Massacres of Armenians in Baku: Historical Background

The massacres of Armenians in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, broke out on January 13, 1990, and lasted until January 19 during which many Armenians were beaten, tortured or murdered, and their apartments raided, robbed, or burned. This resulted in the fleeing of almost all the Armenians from the city.

More than 90 Armenians were dead and over 700 injured as a result of the Baku massacres. This was one of the acts of ethnic violence in the context of the Nagorno conflict, directed against the demands of the Karabakh Armenians to secede from Azerbaijan and unify with Armenia.

The events in Baku were reflected in a report of the UN Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women, on July 27, 1997: “For five days in January of 1990, the Armenian community of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, were killed, tortured, robbed and humiliated. Pregnant women and babies were molested, little girls were raped in front of their parents’ eyes, Christian crosses were burned on their backs, and they were abused for their Christian faith.”

Bill Keller, who was in Baku after the events, in his report for The New York Times wrote: “Here and there, boarded windows or soot-blackened walls mark an apartment where Armenians were driven out by mobs and their belongings set afire on the balcony.’’

According to the National Interest, massacres of Armenians in Baku were not spontaneous and one-time events but were among a series of ethnic violence employed by the Azerbaijanis against the Armenian population during the Karabakh conflict. In 1988 the Armenians of Artsakh started voicing their demands for their unification with Armenia.

On February 20, 1988, the Soviet People’s Deputies in Karabakh voted to request the transfer of the region to Armenia. This process took place in the light of the new economic and political policies, Perestroika and Glasnost, introduced by the new General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev who had come to power in 1985.

This unprecedented action by a regional soviet brought out tens of thousands of demonstrations both in Stepanakert and Yerevan, but Moscow rejected the Armenians’ demands calling them “nationalists” and “extremists”. On the following day demonstrations were held by Azerbaijanis in Baku and other cities of Azerbaijan against the unification of Karabakh with Armenia, during which strong anti-Armenian sentiments were voiced: the common slogans were ‘Death to Armenians’, ‘Armenians out of Azerbaijan’.

On February 27, 1988, a massive pogrom was carried out in Sumgait during which the Armenian population of the city was brutally slaughtered and expelled. The Sumgait pogrom was followed by another pogrom against Armenians in 1988 in Kirovabad (today’s Ganja) -the second largest city of Azerbaijan from where all the Armenians were expelled. In the spring and summer of 1988, the ethnic tensions were escalating between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis.

After the Sumgait tragedy, a massive migration of Armenians from Azerbaijan began. By 1989 the Armenians stayed only in those places where they had a well-established community, including Baku. By the beginning of 1990, there were only about 30-40 thousand Armenians left in Baku, mostly women, and pensioners.

In December 1989 the Supreme Soviets of the Armenian SSR and Nagorno-Karabakh passed a resolution on the formal unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, by the Soviet law on the people’s right to self-determination. The pogrom of Armenians in Baku took place shortly afterward and according to several sources, it was a direct response to this resolution.

As 100 Years – 100 Facts suggests, Armenians once formed a sizable community in Baku. Though the date of their original settlement is unclear, Baku’s Armenian population swelled during the nineteenth century, when it became a major center for oil production and offered other economic opportunities to enterprising investors and businessmen.

Their numbers remained strong into the twentieth century, despite the turbulence of the Russian Revolutions of 1917, but almost all the Armenians fled the city in 1990 after being targeted in a pogrom that occurred during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the early stages of the Karabakh War.


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