STEPANAKERT—“On February 26-29, 1988, with the actual support of the Azerbaijani authorities and the collusion of the Soviet leadership, a massacre of Armenians was carried out in the city of Sumgait, the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic, which shocked the international community with its savagery and brutality,” the Foreign Ministry of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic said in a statement issued Friday ahead of the 24th anniversary of the crime.
“The Sumgait massacre of Armenians was committed in response to the Karabakh people’s legitimate expression of will for reunification with Armenia and became the embodiment of the Azerbaijani authorities’ policy of hatred towards Armenians conducted during the entire Soviet period. The mass pogroms of Armenians in ‘international’ Sumgait were intended to block a possible solution to the issue, to frighten the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh with the prospects of new bloody actions and to make them abandon their national-liberation movement. Dozens of people were killed with sadistic cruelty; a considerable part of them was burned alive after having been beaten, tortured, and violated. Hundreds of people were disabled for life and thousands became refugees.
The massacre of Armenians in Sumgait was thoroughly organized, including from the ideological and psychological points of view. At the anti-Armenian rallies, which started on February 26 in the central square, the municipal leaders openly called upon the participants for violence against the Armenians.
On February 27, the ‘rallies’ escalated into acts of violence. The first ‘rally’ in front of the building of the Sumgait City Party Committee was attended by about 50 people; the next day, the number of participants grew to several thousands. In her speech, Second Secretary of the City Party Committee Melek Bairamova demanded that Armenians leave Azerbaijan; Azerbaijani poet Khydyr Alovlu concluded his speech by saying: “Death to Armenians!”
In addition to the city leadership, representatives of the law enforcement agencies were on the tribune, and it wasn’t accidental that unprecedented facts of inaction and heartlessness of the Interior employees were fixed during the pogroms.
An open atmosphere of mass psychosis and hysteria was formed at the ‘rallies.’ Those on the tribunes called upon the participants to be true to the credit of the Muslims and to unite in a war against the “infidels.” The thugs were inflamed by, actually, fascist appeals, heated by alcohol, which was distributed freely out of trucks, and drugged; convinced of their own impunity, they continued with renewed impetus the pogroms of Armenians’ apartments, their mass beating and killing, which lasted until late at night. The crowd was headed by none other than First Secretary of the Sumgait City Committee of the Communist Party Jahangir Muslimzade, with the national flag of Azerbaijan in his hands. The gangs were headed also by some prominent people in Sumgait – the director of secondary school #25, an actress of the Arablinsky Theater, and others.
On February 28, the number of thugs armed with iron bars, axes, hammers, and other improvised means considerably increased. The crowd clearly knew its tasks. The pogrom-makers, who were divided into groups, broke into Armenians’ apartments and killed the people in their own homes; but more often they took them out in the street or in the yard for making a public mock of them. After painful humiliation, the victims were covered with petrol and burned alive.
Only on February 29 military forces were brought into the city of Sumgait, but they did not immediately establish control over the city. The killings and pogroms of Armenians went on. Only in the evening the military units started taking decisive action.
The central authorities were not interested in establishing the exact number of victims in the Sumgait bacchanalia. Officially, 36 Armenian and 6 Azerbaijani deceased persons were stated. Meanwhile, British researcher Tom de Waal wrote in his book Black Garden. Between Peace and War: ‘…If you pay attention to the serial numbers of medical death certificates, you’ll find out that at least 115 bodies were recorded those days in the morgues… Such a number of natural deaths is excluded, at least because no more than 72 deaths were registered in the previous two months’ (February 1988: Azerbaijan, chapter 2).
The fact that the Genocide of the Armenian population of Sumgait was planned in advance and was not a spontaneous action of a group of hooligans, as the Soviet authorities and judicial agencies tried to present it, is testified by some irrefutable facts: production of cold arms for the pogroms at the industrial enterprises of the city; making lists of the Armenians living in the city with the aim of their killing; the authorities’ inaction; speeches of specially trained provokers at the rallies for manipulating the crowd; the local militia’s assistance to the thugs; disconnecting the phones in the Armenians’ apartments; cutting off the electricity supply in the blocks where the pogroms were going on; accurate coordination of the gangs’ actions; providing the thugs with reinforcement rods, pipe scraps, rocks and bottles with gasoline and alcohol; blocking the entrances to the city by armed groups; lack of any assistance to the victims by medical workers of the city; removal of the crimes’ traces (hasty repair of the smashed shops, apartments, and other facilities), and hiding the organizers and many executors of the Genocide from the justice.
All this was not an act of hooliganism; it was an action against a particular nation, against the Armenians. It was not against the Russians or some other nations, it was against the Armenians; they were looking for only Armenians.
On February 29, 1988, a session of the Politburo of the USSR Communist Party Central Committee took place in the Kremlin, at which it was stated for the first time officially, though classified as ‘top secret’, that the mass pogroms and massacre had been carried out in Sumgait on an ethnic basis, that is exclusively against Armenians. However, the USSR official structures were quick to taboo the topic of ‘Sumgait’, artificially dividing the mass slaughter of Armenians into separate crimes. The crimes, which, according to the International Convention on Genocide, must be assessed as crimes against humanity, were classified as crimes committed out of “hooliganism motives.” In other words, the committed Genocide was veiled, and its organizers were defended at the official level.
Unfortunately, the February 27-29 pogroms in Sumgait, organized at the highest state level, are not given an adequate political and legal assessment, and the Moscow trial did not become the Nuremberg trial, because the roots of the mass crimes were not identified.
The policy of silence related to the Genocide in Sumgait, concealment of the reasons, which gave rise to it, and leaving its real organizers unpunished made possible the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Azerbaijani SSR authorities throughout the Republic, which culminated in the January 1990 bloody pogroms in the Republic’s capital city of Baku and led to further large-scale military aggression against the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Meanwhile, the truth about Sumgait, like the materials of the Nuremberg trial, is needed to prevent a new ‘brown plague,’” concluded the announcement.