Black January

Though it was 21 years ago I clearly remember everything what happened that day. I was 23 years old. Among with thousands other people in the streets of Baku, my friends and I were determined to defend our city.

We all knew that a large number of military forces have arrived to Baku. And we all new their mission was to suppress, to put down the movement for national freedom.

The movement that through out several months gathered hundred thousands of people on the Azadlig squire in front of the Government House, was a threat to the Soviet Regime. Especially, just months before the parliament election in Azerbaijan.

We could not possibly expect that military tanks would run over unarmed people, the citizens of USSR, that people would be killed. Just several months before the events of January 20 in Azerbaijan, in April 1989, Soviet military troops beat to death by shovels 16 civilians during a demonstration in Tbilisi, Georgia, mostly women. The Soviet Government condemned these actions and declared that these kind of actions against the own people were unacceptable. This response from the Government gave us a confidence that nothing like that may or will happen in Baku. The most violence that people would imagine would be a baton beating.

So when that night militaries attacked the demonstrators with gun shooting, people could not believe their eyes. That was a nightmare, a shocking cruelty.

My friends and I were in front of the Central Committee Head Quarter that night. We knew that Soviet army troops brought from outside of Azerbaijan were killing people in the streets of Baku. Rumors had it that thousands, ten thousands of people were killed. In those circumstances those rumors sounded true and were convincing.

We knew that sooner or later the militaries would come to the hottest area of the movement, to the Squire in front of the CCHQ. Thousands people gathered there. With my friends we decided to stay there no matter what. We didn’t leave. When about 5am in the morning the military forces approached the squire, people stood in line in front of the approaching tanks and BTRs . We didn’t run away. We held each other’s hands and shouted “AZADLIQ! AZADLIQ!” “FREEDOM! FREEDOM!” Unexpectedly, the military vehicles stopped. We saw solders getting out of BTRs and aiming at us their guns.

I do not know what stopped them. Maybe they didn’t want to shed blood in front of the CCHQ. May be they couldn’t shoot into the crowd of thousands people. Though I doubt it as lives of Azerbaijanis didn’t mean anything to these solders. In any case, for some reason they didn’t shoot that morning.

The second time my friends and I were close to death that day was around 12 noon. Several military vehicles were trying to disperse the demonstrators away from Azadliq squire. Though by that moment we had no doubts that these solders and officers would dare killing civilians, the crowd didn’t move. People blocked the way, and the solders opened fire. But they shoot into the air. All of a sudden, the vehicles turned around and left.

We didn’t sleep through that night. From different witnesses we heard stories of crimes conducted by Russian army. We all were depressed. Our dignity was crushed. With friends, we decided that before dark we’d kill at least one solder, get a gun and kill more military enemy. That was the only honorable way we saw for ourselves, unarmed and defenseless – to die for our Motherland. But before we wanted to destroy the enemy that killed women and children.

It was 5.45 pm (I remember the time because just a few seconds before I checked the time) we were standing in front of the philharmonic theater. The people blocked the street with two trucks, naively believing that this would stop the tanks of the enemy. There were many people sitting in the backs of the trucks. Suddenly I detected a BTR speedily approaching towards the trucks. Those people sitting on the trucks wouldn’t even have a chance to jump off the trucks and save their lives. Without thinking I ran and stood on the way of BTR with my arms up. A second later I realized that it won’t stop but I didn’t move. The only thing upsetting me was that didn’t kill any of these murderers. Without stopping BTR just ran over me.

My friends were telling me later that it all happened within a few seconds. For me it was a very long time, long enough to recall my entire life. I remember my last thought was that my mom would not live through it. Somehow God felt sorry for my mother that day and let me live. I don’t know how long I was unconscious. My friends couldn’t tell me either as they themselves were shocked.

I remember I heard people screaming, “He’s dead! He’s dead!” I couldn’t move or speak; fighting pressure and pain, I just opened my eyes so they understood that I was alive. Some young men moved me into a car and took me to the hospital.

Later when people were coming to visit me in the hospital they told that after what happened to me, someone from the tribune announced that BTR just drove over young man (which was me) and killed him and in order to prevent more killings and shed of innocent blood, they called people to disperse.

When I recall that day, I think that my deed probably has saved lives of few people. This hope eases the painful memories of those black January days. But most importantly to me, after that day Azerbaijan was no longer a Soviet Azerbaijan. Though formally we gained the independence 21 months later, it was from that day Azerbaijanis were no longer Soviet people, and it was on that day that Russia lost Azerbaijan forever.

May the memory of those who died for independence of Azerbaijan live forever.

Allah onlara rəhmət eləsin!

Post Written by Anar Garibov, Karabakh Foundation Cultural Ambassador and Videographer