Along with the first signs of the collapse of the USSR and the weakening of the central government, violence against the life and property of Armenians resumed in Azerbaijan, the policy of organized massacres launched with a new scale.
The situation of the large Armenian community of Baku was particularly terrible because it already faced mass atrocities two times in 1905 and 1918. After the Sumgait massacres the wave of violence also spread in Baku starting from 1988, forcing thousands of Armenians to leave their homes and escape. The Baku pogroms reached their culmination in January 1990: for more than a week, from January 13 to 19, by the permission and direct interference of the authorities of Soviet Azerbaijan. At least several hundreds of Armenians were killed in these massacres that lasted a week, thousands migrated to different parts of the world. Today there are hundreds of witnesses which clearly display the horror faced by Armenians.
Zhanna Kotsishevskaya also witnessed the massacres committed against Armenians in Baku. She was born in Baku and was working at the department of Higher Mathematics in the Institute of Petrolium and Chemistry. The building of this department was located in Lenin avenue, near the square of the same name, which became the center of mass protests and rallies of the Azerbaijani Popular Front party. “The starting point of all these events became the Sumgait pogrom…A few days after the tragedy became known, I entered a food market. At that moment a young man approached to the Azerbaijani saleswoman and started happily telling what a good lesson Armenians learnt in Sumgait”, Zhanna Kotsishevskaya says. According to her, there have also been cases in Baku when the member students of the Azerbaijani Popular Front invaded to the classroom, beat and even tried to throw an Armenian lecturer out of the window, but this was prevented only thanks to the cries and defense of the remaining students.
The witnesses of Zhanna Kotsishevskaya and others show that in that period Baku became a dangerous place for the Armenian population where parents didn’t know whether they would again see their child or not. And in general, no representative of the Armenian community could be sure whether he/she will return back to home safe or not. Attacks were being carried out on such schools and structures where Armenians either were studying or working.
“Shortly before the Soviet troops arrived in Baku and a curfew was declared, a group of Azerbaijani students entered the classroom where I was studying and started to threaten me saying “do not come to work tomorrow. Just try to come. We know where your children study. If you don’t do what we say, we will…”, and they showed with gestures that would kill my kids. But my students kicked them out of the classroom and started to make me calm down…”, Zhanna Kotsishevskaya says. She also tells that at the workplace of her mother warnings like “Armenians, hide”, were being made from time to time after which the Armenian doctors and nurses had to be hidden because the Popular Front was coming to check whether there are Armenians in this structure.
The existing facts and witnesses show that the massacres were planned: presence of Armenians who were registered has been clarified in advance with the lists of food stamps, the list of homes belonging to them and their addresses was prepared. Zhanna Kotsishevskaya also remembers the strange campaign launched in the city in late August 1989: housekeeping staffers were visiting homes to register the names of Armenians left in the city. “When one of them visited us, I asked why they are writing only the names of Armenians. He said it is directed for protecting them. I also asked “from whom to protect”, he didn’t answer. I didn’t bother and called the Central Committee of the Azerbaijani Communist Party. They told me they will clarify and will inform me. Of course, no one called then and didn’t say anything”, she says. The reasons of registering the names of Armenians became clear to her and many others later: after the concert of her son in a music school they visited her mother, but later were informed that attack took place on their apartment. “At that time my mother-in-law was at home. Maybe after preparing the lists of apartments of Armenians they started the attacks on their homes”.
Zhanna Kotsishevskaya also remembers the terrible events while seeing off her mother-in-law to Moscow at a station: people voluntarily calling themselves representatives of the Popular Front were everywhere and searching for Armenians. By finding Armenians they were only robbing them, taking the most valuable. “…We saw how a group of young people aged 16-20 were dragging an elderly woman in front of them, with a slipper on one of her leg, and the next without. That elderly woman was holding a kettle on her hand, and her face was covered with a sincere surpise: why? The attackers were beating here and chanting: “Go back to your Armenia”.
On January 13 or 14, 1990 Zhanna Kotsishevskaya was in their second home in Bayil. She brought the two Armenian kids of their neighbor to their home so that they will watch cartoons via a color TV which was rare at that time. During that time the massacres of homes of Armenians started in their yard. The attackers entered the house where these kids were living and started their actions: they dragged their grandmother to the yard, but then she died from wounds. “Kids were standing by the window and screaming, I was unable to drag them back”.
Zhanna Kotsishevskaya’s family managed to ask for help via different ties, leave Baku and reach the Caspian Sea. Here she has seen many Armenians, most in terrible situation, beaten, burned, raped…
“For me what had happened in Baku is a typical example of a real genocide committed against people of Armenian descent”, Zhanna Kotsishevskaya says.
The interview is available at the 2016 Baku Tragedy in Eyewitness Accounts: Volume One book which was carried out within the frames of the Ordinary Genocide project.