January 18, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. –Azerbaijanis pause today to pay tribute to their fellow citizens who were killed in one of the most brutal acts in the last moments of the Soviet Empire, an event known around the world as the Black January.
The Black January occurred when Soviet troops invaded Azerbaijan´s capital Baku. In the early morning hours and into the day of January 20, 1990, heavily armed soldiers and tanks attacked innocent civilians, slaughtering 133 people and wounding around 700.
The use of force by the Soviet regime was a response to Azerbaijan´s popular demand for independence. In fact, Azerbaijan was the first among the former Soviet republics to mount a serious move toward independence. However, despite the bloodshed, the Soviet leadership was unable to stop the quest for freedom of the Azerbaijani people.
The world watched in horror as the Soviet Army invaded Baku, firing indiscriminately at civilians. Western reporters were banned from travelling to Baku to cover the events, but the Washington Post on Jan. 22, 1990 quoted an eyewitness who said, "Soviet soldiers fired at almost anything that moved in the early hours of their occupation." According to a report published by Human Rights Watch, "among the most heinous violations of human rights…were the numerous attacks on medical personnel, ambulances and even hospitals." The report further stated that the punishment inflicted on Baku by Soviet soldiers appeared to have been intended as a warning to Azerbaijan as well as to other republics of the Soviet Union seeking independence. Soviet troops eventually withdrew from Baku, and Azerbaijan declared its independence on October 18, 1991. Azerbaijan has maintained and strengthsened its independence since then despite the military occupation of 20 percent of its territory by Armenia.
In Washington, members of the Azerbaijani community and friends of Azerbaijan gathered at the Embassy of Azerbaijan on January 18 to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the tragic events of 1990 and to honor the sacrifice of those, who gave their lives for Azerbaijan’s independence.