The day of January 20, which will live forever in the memory of Azerbaijanis, became not only a tragedy but also a symbol of unshakable will in the name of national independence, freedom of Azerbaijani people. The reasons for the January tragedy go deep into history, beginning from the territorial claims of Armenians against Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan remembers January 20

Everything began when Baku residents came out to protest against the policy pursued by the then USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev since Armenian nationalists demanded joining the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous region of Azerbaijan to Armenia.

Back in 1987 the Armenian academics and official figures claimed to the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and conducted propaganda in this direction. Taking advantage of the Soviet Union’s last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev’s reconstruction policy, Armenians once again resumed their insidious policy towards Azerbaijan.

Mehriban Aliyeva, Vice President of Azerbaijan (R) with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev (L)

Then, the Soviet government had an intention to realize the Armenian policy by diplomatic means in 1988 but failed because millions of Azerbaijanis headed to the streets to protest Armenian aggression and separatist forces fueling unrest in the ancient land of Azerbaijan — the mountainous Karabakh region.

Azerbaijani people launched the square movement to defend their rights and motherland. Indeed, the Central government sent military forces to suppress the national movement and even crushed the protestors by force. But that was temporary.

Azerbaijanis were determined to protect their territorial integrity and did not step back, showing their sacrifice and vigor for national freedom. But the protests received totally inadequate answers — the Soviet troops committed unimaginable atrocities in Baku from the late hours of January 19 into January 20.


In 1990, the night of January 19 to 20, the former Soviet military troops attacked Baku by the land and sea and carried out the punitive measures with unprecedented cruelty. As a result of this accident, 147 innocent civilians including the children, women, and the old were killed, 744 were wounded, and 841 were illegally arrested.

The terrorist savagery attack of the Soviet army against the Azerbaijani people, carried out by the order of USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev was written in the history of mankind in black letters as one of the worst crimes committed against humanity.

During the 20 January tragedy, the news was put under a blockade in the country, a power block of radio and television was brutally exploded by armed militants, the media was banned. The aim was to make the people unaware of this terrible tragedy.

On those hard days of people, on January 21, Heydar Aliyev, the National Leader of Azerbaijan arrived in Azerbaijan’s representation in Moscow and spoke at the meeting. He stated that he is along with his people.

He also assessed the 20 January tragedy from a political point of view and said that it is the action against democracy and humanism and the rude political mistake made by the leaders of that time’s republic.

The text of this historical speech was widely spread in the country and around the world. The helpless people began to live with the light of trust and hope in their hearts.


In 1993, after the return of the national leader Heydar Aliyev to political power, important steps were taken on the investigation of the causes of the outbreak of the January 20 events and the sentence of the offenders.

The significant measures were implemented in informing the world community about the 20 January tragedy, its place, its role in the history of Azerbaijan, and the perpetuation of this tragedy.

Though the Azerbaijani people suffered military, moral, and political aggression, they displayed their ability to maintain the traditions of historical heroism and resist the cruelest attacks for the sake of the freedom and independence of their motherland, even at the cost of losing their lives.


*The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of this magazine.