Ocala Star-Banner – Jan 18, 1990
A majority of the Armenians left the city before the latest disturbances, exchanging their apartments for quarters in Armenia, Russia or other republics. Tass said Wednesday night that 7,000 Armenians had been evacuated by ferryboats, navy vessels and airplanes since violence broke out over the weekend. The evacuees of recent days have abandoned everything with little hope of compensation.
In most cases, their homes have been immediately occupied by some of the estimated 200,000 Azerbaijanis who have streamed into the republic from Armenia during two years of ethnic unrest centered on the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
How did the authorities in Azerbaijan and Moscow fail to anticipate the danger two years after the country was stunned by anti-Armenian pogroms in Sumgait, just 15 miles away from Baku. And if they foresaw it, why did they not stop it?
By most accounts, the core of the, recent uprising was the seething community of Azerbaijani refugees, more than 130,000 of whom reportedly settled in slum and squatter districts in Baku.
The newcomers, mostly peasant farmers and goat herders, were said to have changed the character of the city, a sprawling oil port on the Caspian Sea that prided itself on being cosmopolitan. Jobless and hopeless, they spent their days bitterly retelling stories of atrocities suffered at the hands of Armenians.
“Baku is not really Baku anymore,” said one lifelong resident, who asked not be named. “It has become a city of refugees. They do not know city life, city work. And everything else, the whole mood of the city, has been lowered to their level.”
Last year, a band of Baku intellectuals organizing a movement for greater Azerbaijani autonomy from Moscow, called the Azerbaijani Popular Front, found their most emotional following in the refugee settlements.
Although many of the leaders wanted to focus on political and economic reforms, they soon found that only one issue could bring out the huge crowds that would impress the local authorities.
That was the ancient conflict with the Armenians, and especially the contest over which people owned Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani authorities, intimidated by strikes, rail blockades and mass rallies, ceded substantial political influence to the popular front, but the group never really gained control of its emotional followers.