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Interview with an Eyewitness to the Sumgait Uprising

(excerpts from the article)

On March 9, 1989 a special correspondent for the Across Frontiers magazine visited Sumgait and talked to an Azerbaijani militiaman who had been in the cordoning detail during the Armenian massacres of 1988.

Source: Across Frontiers, winter spring 1989, p 22-23

"The disorder began on Saturday, February 27 toward evening, at 9-10:00 pm. A crowd looted stores. On Sunday, February 28, the atrocities began in the morning, at 11:00 am, A crowd gathered in the center of the city on the square where emblems of the Soviet republics were standing. First they threw stones at the emblem of the Armenian republic. They rocked and turned over cars and set them on fire. The crowd rioted."


"Less than 1,000 people, but it grew by evening. It was mostly minors from 12 to 17 years old."


On Sunday, February 28, the Baladzharsky Regiment came into the city, but they couldn't disperse the crowd either. This is a special regiment: they've got helmets, clubs, bayonets. But nothing worked, since the crowd outnumbered them. At that time there were already one- and-a-half to two thousand people, at least. A great number of the soldiers were injured. They were throwing stones at the soldiers, really big stones, and throwing them from all sides. About 30 or 40 of the military were injured, but there weren't any deaths.


How did the militia act?

"The militia-about 300 men-was from Baku. They ran away from the crowd in five minutes-no one was left on the square. Actually, the Armenian population was left to fate, without protection. Whoever could save himself, saved himself. Neither the militia nor the army could help. The actions of the militia did not coordinate with the actions of the army. The crowd robbed, set things on Eire, and murdered. They shouted "Hurray!" and the crowd surged forward. The militiamen left a colonel, their superior, and stared running to save themselves; Everyone saved himself however he could. They left their officers and absolutely every- one ran away .If the crowd had caught up with them they would have killed them. The crowd didn't spare anyone, they rioted until 1:00 am. They went into apartments broke down doors, annihilated everyone who was there, and robbed them. In the end there was general looting. Several Azerbaijani families hid their Armenian neighbors in their apartments, so several apartments that the crowd set on fire were empty. In some apartment houses the Azerbaijanis armed themselves with anything they could find and wouldn't let the crowd in. And the crowd left. But the crowd rioted wherever it could. Where people weren't able to get out or weren't able to hide-women were raped, brutalized, their breasts were cut off; people were thrown off balconies alive and then their apartments were set on fire. I myself saw a person thrown from a balcony. Towards morning things quieted down, but the killing continued."


"The crowd was gone—there were only individual bands, but there were more murders on Monday than on Sunday. They went into apartments in groups of 20 to 30, killed people, robbed them. But then it stopped. The regular army came and the crowd was afraid-the army had arrived. The army had orders to use any measures, up to the most extreme."


What happened after that?


On Tuesday the army announced an evening curfew: up to 6:00 pm no one was allowed to walk in pairs, and then after 6:00 pm no one was allowed out at all, even militiamen.

Is it true that people were crushed by tanks?

The crowd wasn't crushed by tanks. Simply several people darted out in front of an armoured carrier. They tried to stop, but it was going fast. He tried to brake but he couldn't in time and he ran over four people. The crowd wasn't run over. If the carrier hadn't stopped he would have run over a lot of people."

How many people were maimed?

'Together with the militia and soldiers about 200."

What caused the disorder?

They were incited. In Sumgait there are a great number of young people, not natives by and large, who aren't happy with their living conditions. Their pay is low, there's no place to spend their spare time. The kernel of instigators consisted of about 30 people from Kafan. They weren't satisfied.

With what exactly?

They said that in Kafan (Armenian SSR) they were chased out, someone was raped, someone was killed. In actual fact that was all lies, instigation. There were people in their group that tried to incite people with

How was it clear that they were instigators and not people who had really suffered?

They ran away because of those demonstrations that were held in Armenia. Maybe they were just afraid. That's all. One of them said that they had killed his father and mother, and then they saw him laughing, pleased with himself. A person whose father and mother had been killed two days before wouldn't have been so pleased. They simply deceived the crowd. They were simply people who had gotten scared by the demonstrations and left Armenia. That's it.

They started to incite the people. Yes, they simply came and started to incite people. Who was behind them — I don't know...


Note from the editor of The eyewitness in the article is talking about some Azerbaijanis who claimed they had been forced to flee the Armenian town of Kafan because Armenians there had started killing Azerbaijani population. As it became clear later there had been neither any violent acts against Azerbaijanis in Kafan nor any unrest in that part of Armenia at all. According to media reports one of those who had claimed to suffer from Armenians "was by no means the peaceful resident of Kafan he made himself out to be; instead, he was a convicted recidivist, now a sponger, with no permanent address ... and no family whatsoever" (Source: Sumgait Tragedy-Eyewitness Accounts by Samuel Shahmuratian. Publisher: Zoryan Institute, 1992, p. 3)

Back to the Sumgait massacres page

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