JANUARY 20, 2012
WASHINGTON, D.C. –Exactly two decades ago on February 26, the people of Azerbaijan witnessed what the Human Rights Watch later called the “largest massacre to date in the conflict” between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenian soldiers, backed by the Russian motorized infantry regiment, attacked the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly brutally murdering over 600 civilians, including many children, women and elderly. Hundreds more were wounded; some are still missing.
The massacre became a symbol of the pattern of extermination and ethnic cleansing of the Azerbaijani civilian population institutionalized by Armenian soldiers. This pattern has since become an integral part of Armenia’s policy in the region. In the most shocking admission of culpability, Armenia’s then-defense minister Serzh Sargsyan was quoted in the book "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War" (by Thomas de Waal, NYU Press, 2003, page 85), as saying, “Before Khojaly, Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that stereotype. And that’s what happened.”
The continued Armenian occupation of the 20% of Azerbaijan's internationally-recognized territory and disregard for the plight of a million displaced Azerbaijani civilians and as well as for the prosperous future of their own people, illustrate both the vision and character of Armenia's current leadership.
Recognition of the Khojaly massacre as a crime against humanity is a debt owed to the memory of those perished, and a necessity for building long-term peace for the Azerbaijanis and Armenians alike.
This year, the Azerbaijani-American community along with millions of Azerbaijanis and friends of Azerbaijan around the world, including hundreds of thousands, who took to the streets of Baku and Istanbul, paid tribute to the memory of innocent civilians murdered in Khojaly. U.S. Congressmen Bill Shuster, Dan Boren and Steve Cohen and others joined their Azerbaijani-American constituents by condemning the massacre in their respective statements, while U.S. states of Georgia and New Jersey followed Massachusetts and Texas in officially recognizing the tragedy.
The Embassy of Azerbaijan commemorated the victims on February 22 in Washington, D.C. At the event, Ambassador Elin Suleymanov reminded that “with all its horrors, the Khojaly massacre calls for resolving the conflict as soon as possible. If the occupation and displacement continue, Khojaly would be the main factor shaping the perception of Armenia among the generations of Azerbaijanis.” Other speakers at the event included the Executive Director of the Karabakh Foundation Diana Cohen Altman, the Azerbaijani parliamentarians Sevinj Fataliyeva and Asim Mollazade, who shared their thoughts and assessments of the tragedy. The event also featured a Khojaly photo exhibition and a memorial performance of Azerbaijani music by the virtuoso Kamancha player from Azerbaijan Imamyar Hasanov.