February 25th and 26th marked the 23rd anniversary of one of the most disputed events in Armenian-Azerbaijani relations: the Khojaly Massacre/Tragedy, also known as the Khojaly Genocide.
Beginning on the night of February 25th, 1992, Armenian forces opened fire on civilians living in the town of Khojaly, in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region during the eponymous conflict. By 1992, the conflict had escalated into full-on war and civilians on both sides were subject to pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and other forms of violence in the region.
As with all instances of Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, neither side can agree on the scope of the devastation. The official Human Rights Watch numbers confirm that at least 161 Azeri citizens died, although in a later report they state that “while it is widely accepted that 200 Azeris perished, as many as 500-1,000 may have died.” The Azerbaijani parliament has officially decreed that 485 Azeris were killed; yet the media (and other government officials) frequently claim a much higher number with even more brutal details. In no less than four different news articles from the Azeri press, the following description is given word for word:
“613 civilians – mostly women and children – were killed in the massacre, and a total of 1,000 people were disabled. Eight families were exterminated, 25 children lost both parents, and 130 children lost one parent. Moreover, 1,275 innocent people were taken hostage, the fate of 150 of them remains unknown. Many civilians were shot at close range, scalped or burned alive.”
Setting aside the suspiciously specific numbers that were gathered in a volatile region during a war, even the name of the conflict is disputed. Armenia and most Western governments call the event a massacre or a tragedy, while the Azerbaijani government considers it to be a genocide.
But one thing is clear: both domestic and international groups agree that Armenia is at fault, and should own up to it. In a surprising turn of events, an Armenian publicist by the name of Vahe Avetian released a statement “facing up to some very uncomfortable realities” related to “[his] government’s criminal and bloody past.” Avetian, who recently fled to Sweden after a crackdown on Armenian dissidents, offered an apology for his country’s perpetration of the genocide and “expressed his hope that all perpetrators ‘will sooner or later be punished.'” Despite multiple death threats, at least one other dissident in France has stood with Avetian in apologizng on behalf of the Armenian people.
(The rest of the article, with delicious anti-Yerevan propaganda, can be found here.)
It’s certainly an interesting turn of events – and the Azeri media is harping on the fact that Avetian is a representative for the Armenian people independent of the government (which, given that he is essentially living in exile, isn’t very accurate). Repressive authoritarian regimes are typically known for intense (and false) propaganda campaigns against their enemies (ahem, DPRK vs US/SK), but Azerbaijan is…actually justified in this case.
When I began this project, the constant references to Armenia’s “barbaric acts” during the Nagorno-Karabakh War and their refusal to cede the land seemed petty and cruel. I pitied Armenia and felt bad for them because of the war and genocide waged against them over the past 100 years, and because the leading news sources in Azerbaijan have sections devoted solely to “Armenian aggression” and anti-Armenian propaganda. I worried for Armenia’s place in an increasingly anti-Armenian and volatile region. It’s far too callous to say they deserve such treatment, but the fact that Azerbaijan is not alone (whether it’s from citizens of other nations or larger groups) in its criticisms of the government in Yerevan is curious enough to merit consideration.
In other news, the currency of Azerbaijan (the manat) plunged in value earlier this week in relation to globally depressed oil prices. Following the closing of the markets on February 21st, the Azerbaijani government put emergency measures in place to avert artificial inflation. In response, the Central Bank of Azerbaijan set the manat at 1.05 against the US dollar on the 22nd, a change from the steady rate of 0.78. In an official statement to the media, the Labor and Social Protection of Population Minister asked for all citizens to be patient and avoid speculation as the government implements “antimonopoly structures [that] should strengthen administrative measures.”
The military has also declared that recent plans to hold elections in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region will not be honored, and have released a statement to the press on the matter. You can read the statement (which is comprised of anti-Armenian rhetoric and has no mention of elections at all) in its entirety here.
In less serious news, the weather report for the month of March (yes, the entire month) has been released by the National Hydrometeorology Department of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources (say that three times fast). You can read it here.