EDITORIAL: Eyewitnesses of the Sumgait Massacres

Sumgait, 27-29.02.88

“The attackers had 70cm long rods, with pieces attached, which seemed to have been specially made for the pogroms. There were no police in town… the telephone lines were down… rocks had been brought… those pogroms were not organised in the space of one day; they had been preparing for them for a long time.”

Eyewitness Guliev. Source: Minutes from a session of the USSR Supreme Court’s Criminal Investigation into the events of Sumgait, October-November 1988, Moscow.

Baku, 13-17.01.90

“For five days in January of 1990, the Armenian community of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, were killed, tortured, robbed and humiliated. Pregnant women and babies were molested, little girls were raped in front of their parents’ eyes, Christian crosses were burned on their backs, and they were abused for their Christian faith.”

Materials of the seventeenth session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 17-25 July 1997.

Maragha, 10.04.92

“The Deputy Director of the Mir-Bashir prison treated me and a married couple, Razmik and Sveta Movsisyan, like dogs. …Sometime later, they killed Sveta and gave her distressed husband her flesh to eat. After that, they killed him too.”

Eyewitness Zhenya Ghazaryan.

These are the largest killing sprees of Armenians that have taken place in Azerbaijan in recent history. The quotes, available from eyewitnesses to international news media such as The Independent, are only the narrowest peek into the horrors that were the Armenian pogroms. They were, as the name defines, organised massacres of a particular ethnic group.

The Azeri government at the time encouraged the manifestation of extreme nationalism in violent and fatal manners. Instigated and assisted by the state, local mafia groups and flash mob gangs tore through the Armenian households in these areas, brutally and relentlessly murdering innocent Armenians, without remorse or exception on the grounds of gender or age. Enacted largely by members of the Azeri public, this illustrates the ferocity and effect of the government’s propaganda and incitement of hate against Armenians. It also demonstrates the volatility and innate barbaric nature of those citizens, which enabled them to commit such atrocities on a whim.

What’s important to realise is that the generation that carried out these atrocities is now the generation that runs the country: those individuals today are Azerbaijan’s politicians, policymakers, influential figures, teachers, lawyers and parents. Extreme nationalism such as that which drives a person to inflict torturous pain and, ultimately, death on another human being is not one which fades over time, so it would be prudent to think that this mentality is transmitted to the new generations. This would be the generation that now has its index finger on the trigger of the sniper rifles along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border; the generation blindly rejoicing in the return and pardoning of axe-murderer Ramil Safarov, and the generation that stands ready to shoot down commercial planes going in and out of Stepanakert Airport.

This xenophobia will not end until the massacres are recognised and justice is served in their respect. After all, had the Jewish Holocaust been anything less than internationally condemned and ordered by a court to compensate for, would the Germans be thinking any differently of the Jews today than they did back then?

— Heros Jojaghaian

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