By Stephane Bentura, Aghdam, Azerbaijan
Stiffened by death and cold, the mutilated corpses of Azeris mown down as they fled an Armenian offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh clung to the snow-covered hillside yesterday almost one week after the attack.
Journalists flown in by army helicopter from Agdam just east of the disputed enclave within Azerbaijan counted 31 bodies, many shot through the head at point-blank range, while some had been scalped. Still others among the dead men, women and children had fingers missing.
Volunteers had collected another 20 bodies and were to take them back to Agdam where they are to be displayed today at the local mosque.
The journalists saw the corpses in the hills above the village of Askeran amid charges by Azerbaijani authorities and refugees that more than 1,000 people were killed after Armenian forces attacked the Azeri village of Khodjali.
As the last former Soviet soldiers began withdrawing from the enclave, Armenia reiterated denials that its militants had massacred men, women and children fleeing the carnage across snow-covered mountain passes. But dozens of corpses scattered over the killing fields of Nagorno-Karabakh lent credence to Azeri reports of a massacre.
The attack came as the refugees fled an onslaught on the airport of Nagorno-Karabakh's main town Stepanakert, located at Khodjali, a village of some 3,000 people.
The corpse of a woman - her eyes half-open - clutched her baby in death, drawing tears from the Azerbaijani militiamen accompanying the journalists, who spent 15 minutes in the area.
The refugees scarcely had time to dress before fleeing from Khodjali into the night. Many of those killed had their arms spread wide as if they had tried to surrender.
According to an Azeri pilot, several dozen corpses were still in the nearby woods, but too close to Armenian positions on the "front line" in Nagorno-Karabakh to be viewed.
The 20 bodies recovered by the volunteers were stacked in piles. They had been gathered during a fragile truce agreed with Armenian fighters a few hundred yards away.
Mr Zakhid Dzhabarov (32) said he lost his wife and son in the "massacre" by the Armenians. He said about 60 bodies were collected yesterday, while 50 residents and fighters from Khodjali had already been buried.
According to Mr Dzhabarov, after hours of desperate flight across the mountains, several hundred Khodjali refugees reached hills between Askeran and Nakhchivanik at dawn last Wednesday.
Then, he said, "two armoured vehicles opened fire without warning. Everyone began to run and tried to return to the forest. Armenian infantrymen came up from Askeran and opened fire on everything that moved."
He said he saved himself by diving into a snow-filled ditch with three friends.
According to Mr Dzhabarov, the Armenians captured 300 people after surrounding them in the woods. "The 200 others were killed, or wounded and finished off at point-blank range."
Mr Dzhabarov claimed that "youths, old men and women then came from Askeran and looted the corpses." - (AFP, Reuter)
Article source: courtesy of the book “Khojaly Witness of a War Crime - Armenia in the Dock”, published by Ithaca Press, London 2014