On 26 February 1992, unprecedented atrocities were committed against the Azerbaijani population in the town of Khojaly. This act of genocide carried out by the Armenian forces against innocent civilians was the largest single massacre of the Azerbaijani civilians in the course of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
Before the conflict, 7,000 people lived in this town of the Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. From October 1991, the town was entirely surrounded by the Armenian forces. During the night of 25 to 26 February 1992, following massive artillery bombardment of Khojaly, the assault on the town began from various directions. The attack and capture of the town by the Armenian forces, with the direct participation of the then Soviet infantry guards regiment No. 366, which was mainly composed of Armenians, involved the extermination of hundreds of Azerbaijanis while the town was razed to the ground. On that night, 613 persons, including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly were killed. 1,275 inhabitants of Khojaly were taken hostage, while the fate of 150 persons remains unknown. In the course of the tragedy 487 inhabitants of Khojaly were wounded, including 76 children not yet of age; six families were completely wiped out; 26 children lost both parents; and 130 children one of their parents. Of those who perished, 56 persons were killed with a particular brutality.
There are sufficient grounds to conclude that the Government of the Republic of Armenia, its armed forces and the subordinate forces for which it is liable under international law are responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the conflict, including in Khojaly, which amount to crimes under international law. The violations of the rules of war by the Armenian side include, inter alia, indiscriminate attacks, including the killing of civilians, the taking and holding of hostages, and the mistreatment and summary execution of prisoners of war and hostages.
In its relevant resolutions adopted in 1993 in response to the illegal use of force against Azerbaijan and occupation of its territories, the Security Council made specific reference to violations of international humanitarian law, including the displacement of a large number of civilians in Azerbaijan, attacks on civilians and the bombardment of inhabited areas. Referring to the reports available from independent sources, the European Court of Human Rights pointed out that “... at the time of the capture of Khojaly on the night of 25 to 26 February 1992 hundreds of civilians of Azerbaijani ethnic origin were reportedly killed, wounded or taken hostage, during their attempt to flee the captured town, by Armenian fighters attacking the town”. The Court qualified atrocities committed in Khojaly as “acts of particular gravity which may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity” (judgment of 22 April 2010, paragraph 87).
EU in its statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of May 1992 condemned ‘in particular as contrary to these [OSCE] principles and commitments any actions against territorial integrity or designed to achieve political goals by force, including the driving out of civilian populations.
Armenia’s direct involvement into the atrocities is a clear evidence of the fact that groundless and unlawful secessionist demands from the very outset were not “peaceful aspirations”, as the Armenian propaganda asserts in its futile attempts to mislead the international community, and were aimed at seizing the territories of Azerbaijan by force and creating the ethnically homogenous areas there.
Khojaly is a tragic and brutal reminder of the fundamental importance of the protection of civilians in armed conflict and the need to ensure the rule of law. Ensuring the protection of civilians requires uncompromising respect for international humanitarian and human rights law and serious efforts to prevent and respond to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in situations of conflict.
There can be no long-term and sustainable peace without justice and respect for human dignity, rights and freedoms. More resolute and targeted measures are required to end impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. Impunity still enjoyed by the perpetrators of the crimes continues to impede progress in achieving the long-awaited peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Consequently, ending impunity is essential not only for the purposes of identifying the responsibility of parties to the conflict and individual perpetrators, the achievement of which is undoubtedly imperative per se, but also for ensuring sustainable peace.
Over the past few years, the international community has made significant strides towards the recognition of the genocide in Khojaly. As a result of the “Justice for Khojaly” campaign launched by the Vice-president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Ms. Leyla Aliyeva, more than 10 countries and 20 US states recognized and condemned this massacre.
As years pass by, the pain of the memory of these events does not soothe. Yet, we do not demand revenge, we demand justice. Justice for Khojaly.
For more information please visit: www.justiceforkhojaly.org