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| | Baku 1990 - Anti-Armenian pogroms and massacre
Black January 1990 in Baku - Anti-Armenian pogroms and massacre
| Karen Harutyunyan |
I was born on October 28, 1978 in the city of Baku. My family had two apartments – one in “the 8th kilometer” district, the second one in Razino – Kirov str. 7, apt. 48. I still remember the postal code (370040) and the telephone number -25-10-75. We had a multinational neighborhood, with Azeris, Armenians (nearly all of them managed to escape on time), Germans, Russian, Jews, Lezghins, etc living around. In a word, it was a multinational city. Before the Sumgait events I didn’t know what nationality I belonged to. The nationality did not matter then. Nothing portended these events; my family believed in the Party up to the last minute. I’m not going to speak about the prerequisites; they are well known.
Everything started for my family on December 1, 1989 when my father got fired due to his being Armenian. He left for Russia searching for a job with family hostel for us. Unfortunately, he didn’t find anything and came back the same month.
On Saturday, January 13, 1990 I was at school. We had then classes on Saturdays. Life went on normally. That day my Azeri classmate (I don’t remember his name) told me that the next day (January 14) the war between the Armenian and Azeris would break out. I didn’t understand what he meant; several hours later I realized everything.
About 10 PM, January 13, 1990 (A Georgian movie “Donki Khod” was being broadcast on TV at that moment). Some strangers knocked at our door saying they wanted to buy our apartment. We explained that the house was not for sale. They kept demanding that we open the door. We did not. And then everything began; they started breaking our door. As ill luck would have it, we had a brazier in the corridor, and they used it. Fortunately, our door was armored. They had cut the telephone cable beforehand. Somehow, shouting, we called the police. None of our neighbors interfered. I don’t remember what the police told us then, they just came, spent there some time and left. After they left my father took my sister and me across the balcony to our Russian neighbors with the help of an ironing board. Since then I vaguely remember what was going on. My parents told me they tried to break our door twice, and twice the police were arriving. My father moved the coach up to the door - our door was opening inside. The Azeris said, “You’ll see tomorrow what we’ll do to you”. At night an Azeri neighbor of ours came to our apartment (to my parents) with a knife, sort of to protect us. (He didn’t bear ill will to anybody, he was a 35-year-old hashish-addict, had spent some time in prison). My parents deposited with him some valuable books and some other things. I don’t know what happened next, but my father came to us on January 14 morning, we left the house quickly and went to the road. The only thing I noticed was our broken window. The cab was waiting for us. We were going to the center of Baku, where my mother’s friend, a Jewish woman was living. As far as I understood the cab had come to our house twice. The first time it took out Grandmother with our living essentials, and then us. The taxi-driver was a Lezghin, and treated us normally. He also took offence at the Azeris.
January 14 we spent at my mother’s Jewish friend. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon everything started, mass pogroms of Armenians began. My mother’s friend was in the city, she told that Armenians were being killed in the streets. We sat very silently so that the neighbors didn’t inform against us. The horror began next day.
On January 15 we went to the station to leave the city. There were no trains. Our family consisted of five people. I don’t remember how we got to the station; we had a few packs with the necessities. My father and I were carrying our bags from a nearby square to the station. We couldn’t “flock”, that could arouse suspicions. My mother and sister stayed at the station, my father and I went to find my Grandmother, but failed to. My mother told my father to stay with my sister, and I went to search for my grandmother with my mother. Male Armenians were being killed. We couldn’t find my grandmother. (Later we learned that Azeris had taken her to “Shafag” cinema where Armenians were being driven together. They took away all valuable things that Granny had with, even pulled out her teeth with golden crowns, and then took her to the ferry berth). Upon arriving at the station we didn’t find my father and sister. The police told us they were catching Armenians and taking them to the ferry berth. They took us to the station square; a bus was waiting there (a village-type “Gaz” bus). Azeri builders and Russian soldiers were setting us in the bus. I remember them curtaining the windows. I saw horrible scene on the way.
Beaten Armenians were being taken out on lorries from the yards, and Azeris were standing around and shouting things. We didn’t find either my grandmother or father and sister on the ferry berth. Mom decided they could have returned to her Jewish friend. We got somehow to her place; they were not there. (Later we learned that they were at the same Armenian-collector cinema, grandmother was taken to Krasnovodsk on the ferry on January 15, and my father and sister – on January 16). My mother called to her Azeri deputy director (she worked at a musical school) to ask for some money. We had only two kopecks around.
We met on January 16. I remember Azeris checking documents of all men. The deputy director gave us some money and took us to another place Armenians were being taken to. (Afterwards we learned that Azeris killed him). I guess that was an officer house, there were Russian military and a gun. Later a bus took us to the ferry berth. It was horrible – beaten Armenians, mainly children, elderly and women. Male Armenians were being killed. The last thing I saw in Baku was the Government House and the monument to 26 Baku commissioners. We were kept inside the bus for a few hours, and then taken to the berth. It was the first time I saw soldiers in black uniform with shields; that was amazing to me. The evening was cold, we were kept at the berth till morning, a cool wind was blowing. I remember in the evening Azeris brought a wagon with bread. They gave everybody buns and water. Early in the morning the ferry arrived. The soldiers circled the berth. People were striving to get on the ferry; Azeris were shouting something. I was standing facing a soldier’s shield. Then they let us on the ferry. We were lucky to get to the saloon; some people were in the engine-room. They told us Azeris drowned the first ferry - fortunately it was empty. Azeris wanted to drown the ferry my father and sister were in, but a plane or a helicopter from Krasnovodsk drowned the Azeri boat. I remember we went out to the deck; I was scared. A storm broke out, or maybe that just seemed to me - that was the fist time I appeared in the open sea. There was volleyball net on the ferry. I don’t remember how long we sailed.
It seems to me we arrived in Krasnovodsk on January 18 morning. They took us to a house; a crowd was standing there. They gave us a “Refugee leaflet”; I keep it up to now. I can’t figure out when they managed to print them. Then Turkmen gave us some rice to eat and then separated us. Those wishing to get to Moscow were leaving by train, and those who wished to leave for Yerevan were taken to the airport. I fell asleep as soon as I appeared in the plane, and then woke up at the landing.
This is the story of my life. We were fortunate to find each other. My father was waiting for us at “Zvartnots” airport; we had buns and tea there. We all stayed with our relatives. Thus I became a refugee. Naturally, I don’t remember all the details; maybe I’m lucky to. It’s a pity few people talk about these events.
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