Azerbaijan: Black January veterans recall Soviet atrocities

Veterans say people could not believe Soviet army could massacre them

Jeyhun Aliyev   | 20.01.2021
Azerbaijan: Black January veterans recall Soviet atrocities


The veterans of Black January, a violent crackdown on Azerbaijan in 1990 prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, recalled the atrocities committed by the invading Soviet army.

On Jan. 20, under direct instructions from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, troops entered the capital Baku and its whereabouts massacring civilians. Mass arrests followed the military intervention.

Eyshen Isgandarov, 58, a bullet-scarred veteran of Black January, said he never regretted the gunshots he suffered while defending his motherland.

He said that by the end of December 1989 and beginning of January 1990 the stance of the Soviet Union was very clear. They were backing Armenia against Azerbaijan.

Isgandarov said he was actively participating in the country’s voluntary national movement since 1988, when he was forced to flee Armenia as a refugee, where he spent his childhood and received secondary education.

As early as Jan. 15, the Soviet army was marching toward Azerbaijan, he said.

"On Jan.19, we received information that the Soviet army is preparing to enter Baku from various directions. With a group of people, we first prevented the Soviet elements from leaving its military unit with heavy military equipment, which was located then near the Spartak Stadium in Baku," he said.

Later, he said, they got to know that the Soviet army blew up the state television building. Its surroundings were also controlled by the Soviet army and nobody was allowed inside, he added.

"Upon this, we decided to erect barricades and block the city entrances. Exactly at midnight, the Soviet army with tanks and armored vehicles started entering the city from various directions while shooting indiscriminately. There was chaos."

He recalled the unarmed group of people tried to prevent the Soviet army from entering the city, and ended up having a brawl with the soldiers.

Love for motherland

"I will never forget the love of this nation for the motherland, for the country. Everyone was ready to sacrifice their life to prevent them from entering our lands. I noticed then the nation’s determination, devotion and patriotism," he said.

Seen as the rebirth of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Black January witnessed the massacre of over 150 people in the city, on the eve of the country’s independence.

"I will never forget the scene of a nearly 10- or 11-year-old boy who was running toward the tank and was trying to stop them," Isgandarov said, adding that that fateful day "opened the gates of freedom" for Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan first gained independence in 1918, with the fall of the Russian Czarist regime after the 1917 Russian Revolution, but the newly founded Azerbaijani Democratic Republic, after barely two years of existence, was toppled by the Soviet Union.

"As a son of this motherland, I’m always, at every moment ready with my soul and every drop of my blood to protect my land, my flag, and my Turkic origin," the veteran said.

Protest and demonstrations

Asim Huseynov, 65, another veteran wounded that day, recalled he was then living with his sister’s family in Baku.

"On the way back from work on Jan.19, I noticed the military helicopters near the Defense Ministry building, and only later understood that it was an emergency situation, and those coming in helicopters were the group of people from the Soviet administration," he said.

Those were the days of the information blockade and chaos, he said, adding that no news was provided to the nation.

"At around 7.40 p.m. local time, the State Television building was bombed. People then flocked to the streets to protest the Soviet presence after they got to know that the Soviet army wants to enter the city," he said.

Huseynov underlined that the courageous people wanted to block the city entrances, noting that "nobody could even imagine that [the Soviet] army can commit such atrocities against the nation."

He recalled that there was a tank base near the Badamdar municipality in Baku, and after 8 p.m. local time, with a group of people they blocked its entrance with a trolleybus.

Attack on armless people

"Later in midnight, we heard bullets and explosions nearby, and realized that tanks had entered the city. At around 4.30 a.m. heavy vehicles crashed the trolleybuses blocking the road, and along with tanks entered the city," he said.

The veteran recalled the soldiers dismounted the tanks and began attacking the unarmed people.

He said later the soldiers got on the tanks and moved toward the base, adding that he personally counted 82 tanks there.

"They started shooting at people in their way and I was wounded on my knee, the bullet stuck there. When I reached the hospital, it was overcrowded. Over 30 people were at the hospital at the time," he said.

"The army was shooting at people without mercy. The city was bleeding. There were countless injured and dead people in the streets. It was said that there were over 800 wounded people there. The city was like a warzone. There were crashed cars and destroyed houses everywhere."

Planned tragedy

Huseynov said he is sure that the Black January tragedy was not a coincidence but was premeditated.

Especially since the end of the 1980s, Azerbaijan has been backstabbed by its malevolent neighbor, Armenia, which had designs on Azerbaijani lands, and since the beginning of the 1990s, the conflict entered a military stage.

"I never regretted, I’m always proud about my nation. We gained our independence in such a way by proving that even an armed army with heavy weaponry cannot break the unity of a nation. Even today, despite my age, as long as I breathe, I’m always ready to defend my nation as a soldier, and I’m always behind my president," he said.

He also wished Allah’s mercy upon all the martyrs and a good heath to the families of those wounded in the tragedy.

The massacre now observed as a national mourning day accelerated the path to Azerbaijan's independence.

On Aug. 30, 1991, the Azerbaijani parliament adopted the Declaration on the State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan. This constitutional act was approved and adopted by the Supreme Council on Oct. 18, 1991.

On Dec. 29, independence was affirmed by a nationwide referendum, when the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist.

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