An evocative musical remembrance of the Khojaly victims in London

Press Release: On 24 February, a moving classical concert took place amidst the remarkable surroundings of the 18th century St John’s, Smith Square in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament to commemorate the victims of the Khojaly Massacre in 1992 – the worst single atrocity of the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. This claimed the lives of 613 civilian victims in 1992, including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly people. Over 250 diplomats, business leaders, music journalists and members of the Azerbaijani diaspora and general public attended the concert. The event was organised by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) under the auspices of the Justice for Khojaly campaign, established by Mrs Leyla Aliyeva, Vice-President, Heydar Aliyev Foundation, in 2008.

Lionel Zetter, Director, TEAS, commented: “As many of you will be aware, St. John’s, Smith Square, has hosted countless outstanding musical performances over the years, and encapsulates every element of musical performance. Music has a unique ability to move our emotions – it can make us remember and, on occasions, can help us forget. These concerts are bittersweet – sweet because the music is beautiful and haunting – and bitter, because we are here to remember 613 men, women and children who sadly died 23 years ago.”

Prior to the performance, each audience member held aloft a red T-shirt – each emblazoned with the birth date and name of a Khojaly victim – all of which had the same death date of 26 February 1992. By doing so, they demonstrated their solidarity and identification with all those who lost their lives in the Khojaly Massacre.

The evening featured three outstanding Azerbaijani musicians – Arslan Novrasli, player of the tar, an Azerbaijani national instrument, developed in Nagorno-Karabakh; Sabina Rakcheyeva (violin); and Nazrin Rashidova (violin), who led her all-female FeMusa Orchestra. In addition to the new work Lamento – In memoriam, performed by Sabina and Nazrin and incorporating a plaintive note on the violin emulating the mugham singer, the programme comprised a mixture of Azerbaijani and European music. The selection was drawn from some of the most renowned Azerbaijani composers, including Gara Garayev’s Funeral Ode and two works featuring the evocative tar of Arslan Novrasli – Vasif Adigezalov’s Carnation and Azer Rzayev’s Meditation. These were performed alongside uplifting and reflective works by Antonio Vivaldi, Paul Lewis, Karl Jenkins and Gabriel Fauré.

Despite the passing of four UN Security Council resolutions against the invasion, Armenia continues to occupy Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts to this day. Currently nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory remains occupied, and approximately 875,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain spread across Azerbaijan. The evening was dedicated to the memory of the Khojaly victims and those Azerbaijanis who have one wish – to return home.