Invasion of Azerbaijan’s Capital City 22 Years Ago was Precursor to Collapse of Soviet Empire

 Azerbaijanis pause today to pay tribute to their fellow citizens who were killed in one of the most brutal acts in the last moments of the Soviet Empire, an event known around the world as the Black January. The Black January occurred when Moscow ordered 26,000 Soviet troops to invade Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. In the early morning hours and into the day of January 20, 1990, Soviet troops attacked innocent civilians, slaughtering 133 people and wounding around 700. The use of force by the Soviet regime was a response to Azerbaijan’s popular demand for independence. 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. However, despite the bloodshed, the Soviet leadership was unable to stop the quest for freedom of the Azerbaijani people.Ultimately, the invasion ignited a series of events which led to the independence of Azerbaijan and other republics 20 months later. The world watched in horror as the Soviet Army invaded Baku, firing indiscriminately at civilians. Western reporters were banned from travelling to Baku to cover the events, but the Washington Post on Jan. 22, 1990 quoted an eyewitness who said, “Soviet soldiers fired at almost anything that moved in the early hours of their occupation.” According to a report published by Human Rights Watch, “among the most heinous violations of human rights…were the numerous attacks on medical personnel, ambulances and even hospitals.” The report further stated that the punishment inflicted on Baku by Soviet soldiers appeared to have been intended as a warning to Azerbaijan as well as to other republics of the Soviet Union seeking independence. Soviet troops eventually withdrew from Baku, and Azerbaijan declared its independence on October 18, 1991. Azerbaijan has maintained and strenghtened its independence since then despite the military occupation of 20 percent of its territory by Armenia. Many analysts today believe the Soviet Empire sealed its own fate in Baku on January 20, as it became readily apparent to other republics that not even such brutal military tactics could extinguish the hopes and dreams of a people seeking freedom and independence.

20 January 2012


Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United States