BY HASMIK PILIPOSYAN
On the night of February 25, the Azerbaijani Student Association (AzSA) of UC Irvine, which formed in 2012, organized a film viewing by Thomas Goltz, a war correspondent and professor at Montana State University, which attempted to depict the events of Khojaly as ethnic cleansing committed by Armenian soldiers against Azeri citizens. Many Azeris as well as many Armenians showed up including the Orange Country ARF, AYF, ANCA, and UC Irvine ASA in support of preventing false statements and accusations from contaminating the true reality of the conflict.
Before the audience was to view the film, one of the Azeri students stood at the podium and shared her story of how she became a refugee of Nagorno-Karabakh due to destruction of her town and home, which was quite disheartening considering the hundreds of thousands of Armenian and Azerbaijani refugees affected by the conflict. After, AzSA president Jadiv Huseynov provided some statistics and history of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, stressing the historical and cultural significance of the region mainly to Azerbaijan, failing to mention the presence of Armenians in the region for thousands of years that lived in the ancient historical Kingdom of Artsakh. Today, much of historical Artsakh extends into the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and is controlled by the republic.
Huseynov went on to speak about the events of Khojaly, directly announcing it as “ethnic cleansing” perpetrated by the Armenian soldiers and the Russian 366th Motor Rifle Regiment on the night of February 25-26, 1992. He claimed that “613 civilians including 106 women, 63 children, and 70 elders were tortured to death” and how the Human Rights Watch called it the “largest atrocity of the conflict”. Furthermore, with the increased tension quickly building in the room, he alluded to Markar Melkonian’s book about his brother, Monte Melkonian’s, life with an incorrect analysis of a statement Monte wrote in his personal diary stating that by the morning of February 26th, 1992 the “refugees had made it to the eastern cusp of Mountainous Karabakh…toward safety in the Azeri city of Agdam, about six miles away” and how an Azeri refugee woman testified how the Armenian soldiers “just shot and shot”. However, Azerbaijani president at the time, Ayaz Mutalibov told Czech reporter Dana Mazalova “the Armenians had, in any case, provided a corridor to let the civilians escape. Why then would they shoot?” Huseynov unacknowledged the fact that the Armenian soldiers had sent out warning via radio of the siege of the city and how they had opened a corridor for Azeri civilians to escape safely, but with the command of the Azeri mayor of Khojaly, Elman Mammadov, the civilians were to not leave. The AzSA president also declined in recognizing the pogroms against Armenians in Baku, Sumgait, and Kirovabad perpetrated by Azeri soldiers and leaders, who were later given higher ranks in government and parliament by president Aliyev.
The night proceeded to the documentary by Thomas Goltz titled “Azerbaijan Through Foreign Eyes”. The film was very poorly made and failed to depict any factual and eye-witness evidence of the events of Khojaly as Goltz himself was not witness to the events and merely served as a sympathy show. Following the film was a question and answer session that completely undermined Goltz’ credibility.
One of the Armenian students questioned Goltz about Akram Aylisli’s treatment and book burning in Azerbaijan and the case of Ramil Safarov as contradictory to Goltz’ claim of “tolerance is embedded in Azeri culture”. Goltz answered the student with merely a poem that was absolutely irrelevant to the topic and then he sat down, while the student remained dumbstruck by the “intellectual’s” absurd and foolish response. Another student asked about President Ilham Aliyev’s anti-Armenian campaign enforced throughout Azerbaijan and his Organized Crime and Corruption Person of the Year award bestowed by the OCCRP, in which the professor simply replied “I say he should change his act”. During the Q&A session, Huseynov, would constantly stand and answer the students’ questions himself while Goltz simply sat and listened. Many of the Azeris sitting in the audience rarely made comments.
Perhaps the Azeris were not prepared enough to enforce their propaganda and create an atmosphere of sympathy. They usually work quite well in attempting to alter history but seem to always fail as facts and the truth triumphs all.