Azerbaijani Ambassador to Mexico Mammad Talibov. Pulse News Mexico photo/Thérèse Margolis

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

Azerbaijani Ambassador to Mexico Mammad Talibov hosted a solemn memorial ceremony at his embassy on Friday, Jan. 20, to mark one of the most tragic chapters in his young republic’s recent history, the 1990 “Black January” Soviet invasion of the Azeri capital of Baku.

The infamous military assault on the civilian population of the city, which occurred in the midnight hours of Jan. 19 to 20, was part of a so-called state-of-emergency attack by then-Soviet Communist Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the dissolution of the USSR.

Gorbachev alleged that an imposition of military law was necessary to thwart efforts by the Azerbaijani independence movement to overthrow the Soviet Azerbaijani government.

According to official government reports, the brutal assault on unarmed men, women and children resulted in the deaths of nearly 150 civilians, and another 744 people were injured, while four people went missing.

“The Soviet Army was sent into the country to forcibly suppress the mass protests of the Azerbaijani people and the independence movement that began as a response to the policy of discrimination by leaders of the USSR against the people of Azerbaijan,” Talibov said during the memorial service, notably holding back tears as he recalled the incident that was indelibly engraved in his childhood, since he was 11 years old at the time of the attack on Baku and still recalls having his father hide him under a table in their home.

Talibov went on to say that “the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from their historical lands in the territory of what is currently Armenia, along with the unfounded territorial claims of Armenia against (the recently liberated) Karabakh region, led to the Soviets committing an unprecedented massacre against the civilian population, violating international law.”

“On Jan. 21, 1990, the day after the tragic events, Azerbaijan’s national leader, Heydar Aliyev, demonstrating his solidarity with the Azerbaijani people, strongly condemned in the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan in Moscow the crime committed against the Azerbaijani people, demanding a political and legal evaluation of the massacre and punishment of the perpetrators,” he continued.

At the same time, thousands of Azerbaijanis took to the streets that same day to show the Soviet troops that they would not buckle under their oppression in their determination to regain their independence, which they had first proclaimed in 1918, becoming the first democratic republic in the Eastern world.

“At the special session of the Milli Majlis National Assembly, held in February of 1994, the brutal murder of innocent people on Jan. 20, 1990, was qualified as a military aggression and a crime against humanity,” Talibov said.

As a result of the slaughter, Jan. 20 was declared a day of national mourning throughout Azerbaijan, and an already crescent independence movement took form.

“The tragedy of Jan. 20 had a decisive influence on the formation of the national identity of Azerbaijan and became a turning point in the restoration of its independence,” Talibov said.

“The Azerbaijani people, who were the target of the military, political and moral aggression of the Soviet regime 33 years ago, displayed their commitment to their storied fighting traditions.”

The ambassador said that while the scars of sorrow of the January Massacre will never be erased from the collective Azerbaijani soul, his people’s determination to stand up against the Soviets was an example of their national pride and “conveyed to the world that they deserved to live free, sovereign and independent.”

“But despite the fact that 33 years have now passed, the events of Jan. 20, 1990 — one of the most terrible crimes committed in the 20th century, in which the Soviets flagrantly violated all international law — has not received an international legal assessment,” Talibov said.

“The leaders of the former Soviet Union were directly responsible for this crime, and in accordance with international law, the tragedy of Jan. 20 must be classified as a crime against humanity, and its instigators and perpetrators must be punished.”

Talibov then made reference to Azerbaijan’s 44-day 2020 Patriotic War, in which it regained the majority of its territory that had been occupied in stark violation of international law by Armenia for 27 years, adding that “any actions against Azerbaijan’s independence, sovereignty and integrity will continue to be adequately answered.”

The appalling events surrounding Black January are remembered by Azerbaijan every year on Jan. 20.

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