The "genocide" committed in 1992 against hundreds of Azerbaijanis by Armenians was one of the darkest pages in the history of the 20th century, Azerbaijan’s envoy to Turkey said.
Marking the 28th anniversary of the Khojaly Massacre, Khazar Ibrahim, in an interview with Anadolu Agency, said that the tragedy happened during the military aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan, which started in the late 1980s in the final stages of the USSR.
"And then it turned into the very hot period, and in 1992 Khojaly genocide was committed against Azerbaijani civilians. Elderly people, women, kids, babies were killed, maimed and taken hostages, and the fate of most of them are still not known until today," he said.
On the heels of the Soviet Union's dissolution, Armenian forces took over the town of Khojaly in Karabakh on Feb. 26, 1992, after battering it with heavy artillery and tanks, assisted by an infantry regiment.
The Khojaly Massacre is seen as one of the most bloodiest incidents committed by Armenian forces against Azerbaijani civilians for control of the now-occupied Upper Karabakh region.
The two-hour Armenian offensive killed 613 Azerbaijani citizens -- including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly -- and critically injured 487 others, according to Azerbaijani figures.
Also, 150 of the 1,275 Azerbaijanis that the Armenians captured during the massacre remain missing. In the massacre, eight families were completely wiped out, while 130 children lost one parent, and 25 children lost both parents.
Ibrahim said the "world saw this genocide", noting that not just Azerbaijani journalists but also many international media representatives "happened to be around Khojaly", and they witnessed those people and survivors.
'Voice against genocide'
On Feb. 28, 1992, two helicopters with a group of journalists managed to reach the location of the massacre. On March 1 of the same year, a group of foreign and local journalists also reached the place.
"World actually raised its voice against this genocide," he said.
The ambassador said he believes if people forget such tragedies, then it will be followed by other genocides and massacres. He added the massacres, which happened after Khojaly were probably emboldened by the "lack of punishment" for the perpetrators of the tragedy against Azerbaijani people.
"Don’t forget! If we forget, things happen again, and tomorrow it can be somebody else," Ibrahim said.
He said although Azerbaijani side holds "truth and facts" about the massacre, Armenian officials try to falsify it.
"The Armenian side is trying to hide the truth, because it's a harsh truth for them," he said.
Ibrahim underlined that there are a number of documents, video materials along with many local and international witnesses who can "testify the truth”.
He also recalled that during the recent debate between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the 56th Munich Security Conference, Pashinyan “unsuccessfully” tried to blame the massacre on people of Azerbaijan.
"We know that unfortunately, Armenian propaganda is working quite effectively in many parts of the world, in our neighborhood and far away, also on social media and on the Internet," the envoy said.
Armenian side was 'well-prepared' for offensive
The envoy recalled his country, soon after the independence, did not have "enough resources" or even the regular armed forces to defend its own lands.
"On the contrary, Armenian side was well-prepared. They prepared for this offensive for quite a long time, and now it's proven by many sources," he said, adding that Armenians got support from "outside" and they were getting weapons, with Armenian mercenaries – “ruthless and very brutal" well-trained members of terrorist organizations -- coming from all around the world.
"Maybe that is the reason why they showed no mercy to even children and women during Khojaly [massacre] and during other periods of the army aggression against Azerbaijan," the ambassador added.
Ibrahim noted that the situation has "fortunately" changed nowadays.
He went on to say that currently the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, its' economy and the whole state trumps Armenia’s resources and power.
Referring to April 2016 clashes -- when Azerbaijan reclaimed land occupied by Armenia -- Ibrahim said that Azerbaijani Armed Forces were reacting to Armenia’s "provocation", noting that Armenians saw "all might of Azerbaijani soldiers and officers".
"When we are right, we're much stronger not only with our weapons, but also with our morality," he added.
Armenian terrorist organizations
"We saw that the terrorist organizations which committed crimes, assassinations of Turkish diplomats and their families, came more or less from the same sources," Ibrahim said.
Armenian terror organizations have martyred 31 Turkish diplomats and family members since the 1970s. The vast majority of the attacks were conducted by the so-called Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG).
Upper Karabakh is the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan illegally occupied by Armenia through military aggression since 1991.
Four UN Security Council (UNSC) and two General Assembly resolutions, as well as decisions by many other international organizations, refer to this fact and demand withdrawal of the occupational Armenian forces from Upper Karabakh and seven other occupied regions of Azerbaijan.
The ambassador said that Armenians from the Republic of Armenia, who came and "were also as brutal as those mercenaries who came from either Middle East, or some other geographies", made the event "even more tragic".
"The people who were living side by side with Azerbaijanis, they turned against their neighbors and committed this genocide," he said.
Ibrahim said that the "vivid example" of the brutality was the former President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan, who previously happened to live in Azerbaijan, and then turned to be one of the main figures "who either ordered or took part in the Khojaly genocide".
"He did not shy away of telling that, yes, we did it [committed massacre], and we did it to change the stereotypes that Armenians cannot spill the blood," Ibrahim said.
The envoy highlighted that the Khojaly massacre was "well-organized, well-planned and well-strategized in order to punish Azerbaijani civilians and to make Azerbaijanis believe that Armenians can do this kind of crimes."
Comparing to previous times, the ambassador said Azerbaijan’s lobby has made progress in its activities. "However, there's always room for improvement."
"But the difficulty is that, unfortunately, Armenian propaganda in some places is so much entrenched […] that it's very difficult for Azerbaijanis to infiltrate it," he said.
When looking into major countries where Armenians have strong diasporas, it is clearly seen that they are "omnipresent in media, in social areas and even in politics", Ibrahim said.
He said that the strongest Armenian lobby in the world are "exactly in these three countries" -- France, the U.S. and Russia -- which are the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk group, which was formed to find a peaceful solution to the Upper Karabakh conflict, but has not reached any results yet.
"So, spreading our word is also quite complicated and faces obstacles," he added.
Urging to be pragmatic on the situation, the envoy recalled that the three co-chair countries are also among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
"If not them, who else has the power and tools to facilitate [resolving the conflict]?," he questioned.
He stressed that the best tool to resolve the conflict is to persuade Armenian leaders to come in terms with international law and to follow the UN Security Council resolutions.
The envoy underlined that when the embassy organizes annual events commemorating the Khojaly massacre in Turkey, they see "huge crowds" coming to pray and mourn with them, since they see it a "tragedy also against the Republic of Turkey".
"The tragic thing is also that when Armenian mercenaries or Armenian troops were committing these crimes […] they were calling Azerbaijanis […] as Turks. They were saying we are killing you, Turks, and taking revenge from Turkey," the envoy said.
Ibrahim said the Khojaly massacre is not just a tragedy for Azerbaijan, it's a tragedy for Turkey, as well as for the entire humanity.
He said Armenians were "just trying to wipe out people" only because of their ethnic origin.
"Turkey has always stood by Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan has always stood by Turkey," he said, adding that the two are "brotherly nations".
Referring to former Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev's maxim, Ibrahim said: "One nation two states are not just words, they are the truth and the reflection of the reality."
"Turkey is a just international player […] and Turkey’s position [on the issue] has always been clear," he said, adding that Turkey demands unconditional withdrawal of Armenian occupying forces from Azerbaijani lands.
He noted that Turkey is also a member of the OSCE Minsk group, and a regional power.
"We hope that its [Turkey’s] regional role increases and the country will have more say on these issues because we have seen that when Turkey steps up [its efforts], we have solutions to many regional issues," Ibrahim concluded.