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Elman Mammadov

My whole family is from Khojaly; I was born there and lived there until it was occupied. I was head of Khojaly city from 1987 and head of defence from 1988.

Khojaly was originally a village but was growing. In 1988 there were more than 7,000 inhabitants and in 1990, 54 families of Ahiska Turks came from Uzbekistan and settled in Khojaly; their forebears had been exiled by Stalin. Eleven of them were killed in 1992.

Every stone, tree and blade of grass was familiar to me. Khojaly was 42 years of my life. It had the railway and the only airport in Nagorno-Karabakh region.

By February 1992 our only communication was by phone or walkie-talkie and we were surrounded by Armenian villages.

25 February was unusually quiet; there had been no shooting. We felt that preparations were being made. Khojaly was the only Azerbaijani village left. There was little food and we had few weapons. I told the bakery only to give flour to families in need, not to bake generally. We had no health care, but we had wounded people, elderly and sick people. We didn't know what to do about them.

On that day I went to monitor the defence posts and then went back home. At 7.30pm I got phone and walkie-talkie messages that troops were heading for Khojaly from Khankendi. They had been gradually surrounding Khojaly for three years and we heard later that Lt. Colonel Zatigerov of the 366th Regiment in the area was promoted to General that night as an incentive to carry out the attack.

Intensive shooting from different directions began at 11pm. They had high level military equipment and we had basic rifles. They were out of range of our weapons. There was chaos. We had to leave behind 100 people and bodies - we couldn't take them.

It was winter, it is a mountainous area and it was 16 kilometres to Aghdam, the nearest settlement under Azerbaijani control. We couldn't go by road; after five kilometres it went through Askeran we had to go through the forest. We - including women, children, the elderly - had to cross the frozen Qarqar river to get to the forest. We crossed barefoot, our shoes were soaked or torn off then, wet through, we walked on through thick snow, thorns, stones... We came out of the forest at dawn and then there was nowhere to hide. We came to the Askeran-Nakhchivanik road and saw a UAZ (a kind of Soviet jeep - ed.). The Armenians in the UAZ saw us.

The frontline was on the other side of Askeran; we had to cross it to reach the two kilometres of No Man's Land. We had walked all night, we were tired and we didn't know that area so well. The Armenians were in their trenches, waiting for us to come. We split into groups of 10-15 to try and open a way for people to get through. The main massacre was on that road.

I was with 10 people, trying to find a way through, but I realised we were surrounded. I told the men not to shoot and to find somewhere to hide. We were stranded there for a day, five of the people with me were wounded. Finally, on the second day, we managed to get to the Aghdam frontline.

In history, wars have been fought by the military. There were no military in Khojaly. I was head of self-defence; there was no one with professional military training. The Armenians waged war against women and children; they even insulted the dead. 60 children were killed, 106 women, many elderly people. My two grandmothers were killed. My 60 year old mother was killed; her body was found in the forest three weeks later.

I want, I plead, I demand to go back to my native land and rebuild my home there.

The world tries to teach us democracy - why are no measures taken to restore the rights of the people of Khojaly? What is the logic? The EU and UN protect the aggressors.

I don't blame the Armenian nation, I accuse their leaders...We are destined to live with Armenians; God created us as neighbours.

Interviewed by Ian Peart
Story source: Book “Khojaly Witness of a War Crime - Armenia in the Dock”,
published by Ithaca Press, London 2014