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January 20 tragedy gave a strong impetus to our people`s struggle for national freedom and independence

Interview with  Member of Milli Majlis, PhD in history Fazail Ibrahimli

Q: January 20 marks the 25th anniversary of bloody events in Azerbaijan`s capital. We would like you to highlight the importance of those tragic days in Azerbaijan`s history.

A:20 January 1990 is a day, which went down in history of the struggle for the freedom and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, as a heroism page.

What happened on 20 January 1990 was an act of terror by a totalitarian regime. The crime committed against the Azerbaijanis is, in fact, a crime against mankind, against humanity.

The people were infuriated by the territorial claims and aggressive acts of Armenia, backed by the then Soviet officials, against Azerbaijan, as well as by the anti-nationalist behavior of the local authorities. Azerbaijanis were being expelled from the land where they had lived for centuries. Since 1988 the national movement for liberty grew. This was a protest against the policy of the USSR and, as a result, for the independence of Azerbaijan. Thousands of people protesting against the policy of the USSR held demonstrations all day long in the central square (now Azadliq or Freedom Square) and the streets of Baku.

Q: How would you characterize the situation in the country during that period?

A: The tragedy of January 20, 1990 in Baku was an important event on many levels, from the geopolitical to the regional to the deeply personal for the many affected by it. January 20th bears rich symbolism for many in Azerbaijan and beyond. On that day, the majority of the people of Azerbaijan lived through the personal transformation of abandoning Soviet identity and becoming citizens of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan at the time when such independence still seemed unreachable. If on January 19th many among the peaceful protesters against authorities believed that the Soviet Union could be reformed, by the next morning those hopes were killed by none other than the Soviet troops themselves. January 20th stands out in its symbolism for many reasons. The tragedy united the people of Azerbaijan into a community of citizens of an independent nation and strengthened their resolve to achieve that independence.

Q: What role did the then authorities` incompetence play in the tragedy?

A: Naturally, the Soviet State was still very strong at that time and if the leaders of the USSR would like to stop it, they could have done it, and if the leaders of Azerbaijan were true to their people, and native land, then they could prevent this as well. But those, who were in Moscow, did not want to intercept it, on the contrary, they created condition for this. However, the leaders of Azerbaijan were simply inactive, and thus in February, 1988 the Upper Garabagh incident occurred. After this, the leadership was replaced in Azerbaijan - allegedly, in order to solve Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, and for the strengthening the leadership here. However, a new leadership not only manifested incapacity or incompetence, but also embarked on the path of treachery. This treachery - treachery by the government of Azerbaijan to its people, and a careless attitude of the USSR leaders to Azerbaijan, I would say, negative attitude, turned the Upper Garabagh incident into the war, and Azerbaijan got a huge blow. Naturally, the 20th January became the large component of this policy and this chain.

Actually, our people at that time stood on their feet to protect its territory, its sovereignty. The main reason of the rise of people was both the unjust line of the head of the Soviet government taken against Azerbaijan, and at the same time, the leaders of Azerbaijan, who did not take proper measures for the protection of their land, nation and people. All this caused people in Azerbaijan to get on their feet, and they demonstrated their might. People went out to the squares, they came out into the streets.

Q: National leader Heydar Aliyev, who then lived in Moscow, strongly condemned the January events and made the atrocities committed by the Soviet regime against Azerbaijani people know to the world. What was the historic importance of his statement?

A: On January 21, 1990, national leader Heydar Aliyev came to Azerbaijan’s permanent representative office in the Soviet capital, flatly condemned the crime perpetrated by the USSR leaders against Azerbaijan and its citizens, and expressed support for his people.

“As far as the developments in Azerbaijan are concerned, I am convinced that they run counter to the rule of law, democracy, humanity and the principles of state building in our country,” said Heydar Aliyev in a statement made at the meeting, giving a political assessment of the tragedy.

By courageously speaking out against the brutality of the Soviet regime and denouncing the Communist Party, Heydar Aliyev, once a veteran Soviet politician, had established himself as the authority and leader of the emerging independent Azerbaijan.It was the national leader who ensured that the tragedy was given a legal and political assessment. The legal and political assessment is that Moscow invaded Azerbaijan. And the main goal was to punish Azerbaijan for its desire to quit the Soviet Union. The names of those who committed the tragedy are known. The then leadership of Azerbaijan had to prevent the tragic events.

Unfortunately, they failed to find courage for themselves to stand by their people even at such a difficult moment.

However, that bloody action, incited by Armenians, failed to crush the Azerbaijani people’s will and aspiration to freedom.

The Azerbaijani people gained their independence and freedom for the price of their blood, and they will never give them away.

Q: Can we consider January 20 as a turning point in Azerbaijan`s independence history?

A: On 20 January 1990, though the Azerbaijani people suffered military, moral and political aggression, they displayed their ability to maintain the traditions of historical heroism and resist the most cruel attacks for the sake of the freedom and independence of the motherland, even becoming martyrs. The sons of the motherland perished on 20 January 1990 while defending the freedom and independence of Azerbaijan and by their bravery made a vivid history in the chronicle of heroism of our country. And today the Azerbaijanis are proud of those who are ready to perish for the sake of the people’s national identity.