The Unpunished Crime of Sumgait

As a direct response to Armenia’s’ expression of their right to self-determination in 1988, which sparked the Karabakh movement, Azerbaijan directed its OMON forces to systematically rid its cities of Armenia’s. The first of these pogroms took place in the industrial city of Sumgait 21 years ago.

More than two decades later, this crime remains unpunished and its perpetrators have not been held accountable for the events, which at the time, through eyewitness accounts, sounded eerily like the accounts of Genocide survivors.

The Sumgait events were followed by equally violent pogroms in the Azeri cities of Kirovabad, Baku and later in the Northern Shahoumian district of Nagorno-Karabakh.

This week, Azerbaijan unleashed a campaign around the world urging the international community to condemn Armenia for perpetrating “genocide” in Khojaly 17 years ago.

One of the bloodiest battles of the Karabakh war took place from February 24 to 26, 1994 in Khojaly, which was an Azeri military stronghold from where the Azeri army relentlessly attacked Armenian civilian targets in Karabakh. The liberation of Khojaly was a turning point in the Karabakh war that the Azeris have not yet fully accepted.

The Los Angeles Consulate General of Azerbaijan held a conference Monday with speaker after speaker trumpeting the false claims of genocide. The Armenian Youth Federation joined by other youth from the community staged a demonstration to counter that effort. Another effort by the Consulate is the circulation of a letter to all California State Assemblymembers and Senator urging to sign a letter addressed to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and calling for Armenia to be punished for this crime.

What the Azeri government is not addressing in this carefully orchestrated and staged campaign is its pogrom of Armenia’s beginning in 1988. In fact during a recent conference on the “Khojaly Tragedy” one of the speakers when asked about Sumgait, smirked and went on to blame the KGB for those events.

And what of the continued threats of attacks by Azerbaijan and its president Ilham Aliyev, which are hindering the fragile peace process?

At the Karabakh negotiating table, Armenia’should continuously press for the punishment of the perpetrators of the Sumgait pogroms and properly characterize the events within the context of the peace talks.

Eyewitness accounts are still very fresh, despite efforts by the Soviet elite to destroy the proof of a systematic campaign to annihilate Armenia’s from the Azeris cities in which they lived. These accounts and other materials are enough to press the issue in international forums and courts.

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