Every 20th of January is remarkable in the life of every Azerbaijani. It is a day of mourning, and a day to reflect on the country’s walk to self-realization and self-independence.
It’s now 30years since the infamous January 20, 1990, Baku killings took place altering the course of events of fate in the ancient city, today the official capital of Independent Azerbaijan. The event of that day set the tone for a national day of remembrance of the tragedy of a people as would be seen in history books.
Today, Qara Yanva, interpreted in English as Black January, ignited the journey towards Azerbaijan’s independence, but left sorrow and anguish on the trail.
According to records of history, it was on this day that the Soviet forces on a failed but mean crackdown to prevent Azerbaijan’s independence movement attacked Baku in the most gruesome manner; killing, maiming; and as well destroying the unity, peace, architecture, and enlightenment of the people of Baku. In the midst of these wanton destruction many, -in hundreds were injured, while others were arrested and detained- in what was an invasion of the Baku people’s safe space.
The culprit was the Soviet forces acting on an order from Moscow with an ultimate aim; to ensure that the communist government was saved from termination given the widening popularity of Azerbaijan self-determination movement at the time.
On this day, and days that followed, over 20,000 Soviet forces unleashed heavy artillery on unarmed protesters; more so firing live bullets into crowds leaving more than 150 protesting Azerbaijani’s dead. According to national headcount, at-least 700 Azerbaijani were injured in the attack.
The event at first killed the spirit of the independence movement and Moscow swiftly seized the opportunity to declare an emergency rule over Baku, including other tensed areas around Azerbaijan. The emergency declaration by Kremlin continued to stall economic and social activities until a year later when another determined uprising swelled up, led by Popular Fronts members. This second uprising was met with yet another crackdown which led to the arrest and imprisonment of many others.
On the 19 of March 1990, the Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov was quoted as saying, ‘We came to destroy the political structure of the Popular Front to prevent their victory in the upcoming elections scheduled for March 19, 1990.’ And true to his words the movement was halted at least for a period of time.
While the invasion made international news headlines, Kremlin searched for a convenient reason to put forward as the reason for invading Azerbaijan. The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev while speaking to newsmen in Moscow strongly defended the invasion, pointing at the activities of the dangerous Islamic terror fundamentalists in Azerbaijan. He opined that those were the main reason why Kremlin took such a big step.
Islamic fundamentalists operating in Azerbaijan has been the bane of conflicts and strife in some parts of the country. It was this that the Moscow leader had reiterated. Though, some other governments and military officials say differently.
Though the invasion broke the heart of the movement, the soul remained. The success of the crackdown may have helped to stall the early movement but it could not sustain it and could not contain what was to come that in about twenty months later, precisely on August 30, 1991, Azerbaijan became self-ruling as it declared its independence bringing to end years of overreaching communist stretches over its territory.
The declaration ushered Azerbaijan into the world of sovereign nations as an independent country, that today it imbues self-pride and with its paraphernalia adorning important institutions in Azerbaijan and it’s embassies around the world.
Being a member of commonwealth of sovereign nations; one recognized by super powers in the international arena; Azerbaijan now has its destiny in its own hands, more so without external influence. Today, she has become a vast economic hub, and even more, an important business ally across Europe primarily in areas of economic initiatives on energy and security.
The beauty of Azerbaijans journey through the restless disturbances of Kremlins hostility is the lesson it preaches; that is the defiance of obstacles against one’s desire, and the need for all Azerbaijani to celebrate the country’s new found freedom, one that came at a costly price but expected to remain eternal.