Gandzak (Kirovabad) – 1988: Facts and Events
Geographically the town of Kirovabad is divided into two sectors. The left bank of the river which separates the town is conditionally called “the Azerbaijani sector”. All large industrial enterprises, administrative buildings, stations, the airport, institutions, post-office and communications, big stores and markets, everything which is vital for any town, are based in this part of the town. The left sector of the town is more densely populated, mainly with the Azerbaijani.
“The Armenian sector” of the town occupies the area on the right side of the river and was until recently basically inhabited by Armenians. Due to the constantly growing migration of the local Armenians the number of the Azerbaijani abruptly increased in this sector of the town.
By the time when the tragic events began the population of the town was 280,000, including 40,000 Armenians (according to the census conducted in 1979 the population of the town was 40,741).
The Kirovabad events took place concurrently with the massacres in Sumgayit in February, 1988. Over 200 young men escorted by the militia officers marched in the center of the town (Shahumyan and Japaridze streets were in the Armenian sector of the town), broke doors and windows of the Armenian houses and assaulted any Armenian that they saw on their way. In the area called “District of Engineers and Technicians” the resistance of the Armenians, as well as the interference of the military temporarily stopped the massacre.
During the next days the military guards with truncheons and shields first appeared in the town. In the Armenian sector of the town the damaged houses and stores and kiosks were cosmetically repaired by the local authorities. Later things went like this. In organizations and enterprises Armenians were compelled to sign under statements about the illegal actions of the Armenian population of MKAO. The children went to school only in company with their parents.
The authorities were preparing a massive massacre of the Armenians. The employees of residential services of each district were preparing the lists of the Armenians and their addresses. The apartments of Armenian families were marked with a cross. They were threatened to flee from their homes.
Actually, what happened in Kirovabad?
In the morning of November 21, 1988 groups of students marched in rows towards Lenin Square (opposite to the Municipality and the headquarters of the Town Committee of the Communist Party). The employees of industrial enterprises and the ecstatic crowd joined the students. By noon the square was overcrowded. The situation was stirred by the “orators”. By 3.00 p.m. the huge crowd armed with iron rods and stones and accompanied with the militia officers moved towards the Armenian sector of the town. They destroyed everything on their way and assaulted every Armenian they saw in the street. The crowd attacked the functional Armenian church. The cross fastened to the entrance door of the church was stolen. The facilities in the church yard, as well as the house of Reverend Ter-Sahak were destroyed.
The crowd was met with a rebuff near Krasnoye Selo (Red Village) and withdrew. On the way back the mob burnt house # 68 in Fioletovo Street. The uproar continued for about three hours. By the evening the Armenian sector of the town was surrounded by troops.
Throughout the night people stood on duty near bonfires awaiting new disturbances.
By midday the first refugee Armenians residing in the Azerbaijani sector of the town arrived. For the purpose of protecting and rescuing the Armenian population an initiative group was created.
By six o’clock mass assaults and massacres of the Armenian households began in the Azerbaijani sector of the town.
There were the first victims.
A space was given in the church for the headquarters of the initiative group. The most recent information about the events was transmitted to the headquarters. The initiative group was in contact with the representatives of the commandant’s office.
The commandant of the town, Major-General Polekh issued an order where it was announced that an extraordinary situation and a military regime from 10 p.m. to 6 am would be established in the town.
On the request of the initiative group two vehicles (without any fuel) were provided by the commandant’s office for the evacuation of the Armenians from the Azerbaijani sector of the town. Escorted by an officer and a soldier (who were not armed) the vehicles arrived only by midnight. At night 10 volunteers went to the places of the events risking their lives. The lives of 77 children, women and elderly people were rescued. That night the registration of the victims continued till morning.
There were witnesses of the brutal destroyal of the monument to Marshal Baghramyan. The bas-relief of Khachatur Abovyan was broken to pieces, and the street plates with the Armenian names were torn off. Those who managed to escape from the Azerbaijani sector of the town told that the chaotic situation reigned everywhere. According to a representative of the commandant’s office, the number of the military was insufficient and the soldiers were not able to cope with the uproaring crowd. There were numerous sufferers among the military as well.
During the days from November 21 to 23, 1988 all patients of the Armenian nationality were brutally forced out of the hospitals even if they were seriously sick or needed intensive care after the surgery. They were boarded in a special ward created by the initiative group. The ambulance did not service the Armenian sector of the town.
During the first days of the massacre all Armenian employees were fired. In the savings banks and “Aeroflot” travel company the employees would tear the Armenian passports into pieces whenever the Armenians wanted to withdraw their deposits or buy tickets for leaving the town. A big number of people was left without any documents.
From November 23 the initiative group was provided with two buses with armed guards for evacuating the Armenians from the Azerbaijani sector of the town. The group was also issued 25 passes which allowed them to move within the town during the hours of commandant regime.
The endless current of the beaten, raped, terrified to death, half-naked, stripped of everything for survival, even documents, was boarded in the church and the church school. There were not only Armenians, but also Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Jews, Greeks among these people.
The situation in the town was out of control. To a certain extent this was provoked by the staff of the Department of the Interior, municipality, district authorities when the telephone lines were regularly disconnected, the supply of gas and water was stopped and the urban transport was non-functional in the Armenian sector of the town. There was the danger of the economic famine and anti-sanitation.
In the Azerbaijani sector, in the Lenin Square organized demonstrations continued. A new slogan, “Death to Armenians and Russians!”, appeared.
Assumedly, the demonstrators who were not quite satisfied with the sufficently radical decisions of their leaders, demanded that Bagirli, the communist leader of the town should speak at the demo. Soon they made an assault on the building of the Town Committee of the Communist Party, as it became known that Bagilri had run away. The Turkish flag waved on top of the building for 36 hours.
At that time the TV of Azerbaijan broadcast nationalistic demonstrations and the speakers claimed for releasing the “heroes of Sumgayit” from prison and taking decisive measures with respect of the Armenian population living in Azerbaijan. The “beau mond” of the Azerbaijani intellectuals were among the speakers of the demos.
The situation did not change during the period from November 24 to 27. The commandant of the town gave the only answer to the numerous requests of the initiative group about helping the victims and providing them with medicaments: “It is beyond our competence”.
The hesitant actions of the army allowed the Azeris to make an unhindered uproar during 6-7 days. As a result, the following statistics is recorded:
Murdered - 18 people ·
Raped - 11 ·
Missing - 60 people ·
Heavily injured - 74 people ·
Refugees - 4500 people ·
Robbed apartments - 1376 ·
Stolen - 20,
Burnt - 24 vehicles
Assistance was provided by the closely located villages. For addressing the issue of evacuating the women, children and the diseased a physician and a representative of the civil aviation arrived with medicaments.
On the seventh day of the events Lieutenant-Colonel Zubov arrived in the headquarters of the initiative group. The requests of the initiative group were met with threats. The communications did not work. It was informed that the investigation team of the Prosecutor’s Office of the USSR and representatives of the USSR Central Agency of Criminal Investigation had arrived in the town.
Some of the obtained materials were handed over to the representatives of the USSR Prosecutor’s Office.
The package of documents included the testimonies of the victims about the assault, robbery and violence, photos of the mobsters and the victims, records of the examinations of the arrested and their personal testimonies.
The compromising materials which were passed to the commandant’s office initially when the massacre had started disappeared together with more than 400 testimonies selected from the package by Major Krasavin.
On November 29 the mass violence stopped, and a new wave of actions started. The recruitment to the army began in the military commissariat, and the commandant of the town issued an order on yielding the hunters guns.
A judicial-medical examination of the victims who had been assaulted and raped was conducted by the Prosecutor’s Office of the USSR.
Lieutenant-Colonel Zubov threatened the initiative group that he would not negotiate with the local administration and accept its conditions or otherwise be liable for the consequences of the refusal. He also said that the troops would be withdrawn. Four hours were given for consideration.
The initiative group refused to agree to this ultimatum and the Lieutenant-Colonel disappeared for two days.
Meanwhile, a discussion was held with Lieutenant-General Pankin, the head of the Central Agency of Criminal Investigation of the USSR about the evacuation of the Armenian population.
Taking the opportunity, the Town Committee of the Communist Party immediately organized an evacuation center in assistance with the commandant’s office. The reasoning was as simple as it could be: no witnesses, no guilty.
The military drove around the Armenian sector in armored carriers and propagated the population that in the town an evacuation center was functional in the headquarters of civil defense.
The attempts of the initiative group to stop the evacuation were fruitless. The terror that the people had experienced and the fear for the unknown future forced them to leave the zone of danger hastily. Before leaving the town the people had to certify in writing that they migrated at their own discretion without claiming on anything (the text of the writing was drafted by the second secretary of the Town Committee of the Communist Party).
Upon the demand of the initiative group this was stopped by the commandant of the town.
On December 2 on behalf of the municipal authorities of the town five representatives from the group of the Armenians were invited to the funeral of three Armenian women who had allegedly “died” from diseases.
When they came to the graveyard at the agreed time two of the women had been buried already. One of the invited Armenians demanded that the casket should be opened but the municipal authorities refused to do so. With a rough movement Michael Adiyan pulled the top and opened the casket: there were traces of physical abuse on the woman’s dead body. The group asked the investigation team to conduct an exhumation but their request was declined. It was reported about the big concentrations of the Azeris in the region of t. Khanlar, about the storming of cars driving to Armenian on the haul Kirovabad-Kazakh, about the massacre and violence in other regions of Azerbaijan (the news were reported by phone from the Representative Office in Moscow).
Lieutenant-Colonel Zubov who had been neglecting the initiative group during those days suggested meeting in a neutral zone.
The meeting was held with the participation of the municipal authorities and the representatives of the administration of the town. The main requirements of the initiative group were to temporarily stop the evacuation, provide food, medical aid, acknowledge the intentional and well-organized massacre, and other essential issues. These claims were ignored.
Around seven thousand people lost their homes. Many of their apartments were occupied by the Azerbaijani which was sanctioned by the municipal authorities.
A. Pralnikov, the correspondent of newspaper “Moscow News”and an eyewitness of the barbaric actions of the Azeris in November managed to break through the blockade of the Armenian section of the town and get into the Armenian church.
Despite the risk, a team of four people arrived from Yerevan by helicopter. Bakur Karapetyan shot a video film about the Kirovabad events.
The investigation team comprising representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Central Agency of Criminal Investigation of the USSR which was formerly based in the Armenian office of Regional Internal Affairs of Gyanjhi was moved to the building of the Department of Internal Affairs located in the Azerbaijani sector. As a result, the victims could no longer give testimony. Many of them were not evacuated because of the existing situation in Armenia. Thus, it was assumed that since the victims who had no guarantee for their security they would try to migrate from the republic by their own before the stability was achieved. In fact, it was impossible to stop the migration of the Armenian population who sold their houses and belongings for next to nothing. Not a single Armenian family did stay there.
Today a stone-cross is erected in Tsitsernakaberd in memory of the innocent victims of Gandzak region (Dashkeshan, Khanlar, Shamhor regions).
The archive materials, including the videotapes, are preserved in 'Ahazang', the NGO of Armenian refugees.