The Independent, 12 June 1992
By Frederique Lengaigne
Aref Sadikov sat quietly in the shade of a cafe-bar on the Caspian Sea esplanade of Baku and showed a line of stitches in his trousers, torn by an Armenian bullet as he fled the town of Hojali just over three months ago, writes Hugh Pope.
“I’m still wearing the same clothes, I don’t have any others”, the 51-years-old carpenter said, beginning his account of the Hojali disaster. “I was wounded in five places, but I am lucky to be alive”.
Mr. Sadikov and his wife were short of food, without electricity for more than a month, and cut off from helicopter flights for 12 days. They sensed the Armenian noose was tightening around the 2,000 to 3,000 people left in the straggling Azeri town on the edge of Karabakh.
“At about 11pm a bombardment started such as we had never heard before, eight or nine kinds of weapons, artillery, heavy ma- chine-guns, the lot”, Mr. Sadikov said.
Soon neighbours were pouring down the street from the direction of the attack. Some huddled in shelters but others started fleeing the town, down a hill, through a stream and through the snow into a forest on the other side.
To escape, the towns people had to reach the Azeri town of Aghdam about 15 miles away. They thought they were going to make it, until at about dawn they reached a bottleneck between the two Azeri villages of Nakhchivanik and Saderak.
“None of my group was hurt up to then… Then we were spotted by a car on the road, and the Armenian outposts started opening fire”, Mr. Sadikov said. Mr. Sadikov said only 10 people from his group of 80 made it through, including his wife and militiaman son. Seven of his immediate relations died, including his 67-years-old elder brother.
“I only had time to reach down and cover his face with his hat”, he said, pulling his own big flat Turkish cap over his eyes. “We have never got any of the bodies back”.
The first groups were lucky to have the benefit of covering fire. One hero of the evacuation, Alif Hajief, was shot dead as he struggled to change a magazine while covering the third group’s crossing, Mr Sadikov said.
Another hero, Elman Memmedov, the mayor of Hojali, said he and several others spent the whole day of 26 February in the bushy hill- side, surrounded by dead bodies as they tried to keep three Armenian armoured personnel carriers at bay.
As the survivors staggered the last mile into Aghdam, there was little comfort in a town from which most of the population was soon to flee. “The night after we reached the town there was a big Armenian rocket attack. Some people just kept going”, Mr. Sadikov said. “I had to get to the hospital for treatment. I was in a bad way. They even found a bullet in my sock”.