Story of Azerbaijani who survived Khojaly tragedy
In late February, the world remembers the victims of the Khojaly tragedy: from October 1991, the Azerbaijani city of Khojaly was surrounded by the Armenian armed forces, and after massive artillery attacks on the night of February 25-26, 1992, the armed forces of Armenia with the help of the former USSR 366th motorized rifle regiment captured Khojaly. As a result of the Khojaly genocide, 613 people, including 63 children, 106 women were killed, eight families were completely exterminated, 487 people were injured, 1275 were taken prisoners and hostages. The fate of 150 people, including 68 women and 26 children, is still unknown.
For 48-year-old Durdana Aghayeva, the eight days of captivity she was subjected to by the occupying forces of Nagorno-Karabakh felt agonisingly long - more like 80 days, Bernama.com writes in the article The painful journey of an Azerbaijani war victim. She was beaten and tortured in a basement of a police station after being captured while trying to flee in the aftermath of the Khojaly tragedy.
It was during the early morning of Feb 26, 1992, that the Khojaly-born woman was just 20 years old and working as a telephone operator. Like many young people, she dreamed of many things including the pursuit of tertiary education – only for the war to shatter the dreams. Aghayeva is eldest in her family and she has three brothers. Her father died in 1986 while her mother died in 2017.
Like any other war victims, the past still haunts Aghayeva. She was fleeing her home with some 70 to 80 people – young, old, children and women, and including her family members – into a forest area to find a safe place. But according to her, the painful tragedy struck when a shot wounded her right leg and she was captured.
In an exclusive interview with Bernama in Baku recently, Aghayeva – through a translator – said that her 19-year-old brother was also injured and captured. They were separated from their mother, grandmother and brothers who managed to reach a safe zone. "Everyone was trying to flee their homes in Khojaly. And when they began firing, everyone lost each other… we got separated. Many were wounded. "I felt like it was a very dark, long and cold night...we were forced to walk 3 kilometres in pain to a police station...it was harsh winter and snow. We all pleaded, cried, even scared to ask for water, and afraid of torture. I got no clue as to what was waiting for me. The only thing that came to mind was that I am going to die. We reached the police station in the early morning," she narrated between her sobbing, detailing the trauma and ordeal she went through.
Aghayeva, along with her brother, was released after eight days in exchange for prisoners of war and handed over to the Azerbaijani military before being reunited with her family after she insisted that she will only go if her brother, too, is released. She was depressed following the ordeal and frequently needed hospital visits.
In 1998, she married a man from Baku who she met during the course of her job in the field of communication, and gave birth to a girl in 2002. Her daughter, now 17 and in secondary school, also joined the interview. Aghayeva said that she still works in the communication field to support her family and lives in a housing area for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) provided by the Azerbaijani government.
"After the capture and the incident...it was like I lost all my dreams, like getting married and having a family, until I met this person. When I started meeting him, slowly I told him all my stories. He was the first person I told my story to. He said he fully accepted me as I am. He supported me, especially emotional support. Finally, I saw a little light at the end of the tunnel," Aghayeva explained. "He encouraged me to tell the story to the outside world...if by doing so I can feel it can heal me. Finally, my story was published in a book entitled ‘Eight Days In Armenian Captivity - Memories of a girl from Khojaly’. Telling the story has a healing effect," said Aghayeva, who unfortunately lost her husband three years ago.
She has visited the United States, Turkey, Italy, Russia and Iran to share her experiences and convey the message of peace. Her book was written in 2016 and published in four languages: Turkish, Russian, Azerbaijan and English. She said that she didn't have any intention to write a book at first because she only wanted to tell the story for her daughter to read in the future. "But people encouraged me to write and as a survivor of war, I feel I have the responsibility to tell the world," she pointed out.
"Peace is the key to everything. I have seen the brutality of war. War is eviI, so pray for peace everywhere. I don't want any child...any women to go through what I went through. I don't wish for any woman to have to undergo what I went through. Islam is a religion of peace," she said.
Aghayeva recalled the beautiful days and years prior to the conflict where there was peaceful co-existence between Azerbaijanis and Armenians. "I hope that this occupation will end so that we, the IDPs, can go back to our homes in Khojaly and other currently occupied areas...to touch once again the flowers...to experience the spring... to feel the beautifulness of our villages and our towns," said Aghayeva, her eyes in tears longing for that day.
"It was a war and though I saw them (captors) as enemies, and having been tortured, I don't wish for any of them or their family members to endure what I had to go through," Aghayeva said.
In 1992, war broke out between the two former Soviet states, resulting in Armenia’s occupation of 20 per cent of Azerbaijan’s territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts. All these areas are internationally recognised, including by Malaysia, as part of Azerbaijan. Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Malaysia Prof Dr Qaley Allahverdiyev said that the Azerbaijan government is working towards gaining international acknowledgment to recognise the tragedy as a genocide. He said more than one million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons due to the Armenian occupation.