February 1992 saw the single worst atrocity committed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Khojaly Massacre took the lives of 613 civilians. The death toll included 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly people. 

Despite this tragedy, and many other instances of unimaginable brutality, Azerbaijan always looks for peaceful resolution of this unresolved conflict. This has been demonstrated by the recent establishment of the Platform for Peace, an Azerbaijani initiative that brings together members of Azerbaijani and Armenian civil society in an attempt to increase understanding on a human level. The same premise was the catalyst for the annual Khojaly Peace Prize for Art; an initiative of the Justice for Khojaly campaign, under the auspices of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), which seeks to represent the horrors of the tragedy through art. Launched in 2016, and now in its second year, this prize continues to channel the creativity of art students living in the UK.

The prizes were awarded on 22nd February amidst the historic surroundings of the Strangers’ Dining Room in the House of Commons before a gathering of over 100 multinational Londoners. Selected from over 70 entrants, the judging panel for the art prize comprised the Hon Baroness Sayeeda Warsi; Baroness Zahida Manzoor; Bob Blackman MP and Chair of the Azerbaijan All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG); Sabina Rakcheyeva, Cultural Advisor for TEAS; and Lionel Zetter, Director of TEAS. 

Jack Pegoraro, Director of TEAS London, commented: “During the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict, all ethnic Azerbaijanis were either killed or forced to flee Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions. One of the defining moments was on 26th February when 613 unarmed civilians – men, women and children – were killed by invading Armenian forces. It is now the 25th anniversary of this tragedy, and no one has been brought to justice. The purpose of events like today is to commemorate the victims and to ensure that such tragedies never recur.”

Baroness Zahida Manzoor, host of the event, stated: “I was one of the judges of the competition. During my visit to Azerbaijan, with some other members of the Azerbaijani All-Party Parliamentary Group, I was very privileged to meet some of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It was terrible to hear some of their very sad stories. Despite the terror they had experienced, there was hope, love and harmony. They were seeking peace and resolution for the future. I was deeply moved and touched by those experiences. Hosting this event is very meaningful – it is about the future of humanity. When we see such atrocities around the world, we must speak up and share our thoughts. By speaking with one voice, we can address those issues with which we don’t agree.” 

She further commented, “all these paintings show some element of hope. In some, you can see the peace and love. In others, you can see eyes that are full of despair and sadness. In others, there are wings of the dove of peace, as we all share the same humanity and seek to move forward. It has been very difficult to decide on the winners of the Khojaly Peace Prize for Art, but all the paintings spoke of the need for resolution and peace.”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi announced the prize winners. First prize was taken by British-born Louisa Marriott, a student at the Norwich University of the Arts, for her painting Tranquillity of Movement. In her acceptance speech, she commented: “My art is very political, and I want it to push towards change and positively affect the world. My painting commemorates the 63 children who died in Khojaly, but their faces are those of today’s refugees. Hopefully it will help us become more compassionate to the plight of refugees.”

Despite the passing of four UN Security Council resolutions against the invasion, Armenia continues to occupy Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions to this day. Currently nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory remains occupied, and approximately one million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are spread across Azerbaijan. The evening was dedicated to the memory of the Khojaly victims and those Azerbaijanis who have only one wish – to return to their homes and lands.

Khojaly Peace Prize for Art 2017

First Prize – Tranquillity of Movement by Louisa Marriott

Second Prize – In The Morning by Tae Eun Ahn

Third Prize – Don’t Be Submerged by Ming Ying

Highly commended – Please Don’t Call Me Refugee by Katie Shevlin