By Ivan Gharibyan
Burning buses and destroyed apartments, dead bodies, tortured and disabled people – these words come to mind when speaking about industrial city of Sumgait, Azerbaijan. February 27 marks the 25th anniversary of the first ethnic pogroms in the Soviet Union’s history. On February 27-29, 1988, just a few days after the council of the people’s deputies of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region decided to submit a request for the region to secede from the Azerbaijani SSR and form part of the Armenian SSR, unprecedented events in the multinational state’s history occurred in Sumgait.
The situation in the city, with lumpenproles constituting a major part of its population, was being exacerbated for several days. One more factor that complicated the situation was the absence of Jahangir Muslimzade, Head of the Sumgait Committee of the Communist Party — he was on holiday. A day before the pogroms first Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan Kyamran Bagirov, and Chairman of the Council of Ministers Hasan Seyidov tried to “cool the passions.” But the passions were running high at the Chemical Industry Workers’ Club in Sumgait, and the two top-ranking officials had to leave through the back door.
On February 27, the wave of popular unrest swept over the streets. The Azeri poet Khydyr Alovlu, a staunch supporter of the “national leader” Heydar Aliyev, played a key provocative role in the events. He is the person that held high posts in the Sumgait city administration later, when the Aliyev clan came to power in independent Azerbaijan. According to Azeri sources, at a rally on February 27, Khydyr Alovlu, who considered himself a poet, cried out “Death to Armenians!”
Jahangir Muslimzade, who was attending the rally, lost control of the situation. The local authorities and law-enforcers did not act. The local Komsomol organization had to apply to Baku for help in preventing a riot and murders.
The Armenian pogroms in Baku proved to be cold shower for the Kremlin, which was completely confused by the events that were taking place for the first time in the multinational state. According to official information, 32 citizens of Sumgait were tortured to death, and hundreds of them were severely injured and disabled.
The Armenian massacre in Sumgait on February 27-29, 1988, which fact is being passed over in silence in Azerbaijan, proved to be the first sign of Azeri neo-fascism that was raising its head and later was rife and rampant resulting in Armenian massacres in Baku and Kirovadad, deportation of the Armenian population from the Shahumyan region, war unleashed in response to the Nagorno-Karabakh people’s demand for the right to self-determination.
Strangely enough, but even all the aforementioned facts are not the most terrible. Much more terrible and dangerous is the Azerbaijani leaders’ policy of sowing seeds of hatred toward the neighbors in their own people by distorting historical facts and misinterpreting the events of 1988-1994. The Aliyev clan’s style is far from being ingenious: they invented the “Khojaly genocide” to consign the Sumgait pogroms to oblivion. But the civilians killed in Khojaly were actually victims of a filthy domestic political struggle in Azerbaijan, which fact is never mentioned in Baku. And irrefutable evidence, including the statements by the then president of Azerbaijan Ayaz Mutalibov, is available. The same can be said of the Armenian pogroms in Baku on January 13-19. To hold back the truth, the Azeri leaders present the entry of troops to Baku to prevent the annihilation of non-Muslim population as Azerbaijan’s national tragedy.
It cannot be helped. The Azeri authorities continue their policy of turning their own people into a herd of cattle bereft of reason, without any knowledge of history. As the saying was in Nazi Germany “Our Fuehrer thinks for us.” This must be President Ilham Aliyev’s logic. By means of the mass media under his full control he is doing his best to develop the personality cult of his deceased father.
The only thing for us to do is to bow our heads before the innocent victims of the Sumgait pogroms organized by the Azeri cutthroats 25 years ago and thank the individual Azerbaijanis who, risking their own lives, saved their Armenian friends and neighbors.
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