I join members of Azerbaijani Society of America (ASA), the oldest nationwide grassroots organization representing Azerbaijani-Americans, to remember the heroes of Azerbaijan’s struggle for freedom from the Soviet Union.
On the night of January 19-20, 1990, Soviet authorities staged the falling communist regime’s last brutal crime against own citizens. Amidst the popular uprising in Azerbaijan, 26,000 regular and special Soviet troops with support of tanks, helicopters and navy stormed the capital city of Baku, indiscriminately killing unarmed inhabitants.
Black January — as it came to be called — was the most violent crackdown on dissent during the Gorbachev’s glasnost era. According to the official counts, 137 civilians were killed that night alone, with up to 170 dead and 714 wounded by February 1990. An investigation team led by Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence that Soviet troops used unjustified and excessive force resulting in unnecessary civilian casualties. Heavily armed Soviet troops assaulted the city of Baku as an enemy position intended for military destruction; fired on clearly marked ambulances; used armored vehicles and weapons appropriate for sophisticated warfare to crush civilians. Additionally, the Soviet forces used expanding bullets prohibited by the 1899 Hague Convention, killing women, children, and elderly among many others that night.
Despite the scale of brutality, Black January reinforced Azerbaijanis’ determination for freedom. Within less than two years, in October 1991, Azerbaijan restored its independence from Soviet Union.
On this 27th anniversary of Black January, I call upon our public officials to join in recognition of Azerbaijan’s struggle for freedom.