The Khojaly Massacre of February 1992 is one of many tragedies tangled on both sides of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; the battle saw hundreds of innocent civilians killed, many of them women, children and elderly people. As with much of the horror associated with the longstanding struggle, the events in Khojaly received limited Western media coverage and were largely overlooked.
Each year, the European Azerbaijan Society invokes Western media to remember the victims in Khojaly and raise awareness of the ongoing suffering in the region (in fact of both Azerbaijanis and Armenians). This year, the society presents the neo-expressionist 2012 feature film Xoca, the story of a young, soon to be married Azerbaijani couple Aliakbar (Ilgar Musayev) and Gunel (Nigar Bahadir qizi), which unfolds against a fictional backdrop of these terrible events.
Half an hour into the film, Khojaly barracks, homes and schools are blown to pieces by explosive devices and many families are left injured or killed. As the chaos unfolds, groom and protagonist, Aliakbar, stays to defend his people. Meanwhile, Gunel and her family are at the wedding party in Baku, and scenes of drinking and laughter are set in direct juxtaposition to the tragedy occurring unbeknownst to them.
Director Vahid Mustafayev uses irony for dramatic effect during foreboding scenes of the past: Aliakbar and Gunel smash a mirror in the furniture store, whilst shopping for their new home, which hints at the years of bad luck to come. Furthermore, when Gunel spills a glass of wine on her wedding dress, the red stain resembles the blood on Aliakbar’s uniform when he is shot during a tragic battle, trying to rescue civilians.
On the battlefield, Mustafayev’s flashbacks to days of young love and wedding planning evoke an emotional response from the audience who, like Gunel, cling desperately to the hope that Aliakbar, the invincible hero and devoted lover, will return safely.
Musayev’s performance as Aliakbar is particularly impressive, and his portrayal of the brave, handsome, young hero is admirable and idyllic. On the other hand, Bahadir qizi’s performance is not quite as convincing, and her screen time only seems to consist of her wandering around in her wedding dress with the same fixed worried expression.
Nonetheless this a touchingly tragic film. Xoca is a wake-up call for the West who are largely unaware not only of the grave situation in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (or Artzakh), but worldwide and serves as a beautiful memorial to those who lost their lives that February.
Watch the trailer for Xoca (Khoja) here: