March 19, 1994 | Baku Metro bombings in Azerbaijan

Terrorist groups may start out targeting a specific country or people but may have no problem shifting to another.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN — Looking back on this ‘Today in Terrorism‘ series thus far I think I have written pieces on Armenian extremism on several occasions. Terrorist groups belonging to this particular bent have targeted Turkish authorities over that country’s refusal to acknowledge the 1915 Armenian genocide perpetrated by their Ottoman forebears. Two of the attacks occurred in Ottawa (1982 and 1985).

Armenian terrorists have on occasion sought to ‘punish’ others for perceived ‘crimes’ against their fatherland. Today’s feature attack may be a good example.

But first a bit of backdrop.

There is a region on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border called Nagorno-Karabakh. It has been disputed by both sides for a long time and, like many such conflicts, stems from unwise lines drawn on a map. In the 1920s, the Soviet government established the Nagorno-Karanabkh Autonomous Region—where 95 percent of the population is ethnically Armenian—within Azerbaijan. As usual, this would strike any normal person as a bad idea but as both Armenia and Azerbaijan were part of the greater USSR at the time it probably did not seem as such.

On this day in 1994 bombs in several metro stations in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku killed 27 people and wounded a further 91.

As the Soviet Union began to fall apart in 1991, the region decided to officially declare independence and, not surprisingly, war broke out between the two nations, leading to tens of thousands of casualties and hundreds of thousands of refugees. By 1993, Armenia controlled Nagorno-Karabakh and occupied 20 percent of the surrounding Azerbaijani territory and in 1994, Russia brokered a cease-fire which has remained in place since.

1994 Baku Metro bombings

Ceasefire or no ceasefire, the issue still rankles and may have had a role to play in a terrorist attack in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. On this day in 1994 bombs in several metro stations killed 27 people and wounded a further 91. A claim was made by a group affiliated with Lezghin ethnic perpetrators: ‘Sadval activists’ linked to the Lezghin were also accused. However, several Armenians were later arrested as evidence of links to Armenian intelligence. Was this linked to Nagorno-Karabkah? It is hard to say.

In the end it is very difficult to settle on who did what. The region is rife with a dog’s breakfast of national groups and subgroups and violence is often bubbling just below the surface.

The lesson in all this: be careful when you draw national boundaries. Many countries, and not just Western ones, are notorious for ignoring centuries’-long hatreds and disputes when they put a pencil to a map (which might give China some pause with its ‘nine-dash’ line in the South China Sea). Bad artwork leads to acrimony and violence, sometimes of the terrorist variety.

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