Sumgait February 27-29 1988


February 27-29 1988: Azerbaijani mobs organize premeditated anti- Armenian pogroms in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, an industrial city on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Hundreds are killed. Nearly all of the remaining Armenian inhabitants hastily flee. United Press International, 2/29/88; New York Times, 3/1/88


Karabaghi president Arkady Ghuasian, senior officials of executive and legislative government of Karabagh and other public figures visited the Monument dedicated to the 1988 Sumgait tragic eventsí victims and paid homage to the memory of the victims.

A divine liturgy was also served by the participation of senior clergymen.

© Copyright AZG

Anti-Armenian Violence
Sumgait: The vigorous but mainly peaceful political activity in Karabakh and Yerevan was accompanied by a resumption of killings. On February 27, fanatical Azeri-Turks went on a three day rampage in Sumgait, a new industrial town 20 miles from Baku, murdering members of the town's large Armenian minority and destroying their property. According to the official Soviet account 32 died, but eyewitness reports stfongly suggest the true figure runs into the hundreds. Marina Pogosyan, a young survivor of the Sumgait massacre, testified:
"On the twenty-sixth, a Friday, a friend of mine warned me to stay inside over the weekend. Still, I went to work - I taught in a nursery schood - and walked home at noon. That afternoon, there was another Azerbaijani rally, in downtown Sumgait, and then crowds of people went through the shopping area where Armenians worked, and broke windows and smashed things. I heard cries of 'Death to Armenians! Blood for blood!' It was mostly young people, and the police didn't stop thepn. Late that night, after we had gone to bed, we heard yelling on the street, and through the window I saw thousands of people in a mob marching through the street, most dressed in black, carrying clubs and Turkish flags with the half-moon. They were yelling, 'Get out! Armenians are killing our people and you're sitting here! We must purge our city! The next day, we went to a neighbor's in the building for. her birthday party. We talked about what we had seen, but we thought it was just young hooligans, fhen a neighbor boy came in, looking pale. We asked him what was happening, and he said: 'You don't know? They're killing and burning people out there, breaking into people's apartments.' We called the police, and they said: 'Stay where you are. You're not the only ones. We can't help you.' A Russian neighbor came to us and invited us to wait in her apartment. There were about three families with her - fifteen people. We spent the whole night there. The mob came and knocked on our door, and she went outside and told them that we were not there - that we'd moved a week ago. A few times after that, they passed by and broke into neighbors' apartments. By that time, no Armenians were home. So there were no killings (in her building-ed.), but there was a lot of destruction. They threw the chairs and the dishes out of the window. I had absolutely no hope that we'd survive. I figured they'd kill us all sooner or later. The mob came again, but on Monday soldiers came in tanks and took us to the Party committee building." (Cullen, 1991, pp. 66-7)

Marina Pogosyan and her family were allowed to collect money and a few possessions before being flown to Yerevan. Most of Sumgait's Armenian community survived the attacks. Many, like Miss Pogosyan, were sheltered by brave Russian and Azeri-Turk neighbours. But the fate of those who fell into the hands of the mob was cruel. Lola Avakyan, a 37-year-old Armenian resident of Sumgait was one of the unfortunate. Seized by an Azeri-Turk crowd, she was stripped and forced to dance before having her breasts slashed and body burned with cigarettes. She was raped and then killed. Several AzeriTurks were arrested and convicted for their involvement in the mayhem.

Sumgait postscript: On March 2, 1993, the Office of Azerbaijani Procurator announced that it had recommended that President Eichibey grant an amnesty to those convicted of violent offenses against Armenians during the Sumgait pogrom. The Procurator's Office reported that it expected the President to act according to its recommendation. On the same day, a proposal for the amnesty to be announced on May 28, 1993 - the 74th anniversary of the founding of the first Republic of Az.

The Conflict Erupts: February 1988
On 20 February 1988, the Oblast Soviet of the NKAO weighed up the results of an unofficial referendum on the reattachment of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, held in the form of a petition signed by 80,000 people. In 1979, the entire population of the NKAO was 162,000, with 123,000 Armenians and 37,000 Azeris. On the basis of that referendum, the session of the Oblast Soviet of Nagorno-Karabakh adopted the appeals to the Supreme Soviets of the USSR, Azerbaijan and Armenia, asking them to authorize the secession of Karabakh from Azerbaijan and its attachment to Armenia. Baku rejected the NKAO Oblast Soviet's decision. The line taken by the Centre seemed to be to wait and see, giving the Azerbaijani authorities the opportunity to resolve the crisis as they saw fit.

After the first direct clash between an Azeri crowd and Armenian residents, near Askeran, in which about 50 Armenians were wounded and two Azeri attackers killed, Deputy USSR Procurator-General A. Katusev, speaking on central TV on 27 February, told the audience about the killing of two young Azeris, specifically naming the nationality of those killed. This announcement may have acted as a catalyst. Within hours, a pogrom against Armenian residents began in the city of Sumgait, 25 km from Baku. The pogrom, obviously prepared months in advance and marked by forms of extreme cruelty, lasted for three days, with the Azeri police nowhere to be seen. Phone calls to the police or the ambulance service went unanswered. Leading AzCP functionaries took part in the meetings which preceded mob violence, and a local Party boss even led the crowds. Moreover, in 1988 the KGB machine with its network of informers was still functioning, from which it may be presumed that Baku, if not the KGB in Moscow, had known about the preparations for the pogrom. Soviet (Russian) troops, including those in Sumgait itself, apparently had strict orders not to shoot. It was not until the third day of the killings that Soviet troops finally intervened, arresting some small fry, mostly youngsters. On orders from Moscow, the Sumgait affair was judicially covered up and the press largely silenced.

The failure of Soviet leaders to use force to protect civilians was to have important repercussions in subsequent ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia: by making it appear that violence paid, it unleashed a cycle of violence. It was clear that there would be no punishment for ejecting a national minority under the threat of terror. For the Armenians, Sumgait conjured up memories of the genocide by Young Turks in 1915, ever present in the Armenian psyche. Gorbachev's failure to act, though apparently intended to prevent a wider outbreak of violence in Azerbaijan, was viewed as a betrayal by the Armenians, for it was he who had inspired the hope that democracy would prevail on the national question as well.

Ethnic Conflicts in the Caucasus 1988-1994

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