At the turn of 1989-1990, a true interethnic war was unleashed in Transcaucasia which was clearly reminiscent of the bloody events of 1905-1906 and 1918-1920.
At the end of December 1989, riots took place in the Azerbaijani SSR along almost the entire Soviet-Iranian border. Thousands of people reached the borderline and started destroying checkpoints, fences, barbed wire, and engineering border facilities.
The border units were paralyzed almost throughout the Soviet-Iranian border, excluding only the 42-kilometer section in the Meghri district of the Armenian SSR.
Following this, immediately after the New Year holidays, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh worsened sharply – more precisely, in the Shahumyan and Khanlar districts which after the deportation of Armenians became the last stronghold of Karabakh Armenians outside the borders of the NKAO.
The units of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan armed with small arms, including automatic weapons, attacked the outlying Armenian villages of this part of Nagorno-Karabakh but were repelled with losses.
Clashes involving artillery and rocket launching complexes “Alazan” occurred in the Ararat Valley on the border of the Armenian SSR with the Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The internal troops of the USSR and even the army had to intervene.
Gorbachev’s decree introduced a state of emergency in Nagorno-Karabakh and a number of surrounding areas. But not in Baku where massacres of the Armenian residents still remaining in the city had begun, surpassing the Sumgait massacre in terms of cruelty and duration. The pogroms lasted a whole week with the complete inaction of the internal troops and numerous units of the Baku garrison of the Soviet army.
On the night of January 20, 1990, units of the Soviet army were introduced into the capital of the Azerbaijani SSR that had become choked in the blood of pogroms and lawlessness of rapists. Soviet troops encountered the fierce resistance of the armed units of the Popular Front and other units of “democratic opposition”.
But the Soviet troops proceeded not to protect the destroyed Armenian minority and the Slavic population of Baku who had begun to feel the consequences of the rioters’ impunity. They arrived in the capital to restore the nominal power of the republican communist leadership, which the latter had actually voluntarily surrendered.
“To equip a ‘horde of bloodthirsty’ nationalists in Baku, or even a mere company, is no less difficult than to put together a local ice hockey team,” wrote Azerbaijani writer Magsud Ibrahimbeyov in the Friendship of Peoples magazine, issue No. 11, 1989.
“A year ago, in December 1988, I heard the same demands and saw the slogans ‘reinforcing’ them: ‘Death to the Armenians!’, ‘Glory to the heroes of Sumgait!’. They have worked. The number of Armenians killed in Baku last week has already exceeded the number of Sumgait victims. This new tragedy is a direct consequence of the fact that they tried, in fact, to cover up the first one,” wrote Andrey Pralikov in Moscow News, January 21, 1990.
Excerpt from the book of Arsen Melik-Shahnazarov “Nagorno-Karabakh: facts against lies”