Recognizing the 25Th Anniversary of Black Januaryby Representative Steve Cohen
Posted on 2015-01-22
in the house of representatives
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Mr. COHEN. Mr. Speaker, few Americans have heard the term ``Black
January,'' yet it is imbedded in the memory of all Azerbaijanis. Black
January marks the evening of January 19, 1990, when at midnight Russian
troops stormed the capital city of Baku. Armed with a state of
emergency declared by the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet Presidium and signed
by then President Mikhail Gorbachev, the invasion was intended to
suppress a growing independence movement, but the result was the
opposite. This violent incident inflamed Azerbaijani nationalism and
contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Leading up to Black January, the national independence movement had gained momentum with growing demonstrations for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Emerging democratic groups were leading the political agenda and were projected to succeed in upcoming Parliamentary elections in March 1990. The Soviet Union sought to ``restore order'' by indiscriminately firing on peaceful demonstrators in Baku, including women and children. The protesters were calling for independence from the Soviet Union and the removal of Communist officials. More than 130 people died that night and in subsequent violence, over 700 were injured, 841 were arrested, and 5 went missing.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch entitled ``Black January in Azerbaijan,'' ``among the most heinous violations of human rights during the Baku incursion were the numerous attacks on medical personnel, ambulances and even hospitals.'' The report concluded that `indeed the violence used by the Soviet Army on the night of January 19-20 constitutes an exercise in collective punishment. 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.'' In the days after the invasion, thousands of Azerbaijanis surrounded Communist Party headquarters demanding the resignation of the republic's leadership. The Baku City Council demanded that Soviet troops be withdrawn. The Soviet legislature in Azerbaijan condemned the occupation as ``unconstitutional'' and threatened to call a referendum on secession unless Soviet troops were withdrawn within 48 hours.
Soviet troops were eventually withdrawn from Baku, but political control was maintained for almost another 2 years until Azerbaijan's parliament declared independence in October 1991. Today, Azerbaijan has developed into a thriving country with double digit growth, in large part due to a freely elected president and parliament, free market reforms led by the energy sector, and, most importantly, no foreign troops on its soil.
January 20 is the day on which Azerbaijani citizens stood up to Soviet soldiers and martyrs gave up their lives for freedom from communism and dictatorship. I ask my colleagues to join me in recognizing the tragic events of Black January that precipitated the independent Republic of Azerbaijan and the fall of the USSR.