Idahoans should not forget the anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan. As the world was still overjoyed with the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was witnessing a bloodbath in the collapsing years of the former USSR. The image from the 12th floor of my home in Baku, Azerbaijan, has haunted me all my child and adult life — even after having lived in Idaho for two decades.
In 1989, I watched from our balcony as tens of thousands of Azerbaijani men organized and gathered in the capital’s main square, chanting to cleanse the city of Armenians. My terrified mother grabbed me away from the balcony, closing the curtains, turning off the lights. I had never seen my mother and grandmother more petrified. I heard a knock on the door; in the eyehole I saw a man standing, bleeding from his head. It was my uncle, and he was stabbed in his head walking home from the subway. Radios and televisions echoed the message of anti-Armenian sentiments: “They take our jobs. They take our homes. We need to take care of our own people!”
This February marks the 30th anniversary of the earliest ethnic killing of Armenians in Soviet Azerbaijan’s city of Sumgait — a time to reflect on what it means to be a human and a refugee. A time to use my survival, my voice, my second chance at life to honor the children, women, men and elders who did not survive the ethnic killings.
After the city of Sumgait came Kirovabad, then the killings in Baku. The Baku Pogrom was the moment I lost my sense of innocence; I no longer sensed life as a child.
After the January 1990 Baku rally, the angry mob was given lists — addresses of Christian Armenian neighborhoods, schools, homes and places of employment. The local police was disarmed, allowing mob-rule to take over. No one was spared — complete anarchy. Thousands of Armenians were brutally tortured, sodomized, burned alive. Pregnant women and babies, toddler girls, women and even grandmothers were gang-raped as our brothers, fathers, husbands were forced to watch. Babies smashed against sidewalks. My loved ones were stabbed, beaten, tortured, raped, thrown off buildings alive and their bodies mutilated.
Over 300,000 Armenians were purged overnight out of their homes, grabbing what they could carry and fleeing for safety. My parents sent my brother and me away on a bus headed to neighboring Armenia, not knowing if we would ever see each other again. Thankfully, we did.
As I recall Sumgait and my own PTSD as a survivor of the Baku Pogrom, I think of the 1990s conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the region of Artsakh and ask myself three questions: Why did people have to suffer — on both sides — because of the rightful demands of Artsakh, an Armenian region within Azerbaijan, to maintain its independence, Christian faith, Armenian culture? Why is Azerbaijan determined to restart the war, as they did in April 2016 when Azeri soldiers beheaded and mutilated every Armenian they had captured — dead or alive? And why are our Idaho state legislators so naive, who two years ago caved in to oil-rich Azerbaijan’s lies and introduced House Concurrent Resolution 37 — then, thankfully, withdrew — an absurd resolution praising barbaric Azerbaijan’s “history of tolerance?”