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Khojali Victims of February 26th will Never Be Forgotten: Farida Panahova

(Report by Dr Shahid Qureshi): –

Every year on February 26th, we remember not only the Khojali victims, but also other terrible acts of genocide in the 20th century, one of the worst periods of violence in human history. Two good reasons for doing this are: finding out the facts, and talking about how and why human beings are capable of such evil said: Farida Panahova. She was talking to the students at prestigious SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London recently. Below is transcript of her speech.

“Some of you may already know that the word ‘genocide’ was coined in 1944 to name a particularly shocking and horrific crime of violence which it was then believed could never happen again. That it has happened so many times since then even more shocking. When the Genocide Convention was passed by the United Nations in 1948, the world said, “Never again.”

Over the centuries human race has evolved dramatically, we claim that we learn from our history, from our mistakes and we continuously develop, we continuously evolve. We claim that we are much smarter; much more intelligent than our ancestors. And now we refer to the society we live in as a “civilized”. But the fundamental question we have to ask ourselves today – Is our society is a civil society?

What happened in Namibia, in Auschwitz, in Rwanda, In Cambodia, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Darfur and in Khojali, scream very loudly – NO. The painful fact is that in the 20th century a human being still exterminated by another human being for a piece of land, for belonging to a particular race or religion by not only using the most advanced weapons, but also using his wickedness, perverted intelligence to commit unimaginable. In the case of Khojali the aggressor, namely, the Armenian army, headed by the current and previous officials of Armenia, committed unimaginable crime which can only match definition of genocide. In this case the evidence is in abundance as you have seen in the video. Regrettably so-called experts on Azerbaijan still call it tragedy. I would like you to think – killing a baby in mother’s womb, slaughtering hundreds of people, killing unarmed and innocent children, women and elderly is beyond barbarism and this can only be committed by evil and requires a particular mind-set.

Historians and researches pose a question – What causes genocide? What catalyses people to undertake such extreme violence against their fellow humans? The answers to these questions are not simple or straightforward. One very important point is clear to us all – genocide is not a natural disaster. It is mass murder deliberately planned and carried out by individuals, all of whom are responsible whether they made the plan, gave the order or carried out the killings. Whatever the scale, genocide is made up of individual acts, and individuals’ choices to perform them. Genocide and the crime against humanity are unique crimes because the victim is victimised specifically because they belong to a particular group and Khojali is an un-deniable example.

So what lessons we have learned from the Khojali Genocide:

1. The Importance of Khojali Remembrance – The Responsibility of Memory

The first lesson is the importance of remembrance, of the duty of remembrance itself. For as we remember the 613 Azerbaijani victims of Khojali were murdered in a cold-blooded manner with an evil purpose in mind – to terrify others still alive to leave their homes, lands and properties without a fight. As a prologue or justification for genocide — we have to understand that the mass murder of

613 innocent Azerbaijanis is not a matter of abstract statistics. Each victim has a name, has an identity.

2. The Danger of State-Sanctioned Incitement to Hatred and Genocide — the Responsibility to Prevent

The enduring lesson of Khojali is that the genocide of Azerbaijanis succeeded not only because of the industry of death and the technology of terror, but because of the state-sanctioned ideology of hate and destruction. This teaching of contempt, this demonizing of the other, this is where it all began. The Khojali did not begin in war for Karabagh — it began decades and decades ago with words and the ideology. This is the chilling fact of history and the catastrophic effects of expansionist ideology and hatred.

We witnessed a state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide, whose epicentre is Armenia. Let there be no mistake about it – Armenia has committed the crime of incitement to genocide prohibited under the Genocide Convention. Yet not one state party to the Genocide Convention has undertaken its mandated legal obligation to hold Armenia to account. I sincerely hope that the countries who signed up to this convention will finally demonstrate willingness to bring the criminals to justice.

3. The Danger of Silence, the Consequences of Indifference — the Responsibility to Protect

The genocide of Azerbaijanis in Khojali succeeded not only because of the state-sanctioned culture of hate, but because of crimes of indifference, because of conspiracies of silence.

We have already witnessed an appalling indifference and inaction in our own day which took us down the road to the unspeakable — the genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc. — unspeakable because both of these were preventable. No one can say that we did not know. We knew, but we did not act, just as we knew and did not act to stop the tragedy/genocide in Khojali.

Indifference and inaction always mean coming down on the side of the victimizer, never on the side of the victim. It sounds really harsh, but indifference in the face of evil is acquiescence with evil itself.

4. Combating Mass Atrocity and the Culture of Impunity — the Responsibility to Bring War Criminals to Justice

If the 20th Century was the age of atrocity, it was also the age of impunity. Few of the perpetrators were brought to justice; and so, just as there must be no sanctuary for hate, no refuge for bigotry, there must be no base or sanctuary for these enemies of humankind. Yet those indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity – continue to be welcomed in international fora. I sincerely hope that in the near future Armenian war criminals will be brought to justice and the world wakes up to Armenian war crimes.

5. Deception of Political Leaders – of The Responsibility to Talk Truth to Power

The Khojali was made possible, not only because of the “bureaucratization of genocide”, but because of the complicity of the Armenian elite – such as political leaders, church leaders, policy makers, members of the parliament and even those who nourished the idea of “Greater Armenia”, criminality of lawyers, judges, political parties and pro-war people of Armenia and in particular the states who either supported Armenian aggression or were silent before the aggression. Our task today is to ensure that we communicate the truth to powers.

6. Khojali Remembrance — the Responsibility to Educate

In acting upon the Khojali Remembrance Day, we need to encourage the study of the Khojali events in all its dimensions… a commitment to commemorate the victims of the Khojali, a commitment to throw light on the still obscured shadows of the Khojali … a commitment to plant the seeds of a better future amidst the soil of a bitter past… a commitment… to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity’s common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice. I believe this event serves that purpose.

7. The Vulnerability of the Powerless — the Protection of the Vulnerable as the Test of a Just Society

The genocide of Khojali people occurred not only because of the vulnerability of the powerless, but also because of the powerlessness of the vulnerable.

It is our responsibility as citizens of the world to give voice to the voiceless, as we seek to empower the powerless — be they the disabled, the poor, the refugee, the elderly, the women victims of violence, the vulnerable child — the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.

We remember – and we trust – that never again will we be silent or indifferent in the face of evil.

Let us remember and pledge this must not be a matter of rhetoric but must be a commitment to action and each individual of us can do it in – that never again will we be indifferent to incitement and hate; that never again will we be silent in the face of evil; that never again will we indulge racism and fascism; that never again will we ignore the plight of the vulnerable; that never again will we be indifferent in the face of mass atrocity and impunity, immunity from committing crime.

Let us pledge that we will speak and we will act against racism, against hate, against fascism, against mass atrocity, against injustice – and against the crime of crimes whose name we should even shudder to mention – genocide.

And yes, always, against indifference, against being bystanders to injustice. It is not just what we say, more importantly it is what we do would make so much difference.

I hope that 26th of February not only an act of remembrance, which it is, but let it be a remembrance to act, which it must be.

There are many Centres for the Study of Genocide that are doing that vital work. The International Campaign to End Genocide advocates creation of a Genocide Prevention Focal Point at the United Nations. But we have learned that even a very civilized nation can abandon all moral principles and act with the most extreme barbarism. We have learned that hatred is extremely dangerous. Azerbaijanis, in particular, have learned that they had better be prepared to act in their own self-defence because they cannot count on others even to grant them the status of human beings.

But these institutional changes will not be enough to prevent genocide in 21st century. I personally believe that creating more crippled institutions like UN is not going to resolve the problem. Eventually we must return to the problem of political will. What we need is political will demonstrated by superpowers, creation of an effective International court for effective punishment. Having said that, we need to bear in mind that for policy makers to act they need to feel public pressure. Some of you will remember from your history lessons; there was an international movement to end slavery in the 19th century.

In the conclusion she said: “We need to be active participants of The International Campaign to End Genocide, organized at The Hague Appeal for Peace in May 1999, which intends to mobilize the international political will to end genocide. If the international campaign is to be effective it must build an international mass movement that will exert the political and cultural pressure on world leaders necessary to create political will”.

(Farida Panahova is political, cultural and human rights activist based in London)

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