NATIONAL

Azerbaijan honors dead in independence struggle

By Joel Lee
  • Published : Jan 14, 2019 - 16:46
  • Updated : Jan 14, 2019 - 16:46

Azerbaijani citizens lay wreaths at the Martyrs’ Avenue in Baku in commemoration of the Black January martyrdom. (Azerbaijani Embassy)

Azerbaijan mourns the death of its compatriots in the “Black January” massacre of Jan. 19-20, 1990, and pays homage to their sacrifice, which ushered in freedom upon the modern democratic market economy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, according to its embassy in Seoul.

The Black January commemoration annually marks the martyrdom of 147 Azerbaijanis -- women, children, Muslims, Christians and Jews alike -- who were indiscriminately slaughtered by Soviet troops in the twilight period of the Soviet Union’s disintegration.

With rifles and tanks, some 26,000 soldiers stormed capital Baku on Jan. 19 of that year to murder, torture and imprison demonstrators who demanded national independence. In addition to the 147 deaths, some 800 people were wounded, 841 men were illegally arrested and five remain missing to this day. Furthermore, hundreds of homes, cars and state and personal properties were ransacked and burned to the ground.

The bloody crackdown, enforced under martial law decreed by former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and his Politburo, proved futile, and the Azeri parliament declared independence on Oct. 18, 1991. Black January has been viewed as “the rebirth” of the nation following its first independence declaration on May 28, 1918, after the collapse of the Russian Empire.

Gorbachev, who is widely credited with facilitating the communist bloc’s disintegration, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, conceded in 1995, “The declaration of the state of emergency in Baku was the biggest mistake of my political career.”

Following the tragedy, the martyrs were buried at Mountain Park -- the highest point in Baku -- which was later renamed the “Martyrs’ Avenue.” Jan. 20 has been commemorated as a national day of mourning since 1994.

“The Martyrs’ Avenue is considered the most sacred place for every Azerbaijani,” the Azerbaijani Embassy told The Korea Herald. “Every year, millions of Azerbaijanis visit the Martyrs’ Avenue and lay carnations on the graves. This ceremony begins in the early morning when our national president and representatives of foreign missions lay wreaths at the Eternal Flame.”

According to some historians, the Soviet Union’s dissolution was brought about not just by its internal structural maladies and worldwide military pressure by the United States, but the Soviet Socialist Republics’ unrelenting struggles for freedom and self-determination.

“Many people think that the Soviet Union fell due to geopolitical and economic reasons, but one major overlooked cause was the national aspirations of satellite states, which were violently suppressed under communism’s iron grip,” the embassy said.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)