The conflict over Nagoro-Karabah (“Mountain-top Karabah”) has been going on for a little over a century. In the later years Russia tried to be a mediator and bring a resolution that would satisfy both Armenia and Azerbaijan, in accordance with the Russian saying of “both the wolves are fed and the sheep are whole”. However, the West’s darking Pashinyan did everything in his power to sabotage and discredit Russian efforts, to flirt with USA and France, and to actually lose Nagorn-Karabah to Azerbaijan.
After that, Russia could only try to save the Armenians living there and ensure their safe passage to Armenia poper:
Incidentally, at the moment there are more Armenians living in Russia, than in Armenia itself, but even bigger – or, more influential – Armenian diasporas can be found in France and the USA, which explains the political pull those two countries exert on Armenia.
For reference, see the map that I posted in relation to Kazahstan in the article A short look at the short history of Kazahstan through the lens of a 1922 map (inset in the lower left corner).
Before the revolution of 1917, there were practically no monolithic ethnic groups anywhere in Transcaucasia, the peoples lived mixed. At the same time, the territory of the future Nagorno-Karabah Autonomous Region was populated overwhelmingly by the Armenians.
In 1918, the newly independent states – Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia – began to divide Transcaucasia among themselves. At the same time, ethnic deportations began in the region.
The situation was complicated by the foreign intervention. Both the German-Turkish, and the British occupiers who replaced them, supported Azerbaijan’s claims to Nagorno-Karabah. The ethnic sympathies of the Turks are obvious, while for the British, the desire to gain control of the Baku oil fields by supporting Azerbaijan was probably crucial.
Although an Armenian National Council was established in Karabah, the attempt to annex the region to Armenia ended in failure. Karabah remained under Azerbaijani military control.
In 1920, the Sovietization of both republics took place. However, the dispute over Karabah has now continued between the Communists of both sides. It is noteworthy that the Russian Bolsheviks also supported Azerbaijan.
However, they were guided by other motives. Azerbaijan was part of the Turkic-Muslim world, in which the Bolsheviks wanted to foment an anti-imperialist revolution. Therefore, it was important for them to show how Soviet Russia fulfils the just national demands of the Turks and Muslims.
In addition, the RSFSR formed good relations with Kemalist Turkey. This was one of the most important breakthroughs of the ring of international isolation in which the Soviet government found itself.
Therefore, in July 1921 the Caucasian Bureau (Kavburo) of the Central Committee of the Worker-Peasant Bolshevik Party resolved the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute in favour of Azerbaijan, transferring Nahichevan and Karabah to it. Armenia retained only the Zangezur “corridor”, which cut off Nahichevan from the rest of Soviet Azerbaijan.
The vanished territory
An autonomous region (NKAO – the Nagorno-Karabah Autonomous Oblast) was created in Nagorno-Karabah in 1923 as part of Azerbaijan. At the same time, it did not include a fairly large strip of compact residence of Armenians north of the NKAO. It is also interesting that on the maps of 1926, the NKAO has a junction with Armenia.
However, on the maps published in the subsequent years, this connection disappears. As a result of the arbitrary administrative “clarification of borders”, the NKAO was surrounded by Azerbaijan on all sides.
Soviet national policy was characterized by the construction of titular nations of the Union republics (except the RSFSR) by assimilation of national minorities and deportation of alien ethnic elements.
Thus, if before 1917, Zangezur was approximately equally populated by Armenians and Azerbaijanis, then by 1941 it had become almost exclusively Armenian, while Armenia became the most ethnically homogeneous republic within the USSR.
Discrimination against Russians and Talysh
In turn, the communist rulers of Azerbaijan discriminated against Russians and Talysh, who therefore had no opportunity to ascend into the elite of the republic. The Talysh actually disappeared from the official list of peoples of the USSR by the 1970 census.
The strip of compact residence of Armenians to the north of the NKAO also gradually disappeared. Many Armenians had long lived in the cities of Azerbaijan (Baku, Sumgait, Ganja, Kirovabad under Soviet rule), but neither they had any right to an administrative career.
Against this background, it is obvious that the autonomy of the NKAO allowed the Armenian majority to remain there. According to the All-Union census of 1926, 89.2% of the population of Nagorno-Karabah were Armenians, 10.1% were Azerbaijanis.
The Soviet power made continuous attempts of ethnic assimilation and settlement of the region by Azerbaijanis. Despite this, according to the last All–Union census of 1989, Armenians in the NKAO constituted 76.9%, and Azerbaijanis – 21.5%.
Baku’s policy of changing the ethnic balance in the province has always caused acute irritation in Armenia and among the Armenians of the NKAO. The area was considered discriminated against. It also seemed unfair that the Nahichevan enclave inside Armenia was the ASSR (Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic) as part of the Azerbaijani SSR, while Nagorno–Karabah, which was, in fact, a similar Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan – had the status of only an autonomous region, while not being part of Armenia, but of the selfsame Azerbaijan.
In turn, the Azerbaijanis believed that Armenians had established a regional ethnocracy regime in the NKAO, and viewed themselves as a discriminated minority in the region.
The Armenian party elite and the creative intelligentsia – both of the republic and the autonomous region – repeatedly, during the periods of liberalization of the CPSU’s rule, initiated the revision of the status of the NKAO.
Moreover, they interpreted this revision unambiguously: the NKAO should be withdrawn from the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan and transferred to Armenia (as options: to the RSFSR or to obtain the status of a union republic). It was at times added to these requirements that Nahichevan should also be transferred to Armenia (although with the preservation of the status of the ASSR).
Transfer to Armenia
The first attempt of this kind was made by the first Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia Arutinov in 1945. In 1963-1966, similar appeals were repeatedly sent, first to Hrushchev, then to Brezhnev, who replaced him.
The latter was signed by the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia Kochinyan and the Pre-Council of the Republic Muradyan. It should be noted that the Azerbaijani party leadership did not come up with any counter initiatives on the liquidation of the NKAO.
The situation around the NKAO in the mid-1960s was heating up. In 1965, unauthorized rallies were held in Yerevan demanding a “fair solution” to the Karabah issue.
The crisis reached its peak in 1967, when bloody clashes took place in Stepanakert. Then there was a trial of three Azerbaijani kidnappers and murderers of an eight-year-old Armenian boy. As a result, one defendant was sentenced to death, the second – to 15 years in prison, the third was acquitted.
A crowd of Armenians, outraged by what they considered a mild sentence, attacked the convoy carrying the defendants and killed all three.
Following this, the units republican Interior Ministry forces were brought into Stepanakert, preventing larger-scale clashes. The verdict of the court in Baku over the instigators of the riots (19 people were convicted, five of them were sentenced to death) seemed to the Armenians to be the national revenge of the Azerbaijanis.
Following this, the former chairman of the KGB of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Aliyev (translator note: the father of the current president of Azerbaijab), who became the first secretary of Azerbaijan in 1969, tried to pursue a policy of settling the NKAO with Azerbaijanis.
Throughout the Soviet period, nothing was done to defuse the interethnic tensions that have been growing in the NKAO. With the large-scale liberalization initiated by Gorbachev, the blood-line national grievances that had been accumulating for decades, were bound to break loose.