Twenty-four years ago, on the night of January 19-20, 1990, Soviet authorities staged the falling empire’s last brutal crime against its own citizens. Amid a popular uprising in Baku, Azerbaijan, 26,000 regular and special Soviet troops with support of tanks, helicopters and navy stormed the city, indiscriminately killing unarmed inhabitants.
Black January was the most violent crackdown on dissent during Mikhail 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. It reported that heavily armed Soviet troops assaulted 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 troops used expanding bullets prohibited by the 1899 Hague Convention, killed women, children and elderly people, among many others that night.
Despite the scale of brutality, Black January reinforced Azerbaijanis’ determination for freedom.
On the third day of the massacre, more than 2 million people rallied at the mass funerals of the victims, defying the Soviet military curfew. Within two years, in October 1991, Azerbaijan restored its independence.
On the 24th anniversary of Black January, I join members of Azerbaijani-American Council and Azerbaijan Society of America in requesting a proclamation recognizing the sacrifices made by Azerbaijani people in their struggle for freedom and independence.