30,000 people died in the Nagorno-Karabakh war , and one million were displaced from their homes, and many more live with the on-going effects of this unresolved conflict. Despite this widespread human tragedy, the fate of those that lost their lives during the events in and around Khojaly on February 26 1992 have gained a disproportionate amount of notoriety and publicity. 20 years later, the facts of what happened that night have been consumed by the mythology and sensationalism propagated by the Azerbaijani Government.
Throughout the many texts that report on the events in Khojaly the only consistent piece of data, now, is the number of people who were alleged to have been killed that night –“ 613”   . Although this number has almost doubled since 1994 ( see below).
Where they were killed, and by whom, is the subject of much inconsistency, confusion and controversy.
The theories extend from – all “613” being killed within the boundaries of Khojaly itself  , or near to the Armenian village of Nakhijevanik  or on the way to the Azerabaijani outpost of Shelli ( in Azerbaijani controlled territory) , or a combination of all three. (There are some anecdotal comments about people being shot at in the forests near to Askeran, but there is little corroboration for this.)
The popular orthodoxy is that all “613” were killed in Khojaly despite the fact that Azerbaijani sources ( including ones referenced by their own official websites), together with independent witnesses, provide evidence to a much more complex story. This article endeavours to piece together those facts and raise some important questions.
NB: All sources are from Azerbaijani official documents/ websites, 3rd Party reports, or independent journalists. No reference has been made to Armenian authored texts / websites.
Background to Khojaly
In 1988 the population of Khojaly had been 2135 people  when it was populated by both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. By 1991 it had increased to 6300  largely as a result of the settlement of Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia, and Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan , by which time all of the Armenians had left. Due to the increase in population size, and intensive construction work to change its demographic profile, it was given city status. . As the war intensified, the citizens of Khojaly felt progressively more vulnerable, wedged between Armenian-held Stepanakert and Askeran. The population reduced to 2500 by February 1992   as the people fled to Azerbaijan.
Khojaly was a strategic location, with it being the site of the only airport in the original Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) as well as a military base from which attacks were being launched onto Stepanakert; it was a key element in the Azerbaijani blockade of the region, together with Aghdam, and Shushi. The airport was home to the OMON (Special Purpose Mobile Unit – Police/Army) of Azerbaijan who were notorious for their tactics against Armenians .
The Armenian plan was to neutralize the military hardware, seize the airport, and occupy the city. To avoid unnecessary loss of life the Armenians gave the people of Khojaly, and the authorities, notice of this plan, in order that they could evacuate themselves. This was confirmed in an interview between Chingiz Mustafayev (Azerbaijani journalist) and Elman Mammadov (Head of the Khojali Executive Board) held in the following few months before Mustafayev’s death in June 1992.
So why weren’t all of the population evacuated, leaving the military to defend the city against the Armenians. One could surmise that maintaining a “human shield” was a useful “military strategy”, particularly as the Meskhetian Turks were not “true” Azerbaijanis . Ultimately it was convenient for the Azerbaijanis to “blur the lines” between the military and the civilians. This was used to greater effect on February 25/26th.
In Thomas Goltz’s “Azerbaijan Dairy”, the Head of Airport Security (OMON), Alef Khadjiev, was direct in his view:
“…….’It is because you believe what they say in Baku?’ Alef chortled ‘ We have been utterly sold out (by the Azerbaijani authorities)’
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.” 
“(On Feb 25th) Sensing doom , Alef (Khadjiev) had begged the government to bring in choppers ( helicopters from Aghdam) to save at least some of the non-combatants, but Baku had done nothing” 
The Armenians surrounded Khojaly from 3 sides, the 4th side being the natural “corridor” following the river, road, and railway via Askeran towards Aghdam. Navigation of this route is clear given the many reference points.
“The fourth had been left open, creating a funnel through which refugees might flee. Alef ( Khadjiev) gave the order to evacuate: the fighting men would run interference along the hillside of the Gorgor (Karkar) river, while the women , children and greybeards escaped below” 
Additionally Eynulla Fatullayev stated in his book “Karabakh Diary” and quoted in the European Court of Human Rights Case ( Fatullayev v Azerbaijan) 
“…… for the sake of fairness I will admit that several years ago I met some refugees from Khojaly, temporarily settled in Naftalan, who openly confessed to me that, on the eve of the large-scale offensive of the Russian and Armenian troops on Khojaly, the town had been encircled [by those troops]. And even several days prior to the attack, the Armenians 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. According to the Khojaly refugees’ own words, they had used this corridor and, indeed, the Armenian soldiers positioned behind the corridor had not opened fire on them”
Elman Mammadov was quoted in the Russian “Memorial” report:
“We knew that the corridor was designed to allow the civilian population to leave … “. 
Journey to Nakhijevanik
In addition to those people that used the “corridor”, and some who went to the west of Askeran, a large number made their way to Nakhijevanik. It is not clear why they went in the direction of an Armenian village fortified by Armenian military; perhaps they were led to believe that it was safer than the publicly defined “corridor” route .
“…Consequently, by breaking through Katuk fire line, people of Khojaly moved away, to the village of Nakhijevanik. At the same time “it was informed them that village of Nakhichevanik was taken from the Armenians. Who informed? Nobody knows” 
Nakhijevanik was not taken by the Azerbaijanis until June 1992.
Suleiman Abbasov, a defender of Khojaly is quoted as saying:
“Along with some of the residents of Khojaly, I reached the village of Nakhijevanik, hoping to find refuge there. Earlier we had been informed by radio from Aghdam that the village had been taken from the [Armenian] fighters” 
“However, having crossed the area behind the Karkar River, the row of refugees was separated and, for some reason, a group of [them] headed in the direction of Nakhichevanik. It appears that the National Front Army battalions were striving not for the liberation of the Khojaly civilians but for more bloodshed on their way to overthrow A. Mutalibov [the first President of Azerbaijan] …” 
A direct route from Khojaly takes one over the mountains which, in February, would have been a treacherous journey – it transpired that many perished due to the severe weather conditions.
It was reported that people died of frostbite and exposure due to their trek through the mountains.
“Estimating the total number of victims of Khojaly residents , it should be noted that people were dying , not only during the shelling of refugees … but froze when wandering in the mountains”
The arrival of the people, including armed National Front military personnel, near to Nakhijevanik village would almost undoubtedly have resulted in cross-fire between the two armies– the Armenians would not have expected this approach from the west side. There was no “ambush” by the Armenians, here, – their presence should have been no surprise at all; the surprise was that civilians from Khojaly, were in amongst the Azerbaijani military, near Nakhijevanik!
Another group, led by Elman Mammadov, tried to follow the “corridor” and sought support from Aghdam to ensure that the Armenians were distracted to convince themselves of a safe passage. He wrote, later:
“In the forest, we kept trying to contact a nearby village, Aghdam, using our walkie-talkies. We wanted to tell them about our situation and ask them to send people to help us or to organize an attack in the direction of Askeran. We were hoping that the Armenian forces would go and deal with that attack, leaving the road from the forest open for us to pass. But we couldn’t get any help.” 
Due to this lack of help, they diverted off the “corridor” and went in the direction of Aghdam ( via Nakhijevanik)
“The remaining men , women, children , old men, in that winter night we spent through these icy river , woods in the dark , some have been more than ten kilometers. When morning came, we were 2 or 3 kilometers from the Agdam” 
In a separate article Mammadov stated:
“We were walking until 7 a.m. when we came out of the woods near Armenian village of Nakhichevanik.” 
Many other people got lost in the mountains. Some found themselves in the village of Katyk, and then went to Nakhijevanik. Others, who were trying to get to Azerbaijani held Abdal-Gulabli ( in the East), wandered into Armenian-controlled Daghraz, and were escorted to safety.
“We were kept in a farm near Dahraz village for one or two days. Then they picked us out. Old people, women and children were put one side after leaving the stalls, those young people who could bear a weapon and middle-aged men were lined in another side. My father got into another line. My father told grand-mother, me and brother Ramin to go to stick to our fathers feet and cry before those armed people with saying that our mother had died in forests, let them free at least our father. So we did. One of the militants who was not from Yerevan but a local Armenian one pushed our father with a butt of his rifle to the line where there were old women. They told our line to move into the direction of Abdalgulabli village. Some armed Armenians followed us half way. They told us on the way to move straight unless they would have cut us all down. I was going and turning back to look. I believed they would cut us in back. I have not heard about the other line… We were met by National Army soldiers in Abdalgulabli village. Then they brought us to Aghdam.” (MUSAYEV TEYMUR SALIM OGHLU) 
Passage through “No-Man’s Land”
“……the refugees made it to the outskirts of a village called Nakhijevanik, on the cusp of Karabakh. They crossed a road and made their way downhill toward the forward lines and the city of Aghdam only some 6 miles away (10 km) via the Azerbaijani 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” 
“Civilians who escaped from Nakhichevanik Line of ambush met with third, additional line of fire not far away from the village Gulabli, (in Azerbaijani occupied territory) and “nearly 200 people of Khojaly were in hands of enemy. Another group of Khojalians ran into Armenian controlled areas near Azerbaijani trenches nearby to the village of Shelli” 
It is clear from the map that the attacks on the Khojaly citizens would have been in “no’Man’s” land, most likely close to Azerbaijani occupied territory. Mammadov was quoted as being within a few kilometres from Aghdam which is very close (almost within) the Azerbaijani controlled zone.
Numbers of people killed
Of the 2500 people who were in Khojaly on the night of the 25th February, 300 remained   in Khojaly, 1100 successfully escaped , 1275 were taken hostage and exchanged , 150 people were missing  – total 2825. This would suggest that a figure of “613” killed is inconsistent with other Azerbaijani/independent provided data. One source records that the bodies of only 335 were recovered and buried , this is also stated in a Presidential appeal dated February 24th 1994 . By February 21st 1997 the number of dead had increased to 485, and by 2005 it had inflated further to 613. Human Rights Watch claimed that there were only 161 bodies 
The Azerbaijani Government is promoting the notion that these deaths constituted a Genocide and, a number of governments/states throughout the world have chosen to recognize this description despite the clear wording and legal background to this term. The defining characteristic is that there has to be evidence of “ a special intent….. to destroy all or part of a group….[T]he part must be a substantial part of that group.” . It is difficult to see how the alleged numbers would be considered a “substantial part of a group” when the population of Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988 was 40,000. As to whether there was “intent” by the Armenians on this one day, when there is no evidence of any mass-killings of displaced populations at any other time in the subsequent two years is questionable, and seems implausible.
There are many questions to be asked, and comments to be made, about how the world has been seduced into the “victim propaganda” of Azerbaijan.
1. If Azerbaijan was concerned about the welfare of the citizens of Khojaly , why did they stop helicopter flights to/from Khojaly on Feb 13th when they could have helped to release more people? Why did they not assist during the night of the 25th/26th Feb? Why did the Head of Security (OMON) think they had been “utterly sold out”? Were the citizens of Khojaly being used as a “human shield” to deter the Armenians from seizing Khojaly ( contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Convention)?
2. Why did a significant proportion of the population venture through the forests and into the mountains to go to Nakhijevanik even though this was still well inside the Armenian controlled zone and was a treacherous and dangerous route? Who in the Azerbaijani authorities gave false information suggesting that this was now under Azerbaijani control? Were the citizens used as decoys to distract the Armenians pending an Azerbaijani attack on the village ( finally taken in June 1992)? Were they just used as pawns given that they were largely refugees from Armenia and Central Asia, and not from Azerbaijan, proper? Being embedded within a group of Azerbaijani OMON/military who were making a surprise move on Armenian positions in Nakhijevanik was inevitably going to result in fatalities – why was this done? The first responsibility of the Azerbaijani military was for the safe transit of these people to Aghdam; taking them into a war situation near Nakhijevanik, was like signing their “death warrant”.
3. Despite the precision and consistency over the number of people alleged to have been killed – “613”. Why is it that the official Azerbaijani texts, and “sympathisers” cannot agree on any of the other facts about that night – particularly, where the people were killed? It is astounding that, even though there is no dispute that the Musafayev video was not filmed in Khojaly, but in “No-Man’s Land” between Nakhijevanik and Shelli, that the orthodox belief is that all of the killings took place in the city itself?
[Answer : The theory that everyone was killed in Khojaly puts all the blame on the Armenians and is convenient. Knowing that people were deliberately taken in the wrong direction, and died as a result, would be most embarrassing for the Azerbaijani Government ]
4. There is no evidence to support any notion of a “Genocide” by the Armenians – no evidence of “intent” to “destroy a large part of a group”. People will have died – this was a war. If it was the intent of the Armenians to destroy the Khojalians why did the vast majority (90%+) make it to Aghdam?
Many Armenian civilians died in the continual bombing from Shushi, Aghdam and Khojaly of Stepanakert and the surrounding villages, including the massacre in Maragha in April 1992 – are these all Genocides as well? How have so many foreign governments/organisations not carried out any basic “due diligence” before signing up to recognizing this so-called “Genocide”?
5. There is clear evidence that the current propaganda of “613” is most likely to have been overstated. The evidence also implies that the vast majority found their way to safety through the “corridor”.
The facts of the 26th February 1992 are very complex and we are unlikely, ever, to discover the absolute truth. It is clear that the citizens of Khojaly died in different ways in a variety of locations for many reasons and through the actions of all involved. The concerted effort by the Azerbaijani Government to contort the truth and lay the blame, solely at the door of the Armenians is a cynical misrepresentation of the facts and the act of securing “political sympathy” from unsuspecting governments is one of gross deception. This is only made more obscene by the way that this has been achieved on the back of the unnecessary deaths of innocent people resulting from the questionable conduct and incompetence of the Azerbaijani authorities in 1992!
I only hope that people now examine the facts and make an informed independent judgment on this issue and stop being fooled by the guile of the Azerbaijani Government.
4. Goltz, Thomas; Azerbaijan Diary; (M E Sharpe 1999) p 122.
7. Thomas de Waal, “Black Garden; Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War”; (New York University Press 2004); p 170
11. “Khojaly :Chronicle of Genocide” (Azerbaijani State Publishing Company 1993) pp 31-32
14. Goltz, Thomas; Azerbaijan Diary; (M E Sharpe 1999) p 120