By Fikir Gilitsi, Political Analyst
Azerbaijanis will never forget the night of 19 and 20 January 1990 for at least two reasons. One, they lost over 150 Azerbaijan’s beloved sons and daughters. Two, it became even clearer for them that they are no longer destined to live under USSR, and they must pay any price to regain the independence that they once had and should always enjoy.
Of course, prior to that night, Azerbaijanis had to deal with groundless territorial claims of Armenia, the Soviet leadership’s support to aggressive separatist activities of Armenian radicals in Karabakh Autonomous Region, as well as the violent and brutal deportation of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from Armenia. Azerbaijanis would come out and voice their angers against these mistreatments and exploitations, leading to a national movement for independence.
What the Soviet leadership replied to these virtuous voices was to crack them down by force. In a bid to prevent national movement and break the will of Azerbaijan people, the Soviet leadership ordered over 26,000 troops to invade Baku, Sumgait, and other Azerbaijani cities. These troops brutally massacred innocent Azerbaijani civilians using even massive ammunitions including tanks. Officially, 131 people were killed in one night only, unofficially, figures swell to at least 300 and possibly more.
Many accounts confirmed that the Soviet army have shot people at point-blank range with special brutality, carried out deliberate assaults of tanks and armored personnel carriers on cars, and bombarded hospital, prevented medical personnel from helping the wounded. Troops wounded civilians with bayonet knives. Sights of Baku were terribly dreadful as streets were bloodstained and squires full of remains of mutilated corpses, crushed cars, bullet-riddled houses and asphalts.
This real tragic shock as a result of a pre-prepared military operation by KGB, according to analysis conducted later on, showed the anti-people and bloody essence of the totalitarian Soviet regime, shaped Azerbaijanis’ struggle from a national liberation movement into a political reality and gave strong impetus to the struggle for independence.
The Soviet invasion in Baku and other cities of Azerbaijan that night sometimes is being hypocritically justified as a need to prevent so-called “pogroms against Armenians”. However, the truth is that after invasion and establishment of military power in Baku and other territories of Azerbaijan subordinated directly to the Soviet leadership, not even single criminal case was initiated based on that “need”, meaning that it was just a fake pretext to suppress movement for independence of Azerbaijani people.
Following the tragedy, National leader Heydar Aliyev, at a press conference at the Permanent Representation of Azerbaijan in Moscow, strongly condemned this atrocity and demanded a political assessment of the massacre against civilians and punishment for perpetrators.
The first political-legal recognition of the January 20 tragedy came on March 29, 1994, when Azerbaijan’s legislative body Milli Majlis (Parliament) 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.”
After 33 years since the tragic incidents of January 20, which one of serious crimes of the 20th century in its essence and scope against the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international legal documents, it is yet to be described as a crime against humanity, and its initiators and perpetrators, former Soviet leadership who were directly responsible for the crime, must be brought to justice as per international laws.
However, the people of Azerbaijan continue to hold the memories of the martyrs dear to their hearts. The souls of Azerbaijani heroic martyrs who paid the maximum price with their lives for the independence of Azerbaijan, sovereignty and territorial integrity of their country, have found peace. Now, Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is restored, thanks to the leadership of the victories Supreme Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev and the brave Azerbaijani army.
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.