By Sorwar Alam and Jeyhun Aliyev
ANKARA (AA) - Azerbaijan recalls the tragedy of Jan. 20, also called Black January, with sorrow and pride, its ambassador to Turkey told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview in Ankara.
Regarded as the rebirth of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Black January violent crackdown witnessed the massacre of more than 130 people and wounding of hundreds of civilians by the Soviet army in Baku and surrounding areas Jan. 20, 1990, on the eve of the country’s independence. Mass arrests accompanied the illegal deployment of troops and subsequent military intervention.
Marking the 30th anniversary of the tragedy and remembering the violence Azerbaijan witnessed prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, Khazar Ibrahim said martyrs killed by the Soviet army became a symbol of independence.
"The people of Azerbaijan, those who were in the streets, were massacred, for very simple reason. They were demanding independence. They were demanding territorial integrity. They were demanding dignity for Azerbaijan," Ibrahim said.
On the night of Jan. 19 - 20, under direct instructions from Mikhail Gorbachev, then General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, military units from the U.S.S.R. Ministry of Defense, State Security Committee and Ministry of Internal Affairs entered Baku and nearby regions, massacring the civilian population using heavy military equipment and other various forms of weaponry, according to Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry.
Ibrahim underlined that every year on Jan. 20 -- National Mourning Day -- everyone in Azerbaijan goes to the Alley of Martyrs where they pay their respects and tribute to victims of the massacre and commemorate the memory of martyrs, and their sacrifices for the future of the nation.
"It's a day of sorrow, but at the same time, it's a day of pride for us, because those who perished, they laid a ground for us to become independent. They showed the unbending will, will of the people of Azerbaijan to fight and always be together to require, to demand the rights to be member of international community and always stay independent."
The ambassador said Black January showed that people of Azerbaijan came together as a nation in the most difficult time for the country, and restored its independence.
"It was not just gaining independence, it was a restoration of Azerbaijani Republic, which we proudly established back in 1918, which functioned for 23 months till 1920," he said.
Ibrahim also noted that Jan. 20 proved the "unbending will" of Azerbaijani people.
"It proved that we never stay idle if we want something in our mind."
Azerbaijani Democratic Republic, also known as Azerbaijan People's Republic, first declared independence from the Russian Tsar under the chairmanship of Mehmet Emin Resulzade on May 28, 1918, but was toppled after almost two years.
In 1991, Azerbaijan re-established its status as an independent state Oct. 18.
- Azerbaijan's past and present
The envoy said looking where Azerbaijan was, and where it is today, "huge progress" can be clearly seen.
"In 1990 Azerbaijan was not even independent. We didn't have our diplomatic missions. We didn't have money in our budget. We didn't have normally functioning state structures," Ibrahim said, adding that currently, Azerbaijan is "by far, the regional leader in the South Caucasus."
Underlining the large economy, strong armed forces and well-educated population, Ibrahim said that his country is an active member of international community, member of most international organizations, as well as actively pursuing the integration into the global arena.
He said Azerbaijan today is a "leader" in various areas, such as providing energy security for some countries, and even for some regions and continents, contributing troops as peacekeepers, and enabling assistance to those in need.
"So, Azerbaijan, since 1990, within the 30 years, has become a leader in the region, a very respected member of international community, and the most importantly, a very trusted state for the people of Azerbaijan."
Referring specifically to the latest pre-independence years under the U.S.S.R., Ibrahim stressed that "different games" were played against his country, which, as he noticed, started with the dismissal from his position of Haydar Aliyev -- national leader of the modern Azerbaijani state -- who was then one of the top leaders of the Soviet Union.
- Current relations with Russia
Ibrahim said Azerbaijan currently has good relations with Russia, adding that "it was Soviet troops then coming from Moscow who committed these crimes against the people of Azerbaijan."
"We don't have any problems with Russia. We have very good, strong and friendly relations with Russia," he said.
He went on to say that in fact, many leaders of the current Russian government during their visits to the capital, Baku, go and pay respect to those fallen Jan. 20.
"So, we have to definitely separate these two things," he added.
Hailing Russia as a "very big power," Ibrahim said it is rising in terms of its power - not only in the region but globally.
"We are always telling to Russia, to the United States, to China, to European Union, all the big global players that we expect from you to be constructive players. We expect from you to respect also the rights of smaller nations. We expect from you, as some of them [are] permanent members of the UN Security Council, to provide for the security and stability of the world."
The head of the diplomatic mission stressed specifically the country's region is "absolutely filled with conflicts, it's even overburdened with the conflicts."
"One more, two more, three more conflicts will make the situation even worse," he said, adding that Azerbaijan does not want global players to have more conflicts in the region.
Ibrahim said his country also calls them to solve current conflicts in the area.
"And of course, Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan is one of the biggest, and I think one of the durable things in this direction. So, we expect from the big powers, including Russia, to step up and help to resolve the conflicts as requires the international law," he urged.
- Latest developments on Upper Karabakh conflict
The Azerbaijani ambassador said his country unfortunately does not see too much progress on solving the conflict.
Upper Karabakh is the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan illegally occupied by Armenia through military aggression since 1991.
The events that led to the tragedy of Black January actually date to the end of 1980s, when attempts to annex the Upper Karabakh to Armenia and another wave of the expulsion of native Azerbaijani people from their historical lands were gaining momentum.
"We had some hopes that new government of Armenia would be more realistic and would be thinking more about their own, at least, national interest, and it would be in line with international law and their own obligations," he stressed.
Ibrahim said that no one in the region, and even globally, can live with its neighbors within conflicts.
"Armenia does not have conflicts only with Azerbaijan, Armenia claims territories of the Turkish Republic as well. Armenia militarily occupied territories of Azerbaijan and the UN Security Council resolutions demanding withdrawal of Armenian troops are not fulfilled so far," he said.
Four UN Security Council resolutions and two from the UN General Assembly, as well as decisions by many other international organizations, demand withdrawal of Armenian forces from Upper Karabakh and seven other occupied regions of Azerbaijan.
"Unfortunately, they are not doing that [put an end to the military aggression], we don't see too much progress not only within negotiations, but also in their mindset," the envoy said.
He stressed that big powers, who are responsible for helping to negotiate "should demand from the occupier and aggressor to do what they have to do" to see the progress on the conflict negotiation, adding that the latest development unfortunately showed that by themselves, the Armenian government is not willing to do so.
"We hope that not only them [big powers], but also three co-chairs of the Minsk group of the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] OSCE who are actually tasked to help to bring an end to militarization of Armenia, will persuade, convince and demand from Armenia to fulfill their obligations, to fulfill UN Security Council resolutions and withdraw their troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan."
The OSCE Minsk group -- co-chaired by France, Russia and the U.S. -- was formed to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, but has yet to reach any results.
Ibrahim said Azerbaijan observes "illogical steps" from the Armenian government, adding that there are "internal complications" in Armenia, which is affected by "different powers" from inside and outside of the government.
"Of course, we never interfere into internal affairs of any nations, including Armenia. But we watch closely, and we see what is happening. And it's unfortunate to see that willingly or maybe by force, they are not changing their positions," he said.
Although Azerbaijan tries to peacefully solve the conflict, the envoy said, it also has the right for the self-defense.
"And then you can, and international law allows you, UN Charter allows you to defend and to put an end to military aggression," he underlined.
- Message of Azerbaijan to the world in wake of Jan. 20 anniversary
Noting that he remembers exactly the day of Jan. 20., Ibrahim said it is unforgettable not only for him, but for anyone in Azerbaijan who lived through that tragedy.
"We're morally wounded by that. But we never give up!"
Recalling his first posting as a diplomat in Washington, Ibrahim said his then- ambassador in the U.S. asked him to visit the Library of Congress, where he was tasked with checking what was written about the Jan. 20 in U.S. media.
"And I was shocked. Then, when Azerbaijan was absolutely comprehensively blocked from international community -- our TV station was exploded, we didn't have any way of communication with the world, we were in the blockade – despite that, and despite the bias in international media, it was impossible to hide [the truth]. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, all of them put these messages that Azerbaijanis are being massacred because they demand independence," Ibrahim said.
He urged the world not to forget the massacres, adding that the "unbending will of people for independence cannot be killed."
The ambassador also urged the world to solve the conflicts today in order to avoid future massacres and atrocities.
"So, therefore, my message would be let's do not forget, we cannot forget that people's demand for independence cannot be killed by bullets. Azerbaijani people proved it."
- Role of Turkey for Azerbaijan
Ibrahim said 30 years ago Turkey was the only country that supported Azerbaijan during the difficult days, adding that it is not a coincidence former Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev described Azerbaijan and Turkey as "two states, one nation."
"Because then it was only Turkey and people of Turkey who went to the streets demanding justice for Azerbaijan. Demanding the stop, the halt for the massacres against the people of Azerbaijan," he stressed.
Reiterating Azerbaijan was in blockade on Black January incident, and could not deliver its message, Ibrahim said: "Turkey was the only place which raised its voice. And today, also, it's Turkey which is next to us."
"It has been hundred years ago, when Turkey was next to Azerbaijan when we established our Azerbaijani Democratic Republic. And today, again, Turkey is next to us. We highly appreciate that in every sense," the envoy said.
Ibrahim concluded by saying Azerbaijan also has always been next to Turkey.
"Hundred years ago, today, and in future, there will always be this brotherhood, this friendship and common goals both for Turkey and Azerbaijan."