Never forget ‘Black January’

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

On the night of January 20, 1990, Azerbaijan was invaded by 26,000 Soviet troops. After blowing up the national television transmission block, and imposing an immediate informational blockade on the entire republic, the Red Army rolled its tanks through the streets of Azeri capital Baku, indiscriminately firing at everything that moved. Official count puts the death toll at 140 civilians, with over 700 wounded. The images of streets full of massacred civilians were reminiscent of the Red Army’s crimes perpetrated against civilians in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968.

In a report titled “Black January in Azerbaijan,” Human Rights Watch stated that the violence used by the Soviet Army on that night constituted an “exercise in collective punishment.”

The investigation revealed that in their pursuit for higher casualties, the Red Army used the 5.45 mm caliber bullets with the shifted center of gravity, which upon entering a body spiral through the organs, causing excessive pain and internal bleeding, thus increasing chances of death.

These tragic events known to the world as the “Black January” marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet rule in Azerbaijan, and eventually caused cracks in the foundations of the Soviet statehood. Twenty-seven 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 every year to pay tribute to the memory of the victims who laid down their lives for the country’s independence.

Myself and my family are joining the US Azeris Network (USAN) in commemorating the tragedy and its victims, and ask for your support by also commemorating the victims with a minute of silence and statement for the record, just like some state legislatures have done before.

Yadigar Melikova