January 20 was forever engraved in the history of Azerbaijan as “Black January”, the day of heroic struggle for freedom and independence of the country. That day led to heavy losses and the killing of innocent people, but at the same time it demonstrated the courage and readiness for struggle of the people who could no longer bear the treasonous policy of the USSR towards Azerbaijan, and who raised their voice to win freedom and independence.
January 20, 1990 was the first test and moral victory on the path that led the nation to independence, to the restoration of national, spiritual and religious values. The Azerbaijani people, subjected to punitive measures by a well-armed army, did not break, did not lose their determination to independence, on the contrary, their righteous voice sounded even louder.
On the night of January 19-20, under the direct instructions of Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 26,000 Soviet troops marched on Baku in order to suppress the independence movement. The act of massacre carried out by the Soviet army against the civilian population with unprecedented cruelty left up to 150 dead and more than 700 injured in the capital Baku and nearby districts, until a curfew was announced in the city. Among those killed were women, children and the elderly, doctors and policemen.
Immediately after the tragedy, on January 21, 1990, National Leader Heydar Aliyev together with his family visited the office of the permanent representation of Azerbaijan in Moscow, where he expressed solidarity with his people, strongly condemned the Soviet leadership for committing a bloody tragedy and exposed those who led the operation: “I consider the events that took place in Azerbaijan as a violation of the law, democracy and humanity and the principles of building the rule of law. If the top party leaders had taken the necessary steps at the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh events, we would not have faced rising tensions that led to the deadly military attack launched against civilians on the night of January 19-20, 1990. All those involved in this crime should be punished appropriately.”
Being a basis for the struggle at the national level, the January tragedy also demonstrated the firmness of the will of the Azerbaijani people, and their determination. Undeterred by the cruelty of the Soviet army and the consequent imposition of the curfew in Baku, the Azerbaijani people organized a mass demonstration on January 22 in the “Azadlig” (Freedom) square of the city of Baku, to pay tribute to the martyrs of January 20.
The burial ceremony in the Callejón de los Mártires was attended by nearly two million people. At the demand of the people, the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR convened an extraordinary session and adopted a decision on the abolition of the curfew in Baku.
That tragedy was a decisive factor in the formation of Azerbaijan’s national identity and marked a turning point in the restoration of national independence.. It was the January tragedy that turned a national liberation movement into a political reality and gave strong impetus to the Azerbaijani people’s struggle for independence. Soviet troops finally withdrew from Baku and Azerbaijan declared its independence on October 18, 1991, maintaining its independence ever since.
I remember that I was 13 years old and it was very painful to tell him, that is, to explain to a 13-year-old adolescent that among his schoolmates, Ilgar -from the same neighborhood- and Larisa had been brutally murdered together with their parents in the street, while headed home, under the indiscriminate shots of Soviet soldiers. However, a couple of years later, when I became a young citizen of independent Azerbaijan, it became quite clear to me that all the martyrs of that day were killed by the Soviet leadership, in order to silence the determination of the Azerbaijanis to the independence. An attempt that failed.
I think the best description of the value of independence was given by the national leader of the Azerbaijani people Heydar Aliyev: “We are free, we are independent, we do not depend on anyone, we are the masters of our own destiny. For this reason, for this alone, it is worth striving for months and years.”
The victims of the tragic events of 1990 are symbolically called “January 20 martyrs”. The people of Azerbaijan continue to keep the memories of those very dear martyrs in their hearts. Every January 20, declared a day of national mourning, thousands of people visit the Callejón de los Mártires to pay tribute to the victims of Black January, who paid the highest price for the independence of their country and engraved their names with their blood on the page of honor of Azerbaijan. Every year at noon on January 20, a nationwide moment of silence is observed to commemorate the martyrs of independence.
Ambassador of Azerbaijan in Argentina