headphones and quickly walked to Kommandos’ office to congratulate him and tell him about the radio intercept. The operation of liberating Khojaly was nearing its end. From this moment, the organized defense of the Azerbaijanis had fallen apart, except for a small group of them who took cover in a five-story apartment building where they continued to put up a defense. By 4:00 a.m. on February 26, some of them were killed and those still alive surrendered.
The operation to take out firing locations in Khojaly and de-blockade the airport represents significant success by our newly created defense forces. However, unexpected by us, this operation received widespread publicity and resonance in the international community. Azerbaijan accused the Armenian side of mass murder of Khojaly’s civilian population, and it must be said that they have managed to achieve a ridiculous level success in this propaganda campaign. On the other hand, within 24 hours after the operation hundreds of civilians from Khojaly were indeed found dead. What really happened?
The Fate of Khojaly Civilians - 1
In a different place and different article I have already written about the fact that after the liberation of Khojaly our forces found 11 bodies of civilians. This number, naturally, does not include members of military units dressed in military uniform. War is war, and all of our troops’ efforts to avoid casualties among the civilian population did not completely succeed, as we can see. Judging from the characteristic wounds, they died during the shelling before the attack. Some several hundred more civilians from Khojaly did not take the opportunity to use the humanitarian corridor and stayed in the town (their fate will be described later in this article). Where did the majority of Khojaly civilians die and, more importantly, how were they killed?
I would like to start by mentioning that Azerbaijani press supports the fact that Armenians had an order not to shoot at women and children (8). The fact that we left open a humanitarian corridor for the safe exodus of the civilian population from the battle zone is also accepted by everybody, including Azerbaijani sources. In order to not leave these statements unsubstantiated, I will mention a few quotes from Azerbaijani and neutral sources. The Mayor of Khojaly Elman Mamedov said "We knew that this corridor was designated for the safe exodus of the civilian population…” (9). "The Armenian side announced the existence of the humanitarian corridor to Azerbaijanis from loudspeakers, however, it is possible that the majority of the Khojaly population could have not heard this announcement” (10). Ayaz Mutalibov, President of Azerbaijan, said "The general foundation for such a discussion is that the corridor by which people could escape was left open by the Armenians” (11).
Besides this, long before the attack we, including me personally, warned Baku and the Khojaly population multiple times, including on TV, that we were preparing an operation to take Khojaly. These messages had two goals: a. to spread panic on the enemy side and make the civilian population leave the town and b. we understood that the absence of a civilian population would disorient the Azerbaijani soldiers and would decrease their desire to defend the town.
Here is one frank account of what happened from a Khojaly inhabitant: "The Armenians gave us an ultimatum… that the civilians would be better off if they left Khojaly with a white flag. Alif Ghadjiev told us about this on February 15th, but it did not scare me or other people. We never believed that they would be able to take over our town” (12). Mayor of Khojaly Elman Mamedov: "after receiving the news about their preparing for an operation to take the town, I asked Agdam to send over helicopters to evacuate elderly people, women and children. They assured us that they were preparing an operation to de-blockade the town. The requested assistance never arrived” (13). Even sources that are indisputably Azerbaijani support this fact: "On February 24th the Mayor of Khojaly E. Mamedov called Agdam to inform of the upcoming attack and request helicopters to evacuate elderly people, women and children. The requested assistance never arrived (14).
Nevertheless, the warnings by the Armenian side made an impact and a considerable portion of the population left the town before February 25th. The mass exodus of the Khojaly population was visually confirmed multiple times by NKR military intelligence and also was widely covered by the press and Azerbaijani radio and TV. During this time, the Azerbaijani press purposefully created a negative attitude toward any inhabitants leaving town and stigmatized them with shame. The obstacles put forth by the authorities were the reason why a significant number of Khojaly inhabitants could not leave the town before the attack started.
Out of the remaining civilian population 734 people could not, for various reasons, leave Khojaly using the humanitarian corridor provided to them. All of them were transported to Stepanakert, to the Industrial Autotransport Joint Venture (PATO) where the headquarters of the NKR Defense Forces had been transferred just prior to the beginning of the operation. The Armenian side gave them about a hundred sheep so people could prepare dinner according to their Muslim faith.
I have to say that most of them introduced themselves as Meskhetian Turks who were brought to Khojaly against their will. Although our plans were to return all of the Khojaly inhabitants to the Azerbaijani side, they told this small lie about their ethnicity in the hopes of being treated better by us. In any case, it was necessary to interview each of them and find out about possible military secrets, location of hidden ammunition, etc.
I am fluent in both Azeri and Uzbek languages, [Uzbekistan] being the location from which the Meskhetian Turks had arrived. Because of this, the Chairman of the NKR State Department of National Security Ashot Khachatryan asked me to talk to all of the people from Khojaly that were gathered at PATO. Approximately half of them were indeed Meskhetian Turks who, for the second time in the past few years, were forced to experience the misery of being refugees. We offered to let these poor people stay in Khojaly, guaranteeing their safety, but they didn’t take this offer. It is interesting that their refusal to stay was motivated by a simple fear of the Azerbaijanis. The Meskhetians knew that the Azerbaijani military had a large concentration of troops in Agdam and assumed that if the Azerbaijanis ever took back Khojaly from the NKR forces they would be killed as traitors of Islam interests. (On a serious side note, years later I met one of the Meskhetian former "prisoners” at an open market in Stavropol where he was selling cheese. The Turk complained about his life and was happy that in the Winter of 1992 he had "held captive” together with his entire family and he was also sorry that his tribesmen decided to decline our offer to stay in Khojaly).
In the middle of these "enlightening” talks with the Khojaly inhabitants, Zhanna Galstian arrived with six or seven foreign journalists who wanted to talk to them. We didn’t impede them at all and they walked into one room where some people from Khojaly were. Later Zhanna, looking openly pleased, told us that in response to condolences expressed by an English journalist that they had become prisoners, the Meskhetians started talking all at once, practically in chorus, telling him that they didn’t see themselves as prisoners. "We were prisoners in Khojaly where they placed us against our will. Here we are safe.”
Anyhow, on February 28th all of the people from Khojaly were transferred back to the Azerbaijani side without any preconditions. The fact that this voluntary transfer of Khojaly inhabitants to Azerbaijan occurred, after our thorough investigation, was confirmed in findings published by the Moscow Human Rights Center "Memorial” and also witnessed in a documentary film by Svetlana Kulchitskaya, a journalist from Saint Petersburg.
Thus, Khojaly inhabitants who remained in Khojaly found themselves in safety, which we can’t necessarily say about those who left the town at the beginning of the attack.
The Fate of Khojaly Civilians - 2
On the morning of February 26th, Ayaz Mutalibov, President of Azerbaijan, called Artur Mkrtichian, Chairman of the Supreme Council of NKR in Stepanakert and informed the Armenian side about multiple casualties among the Khojaly residents. A. Mkrtichian was quite surprised, and responded "What are you talking about? Khojaly residents were given a humanitarian corridor. They left Khojaly before we took it. Some of your people are here in Stepanakert. We are feeding them although we don’t have enough food for ourselves. Please investigate this, they are misinforming you” (15). After hanging up, Artur Mkrtichian turned to me and asked that I investigate this issue. I replied that there is no reason to investigate anything because I just came back from the area where the fighting took place and there were not many casualties, this wasn’t possible. Nevertheless, I went back to Khojaly along with A. Khachatrian and V. Balayan and we looked around the town once more. Not finding anything that would discredit an Armenian soldier, we returned back to Stepanakert.
A couple days later we found out that there were casualties involving Khojaly residents, and there were many, but it happened on the outskirts of Agdam. What really happened here? And why hasn’t Azerbaijani state propaganda subsequently grown weary of comparing Khojaly to… Hiroshima and Khatyn?
Here is an interesting detail. According to K. Stolyarov, a rumor about the fall of Khojaly and the mass murder of its inhabitants was already spreading around Baku in the evening of February 25th, which was several hours before the storm and even before the artillery shelling began (16). It is worth noting, by the way, that Stolyarov is a dedicated supporter of A. Mutalibov and his whole book is full of anti-Armenian rhetoric. Neither Azerbaijan’s Minister of Internal Affairs T. Kerimov nor Minister of Security V. Guseinov, according to their own words, were able to identify the sources of this information. Only after this, already the morning of February 26th, Mutalibov contacted A. Mkrtchan.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs understood that the loss of Khojaly meant a political fiasco for Mutalibov. In the evening of February 26 they issued a press release in which they claimed that "the attack of Armenian insurgents on Khojaly was successfully defeated and Khojaly is again under the control of Azerbaijani forces.” However, this information was immediately refuted by the Popular Front’s information center which announced that two truckloads filled with the corpses of Khojaly civilians arrived in Agdam” (17).
The corpses indeed existed. And Khojaly civilians died not in their town, where Azerbaijani trucks simply could not get to, but on the outskirts of Agdam. This fact is well known to all Azerbaijani sources, however this topic is "off limits to talk about.” However, for my reader I would like to list some facts that somehow got into the press. Mutalibov, for example, justly pointed out that after the humanitarian corridor was provided for Khojaly civilians to exit there would be no reason to shoot at them "…especially on the territory so close to Agdam where, by that time, there were enough forces to come out and help the people…” (18). Soon thereafter the same Mutalibov, already ex-President of Azerbaijan, openly expressed his doubt that Armenians were involved in the mass murder of the civilian population of Khojaly: "It is possible that some Azerbajanis were indeed killed by Azerbaijani forces to discredit him” (19). Well-known Azerbaijani TV journalist Chingiz Mustafayev (Fuat-ogly), noted reporting to Mutalibov about what he saw from a military helicopter flying over Khojaly: "it was impossible to photograph corpses in Khojaly because there was no trace of any dead bodies at all…” (20).
The majority of corpses were found on the outskirts of Agdam where they were filmed by Chingiz Fuat-ogly on February 29th and again on March 2nd. It was this film footage that was shown in Baku at the session of Milli Medjlis and subsequently on many television channels worldwide as proof of the mass killing of the Azerbaijani civilian population of Khojaly. However, it is this same footage that most clearly exposes the criminal acts of Azerbaijani politics and propaganda.
Leaving emotions aside, the very fact that the two parts of the documentary that the operator filmed in the presence of numerous Azerbaijanis in both plain clothes as well as military uniforms (they are shown constantly in the footage) is proof that the territory was controlled by Azerbaijani military forces. Otherwise, we would have to assume that Armenians left a humanitarian corridor for the civilians of Khojaly (without this they wouldn’t be able to exit the town; see the map of the operation to liberate Khojaly), only to kill them on the outskirts of Agdam and then retreat. Afterwards the same Armenians again took control of the territory only to defile the dead bodies, maim them and again retreat, leaving the field covered with corpses to the Azerbaijani film operators to give them the opportunity to film all of this so they could show the whole world these "blood-thirsty Armenians.”
The suggestion that the Armenian side thought up and implemented in cold blood such a tangled multi-step combination of killing and maiming the very people for whom they had provided the only means of escape from the surrounded firing pocket, could only come from the inflamed imagination of a misanthrope.
On the other hand, somebody did maim the corpses. During the second round of filming on March 2nd, the journalists noticed that the positions of some bodies and the degree of injuries had changed. Chingiz Fuad-ogly reported about this to Mutalibov who responded with prophetic words: "Chingiz, tell nobody that you noticed something suspicious. Otherwise they will kill you” (21). However, Fuad-ogly, now doubting the "mark of the Armenians” on this mass murder undertook a journalistic investigation of the tragedy. He managed to send only two materials to the Moscow Information Agency "DR-PRESS” wherein he explained the basis for his suspicion towards the Azerbaijani side’s participation in this crime. Chingiz Mustafaev (Fuad-ogly) was killed on the same field where he was filming the main Azerbaijani "argument.” He was killed far away from the front line.
I have in my possession a large body of information that completely excludes the very possibility that Armenians participated in the mass extermination of the civilian population of Khojaly. Unfortunately, the size limit of this publication does not allow me to go deeper into this question. Frankly, I believe that the abovementioned facts are sufficient to understand that civilians from Khojaly were killed by the Azerbaijanis themselves. Whether it was done on purpose or not is a different issue. It is possible to surmise that Azerbaijani forces stationed in Agdam took crowds of civilians from Khojaly for advancing Armenian troops and opened hellfire on them to wipe them out. Later, trying to hide this unintentional crime and in an attempt to place the blame on the Armenians they maimed the corpses.
This explanation however does not mean that the Azerbaijani side tried to help its tribesmen. Armed forces stationed in Agdam not only ignored the need to help the civilians from Khojaly, they also intentionally misinformed them. It seems that somebody in Azerbaijan really needed Khojaly civilian blood. I don’t think it would be outside of the realm of possibility to discover that it was done to overthrow Mutalibov. One of the defenders of Khojaly says: "We along with some civilians from Khojaly got to the [Armenian] village of Nakhijevanik hoping to find shelter there. We heard on the radio that this village had been freed from the insurgents. First, shots were fired… A short fight started in which we were able to get through their post…” (22).
As we can see, people in Agdam simply deceived the people from Khojaly, directing them to the Armenian village of Nakhijevanik and thus provoking a fight with Armenian outposts defending the village. Please note that Nakhijevanik has never been captured by the enemy neither that time nor any time after that. Armenian village guards confirm that a group of people from Khojaly unexpectedly made a turn towards Nakhijevanik and caught the defenders by surprise, killing two of them and wounding ten. The fact that the people from Khojaly were deceived is supported by E. Mamedov, the mayor of Khojaly (23). Finally, there is a very important eyewitness account from S. Abbasov, another defender of Khojaly. He says that during the fight with outposts defending Nakhijevanik "With the help of the troops that came to our rescue from Agdam we were able to get through after a heavy fight” (24).
So, the Agdam troops "arrived” just as the people from Khojaly managed to "fight through” to the exact spot where numerous corpses were subsequently found. But the Armenian troops simply could not have gotten there! The number of armed Armenians able to fight at the time described was very limited and most of them were engaged with the storming of Khojaly. Aside from this, it was necessary to guard the most dangerous sides from which Azerbaijani forces could launch counterattacks. These locations were all around the perimeter of NKR. Here is one more eyewitness account proving that the people from Khojaly were killed in a place where Armenians could not have been. These words belong to Leonid Kravets, commander of a helicopter squadron: "On February 26 I was evacuating the wounded and was returning back through the Askeran gates. I noticed bright spots down on the ground. After lowering down my flight engineer shouted "Look there are women and children there.” Yes, by that time I saw myself about 200 corpses dispersed on the slope. Among these bodies there were armed people walking… It is thought that these were refugees from Khojaly. Somewhere 800 meters before the front line of Azerbaijani outposts an ambush awaited them” (25).
Now lets compare. The bodies according to the pilot were 800 meters from the Agdam outposts. Despite the fact that this number is exaggerated (800 meters from the outskirts of Agdam, not their outposts – L.M-Sh.) even this distance is enough to make sure that small Armenian detachments would not be able to feel safe there – the landscape of this part of NKR is flat, without natural shelters and modern weapons could be shot with precision from an even further distance. Aside from this, recall that Agdam forces went ahead to rescue, meaning they advanced towards the refugees. It is worth noting that they were "arriving” for quite a long time – only in the summer of 1993 was this area and Agdam proper were liberated from Azerbaijani forces.
But at that time, in February 1992 in the complete darkness people from Khojaly were walking straight to their death. It is easy to see how Agdam forces, nervous from having left their fortified positions and, advancing forward, could take them for Armenians. By the way, Chingiz Fuad-ogly arrived to exactly the same hypothesis in his report in "DR-PRESS.”
I would also like to add that if this was started by unintentional error on the part of Azerbaijani military, the actions of Azerbaijani state propaganda that followed showed to the world the height of hypocrisy and political dirt. Although I do have a large amount of factual material showing how Azerbaijani propaganda purposefully increased the number of victims, the analysis of this is outside of the scope of this current work. I will give just one example that illustrates their cynical methods. This is an order issued by Geydar Aliev, President of Azerbaijani Republic, regarding the genocide of Azerbaijanis in which it says: "In February 1992, the Armenians perpetrated an unspeakable reprisal against the population of the city of Khojaly. This bloody tragedy that is remembered in our history as the Khojaly genocide concluded with the extermination of thousands of Azerbaijanis” (26).
Therefore, as a result of dirty internal political games in Azerbaijan, Baku politicians twisted this glorious victory of Armenian forces into an emotional game they are playing with not only their own people, but also the international community.
Nevertheless, I would like to highlight one more time that the suppression of fire coming from Khojaly relieved Stepanakert and the surrounding Armenian villages from the terror of endless artillery shelling from that side. In addition, the success of this operation created circumstances that eased the delivery of food to Stepanakert from the villages of Askeran, Martakert and Shauhmyan districts. Without exaggeration, this fact helped to save tens of thousands of civilians living in Stepanakert from starvation and brutal shelling. I would also add that, during the very short period of time that the Khojaly airport remained functional dozens of wounded civilians and soldiers who needed urgent specialized medical care were saved.
The taking of Khojaly presented an opportunity to create a deeply echeloned defense for Stepanakert. This played an especially important role during the Azerbaijani army offensive against NKR in the summer-fall of 1992. Finally, the suppression of fire from Khojaly allowed Armenian forces to prepare for their main task – the liberation of the ancient Armenian city of Shushi.
(1) According to Moscow Human Rights Center "Memorial” – Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 18, 1992
(2) K. Stolyarov. Disintegration: From Nagorny Karabakh to Belovezhskaya Puscha, Moscow 2001, p. 268
(3) CIS: Commonwealth of Independent States
(4) K. Stolyarov, see above mentioned source, p. 251
(5) Novoe Vremya, # 2, 1992
(6) K. Stolyarov, p. 255
(7) Asker is the word for soldier in Azeri language
(8) "Azadlyg” February 26, 1992
(9) Russkaya Mysl, March 3, 1992, quoted according to "Bakinski Rabochii”
(10) Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 18, 1992
(11) Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 2, 1992
(12) T. Goltz, Requiem for a Would-Be Republic, ISIS, Istanbul, 1995
(13) Megapolis-Express, No. 17, 1992
(14) Khojaly: Chronicle of Genocide. Editor: Elmira Akhundova. Azerbaijani State Publishing Company. Baku 1993, p. 16
(15) Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 2, 1992
(16) Report of Moscow Human Rights Center of Memorial Society, K. Stolyarov, see abovementioned work, p. 253
(17) Memed Safarly. Fights in Karabakh Continue, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 28, 1992
(18) K. Stolyarov, see abovementioned work, p. 257
(19) A Zverev. Ethnic Conflicts in Caucasus, 1988-1994, "Disputed Borders of Causcasus” Moscow, 1996, p. 32
(20) K. Stolyarov, see abovementioned work, p. 253-255
(21) K. Stolyarov see abovementioned work, p. 255
(22) Khojaly. Chronicle of a Genocide. Editor – Elmira Akhundova "Azerbaijani State Publishing House, Baku, 1993, p. 31-32
(23) Zaur Kadymbekov. Tragedy of Khojaly. Pravda March 7, 1992; also see Khojaly. The Chronicle of Genocide, p. 29
(24) Moscow. "Megapolis-Express” # 17, 1992
(25) Khojaly. Chronicle of a Genocide. Editor: Elmira Akhumdova. Azerbaijani State Publishing House, Baku, 1993, p. 124
(26) National Histories in Soviet and Post-Soviet States, see Attachments, Moscow, 1999, p. 403-404