Black January

Black January (Azeri: "Qara Yanvar"), also known as Black Saturday or the January Massacre was a crackdown of Azeri protest demonstrations by the Soviet army in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR on January 20, 1990. In Azerbaijan, Black January is seen as the birth of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Early problems

*See also "Pogrom of Armenians in Baku"The demonstrators protested against ethnic violences, demanded an ouster of Azerbaijani communist officials and called for independence from the Soviet Union. Local government lost control over the situation, as early as the fall of 1989 pogroms broke out against Armenians across Azerbaijan, with a death toll of 48 [ [ Human Rights Watch. “Playing the "Communal Card": Communal Violence and Human Rights”] ] or 66 [ [ Alexei Zverev, with many more severely injured as a result of the violence. Contested borders in the Caucasus] ] before Soviet troops intervened and Moscow decided to preserve Soviet power in Baku by force, and evacuate the remaining Armenians. The world chess champion at the time, Garry Kasparov who was an Armenian-Jew from Baku was among the evacuees. [ [ Kasparov Chess Foundation - Bio] ]

= Military force =History of AzerbaijanThe 12,000 strong MVD internal troops and numerous Soviet army and fleet units of Baku garrison and Caspian Flotilla did not intervene to stop riots, claiming that they had no orders from Moscow authorities. One week later, late at night on January 19, 1990, 26,000 Soviet troops stormed Baku. The Soviet troops attacked the protesters firing in the crowds. The shooting continued for three days. They acted pursuant to a state of emergency (which continued on for more than 4 months) declared by the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium, signed by President Gorbachev and disclosed to the Azerbaijani public only after many citizens lay wounded or dead in the streets, hospitals and morgues of Baku. According to the official Moscow, the soldiers were sent into Baku to prevent the violent overthrow of the local authorities and a fresh outbreak of violence against ethnic minorities in the city. [ [ Upheaval in the East, by Bill Keller, The New York Times, February 18, 1990] ]


According to official figures, 137 people died from wounds received that night and during subsequent violent confrontations and incidents that lasted in February (unofficial sources put this figure as over 300); [cite web | url= | title=Azerbaijan International - Black January | date=1998-03-01 | accessdate=2008-02-13] the majority of these were civilians killed by Soviet soldiers. More than 700 civilians were wounded. Hundreds of people were detained, only a handful of whom were put on trial for alleged criminal offenses.

State of Emergency

According to Human Rights Watch, "while the Kremlin's ostensible reason for the military action was to safeguard the Armenian population, most evidence simply does not support this contention. For example, documents of the military procurator's office in Baku examined by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki indicate that the military action was being planned even before the January 13, 1990 pogroms". [ [ Human Rights Watch. “Playing the "Communal Card": Communal Violence and Human Rights”] ]

The Soviet army was trying to rescue the totalitarian regime, the rule of Communist Party and Soviet Union.

Almost the whole population of Baku turned out to bury the dead on the third day - January 22. For another 40 days, the country stayed away from work in a sign of mourning and mass protest.

The then Soviet Defense Minister Dimitri Yazov stated that the use of force in Baku was intended to prevent the de facto takeover of the Azerbaijani government by the noncommunist opposition, namely People's Front of Azerbaijan(PFA) to prevent their victory in upcoming free elections (scheduled for March, 1990), to destroy them as a political force, and to ensure that the Communist government remained in power.

The extreme session of the Supreme Council of the Azerbaijan SSR held on January 22 1990 at request of the people and initiative of the group of deputies tried to evaluate the January 20 events and adopted some documents condemning the behavior of Soviet army.

Black January

The Human Rights Watch report entitled "Black January in Azerbaijan" states: "Indeed, 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. Since Soviet officials have stated publicly that the purpose of the intervention of Soviet troops was to prevent the ouster of the Communist-dominated government of the Republic of Azerbaijan by the nationalist-minded, noncommunist opposition, 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 subsequent events in the Baltic Republics - where, in a remarkable parallel to the events in Baku, alleged civil disorder was cited as justification for violent intervention by Soviet troops -further confirms that the Soviet Government has demonstrated that it will deal harshly with nationalist movements," continues the Human Rights Watch report.

The Wall Street Journal editorial of January 4, 1995, stated:"It was Mr. Gorbachev's recall, who in January 1990 chose to defend his use of violence against the independence-seeking Azerbaijan on the grounds that the people of this then-Soviet republic were heavily armed gangs of hooligans and drug-traffickers who were destabilizing the country and quite possibly receiving support from foreign governments."

Gross violation of human rights and massacre in Azerbaijan caused little reaction of Western powers. Mikhail Gorbachev's regime was adamantly supported against "heavily armed gangs of hooligans and drug-traffickers." The tragedy mostly went on in silence.

The brutal use of force in Azerbaijan created an anti-force. It buried chances of preserving the collapsing empire and resurrected national movement for independence.


In 1991 Azerbaijan became independent.

Gorbachev later apologized to Azerbaijan by stating: Declaring a state of emergency in Baku was the biggest mistake in my political life.

In 1994, the National Assembly of Azerbaijan gave the events a full political and legal evaluation for the first time. With the Decrees of the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev of December 16 1999 all the victims of the crackdown were awarded the title "Shahid of January 20."

See also

* History of Azerbaijan
* History of the Soviet Union
* April 9, 1989 Massacre
* Jeltoqsan

Notes and references

External links

* [ Black January: Baku (1990) / Azerbaijan International (Spring 1998)]

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