January 20: Rebirth of Azerbaijani identity
January 20, 1990, known as Black January, was the point of no return in Azerbaijan's journey to territorial integrity.
This year, as the country marks the 33rd anniversary of the tragic day, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry commemorates the memory of compatriots, who sacrificed their lives for the territorial integrity of the country, the freedom of people, and the independence of the state.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that the Azerbaijani army had liberated its territories and finally restored the territorial integrity of the country under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, specifying that further actions against the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan will continue to be adequately countered.
On the night of January 19-20, under direct instructions from Mikhail Gorbachev, the then Secretary-General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, military units of the Soviet Defense Ministry, the KGB (the State Security Committee), and the Interior Ministry entered Baku and nearby regions to suppress large-scale popular uprisings against the aggressive actions of Armenia and the central government's indifference.
Codenamed "Blow", the 40,000-strong Soviet troops began to fire indiscriminately at civilians without warning and declared a state of emergency.
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, the elderly, medics, and policemen.
At the same time, 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 ministry reported that the Soviet army was sent to the country in order to forcefully suppress the mass protests of the Azerbaijani people and the national independence movement, which had started in response to the USSR leadership’s discrimination policy against Azerbaijani people, as well as the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from their historical lands in the territory of present-day Armenia and Armenia’s unfounded territorial claims against Karabakh, committed an unprecedented massacre against the civilian population grossly violating international law and the constitution.
According to the statement, January 21 saw Azerbaijan’s National Leader Heydar Aliyev demonstrate his solidarity with his people at the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan in Moscow. He strongly condemned the crime committed against the Azerbaijani people, demanding political and legal assessment of the massacre, and punishment of the perpetrators.
Further, at the special session of the Azerbaijani parliament in February 1994 the brutal killing of innocent people was qualified as military aggression and a crime, and later, in March 1994, the parliament adopted a relevant resolution on national leader Heydar Aliyev's initiative.
The ministry pointed out that the tragedy of January 20 had a decisive influence on the formation of the national identity of Azerbaijan and became a turning point in the restoration of the independence of the country.
“Azerbaijani people, who were subjected to military, political, and moral aggression of the Soviet regime 33 years ago, showed commitment to their historical traditions of struggle. On that tragic day, the sons of the motherland, who gave their lives in defense of justice wrote a brilliant page in the heroic chronicle of our people,” the ministry underlined.
The statement emphasized that while January 20 was marked in the country’s history as a day of tragedy, as well as of national pride, the Azerbaijani people conveyed to the world that they deserve to live free, sovereign and independent.
Finally, the ministry pointed out that although 33 years have passed since the horrible tragedy, it was not given an international legal assessment.
“The leadership of the former Soviet Union is directly responsible for this crime. According to international law, the January 20 tragedy should be qualified as a crime against humanity, and its instigators and perpetrators must be punished,” the ministry called.
Every year on this day, the residents of Azerbaijan visit the Alley of Martyrs, where the sons and daughters of Azerbaijan, who gave their lives for the independence and integrity of the homeland, are buried. A nationwide moment of silence is observed to commemorate the January 20 martyrs.
As mentioned, this day will forever be inscribed in the country's history as a day of heroic struggle in the name of Azerbaijan's freedom and territorial integrity.
Sabina Mammadli is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @SabinaMmdl
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