“I was very shaken by the massacre that took place in Khojaly”
Interview23 February 2017, 18:10 7622
The Armed Forces of Armenia invited the city of Khojaly on February 26, 1992, with the help of 366th regiment of the USSR. The ethnically Azerbaijani population of the city were subjected to unspeakable cruelly during the sacking of the city. In this tragedy, known as the Khojaly Massacre, 613 people including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly persons were murdered. More than 1275 people were taken captive. 150 Khojaly residents have not been heard from to this day. 487 people become disabled during the massacre. Cruel massacre against the hundreds of Khojaly citizens remain one of the bloodiest incidents that took place during the armed conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh. Sabir Mammadov, who worked as the police chief in Khojaly during the massacre, sat down for an interview with "Kaspi” and answered out questions.
- Sabir, can you tell us more about yourself so that our readers can get to know you better. When did you begin to work as the police chief in Khojaly?
- I was born in 1945 in Kangarli village of Aghdam and received my first education there. I studied at Aghdam secondary music college named after Uzeyir Hajibeyov from 1962 to 1966. Later, I received higher education at pedogogical school in Ganja that is named after Hasan bey Zerdabi. After serving for a year in the military I moved to Republic of Uzbekistan in 1982 on my brother’s advice. I started to work as a police in the province of Bukhara. The deportations of my fellow compatriots from Armenia in late 80s, Bloody January event of 1990 and separatism in Nagorno-Karabakh began to make me concerned as an Azerbaijani. Thus, I took a leave from my job in 1990 and visited Baku and requested to see Mahammad Asadov who was working as the minister of Interior Affairs during that time. I made my decision and told the minister that I wanted to stand together with my compatriots during these hard times and fight alongside my people against the enemy. I wrote a report to the minister stating my intent. Without waiting for a response, I returned to Bukahra. Because my vacation was over. So I had to go back. I have to note that, my younger brother Sadir Mamamdov first worked as the chief of Shusha city interior affairs department and later was appointed the head of the Interior Affairs Department in Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. My purpose was not to move close to brother and work under him. I just wanted to return to my homeland and if necessary, fight along with my fellow citizens. After meeting with the minister Mahammad Asadov, the police department I worked in Bukhara received information regarding me. They were informed that I was being invited to work as a police officer in Azerbaijan. During my conversation with the leadership in Bukhara, I was advised to turn down the offer to work in Azerbaijan. If I accepted their condition, I would be appointed to a higher position in Bukhara. Although this was a really good offer, I chose to return to my country. After moving back, minister Asadov appointed me the head of police department that was newly established in Khojaly. From then onwards, my fate was linked to the settlements in Khojaly.
- You were appointed the police chief in Azerbaijan before the Khojaly Massacre. How was the situation in Khojaly back then?
- I was appointed the police chief on June 5, 1990. I started from scratch back then. Just imagine, I had the order and appointment from the ministry but there were no necessary facilities or staff there. The hardest part was that since the police department I headed was under the subordination of Asgaran district department of interior affairs, I had to have their approval before doing anything. The situation was very difficult back then. Armenians were trying block every action I intended to take. After many prolonged talks, I managed to secure two vagons and brough them to Khojaly. Those wagons became the building where the police department in Khojaly was located. Moreover, only 58 police officers were sent to Khojaly which was surrounded by Armenian villages. We had many times less staff than the enemy. Plus, our staff had to consist of the local population. We went from door to door and collected people who had military experience. Their main duty was to restore social order and ensure the safety of citizens. Despite all the hardship, we managed to make it work. Shortly after, we even maneged to build a two-story administration building in Khojaly. National heroes such as Tofig Huseynov, Agil Guliyev and Elif Hajiyev helped a lot to realize this. At that time, Elif hajiyev was the commander of the police force that protected the Khojaly airport. We were discussing the situation with the fighters and taking notes and making decisions accordingly. I remember that there were 30-32 flights from Armenia to Khojaly every day back then. Even though it was kept as an utmost secret, we were sending that these flights did not only transfer people but also bring weapons to Armenians. For this reason, the number of flights were brough down to minimum, with my insistence. High ranking officials in Baku were being informed about the general situation. Unfortunately, these reports were not being taken seriously in the capital, and our concerns were dismissed. I achieved to sent precise information through my brother Sadir to appropriate authorities. But all these efforts and the reports were of no consequence.
- As you mentioned, you sent accurate information to relevant authorities but it didn’t do any good. Were you giving any response or were they not reacting at all?
- The situation in the country was very tense at that time. In the center, PFA functionaries and Ayaz Mutallibov’s team were fighting for power. Government was busy trying to protect their seats and People’s Front was busy with trying to get into power. During that time, Russian military servicemen confiscated all weapons from people in Nagorno-Karabakh. They even seized shotguns . Khojaly police department had 7-8 Makarov pistols and almost as many rifles. There was a shortage of weapons and bread and food and roads were blocked. Our only hope was helicopters. And helicopters were not free to take off all the time. Our alarming reports were being met with indifference in the capital. They were saying that we were exaggerating things and causing panic among people. Two police officers working for me – Ali Valiyev and Natig Ahmadov, were shot and killed near the castle of Asgaran. They were assaulted by Armenians who wanted to enter Khojaly from the territory of Aghdam in the early morning hours. The investigative team, sent from Shusha to examine the situation, had to retreat after being shot by Armenian in Khankendi. I and my deputy Hafiz Adilov had to visit the crime scene and examined it. The bodies of the slain people were brought back and buried in Aghdam. We encountered this more than once. There were 8 checkpoints from Aghdam to Shusha. You had to be accompanied by the Russian servicemen if you wanted to go through these checkpoints safely. Otherwise it was impossible to make it alive. We were working under such conditions and reporting to the leadership.
- Where were you when the Khojaly Massacre took place? What measures were taken to save the people from this massacre?
- It was a miracle that anyone escaped that place alive against hundreds of military equipment and more than 3000 trained Armenian and Russian servicemen. That night, only those who managed to escape to Aghdam stayed alive. Over 1200 people were escaped captivity and survived with the help of the national hero Eldar Baghirov. Additionally, small numbers of people had left the city sensing that such a tragedy was imminent. Before the tragedy struck, we tried to get helicopters so that we could evacuate the residents from he city. At that time, a larger helicopter was sent to Khojaly accompanied by two other helicopters. Flour and such things were brought to Khojaly. We managed to get 300 elderly people, women and children on the helicopter on February 13. As my deputy had recently returned to Khojaly, those people were taken to Ganja and later to Aghdam on buses. Our plan was to bring as many weapons to Khojaly as we can and strengthen our defense. But our request for helicopters were rejected under the pretense that the flight was dangerous. So, me and 300 other Khojaly residents had to stay in Aghdam. We could only communicate with Khojaly through air transportation so my attempts to return to that place yielded no result. When the massacre took place and the state television announced that only 2 people were murdered, we immediately understood that it was a lie. Because we were aware of the situation there and what threat faced Khojaly. As any Azerbaijani citizen, I was very shaken after the massacre. I am horrified when I watch the footages from the event even now.
President’s visit to France opened a new page in development of relations between our countries