On January 20, 1990, 26,000 troops under orders from the Soviet leadership in Moscow invaded Baku, killing hundreds of innocent civilians and injuring over thousand, and setting in motion the events which led to Azerbaijan’s independence a year and a half later.
The invasion was launched at midnight and committed with ferocity and no mercy for children, women and elderly. The Human Rights Watch reported that ‘among the most heinous violations of human rights during the Baku incursion were the numerous attacks on medical personnel, ambulances and even hospitals’.
The significance of the “Black January” for the eventual collapse of the USSR cannot be overestimated. Peaceful demonstrations had been taking place for several weeks in downtown Baku, protesting the Soviet control of Azerbaijan. In fact, Azerbaijan was the first among the former Soviet republics to mount a serious move toward independence, and it was the prospect of a breakup of the Soviet empire that prompted Mikhail Gorbachev to send both armored troops and KGB officials to Baku. Despite the bloodshed, the Soviet leadership was unable to stop the quest for freedom of the Azerbaijani people. In 1991, Azerbaijan finally restored its independence.
Each year the people of Azerbaijan commemorate the Black January and pay tribute to the memory of the victims of this tragedy. May the souls of the martyrs of the Azerbaijani freedom rest in peace!
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