By Fikret Dolukhanov
Baku, Azerbaijan: On January 20, Azerbaijan marks the tragic date – the 29th anniversary of the entry of Soviet troops in Baku.
The events that led to the tragedy of 1990 date back to 1987, when attempts to annex the Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and another wave of the expulsion of Azerbaijanis from their historical villages in Armenia were gaining momentum. Entering military units of the Soviet army into the country against the people, outraged by the aggressive actions of Armenia, which put forward territorial claims to Azerbaijan, and the complicity of the leadership of the former USSR to Armenians, and took to the streets and squares of Baku to express their strong protest against this, led to an unprecedented tragedy. The Soviet leadership committed a terrible crime against the Azerbaijani people, instead of preventing these growing tensions.
What Happened on Dreadful Day?
On the night of Jan. 19-20, under direct instructions from Mikhail Gorbachev, the then General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, military units from the USSR Ministry of Defense, State Security Committee and Ministry of Internal Affairs entered Baku and nearby regions, massacring the civilian population using heavy military equipment and other various forms of weaponry.
The Soviet army deployed a large contingent of special and internal troops in Baku who displayed unprecedented cruelty against the peaceful population. The army had brutally killed 82 civilians and severely wounded 20 others until a curfew was announced. Several days after the curfew was announced, 21 more civilians were murdered in Baku. Eight more civilians were killed in areas where a curfew had not been imposed, on Jan. 25 in Neftchala and on Jan. 26 in Lankaran.
As a result of the January tragedy, 131 civilians were killed and 744 more were wounded in Baku and nearby regions. Among those killed were women, children and the elderly, medical employees and policemen.
Mass arrests accompanied the illegal deployment of troops and the subsequent military intervention. A total of 841 civilians were arrested in Baku and other cities and regions of the republic, 112 of whom were sent to prisons in different cities of the USSR. The Soviet troops fired on 200 homes, 80 cars and set fire to a large number of public and private property, including ambulances.
List of victims of Baku Massacre victims
The victims of the tragic events of 1990 are symbolically named “20 January martyrs”. In total, there are 150 “20 January martyrs” in Azerbaijan (full list of victims of 20 Jan massacre in Baku).
Immediately after the tragedy, on Jan. 21, 1990, national leader Heydar Aliyev visited with his family members the office of Azerbaijan’s permanent representation in Moscow. He expressed solidarity with his people, sharply condemned the Soviet leadership for committing the bloody tragedy and exposed those who led the operation.
“I consider the events that took place in Azerbaijan as a violation of law, democracy, and of humanity… and the principles of constitutional state building… Had necessary measures been taken by the top party leadership at the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh events, we would not have faced escalated tensions that led to the deadly military assault launched on civilians on the night of Jan. 19-20 1990. Everyone involved in this crime must be appropriately punished,” Aliyev said.
At a session of the Milli Majlis of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic on Nov. 20, 1990, national leader Heydar Aliyev described the January tragedy as an assault on the Azerbaijani people`s sovereign rights.
“I think this tragedy, which took place on Jan. 19-20, is a result of the great fault of the political leadership of the Soviet Union, namely Gorbachev and his dictatorial ambitions, as well as of the then Azerbaijani leadership’s betrayal and crimes against their own people.
As I know, since the end of the Great Patriotic war there have never been internal mass killings of this gravity in the Soviet Union – nowhere, not in any territory of any region. And it is the Soviet army that committed this. The gravity of this crime is evidenced by the fact that the Minister of Defense of USSR Yazov and Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR Bakatin came to Baku in advance and commanded these military operations. The defense minister was rarely seen on the forefront during the war, but look just how important these operations were deemed, how large-scale they were considered, that marshal Yazov came to Baku and personally led the operations. All of these facts confirm that this was military aggression, an insult, as well a crime against the Azerbaijani people,” Aliyev underlined.
Being a basis for nationwide mourning, the January tragedy also demonstrated the firmness of the Azerbaijani people’s will, and determination. Unmoved by the Soviet army’s cruelty and the consequent imposition of a curfew in Baku, the people of Azerbaijan staged a massive rally in the city’s “Azadlig” square on January 22 to pay tribute to the martyrs of January 20. The burial ceremony at the Alley of Martyrs was attended by nearly two million people. By demand of the people, the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan SSR even convened an extraordinary session and adopted a decision on the abolishment of the curfew in the city of Baku. Fearing people`s anger, members of the republic’s leadership at the time did not attend the session.
The Birth of Independence
This epochal event was the deciding factor in forming Azerbaijani national identity and marked a turning point in restoring national independence. It was the January tragedy that turned a national liberation movement into a political reality and gave strong impetus to the Azerbaijani people’s struggle for independence.
The first political-legal recognition of the Jan. 20 tragedy came on March 29, 1994, when Azerbaijan’s legislative body Milli Majlis adopted a relevant resolution on national leader Heydar Aliyev’s initiative. The resolution read:
“The deployment of the Soviet troops in the city of Baku and several other regions and the brutal killing of civilians, with the intent to suppress, to break the confidence and will of a people who by peaceful means demanded a new democratic and sovereign state and to humiliate their national identity as a show of Soviet army power must be regarded as a military aggression and crime of the totalitarian communist regime against the people of Azerbaijan”.
The people of Azerbaijan continue to hold the memories of the martyrs dear to their hearts. On January 20 of each year, thousands of people visit the Alley of Martyrs to pay their tributes by laying flowers, say prayers for the victims and express their condemnation of the perpetrators of the tragedy.
Each year at midday on January 20, a nationwide moment of silence is observed to commemorate January 20 martyrs. Ships, cars, and trains sound sirens throughout the country, commemorative events are held in all cities and towns, and the national flag is lowered on all buildings.
From Nagorno-Karabakh to Kashmir— A tale of Unresolved Agenda of United Nations
It is worth noting that on such an important day for the Azerbaijani people, the friendly people of Pakistan also support them and share their grief. Events are held in Pakistan to commemorate victims of the tragic events, and the Pakistani media publish numerous materials on “bloody January”. The two countries stand side by side, just as in the issue of a just settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on one side and the India-Pakistan Kashmir conflict on the other.
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries arose in 1988 due to the territorial claims of Armenia against Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions – 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan – are under the occupation of the Armenian armed forces. Tens of thousands of people were killed; over a million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons.
Since gaining independence in 1947, the Pakistani people have suffered hundreds of thousands of victims in the struggle for independence and the liberation of Kashmir, populated mainly by Muslims. Many hundreds of thousands of people were injured, mutilated, or severely abused. This state of affairs persists to this day.
Both conflicts remain unresolved, taking lives of innocent people. However, we do believe that justice will eventually triumph, and peace will reign in Karabakh and Kashmir, which will be a bright day for both fraternal peoples.
Using materials of AZERTAC and the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Azerbaijan.