Sumgait, February 1988: A Crime With No Limitation

A victim of the Sumgait pogroms

From New Europe

In July 1988 “The Guardian” published an article entitled “Nagorno-Karabakh is a test that perestroika might not survive”: “In February, after the first demands of Nagorno-Karabakh’s session were made, 26 Armenians were murdered in Sumgait by rampaging Azerbaijani crowds in a tribal orgy which shocked the country. Azerbaijani police did nothing to prevent it.” The resolution, adopted by XX Session of the Nagorno Karabakh Council of People’s Deputies on February 20, 1988, was in essence a constitutional claim to replace overwhelmingly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh from Soviet Azerbaijan into Soviet Armenia. Azerbaijani official reaction to this was rather prompt. A week later, in the Azerbaijani town of Sumgait –20 km from the capital Baku– horrific pogroms of Armenians began.

The files of investigations and trials confirm that the events in Sumgait constituted an act of genocide, which had been planned and executed by the Azerbaijani secret services with connivance and even support from the leadership of the USSR. The saved video footages show how the Azerbaijani KGB fellows tape the brutal crowd, their crimes and coordinate them by radio. George Soros wrote in Znamya magazine (1989): “The assumptions that the first Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan were spurred by the local mafia, managed by former KGB boss of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliev, are not that far from reality”.

A victim of the Sumgait pogroms

The following chronology may be dragged out of those three days:

On February 26, a crowded demonstration on Lenin square, well attended by the leadership of Azerbaijan, was first to chant the slogan “Death to Armenians!”. On February 27, the campaign of violence and killings kicked off. On February 28, the pogroms and killings grew to mass scale and sadistic nature. Armed with previously prepared metal bars, axes, hammers and knives, the gangs were quick in finding the apartments of Armenians. Armenians were being killed in their houses, but most often were pulled out into the streets for public humiliation, torture and, eventually, execution. On February a session of Political Bureau of Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party was convened in Moscow, where Defense Minister Yazov informed: “Two women had their breasts cut off, one woman’s head was cut off, and a girl was excorticated. The students of military college, who saw the bodies of tortured Armenians, would faint”.

Witness Muradov Jamal Ismalim-ogly: “I saw a man burning close to a burned car. There was a woman who was beaten up severely. Then I saw dead bodies along the street. A bit farther there was a naked woman lying, all in blood. Then I saw a guy trampling on a head of a live man”.

Assistant to the Prosecutor General of the USSR N. Yemelyanov described the situation in Sumgait the following way: “Everything is burning, apartments are destroyed, dead bodies, women are raped, and wildly raped – by 20-30 people. The law enforcement bodies never assisted the citizens – those of Armenian nationality”. On May 13 (1988) the local newspaper “Communist of Sumgait” wrote: “Back in those days of difficult situation the pipe plant manufactured axes, knives and other items, which might have been used by the hooligans”. The testimony, provided by a witness of Azerbaijani origin Iljasov: “They knew the addresses of Armenians, they were acting unmistakably.

That was an action against a particular nation, against Armenians”. Officially only 26 Armenians were reported death. Although there is a convincing evidence that the number of victims was significantly more. “Heydar Aliyev: The burden of Power”, a movie produced in 2003 by Andrey Konchalovskiy at the order of Azerbaijani leadership, the author argues that “the response to the tragedy in Karabakh was the bloody events in the industrial centre of Sumgait, where over 100 Armenians were killed overnight”. The massacre of Sumgait Armenians was undertaken by unprecedented brutality. Lola Avagyan, 26 years old, was undressed, taken out of her house, forced to dance, poked with knives, cut her breasts, extinguished cigarettes on her body and then raped. Lola Avagyan was pregnant at her sixth month.

Irina Melkumyan, 27, was killed together with her parents and two brothers. She was raped, then, naked, pulled out into the street. After tortures, violence and humiliation she was burned alive.

Emma Grigoryam, 58, was taken out into the backyard naked, forced to sit on the bench and then her body was burnt with cigarettes. Then they raped her, broke her ribs and her head, and stuck a metal pipe into her vagina. Firuza Melkoumyan, 70, was savagely beaten; her body was chopped to pieces with an axe. Her screams were heard all around the block, but nobody came to save her. Only on February 29, the Soviet troops began taking action and public massacres seized. The facts and materials of criminal cases proved that the crimes against civilian Armenians of Sumgait fully fall under the definitions of the UN Genocide Convention of 1948. However, this well organized and managed crime was qualified merely as hooliganism. Just one hundred people faced trial. One of them was sentenced to death; the majority of those sentenced went away with a few years of imprisonment; many were sentenced conditionally and set free from the court room. The real organizers of the crime have not been identified.

An American congressman, Frank Pallone, would write 22 years later: “These crimes were never adequately prosecuted by the Government of Azerbaijan, and most of its organizers and executors were simply set free, many of whom are presently members of the Azeri Parliament”. The continuing state-sponsored policy of anti-Armenianism in Azerbaijan and ethnocide against Armenian cultural heritage is yet another proof of the impossibility for a second forceful inclusion of an Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov meant exactly this, when he wrote these lines: “If anyone could doubt it before Sumgait, then after this tragedy no one has a moral justification to insist on preserving the territorial ownership of Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan”.

Marina Grigoryan is Political Analyst with the “Golos Armeni” newspaper Yerevan, Armenia **See also: The Repubic of Armenia General Prosecutor’s Office Publishes the Materials of the Criminal Cases Initiated on Atrocities Against the Armenians in Azerbaijan

"Asbarez" March 11, 2011


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