Remembering Khojaly event: Speaker’s panel recap

By | Rachel Brooks

February 11, 2021 

Get the full replay of this event here.

The Khojaly Memories event was held at 12 pm EST on February 10 and was live-streamed via Facebook by Republic Underground. The event was moderated by Republic Underground media vice president Irina Tsukerman. Speaking on behalf of all the massacre’s survivors, Yasemen Hesenova recalled the story of how she survived the Khojaly Massacre of February 26, 1992. She was 12-years-old at the time. 

The speakers then included Rino Trombetta, Raoul Lowery Contreras, Javier Medina Ortiz, and Arzu Jaeed. 

Remarks by Yasemen Hasanova, Khojaly survivor 

Remarks on the Khojaly survivor were made by Yasemen Hasanova, a woman who was around 12-year-s-old at the time of these events and who lost her family to them. See below for full link.

Rino Trombetta , a former political advisor to European parliament 

Rino Trombetta spoke first. He read off some of the facts of the Khojaly massacre. It was launched on February 26, 1992, in the town of Khojaly by the Armenian armed forces in a campaign to execute their ethnic cleansing policy in the immediate area. The official death toll came to 613 citizens, including 106 women, 63 children. Trombetta noted that the city had already been eviscerated by the bombings from the war. Elderly and sick people were massacred. 

Trombetta likewise noted that there was an assumption by the Azerbaijani community at that time that the Armenians were not capable of violence against civilians. The Khojaly Massacre was done to obliterate this assumption that civilians would be treated with mercy. 

Trombetta called the acts of the Armenian forces in the Khojaly Massacre a “full violation” of “every treaty” and convention that had been drawn up since World War II. 

Raoul Lowery-Contreras,  political consultant and author of “Murder in the Mountains” 

Next, Tsukerman asked Raoul Lowery-Contreras, author of the book about Khojaly called Murder in the Mountains, to give his insights on how to prevent another similar human travesty from happening again. 

“Yes, I have written a book about Khojaly. The title of it is Murder in the Mountains. I interviewed two women who were taken, prisoner. Plus, I printed and published a number of affidavits that were given to the Azerbaijani government at the time by people who were there, either in Khojaly or Aghdam shortly thereafter. 

Aghdam is just a few miles away from Khojaly, down the mountains, and that’s where the people went for safety. It used to have a population of 50,000 people. It has zero people today.”

He then went on to describe the events of Khojaly 1992 and how he came to be an expert on them. 

“So, yes, Khojaly. February 26, 1992. I have to tell you that, as an American, in 1992, I had no idea that this had happened. I had very few ideas or views of Azerbaijan, as a matter of fact. I knew it was north of Iran and south of Russia. I knew that the Russians had occupied part of Iran after World War 2 and that they were based in Baku. So, I had a little bit of knowledge, but, as I researched this book, I found out a lot about it. I have been to Azerbaijan a number of times now, and I think I know it well. 

I’ve been on the Russian border and the Iranian border, and the line of conflict. I remember that in one of the towns that were recaptured in 2016 when there was combat, I looked down at the newly rebuilt village on the streets. Down on the end of the street, I saw this big barricade and all kinds of wording across the top that said: “danger do not cross”. I said “why?” and they said, “because on the other side are the Armenians.” 

Remembering Khojaly event: Survivor Yasemen Hasanova shares her story

 

Now, we were well inside the Azerbaijani territory as it is recognized by the international community by over 100 nations. We were about 100 kilometers inside Azerbaijan, yet 200 meters down the road there was a barrier that said “danger” because there were Armenians on the other side. I asked “what would happen if I walked over there waiving my passport and shouted ‘I’m an American!’ The political leader of the village told me, ‘They’ll shoot you.’ That’s how the situation has been for the past 27 years since 1994 when the ceasefire was agreed to that postponed the Karabakh war,” he said, noting that conflict resumed on September 27, 2020. 

“One thing that should be noted, and this was what I noticed for the first time in this conflict that’s been going on for 30 years. For the first time ever, the national and international observers and press all referred to the combat as occurring on Azerbaijani national territory. On territory recognized by the world as Azerbaijan. All the fighting was going on in Azerbaijan’s territory,” said Lowery-Contreras, giving remarks on how, in his estimation, to a degree the media climate regarding the Karabakh was beginning to change.

Note on Murder in the Mountains 

Murder in the Mountains was published in 2016. It details how the tiny village of Khojaly once a place of 6,000 people was wiped out, as unarmed civilians tried to flee through a false civilian corridor and were trapped by the Armenian army. Those who tried to surrender were forced to watch extreme brutality against children, as executions, torture, and rape became a gladiatorial event for the gloating Armenian mob. 

Arzu Jaeed, Azerbaijani Youth Diaspora member in the USA 

Tsukerman thanked the gentleman for his comments, noting that she too had joined him on the Armenian Wall of Shame as an esteemed enemy of the nation. She then turned the group’s focus to Arzu Jaeed, of the Diaspora Youth Organization. 

“How does the Diaspora view these events, why do they matter to them?” 

“Thank you so much for having me. It is a great honor to be here and to share not just the Azerbaijani point of view but the Azerbaijani Diaspora’s point of view, “said Jaeed. 

“I can only speak a little about Khojaly. As you know, 613 people, including 106 women, and 70 elderly people. These are words that are etched in our heads with no emotion left. Yet, behind every one of those numbers is a real tragedy, a broken life. Like when Susan involuntarily saved her husband’s life as he was carrying her on his back to safety. The bullet came from behind and hit Susan instead of her husband. She died immediately.”

Jaeed told the story of a five-year-old girl who, when seeing the trouble coming, told her father to kill her first, and then her mother, and last himself. She marveled at how such a little child could be pushed into thinking such thoughts. She was likewise amazed that such atrocities could happen not only to Azerbaijanis but also to any human being. She also wondered how a human being could do some of the things that the Armenians, with the help of Russian forces, did on that dreadful winter night. 

Most noteworthy, Jaeed called on all to remember that the people who were taken by the Khojaly massacre were not just statistics. They were once upon a time scholars, doctors, teachers, parents, and so much more. They were all just people once, with full lives.  

“Kids’ eyes were scorched with cigarette butts. Legs and other human organs were amputated. Heads were cut with “x”s. Underage girls were raped. When I interviewed a female reporter during the Karabakh war, she showed me evidence and testimonies by local doctors acknowledging that they were powerless because of the chemical weapons. Rivers were poisoned and one could not touch anything.”

Jaeed then noted that the Khojaly massacre fits the criteria of the legal recognition of genocide, an act of revenge at the cost of “totally innocent people.” She stated that the acts of Khojaly were a racially-motivated pogrom built from the rhetoric that Armenians had “genetic intolerance” with Azerbaijanis. Then, she noted how two of Armenia’s previous presidents were present and participated at the scene of the events of Khojaly. She likewise described how the famous California-born Armenian nationalist Monte Melkonian was described in his brother’s memoir to have been “so sad” to have arrived late to the bloodbath of the Khojaly events. 

“It is appalling to even think that someone with western education, who had grown up with seemingly normal values. Someone who called the U.S. home can travel as far as Armenia, just to wipe away a small Azerbaijani village, while torturing pregnant women.” 

Jaeed called Monte Melkonian “a five-minute hero” whose name was made on the blood of innocent people, noting how these people were slaughtered before the world’s eyes. She called out Armenia for using buzzwords such as “Christian”, “genocide”, “indigenous population” and “ancient lands” to whitewash the Armenian guilt of what happened on February 26, 1992. She showed how Armenia has gone so far as to mistranslate the work of independent reporter Cengiz Mustafaya to discredit the events, and how they have done everything but take accountability for the actions of February 26, 1992. 

Jaeed also spoke of her experiences interviewing survivors of the Khojaly, and how some stated that the so-called “corridor” that Armenian’s claimed to have given escaping people was a path the width of about three meters. If they strayed from the right or the left from that narrow “corridor” the Armenians vowed to shoot them. 

Jaeed stated that by freeing Karabakh, Azerbaijan liberated both Azerbaijani territories and freed Armenia from the burden of being landlocked by a piece of territory that the corrupt government of the Armenian republic was using to make millions in profits for themselves. 

“This is a new chapter that can be written with accountability,” said Jaeed. She then listed off a series of cities beyond Khojaly where similar occurrences took place, including Agdaban and Dashatlan. 

“I am devastated to say that I can continue this list.” 

“Khojaly is an effigy of what nationalism and terror can bring. This is a new chapter that can be written only with courage. Courage to say the right words, to condemn all acts of violence, and put all the forces and energy together so that nothing like this can ever happen again,” said Jaeed. 

Facts of multiple slaughter 

As Jaeed stated, the Khojaly slaughter was not the only event like this in the history of the First Karabakh conflict. It was not even the first event of village slaughter to occur, with some scholars of the massacre stating that Jamilli, Meshali, Kerkijahan, Malibeyli, and Gushchular villages were all slaughters designed to pave the way to the final bloodbath in Khojaly. 

Javier Medina Ortiz, founder of Azerbaijan House in Spain 

Javier Medina Ortiz thanked the group for inviting him to share his unique perspective, as the founder of Azerbaijan House in Catalonia, Spain. He congratulated Azerbaijan for taking back the Karabakh and offered his solidarity for the victims of both the war and the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. 

“I opened the Casa Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan House) in Spain five years ago. My first action was the first 25th anniversary of the massacre of Khojaly. We showed at this event the English-language Corridor film. It was shown at an event here that was shared with the media and major newspapers here, but this is an exceptional thing here. As you said, nobody really recognizes the struggle of Karabakh in the rest of the world except for in Catalonia. In Catalonia, we had some troubles five years ago from the secessionist parties,” 

He noted that Spain has a similar problem with Catalonia’s secessionists as Azerbaijan had with the ethnic Armenian secessionists that initially petitioned the Soviet Union to leave Azerbaijan. Catalonia and Armenia, both seeking self-proclamation, have engaged in a mutual support system. 

“For me, it is difficult to understand why these people say that Azerbaijan is the aggressor. The United Nations gave, I believe it was four of five resolutions, in favor of Azerbaijan. This was the resolution and this was the judgment. If you don’t like it, it is your problem.” 

Ortiz then argued that the next step to bring justice and peace in the region would be to actively execute the measures that were provided in these resolutions.

“How many years must Azerbaijan wait?” he asked, noting that the resolutions were provided during the First Karabakh conflict. 

After each speaker gave their individual perspectives, Tsukerman then turned the floor over to questions and discussion between all present speakers.

Discussion 

As discussions following presentations began, Tsukerman asked each of the guests what their opinions were of the best approach to absolve the one-sided attacks against Azerbaijan through the media.

“In my case, I think in Spain we have a very difficult problem with this because here the Armenian people are in their second or third generation. The Armenians here are fully integrated and speak Spanish or Catalonian,” said Ortiz. He then went on to note that while there is such a small Armenian demographic in Catalonia, they still vastly outnumber the Azerbaijani population of Spain, which makes it quite difficult for Azerbaijanis to combat the Armenian narrative in nations where the Diaspora has a strong presence.

“There are so few Armenians in Catalonia. I think that at this moment there are more or less 8,000 Armenian people, but if you count the second or third generation, there are more people. At this moment, there are only, I think, 200 hundred Azerbaijani people. It’s difficult for them to fight (the narrative). With the lobby work, and with the money, of course, the Armenians can receive official support. It’s difficult, but I think we must do it if we want to make Azerbaijan a country that Catalonia knows.

Lowery-Contreras then made note of the strong influence that the Armenian Diaspora’s political lobby has had over western media in the last 30 years since the First Karabakh conflict and the Khojaly massacre.

“The thing is, for the past 30 years, Armenians have controlled the flow of information out of the region, and that’s because of the Armenian Diaspora.”

He then went on to share his personal experiences with this problem of unequal representation between Armenians and Azerbaijani in foreign press.

So, the Armenians have had the playing field all to themselves. They are very aggressive. When I first started paying attention to the area, they would respond with such vigor and numbers that there were publications that I contributed to and paid me to write articles frequently that told me I couldn’t write anymore about Azerbaijan and the situation. Because every time they would publish an article of mine, they would receive hundreds of letters and emails and phone calls of people complaining. Editors and publishers don’t want to fool around with this.

So, the Armenians were very successful in keeping anything positive about Azerbaijan undercover,” said Lowery-Contreras.

He then noted that, in his opinion, only the public representation of the Second Karabakh War could break through this barrier and reveal the truth that Armenia had buried for so long. He called this Armenian information burial campaign an “enforced silence.”

“I don’t know if our international viewers now think this way, but here in America, everybody loves a winner. Two things came out of this war. Number one, the recognition in almost every publication I saw, regardless of the country and who wrote it, actually stated that this entire conflict was fought in the Azerbaijani territory. That is the first time in my research that this has basically been a unanimous fact that has been published worldwide. Number two, then there’s the fact that all of the propaganda that came out of Armenia was proven false,” he said.

Then, he went on to give the example of how the propaganda of Syrian mercenaries being transported to Azerbaijan’s military aid was proven false. He noted that Armenia never produced any physical proof of Syrian jihadist captives taken from the Azerbaijani fighting line. However, it was determined that Syrian-born Armenians had been discovered fighting on the Armenian side of the line.

Lowery-Contreras then went on to explain how Americans related to the pride of winning a war, as the American effort during World War II signaled the turning point in the conflict on all fronts and ensured the Allied Forces victory. Having been alive during World War II, Lowery-Contreras could likewise recall the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. The Korean conflict ended in a stalemate and was basically forgotten by the U.S. public, and Vietnam in a U.S. defeat. He noted how Americans as a culture shy away from defeat in all theaters, especially armed conflicts. He then detailed the sentiment in America toward the Vietnam conflict and how Americans were severely critical of it because it resulted in defeat. In his opinion, the same scenario that existed in the American sentiment over the outcome of the American-Vietnam conflict was the same scenario reflected in the outcome of the Second Karabakh War.

“That’s the situation (having lost territory in the first conflict episode) that was in the way of Azerbaijan getting good publicity, but I believe that has changed now, to some extent,” he said, noting that western media’s tendency to completely shun Azerbaijan’s side of the story was starting to dissolve. He also made a note of how media local to the region had begun to genuinely correspond with western media in an engagement he found surprirsing

“I wrote an article during the war (2020) and it really surprised me because it was published in Turkey. They were interested in an American opinion of the conflict. It turned out that everything Armenia had said had proven to be false. It was the old Baghdad Bob thing from the Iraq War.”

He saw articles from every angle of the world that seemed to be objective regarding the conflict for the first time.

Ortiz, however, did not fully agree with this opinion. He made a comparison between Armenian immigration and Azerbaijani immigration. He stated that, because Armenians want to be abroad and immigrate fully and always to foreign nations, and Azerbaijani’s typically immigrate to study abroad and have no intention of laying down permanent roots. For this reason, Ortiz argued that the Armenian influence over their adopted countries is still so much stronger than that of the Azerbaijani influence, and for that reason, the international community is not close to being fully objective.

“About the media in Spain, I want to tell you an important thing. The primary newspaper in Spain, until about three months ago, was run by an Armenian man. He describes himself on his website as an Armenian activist. So, if the first newspaper and radio station in Spain is in the control of Armenian hands, it can be difficult to do anything against that. Of course, the only way to is to show the truth to the people. Believe me, I try to do it every day. I was writing some articles for them, and I was threatened by Armenian people. Me and my family, ” said Ortiz.

Tsukerman then asked Ortiz what the most effecitve measure of conveying information regarding these issues to Spain was.

“If I knew exactly, perhaps I would be rich in two months, but it is difficult to explain. Here in Spain, we have two different points of view. The Catalonian point of view was absolutely with Armenia,” he then detailed how the Catalonians and Armenians related to each other because they both desire self-determination. He then stated that Spain was with Azerbaijan, by contrast.

“In my opinion, the only way to change the sentiment in Catalonia for Azerbaijan is for Azerbaijan to open a consulate here.” He then detailed how the consulate would need to form a strong diplomatic relationship with both the Spanish and Catalonian authorities to be successful in this effort.

Tsukerman then asked Trombetta his perspective of this suggestion, as someone who had worked with the European officials, and if a similar approach had been successful approach to combating propaganda.

“I’ll try to answer, but I can only speak about my experience. Having just seen what happened in Brussels, because I have worked there for 35 years there, in Brussles and Strasbourg.”

He then went on to explain the events in the political organization and how, in the European parliament there was a strong Armenian lobby.

“I didn’t understand why many members of European parliament were closer to the Armenian position.”

The conclusion he came to was that Armenia had built a much stronger politic arm in Europe through its propaganda.

“What has happened is that Armenia has made a stronger machine of propaganda.”

He also concluded that now was the moment in history to put in a place a much stronger mechanism in Europe what exactly happened in the history of the Karabakh, and the true history of Azerbaijan.

He also noted how Italy has a strong connection with Azerbaijan because of the oil economics, as well as culturally.

“For this reason, I think that this is the moment in which a stronger information field could put the real true evidence in Europe,” said Trombetta.

Lastly, they spoke with Arzu Jaeed, who spoke about how she and her team of copywriters and journalists, are working on how to create a human rights pipeline for information as a source point for international scholars to learn both side of the conflict.

“There are always two sides of the story. You don’t have to support Azerbaijan, no one wants you to support Azerbaijan. But you must support justice. There is never just one side.”

She called on the international community to begin to form unbiased pursuit of justice, in the belief that this can change the conversation between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the world.