Vol. 5, No. 5 (March 01, 2012)

1992 Khojaly genocide remembered around the world

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

On February 26, President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva led Azerbaijanis and people of good will around the world in commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Khojaly genocide and honoring the hundreds of victims of that horrific tragedy.  More than 60,000 Azerbaijanis marched in Baku, more than a hundred Azerbaijani diplomatic missions and ethnic communities around the world held memorial services of one kind or another.  And numerous governments, parliaments and individual parliamentarians denounced this crime against humanity. [1] 

In marking the event, President Aliyev noted that the Khojaly genocide is now “considered one of the most bestial and bloody tragedies of the 20th century.  On the night of February 25-26, 1992, Armenian military formations with the participation of the 366th motorized rifle regiment of the former Soviet army stationed in Khankandi attacked Khojaly, which had been subject to blockade more many moments and over the course of a single night wiped the city from the face of the earth.  During this bloody action, pitiless violence was inflicted on the peaceful population, 613 people were killed, corpses were desecrated, and 1,275 people were taken hostage.  To this day, nothing is known about the fate of 150 of them.  Among the killed were 63 children, 106 women, and 70 elderly people.” [2]  

President Aliyev then observed that “over the course of the last two centuries, Armenian nationalists in pursuit of their goal of achieving the mythical idea of ‘a Greater Armenia’ at the expense of historical Azerbaijani lands again and again have committed such crimes against humanity as terror, mass murder, deportation and ethnic cleansings against our people.  But the Khojaly genocide, which happened at the end of the 20th century before the eyes of the entire world and which was distinguished by cruelty and pitilessness, became the most bloody page of this policy of aggression.  Political-legal responsibility for such a horrific crime lies directly on the then and current leadership of Armenia and the separatist regime of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

The president continued, “Already for almost twenty years, the Azerbaijani government has been carrying out consistent and systematic work in order to bring to world public opinion the truth about the Khojaly tragedy that was committed by the Armenian fascists and to secure recognition of this genocide in the international arena.  In recent years, within the framework of the international campaign, Justice for Khojaly, numerous institutions of civil society as well as youth and diaspora organizations which represent our compatriots together with the power structures are conducting fruitful activity in this area.”

Finally, the president concluded that, “the reality [of this crime] hidden by the lies and falsifications of the Armenian propaganda machine are already being unmasked, and world public opinion is beginning to recognize the truth about Khojaly.  The parliamentary Union of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has recognized it as ‘massive crime against humanity’ and called upon its member states to give this tragedy a corresponding political-legal assessment.  Moreover, in the parliaments of Pakistan and Mexico resolutions recognizing Khojaly as an act of genocide have been adopted.”

President Aliyev could have extended this list of those who have recognized Khojaly not simply as a crime but as a genocide almost at will to include parliamentarians in Europe, the United States and Asia, experts and legal specialists in the Russian Federation, and in particular the government and people of Turkey, whose leaders not only conducted dozens of events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Khojaly genocide, but also explicitly described the events of 20 years in those terms and as part of the common heritage all Turkic peoples share.

Many things could and should be said about the Khojaly genocide, but there are three conclusions that must be drawn on this anniversary.  First, as President Aliyev said, the world is now learning what Azerbaijanis have long known: Khojaly was not “collateral damage” of a military campaign, but instead was an act of genocide, tragically only one of many, carried out by Armenian forces against Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis.

Second, the Justice for Khojaly campaign, in which the Azerbaijani government and social organizations have cooperated, has put Armenia on the defensive internationally, not only because many of its current leaders were directly involved in the 1992 events, but because Armenian actions in 1992 in Khojaly undercut Armenia’s ability to present itself as the eternal victim.  Azerbaijani legal experts have identified by name 39 Armenians who bear direct responsibility for the Khojaly killings and desecrations, [3] and it seems likely that these people will be subject to the kind of international restrictions and possibly trials in international courts that others involved in genocidal actions have faced, something that means the impact of the Khojaly genocide on international affairs will only grow.

Meanwhile—and these two events may be more connected than any suspect—the commemoration of the Khojaly genocide undoubtedly played a role in prompting the French Constitutional Court to annul a recently adopted French law that imposed criminal penalties on those denying that the events in 1915 in Anatolia were a genocide against the Armenians.  For much of the last century and especially since 1991, Armenian leaders have won support internationally by presenting themselves as the victims of others.  Khojaly shows that some Armenians were capable of equally horrific crimes, a demonstration that will make it more difficult for Yerevan to gain the unqualified sympathy of the world.  Thus, “the significant victory of Turkish and Azerbaijani diplomacy” Azerbaijani and Turkish officials see in the French court’s decision is likely to be followed by others. [4] 

And third, the commemoration of the Khojaly genocide is likely to secure additional international support for Azerbaijan’s effort to recover the occupied territories and overcome what that occupation has meant.  Turkish leaders, like Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have stressed that the 1992 tragedy links their country and Azerbaijan even more closely together. [5] And many parliamentarians and officials in other countries have stressed that what happened at Khojaly is a compelling piece of evidence of why the Armenian occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory must be ended and why the full historical truth of what has taken place in that troubled region needs to be remembered and acted upon not only by Azerbaijanis but by all people committed to freedom and human rights.

In his remarks on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Khojaly genocide, Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States, summed up what Azerbaijanis and their friends are thinking on this day: The victims of the Khojaly genocide will remain forever in the hearts of Azerbaijanis, he said, but everyone should know that “the Azerbaijani people do not want revenge, but only justice and peace.” [6] 


[1] See http://news.day.az/politics/317660.html (accessed 28 February 2012).

[2] See http://news.day.az/politics/317699.html (accessed 28 February 2012).

[3] See http://news.day.az/politics/317939.html (accessed 28 February 2012).

[4] See http://news.day.az/politics/318844.html (accessed 28 February 2012).

[5] See http://news.day.az/politics/318547.html (accessed 28 February 2012).

[6] See http://news.day.az/politics/317673.html (accessed 28 February 2012).