20 January 2018 marks the 28th anniversary of the military invasion and vicious killing of civilians in the city of Baku, Azerbaijan by the forces of the Soviet Army on 20 January 1990.
In response to the rising national independence movement, the Soviet leadership ordered some 26000 troops with heavy military equipment to storm the city of Baku in an operation called “Strike”. The heavy handed crackdown resulted in 147 civilian deaths and the injuring of around 800 people.
The invasion was launched at midnight and was committed with particular violence against children, and the elderly. The use of force in Baku, as it was later stated by Dmitry Yazov, the then Minister of Defence of the USSR, was intended to prevent the takeover of the power in Azerbaijan by non-communist opposition and ensure that the communist government remained in power.
Human Rights Watch report on “Black January in Azerbaijan” stated, “Indeed, the violence used by the Soviet Army on the night of January 1990 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, non-communist 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 tragedy of 20 January was engraved in the history of Azerbaijan as “Black January”. Nevertheless, it was a heroic page in the history of the Azerbaijani people’s struggle for freedom and independence. This violent suppression brought a 70 year Soviet rule in Azerbaijan to an end and led to the restoration of its national independence. Many political analysts today believe the Soviet Union sealed its own fate in Baku on January 20th, as it became clear to other republics that not even such brutal military acts as those that were witnessed could extinguish the hopes and dreams of a nation seeking freedom and independence. Even though the Azerbaijani people suffered great losses from the tragedy of 20 January 1990, its pride and dignity remained untainted.
Black January was a turning point in the history of Azerbaijan and proved to be a vivid manifestation of the bravery and determination of its people in defending their national identity. To commemorate the memory of Azerbaijanis heroically perished in this tragedy, the “Alley of Martyrs” has been laid out at the highest point of the capital city of Baku. People from all over the country pay a visit to the Alley to honour and revere the victims of those events that paved the way for the independence and prosperity of the Republic of Azerbaijan today.