February 22, 2017 - On February 21, 2017 a documentary film highlighting the 1992 Khojaly Massacre premiered at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. This is the first documentary dedicated to the Khojaly Tragedy in the United States.
The Khojaly Massacre was committed by the armed forces of Armenia against the Azerbaijani civilians on February 26, 1992 in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Called “the largest massacre in the conflict” between Armenia and Azerbaijan by the Human Rights Watch, the massacre resulted in the murder of 613 Azerbaijani civilians, including over 250 children, women and the elderly. In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights passed a ruling corroborating the facts of the massacre and naming its perpetrators.
Titled “Running from the Darkness”, the documentary was filmed by Los Angeles filmmakers, led by a local organization J-Connect. The premiere screening was hosted at the Museum of Tolerance of the world-famous Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is one of the biggest (400,000 families) and most influential Jewish human rights organizations in the world. The Museum of Tolerance is one of the world’s largest museums dedicated to Holocaust.
The screening was attended by mayors and councilmembers of various cities of the Los Angeles County, other elected officials, consuls general and honorary consuls of various countries, representatives of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, State Department and other federal and state government bodies, renowned faith leaders representing Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions, mass media, influential leaders of different ethnic communities (Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Macedonian, Pakistani, Hispanic, Jewish, Iranian, Turkish, etc.) of Los Angeles and others.
Opening the event, Director of the Museum of Tolerance Dr. Liebe Geft said that despite many tragedies the people of Azerbaijan had to endure in its recent history, Azerbaijan has been able to maintain its centuries-old traditions of interfaith tolerance and multiculturalism.
Speaking afterwards, Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev stressed the importance of holding onto the values of interfaith tolerance and harmony in the face of hatred and tragedy, what, in his words, Azerbaijan has been able to do during the last 25 years since the Khojaly Massacre. Describing the film as a story of survival of tolerance against intolerance and stressing the need to educate wider audiences about what happened in Khojaly in 1992 so that similar tragedies do not occur again, the Consul General thanked the filmmakers for masterfully capturing the whole story of this crime against humanity.
Presenting the film, the Board President of J-Connect Josh Kaplan said: “At J-Connect, our organization understands history and the importance of tolerance and cooperation. We react at a base level when we see innocent people and their communities destroyed simply because of their identities. When I learned about the massacre in Khojaly, I knew then that there was an important story that needed to be told. With the world in such turmoil we felt that a story of this complexity, of this emotion and passion was important for the world to hear about in an unbiased and thoughtful manner. We partnered with One Wish Project, a film company whose mission it is to capture powerful stories and
bring them to life… The fact that what happened in Khojaly is unknown to most was a huge motivating factor in creating this film. We live in a world that is committed to recognizing and preventing genocide, and yet without recognition and awareness of this tragedy, our world remains at great risk for another Khojaly…”
Then the film was screened. Based on interviews with many survivors of the Khojaly Massacre as well with U.S. elected officials, reporters, academic experts, Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders of Los Angeles and an Armenian human rights advocate, the film vividly tells the horrific story of the tragedy. The documentary also highlights how Azerbaijan, confronted with Khojaly tragedy as well as the illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing of around 20% of its sovereign territory by neighboring Armenia in the early 1990s, did not allow the hatred and intolerance to take hold of itself, but on the contrary worked actively to strengthen its age-old identity and traditions of interfaith harmony and tolerance.
Following the well-received screening, Consul General asked the renowned Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders of Los Angeles, namely Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and Mahomed Khan, to pray for the victims of Khojaly as well as for peace and tolerance. The joint prayer in accordance with the traditions of all three Abrahamic religions was enthusiastically received by the audience.
At the event, the aforementioned faith leaders were presented with Interfaith Tolerance Awards established this year by the Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles, honoring the faith leaders’ profound and long-standing engagement in promoting peace, tolerance and harmony among all religions.
The event concluded with the performance of Azerbaijani and European classical music.