This day, 24 years ago, the Arstakh Defense Army launched a military operation to neutralize the Khojalu-based Azerbaijani nests that shelled Stepanakert, liberate the Khojalu airport to ensure food and medicine supplies to Artsakh, liberate the Stepanakert-Askeran highway, which ran near Khojalu and was under the Azerbaijani forces’ control.
During the operation, a humanitarian corridor was opened for civilians, and most of the civilians safely left the town.
A group of people, however, were killed near Aghdam, and Azerbaijan began using the tragedy in its anti-Armenian propaganda, branding it “a massacre committed by Armenians.”
It should noted that Azerbaijani propaganda has no explanations for how the Khojalu residents safely left the town, passed by the Armenians positions deployed near Askeran, but were killed in a territory that the Artakh Defense Army reached a year later in 1993.
Khojalu liberation was major landmark to curb Azerbaijani aggression, says Armenian analyst
n an interview with Tert.am, political scientist Hrant Melik-Shanazaryan said that the liberation of Khojalu was the first major victory in countering Azerbaijan’s aggression against Artsakh. According to him, the more active is Azerbaijan’s propaganda the stronger is the international community’s desire to know the details. This is Azerbaijan’s problem.
Mr Melik-Shahnazaryan, this day, 24 years ago, Artsakh warriors liberated Khojalu. What impact did that action have on developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Liberation of Khojalu and destruction of the Azerbaijani military alignments deployed there proved to be the first major victory which can be considered a turning point in countering Azerbaijan’s armed aggression against Artsakh. True, before February 1992, the Artsakh Defense Army had achieved notable military success in Togh and Sarnshen, and later in Lesnoy, Salibeki, Ashagh, Ghushchular, Gharabahgly and Krkzhan – the settlement neighboring Stepanakert – it can be stated with confidence that Khojalu proved to be the landmark that radically changed the balance of forces in our favor in the Azerbaijani-Artsakh conflict.
That was a glorious victory that can hardly be overestimated. Khojalu was of strategic importance for both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Artakh’s only airport is located there, and it was the only hub that connected Artsakh with the Motherland. Besides, by tripling the Khojalu population within two years, Azerbaijan’s authorities turned it into concentrated force that would shell and bomb Stepanakert, Askeran and the neighboring Armenian villages. And in Aghdam (present-day Akna), which is located at a distance of 12 kilometers of Khojalu, Azerbaijan had deployed large forces that had a task of taking over Stepanakert.
The Artsakh Armenians had nothing else to do but to neutralize the threat to the entire population of the country. Destruction of the nests and military forces deployed in Khojalu was the only option to break the blockade of Stepanakert, re-establish the connection between the south and north of Artsakh and put an end to round-the-clock shelling of Artsakh settlements, creating conditions for air communication with Armenia and accomplishing a number of other important tasks. To the credit of our freedom-fighters, the liberation of Khojalu was a brilliant action.
Azerbaijan launched information warfare. Every year, they raise the Khojalu issue at different levels. What task is their propaganda seeking to accomplish?
Yes, over the past years, Azerbaijan has followed a “tradition” of bringing different accusations against the Armenian side at the end of February. By means of their press and propaganda they begin yelling in the true sense of the word. However, it should be noted that this tactics has in recent years boomeranged. Did the Aliyev administration believe that the world would readily accept their made-up stories? Was not it crystal clear the disinformation would be exposed and all the facts would be revealed, which caused tragic death of many residents of Khojalu.
During the last three or four years, the Armenian a side has carried out serious research to reveal and present to the international community the real causes of the death of the Khojalu residents in question. I do not think anyone doubts now that, before taking over the Azerbaijani settlement, the Armenian side had repeatedly warned the local residents, urging them to leave the battlefield. The Armenian side opened a humanitarian corridor for the Khojalu residents for them to safely leave the town and reach their fellow-citizens near Aghdam. So that more than 700 residents could safely be transported to Stepanakert, stayed there for a few days and handed over to Azerbaijan without any pre-conditions. All the facts have been confirmed, even by Azerbaijani sources.
So what is the matter in dispute? How does Azerbaijan prove the Armenian side’s responsibility for the Khojalu tragedy?
There is no dispute as such. Nor is there any evidence – only accusations against the Armenian side. The ‘Khojalu tragedy” has something in common with that settlement -only in the context of local residents’ death there. In fact, however, it was a tragedy of Aghdam, not of Khojalu. The events unfolded in Aghdam, where, as I have mentioned, Azerbaijan had deployed large forces. At that time, Azerbaijan was in full control of the area where the Khojalu residents were killed. Azerbaijani troops opened fire at them. It may have been because of confusion. However, other causes are being discussed in Azerbaijan as well, particularly ones related to the National Front’s intention to force President Ayaz Mutalibov into resigning. Much has been talked about it, with relevant documents published. I would advise readers to visit the xocali.net (http://xocali.net/) website, (http://www.armenianhouse.org/mshakhnazaryan/docs-ru/khojaly_f/contents.html) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvzfp9nb-VU . The readers will find answers to all the questions about the liberation of Khojalu and later tragedy in Aghdam.
But what the facts say runs counter to the Azerbaijani propaganda machine. How does the Aliyev administration manage to raise such a theory built on lie and disinformation. An open-minded outlook would reveal that the Azerbaijani propaganda has developed a certain influence on the international perception of the conflict.
The only possible way to bring it to attention is its unlimited replication and the same international community’s unawareness of the events in Artsakh at the last century’s end. No person with common sense can be indifferent to the horrendous scenes video-taped by Chingi Mustafaev. I mean the episodes featuring the tragedy of Aghdam. Those episodes strongly influenced the Azerbaijani society then, causing [President Ayaz] Mutalibov to abandon the presidential residence. Seeing that those episodes stirred up sentiments in the Azerbaijani society, the Aliyev administration decided to use them for also cheating the international community. If there were such episodes after the liberation of Shushi, for example, they would now be speaking of the “Shushi tragedy”. But the Azerbaijani propaganda went even farther beyond that.
Thinking, probably, that those episodes are not enough to move humanity, they search for photos on the internet featuring brutal scenes from the Kosovo war or the earthquake in Turkey in an attempt to misrepresent them as evidence of the “Khojalu tragedy”
But the stronger the Azerbaijani propaganda and their call upon the international community to criticize Armenia for Khojalu, the stronger international experts’ desire for more detailed information on those events. This is where Azerbaijan is facing a problem. And this is why the country rejects any proposal for conducting an investigation.
Azerbaijan’s disinformation propaganda has assumed such increased scales that tremendous resources are now necessary to identify and deny all that. If we speak in this context of the Khojalu liberation and the developments that followed, do you think Armenia’s efforts would be enough to reveal the whole truth?
As regards Khojalu, in particular, everything has been done; or almost everything. The only problem we have is perhaps the fact that the probe into the events of the Nagorno-Karabakh war bears an episodic character. To put it more plainly, let us consider the Khojalu liberation operations. That town, which was of such a great significance for the Armenians, had to liberated. And it was. But considering the same issue from the perspective of the local population’s tragic death, we have to look back – spatially and temporarily – to remember the Azerbaijani Mi-8 helicopter, which was downed on November 21, 1991. Ayaz Mutalibov lost his political team that day as the helicopter carried the entire political elite of Azerbaijan. The only person who refused to get on the helicopter was Tamerlan Gharaev who was than an outstanding representative of the opposition National Front. In Azerbaijan, it has been almost proven beyond reasonable doubt that the National Front representatives themselves downed the helicopter to oust Mutalibov from office. But the problem remained unresolved in  91. To get rid of Mutaloibov, they needed more victims. And the Aghdam tragedy followed those event. It was, by the way, Tamerlan Gharaev himself, that didn’t allow the troops in Aghdam to undertake operations in support to Khojalu.
Other records suggest that Gharaev maintained intimate relations with Heydar Aliev who, after acceding to power in 1993, appointed him Azerbaijan’s ambassador to India. And he remained in that post for 17 years and is now on a diplomatic mission in other countries in the East. I believe that Tamerlan’s activity can help resolve other interesting facts too. So the matter needs a proper consideration.
As we see, everything was interrelated. Yes, the Azerbaijani disinformation propaganda has assumed such extensive scales that one may even write a research thesis on that. But the key landmark events regarding the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict have been considerably studied. Fortunately, all this is very successfully continuing also today.