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Azerbaijan Remembers Its Martyrs

Martyr’s Day is a public holiday in Azerbaijan.

Martyr’s Day: January 20

Martyr’s Day is a public holiday in Azerbaijan.

January 20 in Azerbaijan commemorates Black January in 1990, when Soviet troops entered the city of Baku and killed more than 180 civilians. It is celebrated as the rebirth of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It is also a remembrance of the victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1988. This day in Azerbaijan is also known as Qara Yanvar (Day of National Mourning), Day of Shehids, or Remembrance Day.

History of Martyr’s Day in Azerbaijan

Black January was a retaliation of the Soviet Army in the city of Baku against demands of independence from Armenians. A seven day pogrom—a riot against a particular race, religion or nationality—started in Baku, Azerbaijan on January 13, 1990. Up to 66 Armenians were killed by beating or knife wound in focused individual attacks. Most of them were part of the Azerbaijani Popular Front that demanded independence from the Soviet Union. Their houses were set on fire, and the local Soviet authorities did nothing to stop the attacking forces.

Late at night, on January 19, over 26,000 Soviet troops entered Baku with the objective of crushing the Popular Front. They attacked protesters and shot at the crowds for three days. In the end, 93 Azerbaijanis and 29 Russian soldiers were killed. On January 22, the population of Baku came to the streets to bury the dead, and for 40 days they did not work in a protest of mourning.

Citizens also remember the events of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, an armed conflict that took place from February 1988 to May 1994 in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh wanted to unite with Azerbaijan, and the majority of Armenians was in favor of independence. Inter-ethnic fighting ensued for years as both sides tried to eliminate each other from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding mountains. Even today, the situation isn’t completely settled since the cease fire in 1994. Inflammatory accusations from both sides seem to still be triggering small conflicts in the zone.

Martyr’s Day Traditions, Customs and Activities

On Martyrs Day in the Azerbaijan Republic the entire government, from the president and prime minister to members of the cabinet and leaders of the parliament, are joined by church officials to gather at the Azerbaijani Genocide Memorial in Baku. In a solemn procession they place flower wreaths at the memorial to commemorate those who died in 1990 during Black January.

All over the world in Azerbaijani embassies and private communities, the events of Black January and the Nagorno-Karabakh War are recognized. Azerbaijanis regard this day as a day to rekindle their patriotism and celebrate their national history and identity as the country struggles to gain peace and economic stability.

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