Bloody Anniversary: Baku pogroms 20 years ago January 13

Twenty years ago today, January 13, the slaughter of Armenians in Baku started and continued for a week before it was stopped by Soviet troops brought into the city.

The killings – which left an estimated 300 dead – was the response of Azerbaijan authorities to Armenia’s efforts to reclaim Nagorno Karabakh (the ethnic Armenian territory that had been handed over to Azerbaijan when borders were redrawn under the Stalin regime).

Up to this day the exact number of Armenian victims is not known, because no one specifically kept an account during the pogroms.

Within several days no Armenian was left in Baku – a city that was once home to 250,000 Armenians. The refugees fled, leaving behind all their belongings and eventually finding refuge in Georgia, Russia, Armenia.

This is how Baku-native world chess champion Garry Kasparov, whose mother is Armenian and father is Jewish, recalls the events of two decades ago:

“I will never forget that day. Unimaginable horror overwhelmed Baku. Bandits knew exactly where Armenians lived. People were robbed and killed. Men, women and children were beaten to death in their yards, young girls were raped and burnt alive. Of course, I had already decided to leave Baku, but was trying to find a way to save my family, relatives and friends. I ordered a plane from Moscow. The telephone kept ringing non-stop – people were calling pleading to save them”.

According to Human Rights Watch Rapporteur Robert Kushen “the pogrom-makers had the lists of the Armenians and their addresses”.

The day before the pogroms started the president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev said: “Nagorno Karabakh’s demand for self-determination will inevitably question the fate of 250,000 Armenians living in Baku”.

A week later the Soviet army under General Alexander Lebed stormed Baku and practically saved the rest of the Armenians. They were transported on a ferry boat to Krasnovodsk (currently Turkmenbashi) in Turkmenistan.

The international community did not condemn the Baku massacre.