Central and Eastern Europe, Diplomacy, Education

Massacre in response to self-determination. The 1988 Sumgait massacre as a manifestation of Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian policy 

Opinion article by Mato Hakhverdian, Chairman of the Federation of Armenian Organisations in the Netherlands

In February 1988, a Panarmanian movement began for joining Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) to Mother Armenia following a decision by the People’s Deputies of Nagorno-KarabakhAutonomous Oblast. Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was annexed to Azerbaijan in 1921, used its right for self-determination according to Soviet law and the opportunity offered by Glasnost. However, in response to the decision of the NKAO People’s Deputies of February 20, 1988, to reunite Artsakh with Armenia, a few days later, on February 27-29, the Azerbaijani leadership organized and carried out massacres of Armenians in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait.

As of 1988, 18,000 Armenians lived in Sumgait. According to official data, 26 Armenians were killed in the massacres, but other available data indicate that the number of victims exceeded it several times. Armenian apartments were looted, property confiscated, thousands of Armenians were forced to emigrate from the city, leaving all their property there.

There are numerous facts about the massacres. Most of them are reported, including criminal cases initiated in the former USSR. Sumgait is located only 25-30 km away from the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku. Despite this, neither the city police nor the capital Baku intervened in the three-day pogroms of Armenians (February 27, 28, and 29, 1988), the destruction and confiscation of their property.

It is to be noted that just a day before the massacres, on February 26, 1988, the leadership of Soviet Azerbaijan visited Sumgait. On the same day, a demonstration was held in Sumgait, during which public calls were made to “kill and drive out the Armenians.”  The slaughterers were accompanied by loudspeakers during the massacres. The escorts were representatives of the Azerbaijani security forces.

All this shows that these pogroms were planned in detail at the state level. The Sumgait massacre was followed by the massacre and deportation of Armenians in Kirovabad (present-day Ganja), Baku, and other parts of Azerbaijan. The target was about 500 thousand Armenians of the Azerbaijani SSR. 

The Sumgait massacres in Azerbaijan were a vivid manifestation of the state policy of racism, ethnic cleansing and incitement to violence against Armenians. It is not accidental that during the war unleashed against Artsakh in September-November 2020, the soldiers of the Azerbaijani army widely used the factor of the Sumgait massacre in their anti-Armenian propaganda.

Thus, during the war in 2020, after capturing Shushi, the Azerbaijani soldiers wrote the word “Sumqayit” on the car belonging to the Armenians, drawing the Nazi swastika on both sides of that word. That was done as a message to the Armenians that the policy of annihilation of Armenians based on identity has not changed.

 Source ՝ Radio Free Europe: Image 5th.

In the same way, soldiers of the Azerbaijani army wrote the word “Sumgayit” on the wall of a school in the village of Jragatsner, captured from Artsakh. The war crimes committed by Azerbaijan during the war, including the killing of elderly civilians, were further evidence of this Azerbaijani policy.

All this once again testifies that Armenians of Artsakh cannot live safely in their homeland, as long as it will be a part of Azerbaijan, under any status. In that case, Armenians will again be threatened by the policy of ethnic cleansing, looting, and anti-Armenian hatred, which is implemented in Azerbaijan at the state level, as the UN International Court of Justice stated in the interim decision of December 7, 2021. Therefore, the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be based on the principle prevalent in international law, Remedial Secession.