"The army is a pillar of our country, nation,
state independence!"
Heydar Aliyev

The January 20 tragedy


The socio-political environment in the late 1980-ies and the circumstances that led to the 20th of January tragedy

Azerbaijan lived through an increasingly challenging social and political phase in the late 1980-ies. As destructive processes were brewing in the former Soviet Union, the vast country's leadership was failing at its 'refit' policy, with grave repercussions such as improper economic and severe mistakes in the national policy, Azerbaijan, just like all of the other Union republics, plunged into nationalist and independence-oriented turmoil. One of the major reasons behind Azerbaijan's worsened socio-political environment was Armenia's territorial claim on Nagorno Garabagh, an issue that was blown out of proportion to stir the society. The Armenian claim on Azerbaijan's lands backed by their patrons in the USSR's top leadership, and the atrocities they consistently committed against the peaceful population expectably infuriated the Azerbaijani people.

The massive protest rallies of November-December 1988, and the tear-down of the Azerbaijani-Iranian border in Nakhchivan on December 31, 1989 were nothing short of a major scare for the USSR top brass. Seeking to nip the national movement in Azerbaijan in any way possible, the USSR State Security Committee (SSC / KGB) launched a series of provocations in Baku, Lenkoran, Jalilabad, Neftchala and other regions, involving assaults on Armenian and Russian nationals residing in those areas. Armed now with a legitimate excuse for discontinuing the public disorder at a mass scale the USSR leadership sent troops to Baku in January 1990.

In their televized address on January 18th both USSR and Azerbaijan leaders endeavored to re-assure the nation that there would be no state of emergency and martial law in Baku. In the meantime, SSC special troops and forces were already being dispatched to Baku. They took down the power supply of the national TV network on January 19th. A state commission appointed to investigate the 20th of January events proved beyond any doubt that the explosion that took down the power supply was planned and executed by the SSC forces.

On the night of January 19th to 20th, no warning made, the Soviet troops swept through the city ruthlessly gunning down every single peaceful protester.  121 people were reported killed, 700 more injured and wounded that night across town. Over the  the death toll rose to 132 people (123 men, 5 women and 4 children). Beside Azerbaijanis, 6 Russian, 3 Tartar and 3 Jewish residents of Baku were killed on the 20th of January. The brutally slain victims included 4 police officers, 1 doctor of medicine, 1 post-graduate, and 3 PhD's. Of the registered 700 injured, 25 were women and 20 children. So, the USSR's High Council's January 19th decision to introduce martial law in Baku starting from January 20th was announced to the town-people from 6AM of that day from atop armored war vehicles.

5 peaceful citizens were shot to death the very same day by the Imperial troops. The national leader Heydar Aliyev, who lived in Moscow then, rushed to the resident representative office of Azerbaijan in Moscow on January 21st, oblivious to any danger he was putting himself in. He expressed his sympathies to our nation and held a press-conference, naming the government officials and the military who orchestrated and executed the bloody act of terror in Baku, led by Gorbachyov,   criminals, and the atrocity that they committed against the peaceful protesters a crime of historical scale against the entire nation, and as a sign of his protest against this  despicable act he publicly denounced and quit the Communist Party.

Commenting on the January 1990 massacre while on a trip to Turkey in April 1995, the former USSR President M. Gorbachyov said: «Declaring a state of martial law and sending troops to Baku was the biggest mistake of my political career», thus essentially admitting his fault.

In recognition of the place and role of the January 20th tragedy in the national liberation movement of Azerbaijan, the nation proudly and solemnly commemorates the fallen heroic sons and daughters of Azerbaijan on yearly returns of that sad date.

The 20th of January events were but an assault on our national identity, our spirit of national liberty. But the Azerbaijani people did not lose its national pride, these events could not break down its will. The 20th of January embedded in the nation's genetic memory as a tremendous tragedy is also a heroic milestone in the nation's history. We commemorate the 20th of January was a day of national mourning and sorrow, but we also remember that night with pride, as the incredible crime against the people of Azebaijan committed on the night from the 19th to 20th of January, the shedding of innocent blood, and the atrocious slaughter of people failed to throw the nation off its path of struggle for independence. This bloody crime perpetrated by the USSR leadership against the people of Azerbaijan united the nation even more, and strengthened their fighting spirit. On that night the people of Azerbaijan made a loud and clear statement to the world that they will not bend or break, demonstrated their heroism, and showed everyone how determined they were to keep fighting for their Motherland, their homes, and freedom. And it was this resolve that guided our people on their path to their sacred dream, and national liberty. Azerbaijan joined the ranks of the world's independent states.

After our national leader Heydar Aliyev returned to power in 1993 at popular demand, an investigation was launched into the circumstances, reasons and consequences of the 20th of January, 1990 events, that went down in Azerbaijan's history as the Bloody January tragedy, following which, in 1994 the independent Republic of Azerbaijan politically and legally recognized the 20th of January tragedy as a military aggression and crime, and called for just punishment for those who were behind these events, namely Mikhayil Gorbachyov, Abdulrahman Vezirov, Ayaz Mutallibov and others.

Official documents that were adopted in the subsequent years also recognized the exceptional significance of the 20th of January as a symbol of heroic struggle for the nation's liberty, independence and territorial integrity.

As we commemorate the 20th of January victims with utmost respect today we can proudly say that it has been 21 years since the country has retained its independence for which they so bravely fought and sacrificed their very lives. The independent Republic of Azerbaijan has taken up its rightful place in the intergovernmental relations system, and has shown the world that our independence is eternal and irreversible.

Only in the first few years of independence, in 1991-1993, Armenia's unjust territorial claim on Azerbaijan resulted in occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territories, and the national has not been able to restore its territorial integrity to the day.  So, by the 21st anniversary of the 20th of January tragedy, every citizen of Azerbaijan, every Azerbaijani soldier and officer need to once again realize that we absolutely must restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan that has become independent    at the cost of the innocent blood of our martyrs.

The worthy successor of the National Leader Heydar Aliyev's policy, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Mr. Ilham Aliyev stated Azerbaijan's official stance on the actions taken to liberate the lands treacherously occupied by the Republic of Armenia: «This is for all to know that, although we advocate peace, although we do not want the war to re-kindle and do want for this matter to be resolved amicably, our patience, too, has it bounds. Azerbaijan shall liberate its own lands whatever the cost may be.»

Combat and political and social science classes have already been started under the 2011 academic year's combat readiness plan at military bases and troop quarters. The military personnel is about to go through an intensive training process, field exercises, and tactical training. Every accomplishment, every success, every achievement of every military serviceman in Azerbaijan's army in this training and exercises is yet another step taking us all closer to the victory in the holy war for restoring our Motherland's territorial integrity. Only a highly qualified, properly trained in equipment and weapons, disciplined, mentally, morally and physically fit soldiers are capable of winning in contemporary battles. İn order to acquire these qualities, every soldier of Azerbaijan ought to have a tenuous grasp on the training and knowledge delivered by commanding officers, develop and upgrade, and be able to use their combat skills in battle, so to be prepared to vindicate the martyrs who have fallen defending Azerbaijan's independence and territorial integrity.