Some 50,000 Azerbaijanis marched through Baku on Sunday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of one of the bloodiest incidents of the country’s war with Armenian forces over disputed Nagorny Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani authorities say that 613 people died when Armenian troops attacked the village of Khojaly in Karabakh in 1992 in what Baku describes as “genocide”, although Yerevan strongly rejects this.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was among the marchers, who carried placards with slogans like “Recognise the Khojaly genocide” and “The genocides in Khojaly, Srebrenica, Rwanda and Homs must not be repeated”.
Posters with the names of those who died were displayed along the route of the march, which ended with a wreath-laying ceremony.
Baku has stepped up efforts to raise international awareness of Khojaly amid its continuing campaign to regain control over Karabakh, which Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized from Azerbaijan in during a 1990s war that left some 30,000 people dead.
Aliyev alleged in a statement to mark the anniversary on Friday that Armenia had “repeatedly committed crimes against humanity such as terrorism, mass extermination, deportation and ethnic cleansing of our people”.
Armenia rejects Azerbaijan’s version of events, denying that its forces massacred innocent civilians, disputing the number of people that died and blaming Baku for the killings.
“The inhabitants of Khojaly became hostages of the dirty games of the Baku authorities, who then turned this tragedy into speculative political capital,” the separatist Karabakh foreign ministry said in a statement this month.
Despite years of internationally-mediated talks since the 1994 ceasefire, the ex-Soviet enemies have not signed a final peace deal and soldiers are frequently killed in skirmishes along the Karabakh frontline.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly threatened to use force to win back Karabakh if negotiations fail to yield satisfactory results, but Yerevan has warned of large-scale retaliation if Baku launches any military action.