By Brian Killen, Aghdam, Azerbaijan
Dozens of bodies lay scattered around the killing fields of Nagorno-Karabakh yesterday, evidence of the worst massacre in four years of fighting over the disputed territory.
Azeri officials who returned from the scene to this town about nine miles away brought back three dead children, the backs of their heads blown off.
At the local mosque, six other bodies lay stretched out, fully clothed, with their limbs frozen in the positions in which they were killed. Their faces were black from the cold.
“Telman!” screamed one woman, beating her breast furiously over the body of her dead father, who lay on his back with his stiff right arm jutting into the air.
Those who returned from a brief visit by helicopter to Khojaly, captured by the Armenians last week, said they had seen similar sights - only more. One Russian journalist said he had counted about 30 bodies within a radius of 50 yards from where the helicopter landed.
Armenia has denied atrocities or mass killings of Azeris after its well-armed irregulars captured Khojaly, the second-biggest Azeri town in Nagorno-Karabakh, last Wednesday. Azerbaijan says 1,000 people were killed.
“Women and children had been scalped”, said Assad Faradzhev, an aide to Karabakh's Azeri governor.
Mr. Faradzhev said the helicopter, bearing Red Cross markings and escorted by two MI-24 helicopters of the former Soviet army, succeeded in picking up only the three children before Armenian militants opened fire. “When we began to pick up bodies, they started firing at us”, he said.
Mr. Faradzhev said they were on the ground for only 15 minutes.
“The combat helicopters fired red flares to signal that Armenians were approaching and it was time to leave. I was ready to blow myself up if we were captured”, he said pointing to a grenade in his coat pocket.
Reuters photographer Frederique Lengaigne saw two trucks full of Azeri corpses near Aghdam.
“In the first one, I counted 35, and it looked as though there were almost as many in the second. Some had their heads cut off and many had been burned. They were all men, and a few had been wearing khaki uniforms”, she said.
In Aghdam's mosque, the dead bodies lay on mattresses under a naked light bulb. People screamed insults at Azerbaijan's president, Ayaz Mutalibov, saying he had not done enough to protect Karabakh's Azeri population.
Hundreds of people crowded outside chanting Islamic prayers. Some wept uncontrollably and collapsed near their dead relatives, brought to the town by truck only minutes earlier.
Chilling film of dozens of stiffened corpses scattered over a snowy hillside backed accounts of the slaughter of women and children sobbed out by refugees who made it safely out of the disputed Caucasus enclave.
Azerbaijani television showed pictures of one truckload of bodies brought to the Azeri town of Aghdam, some with their faces apparently scratched with knives or their eyes gouged out. One little girl had her arms stretched out as if crying for help.
“The bodies are lying there like flocks of sheep. Even the fascists did nothing like this”, said Aghdam militia commander Rashid Mamedov, referring to the Nazi invaders in World War II.
“Give us help to bring back the bodies and show people what happened”, Karabakh Gov. Musa Mamedov pleaded by telephone to the Soviet army base in Gyandzha, Azerbaijan's second-largest city.
A helicopter pilot who took cameramen and Western correspondents over the area reported seeing some corpses lying around Khojaly and dozens more near the Askeran Gap, a mountain pass only a few miles from Aghdam.