January 20th is a National Day of Remembrance in Azerbaijan. That is the date in 1990 when Gorbechev ordered Russian troops into Baku to quell a gathering of protestors, and resulted in the deaths of 130 civilians. The people of Azerbaijan were shocked that the military rolled into the city with tanks, and the victims are considered to be martyrs in the cause of AZ independence. A beautiful memorial was erected in Baku called The Martyrs Walk and I was able to visit there last Fall.
Many changes were happening in the Soviet Union at that time, and I think this tragic night will also go down as a milestone in the demise of the USSR. While many remember the downfall of the Berlin Wall, this date was also important as the Azerbaijani people began to choose a new direction for their government. Even Gorbechev has said that sending troops into Baku was the biggest mistake of his leadership.
Because this tragedy happened only 21 years ago, there are many Azerbaijanis who readily recall the events of this date. Many know stories of individual acts of bravery and heroism. The most repeated story is of the newly-wed bride who took her own life after learning that her husband had been killed in the street.
Schools were closed for the day in Azerbaijan and each major city has a martyrs' memorial where hundreds gather to pay respect. I attended the memorial service in Masalli, added a red carnation at the site, and took several photos of this day. My host mother told me that previously red carnations were given as a symbol of love at weddings. But since January 20, 1990, red carnations are placed on the memorials to these martyrs.