January 21, 2014
January 21, 2014 - WASHINGTON, D.C. – Some 24 years ago, acting upon the orders of the USSR Communist Party leadership 26 000 Soviet troops, heavily armed and equipped with military combat vehicles, attacked Baku to suppress Azerbaijan’s independence movement. Altogether, more than 130 civilians were brutally killed and around 700 were wounded on January 20, 1990. The killing was indiscriminate with elderly, women, children and even medical personnel among the victims.
Despite drastic restrictions imposed on international reporters to cover these events, reports on the crimes by the Soviet military were published in the international media. On January 22, 1990 the Washington Post was quoting 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 the 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. Among first to tell the world about the Soviet crime of January 20 was formerly the highest ranking Azerbaijani in the USSR, Heydar Aliyev. By courageously speaking out against the brutality of the Soviet regime and denouncing the Communist Party, Heydar Aliyev, once a veteran Soviet politician, had established himself as the authority and leader of the emerging independent Azerbaijan.
Since then, every year on January 20, the people of Azerbaijan 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. Most symbolically throughout the day thousands of people march to the “Alley of Martyrs”, which located in one the highest points of the city of Baku houses the graves of the victims of the Black January and where an eternal flame memorizes their heroic sacrifice for the freedom and independence of the Azerbaijani nation.
The heroism of the people of Azerbaijan on January 20, 1990 made the final collapse of the Soviet Union inevitable. On October 18, 1991 Azerbaijan regained its independence and started to rebuild its statehood.
On January 21, 2014 the members of the Azerbaijani community and friends of Azerbaijan braved Washington’s severe winter weather and gathered at the Embassy of Azerbaijan to honor the sacrifice of those, who gave their lives for Azerbaijan’s independence. Speaking at the event, SAIS visiting scholar and former Israeli diplomat Dr Avinoam Idan shared his memories from the January of 1990 and emphasized the traditional diversity and openness of the Azerbaijani society.
Ms. Konul Suleymanli
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