APA employees toured the territories liberated from the occupation by the Azerbaijani army under the leadership of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev. Our employees have prepared a series of reports from these territories under the heading "In the wake of victory". We present another reportage from this series:
“I saw in a dream that I was in Aghdam. I go from our home to my uncle’s. There was a space there. When I passed through space, I saw that grain had been sowed and watered. I said that if I pass through here, I will damage grain, it is a blessing, and I should go through another way. Then azan was sounded, I stood up.”
2021, Aghdam. A cold, drizzled, foggy February day. Front of Aghdam Mosque. Fighters, who fought in the battalion of National Hero, martyr Allahverdi Baghirov during the First Karabakh war: Deputy Commander of Battalion Akbar Rustamov, Zahid Garayev, Shahbaz Ibrahimov, Mubariz Ibrahimov, and others.
Akbar Rustamov, who met the territories, where he was born and grew up, after separation of 28 years, tells his dream in Makkah during the Hajj pilgrimage in 1999 by looking at Aghdam Mosque, which does not have a trace of its amazing vision, and which is veiled with fog by being ashamed of its destroyed walls, faded facade: “That the dream was a dream of today. The grain is a symbol of blessing, it should not be trampled down. Passing through a long way was a sign of these long separation years. Truly, it realized late, but we returned to our territories.”
Haji Akbar Rustamov’s house was located a few streets away from Mosque. He recalls the past by standing in these places. But he is connected with Aghdam, Juma Mosque, destroyed these territories by not only his childhood, youth, good memories. Aghdam Juma Mosque is associated with him and his friends' memories with an unprecedented tragedy in the world – the Khojaly genocide.
Note: On the night from February 25 to 26, Armenian armed forces occupied Khojaly city with the participation of the 366th motorized rifle and committed a genocide against ethnic Azerbaijanis. 613 Khojaly residents, including 63 children, 106 women, 70 elder people, were killed, 8 families were completely destroyed, 25 children lost both of their parents, 130 lost one of them. 487 people, including 76 children, were injured by the enemy’s bullets. 1275 were captured as a hostage. The fate of 150 of the hostages, including 68 women and 26 children, is still unknown.
On the eve of the anniversary of the Khojaly genocide after 29 years, the purpose of our arrival in Aghdam is to remind those tragic days once more and see the tragic site.
Starting from February 26, 1992, victims of the massacre were brought to Aghdam Mosque, buried in accordance with religious rules.
Our first interlocutor is Haji Akbar Rustamov, who was Deputy Commander of Aghdam’s self-defense battalion, established by Allahverdi Baghirov. He fought with his three sons in the first Karabakh war, his son Sanan Rustamov was martyred: “Most parts of Karabakh was occupied by Armenians together with the Russian Army until February 25, 1992. We already knew at 11:00 a.m on the night of February 25 that Khojaly residents were in difficult condition. They informed us via communication. We went to Shelli mountain. Khojaly is seen while looking from there. People were shelled from everywhere using GRAD, tanks, guns. We would not be able to enter Khojaly. That was why we had to wait for the residents, who survived from Khojaly around Garagaya, Shelli. We took them to the hospital, Aghdam. The dead were taken here, to Mosque.”
Bodies brought to the Mosque were cleaned here and prepared for burial. We were walking around the mosque with former police colonel Zahid Garayev. There was not a sign, a voice from the buildings, houses in the yard of the mosque, nearby, before the occupation. A property of our interlocutor, situated a few hundred meters away, was also destructed: “Armenians destroyed everything, everything. Just stairs of the Yuyat place remain. Cars were coming in front of the Yuyat place, we took bodies. All Aghdam people were here when bodies were brought. There was not a person in Aghdam, who did not participate in cleaning the bodies. We started to take bodies of Khojaly victims from February 28, we brought about 600-700 bodies here until March 3. All of them were cleaned here, then taken to be buried.”
Armenian were shooting civilians from Khojaly, ambushing on the road, caught them, and committed inhuman tortures on that night. Signs of the torture could be obviously seen on the bodies, taken from Armenians afterward. The condition of bodies was a pity. There were many bullet injuries on the bodies, came earlier. The skin of heads of the bodies, brought lately, were even taken. Some parts of the bodies, brought at the end, were destroyed by animals. Some bodies did not have heads, arms, certain parts, stomaches of women were cut, they were dragged through cables. Is there such humanity? They are not human. I do not know to which affiliate they belong to, but Allah of all of us is single,” Zahid Garayev cannot speak about inhuman deeds of those days without excitement.
Aghdam people welcomed civilians, who survived from Khojaly massacre on the night from February 25 to 26 and fled in the direction of Aghdam, in the mountain foothill nearby Shelli village. But fighters try to go ahead as much as they could, they tried to save more Khojaly victims.
There is a little until Shelli village. Our car is moving by the Gargar river. Fighters remind previous days:
Did “Gargar pavilion was here, yes?” – Someone asks.
Shahbaz Ibrahimov: We changed three Russian “officers” here, two colonels, one major.
Zahid Garayev: We changed Malik doctor, uncle Rashid, here.
Shahbaz Ibrahimov (clarifies): Armenians captures our people, we went and captured their three officers from the market, said you should return ours back, otherwise, we will kill yours. We talked, they brought, we exchanged here. By the “Gargar” pavvilion.
Akbar Rustamov: They also captured our children.
Shahbaz Ibrahimov: Russians captured and gave to Armenians.
We are going to pass through Shelli village. Most of the houses in the village are unharmed. Yards are full of pomegranate trees. Although they froze, most of them have fruits.
It is Shelli mountain. A tall hill at the end of the village.
A part of Khojaly residents, who survived on the night of February 26, went to Aghdam passing through Garachay from a place called “Garagaya” on foot, while others came through sowing areas from Nakhchivan village from the bottom of Shelli mountainş Aghdam people, Shelli villagers, militaries welcomed and helped them here.
Shahbaz Ibrahimov shows Shelli mountain which sometimes disappears in the fog: “We have passed very difficult battles in these mountains that you see. These mountains are the witness of the Khojaly genocide. I organize the establishment of posts, their provision from this place to Khojavand. On the evening of February 25, when I visited the posts and returned in a UAZ, I suddenly heard a voice on the radio that Khojaly had been destroyed. I urgently have come to Aghdam, headquarter, I saw that everyone has information. We had more than 300 volunteers. The division has started in the headquarter, it was determined that who will go where. We have also passed to the other part of this mountain with 9 people and went to the end of the mountain.
“Allahverdi gave us a command in that night. We have begun to attack from 3 sides” – Zahid Garayev added, -we passed over Shelli, shows the top of the mountain with his hand,- such incredible battle has started there that... In the second Karabakh war, firstly drones üere shootingç the soldiers were entering. But, that time, there were a submachine gun and a machine gun in our hands. There were no technics. We have entered, during that period, Commander Shahbaz( Shahbaz Ibrahimov) was beside me. Do you know, what we have seen there? A woman has died. About a year and a half, two years old girl took a shawl from the ground, put it on her mother, lay on her side, in the abdomen. İ was not able to enter that 50 meters. Armenians were not allowing. In the end, I commanded Shahbaz to call the commander of the machine gun route, Elman. We were 9 people. I have entered after he worked with a machinegun. I saw that 6 months-old boy under my foot. His mother has died. We immediately take the boy and put the mother on our backs. Thanks, Shahbaz, we took 2 children. We have brought and handed it over. That day, we have removed 30 bodies and 15 wounded”.
Although it was foggy when they climbed the hill near the opening in the morning, they could not believe what they have seen: There were hundreds of bodies of women and children on the ground, they were inside of the snow. I did not believe that they are human bodies. One may shoot a man with a shoot. But they have fired them in front of the machine gun” and adds with sorry: “ that day, we could not pass there. Because the area was under the control of Armenians”.
Shahbaz Ibrahimov can not still forget savagery that he has seen: “The end of the mountain is sown area. We get off from the car there. That area was arable. Sleet was snowing on that day. The weather was incredibly cold. We saw that people were coming there in the mud, in a bad condition. We, 9 people, have entered that arable area. Everywhere was full of bodies. We have got the wounded out of that place. In Nakhchivanik (Nakhchivanli - M.A.) there was a place called pigpen. Zahid and I have seen such atrocity when we arrived there... The man's head is not a penny, his stomach is torn and his intestines are on the ground. They have put something in baby’s eyes”.
On February 27, Allahverdi Baghirov conducts negotiations with Armenians. On February 28, Zahid Garayev, Shahbaz Ibrahimov, and others go to collect the bodies. For the first time, the bodies of 58 women, as well as the bodies of National Hero Alif Hajiyev and Arif Aliyev, are taken.
“Armenian has a characteristic, they were putting garnet under the bodies for the explosion. When we separating the corpses, we saw that the body of deceased Alif, We have removed him with Zahid and given to men. They fired a shot at us there. The shot has scraped off Zahid’s waistcoat”.
Although Zahid Garayev and his comrades-in-arms put the bodies in the car, a Russian helicopter began to fly over their heads, preventing them from removing the bodies: “ Armenian put us in a bunker. A car full of corpses has left in the middle. I was thinking about removing the corpses of women from the area. But how to do that? Maybe a crocodile (Mi-24 helicopter - M.A.) would hit us. I suddenly saw that a civil helicopter landed. Deceases Chingiz Mustafayev and several foreign journalists took in inside of it. They shave started to shot a video/ I said them not to go ahead. But they did not listen to me. After they shot and climbed, we have brought the corpses.
Among those who conveyed those terrible days to the people of Azerbaijan, as well as to the world, was the chairman of the Public Union for the Promotion of the Khojaly Genocide, journalist Shamil Sabiroglu. In late 1991, Shamil Sabiroglu, a teacher in the village of Jamilla in Khojaly, also worked as a correspondent for the “Səhər” daily news newspaper in the Karabakh region. Initial information regarding Khojaly Genocide has been made known to the world thanks to him: “We were standing in this area and meet the people who were coming. I was also helping till three to four in the afternoon on February 26. Were welcoming those coming from the Garagaya side. We have also reached the place called “Neftbaza”|. We did not look at that whether there were mined areas, or Armenians will shoot and kill us. We have shaken from the atrocity that we have seen to such an extent that, we even do not think about living. The late cameraman Seyidagha Movsumlu, film director Nizami Abbas and the late Chingiz Mustafayev were also there, everyone helped. At 5 pm on February 26, I remembered that I did not inform Baku. Again I returned to Aghdam from here. I took some videos in the mosque. There were corpses that I did not see while taking off from here. Oh my God. What have Armenians done to them? They have raped a baby girl. I have that photo-frame. I did not release it anywhere. On the night of February 26, I have informed Baku by phone. They said to me that we have such information that We have Khojaly, only two people died. I cried on the phone. I said don't you believe me ?! They asked me for pictures. In the morning, the newspaper reported that Khojaly had been occupied and that the death toll was about a hundred. There were even those who threatened us, where did you get this information from, but nothing happened. Then I sent the pictures and they were published”.
Armenians allegedly have given a free corridor to the people of Khojaly, they were killing they were setting up an ambush and killing those passing through that corridor. There were Meskhetian Turks among them who were trying to get rid of the Khojaly massacre. Those Meskhetian Turks that they have fallen in exile from Fergana in 1986 and placed in Khojaly. Fighter Mubariz Ibrahimov was among those who help Meskhetian Turks on that deadly night: “They were coming in the same direction (shows the asphalt road from the direction of Garagaya - M.A.). . We also took the Meskhetian Turks in trucks and took them to Aghdam, where we placed them. All those expelled from Khojaly were scattered in these mountains. Women, children, and the elderly crossed the mountain barefoot and bareheaded. Armenians are also chasing them. Behind Mount, Shelli are the villages of Aranzamin and Nakhchivanik (Nakhchivanli - MA). We took those villages from the Armenians after the Khojaly tragedy. We have met with the soldiers of 366th Motorized Rifle Regiment of Armenians and have retreated forcibly”.
One of those who closely participated in rescuing the people of Khojaly was martyred Khosrov Mammadov. Shahbaz Ibrahimov remembers him with respectfully says that a place of the erased grave must be nearby, on one of the hills at the foot of Mount Shelli: “Deceased Khosrov was a resident of Shelli village, he was a very fighting man. He has faced with Armenians on that side of this mountain, he has shot one, and Armenians have also shot him”.
Zahid Garayev intervents: “It seems to me that the grave of Khosrov is not here, because a place where he have buried was face to face with their house”.
Shahbaz Ibrahimov: “We wanted him to bury in Alley of Martyrs, but it was said that, no, here is their own village, and bury him here. That is why we have buried him here. I have visited here that time when the war has not still ended, and visited all of our martyrs”.
Zahid muallim puts his hand on his lips, looks at the foot of the mountain, and thinks for a long time: “Didn't we cover his grave?”
Shahbaz Ibrahimov: “No, no. We did not. There were only land and one picture. There have been such battles and horrors on this mountain. We had military posts on all the heights of this mountain.”
Starting from night February 26, IDPs from Khojaly were met in the direction of Shelli-Garagaya and sent by cars to Agdam. It was impossible to take the bodies of those who died on the way due to the cold and frost, those who were hit by Armenian bullets, as well as those who were captured and killed in Khojaly and tortured to death. Armenians were opening fire on the fighters who wanted to take the bodies and did not allow it. In this case, Allahverdi Baghirov held negotiations with the commander of Armenian fighters Vitaly Balasanyan on February 27. As a result of negotiations, the swapping of hostages and bodies began on February 28. The exchange of hostages and bodies took place in the area called the 19th post. The line of contact between Armenians and Azerbaijanis began after the area called the 19th post (where the Azerbaijani police post was located at that time - M.A.). Despite the fog, Garagaya can be seen from here, which sheltered the souls of many Khojaly people. Survivors came down the Garagaya and crossed the Gargar River.
“I was standing near Garagaya and tell people that not pass from there because the place was mined,” said Zahid Garayev.
“Once we were bringing bodies from Asgaran. There were nearly 50-60 bodies in the car. We together with Elman arrived here (the area of 19th post – M.A.). Our men were going in the direction of Garagaya in a car full of bodies. When we arrived here we said to Armenians that we had collected the bodies and we would come tomorrow, too. They said us not to come because they had some works to do. Vitaly (Vitaly Balasanyan – M.A.) asked where the car was? I showed him the direction in which the car was heading and said to him that it would go to Shelli passing through Garagaya. I saw that he faltered. I asked what happened? He did not say anything. Another Armenian standing by him said that they had planted mine on the road and the car would explode. The car was full of bodies and 6 of our men. I quickly took off my coat and, despite the fact that it was a winter day, I ran through Gargar river in the direction of Garagaya. It seemed that I would not be able to reach the car and it was already reaching mined part of the road. I took out my weapon and fired at our car. They saw me and stopped. I waved to Hagverdi to stop. I went and saw that the Armenians had planted two anti-tank mines on the road, including an F1 grenade. I opened the mine site with a knife a little bit. I told everyone to step aside, I fired at it with a grenade launcher from the side, and both mines exploded. After this the cars passed, I came back here again and told Vitaly that I would take revenge on you!” added Zahid Garayev.
Before there was a water mill. On both sides of the road was the ancient Garagaji cemetery and were historical monuments - tombs of local importance.
There are no more tombs or ancient gravestones. Armenians turned the cemetery into a sown area. There are 4 kilometers from here to Asgaran.
Akbar Rustamov says that he has not participated in the exchange of hostages and bodies: “Negotiations were held between Allahverdi and Balasanyan,” explained Zahid Garayev in detail: “I and Shahbaz participated in. Armenians dug a deep trench ahead ( he points to Asgaran direction – M.A.). Our cars were standing in this part of the trench and Armenians’ cars in another part of the trench. İ crossed to the other side and got on an Armenian car and brought hostages. I found Durdana (Durdana, who remained in Armenian captivity for 8 days – M.A.) from there. And I brought Valeh Huseynov from there.
During that time among those who were escaped from captivity were the resident of Garadaghli village of Khojavand district Rafig Garayev: “Despite our village was located around 32 villages settled by Armenians it could endure until February 17, 1992. We gave 92 martyrs at that time. Our martyrs killed at least two Armenians in the battles. I mean we fought until our last breath, however, our cartridge ran out, we did not receive any help, therefore we were captured. Several of our comrades were killed in the road with torture. Some of them passed by Kamaz. How many of them were beaten to death with halve of spade. My father was also martyred at that time with torture. My mother was also among captives. He spoke that they gave cognac to the dog and left it on the pregnant woman. The dog ripped the belly of the woman and pulled out the baby. They did such tortures with us.”
Rafig Guliyev after taken captive was brought to Khankendi, kept there until released. Facing many tortures Rafig Guliyev rejoined freedom thanks to the effort of Allahverdi Bagirov: “Armenians came and called us with our names. There were 9 residents of Garadaghli. And two from Khojaly. We were brought to Askeran and here from there, exchanged us with Armenians.”
While returning from the territory of 19th post, we visited the Alley of Martyrs of Aghdam. Those who died during the first Karabakh war, as well as some people killed in Khojaly, had been buried in this graveyard. It looks like just a pomegranate orchard from the outside, Armenians also destroyed it here. The majority of graves mixing with soil disappeared.
One of those who sleep in this graveyard is Allahverdi Bagirov, the National Hero, the martyr, who was mentioned many times, who was remembered with great respect by his comrades-in-arms, who managed to take 1003 captives by negotiating with the Armenians after the Khojaly genocide. Comrades gather at the graves of their commanders to pray, and then took photos.
A little bit away the son of Akbar Rustamov, martyr of Karabakh Sanan Rustamov was buried. Mr. Akbar 74 years old Karabakh fighter stands in silence at the grave of his son, who fought shoulder to shoulder in the war. What is he thinking about? Untimely die of his son or unnamed grave, which remained in the clutches of the enemy for 28 years? Or finally rejoining the grave of his son, the land where he born?
While returning we again pass by Aghdam mosque. As I saw double minaret I remembered the dream of Akbar which came true after many years. We returned to our native thanks to the bravery of our victorious army under the leadership of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. We took revenge on Garadagli, Khojaly, many innocent victims died in the Karabakh war. I will never forget the resolute words of one of the soldiers I got acquainted with within the framework of Karabakh visit: “Each time when we shot we remembered Khojaly victims, shot, tortured, raped women, children, elderly and tried to take their revenge in every step,” said the soldier who did not want his name to be mentioned. Then he had stressed: “We took the revenge of Khojaly!”
Today we live a dream-like reality and stand in front of the Juma Mosque in Aghdam, which witnessed those ominous days, but tomorrow we will stand in the center of Khojaly. Those days are not far away...