Khojaly massacre

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The Khojaly Massacre was the killing of hundreds of ethnic Azerbaijani civilians from the town of Khojaly on 25 February 1992 during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. According to the Azerbaijani side, as well as Memorial Human Rights Center, Human Rights Watch and other international observers,[1][2] the massacre was committed by the ethnic Armenian militants, reportedly with help of the ethnic Armenians ex-soldiers from Ex-USSR/Russian 366th Motor Rifle Regiment.[3] The official death toll provided by Azerbaijani authorities is 613 civilians, of them 106 women and 83 children.[4]



Template:Main In 1988 the town had about 2,000 inhabitants. Due to the Nagorno-Karabakh war and the population exchanges between Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as Azeri refugees leaving Central Asia and subsequent settlement in the town, this grew to 6,000 by 1991.

The town of Khojaly was located on the road that connected Stepanakert and Agdam and was the base for the region's only airport. According to reports from Human Rights Watch, Khojaly was used as a base for Azerbaijani forces shelling the city of Stepanakert, and in turn was shelled by Armenian forces.[5]

During the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, both Armenians and Azerbaijanis became victims of pogroms and ethnic cleansing, which resulted in numerous casualties and displacement of large groups of people.[6]

In October 1991, the Nagorno Karabakh forces cut the road connecting Khojaly and Aghdam, so that the only way to reach the town was in a helicopter. The town was defended by the local OMON forces under the command of Alif Hajiev, which numbered about 160 or so lightly armed men.[6] Prior to the attack, the town had been without electricity and gas for several months.[7]

The massacre

According to Human Rights Watch[8]:

During the winter of 1992, Armenian forces went on the offensive, forcing almost the entire Azerbaijani population of the enclave to flee, and committing unconscionable acts of violence against civilians as they fled. The most notorious of these attacks occurred on February 25 in the village of Khojaly. A large column of residents, accompanied by a few dozen retreating fighters, fled the city as it fell to Armenian forces. As they approached the border with Azerbaijan, they came across an Armenian military post and were cruelly fired upon. At least 161 civilians are known to have been murdered in this incident, although Azerbaijani officials estimate that about 800 perished. Armenian forces killed unarmed civilians and soldiers who were hors de combat, and looted and sometimes burned homes.

The Armenian side states that the killings occurred as a result of wartime military operations, and were in part caused by the prevention of the evacuation of town inhabitants by Azerbaijani forces. Armenian government officials asserted that the casualty count, though high, was due to the fact the fleeing civilians in Khojaly had mingled with the retreating defenders and when the Azeri troops shot back, Armenian forces fired upon them, killing both soldier and civilian alike. Helsinki Watch itself concluded "that the militia, still in uniform, and some still carrying their guns, were interspersed with the masses of civilians." [9] However, Human Rights Watch and Memorial, found this explanation of Armenian officials unconvincing, stating that the mass killing of civilians could not be justified under any circumstances. Human Rights Watch noted that “the attacking party [i.e., Karabakh Armenian forces] is still obliged to take precautionary measures to avoid or minimize civilian casualties. In particular, the party must suspend an attack if it becomes apparent that the attack may be expected to cause civilian casualties that are excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."[10]

The Armenian side oft-referred to Ayaz Mutalibov's interview to claim that the massacre had been committed not by Armenian soldiers but by Azerbaijan Popular Front militants who allegedly shot their own civilians escaping through the corridor. In one of his interviews Mutalibov stated that the event could be a ploy by opposition to denigrate his government. In later interviews, however, Mutalibov would go on to condemn the Armenians for what he said was a blatant misinterpretation of his words.[11] Other theories proposed by the Armenian side were that Azeri Popular Front soldiers had massacred 100 Azeri and Armenian civilians and then proceeded to mix the bodies and lay blame upon the Armenians.[12]

This explanation however is widely disputed, among others, the executive director of Human Rights Watch has stated that: “we place direct responsibility for the civilian deaths with Karabakh Armenian forces. Indeed, neither our report nor that of Memorial includes any evidence to support the argument that Azerbaijani forces obstructed the flight of, or fired on Azeri civilians”.[10]

At the same time, some Armenian sources admitted the guilt of the Armenian side. According to Markar Melkonian, the brother of the Armenian military leader Monte Melkonian, "Khojaly had been a strategic goal, but it had also been an act of revenge." The date of the massacre in Khojaly had a special significance: it was the run-up to the fourth anniversary of the anti-Armenian pogrom in the city of Sumgait. Melkonian particularly mentions the role of the fighters of two Armenian military detachments called the Arabo and Aramo, who stabbed to death many Azeri civilians.[13]

According to Serge Sarkisian, long-time Defense Minister and Chairman of Security Council of Armenia who is the current president of Armenia, “A lot was exaggerated” in the casualties, and the fleeing Azerbaijanis had put up armed resistance. At the same time he stated: “before Khojali, 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 [stereotype]. 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".[6]

Fatullayev Acount

Mr Eynulla Fatullayev, is an Azerbaijani national who was born in 1976 and lives in Baku. He is the editor of opposition newspapers in Azerbaijan and criminal charges were brought against him in Azerbaijan for the following "Karabakh Diary" texts (for full texts, see Blogian). He is fighting the charges in the European Court for Human Rights[1].

For the sake of fairness I will admit that several years ago I met the refugees from Khojaly, temporarily settled in Naftalan, who openly confessed to me that, on the eve of the large-scale offensive of the Russian and Armenian troops on Khojaly, the town had been encircled [by those troops]. And already several days prior to the attack, the Armenians had been continuously warning the population about the planned operation through loudspeakers and proposing that the civilians abandon the town and escape from the encirclement through a humanitarian corridor along the Kar-Kar River. According to the Khojaly refugees’ own words, they had used this corridor and, indeed, the Armenian soldiers positioned behind the corridor had not opened fire on them. Some soldiers from the battalions of the NFA [the National Front of Azerbaijan, a political party], for some reason, had led a part of the [refugees] in the direction of the village of Nakhichevanik, which during that period had been under control of the Armenians’ Askeran battalion. …

When I was in Askeran [in Nagorno Karabakh], I spoke to the deputy head of the administration of Askeran Slavik Arushanyan and compared his recollection of the events with that of the Khojaly inhabitants who came under fire from the Azerbaijani side. I asked S. Arushanyan to show me the corridor which the Khojaly inhabitants had used [to abandon the town]. Having familiarised myself with the geographical area, I can say, fully convinced, that the conjectures that there had been no Armenian corridor are groundless. The corridor indeed existed, otherwise the Khojaly inhabitants, fully surrounded [by the enemy troops] and isolated from the outside world, would not have been able to force their way out and escape the encirclement. However, having crossed the area behind the Kar-Kar River, the row of refugees was separated and, for some reason, a part of [them] headed in the direction of Nakhichevanik. It appears that the NFA battalions strived not for the liberation of the Khojaly civilians but for more bloodshed on their way to overthrow A. Mutalibov [the first President of Azerbaijan] …

In separate statements he wrote:

I have visited this town [Naftalan] where I have spoken to hundreds (I repeat, hundreds) of refugees who insisted that there had been a corridor and that they had remained alive owing to this corridor … But a part of the Khojaly inhabitants had been fired upon by our own [troops] … not by [some] mysterious [shooters], but by provocateurs from the NFA battalions … [The corpses] had been mutilated by our own [soldiers] …

Melkonian account

Please add account by Monte Melkonian from "My Brother's Road".

Goltz account

Add account by Thomas Goltz's Azerbaijan Diary.

Mutalibov account

KHOJALY: Ayaz Mutalibov's Interview

From the interview of the former president of Azerbaijan Ayaz Mutalibov to the Czech journalist Dana Mazalova, "Njvaya Gazeta", 2.04.92

Question: What is your opinion about the KHOJALY events after which you resigned? Dead bodies of the Khojaly inhabitants were found not far from Aghdam. Someone first shot at legs so that people could not go farther. Then he added the axe, on the 29th of February my colleagues took photos of all this. Then during new sequences these very corpses were scalped. A very strange game...

Answer: As the Khojali inhabitants, who narrowly escaped, say, it was all organized in order to have ground for my resignation. Some forces functioned for the effort to discredit the president. I don't think that Armenians, who always have a distinct and competent attitude towards such situations, could have let the Azerbaijani get the documents unmasking them in fascist actions. It could be supposed that somebody is interested to show these sequences afterwards, at the BC session and to focus everything on my person.

If I claim the Azerbaijani opposition to be guilty in it, they might say that I am telling lies about them. However, the general background of arguments is, that a corridor by which the people could leave, was, nevertheless, left by Armenians. Why then would they begin to shoot?

Especially in the territory nearby Aghdam, where by that time there had been enough forces to help the people. Or, just come to an agreement that the civil population will leave. Such practice has always been usual.

I have always been told that people in Khojaly hold themselves up and it is necessary to support them with armaments, people and food. I gave a commission to use helicopters for this purpose. However, the pilots refused to fly there as they do not have special devices to avoid stingers. Nearly a week passed. An Aghdam alignment was sttked nearby to watch the developments there. As soon as the military forces encircled Khojaly, it was necessary to evacuate the population.

Earlier such a commission was given by me concerning Shushi: to leave men there and to take women and children off. These are also laws of the war: you must save their lives. My behavior was unbiased and fefinite: I gave such commissions but I have no idea why they were not fulfilled. By the way, I spoke to Mkrtchyan, the head of Military Forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, several times: "You laid several people on the ground. Give us an opportunity to take their bodies off here". But he replied that there must be no bodies, that our people are with them and that they are fed there, though they are short of provisions, and they are ready to exchange them with their hostages.

Question: When were you informed about those lost lives?

Answer: The next day after I was informed that there are just a few killed people in Khojaly. The information came from the minister of Home Affairs.

Question: Who was responsible for that information?

Answer: The minister himself. By that time a press-centre had been established in the Ministry of Defense. After the story about the helicopters we had an agreement that nobody would spread doubtful information.

Question: Do you consider the Prime Minister Hasan Hasanov responsible, too?

Answer: The head of the government, of course, is responsible for everything, though he refuses to have anything to do with such questions. Well, the government is government.

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International reaction

The Khojaly Massacre was described by Human Rights Watch as "the largest massacre to date in the conflict" over Nagorno-Karabakh.[14] Memorial, the Moscow-based human rights group, stated in their report that the mass killing of civilians in Khojaly could not be justified under any circumstances and that actions of Armenian militants were in gross violation of a number of basic international human rights conventions.[15] Estimating the number of the civilians killed in the massacre, Human Rights Watch stated that "there are no exact figures for the number of Azeri civilians killed because Karabakh Armenian forces gained control of the area after the massacre". A 1993 report by Human Rights Watch put the number of deaths at least 161 [16], although later reports state the number of deaths as at least 200. According to Human Rights Watch, "while it is widely accepted that 200 Azeris were murdered, as many as 500-1,000 may have died". [17]

In Written Declaration No. 324, 30 members of the PACE, including members from Azerbaijan and Turkey, stated that "On 26 February 1992, Armenians massacred the whole population of Khodjaly and fully destroyed the city", and called on all members of the Parliamentary Assembly "to recognize the genocide perpetrated by the Armenians against the Azeri population from the beginning of the 19th Century". [18]


The massacre is also referred to as the Khojaly Genocide and the Khojaly Tragedy by the government of Azerbaijan. [19]. Armenian government sources use the terms Battle of Khojaly or the Khojaly event. Western governments and the western media refer to it as the Khojaly Massacre.


  1. New York Times - Massacre by Armenians Being Reported
  2. TIME Magazine - Tragedy Massacre in Khojaly
  3. Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus By Svante E. Cornell
  4. Letter from the Charge d'affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office
  5. Human Rights Watch. Bloodshed in the Caucasus: Escalation of the Armed Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh. ISBN 1564320812
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Thomas De Waal. Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, NYU Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8147-1945-7.
  7. Hugh Pope, "Sons of the conquerors: the rise of the Turkic world", New York: The Overlook Press, 2006, p. 59, ISBN-10 1-58567-804-X
  8. Human Rights Watch World Report 1993 - The Former Soviet Union, Events of 1992
  9. Helsinki Watch. "Bloodshed in the Caucasus: Escalation of the Armed Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh" New York, September 1992 p. 21
  10. 10.0 10.1 Letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia from the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch dated March 24, 1997
  11. Interview of Ayaz Mutalibov to Regnum News Agency
  12. Letter to the UN from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia
  13. Markar Melkonian. My Brother's Road: An American's Fateful Journey to Armenia. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2005 ISBN 1-85043-635-5
  14. Human Rights Watch / Helsinki. Azerbaijan: Seven Years of Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. New York. 1994.
  15. Report of Memorial Human rights center (In Russian)
  16. Human Rights Watch World Report 1993 - The Former Soviet Union.
  17. Human Rights Watch / Helsinki. Azerbaijan: Seven Years of Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. New York. 1994.
  18. Written Declaration No. 324, 2nd edition, originally tabled on 26 April 2001
  19. State Commission on prisoners of war, hostages and missing persons - Khojaly genocide

See also

External links


From an Armenian perspective

From an Azerbaijani perspective

NEED Goltz and Melkonian account.

New York Times

From the New York Times:

Published: March 5, 1992

Azerbaijan accused former Soviet troops today of joining with Armenian forces in killing Azerbaijanis trying to flee a besieged town in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

At a news conference, officials played a videotape showing dozens of corpses. An Azerbaijani presidential spokesman, Rasim Agayev, said at least 1,000 people died in the attack last week at Khojaly.

Mr. Agayev said armored personnel carriers and tanks of the 366th Motorized Rifles, a force now under the control of the Commonwealth of Independent States that has been ordered to withdraw from the region, surrounded Khojaly on Feb. 25 and 26.

A spokesman for the commonwealth army, Col. Ivan Skrylnyk, denied Azerbaijan's allegations.


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