The Legacy of a Bloodbath: Black January and the Pogroms of Baku

January 19 marks the end of the bloody Baku Pogroms, during which the Armenian population of Baku was ethnically cleansed from the Azerbaijani capital in a week-long bloodbath that left hundreds dead, thousands wounded and many more without homes. The campaign, which began on January 13, lasted seven-days until the Kremlin finally deployed Soviet Troops into the city to end the violence.

The pogroms, which resulted in the death of an estimated 300 Armenians, came as a direct response from Soviet Azerbaijan to the hundreds of thousands of Armenian demonstrators urging the Kremlin to allow Karabakh to reunite with Armenia in 1988. The first massacres began in Sumgait in 1988 and were followed by a series of similar assaults on Armenians in Kirovabad, Baku and later in the Shahumian district of Karabakh.

To this day the exact number of Armenian actually killed in Baku remains a mystery as no specific records were kept of the murders. The only solid statistics available are of the refugees. Baku was emptied of its entire 250,000 strong Armenian population within days. Leaving behind all their belongings to flee the carnage, most eventually found refuge in Russia, Armenia and Karabakh. To this day, a majority of them live in Russia.

The massacres of 1988-1990, were the latest acts of ethnic cleansing against Armenians in the area of present day Azerbaijan and Karabakh that began in 1905.  The murders eventually escalated the situation into a war when Azerbaijani military forces invaded Nagorno-Karabakh to bring it freedom-seeking population under Baku’s control.

Below are wire photos from the Asbarez archives of the time.


January 15, 1990: Soviet troops, backed up by an armored vehicle, deploy in a street in an unspecified town in Soviet Azerbaijan. The Soviet government has declared a state of emergency in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where Azerbaijani forces have begun cleansing Armenian villages. (AP)


January 15, 1990: Soviet internal forces Captain Viktop Spiridonov is treated by an unidentified doctor in the Armenian capital, Yerevan,  for wounds received in neighboring Azerbaijan during clashes with gangs attacking Christian Armenians living there. The official Soviet media had said that at least 32 people had been killed since the violence began on January 13. (AP)


January 16, 1990: An elderly Armenian is stretchered to a waiting ambulance on his arrival at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport from Baku. Soviet troops had been deployed in Azerbaijan in an attempt to quell the bloody ethnic violence against Armenians which left at least 37 dead in three days. (AP)


January 16, 1990: An old woman is helped to board a ferry in Baku, Azerbaijan as the evacuation of Armenians from the city continues by ferry to Krasnovdsk and Astrakhan and then by plane to Yerevan because of the continuing ethnic cleansing.  (AP)


January 16, 1990: Ethnic Armenian women with a young child sit in Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport after arriving from Baku, Azerbaijan. Soviet troops had been deployed to enforce a Kremlin-ordered clampdown in Azerbaijan where at least 37 Armenians were killed in three days of brutal pogroms. (AP)


January 16, 1990: Helping hands stretcher an elderly Armenian to a waiting ambulance from the aircraft that brought him to Yerevan, Armenia. As the situation in a number of areas in Azerbaijan went out of control, this refugee managed to escape the bloody ethnic cleansing in Baku by ferry across the Caspian Sea to Krasnovodsk, Turkmenia, where he got a flight to Yerevan. (AP)


January 17, 1990: Grigory Vartanyan, a refugee from ethnic violence in the Caucasus, tells fellow Armenians how he was injured when 40 people ransacked his apartment in Baku, Azerbaijan.  (AP)


January 17, 1990: An unidentified Armenian holds a child as they wait to board a ferry at the Azerbaijan capital Baku as the evacuation continued of Armenians to ports in Turkmeniya on the opposite side of the Caspian Sea. More clashes were reported in Azerbaijan  between Muslem Azeris and Christian Armenians, with at least 56 deaths reported since violence against Armenians broke out on January 13. (AP)


January 17, 1990: Armenian refugees continue to arrive in Yerevan via Krasnovodsk, a Soviet Turkemnian port city on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea. This Armenian, A. Gulamiryan was terribly tortured by Azerbaijani extremists. They broke his arm, hurt badly his head and cut with knives his leg almost up to the bone. Then he was thrown away from the hospital without clothes where he had been transported without any medical assistance.  He was given medical aid only when he arrived in Krasnovodosk. (AP)


January 17, 1990: Armenians in Moscow mourn countrymen killed in the latest violence in the Soviet Caucasus. The crowd outside the Armenian republic’s representation building in Moscow included refugees who fled Azerbaijan. (AP)


January 19, 1990: An Armenian man carries an elderly woman down the airplane stairs as a load of refugees from Azerbaijan arrive in Armenia’s Zvartnots airport. Many exiting the plane showed signs of being heavily beaten. (AP)


January 19, 1990: Debris litters Lenin Ave. in Baku on January 14.  Soviet troops were sent into the area to stop the violence between Azerbaijanis and Armenians. (AP)


January 21, 1990: Armenian demonstrators outside a Moscow church were a service for victims of the Baku Pogroms hold up signs blaming the Kremlin for their deaths. (AP)


January 22, 1990: A huge crowd gathered Sunday in Yerevan to view the open coffin of an Armenian freedom fighter, with a  blood stain visible on his head. (AP)


January 22, 1990: Soviet Interior Ministry troops patrol Chaikent, an Armenian village in Azerbaijan, in the past several days in an effort to protect the Armenian population from massacres that have ravaged the area for a week. (AP)


January 23, 1990: The funeral of Yervand Sagumyan, an engineer and a member of the Peoples Defense Unit, from Yerevan, who was killed in action on the Armenia-Nakhichevan border near the village of ERaskh on January 19. (AP)


January 1990: Armenian-Americans in Los Angeles demonstrate in solidarity with Armenians in Azerbaijan and Karabakh who had been subjected to a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Soviet Azerbaijani government.


January 1990: Armenian-Americans demonstrate at the United Nations headquarters in New York, calling for the international community to defend the Armenian population of Karabakh and Azerbaijan from Azeri government pogroms.


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  1. andrew said:

    for the new generation keep this in your memories this is how turks were in the past and more of the same today remember it always. as for artcakh never ever they shall see it again and next attack by them i think gives us opportunity to go get aliyev from his palace put him on trial then lets see if can be done for saddam why not aliyev

  2. Hye-phenated said:

    There is a great book about the most recent Baku genocide written by Irina Mosesova with detailed descriptions of what happened to many Armenian families there. I’m surprised that it has not been translated into English. It’s available online in Russian here:

    Title: “Armenians of Baku: Genesis and Exodus” (“Армяне Баку: Бытие и Исход”)
    Author: Irina Mosesova (Ирина Мосесова)
    Language: Russian (Русский)
    Place of Publication: Yerevan/ Armenia (Ереван/ Армения)
    Publisher: “Hayastan” (“Айастан”)
    Publication Date: 1998
    Pages: 336

    ISBN: 5-540-01700-5 (5540017005)

  3. Lusik said:

    Pogroms and genocides continue, because the perpetrators remain unpunished. Moreover, they are welcomed to genocide-commemoration international forums, while the victims are not.
    Here is an extract form UNESCO website:

    “Dealing with difficult heritage, educating on history in South-East Europe

    In conjunction with the commemorations of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (27 January), the UNESCO Venice Office, in cooperation with the German Historical Museum (Berlin) and the German Commission for UNESCO, is organizing an international workshop on “Dealing with difficult heritage, educating on history” for South-East European museum experts in Berlin, at the German Historical Museum, on 27-28 January 2011.

    This workshop is organized on the occasion of the international exhibit “Hitler and the Germans. Nation and Crime” currently shown at the German Historical Museum (15 October 2010-27 February 2011).
    How does a museum and a nation deal with a legacy? How are contemporary identities negotiated? How can a history museum bring a national community to examine and seek answers to collective questions? Who is included and excluded? Is a history museum a place of reconciliation?
    The meeting will address three main topics: A museum’s mission and interrelated roles: dealing with “difficult heritage” issues in historical museums; The making of a historical exhibit: financing; preparation; exhibition’s design; approaches and methods; pedagogical tools; communication and outreach activities; The social and educational role of a history museum: educating on history and building shared memories.
    This workshop will offer an opportunity to reflect on the educational and civic role of history museums, and the methods by which, through innovative museology, museum and heritage professionals seek to analyze, remember, and contextualize difficult periods in a national community’s history. It will serve as a platform of work and discussion for museum curators from the South East European region on how to deal in history museums with “difficult heritage” and conflicting memory discourses, in particular in relation to issues of crime, violence. Beyond, it will serve to raise awareness on the significance and understanding of the Holocaust, through quality education, intercultural dialogue, and innovative museology.
    Will participate in the workshop senior representatives and chief curators from the German Historical Museum, as well as museum directors and experts from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, TURKEY. Are also invited representatives of international organizations (Council of Europe), directors and high level experts from other European museum and professional institutions (Peace Memorial in Caen, France; National Museum of the Risorgimento in Turin, Italy; International Association of Museums of History).
    This workshop is a first follow-up to the international conference on “National History Museums in Southeast Europe: learning history, building shared memories” (Thessaloniki, Greece, 18-19 October 2010), recently organized by the UNESCO Venice Office, and is part of UNESCO’s overall strategy to promote education for sustainable development, heritage and dialogue.