The people were infuriated by the territorial claims and aggressive acts of Armenia, backed by the Soviet officials, against Azerbaijan, as well as by the anti-nationalist behavior of the local authorities. Azerbaijanis were being expelled from the land where they had lived for centuries. Since 1988 the national movement for liberty grew. This was a protest against the policy of the USSR and, as a result, for the independence of Azerbaijan. Thousands of people protesting against the policy of held demonstrations all day long in the central square (Now called Azadliq or Freedom Square) and the streets of Baku.
On 18 January 1990 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR issued a decree “On the realization of the extraordinaty situation in the city of Baku since 20 January”, which hadn’t been co-coordinated with the parliament of Azerbaijan and the purpose was to choke the people’s voice, to stop the demonstrations and the movement. Later on the night of 20 January a big contingent of the USSR Armed Forces was sent on the streets of Baku. As a result, the Soviet Army committed a horrible crime against the Azerbaijani people. They used chemical weapons, shot at ambulances and the wounded and mutilated dead bodies. According to official sources, as a result of this act, which was against the principles of international law, democracy and human values, 131 people died, 774 were wounded, 400 imprisoned and 4 went missing. During the tragedy the courageous sons of the Azerbaijani people who stood up for the motherland’s dignity, honour and freedom became martyrs. The day after the tragedy, despite the pressure of the Soviet Army, people on the streets displayed their hatred for those who had enforced the clampdown and for the Communist parties of the USSR and Azerbaijan. On the night of the tragedy, the leader of the Republic, fearing the people’s anger, escaped to Moscow.
The Azerbaijani people buried the martyrs, who perished on 20 January for the independence of the country, in the Mountain Park, the highest spot in Baku. Since then the place has been called Martyrs’ Avenue and people mark 20 January as a National Day of Mourning. The Martyrs’ Avenue is a most sacred place for every Azerbaijani. Every year millions of Azerbaijanis visit Martyrs’ Avenue and lay carnations on the graves.
On 20 January 1990, though the Azerbaijani people suffered military, moral and political aggression, they displayed their ability to maintain the traditions of historical heroism and resist the cruelest attacks for the sake of the freedom and the independence of the motherland, even becoming martyrs. The sons of motherland perished on 20 January 1990 while defending the freedom and the independence of Azerbaijan and by their bravery made a vivid history in the chronicle of heroism of our country. And today the Azerbaijanis are proud of those who are ready to perish for the sake of people’s national identity. On 20 January Martyrs’ Avenue looks like a sea of carnations.