By Vafa Ismayilova
Azerbaijan marks the 31st anniversary of Black January, namely the brutal killing of over 140 people and wounding of hundreds of civilians by the Soviet army in capital Baku and outskirts on January 20, 1990.
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 political reality and gave a strong impetus to the Azerbaijani people`s struggle for independence.
On the night of January 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 Defence Ministry, State Security Committee and Interior Ministry 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 January 25 in Neftchala and on January 26 in Lankaran. As a result of the January tragedy, 147 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.
Political-legal recognition of January 20
The first political-legal recognition of the January 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 Azerbaijani people 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.
In its recent statement this year, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry commented on factors that stipulated the strengthening determination of the Azerbaijani nation to get independent from the Soviet Union.
“In the late 1980s, the aggressive separatist activities of chauvinist-minded Armenians in the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region of Azerbaijan, the USSR's support for these activities, and the subsequent forcible and brutal deportation of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from Armenia gave impetus to the expansion of the anti-Soviet movement in Azerbaijan," the ministry said.
The statement by the ministry later added that “it was on the night of January 19-20, 1990, that the Soviet army entered the country in order to prevent a nationwide movement and break the will of the Azerbaijani people to commit an unprecedented massacre of civilians in gross violation of international law and the Constitutions of the former USSR and Azerbaijan SSR”.
“However, the events of January 1990 did not break the determination of the Azerbaijani people to independence, and the country regained its independence. Today, the independence and sovereignty of Azerbaijan are unambiguously recognized and supported by the entire international community", the statement added.
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