Elchin Ibrahimov's blog

Why Black January?

Posted on: January 18, 2011

A Memorial dedicated to the victims of Black January.


I was standing on the windowsill and looking out toward ‘20 January’ metro station. Gleams of light and the sound of guns were destroying the peace of dark night. I was enjoying this “firework” show. While the sound of explosions made me scared, I liked the lights going to the darkness.

But there was a tension inside the house. My father wanted to go out and investigate where and why these sounds were coming from. My grandmother with my mother was trying to stop him. I still didn’t understand why they were so nervous.

A couple of days ago I had turned one but surprisingly I still remember that evening quite well. Maybe it’s the scene I created in my mind after my family members talked about that evening rather than my strong memory.

That Black January night 26,000 Soviet troops entered Baku. The troops attacked the protesters, firing into the crowds. The majority of people killed were citizens, killed on the streets without any guns or weapons. The shooting continued for three days. More than one hundred were killed, including women, children and old people.

A lot of events had built up to Black January. A couple of months earlier Azerbaijanis living next to the Iran’s border ripped down the border fences to reunite with their families on the other site of the border (later, this day will be celebrated as the  International Solidarity Day of Azerbaijanis). This event was partly inspired by the fall of the Berlin wall and other reunification actions on the rest of USSR and local authorities (backed by USSR) turning over to the Popular Front of Azerbaijan several cities all over the country.

A propaganda campaign was waged by Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Propaganda that Nagorno-Karabakh will become part of Armenia had been started by Armenians living abroad and who had close ties with Gorbachov, like Aganbekyan, Balayan, Kaputikyan etc. The message spread very fast across Armenia and Azerbaijan creating great tensions on the latter’s part. Aware of these tensions, the Politburo adopted a resolution: “Not to change the borders of countries and solve the problems during the perestroika”. This meant that Nagorno-Karabakh would remain the part of Azerbaijan as it has been for centuries. But even this resolution didn’t stop Armenians and the Supreme Soviet of the Armenian SSR voted to include Nagorno-Karabakh in its budget and allow its inhabitants to vote in Armenian elections. That was the climax. It was also followed by several biased meetings of Gorbachov with Armenain officials.

The situation was like a match held to gunpowder: ready to explode at any moment. On January 15, the authorities declared a state of emergency in other parts of Azerbaijan (but not in Baku). It was a signal of possible intervention of the central Soviet authorities.  Therefore Popular Front activists began to barricade the main access routes into Baku. The fears become reality with Gorbachov signing the Decree of the Supreme Council of USSR “On declaration of the state of emergency in Baku city” on 19th January. The Soviet officials immediately were moved to

Thousand of people ever year visit Martyrs' Lane to remember and pray for those who gave their lives for the independence of Azerbaijan.

military posts outside the city. All phone and radio lines were terminated by Soviet special forces and the central television station was blown up. It was done to stop disseminating news – the reality of this cruel massacre of the Azerbaijani people to the local population and international community. The only Azerbaijani voice that could be heard was Mirza Khazar on Radio Liberty, who from Munich proceeded to broadcast to the world news of these cruel events that accompanied the Soviet invasion.

Once there was a big park named after Kirov on a hill in the south part of Baku, which offered great views of the Caspian Sea. Parents would take their children to the park and enjoy the peace there. After the events of Black January it became the permanent place of rest for those killed.  Even nowadays a lot of Azerbaijanis frequently visit Martyrs’ Lane to remember and pray for those who gave their lives for the independence of Azerbaijan.


Ilham and Ferize. They had been married only for 6 months. After Ilham was killed for her life has no more meaning without him, 2 days later she committed suicide. Her letter before suicide: 'Mother, do not cry after me. I cannot live without Ilham. He is my star at nights and sun during the days. Damping sun and stars are calling for me….'


The Wall Street Journal editorial of January 4, 1995, stated:
It was Mr. Gorbachev’s recall, who in January 1990 chose to defend his use of violence against the independence-seeking Azerbaijan on the grounds that the people of this then-Soviet republic were heavily armed gangs of hooligans and drug-traffickers who were destabilizing the country and quite possibly receiving support from foreign governments.

Mikhail Gorbachev would later apologize stating:

The declaration of a state emergency in Baku was the biggest mistake of my political career……

From M.Gorbachev’s speech in Istanbul in April 27,1995

Elchin Ibrahimov

BEng at the Southern Denmark University


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