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Response to Armenian Government Letter on the town of Khojaly, Nagorno-Karabakh


March 23, 1997

As Executive Director of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki (formerly Helsinki Watch), I wish to respond to the March 3 Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement regarding the 1992 slaughter of Azeri civilians in the town of Khojaly in Nagorno Karabakh. In it, the Ministry argues that the Popular Front of Azerbaijan was responsible for the civilian deaths, supporting this argument by referring to an interview with former President Ayaz Mutalibov and, incredibly, to a 1992 report by our organization.

The Ministry statement reads: ". . the militia of the Azerbaijani National Front actively obstructed and actually prevented the exodus of the local population through the mountain passages specifically left open by Karabakh Armenians to facilitate the flight of the civilian population. On this matter, the September 1992 Helsinki Watch non-governmental organization report quotes an Azerbaijani woman who says that Armenians had notified the Azerbaijani civilian population to leave the town with white flags raised, in fact the Azerbaijani militia shot those who attempted to flee."

Our report indeed found that many residents of Khojaly may have had advance warning of the impending military operation, since Armenian forces had given an ultimatum to Alif Gajiyev, then head of the Khojaly militia, who in turn warned civilians. Our research and that of the Memorial Human Rights Center found that the retreating militia fled Khojaly along with some of the large groups of fleeing civilians. Our report noted that by remaining armed and in uniform, the Azerbaijani militia may be considered as combatants and thus endangered fleeing civilians, even if their intent had been to protect them.

Yet we place direct responsibility for the civilian deaths with Karabakh Armenian forces. Indeed, neither our report nor that of Memorial includes any evidence to support the argument that Azerbaijani forces obstructed the flight of, or fired on Azeri civilians. For clarity's sake I cite our 1992 report (page 24):

" . . . Thus, a party that intersperses combatants with fleeing civilians puts those civilians at risk and violates its obligation to protect its own civilians. . . .[T]he attacking party [i.e., Karabakh Armenian forces] is still obliged to take precautionary measures to avoid or minimize civilian casualties. In particular, the party must suspend an attack if it becomes apparent that the attack may be expected to cause civilian casualties that are excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."

"The circumstances surrounding the attack . . .on those fleeing Khojaly indicate that [Karabakh] Armenian forces and the troops of the 366th CIS regiment . . .deliberately disregarded this customary law restraint on attacks. Nagorno Karabakh officials and fighters clearly expected the inhabitants of Khojaly to flee since they claim to have informed the town that a corridor would be left open to allow for their safe passage. . . Under these circumstances, the killing of fleeing combatants could not justify the forseeably large number of civilian casualties."

Please allow me to clarify another reference to our 1992 report, regarding the 1988 Sumgait pogrom. Our report reads: "The most brutal of these events was the anti-Armenian pogrom in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, which took the lives of thirty-two Armenians, wounded hundreds more, and intensified the fears of ethnic Armenians living in other parts of Azerbaijan," which differs from the citation used in the Ministry statement. We further cited the estimate of 300,000-350,000 ethnic Armenians who fled Azerbaijan, not 600,000 as the Ministry statement seemed to attribute to our report.

We welcome the use of our reports by governments and intergovernmental organizations, and we sincerely hope that there will be no further misrepresentation regarding the contents of our 1992 report.

I thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,
Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Source:
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/1997/03/23/response-armenian-government-letter-town-khojaly-nagorno-karabakh
 



QUOTATIONS

About 1,000 of Khojaly`s 10,000 people were massacred by the Armenian Army in Tuesdays attack. Azerbaijani television showed truckloads of corpses being evacuated from the Khocaly area.

(Washington Times 02. 03.1992.)

"This regiment (ex-Soviet 366 military regiment responsible for Khojaly massacre - JFK Campign note), though not involved in military operations, was a stabilizing factor"

L. Ter-Petrosyan, Former President of Armenia (quoted from NYT 3.03.1992) The New York Times, 3 March 1992 MASSACRE BY ARMENIANS BEING REPORTED

"Sarkisian's account throws a different light on the worst massacre of the Karabakh war, suggesting that the killings may, at least in part, have been a deliberate act of mass killing as intimidation."

(Thomas de Waal, "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through peace and war", New York & London: New York University Press, 2003, pp. 169-172)

"... a survivor of the massacre, said he saw up to 200 people shot down at the point we visited , and refugees who came by different routes have also told of being shot at repeatedly and of leaving a trail of bodies along their path."

The Times, 3 March 1992 "MASSACRE UNCOVERED" BY ANATOL LIEVEN

BBC reporter was live on line and he claimed that he saw more than 100 bodies of Azerbaijani men, women and children as well as a baby who are shot dead from their heads from a very short distance.

BBC1 Morning New at 07:37, Tuesday, 3 March 1992

(BBC) Reporter said he, cameraman and Western Journalists have seen more than 100 corpses, who are men, women, children, massacred by Armenians.

BBC1 Morning News at 08:12, Tuesday, 3 March 1992

Armenian officials disputed the death toll and denied the massacre report. There were growing signs that many civilians were killed during the capture of Khojaly.

The boston Globe, 3 March 1992 By Paul Quinn-Judge, Baku, Azerbaijan

Refugees from enclave town of Khojaly, sheltering in the Azerbaijani border town of Agdam, give largely consistent accounts of how Armenians attacked their homes on the night of 25 February, chased those who fled and shot them in the surrounding forests.

The Age (Melbourne), 6 March 1992 By Helen Womack, Agdam , Azerbaijan, Thursday

The foreign journalist in Aghdam saw the women and three scalped children with the pulled off nails among the killed people. This is not "Azerbaijani propaganda", but reality.

Le Mond, 14 March 1992

"...so far, some 200 dead Azerbaijanis, many of them mutilated, have been transported out of the town tucked inside the Armenian-dominated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh for burial in neighboring Azerbaijan".

Time, 16 March 1992 "MASSACRE IN KHOJALY" By Jill Smolowe Reported by Yuri Zarakhovoch/Moscow

The report of Memorial the Moscow-based human rights group, on the massive violations of human rights committed in the taking of Khojaly says of the civilians' flight from the town: "The fugitives fell into ambushes set by Armenians and came under fire".

Svoboda, 12 June 1992 "A TRAGEDY WHOSE PERPETRATORS CANNOT BE VINDICATED"

According to "Francois Zen Ruffinen, head of delegation of the International Red Cross in Baku, said the Muslim imam of the nearby city of Agdam had reported a figure of 580 bodies received at his mosque from Khojaly, most of them civilians. "We did not count the bodies. But the figure seems reasonable. It is no fantasy,"- Mr.Ruffinen stated.

The Independent, London, 12 June 1992

Over the night from 25 to 26 February 1992 the Khojaly town (Nagorny Krabagh), inhabited mainly by Azerbaijanis, was subjected to the massive attack from the Armenian side.

Kommersant (Moscow) 27 February, 2002

" what happened at Khojaly stands out as an appalling tragedy in a list of many that occurred during the course of the war.".

Letter of Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Vatan Society, 24 February 2005 Letter by Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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