Tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis along with Turks are preparing to stage a large rally in downtown İstanbul next week to remember what they call “one of the most brutal massacres” in modern history.
Thousands will chant “Justice for Khojaly” in memory of hundreds of men, women and children who were brutally killed or tortured to death on a single, cold February night two decades ago. The rally will take place in Taksim Square on Feb. 26, the 20th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre, said Orkhan Akbarov, head of the Azerbaijani Students and Alumni International Forum (ASAIF). He says Feb. 26 is going to be “a day
of solidarity” worldwide for Azerbaijanis. “On that day, everyone will be like a single fist in commemoration of the victims of the tragedy,
demanding international justice for every life lost during the Khojaly massacre,” Akbarov said.
He added that Feb. 26, 2012 will make history, as he thinks this event will become a symbol of solidarity not only in the history of Turkic countries but in the history of the international community.
Feb. 26, 1992 is one of the most traumatic dates for Azerbaijanis, as this date is a reminder for the South Caucasus’ Muslim nation of one of the most tragic chapters in its history. In the early hours of Feb. 26, 1992, Armenian Armed Forces, directed by current Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan, along with Russia’s 366th armored battalion, literally wiped Khojaly, a town in Nagorno-Karabakh, off the map.
At least 613 completely unarmed and defenseless people -- the majority of who were children, women, elderly, sick and disabled -- were killed in cold blood. Thousands were left disabled and hundreds are still missing. The Nagorno-Karabakh war took place over a predominantly ethnic-Armenian enclave located inside Azerbaijan and started in 1988, ending with a fragile Russian-brokered truce in 1994. The war left 30,000 dead and nearly a million displaced. Since then, talks to resolve one of the most worrisome “frozen conflicts” in the former Soviet Union have dragged on, with the enclave controlled by Armenian and separatist forces.
Noting that Azerbaijanis will always remember the Khojaly massacre, Akbarov said the aim of the rally is to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the massacre, and to make clear to the international community the extent of the savageness and brutality of the acts Armenians committed against helpless Azerbaijani civilians just two decades ago. He underlined that Armenians did not even refrain from ridiculing the bodies of the dead. He added that such actions should be noted as a threat to all of humanity.
The organizers of the rally are Azerbaijani youth studying and working in Turkey. Dozens of Turkish and Azerbaijani associations, non-governmental organizations, political parties and businesses have already extended their support for the rally. More than thousands of people from 11 different cities in Turkey will join in rally in Taksim. In a show of support for their compatriots in Taksim, thousands of Azerbaijani youth are also expected to arrive in İstanbul from France, Russia, Ukraine, England and other countries.
“We are expecting at least 10,000 demonstrators,” said one of the organizers, who wished to remain anonymous. Everyone, regardless of their political views, social status or class, will be able to participate, says Akbarov, adding that no exact number for how many people are expected to participate is available at the moment. However, he did say he thinks millions of people will join in the “Justice for Khojaly” rally.
Akbarov also stated that the adoption of a French bill by the French Parliament criminalizing the denial of Armenian genocide last month has forced their hand. Approval of the French bill was not only an injustice against Turks, but one more factor that made them feel a need to stage the rally. “Azerbaijani youth think that the adoption of the French bill once more proves that the international community has kept silent when it comes to the pain of Turks and Azerbaijanis. “France recognizes the so-called Armenian genocide in the early 20th century; however, it does not see the Khojaly massacre committed by Armenians that left thousands of innocent people dead just two decades ago,” says Akbarov, adding that with this rally Azerbaijanis want the international community to hear them and recognize their pain.
Directly after the French National Assembly adopted the bill penalizing those who refuse to recognize the 1915 killings of Armenians as genocide, senior Azerbaijani officials harshly criticized the move in a show of solidarity with Turkey. The Azerbaijani president stated during a meeting with French parliamentarians held in Baku last week that officials in Baku hope a French bill criminalizing denial of the so-called Armenian genocide will not come into force. The issue has caused outrage in Turkey and drawn condemnation from both Turkish authorities and opposition parties.