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Sumgait, Garadagli, Khojaly – who is to blame?

Editor's note: Journalist-analyst Rizvan Huseynov suggests to look through the prism of facts and sources at the events of February 1988 in Sumgait, and of February 1992 in Khojaly and a village Garadagli to enable the reader to understand what actually happened during those cold February days of specified times. To this end, the author provides true facts from the criminal case on the Sumgait events which was led by the State Office of Public Prosecutor of the USSR. It is necessary to emphasize that the investigation team consisted of Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians and representatives of other soviet republics. Fragments of reports of partial inquiries on especially cruel facts which were conducted by the Prosecutor General’s Office of Armenian SSR in Yerevan are also provided.

600 paged criminal file on Sumgayit eventsThere are several sources which testify that one of the catalysts of the Sumgait events was the expulsion of Azerbaijanis from Kafan and Megri and other regions of Armenia in 1987-88. One of the most authoritative sources on this subject is a book “KGB and power” of a retired general, the first  deputy head of the KGB Philip Bobkov, where he discusses the question of the existence in Sumgait of Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia in February 1988, and the fact of violence over them.

Bobkov writes: “In Sumgait no less than 5,000 inhabitants gathered in front of the town party committee. The tension reached its climax when the Azerbaijanis who fled from Kafan district of Armenia appeared in the square and started telling about the massacre committed by the Armenians in the districts populated mainly by Azerbaijanis. The final drop was the statement of the poetess Sylvia Kaputikian on the Armenian television about her meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow”.

Then Bobkov writes: “You can argue about who started it all- the Armenians or the Azerbaijanis, who are to blame more, but it is a fact that the first victims were the Azerbaijanis: on February 20, two Azerbaijanis, a villager who worked in the vineyard and a young man who aroused suspicion in the armed Armenians, were killed in Askeran”. This means that long before the Sumgait events the forced deportation of the Azerbaijanis of Armenia, which was accompanied by murders, has begun, and the first blood spilled was the blood of Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. That was the last drop.

It is necessary to note that on February 27, 28th 1988, according to the official data, 32 people were killed in Sumgait, 6 of which were Azerbaijanis who harbored their Armenian neighbors in their houses. Among the more than 400 wounded a number of Azerbaijanis was even greater than a number of Armenians. (According to investigative materials on the Sumgait events. The Public Prosecutor’s Office of the USSR, criminal case No. 18/55461-88)

According to the criminal case, the main organizers of the Sumgait events were Armenians, Eduard Grigorian and his brother Ernest Grigorian. They gathered around a crowd, handing out the drugs and pills, and instigated the crowd in Azerbaijani language to take revenge from the Armenians. According to the investigation of the Prosecutor General of the USSR, Eduard Grigorian personally killed 8 Armenians (from 26 killed) and raped several Armenian women.

During the inquiry led by the Prosecutor General’s Office in Yerevan, Armenian SSR, sisters Medzhlumian recognized in Eduard Grigorian their rapist, and named him the leader of pogroms.

In response, Grigorian started to beg to change the testimony, saying: “sisters, I’m also Armenian”. However, Medzhlumians and other victims were relentless and did not change their testimony. It is necessary to note, that the inquiry was held not in Baku but in Yerevan. All the investigators were Armenians.

However, despite numerous evidences, testimonies and the testimony of Eduard Grigorian himself, who named those from KGB who helped him to organize the Sumgait pogroms, Grigorian was sentenced on a short prison term. Having spent several years in prison on the territory of RSFSR, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Grigorian was transferred to Armenia, where then just disappeared.  It should be noted, that other Armenians who appeared as suspected in Sumgait pogroms, were not somehow prosecuted and were released, what also causes many questions.

Garadagli and Khojaly

Now let us turn to the events that occurred four years later – in February 1992 – in Azerbaijani village Garadagli and town Khojaly. The Azerbaijani leadership had been informed that storm clouds were gathering around the situation in Khojaly and other Azerbaijani settlements, and that the units of the Soviet 366th Motorized rifle regiment and Armenian armed forces were surrounding Khojaly. The daily reports on the situation were received. It was clear what the Armenian armed forces and their protectors in Karabakh intended to do. The situation escalated by the end of 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Armenian side and its foreign supporters, realizing that this was the best time for an open aggression against Azerbaijan, started large-scale actions against Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh. The biggest strategic points were Azerbaijani town Khojaly with the only airport in the region, and a big village Garadagli, which did not allow to connect Armenian front line and to cut off Nagorno-Karabakh from the rest of Azerbaijan.

The enemy first captured and destroyed Azerbaijani village Garadagli. Losses among the Azerbaijani population there were less than in Khojaly thanks to Azerbaijani self-defense unit of Khojavend region, which managed to hit Matruni’s center twice (Armenians name Khojavend Martuni).  Thus, it was possible to distract the part of Armenian armed forces and foreign mercenaries transferred from the regions surrounding Garadagli to protect their headquarters in Martuni.

Following this, another group of Azerbaijani volunteers was able to take almost 900 inhabitants of Garadagli, mainly women and children and the elderly, out. There were remained only those who decided to die but not to pass native village to terrorists.

On February 14-17, 1992, the Armenian troops of mercenaries Aramo, Arabo and Avo, led by Monte Melkonian, with support of the Soviet 366th regiment, stationed in Khankendi, started attack and occupied the village Garadagli.
Azerbaijani fighters of the self-defense force fought to the last bullet, showing unprecedented heroism. However, the forces were uneven. In the battle for Garadagli 91 people were killed. 119 villagers were captured in hostage, 67 inhabitants were brought to a painful death (particularly sadistic), among them 9 young children, 10 women, 14 elderly and 34 young men. % people missing, 37 residents of Garadagli got physical injuries of different severity degrees. Captured residents of Garadagli were transported to Khankendi (Stepanakert). On the way they have been shot, tortured and buried alive in the ground in front of the assembled inhabitants of Armenian villagers. Seeing that the Azerbaijani authorities have not shown an adequate response to the assault of Garadagli, crimes against humanity, the Armenian side 10 days later started to storm Khojaly. The town was attacked by the same Armenian troops of mercenaries (Aramo, Arabo and Avo) and by the soldiers of the 366th motorized rifle regiment. The massacre of the Khojaly population was committed that night. 613 people were killed, 487 people were injured, 1275 inhabitants – elderly, women and children-captured, were subjected to violence and torture.

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A Russian journalist Viktoria Ivleva, an activist of Human rights society “Memorial”, Svetlana Gannushkina, and others have reported on Khojaly events, telling about the atrocities of the Armenian terrorists during the the assault of Khojaly and about the trap called “Free corridor”, where the most of fleeing Khojaly residents were killed.

It is necessary to note that Ivleva, who entered Khojaly with the 366th motorized rifle regiment after the attack of the town, was able to record the horrible images of mutilated women and children on the streets of Khojaly.

On my question about the existence of the “Free corridor”, provided by the Armenians to Khojaly people to leave the town, Ivleva laconically replied: “If I had known, I would have with no doubts got there, and now would be lying on a quiet village cemetery, who knows… The fact is that if it was said about the existence of the “corridor”, it was not really provided”.
Ivleva and Gannushkina have clearly noted that no leaflets and warnings by Armenian troops about their intention to storm the town were found. It means, that the Armenian side, feeling full impunity, ignored any measures to protect the civilian population, and made all possible to arrange a large-scale bloody massacre, emphasizing that there was no any help from Baku to Azerbaijani population of Karabakh.

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Images, made by Ivleva, debunk another Armenian myth, that the Khojaly inhabitants were killed and tortured outside the town. The images show that women and children were shot in their legs and one girl had even sawn off a hand. Similar photos of corpses of Khojaly inhabitants were made in the so-called “Free corridor”, which was actually the ambush, prepared by the Armenian forces to kill the defenseless civilian population.

The fact of prepared massacre of Azerbaijani civilians in Khojaly is confirmed by the existence of the so-called “Liberation plan of Khojaly”, made by the Armenian armed forces and the 366th motorized regiment.

The names of Armenian commanders who committed the massacre of civilians, names of armored vehicles and machine guns settled in the “free corridor” were listed in that plan.

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Testimony of brother and wife of Monte Melkonian

The events in Garadagli and Khojaly are described by an Armenian source, in a book written by a brother of the Armenian terrorist Monte Melkonian (Avo), who was one of the organizers of the massacre in Garadagli, Khojaly and other settlements of Azerbaijan.

“My brother’s road” written by Markar Melkonian and Seta Melkonian testifies the names of some Armenian terrorists and the facts of ethnic cleaning and massacre of Azerbaijani population. Here are some quotes:

“…The Defense Committee in Stepanakert wanted to “clean out” Garadagli, a well-to-do Azeri wheat-farming village of about 1,200 inhabitants, located on the only paved road from Stepanakert to Martuni.

…Arabo and Aramo fighters shoved 38 captives, including several women and other noncombatants, into a ditch on the outskirt of the village. One of the captives in the ditch pulled the pin from a grenade concealed under a bandaged hand and tossed it, taking off the lower leg of one of the captors, a recent Patriotic Detachment recruit named levon. The Arabo and Aramo fighters there had already been hankering to “avenge” the death of another comrade the day before, so as soon as the grenade had gone off they began stabbing and shooting their captives, until every last one was dead.

Shram Edo, one of the five Patriotic Detachment “boys” from Ashdarak, had joined in too, dousing several wounded soldiers with gasoline and tossing a match to burn them alive. By the time Monte came across the ditch on the outskirts of town it was a butcher’s scrap heap.

…After the looting, they set the village ablaze. A total of 53 Azerbaijanis were killed in and around Garadagli during those two days, compared to 3 killed on the Armenian side including a 60-year-old villager in Haghorti who had been hit by a stray bullet.

… As news spread that Garadagli had been “cleaned out”, several delagates arrived from the village of Krasniy Bazar, 15 kilometers to the south… Now, their fellow villagers politely requested of the Azeri captives for madagh – a blood sacrifice. It was written, after all: an eye for an eye.

…More than 50 Azeri captives had been butchered at Garadagli.”

The book also testifies the fact of massacre of Azerbaijani population in Khojaly, committed almost 10 day later. Markar Melkonian writes about it:

“…on February 26, he (Monte) stood on a slope near Khojaly, the site of his first recon operation 3 weeks earlier, and surveyed a trail of bloody shawls strewn across the brown grass and snow. As soon as he had arrived at Khojaly in response to reports of fighting, he had begun piecing together the story of the massacre that had just wound down, perhaps only an hour before his arrival. At about 11.00 p.m. the night before, some 2,000 Armenian fighters has advanced through the high grass on three sides of Khojaly, forcing the residents out through the open side to the east. By the morning of February 26, the refugees had made it to the eastern cusp of Mountainous Karabakh and had begun working their way downhill, toward safety in the Azeri city of Agdam, about 6 miles away. There, in the hillocks and within sight of safety, Karabakh soldiers had chased them down. “They just shot and shot and shot”, a refugee woman, Raisha Aslanova, testified to a Human Rights Watch investigator. The Arabo fighters had then unsheathed the knives they had carried on their hips for so long, and began stabbing. Now, the only sound was the wind whistling through dry grass, a wind that was too early yet to blow away the stench of corpses. Monte had arrived in Martuni 22 days earlier, and since then he had staggered across 2 killing fields soaked with the fresh blood of captives and unarmed peasants.

Monte crunched over the grass where women and girls lay scattered like broken dolls. “No discipline”, he muttered. He knew the significance of the day’s date: it was the run-up of the fourth anniversary of the anti-Armenian pogrom in the city of Sumgait. Khojaly had been a strategic goal, but it had also been an act of revenge”.

Source: Markar Melkonian: “My brother’s road”. An American’s Fateful Journey to Armenia, pages 207-221, 1.B. Tauris, London-New-York, 2005

I think, this Armenian source is the best testimony of the events in Garadagli and Khojaly.



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