Murder of all those who rose for independence, shedding the blood of innocent people, and military horror were the bloody memories of a nation that suffered the Soviet dictatorship for almost 70 years. This was the last bloody crime committed against people, going down in the history of mankind as one of the worst crimes against humanity.
This tragedy shattered the myth about the Red Army which had been promoted as a carrier of peaceful mission for 70 years.
Twenty-four years ago, people took to streets in protest against the empire's suppression and Armenia's territorial claims against Azerbaijan. That bloody day put an end to the empire's oppression on Azerbaijan.
On January 20, 26,000 strong Soviet troops entered the Azerbaijani capital Baku from several directions, invading the city in a desperate, brutal and yet futile attempt to strangle the growing independence movement and to prevent the fall of the Soviet Communist regime in Azerbaijan and punish ordinary people who had rallied on the streets to voice their legitimate protest against the violation of their homeland's territorial integrity.
On that tragic night of January 19, Azerbaijan was isolated from the world. The USSR State Security Committee's "Alfa" group exploded the energy block of the Azerbaijani television to stop it from broadcasting, and the press were silenced. People were not aware of the emergency situation announced in Baku and all those on the streets were killed brutally.
On that tragic night, tanks and armored vehicles crushed everything they met on the streets of Baku, and soldiers opened fire ruthlessly. Not only the people on the streets, but also those on the buses and in their homes were shot dead. The Soviet soldiers also fired at ambulances and the medical staff who rushed to help the wounded.
"That night, the tanks and armored vehicles were crushing everything they encountered on the streets of Baku, the soldiers showered every living creatures they saw with bullets. Sudden death caught people not only on the streets, but also on buses, on their way home, and in their apartments," the witnesses of this tragedy remember.
Some 133 people were killed, 611 were wounded, 841 were illegally arrested, and five went missing as a result of the intrusion of troops into Baku and other regions of the country.
A witness speaks
January 20th was the culmination of the national movement for independence in 1988, remembers Elkhan Allahverdiyev, brother of Ilham Allahverdiyev, a victim of the incident.
"It was very cold on January 19. People were on duty on the streets. We had served in the Soviet army, and the expression 'glorious Soviet Army' had remained in our minds. I'd never thought that the army which I served would direct bullets at my people. On the night of January 20, for about an hour, two tanks headed towards the city. Two rockets were fired into the sky. Next to me was a guy. We saw the tanks crushing the cars. Standing next to me, Vagif was bleeding to death. The young people who were there began throwing stones at soldiers and they opened fire. Ilham at first was next to me, but I lost him. I was told that tanks crushed people in Salyan barracks, help was needed there and so Ilham went there with others. Then it was said that unarmed people, including Ilham, were faced with tanks in the former area of ??11 Red Army. Ilham lifted his hands, shouting, "Soldiers, do not shoot, people are not armed," But they shot Ilham," Allahverdiyev says of that night.
The Black January didn't only claim life of the victims, but also the people who loved them. Many relatives of the victims couldn't escape the shock of that day for a long time.
Culprits of massacre remained unpunished
Although 24 years have passed, the offenders of this bloody crime are still not punished. The aggression against Azerbaijani people was not assessed as a crime against humanity in the international arena.
The main author of this bloody crime against Azerbaijani people was Gorbachev, whose hands were red with the blood of hundreds of people; he was not punished, and even received the Nobel Peace Prize for his "leading role" in the peace process the same year.
Gorbachev, the first and last President of USSR, wrote in his book of memoirs, Life and Reforms, that "the life of many Baku residents stopped in January 1990. It's hard, it's very hard."
He mentioned the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the escalating Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation as the main cause of that developments to justify the bloody massacre he committed.
"I took lessons from this tragic incident: the solution to the problem should be found only in a political way," Gorbachev confessed in his book.
Unfortunately, nothing will atone for the lives of hundreds of victims of the January massacre or calm the relatives of those people.
There is an act of crime and terror against the civilians and innocent people of Azerbaijan and the culprits of this heinous act should be punished.
The tragedy of January 20, which influenced the national liberation movement and the democratic process in the country, failed to break the will of the people in their struggle for independence. This was a heroism for the freedom and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan gained the independence it had been dreaming of for many years, and achieved sovereignty. Azerbaijan declared its independence on October 18, 1991.
Azerbaijanis are proud of those who sacrificed themselves for their people's national identity.
Under the decrees of the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev dated December 16, 1999, all the victims of the crackdown were awarded the title "Martyrs of January 20."