The Sumgait tragedy. How did it start and how was it?


Dear Reader!

This present article, contributed by the famous journalist Lev Askerov, describes what happened 32 years ago in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait and which greatly influenced the fate of the nation which once occupied 1/6 of the globe. Based on factual information, this article attempts to prove that the Azerbaijani people were not embroiled in that massacre.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict arose at the end of the 20th century amidst the political and economic crisis in the USSR which weakened political power in the country and entailed the crisis of the entire political system. This issue was one of the major triggers for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is noteworthy that over the past 100 years Armenian separatists have mostly picked up momentum and intensified their territorial claims to Azerbaijan during political crises. This was the case both at the beginning and at the end of the 20th century. The main goal was to expand the territory of the Armenian Republic at the expense of the territory of Azerbaijan. At the beginning of the century, the separatism of the Armenians led to the collapse of the Russian Empire, and, similarly, at the end of the century, to the collapse of the USSR.

This all followed a long ideological effort by the Armenian Church, which, as can be seen from the materials given in the article, was carried out throughout the Soviet period. Echmiadzin crusaders pointedly fostered future rioters in the Armenian church located in the center of Baku, the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan, forming in their minds the image of the once huge nation called “Great Armenia”, which would dominate Rome and the whole world, demonizing the Azerbaijani people and inciting hatred towards it.

The separatism of Nagorno-Karabakh, where the population mostly consisted of ethnic Armenians, also stemmed from the outreach efforts of Echmiadzin. The separatists flew the banner proclaiming “The Right of Nations to Self-determination.” They claimed that the Azerbaijanis infringed on the rights of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and oppressed them. However, one should remember that the 20th century had already seen a similar episode when Germany used the same arguments to invade and capture the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, inhabited by ethnic Germans, in 1938. But the annexation followed the clashes in the Sudetenland, organized by Hitler's devotees to justify the invasion of the territory of a neighboring state. We all know the outcomes of that aggression. It spurred the bloodiest war of the twentieth century, which claimed 50 million human lives.

Apparently, the Nagorno-Karabakh events followed the Czechoslovak scenario. Clashes were necessary for the process to pick up steam, and so they were organized by the Armenian special services. In spite of their functions and responsibilities, Soviet security, defense and law enforcement agencies were then inactive, suggesting that the provocation was not solely organized by Armenian special services. What proves that it was a pre-planned operation is that everything was filmed to be shown in Europe as the genocide of Armenians in Azerbaijan. The move was well-orchestrated and proved fruitful, justifying Armenia’s subsequent aggression in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAR) and the annexation of 20% of the territory of Azerbaijan.

The principle “The Right of Nations to Self-determination”, exploited by Armenian politicians, including Pashinyan, is absolutely not valid for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. The reason is simple: How many times can one people self-determine? After all, Armenians already determined themselves as a people and now have their own state, the Armenian Republic, where they have the opportunity to develop independently. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh consider it to be self-determination to join that land to Armenia. Thus, the slogan of self-determination in this particular case acts as a smoke screen for aggressive policies. All subsequent actions, namely the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan and the annexation of 20% of the territory of Azerbaijan by Armenia, prove this conclusion is correct.

Another humanitarian disaster happened in the South Caucasus long before the Balkan crisis, in the face of the whole world that turned a blind eye to the tragedy of the Azerbaijani people. More than 1 million Azerbaijanis, not only those from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, but also from the adjacent territories of the Agdam, Lachin, Kalbajar, Gubadly, Zangilan, Jabrayil and the Fizuli regions of Azerbaijan, became refugees in their own country, falling victim to a reckless political scheme.

It should be particularly emphasized that the Sumgait events followed the expulsion of 250 thousand indigenous Azerbaijanis from Armenia. This expulsion was accompanied by unprecedented cruelty and violence. Having successfully pulled off the Sumgait scheme, the masterminds of that unrest in Armenia presented the Azerbaijani people as barbarians, giving the impression that it was impossible for the Armenians to co-exist with them within one state. The successful “Sumgait Operation” carried out by the Armenians omitted the expulsion of Azerbaijanis from the territory of Armenia. After Sumgait, deeply shocked by what had happened and not fully understanding what was actually happening and how this could even be possible in the Soviet Union, the Azerbaijani people continued to plead for a fair approach to any assessments of the situation. Instead, they got continuously insulted by political influencers. They were the lone voice in the wilderness.

This article provides interesting data on the territory of the conceptual “Great Armenia”, which also includes the Russian territories of Armavir, Stavropol, and Krasnodar north up to Rostov. The maps of “Great Armenia” printed today include old Russian territories. This is alarming and should not be ignored. This laissez-faire approach towards the Armenians may lead to the collapse of the Russian Federation in the future. Therefore, one should consider this seriously.

Time has a way of sorting these things out. The truth comes to light as we see historical events from a distance. We leave you here, then, with the Truth presented, and we give you an opportunity to draw your own conclusions.

Doctor of Historical Sciences                                      Vafa Kulieva




The Sumgait tragedy. How did it start and how was it?

Based on the archives of the KGB of the USSR and Azerbaijan

About the author: Lev Askerov is a member of the Union of Journalists of the USSR, a member of the Union of Writers of the USSR and Azerbaijan, a former correspondent of the Izvestia newspaper for Azerbaijan, and correspondent of the Trud newspaper for Azerbaijan and Dagestan. 



Baku says the Lubyanka archives hold evidence of the involvement of Armenian priests in inciting hatred for Azerbaijanis. Photo © RIA Novosti


From a pile of puffy folders with documents that an employee of the USSR KGB archive put on the table, the top one immediately attracted my attention. Some nameless clerk calligraphically wrote on it:

"Azerbaijan. Reports. Recommendations. Proposals (1950–1970).”

I must offer this caveat right away: most of the archival materials that I was then allowed to look through were basically slander and reports to the authorities, which the vigilant Soviet citizens never signed. So even if I had wanted to learn who actually reported these people (though I never did), it would have been impossible to find out the names of these slanderers who exposed their friends, colleagues and even relatives to the retributive wrath of the KGB...

As for the above-mentioned folder, which had a number 1 on it, I came across a very interesting document: a memorandum by Tomaz Georgievich Karichadze, Colonel of KGB Counterintelligence in Azerbaijan SSR, to Colonel-General Vladimir Yefimovich Semichastnyi, Chairman of the KGB of the USSR. I read the document, as they say, in one breath, and managed not only to make some notes, but even to take the notes with me from the yellow building on Lubyanka, in spite of the strictest bans and warnings of the archive employees.

The truth is no one even bothered to go through my pockets. The year was 1990, and an oppressive atmosphere of confusion and apathy reigned in the corridors of the Lubyanka headquarters, with a once-great country slowly crawling into the abyss of nothingness...

But back to the memo by Karichadze: The interest that this document aroused in me was, of course, not accidental. The Sumgait tragedy was to celebrate its second anniversary shortly. The Political Bureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and, naturally, all the newspapers with circulations of millions of copies, called this tragedy that had claimed the lives of dozens of people “an outbreak of ethnic violence”. They told the Soviet people, who took the press at face value, that ruthless Azerbaijanis, seized with hatred for the Armenians, committed a bloody massacre. And then, as this blatant and instilled lie about the Sumgait tragedy was publicly supported by Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the USSR, the "truth" about the Sumgait Massacre turned into the official version of what happened 32 years ago. It is this tale which is now taught in schools as real history, retold by "witnesses" and presented in Wikipedia.

It would be my great wish that Mikhail Gorbachev, who is reported by his students to still be in his right mind, to carefully read the memorandum of Colonel Karichadze, written by him in September of 1963. Additionally, my wish extends to tens of millions of former USSR citizens, that they, too, should read this document and consider what he says.

Here it is (the writing style is completely preserved):

“Comrade General!

I consider it my duty to bring to you what my leadership, despite my repeated memos, chooses not to pay due attention to. Meanwhile, the subject is directly related to our national security. It is as follows.

I am deeply convinced that the Armenian population of the Republic is subject to subtle and well-organized conspiracy subversive activity conducted by the clergy of the Gregorian (Armenian Apostolic) churches of Baku and Stepanakert, aiming to incite hatred towards the Azerbaijani people.

Under the guise of the religious tenets of Christianity, they train agitators and fighters of the extremely aggressive Dashnak movement. According to an agent we have currently planted in a new group of students, lectures are delivered by Echmiadzin emissaries. The content of these lectures and practical classes does not correspond to the themes of the official curriculum registered in the Department of Religious Affairs of the Council of Ministers of Azerbaijan. Recording them is strictly prohibited. One of the listeners, a home appliance mechanic Gena Manukyan, who had a poor memory, was found to have been making notes and writing down details of methods for effectively influencing those with whom he would later work. Two days later, an unknown man stabbed him in the back with a sharpened chisel at the Armenikend market in broad daylight.

The criminal case brought by the Narimanov District Department of Internal Affairs investigating the murder has remained unsolved. It is noteworthy that later on the day of the murder, while delivering a lecture at the Baku Armenian Church, the Echmiadzin lecturer announced the death of the “zealous patriot”, accusing the Azerbaijanis of his murder, who (I literally quote the emissary’s call) “are to be killed in the same way, on the quiet, here, there, and everywhere.”

Our agent has good reason to believe that the educational body embraces a strictly classified combat group consisting of notorious criminal nationalists. Each group member is well paid. In one of his reports, the agent recalled a fragment of one of these lectures delivered by Father Gaspard, who introduced himself as the priest of the Kirovakan parish. (A priest with that name does exist, but the photograph presented to our agent had no resemblance to that lector.)

I quote the above-mentioned fragment:

“...There are few of us on earth. We live separately. Enemies have divided us. Admittedly, they succeeded in this. But did they manage to break our belligerent spirit? Did they manage to extinguish the flames of our unique mind? Could they ruin the holy goal which our ancestors had left in our hearts? No! They will never succeed in doing this while at least one Armenian is alive who loves his people; who knows his rich history, drowned in Armenian blood, and who honors his glorious ancestors. We are proud of the heroes of the past. It is not their fault that they failed to save the Great Armenia they had created. They perished in bloody battles with superior enemy forces: uncivilized, wild barbarians, who are not even worth as much as the worst of our people.

Rome and the whole world would stand in awe of us. We must not spare ourselves, let alone our enemies, to do our best to make the new Rome, now called Moscow, and the New World tremble before us. It is what unites us wherever we live. Here, in the Soviet Union, and in France, and in America, the success of one Armenian is the success of the whole people, a tangible contribution to our upcoming victory.

At a recent sermon, His Holiness the Catholicos of All Armenians said:

“I do not know a brighter nation, a greater people. What is the earthly distance between us?... Nothing! The most significant and insurmountable distance is not measured in kilometers, but the lack of our souls’ interactions. We, the only nation given such a gift by the Almighty himself, possess such an ability. Our souls clearly feel each other. They recognize one another... It would be a great sin not to use this gift of the Lord and not to return universal glory to our long-suffering people. His support is the key to our victories..."

And His Holiness also drew attention to the fact the money coming from the den of our fierce enemy, from Azerbaijan, is insufficient. The Armenians living in Azerbaijan should be reminded that such well-known communists as Kamo and Shaumyan did not skimp on generous donations in the name of the future of the nation. The families of the outstanding statesman Anastas Mikoyan, the world-famous marshals Baghramyan and Babajanyan, and eminent figures of science and culture also make regular donations...

Echmiadzin considers reluctance to contribute to the national treasury as treason. And sooner or later one has to pay for his betrayal... You will be holding such people accountable. His Holiness pins great hopes on you, who, upon completing this course, will take necessary and, in some cases, tough steps to punish those who have forgotten their origins. They need to refresh their memory even if you do it with brass knuckles, a knife or a bullet. His Holiness entrusts this charitable deed with you. I give you his motto: “The end justifies the means!”

Comrade General!

I also think that it was a risky move to make hundreds of thousands of Armenian families repatriated from abroad in the 1950s settle in the territory of Armenia where Azerbaijanis had historically lived. The latter were often forcibly sent to Azerbaijan. In my opinion, not only is this contrary to Lenin’s national policy, but it is also fraught with unpredictable consequences ... Obviously, our analysts didn’t consider this problem in the light of the order by which the Armenians were resettled. I made a map of their locations and got a curious picture, I must say. Here it is: in the Russian Federation it is the Rostov Region, Krasnodar and Stavropol Territories; in Georgia Tbilisi, Akhaltsikhe, Colchis, that is, Abkhazia; in Azerbaijan: Nagorno-Karabakh, the Kazakh-Kirovabad zone, young Mingachevir, and Sumgait, which is under construction. Thus, having outlined the location of the Armenian repatriates, we have a relief outline of the Dashnak map of the mythical “Great Armenia” from sea to sea, reaching all the way to Rostov.”

The contents of this report shocked me so much that when I returned to Baku, I immediately met with Nuri Gasanovich Kuliyev, former deputy chairman of the KGB of Azerbaijan.

“Karichadze?”, Kuliev asked me. “Of course I remember! What a legendary person! Fortunately, the purges of law enforcement bodies conducted under Khrushchev did not affect us, the chekists (KGB officers) of Beria and Bagirov’s times. When there were repressions in Azerbaijan, Karichadze and I worked abroad. I was in Iran, and Tomaz Georgievich (Karichadze) in Spain. By the way, I think it was he who recruited Kim Philby, one of the leaders of the MI-6 (British intelligence) there.

“As for Karichadze’s report, it put an end to his career: he was pensioned off shortly to die unexpectedly. We chekists, tend to be suspicious, and we supposed that Tomaz’s death was not accidental. And we had good reasons to think so as the report essentially affected the interests of very important people in Moscow...”

It is clear that I can neither confirm nor deny the rumors about the causes of the death of Colonel Karichadze that were circulating among the KGB. But there is one alarming thing that is known about this: Vladimir Semichastny, chairman of the KGB of the USSR, sent Karichadze’s report to his superior, Gen. Semyon Tsvigun, with a harsh note: “Comrade Tsvigun, solve this and give your opinion! The Colonel has gone too far! – Semichastny”. Meanwhile, the Politburo was considering appointing Anastas Mikoyan, deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.

Thus, the official report of a senior Soviet counterintelligence officer, actually accusing Mikoyan of supporting the Armenian nationalist underground, could put a spike in his career wheel. Of course, neither he nor his people in the Politburo and KGB could allow that.

What Colonel Tomaz Karichadze warned the Kremlin bigwigs of happened a quarter of a century later, on February 27, 1988.

Sumgait burned…

Folder Number 5 had another interesting document. It was an open letter to the Politburo, made out personally to General Secretary Gorbachev, which sharply criticized the short-sighted policy of the Party and revealed the truth about the Sumgait Massacre and “the Black January” (on January 20, 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the Soviet army to enter Baku, shooting and crushing several hundred citizens including Azerbaijanis, Russians, Jews, Tatars, and Lezghins, with the caterpillar treads of tanks.

26 remarkable people left their signatures on this document. The names of the Hero of the Soviet Union, academician Ziya Musa oglu Bunyadov, academician Azad Mirzadzhanzade, professor of the Higher Party School, the well-known political scientist Adolf Milman and assistant to the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan Vasily Kesar were underlined in pencil. Apparently, this was done by Georgy Shakhnazarov, assistant and closest associate of Mikhail Gorbachev, since there was a note “To Vladimir Kryuchkov”, made in the corner of the first page in the same handwriting and pencil.

The chairman of the KGB of the USSR (again the KGB!!) understood the meaning of the message of Gorbachev’s ally, and several weeks later Kesar and Milman were suddenly allowed to emigrate to the United States; then the rumor surfaced that academician Mirzadzhanzade was a homosexual; Ziya Bunyadov was warned not to play against the Kremlin ... In a word, everything was done to disavow the signatories, while the letter itself, written in the form of a pamphlet, was to be hidden in the KGB archive with the note "Keep forever!"

For obvious reasons, I will not cite the entire 33-page document. I will confine myself to the arguments it sets forth, which, in my opinion, explain the political narrative which eventually led to the Sumgait tragedy:

“... Comrade Gorbachev!

Those of the 7 million Azerbaijanis who recently made up almost half the population of Armenia are writing to address you and the party headed by you.

With your connivance and lack of will, we have been forced out of Armenia, abandoning our homes, vineyards and graves...

If you only knew, Comrade Gorbachev, how eager our Armenian neighbors, whose language we spoke and whose rights as the owners of their land we respected, were to evict us; how zealous they were to destroy the graves in ancient Azerbaijani cemeteries and how delighted they were to utter your name, Mikhail Sergeyevich (Gorbachev)!

If only you could see, Comrade Gorbachev, our beaten mothers, our raped sisters, our bleeding brothers and emaciated children; whom the Armenian neighbors, stoning, spitting on and hooting, shooed like sheep, to the east, to Azerbaijan.

Two hundred thousand people are writing to you. We were squeezed out of Armenia back in the 1950s, and now we are native Sumgait citizens, whom the Party and government threw into the waterless desert by the Caspian Sea to build Komsomolsk, a wonderful new city of chemists and metallurgists from the promised bright communist future.

We are those of the two hundred thousand Sumgait citizens whose slums, clearly reflecting the care of the Communist party, have never been shown on either Central or regional television. The multinational Soviet people have no idea of Sumgait’s yellow air saturated with gas and polluting emissions; the stunted vegetation that doesn’t give any shade, the polluted Caspian Sea, and our infertile women and the only children’s cemetery in the world where we bury boys and girls under the age of sixteen, and our awful maternity hospital, where instead of newborns, tiny freaks are born as our gene pool is being poisoned...

God sees, Mr. Gorbachev, we have endured for a long time. With pleas we fell at your doorstep, seeking protection, hoping for your wisdom and understanding. But you were silent. Or you tried to cut corners with your favorite phrase "Nagorno-Karabakh issues", which gradually turned the escalating ethnic discord into a bloody war.

And on that day, when a group of strangers, obviously not locals, took to the streets of Sumgait and began to roar in our language: “Beat the Armenians! Beat them like they beat us!”, our faith in you, Mr. Gorbachev, completely disappeared. And the exclamations of the provocateurs, the stabbing rampage and blood on the streets of our city sparked the powder of our national pride and human dignity in each of us...”

And now I set forth the facts directly related to the Sumgait massacre.

Shortly after these sad events (I was then working as a correspondent for Soyuz Weekly, an appendix to the Izvestia newspaper) Rafail Shik, one of the oldest journalists in Azerbaijan, the Editor-in-Chief of the city newspaper Sumgait and member of the Communist Party, contacted me and asked to publish in Soyuz his material revealing the true and specific events of the Sumgait tragedy. As it turned out, the Party leadership of the city did not allow Mr. Shik to publish the article in his own newspaper.

However, my Muscovite authorities also refused to publish Shik's material. They said that the Kremlin and Mikhail Gorbachev had a different perspective of what happened in Sumgait, and therefore strongly recommended me to return the text to the author and stay away from this topic.

The refusal of Moscow to publish Shik's material did not so much upset me as it made me angry. At that time, much was written about the events in Sumgait and, as a rule, in the same vein: Azerbaijani nationalists took revenge on the Armenians living in the city and massacred them.

Shik gave facts that radically changed the picture of the tragedy that had been adopted in Soviet society, but no one dared to publish it. The only thing I could do for Rafail Shik then was to record his story of an eyewitness of the Sumgait events.

Here it is.


The events in Sumgait exacerbated the systemic
crisis of the Soviet Union. Photo © RIA Novosti

“... As the editor of the city Party newspaper, I knew that late at night, almost at dawn, a passenger train with refugees from Armenia was to arrive at the Sabunchi station in Baku. 52 corpses of Azerbaijanis killed in Armenia were being kept in the refrigerator car. I also knew that the relatives of six of the victims lived in Sumgait. It was Jahangir Muslimzadeh, Secretary of the Sumgait City C​ommittee of the Party, who secretly revealed it to us at an urgent city Party meeting.


[He told me,] “Comrade Shik, the First Secretary instructed sternly that you are not supposed to write about this. Just give some usual funeral announcements from families, the condolences of friends and relatives. Everything should be as usual. This applies to all those present...”

Muslimzadeh paused, and then asked Khanlar Khalilov, head of the city police department, to rise from his seat.

[He continued:] “You, Colonel, will not have to make much effort to ensure public order. The military of the Baku Air Defense District will do this. Such is the order from the Central Committee... Just before the start of our Party meeting, the district commander General Zaitsev called to tell me not to interfere with the military patrols in Sumgait...”

Having returned to the editorial office, I charged the correspondent to urgently leave for Baku, meet the train from Yerevan, take some pictures and, if possible, talk with the refugees.

Somewhere after midnight, he called me when I was home and said that he could not complete the task as the Sabunchi Station was tightly cordoned off by soldiers and nobody was allowed to enter the platform.

In the morning, at breakfast, I heard a strange noise coming from the entrance. When I opened the door, I saw an envelope lying on the floor. It had several photographs and a folded leaflet with the text typed in Russian and Azerbaijani: “Be a patriot, pay tribute to those innocent people who were executed by Armenians!” And only then I carefully examined the pictures. They were creepy, I must say, and were clearly made by a professional. One of them depicted a man with his eyes gouged out, with a cross burned on his body from throat to groin with a burner. Another photo showed a young woman. One breast was cut off; the second was hanging as if on a thread. A bottleneck could be seen in her vagina. The next photo showed an old man's face, cut crosswise with a knife. Then there was a photo of a 17-year-old boy with his genitals and hands cut off. As I was told, he had had an affair with an Armenian girl. Other photographs depicted a 40-year-old man from the village of Sovetashen near Yerevan, flattened by an asphalt paver, an old woman from Leninakan with her mouth torn, and a decapitated boy from Kirovakan.

As a professional, I could not help but notice the background and particular details of the photographs. Apparently, they were not made in a car of the Yerevan train or at the station in Baku, but at the place where those terrible acts of vandalism had been committed. I remember it made me sick then. And then I saw two nurses and a doctor coming downstairs with my neighbor Valida Asadova on a stretcher. 

I asked, “What happened?”

“A heart attack, by all appearances”, the doctor answered, letting the nurses go forward. “Some bastard put these pictures at the doorsteps, and it was too much for her... This is the third call, and all of these because of these envelopes. Those scum dropped them all over the city!”

All of this was extremely alarming to learn. I immediately called the First Secretary and said that these terrible pictures and the leaflet calling for patriots that obviously had not been printed by the only printing house in Sumgait looked like a dangerous provocation.

“You are not the only one to report this to me”, Mr. Muslimzadeh answered. “By the way, the Chairman of the Executive Committee does share your view that this is someone’s malicious provocation. But Colonel Yarmolenko, who represents the air defense troops and who is listening to our conversation now, says that he is in control of everything. This is precisely what he has reported to the Party Central Committee.”

Yarmolenko turned out to be blatantly lying! No one in the city was controlling anything. I did not see any patrols, which, according to instructions from the management, were not to be interfered with the police. At least I saw none of them in those places where one could hear desperate cries for help amidst the wild roar of the crowd. And then Colonel Yarmolenko mysteriously disappeared. And army helicopters flying at low altitude seemed only to fuel the unrest. When the crowd saw them, it flared up and shouted. Later it turned out that the helicopters were sent to film the unrest. It was also filmed directly from within the crowd.

It all started with a cemetery, where I went along with a funeral procession that passed by the editorial office. What a sight it was! Enraged, bellicose people kept joining the crowd. Those envelopes with the call to rise and the photographs worked well. Someone orchestrated it from behind the scenes and successfully brought the situation to a critical point.

Four mullahs were standing at four freshly dug graves, staring at their green books, plaintively reading the prayers for the dead. I stood five meters from one of them. And then a man rushed from the back rows to the mullahs and the bodies, pushing people away. He yelled at the top of his voice:

- Faithful Muslim brothers! The Armenian bastards are tearing us up, burning us, robbing us, driving us out of our houses ... And we are silent!

“You're right, Ibrahim, you are right!” Someone else supported him, rushing to the graves from the opposite side. “Are we not men?! Can't we stand up for ourselves?!

“The Armenians are driving us out of our homes, they are snakes in our bosom”, a relative of one of the deceased standing next to me muttered through clenched teeth.

And then, clenching his fists over his head, he turned to the crowd and shouted to the one who was called Ibrahim:

“And they are chasing us and killing us! And we are like sheep!”

But the man who was said to have the Azerbaijani name of Ibrahim turned out to have a completely different name. I actually knew this ‘first-hand’ as they say. Two weeks before the unrest, that man had often visited our editorial office. He asked for a certificate of a non-staff employee of the newspaper. When meeting me, he presented me with a passport in the name of Eduard Grigoryan.

“Call me Edik”, he immediately suggested going to first name terms.

At first, I turned him away as this person had never been published by our newspaper. But in the evening an acquaintance of mine, Akper Balayev, Armenian and chairman of the Chemist sports club, asked me to help Edik Grigoryan.

“My friend”, said Akper, “I know Edik well. We come from Nagorno-Karabakh. We are even distant relatives. He is a smart guy. We used to study at the Higher Courses, and he was known as a talented organizer and creative person. Take a closer look at him!”

So our second meeting took place, and I told Grigoryan that I would give him a certificate of a non-regular employee only after he brought the article he had written and we accepted it. That was the deal.

So, what a surprising meeting it was!

He turned out to be Ibrahim, too. And now he was stigmatizing his Armenian compatriots, using the most obscene words possible.

Meanwhile, one could hear cries for help from the crowd, near old tombstones with lines from the Koran carved on them. These were Armenians, neighbors and friends of those who were burying their mutilated relatives.

Interrupting the prayer and trying to thunder down the growing howl, the mullah shouted:

“Stop it! This is a terrible sin! Allah sees everything!”

“Your Allah is blind!” Grigoryan shouted, throwing the notorious photographs at the mullah. “Look what they did to them! They sent us a train of mutilated people. Hundreds of corpses of faithful Muslims ... The Armenians killed them in front of your Allah!”

Looking at him aggressively, Grigoryan moved toward the mullah. The mullah stumbled and fell into an empty grave.

“You are godless!” shouted the mullah, standing in the grave and shaking his hands. “Neither you nor any mortal has the right to judge! It is Allah who does it! He will punish the guilty! He will brutally punish them!”

But no one wanted to listen to him. The second mullah, who was younger and more cowardly, shamefully fled, weaving between tombstones.

“You fools!” I could not keep silent any more. “What are you doing?! Come to your senses! Be human!”

I bent over the grave and extended a hand to the mullah to help him out.

“Who did you call fools, you Armenian scum?!” someone yelled behind me.

I turned around and saw several people rushing towards me. A moment later I would have joined the mullah in the grave. But at the last second, a figure in a black cloak stood between me and them, and in Azerbaijani, he commanded, “Leave him alone! Go back to the city!”

And then one of them, jumping on someone’s tombstone, yelled, “Faithful Muslims, to the city! Let’s kick the Armenians out!”

Death to the Armenians!” called out a few dozen voices, and a crowd of enraged people rushed into the city...

“And you, my friend, stay away from sin and mind your own business”, said the man in the black cloak as he turned to me.

It was my old acquaintance, Akper Balayev.

Yes, the overwhelming majority of the crowd was Azerbaijani. There were also Russians, Ukrainians, and Jews. They were all Sumgait citizens, mostly young people. But it was the Armenians who led them. I saw this with my own eyes. And the lies that had been told by Soviet party newspapers about that were eye-popping. They were blatant and bare-faced. They claimed that they did not expel any Azerbaijanis from Armenia in the 1950s and 1980s, nor did they kill them, but rather, they said they organized a ‘going-away party’ for them and rolled out the red carpet.

The murders and atrocities conducted by the Armenians against the Azerbaijanis, the trains with mutilated bodies, these were never mentioned in the media. This indicated silent support for everything that was going on there, for which the Armenians in the Kremlin must have been singing “Alleluia!”

From the cemetery I rushed to the city Party committee. Perhaps all the most active Party members had already invaded the office of the First Secretary. And at the very moment when I also entered, it was strangely quiet in the office. Everyone, whether sitting or standing, was looking at Jahangir Muslimzadeh as he was talking on the government phone.

“I ordered the chief of police”, I heard him say in his calm and firm voice, “to restore order by all available forces. That is, to arrest everyone who was somehow related to this bloody rampage, to reveal the names of the instigators. That is what he is doing now. But the personnel of the city police are few. What?! ‘Who gave me the authority to issue such orders?!’”, the first secretary asked, turning pale. “It is not ‘who’ gave me, but ‘what’ gave me this authority. This out of control situation necessitated it! And as for the military men you are referring to, no one saw them in the places where the Armenians were killed!”

Jahangir Muslimzadeh was removed from the post of First Secretary of the Sumgait City Party Committee at the request of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan. Later, he told me about a situation that almost ended in tragedy for him and the communists accompanying him.

Jahangir told this story: “When we addressed the crowd that gathered at the city Party committee to somehow calm them down, we were immediately encircled, and then there was dead silence. At such a point the next action of such a mob hangs on the slightest impulse. At that moment, a man in a cloak yelled: ‘Beat them! It is their fault!’ and the circle around us began to tighten. But then, quite unexpectedly, a military patrol appeared and saved us from the rioters.”

“That night I wrote an article entitled ‘Before the Sumgait Massacre, Sumgait was All of Armenia’ and in the morning I sent the material to be published. I was later told that the workers at the printing house read the article aloud in the workshop and exclaimed, ‘This is the truth!’”

“The article raised questions that worried all Sumgait citizens and all of Azerbaijan. Why was there not a single criminal investigation into the brutal extermination of Azerbaijanis launched in any Armenian city, but when it came to Sumgait, Moscow sent an entire investigation team? Why did not a single Armenian Party leader or other public figure go to their compatriots to stop the violence against Azerbaijanis? Who made the photographs of the mutilated bodies of Azerbaijanis and distributed them among the Sumgait citizens? Who exactly urged the population of Sumgait to beat the local Armenian population?

“The answer to the last question was found quite quickly. The unrest was instigated by ethnic Armenians, only three of them coming from Sumgait. They used money and fake promises to recruit Azerbaijani criminals and thugs who actually carried out the massacre. The questions ‘why?’, and, most importantly, ‘who orchestrated this?’, were then buried…


A citizen of Sumgait recognized Eduard Grigoryan 
as one of the active participants in the
unrest. Photo from 


“My article was based on real facts, not far-fetched at all, and I know it could become a bomb. But I had no idea that the printing linotype operator Zaven Tumasov would throw me a curve. On those two terrible days of unrest, this man kept whispering to me that his compatriots led the Azerbaijani rioters to the houses of those Armenians who were greedy and did not donate to the Greater Armenia Fund.

“Zaven then phoned one of the members of the Moscow investigative team and said that a ‘dirty’ article written by Rafail Shik was to be published the next day in the city newspaper. Then, by personal order of General Galkin, who headed the Moscow investigators, that newspaper was removed directly from the rotator. By that evening I was relieved of my position. Now I have been looking for a job for six months. It looks like I will have to leave for Israel.”

By the way, my boss at that time not only refused to print the Shik article, but he also reprimanded me for it, strictly directing me not to hobnob with those who condemned the policies of the Party and government. However, unpublished copies of Shik's article continued to circulate among the citizens of Baku and Sumgait.

In 1989, The Elm, the newspaper of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, published an article by academician Ziya Bunyadov, entitled "Why Sumgait?", which blamed the Sumgait tragedy on the ambitions of the Armenian lobby near Gorbachev. At about the same time, Viktor Ambartsumian, President of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia and a twice-awarded Hero of Socialist Labor, received a telegram from Baku:

“We are appealing to your conscience! This is the third time in fewer than 100 years that Armenians have sparked violent clashes between fraternal peoples. Turn to your intelligentsia, stop the atrocities of your fellow citizens!”

The telegram was signed by over 200 employees of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan. But the country, which published the Pravda newspaper with a circulation of fifty million, had no idea that this ever happened.

Indeed, time is the best judge of human deeds. Its verdicts are different from ours; they are final and not subject to appeal. What is not true is that time heals. It can only anesthetize with forgetfulness. It has no healing power. Only people themselves can be healers. It is their mission to rid themselves of pain and eradicate the evil that they do. But instead, they opt for forgetfulness. And the evil that brings grief manifests itself fatally again and again. We are bad healers.

A few books lying on my desktop prove this. One of them, written by the well-known Azerbaijani lawyer Aslan Ismailov and published in 2010, is called "Sumgait: An Armenian Agitator and the Beginning of the Collapse of the USSR." The other is called “Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union.” This was written by Jack Matlock, US Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the USSR from 1987-1991.

Jack Matlock, who observed the agony of the socialist camp directly from Moscow, writes in his book, translated into Russian, that the famous Perestroika was masterminded by Washington.

The conclusion of the American diplomat is confirmed by the book “No Fiction: Notes of the Chief of Illegal Intelligence”, written by Major General Yuri Drozdov, First Deputy Head of the First Main Directorate of the KGB, which cites the following:

“One day, we had a dinner with former American intelligence officers in a basement restaurant on Ostozhenka on one of their visits to Moscow. They impulsively said: “You are good guys! We know that you had successes that you can be proud of... But time will pass, and if this is declassified, you will gasp in shock when you learn what agents the CIA and the US State Department had among your very top leadership."

Each of these authors sheds light on the Sumgait tragedy, naturally, from their own perspective and using their own sources of information. And people should know this truth, although it comes after a colossal delay.

I met the author of the book "Sumgayit [sic]: …The Beginning of the Collapse of the USSR" several times. I knew that after graduating from the Law School of Kuban University, Aslan Ismailov worked in the judicial and prosecutorial bodies of the Stavropol Territory for about five years. And it was from there that his high-ranking Azerbaijani colleagues persuaded him to move to his homeland after a series of high-profile and successfully completed cases. So, one of the offices of the Republican Prosecutor’s facility shortly had a sign “Department Prosecutor A. Ismailov.” He was in charge of monitoring the legality of criminal trials in the republic.

And soon, the republic’s prosecutor appointed Aslan Ismailov state prosecutor in the trial that was known as the Grigoryan case. It was the only case concerning Sumgait. In addition to the main accused, there were also six of his Azerbaijani accomplices.

The prosecutor explained this decision by noting the fact that unlike his predecessor, Ismailov had experience as a judge, which he gained when working in the Stavropol Territory.

Aslan had almost no time to study the materials. He received several thick folders with documents on the case the day before the trial.

“I spent all night reading every line”, Ismailov recalled. “Imagine, I did not sleep at all! But the power of youth, three cups of strong coffee, and, most importantly, the desire to give a good account of myself all helped me. When I read the transcript of the first hearing, which I had not attended, I immediately found a couple of important facts that the court somehow ignored. It turned out that the president of the court was clearly overloaded with work and did not have time to study the materials in the case. Moreover, the folder lacked a number of important pieces of evidence, explanations and testimonies. For some reason, they ‘forgot’ to include them in the folder. Consequently, I demanded that the hearing be postponed for two days, which I needed badly. The Grigoryan case seemed to me not at all as unambiguous as the press of our once united country described. The vast majority of articles devoted to the trial looked more like sweeping government-sponsored attacks by amateurs, rather than an objective analysis of journalists who had a good eye for legal details.”

There were also competent politicians who perfectly understood what was behind that story. But their opinion was strictly controlled by their bosses, while their public announcements were quickly disavowed. For example, after the Zavtra newspaper published a series of articles by its owner Alexander Prokhanov blaming Gorbachev for the collapse of the USSR, the newspaper was immediately closed. In order not to lose his only pulpit, Prokhanov registered the same media outlet under the name "Zavtra." It was this newspaper that repeatedly stated that Gorbachev was a historical misfit.

Prokhanov was not the only representative of the Russian public to criticize national politics and the catastrophic mistakes of the Gorbachev Perestroika team. Sergey Kurginyan, a remarkable member of the Russian political establishment, professor of political science, and an ethnic Armenian, recently said: “I am convinced that it was not Azerbaijanis who killed Armenians in the Sumgait massacre. It was outsiders hired by foreign private structures. We know the names of these people and to which structures they belonged.”

Aslan Ismailov had several thick folders in front of him. Each page of evidence, each eyewitness testimony and all the records of face-to-face confrontations helped not only to reconstruct an objective picture of what happened, but also to better understand the situation around the trial itself.

In the meantime, let us move to the trial, the unemotional voice of the presiding judge, defendants fidgeting behind bars. Before answering the questions of the judge or the prosecutor, they look questioningly at Grigoryan. If the main defendant briefly dropped his eyelids, they immediately refused to speak or corrected their words. When Grigoryan liked his accomplice’s answer, he leaned back against the dock and crossed his legs.

One did not have to be a genius to understand who dominated the gang and who were his bootlickers, who would not say anything against their boss.

However, during the hearings it turned out that Grigoryan was not only the main accused, but he also enjoyed the support of a secret patron, thanks to whom he knew exactly what his accomplices said during interrogations and he could also freely phone his wife and children. Whether Grigoryan received any signals or information during these “indulgence sessions” is impossible to ascertain.

So what kind of person is Eduard Grigoryan? Why did he so zealously incite Sumgait citizens? Why did he kill his compatriots with such fanaticism? The answer can be found in the materials of the investigative team, which consisted of representatives of law enforcement agencies seconded to Sumgait from all over the Soviet Union. By the way, this group of specialists also included ethnic Armenians.

So, we read: “Eduard R. Grigoryan. Place of birth: Sumgait, The Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan; 1969. Non-partisan; Armenian, works at a pipe mill, married, two children. Has three criminal records under the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan. Has served a prison term of a total of 6 years, 2 months and 13 days.

“... Led by Grigoryan, the defendants broke into Grigory Mezhlumyan’s apartment and beat him and his wife Roza Ashotovna with pieces of metal pipes and raped their daughters Lyudmila and Karina.

“...Grigoryan brought Nadzhafov, Mammadov, Isaev and others to another house. They broke doors with axes and destroyed all the property of Grant Avanesyan, who was not in the apartment.

“... Continuing the criminal actions, Grigoryan and his accomplices burst into the apartment of M. Petrosyan to beat him and his Azerbaijani wife Kh. Shahbaly. They received fatal injuries, while everything in the house was broken and set on fire.

“...February 28, Grigoryan and his accomplices harassed Emma Grigoryan (his same surname). They tore off her clothes, brutally raped her, and then they brought her naked to the street and, burning her with cigarettes, made her dance. She tried to escape, but Grigoryan caught her and hit her spine with a pipe, and then pierced her intestines by pushing fittings through her vagina.

“...On the same day, a gang led by Grigoryan broke into the apartment of Manvel Petrosyan. Grigoryan hit him on the head with an ax. Then he threw Mr. Petrosyan’s wife Angela on the floor and was frantically stomping on her."

This is not the full list of atrocities cited in the indictment, which V. Galkin, Senior Counselor of Justice of the USSR Prosecutor General’s Office, submitted to the Supreme Court of the Azerbaijan SSR for consideration.

“Yes, the criminal biography of Grigoryan”, recalls Aslan Ismailov, “along with his natural tendency to sadism and martial arts skills he had received in the karate section of the Sumgait Chemist Club led by Akper Balayan (according to his passport, Balayev), allowed this bastard to keep everybody around him under his control, and in terror. I must note that Eduard Grigoryan was much smarter than the rest of the accused. I had the feeling that this person had undergone special training which included not only the karate skills gained in the Chemist club. The investigation began to look into this and even found a course that was held at an Armenian church in Baku, under the auspices of Echmiadzin and the Armenian Special Services. However, at this stage, Colonel Galkin, Senior Counselor of Justice of the USSR General Prosecutor’s Office, ordered the investigation to be stopped immediately, because, according to him, it “distracted the prosecution from the crime itself.”

The interrogation protocols revealed that Grigoryan immediately shut himself up when asked about the courses at the Armenian church in Baku. But when asked why he did that, he suddenly said, “For me, boss, all this turmoil is a gift of God! For me, it was just a stroke of luck!”

Such an answer did not look like the chest-thumping of an ordinary criminal.

What was revealing is Angela Petrosyan’s testimony. Poking a finger at her tormentor and the murderer of her husband, she called Grigoryan a beast and said:

“When they broke into our house, I told him: ‘You are no Armenian, since you beat and kill your compatriots!’ And he answered me: ‘If you were a real Armenian, then you would not be on this list!’

And then Grigoryan betrayed himself, jumping up from his place and screaming, “What list?! I didn’t tell you about any list!”

It is clear that such a gaffe could not but interest me. And soon I found out that there really was a list by which the rioters found their victims. It was implicitly confirmed by some testimonies of the accused. Thus, Grigoryan’s closest friend, N. Nadzhafov, together with whom he served time in prison, claimed that they had no plan of where to go.

“It was just that a man in a black cloak approached Eduard. He was filming everything”, said Nadzhafov. “He said something in Armenian, and we then followed Eduard...”

I was determined to find out by any means possible whether the list actually existed. So, I resorted to a trick. I called the investigator of the Moscow team, an ethnic Armenian named Mr. Sarkisov and I asked him, “Where is the list with the addresses of the victims which was taken from the detainees? I cannot find it in the documentation on this case.”

Sarkisov’s answer just blew my mind:

“Ask me something easier! I gave it to Galkin.”

The wife of Grigoryan, Rita, V. Huseynov, and G. Mammadov also spoke about mysterious men in black cloaks, who apparently orchestrated the Sumgait massacre on location. Those interrogated did not speak with one another and yet were almost repeating each other’s words.

Rita recalled, “Once, before this horror, while Eduard and I were walking home, two men in dark cloaks met us and beckoned him over. I wanted to take a closer look at them, but Eduard sharply told me: “Don’t stare!”

And here is the recorded testimony of V. Huseynov:

- The day before the event, I saw Eduard talking to two strangers dressed in identical black cloaks. I had never seen them in Sumgait before; they were strangers. One was tall, the other was of medium height. I didn’t see their faces. They handed him a plastic bag of pills. They handed him a plastic bag of very strong MDMA ('ecstasy') pills. They are really head-snapping. Saying goodbye to them, Eduard said loudly: “Don’t worry, these idiots will follow me wherever I say!”

Apparently, all these facts were known to the investigation. However, the detained leaders of other gangs embroiled in the Sumgait unrest, who could have shed light on those gloomy men in cloaks, were taken out of Azerbaijan. They stood trial not in Baku or Sumgait, but in other cities of the USSR. Why was this done? What had to be hidden from the people?”

With these questions remaining unanswered, my conversation with Aslan Ismailov ended.

Many years have passed since then. However, what happened 33 years ago seems to be gradually unveiling. For the first time, influential media outlets have published articles that reconstruct this most difficult period of the collapse of the USSR in an attempt to put the historical record straight. Indeed, by and large, it was the Sumgait unrest and the preceding massacres of Azerbaijanis in Armenia that triggered the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. After Sumgait, Azerbaijan de facto lost control of Karabakh. In a matter of months, a Special operating committee would be created in Karabakh, headed by the notorious Gorbachev official Arkady Volsky. The Committee took Karabakh out of the jurisdiction of local Azerbaijani authorities and introduced a special operating regime, under which the autonomous region was controlled by the Center. In September 1989, the Committee was abolished under pressure from the Azerbaijani community. However, a few months later, another amorphous mixed government structure was created in Karabakh. It was an operating committee headed by Viktor Polyanichko, the former second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan. When the Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation became aggravated and the conflict degraded into active hostilities, the Polyanichko organizing committee was dissolved. Thus, it was the Sumgait events that paved the way for Azerbaijan to lose control of Karabakh.

In my opinion, the fact that people finally have an idea of what happened back then, albeit with a delay. The efforts of politicians, public figures, and journalists to eventually fill the historical vacuum around the events in Sumgait, Baku, Uzbekistan, Georgia and the Baltic States were made possible primarily due to sober and impartial assessments of these events long-ago, which were given by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

I would like to believe that under their guidance, everything that was consciously turned upside down will gradually fall into place.

"Nezavisimaya Gazeta"