Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Massacre of Maragha (April 10, 1992)

The massacre of Maragha was one of the forgotten and under-reported episodes of the Karabagh war. The village of the Karabagh region was occupied and destroyed by Azerbaijani troops, the remaining inhabitants were massacred, kidnapped, or disappeared, and the village is currently under Azerbaijani control.

Maragha, formerly called Leninavan, was located in the region of Martakert, just across the border from the Azerbaijani town of Terter, in the oil-rich region of Mir-Bashir, and was one of the largest villages of the region. It had a population of 4,660 people, predominantly Armenians, according to the Soviet census of 1989.

The escalation of the conflict in the spring of 1992 led first to the bombing of the village, which resulted in considerable damage. Some residents fled and temporarily settled in other regions of Karabagh. Afterwards, Azerbaijani forces attacked Maragha on April 10, 1992. Artillery fire started early in the morning, followed by a ground assault from neighboring Mir-Bashir. The village was occupied in the afternoon by 20 armored vehicles and a battalion of 1,000 soldiers, reportedly followed by looters. The village had 500 residents at that time, according to the data of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

A preliminary report published in 1992 by HRW noted that the 60 Armenian fighters who defended Maragha did not have adequate weaponry and had been unable to hold their positions. They had retreated to a spot overlooking the village. Previously, they had notified the villagers, who had mostly left, while the remaining civilians, mainly consisting of the elderly and disabled, had gone into hiding in basements and underground shelters. The Azerbaijani forces massacred the civilians. The Armenians retook the village the following day, and came across bodies of forty-three civilians, mostly mutilated.

According to eyewitness accounts, people were decapitated or killed by torture (dragged tied to a tank or burnt alive), while bodies were mutilated, dissected, and burnt. Non-combatants, including women and children, were captured and taken hostage. The Vice-Speaker of the British Parliament’s House of Lords, Caroline Cox, who personally visited the place, gave a harrowing testimony: “I, along with my team from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, arrived within hours to find homes still smoldering, decapitated corpses, charred human remains, and survivors in shock. This was truly like a contemporary Golgotha many times over.”

Maragha was attacked again two weeks later. The remaining population was deported, and thirteen civilians were taken hostage. The houses were pillaged and burnt down afterwards. As a result, most of the village was destroyed, and the bodies were later buried in a mass grave near the village.

Amnesty International reported that a total of over a hundred residents had been slain, their bodies profaned and disfigured, and forty-five residents (including nine children and twenty-nine women) were taken hostage.

The Azerbaijani officers directly involved in the massacre were never held responsible or tried for the crimes committed in Maragha, while the Azerbaijani side has not responded to the accusations of massacre.

The events in Maragha were not covered by the international media. Cox explained that she had not brought journalists together with her to Maragha on those days because it was dangerous, but she took many photographs, which are printed in her book Nagorno Karabagh: Ethnic Cleansing in Progress. Cox also said in her interview that the English newspaper Daily Telegraph had agreed to print her report on the massacre of Maragha, but then they refused to do so.

The village is currently controlled by the Azerbaijani army, and its former residents now live in Russia, Armenia, and other areas of Mountainous Karabagh. The residents who stayed in Karabagh have built a village on the ruins of another village now called Nor Maragha (New Maragha), not far from the destroyed hometown. A monument in the new village commemorates the victims of the massacre.