Khojaly Genocide: A Tragic Episode of Armenian Ethnic Cleansing Against Azerbaijanis
By Vasif Huseynov
The occupation and ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts in the early 1990s by the armed forces of Armenia was a process of immeasurable atrocities and extreme violence. The leaders of Armenia, recognizing that persuading over 700,000 people to flee and abandon their homes to Armenia would not be an easy feat, opted instead to use force to achieve their goal. The ethnic cleansing of the region by the Armed Forces of Armenia in early 1990s resulted in numerous humanitarian tragedies over the years, but the most tragic event was the massacre of over 600 Azerbaijani civilians in Khojaly, a town with a population of seven thousand people, in bitterly cold morning of February 26, 1992.
Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s President in 2008-2018, once admitted that one major goal of the massacre of the civilians in Khojaly was to scare off other Azerbaijanis and forced them flee the region. Sargsyan, who was the commander of breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh’s military forces in 1992, told Thomas de-Wall, current senior associate of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an interview dated December 2000 that “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 needed to put a stop to all that. And that’s what happened.”
The Armenian Armed Forces committed ruthless war-crimes to reach this objective. More than 600 people, including 106 women and 63 children, were tortured and brutally murdered. The fate of 150 of them, including 68 women and 26 children, remains unknown to date. As a result of the massacre, 487 were injured, 8 families were completely destroyed, 130 children lost one and 25 children lost both parents. This massacre in Khojaly was documented in detail by journalists and later reported by the human rights organizations including the Human Rights Watch which described this tragedy as “the largest massacre to date in the conflict” between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The occupation of Khojaly, a strategically important part of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and the town that hosted the only airport of the region, was a critical step in Armenia’s plans to seize the control over the surrounding districts. In the following months, a series of other towns and villages in the region were forcefully occupied, its residents were expelled and all the occupied areas were subject to relentless looting and destruction. The recent peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan has highlighted the need for accountability for the atrocities committed against Azerbaijani civilians. However, instead of offering apologies for their actions, Armenia continues to pursue policies destructive to regional peace and security. The reality is that there can be no alternative to recognizing past tragedies and holding those responsible for their actions. This is the only way to establish lasting peace, security and reconciliation between the two countries. Khojaly, a tragic genocide that occurred over 30 years ago, is still waiting for justice. It is time for Armenia to take responsibility and make amends for its war crimes. Only then can the two countries move forward towards a peaceful future.
Vasif Huseynov, head of department at the Baku-based Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center), exclusively for News.Az