ANKARA (AA) – Every year on Jan. 20 Azerbaijan marks the anniversary of the 1990 tragic events, also known as Black January, remembering the violence from the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Seen as the rebirth of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Black January – now National Mourning Day – witnessed the massacre of nearly 150 people in Baku on Jan. 20, 1990, on the eve of the country’s independence.
On the night of Jan. 19-20, under direct instructions from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the State Security Committee and Ministry of Internal Affairs entered Baku and nearby regions, massacring the civilian population using heavy military equipment and other weaponry.
That night 26,000 Soviet troops invaded Baku, Sumgait and other cities of Azerbaijan by order of the USSR leadership.
The military intervention left 147 civilians killed and 744 others seriously injured.
The Soviet troops fired on 200 homes, 80 cars and set fire to public and private property, including ambulances.
According to Azerbaijani authorities, the Black January tragedy proved that the nation’s striving for liberty and independence was irreversible.
Mass arrests accompanied the illegal deployment of troops and subsequent military intervention.
The Soviet army’s massacre on Jan. 20 completely shook Azerbaijanis’ confidence in the USSR, accelerating the process leading to the country’s independence.
On the 32nd anniversary of the tragedy, Azerbaijanis refer to Black January as a day of sorrow, but at the same time, as a day of pride, because the country’s heroes who perished laid the groundwork for the state’s independence.
Reasons behind tragedy
The events that led to the tragedy of Black January date back to the late 1980s, when attempts to annex then Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and another wave of the expulsion of native Azerbaijani people from their historical lands were gaining momentum.
Instead of preventing growing tensions, the Soviet leadership committed a “crime” against the Azerbaijani people, Azerbaijan says.
“Before these tragic events, the groundless territorial claims of Armenia against Azerbaijan in the late 1980s, the aggressive separatist activities of Armenian radicals in the former Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous oblast of the then Azerbaijan SSR, the Soviet leadership’s support for these activities and the violent and brutal deportation of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from Armenia spurred the expansion of the movement against the Soviet government in Azerbaijan,” according to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry.
Deployed in the country to prevent the national movement and break the will of the Azerbaijani people for independence, the Soviet Army committed “massacre” against the civilian population, violating the norms of international law and the Constitutions of the former USSR and the Azerbaijan SSR, the statement added.
Azerbaijani authorities highlight that the “hatred” behind the Black January tragic events was also influenced by the Armenian advisors who had lobbied Gorbachev for a long time on many other issues regarding Azerbaijan “in a negative way.”
Immediately after the tragic events, Azerbaijan’s late President Heydar Aliyev held a news conference at the Permanent Representation of Azerbaijan in Moscow, strongly condemning the atrocity and demanding a political assessment of the killing of Azerbaijani people and the punishment of the perpetrators.
In a special session at Azerbaijani parliament in February 1994, the brutal killing of innocent people on Jan. 20, 1990, was described as military aggression and a crime.
As an outcome of deliberations in March 1994, a decision “on the tragic events committed in Baku on Jan. 20, 1990” was adopted, declaring Jan. 20 the National Mourning Day.
‘No justice achieved yet’
Despite being one of the “most serious crimes” of the 20th century by its essence and scope, these events have not yet received international political and legal assessment, said the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry.
The former Soviet leadership “bears direct responsibility” for this crime, the ministry said, adding that the Jan. 20 events should be recognized as a “crime against humanity” in accordance with international law, and those who ordered and perpetrated it must be held accountable.
“We commemorate with deep respect and gratitude the memory of all our heroes who gave their lives for the independence of Azerbaijan, as well as for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country,” it said.
The victims of the tragic events of 1990 are symbolically named “Jan. 20 martyrs.” In total, there are 150 such people buried in the Alley of Martyrs in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
On Jan. 20 each year, thousands of people visit the Alley of Martyrs to pay tribute to the victims, say prayers and express their condemnation of the perpetrators of the tragedy.
Each year at midday on Jan. 20, a nationwide moment of silence is observed to commemorate the victims.