The Karabakh region has historically always been an inalienable part of Azerbaijan. From the ancient times until its acquisition by the Russian Empire in the early 19th century, it was part of different Azerbaijani states. According to the Treaty of Kurakchay signed between the Khan of Karabakh Ibrahim Khan and, the representative of the Russian Emperor, General Pavel Tsitsianov on 14 May 1805, the Karabakh Khanate was brought under the Russian rule.
After the signing of the Gulustan (12 October 1813) and Turkmanchay (10 February 1828) treaties a very rapid mass resettlement of Armenians in the Azerbaijani lands took place and the subsequent artificial territorial division emerged[i].
According to official data, from 1828 to 1911 more than 1,000,000 Armenians from Persia and Ottoman Türkiye were settled in the region of South Caucasus, including in the Azerbaijani territories.[ii].
Within the Russian Empire, the territories of Azerbaijan, including those presently covered by Armenia was split in different administrative divisions. According to the final administrative division, the Baku, Elizavetpol and Iravan provinces, and Zagatala okrug were established on the territory of Azerbaijan. The Elizavetpol province included, inter alia, the area subjected to the occupation of the armed forces of Armenia in early 1990s.
Between 1905 and 1907 the Armenians carried out a series of large-scale massacres against the Azerbaijanis. The atrocities began in Baku and then extended over the whole of Azerbaijan, including Azerbaijani villages in the territory of present-day Armenia. Hundreds of settlements were destroyed and wiped from the face of the earth, and thousands of civilians were barbarically killed.
Taking advantage of the situation following the First World War and the February and October 1917 revolutions in Russia, the Armenian nationalists began to pursue the implementation of their plans under the banner of Bolshevism. Thus, under the watchword of combating counter-revolutionary elements, in March 1918 the Baku commune began to implement a plan aimed at eliminating the Azerbaijanis from the whole of the Baku province. Apart from Baku, solely because of their ethnic affiliation, thousands of Azerbaijanis were annihilated also in the Shamakhy and Guba districts, as well as in Karabakh, Zangazur, Nakhchyvan, Lankaran and other regions of Azerbaijan. In these areas, the civilian population was exterminated en masse, villages were burned and national cultural monuments were destroyed and obliterated.
On 28 May 1918, the independence of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was proclaimed. In April 1919, the Allied Powers recognized the General-Governorship of Karabakh established in January 1919 by the Government of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. The General-Governorship included the regions of Shusha, Javanshir, Jabrayil, and Zangazur, with Shusha designated as its administrative centre. That same year, the Armenian National Assembly in the upper part of Karabakh officially recognized the authority of Azerbaijan.[iii] This fact completely disproves the allegations of the Armenian side that Karabakh possessed at that time the status of “an independent legal entity” or “an independent political unit”. It also meant the failure of the policy of Armenia to declare Karabakh the “territory of Armenia”.
British journalist Scotland-Liddel, writing from Shusha in 1919, observed: “Peace came to Karabakh. The Armenians agreed to obey the Azerbaijani government ... The Armenians tell that there has never been such order and peace before in Shusha and Karabakh…Both peoples were ready to continue peacefully their course of life and will continue to do so, if not for the intervention of agitators. I believe that - Armenians are responsible for the Armenian-[Azerbaijani] massacre in other parts of Transcaucasia. An Armenian propagandist does its job conscientiously, as it concerns propaganda, but I am sure that their activities in Transcaucasia are mere provocation.[iv]
After the Soviet invasion of the South Caucasus region in 1920, Armenia resumed its territorial claims against Azerbaijan.
The facts illustrate that over the 70 years of Soviet rule Armenia succeeded in expanding its territory at the expense of Azerbaijan and using every possible means to expel the Azerbaijanis from their lands. During this period, the aforementioned policy was implemented systematically and methodically.
As for the territory of Armenia, according to Armenian scholars, on the basis of the Treaty of Batoum signed by Türkiye with Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia on 4 June 1918, the territory of the first Armenian state in the South Caucasus established on 28 May 1918 — with the capital, which was conceded by Azerbaijan on 29 May 1918 — formed a minimum of 8,000[v], 9,000[vi] and a maximum of 10,000 sq. km[vii] in the western part of the present-day Armenia.
On 30 November 1920, after the occupation of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan by Bolshevik Russia, with the aim of sovietization of Armenia, the western part of Zangazur uyezd was included in Armenia. As a result, the Nakhchyvan region was cut off from the main body of Azerbaijan.
From 12 March 1922 to 5 December 1936 Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia formed the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republics (TSFSR). Until the admission of Azerbaijan into the TSFSR, the Basarkechar region of New-Bayazid uyezd, together with two thirds of Sharur-Daralayaz uyezd, had already been included in Armenia. After the admission of Azerbaijan into the TSFSR a considerable portion of Gazakh uyezd, a number of villages from Jabrayil uyezd and from the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Nakhchyvan were included in Armenia.
Thus, due to “sovietization,” the territory of Armenia increased from 8,000-10,000 sq. km to 29,800 sq. km, mostly at the expense of Azerbaijani lands.
During the Soviet period the immigration of a great number of Armenians from abroad and expulsion of Azerbaijanis from their lands took place. Thus, as per Armenian sources, about more than 42,000 Armenians arrived in Armenia between 1921 and 1936[viii]. The next step towards the artificial change of the demographic composition of the population in Armenia was a decree by J. Stalin in November 1945 on the immigration of foreign Armenians, according to which Armenia received more than 50,000 immigrants in 1946, 35,400 in 1947, and about 10,000 in 1948[ix].
On the pretext of resettling the Armenians coming from abroad, the Council of Ministers of the USSR adopted on 23 December 1947 and 10 March 1948 special decisions on the resettlement of collective farm workers and the other parts of the Azerbaijani population from the Armenian SSR to the Kur-Araz lowlands in the Azerbaijan SSR. Under these decisions, during the period between 1948 and 1953 more than 150,000 Azerbaijanis were forcibly resettled from their historical homelands — the mountainous regions of Armenia — to the then waterless steppes of Mughan and the Mil plateau. At the same time, by mid-1961, 200,000 Armenians immigrated to Armenia[x] and between 1962 and 1973 the number of immigrants consisted of 26,100 people[xi].
When it comes to Armenia’s claims on the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, it should be noted that on 5 July 1921, considering the economic ties between upper and lower Karabakh, the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party decided that “Nagorno-Karabakh”[xii] is to be retained within the boundaries of Azerbaijan and conferred broad autonomy, with Shusha as its administrative centre. The text of the decision proves that the Bureau decided to leave “Nagorno-Karabakh” within the Azerbaijan SSR, not to “transfer” or “subject” it to Azerbaijani rule, as the Armenian side claims.
Two years later, on 7 July 1923, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO)[xiii] was established and the town of Khankandi (renamed Stepanakert after the Soviet Bolshevik leader Stepan Shaumian in September 1923 and later restored back to Khankandi in November 1991) was designated as its administrative centre. In contrast however, more than 300,000 Azerbaijanis residing in Armenia were denied cultural autonomy both by the USSR central government and the government of Armenia SSR.
The administrative borders of the NKAO were defined in a way to ensure that the Armenian population constituted a majority.
Armenia’s allegations of discrimination against the Armenian population of NKAO do not stand up to scrutiny. In reality, the NKAO possessed all essential elements of self-government.
The legal status of NKAO was defined in the Constitutions of USSR and Azerbaijan SSR as well as the 16 June 1981 “Law on the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”.
As an autonomous region, NKAO enjoyed a number of rights, which in practice ensured that the specific needs of its Armenian population were being met. Under the Constitution of the USSR, NKAO was represented by five deputies in the Council of Nationalities of the Supreme Soviet Council of the USSR and by 12 deputies in the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR.
The Armenian language was used in all local executive and judicial branches, as well as in education, local TV, radio broadcasts and in newspapers and magazines reflecting the broad language rights of the Armenian population.
In the period between 1971 and 1985, capital investments of 483 million roubles -2.8 times more than in the previous 15-year period- were poured into the development of the NKAO. Between 1981 and 1985, the volume of per capita investment had increased nearly fourfold in comparison to the previous 20 years (226 roubles in 1981-1985 compared to 59 roubles in 1961-1965). Housing construction in NKAO had amounted to 4.76 square meters per capita, whereas the overall Azerbaijani average in the previous 15 years amounted to 3.64 square meters per capita. Moreover, the number of hospital beds per 10,000 inhabitants was 15% higher in NKAO than in the rest of Azerbaijan.
NKAO also ranked relatively high among all of the Azerbaijan SSR regions in terms of pre-school facilities. In the period between 1971 and 1985 the number of pre-schools per 10,000 inhabitants was 1.4 times higher than the overall Republic average. Similarly, the number of secondary schools per 10,000 inhabitants was 1.6 times higher in NKAO than the Republic average.
The availability and quality of housing, goods and services in the oblast were superior to those in the rest of Azerbaijan and reflected the social and cultural development of the region. Per capita living space in apartment buildings in NKAO was almost one thirds greater than the average for Azerbaijan, while rural dwellers had 1.5 times more living space than peasants in the Republic as a whole. Moreover, the population of the oblast had greater access to healthcare and to cultural venues and libraries which housed 1.6 times more books and magazines than libraries in other parts of the Azerbaijan.
As far as basic social development was concerned, NKAO exceeded the indicators for the average republic-wide standard of living in Azerbaijan. There was significant progress in the development of cultural establishments, both in the oblast and throughout Azerbaijan SSR.
In the 1988-1989 school year, there were 136 secondary education schools in NKAO using Armenian as the primary language (16,120 students). The State Pedagogical Institute in Khankandi had more than 2,130 students studying in the Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian programs. In addition, NKAO had dozens of specialized secondary schools and vocational training institutes offering instruction in Armenian.
Five news periodicals were printed in the Armenian language and unlike other administrative territorial units of Azerbaijan located in mountainous areas far from the capital, NKAO was equipped with technical infrastructure necessary for receiving television and radio programs.
In fact, statistics illustrate that the NKAO was developing more rapidly than Azerbaijan as a whole. The existence and development of the NKAO within Azerbaijan confirms that the form of autonomy that had evolved fully reflected the specific economic, social, cultural and national characteristics of the population and the way of life in the autonomous oblast.
At the end of 1987, Armenia overtly laid claim to the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Those claims were preceded by Armenia instigated attacks on the Azerbaijanis both in Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and in Armenia, resulting in civilian casualties and a flood of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons and refugees. Shortly after the assertion of its territorial claims, more than 250 000 Azerbaijanis were expelled from Armenia. At the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992, the conflict turned into a military phase.
[i] See, e.g., I. Shopen, Historical monument of the status of the Armenian oblast in the period of its annexation to the Russian Empire (Saint-Petersburg: Publishing House of the Emperor’s Academy of Sciences, 1852), pp. 636, 639-641, 706; N. Shavrov, A new challenge to the Russian issue in Transcaucasia: Upcoming sale of Mughan to foreigners (Saint-Petersburg:Publishing House of the Editorial Board of the Ministry of Finance Periodicals, 1911), pp. 59-60.
[ii] See, e.g., History of the Armenian people (Yerevan: Yerevan University Press, 1980), p. 268; Compilation of statistical data of the Caucasus (Tiflis, 1869), volume I, chapter I, part III; Caucasian calendar for 1917 (Tiflis: Press Office of the Governor-General E.I.B of the Caucasus, 1916), pp. 183, 219-221; Acts of the Archeological Commission of the Caucasus (Tiflis, 1870), volume IV, doc. 37, p. 37.
[iii] Provisional agreement between the Government of Azerbaijan and the Armenians of Nagorny Karabakh, 26 August 1919. For text, see To the History of Formation of the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. 1918-1925: Documents and Materials (Baku: Azerneshr, 1989), pp. 23-25. See also Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), pp. 75-76.
[iv] State Archive of the Republic of Azerbaijan, f. 894, inv. 10, f. 103, p. 18.
[v] See, e.g., G. Galoyan, Struggle for the Soviet rule in Armenia (Moscow: State Publishing House of Political Literature, 1957), p. 92.
[vi] See, e.g., S. P. Agayan, Great October and struggle of labours in Armenia for the victory of the Soviet rule (Yerevan: Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR, 1962), p. 174; E. C. Sarcissian, Expansionary policy of the Ottoman Empire in Transcaucasia on the eve and in the years of the First World War (Yerevan: Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR, 1962), p. 365.
[vii] See, e.g., History of the Armenian people, p. 283.
[viii] Ibid., p. 336.
[ix] Ibid., p. 366
[x] Documents of Foreign Policy of the USSR (Moscow: State Publishing House of Political Literature, 1962), volume 6, note 33, p. 611.
[xi] History of the Armenian people, p. 418.
[xii] The name “Nagorno-Karabakh” is a Russian translation of its name from the Azerbaijani language – “Dağlıq Qarabağ”, the literal meaning of which is “mountainous Karabakh”. The word Qarabağ/Karabakh constitutes a compound of two Azerbaijani words: "qara" (black or dense) and "bağ" (garden or forest).
[xiii]By the Decision of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Azerbaijan “NKAO” as an administrative territorial unit ceased to exist on November 26, 1991.