Eyewitness: An Interview with Baku Pogrom Survivor Anna Turcotte

By Ara Nerssessian

From 1988 through 1990, the Armenian population in Soviet Azerbaijan was the target of racially motivated pogroms in the cities of Sumgait (Feb. 27-29, 1988), Kirovabad (Nov. 21-27, 1988), and Baku (Jan. 13-19, 1990). These pogroms set the stage for two decades of aggression by Azerbaijan, during which it launched and lost a war against Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh), and later used its oil wealth to buy a massive military arsenal that its leaders still vow to use—against a Christian people that has for thousands of years lived on these lands, and that, after great challenges, has flourished since its freedom from Soviet and Azerbaijani oppression.

Anna Turcotte

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. In 1990, her childhood was completely destroyed by an orchestrated wave of Azerbaijani aggression towards Armenians. She recently published her memoirs, titled Nowhere, a Story of Exile, which tells the story of her life in Baku, and the Azerbaijani brutality that shattered her childhood.

On July 12, I sat down with Anna to discuss her memories of Baku, and why it’s important to remember her story, a story of exile. To see the video of the interview, visit http://youtu.be/-lep_1mdspw.

A.N.: What was it like growing up in Baku?

A.T.: My childhood was beautiful up until I was 10. In ’88 things changed drastically, it went from happy to confused and scared. I see my childhood as before and after.

A.N.: Can you tell me about the Azeri aggression against Armenians?

A.T.: Initially the Azeris had demonstrations; it eventually escalated into breaking into Armenian homes. The most memorable thing for me was having my father sitting in the dark with knives, and waiting…waiting it out. Saying, “I’m going to protect you.” Another thing I remember is hiding in school when the demonstrations went bad. I was fearful of who I was. In December ’88, after the earthquake in Armenia, where tens of thousands were killed, on top of this sadness Azeris were sending congratulatory cards to Armenians, such as my parents and their friends. That was disturbing, because yes there was violence on the street, but you never expect it to come to you.

A.N.: Was there always hostility toward the Armenians?

A.T.: I think the hostility was always there. I don’t think I noticed it so much as a child because my parents protected me from it. The hostilities escalated when the Soviet Union collapsed. The independence of Artsakh was also a major factor that escalated Azeri hostility towards Armenians. Despite the fear, it is Artsakh’s right to be independent. We suffered for something, and have to make sure this [Artsakh’s international recognition] happens.

A.N.: Do you miss Baku?

A.T.: After I moved to Yerevan, the Armenians would ask me, “How you can miss Baku after all the corruption there?” And it is because, before we had a beautiful life, and it was destroyed by the Azeris, and you don’t get over it overnight.

A.N.: Why did you write this book?

A.T.: Initially I wrote the book for my children, because I understand in America people blend in, and life goes on, and people forget their roots, and that was important to me when I started writing at 14 for my children and my family. But my parents persuaded me. Yes it was written for a purpose, but it’s also a historic piece, not just for Armenians, but for Americans as a whole. We learn from our past; and can never forget our past.
Ara Nerssessian is a currently an ANCA Leo Sarkisian Intern.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles written and submitted by members of the community, which make up our community bulletin board.

24 Comments

  1. {“racially motivated pogroms”}

    this is incorrect:

    The motivation was ethnic (and possibly religious): only Armenians were targeted.
    Russians and other ethnic minorities (all Caucasoids) residing in Azerbaijan were not.

  2. Good article…but why use the name “Kirovabad.” It is the Soviet name. “Ganja” is more contemporary (or “Gandzak” in Armenian).

  3. Thank you for sharing your family and personal experiences with us.

    Racism and Genocidal fury against Armenians in the so called Turkic world [meaning only Turkey and Az.] is a real problem the world ignores.

    It is stoked by the governments of these states, and by the Turkish Diaspora, see e.g. the homicidal writings of ATAA leaders in the United States. These Genocidal racists are not anywhere condemned, other than by us, but they are instead wined and dined by American political and industrial leaders.

    Thank you for preserving your story.

  4. David, Ganja is an Azeri name given to the city after the Armenian population was attaced, killed and displaced. So I don’t think you want to use it.

    Ganja is a Turkik word, and a derivative from the Armenian city name Gandzak. However, if she used Gandzak in the book, the reference and connection to events would not be clear. The events she’s describing happened in the city named Kirovabad at the time.

    • 0 killed in Armenia.

      About 170,000 Azeris living in Armenia forced out after Azeri mobs organized by Azerbaijan authorities massacred hundreds of unarmed Armenian civilians in Sumgait (1988), Kirovabad (1988), Baku (1990). That was before the war broke out in 1991. Armenians were specifically targeted, hunted down, and murdered.

      Government of RoA compensated Azeris for their real estate in Armenia.
      The exodus was orderly: Azeris took all their liquid property and valuables with them

      About 500,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan fled with only their clothes and personal belongings, leaving behind all their property: all the money in the banks, valuables and the real estate, which the Azerbaijan Government stole.

      Glad you asked Akif.

    • This is a common trick used by Azeri Turk propagandists to blame the victims. Their baseless claims do not withstand basic scrutiny.

      At the same time, the number of Azeri Turks who moved from Armenia to Azerbaijan was significantly lower. They were able to sell their homes in Armenia, collect their belongings and move peacefully by means provided by Armenians. Armenia even paid compensations to Azeri Turks who moved away. Instead of using the money they received to buy homes from Armenians in Baku they chose to murder them and take their homes and belongings by force.

      At that time Soviet leadership viewed Armenians as the troublemakers for asking for Artsakh to remain under Moscow jurisdiction when it became clear that Azeri Turks intend to unlawfully secede. Gorbachev was famous to threaten Artsakh Armenians on TV saying that they should think hard about Armenians of Baku and what would happen to them. Soviet troops and police forces were in complete control of Armenian populated territories and Armenians had no access to any arms to protect themselves let alone assaulting Azeri Turks.

    • Avery: the book “the Black Garden” is available, most of it at least, on Google books. On page 19, it speaks two freight cars arriving in Baku from Kafan or Kapan. An Armenian woman describes, and I quote- “People came and said that two carriages had come from Kafan with naked unclothed children.” This was in November 1987, before those 3 pogroms.

      About compensation: I was able to find information that in 1947 when Stalin ordered Azeris to be deported from Armenia- mainly out of concern that they would betray the Soviets in the event of a war with Turkey- that Azeris were compensated for their lands and properties. However, I read that the Soviet government did this, not the government of the Armenian SSR.

      Regarding the number killed. It’s at bare minimum 25 just in the Armenian city of Gugark alone. This number comes from the admittance Usik Harutyunyan, then the Head of the Armenian Committee for National Security. Azeris claim the total to be 215 killed- this number probably exaggerated.

      ….. Finally regarding: “This is a common trick used by Azeri Turk propagandists to blame the victims. Their baseless claims do not withstand basic scrutiny.”

      Anyone with an open mind can obviously see the Armenians suffered more then the Azeris- this much is essentially indisputable. However, just because Armenians suffered more then Azeris, it does not make the sufferings of Azeris go away, and it does not mean their sufferings did not exist. Nor does it give anyone to attempt to play off their sufferings as “baseless claims.” They are not baseless and they are not claims- they are realities. No one is blaming the victims- all you need to do is respect (which may be hard to do given for some of you) the victims of the OTHER side- Azeris. An Azeri in Yerevan in 1988 was not responsible for Sumgait or Kirovobad, but they paid for it. And no offense, but I doubt that non-independent, Soviet Armenia, during a period right high tension and violence between them and Azerbaijan, and before a bloody war, fully compensated Azeris.

    • RVDV– The point is not so much that the Armenians suffered more than the Azeris (although I appreciate your candor so untypical for Azeri-tilted Turks), but which side started the killings of innocent people. If you claim to be an objective observer, it should also also be indisputable for you that the Azeris did. Otherwise, you may venture into repeating the Azeri tricks, for instance, whenever they’re accused of barbarity against the Armenians in Sumhait, Baku, Kirovabad, and Maraga, they fail to notice it and hastily retort: “And how about Khojaly?”, conveniently forgetting that killings were started by them before Khojaly. Look, if you will, at the comment by akif who asks “How many [Azeris were] killed and deported during all years?” A classic example of Azeri mentality. Akif and his ilk never asks himself: “But who started the killings?” because he knows he’ll come up with no other answer that massacres were initiated by the Azeris.

  5. Great work, Anna.
    This is the only way to keep the facts recorded in the face of shameless Azeri distortion.
    I encourage all those Armenians who lived and witnessed Azeri brutalities to do the same if they can, or make a video-interview of their past memories.

  6. Dear Ara Nerssessian and Leo Sarkisian
    Thank You for correct and targetting article. In explanation, “Azerbaijan … later used its oil wealth to buy a massive military arsenal …” should be added, “and Heydar Aliyev’s cunningly persuasive personality over Mr. Kocharyan in 10/27/99 events.” After this addition, the reader can understand why Armenia and Artzakh were not able to have the benefits of the victory over the enemy!

  7. You can find more details about the fate of Armenians of Baku on this site:

    http://www.baku.am

    The content is available in English, Armenian, Russian and Azeri Turk.

    Take a note of the historic pattern of Turkic aggression against Armenians and the three major pogroms committed by Turkic population in 1905, 1918 and 1990.

    This Genocide is not over as Azeri Turks continue to deny the atrocities and employ practices designed to destroy evidence and any remnants of Armenian presence on Azeri Turk controlled territories.

    For example, they destroyed numerous Armenian cemeteries in Baku, Gandzak and other towns and villages under their occupation. They shamelessly forge history claiming all cultural and material achievements of Armenians and other native peoples of these lands. They destroyed Armenian churches and monuments.

    Some of the best real estate in Baku that was taken from Armenians was sold or rented out to American and other Western businesses and individuals. So, you might see their mailing addresses now matching the descriptions of places where Armenian victims of pogroms were murdered.

    The practices of murder, rape, dismemberment used by Azeri Turks did not change from century to century. There were mass rapes including children, burning people alive, crucifixions, and even intentional drownings of “refugee” barges in the Caspian sea.

    The current illegitimate dictatorship ruling Azerbaijan makes heroes and martyrs out of the most outrageous Azeri Turk murderers of Armenians. They erect monuments to them, name streets after them and created the Shahid Cemetery for them where they take American and other Western diplomats to pay tribute during their official visits.

  8. RVDV:

    I know of the book “The Black Garden”. Have not read it, because the feeling amongst Armenians is that de Waal has an extreme pro Azeri-Turk bias. But I will go ahead and buy the book: form my own opinion.

    Regarding the freight cars with unclothed children (Nov 1987): it is a shameful incident, no doubt about it. I need to see if I can find out more as to how it came to that. But Azeri children fleeing unclothed from Armenia is unacceptable in any case. For some perspective, you should have included the preceding and succeeding paragraphs (in redacted form) re Page 19. The one about Azeri cops beating up Armenians for complaining about Azeri authorities. Which presumably eventually led to the interethnic violence in Kapan. And the testimony of Aramais Babayan, second secretary of Kapan’s Party committee at the time.
    And although some Kapan Azeri refugees report being beaten, thankfully no reports of anyone being killed there.

    Regarding Gugark: I checked the Russian language reference in Wiki regarding Gugark (I am guessing that is where you got the number). There is a long discussion by Armenian KGB officers regarding the investigation of the number 215 claimed by Azeris. But the same sources confirm that 25 Azeris were indeed killed in Armenia starting November 1988 (11 in Gugark). The reference is fuzzy as to how they were killed: were they killed in fighting between armed civilian Armenian vs Azeri men ?; were they outright murdered by Armenians ?.

    But in any case I stand corrected: the number of Azeri civilians killed in Armenia during the period is at least 25, not 0, as I stated in my previous post.

    Regarding victims: not sure if voskanapat meant it the way you took it: he can clarify. But I agree that Azeri civilians living in Armenia had absolutely no control over what their kin were doing to Armenians in Azerbaijan, and fell victim to circumstances beyond their control. Bad.

    Regarding compensation: I did not say Armenia ‘fully’ compensated: I wrote compensated.
    The information on RoA compensation is not easy to find. Here is one source you can review:

    http://theanalyticon.com/?p=87&lang=en

    go to 4.1 Population exchange:

    [The exchange of populations between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place before the military phase of the conflict. In that period there were also cases of Armenian-Azerbaijani property exchange. In addition, in 1989 the government of the Soviet Armenia unilaterally paid 70 million rubles (some $110 million) as compensation to 14,500 Azeri families. By contrast nobody from the more than 400,000 Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan received any compensation, having fled the country under immediate threat to their lives, with all the ensuing material, property and moral losses]

    14,500 families would equal to 60,000-80,000 persons, depending on how many per family.
    True, it is not for the entire 170,000, but it is something.
    The author Masis MAYILIAN is partisan of course, but the article is well referenced, and has the feel of being neutral.
    The reference for the RoA compensation is from a book published in Yerevan 2009: hard for you to verify.
    If I find other sources, I’ll let you know.

    • Thank you for being fair- I guess being a patriot/nationalist and being fair, open minded are not mutually exclusive. Regarding Voskanapat- no he meant it like I understood it, it seems Azeris and Turks are not the only ones fed propaganda.

      Regarding compensation: what’s more important to me is why Azeris left Armenia. For most it was probably fear of retaliation after the pogroms, but I have no doubt that many were also forced out- perhaps not as violently as Armenians were, but by force nonetheless. Two wrongs don’t make a right, that was true in the NKR war, and true today, when Mr. Sassounian says Armenia should retaliate against Turkey and make it illegal for Turkish citizens to buy property in Armenia.

  9. The “Big Kapan Lie” of Azeri Turk propaganda is based on a hearsay shamelessly distributed by De Waal who quotes Arif Yunusov. Yunusov it turn quotes some “lost documents” that he saw but didn’t copy and also “Sveta Pashaeva” whose very existence is a mystery.

    The truth is that there was an organized provocation that resulted in some Azeri Turks leaving Kapan for Azerbaijan as they were promised construction jobs AND THEN RETURNING BACK! – http://www.reporter.am/go/article/2008-03-01-the-1988-sumgait-massacre-crystallized-anti-armenian-hatred

    In February 1988, the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party sent a Special Investigations Commission from Moscow and they could not find anything! They really wanted to find something to blame Armenia. The head of the Commission was General Albert Makashov, who is a well known Armenophobe.

    Just like in the Khojaly myth, the Azeri Turk propagandists want you to believe without checking. They post some bogus names of people allegedly killed by Armenians knowing that their lies were already exposed multiple times. But they keep posting them because people don’t check. It turns out that some of the people they claim were killed are still alive selling bad tomatoes on Russian bazaars, others died indeed but in a car accident on a different day and in different part of the country.

    If there was a single death, Makashov people would find it and document properly to justify Moscow’s bias against Armenians.

  10. Voskanapat:

    The truth is that there was an organized provocation that resulted in some Azeri Turks leaving Kapan for Azerbaijan as they were promised construction jobs AND THEN RETURNING BACK!

    This is a lie. From your link- and by the way, if you want to be taken seriously, I suggest not having the websites you cite as proof end in .am.

    From your link: “At that time a group of Azerbaijanis left Kapan. When they arrived there, they were told that a city was not being built. There were no possibilities of staying and some of them returned. None of them had left with their families”, says Babayan.

    The very same Babayan, former secretary of the Kapan regional committee, in the book the Black Garden “declares that one occasion he crossed into Azerbaijan to persuade the Azerbaijaianis to return to Kapan.” However, NONE of them ever did. Furthermore he accepts that around 2,000 left, but that none left before February 1988- which would put them leaving right before the Sumgait pogrom.

    “Just like in the Khojaly myth”

    What’s the myth? Even Armenian sources say the number killed in Khojaly was 161.

    “If there was a single death, Makashov people would find it and document properly to justify Moscow’s bias against Armenians.”

    Is the part “if there was a single death” referring to Khojali? Because Alber Makashov was elected to the Soviet Supreme in 1989 and ran for President in 1991. He was no where near Khojali in 1992.

    And speaking of Anti-Armenian bias from Moscow, how do you explain the fact that the Russian 366th Motor Rifle Regimen was with Armenian forces at the time of Khojali? Seyran Ohanyan, current defense minister of Armenia acknowledges this.

    It appears as if Azeri Turks aren’t the only ones who are propagandists.

    • you wrote:
      “I guess being a patriot/nationalist and being fair, open minded are not mutually exclusive”

      You are a nationalist / patriot – however mild level it is –
      So, that sentence should not have come from YOU, but rather from one of the real non-patriotic / non-nationalist people who posted here in the past.
      but hey, like you said, you MAY still be an open-minded person.

      about Khojaly :

      From what i read and saw about Khojaly, the azeri version seems like a myth;
      and that is the version most “Azeris/Turks” believe in about Khojaly.

    • you indicated before that you are a turk; you also kind of went out of your way to stress that you ‘will stay a turk’

      therefore i conclude that you are at least a mild nationalist

  11. This is an Armenian website and we will quote .am or whatever sources we want here regardless of our brainwashed Azeri Turk “guests'” demands.

    Notice their tricks again. He says “in Khojaly” and states it as a fact. This is a textbook example of Azeri Turk lies. They think people wouldn’t go and check the facts. No, the fact is that people left Khojaly using the Green Corridor provided by Artsakh liberation forces. They walked all night towards Azeri army positions and were killed there, far away from Khojaly that Azeri soldiers left ahead of the civilian hostages they kept there.

    So, Azeri propagandists deliberately mix “from Khojaly” with “in Khojaly” to make people believe that a small Armenian force that took the Azeri Turk artillery positions set up in the middle of a town would follow the people they just allowed to leave. And then, they would kill these people right in front of 30,000 Azeri Turk troops.

    You can read more about this myth here: http://en-voskanapat.do.am/news/2010-02-24-40

    And yes, this is a proudly .am domain!!

    The next trick is from the same category: “the fact that the Russian 366th Motor Rifle Regimen was with Armenian forces.” There is no such “fact” – it is Azeri Turk lie multiplied on all the websites Sultan Aliyev’s dirty stolen oil money can afford.

  12. RVDV,

    For your own credibility, I’d humbly suggest that you never cite the unprofessionally written “Black Garden” as a reference for the Sumgait savagery or other Azeri massacres of the Armenians. This book by journalist (not a historian, conflict resolution expert, or genocide scholar) Tom De Waal forces a side-to-side comparison of seemingly equivalent events, including mass crimes, in the name of indecent approach called “two-sides to any issue”.

    Please take a serious note of the fact that De Waal now works for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington DC-based think tank and a globalist cabal, otherwise known as the Carnegie Endowment for International War.

    David Davidian posted an excellent review entitled “Forced Juxtaposition in the Black Garden” that you may find here: http://www.amazon.com/review/R2F967D3N8TJU9. The author’s Armenian surname may suggest you he may be biased, but do please read his review to form an alternative point of view of the Karabakh events and De Waal’s support of the point of view steered by Baku propaganda.

  13. The Azeris also committed the Maragha massacre which was not mentioned. There is video of the Maragha massacre aftermath where the Azeris used chainsaws to murder Armenian woman, children and the elderly wiping out the entire village. This was done for economic and ethnic reasons because Maragha sits on oil deposits. Maragha (Leninavan) settlement was in the Mardakert province but is now under Azeri control..http://www.panarmenian.net/eng/politics/news/66841/ Maragha is close to Mir-Bashir Azerbajian which has proven oil reserves. I suspect that other areas of the Mardakert Province also have oil and that is why the Azeris want it back so bad.

  14. I am an adult survivor of the Baku pogrom of 1988-1992 with my husband, parents and two children. Enough time has passed that I can write objectively of the events in my family and several other families here in the U. S. A. My plan is to write a book that is more than a memoir, that sees a bigger picture of communal conflict. Any contribution, data, thoughts, insight, input, referral, or advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Karina Khachaturian Yesayeva

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*