Late at night on January 19, 1990, Soviet troops stormed Baku. They acted pursuant to a state of emergency declared by the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium, signed by President Gorbachev and disclosed to the Azerbaijani public only after many citizens lay wounded or dead in the streets, hospitals and morgues of Baku.
More than 130 people died from wounds received that night and during subsequent violent confrontations and incidents that lasted into February; the majority of these were civilians killed by Soviet soldiers. More than 700 civilians were wounded. Hundreds of people were detained, only a handful of whom were put on trial for alleged criminal offenses. Civil liberties were severely curtailed.
The behavior of Soviet armed forces in Baku must be judged in the context of their actual mission. Mikhail Gorbachev’s use of force in Baku was nothing but the desperate attempt to stop dissolution of Communist ruling in Azerbaijan. The Soviet army was trying to rescue the totalitarian regime, the rule of Communist Party and Soviet empire.
Then-USSR Defense Minister Dimitri Yazov stated that the use of force in Baku was intended to prevent the de facto takeover of the Azerbaijani government by the nonCommunist opposition, to prevent their victory in upcoming free elections (scheduled for March 1990), to destroy them as a political force, and to ensure that the Communist government remained in power.
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 /he 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.”
“The subsequent events in the Balfic Republics – where, in a remarkable parallel to the events in Baku, alleged civil disorder was cited as justification for violent intervention by Soviet troops – further confirms that the Soviet Government has demonstrated that it will deal harshly with nationalist movements,” continues the Human Rights Watch report.
The Wall Street Journal editorial of January 4, 1995 stated: “It was Mr. Gorbachev, 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.”
Gross violation of human rights and mass manslaughter in Azerbaijan caused little reaction of Western powers. Mikhail Gorbachev’s regime was adamantly supported against “heavily armed gangs of hooligans and drug-traffickers.”
The brutal use of force in Azerbaijan created an anti-force. It buried chances of preserving the collapsing empire and resurrected national movement for independence.
In 1991 Azerbaijan became independent.
Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan – Washington, D.C. – January 20, 1995