en préparation
Armenian Capture of Khojali, February 1992 By David Davidian
  • Events preceding the February 26, 1992 capture of Khojali by Armenian forces in Nagorno Karabagh allows one to view subsequent events with a context devoid of accusations of barbarism and genocide.

    If such events during a conflagration are viewed without a context, as some suggest, it renders the neutral observer a predisposed conclusion. One can certainly view the fire-bombing of Dresden and Hanover, Germany during World War II as acts in indiscriminate barbarism, in isolation. However, such view loses meaning when removed from the greater context of war against the Nazi infrastructure.

    Khojali is a village about 7 km north of Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno Karabagh. Due to its geographic location, it was a staging ground for small-scale military operations and large scale shelling of Armenian villages and
    towns, especially Stepanakert.

    By February 1992, Stepanakert was being shelled daily, much of that shelling coming from Azerbaijani rocket positions in or nearby Khojali. In an attempt to end the shelling of nearby towns and villages from this Azerbaijani position, Armenian forces attacked and captured Khojali. It is interesting to note that
    the CIS's 366th Motor Rifle Regiment was withdrawn from its position in Stepanakert through Khojali, after suffering death and destruction while stationed in Stepanakert.

    The following are reports taken from the international press. It is also noteworthy that none of the events that led up to the February 26, 1992 attack on Khojali were videotaped or witnessed by any significant number of foreign
    journalists. However, immediately after the Armenian attack on Khojali, an orchestrated effort was made to document the event posthumously.

    The following are the major events in and around Stepanakert and Khojali, preceding the February 26, 1992 capture of Khojali.

    - February 4, 1992: The Armenian villages of Berdadzor and Hasanabad in Nagorno Karabagh's Askeran region came under machine gun fire from the Azerbaijani village of Khojali.

    - February 14, 1992: Fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the town of Khojali in the Askeran region of Nagorno Karabagh.

    - February 16, 1992: Fighting reported between Armenians and the Azerbaijani town of Khojali in the Askeran region of Nagorno Karabagh. Two killed and others wounded.

    - February 17, 1992: Azerbaijanis continue to fire grad and rapira rockets on Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno Karabagh. Over 300 artillery shells have been launched at the city in the past 24 hours- one shell every five minutes.
    An entire block of 31 residential buildings in Stepanakert has been demolished. The Gossnab [state supply] warehouse, the premises of the republican Procuracy and the Supreme Court have completely burnt out. Over 15 people have been
    killed and several dozen wounded. The number of those killed and wounded continues to grow since corpses and mutilated bodies are still being dug out from debris of demolished buildings.

    - February 19, 1992: Over 20 people killed and many more wounded when Stepanakert was shelled with 180 missiles.

    - February 20, 1992: An Azerbaijani rocket attack on Stepanakert resulted in 17 dead and 34 wounded. More than 350 shells and rockets were launched at Stepanakert, from the direction of nearby Shushi, 218 of which were of the shrapnel type. Several dozen buildings were destroyed. Damage was also caused to the Supreme Soviet and television buildings, which were partly destroyed.

    - February 21, 1992: Thirty grad rockets were launched on Stepanakert, from the direction of nearby Shushi. At 1705 Moscow time, a second salvo was fired causing considerable damage. At 1845, 35 rockets exploded in residential areas.
    The town is on fire. Rescue work is being hampered by the lack of electricity, fuel, and water. Wounded servicemen were evacuated from the town. They had been injured on February 19, 1992, when the CIS 366th Motor Rifle Regiment came under fire.

    - February 23, 1992: Six civilians were killed and dozens hurt today as four salvoes of grad rockets were launched against Stepanakert, from the direction of Shushi. Eighty Grad shrapnel strafed the 366th Motorized Rifle Regiment,
    stationed in Stepanakert. One serviceman was killed, 10 wounded.

    - February 23, 1992: The 366th Motorized Rifle Regiment was bombarded yesterday from a Grad rocket launcher. Eight servicemen received injuries, two died, two near death, and six Armenians killed. The regiment expressed open
    dissatisfaction with the actions of the commanders who are observing neutrality
    at a time when Azerbaijani units are shooting not only at the civilian population but at servicemen who are not intervening in the conflict.

    - February 24, 1992: The command of the Transcaucasian Military District has ordered the troops stationed on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border to take retaliatory measures if they are attacked by Armenian or Azerbaijani guerrillas. The move was prompted by recent attacks on the troops stationed in the region and heavy shelling of 366th Motorized Rifle Regiment in Stepanakert.

    - February 24, 1992: Azerbaijani Army sub-units in Khojali, in the Askeran region of Nagorno Karabagh, launched an offensive in the direction of the Armenian village of Berdadzor in the Askeran region of Nagorno Karabagh with the support of armored vehicles. The Azerbaijanis simultaneously attempted to seize the compressor station of the Yevlakh-Nakhichevan gas pipeline. Armenian forces repulsed the attack and forced the Azerbaijanis to retreat to Khojali, after
    which intensive shelling of the Armenian villages of Noragyugh, Nakhichevanik, Lusadzor, and Dahraz, and the regional center Askeran began. The Armenian self-defense forces returned fire to take out the gun emplacement at Khojali.

    - February 25, 1992: Stepanakert was twice subjected to rocket shelling. At 1030 in the morning Azerbaijanis launched more than 150 missiles at residential districts and the territory of the 366th Motorized Rifle Regiment which is stationed there. On the night of February 25-26, another salvo from a BM-21
    rocket launcher hit the capital. This time the missiles landed 500 meters from the regiment. Several soldiers from the 366th have been killed or wounded during continual Azerbaijani shelling.
    February 25, 1992: Russian Radio reported that the Azerbaijani town of Khojali in the Askeran region of Nagorno Karabagh came under attack from Armenian armed formations, citing the Azerbaijani People's Front. The town was
    reportedly "surrounded on all sides" by Armenians who included in their ranks
    soldiers and vehicles of the 366th Motor Rifle Regiment. Radio Baku said although Khojali had been partially evacuated, it had not been surrendered, adding that "the Armenian bandits have been totally removed from Khojali."

    - February 26, 1992: The shelling of Stepanakert by Azerbaijani forces has been continuous for the past 24 hours. There are civilian casualties.

    - February 26, 1992: Armenian forces succeed in capturing the second largest Azerbaijani-populated center in Nagorno Karabagh, Khojali, in the Askeran region, which had also doubled as a potent launching point for GRAD missile attacks upon surrounding Armenian regions. Close to 300 Azerbaijanis and Meshketian settlers brought to buttress the Azerbaijani presence are killed while fleeing with Azerbaijani soldiers in retreat.

    - February 26, 1992: Russian President Boris Yeltsin had said Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov had contacted him vis-a-vis Azerbaijan's military status. Mutalibov said that if the CIS 366th Motor Rifle Regiment were
    withdrawn from Nagorno Karabagh, Azerbaijan would be prepared to join the CIS
    agreement, already signed by eight CIS states, on having "joint armed forces under a joint command."

    - February 27, 1992: Azerbaijani forces launched an offensive in the Khojali-Stepanakert direction in the Askeran region of Nagorno Karabagh. The offensive was preceded by three salvoes fired from BM-21 GRAD rocket launchers.
    Azerbaijani units used armored vehicles and helicopters, reports Krasnaya Zvezda. Just after the Armenians and the CIS's 366th Motor Rifle Regiment (carrying orders of retaliation if fired upon) captured and neutralized shelling
    positions in Khojali, during a civilian evacuation process fighting erupted between Armenian and CIS soldiers guarding this evacuation and Azerbaijani soldiers mixed in with these evacuating civilians. The result was the deaths of hundreds of evacuating Azerbaijani civilians and soldiers. Within hours of this event, news spread of a massacre of thousands of civilians by Armenian forces. Within several more hours video cameras were gathering footage of the carnage. Videotapes showing hundreds of dead bodies and grieving people made its way to Western press outlets. Some within days had to retract their claim of thousands of dead (the Boston Globe was one example). While the carnage was substantial, this event was used to oust the then Azerbaijani President.

* * *

  • Of the many international press reports, several are noteworthy. What remains to be explained, however, are the following four points. First, an unsubstantiated claim of 1,000 Azerbaijanis murdered and mutilated by Armenians; second, a regular Armenian-Azerbaijani dead body exchange shown as Azerbaijani deaths in Khojali, as shown on French television; third, a Czech reporter seeing the same dead bodies three days after the events Khojali, mutilated later in Aghdam; and fourth, the account by the Czech reporter asking
    Mutalibov why Azerbaijanis were shot in the feet, a report that Mutalibov didn't dispute.
Press accounts
  • The Czech journalist Jana Mazalova conducted an interview with ousted Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov in Moscow. The following is an excerpt
    from that interview, "Azerbaijani Leader Ayaz Mutalibov Says 'Massacre Incident' Was Staged," which was published in the April 2, 1992 issue of Nizavisimaya Gazeta.

    Mazalova: What are your thoughts about the incident in Khojali, which was followed by your resignation? Corpses from the fighting in Khojali have been found not far from Aghdam. It appears that these people were initially shot in
    the foot to prevent them to move further, after which they were hit with axes. On February 19, my colleagues had filmed these corpses. On March 2, the same corpses were shown scalped. It seems like weird games.

    Mutalibov: Those residents who survived the Khojali incidents have stated that whatever happened there was orchestrated only to create the scenario for my resignation. There were certain elements working the overthrow of the
    President. I highly doubt that the Armenians would provide revealing documents to the Azerbaijanis. I can only assume that certain people were interested in using those pictures at the plenary session of the Azerbaijani Supreme Council to place the focus of the attention on my person.

* * *

  • A French reporter, Florence David from French Intel-5 TV, sent the following account to Paris on March 2, 1992.

    According to Ms. David, on March 1, the Azerbaijanis and Armenians had agreed
    to exchange, at a place near Khojali, the bodies of those killed during recent actions. During the exchange there were 100 bodies lying in a open field. While the exchange was proceeding, Ms. David said, "From nowhere and suddenly an
    Azerbaijani helicopter appeared in the sky, flew directly over the site of the exchange. It was full of Azerbaijani and foreign correspondents, who were taking pictures or videotaping the exchange. The next day, the Turkish press and television presented the pictures and videotapes as the 'massacre' of 'thousands' of defenseless Azerbaijani civilians by Armenians."

    In conclusion, Ms. David said, "This was a sinister manipulation of the facts."

* * *

  • In a Rossiiskaya Gazeta article, "How 'Thousands Were Killed' in Khojali," French television correspondent Florence David said television reports shown in Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Russia picturing thousands of bodies of Azerbaijanis
    allegedly massacred in Khojali, Nagorno Karabagh, are "just a trick pure and simple."
    According to her, the reports were filmed on March 1, 1992, when Armenia and Azerbaijan were exchanging their dead under an agreement brokered by the Iranian Red Crescent Society. The French journalist, who witnessed the
    exchange, maintains that under the terms of the agreement numerous dead bodies had been taken to a predetermined location for the exchange procedure. The key element of the story is that those were the corpses of Armenians as well as
    Azerbaijanis killed at "various times and places in Nagorno Karabagh." The French journalist says she saw television crews filming the dead bodies from helicopters and from the ground.

* * *

  • According to a March 26, 2002 article by the Bilik Dunyasi news agency in Baku, "Azerbaijani Opposition MPs Refuse to Vote for Azerbaijani Genocide Bill," at the March 26 plenary session of the Milli Maclis, deputies started debating a draft resolution "On genocide of Azerbaijanis in the town of Xocali (Khojali)." "The Bilik Dunyasi news agency already reported about the bloody events, which happened in this small town in Nagorno Karabagh on the night of February 25-26, 1992. Milli Maclis deputies reminded those present of the atrocities committed by Armenian separatists and their patronizers. On that night, the town of Xocali was razed to the ground and its population was killed and taken prisoner. About 5,000 people lived in Xocali. The fate of many is still unknown," began the report. "[Ex-President] Ayaz Mutalibov, [ex-Soviet Azerbaijani leader] Abdurrahman
    Vazirov, [ex-Soviet President] Mikhail Gorbachev, [former Azerbaijani internal
    troop commander] Fahmin Haciyev, [ex-deputy speaker] Tamerlan Qarayev, [ex-army
    chief of staff] Sahin Musayev, and many others are among the culprits," it continued.

    "But when it came to voting on the issue, the opposition deputies refused to support the final document, with one vote. It became known that it is mainly Azerbaijanis themselves that are to blame for the Xocali tragedy and Azerbaijani genocide. That's why there was not a single Armenian surname on the list. For this reason, they reminded the participants in the session of the remarks by [Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev's brother] to MP Calal Aliyev:
    the culprits on both sides of the genocide of Xocali's Azerbaijani population should be made answerable to an international court," concluded the report. Azerbaijani List of 167 Non-Combatant Deaths The chief of the Department on Questions of Law Enforcement and Defense of the
    Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Namig Aliyev, provided a list of Azerbaijani deaths in Khojali on the night of February 26, 1992. For reasons of space, the list included in this research has not been included here.

    The list does not include those identified by profession as soldiers of the Azerbaijani National Army. The list includes the name, sex, age, and profession of the 167 victims. Of that list, 35 victims were either unidentified or it was not known whether these individuals were part of local Azerbaijani forces or civilians.

    The Armenian response
    During a discussion of the issue "On the Violation of Human Rights and Main Freedoms Throughout the World" at the 57th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2001, the Azerbaijani delegation made a statement about the events in Khojali. In response, the Armenian delegation submitted information on the actual events of February 1992 to the chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

    The document, which was based on Azerbaijani sources, was also published that same year in the May 26, 2001 issue of the Armenian Weekly. The report, "Events in Khojali According to Azerbaijani Sources: An Armenian Response," is
    currently available at http://www.hairenik.com/armenianweekly/june_july/history002.html.

    The official document stated that the Azerbaijani side had committed the atrocities there in the name of "political intrigues and the struggle for power" in Azerbaijan.


    As these reports on the Khojali events suggest, the Azerbaijani arguments lead to an inability to substantiate a number of issues.

    First, why was it necessary to attribute a regular exchange of Armenian and Azerbaijani deaths as only Khojali Azerbaijani deaths?

    Second, why were bodies mutilated three days after they were dead, from areas not associated with deaths in Khojali?

    Third, why does official Baku listing 167 civilian deaths in Khojali remain unreferenced by Azerbaijanis?

    Fourth, how was it possible that video cameras and other documentation methods were well in place for this one event, whereas a planned massacre of 80 Armenian civilians by Azerbaijani soldiers in Maragha went undocumented? On April 20, 1992 Azerbaijani forces invaded the Armenian village of Maragha in the Martakert region of Nagorno Karabagh. In a matter of a few hours, the buildings were razed. Over 53 inhabitants of the Armenian village-mainly women and children-were killed in a beastly manner, their bodies so badly mutilated that they could not be identified. The surviving population of Maragha has disappeared without trace and 52 inhabitants whose names have already been ascertained have been taken as hostages by the Azerbaijanis. The majority of the latter are women and children.

    Fifth, why were dead Azerbaijani bodies found shot in the feet?

* * *

  • A review of these facts leads to a number of conclusions.

    First, while many people died during the Armenian capture of Khojali, its aftermath was planned for political reasons. President Ayaz Mutalibov was swept from office within days of this event. This unfortunate loss of life still continues to be clearly manipulated for political purposes today.

    Second, there is no evidence of thousand(s) of deaths. All we have are videos of dead people, similar in nature to the Palestinian claim of hundreds of deaths in the West Bank town Jenin, after an Israeli military operation-later shown to be bodies taken from other places or recorded multiple times.

    Third, it can be speculated that the deaths of so many soldiers of the CIS's 366th Motor Rifle Division sparked some form of retaliation, as per their orders. Since one of the major centers of Azerbaijani shelling was Khojali, their public departure towards Khojali could have easily been used for ulterior political ends. This is typified by the methods and unsubstantiated claims that remain until today.

Political Uses Today

  • During an on-the-spot interview with Siavash Novruzov, deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, conducted by L. Nuri of Azerbaijan's Russian-language Zerkalo daily on February 21, 2003 during the party's Khojali commemoration, Nuri asked if Yeni Azerbaijan would be participating in the Karabagh Liberation Army's commemoration of Khojali on the following day.

    "No, because that rally is being organized by the opposition who had a hand in this [Khojali] tragedy," stated Novruzov. Yeni Azerbaijan's rally included banners reading, "Khojali Genocide, Worst Crime of the 20th Century."

* * *

  • Thus, even today questions are raised regarding the role of the Azerbaijani opposition in the Khojali events. However, if this was such a major crime, why do those that had a role in it remain free in Baku?

    [This research was conducted in February 2003. The author is the director of
    the Genocide Archive Project in Boston, MA. He can be reached via email at dbd@urartu.sdpa.org.]
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