Thank you for joining us tonight to commemorate the anniversary of the Khojaly genocide and honor the memory of victims of the largest single day massacre committed in the course of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. I would also like to recognize and thank our guests from Azerbaijan, police major-general Dr.Nazim Aliyev, head of Azerbaijan's Police Academy and his colleagues for being with us tonight.
Imagine a beautiful mountain town with cozy houses capped with snow and thick forests, rivers and natural springs around. A winter night, slow snowfall and freezing cold that makes the air fresh. The night sky lights up and you can hear sounds reminding fireworks. Yet these are not fireworks.
28 years ago, on a cold winter night of 25th to 26th February 1992, the town of Khojaly in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan was treacherously attacked and occupied by Armenian forces supported by the 366 Motorised Infantry Regiment of the former Soviet Armed Forces, mainly composed of Armenians. Khojaly with the only airport in the Nagorno-Karabakh region was razed to the ground, while its 613 inhabitants, including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly, were mercilessly killed and 487 were wounded. 1275 were taken hostage and 150 are still missing. 8 families were completely wiped out, 130 children lost one parent and 25 kids lost both parents. Of those who perished 56 were killed with particular cruelty: scalping, beheading, bayoneting of pregnant women and mutilation of bodies. Helpless inhabitants of the town tried to flee and find shelter in Aghdam, the nearest settlement under Azerbaijani control, 16 kilometers away from Khojaly. Many women and children died from frostbite on the way. Only a few were able to reach Aghdam.
By that time the town had already been under siege by Armenian armed forces for more than four months, connected to the rest of Azerbaijan only by air. Highways that linked Khojaly with the rest of the world were cordoned off and power supply was suspended. The air communication was also disrupted after a Mi-8 civilian helicopter was shot down en route from Aghdam to Shusha on 28 January 1992, which resulted in the death of three crew members and 41 passengers on board. Thus, Khojaly became an isolated town with lack of water, electricity, food and medical assistance.
The attack on Khojaly was not conditioned by military necessity, it was an uncovered act of genocide against innocent civilians just because they were Azerbaijanis. In his cynical admission of culpability, Armenia's then-Defense Minister and former President, Serzh Sargsyan, was quoted by the British journalist Thomas de Waal, as saying, "before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that ... the Armenians were people who could not raise their hands against the civilian population. We were able to break that [stereotype]".
In his book "For the sake of Cross...", the Armenian journalist Daud Kheyriyan recalls moments of the massacre : "... the Armenian group "Gaflan" (dealing with burning of dead bodies) have collected 100 dead bodies of Turks (Azerbaijanis) and burned them in a place located one kilometer from Khojaly to the West on March 2... I saw a girl aged 10 and wounded in hands and in the head lying in the last truck. Her face was already blue. But she was still alive despite hunger, cold and wounds. She had little breath. I cannot forget her eyes striving with death... Suddenly a soldier called Tigranyan took that body and threw it on other dead bodies... Then they have burnt dead bodies. It seemed to me that someone was crying in fire between the dead bodies... After all I could not go further. ... I returned. And they continued their battles for the sake of Cross....".
Unprecedented cruelty of the Armenian armed forces against the Azerbaijani civilians in Khojaly was documented by international media agencies shortly after the tragedy. The French journalist Jean-Ive-Yunet described what he saw as follows: "...We happened to be the witnesses of Khojaly massacre, we saw the dead bodies of hundreds of civilians- women, children, old-age people and defenders of Khojaly. We managed to fly by helicopter, we were taking photographs of every?thing we saw around Khojaly at a height of a bird's flight. However Armenians started shooting our helicop?ter and we couldn't manage to finish our job. That was a terrible scene. I heard a lot about wars, about cruelty of German fascists, but Armenians went beyond them, killing 5 or 6 year-old child?ren, innocent people. We saw a lot of injured people in hospitals; carriages, even in kindergartens and school buildings."
Massive violations of human rights committed in the seizure of Khojaly were confirmed by independent reports of the Human Rights Center "Memorial" (Russia) and Human Right Watch (formerly Helsinki Watch). In its judgment of 22 April 2010, the European Court of Human Rights arrived at an important conclusion with respect to the crime committed in Khojaly, qualifying the behavior of those carrying out the incursion as "acts of particular gravity which may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity".
The "Justice for Khojaly" international campaign, launched in 2008 by Vice President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Leyla Aliyeva raised global awareness on Khojaly massacre as a gross violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. 16 countries, 24 states of the US, as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation adopted a number of resolutions and declarations on condemning the massacre of civilian population in Khojaly and recognizing the tragedy of Khojaly as an act of genocide and crime against humanity.
Both international humanitarian law and international human rights laws oblige States to investigate and prosecute allegations of serious violations by military personnel, whether during military operations or not. Alongside the Republic of Armenia's responsibility as a State for internationally wrongful acts, under the customary and treaty norms of international criminal law, certain acts perpetrated in the context of an armed conflict, including those in the town of Khojaly, are viewed as international criminal offences and responsibility for them is borne on an individual basis by those who participated in the said acts, their accomplices and accessories.
Impunity still enjoyed by the perpetrators of this and other crimes against humanity in Khojaly, Gushchular, Malibeyli, Garadgli and other Azerbaijani towns and villages continues to impede progress in achieving peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Ending impunity is essential not only to identify the responsibility of parties to the conflict and individual perpetrators but also to ensure sustainable peace. It is important to repeatedly recall that the need to establish the truth concerning gross violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law, the provision of adequate and effective reparation to victims and the need for institutional actions to prevent repetition of such violations are all necessary adjuncts to a true conflict resolution.
Tonight's exhibition features reproductions of paintings on Khojaly by prominent Azerbaijani artists as well as young aspiring kids. I would like to express my appreciation to the Azerbaijan State Art Gallery that hosts the originals of these works for their cooperation. The inhabitants of Khojaly, who remained alive by sheer chance bear witness for history. As the town remains inaccessible to those who survived, the pain and memories live on. Yet, through these 28 years they have never sought revenge, but called for justice. Justice for Khojaly.