Spring 2002 (10.1)
of Useless War Remembered
by Thomas Goltz
Goltz (same article below)
(magazine format) PDF 544 KB
See articles about Khojali by Thomas Goltz:
Khojali: Eyewitness Account
From the Following Day (1992) (AI 10.1, Spring 2001)
(AI 13.1, Spring 2005)
Years Later: Remember, But Be Sure to Preserve Your Souls
(AI 13.1, Spring 2005)
Khojali: How to Spell
"X-O-J-A-L-I"? (AI 10.1, Spring 2001)
Khojali: Quotes: Never
Forget Khojali and other Massacres by Photographer Reza (1999)
the Horrors of Karabakh: Chingiz Mustafayev
by Vahid Mustafayev (AI 7.3, Autumn 1999)
Documented in U.S. Congressional Record by Dan Burton (AI 13.1, Spring 2005)
If the recent history of the Middle
East is any indicator, the sweet cream of victory will eventually
sour. And the victors of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, alienated
from their neighbors, with whom they are condemned to live, may
turn out to be the real victims themselves.
The following is an edited transcript of the 10th Year Khojali
Massacre Commemoration presentation delivered by writer Thomas
Goltz at the London School of Economics on February 26, 2002.
This event was organized by the [Azerbaijani] Vatan Society of
the United Kingdom. Mr. Goltz delivered a shorter version of
these remarks on February 21 at a similar commemoration organized
by the Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA) at the Cannon House
Office Building in Washington, D.C.
I have been asked, and thus honored,
by friends both inside and outside the government of Azerbaijan
to help mark the 10th year commemoration of the Massacre at Khojali
on February 26th, 1992. I feel humbled to have been asked to
Left: A close-up of the Karabakh region.
I want to preempt any speculation or misunderstanding and from
the beginning state that I have not been paid to make this speech.
I wish to stress this because I have seen too many references
on the Internet and elsewhere about my being some sort of paid
lackey of the government of Azerbaijan and/or Big Oil.
Thus let us be clear: I am NOT
now a lobbyist for Azerbaijan or any oil interests, never have
been, nor have I ever received a dime from either the government
of Azerbaijan or any oil or other company for any appearances
or public presentations on any issue relating to Azerbaijan.
And yet, there is no question that I feel very strongly about
Azerbaijan. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for this
is my experience of the events surrounding the Khojali Massacre
of 10 years ago.
Today, few people outside Azerbaijan and, arguably, Armenia,
are really interested in Khojali.
Left: The cross-hatched area of the map shows the Azerbaijani
territory currently being occupied by Armenia; note that seven
of the regions occupied are not even in Karabakh.
Why should they be? In a decade that subsequently saw the vast
ethnic cleansings of Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, East Timor and
Chechnya, as well as the slaughterhouse of Rwanda - to name just
a few of the killing zones of the pre-September 11  - World
Trade Center bombing "Age of Innocence" - the 800 odd
victims of Khojali are "but a drop in the bloody bucket"
of ethnic/national and religious insanity that is the birthmark
of the so-called post-Communist world.
Even within the context of Azerbaijan, the numbers killed and
displaced as refugees from Khojali are but a fraction of those
eventually killed or displaced in the course of the war over
Mountainous [Nagorno] Karabakh. Depending on which, or on whose,
abacus you choose to tally, the total number killed is around
30,000. Those displaced because of the war are approximately
1 million, before the cease-fire was established in 1994, which
left Armenia occupying some 15 percent of Azerbaijan's territory.
Everybody, or at least the victim, always tries to push them
I say this because the official percentage of Azerbaijani territory
under Armenia occupation is 20 percent. This number sounds good
because it can be expressed as "one-fifth," even though
it is a provably inaccurate and politicized number.
The Armenians occupy 15 percent, not 20.
Right: A statue of a mother and her child,
commemorating the memory of the hundreds of victims who died
in the massacre in Khojali. The monument in Baku reads: "Scream
of the Motherland: In memory of the martyrs of the Khojali massacre."
Photo: Elman Gurbanov.
I tell my friends in the government of Azerbaijan that it would
behoove them not to get in the habit of exaggeration.
On the other hand, Armenian apologists suggest that because "independent"
Karabakh cannot "occupy" itself, the real number of
square kilometers under Armenian occupation is less than 10 percent
of territorial Azerbaijan.
Ten percent, as opposed to 20.
Let me say right now that this is a ridiculous argument, and
one along the lines of a girl admitting to her parents that she
is "a little bit pregnant".
Either you are or you are not-pregnant, that is.
And either you are occupying Azerbaijani lands, or you are not.
It doesn't make any difference if it's five percent or 50 percent.
Left: Woman in Aghdam grieving for loved ones massacred
in the night raid on the Azerbaijani town of Khojali. February
1992. Photo: Azertaj.And,
as for the familiar dodge that it is not Armenia, but an "out-of-control"
Karabakh that occupies the Azerbaijani lands, well, one need
only look as far as the citizenship of the current President
of Armenia to dismiss this argument [Robert Kocharian is from
Karabakh, which is officially Azerbaijani territory]. Unless,
of course, you want to make the argument that Karabakh not only
occupies a good chunk of Azerbaijan, but all of Armenia itself!
That was supposed to be a joke
But back to Khojali and February 26th, 1992.
There has never been a proper reconstruction of what actually
happened that night. One might ask if any reconstruction is really
possible, given the lack or absence of an Armenian equivalent
of Russian human rights crusader Sergei Kovalyov or an organization
like Memorial, which has courageously addressed the issue of
atrocities for a similar massacre in the Chechen town of Samashki
We do not have time to go into this in depth now, but suffice
it to say that this book, entitled "By All Available Means",
is an effort to get at the facts about the Samashki Massacre
and publish them not only for Russian consumption, but for the
world's. It is precisely the sort of insider investigation needed
to get to the bottom of the Khojali Massacre, and precisely the
sort of undertaking that is lacking because the Armenian side
does not dare do so.
Does not dare do so.
Still, there are problems with reconstructing violent histories.
While I have the greatest respect for Memorial and its efforts
to meticulously research and publish its findings, its publication
on Samashki is not perfect. There are errors of time and person
and place. Without elaborating, suffice it to say that while
Memorial accepts that the Russian command used the presence of
outlander Chechen fighters from Shamil Basayev's Abkhazia Battalion
attacking an armored train and sabotaging repair of tracks as
the excuse to encircle and then attack the town, in fact all
those fighters were local. I know because I was with them taking
pictures. Memorial was not.
They were not nameless Mujaheeds-they were Hussein and Ussam
and Seylah and Sultan and Ali.
I hope you get my point: even the most meticulous reconstruction
of a violent event runs into problems if you were not there.
And even then, it often becomes problematic. The problems with
properly reconstructing events in Khojali are far more complex
than those of Samashki in Chechnya.
For starters, there was the initial denial on both the Armenian
and Azerbaijani sides that anything untoward had happened at
I refer, of course, to the infamous statements of the government
in Baku of Ayaz Mutallibov, that everything was "normalno",
(Russian for normal) in Karabakh during the period in question,
as well as the standard Armenian denials of any and all involvement
in the killing-a denial followed by the outrageous suggestion
that the massacre was perpetrated by the Azerbaijanis themselves.
Yes! In some circles, the accepted "truth" about Khojali
is exactly that.
Although the differences in the order of magnitude are huge,
this persistent "self-slaughtering" argument is akin
to such grand conspiracy theories as the all-too-popular belief
circulating throughout much of the Muslim world that the attacks
on the World Trade Center [September 11, 2001] and Pentagon were
perpetrated by the Americans themselves in order to create a
reason to take up arms against an innocent Osama bin Laden.
If you want to drift into large conspiracy theories that defy
logic, you're welcome! But I prefer to stay based in reality.
So, what really happened that night of February 25/26th, 1992,
and why? My own findings at the time, coupled with subsequent
discussion and research - I would like to note, with leading
Armenian academics and others who had contacts on the Armenian
side (but with whom I have not had direct contact for reasons
of personal safety)-suggest the following. Perhaps motivated
by the anniversary of the so-called "Sumgayit pogroms",
and certainly in keeping with the pattern of flushing all traces
of Azerbaijaniness from Karabakh, Armenian fedayeen units succeeded
in surrounding Khojali and issued an ultimatum that included
a provision of "safe passage" for the population through
But this is where things get murky or fall into bitter dispute.
Was there an all-out, armored attack on the town, spearheaded
by the 366th Russian motorized infantry brigade, allegedly in
Karabakh to secure the peace? Survivors and eyewitnesses ranging
from distraught civilians to several Turkmen conscripts that
I interviewed in Aghdam after they deserted the 366th insist
it was so. The most rational Armenian version of events, recorded
by folks I trust and that does not necessarily contradict the
blitz story, suggests that either prior to the evacuation, or
during the course of it, shots were fired that resulted in the
death of certain Armenian commanders. Their units, without a
great deal of discipline in the best of times, went berserk -
and the slaughter began.
The one version that can be dismissed out of hand is the so-called
"self-slaughter" of Azerbaijani citizens by Azerbaijani
militia forces, allegedly lurking in ambush in no-man's land
in order to discredit the government in Baku and cause a revolution
to unseat the Mutallibov regime. This version, so often repeated
by the Armenian side to exculpate itself and throw the onus of
killing hundreds of civilians by "friendly fire", is
always sourced back to Ayaz Mutallibov after he was ousted from
power in the Spring of 1992. But now even Mutallibov himself
has repudiated this version of events. In a BBC interview last
night [February 25, 2002], the last Communist Party boss of Soviet
Azerbaijan specifically blamed the Khojali massacre on Moscow's
inability to keep the peace, weirdly absolving himself by asking
the rhetorical question of whether George W. Bush was responsible
for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
I was allowed to publicly comment on Mutallibov's remarks, and
so I guess he should in fairness be allowed to publicly comment
on mine about his - and I am ready to respond should he chose
to do so. Should he want to, my point is simply this: if there
is culpability on the Azerbaijani side for failing to protect
Khojali, it rests with Ayaz Mutallibov for believing too much
in the power of the Center - distant Moscow - to resolve the
problem. And from his pre-recorded remarks, I think we are in
It was his incompetence, and not some deep-dark conspiracy hatched
by the Popular Front or other forces, that resulted in that night
But back to Khojali.
Call it a plot, or call it denial of involvement - it ultimately
makes no difference. Khojali established the pattern for all
future disinformation from the Armenian side throughout the remainder
of the Karabakh conflict.
In May, three months later, there would be the conquest of Shusha
[the town most closely identified with Karabakh because of its
deep Azerbaijani cultural roots]. Once again the attack came,
just as it had with Khojali, during a time when high-level peace
negotiations were being mediated by Iran. Azerbaijani forces
were said to be "attacking" Stepanakert [the administrative
center of the Nagorno-Karabakh district, which the Azerbaijanis
historically refer to as Khankandi - place of the Khan].
By then, Shusha was an "enclave" within an "enclave",
to use all the wrong and politically loaded expressions. And
the idea of launching an "attack" at that point in
the conflict was, quite frankly, insane.
But the propaganda line stuck - and the Armenian defenders were
able to defend themselves very nicely - by conquering Shusha.
Next there was Lachin [a small Azerbaijani town between Karabakh
and Armenia], attacked under the guise of assisting local Kurds
in "revolt". Strange that the Kurds in question ended
up fleeing to Baku, while the "local Kurds" encountered
and interviewed by international observers were sent to the region
from Yerevan and all seemed to be Yezidi Kurds, meaning that
they had come from Armenia itself.
Using the Kurdish issue to confuse the international community
was an excellent stratagem and the brainchild of a senior member
of Levon Ter-Petrossian's inner circle, who detailed it for me
after we had learned to trust each other for the sake of piecing
together a complete history. It was clever because it was built
upon the familiar cliché that Azerbaijanis are "Turks"
and thus hate "Kurds" and vice versa, as is believed
to be the case in Turkey by many in the West.
I shall not enter that debate now, but only wish to note that
whatever situation pertains between Turks and Kurds in Turkey,
it was not, and is not, the situation that pertains to Kurds
and all the other ethnic groups in either Soviet or post-Soviet
Azerbaijan, where an entirely different ethnic policy has existed
for decades. I repeat. Whatever situation exists in Turkey between
Turks and Kurds, good or bad, is not what exists in Azerbaijan
between Kurds and all the other ethnic groups in the country.
On the most basic level, there are Kurdish newspapers and magazines
and associations in Azerbaijan - and have been for years, decades.
The idea that Kurds in Azerbaijan would join Armenians in a revolt
against Baku is, quite frankly, nonsense-but a nonsense that
much of the world apparently was willing to believe when the
idea was floated at the time of the fall of Lachin, because the
Armenian side was able to capitalize on world (or Western) notions
of the clichéd conflict of Turk versus Kurd and Kurd versus
"Well done," I want to say - but my heart won't let
me compliment the successful propagandists and destroyers of
homes to that impersonal degree.
Similar to Lachin was Kalbajar, where the twin stratagem of announcing
a spirited Armenian "defense" of an alleged Azerbaijani
"attack" was coupled with the theme of "Kurds
in revolt" with splendid results.
A confused international community blinked, Armenian forces gained
a few extra days and a new flood of Azerbaijani civilians - many
of them Azerbaijani Kurds, if you want to identify them as such
- were flushed from their homes in an act of gratuitous ethnic
cleansing and territorial aggrandizement on the Armenian side.
The Armenian side?
Oh, no, excuse me!
Merely the feisty Karabakh self-defense forces, acting out of
the control of Yerevan!
And that pattern continued because it was so successful: Gubadli,
Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan and then, what seems the most absurd,
I remember it all too well.
In the internal chaos and confusion of that long, nasty summer
of 1993, with Surat Husseinov marching on Baku from Ganja, and
thus cutting off Aghdam from all support from Baku, the Armenian
side once again announced "a major Azerbaijani offensive"
coming from besieged Aghdam, and they succeeded in "defending"
themselves accordingly, meaning, of course, the conquest and
total destruction of Aghdam and the ethnic cleansing of another
large chunk of Azerbaijan.
It was clever. It was effective. From a military standpoint,
I guess, I have nothing but praise for the Armenian side for
having pulled it off.
If my sarcasm did not read, then let me elaborate on another
case of victory and denial, namely, the tragic case of the so-called
It was a story that took me eight months to get published in
the Washington Post because no one wanted to know about it. No
one wanted to believe a familiar pattern about all aspects of
the war in Karabakh, thanks to the effective Armenian propaganda.
Eight months. Thirty days for every victim. Eight.
The eight that I'm referring to were Azerbaijani commandos taken
prisoner during the last phases of the Karabakh conflict in 1993-1994.
They were captured in Kalbajar - poor souls - and then transferred
to a Yerevan prison. One might well ask why Yerevan, if Armenia
was allegedly not involved in this war. But no matter. In Yerevan,
they became wards of the International Red Cross, with all the
rights of visitations, food packages, letters from home and such
that are associated with official POW status [Prisoners of War]
afforded by the Geneva Conventions.
Things went along all right for a month or two, but then the
Red Cross became lax about the Eight and skipped their regular
visitation date. When they attempted to see the Azerbaijani soldiers
a month later, there was a problem. The prisoners were not accessible.
The Red Cross became worried and began pursuing the issue. The
Armenians finally admitted that all the eight prisoners had died.
But how did it happen? At first the Armenian side said the men
had been killed when they tried to escape - in other words, they
were shot down on the run, as it were. But the forensic evidence
did not jive with such a theory. The bodies were examined by
a doctor from Physicians For Human Rights, a group normally and
ironically associated with the Baroness Cox herself, who is well
known for her Armenian sympathies.
The doctor, Derrick Ponder, determined that in three instances,
the muzzle of the gun had been resting on the skull when the
trigger was pulled. In three other instances, the muzzle blast
was so close that the effect was virtually the same - in other
words, a point blank execution. The remaining two of the Azeri
Eight met a slightly different fate, forensically speaking: one
was killed by a rifle blast to the chest at point blank range,
and the remaining prisoner had his throat slashed - allegedly
Dr. Ponder brought the bodies to Baku as part of a humanitarian
exchange. Word at the time was that the Armenians had gutted
the bodies and sold the livers and hearts for transplantation
purposes - a story widely believed in Baku. Dr. Ponder contradicted
this theory, stating flatly and scientifically that organs removed
from dead bodies were useless.
The more important story seemed lost on the sensation-driven
journalists present in the room at the time. The Azeri Eight,
said Doctor Ponder, had been executed in "the clearest breach
of the Geneva Conventions I have ever seen."
Then, after eight months, I got my story about the Azeri Eight
published in the Washington Post. Eight Months.
And then the Armenians changed their story: instead of the Azeri
Eight being killed during an attempt to escape, now they had
killed themselves. Suicide. The forensic expert from Physicians
For Human Rights insisted that this, while theoretically possible,
was highly improbable given the evidence at hand. The men had
been executed in prison, in one of the most obvious violations
of the Geneva Conventions perpetrated by the Armenian side. But
still the Armenian side got away with it - because they had managed
to coax a "improbable" from Dr. Ponder instead of an
"impossible". And the world thus remained silent.
Who among you remembers the Azeri Eight today as examples of
violations of the Geneva Conventions about executing - EXECUTING
- POWS in Geneva's care? Who, who?
Another victory for appropriate public relations by Armenia,
you might say - your ignorance, that is.
But what are the ultimate gains for Armenians? A sense of revenge
Did they gain a new self-image of the conquering Armenian, as
opposed to the historic victim?
If the recent history of the Middle East is any indicator, the
sweet cream of victory will eventually sour. And the victors
of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, alienated from their neighbors,
with whom they are condemned to live, may turn out to be the
real victims themselves.
So what is to be done? There has been a cease-fire since May
1994. There have been the interminable discussions of the Minsk
Group [the 12 Member Committee of the Organization of Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)]. There have been repeated private
meetings between Presidents Heydar Aliyev and Robert Kocharian.
I am not privy to all the details but think it is safe to say
that the peace negotiations always stumble over the question
of the final status of Karabakh, as well as the status of the
occupied territories outside the formal borders of the Autonomous
District of Mountainous [Nagorno] Karabakh in Soviet times.
Thus my painful question for my Azerbaijani friends. Is there
no price to be paid for incompetence in that horrible thing called
war? No price for choosing or tolerating the wrong leadership
or allies? And if there is no price to be paid, and the situation
is supposed to revert to some ideal status-quo-ante and a sort
of universal "right of return", what is that status-quo-ante,
the ideal "Year Zero"?
Is it 1993, before the capture of the eastern provinces [outside
of Nagorno Karabakh] and Kalbajar? Is Year Zero the year of 1992,
before the capture of Shusha and Lachin? Or is it 1991, before
How about 1990, before Chaykent and Operation Ring and the, shall
we call it, "ethnic adjustments" of Jeranboy/Shaumiyan?
Or before January 1990, meaning that the Armenians living in
Baku would get to return to their homes?
What about 1988, before Sumgayit and the expulsion of the Azerbaijanis
Why not make Year Zero that era before the massacres of 1918,
1915 or maybe even 1905?
Why not 1828 and the Treaty of Turkmanchai [which divided Azerbaijan
between Russia and Iran into Northern and Southern regions],
when Yerevan was still an Azerbaijani or at least a Muslim settlement?
Do you get my point?
When and where is Year Zero?
Which date must the two sides return to in order to resolve this
I have no answer to this thorny question, but I know it must
be asked. And having asked it, I now would like to return to
Khojali, leaving the larger, rhetorical and historical questions
aside, and to focus for a moment on the victims of that ghastly
night of February 25-26th, 1992.
The following is a selection of the chapter
in my book on the early days of post-Soviet Azerbaijan, and
entitled, simply, "Khojali".
After that I will be ready to answer your questions.
Back to Index
AI 10.1 (Spring 2002)
| AI Store | Contact us
Other Web sites
created by Azerbaijan International
AZgallery.org | AZERI.org | HAJIBEYOV.com