LONDON – 20th January 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the Black January tragedy, military invasion and indiscriminate killing of civilians in Baku, Azerbaijan by the Soviet troops on 19-20 January 1990. In response to the national independence movement, the Soviet leadership ordered some 26000 troops equipped with heavy military equipment such as tanks, in an operation called “Strike” (Udar), to storm the city of Baku. The heavy-handed crackdown resulted in indiscriminate killing of 137 civilians with more than 800 injured and many others went missing. The Soviet army also attacked the state TV building, cutting off the power supply in an attempt to prevent the dissemination of news to the international community.
The day the tragedy took place later came to be known as Black January or Black Saturday, widely commemorated in Azerbaijan and by Azerbaijani communities around the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis visit the Martyrs’ Lane, where the victims of Black January lay buried, to pay respects to the victims. January 20th is a national mourning day in Azerbaijan with nationwide commemorations taking place and the national flag flying at half-mast over the public buildings and diplomatic missions abroad. Though it was a tragic and sad day, the 20th January events are also considered a milestone on the road to Azerbaijan’s independence from the Soviet Union. It shook the Soviet rule in Azerbaijan and led to the regaining of independence of Azerbaijan on 18 October 1991.
Human Rights Watch report on Black January notes: “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. …………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 Wall Street Journal editorial of January 4, 1995 stressed that the then Soviet leader Gorbachev chose to use violence against “independence-seeking Azerbaijan.”
Reflecting on the 25th anniversary of Black January tragedy, Ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh said: “Today our people, both in Azerbaijan and abroad, remember the victims of Black January tragedy. Undoubtedly this is one of the most tragic and at the same time heroic moments in our history. It represents a chapter of heroism, great patriotism and selfless willingness on the part of our nation to sacrifice for the cause of independence of Azerbaijan. We should take pride in the fact that our people’s fight for independence shook the foundations of the Soviet regime and led to the subsequent regaining of independence. We also need to strive to ensure perpetrators of this crime against humanity are brought to justice”.