EG: You have a difficult task trying to focus the world’s attention on the massacre in Khojaly in 1992. 613 civilians, ordinary men, women and children lost their lives. Tell me briefly what happened.
LC: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict raged between Armenia and Azerbaijan from 1988 to 1994, a ceasefire was brokered in 1994 with the signing of the “Bishkek Protocol”. However, the Khojaly massacre that happened on the evening of February 25th through to the morning of the 26th in 1992, was the single worst atrocity of the conflict. As you said, 613 men, women and children were murdered in horrific fashion; they included 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly people. Armenian forces, with assistance from the Soviet 366 mechanised infantry division, gunned down the civilians who were leaving the town. 23 years later no perpetrators have been brought to justice, no one has stood before the international criminal courts for this massacre. TEAS, within the framework of the “Justice for Khojaly!” campaign, which was set up by Mrs Leyla Aliyeva, the Vice-President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, is organising events across Europe, including Dublin to alert people to this horrific atrocity that happened 23 years ago.
EG: One of the reasons that it came to my attention was that in Dublin quite recently you showed a film called “Endless Corridor” that was narrated by Jeremy Irons. And it tells the story, and it really tells the story, through the eyes of Lithuanian journalist Richardas Lapaitis. It was his journey back again to... Tell me a little bit about the film, because it is hugely moving.
LC: It is an hour long documentary directed and produced by Aleksandras Brokas, a Lithuanian film director and co-produced by Gerard Rafshoon, who used to be the Communications Director at the Carter Administration in the White House. This documentary took 5 years to make, included film professionals from 15 different countries and follows the journey of Richard Lapaitis, who happened to be in Azerbaijan on the line of contact on the evening of the Khojaly massacre and he has continued to write about what he saw for the last 23 years. He goes back to the line of contact and meets people who managed to escape the atrocities and the documentary also interviews the Armenian commanders who were responsible for some of the acts of that evening. It touches upon the humanity of the situation, showing people who were saved, people who helped in that cause, but also the inhumanity of war.
EG: One of the things that really surprised me I must admit, watching the film was the fact that the film makers did get the Armenian commanders on film talking about that evening.
LC: That is something of a coup in itself, yet it showcases the paradox of why even when there are people on that side who were willing to admit that they were involved in these atrocities, the international community still has not yet enforced the 4 UN Security Council Resolutions, the PACE Resolution, the European Parliament Resolution that all declare that this territory is sovereign Azerbaijani territory.
EG: Where else have you shown the film and what are the plans to roll it out?
LC: There are contractual negotiations with networks all across Europe and in the United States, but over the last couple of weeks it has been screened in addition to Dublin, in London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Vilnius, Moscow, Istanbul, Ankara, and Bern… all over the place. The “Justice for Khojaly!” campaign initiated by Mrs Leyla Aliyeva, Vice-President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, has been going on for a number of years now since 8th May 2008 and has various events, whether they be film screenings or protest marches or concerts in over 100 countries all across the world.
EG: And you mentioned that the film has been screened in a number of different places. At the Dublin screening the audience seemed to be mostly made up of representatives of the diplomatic corps and journalists. Is the same type of audience prevalent in other events as well?
LC: Various stakeholders or civilians, representatives of the media, the diplomatic corps and politicians are all free to come and attend these events. We want to get the message out as widely as possible, but we also want to use vehicles of further representation, via the media and politicians, for them to echo what they have seen to other parts of society. We think it is something that touches on everybody’s lives, and should be seen by everybody.
EG: Picking up on the theme that it should be seen by everybody, I presume the ultimate objective is to have the documentary shown on TV networks throughout the world?
LC: Absolutely, and that is something that is being negotiated right now. We hope that within the next calendar year we see it on many mainstream channels.
EG: And you have published a book about the Khojaly massacre as well?
LC: We have, and the book is called the “Khojaly Witness of a War Crime. Armenia in the Dock”. It features various first-hand testimonies from the Khojaly survivors, the journalists who were on the ground at the time, articles in the world’s media, the international human rights organisations that gave their account of what actually happened and there are photos taken by foreign journalists. This is the first independent publication of this kind in English to be produced in the West that encapsulates all in one book.
EG: What kind of feedback have you had so far? What are people reactions? Because I was not aware of this massacre until I received your invitation to attend the screening.
LC: A lot of people said that very same thing to me that, “we had absolutely no idea that this took place, this escaped our knowledge”. The simple reason is that, at the same time the Gulf War, the Balkans, Rwanda were raging and that is why the eyes of the international community were elsewhere but, irrespective of numbers, this is a very significant event and 23 years is not a long period of time. Therefore, the relatives, the families who lost loved ones just one generation ago, are still living with it. There are nearly 1 million internally displaced people and refugees in Azerbaijan, they cannot return home, almost 20 per cent of Azerbaijan’s territory is still occupied by Armenian forces, and people live with this on a day-to-day basis. That is why we are trying to get this message out.
EG: I noted that on that evening again in Dublin, you had Pat Carey and Terry Leyden, two politicians who are very familiar with the situation, speaking about the fact that something really should be done. I am wondering if you bring the film to a diplomatic and journalistic audience, has there been any reaction? Can you see any reaction so far from the diplomatic community, first, and from the journalists’ community as well?
LC: In terms of the media itself - absolutely! As a result of screening the film, we have had various interest, in terms of writing articles to try to put the spotlight on this event and the conflict in general. In terms of the diplomatic community, you find there is universal, wholesale support for the Azerbaijani position. There are a number of countries, such as Columbia, the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, Peru, Panama, Pakistan and Mexico that have passed resolutions in their various National Assemblies recognizing this atrocity, and that is what we want to see in other countries as well.
EG: The “Endless Corridor” documentary certainly cut everybody on the evening. You had a reception after the screening, allowing people to discuss their impressions. I personally felt that I needed air and I know a lot of people felt the same way. The ultimate objective must be to bring the perpetrators to justice, but I wonder what are you intending to achieve besides media articles. After showing this on television stations are you looking for people to interact with you on “twitter”? What can the ordinary public do for you?
LC: Whatever they can do, whether they write to their political representatives, or to the media. There are various websites where you can pledge your support in terms of signing the petition to allow the IDPs and refugees to go home. But ultimately what we do want to see is that the perpetrators are brought to justice. One thought to bear in mind is that the current President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, was a military commander at the time of the Khojaly atrocity. In 2000 he gave an interview to Tom de Waal, one of the most celebrated authors and academics on the conflict, and he said: “Before Khojaly, Azerbaijanis thought that the Armenians are people who could not raise their hands against the civilian population. We were able to break that stereotype and that what happened.” There you have the current president of Armenia saying that they targeted the civilians. That is not right, that is not just, and we think that the international community and ordinary citizens need to be aware of this.
EG: It is a chilling thought to end on. Leon Cook, how do people get in touch, which websites should they visit if they want to become involved in some way and show their support?
LC: If you go to the www.teas.eu website, there you can make your pledge to the campaign, or if you go to www.justiceforkhojaly.org, there you can add your name and join the campaign for further support for the campaign about this horrific atrocity.
A link to the interview: