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Azerbaijan: Black January

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Eastern & Central Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Citizen Media, Elections, Ethnicity & Race, History, Human Rights, Politics, Protest, War & Conflict

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices [1].

As much of the world celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, Azerbaijan mourned the 19th anniversary of an event which ultimately led to its independence from the former Soviet Union. With Moscow's power over its satellites weakened, ethnic tensions in the South Caucasus would soon erupt into war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.

Many among Armenia's ethnic Azerbaijani population had already fled or been forced to leave the country in 1988 and continued to do so over the next year, and clashes in Nagorno Karabakh which left 2 Azeris dead and 50 Armenians wounded stoked existing tensions. Three days later, anti-Armenian pogroms in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait resulted in the deaths of at least 6 Azeris and 26 ethnic Armenians.

As stories of mutual violence between the two ethnic groups continued to circulate, the situation quickly escalated, and on 13 January 1990 another anti-Armenian pogram broke out in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. Figures vary, but anywhere between 48 and 66 — or possibly more — ethnic Armenians were killed.

By 19 January, most of the city's Armenian minority had fled, and the next day Soviet tanks and thousands of soldiers had already moved in ostensibly to stem the ethnic violence which had reportedly subsided. Until this day, questions linger as to why it took so long for Moscow to react, but Human Rights Watch alleges that the military incursion had been planned long before.

Indeed, the international human rights organization and other independent observers conclude that the intervention was staged not to protect ethnic Armenians, but to prevent the victory of pro-independence political forces in elections scheduled the following month. At least 130 people were killed and 700 wounded in what is now known as “Black January.”

Presently on a short visit to Azerbaijan, Anna Takes a Trip comments [2].

Although today was a joyful day for the U.S., it was a sad day of mourning and remembrance here in Baku. On the 20th of January (“Black January”) they remember the day in 1990 when after rumblings of possible independence Soviet troops rolled in and killed dozens of innocent civilian protestors. The entire city goes up to “Martyr’s Avenue,” an absolutely stunning and beautiful monument that ends with a perpetual fire overlooking the city and the Caspian Sea. You could actually feel the sadness in the air. In 1991 Azerbaijan successfully declared its independence from the USSR.

Learning to Walk in Stilettos also remarks on the day [3], coming as it did as Obama was sworn into office, while “Side-tALKS” Azerbaijan reflects on what the anniversary means [4] for the country nearly two decades later.

Its now 19 years since the sons and daughters of Azerbaijan gave their life for freedom. These martyrs were victims of the then Kremlin aggression. A defeat on human freedom was a typical characteristic of the communism ideology. Therefore on every hint on the people’s inclination to emancipation, Kremlin had acted with severe military actions.

On that faithful, the 20th of January 1990, the Azerbaijan population woke up to witness a great number of the Russia army in their capital Baku. The direct order wasn’t exact but the consequences of the day was so clear –there were hundreds of innocent civilians -men, women and children killed particularly in the center of the capital city. There were fathers went to work and never returned; children went to school, bidding their parents good bye without realizing that that was the last good bye they will ever wish them. Women went to market and never returned; wives and husbands were separated by death prematurely.

Sheki, Azerbaijan comments from a local perspective [5].

USSR era ended for Azerbaijan with last massacre Soviet Army has brought upon it on 19-20 January, 1990…

In short Azerbaijan Republic had declared independence and Soviet Army entered on tanks and with Kalashnikovs in their hands to show power and who was in charge… Although USSR government knew that USSR was collapsing and Republics were going independent, government didn’t want to give away the last chance of showing its deep hatred toward free minds and people I must say in general…


I will neither go into details of wildness when tanks were going over armless people and soldiers were shooting to every window they saw light in…


I am a woman, mother, spouse and sister and I don’t believe into wars and revenge. To me the most valuable thing on planet Earth is a life of a person, of any person…We had two explosions in Baku tube during last ten years…The country is in ceasefire but now and then coffins of some young guys go back to their homes and ruin lives of their families…I am following the news from places like Gaza, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, civil wars in Africa and it is unfortunate to see what people are doing… […]

20 January is the day Azerbaijanis pay tribute to those who gave their lives for the country's independence…

Sapanov [RU], the blog of a Russian living in Baku, remembers events [6] as they happened.

Напрямую меня те страшные события не коснулись. Но беда была вокруг. У соседского сотрудника погибла 12-летняя дочь Лариса. Погиб врач скорой помощи Александр Мархевка, выехавший к раненым… Страшная была ночь. Да и вообще времена жуткие. До сих пор помню патрульные БТР, гоняющие под окнами, военные палатки на Московском проспекте и автоматчиков, исподлобья поглядывающих на любопытных и мало что понимающих детишек.

Those terrible events didn’t effect me directly, but the evil was everywhere. Neighbor’s 12 years old daughter, Larisa was killed. Alexander Markhevka, ambulance doctor who drove out to help wounded was also killed… It was a terrible night. Even today I recall armored vehicles patrolling the streets, military tents in Moscow Avenue and soldiers with submachine guns – kids frowning at the curious and hardly understanding anything.

Meanwhile, Doctor Ziya [AZ], posts photographs [7] of American journalist Thomas Goltz being interviewed by the Azadliq Azeri service of RFE/RL. It also quotes the well-known specialist on Azerbaijan who likens the day to 4 July in the United States.

«Əlbəttə, həmin günlərdə ölənlərə görə məyusam, kədərlənirəm. Amma nəticədə axı siz müstəqilliyi əldə etdiniz. Bu tarix sizin üçün ABŞ-da qeyd olunan Müstəqillik Günü kimi, 4 İyul kimi olmalıdır. Buna fəxrlə yanaşmaq lazımdır, ağlamaq yox».

Of course I am sorry for people perished those days. However, as a result you acquired independence. This date should be to you as the Independence Day in US. You should be proud, not to mourn.

Now that its broadcasts have been banned [8] in the country, Azadliq continues to use its website to disseminate news and images, including a photo slide show of images [9] from that fateful day.

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices [1].