The Guardian, 3 March 1992
Corpses attest to massacre by Armenians, report Karl Waldron in Stepanakert and Brian Killen of Reuter in Agdam, Azerbaijan.
The last soldiers of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Nagorno-Karabakh were pulling out of the Caucasian enclave last night as fresh evidence emerged that Armenian militants had carried out a massacre of Azerbaijani civilians.
The Russian news agency, Itar-Tass, said the 366th Armoured Division of the former Soviet army, had started its withdrawal, effectively removing the last buffer separating warring Armenians and Azeris. The division began leaving Stepanakert, the capital of the enclave, under the direction of General Boris Gromov, the man who oversaw the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Columns of equipment and personnel are being withdrawn with all types of combat support and cover. The opposing sides in Nagorno-Karabakh are not hindering their movement,” Tass quoted the Transcaucasian military headquarters as saying.
Before the withdrawal, CIS soldiers and paratroopers armed with rapid-fire rifles had been deployed extensively around the city in defensive positions amid the rubble of shell torn buildings. Tanks were also positioned around the perimeter of the city and in its central square, their turret guns pointing outwards in warning.
Armenia, which yesterday called for United Nations involvement to avert “further tragedy”, continued to deny that its militants had killed 1,000 people in the Azeri-populated town of Khojali last week and massacred men, women and children fleeing the carnage across snow-covered mountain passes.
But dozens of corpses lent credence to Azeri reports of a massacre. Azeri officials and journalists who flew briefly to the region by helicopter brought back three dead children with the backs of their heads blown off. Shooting by Armenians, they said, had prevented them from retrieving more bodies.
“Women and children had been scalped,” said Assad Faradzhev, an aide to Nagorno-Karabakh’s Azeri governor. Rashid Mamedov, a militia leader from Agdam on the outskirts of Nagorno-Karabakh, said: “When we began to pick up bodies, they [the Armenians] began firing at us. The bodies are lying there like flocks of sheep. Even the fascists did nothing like this.”
Near Agdam a Reuter photographer, Frederique Lengaigne, saw two trucks filled with Azeri corpses.
“In the first one I counted 35 and it looked as though there were almost as many in the second. Some had their heads cut off and many had been burned. They were all men and a few had been wearing khaki uniforms,” she said.
The evidence of the slaughter has now been seen, filmed and documented by independent observers. Dozens of people were also reported yesterday to have been killed in the Azerbaijani town of Shusha from Armenian artillery and rocket fire. Such actions do not augur well for the Armenians in Stepanakert and Azerbaijan at large: acts of revenge are likely.
In the four years of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people have been killed. The past week’s fighting has been the most savage.
A CIS military commander, Lieutenant-General Saryan Baneyev, told Russian television his men would smash any attempt by either side to hinder the pullout. Armenia’s president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, criticised the withdrawal. “This regiment, though not involved in military operations, was a stabilising factor. I think this measure is poorly thought through,” he told parliament. “Taking this division out could further destabilise the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.”