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Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, 1993


...During the winter of 1992, Armenian forces went on the offensive, forcing almost the entire Azerbaijani poput ation of the enclave to flee,s and committing unconscionable acts of violence against civilians as they fled. The most notorious of these attacks occurred on February 25 in the village of Khojaly. A large column of residents, accompanied by a few dozen retreating fighters, fled the city as it fell to Armenian forces. As they approached the border with Azerbaijan, they came across an Armenian military post and were cruelly fired upon. At least 161 civil ians are known to have been murdered in this incident, although Azerbaijani officials estimate that about 800 perished. Armenian forces killed unarmed civiltans and soldiers who were hors de combat, and looted and sometimes burned homes.


Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, December 1994



The massacre of hundreds of Azeri civili ans in Khojali, NKAO, by Karabakh forces with al - leged support of the 366th Regiment of the Russian army» was one of the major events characterized the war in 1992.
In February 1992, Karabakh Armenian forces - reportedly backed by soldiers from the 366th Motor Rifle Regtment of the Russian Army - seized the Azeri-populated town of Khojali. More than 200 civilians were killed in the attack, the largest massacre to date in the conflict. Footnote 28: There are no exact figures for the number of Azeri civiltans killed because Karabakh Armenian forces gained control of the area after the massacre. While it is widely accepted that 200 hundred Azeris were murdered, as many as 500-1000 may have died.



 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki,
24 March 1997


Dear Mr. Arzoumanyan,

As Executive Director of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki (formerly Helsinki Watch), I wish to respond to the March 3 Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement regarding the 1992 slaughter of Azeri civilians in the town of Khojaly in Nagorno Karabakh. In it, the Ministry argues that the Popular Front of Azerbaijan was responsible for the civilian deaths, supporting this argument by referring to an interview with former Prestdent Ayaz Mutalibov and, incredt- bly, to a 1992 report by our organization. The report, Bloodshed in the Caucasus: Escalation of the Armed Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, documents violations of humanitarian law in the conflict committed by both Azerbaijani and Karabakh Armenian forces. Neither our overt view and version of the events, nor the individual interviews with Azeri refugees from Khojaly and other villages in Nagorno Karabakh published in the report could possibly support the notion that Azerbaijani forces willfully prevented the evacuation of civilians or that they shot their own citizens. We are deeply distressed that the Ministry has, wittingly or unwittingly, linked our report to views which we reject and which our report does not reflect.
The Ministry statement reads: “. the militia of the Azerbaijani National Front actively obstructed and actually prevented the exodus of the local population through the mountain passages specifically left open by Karabakh Armenians to facilitate the flight of the civilian population. On this matter, the September 1992 Helsinki Watch non-governmental organization report quotes an Azerbaijani woman who says that Armenians had notified the Azerbaijani civilian population to leave the town with white flags raised, in fact the Azerbaijani militia shot those who attempted to flee.”
Our report indeed found that many residents of Khojaly may have had advance warntng of the impending military operation, since Armenian forces had given an ultimatum to Alif Gajiyev, then head of the Khojaly mi t i tia, who in turn warned civiltans. Our research and that of the Memorial Human Rights Center found that the retreating militia fled Khojaly along with some of the large groups of fleeing civilians. Our report noted that by remaining armed and in uniform, the Azerbaijani militia may be considered as combatants and thus endangered fleeing civilians, even if their intent had been to protect them.
Yet we place direct responsibility for the civilian deaths with Karabakh Armenian forces. Indeed, neither our report nor that of Memorial includes any evidence to support the argument that Azerbaijani forces obstructed the flight of, or fired on Azeri civilians. For clarity’s sake I cite our 1992 report (page 24):
“ ... Thus, a party that int ersperses combatants with fleeing civilians puts those civilians at risk and violates its obligation to protect its own civiltans... The attacktng party i.e., Karabakh Armenian forces is still obliged to take precautionary measures to avoid or mintmize civiltan casualties. In particular, the party must suspend an att ack if it becomes apparent that the att ack may be expected to cause civilian casualties that are excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”
“The circumstances surrounding the attack ... on those fleetng Khojaly indicate that [Karabakh] Armenian forces and the troops of the 366th CIS regiment ... deliberately disregarded this customary law restraint on attacks. Nagorno Karabakh officials and fighters clearly expected the inhabitants of Khojaly to flee since they claim to have informed the town that a corridor would be left open to altow for their safe passage... Under these circumstances, the killing of fleeing combatants could not justify the forseeably large number of civilian casualties.”
Please altow me to clartfy another reference to our 1992 report, regarding the 1988 Sumgait pogrom. Our report reads: “The most brut al of these events was the anti-Armenian pogrom in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, which took the lives of thirty-two Armenians, wounded hundreds more, and intensified the fears of ethnic Armenians living in other parts of Azerbaijan,” which differs from the citation used in the Ministry statement. We further cited the estimate of 300,000 -350,000 ethnic Armenians who fled Azerbaijan, not 600,000 as the Ministry statement seemed to attribute to our report.
We welcome the use of our reports by governments and intergovernmental organizations, and we sincerely hope that there will be no further misrepresentation regarding the contents of our 1992 report.

I thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,
Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

cc: Mr. Hasan Hasanov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mr. Rouben Shugarian, Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the United States Mr. Hafiz Pashayev, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United States Ambassador Peter Tomsen, United States Ambassador to Armenia
Ambassador Richard Kauzlarich, United States Ambassador to Azerbaijan.


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