The memory of 20 January martyrs is commemorated with a minute of silence.
Then Ambassador Elkhan Gahraman made a speech on the 20th of January which included the Day of Mourning and Heroism to the history of the Azerbaijani people.
The Ambassador said in his speech that:
“During the fall of the USSR, at the end of the last century, the Armenian nationalists raised the next territorial claims against Azerbaijan, demanding the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an autonomous region within the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Before the armed attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1990 by the Armenian terrorists (terrorists beacause they attacked on the civilians), beginning from 1988, more than 200 thousand of Azerbaijanis were expelled from their homelands in Armenia. This was a policy of mass ethnic cleansing that Azerbaijanis have been exposed to for the fourth time in a century.The then leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev backed Armenian separatists instead of calming down the tension. In respond, thousands of protesters moved to the central squares of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku and other cities demanding to put an end to the wrong policy of the communist rule and to respect the sovereignty of Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, the central government did not get the right result. Armenia continued its separatist activity. The Azerbaijani people could not reconcile with it and defended their rights.
In the late evening of 19 January, 1990, twenty six thousand of Soviet troops, including the Special Forces, entered the capital city of Azerbaijan Baku from different directions and stormed demonstrators firing the crowds. Baku garnison and internal troops joined them, coming out of their barracks, and started shooting and smashing by tank tracks unarmed people. As a result of this unprecedented illegal action, 131 people were killed, about 774 people wounded, 400 people were arrested and four went missing. There were children, elderly, and women, representatives of different ethnic and religious groups amongst the killed civilians along with Azerbaijanis. The soldiers also gutted 200 houses, state and private property. Military operation was a rough violence of constitutions of the USSR and Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, as well as, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
It was obvious that this military operation was a planned and calculated act. The troops, first of all, blew up the power block of Azerbaijan State Television and thus stopped the broadcasting in the country in order to deprive population from getting information. Soviet Defense and Interior Ministers, and military officials came to Baku from Moscow a few days before for realization of this terrorist attack. The state of emergency was announced only some hours after the operation started. These all are clear indications of the fact that the main aim of this massacre was to give a lesson to the nation that dared to demand independence.
On 21 January, 1990, Heydar Aliyev, the Nationwide Leader of Azerbaijan people, who was residing in Moscow under the eye of Soviet KGB, ignoring the threat to his life, came to the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan SSR in Moscow and in his speech before thousands of ethnical Azerbaijanis strongly condemned communist leaders of the USSR for the massacre. That was the first open statement against the regime which not only broke information blockade around that very event but also instilled the confidence to the hearts of Azerbaijanis.
On the 22nd of January, despite the warnings of the military rulers of Baku, more than one million people turned out to bury the victims of that bloody night. The entire country announced a strike for 40 days which badly affected the USSR economy which was dependent on Azerbaijan’s oil machinery. A special session of the Parliament of Azerbaijan SSR condemned the military operation of the Soviet Army.
There was some international response as well. Human Rights Watch report, entitled “Black January in Azerbaijan”, states “Indeed, the violence used by the Soviet Army on the night of January 19-20 was so out of proportion to the resistance offered by Azerbaijanis as to constitute an exercise in collective punishment. Since Soviet officials have stated publicly that the purpose of the intervention of Soviet troops was to prevent the ouster of the Communist-dominated government of the Republic of Azerbaijan by the nationalist-minded, noncommunist opposition, the punishment inflicted on Baku by Soviet soldiers may have been intended as a warning to nationalists, not only in Azerbaijan, but in the other Republics of the Soviet Union.”
20 January called “The Black January” is in the same time a heroic history of the Azerbaijan people. This date was a turning point in the history of Azerbaijan’s independence. The brutal use of force in Azerbaijan caused a backlash. It buried chances of preserving the collapsing empire and resurrected national movement for independence. Despite military, political and moral aggression, Azerbaijani national movement kept on struggling and succeeded to stand against the Soviet challenge. This was a beginning of the end of the USSR. Later, M.Gorbachev said: “Proclaiming the state of emergency in Baku and sending army to the city was the biggest mistake of my political life…” (Istanbul, April 27, 1995).
Azerbaijan declared its independence on October 18, 1991. According to the decree of the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev, dated December 16, 1999, all victims of the massacre were awarded the title of “Martyrs of January 20”. The families of the January 20’s victims were provided with free accommodation, education, healthcare and other privileges by the Government.
Each year, the people of Azerbaijan commemorate the Black January and pay tribute to the memory of the victims of this tragedy. In that day, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis visit the Alley of Martyrs. The Martyrs, who died in that day, are among the first who sacrificed their lives for freedom that Azerbaijan nowadays enjoys and those heroes will never be forgotten. The sons and daughters of the Motherland killed at that terrible night have written a brightest page in history of Azerbaijan and paved the way to national liberation.
Unfortunately, although we have gained independence, Nagorno-Karabakh has been occupied by the Republic of Armenia. Today, 20% of Azerbaijani lands, including Nagorno-Karabakh region and 7 surrounding regions are under Armenian occupation.
UN Security Council 4 resolutions reaffirming respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and demanding the immediate, full and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces from all the occupied territories are still remain unfulfilled. Besides, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and European Parliament also adopted resolutions that condemn the occupation of Azerbaijani lands.
But we believe that with the help of our friends, the wise policy of the Azerbaijani president H.E Ilham Aliyev and the patient will of the Azerbaijani people, we will recover our violated rights”.
In conclusion, the Ambassador expressed his deep gratitude to all who joined the event and shared the grief of the Azerbaijani people, expressing his condolences to the soul of martyrs of the 20th January.
“I bow my head in honor of the 20 January martyrs”
Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan
to the State of Kuwait