Emotional film on the Khojaly Massacre screened in London

Press Release: On 30 April, the new Azerbaijani film Xoca (Khoja) was screened at the Soho Hotel to over 130 Londoners, representing many sections of the capital’s multicultural population. The audience included H.E. Fakhraddin Gurbanov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to the UK, Lord Laird of Artigarvan and Pavel Bobek, Second Secretary, Embassy of the Czech Republic to the UK and other members of the diplomatic community in London. The event was organised by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) and the ANS Group.

The Khojaly Massacre remains the single greatest tragedy in the unresolved Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which also resulted in the occupation of seven surrounding regions. On the night of 26 February 1992, 613 civilians were massacred in the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly, Nagorno-Karabakh, when it was forcibly occupied by Armenian armed forces, supported by the No. 366 Soviet Infantry Regiment.

Although numerous documentaries have been made about this tragedy, Xoca (Khoja), directed by Vahid Mustafayev, is the first feature film to focus on this event. Telling a personal story, the film’s protagonists are Aliakbar and Gunel, a young couple betrothed for marriage in Baku on 25 February 1992. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is raging, and Aliakbar is an officer who has been posted to his hometown of Khojaly, Nagorno-Karabakh. As he is about to leave for Baku, it becomes apparent that the Armenians are about to surround Khojaly and he must remain to protect the townspeople. The film clearly depicts the chaos and confusion of war, and the frantic efforts of the Azerbaijani authorities and military to save the lives of as many civilians as possible.

Tale Heydarov, Chairman and Founder, TEAS, said: “This is the most important film to be made about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during the past decade. It tells the truth about what happened at the time of the Khojaly Massacre in 1992. Many women and children were brutally killed, and this is shown in the film. However, unlike the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, the perpetrators were never brought to justice. The occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions continues to this day, and nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory remains under Armenian control.”

Lord Laird stated: “I have personal experience of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and understand what has happened in Azerbaijan regarding territory. During my multiple visits to Azerbaijan in recent years, I have come to realise that the ongoing Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territory is a far greater issue than was the case in Northern Ireland. It must be remembered that four United Nations Security Council resolutions have been passed against the occupation, yet remain unimplemented.”

Mirshahin Aghayev, Vice-President, ANS Group and Main Producer, Xoca, spoke about the genus of the film and its factual basis. He said: “I thank all those who have taken the time to attending tonight’s screening and share in our pain. This film was directed by Vahid Mustafayev, who was a military journalist during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, and reflects the reality and truth of the Khojaly Massacre. It also acknowledges the impact of conflict on everyday lives. Xoca has achieved considerable success in several festivals in Turkey, Iran and Egypt, and is the first Azerbaijani film to reflect the emotions of the entire nation.

Xoca is dedicated to the memory of Vahid’s brother Chingiz Mustafayev, a television journalist who covered the conflict. He was only able to film the aftermath of the Khojaly Massacre, but his footage showed the reality of this atrocity. Chingiz was killed in 1992 whilst he was covering the conflict.”

The war over Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions took place from 1988–94, costing the lives of 30,000 people. A ceasefire was declared in 1994, but there are regular civilian and military casualties. Around 875,000 Azerbaijani refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) reside in camps around Azerbaijan, being unable to return to their homes and lands.