Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Black January

These days of the middle of January carry a lot of sad memories for Azerbaijan. Twenty years ago when the movement for independence from the Soviet Union was gaining momentum, a wave of nationalistic pogroms erupted in the country. In a city once known for its multinational culture people turned on each other “man against man, neighbor against neighbor.” Some chose to become hunters, some, not given a choice, became hunted. People were killed and those who weren’t fled the city. On the night from the 19th to 20th of January 1990 Soviet troops entered Baku and again innocent people were killed. Those days went down in the history of Azerbaijan as Black January and the 20th of January is now known as Mourning Day, remembrance of those who lost their lives. Red carnations already start to appear in the Alley of Martyrs where the fallen were laid to rest.

Twenty years have passed but the memories of those days are still throbbing. One woman told me how she and her small kids huddled in the bathroom close to the floor because so many people were killed by stray bullets. “I still remember the crack running in the center of my tiles,” she said. The other told of the painful realization that people whom you knew could so easily turn against you. “We were neighbors, you know,” she kept repeating, even after 20 years shaking her head in disbelief.

Whenever I listen to people talk about those days – I inevitably notice the faraway look of souls lost in the past and when after a pause they return to conversation, they say, “Let’s not talk about it, it was so long ago” and then there is silence.

Silence of crystal night
Pierced by machine gun fire:

Rain of broken glass, tramping of running feet,
Cries of people and later stunned silence.

Those alien sounds
Smashed windows of hopes and dreams –
Pieces of broken glass mirrored the empty sky.

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