In April – August 1991 Azerbaijan’s Special Purpose Police Units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan (OMON) along with the Soviet Internal Security Forces (ISF) and army divisions organized and perpetrated a large-scale military operation named “Ring” (“Koltso”) deporting thousands from the Armenian villages located both in Artsakh and Armenia. The operation was carried out by a special scheme; Armenian villages were being surrounded by Soviet ISF and army divisions respectively, after which the OMON forces were breaking into the villages, looting, killing, terrorizing the Armenians, forcing them to leave their homes “voluntarily”, giving up their properties under the pretext of “passport check regime”.
The military operation was launched on April 30. The first targets were Getashen (nowadays Chaykend) and Martunashen (nowadays Gharabuldagh) Armenian villages of Khanlar district of Soviet Azerbaijan. On the night of April 29, the Soviet Army forces located in Kirovabad (Gandzak) surrounded Getashen and Martunashen, shelling the villages from the near heights by both military vehicles and helicopters. Followed by this, the massacre of the Armenian peaceful population took place. The forced deportations were carried out with inhumane acts and human rights violations. The residents were humiliated, killed, kidnapped, captured, raped and brutally killed. There was no mercy even for the kids and the elderly.
“I wish I would go blind and not see what happened. On April 30 a tank entered the centre of the village. They surrounded the village on all sides with tanks…There were also OMON soldiers along with the soldiers [Soviet army soldiers]. The first wounded was my neighbour, he was in a terrifying condition. Her clothes were torn apart. I figured that they raped her. I ran to doctor Gevorg [Gevorg Grigoryan] who came here from Yerevan. He immediately made a diagnosis: amputate the arm… But she started crying out, begging, saying she can’t raise her 3 kids with just one arm…Doctor Gevorg and the other men of our village older than 16 were all captured…No one knows where they were taken. The Azerbaijani OMON soldiers were looting and killing or raping all those who resisted. An elderly woman that I know stayed sitting on the porch of her house, saying no one would kill the elderly. She was shot dead right there…”, recalls a resident of the Getashen village Elmira Hakobyan.
The same atrocities beyond human imagination happened in Martunashen as well. An eyewitness and a resident of Martunashen village Martiros Hovsepyan remembers that his neighbour Nikolay came panting around 6 o’clock on April 30, saying that the soldiers of OMON forces surrounded the village with tanks. There were 7 tanks and several cannons located on one of the hills about 200 meters from the village pointed at the village.
“25 tanks were located on the other hills, pointing at our village. Not so long after that the cannons and automatic rifles started firing at us. The house roofs flew onto the air because of the tank fire, houses were burnt. Then the helicopters starting firing from the air. It continued for 2 hours. After the shelling [the tanks] came down to the bottom part of the village. The houses went into flames because of that…”, Hovsepyan remembers.
The self-defence forces were formed in 1990 to prevent the continuation of terrorist actions that offend the dignity of human beings against the civilian population, mass violations of human rights, violence and the policy of forced deportation from their homes.
In order to prevent constant terrorizing acts which offended the dignity of the civilian population, the mass acts of savagery, and the policy of forced deportations from their homes that started in 1989, the villagers organized self-defence units in 1990. The leaders were Tatul Krpeyan (Getashen) and Simon Achikgyozyan (Martunashen). Both of them fell heroically on April 30.
During the military actions, Getashen Radiostation was able to send the message of the villagers of Getashen and Martunashen, asking the International Community for help. The Radio Message reads: “SOS, SOS, SOS…2 Armenian villages Getashen and Martunashen in Azerbaijan beg you, please save our lives. They are firing us from cannons, automatic rifles and machine guns, on the air and ground. They drive over with tanks, crushing us in our yards and houses. Azerbaijani OMON soldiers capture the kids, women and elderly; they break their hands, faces, legs, ribs hitting them on the walls, injuring their kidneys. They scalp the people alive, slaughter the naked people on the streets, rubbing holes on their bodies with knives. Our men are powerless to protect us with hunting rifles. We resisted for 3 years but don’t have the power against the army. They exterminate us. We are forced to accept the power of Azerbaijan and leave our native villages and ancestral graves. But even escape is not allowed; they shoot. Our homes have been looted and burnt. We have nowhere to hide. People of the world, save us. At least save the children. We are dying. We are sealed off from the outside world. SOS, SOS, SOS. SAVE US!”.
Eyewitnesses are particularly affected by the horrific actions against the father and son Chilingaryans. They were captured and beat, humiliated, bodies were burnt by cigarettes. But this was not all…Azerbaijanis did not stop there. The son was scalped by them in front of his father [documentary]. The attacks and forced deportations in Martunashen and Getashen went on in May, too. The brutal actions and deportations were carried out by strong violations of human rights. They didn’t even respect universal laws concerning the journalists and doctors who provide assistance during wars and took captives. Some of the captives were exchanged with the assistance of international organizations but died shortly after being returned as a result of the severe torture during the captivity. The Operation “Ring” that started in Getashen and Martunashen continued in a number of other settlements in Artsakh and Armenia, leading to their destruction, numerous human losses and the deportation of Armenians from numerous villages in Artsakh.
As a result of the Operation Ring in Getashen and Martunashen, according to various sources, 37-41 people were killed, 100 peaceful civilians including women and children were wounded. As stated in the report of international human rights organization “Memorial” starting from April 30 up to May 8 about 3000 people became a subject of forced deportation from Getashen and Martunashen. 2287 children, women and elderly people were taken to Stepanakert on May 4-5 by military helicopters after which they had to leave for Ijevan. Another group of almost 700 men was deported to Ijevan on May 8 by buses.
According to Thomas De Waal, Operation Ring marked “the beginning of the open, armed phase of the Karabakh conflict” and in that sense, it is also an important story in itself, in that it is “arguably the first and last “Soviet civil war” in which units of the Soviet army were engaged in fighting on Soviet territory”.
Further information, archival documents, interviews, eyewitness accounts and other facts can be found on http://karabakhrecords.info/ and http://sumgait.info/ websites.