Last week, the border guards of Azerbaijan arrested a person suspected of being involved in the massacre of Azerbaijanis in the Meshali village of the Khojaly district, which took place during the First Karabakh War.
Vagif Khachatryan, a resident of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan with Armenian descent, was arrested on July 29 at the Lachin border checkpoint while attempting to cross into Armenia. He reportedly intended to travel to the neighboring country for medical purposes under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Azerbaijani border guards recognized him during the passport check, as Khachatryan had long been on the international wanted list by the authorities of Azerbaijan.
Consequently, on the same day, he was transferred to the capital Baku, where he received immediate medical assistance. Additionally, the court ordered pre-trial detention as a preventive measure to ensure Khachatryan's presence during his criminal hearings.
Khachatryan's detention marks the first case in Azerbaijan's efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the atrocities committed against Azerbaijanis during the First Karabakh War.
On July 29, the Prosecutor General's Office of Azerbaijan announced that Khachatryan has been charged under Articles 103 (genocide) and 107 (deportation or forced exile of the population) of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code. The country's Foreign Ministry stated that the steps taken by Azerbaijan "were in accordance with both international law and Azerbaijan's legislation."
According to data provided by the Prosecutor General's Office, Khachatryan was born in 1955 in the Asgaran district of Azerbaijan. Prior to the onset of the First Karabakh War in 1991, he worked as a driver in the automobile transport enterprise of the city of Khankendi.
Subsequently, he joined the Armenian invaders in perpetrating ethnic cleansing against the Azerbaijani residents of the Karabakh region. In December 1991, Khachatryan and his associates were involved in the killing of 25 ethnic Azerbaijanis, injuring 14 others, and forcibly displacing 358 individuals in the Meshali village of the Khojaly district.
Among the displaced individuals was Zamina Aliyeva, who reported that the Armenian invaders killed five members of her family. Alysh Alyshov, the former director of the village's secondary school, recalled the horrific incident when one of the students was burned alive by Khachatryan's group at the school building.
In addition, Mail Mammadov, a member of the self-defense forces in Meshali, revealed that Khachatryan personally subjected him to torture as a hostage, even going so far as to cauterize a cross on his chest. These revelations shed light on the extreme brutality of Khachatryan's actions during that time.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have long been at odds over the latter's Karabakh (Garabagh) region. Following the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan that lasted until a ceasefire deal was reached in 1994. As a result, Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million were expelled from these lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Armenia.
During the First Karabakh War, a series of massacres were committed by Armenian forces against Azerbaijanis, with the Khojaly Genocide standing as the most massive tragedy. Late into the night on February 25, 1992, Armenia's forces, backed by the Infantry Guard Regiment No. 366 from a then-collapsed Soviet army, assaulted the town of Khojaly, located in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. As a result of the attack, the Armenian armed forces killed 613 ethnic Azerbaijanis, including 106 women, 63 children, and 70 elderly people; and took another 1,275 as hostages. Another 150 Azerbaijani nationals went missing, and their fates remain unknown to this day. The number of people suffering major injuries or being maimed totaled 487, including 76 children.
On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict between the two countries spiraled after Armenia’s forces deployed in occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During counter-attack operations, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha. The war ended in a statement signed on November 10, 2020, under which Armenia returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.
A major part of the Khojaly district is currently controlled by the Russian peacekeepers deployed as part of the statement. According to the signed document, the peacekeeping contingent will remain in the region for five years.