Khojaly genocide: tragedy of a generation, shame of the world, and silence of the international community - legal analysis from international law perspective

It is an obvious fact that there are still several conflict zones in the modern world which not only create serious difficulties for the relations among the regional countries, but also exert a remarkable influence over the lifestyle of the people of those regions. Sometimes even international and regional organisations is not enough to solve these problems in the framework of an international law, writes Orkhan Bashirli.

There are numerous causes for such conflicts between states which have negative influences on their relations. Unfortunately, most of the time wars become inevitable between countries and nations during these conflicts. One of those conflicts which has been going on for more than 100 years is the “Nagorno-Karabakh” problem between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia.

During this conflict over the border territory, Azerbaijani people have constantly found themselves the target of international crimes: this has been repeatedly proven on the basis of historical facts emerging from the ongoing processes and the events taking place in different periods. One of these crimes is genocide.

It is necessary to take a look at the past history in order to make an approach to genocide in a wide spectrum and to give its correct legal description. Because, the implementation of the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Azerbaijanis by Armenian criminals, from time to time moved to its “development” on the ascending line. We should note that, only in the twentieth century, Armenia’s policy of ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis can be considered in 4 stages: the first stage, covering 1905-1907; the second stage, covering 1918-1920; the third stage, covering 1948-1953; the fourth stage, covering 1988-1993, which served as the basis for genocide against Azerbaijanis, territorial claims and military aggression in the modern period.

In the most recent and continuing latest stage of the Armenian genocide policy against Azerbaijanis, the Khojaly genocide should be especially emphasised. The Khojaly genocide must be considered as the most horrible genocide crime committed against the peaceful Azerbaijani population during the war of aggression carried out by Armenia with the purpose of occupying the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

Khojaly, located in Nagorno-Karabakh, had 940 square kilometers of territory and about 7000 inhabitants. It is situated 10 kilometres North-East of Khankandi, on the road between Aghdam-Shusha and Askaran-Khankandi. Having the only civilian airport in the region, Khojaly was considered as an important communication centre. Besides, Khojali had also become a shelter for 54 families of Meskhetian/Ahiska Turkish refugees who had fled the bloody inter-ethnic clashes in central Asia, as well as Azerbaijani refugees deported from Armenia.

The Armenian armed detachments, with the participation and “assistance” of armoured vehicles and personnel of the 366th motor rifle regiment, located in Khankandi and belonging to the Ministry of Defence of the former USSR, invaded the city of Khojaly on the night of February 25-26th, 1992.

However, the fact of the occupation of the city not only determines the evaluation of this action as aggression, but also gives grounds for interpretation of those incidents in this geographical territory as a crime of “genocide”.

Khojaly Massacre 2

As a result of this aggression 613 civilians were killed including 63 children, 106 women, and 70 elderly persons. 1275 people were taken hostage, 8 families completely annihilated, 56 people were tortured to death by burning alive, ripping off the scalp and extracting eyes.

More than 1,000 residents, including 76 children, received gunshot wounds of varying degrees and became disabled.

25 children lost both parents, and 130 lost one of the parents. The fate of 150 people remains unknown to this day.

Thus, proceeding from the international legal aspect of this crime, first of all, it is important to consider the provisions of the 1948 “Convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide”.

According to this document, genocide means refers to acts committed in time of peace or in time of war with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. These acts are detailed in Article 2 of the Convention:

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

In general, the crime of genocide is a material and formal crime. Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such, killing members of this group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of this group, imply criminal consequences – killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm.

Crimes, such as deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group, are legally considered to have been completed since the moment of committing the acts.

The Khojaly genocide cannot be considered just as an international crime aimed at physical, mental and biological destruction of a specific group. At the same time, the destruction of historical, religious, architectural and cultural monuments located on this territory, directly, should be considered as an integral part of the policy of “cultural genocide”.

Taking into consideration the above mentioned issues, the criminal act committed in Khojaly should be examined as a crime of genocide, being a serious violation of the obligations enshrined on imperative norms (jus cogens) of public international law.

With regard to the recognition of the Khojaly genocide from the point of view of international law, some states of the world (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Republic of Colombia, Republic of Guatemala, Republic of Honduras, Republic of Panama, Republic of Peru, Republic of Sudan, Republic of Paraguay etc.), and also some states of the United States (Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, etc.), reflecting their political and legal positions, have formallyrecognised the crimes committed in Khojaly as “genocide”.

Orkhan Bashirli is currently a Student of KU Leuven.

Main image: By Ilgar Jafarov - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


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