The Revival of the Karabakh Conflict


One of the most debated events of the war is the clash nearby the little town of Khojaly, where allegedly just over 600 civilians, including women and children were killed. In February 1992 the city had about 6,000 inhabitants and the region's only landing strip for aircraft. Khojaly, seven kilometers north of Karabakh's capital of Stepanakert, was used by the Azeri forces as artillery base for the shelling of Armenian and Russian positions in the capital.[65] Karabakh Armenian forces launched an offensive to seize Khojaly and neutralize the bombardment of Stepanakert. Here the stories differ on what happened next.

The Azeri side usually designates the incident as a deliberate massacre and even uses the term "genocide". It is claimed that the Armenians (forces from Armenia and Karabakh) along with Russian forces have deliberately massacred civilians and committed genocide. Survivors, who tried to flee the city, were ambushed and massacred. It is claimed that 613 people were killed, including 63 children and 106 women.[66]

The Armenian side, however, claims that they had already on February 25, 1992 demanded that the military base in the city would be abandoned and the civilian population would be evacuated. They had also established an evacuation corridor east of Khojaly for this purpose.[67] However, the Azeri forces continued with their continuous artillery shelling of Stepanakert. When the Armenian forces, on February 26, launched an assault on the town, the Azerbaijani authorities began to evacuate the city. However, the Azeri armed forces, mingling with civilians who fled through the corridor that had been established, used the civilian population as human shields. During the fire exchange that occurred with the Armenian forces, several civilians were killed. In this context it should be noted that the use of human shields is prohibited under the IV Geneva Convention (1949).[68] It may sound awkward but, while it is forbidden to make use of human shields, in war time it is "not a crime to attack human shields." This statement comes from an international law expert Inger Österdahl, interviewed on the subject of air attacks against Gaddafi's forces in Libya. [69]

The human rights group Helsinki Watch confirmed that the "that the militia, still in uniform, and some still carrying their guns, were interspersed with the masses of civilians."[70] However, Human Rights Watch and the international historical and civil rights organization Memorial dismissed the Armenian argumentation that civilian casualties were the result of them firing upon the Azerbaijani forces who used civilians as human shield and stated that the Karabakh Armenian forces was 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."[71] The Armenian side also questions the number of victims, and refers to conflicting Azeri figures in official government documents.[72] Nowadays, it has also proven that several of photos of the alleged victims that the Azerbaijani side uses in its campaign, are in reality pictures of victims of the war in Kosovo and thus falsification of documents in the campaign against the Armenian side.[73]

There is yet another perspective on the events to take into consideration, namely that from an Azerbaijani domestic political perspective, accusing Azerbaijani internal political battles as underlying causes. The indictment claims that the Azerbaijani opposition, the Azerbaijani National Front, staged the massacre in Khojaly in order to use it in forcing out then-President Ayaz Mutalibov, a goal which was obtained on March 6, 1992.[74] Soon after his resignation, Mutalibov was interviewed by Czech journalist Dana Novináfika Mazalová in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta (April 2, 1992), about the circumstances behind his removal from power and the events in Khojaly.[75] In this interview, Mutalibov stated that shortly after the night when Khojaly was captured by Armenian forces, internal reports that had reached the government reported only a few deaths. However, members of the government made sure that the information on the events in Khojaly was not published, but was kept secret for a short time so that they could arrange things for forcing Mutalibov to leave the presidency. This was further confirmed by the stories from survivors of Khojaly. Mutalibov stated that the military had refused to evacuate residents after the Armenian's warnings of the impending offensive and the call to evacuate the city. While they had evacuated the cattle, the residents were refused transport for the entire week before the military operation began. Mutalibov was also concerned about the details of the Armenian atrocities because he argued that "why would the Armenians start shooting, when they already had maintained a humanitarian corridor? In particular, when this happened near Aghdam where, at this time, there were enough [Azeri] forces that could help the civilians."[76] Azeri sources denied Mutalibov's story and claim that the Armenian side has distorted the truth, even though neither the journalist doing the interview nor the newspaper publishing it were Armenians, but Czech and Russian respectively. Mutalibov's version has also received more credibility due to two subsequent events. The first was the Azeri journalist Chengiz Mustafayev who later was killed while gathering information in Nagorno-Karabakh. The circumstances around his death remain unsolved, but according to some sources, shortly prior to his death, he was collecting information on whether the killing of civilians in Khojaly was a provocation by the Azerbaijani National Front, the contemporary major opposition party, to force Mutalibov's removal.[77] Mustafayev was one of those journalists who were on site just after the events and filmed the bodies with a two-day break between the documentation (February 29 and March 2). According to the reports, there were significant differences between the inflicted damage to the victims' bodies and their location on the ground in the two films, which may indicate that they had arranged them between the recordings to blame the Armenians. The other incident was the arresting of the Azeri journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, editor in chief of the Azerbaijani newspaper Realny Azerbaijan. Fatullayev who had visited Nagorno-Karabakh in 1992 to investigate the circumstances of Khojaly and in a later article wrote that the Azeri forces were complicit in the killing of the civilians. He was highly critical of how the Azerbaijani authorities had intentionally refrained from evacuating the civilians, while they had evacuated their cattle.[78] Fatullayev intimated that the bloodbath was rather organized by the Azerbaijani National Front for the overthrow of Mutalibov. The following is an excerpt from his diary which was published by the European Court of Human Rights: However, for the sake of fairness I will admit that several years ago I met some refugees from Khojaly, temporarily settled in Naftalan, who openly confessed to me that, on the eve of the large-scale offensive of the Russian and Armenian troops on Khojaly, the town had been encircled [by those troops]. And even several days prior to the attack, the Armenians had been continuously warning the population about the planned operation through loudspeakers and suggesting that the civilians abandon the town and escape from the encirclement through a humanitarian corridor along the Kar-Kar River. According to the Khojaly refugees' own words, they had used this corridor and, indeed, the Armenian soldiers positioned behind the corridor had not opened fire on them. Some soldiers from the battalions of the NFA [the National Front of Azerbaijan, a political party], for some reason, had led part of the [refugees] in the direction of the village of Nakhichevanik, which during that period had been under the control of the Armenians' Askeran battalion. The other group of refugees were hit by artillery volleys [while they were reaching] the Agdam Region. [...] It appears that the NFA battalions were striving not for the liberation of the Khojaly civilians but for more bloodshed on their way to overthrow A. Mutalibov [the first President of Azerbaijan]...[79]

Fatullayev was arrested in April 2007 and sentenced to eight and half years in prison for defamation of the Azerbaijani Army.[80] It was only after pressure from Amnesty International and condemnations from the European Court of Human Rights Fatullayev released free the May 26, 2011. At that time, he had served four years of his prison sentence.


65) Stuart Kaufman, Modern hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War, Cornell University, New York, (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs), 2001, pp. 49-66.
66) The State Commission on prisoners of war, hostages and missing persons, Genocide: The Khojali genocide, Baku, 2005;
67) Nagorno Karabakh Republic, The War of 1991-1994, quotations from newspaper Nezavisimya Gazeta , April 2, 1992.
68) International Committee of the Red Cross , Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949;
69) Folkrättsexpert: ’Krigets lagar accepterar civila offer, Svenska Dagbladet, 18 March 2011; 70) Helsinki Watch, Bloodshed in the Caucasus: Escalation of the Armed Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, New York, September 1992, p. 21.
71) Holly Cartner (Director of Human Rights Watch), Response to the Armenian government's letter regarding the city of Khojali, Nagorno-Karabakh, 23 March 1997, Helsinki.
72) Hayk Demoyan and Levon Melik-Shahnazaryan, The Khojalu Case: A Special Dossier , Yerevan, 2004;
73) For a series of images and evidence, visit the website Khojaly: The Unseen Chronocle of Forgery and falsification,;
74) Ibid.
75) For an English translation see Ayaz Mutalibov was expatriated for the truth about Khojaly, ;
76) Since 1992, Mutalibov is in exile and lives in Moscow.
77) Chingiz Fuadogly Mustafayev, Committee to Protect Journalists , 15 June 1992;
78) Fatullaev Karabakh Diary (fragments), "They Managed to Evacuate the cattle, but not the People," ;
79) European Court of Human Rights, Case of Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan , (Application no. 40 984/07), Final Verdict, Strasbourg, 22 April 2010;
80) Imprisoned journalist Eynulla Fatullayev was released on May 26, 2011,, May 26, 2011;