Every year, with the approach of January 20, we immerse in an atmosphere of sadness and sorrow, remembering the events of more than 30 years ago, when innocent civilians were killed by the Soviet army on the streets of Baku, Sumgayit and other settlements, including children, women, old men, young boys...
On the night of January 19-20, troops were brought into Baku. According to the official version, they were intended to prevent Armenian pogroms, although in fact the pogroms had already stopped by that time, and the military forces were called upon to prevent the seizure of Soviet power in the republic by the Popular Front of Azerbaijan.
It is believed that the January tragedy was the beginning of the process of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The once powerful empire was collapsing, which, with all its might and at the cost of the lives of many of its innocent citizens, clung to power, causing tragedies, murders, bloodshed, breaking human destinies.
As a result of the punitive military operation in Baku, up to 147 people died, 744 people were seriously injured, but in reality this figure is much higher, and my vigilant memory allows me to talk about this, when our family suddenly lost their most beloved, most vulnerable and most beautiful member - my older brother Ilham Islam oglu Mammadov ... How can you forget the streets on which, with faces twisted from suffering and horror, old and young lay, covered with innocent blood? Many were crushed by the caterpillars of Soviet tanks, and there was nothing left of some at all - from someone only an arm, or a leg, or a torn jacket ...
It is puzzling that we remember and talk about the tragedy of January 20 once a year on the eve of the anniversary of the bloody events, and after a couple of days we forget, going headlong into the current problems of modern, far from simple, realities ... For more than thirty years we have been talking and we hear that the perpetrators of this tragedy must be punished, that at that time investigative commissions and groups were formed that bit by bit studied all the details of the bloody and inhuman military operation. However, we did not hear a single name that suffered a just punishment for the crime committed and the blood of hundreds of our compatriots.
The former head of the investigative-operational group of the General Prosecutor's Office of Azerbaijan to investigate the events leading to the January 20 tragedy, retired colonel of justice Ilham Mammadov, recalling the years when he was involved in this case, says that at that time he was instructed to investigate a series of political assassinations during pogroms that were committed even before January 20 and the invasion of Soviet troops in Baku.
- Bodies of the prosecutor's office, by virtue of the procedural duties assigned to them, initiated and investigated criminal cases on the facts of murders, and, naturally, when the accused were identified, the cases with the collected evidence were sent to the courts for consideration. However, some cases in which it was not possible to identify the direct accused were suspended in accordance with the norms of the procedural legislation and instructions were given to operational bodies to conduct operational-search measures.
On the facts of the murder of Academician Telman Gurbanov and on the facts of the murder and attempted murder of other persons, criminal cases were also initiated, the necessary investigative measures were taken, but sufficient evidence was not established to present evidence, and criminal case No. 58348 was also suspended.
Due to numerous complaints from relatives of the victims, the proceedings in these cases were resumed, intensive investigative and operational measures were taken and sufficient evidence was collected to bring specific charges, including against the head of the KGB department of the Azerbaijan SSR, Lieutenant Colonel Sadykh Aliyev.
During the investigation, it was established that the direct participants in the pogroms committed murders for political reasons and were direct agents of the KGB who acted on the instructions of their curators, etc. Such testimony was in the investigative materials, but at that time the prosecutors were not provided with the proper conditions for carrying out investigative actions of a larger nature, in particular, the collection and analysis of evidence directly in the KGB of the Azerbaijan SSR. Because the investigation came up with names that could not be disclosed, the forms and methods of work of some powerful law enforcement agencies were inaccessible to ordinary investigators of the prosecutor's office. Therefore, these cases remained unfinished.
However, time gave rise to new realities, and we were able to conduct numerous interrogations, analyze a large amount of archival and investigative material, which gave grounds for bringing specific individuals to criminal responsibility. Persons who testified about the participation of curators from the KGB were also identified, and interesting facts revealed.
- Do you mean the republican KGB or the central, allied one?
- At that time we had nothing to do with the union, but were subordinate to the republican Committee of State Security.
- It turns out that our own KGB was directly involved in organizing the events that took place before January 20, 1990?
- The national liberation movements in the former Soviet Union, of course, did not go unnoticed by the structures responsible for the security of the system as a whole. Specific measures were taken both to introduce their faces into the management of the movement as a whole, and to denigrate the essence of this movement. This was a comprehensive, systematic, organized work using administrative and operational resources in conditions of unlimited and uncontrolled power.
- And, of course, the decaying system could not allow penetration into the holy of holies ...
- Of course, it was not easy to investigate all this, and it is not surprising that the investigation reached a dead end. In 1997, at a very high level, thanks to the intervention of the President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, it was decided to provide access to the archives of the special services. Thanks to the decisiveness and political will of the national leader, cases were solved, including the case of the murder of Ajdar Khanbabayev.
Based on the results of the investigations, the writer-publicist Elmira Akhundova published her work "Murder at Midnight", where she mentioned with a kind word the work of the investigative team. A film about these events was made by director Vagif Mustafayev. People's artist Ashraf Heybatov created a monumental painting dedicated to the events of January 20, which is kept in the Museum of Independence of Azerbaijan.
- If it were not the resolute support of the authorities in this direction, you would not have received proper assistance. What did you discover when you accessed the archives?
- In secret documents, we found an order to create a so-called "crisis group", where it was written in black and white about the "task of identifying anti-socialist elements and their immediate destruction." It was an ordinary terror! All the resources of the special services, with their limitless possibilities, were directed to identifying anti-socialist elements and to their immediate destruction. Who fell under the concept of anti-socialist elements, one could only guess, taking into account the experience of the development of repressions of the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs).
- At that time, these actions were called differently, and the word "terror" was completely absent from the lexicon of the socialist regime...
- Therefore, we brought to criminal responsibility some of the high-ranking KGB officers, putting them on trial. This was the first criminal case in the post-Soviet space that went to trial, when it was proved that the country's special services were engaged in terror against their own citizens. In parallel, there was work with other organization
- Please tell me, did you manage to finish the job?
- Certainly! Some of the employees I spoke about were put on trial, a sentence was passed against them, and it was not changed. Persons prosecuted for the murder of academician Telman Gurbanov and other people suffered a well-deserved punishment. In fact, we went to a specific group and revealed the organized nature of its criminal activities, and in its composition was the well-known former head of the special services of Azerbaijan, Vagif Huseynov, from whom the orders came.
Due to the events that subsequently took place in the neighboring states of the CIS, I saw a very great similarity and clear parallels between them. However, the political leadership of the time was not held accountable.
- The names of those who ordered the execution of civilians were revealed, there were written evidence and archival documents testifying to this. But for some reason, they have not yet been held accountable, although their names periodically pop up in the media, while not one of them has been deservedly punished for their crimes against humanity?
- The fact is that our group was engaged in murders committed as a result of pogroms, and identifying the role of special services in these processes. We completed these cases and submitted them to the court. As for the culprits in Moscow, other investigative groups were engaged in this, other investigations and criminal cases of the General Prosecutor's Office were conducted in parallel.
When the national liberation movement began to emerge in the Soviet space, the system, naturally, tried to protect itself in some way, and it saw protection in repressive measures. And sometimes the punitive bodies themselves added fuel to the flames of events and criminalized political movements. This part of the events was not investigated, we followed the trail left behind by the repressive body of the KGB, and it became clear that all events were controlled from one center and there was no spontaneity in these processes.
- It turns out that the only case that logically ended in litigation was the one led by your group ...
- I think it is right to talk about the materials of the case, which found a judicial resolution, and, yes, you are right - the case that we conducted was the only one that had a judicial resolution. This happened thanks to the firm position of the political leadership of the country, national leader Heydar Aliyev, because there were moments when we were not allowed to see some documents, our requests were left unanswered, there were scandals, etc. But, I repeat, thanks to the firmness of the political leadership of the country, all the necessary documents were provided, on the basis of which we built our accusations and took the case to court.
- It is interesting to know who exactly was brought to criminal responsibility?
- Some people were sentenced for life. I had to investigate several grandiose cases, one of which is the events of January 20, and the other is the Khojaly tragedy, which, due to the enormity of the crimes committed, was reclassified as the genocide of the Azerbaijani people. In terms of punishment at that time, Azerbaijan, as a small country, did not have serious political, economic, legal levers to bring, say, Gorbachev, Yazov and other perpetrators of the January tragedy in Baku to criminal liability.
- These events contributed to even greater unity of the people in their desire for independence and upholding territorial integrity against the backdrop of the ethnic cleansing that began in Armenia. The events of January 20, 1990 received a political assessment of the state.
- January 20 has become a symbol of the formation of our statehood and national identity, which we should not forget. These events will be analyzed and researched for a long time.
Perhaps not everyone knows that the decision to send troops to Baku was made long before the bloody events of January 20. To this end, from the very beginning of January, troops from other republics of the USSR began to accumulate in Azerbaijan, and at the time of the bloody tragedy of January 20, many divisions, KGB Alfa groups, airborne regiments and companies were concentrated around Baku. According to Tair Behbudov, a member of the investigative committee for the investigation of the events of January 20, 1990, “such forces are usually used in large-scale military operations, such a contingent of troops did not participate even in the first days of the war in Afghanistan! Among the large number of reservists from Krasnodar and Stavropol, the overwhelming majority were people of Armenian nationality. Photographs of these people were also taken just before they were sent to Baku, long-haired and unshaven - they did not look like military men at all, but all these photographs, for unknown reasons, disappeared without a trace.”
It is quite obvious that the peaceful actions of the people's movement for independence against the backdrop of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia and the absolute inaction of the allied center could not justify the use of such a serious military contingent. According to Tair Behbudov, in order to artificially aggravate the situation, the Soviet government took punitive measures, several murders of people of Armenian nationality were organized, and the Baku police, in turn, were ordered from above not to take any action. As a result, referring to the inaction of the police, on the night of January 20, troops were brought into Baku, indiscriminately destroying the civilian population of the city.
None of those who at the highest level gave direct military orders ever confessed to the crimes committed ...
The bloody events of January 20, 1990 have become a symbol of the independence, freedom and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. After the return of national leader Heydar Aliyev to power in 1993, important steps were taken to investigate the causes of the January 20 tragedy and bring those responsible to justice. It was thanks to the initiative and perseverance of Heydar Aliyev that the tragedy of January 20 was given a political and legal assessment at the state level. A lot of work has been done to determine the place and role of January 20 in the history of the Azerbaijani people, perpetuate the memory of the victims of this tragedy and bring the truth about these events to the international community.
During the commission of this crime, an information blockade was created in the country. That night, armed soldiers of the Soviet army blew up a power unit on television, television was blocked by the army, and the publication of periodicals was prohibited. The goal was to keep the people in the dark about the ongoing bloody events. In such a difficult time for the people - on January 21, 1990 - Heydar Aliyev came to the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan in Moscow on the occasion of the January 20 tragedy in Baku, spoke there and stated that in these tragic days he was next to the Azerbaijani people. He gave a political assessment of the bloody events of that night and showed that this was a big mistake by the leadership of the central and republican authorities of that time, contrary to legal norms, the principles of democracy and humanism. The text of this historic speech was widely distributed both in our country and abroad.
... In the Alley of Martyrs at the highest point of Baku, there are the remains of women, old people, young people, children of different nationalities - Azerbaijanis, Russians, Jews, Georgians ... even more terrible and brutal reprisals against the Muslim population of Baku and the surrounding areas. Can it be considered an accident that at the beginning of the last century, as a result of this massacre, my great-grandfather, Shirinbekov Tagi bey Gasanbek oglu, from Shushi, was killed and buried there, because, as you know, there are no accidents in history?