Wednesday, March 06, 2002


March 6, 2002
Eurasia Net
By Clare Doyle (freelance journalist based in Baku)

One of the bloodiest episodes of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the capture of the town of Khojaly by Karabakh Armenian forces, during which hundreds of Azeri civilians were reportedly killed. Ten years after the tragedy, officials in Baku are asserting that the Khojaly events constitute genocide. Such rhetoric seems destined to complicate international efforts to promote a political settlement to the Karabakh conflict.
Azerbaijan commemorated the 10th anniversary of the loss of Khojaly, a town located within Karabakh, on February 26. Traditionally, the anniversary has been commemorated in Azerbaijan with a presidential address, a parliamentary debate and repeated television broadcasts on the tragedy. This year, however, the main focus of the commemoration appeared to be the campaign to have the Khojaly events recognised internationally as an act of genocide.
The capture of Khojaly occurred on February 26, 1992, which was the fourth anniversary of the anti-Armenian pogroms in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait. Some observers suggests that revenge was one motive for the killing of civilians in Khojaly.

According to some reports, advancing Karabakh Armenian troops were able to overwhelm Azerbaijani forces defending Khojaly. In a chaotic retreat, Azerbaijani troops found themselves intermingled with hundreds of civilian refugees as they all fled to the nearby town of Agdam. Armenian forces fired on this group as they crossed open ground. Estimates vary widely, but it is clear that at least 200 and possibly more than 600 people were killed, among them many women and children.
The Azerbaijani use of the term "genocide" seems certain to raise tension in the region. Armenia has long campaigned to have the large-scale killing of Armenians in 1915 by Turkish forces recognized as genocide. Last April, during a commemoration speech, President Robert Kocharian said the 1915 events were "the greatest tragedy" in the nation’s history.

[...] Azerbaijani media condemned the Iranian ambassador to Baku over his reluctance to describe the Khojaly killings as genocide.
[...] claims of genocide are a sign of how little progress Azerbaijan has made in this regard. Authorities in Baku now appear to be more concerned with winning the public relations struggle over Karabakh than they are with making peace on the ground.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.