October 22, 2019

Words of Hope in Honor of Azerbaijan’s ‘Black January’ tragedy

A memorial along the streets of Baku, in memory of the victims of Black January. Photo courtesy of Vestnik Kavkasa.


At this time last year, I wrote a piece as a dedication to a young Jewish woman named Vera, who was murdered by Soviet troops during the 1990’s ‘Black January’ Massacre, which took place in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan. It was 28 years ago on January 20 that a bullet, shot by invading Soviet forces, took 16 year-old Vera’s life from the world forever. Hundreds of innocent people were murdered that day and thousands were injured by the over 26,000 Soviet troops that marched on Baku, to prevent our nation from obtaining freedom, a freedom that was stolen from us for 70 years of Soviet control over our previously independent nation. Vera and I were about the same age at the time, and today, my daughter is of similar age. As a mother, I cannot imagine the suffering of Vera’s family, still mourning the loss of such an innocent, young girl.

This year, on the 28th anniversary of the Black January Massacre, I dedicate this piece and my heart to the countless people around the world that are currently enduring the pain and loss of invasion and brutality.

On January 20, 1990, the streets of Baku, a city adorned with natural and architectural beauty and a bustling society, were covered in the blood of slain Azerbaijani civilians. The victims and the survivors were unsuspecting of what would happen to them that day, and so many lives were taken as people went out into the streets of Baku, to live their normal lives; going to work, taking their children to school or taking a walk in one of the beautiful city parks. The Soviet leaders in Moscow had made a great effort to suppress any news of their preparation and plans to deliver brutal force upon the people. On the eve of the massacre, they went so far as to blow out the television and radio systems, to assure that Baku would remain unaware of what was coming. Their intention was to take as many lives as possible; men, women and children.

Around the world today, there are many that suffer under similar tyranny, such as the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the Yazidis and Christians in Iraq, and the many victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Those victims are enduring the unimaginable, as so many did during the Black January Massacre in Baku. Places that should be safe, and innocent people that should be protected, have lost their safety and their protection. The perpetrators of these atrocities want the same thing as the Soviets wanted in 1990. They want to wipe out freedom and to punish people for wanting it, so that in the aftermath of their cruelty they can impose their nefarious rule.

On the days following the massacre in Baku, against the restrictions of a curfew, thousands of Azerbaijani civilians marched across the city to bury and memorialize the victims and to proclaim their love and unwavering fight for freedom; to be a free society, as Azerbaijan remains today. In the wake of current tragedies, my hope is that the people of Iraq, Nigeria, Myanmar, Syria and all places where cruel and murderous forces attack the innocent, will soon have the security and the strength to march on their streets, to bury and memorialize the victims, and to celebrate an end of tyranny. Black January is a tragic stain on the history of my nation, yet it was also the end of Soviet control. From such darkness reemerged a free and independent nation of Azerbaijan that today is known as the epicentre of multiculturalism, with a booming economy, and vibrant citizenry, representing many cultures and religions, all able to pursue any interest or dream imaginable. Black January serves as an example and a hope to the victims of tragedy and brutality today, that even in the face of the worst possible cruelty, they may soon know such a future of peace and freedom .

On this 28th anniversary of the Black January Massacre, I will light candles in memory of the many Azerbaijani people that lost their lives on that day. I will also light a candle in recognition of those that are facing such evil of today and pray that they survive and transcend, and that the forces that fight against their freedom will be extinguished.