Black January Stands for National Herorism and Courage

Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

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People of the Republic of Azerbaijan celebrate January 20 as the day of martyrs every year. On January 20, the people of Azerbaijan tend to mark the tragedy of Black January and pay tribute to its martyrs. But they also commemorate the achievements in the years since as an independent nation, and acknowledge that January 20 1990 for all its bloodshed, was a first and vital step towards Azerbaijan’s freedom. It was a state terrorism and crime against humanity on part of former USSR. It was marked the beginning of the end of Soviet rule in Azerbaijan.

24th Anniversary of the Black January

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President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev also paid a tribute to 20 January shahids in Martyrs’ Lane on this National Morning Day. He visited the graves of shahids and laid a wreath at the Eternal Flame monument. Government officials, foreign diplomats and members of the public visit Martyrs’ Avenue, where the victims of the 20 January tragedy are buried. A variety of events conferences, round tables, photo exhibitions and documentary screenings were held in many countries.

At the same time, the newspaper Azerbaijani Congress and other media published articles dedicated to the January 20 tragedy. Azerbaijanis living in countries throughout Europe held a variety of events dedicated to the January 20 anniversary.

World-Wide Acknowledgment of Black January

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Throughout the world and especially in Azerbaijan every year Black January victims are commemorated with great sorrow. In 2014, the 24rd anniversary of the nationwide tragedy was marked in many countries of the world. According to the State Committee on Work with Diaspora, a number of events were took place on this occasion in the Pakistan, United States, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Russia, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and other countries.

Pay homage to Martyrs Avenue

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On that day millions of Azerbaijani use to visit the Martyrs Avenue. The Martyrs, who died in that day, are among the first, who sacrificed their lives for freedom that Azerbaijan nowadays enjoy 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 and independence of the Azeri people.
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In 1994, the National Assembly of Azerbaijan approved a full political and legal report evaluating the Black January events. On 16 December 1999, the former President Heydar Aliyev declared that all victims of Black January would be awarded the honorary title of 20 yanvar şəhidi “Martyrs of 20th January”. The memorial called “Martyr’s Lane” was constructed to preserve the memories about those who lost their lives. Every year Azeris come to lay flowers and remember the struggle for independence.

Reflection of Statehood and People’s Struggle

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It reflects their courageous resolve against aggression and tyranny and nationalism to protect their national sovereignty and dignity. It upholds their strong will towards free choice, freedom of expression and association and above all humanity. It shows strong character of its rulers and people alike to stand against naked power and say no to use of power in resolving any conflict. It once again proves that abuse of power achieves nothing but widespread condemnation, isolation and ultimately disintegration. Same was happened to white Bear Russia afterwards. The sacrifices of courageous suns of the soil still cherish in the hearts of the people as beacon of hope and self-determination. It is also called black January, Saturday in the national history of Azerbaijan.

Show of National Heroism

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More than twenty three years passed since the bloody day i.e. 20 January. On this day, Azerbaijan people struggling for the freedom and territorial integrity for Azerbaijan showed its heroism. It was the battle between Azerbaijan people’s blood and Russian blast/brutality. It was the battle between people’s power and illegal possession. It was the onslaught of tanks and gunfire and show of grand sacrifices. The night of 19 January and the following day left bitter memories.

Looming tensions

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Days before 20 January, tensions between Azeris and the Soviet Union had been building; the collapse of the Soviet Union was clearly imminent. One by one, former satellite countries were shaking off the chains which bound them to the Soviets, and Azerbaijan was the leader in demanding freedom in the Caucasus region.

Bloody tragedy

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The Soviet aggression against Azerbaijan during 70 years came to the end with the bloody tragedy on January 20, 1990. On January 20, 1990 Soviet Union attacked the capital Baku. The 26,000 Soviet troops stormed the capital and began shooting indiscriminately. They opened fire and crushed many with tanks. Many people were arrested, hundreds tortured. A vast majority of the casualties were civilians, with over 700 wounded. Almost the whole population of Baku turned out to bury the dead on the third day after the massacre on 22 January. The traditional 40 day mourning period was marked by a national strike in honor of those who had stood up and sacrificed their lives for freedom. Factories ground to a standstill and people stayed home from work.

It was the fight of a massive popular uprising in the capital, calling for Azerbaijan’s independence from Moscow and a collapsing empire. It was a military operation which was totally planned and calculated act.


Mourning of Martyrs of Independence

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After the Russian massacre and crime against helpless humanity tens of thousands young and old, men and women, Muslims, Jews and Christians gathered in the streets to mourn the “Martyrs of Independence”. The capital was shut down in honour of the dead for 40 days. Heydar Aliyev, the father of Azerbaijan fiercely denounced the bloodshed. His defiance helped to inspire the Azerbaijani people and Aliyev became a leader of the struggle for liberty. The force could not stop the people of Azerbaijan from seeking their freedom. In fact, it only increased their resolve to re-establish a free and independent Azerbaijan.

Helsinki Human Rights Watch Details

Heinous violations of human rights They even attacked on medical personnel, ambulances and hospitals.
Attack/Aggression It termed it illegal and crime against humanity.
Deaths More than 200 killed, 611 men wounded, 841 men illegally arrested and 5 missing. Moreover, soldiers were also sacked.
Damage to personal properties & Collaterals More than 200 houses and apartments were burnt, 80 automobiles, including ambulance cars, the state and personal properties were severely damaged.
Human Rights Watch
Intensity of the attack According to report entitled “Black January in Azerbaijan upholds that 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

Azerbaijan remained under the siege of darkness

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Soviet Union took the following steps in order to siege the Azerbaijan people and its aspirations but ultimately they miserably failed. Mikhail Gorbachev broke Article 119 of the USSR Constitution and Article 71 of the Constitution of Soviet Azerbaijan when he signed the order introducing a state of emergency in Baku from 20 January 1990.

a) The Azeri Supreme Soviet and other political bodies were paralyzed.
b) Weapons were gathered from militia employees under the pretext of population disarmament.
c) Blockage of televisions and stopped the broadcasting in Azerbaijan on January 19 in order to deprive population from getting information.
d) Foreigners were not allowed to enter to Baku.
e) Western reporters were banned from traveling to Baku to cover the events.
f) Soviet Defense and Interior Minister, and military officials came to Baku some days before, for realization of this calculated terrorist attack.
g) Soviet reservist, was prepared for the special mission, had been mobilized and sent to the region exactly for fighting.

Black January: A Turning Point

It is one the bitter lessons of the human civilization that naked power has had been inflicting defeats against people strive to achieve independence. History repeated again in case of Azerbaijan. The Black January proved a turning point the history of Azerbaijan. The massacre did not alter the will of the people of Azerbaijan from continuing their struggle until the achievement of the national independence of the country. Despite being subjected to military, political and moral aggression, Azerbaijani national movement succeeded to stand against Soviet challenge, and Soviet troops eventually had to withdraw from Baku. Subsequently Azerbaijan declared its independence on October 18, 1991.

Independence’s Journey

The journey of Azerbaijan people towards independence and preserving of the territorial integrity of their country began in 1988 and eventually developed into a national liberation movement. The failure of the USSR government to envision renewed Armenian claims on Azerbaijan’s territory, and separatist activities in Nagorno-Karabakh, further bolstered the people’s national liberation spirit. Thousands of people protesting against the policy of the USSR held demonstrations all day long in the central square and the streets of Baku. The leaders of the Soviet empire perpetrated the Jan. 20 massacre in Azerbaijan, a republic with strengthening tendencies toward independence.

Heydar Aliyev’s act of courage and determination

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The father and former President of Azerbaijan stood against all odds and condemned this attack as crime against humanity while even living in Moscow at that time. He extended his support to people. He fought bravely for the independence of his beloved country and ultimately succeeded to achieve it.
Also, the leaders of Pakistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Arab world countries, Iran and a number of international organizations, including the Istanbul-based Eurasia Foundation, said that the massacre unleashed by the Soviet Union against civilians in Baku could not reverse the Azerbaijani people’s struggle for freedom and independence, adding that those killed on that horrific night had entered the history of the Turkic world.

Soviet intervention to Azerbaijan: Different Reasons

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The Soviet Union tried its level best to justify it attack on Azerbaijan by stating that it was carried to protect the Armenia. But it was explicitly disinformation. The real face of the Soviet attack was totally different.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan was subjected to aggression from neighboring Armenia. Armenia violated the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, which was resulted the occupation of the Azerbaijan territory, and tried to unite Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia. The following given table clearly shows the USSR falsified intensions in case of Azerbaijan (Black January). It was done because of military reasons and not for political reasons as projected by the Soviets.

USSR indiscriminate Attacks Years

Almaty 1986
Kazakhstan 1989
Tbilisi, Georgia 1991
Vilnius, Lithuania 1991

Historically, Azerbaijan became one of the first Soviet Republics to adopt the declaration of sovereignty in 1988. It was a clear manifestation of independence from the Soviet point of view. Therefore, the Soviet Army attacked the city clearly to stop the dissolution of the Communist regime, crush any opposition in Azerbaijan’s bid for independence, and preserving status quo. Afterwards, the Azerbaijan national independence movement had reached an incredible momentum with hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating for the ideals of independence and territorial integrity. For this reason, the Soviet argument to justify military intervention to Baku was just pretext.

Independence achieved

The independence of Azerbaijan was finally restored on October 18, 1991 and untamed white bear was buried under the deep snow as the USSR collapsed. The bloodshed in Baku created shock & awe among the Western countries and showed black side of collapsing empire.

Miraculous socio-economic prosperity

Since its independence Azerbaijan never looked back and achieved miraculous socio-economic prosperity. Now, its macro-economy is strong, stable and sustainable. It is the biggest economy in the South Caucasus. The visionary leadership of father and former President Ilham Aliyev transformed Azerbaijan economically dynamic, politically stable, and an important geopolitical power. Right from the beginning the government of Azerbaijan introduced many effective political reforms in the country which is now paving its dividends. It has been giant changeover of politics, governance, civility, law, economics and above all wise leadership due to which the country stands firm from one party system to multi-party system, totalitarian to democratic system and from political stagnation to vibrant society.

Democratic transformation

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Devotion to secularism, mutual respect, modernity, education, and strong macro-economic conditions played very important role in the democratic transformation of the Azerbaijan. Now, it has become a role model for higher education (literacy rate is 99.8 percent), good governance, political steadiness and sustainable socio-economic development in the region and around the globe.

Bright Future ahead

According to Economy Minister Shahin Mustafayev, Azerbaijan expects its GDP to grow by 6.7 percent in 2014, up from 5 percent expected this year, driven by growth of business beyond its dominant oil sector he added. The GDP has grown by about 300 percent. In the past decade, while industrial production is 2.5 times what it was ten years ago. Unemployment has also been reduced, to around 5 percent while those living in poverty now stand at 6 percent. The country’s strategic exchange reserves have increased more than 22 times in the last eight years to reach $41 billion at the end of 2011-2012.

Hub of Energy Resources

International investors have been attracted by the country’s business climate, and Azerbaijan is the centerpiece of the Caspian oil and gas developments, vital for global energy security, as well as other regional megaprojects. The revenues of energy exploration, production and supply have been utilized to eradicate the high levels of poverty reduced from over 50 per cent to just six per cent. Process of industrialization, have been encouraged and finances from the oil and gas fields has been carefully channelled into education, and Human Resource Management (HRM) through the State Oil Fund of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOFAZ). Over the last decade, Azerbaijan has transformed into a leading regional investor, financing multi-billion projects in different countries of the world.

Improved Rankings

Azerbaijan has significantly improved its positions in the annual ranking list of world economies for 2013-2014 while consolidating its status of a country with the most competitive economy among the CIS states. The national budget grew 19 times over the last 10 years. It accounts for 75 percent of South Caucasus economy. Over $138 billion has been invested in economy. Incomes of population grew 6.9 percent, pensions 8.6 percent while salaries grew 6.3 times. It should be emphasized that in the Global Competitiveness 2013-2014 Index, Azerbaijan is unconditionally ahead of all the countries of Eastern Europe, as well as a number of developed countries, including Italy. Moreover, in WEF rating Azerbaijan is ahead of the BRICS countries, except for China.

However, the ranking of the World Economic Forum is not the only report that reflects the ongoing development of Azerbaijan’s economy. Not so long ago, international rating agency Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have also improved the credit rating of Azerbaijan, which is also a good indicator of reforms.

Tolerant Country

Despite better memories of the past, in Azerbaijan religion is sacred but rituals are not allowed to dominate on others faiths and factions. Discrimination is a bygone story and fairy tales of dialogue among the different civilizations and culture are commonly welcomed in every part of the Azerbaijan. Social security, better education, creation of employment is the salient features of the Ilham Aliyev, incumbent President during the last decade. Respect for the humanity, political indifference and high levels of transparency, accountability and corruption free doing business facilities have made Azerbaijan, an ideal destination of FDI and joint ventures.

Concluding Remarks

On January 20, 199 though the Azerbaijani people confronted military, moral and political aggression but they displayed their national character based on courage, determination and sacrifice. They successfully maintained the traditions of historical heroism and resisted the cruelest attacks for the sake of the freedom and independence of their motherland, even at the cost of losing their lives. The sons of the motherland perished on January 20, 1990 while defending the freedom and independence of Azerbaijan and with their bravery made history in the chronicles of heroism in Azerbaijan’s national history.

Life has totally changed and it is because of its visionary leaders and hardworking people. Now Baku stands for socio-economic prosperity, diversification, cultural hub, and above all service center for globalism. It is now city of arts, hospitality, dialogue, diplomacy and development.
January 20, 1990 symbolizes the superiority of human traits over state terrorism. It upholds the true pictures of heroism and horrendous crime. It projects the purity of self-determination over the power of destruction. It values the importance of sacrifice and courage in order to achieve larger than life goals i.e. independence. Today, Azerbaijan’s freedom is solid and irrevocable which is the blessing of departed souls of January 20, 1990 martyrs