During the occupation, Khojaly was a district located in the former Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Its territory was a part of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO), established within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) in 1923 and existed until 26 November 1991.
It has a total area of 1000 square kilometers and a population of 7,000 before the conflict. It is situated 10 kilometers to the northeast of Khankendi, on the crossroads of the Aghdam-Shusha and Askeran-Khankendi main roads. Having the only civil airport in the area, Khojaly was an important centre of communications and had become a refuge for Meskheti/Ahiska Turks fleeing bloody inter-ethnic clashes in Central Asia, as well as for Azerbaijani refugees driven out of Armenia.
The territory of the district is mainly mountainous. The highest peaks are Gizgala (2843m) and Girhgiz (2830m). Except for the high mountainous areas, it has a mild/warm climate. The high mountainous areas are covered with subalpine and alpine meadows. The main rivers are the Badara and Gargar. The topsoil is mainly comprised of uphill and mountain soils. 40% of the territory is rich with hazel, beech, maple, birch, and other trees.
Khojaly is a historical and cultural part of Azerbaijan. It belongs to the Khojaly-Gadabay culture dating back to the 14th-7th centuries B.C. Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age funeral memorials, such as stone boxes; barrows, and necropolis were discovered in this town. Khojaly also hosts historic architectural memorials – a round crypt (1356-1357) and a mausoleum (14th century). Also, various stone, bronze, and bone adornments, as well as ceramic household items were found by archaeological excavations. The name of the Assyrian king Adadnarari (807-788 B.C.) was engraved on one of the beads found in Khojaly.
Erected in the 18th century by Panah khan, the ruler of the Karabakh Khanate, Askeran castle is located within the administrative confines of Khojaly district, on both banks of the Gargar River. The castle, which was built from cobblestones, is composed of two fortifications. A significant milestone relating to this castle is that in 1810 the castle hosted peace talks between Russia and Iran, which further raised its historical significance.
Winegrowing, beekeeping, cattle, and grain farming were the main activities of the Khojaly population. Before the Armenian occupation, tens of cultural institutions, museums, colleges, secondary schools, healthcare facilities, agricultural and industrial enterprises, and other public organizations functioned in the district. There were a textile factory, two secondary schools, and two junior high schools in the administrative center of Khojaly. Neighboring districts of the Khojaly are Lachin, Kalbajar, Aghdam, Khojavand, and Shusha. It is consists of one city center, one settlement (Askeran), and 50 villages: Almali, Garakotuk, Ballija, Khanyurdu, Mehdibayli, Jamilli, Chanagchi, Sighnag, Daghyurd, Dashbulag, Badara, Khanyeri, Gayabashi, Sunjinka, Harov, Daghdaghan, Khanabad, Aghgadik, Ashaghi Gilijbagh, Kosalar, Bashkand, Janhasan, Tazabina, Gishlag, Javadlar, Yalobakand, Garabulag, Damirchilar, Gushchubaba, Madatkand, Giziloba, Ashaghi Yemishjan, Khachmach, Yukhari Yemishjan, Meshali, Nakhchivanli, Aghbulag, Aranzamin, Dahraz, Pirjamal, Pirlar, Dashbashi, Farrukh, Seyidbayli, Ulubaba, Shushakand, Dashkand, Mukhtar, Sardarkand, Shalva.