Sumgait – February 1988

I vividly remember – the year was 2003, summer, I was at my relatives in the village during vacation. Uncle Sasha grumbled something and then began to talk about February 1988 in Sumgait. He talked calmly, collectedly, and without emotion about what he had seen and experienced during the pogroms.

All these numerous films where part of the townspeople find themselves in the midst of a crowd of “zombies” that are tearing apart those alive are nonsense and children’s tales. Uncle Sasha’s memories were hell – they made me lose some of my faith in humans and humanity.

I have read a lot about the genocide. There has been a lot of blood in history overall. But I can’t even write about how Azerbaijanis in a flash started to scour around the city and commit the unimaginable…

I don’t know why he suddenly started this story, rewarding my memory with a nightmare.

Back in the times of his story, we lived in Baku, and we would leave a little later… Because no one could believe the news, they were beyond the limits, they simply could not be… But the situation was getting worse.

My dad and mother are sweet humanists by education devoid of any nationalism. Now, I realize why an ax was lying at our door that year. It hardly dawns on me that this was mother’s real weapon to protect me and my brother when dad was not at home… Do you have many female friends around 30 years old who had to pick up an ax to protect their children?

We left on time, part of our relatives did not. They stubbornly would not believe that these were not separate hooligan acts, that this was not vandalism. They would not believe that in the Soviet socialist paradise, the Baku or Sumgait Azerbaijanis would harm them in order to purposefully destroy the Baku or Sumgait Armenians. The rioters were told our addresses by the police, and the latter did not intervene in what was terrible to describe…

Do you know what an “alarm clock” is? It means mercy in Azerbaijani. They break into the house, rob you, beat you, but not to death, and set an alarm for some time. If the owners of the house, the “vile Armenians”, do not get out in time, they themselves are to blame for their own deaths…

I do not need to read the press or textbooks, I was told about this and everything else I didn’t mention by eyewitnesses who survived… Memory is a terrible thing, but it helps to see the picture of the world as it is, without illusions.

Vladimir Akopjanov

In the photo, soldiers of the Soviet army help Armenian refugees leave Baku

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