NEW YORK, NY – On February 19, 2013, a presentation titled “Nagorno-Karabakh: Refugees, Atrocities and Collective Memories” was hosted at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) in New York. The event was organized by student groups at SIPA and the Columbia University School of Social Work, Humanitarian Affairs Working Group, Azerbaijani-American Council (AAC) and Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA).
Opening the presentation, AAC general director, Javid Huseynov, provided a brief overview of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. He highlighted the importance of mutual acknowledgment of the suffering of victims and refugees on both sides of the conflict. While in Azerbaijan, there has been a fair assessment of the 1988 Sumgait riots through the legal due process, in Armenia, there is persistent state-sponsored denial of the primary role of country’s forces in the 1992 Khojaly Massacre. Dr. Huseynov presented the fragments of the March 1997 response by Human Rights Watch to Armenian Foreign Ministry, which reaffirmed the fact that Armenian forces deliberately targeted Azerbaijani civilians and that, unlike claimed by Armenia, there was no evidence that Azerbaijani forces obstructed the flight of those civilians.
AAC executive outlined that faced with Armenia’s dissolute denial of the 1992 Khojaly Massacre, in the last few years, Azerbaijani-American organizations focused on increasing awareness of U.S. elected officials, media and academia about this war crime. Consequently, in the last two years, the states of Texas, Georgia, New Mexico and Arkansas recognized the Khojaly Massacre and the role of Armenian forces in it via full-house legislative resolutions, while Massachusetts and New Jersey issued formal proclamations to the effect.
Speaking further, American war correspondent and the Montana State University professor, Thomas Goltz, shared his experiences as a witness and a first reporter who brought the news of what happened in Khojaly to the U.S. media. He outlined that due to the general sympathy towards Christian Armenians and stereotypes against Muslim Azerbaijanis at the time, it was difficult to convince Western audiences that it were Armenians slaughtering Azerbaijanis and not the other way around. Goltz then proceeded to present his short documentary film featuring interviews with Western journalists, experts and witnesses about the Khojaly Massacre.
During the subsequent question-and-answer session, Armenian students in the audience deviated from subject by asking rhetorical questions and making emotional speeches about the release of Ramil Safarov or the controversy surrounding Akram Aylisli’s book “The Stone Dreams”. Responding to them, AAC general director reminded about the 2001 hosting of Varoujan Garabedian, ASALA terrorist convicted for the 1983 bomb attack at the Paris Orly Airport and released from French prison, by Armenia’s Prime-Minister and Mayor of Yerevan, indicating that high-level state reception and glorification of a convicted terrorist was indeed the case in Armenia, and not in Azerbaijan. Furthermore, the growing military sentiment in Azerbaijan is a natural consequence of Armenia’s ongoing occupation of the fifth of Azerbaijan, the plight of a million Azerbaijani refugees and, finally, the Armenia’s insensitive denial of the 1992 Khojaly Massacre.
Students at Columbia University, ASA President, Tomris Azeri, representatives of Azerbaijani and Turkish communities and diplomatic missions in New York also attended and actively participated in the event. AAC and ASA express their special gratitude to Azerbaijani students at Columbia University, members of Azerbaijani Youth of North America (AYNA) Network, for leading the organization of this presentation.
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