Black January

January 20

Black January is the Azerbaijani term for the massacre of January 20, 1990. Every year since 1990, the people of Azerbaijan remember those who fell that day. They are called the January 20th Martyrs.

On that day Soviet troops stormed the capital city of Baku. Their supposed intent was to crack down on Azeri nationalist demonstrations, to protect the faltering Communist Party leadership, and to stem the violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region between Azeris and Armenians.

The result of the attack was at least 133 Azerbaijanis killed; hundreds more were wounded. Most of the victims were civilians and peaceful demonstrators.

Azerbaijani citizens don’t appreciate the fact that the same year Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the attack on Baku, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991, but the Nagorno-Karabakh War continued for years. Even today Armenia and Azerbaijan contest the ownership of the N-K Autonomous Region, and nearly 20 years later, emotions run high when remembering the Martyrs of Black January. – Black January

Azerbaijan – and other names I have gone by

May 28

Azerbaijanis have been celebrating May 28 as Independence Day for the past 90 years–with a brief intermission during that whole 70-year Soviet occupation thing.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 Azerbaijan joined ranks with Armenia and Georgia to form the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. Faced with the reality that no one could remember their quindeci-syllabic name, the trio split the following year, and Azerbaijan became the independent nation we know today.

For two years.

Then in 1920 the Bolshevik Red Army overthrew the Islamic world’s first democratic republic. Vaporizing the autonomy of the newborn Azerbaijani Parliament, the Bolsheviks also sadistically cursed Azerbaijan (together with Georgia and Armenia) with the name “the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic”. Even the Soviets had to admit the cruelty of this name, and shortened it (slightly) to the Azerbaijan SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) in the 1930s.

During the 23 months Azerbaijan had been an independent democratic republic, it granted women’s suffrage–preceding the U.S. and U.K.–and gave women equal political rights as men.

In January 1990 Soviet troops killed 132 demonstrators in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. The following year during the turmoil of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Azerbaijan formerly declared its re-independence. One of its first acts as was to chose to celebrate the May 28–the date of its 1918 proclamation of independence–as its Republic Day.

The first years of the country’s independence were marred by the ongoing Nogorno-Karabakh War, a territorial war with neighboring Armenia. Atrocities ran deep on both sides; in 1992 the Armenian army allegedly killed over 600 Azerbaijanis in the town of Khojaly. All told, approximately 10,000 Azerbaijanis were killed in the war between 1988 and 1994, and nearly 30,000 were wounded.

93% of Azerbaijan’s 8 million people are Muslim. Freedom of religion is written into the Constitution.