Despite the significance of 26 February 2017 as the actual date of the 25th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre, a group of extremist Armenians in Paris demonstrated their intransigence with a violent protest outside the Église Saint-Roch, the concert venue, in Paris.
The protesters made a serious attempt to besiege the church and stop participants from attending the concert. One elderly lady struggling to access the church was thrown to the ground by Armenian thugs, The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) told APA.
Although the Armenian chanting was audible before the concert began, it was easily drowned out by the beautiful music and the enthusiastic applause of the audience. The concert commemorated the victims of the massacre, which was the single worst atrocity of the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Khojaly massacre took the lives of 613 civilians. The death toll included 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly people.
Altogether, over 300 people, including H.E. Elchin Amirbayov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to France; H.E. Anar Karimov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to UNESCO; and MP Jean-François Mancel, President of the Association of the Friends of Azerbaijan, attended the concert. It was held in the late Baroque Église Saint-Roch in the First Arrondissement of Paris. The church itself has experienced the rigours of gunfire over the centuries, the façade being scarred with the physical evidence of the French Revolution. It is also fitting that it became known as the Polish Church in the 19th century, having become a focal point for exiled Poles living in Paris, evoking parallels with Azerbaijan, which houses an estimated one million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions. They are the ongoing victims of the unresolved Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict.
Throughout this evocative and emotional evening, the overwhelming sense was of loss and the umbilical connection of Khojaly, part of Nagorno-Karabakh, with Azerbaijani music. Many of the greatest Azerbaijani classical composers – all of whom combined the microtones of mugham with western classical music – were born or had familial connections to Nagorno-Karabakh. The father of Fikret Amirov was a khanende (mugham singer) from Shusha, Nagorno-Karabakh, and this was evident in his emotional Elegie, performed by the Quatuor Chagall, drawn from the ranks of l’Orchestre Symphonique de Mulhouse.
The octogenarian Azerbaijani composer Khayyam Mirzazade graduated from Azerbaijan State Conservatoire in 1957, where he studied under Gara Garayev and thereafter continued to teach. From 1969–83, he was a manager of composition cathedra at the Azerbaijan State Conservatoire. The work performed in Paris was a setting of the plaintive traditional song Berzeni.
Enrique Granados – himself a victim of the First World War – was a Spanish pianist and composer of classical music in a uniquely Spanish style. Dating from 1890, Orientale is one of the 12 pieces comprising his Danzas Españolas (Spanish Dances), and was particularly sublime and evocative.
Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, a piece of chamber music scored for three violins, was exceptionally emotive.
The concert concluded with Pierre Thilloy’s Khojaly 613, a tone poem representing the horrors of that fateful night. This harnessed the power of violin, clarinet and string quartet to evoke the sounds of marching, screams and machine-gun fire, incorporating folk music themes to devastating effect. It featured Azerbaijani violinist Nazrin Rashidova, Latvian clarinettist Anna Gagane, and the Quatuor Chagall. All audience members were given a CD of this outstanding contemporary work.
Lionel Zetter, Director, TEAS, commented: “I apologise for the late running of this concert. The final work on the programme is Khojaly 613, an excellent piece which commemorates the Khojaly massacre victims, whose sacrifices we remember this evening.”
Marie-Laetitia Gourdin, Director, TEAS France, observed: “Music expresses that which cannot be enunciated, when it is impossible to remain silent. Whilst the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh raged, those invading the town of Khojaly massacred the inhabitants of the town as they tried to escape the onslaught, abandoning their houses and possessions. Altogether, 613 people died that night – men, women, children and elderly people.
“This sad war crime recalls that inflicted by the Nazis on the inhabitants of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane which, in 1944, was destroyed following the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
“To this day, thousands of people remain displaced, leaving their families without news and without hope.
“The tragedies of today should not lead us to forget those of yesterday. The fact that there are millions of refugees today should not make us forget the thousands of Azerbaijanis who have waited for 25 years to return to their lands in Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions that are still occupied by Armenian troops. This amounts to approximately 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory.
“In each armed conflict, the civilians are the first victims. This evening will pay homage through music to the men and women who paid with their lives, and those who await peace returning to their land, when Azerbaijan and Armenia can live afresh in peace and as neighbours.”
The concert concluded with a standing ovation, as the audience expressed their appreciation of the music, and their contempt for the attempts to bar their access and to disrupt the concert.
Despite the passing of four UN Security Council resolutions against the invasion, Armenia continues to occupy Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions to this day. Currently nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory remains occupied, and approximately one million refugees and IDPs are spread across Azerbaijan. The evening was dedicated to the memory of the Khojaly victims and those Azerbaijanis who have only one wish – to return to their homes and lands.