Part III – Sumgait and “The Deception of Khojaly”

As we know it today, the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the United Kingdom is funding and sponsoring numerous smear campaigns against Armenians conducted by Azeri university societies. The main piston of this propaganda machine is, of course, the events at Khojaly on 25-26 February 1992. These events have later been dubbed the “Khojaly Massacre”, the “Khojaly Tragedy”, and even the “Khojaly Genocide”.

The Justice For Khojaly Campaign is an example of this propaganda, but has successfully organised vigils, lectures and an art installation in Chelsea, London. Atlético Madrid, which is sponsored by the Republic of Azerbaijan and are the current champions of Spanish football, have even worn black armbands in commemoration of the events at Khojaly.

The events of Sumgait have been muddied and distorted in the international arena by the extremely well-oiled and well-funded Azeri propaganda machine, which propagates the events at Khojaly as the most significant humanitarian crime during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. This had led to numerous concerts, marches and demonstrations across the UK to achieve “Justice for Khojaly”. It is far more the case that these efforts have darker ulterior motives: to overshadow the events at Sumgait and the constant military aggression demonstrated by Azeri personnel today on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Khojaly was home to the only airport in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO), and thus manifested itself as a key strategic location during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. In addition, the shelling of Stepanakert was conducted by military personnel and vehicles posted in the city – and thus presented itself as a crucial outpost to neutralise. The Armenian military forces aimed to occupy the city and seize the airport with the intention of avoiding unnecessary loss of life. Azeri propaganda (based on mostly Azeri literature) emphasise that 613 Azeris died during the military population, while the Human Rights Watch suggest that the number is between 161-200.

While the Azeri government is entitled to fund whatever propaganda campaigns it wishes (it does, of course, have almost unlimited funds to do so), the key issue is that their claims are mostly fabricated and contradict historical realities and many eye-witness accounts. R. Pollard has even uncovered a plethora of Azeri sources that undermine the possibly over-exaggerated claims of the Azeri propaganda machine. The most interesting of which were the various eye-witness accounts of Elman Mammadov (Head of the Khojaly Executive Board) after the “tragedy”; the Armenian military forces had been “continuously warning the population about the planned operation through loudspeakers and suggesting that the civilians abandon the town and escape from the encirclement through a humanitarian corridor along the Kar-Kar River”.

I will not attempt to disprove the modern chain of events blindingly enforced by the Azerbaijani government (R. Pollard’s work doing so instead, mainly based on Azeribaijani literature and primary sources can be found here), but I instead wish to discuss its implications on Armenians today – especially in terms of recognising the events at Sumgait as a humanitarian tragedy. The issue is that, like Raphael has suggested, there has been a wave of Azeri denialist literature, media and conspiracy theories. Films such as Echo of Sumgait by D. Imanov can spread at an alarming pace, and can be catalysed by the Azeri propaganda machine – which is and has been extremely willing to do so. Such is the case that if the Armenian government and diaspora do not combat these fabrications aggressively, the events at Sumgait can very well be forgotten in the midst of bent-truths and media campaigns against our people.

An example of contemporary Azeri propaganda in London can be viewed here

—Emin Moskofian

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