On the night of February 25 to 26, 1992, probably one of the bloodiest war crimes of the twentieth century took place in the town of Khojaly in Azerbaijan. Armenian forces, with the support of the Russian (former Soviet) 366 - infantry regiment, carried out the seizure of the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly in Nagorno-Karabakh. The capture of the city was accompanied by brutal massacre against its residents. The invaders did not put the difference between the victims, brutally killing young children, women and elderly. A large number of people were taken prisoner. Considering what happened to the people who got captured, as blasphemous as it sounds, it can be said that those who died during the assault of the city were "lucky". 

At the moment, the death of 613 people is identified, 63 of them being children, 106 women, 70 elderly. 8 families were completely annihilated, 25 children lost both parents, 130 children lost one of the parents, 487 people were injured, 76 of them – children. Number of people taken hostage is 1275, missing – 150 people.

It is worth noting that most of the population was able to leave the city before it was totally surrounded and cut off from the outside world. Khojaly was of strategic importance for the Armenian side.  The city has a strategic location and, moreover, the only airport of this region is located here.  Almost all Armenian forces were deployed to the capture of Khojaly, involving the Russian troops and technology. In 1992, Azerbaijan was in the actual information blockade, suffered the hardest economic and political crisis in its history. In such a situation the country did not have an opportunity to draw the world's attention to the genocide occurring in Khojaly. Those few foreign journalists and photographers who visited Azerbaijan, and covered this event, turned out to be not sufficient to inform the world community.

Here is how V. Belykh, the correspondent of "Izvestia" newspaper, described what he saw in Agdam (corpses of Khojaly residents were brought here):

“From time to time, the bodies of their victims exchanged for living hostages are brought to Agdam. Such cannot be seen even in a nightmare:  gouged eyes, cut off ears, scalped, severed heads. Bundles of several corpses tied with ropes were dragged on the ground for a long time behind the armed personnel carrier. There was no limit to humiliation.”

The only journalist who was able to visit the town of Khojaly on the day after the capture was the Russian journalist Victoria Ivlyova, this is what she saw: “I came to Khojaly shortly after the attack and was able to take some terrible pictures of children and women, killed during the occupation of Khojaly. It is seen from the photos that they were shot point-blank and the town was shelled with heavy artillery”.

Investigations that have been carried out by human rights organizations such as the «Memorial» and «Human Rights Watch» irrefutably proved the guilt of the Armenian side in the genocide in Khojaly. 

At the moment, all the forces of the Armenian state, Armenian lobby and diaspora are thrown into "retouching the truth" about Khojaly. The reason is that the Armenian side that presents itself to the world as "a victim of genocide" does not want to be accused of other genocide.  However, there is another good reason for Armenia's activity in the issue of Khojaly genocide. The reason for this is the fact that, people who later occupied (and still hold) high posts in Armenia, participated in the planning and implementation of the capture of the city including mass killings and torture.  Among them, the former president of Armenia Robert Kocharian, the current president Serzh Sargsyan, the current Minister of Defense of Armenia Seyran Ohanyan and many others. In 1992, they did not have such high positions and willingly talked about their participation in the genocide in Khojaly. For example, here is how Serzh Sargsyan responded to the question about the seizure of Khojaly: “Before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that they can joke with us; they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that [stereotype]. And that's what happened.” Although he certainly lied, as the Azerbaijani side knew perfectly well how Armenians "bravely" fight against the civilian population. There were captures and killings of residents of Azerbaijani villages in Karabakh before.  

Once these people came to power in Armenia, they put a lot of effort to conceal their role in the genocide as well as measures have been taken to accuse Azerbaijan of the tragedy. The Armenian government propaganda has decided to blame the victims for being killed by Armenians. Armenians, by bringing the issue to the point of absurdity, try to avoid sanctions and prosecution of their leaders, being in fact war criminals. 

There is some disagreement over the classification of what happened in Khojaly and around the city on the night of February 25 to 26, 1992. Some experts believe that the massacre in Khojaly cannot be considered genocide, some believe the opposite.

Let's look at what crime under international law can be considered genocide.  The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted as Resolution 260 by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948 in Paris.  The convention entered into force on 12 January 1951.  It establishes the international legal status of the concept of "genocide" as a serious crime against humanity, as well as giving a legal definition of the term. 

Article 2 of the convention defines genocide as

Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, any national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article 3 defines the crimes that can be punished under the convention:
(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.

If we turn to Article 2 of the convention, straight off three points can be attributed to the Khojaly tragedy, namely points a) b) and c). The capture of Khojaly was accompanied by mass killings – point a), captive residents of Khojaly were sustained serious bodily injuries (some of them died from injuries received), here we are dealing with point b), since the end of 1991, Khojaly was totally taken in the siege, and isolated from the outside world, it was impossible to bring food, medicine and so on into the city, these crimes fall under paragraph c). 

According to Article 4 of the Genocide Convention the subjects of this crime are “persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.” That is, the subjects of the crime of genocide are physical entities. Regarding the responsibility of States, according to Article 9, “Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfillment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.” Fear of the Armenian side, in particular, the Armenian leaders is in Article 4 of the Convention, which stipulates the responsibility of individuals for their participation in the genocide.

Summarizing all presented arguments, we can conclude that from the point of view of international law, there are no barriers for the use of the term "genocide" in relation to the events in Khojaly. Events occurring during the capture of Khojaly can be classified as genocide, and the people involved in this crime can and should be prosecuted as war criminals guilty of genocide against Azerbaijanis in Khojaly.

Ali Hajizade, political analyst, head of the project “The Great Middle East”