While the day of January 20th was a day of celebration, it was a day of mourning in Azerbaijan. I wanted to mention this, as I figured that a fair amount of people who visit this blog are interested in learning more about Azerbaijan. As my counterpart told me, “January 20th is the worst day for Azerbaijani people.” Global Voices Online, which consistently turns out insightful posts about the Caucuses, offers a short description of the day.
As many around the world celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, Azerbaijan mourned the 19th anniversary of an event which ultimately led to its independence from the former Soviet Union. As Moscow’s power over its satellites weakened, nationalism emerged, and in the South Caucasus ethnic tensions would soon erupt into war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
From my understanding, under the guise of halting the ethnic conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Soviet Union military came in to Baku and killed demonstrators indiscriminately. Some, including Human Rights Watch, thing that military assault on Baku wasn’t to stop any ethnic conflict, but to squash an anti-communist, pro-independence movement. GVO continues:
Indeed, HRW and other independent observers conclude that the intervention was staged not to protect ethnic Armenian residents in the city, but to prevent the victory of pro-independence political forces in elections scheduled for the following month. At least 130 people were killed and 700 wounded in what is now known as “Black January,” a day which marks a defining moment in the rebirth of the former Soviet republic.
I think that last sentence is really important. For many, it is an obviously dark day that is thought of as a national tragedy. However, I think it’s important that people realize that this was the beginning of independence for Azerbaijan as well. It can be taken as a case of hope stemming from tragedy.