The Independent, 6 March 1992
By Helen Womack, Aghdam, Azerbaijan
Azeri officials say as many as 600 civilians may have survived last week’s massacre in the mountains of Nagorny Karabakh and are trying to negotiate their release from Armenian captivity.
Yesterday the prosecutor in the Azeri border town of Agdam interviewed a woman who was among five Azeri hostages swapped on Wednesday for the same number of Armenians held in custody here. His office was trying to arrange further exchanges yesterday.
Durdana Agayeva, 20, a telephonist from the Azeri settlement of Khojali which was captured by the Armenians last week, said she had been held in a cell with about 30 other women in the police station of the Armenian town of Askeran. She said she had been taken there when Armenian fighters, who she says shot scores if not hundreds of her neighbours from Khojali, found her hiding in the woods around the town.
Her brother, two other girls and a child were released with her yesterday, but they were too seriously hurt to be questioned immediately and were sent to hospital in Baku. Miss Agaeva, who wore a warm black coat given to her since she arrived in Agdam, hobbled into the prosecutor’s office with a bullet wound in her foot.
The prosecutor, Zahid Tagiev, said the five had been exchanged for Armenians in jail for ordinary crimes they committed on Azeri territory before the present conflict. He denied reports that the Azeris were planning to recover more of their people – and the bodies of the dead still scattered on the mountainside – by paying the Armenians in petrol, although he admitted that individuals had got relatives back this way in the past.
Since the fall of Khojali, Armenians virtually control Nagorny Karabakh with the exception of the town of Shusha.
Emotional crowds in Agdam say the Armenians want the hostages so they can force them to lie down in the road to stop a convoy of former Soviet forces from leaving Stepanakert. But the prosecutor said he had no evidence of this and he did not believe the Armenians would be so inhuman as to do it.
Miss Agaeva said she and others held in Askeran had been beaten and the Armenians had subjected her to mental torture. “One said he was going to cut off my head. He was not joking. But then another calmed him down and said it was better to swap me. I refused to go unless Elshat [her brother] came with me.”
The prosecutor showed an Azeri television film of the dead from Khojali scattered all over the mountains. The prosecutor said 200 bodies had been recovered and up to 1,500 might still be lying out on the frozen mountains.
President Boris Yeltsin of Russia has announced new plans to mediate in the conflict, but there seems little chance he or any other outsiders can achieve anything. After Khojali, the Azeris want revenge. Even if the politicians in Baku urge restraint, the fighting men on the ground will almost certainly ignore them – men such as the former sculptor, Jagub Rzaev, the bearded commander of an autonomous defence unit called the Hawks of Karabakh. He lost his son at Khojali but said that was the normal price of war. What enraged him was seeing women and children killed by the Armenians. They would receive an answer to that soon. “The Armenians know me and they know I’ll never forgive them,” he said. “As long as I live they will never live in Karabakh.”
MOSCOW – At least 57 people were killed in clashes between Azeri and Armenian forces yesterday in Nagorny Karabakh, according to a toll compiled by several news agencies, AFP reports.
The Russian Information Agency said 25 people were killed in a fierce battle for control of the Armenian settlement of Kazanchi, while Interfax reported 15 Armenians and seven Azeris were killed during fighting in the village of Mardakert, and 10 died in an Armenian rocket attack.