In April-June 1991, the troops at the disposal of the emergency commandant’s office and the organizing committee for the NKAO (V. P. Polyanichko, General Safonov) together with the 23rd Soviet Army division (Colonel Budeikin) transferred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijan SSR and Azerbaijani OMON units undertook a large-scale military operation to deport the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. This was the so-called Operation Ring.
Our purpose is not to cover the political background of this inhuman action and its consequences. The purpose is different – without claiming to have comprehensive coverage, to present materials that were not published or published only in excerpts regarding mass violations of human rights committed during this operation.
It was Operation Ring that sharply increased the level of tension in the region and translated the Karabakh conflict into another, military dimension. As was subsequently noted in the report of the OSCE mission (from February 28, 1992), “a particularly serious escalation took place in April-May 1991 when the Soviet Army with the participation of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs deported Armenians from many villages of the region. The deportation was carried out with particular cruelty.”
However, neither the operation itself nor the war crimes committed over its course received proper political and legal assessment. The only official documents were statements and appeals by the Supreme Council of Armenia and the Conclusion of the Human Rights Committee of the Supreme Council of Russia.
The organizers and performers remained unpunished as well. Left unjudged, Operation Ring became the precedent and prelude for new war crimes and brutal acts against civilians. All this, unfortunately, gives relevance to this publication.
We consider it necessary to emphasize that the tragedy of Getashen and Martunashen continues – the deported residents of these villages do not have the opportunity to return to their own homes. They did not receive any compensation. These villages are not mentioned in any of the draft documents proposed by the OSCE and Russia for conflict settlement.
But you can’t put up with injustice. The events of April-June 1991 should be the subject of public discussion and conviction, the perpetrators should be at least morally punished, and the victims should be compensated and given the opportunity to return. Therefore, the tragedy of Getashen, Martunashen, the Shahumyan district, and other villages of Nagorno-Karabakh should not be forgotten.
The documents prepared for publication are only a small part of the irrefutable evidence that the Azerbaijani leadership saw the solution to the Karabakh problem in the mass deportation of its native inhabitants. All of them require wide coverage and close attention along with proper political and legal assessment.
Most of the documents were provided by a special commission of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Armenia on Artsakh issues.
Testimony of a resident of Getashen Elmira Hakobyan given at a meeting with media representatives in Moscow on May 25, 1991
“It would be better if my eyes were blind so as not to see what happened. On April 30, a tank burst into the village center. Tanks surrounded the outskirts of the village. Apparently, they thought that our entire village of 2500 inhabitants consisted of militant groups. Together with the military were Azerbaijani riot police.
I saw my neighbor, the first to be wounded, in a terrible condition. She was all ragged. Apparently, she was raped. Her hand was seriously injured. I ran after Dr. Gevork who had come from Yerevan by helicopter. He immediately diagnosed that the arm should be amputated… But she began to cry and beg that she could not raise her three children with one hand…
Surgeon Gevork was taken hostage along with all our men, starting from 16 years old and older… Nobody knows where they were taken. Azerbaijani riot policemen robbed, killed those who resisted, raped, and did not spare anyone. One of my acquaintances, an old woman, remained at the threshold of her house, saying that no one would touch such an old woman. But she was shot at the door…
I certainly want to tell you about one Getashen hero. Yes, that’s right, a hero. In the center of the village was a tank. Colonel Mashkov came out of it to see the “people”. He was drunk. In the center of the village, soldiers lined women and children up against a wall, threatening to shoot them. A teacher of the Getashen school Tatul (forgot her last name) ran up to the colonel with a grenade in his hand and demanded to stop the bloodshed.
He was killed on the spot, and the colonel was injured by the grenade explosion. We took him to our hospital, and I would hear from him more than once: “Is it possible that our soldiers commit evil like the OMON?”
Our guys took several soldiers hostage. Major Kravtsov entered into negotiations, and hostages were exchanged.
Many of our released hostages were brought to the hospital with broken ribs, legs, hands, cut off ears, and poked-out eyes. A 33-year-old man, Mezhlum Chilingaryan, was scalped alive. ‘Did our people do this?’ in unison with the colonel exclaimed a Moscow journalist in horror. If he is an honest man, he will write about it…”
The journalist mentioned by Elmira Hakobyan was the correspondent of “Moscow News” Vladimir Yemelyanenko. He indeed turned out brave and honest. He was one of the first to let the society know about the crimes in Getashen, including the facts told by Hakobyan.
“In front of the hospital, the column was stopped and quickly surrounded by OMON police dressed in a spotted uniform.
I felt captive. Bloodstained bodies were scattered across the threshold of the building. Some of them had their ears cut off and their faces slashed beyond recognition. Almost everyone had a lacerated knife wound in the throat.
The building riddled with bullets smelled of death. In the corridors, on the floor, and in the beds, people were sitting and lying as if hypnotized. Some had gunshot wounds in arms, others in legs. One of the dead was scalped, and the living, hunted down, were empty-eyed…”
Library of the Center for Russian-Armenian Initiatives, Yerevan, 1995