Khojaly vs. Rhetoric: case in point, a conflict of letters

By | Rachel Brooks
February 21, 2021

Above, Aghdam, and the townships surrounding Khojaly have been reduced to a comparison with Hiroshima in the years since the war. Regardless of this, the media and political arguments of fingerpointing for cultural removal shows Armenia’s rhetoric toward the war is in vast contrast with the reality of the war, which is punctuated by the Khojaly events. As follows, a comparison of two letters that appeared in The Guardian in 2015, one from an Armenian and one from an Azerbaijani contributor. 

Image credit: “Bombed ruins of Agdam” by gorbulas_sandybanks is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.  Shared here for fair use illustration, see Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act. 
As the anniversary of the Khojaly massacre draws nearer, the painful memories of the Karabakh conflict are nearer to the minds and hearts of the society it affected. Khojaly was not an island in its destruction. Rather, it became an archetype of the pain that people of a nation would feel years later when the Diaspora of the region would squabble on the platform of western press over who was more guilty regarding cultural destruction. Such was the case with correspondence and response in The Guardian newspaper. The Guardian printed the article “Palmyra and Unesco’s approach to heritage” by Simon Maghakyan out of Denver, Colorado in August 2015 and a response was penned by Tahir Taghizadeh, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan in London in September 2015.

Family reports whole ancestral graveyard excavated near Aghdam


In Maghakyan’s letter, he argues a comparison between UNESCO’s outrage at the Islamic State’s militants for their destructive activity in 2015-era Palmyra and UNESCO’s response to cultural destruction in Azerbaijan-Armenia. The Palmyra destruction was reported on August 25 by The Guardian and details outrage at the destruction of the temple of Baal Shamin by ISIS. Maghakyan alleged that Azerbaijan deployed troops to the shared border with Azerbaijan and Iran in December 2005 on a mission to wipe out the Armenian Christian history of Julfa. The cemetery in Julfa’s authenticity and connection to Armenia has been disputed. Accusations of destroyed religious sites have been a common narrative of Armenian national propaganda that the Armenian diaspora has picked up as a talking point in many of the political disputes for the region that have been bandied about on western platforms.

Taghizadeh responded with “Armenia is wiping out Azerbaijani culture” published in The Guardian Letters on September 2, 2015. Taghizadeh replied to Maghakyan’s comments by highlighting the fact that Armenia has become a monoethnic society in the time elapsed since the First Karabakh conflict of the early 1990s. He likewise responded by highlighting Armenia’s pursuit of a monocultural society that disregards and erases the presence of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Armenian society up until the point of ethnic cleansing that occurred in the First Karabakh conflict.

Such pursuits of ethnic cleansing are denounced by the Armenian diaspora and the Armenian republic. The rhetoric remains strong in the tendency of the left-leaning western media to publish the Armenian point of view without the follow-up.

This example from The Guardian is a rare pre-Second Karabakh conflict diversion. The letters section gave a balanced viewpoint where the Azerbaijani contributor could showcase the realities of post-war Karabakh. In this letter, Taghizadeh recalls the words of the British travel writer George Mitchell, who referred to the cities surrounding Khojaly as “Hiroshima of the Caucasus.” Mitchell, who visited Aghdam in November 2014, was speaking specifically of Aghdam, also referring to it as a “ghost town.” Aghdam was the destination that refugees attempting to escape occupied Khojaly were fleeing toward. Early in the morning of February 26, 1992, 613 people from Khojaly were massacred within the town of Khojaly and en route to Aghdam. Some died from the elements, there in that ghostly place, where now even the dead have not been left to rest in peace.

Family reports whole ancestral graveyard excavated near Aghdam

Taghizadeh called out the western world in his response letter, noting that Azerbaijan has called repeatedly for an unbiased fact-finding mission from the world theater. The politicization of the media by the western left and the Armenian lobby that belongs to it may prevent a completely unbiased review of these facts. This lack of unbiased review has heaped insult on top of the injury of the Khojaly massacre. In the same vein of politicization, the Armenian lobby denies that the Khojaly massacre took place to the degree that it did. The western Armenian lobby likewise argues that the Khojaly massacre does not qualify as an incident of genocide, even though Azerbaijan argues the crimes committed in Khojaly violated international anti-genocidal laws.