MFA: 17 Years Later: Remembering and Condemning the Armenian Pogroms

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia
Contact: Information Desk
Tel: (374-1) 52-35-31
Email: [email protected]

Seventeen Years Later:
Remembering and Condemning the Armenian Pogroms in Azerbaijan


On July 7, 1988, the European Parliament adopted the following resolution:
Considering, that Nagorno Karabagh was historically a part of Armenia, that
currently over 80% of its population are Armenians, that this region was
annexed by Azerbaijan in 1923 and that in February 1988 Armenians suffered
from a massacre in the Azeri city of Sumgait,
– Considering that aggravation of political situation, having caused
mass killings of Armenians in Sumgait and atrocities in Baku, is dangerous
for Armenians living in Azerbaijan,
– Condemns brutality and pressure used against Armenian protesters in


The pogroms of Armenians in Sumgait in February 1988 have the dubious honor
of being the first — the first time that ethnic cleansing was utilized in
what was still Soviet space – even before this scourge of modern humanity
reared its head in the Balkans.

The Nagorno Karabakh problem, which still festers in the South Caucasus,
began 17 years ago as a series of peaceful demonstrations by Armenians who
wished to determine their own lives, their own futures, NOT under the
jurisdiction of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government responded to these
calls with violence and repression. The most violent and obviously political
instance of this response were the massacres which took place on three days
in February 1988 in the industrial town of Sumgait, Azerbaijan, miles away
from the territory of Nagorno Karabakh and the peaceful calls for
self-determination. The violence against Armenians in Sumgait changed the
nature of the Karabakh conflict.

George Soros spoke about this in Moscow Znamya Journal (Issue #6, 1989). He
actually confirmed that the first Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan were
instigated by local bands, managed by the then First Secretary of the
Central Committee of the Communist Party, future President of Azerbaijan,
Heidar Aliev – father of the current President.


Massacres of Armenians in Sumgait (a city located a half an hour drive away
from the Azerbaijani capital, Baku) took place in broad daylight, witnessed
by numerous gapers and passers by. The peak of the atrocities committed by
Azeri perpetrators occurred on 27 – 29 February 1988. The events were preceded
by a wave of anti-Armenian statements and rallies that swept over Azerbaijan
in February 1988.

Izvestia Daily (20 August 1988) quoted Soviet deputy chief prosecutor
Katusev who said that almost the entire area of Sumgait, a city with a
population of 250,000 had become the site of unhindered mass pogroms. The
perpetrators who broke into Armenian homes used lists identifying Armenian
residents. They were also assured impunity. They were armed with iron rods,
stones, axes, knives, bottles and canisters full of benzene.


This was not an isolated incident. The assault of a sovereign government
against its citizens continued.

In May 1988 in Shushi, the local authorities initiated the deportation of
Armenians living in that hilltop city from which Karabakh┬╣s largest city,
Stepanakert, was to be so easily shelled for the next several years.

In the same year, Armenians were killed and wounded in the village of

In November and December 1988, a wave of Armenian pogroms swept Azerbaijan.
The worst took place in Baku, Kirovabad (Ganja), Shemakh, Shamkhor,
Mingechaur and Nakhichevan.

The Soviet press described how, in Kirovabad, perpetrators broke in a
hospice for the elderly, captured and subsequently killed 12 helpless old
Armenian men and women, including several disabled ones.

The 40,000 Armenians of Azerbaijan┬╣s third largest city, Ganja, were also
forcibly removed from their homes.

Throughout 1989, sporadic attacks, beatings, looting and massacres in Baku
reduced that number to 30,000 – mostly the elderly who could not leave Baku.
By early January 1990, Armenian pogroms in Baku intensified and became more
organized. When it was over, there were less than 50,000 Armenians left in
Baku, out of a total population of 215,000.

The Soviet press had daily reports of indescribable horror – dissecting
bodies, ripping open the abdomens of pregnant women, burning people alive –
with a daily tally of murders in full view of the authorities. Russia┬╣s
Soyuz magazine reported that one man was literally torn apart, and his
remains thrown in a garbage container.

The active role of the authorities was evident throughout.


The Azeri leadership, then and now, never expressed remorse over the ethnic
cleansing and massacres of the Armenians of Azerbaijan, or the Armenians of
Karabakh. According to Ilias Izmailov, Azerbaijan┬╣s Prosecutor General
during the Sumgait pogroms, ┬│Perpetrators of the pogroms now carry mandates
and sit in the Parliament,┬▓ (Zerkalo, 21 February 2003).

As a result of the atrocities and the events which followed in the same
spirit, Azerbaijan has lost the moral right to expect that the people of NK
would consider being under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. We expect that the
Azerbaijani leadership will honor the principles of individual and human
rights and will come to terms with the fact that the people of Nagorno
Karabakh will determine their own future, in peace and security with their

Emil Lazarian

ÔÇťI should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.ÔÇŁ - WS