Justice for Khojaly
The post Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno Karabakh conflict was the oldest ongoing conflict in the post-Soviet area. While the root causes of the conflict lie in the centuries-long Armenian historical territorial claims against Azerbaijan, in early 1988 Armenians started aggressive actions against Azerbaijan to implement the long-standing plan to unilaterally secede Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan and annex it to Armenia. In late 1991 and early 1992, armed hostilities and Armenian attacks on Azerbaijan intensified. Khojaly, a town in the Nagorno-Karabakh region with a total area of 940 square kilometres and a population before the conflict of 7,000, mostly Azerbaijanis, became the target of one of these operations.
From October 1991, the town was entirely surrounded by Armenian forces. On 30 October, ground traffic was cut off and helicopters became the only means of transportation. When a civilian helicopter was brought down over the city of Shusha, killing 40 people, helicopter traffic also ceased. From January 1992, the town had no electricity. Khojaly lived on due to the courage of its people and the heroism of its defenders.
By occupying Khojaly, Armenia aimed to gain a strategic advantage and favourable conditions for capturing other cities of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The idea behind the Armenian brutality was to break the spirit of Azerbaijanis to gain psychological advantage in subsequent military operations. They also aimed at wiping Khojaly off the face of the earth, since traces of history in Khojaly and surrounding areas represented historical evidence refuting Armenian territorial claims.
Over the night of 25-26 February 1992, following a massive artillery bombardment, Armenian armed forces and paramilitary units, with the support from the former USSR’s 366th Motorized Infantry Regiment, moved in to seize the town.
Once the assault began, around 2,500 remaining inhabitants tried to leave with the hope to reach the nearest area under Azerbaijani control. However, they hoped in vain. The fleeing people were ambushed and either killed by gunfire from Armenian military posts or captured near the villages of Nakhchivanly and Pirjamal. Others, mainly women and children, died from frostbite while wandering in the mountains. Only a few were able to reach the Azerbaijani-controlled town of Aghdam.
Undoubtedly, what happened in Khojaly was the largest massacre of the conflict. In all, the assault and capture of the town took the lives of 613 of its people, including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly. 1275 were taken hostage, while the fate of another 150 people remains unknown.