By MAMMAD TALIBOV
Head of mission at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Mexico
Twenty-seven years have passed since that cold winter night when the once-beautiful Azerbaijani town of Khojaly was annihilated. The night when lives were destroyed and the dreams of hundreds of children were shattered.
Remembering that night of 1992 is difficult and painful for every Azerbaijani. Right after regaining its hard-fought independence, Azerbaijan faced another scourge, the foreign aggression and occupation by Armenia. The genocide committed in Khojaly represents the bloodiest moment of that aggression. There is definitely a collective memory among Azerbaijanis regarding this horrible, despicable crime against innocent people who were brutally and ruthlessly killed and tortured for being guilty of nothing else than simply being Azerbaijani.
Khojaly the only town in Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan that had an airport, an airport that had been under siege and a Nazi-like blockade since October 1991. Encircled by the Armenian armed forces, the town was cut off from access to food, electricity or any other supplies. Khojaly endured and survived thanks only to heroism and courage of its local people.
On Feb. 26, 1992, the world witnessed what the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) would later describe as the “largest massacre to date in the conflict” between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces, backed by the former Soviet Union’s 366th Motor Rifle Regiment, attacked the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly, slaughtering over 600 civilians, including many children, women and elderly, and torturing and taking thousands hostage. Hundreds more were wounded, more than a thousand are still missing.
Innocent people were inhumanly tortured and savagely massacred. Many froze to death in the woods trying to escape from that horror, where they were chased, ambushed and ruthlessly killed, their corpses mutilated.
Back then, the Khojaly tragedy was widely covered by the international media, including the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Financial Times and many well-known news agencies.
The massacre became a symbol and the pattern of the ethnic cleansing of the Azerbaijani civilian population, replicated by the Armenia’s military in other occupied towns and villages in Azerbaijan. In the most shocking admission of culpability, former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, then a separatist military commander, was quoted in the book “Black Garden” by British journalist Thomas de Waal (NYU Press, 2003, page 85, as saying: “Before Khojaly, 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 (stereotype). And that’s what happened.”
That confession by the highest-ranking official of Armenia is a clear testimony to the intentional character of the crime against humanity committed against Azerbaijani civilians with the specific purpose of spreading terror.
Today, the world community becomes more and more aware of this tragic page in human history. In 2008, the International Awareness Campaign initiated by the vice president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Leyla Aliyeva, was launched under the motto of “Justice for Khojaly.” That played a key role in spreading truth about this tragedy throughout the world.
Over the past years, the international community has made significant strides toward recognition of this horrific tragedy. The Khojaly genocide is recognized and commemorated by parliamentary acts adopted in numerous countries. So far, the legislative bodies of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Honduras, Jordan, Mexico, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Sudan, Turkey, Djibouti, Guatemala and 24 states of the United States of America have adopted relevant parliamentary resolutions.
We, Azerbaijanis living in Mexico, will be gathering today, on Feb. 26, as we do every year at the monument to the “Khojaly Genocide” on the Tlaxcoaque Square in downtown Mexico City to pay tribute to the memory of those innocent lives that perished on that cruel, cold February night, while at the same time raising our voices to bring to justice those who perpetrated this heinous crime against the whole of humanity.
There is no return to innocence for those who were involved in this heinous crime, but there is still the hope of finding justice for the victims through an international war crimes tribunal for the perpetrators of the massacre.
Today, the survivors of the Khojaly genocide, just like all the million Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons ethnically cleansed from their ancestral lands, the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, expelled from their homes, are looking to all of us with hope and demanding justice. They want to be back at the places where they were born, they belong to, back in their homes.
Restoring justice is the beginning of peace. As once said by the late U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.” We want peace; we demand justice; justice for Khojaly.
Mammad Talibov is a career diplomat who is the Counselor and Chargé d’Affaires at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Mexico.