Sumgait 30 years after: Armenia commemorates pogrom victims
A series of pogroms targeting the Armenian population of Sumgait (a city located 30 kilometres away from Baku), took place on 27 February 30 years ago.
The violent attacks on the Armenian population were accompanied by the destruction and looting of their property.
Every year on this day Armenians commemorate the victims of these attacks, calling on the international community to give an impartial assessment to these developments wherein many people were killed and seriously injured.
The Soviet military failed to protect the Armenian population, even though troops arrived at Sumgait on 28 February and the pogroms did not stop until the following day.
A broadly shared opinion in Armenia is that the pogroms were committed in response to the peaceful rallies held by the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh who had demanded that their constitutional right to self-determination be granted.
Thirty years have passed since the events in Sumgait, but the exact number of Armenians killed in that multinational city is still unknown. Those who at that time searched for their relatives in hospitals testify that there were hundreds of Armenians’ bodies in Sumgait’s and Baku’s morgues.
Larisa Alaverdyan, CEO of the Foundation Against Violation of Law believes that the Sumgait pogroms were planned and organized in advance.
“We should finally realize that it’s necessary to respond to these barbarous actions. A century ago, the Armenian genocide began in Ottoman Turkey, and it continued in the Republic of Azerbaijan. The developments of 1915 happened in Sumgait again and followed the same pattern,” Alaverdyan said.
In her words, the violent attacks became possible with the tacit consent and even assistance of the USSR leadership.
“It’s time to reassess what happened in Sumgait. We are dealing with a consistent policy of genocide, and the victims of genocide deserve to be treated with due respect. Genocide victims and survivors should be granted special status,” she said.
Shavarsh Kocharyan, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia said that 30 years ago, in response to the Karabakh population’s peaceful demand for a right to determine their own future, they tried to silence the Armenians’ voice through a series of violent crackdowns across Azerbaijan.
“The first manifestation of this policy was a violent crackdown on the peaceful Armenian population of Sumgait, hundreds of kilometres away from the Stepanakert rallies. This wave of violence, which originated in Sumgait, continued in other cities and villages throughout Azerbaijan.
“The hate speech and anti-Armenian sentiments have become an integral part of the Azerbaijani leadership’s domestic and foreign policy. The Azerbaijani authorities haven’t changed their style of work for some 30 years. Safarov, who hacked an Armenian officer [to death with an axe] a few years ago, has been hailed as a national hero in Azerbaijan,” said Sharvash Kocharyan.
He also stressed that the norms of international law and human rights meant absolutely nothing to Baku.
Artak Zeynalyan, a lawyer and a member of the Armenian National Assembly claims that under international law those people’s right to live was violated and there was obvious discrimination:
“The Azerbaijani Constitution also contains provisions protecting those rights. We appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) seeking to protect the rights of all those people. I’m not going to disclose all the details out of respect for the feelings of the victims’ legal successors. The only thing I can say is that the general debate is over and the ECHR is expected to pass its judgment in the near future.”
Zeynalyan referred to the provisions of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Article I: “Genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law.”
Article II: Under the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group:
а) killing members of the group, and
b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group.
According to the lawyer, all aspects indicate that genocide was committed against the Armenians.