Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Remembering İyirmi Yanvar

with 4 comments

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.


Written by Aaron

January 20, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Good final point Aaron! Hope all is well.

    Marc Kennedy

    January 20, 2011 at 8:11 pm

  2. It’s actually only been 21 years…

    I’d compare the importance of 20 January to be more similar to the Boston Massacre in US history.

    Both resulted in the deaths of civilians (more in Azerbaijan’s case) and both turned the national sentiment against the more powerful occupying oppressor.

    In the wake up 20 January, Azeris openly burned Communist Party membership cards completely rejecting the idea of ever being a part of the USSR again. In the colonies, this event furthered the rallying call for revolution.

    This was an extremely tragic event in Azerbaijan’s history. I’ve spoken to Azeris who were in Baku at the time. One explained the horror of seeing the blood and bodies in the streets and going days locked inside and scared with nothing but stale bread and water. The stores and the city were shut down and everyone was in a complete state of shock. And while I don’t think anyone should be forced to attend memorials, I do think that this should be a day of remembrance and mourning. It truly is a sad day.


    January 20, 2011 at 9:16 pm

  3. While I agree with RIP that the events are of momentous importance to modern Azerbaijan, I am in complete agreement with Aaron that remembering the fallen shouldn’t have to be a point of paralysis, playing the victim. The officials in Azerbaijan have done an excellent job at playing up the victimization rhetoric, in all likelihood to distract the citizenry from the real and more relevant causes of their current individual socio-economic woes. 9/11 in the US is remembered with a MOMENT of silence, not a day, becuase Americans generally don’t like to feel sorry for themselves; instead, they like to move forward knowing that the past is the past and cannot be changed. I do not advocate for neglecting the historical events that have indeed influenced the present, but I have a very hard time listening to the youth of Azerbaijan that spew the government rhetoric without thinking critically about what that rhetoric means—and when I say that, I am referring to the dozen or so people who have personally told me tales of bodies in the streets and blood all around…only to do the math and realize that they were two or three years old on 20 Jan 1990. Give me a break, think for yourself, define your path forward.


    January 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm

  4. I was there. Email me sometime for my side of the story. I used to think tracers were fireworks. Now I use kalashnikovs to shoot deers in wisconsin. amen.


    February 4, 2011 at 4:11 am

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