28 years since Azerbaijani national heroes killed in Garakend sky

28 years since Azerbaijani national heroes killed in Garakend sky

Twenty-eight years pass since the Azerbaijani MI-8 military helicopter was shot down by the Armenian security forces near the Garakend village of Azerbaijan’s Khojavand district on November 20, 1991.

A total of 22 people in the helicopter, including high-ranking Azerbaijani, Russian and Kazakh officials, journalists and MPs, were killed as a result of the crash: Azerbaijan’s State Secretary Tofig Ismayilov, State Prosecutor General Ismat Gayibov, State Adviser and former Interior Minister Mahammad Asadov, MPs Vagif Jafarov and Vali Mammadov, Deputy Prime Minister Zulfi Hajiyev, Department Head at the Office of the Azerbaijani President, journalist Osman Mirzayev, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan Sanlal Serikov, Azerbaijani TV journalist Ali Mustafayev, Deputy Prime Minister Gurban Namazaliyev, Public Prosecutor of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast Igor Plavski, head of Ministry of Internal Affairs of NKAO Vladimir Kovalyov, head of department of NKAO National Security Ministry Sergey Ivanov, commandant for Emergency Situations of NKAO Nikolay Jinkin, police major general Mikhail Lukashov, police lieutenant colonel Oleg Kocherev, aide to Secretary of State Rafig Mammadov, lights technician at Azerbaijani State TV Arif Huseynzade, cameraman at Azerbaijani State TV Fakhraddin Shahbazov, member of the helicopter crew Vyacheslav Kotov, member of the helicopter crew Gennadiy Domov, member of the helicopter crew Dmitry Yarovenko.

Representatives of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Russia and Armenia were in the helicopter en route to Martuni. The representatives were going to discuss the situation around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and witness the developments regarding the conflict. The helicopter was shot down at 14:42. The attack on the helicopter disrupted the ongoing peace talks.

With the death of Tofig Ismailov, Mahammad Asadov, Zulfi Hajiyev, Ismat Gayibov and others, the chance for a quick settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was lost. The interrupted flight, which ended in the death of the national heroes of Azerbaijan, weakened Baku and untied hands of the forces striving to keep the conflict in a hot phase. The circumstances of this national catastrophe remain unclear to this day.

On November 21, the chairman of the crash investigation committee announced over TV that the helicopter was shot at by large caliber weapons and the weapons and video equipment was stolen from the site of the incident. At the same day, the deputy Chief of Command of Internal Troops of the Ministry for Internal Affairs of USSR, Vyacheslav Ponomarev left for Agdam. The Interior Ministry officials declared they would not pull out the internal troops detachments out of the district due to escalation of the conflict. The investigation committee was also to determine where the victims would be buried. However, because the area of the crash was soon captured by Armenian militants, the investigation was suspended and no one was indicted. 

The investigation was initiated for clarifying the reasons for the crash. The first version was transferred by TASS referring to the commander's special area of NKAO: helicopter exploded, sprung up on a rock in the fog. However, an investigation found holes in the fuselage consistent with the explosion of a rocket. Investigation Commission Chairman Adil Agayev said that the helicopter was shot down from the ground by a large-caliber weapons, video equipment and weapons from the crash site were kidnapped.

Armenians denied any involvement, they were blamed immediately for the incident. In response to Agayev the deputies of the USSR Zori Balayan, Victor Hambardzumyan, Henrik Igityan, Sos Sargsyan accused Central television of bias and hinted at the non-participation of Armenians to the crash. Armenian authorities claimed that it was an accident. On behalf of the President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan and acting Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan, the top leadership of Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan received telegrams of condolences.

The shootdown of the helicopter was classified by the Azerbaijani Ministry of National Security as a terrorist act carried out by the Karabakh separatists. This news caused a wave of protests in Baku, demanding the Supreme Soviet and the chairman of Communist Party of Azerbaijan, Ayaz Mutalibov, to establish authority in Karabakh or resign from office.

According to a journalistic investigation published in 2016, the integrity of the helicopter's flight recorders was violated after they were discovered, but before they were delivered to Moscow. What data was deleted is unknown.

28 years have passed since the death of Ismat Gayibov, Tofig Ismailov, Mahammad Asadov, Zulfi Hajiyev, Nikolai Zhinkin, Sanlal Serikov and others, but no one was punished for their murder.

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