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Letter to the Editor: Anniversary of Black January

To the Editor:

Twenty-three years ago, on the night of Jan. 19-20, 1990, Soviet authorities staged the falling empire's last brutal crime against their own citizens. Amidst a popular uprising in Baku, Azerbaijan, 26,000 regular and special Soviet troops with support of tanks, helicopters and navy stormed the city overnight, indiscriminately killing unarmed inhabitants.

Black January — as it came to be called — was the most violent crackdown on dissent during Gorbachev's glasnost era. According to the official counts, 137 civilians were killed that night alone, with up to 170 reported dead by February 1990, and 714 wounded.

In December 1990, an investigation led by Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence that Soviet troops "used unjustified and excessive force resulting in unnecessary civilian casualties." Human Rights Watch reported that on the night of Jan. 19-20, 1990, "heavily armed Soviet soldiers assaulted the city of Baku as though it was an enemy position intended for military destruction"; fired on clearly marked ambulances attempting to assist the wounded; strafed a civilian bus that posed no threat to soldiers; used armored vehicles to intentionally crush civilians; used weapons appropriate for warfare between sophisticated armies to randomly fire at civilian targets such as cars, residential yards and apartment buildings.

Soviet troops used expanding bullets prohibited by the 1899 Hague Convention, killed women, children, and elderly among many others. Despite the scale of brutality, Black January reinforced Azerbaijanis' determination for freedom. On the third day of the massacre, over 2 million people rallied at the mass funeral of the victims, defying the Soviet military curfew. Within less than two years, in October 1991, Azerbaijan restored its independence.

On the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Black January, I join members of Azerbaijani-American Council and Azerbaijan Society of America to call for a proper recognition of the heroes of Azerbaijan's struggle for freedom, by way of public statements and legislative resolutions. An example of such recognition is available at: http://blackjanuary.azeris.org

Bedir Memmedli

Alexandria