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Khojaly Massacre

Khojaly Massacre
Part of the Nagorno-Karabakh War
Location Khojaly, Azerbaijan
disputed with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
Date 25–26 February 1992
Target Azerbaijani residents
Deaths 161+, 200+, may be as many as 500-1000 ([1][2]
485 (Azerbaijani parliament figure)[3]
613 (Azerbaijani government claim)[4]
Perpetrators Irregular Armenian forces
Russian 366th Motor Rifle Regiment

The Khojaly Massacre, also known as the Khojaly tragedy, was the killing[3] of at least 161 ethnic [1] from the town of Khojaly on 25–26 February 1992 by the Armenian and, partially, by CIS armed forces during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. According to the Azerbaijani side, as well as Memorial Human Rights Center, Human Rights Watch and other international observers,[5][6] the massacre was committed by the ethnic Armenian armed forces, reportedly with help of the Russian 366th Motor Rifle Regiment, apparently not acting on orders from the command.[7][8] The death toll claimed by Azerbaijani authorities is 613 civilians, including 106 women and 63 children.[4] The event became the largest massacre in the course of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[2]

Western governments and the western media refer to it as the "Khojaly massacre", "Khojaly tragedy" or the "Battle for Khojaly".[9] Azerbaijani sources[10][11] occasionally refer to the massacre as "Khojaly genocide" (Azerbaijani: Xocalı soyqırımı) and the "Khojaly tragedy" (Azerbaijani: Xocalı faciəsi).[12]


  • Background 1
  • The Massacre 2
  • Role of the 366th CIS regiment 3
  • Warnings and the free corridor 4
  • Victims 5
  • Recognition 6
  • Commemoration 7
    • Memorials 7.1
    • Representation in culture 7.2
  • See also 8
  • Footnotes 9
  • External links 10
    • Non-partisan 10.1
    • From an Azerbaijani perspective 10.2
    • From an Armenian perspective 10.3


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.[3] By 1992 the conflict had escalated into a full-scale war. In February 1992 the capital of Karabakh, Stepanakert, was under a blockade and constant bombardment by Azerbaijani forces.[13]

The town of [1] In 1988 the town had 2,135 inhabitants. Due to the Nagorno-Karabakh War and the population exchanges between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Meskhetian Turk refugees leaving Central Asia and subsequently settling in Khojaly, this number had grown to about 6,000 by 1991.[17][18]

In October 1991, the Nagorno Karabakh forces cut the road connecting Khojaly and Aghdam, so that the only way to reach the town was by helicopter. Khojaly was defended by local OMON forces under the command of Alif Hajiyev, which numbered about 160 or so lightly armed men.[3] Before the attack, the town had been without electricity and gas for several months.[19]

According to Memorial, from autumn 1991 Khojaly was practically blockaded by the Armenian armed forces, and after the withdrawal of the Soviet Internal Troops from Karabakh the blockade became total. Some inhabitants left the blockaded town, but the civilian population was not fully evacuated, despite insistent demands of the head of executive power of Khojaly E.Mamedov.[20]

According to British journalist Thomas De Waal the tragedy in Khojaly was a result of a spontaneous, rather than "deliberately planned" action by the Armenians.[21][22] However, in the book about the conflict de Waal states that "the killings may, at least in part, have been a deliberate act of mass killing as intimidation".[23] A report published in 1992 by Human Rights Watch stated that their inquiry found that the Azerbaijani OMON special units and "the militia, still in uniform and some still carrying their guns, were interspersed with the masses of civilians". Yet according to HRW "the attacking party was obliged to 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", and that "Armenian forces and the troops of the 366th CIS regiment deliberately disregarded this customary law restraint on attacks".[24] The same report notes that Armenian fighters had maintained that "they [Armenians] made an ultimatum to Azerbaijani forces in Khojaly warning that unless missile attacks from that town on Stepanakert ceased, Armenian forces would attack".[24] Helsinki Watch reported from Stepanakert that its delegates witnessed widespread damage in Armenian civilian areas, including to schools, homes and hospitals.[25] Before the massacre, Khojaly was shelled daily, and was totally blockaded, with no supply of electricity, gas and water.[24]

The Massacre

Ambulance cars carrying dead Azerbaijanis in Khojaly.

According to [1][26][27]

According to Memorial, part of the population started to leave Khojaly soon after the assault began, trying to flee towards Agdam, and armed people from the town's garrison were among some of the fleeing groups. People left in two directions: (1) from the east side of the town northeastwards along the river, passing Askeran to their left (this route, according to Armenian officials, was provided as a "free corridor"); (2) from the north side of the town northeastwards, passing Askeran to their right (it appears that fewer refugees fled using this route). Thus, the majority of civilians left Khojaly, while around 200–300 people stayed in Khojaly, hiding in their houses and basements. As a result of the shelling of the town, an unascertained number of civilians were killed in Khojaly during the assault. The Armenian side practically refused to tell Memorial observers how many people so perished. The refugees in both groups were fired upon, as a result of which many of them were killed. Those who remained alive dispersed. Running refugees came across Armenian military posts and were fired upon. Some refugees managed to escape to Agdam, some, mainly women and children (the exact number is impossible to determine), froze to death while wandering around in mountains, some were captured near the villages of Nakhichevanik and Pirjamal.[20]

Helsinki Watch reported that "the militia, still in uniform, and some still carrying their guns, were interspersed with the masses of civilians" and according to eyewitness accounts there was shooting between Armenian and the Azerbaijani forces which were mixed with the civilians.[28] At the same time, Human Rights Watch and Memorial stated that the 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. The circumstances surrounding the attack at Nakhichevanik on those fleeing from Khojaly indicate that Armenian forces and the troops of the 366th CIS regiment (who were not apparently acting on orders from their commanders) deliberately disregarded this customary law restraint on attacks"[29][30] However, the obligation to protect the civilians was likewise breached by the Azerbaijani side. As stated by HRW report:

The parties may not use civilians to shield military targets from attack or to shield military operations including retreats. Thus a party that intersperses combatants with fleeing civilians puts those civilians at risk and violates its obligation to protect its own civilians.[31]

The Armenian side refers to [32][33]

In later interviews, however, Mutalibov would go on to condemn the Armenians, claiming that they blatantly misinterpreted his words.[36] He also denied ever accusing the Popular Front of Azerbaijan of having anything to do with these events, saying that he only meant that the PFA took advantage of the situation to focus the popular resentment on him. Mutalibov stated that after the massacre he called the speaker of the Supreme Soviet of NKAO Artur Mkrtchyan, and the latter assured him that the people of Khojaly were given a corridor to escape, and he only referred to Mkrtchyan's words, without making any assertions as to whether the corridor actually existed.[37][38]

The Armenian side officially asserts that the killings occurred as a result of wartime military operations, and were caused by the prevention of the evacuation of town inhabitants by Azerbaijani forces, who shot those who attempted to flee.[39] 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".[29] British journalist Thomas de Waal noted that "the overwhelming evidence of what happened has not stopped some Armenians, in distasteful fashion, trying to muddy the waters".[40] However, De Waal has also stated that the tragedy in Khojaly was a result of a chaotic situation, and not a "deliberately planned" action by the Armenians.[41][42]

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 where the civilian Armenian population was brutally murdered solely because of their ethnic origin.[3] 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.[43]

According to [45]

According to the Memorial,

The site of the mass killing of Khojaly inhabitants was filmed on videotape by Azerbaijani journalist Chingiz Mustafayev. He was accompanied by the Russian journalist Yuri Romanov during the first helicopter flight to the scene of the tragedy. Romanov described in his memoir how he looked out of the window of the helicopter and literally jumped back from an incredibly horrible view. The whole area up to the horizon was covered with dead bodies of women, elderly people and boys and girls of all ages, from newly born to teenagers. From the mass of bodies two figures caught his sight. An old woman with uncovered gray head was lying face down next to a small girl in a blue jacket. Their legs were tied with barbed wire, and the old woman's hands were tied as well. Both were shot in their heads, and the little girl in her last move was stretching out her hands to her dead grandmother. Shocked, Romanov even forgot about his camera, but after recovering from the shock started filming. However, the helicopter came under the fire, and they had to leave.[46]

Anatol Lieven wrote in The Times after visiting the site of the massacre: "Scattered amid the withered grass and bushes along a small valley and across the hillside beyond are the bodies of last Wednesday’s massacre by Armenian forces of Azerbaijani refugees. ... Of the 31 we saw, only one policeman and two apparent national volunteers were wearing uniform. All the rest were civilians, including eight women and three small children. Two groups, apparently families, had fallen together, the children cradled in the women’s arms. Several of them, including one small girl, had terrible head injuries: only her face was left. Survivors have told how they saw Armenians shooting them point blank as they lay on the ground."[47]

Helen Womack reported in The Independent: "The exact number of victims is still unclear, but there can be little doubt that Azeri civilians were massacred by Armenian fighters in the snowy mountains of Nagorny Karabakh last week. Refugees from the enclave town of Khojaly, sheltering in the Azeri border town of Agdam, give largely consistent accounts of how their enemies attacked their homes on the night of 25 February, chased those who fled and shot them in the surrounding forests. Yesterday I saw 75 freshly dug graves in one cemetery in addition to four mutilated corpses we were shown in the mosque when we arrived in Agdam late on Tuesday. I also saw women and children with bullet wounds, in a makeshift hospital in a string of railway carriages at the station",[48] "I have little doubt that on this occasion, two weeks ago, the Azeris were the victims of Armenian brutality. In the past it has been the other way round"[49]

Another Russian journalist, Victoria Ivleva entered Khojaly after it fell to the Armenian armed forces. She took the pictures of the streets of the town strewn with dead bodies of its inhabitants, including women and children.[50] In the article that she wrote for a Russian newspaper she described how she saw a large crowd of Meskhetian Turks from Khojaly, who were led to captivity by the Armenian militants. She mentioned that she was hit by an Armenian soldier who took her for one of the captives, when she was helping a woman who was falling behind the crowd with four children, one of which was wounded, and the other one was newly born. The captives were later exchanged or released, and in 2011 Ivleva found in Azerbaijan that woman. Her little child grew up, but did not speak because of the shock she suffered in her childhood.[51]

The Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev traveled in 2005 to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and wrote an article called "Karabakh Diary". He claimed that he met some refugees from Khojaly, temporarily settled in Naftalan, who said that the Armenians had indeed left a free corridor and the Armenian soldiers positioned behind the corridor had not opened fire on them. Some soldiers from the battalions of the National Front of Azerbaijan instead, for some reason, had led part of the refugees in the direction of the village of Nakhichevanik, which during that period had been under the control of the Armenians' Askeran battalion. The other group of refugees were hit by artillery volleys while they were reaching the Agdam Region.[52][53]

However, in his statement to the European Court of Human Rights Fatullayev noted that in the article "The Karabakh Diary", he had merely conveyed the statements of a local Armenian, who had told Fatullayev his version of the events during the interview. Fatullayev claimed that his article did not directly accuse any Azerbaijani national of committing any crime and that in his article, there was no statement asserting that any of the Khojaly victims had been killed or mutilated by Azerbaijani fighters.[52]

Eynulla Fatullayev was sued for defamation and convicted in an Azerbaijani court to eight and a half years in prison and a penalty fee of $230,000. "Reporters without Borders" strongly condemned this decision, stating that the judgment was based on no evidence but is purely political.[54][55] The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Fatullayev must be released, because in their opinion "although "The Karabakh Diary" might have contained certain exaggerated or provocative assertions, the author did not cross the limits of journalistic freedom". The Court also noted that "The Karabakh Diary" did not constitute a piece of investigative journalism focusing specifically on the Khojaly events and considered that Fatullayev's statements about these events were made rather in passing, parallel to the main theme of the article.[52] Fatullayev was subsequently pardoned by the Azerbaijani president and released from jail.

However, after being released from prison in May 2011, Eynulla Fatullayev defended his 2005 comments which held Azerbaijani fighters and not Armenians responsible for the 1992 killings in Khojaly and added that the Azerbaijani government has long sought to use the Khojaly events to persecute its opponents, like the first president of Azerbaijan, Ayaz Mutalibov, who is still under criminal investigation for complicity in the Khojaly events. He also mentions Fahmin Hajiyev, the head of Azerbaijan's interior troops of the country who spent 11 years in prison because of the Khojaly events.[56] Hadjiyev was sentenced on charges of criminal negligence for surrendering the city of Khojaly to Armenian troops.[57]

A Khojaly survivor, Salman Abasov told that:

Azerbaijani filmmaker Ramiz Fataliev in his interview testified that the Azerbaijani authorities did not evacuate the civilians from Khojaly because they thought that by doing so they would invite the Armenians to occupy Khojaly.

Another important fact to note is that after the seizure of Khojaly the Armenians allowed the Azerbaijanis to claim their dead, based on which the Azerbaijanis later grounded their accusations of massacre.[60][61] As argued by Walker, the group committing a massacre would have hardly taken up any of these measures.[60]

Role of the 366th CIS regiment

According to international observers, soldiers and officers of 366th regiment took part in the attack on Khojaly.[62] Memorial called for investigation of the facts of participation of CIS soldiers in the military operations in the region and transfer of military equipment to the sides of the conflict. Soon after the massacre, in early March 1992, the regiment was withdrawn from Nagorno-Karabakh. Paratroopers evacuated the personnel of the regiment by helicopter, but over 100 soldiers and officers remained in Stepanakert and joined the Armenian forces, including the commander of the 2nd battalion major Seyran Ohanyan,[3] who currently serves as a Minister of Defense of Armenia. Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper reported that:

Warnings and the free corridor

The report of Memorial stated that the Armenian side claimed that a free corridor was provided for fleeing civilians. The Memorial report says:

Armenian fighters claimed to HRW investigators that they sent ultimata to the Azerbaijani forces in Khojaly warning that unless missile attacks from that town on Stepanakert ceased, Armenian forces would attack. The report quotes the testimony of an Azerbaijani woman: "According to A.H., an Azerbaijani woman interviewed by Helsinki Watch in Baky, "After Armenians seized Malybeyli, they made an ultimatum to Khojaly... and that Khojaly people had better leave with white flag. Alif Gajiev [the head of the militia in Khojaly] told us this on 15 February, but this didn't frighten me or other people. We never believed they could occupy Khojaly""[64]

Elmar Mammadov, the Mayor of Khojaly testified that the Azerbaijani authorities knew about the attack but they took no measure to evacuate the civilians:

The Memorial report quotes the words of Elmar Mamedov published in the newspaper "Russkaya Misl" (3.04.92): "We knew that this corridor was provided for the exit of the civilians..."

No witnesses interviewed by Helsinki Watch on the Azerbaijani side said that they knew beforehand of such a corridor.[30]


Khojaly refugees.

The Khojaly massacre was described by [1] 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".[2]

Memorial stated that by 28 March 1992 over 700 captive civilians from Khojaly, mostly woman and children detained both in the city and on their way to Aghdam, were delivered to the Azerbaijani side.[66]

According to Dana Mazalova, who spoke about this issue on a press conference, the images that Chingiz Mustafayev had shown her, "have nothing in common with the videos and photographs, which the Azerbaijani side presents to the world". Mazalova claims to have seen the original footage shot by the Azerbaijani cameraman Chingiz Mustafiev of the dead bodies and says that she did not see there the signs of mutilation that were in later footage. That has the grisly implication that someone interfered with the corpses afterwards.[40][67][68] Mazalova also claimed that the free corridor existed and that Russian journalist Victoria Ivleva passed through it together with Meskhetian Turks and remained alive.[69] However Ivleva said that she did not know who Mazalova was and that Mazalova was lying when she said that Ivleva walked through this corridor.[70] In another interview Ivleva also stated that she entered the town from the opposite direction to the alleged location of the free corridor, where Meskhetian Turks lived, and they survived because they did not walk into the free corridor.[71]

Armenian news agencies claim that the Azerbaijani side regularly presents pictures of victims of other wars, such as the Kosovo War from 1998/1999, Afghanistan, earthquake victims or refugees from other regions as "Azerbaijani victims of the Khojaly massacre".[68][72][73][74] According to the Azerbaijani mass media, the Armenian side regularly presents images of victims of the Khojaly massacre as "Armenian victims of Baku Pogrom, Sumgait pogrom, Armenian Genocide", etc.[75][76][77]


Many activists and lobbyists among the Azerbaijani Diaspora communities have pushed for formal recognition of the Khojaly Massacre from various governments around the world. 8 countries and 22 U.S. states have adopted resolutions acknowledging the Khojaly Massacre as a bona fide historical event.[78]



Khojaly Massacre Memorial in Berlin, Germany
Commonwealth of Massachusetts Citation for acknowledgment of the 18th commemoration of Khojaly massacre.

Khojaly Massacre was recognized and commemorated by a number of international organizations and US states, and memorials were created in various locations around the globe. [79] and recognized it as genocide.[80]

Khojaly massacre was recognized and commemorated at various levels in a number of US states, including the states of Massachusetts,[81] New Jersey,[82][83] Texas,[84] Georgia,[85] Maine,[86] New Mexico,[87] Arkansas,[88][89] Oklahoma,[90] Tennessee,[91][92] West Virginia,[93] Connecticut[94][95] and Florida.[96]

On 30 May 2011 Khojaly Massacre Memorial was erected in Berlin.

On February 2014 the ceremony of opening the monument to the victims of the Khojaly massacre was held in the city of Ushak of Turkey.[97][98][99]

Representation in culture

The critically acclaimed and multiple award-nominated footage of Chingiz Mustafayev greatly increased the awareness of the campaign.[100] The footage of the event was also broadcast by American television channel CNN.[101]

On 11 May 2014, Arda Turan, of Athletico Madrid, was announced as a goodwill ambassador for Khojaly Massacre.[102][103][104] Turan's ambassador activities are aimed to raise awareness about this issue and promoting world peace.[105][106]

See also


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  4. ^ a b Letter dated 26 February 2015 from the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the President of the Human Rights Council
  5. ^ "New York Times – massacre by Armenians Being Reported". Commonwealth of Independent States; Azerbaijan; Khojaly (Armenia); Armenia: 3 March 1992. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Smolowe, Jill (16 March 1992). "TIME Magazine – Tragedy Massacre in Khojaly". Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus By Svante E. Cornell
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    By the winter of 1991–92, as a result of Azerbaijan’s three-year economic and transport blockade, Nagorno Karabakh was without fuel (though it did have natural gas), electricity, running water, functioning sanitation facilities, communications facilities, and most consumer goods... Life in Stepanakert during the Helsinki Watch visit in April 1992 was at a standstill...
    In January 1992, Azerbaijani forces began attacking Stepanakert with Grad missiles, which are jet-propelled rockets intended as anti-personnel weapons.
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External links


  • CNN International: Capturing war and revolution
  • Report of Memorial Human rights center (In Russian)
  • Bloodshed in the Caucasus: escalation of the armed conflict in Nagorno Karabakh. Human Rights Watch, 1992. ISBN 1-56432-081-2, ISBN 978-1-56432-081-0
  • Thomas De Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, NYU Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8147-1945-7. Chapter 11. August 1991 – May 1992: War Breaks Out. Online (In Russian): [4]
  • Victoria Ivleva. The corpses of people killed during the Armenian attack in the streets of the settlement of Khojaly, Nagorno-Karabakh, February 1992. Photograph 1, Photograph 2
  • Walker J. Christopher (1996) The Armenian presence in mountainous Karabakh. In Wright F. R. John, Goldenberg Suzanne and Schofield Richard (eds.) Transcaucasian boundaries. London: UCL Press, pp. 89–111
  • List of known victims

From an Azerbaijani perspective

  • ,facts,eventsKhojaly Chronicle
  • Letter to the UN from Azerbaijan condemning the events
  • Letter of UN Human rights center
  • Justice for Khojaly, ICYF-DC campaign

From an Armenian perspective

  • The chronicle of unseen forgery and falsification
  • Letter to the UN from Armenia in response to Azeri accusations
  • Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, Washington DC, faq on Khojali
  • Karabakh Records

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