February 17, 2020

Tragedy has No Borders: the Khojaly Massacre Remembered

When I write my pieces for the Jewish Journal, I always think first, how would my new friends and my adopted Jewish family in the United States feel when reading this. My first thoughts always focus on a desire to share our joint faith, our joint passion for Jewish life and the power of individualism, freedom and safety for the Jews around the world.

Every February, like so many of my Azerbaijani countrymen and women, I am haunted by the events of 1992 when our world was turned upside down as the foreign- backed Armenian army and special forces brutally massacred 613 Azerbaijani civilians including up to 300 women, children and elderly in the town of Khojaly located in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region. But as a Jew there is a special lens I bring to this experience. The Jewish people have centuries of persecution, decades of human tragedy in different parts of the world. This unique perspective also provides a way to look at the possibility for hope that people can change and hope that such events will never happen again.

The Khojaly Massacre of 1992 is for me and my country, extremely personal. It is hard to meet a person who was living in those years, not very long ago at all, that does not know a survivor, or a victim, or one of the nearly 1 million refugees expelled from their homes and lands as a result of the military invasion of Azerbaijan’s territory by Armenia.

When 20% of our country was brutally seized by invading Armenian forces, the world was flipped upside down. Reason had no place in this tragedy.

As a country, we were not unfamiliar to conflict; no, we had survived close to a century under the tyranny of the Soviet Union. But this particular level of brutality was, in 1992, practically unthinkable. What happened in Khojaly was as a snapshot of madness taken out of photobook associated with the Holocaust. No life was precious on February 25 and 26 of 1992, when the most vulnerable civilians; women, grandmothers, infants, or anyone within the range of an invading soldiers’ bullet or blade, was murdered. The entire town was wiped out, and even their cemeteries were destroyed. There is an eerie similarity to the events in Germany of the late 1930’s when Jews were whisked away in the middle of the night or during WWII when entire villages were wiped out without any care for human life.

This year is the 24th anniversary of those tragic days, of the Khojaly Massacre, which took place in a time when most of us were already very sure that attempted genocide would be impossible again, or at least anywhere in Europe.

In our Azerbaijani Jewish communities, we remember Khojaly with sorrowful awe.

So many of Jews are personally touched by the Holocaust, and by the promise we hold to our hearts that it can never, never again happen.

Yet today many Jewish communities across the world are confronted by the increasing hatred that comes to them from so many corners. In Azerbaijan, Jews are safe, well regarded and protected. Our nation has been injured over many centuries by the hatred of brutally violent invasions, and yet, no matter the strife coming from outside, be it Bolshevik or Armenian or terrorist brutality, the values of our togetherness have survived those inhumanities.

This week, so many will come together to mourn the victims of our brothers and sisters of the town of Khojaly, to honor their lives and to cry out for the sake of those who cannot speak for themselves. Even in the painful remembering of tragedy, we push forward with the light of what is possible for peace.

Khojaly was a tragedy felt from corner to corner; shared by an entire nation, and by people of every faith. What is most incredibly deep in the history of Khojaly is this message of connection to me as a Jew and also as a member of the world community. Even the darkness of the Khojaly Massacre can be softened, by the potential for light that exists within the act of remembering, and sharing in that memory as an act of peace itself.

So during these difficult days, I not only mourn, but I am thinking of my brothers and sisters in the United States that have relatives that struggle with their pasts. We can honor the memory of the victims, survivors and heroes of Khojaly, and with them together, remember the memory of those from every unjust and criminal war.