The ‘Khojaly Accusation’ of Thomas Goltz

thomas goltz khojaly khojalu artsakh image picture nagorno karabakh

I was intrigued by  Shaunt Oozoonian’s report  from the presentation at University of California, Irvine (UCI) called the “Khojaly Accusation of 1992”. This presentation included a viewing of the film by Thomas Goltz called “Azerbaijan through Foreign Eyes”. During the Karabakh war Goltz was a journalist working from the Azeri side, and now he is a professor at Montana State University. In his book, “Azerbaijan Diary”  he comes across as a very brash self-assured individual and proclaims himself as being the journalist who  “broke the Khojaly story” to the US media in February 1992. Given this accolade  I was surprised to read that his performance at this meeting was unconvincing and disappointing.

“During the question and answer period, frustration arose from the questioners as Mr. Goltz failed to correctly and sufficiently answer the questions posed and instead put on a charade.”

“Seeming as though Mr. Goltz was flustered by the simple questions raised, Huseynov (general director of the Azerbaijani-American Council)  had to answer on his behalf while Mr. Goltz sat down, leaving those who attended confused on why the guest speaker was not capable of answering simple questions in regards to Khojaly, himself. I can assure you that Mr. Goltz lost his credibility by the end of the night.”

Although I have read his book “Azerabijan Diary” I had forgotten that he was not actually a witness to the Khojaly event – he was in Aghdam at the time. I began to wonder how much of a reliable “witness” he actually was and was inspired to re-read the relevant sections of his book  in the context of what I now know about Khojaly.  I was surprised how much of what he wrote now seems to be  counter to the prevailing Azerbaijani propaganda, despite his clear pro-Azeri stance.

I have summarised key quotes from his book, and their context.

The military advantage of Khojaly, to the Armenians, was obvious. They had surrounded the town from 3 sides to facilitate the evacuation of the civilians from the 4th side back to Aghdam . The Azerbaijani government could have given humanitarian assistance to its people to avoid unnecessary deaths but chose to ignore the inevitable Armenian offensive and recklessly left people in a place of certain danger.

Azeri woman in Aghdam, talking to Goltz,  trying to return to Khojali…

“Why can’t the Government open the road? Why are they making us fly in like ducks, waiting to be shot?”

Reported speech from Alef Khadjiev (Commander airport security) to Goltz….

Baku could open the road to Aghdam in a day if the Government wanted to, he said. He now believed the Government actually wanted the Karabakh business to simmer on, to distract public attention while the elite continued to plunder the country.

The sixty men under his command lacked both the weapons and training to defend the straggling perimeter, he told me. The only Azeri soldiers worth their salt were four veterans from the war in Afghanistan. The rest were greenhorns. If the Armenians shot off one round, they would answer with a barrage of fire and waste half their precious ammunition.

So it was that night: I was awakened from sleep by a distant burst of fire coming from the direction of a neighbouring Armenian town called Laraguk. The Armenian sniper fire was returned with at least 100 rounds from the Azeri side.

From a distance of 21 years it is easy for outsiders to think that there were 2 professional armies fighting each other – this was not the case. This reckless gunfire activities could be hitting people, randomly, of all nationalities. This was not a co-ordinated army with a common focus and goal.

….and then the rescue and aid helicopters stopped…

The last helicopter flight into the surrounded town was February 13th….

Goltz then returned to Aghdam (before February 25th) after escaping from Khojaly…

At first we found it hard to believe what the survivors were saying: the Armenians had surrounded Khojaly and delivered an ultimatum – get out or die. Then came a babble of details of the last days, many concerning Commander Alef Khadjiev

Sensing doom, Alef had begged the government to bring in choppers to save at least some of the non-combatants, but Baku had done nothing. Then, on the night of February 25th, Armenian Fedayeen hit the town from three sides. The fourth had been left open, creating a funnel through which refugees might flee. Alef gave the order to evacuate…..Groping their way through the night under fire, by the morning of February 26th, the refugees made it to the outskirts of a village called Naxjivanli, on the cusp of Karabakh. They crossed a road and began working their way downhill toward the forward lines and the city of Aghdam, only some six miles away, via the Azeri outpost at Shelli. It was there, in the hillocks and within sight of safety, that something horrible awaited them: a gauntlet of lead and fire.

The massacres that are referred to took place in the hills near to the Azeri occupied territories. Surely if they were that close, then the Azeris could have assured their safety? If they were in “sight of safety” then they were nearer to the Azeri military than the Armenian.

Scores, hundreds, possibly a thousand were slaughtered in a turkey shoot of civilians and their handful of defenders. Aside from counting every body, there was no way to tell how many were dead – and most of the bodies remained out of reach, in the no-man’s land between the lines that had become a killing zone and a picnic site for crows.

…bodies stiffened by rigor mortis, seemed to speak of execution: arms were thrown up, as if in permanent surrender. A number of heads lacked hair, as if the corpses had been scalped. It was not a pretty sight.

..one corpse was identified as that of a young veterinarian who had been shot through the eye point-blank.

If these were all in sight of Azeri posts how could this have been perpetrated by the Armenians.

In discussion with other journalists, Goltz was questioned with some incredulity…

“You are suggesting that more people have died in one attack in Karabakh than the total number we have reported killed over the past four years?” said the BBC’s Moscow correspondent when I tipped him on the slaughter “That’s impossible!”

To be fair, the government and press in Baku didn’t exactly support our reporting. While we were off in Aghdam to get out the news, the presidential spokesman was claiming that Khojaly’s scrappy defenders had beaten back an Armenian attack and suffered only 2 dead. Just a regular night in Mountainous Karabakh.

We knew differently, but it was the 3 of us against the Azerbaijani state lie machine.

Goltz was then reporting back through to the Washington Post, and was asked many questions for verification of the story:

Where did I get this number from, when Baku was still reporting that only 2 had died? Had I seen all the bodies? What about a little balance? The Armenians were reporting a “massive Azeri offensive”. Why wasn’t that in my report?

Days later Goltz then reports that the Azerbaijan government have changed their mind on the event; no doubt recognising a propaganda opportunity.

The government of Azerbaijan meanwhile has performed a complete about face on the issue. The same people who had remained unavailable during the early days of the crisis were suddenly asking me to provide the phone numbers of foreign correspondents in Moscow whom they could invite down, at government expense, to report on the massacre [Note:  The government also began churning out pamphlets and picture books on Khojaly, replete with the most gruesome images imaginable to use as “press packs” for visiting dignitaries. The publications were so badly produced that they became counter-productive]

Later in Baku at the funeral of Khadjiev…

There weren’t too many bodies. Most were still in the hills, waiting for the higher temperatures of spring and for rot to set in. Some, the few, were being spaded into the shallow ground of the growing Martyr’s Cemetery across from the Parliament building in Baku. One of those was Alef Khadjiev…..He had bought a bullet through the brain and after rotting for a week in the mountains of the Black Garden his body was bought for 100 litres of gasoline and then to be brought back to Baku to be buried with military honours.

Despite the proximity of the parliament across the street, no one from the government came to the funeral, and maybe that was out of good taste, because had they been there, whispering eulogies about courage and fortitude, Alef, the hero and then martyr of Khojali, might have broken free of the bonds of death and climbed out of his grave and strangled the hypocrites with his own cold hands. He was that sort of guy.

Goltz is very ambiguous about the number and location of the bodies. Earlier on he states that there were “truckloads of bodies being brought in for identification” then he suggests that “most were still in the hills”.

In doing further research on Goltz I found that he made a similar embarrassing show of himself in 2009 in Canada, when he made derogatory remarks about Armenians.

ANCC: American professor made racist and derogatory remarks about Armenians.

Quote from the article…

“At the Newsmaker Breakfast lecture, Aris Babikian, executive director of the ANCC, confronted Goltz and mocked him for his “command performance of misrepresentation and revisionism.” Babikian exposed Goltz’ hypocrisy by pointing out that the American journalist had “conveniently forgotten to mention the Sumgait, Baku and Maragha massacres of Armenians by Azeris… and that had it not been for the Russian Navy 230,000 Armenian inhabitants of Baku would have not survived.”

In further questioning, Babikian asked Goltz to explain why the bodies of Azeri victims were found 11 km from Khojaly and 2 km from the most heavily fortified Azeri military town of Aghdam. “Is it logical for Armenians to follow Azeri 11 km, risking their own lives to eliminate the enemy around Aghdam, instead of killing them in Khojaly?” Babikian asked.

The ANCC executive said that he found it strange that Goltz praised his “old friend” the late “great” Aliyev as an “extraordinary guy” when everyone in Azerbaijan knows that he was a despot and a man who stifled democracy while his son, the current president, follows in his father’s infamous steps. Babikian said it was obvious that for Goltz “the lure of the petro-dollar is much stronger than the lure of truth and impartiality.”

Goltz did not answer any of Babikian’s questions and skirted around them.

Goltz is, undeniably pro-Azeri, and cannot be defined as an independent journalist ( ref Justice for Khojaly website). His associations have biased his judgement and credibility. A journalist who “broke the story of Khojaly” should be able to communicate a convincing and robust account of events and be capable of being challenged and questioned by anyone. The fact that he seems weak under some level of interrogation, particularly from Armenian interviewers, does start raising some questions about why this might be.

His greatest legacy to the people who seek some clarity around Khojaly is “between the lines” in his book, “Azerbaijan Diary” and in that text one may find the “Accusation of Mr Goltz”.

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Categories: Khojaly, War and its Legacy

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