January 19, 2009

Contact: contact[AT]

Azerbaijanis around the world commemorate 19th anniversary of “Black January” events

On January 19-20th, the Azerbaijani-Americans and all Azerbaijanis around the world commemorate the 19th anniversary of “Black January” tragedy that marked the beginning of the end of Soviet rule in Azerbaijan.

At around midnight, on the night of January 19-20, 1990, sovereign Azerbaijan was invaded by 26,000 Soviet troops pursuant to a “state of emergency” that had been declared in secret by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow. The military invasion was the response of Kremlin to suppress pro-independence and pro-democracy movement in the country. Soviet troops attacked Baku from all directions, including the sea. Peaceful demonstrators were shot in the streets. Tanks crushed cars loaded with passengers still inside. Even people looking out from apartment windows and balconies became fatalities. Unbelievably, soldiers opened fire on ambulances. This unprecedented military attack on unarmed citizens in Soviet Azerbaijan sent shock waves throughout the country.

A courageous resistance by Azerbaijanis to the Soviet invasion continued into February. Eventually, 170 Azerbaijanis were killed, 321 disappeared (their bodies never recovered), over 700 wounded, and still hundreds more were rounded up and detained.

In a report titled “Black January in Azerbaijan”, Human Rights Watch put the onrush of events into a larger perspective: “…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 Soviet attack against innocent civilians in Azerbaijan followed massacres in other Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan in 1986 and Georgia in 1989 and was tragically replicated one year later in Lithuania, although the brutality of the “Black January” tragedy was the biggest exercise in collective punishment by reactionary forces of the Communist Party.

The terrible event remembered by this commemoration was an atrocity–but it also gave birth to a hope that led eventually to independence and freedom the following year. Eighteen years later, there is no sign of “Black January” declining in significance. Millions of Azerbaijanis and friends of Azerbaijan visit Martyrs’ Alley in the Azeri capital, Baku on January 20th to pay tribute to the memory of their compatriots who laid their lives for the country’s independence. They lay flowers on the graves of the victims and the nation’s commitment to independence, democracy, and freedom is renewed.

The U.S. Azeris Network (USAN) is joining the Azerbaijani-American diaspora and its component organizations in commemorating the tragedy and its victims, and ask for your support by also commemorating the victims with a minute of silence. May all the victims rest in peace!

# # #

The U.S. Azeris Network (USAN) <> is a registered non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian genuine grassroots advocacy and voter education network that is facilitating political activism and efforts by the Azerbaijani-Americans and other Turkic-Americans and their associations, organizations, councils, conferences, and other formal, semi-formal and informal groups, on federal, state and local levels. USAN is the first nationwide grassroots organization uniting Azerbaijani-Americans, being created by the grassroots, for the grassroots.

USAN PR#1-1-2009