Black January: Azerbaijan's Path To Freedom

Jan 17, 2013, 18:48 ET from Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 17, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following article is being released by Nasimi Aghayev, Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles:

On January 20, 1990, Azerbaijan's capital city of Baku came under attack from all directions. Its attackers were not foreign invaders: they were the armed forces of the Soviet Union to which Azerbaijan still belonged, and which was showing itself downright incapable of responding to popular demands for freedom.

The 26,000 Soviet troops, directed by the Politburo in Moscow, stormed the city and began shooting indiscriminately. Over 150 innocent civilians, including children, women and elderly, were killed and a thousand wounded in a bloodshed carried out by the heavily-armed soldiers.

The pretext was a massive popular uprising in the capital, calling for Azerbaijan's independence from Moscow: proof that the Soviet authorities were presiding over a collapsing empire, and that Azerbaijan was leading the fight for independence. The Baku uprising was the first occasion in the USSR in which a whole city had risen up against Soviet occupation – and the first in which the authorities used such overwhelming force, including tanks and helicopters, to kill protesters and innocent civilians. Through this massacre the Soviet regime was determined to crush the Azerbaijani people's fight for freedom.

The brutal regime utterly failed. After the massacre, tens of thousands – young and old, men and women, Muslims, Jews and Christians - filled the streets to mourn the victims, and a general strike in honour of the dead shut down the city for 40 days. Heydar Aliyev, who would become later the founder of the modern Azerbaijan, came to the Azerbaijan SSR's office in Moscow and fiercely denounced the bloodshed. His defiance helped to inspire the Azerbaijani people and Aliyev became a leader of the struggle for liberty.

The force could not stop the people of Azerbaijan from seeking their freedom. In fact, it only increased their resolve to re-establish a free and independent Azerbaijan.

The independence was finally restored on October 18, 1991, as the USSR collapsed, in part because of the callousness of Black January and the resulting crisis of legitimacy for the Soviet authorities. A massacre intended to shore up the empire ended up contributing to its destruction. The bloodshed in Baku also shocked the West, and awakened many to the brutal reality of an empire, which was coming apart at the seams.

Since the restoration of independence, Azerbaijan has gone from strength to strength. Under the astute and visionary leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan is now economically dynamic, politically stable, and an important geopolitical power. It is the biggest economy in the South Caucasus, and one of the biggest in the whole of the former Soviet Union. International investors have been attracted by the country's business climate, and Azerbaijan is the centrepiece of the Caspian oil and gas developments, vital for global energy security, as well as other regional megaprojects.

Politically, Azerbaijan has emerged onto the world stage as a confident and prosperous power. Just 20 years after it regained independence, Azerbaijan was elected to a seat on the UN Security Council by a huge majority of 155 countries – a clear vote of confidence in Azerbaijan's successful diplomatic efforts and its positive reputation.

Baku, which resounded to the sound of gunfire in Black January, now resounds to the sound of construction as the city is transformed into a vibrant and modern cosmopolis. The hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest last May showcased Azerbaijan's development, culture and history to the world. The streets down which Soviet tanks had once driven were filled with foreign tourists and journalists eager to see the sights of Baku.

Today, Azerbaijan's freedom is solid and irreversible. Despite some efforts to undermine its sovereignty and return it to a state of dependency, the country is committed to its independent path and cannot be diverted from it.

On January 20, the people of Azerbaijan will mark the tragedy of Black January and pay tribute to its martyrs. But they will also commemorate the achievements in the years since as an independent nation, and acknowledge that January 20, for all its bloodshed, was a first and vital step towards Azerbaijan's freedom.

SOURCE Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles