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Spotlight Article

Martyr’s Day

Azerbaijan America Alliacne
January 20, 2015

On January 20, Azerbaijan will observe Martyr’s day, also known as Qara Yanvar (Black January) in memory of those who died during the January Massacre in 1990. Hundreds of Azerbaijani’s lost their lives on January 20, 1990. However, the day is marked not only as a day of mourning, but is also remembered as the rebirth of Azerbaijan as an independent republic. 

On January 18, 1990 Soviet authorities evacuated their local officials and representatives. The following day M. Gorbachev announced a state of emergency in Baku in response to the civil unrest and growing popularity of Azerbaijani nationalist groups. Late that night soviet special forces destroyed the central television station and cut off phone and radio lines. With lines of communication cut off, Soviet troops attacked Azerbaijani activists and civilians leading to hundreds of deaths. The number of deaths and the proportion of deaths suffered by civilians is disputed with estimates ranging from 133 to 800.  The violence continued for three days; for 40 days following the attacks Azerbaijani’s refused to go to work as a sign of mourning and protest. 

By October 18, 1991 Azerbaijan’s parliament declared Azerbaijan independent once again. Four years later, Gorbachev apologized to Azerbaijan citing the declaration of a state of emergency in Baku the greatest mistake of his political career.

In recognition of the sacrifice made on January 20, 1990 President Heydar Aliyev awarded every victim of the attacks the title of “Martyr.” In 2010 a memorial was erected at the end of “Martyr’s Lane” in the Yasamal district of Baku. The memorial depicts Azerbaijanis crowded in resistance to the Soviet attacks. Martyr’s Lane is the grave site for more than 15,000 Azerbaijani’s and Turks who died in battles for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and independence, including those who died in the January 20 attacks. 

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