History of Nagorno-Karabakh

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History of Nagorno-Karabakh
Dadivank fresco.JPG
Ancient History
Artsakh
Middle Ages
Principality of Khachen
Kingdom of Artsakh
Modern Era
Melikdoms of Karabakh
Karabakh Khanate
Russian Karabakh
Early 20th Century
Autonomous Oblast
Contemporary History
Nagorno-Karabakh War
Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh is the modern designation for a southern part of the Lesser Caucasus range, encompassing the highland part of the wider geographical region Karabakh.1 The name Karabakh itself (derived from Turkic and Persian, and literary meaning "Black Garden") was first employed in Georgian and Persian sources from the 13th and 14th centuries to refer to an Armenian principality known by modern historians as the Kingdom of Artsakh or Khachen.2 Currently most of this area is under the control of the internationally unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which has economical, political, and military support from the Republic of Armenia, but which is internationally formally a part of Armenia and its final status is still a subject of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This article encompasses the history of the region from the ancient to the modern period.

Ancient history

The region of Nagorno-Karabakh was occupied by the people known to modern archaeologists as the Kura-Araxes, and is located between the two rivers bearing those names. Little is known about the ancient history of the region, primarily because of the scarcity of historical sources. Jewelry has been found within the present confines of Nagorno-Karabakh inscribed with the cuneiform name of Adad-Nirari, King of Assyria (c. 800 BC).citation needed

Legend of Aran

According to the local traditions held by many people in the area, the two river valleys in Nagorno-Karabakh were among the first to be settled by Noah's descendants.3 According to a 5th-century AD Armenian tradition, a local chieftain named Aran (Առան) was appointed by the Armenian King Vologases I (Vagharsh I) to be the first governor of this province. Ancient Armenian authors, Movses Khorenatsi and Movses Kaghankatvatsi, name of it Aran the ancestor inhabitants of Artsakh and next province Utik, the descendant of Sisak (the ancestor and eponym next province Sisakan, differently Siunik),45 and through it—the descendant of Haik, the ancestor and eponym of all Armenians.67

Artsakh, a Province of the Kingdom of Armenia

Royal Standard of the Principality of Khachenunreliable source? (Kingdom of Artsakh) during the reign of Grand Prince Hasan Jalal Vahtangian (1214–1261)

For the first time the territory of modern Nagorno Karabakh is mentioned in inscriptions of Sardur II, King of Urartu (763–734 BC), found in village Tsovk in Armenia, as the region Urtekhini. Then—in our data—a breakdown to the Roman epoch. A following mention—already at Strabo which characterizes "Orkhistena" (Artsakh) as "the area of Armenia exposing the greatest number of horsemen".8 It is unclear when Orkhistena became part of Armenia. Strabo, carefully listing all gains of Armenian Kings since 189 BC., has no mention of Orkhistena, which indirectly testifies to the fact that it probably has been an accessory of the Armenian empire to which it could get in the inheritance from Persian satrapy "East Armenia". Ruins of city Tigranakert are situated in near proximity to modern city of Agdam. It is one of four cities with such a name that were built in the beginning of 1 BC by king of Armenia Tigranes the Great. Recently Armenian archaeologists have led excavation of this city. Fragments of a fortress, and also hundreds the ancient subjects similar to subjects, found in Armenia. Fencing of a citadel and basilica of 5th–6th centuries AD have been revealed. Excavation have shown, that the city existed since 1st century BC until 13th or 14th century AD.9

Ancient inhabitants of Artsakh spoke a special dialect of the Armenian language; we know about this from the author of the Armenian grammar Stepanos Siunetsi who lived in around 700AD.10

Strabo and authors of the 1st and 2nd centuries—Claudius Ptolemaeus and Pliny the Elder—unanimously approve, that border between Greater Armenia and Caucasian Albania is river Cyrus (Kura).1112 Authoritative encyclopedias on antiquity also name Kura southern border of Albania.13 Artsakh is much to the south of this river. Certificates which would approve its accessory Albania or to other state up to the end of the 4th century, does not exist.14

Armenian historian Faustus of Byzantium wrote that during an epoch of the distempers which have followed intrusion of Persians to Armenia (about 370), Artsakh it has appeared among the risen provinces, whereas Utik has been grasped by Albanians. Armenian military commander Mushegh Mamikonian defeated the country of Artsakh in a big battle, made many inhabitants of the region prisoners, took hostages from the rest and imposed a tribute on them. In 372 Mushegh defeated the Albanians, took from them Utik and restored the border on Kura, "as was earlier".15

According to "Geography" (Ashkharatsuyts) by 7th-century Armenian geographer Anania Shirakatsi, Artsakh was the 10th among the 15 provinces (nahangs) of Armenia, and consisted of 12 districts (gavars): Myus Haband (Second Haband, as opposed to Haband of Siunik), Vaykunik (Tsar), Berdadzor, Mets Arank, Mets Kvenk, Harjlank, Mukhank, Piank, Parsakank (Parzvank), Kusti,disambiguation needed Parnes,disambiguation needed and Koght. However Anania writes, that during its time Atrsakh together with the next districts "will tear away from Armenia". And it is valid, in 387 Armenia has been divided between Roman Empire and Persia; thus Artsakh together with Armenian provinces Utik and Paytakaran was attached to Caucasian Albania.

Mashtots and Aranshakhik Period

Amaras Monastery, 4th century

In 469 the kingdom of Albania was reformed into Persian "marzpandom" (satrapy). In the early 4th century Christianity spreads in Artsakh. At the beginning of the 5th century, thanks to the creation of the Armenian written language by Mesrop Mashtots, an unprecedented rise of culture began in whole Armenia, in particular also in Artsakh, Mesrop Mashtots having founded one of the first Armenian schools at the Artsakh Amaras Monastery. In the 5th century the eastern part of Armenia, including Artsakh, continued to remain under the Persian rule. In 451 the Armenians in response to the policy of compulsion to the Zoroastrian Persia organized a powerful revolt known as Vardan war. Artsakh took part in that war, its cavalry having particularly distinguished itself. After the suppression of the revolt the considerable part of the Armenian forces took shelter in the impregnable fortresses and thick woods of Artsakh to continue further struggle against the foreign yoke.16 At the end of the same century Artsakh and neighboring Utik united under the rule of the Aranshakhiks with Vachagan the Devout at the head (487–510’s). Under the latter a considerable rise in culture and science is observed in Artsakh. According to the evidence of a contemporary, in those years in the land there were built as many churches and monasteries as there are days in a year. At the turn of the 7th century the Albanian marzpandom breaks into several small principalities. In the South Artsakh and Utik create a separate Armenian principality of the Aranshakhiks. In the 7th century the Armenian Aranshakhiks are replaced by the Migranians (Mihranids) dynasty of Persian origin which, becoming related with the Aranshakhiks, turns to Christianity and rapidly Armenized. In the second half of the 7th century in the initial period of the Arab dominion the political and cultural life in Artsakh does not cease. In the 7th and 8th centuries a distinctive Christian culture was shaped. The monasteries Amaras, Orek, Katarovank, Djrvshtik and others acquire All-Armenian significance.

Armenian Princedoms of Dizak and Khachen

Closeup of church inside the complex of Gandzasar monastery, 13th century.

From the beginning of the 9th century, princely houses of Khachen and Dizak were storing up strength. The prince of Khachen, Sahl Smbat century became one of the most favorable periods for the land’s flourishing. During this time, valuable architecture was constructed, such as Hovanes Mkrtich (John the Baptist) church and the vestibule of Gandzasar monastery (1216–1260; ancient residence of the Armenian Catholicos of Albania), the Dadi Monastery Cathedral Church (1214), and Gtchavank Cathedral Church (1241–1248). These churches are considered to be the masterpieces of the Armenian architecture.17

In 30–40 years of the 13th century the Tatar and Mongols conquered Transcaucasia. The efforts of the Artsakh-Khachen king Hasan-Jalal succeeded in partially saving the land from being destroyed. However, after his death in 1261, Khachen became another victim of the Tatars and Mongols. The situation became still more aggravating in the 14th century in the years of the Turk tribes Qara Koyunlu and Aq Qoyunlu, having replaced the Tatars and Mongols. During this period the area received its Turkic name Karabakh (the Black garden) for the first time.18 However, it is necessary to mention that as the name Karabakh referred to not only present Nagorno-Karabah (Mountain Karabah), and also (and mainly) Flat Karabakh, that is the plain before merge of rivers Arax and Kura where Turkic nomads began to prevail.

The centuries-long subjection of the local Armenians to Muslim leaders, their relation with Turkic tribal elders and frequent cases of Turkic-Armenian intermarriage resulted in Armenians adopting elements of Turkic-Iranian Muslim culture, such as language, personal names, music, an increasingly humble position of women and, in some cases, even polygamy.19

Armenian Melikdoms

Five principalities of Karabakh (Gyulistan, Jaraberd, Khachen, Varand, Dizaq), the last relict of Armenian statehood (16th century)

Princedom Khachen existed until 16th–17th century and has broken up into five small princedoms ("melikdoms"):

  1. Giulistan or Talish Melikdom included the territory from Ganja to the bed of the River Tartar.
  2. Dzraberd or Charaberd Melikdom was situated in the territory stretching from the River Tartar to the River Khachenaget.
  3. Khachen Melikdom existed in the territory from the River Khachenaget to the River Karkar.
  4. Varandadisambiguation needed Melikdom included the territory from Karkar to the southern side of Big Kirs mountain.
  5. Dizak Melikdom stretched from the southern slope of Big Kirs mountain to the River Arax.

Those melikdoms were referred to as Khamsa, which means "five" in Arabic.20 While initially subordinate to Persia's Ganja khanate (ruled by Ziyad-oglu Qajars), the Armenian meliks were granted a wide degree of autonomy by the Safavid Persia over Upper Karabakh, maintaining control over the region for four centuries,.21 In the early 18th century, Persia's Nadir shah took Karabakh out of control of Ganja khans in punishment for their support of Safavids, and placed the region directly under his own control. At the same time, the Armenian meliks were granted supreme command over neighboring Armenian principalities and Muslim khans in Caucasus, in return for the meliks' victories over the invading Ottoman Turks in 1720s.22232425

According to some historiographers of the 18th century, of those five meliks, only Melik-Hasan-Jalalyans – the rulers of Khachen – were local residents of Karabakh, while the other four had settled from neighboring provinces. Thus, Melik-Beglaryans of Gulistan were native Utis from the village of Nij in Shirvan; Melik-Israelyans of Jraberd were descendants of the melik of Siunik to south-east and hailed from the village of Magavuz in Zangezur; Melik Shahnazars of Varanda hailed from the region of Armenian Gegharkunik to the east and received the title of meliks from shah Abbas I in reward for their services; Melik-Avanyans of Dizak – were descendants of meliks of Lori, an Armenian princedom to north-west.202425 These allegation is however discounted by modern scholarship. Modern western scholars Robert Hewsen and Cyril Toumanoff have demonstrated that all of these meliks were the descendants of the House of Khachen.26

Thanks to the meliks from the end of the 17th century in Artsakh there arouse and spread the idea of Armenian independence from Persia. Parallel with the armed struggle, Armenians in that period made diplomatic efforts, at first turning to Europe, then – to Russia. Such political and war leaders as Israel Ori, archimandrite Minas,disambiguation needed the Catholicos of Gandsasar Yesai Jalalian, iuzbashis (the commanders of hundred; the capitans) Avan and Tarkhan become people leaders.

The absence of power in 18th century in Persia created the threat to its integrity. Both Turkey and Russia expected to get its share from the possible breaking up of Persia, Turkey with this purpose striving for enlisting the support of the Dagestan mountaineers, Russia seeking its supporters among Armenians and Georgians.

In 1721, Peter the Great's Caspian campaign began. At the very beginning the Russian forces succeeded in occupying Derbent and Baku. Armenians encouraged by Russian, concluded the union with Georgians and collected an army in the Karabakh.27 However their hopes were deceived. Instead of the promised help, Peter the Great advised the Armenians of Artsakh to leave their native places of residence and move to Derbent, Baku, Gilan, Mazandaran where the Russian power had already been established. Intending to consolidate its hold on the occupied. Khanates, attached to Caspia, Russia signed the treaty with Turkey, on July 12, 1724, giving the latter a free hand in the whole Transcaucasus (as far as Shamakha).

In the same year Ottoman troops invaded the land. Their main victim became the Artsakh Armenian population, who, headed by meliks, rose to struggle for its independence, never having received the promised support on Russian side. Yet, Peter the Great's march gave a new impulse to the struggle of the Armenians.

In the 1720s the formed in Karabakh host concentrated in three military camps or Skhnakhs (fortified place). The first of them, called the Great Skhnakh, was situated in the Mrav Mountains near the Tartar River. The second Pokr (Minor) Skhnakh was on the slope of the Kirs Mountain in the province of Varanda and the third in the province of Kapan. Shkhnakhs, i.e. the Armenian host possessed absolute power. That was a people army with the Council of military leaders, the Catholicos of Gandsasar also entering it and having a great influence. Proceed from the demands of wartime, meliks shared their power with iuzbashis, all of them having equal rights and obligations at the military councils. The Armenian host at the head of its leaders, Catholicos Yesai, iuzbashis Avan and Tarkhan resisted the Ottoman regular army for considerably a long time.

In 1733, Armenians encouraged by occurrence of Nadir Shah, In one especially appointed day massacred all Ottoman army stood on winter quartiers in Khamsa. After that former position of area has been restored.1828

Old portrait of an early 20th-century Armenian family in Karabakh

In gratitude for services rendered to it, Nadir Shah released meliks of Khamsa from submission to khans of Ganja and appointed the governor above them Avan, melik of Dizak (the main organizer of plot 1733), having given it a title of khan. However, Avan-khan soon died2024

Karabakh Khanate

In 1747, Panah Ali Khan Javanshir, by then already a successful naib and royal gérant de maison, found himself displeased with Nader Shah's attitude towards him and having gathered many of those deported from Karabakh in 1736, returned to his homeland. Due to his reputation as a skillful warrior and his wealthy ancestor's legacy in Karabakh, Panah Ali proclaimed himself and was soon recognized throughout most of the region as a ruler (khan). The shah sent troops to bring back the runaway however the order was never fulfilled: Nader Shah himself was killed in Khorasan in June of the same year. The new ruler of Persia, Adil Shah issued a firman (decree) recognizing Panah Ali as the Khan of Karabakh.24

Melik of Varanda Shahnazar II, who was at odds with other meliks, was the first to accept suzerainty of Panakh khan. Panakh khan founded the fortress of Shusha at a location, recommended by melik Shahnazar, and made it the capital of Karabakh khanate.

Meliks, did not wish to reconcile to the new position. They hoped to the aid Russian and have entered into a correspondence to Catherine II of Russia and its favorite Grigori Potyomkin. Potyomkin already gave orders, that "at an opportunity its (Ibrahim-khans of Shusha) area which is made of people Armenian to give in board national and thus to renew in Asia the Christian state".29 But khan Ibrahim-Khalil (the son of Panakh-khan) learned about it. In 1785 he arrested the Dzraberd, Gulistan and Dizak meliks, and plundered Gandzasar monastery, and the Catholicos was planted in prison and poisoned. As a result of this the Khamsa melikdoms finally broke down.2030

Ibrahim-khan made the Karabakh khanate a semi-independent princedom, which only nominally recognized Persian rule.24

In 1797, Karabakh suffered the invasion of armies of Persian shah Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar. Shusha was besieged, but Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar was killed in the tent by own servants. In 1805 Ibrahim-khan signed the Kurekchay Treaty with Imperial Russia, represented by the Russian commander-in-chief in the war against Pavel Tsitsianov, according to which Karabakh khanate became the protectorate of Russia and the latter undertook to maintain Ibrahim-Khalil khan and his descendants as the ruling dynasty of Karabakh. However the following year Ibrahim-Khalil was killed by the Russian commandant of Shusha, who suspected that khan was trying to flee to Persia. Russia appointed Ibrahim-Khalil's son Mekhti-Gulu his successor.

In 1813, Karabakh khanate passed to Imperial Russia by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 (before the rest of Transcaucasia was incorporated into the Empire in 1828 by the Treaty of Turkmenchay). In 1822, Mekhti-khan escaped to Persia. In 1826, in Karabakh the Persian armies with which was and Mekhti-khan have intruded; but they could not grasp Shusha which was protected desperately with Russian and Armenians, and have been expelled by Russian general Madatoff (the Armenian from Karabakh by origin). The Karabakh khanate was dissolved, and the area became part of the Caspian oblast, and then Elizavetpol governorate within the Russian Empire (1823).

Russian Rule

Construction of the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi was completed in 1887.

The Russian Empire consolidated its power over the Karabakh Khanate following the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 and Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828, when following two Russo-Persian wars, Persia recognized Karabakh Khanate, along with many other khanates, as part of Russia.

The Karabakh khanate was eliminated in 1822. A survey prepared by the Russian imperial authorities in 1823, a year after and several years before the 1828 Armenian migration from Persia to the newly established Armenian Province, shows that all Armenians of Karabakh compactly resided in its highland portion, i.e. on the territory of the five traditional Armenian principalities, and constituted an absolute demographic majority on those lands. The survey's more than 260 pages recorded that the district of Khachen had twelve Armenian villages and no Tatar (Muslim) villages; Jalapert (Jraberd) had eight Armenian villages and no Tatar villages; Dizak had fourteen Armenian villages and one Tatar village; Gulistan had two Armenian and five Tatar villages; and Varanda had twenty-three Armenian villages and one Tatar village.3132

Only 222 Armenians migrated to lands that were part of the Karabakh province, in 1840.33 In the mountainous part of Karabakh Armenian immigrants founded a new village, which they named Maraga after the town in Persia where they came from.

During the 19th century, Shusha becomes one of the most significant cities of Transcaucasia. By 1900 Susha was the fifth on size city of Transcaucasia; there was a theatre, printing houses, etc.; manufacture of carpets and trade were especially developed, since being there for a long time. Census of 1897 shows 25.656 inhabitants, from them of 56,5% of Armenians and 43,2% " the Azerbaijan Tatars "34 For the period from 1874 to 1920 there were 21 names of newspapers and magazines, from them 19 were in the Armenian language and 2 in Russian language were published.35 Armenians, making the richest and educated part of the population, defined cultural shape of Shusha.

During the first Russian revolution 1905, in the fields, there were bloody armed conflicts between Armenians and Tatars (Azerbaijanians).

October Revolution, 1917

A young maiden from Shusha in national garments

The set of Russian Provisional Government happened after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Grand Duke Nicholas with the Special Transcaucasian Committee (особый Закавказский Комитет (ОЗАКОМ), osobyy Zakavkazskiy Komitet (OZAKOM)) committee established the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. Karabakh became part of the Transcaucasian Federation.

Following the October Revolution, a government of the local Soviet, led by an ethnic Armenian Stepan Shaumyan, was established in Baku: the so-called National Council of Baku (November 1917 – July 31, 1918).

The Armenians under the Russian control devised a national congress at October 1917. The convention in Tiflis was concluded in September 1917 with delegates from former Romanov realm (203)]. The Muslim National Councils (MNC) pass the law to organize the defense and devised a local control and administrative structure of the Transcaucasia. The Council also selected a fifteen member permanent executive committee, known as the Azerbaijani National Council.

1918

Independent states, May 1918

On May 1918 this soon dissolved into separate Democratic Republic of Armenia, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, and Georgian Democratic Republic states.

Ethnic and religious tension, March 1918

In March 1918, ethnic and religious tension grew and the Armenian-Azeri conflict in Baku began. Musavat and Ittihad parties were accused of Pan-Turkism by Bolsheviks and their allies. Armenian and Muslim militia engaged in armed confrontation, with the formally neutral Bolsheviks tacitly supporting the Armenian side. As a result, between 3,000 and 12,000 were killed in what is known as the March Days.363738 Muslims were expelled from Baku, or went underground. At the same time the Baku Commune was involved in heavy fighting with the advancing Ottoman Caucasian Army of Islam in and around Ganja. Major battles occurred in Yevlakh and Agdash, where the Turks routed and defeated Dashnak and Russian Bolshevik forces.

In these circumstances the government of Azerbaijan declared the incorporation of Karabakh into the newly established Azerbaijan Democratic Republic of Baku and Yelizavetpol Gubernias. However the Nagorno-Karabakh and Zangezur rejected to recognize the jurisdiction of the Azerbaijani Republic. Here the two Armenian national uezd (district) Councils took the power into their hands, organised and headed the struggle against Azerbaijan.

People’s Government of Karabakh, July 1918

On July 22, 1918 the First Congress of the Armenians of Karabakh was convened, which proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh an independent administrative-political unit,citation needed elected the National Council as well as the People’s government.citation needed Peoples Government of Karabakh had five administrators in the following areas:

Prime-minister of the government was Yeghishe Ishkhanian, the secretary – Melikset Yesayan. The government published the newspaper "Westnik Karabakha".39

In September, at the 2nd Congress of the Armenians of Karabakh the People's Government was renamed into the Armenian National Council of Karabakh.citation needed In essence, its structure remained the same:

  1. Justice Department – Commissar Arso Hovhannisian, Levon Vardapetian
  2. Military Department – Harutiun Tumian (Tumanian)
  3. Department of Education – Rouben Shahnazarian
  4. Refugees Department – Moushegh Zakharian
  5. Control Department – Anoush Ter-Mikaelian
  6. Department of Foreign Affairs – Ashot Melik-Hovsepian.4041

On July 24, the Declaration of the People’s government of Karabakh was adopted which set forth the objectives of the newly established state power.42

Armistice of Mudros, October 1918

On October 31, 1918 Ottoman Empire admitted its defeat in World War I, and its troops retreated from Transcaucasia. British forces replaced them in December and took the area under its control.

1919

The British mission

The government of Azerbaijan for this once tried to capture Nagorno-Karabakh with the help of the English. The new borders of Transcaucasia could not be defined without the agreement of England. Stating that the fate of the disputable territories must be solved at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, the English command in reality did everything for incorporating Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan long before the final resolution of the problem. Establishing a full control over the export of the Baku oil, the English sought the final secession of Transcaucasia from Russia; Azerbaijan, as it was supposed, was to play a role of an advanced post of the West in the South Caucasus to create barriers to the sovietization of the region.

On this account the policy of the allied powers in the relation with Transcaucasia had a pro-Azerbaijani trend. The solution of the Karabakhian problem was dragged out rather calculating on the development of the military-political situation that would be favourable for Azerbaijan, therefore the change of the ethnic structure of Nagorno-Karabakh.

On January 15, 1919, the Azerbaijani government with "the knowledge of the English command" appointed Khosrov bey Sultanov governor-general of Nagorno-Karabakh, simultaneously laying an ultimatum to the Karabakhian National Council to recognize the power of Azerbaijan. On February 19, 1919, the 4th Congress of the Armenian population of Karabakh was convened in Shushi, which decisively rejected this ultimatum of Azerbaijan and expressed protest in connection with the appointment of Sultanov governor-general. The resolution adopted by the congress says, "Insisting on the principle of the self-determination of a people, the Armenian population of Karabakh respects the right of the neighbouring Turkish people for self-determination and together with this decisively protests against the attempts of the Azerbaijani government to eliminate this principle in the relation of Nagorno-Karabakh, which never will admit the power of Azerbaijan over it".43

In the connection with the appointment of Sultanov the British mission came out with an official notification, which stated, that "by the British command’s consent Dr. Khosrov Bek Sultanov is appointed provisional governor of Zangezur, Shusha, Jivanshir and Jebrail useds [sic]. The British Mission finds it necessary to confirm that belonging of the mentioned districts to one or another unit must be solved at a Peace Conference".44

The National Council of Karabakh gave the following answer:

The National Council of the Armenians of Karabakh with its full complement, in common with the commanders of all the districts of Karabakh, having discussed the fact of appointing general-governor of the government of Azerbaijan, came to the conclusion that the Armenian Karabakh cannot accept such a fact, as the Armenian people of Karabakh considers the dependence on the government of Azerbaijan, in whatever form it might be, unacceptable due to those violence and violations of rights, which the Armenian people was systematically subjected to by the Azerbaijani government until recently wherever it connected its position with this government. The Armenian Karabakh showed the whole world that it in fact did not recognize and does not recognize within its borders the power of the Azerbaijani government as it had been decided recently by the Congress of the Armenians of Karabakh. Proceeding from the fact that the British command recognizes the Armenian Karabakh such a territory that is not subordinated to any state before the solution of the Peace Conference, therefore and in particular to Azerbaijan, the National Council considers the appointment of the English general-governor the only acceptable form for the government of the Armenian Karabakh, and it asks the mission to solicit the Supreme English Command".45

However in spite of the Karabakhi people’s protests the English commandment continued to assist and support the Azerbaijani Government in realizing the policy of incorporation of Armenian Karabakh into Azerbaijan. The English troops’ commander in Baku Colonel Schatelwort stated to the Karabakhian people:

I warn, that any excesses against Azerbaijan and its general-governor are performance against England. We are so strong, that we can force to obey you".46

Shusha, April 1919

Unable to force Nagorno-Karabakh to it knees by threats or by the help of the armed forces Schatelwort personally arrived at Shusha late in April 1919 to compel the National Council of Karabakh to recognize the power of Azerbaijan. On April 23, in Shusha the Fifth Congress was convened which rejected the Schatelwort’s demands. The congress has declared, that

"Azerbaijan always acted as the helper and the accomplice in the atrocities which are carried out by Turkey concerning Armenians in general and Karabakhs of Armenians in particular ".

It has accused Azerbaijan of robbery, murders and hunting for Armenians on roads, and that it "aspires to destroy Armenians as the unique cultural element, gravitating not to the East, and to the Europe ". Therefore resolution declared, that any program having any attitude to Azerbaijan is unacceptable for Armenian.47

Having received a refusal from the Fifth Congress, Sultanov decided to subordinate Nagorno-Karabakh by means of the armed forces. Almost the whole army of Azerbaijan was concentrated at the Nagorno-Karabakh borders. In the beginning of June Sultanov has tried to borrow the Armenian quarters of Shusha, attacked positions of Armenians and has organized pogroms the Armenian villages. So, nomads under leadership of Sultanov's brother completely massacred village Gayballu. 580 Armenians in total were lost...4849 The English troops withdrew from Nagorno-Karabakh to give the Azerbaijani troops a free hand.

On those days there was concluded the agreement to convene the Sixth Congress of the Karbaghi Armenians, at which the representatives of the English Mission and Azerbaijani government were to take part. The main objective of the Congress was the discussion of the interrelations of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan before the convention of the Peace Conference in Paris. However the representatives of the English mission and the government of Azerbaijan arrived at the Congress, after it had finished its work and the negotiations did not take place. To find out whether Nagorno-Karabgh would be able to defend its independence in case of war, at the Congress the Commission was established which came to the conclusion, that the Karabakhians would not be able to do so. In such circumstances the Congress, being under the threat of the armed assault form Azerbaijan, was compelled to start negotiations.

Final solution to peace conference, August 1919

Eager to win time and to concentrate the forces available, the Congress of the Armenians of Karabakh convened on August 13, 1919 concluded the agreement on August 22 according to which Nagorno-Karabgh considered itself to be fully within the borders of the Azerbaijani Republic till the final solution of the problem at Peace Conference in Paris. However the Azerbaijan armies are there in structure of a peace time. Azerbaijan cannot enter into area of an army without the permission of National Сouncil. Disarmament of the population stops before peace conference.50

In February, Azerbaijan has started to focus around Karabakh military parts and irregular groups. The Karabakh Armenians declared, that Sultanov "has organized large gangs of Tatars, Kurds, prepares grandiose massacre of Armenians (…) On roads kill travellers, rape women's, the cattle steal up. Proclaimed the economic blockade of Karabakh. Sultanov is declared demands entry of garrison in heart of Armenian Karabakh: Varanda, Dzraberd, break these the agreement of VII Congress".51

1920–1921

On February 19, 1920, Sultanov turned to the National Council of the Karabakhi Armenians with the demand "urgently to solve the question of the final incorporation of Karabakh into Azerbaijan".52

From February 23 until March 4, 1920 there was held the Eighth Congress of Karabakhi Armenians which rejected the demand of Sultanov. The Congress has accused the Sultanov of numerous infringements of the peace agreement, entry of armies in Karabakh without the permission of National Council and the organization of murders of Armenians, in particular the massacre accomplished on February, 22nd in Khankendy, Askeran and on road Shusha-Evlakh.53

However, in all these events, the aspirations and wishes of Azerbaijani population of Karabakh were continuously violated by Armenian inhabitants "who had no right to represent in its Congress the will of the entire population of the region"52

In accordance with the decision of the Congress the diplomatic and the military representatives of the allied states of the Entente, three Transcaucasian republics and the provisional governor-general were informed that "the repetition of the events will compel the Armenians of Nagorno- Karabakh to turn to the appropriate means for defense.".54555657

Nagorno-Karabakh war 1920

Ruins of the Armenian quarters of Shusha after burning city by Tatars in March 1920

In March–April 1920 there was a short war between Azerbaijan and Armenia for Nagorno-Karabakh. War has begun as a revolt of the Armenian population, who on March, 22nd (on Nouruz) broke the armistice and unexpectedly attacked Askeran and Khankendi. Armenians assumed that Azerbaijanians would have been celebrating Nouruz would not be prepared for defense. An attempted attack on the Azerbaijan garrison in Shusha failed because of the inconsistency of actions of the Armenian groups; in turn the Azerbaijan armies and population have crushed and have burnt the Armenian part of Shusha, and massacred the population. " The most beautiful Armenian city has been destroyed, crushed up to the basis; in wells we have seen corpses of women and children " – recollects Soviet communist leader Grigoriy Ordzhonikidze58

The officer of the Azerbaijan army Alimardanbekov wrote to his brother in his letter, which was preserved in archives, "Ermeni Shusha (i.e. Armenian Shusha), which you saw, has been completely burned down. Only 5–10 houses were left intact. More than 1000 Armenians were taken as prisoners. All men have been killed, all famous and wealthy people, even Khalif (the Bishop). The Muslims robbed innumerable wealth of the Armenians and got so rich that has become impudent".58 ".59 According to the description of Azerbaijan communist Musaev, «has begun ruthless destruction of defenceless women, children, old women, old men, etc. Armenians were exposed to a mass slaughter (...). At what beautiful Armenian girls raped, then shot. (...) On an order (...) Khosrov-bek Sultanov, pogroms proceeded more than six days, houses in the Armenian part have been crushed, plundered and reduced all to ashes, everyone lead away women where it will wish to executioners musavatists. During these historical artful punishments Khosrov-bek Sultanov, saying speeches, declared to moslems, about sacred war and called to finish finally with Armenians of city Shusha, not having spared women, children, etc.60

The Armenian sources name different figures of victims among Armenians, from 500 person at R. Hovannisian61 up to 35 thousand; ordinarily name figure in 20–30 thousand; number of the burnt houses estimate from (R. Hovannisian) 2 thousand up to 7 thousand (ordinarily named figure).626364 According to Greater Soviet Encyclopedia, during military events 20% of the population of the Nagorno-Karabakh were lost, (that at absolute calculation gives up to 30 thousand persons); mainly Armenians (which 94% of the population of area in general ade)6566 Pogrom in Shusha was kept in historical memory of the Karabakh Armenians as largest of the accidents gone through by them.

As a result of rout, Shusha has come to the pithiest situation. Its population was reduced up to 9.000, and by the end of 20th and up to 5.000 person58 (and so never and has not risen above 17.000 in 1989).63 Nadezhda Mandelstam so describes Shusha 20th years: " everywhere the same: two houses without a roof, without windows, without doors. (...)Speak, that after slaughter all wells have been hammered by corpses. If who has escaped, ran from this city of death. On all mountainous streets we did not see and have not met any person. Only below – on a market square – pottered about small group to people, but among them there was no Armenian, only muslims ".67

The course of the war was as follows. On April 3, Azerbaijanians have borrowed Askeran (grasped on March, 22nd the Armenian insurgents). On April, 7th, being based on Shusha, the Azerbaijan army has led approach to the south. At the same time there was an approach in the north, on Giulistan. By April, 12th the Azerbaijan approach has been stopped in Giulistan – under Chaikend, in the Varanda – under Keshishkend and Sigankh. In Khachen to Armenians in general it was possible to beat off successfully from the Azerbaijanians come from Agdam, and Azerbaijanians have only destroyed some villages in a valley of river Khachen, to northeast from Askeran. Against Azerbaijan all armed manned population of Karabakh (30.000) operated; Armenia officially denied the participation in operations, that mismatched the validity.68 However, the Armenian armies on Zangezur front, under command of the general Dro (Drastamat Kanayan) crushed the Azerbaijan barriers and broke in Karabakh. The strategic situation had sharply changed, and Armenians have started to prepare for storm of Shusha.69

Armenian declaration

On April 1920, the Ninth Congress of the Karabakhi Armenians was held which proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh an essential part of Armenia. The concluding document reads:

  1. "To consider the agreement, which was concluded with the government of Azerbaijan on behalf of the Seventh Congress of Karabakh, violated by the latter, in view of the organized attack of the Azerbaijani troops on the civilian Armenian population in Shusha and villages.
  2. To proclaim the joining of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia as an essential part of Armenia".54

But, with the direct intervention of Russian troops, Azerbaijan regained control of the area.

Soviet era, 1921–1991

Map of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast with main cities shown
Map of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and Kurdistani District in 1930

In 1921, Armenia and Georgia were also taken over by the Bolsheviks who, in order to attract public support, promised they would allot Karabakh to Armenia, along with two other disputable areas with ethnically mixed population – Nakhchivan and Zangezur (Syunik) (both last de facto belonged to Armenia). However, Moscow also had far-reaching plans concerning Turkey—hoping that it would, with a little help from Russia, develop along Communist lines. Needing to appease Turkey, bolsheviks not only have transferred Karabakh to Azerbaijan, but also have transferred it area Nachichevan, per 1919–1920 a part of Republic Armenia. From the areas declared disputable, only the small area Zangezur (a strip separating Nakhichevan from Azerbaijan proper) has been left for Armenia. As a result, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) was established within the Azerbaijan SSR in 1923. Most of the decisions on the transfer of the territories, and the establishment of new autonomous entities, were made under pressure from Joseph Stalin, who is still blamed by both Azerbaijanis and Armenians for arbitrary decisions made against their national interests.

"The Soviet Union created the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region within Azerbaijan in 1924, when over 94 percent of the region's population was Armenian. (The term Nagorno-Karabakh originates from the Russian for "mountainous Karabakh.") As the Azerbaijani population grew, the Karabakh Armenians chafed under discriminatory rule, and by 1960 hostilities had begun between the two populations of the region."

For 65 years of the NKAO's existence, the Karabakh Armenians felt they were the object of various restrictions on the part of Azerbaijan. The essence of Armenian discontent lay in the fact that the Azerbaijani authorities deliberately severed the ties between the oblast and Armenia and pursued a policy of cultural de-Armenization in the region, of planned Azeri settlement, squeezing the Armenian population out of the NKAO and neglecting its economic needs.70 The census of 1979 showed that the general number of inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region was counted as 162,200 persons, from them 123100 Armenians (75.9%) and 37300 Azerbaijanians (22.9%)71 Armenians marked this fact, comparing with it with data of 1923 (94% of Armenians). In addition to that they marked, that " to 1980 in Nagorno-Karabakh 85 Armenian villages (30%) have been liquidated and none at all Azerbaijanian "72 Also, Armenians accused the government of Azerbaijan "to the purposeful policy of discrimination and replacement". They believed that Baku's plan was to supersede absolutely all Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh on the example of how it, from their words, has been done in Nakhichevan Autonomous Region (which went from 40% Armenian in 1917 to 0% by 1999).

With the beginning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the question of Nagorno-Karabakh re-emerged. On February 20, 1988, the Oblast Soviet of the NKAO weighed up the results of an unofficial referendum on the reattachment of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, held in the form of a petition signed by 80,000 people. On the basis of that referendum, the session of the Oblast Soviet of Nagorno-Karabakh adopted the appeals to the Supreme Soviets of the USSR, Azerbaijan and Armenia, asking them to authorize the secession of Karabakh from Azerbaijan and its attachment to Armenia.70

It has caused indignation among the neighboring Azerbaijan population, which began to gather crowds to go and "put things in order" in Nagorno-Karabakh. On February 24, 1988, a direct confrontation between Armenians and gone "to put things in order" the Azerbaijanians, occurred near Askeran (border of Nagorno-Karabakh, on the road Stepanakert – Agdam) degenerated into a skirmish. During the clashes, which left about 50 Armenians wounded, a local policeman, in accordance with information from International Historical-enlightenment Human rights Society – Memorial he was an Azeri, shot dead two Azerbaijanis – Bakhtiyar Guliyev, 16, and Ali Hajiyev, 23. On February 27, 1988, while speaking on Central TV, the USSR Deputy Prosecutor General A. Katusev mentioned the nationality of those killed. Within hours, a pogrom against Armenian residents began in the city of Sumgait, 25 km north of Baku, where many Azerbaijani refugees resided. The pogrom lasted for three days. The exact figures for the dead are disputed. The official investigation reported 32 deaths – 6 Azerbaijanis and 26 Armenians,73 while the US Library of Congress places the number of Armenian victims at over 100.74

A similar attack on Azerbaijanis occurred in the Armenian towns of Spitak,74 Gugark75 and others. Azerbaijani sources put the number of Azerbaijanis killed in clashes in Armenia at 216 in total, including 57 women, 5 infants and 18 children of different ages.70 KGB of Armenia, however, approves, that it has tracked the destiny of all those from the Azerbaijan list-of-dead and the majority of them – earlier died, living in other regions USSR, from the earthquake of 1988 in Spitak etc.; the figure of Armenian KGB – 25 killed – originally was not challenged and in Azerbaijan.7677

Large numbers of refugees left Armenia and Azerbaijan as pogroms began against the minority populations of the respective countries. In the fall of 1989, intensified inter-ethnic conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh led Moscow to grant Azerbaijani authorities greater leeway in controlling that region. The Soviet policy backfired, however, when a joint session of the Armenian Supreme Soviet and the National Council, the legislative body of Nagorno-Karabakh, proclaimed the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. In mid-January 1990, Azerbaijani protesters in Baku went on a rampage against remaining Armenians. Moscow intervened only after there were almost no Armenian population left in Baku, sending army troops, who violently suppressed the Azerbaijan Popular Front (APF) and installed Mutalibov as president. The troops reportedly killed 122 Azerbaijanis in quelling the uprising, and Gorbachev denounced the APF for striving to establish an Islamic republic. These events further alienated the Azerbaijani population from Moscow and ACP rule. It is fair to mention, that in the eyes of many, the Red Army was sent not for protection of Armenians, but for prevention of ACP from taking total control of the republic. This appears true, as during the pogroms against Armenians there were enough National Guard soldiers and local Militia for prevention of violence, in which almost 300.000 Armenians (the whole Armenian population of Baku then) suffered torture, massacres, violence and either died or flee Baku by miracle. Even those Azeries in "mix-families", their children and parents had to flee, as supported by the KGB of Azerbaijan SSR the mobs had detailed addresses and information about the exact locations of the families. Such protection order was never issued by Moscow.

In a December 1991 referendum, that was taking place along with similar referendums all around the USSR, and boycotted by most of local Azerbaijanis, the yet majority population of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh approved the creation of an independent state. However, the Constitution of the USSR was the instrument in accordance to which only the 15 Soviet Republics could vote for independence and Nagorno-Karabakh was not one of the Soviet Republics. A Soviet proposal for enhanced autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan satisfied neither side, and Azerbaijan attacked militarily Nagorno-Karabakh which had no army at the moment. This could not leave the already independent Republic of Armenia irrelevant, so, by its support of the Armenian population in defense, a war subsequently erupted between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

The war of Nagorno-Karabakh, 1991

Ethnic groups of the region in 1995.unreliable source?. (See entire map)
Modern Nagorno Karabakh Republic.

The struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated after both Armenia and Azerbaijan attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In the post-Soviet power vacuum, military action between Azerbaijan and Armenia was heavily influenced by the Russian military. Extensive Russian military support was exposed by the Head of the Standing Commission of the Russian Duma, General Lev Rokhlin, who was subsequently allegedly killed by his wife in unknown circumstances. He had claimed that munitions (worth one billion US dollars) had been illegally transferred to Armenia between 1992 and 1996.78 According to Armenian news agency Noyan Tapan, Rokhlin openly lobbied for the interests of Azerbaijan.79 According to The Washington Times, Western intelligence sources said that the weapons played a crucial role in Armenia's seizure of large areas of Azerbaijan. Other Western sources dispute that assessment, because Russia continued to provide military support to Azerbaijan, as well, throughout the military conflict.80 Russian Minister of Defense Igor Rodionov in his letter to Aman Tuleyev, Minister of cooperation with CIS countries, said that a Defense Ministry commission had determined that a large quantity of Russian weapons, including 84 T-72 tanks and 50 armored personnel carriers, were illegally transferred to Armenia between 1994 and 96, after the ceasefire, for free and without authorization by the Russian government.81 The Washington Times article suggested that Russia's military support for Armenia was aimed to force "pro-Western Azerbaijan and its strategic oil reserves into Russia's orbit".82 Armenia has officially denied any such weapons delivery.78

Both sides used mercenaries. Mercenaries from Russia and other CIS countries fought on the Armenian side,83 and some of them were killed or captured by the Azerbaijan army.84 According to The Wall Street Journal, Azerbaijani President Heydər Əliyev recruited thousands of mujahedeen fighters from Afghanistan (as well as mercenaries from Iran and elsewhere) and brought in even more Turkish officers to organize his army.85 The Washington Post discovered that Azerbaijan hired more than 1,000 guerrilla fighters from Afghanistan's radical prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Meanwhile, Turkey and Iran supplied trainers, and the republic also was aided by 200 Russian officers who taught basic tactics to Azerbaijani soldiers in the northwest city of Barda.86 Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, generally considered a notorious terrorist,87 personally engaged Armenian forces in NKR. According to EurasiaNet, unidentified sources have stated that Arab guerrilla Ibn al-Khattab joined Basayev in Azerbaijan between 1992 and 1993, although that is dismissed by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense.88 In addition, officers from the Russian 4th Army participated in combat missions for Azerbaijan on a mercenary basis.89

According to Human Rights Watch, "from the beginning of the Karabakh conflict, Armenia provided aid, weapons, and volunteers which were taken from Russia. Armenian involvement in Karabakh escalated after a December 1993 Azerbaijani offensive. The Republic of Armenia began sending conscripts and regular Army and Interior Ministry troops to fight in Karabakh. In January 1994, several active-duty Armenian Army soldiers were captured near the village of Chaply, Azerbaijan. To bolster the ranks of its army, the Armenia government resorted to press-gang raids to enlist recruits. Draft raids intensified in early spring, after Decree no. 129 was issued, instituting a three-month call-up for men up to age forty-five. Military police would seal off public areas, such as squares, and round up anyone who looked to be draft age".90

By the end of 1993, the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh had caused thousands of casualties and created hundreds of thousands of refugees on both sides. In a national address in November 1993, Əliyev stated that 16,000 Azerbaijani troops had died and 22,000 had been injured in nearly six years of fighting. The UN estimated that just under 1 million Azerbaijani91 refugees and displaced persons were in Azerbaijan at the end of 1993. Mediation was attempted by officials from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Iran, among other countries, as well as by organizations, including the UN and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which began sponsoring peace talks in mid-1992. All negotiations met with little success, and several cease-fires broke down. In mid-1993, Əliyev launched efforts to negotiate a solution directly with the Karabakh Armenians, a step Elchibey had refused to take. Əliyev's efforts achieved several relatively long cease-fires within Nagorno-Karabakh, but outside the region Armenians occupied large sections of southwestern Azerbaijan near the Iranian border during offensives in August and October 1993. Iran and Turkey warned the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians to cease the offensive operations that threatened to spill over into foreign territory. The Armenians responded by claiming that they were driving back Azerbaijani forces to protect Nagorno-Karabakh from shelling.

In 1993, the UN Security Council called for Armenian forces to cease their attacks on and occupation of a number of Azerbaijani regions. In September 1993, Turkey strengthened its forces along its border with Armenia and issued a warning to Armenia to withdraw its troops from Azerbaijan immediately and unconditionally. At the same time, Iran was conducting military maneuvers near the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic in a move widely regarded as a warning to Armenia.92 Iran proposed creation of a twenty-kilometer security zone along the Iranian-Azerbaijani border, where Azerbaijanis would be protected by Iranian firepower. Iran also contributed to the upkeep of camps in southwestern Azerbaijan to house and feed up to 200,000 Azerbaijanis fleeing the fighting.

Fighting continued into early 1994, with Azerbaijani forces reportedly winning some engagements and regaining some territory lost in previous months. In January 1994, Əliyev pledged that in the coming year occupied territory would be liberated and Azerbaijani refugees would return to their homes. At that point, Armenian forces held an estimated 14 percent of the area recognized as Azerbaijan, with Nagorno-Karabakh proper comprising 5 percent.93

However, during the first three months of 1994 the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army has started new offensive campaign and captured some areas thus creating a wider safety and buffer zone around Nagorno-Karabakh. By May 1994 the Armenian were in control of 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan. At that stage the Government of Azerbaijan for the first time during the entire duration of the conflict recognised Nagorno-Karabakh as a third party of the war and started direct negotiations with the Karabakhi authorities. As a result An unofficial cease-fire was reached on May 12, 1994, through Russian negotiation, and continues today.

As a result of the war for Nagorno-Karabakh safety and independence, Azerbaijanis were driven out of Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as territories adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh. Those are still under control of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian military. With the support of Soviet/Russian military forces, Azerbaijanis forced out tens of thousand Armenians from Shahumyan region. Armenians remain in control of the Soviet-era autonomous region, and a strip of land called the Lachin corridor linking it with the Republic of Armenia; as well as the so-called 'security zone'—strips of territory along the region's borders that had been used by Azerbaijani artillery during the war. The Shahumyan region remains under the control of Azerbaijan.

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  89. ^ Contested borders in the Caucasus, Alexey Zverev.
  90. ^ Human Rights Watch World Report 1995
  91. ^ Permanent mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United Nations – UNICEF Statistics
  92. ^ ReliefWeb – FMO Country Guide: Azerbaijan by Maria Salinas (as a PDF file)
  93. ^ Groong: Conflict Mythology and Azerbaijan

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