Press Release: Khojaly 25 years on – a moving musical remembrance in the Land of the Gods

The month of February is always filled with sorrow in Azerbaijan, and amongst those around the world who support the rule of law and the sanctity of human life. This is because, 25 years ago, that month saw the single worst atrocity of the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Khojaly massacre took the lives of 613 civilians. The death toll included 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly people.

The event on 2 March was held in Athens in the Megaron Concert Hall amidst the state-of-the-art Lillian Voudouri Great Music Library, and was organised by the Strasbourg office of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) and the Azerbaijani Embassy to the Hellenic Republic, within the international Justice for Khojaly campaign. It commemorated the victims of the Khojaly massacre, which occurred on 26 February 1992. The library is a fulcrum for music specialists and aficionados in Greece.

Throughout this evocative and emotional evening, the overwhelming sense was of loss and the umbilical connection of Khojaly, part of Nagorno-Karabakh, with Azerbaijani music. Many of the greatest Azerbaijani classical composers – all of whom combined the microtones of mugham with western classical music – were born or had familial connections to Nagorno-Karabakh. The father of Fikret Amirov was a khanende (mugham singer) from Shusha, Nagorno-Karabakh, and this was evident in his emotional Elegie, performed by the Rhein-Quartett, a chamber ensemble comprising musicians from across Europe.

The octogenarian Azerbaijani composer Khayyam Mirzazade graduated from Azerbaijan State Conservatoire in 1957, where he studied under Gara Garayev and thereafter continued to teach. From 1969–83, he was a manager of composition cathedra at Azerbaijan State Conservatoire. The work performed in Athens was a setting of the plaintive traditional song Berzeni.

Enrique Granados – himself a victim of the First World War – was a Spanish pianist and composer of classical music in a uniquely Spanish style. Composed in 1890, Orientale is one of the 12 pieces comprising his Danzas Españolas (Spanish Dances), and was particularly sublime and evocative.

The concert went on with a particularly emotive Azad Bir Qusudum composed by Afrasiyab Badalbeyli – whose parents were from Shusha – after a poem by Jafar Jabbarli.

The concert concluded with Pierre Thilloy’s Khojaly 613, a tone poem representing the horrors of that fateful night. This harnessed the power of violin, clarinet and string quartet to evoke the sounds of marching, screams and machine-gun fire, incorporating folk music themes to devastating effect, featuring Azerbaijani violinist Nazrin Rashidova, Latvian clarinettist Anna Gagane and the Rhein-Quartett. All audience members were given a CD of this outstanding contemporary work.

H.E. Rahman Mustafayev, Azerbaijani Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic, commented: “How could such a horrible crime as that perpetrated in Khojaly in February 1992 take place, yet never be recognised? The answer is simple – throughout the 20th century, the Armenian side has never taken responsibility for its crimes against the Azerbaijani people. Azerbaijan is striving to bring the truth about the Khojaly tragedy to the international community, and to secure political and legal assessments of this massacre from governments and parliaments around the world.

“We must be united in condemning this crime. This is of great importance, not only for the memory of the Azerbaijani citizens who were killed and brutally tortured, but also for the peoples of the world. It is extremely important that such tragedies should not be permitted to recur.

“We must also be united in the fight against the ideology of nationalism and national exclusiveness, because it is this ideology that serves as the breeding ground for terror, ethnic cleansing and military aggression, such as that facing Azerbaijan.

“Taking this opportunity, I urge you and, through you, the citizens and the parliament of the Hellenic Republic, not to stand apart from the international Justice for Khojaly campaign and to support it.

Ioannis Papagrigoriou, President, Hellenic Azerbaijani Youth Centre, remarked: “It has been an honour for us to participate in this international campaign to bring recognition of the need to achieve justice for the people in Khojaly who lost their lives 25 years ago. In Greece, we are very sensitive to this issue.”

Speaking before the audience of 150 politicians, VIPs and press representatives, Eliza Pieter, Head, TEAS Strasbourg, introduced TEAS to the audience and explained: “This event is designed to help us remember that man can be inhumane, and that war has terrible consequences. The concert performed tonight is an ode for peace between nations. It is not a cry for revenge; it is a cry for justice. It is in that spirit that I invite you to listen to the music – in the spirit of peace and justice.

Pierre Thilloy, French composer of the tone poem Khojaly 613, took to the stage and explained the origins of his creation: “I have been travelling to Azerbaijan for the last 20 years, and when you do so, naturally you make friends. Friendship is about sharing your friend’s joys but also his sorrows, and that is why I felt compelled to compose about the tragedy of Khojaly. When I wrote this piece Khojaly 613, one can say I was like this dark bird flying over Khojaly on that fateful night in February 1992, and that bird saw everything and retold it through music.”

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