THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
(January 13, 1990)
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which had a large Armenian community since the late nineteenth century, was the theater of anti-Armenian massacres in 1905 and 1918. In January 1990, the local community was persecuted, massacred, and forced to leave the city forever.
The beginning of the Karabagh conflict, followed by the pogrom of Sumgait in February 1988, was marked with a violent Azerbaijani response to the peaceful Armenian demonstrations and claims. Exchange of population started. However, while Armenians were expelled by force from Kirovabad (currently Ganja, the second city of Azerbaijan) in the fall of 1988, as well as from other locations, Azerbaijanis were able to sell their properties and leave Armenia without being disturbed.
Azerbaijani mass media, and particularly television, were flooded with anti-Armenian propaganda, which paved the way for violence. The Popular Front of Azerbaijan, a nationalist and anti-communist movement, called to expel Armenians from Baku and take up their homes. Killings and robbery became frequent throughout 1989.
On December 1 of that year, the Supreme Councils of the Armenian SS Republic and the Mountainous Karabagh Autonomous Region passed a joint resolution on the formal unification of Armenia and Karabagh. This resolution triggered the anti-Armenian massacre of Baku from January 13-19, 1990 as a direct response.
The violence was preceded by demonstrations of the Popular Front, which called for the defense of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty from Armenian demands. Groups of young Azerbaijanis roamed the streets, terrorizing Armenians and warning them to leave Baku. Azaddin Gyulmamedov, a young Azerbaijani who attended the rally in Baku on January 13 and witnessed the outbreak of anti-Armenian violence, gave the following testimony: “We went to see what was happening. We saw these guys in the streets. I don’t know who they were – drug addicts, maybe. They had sticks and clubs, and lists of Armenians and where they lived. They wanted to break down the doors of Armenian apartments and chase them out. The police didn’t do anything. They just stood and watched. Same with the soldiers, who had weapons. We asked them to help. There were about a dozen soldiers and ten of us, and there were about twenty in the gang, but the soldiers wouldn’t help. They said: ‘You can do it yourself, Blackie. We’re not getting involved.’”
At nightfall of January 12-13, attacks started; Armenian homes were set on fire and looted, while Armenians were killed or injured. The homes of Armenians had been previously identified and mapped, while law enforcement bodies stood idle, and ambulance people made fake medical certificates, according to which the deaths of Armenians were caused by circulatory injury and not by the violence.
According to Radio Liberty, on the night of January 14 alone, 25 people were killed in the Armenian district. The Russian daily Izvestia reported on January 18 and 19 that 64 cases of pogrom had been identified, with Armenians as victims, on January 16, and 45 pogroms and arsons of residential houses on January 17. The New York Times wrote on January 19: “Nationalists in Lithuania are struggling to wrest independence from Moscow by nonviolent, political means. Nationalists in Azerbaijan also talk of independence, but their protest includes bloody pogroms against their Armenian neighbors.”
One of the leaders of the National Front of Azerbaijan, Etibar Mamedov, testified about the cruelties and the lack of official intervention: “I myself witnessed the murder of two Armenians near the railway station. A crowd gathered, threw petrol on them and burned them, whereas the regional militia division was only 200 meters away with some 400-500 soldiers of the internal forces. The soldiers passed by the burning bodies at a distance of some 20 meters, and nobody attempted to circle the area and dissolve the crowd.”
Central authorities in Moscow did little to stop the violence until January 20, when Soviet troops entered Baku and declared the state of emergency. As Moscow News wrote on February 4, “the troops entered the town seized with pogroms not to stop them, but to prevent the final seizure of power by the People’s Front of Azerbaijan, which was planned for January 20.” Most Armenians fled Baku. Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and his family was among the evacuees. Kasparov later testified: “No one would halt the Armenian pogroms in Baku, although there were eleven thousand soldiers of internal troops in the city. No one would intervene until the ethnic cleansing was carried out. The pogroms were happening not in a random place but in the huge capital city with blocks of flats. In such a megapolis as Baku the crowd simply cannot carry out targeted operations like that. When the pogrom-makers go purposefully from one district to another, from one apartment to another this means that they had been given the addresses and that they had a coordinator.”
The number of victims of the Armenian massacres in Baku is not clear yet, with estimates going up to 400. The events were never assessed from a legal point of view and the damages were not repaid.