On February 26, 2020, the Azerbaijani people will remember the Khojaly Massacre, which took place 28 years ago, the first genocide to have taken place in Europe, after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union.
Chronic pain does not go away. It can be treated with painkillers to mitigate it. The Khojaly Massacre is Azerbaijan’s national chronic pain; it will never go away but time is the best painkiller.
One person who survived the Khojaly Massacre is Durdane Agayeva. The woman is the example that life is stronger than death, that forgiveness is stronger than hate.
I recently met Durdane in Baku, Azerbaijan. This was a reunion after we had previously met in Los Angeles, in 2019.
When you look at Durdane you will never detect the ordeal she went through years back, when the Armenian troops entered her hometown, Khojaly, and committed unspeakable cruelty against the local civilians.
Khojaly was a town in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region that was entirely populated by Azerbaijanis.
Strategically, Khojaly was an important town because had the only airport in the entire Karabakh region and thus invading it was a key priority for Armenia.
The Khojaly Massacre
The town of Khojaly was invaded by Armenian forces, backed by Russian soldiers, on 26 February 1992, during the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Khojaly Massacre, also known as the Khojaly tragedy, in which at least 613 ethnic Azerbaijani civilians, including women and children, were brutally massacred by Armenian forces, according to the Human Rights Watch definition was the “largest massacre in the conflict” between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
According to the Memorial Human Rights Center and Human Rights Watch, and other international observers, the massacre was committed by the Armenian forces, with the help of some military personnel of the Russian-led 366th CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) regiment. The 613 murdered Azerbaijani civilians included 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly. Some 487 people, among them were 76 children, were critically injured, while 150 of 1,275 Azerbaijanis who were captured by the Armenians during the onslaught are still missing. Furthermore, in this horrific massacre, eight complete families perished from this world and 130 children became orphans among them some 25 children lost both of their parents.
Why Is It Important to Know About Tragedies Such as the Khojaly Massacre?
One has to take a look at the world today and recognize the current genocidal upheaval.
- The Rohingya in Myanmar
- The Nuer and other ethnic groups in South Sudan
- Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria
- Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic
- Darfuris in Sudan
Humanity easily sinks into demented cruelty and survivors of such events live amongst us. Sharing their experiences, in any way possible, may help humanity remember rather than take the easy way out and forget. Forgetting makes repeating the carnage easier.
The murder of 6 million Jews, the Holocaust, has been memorized and commemorated from the day it ended. Museums, monuments, films, Memorial Days and education are making Jews repeat, non-stop, at every opportunity, the ‘Never Again’ vowed-promise.
Azerbaijanis sacredly memorialize the Nagorno-Karabakh War, the dead, the wounded, the victims, the missing and the national pain.
After Armenia aggressively invaded and occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory, altogether over 800,000 Azerbaijanis were subjected to ethnic cleansing in Karabakh, becoming internally displaced in their own country to this day. Despite four UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, from 1993, all hold to this day, condemning this occupation and the ethnic cleansing and demanding the withdrawal of Armenian troops from all occupied areas of Azerbaijan, so far Armenia has refused to fulfill the UNSC’s international community unambiguous demands, and still holds the region of Karabakh under its illegal occupation.
Armenia is doing all it can to keep the world ignorant of knowing what really took place. They tore down the home of the murdered or fleeing Azerbaijanis; they destroyed or desecrated Azerbaijani cultural and religious monuments and are whitewashing Azerbaijan’s centuries of history in the region.
I met several of the internally displaced Azerbaijanis. They long for peace, they want to go back home and again live in harmony and coexistence with all other ethnic groups in the region, including Armenians.
Durdane Agayeva, a Survivor
I am a daughter of Jewish-Polish civilians, survivors of the Holocaust in which the German Nazis systematically murdered 6 million Jews, only for being Jews.
Baseless murder of innocent people, for being who they are, whether Jews or Azerbaijanis, does not go well with my inner being. I find it to be totally obnoxiously deplorable.
Meeting with Durdane and hearing story of survival, not only enacts in me my deepest empathy, but also causes an outrage to move through my veins.
That night of February 25th, 1992, as Durdane, then a 20-year-old girl, was trying to flee into the forest to escape the advancing army, she was captured and tortured by the Armenian soldiers for endless days. Her only crime was that she was an Azerbaijani living in a land that Armenia wanted to claim to be its own at all cost.
“I can still feel their hands as they grabbed my arm and separated me from my brother. My body is a testimony to the way the baton repeatedly struck me. I shiver when I dare think about the cold night, how the wind and snow worked hand in hand with my captors to further agonize me. It has been 28 years since I was subjected to those horrors during the Khojaly Massacre, and all has remained vivid as if it happened the night before,” Durdane recalls the umpteen time one of many details of her ordeal.
The Outcome of Survival
Over the years Durdane went through a repeated spine surgeries that was badly damaged during her torture in captivity.
For many years Durdane buried the horror she faced deep in her memory. She thought that opening up to tell her trials and tribulations story would reopen the mental wounds, the only remaining attestation after the physical bruises paled away. Several years ago, while surfing Facebook, Durdane came across an article about an Armenian who was receiving an award. She recognized him and it hit her hard. It was as if she was back in that barn in 1992. The man who was receiving the award none other than the very same soldier who had ordered Durdane’s countless beatings when she was his captive. After seeing this post, she decided that the time has come to speak out, to tell her story, to offload the pain.
“We often hear the saying, ‘Never Again,’ when discussing the Holocaust. The same saying applies to the Khojaly Massacre. I believe that humanity could be better off if survivors like me tell their stories of survival,” Durdane sums up her hope for a better future.
Telling Her Story
Durdane has been traveling the world sharing her story, just as some of the Holocaust’s survivors who managed to open up tell their survival story.
The Los Angeles-produced documentary “Running From the Darkness,” featuring Khojaly survivors, provides first-hand accounts of what happened that dark and cold night in Khojaly.
Early 2020 the book ‘Eight Days In Armenian Captivity: Memories of a Girl from Khojaly,’ by Durdana Aghayeva, a written testimony of nightmarish past, was published.
The Jewish people, who have gone through centuries of persecution and carnage, understand Durdane well. Azerbaijan’s Consulate General in Los Angeles invited Durdane and several other survivors who met with the Los Angeles Jewish community and shared their testimony about the Khojaly Massacre and other events they experienced when the Armenian forces took on the Azerbaijanis of Nagorno-Karabakh.
We all hope that the mounting international pressure on Armenia will bring about a peaceful resolution, and Durdane and other survivors will be able to finally return home.
In the meantime, with our heads down, we commemorate the 28th anniversary of the Khojaly Massacre.