Surviving Khojaly: Painful to Remember, Impossible to Forget

Azerbaijani refugees from Karabakh in the early 1990s. Photo courtesy of Ilgar Jafarov


Over the years, I’ve had repeated surgeries on my spine, which was badly damaged by torture. I’ve also traveled around the world to share my story, so that more of the world might understand what happened at that frosty night of February 25 of 1992 in the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly, and so it is never forgotten. I even traveled to Los Angeles a few years ago, to meet with leaders and members of the Jewish community, to connect and to share testimony of what happened to me and to my country. Although I would give anything to forget the horrors I experienced in the torture camp as a 20 year old captive of the Armenian army. However I know it’s better this way – better for me to heal and better for the world to know.

Why is knowing about such tragedies as the Khojaly Massacre so important? Well, look at the world today. Look at what is happening to Muslims in Myanmar. Look at what is happening to children in Syria. This world too easily forgets the insanity of cruelty and inhumanity that still plagues it to this day. If survivors do not speak out and share their stories, forgetting will be even more of a problem, and remembering will be harder to do.

I think of the Holocaust, and how the many survivors are passing on, aging out of a world that still badly needs their presence, and their stories, to keep us remembering. So many were victimized by the incomparable cruelty of man. So many lives were ripped from the world. So many children were never born to mothers that never had the chance to even conceive them – instead they perished in the gas chambers, by the bullets, the torture, the starvation, and in the ovens.

No matter the pain I feel to remember, I know I cannot forget what happened, and I must do all I can to make sure others remember too.

We must remember the eve of February 25, and the morning of February 26, 1992, when Armenian invaders shot indiscriminately at men, women, children, the elderly, brutally killing 613 of them – all as we attempted to flee from our homes, under siege, into the forest, toward safety. We must remember the bodies of toddlers strewn across the valley, and the many families that will never recover from a loss such as that. When Armenian soldiers decided to invade my homeland of Azerbaijan, in their attempt to take land and lives, they held back no cruelty. They unleashed the maximum hate. They wanted us to remember.

And at the same time, they wanted the world to forget. They tore down our homes, our monuments, our history. They built Armenian buildings as if they had always been there; as if we had never existed. Not only in Khojaly, but across the entire Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, where I, and so many, had long called home. Where I, and so many, can still no longer return, not to reclaim, not to visit the burial sites of the dead – not for the sake of our lives. To this day, they guard our land with their bullets and their terror. Despite international condemnation, from the United Nations, the European Court of Human Rights, members of the United States Congress, Governors, and too many faith leaders to count, they continue their unlawful occupation.

And for their lies and trickery, I will never stop sharing my story. For the life of my daughter and all daughters and sons that deserve a safe, honest world to grow up in, I will keep sharing. For the love of my homeland, and for the memories of so many not lucky enough to survive, I will keep sharing. I will keep sharing as long as I am in this world; here, nearly 3 decades since I survived capture and torture. I will continue telling the world about Khojaly until justice has been served.