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The Past Should not Repeat: Armine Adibekyan on Sumgayit Massacre (EXCLUSIVE)

"Armedia IAA" introduces the second part of the interview with Armine Adibekyan, sociologist and Azerbaijani studies expert.


31 years ago this day the massacres in Sumgayit broke out. Mrs Adibekyan, do you think the massacres in Sumgayit as well as in Kirovabad (Gandzak) have as of now had relevant legal assessment.

- The massacres in Sumgayit and Kirovabad took place under the Soviet Union and those of Baku – the collapse of the Soviet Union. The distinction between taking charge and pushing the bucket should be pointed out.

In case of Sumgayit the Soviet authorities tried to veil and muffle what had happened out of different considerations. This in turn led to the subsequent tragedies. The incidents were disguised under mass disorders although those were grave massacres.

Despite all that the Soviet Union was firm in its stand and criminal cases were instigated. One of the suits even ended up in an execution. The court and inquiry cases were split into deveral parts as carrying them out within one package would unveil the picture of the organized massacres on ethnic ground. For that reason the cases were divided and dispatched all over the Soviet Union. The cases was being examined in different cities, with bulk being in Baku, other parts in Belarus and Voronezh. The most horrific case was investigated in Moscow.   

The Soviet Authorities were reasonably doing everything within their power. On the one hand they did not let the nationalistic rage ignite on the other hand they convinced the Azeri authorities and the mass filled with hatred against Armenians of their impunity. This was followed by the first encroachments against Armenians not only in Kirovabad but also in Baku.  

The documents show that Armenian local massacres had, in fact, started in the summer of 1988. The Azerbaijani authorities wouldn’t start inquiry and those cases remained unopened.  

As to Kirovabad there were no serious consequences there as the Armenians having the Sumgayit experience in mind, came together and defended themselves. The resistance was firm and as a result they were able to leave the city without casualties.  

January 13, 1990 saw the start of massacres Baku Armenians. This case was so called massive in nature. The murders and encroachments started in the summer of 1988. We can say that Sumgayit remained unnoticed, not covered as to who was arrested and where. If they knew in Azerbaijan that execution had been executed for that action the subsequent events might have been avoided. It would be clear that breaking into the home of an Armenian and “beating and killing them and embezzling their property” carries grave consequences. Impunity led to the subsequent crimes.  

In 1990 the Soviet Union hardly functioned with the state institutions being idle. The functions of the latter in Azerbaijan were carried out by National Front. January 13 saw the start of Armenian massacres in Baku that ended on January 19 following the Soviet army entrance to Baku with the end of halting the bloodshed. On January 20, the number of casualties under the tanks reached 100-150. That they in Azerbaijan is called “black January” and those people – shehids, people who perished for Azerbaijan’s independence. But this does not stand to test: the reality is that the National front called o people to go out to the streets and disobey the army and cover the tanks with their bodies. And the tanks did not stop.  

- There is a lot of emphasis on raising international awareness. Is our society’s awareness of the topic sufficient? What can be done to that end?  

- To be honest I am shocked as I have always thought that everybody knows those stories. But recently I came to understand that the youth awareness is low. The issue needs state support and interference. Firstly they should decide at what age they need to talk to them to ensure correct perception. 

We need to work with the youth and raise their awareness. But we need to be cautious to not foster xenophobia and shaping stereotypes. This is unacceptable. 

A committee should be set up comprised with historians, psychologists and pedagogues. On the one hand we must provide correct information and on the other hand ensure that it does not lay the ground for “hatred towards Azeri people”.  We must know the reality and the culprits, figure out the cause and consequence. The youth should not associate the Azeri people with Sumgayit, with being “destroyers” and deserving death. 

To sum up we face the issue of correct perception. All this should not lead to manifestations of xenophobia with its consequences. But it should be stated that the past should not repeat. 

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