Society 17:23 27/02/2017 Region

Eyewitness to Sumgait pogroms: 1988 bloody events and “April war” showed reconciliation with Azerbaijan is impossible

Karen Matevosyan, a retired policeman and eyewitness to pogroms of the Armenians in Sumgait, told EUobserver several details of atrocities committed by the Azerbaijanis against peaceful Armenian population, as well as how he and his family managed to avoid death.

“I saw a naked girl running through the field. She was acting crazy, like dancing or something. The men surrounded her and started beating her, punching and kicking her. They pulled back and then they came at her again. They came back and forth, back and forth. They kept kicking her even after she was dead,” Karen Matevosyan clenched and unclenched his fists while speaking to EUobserver in his home in Stepanakert, Artsakh’s capital.

The incident occurred 29 years ago, on 28 February 1988, in the Azerbaijani town of Sumgait.

It is highlighted in the article that it was one of many in the anti-Armenian pogroms that took place after the local parliament in the Armenian populated Nagorno-Karabakh voted, on 20 February, to split from Azerbaijan and join Armenia. The events were by war between the two sides.

Full hostilities ended in 1994, but the so-called frozen conflict still goes on, with everyday exchanges of fire on the line of contact. It threatens to escalate at any moment.

The lynching of the naked woman is a central image in Matevosyan’s memory of what he called “three days of hell” and gives an insight into why reconciliation remains so hard. “I can’t forgive and forget what they did,” he said.

“The April war showed that the situation hasn’t changed. They [Azerbaijanis] are still killers and animals,” he added, referring to Azerbaijan’s attack on Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) last April, which claimed hundreds of lives on both sides.

Matevosyan said he later learned from neighbors that the woman had lived in an apartment block close to his own. She was 25 and she was a newlywed.

“When the pogroms began, she wanted to leave, but her husband, who was an Armenian athlete, said he would protect her, that he was the man of the house and that no harm would come to her. The bandits came to their flat and beat him and left him for dead, but he wasn’t dead. They raped her and then they dragged her by her hair down the stairs from the fifth floor to the ground floor and chased her through the streets,” he said.

Matevosyan witnessed the lynching from his own fourth floor flat while hiding with his wife, Ani, and their one-year old son, Arkady.

According to him, on 26 February, “groups of bandits” appeared on the streets chanting “Death to Armenians!”. Men and boys, some as young as 15, appeared to be drunk or on drugs and used rocks and clubs to smash cars and windows. “They must have been given lists because they knew exactly where we [Armenian people] lived. It was prepared in advance. They beat people in the street. They threw their belongings out of the windows into the courtyards and set them on fire,” he said.

“We were hiding at home waiting to die. We couldn’t call for help because the phone lines had been cut. I had to hold my son’s mouth closed to stop him from crying because we were afraid that if he made a noise then they would find us,” Matevosyan said.

On 29 February, a mob entered his building and began attacking residents on the second and third floors, but the attackers ran away when Russian soldiers appeared in the street to stop the violence.

The Russian forces helped Karen and his family to escape driving him to makeshift camp outside town where they stayed until 8 March.

He vividly remembers the words and the face of a Russian officer, lieutenant-general Krayev, who told him: “As a soldier, I’m instructed to tell you that the situation is calm and that you can go back home, but as a human being, after seeing all that blood on the asphalt, I must tell you that I wouldn’t stay here a minute longer because the situation could change again.”

Matevosyan, who served as a soldier in the 1990s war for the NKR independence, recalled that one day his fellow troops captured 10 Azerbaijani fighters.

“They brought them to me, because they knew I was from Sumgait, and they said I could do whatever I wanted to them, but when I looked at them, I understood I couldn’t do anything,” he said.

He highlighted that the war was never a war “between peoples”.

“It’s the state of Azerbaijan that wants this war for some political reason,” Matevosyan said.

He had hoped that a peace settlement would shortly come until Azerbaijan launched its attack last April against civilians in Artsakh.

He also said that he had friends from Baku, including of Azerbaijani nationality. One of them currently lives in Baku and Karen found him on the Internet.

“I found him and we chatted for two days, but then he said: ‘Sorry, I can’t stay in touch with you any more because it’s dangerous for me to be talking to an Armenian,’” Matevosyan said.

On 26-29 February 1988 in terms of actual complicity of local authorities and inaction of the USSR government mass pogroms of civilians were organized in Sumgait city of Azerbaijani SSR, accompanied with unprecedented brutal murders, violence and pillaging against the Armenian population of the city. Armenian pogroms in Sumgait were carefully organized. At the meetings, which began on February 26 in the central square, city leaders openly called for violence against the Armenians.

On February 27 protests which were attended by hundreds of rioters turned into violence. Armed with axes, knives, specially sharpened rebar, rocks and cans of gasoline and with the pre-compiled lists of apartments where Armenians lived the rioters broke into the houses, turning everything upside down there and killing the owners. In the same time, people were often taken out to the streets or to the courtyard for jeering at them publicly. After painful humiliations and torture the victims were doused with gasoline and burnt alive. On February 29 army troops entered Sumgait but without an order to intervene. Only in the evening, when the mad crowd began to attack the soldiers the military units took up decisive steps.

The exact number of victims of Sumgait pogroms is still unknown. According to official data, 27 Armenians were killed; however there is ample evidence that several hundred Armenians have been killed in the city in three days. There is also evidence that the riots were coordinated by the Azerbaijani KGB. Executioners of Sumgait were subsequently declared as national heroes of Azerbaijan.
 



Source Panorama.am
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