Remembering İyirmi Yanvar
This year is number 21 after the massacre in Baku on January 20, 1990. The Red Army rolled in to control a city on the rage, or so the authorities claimed. If you want a brief description of what’s happening with all the red carnations and the all-day-long procession through Martyr’s Lane in Baku, click here. The Wikipedia article here.
Aside from just the fact that this massacre happened 21 years ago, and that it was a defining moment in Azerbaijan’s young history, there’s a lot to be said for this memorial holiday that speaks to a sort of national mindset going on here in Azerbaijan.
There is a theme that runs through many Azerbaijani holidays that I think most foreigners find a little unsettling. I’m not against holding memorials for dark days in a nation’s history. However, with Azerbaijan, it seems like almost every holiday, maybe save for Yeni İl (New Year’s), is an opportunity to mourn for the tragedies of the past. Today is one of those infamous days. February 26th/27th will be another of those days. Even in May, when Heydar’s birthday will be celebrated, the day is partially there because of a sort of dark period that hangs over Azerbaijan, the period after independence, but before Heydar came riding in on his white steed to bring Azerbaijan up to the world stage and save it from destructive infighting (also known as democracy). These days, taken together, can appear to be an officialization of victimhood. The focus is on Azerbaijan’s suffering, and continued suffering, at the hands of an outside force. Today, it’s the Russians. In February, the Armenians (and probably the Russians). In May, we’ll commemorate being saved from Azerbaijanis themselves, as a consensus leader came to form in Heydar.
To be sure, as a foreigner who has not lived through those dark times, I cannot conjure up what it must feel like to suffer tragedies like Azerbaijan’s. I don’t really know, nor can I really understand, how much it impacts any given Azerbaijani when they look to their television set today and remember what it was like when Russian tanks rolled into Baku. Yet, this all feels to me like Azerbaijan (at least, many of Azerbaijan’s leaders) want the country to feel a distinct sense of victimization. It’s nearly paralyzing. As an American who has been an aware citizen during 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings and various other national crises, I can see how a feeling of victimization is natural. At the same time, I know that our attitude is much different from that of our Azerbaijani neighbors. Commemorating the loss is an important part of our national psyche. But so is looking forward. One of the things that worries me about Azerbaijan’s future is that many of the older generation, the people who are in higher-up positions, are the ones who insist on focusing on that victimhood, like school directors who force their teachers to go to Martyr’s Lane ceremonies on İyirmi Yanvar. Maybe I’m wrong, but the strength of these events in the past shouldn’t be their ability to make us mourn for the tragedies of the past, but it ought to be the inspiration these events give us to strive for a stronger, more peaceful future.