The gruesome extent of February's killings of Azeris by Armenians in the town of Hojali is at last emerging in Azerbaijan - about 600 men, women and children dead.
The State Prosecutor, Aydin Rasulov, the cheif investigator of a 15-man team looking into what Azerbaijan calls the “Hojali Massacre”, said his figure of 600 people dead was a minimum on preliminary findings. A similar estimate was given by Elman Memmedov, the mayor of Hojali. An even higher one was printed in the Baku newspaper Ordu in May - 479 dead people named and more than 200 bodies reported unidentified. This figure of nearly 700 dead is quoted as official by the Ministry of Defence of Azerbaijan.
Franсois Zen Ruffinen, head of delegation of the International Red Cross in Baku, said the Muslim imam of the nearby city of Aghdam had reported a figure of 580 bodies received at his mosque from Hojali, most of them civilians. “We did not count the bodies. But the figure seems reasonable. It is no fantasy”, Mr. Zen Ruffinen said. “We have some idea since we gave the body bags and products to wash the dead”.
Mr. Rasulov endeavours to give an unemotional estimate of the number of dead in the massacre. “Don't get worked up. It will take several months to get a final figure”, the 43-years-old lawyer said at his small office.
Mr. Rasulov knows about these things. It took him two years to reach a firm conclusion that 131 people were killed and 714 wounded when Soviet troops and tanks crushed a nationalist uprising in Baku in January 1990.
Officially, 184 people have so far been certified as dead, being the number of people that could be medically examined by the republic's forensic department. “This is just a small percentage of the dead”, said Rafiq Youssifov, the republic's chief forensic scientist. “They were the only bodies brought to us. Remember the chaos and the fact that we are Muslims and have to wash and bury our dead within 24 hours”.
Of these 184 people, 51 were women, and 13 were children under 14 years old. Gunshots killed 151 people, shrapnel killed 20 and axes or blunt instruments killed 10. Exposure in the highland snows killed the last three. Thirty-three people showed signs of deliberate mutilation, including ears, noses, breasts or penises cut off and eyes gouged out, according to Professor Youssifov's report. Those 184 bodies examined were less than a third of those believed to have been killed, Mr. Rasulov said.
“There were too many bodies of dead and wounded on the ground to count properly: 470-500 in Hojali, 650-700 people by the stream and the road and 85-100 visible around Nakhchivanik village”, Mr. Manafov wrote in a statement countersigned by the helicopter pilot.
“People waved up to us for help. We saw three dead children and one two-years-old alive by one dead woman. The live one was pulling at her arm for the mother to get up. We tried to land but Armenians started a barrage against our helicopter and we had to return”.
There has been no consolidation of the lists and figures in circulation because of the political upheavals of the last few months and the fact that nobody knows exactly who was in Hojali at the time - many inhabitants were displaced from other villages taken over by Armenian forces.