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The Pain of Khojaly in Hearts and Minds

The Pain of Khojaly in Hearts and Minds

On my first visit to “the land of fire” a few months after the Armenians attacked the town of Khojaly in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan on Feb. 26, 1992, hearts were still on fire with the tragedy.

Some 613 Azerbaijani Turks, many of them small children, women and elderly were ruthlessly massacred as part of a pogrom-like extermination of Turkish identity.

Azerbaijan was burning. There was a deficiency of “national consciousness” as only a short while ago the land had been part of a huge Soviet empire. Many prominent Azerbaijanis were born in what became Armenia or Georgia. Apart from Turkey, Azerbaijan had no solid support, while Ankara’s support was mostly “moral” with a bit of military training and logistics. The so-called “rebelling Armenians” of Nagorno-Karabakh were indeed Armenian military units backed by the Russians. The infrastructure of Azerbaijan was terrible. The capital Baku had a shortage of drinkable water.

Thousands of refugees were pouring into Azerbaijan proper from Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijanis were hosting relatives, friends and even people they had never met before at their homes, farms, sharing whatever scarce food and means they had in their hands to soothe the pain of the displaced.

In September 1993, days after the Surat Huseyinov-led coup against Ebulfez Elcibey, exhausted, hungry and thirsty after over a 12-hour drive returning the war zone, we knocked on the door of a farm house just outside Beylegan. It was about 3 A.M. and there was still about four hours’ drive to Baku. We were hopeless. “We have guests… We have guests…” shouted an old man. In the middle of the night we were provided an incredible feast. Soon we discovered they were from a village near Lacin, had escaped war and settled at that farm house owned by their relatives.

Also read:  See What’s On a Muslim Refugee’s Mind?

They were lucky, unlike some of the Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh who did not escape Armenian attacks. Of the people of Khojaly, unfortunately, only a few survived.

Those were very sad days. People who survived the pogrom had to build a new life in pain and were determined to return to their homes while not only them but the entire Azerbaijani nation learned the importance of independence and the value of homeland.

After his 1993 return to power, the late Haydar Aliyev steered Azerbaijan towards becoming a modern country with a dynamic economy and a powerful military force. Could Azerbaijan free its occupied territory by force and end the agony of displaced people living in temporary conditions for the past 26-27 years? No doubt. Today’s Azerbaijan is not the Azerbaijan of 1992-1993. But Baku has been demanding a negotiated Armenian withdrawal, restoration of its territorial integrity and to give Nagorno-Karabakh an advanced level of autonomy.

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About The Author

Yusuf Kanli

Born in Cyprus in 1959, Yusuf Kanlı is a graduate of the English Language and Literature Department of the Faculty of Letters of the Ankara University. He started journalism with the Turkish Daily News in 1978. Until he briefly left the paper in 1985 (for military service in Northern Cyprus) he served as diplomatic correspondent, assistant foreign news editor and assistant editor. During this period he was as well one of the two co-authors of an annual reference book on Turkey, “Turkey Almanac”. After completing his military service he returned the Daily News as assistant editor. In 1989 he became executive editor and also started writing daily opinion articles. He continued to be one of the co-authors of the “Turkey Almanac” annual reference book. In February 1993, over differences with the publisher on editorial policy, he quit the paper and joined the Anatolia News Agency (AA) as deputy foreign news chief. He stayed with the Anatolia News Agency until September 1995. In this period, he covered the Armenia-Azerbaijan war over Nogorno-Karabagh, covered developments in the post-independence Central Asian republics. Because of his refusal as the duty editor to run a manipulated news story demanded by the then lady prime minister of the country, he was fired from the AA, a development that Kanlı considers as his “medal of honor” in the profession. On his return to the Daily News for a third time in October 1995, he first became an editor at large but soon assumed the responsibility of electronic publishing and established Turkey’s first daily updated English language news web site, the TDN Online on May 19, 1996 (now In January 1997, he became executive editor of the Daily News for a second time and stayed in that post until he was appointed as editor-in-chief in June 2004. In February 2007, he quit all executive duties and became a contract columnist of the newspaper. He has been also writing weekly articles in Turkish for a variety of newspapers and news portals in Northern Cyprus. He is a former chairperson and the honorary chairperson of Diplomacy Correspondents Association (DMD) of Turkey, an active member of Association of Foreign Policy Council, a member of the executive board and vice chairperson of the Association of Journalists and coordinator of the Press for Freedom project, which has been monitoring and reporting on press and freedom of expression issues in Turkey since 2013. He has been a member of several associations and foundations, mostly established by Turkish Cypriots living in Turkey or abroad. He is married to Dr. Aydan Kanlı and has one daughter, Cansu. He has Turkish, Turkish Cypriot and Cypriot triple nationality.

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