Today, the Republic of Azerbaijan is marking the 31st anniversary of the most heinous massacres committed against its people by the Soviet troops. The mass killing of more than 130 civilians in the city of Baku three decades ago became the grand event, which cracked the foundations of the adversary – the Soviet regime. At the end of 1980s, the Azerbaijani people who always looked to the West and desired to break free from communism, protested against Moscow’s unjust policies against Azerbaijan.
To crush the voices of Azerbaijan and suppress the emerging Western values of democracy, on the night of January 19-20, 1990, Azerbaijan was invaded by 26,000 Soviet troops. After blowing up the national television transmission block and imposing an immediate informational blockade on the entire republic, the Red Army units rolled its tanks through the streets of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku indiscriminately firing at everything that moved. Determined to crush the popular protests against the Kremlin’s oppression at any cost, Gorbachev imposed an emergency rule over Baku after the massacre already took place. By the morning hours of January 20, more than hundred civilians lay dead on the streets of the city, and more would be killed in the following days. Official count puts the death toll at 140 civilians killed, with over 700 wounded. The images of streets full of massacred civilians were reminiscent of the Red Army’s crimes perpetrated against civilians in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968.
In a report titled “Black January in Azerbaijan”, Human Rights Watch stated that “the violence used by the Soviet Army on the night of January 19-20 was so out of proportion to the resistance offered by Azerbaijanis as to constitute an exercise in collective punishment.
The punishment inflicted on Baku by Soviet soldiers may have been intended as a warning to nationalists, not only in Azerbaijan, but in the other Republics of the Soviet Union.”
The investigation revealed that in their pursuit for higher casualties, the Red Army used the infamous 5.45 mm caliber bullets with the shifted center of gravity, which upon entering a body – unlike conventional bullets – travel in sporadic movements spiraling through the organs causing excessive pain and internal bleeding, thus increasing chances of death.
The Soviet attack against innocent civilians in Azerbaijan followed massacres in other Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan in 1986 and Georgia in 1989 and was tragically replicated one year later in Lithuania, although the brutality of the “Black January” tragedy was the biggest exercise in collective punishment by reactionary forces of Moscow. Similar crimes were committed abroad, during the invasion of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Afghanistan in 1979.
These tragic events known to the world as the “Black January” marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet rule in Azerbaijan, and eventually caused cracks in the foundations of the Soviet statehood. Thirty years later, there is no sign of “Black January” declining in significance. Millions of Azerbaijanis and friends of Azerbaijan visit Martyrs’ Alley in the capital city Baku on January 20 to pay tribute to the memory of the victims who laid their lives for the country’s independence.
Azerbaijanis all over the world commemorate the tragedy and its victims with a minute of silence, just like they do every year on October 23 commemorating all the martyrs of the Hungarian 1956 revolution.
The blood was not shed in vain. Today both Azerbaijan and Hungary are the independent states. And our peoples know the price of freedom.