Rising above the hubbub of the London streets, the timbre of the violin soared like the sound of a human voice at the touch of the deft fingers of a mysterious musician. The dark gloomy skies and spatters of rain were a fitting backdrop to this sombre event.
Shrouded in black, to signify mourning, the soloist played the melancholy melodies of her homeland – Azerbaijan – in commemoration of the district of Qubadli.
This fell under Armenian occupation 24 years ago on 31 August 1993, during the invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions.
Despite the right to peacefully demonstrate on the streets of London being enshrined in UK law, one Armenian diplomat emerged from inside the Embassy and objected noisily – at one stage even reaching out as though to grab the violin. After Jack Pegoraro, Head, London Office, The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), explained about the remembrance, the Armenian diplomat disputed the occupation of Azerbaijani territory by the armed forces of his country and carried out his threat to call the police. The policeman who responded to the complaint understood the nature of the demonstration, replying: “This is the UK – you have a perfect right to a peaceful protest.”
Recognised for its mysterious mountainous beauty and rich range of flora and fauna, the fighting over Qubadli cost the lives of 238 Azerbaijanis. Over the following five years, 146 others died from injuries sustained during the assault.
Many unaccounted deaths occurred when civilians attempted to swim their way to safety under Armenian fire across the Hekeri River, having not been permitted a free corridor for escape – such a policy being reminiscent of the massacre at Khojaly, just over one year earlier, which claimed the lives of 613 civilians in one dreadful night.
This invasion led the 31,364 residents of Qubadli to become internally displaced persons (IDPs), joining almost one million compatriots in encampments spread across Azerbaijan. Nearly 7000 private houses were destroyed as part of the Armenian ‘scorched earth’ policy, which attempted to ensure that Azerbaijanis could not return home, other casualties being numerous monuments, bridges and tombs, some of which dated back to the 4th–5th centuries.
On 14 October 1993, the UN Security Council passed resolution 874, which called for the immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops from Qubadli, in addition to the districts of Fizuli and Jabrayil. This was one of four resolutions that have remained unimplemented for over 20 years.
Jack Pegoraro commented: “The significance of today’s protest is to mark the 24th anniversary of the occupation of the Azerbaijani region of Qubadli. The veiled woman in black playing Bayati Shiraz and Sari Gelin symbolises the loss of the local Azerbaijani population who were either killed or forced to flee their homes. We are here in front of the Embassy to remind the Armenians that Azerbaijan will never forget until Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories are returned to Azerbaijan.”
Poet Charles Baudelaire once wrote: “The violin quivers like a tormented heart.” As the violin sounded outside the Armenian Embassy, the hearts of onlookers and listeners remembered the tragedy of Qubadli; the men, women and children who lost their lives; those who never saw their homes again; and those for whom Qubadli is but a distant, beautiful memory.