TUESDAY 20 JANUARY
Twenty-five years after Soviet tanks crushed demonstrations on the streets of Baku, the events of Black January are still fresh in the minds of many Azerbaijanis.
As Communism’s grip over Eastern Europe slackened, calls for independence intensified. A background of heightened tension with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabagh added to the desire for change and the newly-formed opposition party, the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, was gaining support. Those supporters gathered in Baku on January 20, 1990, calling for a free country outside of the Soviet Union. For many people it was the first time they had seen the Azerbaijani tricolour, the blue, red and green colours that briefly fluttered over the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic but were then subsumed into the red banner of the Soviet Union.
Moscow’s response was ruthless. The tanks rolled in, troops fired into the unarmed crowd — civilians who were unaware that a state of emergency had been declared — and the death toll topped 200 over three days of violence. As the dead were buried, the traditional 40-day mourning period mutated into a general strike. Those funerals marked not only the victims of the massacre, but sounded another death knell for the crumbling Soviet regime. Within a year the USSR was no more and Azerbaijan was independent.
The swift collapse of a super power and its on-going socio-political continues to shape our world today. Quarter of a century later, a host of questions are still crying out for satisfactory answers as newsprint and TV broadcasts attest on a daily basis. This anniversary discussion looks at many of these, and promises hard talk about what happened then, what has happened since and what still needs to happen in the future to fully deliver on those brave calls for freedom.