Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Artsakh Artak Beglaryan issued a statement on the 31st anniversary of the massacres of Armenians organized by Azerbaijan in Sumgait in February 1988. The text of the statement is presented below:
After 1988 February peaceful demonstrations taken place in Artsakh with the demand of reunification with Armenia, on the 27-29th of February, in the city of Sumgait the Soviet Azerbaijan organized and carried out massacres of the Armenian population, accompanied by brutality, torture, ill-treatment, allegations of mass killings, group rape, etc. For their national affiliation 18,000 Armenians of Sumgait were subjected to violence, which resulted in massive breaches of their rights to life, not being tortured and discriminated against, liberty and security, property, fair trial, among others.
The massacres of Armenians in Sumgait was organized at the state level, which is proven by many facts. During demonstrations prior to the massacre, the city authorities pushed the crowd into open violence, which in the following days turned into violent acts, oriented to the premade lists of the addresses of Armenians. There are numerous evidences that the Azerbaijani police was not only absolutely inactive in terms of prevention, but also in many cases assisted and directed the assassins’ groups. Though the city of Sumgait was on a distance of only 25 kilometers from the capital city Baku, the Soviet Army interfered and stopped the massacres only three days later. Ilias Ismailov, Azerbaijan SSR acting Prosecutor General in 1988, stated in 2003 the following: “Those responsible for inciting the pogroms (in Sumgait), are now sat in Milli Majlis [Azerbaijani Parliament] with parliamentary mandates in their pockets” (Source: ‘Zerkalo’ Newspaper, Azerbaijan, 21 February, 2003).
The Azerbaijani and USSR authorities made every effort to hide the main cases of murders, stating only 26 victims. Meanwhile, film director Andrey Konchalovsky says in his “Heydar Aliyev: The Burden of Power” film, shot by Azerbaijan’s order: “Over a night, more than 100 Armenians have been killed in industrial center Sumgait.” Russian diplomat and writer Victor Krivopuskov writes in the book titled “The Resisting Karabakh”: “It occurred rarely that anyone would be killed by a knife or an axe straight away. Before the great tribulation, it was a mockery of suffering. They did not spare the elderly or the children. Several hundreds of Armenians have been killed in three days. To clarify the exact number of the dead was impossible.”
On the events taken place in 1988 in Azerbaijan, on the 7th of July, 1988, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the massacres of the Armenians of Azerbaijan, which says: “Taking into account the fact that the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh has historically been part of Armenia (80% of the region’s population is Armenian), as well as the fact of the unilateral decision to give this region to Azerbaijan taken in 1923, taking into consideration the fact that the massacres of Armenians in Sumgait and violence in Baku caused a worsening political situation in Azerbaijan, which is a danger for Armenians in Azerbaijan, (European Parliament) condemns the violence and pressure on the Armenian protesters in Azerbaijan.” Andrei Sakharov, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, said: “If anyone was in doubt before Sumgait whether Nagorno-Karabakh should belong to Azerbaijan, then after this tragedy no-one can have the moral right to insist that it should” (Source: “The Open Letter to M. Gorbachev,” “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” newspaper, 27 October, 1992). More detailed facts and comments about the Sumgait massacres can be found on the karabakhrecords.info website.
The crime against humanity organized in Sumgait was a response to the peaceful demonstrations of the Artsakh Armenians aimed at the realization of their right to self-determination. Besides, the Azerbaijani authorities, as an example of the Armenian-populated Nakhijevan, continued to implement the policy of ethnic cleansing of Armenians, which was intensified especially after the Sumgait events. Within the framework of that ethnic cleansing, during 1988-1990, thousands of Armenians were killed and about 500,000 Armenians were deported from Azerbaijani Kirovabad, Baku and other cities, as well as from the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, with knowledge and permission of the USSR authorities.
In subsequent years (including during the 1991-1994 Azerbaijan-Karabakh war), Azerbaijan continued the policy of ethnic cleansing of Armenians, according to our analysis, which is in full compliance with the legal formulation of the genocide perpetrated under the UN 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Moreover, our research shows that apart from the depatriation of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani Armenians, their rights to property and free movement, among others, have also been violated on a continuous basis. Many of these Armenians still bear the physical, psychological and material consequences of that policy.
Those committed crimes have not received relevant legal assessment and have remained unpunished, which led to the implementation of the official anti-Armenian hatred policy pursued by the Republic of Azerbaijan. The victims of that policy are not only Azerbaijani Armenians and the population of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), but also all Armenians worldwide, as well as foreigners visiting Artsakh. As a reminder, the Artsakh Republic Human Rights Ombudsman published a special report in 2018 on the Azerbaijani anti-Armenian hatred policy, presenting concrete examples of its manifestation and relevant international law analysis.
An active stage of manifestation of Armenophobia in the Azerbaijani society was also recorded in April 2016 – during the large-scale attack of Azerbaijan on Artsakh. The Human Rights Ombudsman, within the framework of his fact-finding mission, presented a report in 2016 on killings, beheadings, tortures and other cases of war crimes and human rights violations against civilians and military servicemen of Artsakh. It is noteworthy that the Azerbaijani servicemen, who have committed such crimes, were later rewarded and encouraged by the Azerbaijani authorities.
The Ombudsman urges the international community to give a proper legal assessment to the 1988 February massacres in Sumgait, in accordance with the fundamental principles and norms of international law, as well as to take action to end the ongoing anti-Armenian hatred policy. This path of racial hatred not only contradicts the well-known principles of international law, but also takes the two peoples away from conflict resolution and lasting peace.