Staunton, February 25 – It is one of the tragedies of what Robert Conquest called the “ravaged” 20th century that some place names have come to stand for horrific actions against various human communities. No one needs to ask what happened at Auschwitz or at Birkenau. The name is enough to recall the horrors that occurred there.
Even more tragically, the number of such places is far larger than the Nazi or Communist death camps or even the attacks of governments on peaceful demonstrators. But in all too many cases, the name is meaningful only for a small part of humanity, although for it, that name is enough.
One such place name is Khojaly, an Azerbaijani village in Karabakh, that 26 years ago this week was attacked by ethnic Armenian irregular forces supported by Russian units. Hundreds of men, women and children were massacred, according to Memorial, Human Rights Watch and other groups; and some Azerbaijanis say casualties totaled more than 600.
For most of the world, this is now ancient history; and when the media do refer to it at all, they call it the Khojaly massacre, contextualizing it with the Azerbaijani attacks on Armenians at Sumgait. But for Azerbaijanis, it remains the Khojaly genocide, an action that Armenians and Russians have not yet acknowledged and that few governments have denounced.
For the Azerbaijanis, it remains “a bleeding wound,” commentator Asif Aliyev writes for the QHA news agency, whose perpetrators have apparently concluded that they will never be held accountable for their actions, something that makes them and others who share their views even bolder now (qha.com.ua/ru/blogi/hodjali-krovotochaschaya-rana-azerbaidjana/188079/).
Other Azerbaijanis say that the horrors of the night of February 25-26, 1992, in Khojaly must “never be forgotten.” They certainly won’t be and until that it recognized and the event itself denounced and those responsible brought to justice, there is little chance that the Karabakh conflict will ever be resolved (fedpress.ru/news/russia/policy/1970098).
Obviously, there have been many horrific events in the more than a quarter of a century that Azerbaijan and Armenia have been at war; and equally obviously, some benefit from having that conflict continue and even having some of the crimes involved forgotten in the name of “looking forward rather than backward.”
But until Khojaly speaks not only to Azerbaijanis but to Armenians, Russians and everyone else as a place where horrors occurred that must never be repeated, there is a great danger than they will be; and there is a certainty that little or no progress toward a settlement of that long-running conflict will be possible.