Massacres of Armenians in Baku: the Editorial of the New York Times


The New York Times’s editorial on 19 January 1990 was about the massacres of Armenians in Baku 30 years ago these days.

Entitled “Nationalism at Its Nastiest”, the article speaks about nationalism and its expressions in different parts.


“This week’s massacre in Baku, of predominantly Christian Armenians by Muslim Azerbaijanis, shows nationalism at its nastiest,” the article says. “Generations of religious hatred erupted in spasmodic violence two years ago as armed Azerbaijanis rampaged through the town of Sumgait and slaughtered 32 people, mostly Armenians. After the 1988 earthquake that killed 25,000 Armenians, Azerbaijanis blocked railways to Armenia, holding up aid. Now the rivals vie for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave that Stalin incorporated into Azerbaijan in 1923.

The Armenians sought protection from Moscow. Mr. Gorbachev first resisted but renewed strife forced him to intervene. The Azerbaijanis added to his unease by declaring their interest in carving out a state on both sides of the national border. This was a clear threat to Iran’s territorial integrity and its warming relations with the Soviet Union. Teheran asked the Soviets to beef up border patrols.

Mr. Gorbachev and his reformist Kremlin allies are prepared to tolerate, even encourage, moderate nationalists who challenge central control and demand autonomy. But Moscow rightly feels that, in a polyglot country with 104 different nationalities, ethnic violence is beyond the pale.

Azerbaijan dramatizes Mr. Gorbachev’s larger dilemma. To generate economic thrust, he wants to shift power from Moscow’s stodgy bureaucracies to the regional republics. But how can he do this without unleashing nationalist hatreds and irredentism? The problem is illustrated by the struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region as big as Long Island with a population of 160,000.

Putting either Azerbaijanis or Armenians in charge would leave one people at the mercy of the other. Moscow has to assume direct control. But that runs counter to Mr. Gorbachev’s desire for devolution. And the troops, once introduced, will be difficult to extricate. Nothing so challenges Mr. Gorbachev’s resourcefulness, and his fragile coalition of reformists and moderate nationalists, as the flow of blood in the Caucasus,” the editorial of the New York Times runs.

Thirty years ago, on 13-19 January 1990 tens of thousands of Armenians were killed and displaced in Baku, Azerbaijan. After 6 days of violence, the city with 250,000 Armenian citizens was completely cleansed of Armenians. The massacres on 13-19 January 1990 was organized by the Azerbaijani Popular front and the government approved their actions.

The first wave of anti-Armenian hysteria in Azerbaijan was at the end of December 1988 and the beginning of January 1989. After the demonstration of 13 January 1990 the crowd broke into the apartments of Armenians and unleashed beating and violence, threw people through windows, killed with iron rods and knives, raped women, burnt many alive.

The massacres lasted for six days. Only on January 19, when the Soviet power on Baku was jeopardized, Mikhail Gorbachov signed the order on the state of emergency in Baku. During the armed resistance over ten insurgents were killed, many were arrested.

The European Parliament condemned the massacres of Armenians in 1988, 1990 ad 1991. The head of the US Committee for Refugees Bill Frelick spoke about the consequences of the massacres in 2002.

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