Just after the terrible events on 9-11, when ruthless terrorists murdered thousands of innocent civilians in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, the U.S. government officials realized how important it is to establish friendly relationships with Muslim nations in order to fight against international terrorism.
One of the countries that immediately responded to the Sept. 11 tragedy by expressing its condolences to Americans and offering mutual collaboration with the US government was Azerbaijan. It was the former USSR republic and is located on the west coast of the Caspian Sea.
The people of this small country are very well aware of the sorrow of Americans and the evil of terror which they have been facing since the end of 1987, when the so called “Nagorno-Karabakh problem” arose. In that year, the neighboring republic Armenia encouraged the ethnic Armenians living in the west part of Azerbaijan to start the separatist movement by banishing, killing, harassing and threatening local Azerbaijanis (Azeri).
Armenian separatists got unofficial approval of the Soviet government, which pursued its own interests: to oppress the independence movement of Azeri people and to prevent the collapse of the socialist empire. The communist regime did not have any desire to give independence to this oil-rich country that was strategically located, connecting Asia and Europe.
For the Soviet leaders to give up Azerbaijan was equivalent to giving up their dominating power in the South Caucasus. They knew that once Azerbaijan gained sovereignty, it would become very difficult to control this potential supporter of the USA and European nations.
However, the USSR did collapse in 1991 and eventually fifteen former Russian colonies became independent. Azerbaijan now has power to implement its own external policies, make its own decisions and manage its own oil reserves in the Caspian Sea.
Russian officials continued providing military aid to Armenians and helping them illegally occupy 20 percent of official Azerbaijani territory, violating four resolutions of the United Nations: 822, 853, 874 and 884, which called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the Azerbaijani lands. As a result of the invasion by Armenia, one person out of eight is a refugee in Azerbaijan. This displacement percentage is one of the highest in the world.
The culmination of Armenian aggression took place overnight on Feb. 25 and 26, 1992. That night the minute population of small Azerbaijani town Khojali in Nagorno-Karabakh faced genocide. Human Rights Watch called this “the largest massacre to date in the conflict.” Armenian militarized units, backed by the 366th motorized infantry brigade of the Russian Interior Ministry forces, brutally killed more than 800 peaceful civilians, which included 63 children, 103 women, and 70 elderly people.
More than 150 people are still missing. According to the results of medical examinations, the large number of victims were scalped and burnt alive and some body parts were cut off: heads, hands, legs and ears. On March 1, 1992, Times of London wrote about it: “…Many people were mutilated and only the head of one little girl remained.”
Feb. 26 is the Memorial Day for Azeri people, they mourn while visiting the Alley of Martyrs in the capital city, Baku. Azerbaijan, whose population is majority Muslim, is the ally of the USA in the war against terrorism.
The people of this country will forever remember where they were on February 25-26, 1992, like Americans will forever remember where they were on the tragic morning of September 11, 2001.
Graduate student in Economics
Colorado State University