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Baku Pogroms
Location Baku, Soviet Union
Date January 13–19, 1990
Target Local Armenian population
Deaths At least 90 Armenians,[1] and 21 Russian soldiers[2][3]
Non-fatal injuries

The Pogrom of Armenians in Baku[5] was an anti-Armenian pogrom directed against the Armenian inhabitants of Baku, Azerbaijani SSR, Soviet Union.[6][7] From January 12, 1990, a seven-day pogrom broke out against the Armenians civilian population in Baku during which Armenians were beaten, tortured, murdered and expelled from the city. There were also many raids on apartments, robberies and arsons. According to the Human Rights Watch reporter Robert Kushen, "the action was not entirely (or perhaps not at all) spontaneous, as the attackers had lists of Armenians and their addresses".[8] The pogrom of Armenians in Baku was one of the acts of ethnic violence in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, directed against the demands of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians to secede from Azerbaijan and unify with Armenia.


The pogrom of Armenians in Baku was not a spontaneous and one-time event but was one among series of ethnic violence employed by the Azerbaijanis against the Armenian population during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[9][10] In 1988 the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave incorporated into the Soviet Azerbaijan, started voicing their demands for the unification of the enclave with Armenia. On February 20, 1988 the Soviet of People's Deputies in Karabakh voted to request the transfer of the region to Armenia. This process took place in the light of the new economic and political policies, Perestroika and Glasnost, introduced by the new General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev who had come to power in 1985.[1][9] This unprecedented action by a regional soviet brought out tens of thousands of demonstrations both in Stepanakert and Yerevan, but Moscow rejected the Armenians' demands labelling them as “nationalists” and “extremists”.[1] On the following day demonstrations were held by Azerbaijanis in Baku and other cities of Azerbaijan against the unification of Karabakh with Armenia, during which strong anti-Armenian sentiments were voiced: the common slogans were 'Death to Armenians', 'Armenians out of Azerbaijan'.[9] On February 27, 1988 a massive pogrom was carried out in Sumgait during which the Armenian population of the city was brutally slaughtered and expelled.[1][9][11] The Sumgait pogrom was followed by another pogrom against Armenians in 1988 in Kirovabad (today's Ganja) -the second largest city of Azerbaijan from where all the Armenians were expelled.[12][13][14] In spring and summer 1988 the ethnic tensions were escalating between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis. After the Sumgait tragedy a massive migration of Armenians from Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis from Armenia began.[15] By 1989 the Armenians stayed only in those places where they had a well-established community, including in Baku. By the beginning of 1990 there were only about 30-40 thousand Armenians left in Baku ,[16] mostly women and pensioners.[1] Similarly, by the end of 1988, dozens of villages in Armenia had become deserted, as most of Armenia's more than 200,000 Azerbaijanis and Muslim Kurds left.[17] In December 1989 The Supreme Soviets of the Armenian SSR and Nagorno-Karabakh passed a resolution on the formal unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, in accordance with the Soviet law on the people’s right to self-determination.[18] The pogrom of Armenians in Baku took place shortly afterwards and according to a number of sources it was a direct response to this resolution.[19]

The pogrom

By January 1990, Azerbaijan was in turmoil. Large rallies by the Azerbaijani Popular Front took place in Baku. On January 12 a mass rally took place in the city's Lenin Square, during which the radical nationalists of Azerbaijan's anti-communist Popular Front were calling people for the defense of Azerbaijan's sovereignty from the demands of the Armenians. At the same time groups of young Azerbaijanis were roaming the streets, terrorizing the Armenians and warning them to leave the town.[9]

The rhetoric of some Popular Front leaders, which included calls for the deportation of Armenians from Azerbaijan, was at least harmful to the relations with the Armenian population; that rhetoric was not significantly toned down during the pogroms.[20]

Thomas de Waal has called this pogrom the first part of "Black January" a tragedy with about 90 Armenian victims. According to him, at first a large crowd gathered in the Lenin Square of Baku, and at nightfall different groups separated from the Azerbaijani Popular Front demonstrators, and started to attack Armenians. As in Sumgait, their activities were distinguished by extreme cruelty: the area around the Armenian quarter became an arena of mass killings.[21] During the "pogroms in Baku, Armenian homes were set on fire and looted while many Armenians were killed or injured".[22] Kirill Stolyarov in his book "Break-up" describes beatings of the elderly, expelling them from their homes, burning people alive and other cases of savagery.[23] Soyuz weekly on May 19, 1990 reported “… in the course of Armenian pogroms in Baku raging crowd literally tore a man apart, and his remains were thrown into a garbage bin”. Aleksei Vasiliev, a soldier of Soviet army(an Azerbaijani) testified seeing a naked woman being thrown out of the window into the fire in which her furniture was burning.[24]

The events in Baku were reflected in a report in the UN Committee in elimination of discrimination against women, July 27, 1997:

For five days in January of 1990, the Armenian community of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, were killed, tortured, robbed and humiliated. Pregnant women and babies were molested, little girls were raped in front of their parents' eyes, Christian crosses were burned on their backs, and they were abused for their Christian faith.[25]

Bill Keller, who was in Baku after the events, in his report for The New York Times wrote:

Here and there, boarded windows or soot-blackened walls mark an apartment where Armenians were driven out by mobs and their belongings set afire on the balcony.

The Armenian Orthodox Church, whose congregation has been depleted over the past two years by an emigration based on fear, is now a charred ruin. A neighbor said firefighters and the police watched without intervening as vandals destroyed the building at the beginning of the year.[26]

On January 15 Radio Liberty reported: "Raging crowds killed at least 25 people at night of 14 in the Armenian district of Baku – the capital of Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. According to the preliminary information, the death toll reaches 25."

According to the Izvestya newspaper on January 15, 1990 "On January 13, 1990, after 5 p.m. a crowd of some 50,000 people who were going out on a demonstration from the Lenin square, splitting into groups, committed pogroms, destructions, arsons, violence and murders... a huge mob were yelling slogans glory to the heroes of Sumgait and viva Baku without Armenians".

In the article published on January 18, 1990 Izvestiya newspaper reported: “On January 16, 64 cases of flat pogroms were identified, when Armenians became the victims… In the Lenin district of the capital 4 burnt unidentified bodies were found. Over the past day З0 captive Armenians were released”. On January 19, 1990 Izvestiya newspaper reported: “On January 17, 45 pogroms and arsons of residential houses in Baku were committed”.

Another article published in The New York Times on January 19, 1990 said:

Azerbaijan is no Lithuania... Nationalists in Lithuania are struggling to wrest independence from Moscow by nonviolent, political means. Nationalists in Azerbaijan also talk of independence, but their protest includes bloody pogroms against their Armenian neighbors.[27]

One of the leaders of the National Front of Azerbaijan Etibar Mamedov himself testified of the cruelties and of no official intervention:

«I myself witnessed the murder of two Armenians near the railway station. A crowd gathered, threw petrol on them and burned them, whereas the regional militia division was only 200 meters away with some 400-500 soldiers of the internal forces. The soldiers passed by the burning bodies at a distance of some 20 meters, and nobody attempted to circle the area and dissolve the crowd».[28]

Russian poet David Samoylov referring to Baku pogroms made a note in his diary on Jan 18, «The atrocities in Azerbaijan are shocking. The thoughts are only about that».[29]

Thus the pogrom in Baku resulted in numerous human casualties; dozens of thousands of Armenians lost their houses and were deported from the country - this was acknowledged by the Chairman of the Soviet of the Union Evgeniy Primakov on the closed session of the Supreme Council of USSR on March 5, 1990. The victims of the pogrom were not only Armenians but also "the Jews, Ossetians, Georgians, and all others who resembled Armenians to a greater or lesser extent. They were beating in the face, not in the passport”[30]

The pogrom lasted for about seven days during which Central authorities did little to stop the violence[31] - no state of emergency was declared in Baku. The police was not responding to the calls of the victims.[32] Several eyewitnesses told Helsinki Watch/Memorial that they "approached militiamen(police) on the street to report nearby attacks on Armenians, but the militiamen did nothing".[8] Azaddin Gyulmamedov, a young Azerbaijani who attended the rally in Baku on the 13th and witnessed the outbreak of anti-Armenian violence, gave the following testimony:

We went to see what was happening. We saw these guys in the streets. I don't know who they were -drug addicts, maybe. They had sticks and clubs, and lists of Armenians and where they lived. They wanted to break down the doors of Armenian apartments and chase them out. The police didn't do anything. They just stood and watched. Same with the soldiers, who had weapons. We asked them to help. There were about a dozen soldiers and ten of us, and there were about twenty in the gang, but the soldiers wouldn't help. They said: 'You can do it yourself, Blackie. We're not getting involved." [32]


On January 20, 1990, after the Armenian population was already expelled from the city, the Soviet troops intervened in Baku and a state of martial law was declared.[33] This however did not accomplish its officially stated goal of quelling the violence as most Armenians fled Baku.[34] By the end of April, 1993, it was estimated that [35] only 18-20,000 Armenians remained in Baku, mostly in hiding.[36] The World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov and his family was among the evacuees.[37] As an eyewitness he later testified:

No one would halt the Armenian pogroms in Baku, although there were 11 thousand soldiers of internal troops in the city. No one would intervene until the ethnic cleansing was carried out. The pogroms were happening not in a random place but in the huge capital city with blocks of flats. In such a megapolis as Baku the crowd simply cannot carry out targeted operations like that. When the pogrom-makers go purposefully from one district to another, from one apartment to another this means that they had been given the addresses and that they had a coordinator.[38]

The authorities of Azerbaijan must have known what result these organized demonstrations were going to have but they did not ask for a curfew to be imposed in Baku.[39][40] The authorities thus not only failed to stem the anti-Armenian attacks, but also raised serious doubts about whether the Soviets wished to stem the violence at all or merely to hold the power in Baku. In this regard the article in Moscow News, February 4, 1990 reported:

Unlike Sumgait, the Soviet army was late in Baku not for 3 hours, but for a whole week. Moreover, to stop the pogroms it was enough to let in the forces of Baku army garrison and the internal troops. The troops entered the town seized with pogroms not to stop them, but to prevent the final seizure of power by the People’s Front of Azerbaijan, which was planned for January 20.

Leila Yunusova, a member of the National Front of Azerbaijan, said that these acts were supported by the state authorities "since they were in favour of the ideas of the right wing of the National Front. The authorities of the Republic closed their eyes also on the intentions of Azerbaijani right wing to escalate the confrontation with Armenia... the arson of the Armenian church with no police intervention was one of the examples of this policy.[41]

The pogrom in Baku was in many ways compared to the pogrom in Sumgait in 1988. That the perpetrators of the Sumgait pogrom did not receive due punishment and that the actual information about the pogrom was censored and hidden from the public, largely contributed to the repetition of analogous events in Baku in 1990.[42] The ways and means employed against the Armenians in Baku were also similar to those employed in Sumgait.

The newspaper Novaya Zhizn at the time of the pogroms reported, "The number of Armenians killed in Baku has already surpassed that of Sumgait; this new tragedy was the direct consequence of the authorities trying to silence the first one."[43]

In 1990, an "Open Letter on Anti-Armenian Pogroms in the Soviet Union" was initiated by the Helsinki Treaty Watchdog Committee of France and intellectuals from the College International de Philosophie, Paris:

"As recently as January 1990, the pogroms continued in Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan. The mere fact that these pogroms were repeated and the fact that they followed the same pattern lead us to think that these tragic events are not accidents or spontaneous outbursts."[44]

The European Parliament (July 1988, par. 1, C) passed a resolution which “condemn[ed] the violence employed against Armenian demonstrators in Azerbaijan” and announced:

[T]he deteriorating political situation, which has led to anti-Armenian pogroms

in Sumgait and serious acts of violence in Baku, is in itself a threat to the safety of

the Armenians living in Azerbaijan.

Non-official sources estimate that the number Armenians living on Azerbaijani territory outside Nagorno-Karabakh is around 2,000 to 3,000, and almost exclusively comprises persons married to Azeris or of mixed Armenian-Azeri descent.[45] The number of Armenians who are likely not married to Azeris and are not of mixed Armenian-Azeri descent are estimated at 645 (36 men and 609 women) and more than half (378 or 59 per cent of Armenians in Azerbaijan outside Nagorno-Karabakh) live in Baku and the rest in rural areas. They are likely to be the elderly and sick, and probably have no other family members.[45]


  • «Pogrom» / Washington Post, Washington, D.C. (Jan. 21, 1990)
  • Yurchenko, Boris, "A crowd of Armenians and Russians who fled violence in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku register Thursday for relief at an emergency center in Moscow," Free Press, Detroit (Jan. 26, 1990)
  • Whitney, Craig R., "When empires fall, not everyone ends up with a state of his own," New York Times National (Apr. 14, 1991)
  • А. Головков, Проникающее ранение / Огонёк, 6, 1990
  • Human Rights Watch. “Playing the "Communal Card": Communal Violence and Human Rights”
  • "Conflict in the Soviet Union: Black January in Azerbaidzhan", by Robert Kushen, 1991, Human Rights Watch, ISBN 1-56432-027-8
  • JTA, "Jews among Azerbaijani casualties," Washington Jewish Week, Washington, D.C. (Jan. 18, 1990)
  • Feldmenn, Linda, "Soviet Rein in Azeri Nationalists," Christian Science Monitor (Jan. 29, 1990)
  • The New York Times. "Nationalism at Its Nastiest". Jan. 19, 1990
  • Astvatsaturian Turcotte, Anna (2012). Nowhere, a Story of Exile. ISBN 978-09857864-1-0. 

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Black garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through peace and war By Thomas De Waal, p.90 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Waal" defined multiple times with different content
  2. The Caucasus: an introduction - Page 113, Thomas de Waal
  3. Nationalist mobilization and the collapse of the Soviet State - Page 377, Mark R. Beissinger
  4. Europa World Year: Book 1 - Page 638, Taylor & Francis Group
  5. Azerbaijan: The status of Armenians, Russians, Jews and other minorities, report, 1993, INS Resource Informacion Center, p.6
  6. Azerbaijan: The status of Armenians, Russians, Jews and other minorities, report, 1993, INS Resource Informacion Center, p.10
  7. Britannica: Azerbaijan- The Soviet and post-Soviet periods
  8. 8.0 8.1 Conflict in the Soviet Union: Black January in Azerbaidzhan, by Robert Kushen, 1991, Human Rights Watch, ISBN 1-56432-027-8, p. 7
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Cox and Eibner. "Ethnic Cleansing in Progress: War in Nagorno Karabakh" Zurich: Institute for Religious Minorities in the Islamic World, 1993 [1].
  10. Walker J. Christopher (ed.) "Armenia and Karabakh: the struggle for unity". London: Minority Rights Group, 1991
  11. Shahmuratian Samvel (ed.) The Sumgait Tragedy: Pogroms Against Armenians in Soviet Azerbaijan. New York: Zoryan Institute, 1990.
  12. SJ Kaufman. "Ethnic Fears and Ethnic War in Karabagh"
  13. Pierre Verluise. "Armenia in Crisis: The 1988 Earthquake" Wayne State University Press, 1995
  14. Imogen Gladman (2004). Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia. Taylor & Francis Group. pp. Page 131. ISBN 1-85743-316-5. 
  15. Zürcher Christoph. "The post-Soviet wars: rebellion, ethnic conflict and nationhood in the Caucasus." New York: New York University Press, 2007.
  16. Политолог: Погромы в Баку были призваны убедить Москву в невозможности вывода Карабаха из состава Азербайджана. [2]
  17. Thomas De Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War (New York: New York University Press, 2003), p. 62.
  18. Asenbauer Haig "On the right of self-determination of the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh." New York The Armenian Prelacy, 1996
  19. Tololyan Khachig. "National self-determination and the limits of sovereignty: Armenia, Azerbaijan and the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh". Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, vol. 1 (1), Spring 1995, pp. 86-110 [3]
  20. Conflict in the Soviet Union: Black January in Azerbaijan, by Robert Kushen, 1991, Human Rights Watch, ISBN 1-56432-027-8, p. 8
  21. 1988-1990 г.г. Азербайджанская трагедия, Главы из русского издания книги "Черный сад", Том де Ваал (in Russian)
  22. BBC on this day: 22 January
  23. Kirill Stolyarov "Break-up. From Nagorno Karabagh to Belovejskaya Pustcha". Olmo-Press publishing house, Moscow
  24. «Бакинские зарисовки», 1990
  25. Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women
  26. UPHEAVAL IN THE EAST: Soviet Union; A Once-Docile Azerbaijani City Bridles Under the Kremlin's Grip, By Bill Keller, The New York Times, February 18, 1990
  27. The New York Times. "Nationalism at Its Nastiest". January 19, 1990
  28. Novaya Zhizn newspaper, 1990, N 5(14).
  29. Д. Самойлов. Поденные записи, журнал Знамя, 1995, N3, стр. 162.
  30. Lebed Alexandr. "За державу обидно" Moskovskaya Pravda 1995, p. 252
  31. Human Rights Watch. “Playing the "Communal Card": Communal Violence and Human Rights”
  32. 32.0 32.1 Cullen, Robert, "A Reporter at Large: Roots", The New Yorker, April 15, 1991. Der Nesessian, The Armenians, (London), 1969, p. 70.
  33. Azerbaijan: The status of Armenians, Russians, Jews and other minorities, report, 1993, INS Resource Information Center
  34. PLAYING THE "COMMUNAL CARD": Communal Violence and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch
  35. "Implementation of the Helsinki Accords: Human Rights and Democratization in the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union" (Washington, DC: U.S. Congress, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, January 1993), p. 116
  36. "Increased Harassment of Refugee Applicants," U.S. Department of State Cable from American Embassy, Baku, to the State Department, Washington, D.C., 29 April 1993.
  37. Kasparov Chess Foundation - Bio
  38. Garry Kasparov, a former World Chess Champion. “Армянские погромы в Баку никем не пресекались, хотя в городе было 11 тысяч солдат внутренних войск. Никто не вмешивался до тех пор, пока зачистка не была произведена. Причем это не в местечке были погромы, а в огромном столичном городе, где стоят многоквартирные дома. В таком мегаполисе, как Баку, вести точечные операции толпа просто так не может. Когда погромщики целенаправленно идут из района в район и из квартиры в квартиру, это означает, что им дали списки, что есть ведущий." Newspaper “Gordon Boulevard”, 2 December 2008.
  39. Nikolai Petrushenko, national deputy of the USSR, colonel. Extract from the speech made at the session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on March 5, 1990. “Как очевидец тех событий, я скажу, что весь Баку прекрасно знал, что в город будет введен комендантский час и что введут войска. А тут, в этом зале, руководители республики корчат из себя невинных, мол, не знали, не ведали, что войска войдут в Баку. При этом они в разгар погромов без конца обращались в Верховный Совет с просьбой о введении чрезвычайного положения на местах, в районах, но только не в Баку. Не потому ли они так поступали, что хорошо знали: “Народный фронт” фактически ввел “свой” комендантский час и “свое” чрезвычайное положение в Баку?!” (translation: as an eyewitness of those events I will say that everyone in Baku knew very well that a curfew would be imposed in the city and that the troops would be sent. While here in this hall the leaders of the republic pretend to be innocent, as if they didn't know that troops would enter Baku. At the same time in the heat of the pogrom they repeatedly turned to the Supreme Soviet with the request to declare a state of emergency in certain places and regions but only not in Baku. Didn't they act like that because they knew very well that the National Front had in fact imposed 'its own' curfew and 'its own' emergency situation in Baku?!")
  40. Vadim Bakatin, Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR. Extract from the speech made at the session of the Supreme Council of the USSR on March 5, 1990. “Руководство Азербайджанской ССР и, в частности, соответствующие органы не могли не знать, что на специально организованном митинге была заведомо организована провокация: мол, армяне убивают азербайджанцев. И тотчас же пять тысяч митингующих разбрелись по городу, имея на руках адреса армянских квартир. В этой ситуации трудно было что-либо предпринимать, особенно если учесть, что действия внутренних войск всячески блокировались тем, что бандиты прикрывались женщинами и детьми как живым щитом”. “Какие уроки извлекли азербайджанские власти из этой трагедии? Никаких”. (translation: The authorities of the Azerbaijan SSR, and the respective bodies in particular, could not but have known that in the specially organized demonstration a provocation was planned in advance - as if the Armenians were killing the Azerbaijanis. And the five thousand protesters at once spread all over the city having in their hands the addresses of Armenian apartments. It was hard to take measures in this situation, especially taking into account that the actions of internal troops were being blocked as the bandits were hiding behind the women and children using them as live shields. What lessons did the Azerbaijani authorities learn from this? None!)
  41. Leila Yunusova (member of the National Front). Interview to the CIA agency, January 1990. “Акции эти были поддержаны официальным руководством, которое еще прошлой осенью называло “Народный фронт” экстремистами, преступниками, а сейчас прекратило нападки, поскольку идеи правого крыла Фронта ему близки. Руководство республики закрывает глаза и на стремление правого крыла продолжить конфронтацию с Арменией. За примерами далеко ходить не надо: в Баку сожгли армянскую церковь, причем милиция не реагировала на этот акт вандализма…”
  42. Igor Volgin (writer) «Если бы после резни, учиненной в Сумгаите, были незамедлительно приняты гласные, решительные меры и – не побоюсь этого слова – беспощадные меры, мы бы не имели сейчас хронического межнационального террора. Карабах, Фергана, Новый Узень, Баку, Ош – следующим будешь ты. Погромщики ощущают свою безнаказанность, ибо, толкуя об «Объективных причинах», мы как бы признаем их право на кровавый кураж».(translation: "If after the slaughter perpetrated in Sumgait there had been immediately taken public, decisive and I won't be afraid to say ruthless measures had been taken we wouldn't have had now a chronic national terrorism. Karabakh, Fergana, Zhanaozen, Baku, Osh - you will be next. The pogrom-makers feel they are unpunished since by speaking about the "objective reasons" we by this acknowledge their right to bloody courage." Komsomolskaya Pravda 3.07.1990.
  43. Novaya Zhizn newspaper, January 1990, N. 5
  44. An Open Letter on Anti-Armenian Pogroms in the Soviet Union, By David Aaron, Isaiah Berlin, William M. Chace, Jacques Derrida, Luc Ferry, Alain Finkielkraut et al., NYR Book, Volume 37, Number 14 · September 27, 1990
  45. 45.0 45.1 Этнический состав Азербайджана (по переписи 1999 года) (Russian)

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