Commemorating the 25Th Anniversary of Black Januaryby Representative Madeleine Z. Bordallo
Posted on 2015-01-26
in the house of representatives
Monday, January 26, 2015
Ms. BORDALLO. Mr. Speaker, one of the seminal events in 20th century
was the demise of the Soviet Union, which altered the balance of power
in the world, most profoundly in Europe and Central Asia. But the event
that sparked the tinderbox of democratic uprisings through the sphere
of Soviet satellites began in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijanis remember the night that democratic fire was sparked; it was January 20, 1990. The Azeris called it ``Black January.'' At midnight on that fateful night, 26,000 armed Russian troops stormed into Baku with tanks.
The weeks and months prior to Black January had seen a surge in the national independence movement. Hundreds of thousands of Azeris pushed then USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost policy by publicly marching for independence and territorial integrity.
Some of the emerging democratic groups were projected to win seats in the upcoming Parliamentary elections. Since only Communists could hold government office in a Soviet satellite, Gorbachev moved quickly to put down the independence movement.
Gorbachev declared a state of emergency to repress a growing independence movement. The Soviet heavyhandedness served only to elevate Azeri resolve and passion. Soviet troops, under orders to ``restore order,'' tried dispersing the throngs of peaceful Azeri demonstrators by firing arbitrarily into the crowds on the Baku streets, killing women and children who were among the protesters calling for independence from the Soviet Union.
Over 130 Azeris were killed in the violence of Black January; 611 were injured, nearly 1,000 were arrested, and five were never found.
Human Rights Watch's report ``Black January in Azerbaijan,'' said that, ``among the most heinous violations of human rights during the Baku incursion were the numerous attacks on medical personnel, ambulances and even hospitals.'' Human Rights Watch concluded, ``The punishment inflicted on Baku by Soviet soldiers may have been intended as a warning to nationalists, not only in Azerbaijan, but in other Republics of the Soviet Union.'' The standoff between nationalists in Azerbaijan and the Soviet leaders in Moscow escalated into an Azeri threat to hold a referendum on secession unless Soviet troops withdrew in 48 hours. Soviet troops were hampered when Azerbaijani oil tankers blockaded the Baku harbor, keeping Soviet naval vessels at bay.
Soviet forces withdrew, but formal independence would come nearly two years later.
On this day, Azeri patriots stood up for their freedom, sealing the fate of the Soviet empire and forever changing the history of the world.
I ask my colleagues to join me in standing with the people of Azerbaijan today in solitude and gratitude for their passion for independence and remembrance of the lives lost on Black January.