Khojaly initiatives of the Karabakh Foundation

Sun 26 Feb 2012 03:50 GMT | 07:50 Local Time

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The Karabakh Foundation joins the world community in observing the 20th anniversary of the Khojaly Tragedy February 25-26, in which hundreds of Azerbaijanis were killed and thousands of others wounded and otherwise impacted.

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The Foundation's online Azerbaijani Heritage Center provides context about Azerbaijan and the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. http://karabakhfoundation.org/pages/azerbaijan-heritage-center/
 
Speech Outlining Cultural Initiative Regarding Khojaly
This week Foundation executive director Diana Cohen Altman publicly proposed cultural undertakings in response to Khojaly.  The proposal to document and share the message of Khojaly and Azerbaijan was made  at the Remembrance Event Marking the 20th Anniversary of the Khojaly Tragedy presented by the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the United States. Ms. Altman's remarks on "Cultural Diplomacy Responses to Khojaly" are included at the bottom of this e-mail.
 
Khojaly Art Initiative Launched by the Karabakh Foundation
Acting on its recommendation of a cultural-diplomacy initiative in response to Khojaly, the Karabakh Foundation announces a Khojaly sculpture contest. Sculptors are encouraged to create a lasting legacy that interprets the impact of the massacre of Azerbaijanis in Khojaly. The Foundation is assembling a blue-ribbon panel to judge the art work, which will be installed in a prominent location. Artists seeking information and guidelines, write to Kelsey King, kelsey@karabakhfoundation.org.

Azerbaijani Radio Hour Interview with Anar Usubov on "The Refugee"

To honor the memory of fallen Azerbaijanis who were victims of the Khojaly Tragedy, the Azerbaijani Radio Hour interviewed Anar Usubov about "The Refugee: The Long Journey of Anar Usubov." Access the podcast here and download it directly here.
 
Background on Khojaly Tragedy
In 1992 Armenian armed forces attacked Azerbaijanis living in the town of Khojaly in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. 613 Azerbaijanis died as a result of the attack. Photographs and eyewitness accounts reveal numerous mutilations of victims and other violations of the Geneva Convention. The Khojaly Massacre has been condemned worldwide.
 
Karabakh Foundation 2011 Annual Report Now Available
The Karabakh Foundation 2011 Annual Report is now available for download at http://karabakhfoundation.org/assets/630/2011-KF-ANNUALREPORT-FINAL.pdf.

"Cultural Diplomacy Response to Khojaly"


Remarks by Diana Cohen Altman, Executive Director, Karabakh Foundation, at Remembrance Event Marking 20th Anniversary of the Khojaly Tragedy, event at Reserve Officers Association, program of the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

February 22, 2012
    
Good evening, Mr. Ambassador, esteemed guests. I’d like to thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for the honor of speaking here tonight.
    
Next I’d like to thank the staff and volunteers at the Karabakh Foundation and my Azerbaijani friends in Baku and in the diaspora who have given me access not only with research, information, and support, but also with personal insights, perspectives, passions.
    
Because I believe Khojaly is a dialogue that will not and should not end.
    
Let’s think for a minute about the events of February 25-26, 1992, as a kind of “communication.” One group of people together with another group of people for communication. Instead of words, the first groups used bare hands, knives, screwdrivers, and “communicated” a message that led . . . . nowhere good for either party or for anyone else.
    
This simplistic characterization underscores the intensely personal nature of the “dialogue” of Khojaly and helps to inform a response.
    
Bear with me: The nature of the Khojaly Massacre stretches the limits of conventional thinking—in virtually any culture—about humanity—or inhumanity.
    
The aggressor did not order someone else to inflict torture . . . did not condemn another human being by decree . . . did not send someone to prison far away for others to inflict abuse . . . 
What does it take to dismember, to eviscerate, another human being? Such a personal, even intimate, act goes to the core of both parties’ being. Targeted and personal, yet inflicting wounds on every Azerbaijani everywhere in the world. And scarring humanity itself.
    
Putting aside the natural desire for revenge, two obvious responses to this personal assault come to mind:
    
1) Justice. Bring the perpetrators to justice.
    
2) Prevention. Prevent anything resembling Khojaly from happening again in this world.
    
Perhaps it’s ironic that overall humankind has been more effective at securing justice than at preventing human-wrought tragedies. Justice and prevention are not mutually exclusive. Both are informed by past facts. But prevention can take the dialogue of Khojaly into a world of renewal. A world where we honor the victims of Khojaly while affirming Azerbaijani-ness for new audiences and meaningful partners.
    
As raw as Khojaly was, we must constructively affirm the very essence of who Azerbaijanis are. We can’t allow the horror to overtake us. We need to trumpet our intent to triumph over dark forces.
    
20 years after Khojaly we live in a world teeming with genocide prevention initiatives. We also live in the time of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Museum of Tolerance, and countless diversity-awareness programs. Cultural institutions have figured out how to engage audiences deeply in social issues—in cultural specifics and in universal principles of humanity.
    
These cultural initiatives are not like the dusty, forbidding museums of yesterday. They have learned how to attract audiences to include everyone from school children to policy makers.
    
So I would like to suggest a framework for engaging the world in the story of Khojaly and of Azerbaijan. By way of context:
    
When the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum was developed some 30 years ago, organizers agonized about what the museum should be—particularly in light of the museum’s location on the U.S. National Mall.

Should the museum be a monument to the fallen? This approach did not satisfy those who wanted prescriptive exhibits on avoiding future tragedies.
Should the museum enjoin visitors to take immediate action against perceived injustices in the world? This, many thought, could lead to undesirable profiling and vigilantism. Better, some reasoned, to inspire deep soul searching.
Should the museum universalize the impact of the Holocaust beyond the Jews who were the Nazis’ primary target? That is, should it emphasize the perpetrators’ crimes as crimes against humanity? Some Jewish activists considered the Nazi targeting of the Jews—the Nazi reliance on stereotypes, ancient cabals, and folk racism—essential to the museum’s mission.

Every step of the way organizers from all backgrounds sought creative answers to the #1 question: What kinds of displays and techniques will engage audiences from many backgrounds in something so horrific but so necessary? How to tap into visitors’ self-interest to help them to care? Self-interest.
    
I do believe Azerbaijanis have a moral responsibility to act on Khojaly in terms of seeking justice. But I also believe the Azerbaijani world must connect with today’s cultural institutions. Herein lie some achievable approaches to reaching audiences and helping to mitigate future tragedies.
    
Let’s go back to that personal communication of 1992—to Khojaly. What do we want people to know? How can we best convey that information? If today’s cultural initiatives can help a young child connect with refugees in Somalia, can bring Palestinians and Jews together, can capture genocides about to happen for the world to see . . . Surely today’s  museum directors will have ideas for advancing buy-in about Khojaly and Karabakh and preventing future Khojalys.
    
I myself have some suggestions. I speak as the director of the Karabakh Foundation, as a longtime cultural professional, as a former director of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum. And as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
    
1. Preserve your artifacts. 20 years is a short time. A piece of a shirt that belonged to a victim of Khojaly, a samovar from the family home in Aghdam . . . 7,000 people lived in Khojaly before the massacre—where are the artifacts that testify to the Azerbaijani lives in Khojaly? Hold on to artifacts and record what you see, hear, and know. Treasure your artifacts and offer them as evidence to local cultural institutes, to Web initiatives, to peace and tolerance efforts. When the day comes to exhibit these artifacts—be ready. Involve public officials. Don’t concern yourself that the artifacts have to be “museum worthy”—collect everything real. One of the most powerful exhibits at the Holocaust Museum is of a pile of children’s shoes. Nothing tells the story like the genuine article.

2. Tell your stories. Record family stories—take the recorder, your camera, and let them talk. Recently the Karabakh Foundation interviewed Khojaly survivor Anar Usubov for our Azerbaijani Radio Hour. 10,000 listeners, including hundreds of subscribers, heard Anar’s story, and anyone with Web access can hear that testimonial any time. Come forward to talk with the Azerbaijani Radio Hour.

3. Start with your friends. They already care about you—the first step toward being able to hear about Khojaly. Know your story better than anyone else, and then you will be prepared to share knowledgeably when the moment presents itself. Bring your friends to programs informed by Khojaly and by Azerbaijani culture.

4. Support organizations like the KF and USAN that connect Americans with Azerbaijani culture and concerns—and stay in close touch with what these groups are doing. If you can volunteer, great, and if you can’t, write to these groups and tell them what you think they can do to share the Khojaly story with their audiences. It’s so easy to connect these days—social media and so forth. Tell the professionals your ideas, and we can start finding ways to get the story told in places like the Library of Congress, the new Dayton peace museum, and elsewhere. Be our eyes and ears for information and opportunities that might be missed. Stay tuned to how these groups communicate messages about Azerbaijan with decision makers. Participate as you can.
    
And here is the bottom line:
    
5. ACT and make yourself heard via museums and cultural outreach programs. To do nothing will accomplish nothing.  This is a big, diverse country with huge competing concerns. Whereas Khojaly was a direct, personal assault on Azerbaijanis, make your response a direct personal initiative to present an image of Azerbaijanis—distinctive, proud, strong. Make sure Khojaly, Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijanis are part of the U.S. national dialogue about culture, diversity, and conflict prevention. Present Khojaly as part of the story but also make sure that museums share the bigger story of Azerbaijan. Be prepared to share knowledgeably and to help secure all-important artifacts to tell the story.
    
If all this talk of cherishing and sharing has you feeling skeptical, I again urge you to examine today’s landscape for speaking out on social concerns. Let’s again consider the case of the Holocaust Museum:
    
The Museum’s Council hosts the Committee on Conscience. Listen to this statement from the Committee’s Web page:
    
“It has been said that ‘conscience whispers while interest screams aloud.’ In a world where the clamor of interests often prevails, the Committee seeks to amplify the voice of conscience.”
    
And this:
    
“The Committee on Conscience mandate is to alert the national conscience, influence policy makers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.”
    
Committee initiatives have included Sudan at the Crossroads: A Bearing Witness trip, which featured prominent genocide and international development experts and a highly regarded photographer. Just consider the following from the Web page:

View the trip report [here] for key insights into the situation in Southern Sudan and the risks ahead for the entire nation.”
    
Wow, what a powerful tool, the Web, for reaching so many people in real time. And so are exhibitions and other public programs.
    
The initiative captured the attention of public officials and of the U.S. media—a page of press citations from all over the U.S. media hints at the impact.
    
Again: We must concretize a basis of understanding in the United States. A basis for experiences that will allow Khojaly to be heard above the din. If it helps, create a mental picture of your own Azerbaijani museum in America. Recognize and harness the soft power of cultural diplomacy—for Khojaly’s sake and for Azerbaijan’s future.
    
For inspiration I will end with a now-famous quote spoken after World War II. The speaker was German pastor, theologian, and pacifist Martin Niemoller:
    
“First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

The Karabakh Foundation is a U.S. 501(c)(3) cultural charity foundation based in Washington, D.C., that seeks to increase awareness and understanding in the United States of the cultural heritage and traditions of the country of Azerbaijan, the Caucasus area, and the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. While coalescing significant artistic and scholarly talent, the Foundation is nurturing a new generation of artists and scholars toward important accomplishments. The Foundation serves as a dynamic facilitator and clearinghouse raising the public profile of Azerbaijan, its Karabakh region, and the Caucasus region in general. Main activities include preserving and disseminating cultural content via archival collecting, public programs, publications, exhibitions, speaking forums, international collaborations, scholarly exchange, artistic sponsorship, and related venues.Foundation support comes primarily from Khazar University, the first private university in Azerbaijan and one of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning. Support also comes from the U.S.-based Allaverdy Foundation. Additional information about the Karabakh Foundation may be found at www.KarabakhFoundation.org.

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