Ethnic Cleansing Campaigns
ARMENIAN POGROMS IN BAKU (1990), CONTINUED HISTORY OF ETHNIC CLEANSINGS
The town of Shushi is situated on a high plateau in the center of Nagorno Karabakh, ten kilometers from the NKR capital city Stepanakert. Due to its natural geographic location the plateau has always had a strategic significance.
The first record about Shushi, the former administrative center of Nagorno Karabakh, dates back to the XVIII century. The town preserved its significance as a strategic outpost also in the beginning of the XIX century, when Transcaucasus were under the rule of the Russian Empire, and Nagorno Karabakh constituted part of the Elizavetpol Goubernya (province) of Russia. It is by accident that one Russian military figure wrote that "the one, who will take Shushi, will rule over Karabakh."
Shushi grew and by the XIX century it became one of the spiritual centers of the Caucasus. Political thinkers and the cultural elite of the Armenians of the Caucasus were shaped here.
The first serious clash in Shushi between Armenians and Caucasus Tatars (the name used for the descendants of nomadic tribes before 1918) occurred in 1905-1906. Despite the fact that the Turks-Tartars did not achieve their goal, about 400 dwelling houses, theaters etc. were burnt.
After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1918, the Karabakh Armenians endured one of the most difficult periods of their history. Azerbaijan made huge unfounded claims to Karabakh and Zangezur, the historic territories of Armenia. Such actions of Azerbaijan were supported by the tragic circumstances during World War I, as well as by the patronage of the criminal authorities of Turkey. In 1915, the Ottoman Empire carried out genocide of one and a half million Armenian people in Western Armenia. The young Republic of Armenia was already so exhausted that it could not defend the Armenian population and assert its rights on Karabakh and Zangezur.
However, the population of Nagorno Karabakh and Zangezur refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the newly created Azerbaijani Republic. Azerbaijan, without having any legitimate rights to control this region, tried to subjugate Nagorno Karabakh with the help of Turkish troops. On September 15, 1918 Turkish troops entered Baku, and as a result of the massacres, thirty thousand Armenians were murdered.
March 23, 1920 was the most tragic - the Turkish-Azerbaijani troops burnt and plundered Shushi, the fifth largest town in the Caucasus. Within three days, the population of the town decreased by 65%. The Turkish Musavatist armed groups eliminated 25 thousand Armenians in Shushi. Seven thousand well-furnished two-story houses and beautiful cultural and administrative buildings were ravaged and turned to ashes. The Armenian part of the town was burnt and was not rebuilt until the beginning of the 1960s.
Sergo Ordjonikidze, Member of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, who visited the devastated Shushi region in May of 1920, wrote in his memoirs: "Even today I remember with horror the image that we saw in May 1920 in Shushi. The most beautiful Armenian town was destroyed, smashed up to the ground, and laid in ruins, and in draw-wells we saw the dead bodies of little children and women. . ."
Tragic events in the Azerbaijani town of Sumgait were preceded by a wave of anti-Armenian demonstrations and rallies throughout Azerbaijan in February 1988. Pogroms, beatings, and massacres of Armenians in Sumgait, situated a half an hour from Baku, was carried out at daytime.
The peak of crimes committed by the Azerbaijani authorities fell on February 27-29. Almost the entire town became an arena for unhampered pogroms of the Armenian population. The pogrom-makers burst into the apartments of Armenians, having prepared lists of Armenian inhabitants in their hands. They were armed with metal switches (pieces of armature) and stones. Axes, knifes, bottles and fuel cans were used as well. According to many eyewitnesses, around 50-80 people participated in the raid of one apartment alone. Similar crowds committed outrages in the streets. The significant part of numbers killed were burnt alive after suffering beatings, tortures, and rapes. Hundreds of innocent people received injuries of different grades and became invalids. There were over two hundred smashed apartments, numerous burnt and broken cars, dozens of destroyed workshops, shops and kiosks. The result of the of the pogroms were thousands of refugees.
No other name can be given to the Armenian pogroms in Sumgait, other than that of organized genocide. The tragic events of Sumgait in late February of 1998, never received adequate political evaluation, and its organizers and the main executors not only escaped punishment, but their names remain unknown to the world. However, documents, testimonies and other facts allow one to draw a well-defined conclusion: the pogroms were masterminded and carried out on a high state level, and its main organizers and executors were the Soviet Azerbaijani leadership of the time and were connected to various nationalistic pro-Turkish circles. This was expressed in the Moscow magazine ( "Znamya" No 6, 1989 ) by informed public figure George Soros, who agreed to the fact that the first Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan were inspired by the local mafia led by the current president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev.
An Azerbaijani witness, S.Guliyev, testified to the reactions of authorities: "Near the windows of a militia point a man was beaten. The militia gave the town to be torn to pieces. The militia was not in town. I didn't see it".
"The militia knew everything", - stated the witness D.Zarbaliyev, the son of the Interior ministry official. According the testimony of Arsen Arakelian, he phoned the militia department several times (the telephones of all the Armenians were disconnected), begging to save his mother Asya Tigranovna from being beaten nearly to death. She was burnt and survived by a mere miracle; the bandits abandoned her thinking she was dead.
From the report of the Moscow Human Rights Center
of the "Memorial" Association:
A.Sakharov, who was shocked by the events in Sumgait, wrote: "No half measures, no talks about friendship of peoples can calm down the people. If someone doubted this before Sumgait, then after this tragedy no one has the moral right to insist on maintaining NKAO under the territorial jurisdiction of Azerbaijan".
The suppression of the genocide in Sumgait (February 1988) and the international community's connivance to the Azerbaijani genocide-makers allowed the organizers and active participants of pogroms to escape criminal punishment, and made the continuation of bloody bacchanalia possible. Incursions against Armenians intensified and included the entire territory of the Azerbaijani SSR, reaching its pinnacle on January 1990 in Baku, when hundreds of Armenians became victims of the pathological hatred of Azerbaijani nationalists.
During November and December 1988, Armenian pogroms took place throughout Azerbaijan. The largest of them were in Baku, Kirovabad, Shemakh, Shamkhor, Mingechaur, the Nakhijevan ASSR. In Kirovabad, the pogrom-makers entered old people's home, dragged them to the countryside, and brutally killed 12 helpless Armenian old men and women, including invalids (this case was highlighted in mass media). In winter 1988, the population of dozens Armenian villages of several rural regions of the Azerbaijani SSR were deported. The population of more than 40 Armenian areas in northern Nagorno Karabakh (which were not included into the Nagorno Karabakh autonomy during its formation), including forty-thousand Armenians of Kirovabad, shared the same fate. After those events, only a small part of the Armenian population remained in Azerbaijan, mainly in Baku. 50,000 people remained out of the 215,000 that lived in Baku in 1988. On January 12-13, 1990, the Armenian pogroms in Baku became organized. On January 13, after 5 p.m., a crowd of tens of thousand people, gathered in a rally in Lenin's Square, divided into several groups and began methodical, house-to-house "cleansing" of Armenians. They either killed people or took them to the sea-port , or to the airport and forced them to leave. "On January 15, pogroms and assaults continued in Baku. By preliminary information, the pogroms during the first three days resulted in the death of 33 people. Yet this number should not be considered final, as not all of the dwellings in Baku were checked " ( Izvestia, January 16, 1990 ).
There are many document cases of brutalities and murders committed with extreme cruelty. For example, there were cases of body dismemberment, disembowelment of pregnant women, and burning alive. During the Armenian pogroms in Baku, furious crowd tore a man to pieces and threw his remains into an ash can ( Soyuz, May 19, 1990 ). "They cut him into pieces, - told an Azeri woman about her Armenian husband-he was crying "Kill me"; I was tied up and could only cry "Kill him." I asked them to kill my husband to rid him of his painful death.
At a press-conference in Moscow soon after the pogroms, one of the leaders of the Azerbaijani People's Front, E. Mamedov, said, "I personally witnessed the murder of two Armenians near the railway station. The crowd poured them with petrol and burned, and it was about 200 meters far from the regional Militia Department. There were about 400-500 soldiers of interior forces, but no one tried to put cordons around the region and disperse the crowd".
The exact number of victims remains unknown so far - according to various sources of information, from 150 to 300 people were killed. Pogroms continued until January 20, when the Union troops entered the city.
Since the beginning of 1991, the leadership of Azerbaijan launched a new psychological attack against the Armenian population of the NKAO and the Shahoumian district. Leaflets were disseminated in the district with the categorical demand for the Armenian population to leave the territory of Nagorno Karabakh at the earliest possible date.
On January 14, the Presidium of the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan adopted a decision on unification of two neighboring districts, the Armenian-populated Shahoumian region and the Azerbaijani-populated Kasum-Ismailovsky region, into one Geranboy region. The goal of the Azerbaijani leadership was obvious: to liquidate yet another Armenian-populated region, deporting its population and settling Armenian villages with Azerbaijanis. By that time, 20 thousands people lived in the Shahoumian district, 82% of whom (according to unofficial data) were Armenians.
On January 22 at the Stepanakert airport, the OMON (special task units of militia) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan rudely detained a group of Deputies of the Russian Parliament, who arrived with a task force dedicated to studying the situation in the region.
The situation in Nagorno Karabakh and in the nearby regions became heated. Among the punitive measures against the Armenian population, operation "Ring" is worth mentioning. It was carried out jointly by the OMON forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan and Internal Forces of the USSR from the end of April until the beginning of June 1991. Under false pretense of "passport regime checking," an unprecedented act of state terror was executed, aiming at pressing the Karabakh national liberation movement. Killings, violence, indescribable acts of vandalism and jeering at people of all ages, even children was commonplace.
The first victims were the residents of the Getashen and Martounashen Villages in the Khanlar region of Azerbaijan. Twenty-four Armenian villages suffered three-week deportations: two in the Khanlar region of Azerbaijan, three in the Shahoumian district, fifteen in the Hadrout region and four in the Shushi region of NKAO. As a result of these actions in Karabakh, more than 100 people were killed, and additional several hundred hostages were taken.
Forcible deportations of the inhabitants of the villages in Nagorno Karabakh can be confirmed by the testimonies of the representatives of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and the commandant's regional office of the state of emergency of the NKAO, given during the committee's sessions of May 18 and June 18, 1991. The information given by the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan, N.Talibov, at a press-conference on July 11, 1991 and the reference provided by the Supreme Soviet (Council) of the Republic of Armenia to the RSFSR Committee on Human Rights of the Supreme Soviet, also confirm it.
On April 24, the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Armenia sent a letter to the USSR leadership with a request to take urgent measures for the protection of the Armenian population, and providing security guarantees for the Armenian population of the region. On May 4, meetings between the Presidents of Armenia and Russia, Levon Ter-Petrossian and B.Yeltsin took place, but no measures were taken to protect and ensure the security of the Nagorno Karabakh population. USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs forces and the Azerbaijani OMON continued punitive operations providing further evidence that the conflict was developing into full-scale war.
On May 6, 700 Armenian refugees were transferred from Getashen to Stepanakert by military helicopters. The protest rally, which was scheduled for May 7 by public organizations in Stepanakert, was banned by the military commandant's office. On the eve of the rally, armored troop carriers with loudspeakers drove around the town threatening people with the use of weapons in case of disobedience.
With a critical situation brewing, the Executive Committee of the Region's Council of Deputies of Nagorno Karabakh declared a state of emergency in the region. The international community was informed and the Executive Committee addressed the UN and requested political asylum for the Armenian population of NKAO.
On June 19, 1991 the extended session of the Nagorno Karabakh Executive Committee of the Regional Council elaborated measures on stabilization of the political and economic situation in the region. A decision was made to work out a program for Artsakh's survival and for preparation of an armed resistance against Azerbaijan's aggression.
In a chain of tragic events related to the Karabakh conflict, the Maragha atrocities hold a special place, both by the level of brutality of civilians and the number of people massacred, and by the consequences the events led to.
In 1962, several hundreds Armenians settled in the village of Maragha, in the Martakert region of Karabakh.
The villages of Maragha and Margoushevan were later joined to form the larger village of Leninavan. As of January 1, 1989 the population of Leninavan was 4,110.
The army of Azerbaijan occupied the village, while the residents of the village were residing in Russia, Armenia and other parts of Nagorno Karabakh.
On April 10, 1992 the village of Maragha was overrun by the Azerbaijani army. As a result, the village was destroyed. Over 100 residents of the village were slain, while their bodies were profaned and disfigured. Forty-five residents of the village were taken as hostages, including nine children and twenty-nine women. Two weeks later, the village was again attacked and the population deported .The houses were pillaged and then burnt down.
A list of hostages from the village included fifty-three people (as of May 1, 1992). Among the murdered were thirty women and twenty elderly. There are videotapes made during the exhumation of bodies, all bearing signs of tortures. One body was tortured even after the man had died.
The Maragha massacres were committed by a concrete armed formation of the Azeri army. It is not accidental that many of hostages found themselves in the houses of Interior Ministry's, OMON's and other powerful officials. There is a plethora of evidence and facts by eyewitnesses, exchanged, or bailed hostages.
It is evident that mass violations of human rights took place in the Maragha village. The consequences of that massacre are still felt today.