Tomorrow Azerbaijanis and their friends from all over the world will mark the Day of Nationwide Sorrow – the 27th anniversary of tragic events when in the early hours of January 20, 1990 the Soviet Army forces, without any notification, entered Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan and attacked unarmed protesters. Years pass by, yet we vividly remember the innocent victims of these tragic events dubbed as Black January and pay tribute to our courageous compatriots who gave their invaluable lives for Azerbaijan’s freedom and independence.
In late 1980s Azerbaijan faced continuous provocations and unjustified territorial claims by Armenia that was supported by their marionettes in the Soviet leadership under Mikhail Gorbachov. It all began in February 1988, when representatives of the Armenian community of the Nagorno Karabakh region, in violation of Azerbaijan’s and former USSR’s Constitutions, voted for leaving Azerbaijan and joining Armenia.
This separatist provocation was supported by the leadership of Armenia and aggressive nationalists who launched an extensive anti-Azerbaijani campaign in the Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and in Armenia. As a result of continuous deadly attacks, more than 250 thousands Azerbaijanis were forced to flee Armenia, where their ancestors had lived for centuries. In the course of mass deportation from Armenia at least 216 Azerbaijanis were killed and 1154 people were wounded.
Exercising their civil rights as the citizens of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijanis of various ethnic and religious backgrounds, started to peacefully protest by holding demonstrations and demanding from the central government in Moscow to put an end to the acts of violence being committed by Armenians.
The response of Mikhail Gorbachov’s government was brutal. As a result of this full-scale military assault, 147 Azerbaijani civilians of different nationalities were killed, 744 people were wounded and 841 were indiscriminately detained or arrested. Unprecedented atrocities were committed by the Soviet military forces, such as executing the wounded, firing at civilians, residential buildings, stores, medical and other facilities. Clearly marked ambulances were also the targets and were not allowed to aid the wounded. Many civilians were shot in their apartments, buildings entryways, buses and work places. During the post-mortem investigation of bullet wounds, forensic experts and doctors performing autopsies noted the particularly damaging effects of the bullets.
All these facts were confirmed by independent reports, including the investigation by the Helsinki Wach/Memorial group which said, “Soviet troops used unjustified and excessive forces resulting in unnecessary civilian casualties, including scores of deaths”. The investigation concluded that “heavily armed Soviet soldiers assaulted the city of Baku as though it were an enemy position intended for military destruction”.
However, the Soviet regime’s atrocities against civilians couldn’t break the persistence of citizens of Azerbaijan to fight for their rights and territorial integrity of our country. On that dark and cold winter night in January 1990 the invincible will and struggle for justice of the people of Azerbaijan overcame the Soviet military machine. Millions of Azerbaijanis took it to the streets to bury our fallen heroes. The Black January became the turning point in the history of Azerbaijan as all citizens united in striving for our sovereignty and independence, which eventually led to the restoration of Azerbaijan’s state independence.