History of Nagorno
"The Karabakh File"-
Edited by Gerard
(Gharabagh, in Armenian) is known in official Soviet parlance as Nagorno-Karabagh
or, "Mountainous Karabagh Autonomous District." It is a region of 1,699
square miles with a current population of approximately 157,000 people,
of whom 95 percent are Armenian. Its name means "black garden." The area
is known for its rugged beauty, its wild mountains, and its inaccessibility
to the rest of the Caucasus.
In ancient times, the region of Karabagh
and most of eastern Transcaucasia was inhabited by a people called Albanians,
not to be confused with the people of the same name now living in the Balkans.
According to the Greek geographer Strabo (1st C. B.C.), Karabagh, which
then encompassed both the mountainous Nagorno-Karabagh of today and the
larger lowlands, surrounding it, had a highly developed economy and was
famous for its cavalry. Caucasian Albanians maintained close contacts with
the Armenians. In the fifth century, shortly after the Armenians converted
to Christianity, the Albanians too adopted the Armenian brand of Christianity.
The first church established in Karabagh, in the region now known as Martuni,
was established by Gregory the Illuminator, first Catholicos of Armenia.
Tradition has it that Mesrob Mashtotz, the monk who created the Armenian
alphabet, founded the first school in Karabagh.
Given the centrality of religion
to social life during that period, it is not surprising that in the following
two centuries the Albanians merged with the Armenians. The nobilitv intermarried,
the region's bishops were often Armenians, and by the seventh century the
separate identity of the Albanians was lost.
The territories of both Mountainous
Karabagh and the larger surrounding lowlands became parts of the Armenian
provinces of Utik, Sunik and Artsakh. In the seventh and eighth centuries
much of this area was conquered by Arabs, who converted a portion of the
population to Islam. In Karabagh, only a very small minority was converted.
The situation of Karabagh changed radically in the eleventh century when
the ethnic Turkish invasions began. The Turks had emerged from Central
Asia, had conquered Iran, and founded the Seljuk Turkish dynasty, which
first raided, then invaded Armenia. From 1020 on, these invasions destroyed
much of Armenia, and Karabagh, especially its lowlands, suffercd greatly.
By the mid-eleventh century, the Armenian kingdom was destroyed. But the
feudal principality of Sunik, which occupied the mountainous territory
in the southeast of today's Soviet Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh survived
and became beacons to the rest of Armenia. In the following centuries,
thousands of Armenians found refuge in Karabagh, under the protection of
During the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries Karabagh gave rise to the pioneers of the Armenian emancipatory
struggle. Representatives of the region attempted to interest the monarchs
of Russia and other European powers in embarking on a "crusade" to liberate
the Armenian plateau, the eastern portions of which were occupied by the
Ottoman Turkish and Persian Fmpires. During the 1720's, the rebellion of
the Armenians ofSunik and Karabagh, led by David Beg, achieved notable
though temporary success. The Russian Empire, expanding southwards in the
Transcaucasus, annexed the territory of Karabagh in 1805.
The Russian annexation of Karabagh
was officially recognized by Persia in the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813.
Thus Karabagh came into the Russian Empire earlier than the areas of Yerevan
and Nakhichevan, which were ceded to Russia by Persia in the Treaty of
Turkmenchai in 1828. This earlier annexation benefited Karabagh in some
ways, but also created a major problem for the future. Because of the time
it came into the Russian empire, Karabagh was made part of Elizavetpol
Province, which later became Azerbaijan. Administratively, then, Karabagh
could not be joined in 1813 to the as-yet un-annexed Armenian territories
of which its history and population made it a natural part. Yerevan and
Nakhichevan, when they were attached to the Tzarist empire in 1828, were
organized in the Armianskoy region, later the Yerevan province. Here, as
in other empires, decisions made by colonial administrators laid the foundations
for future difficulties.
Revolution, Republic, and civil
the first months of the Russian revolution of 1917, the situation in Karabagh
was relatively calm. The Russian army had penetrated deep into the Ottoman
Empire, and there was no Turkish threat to Karabagh. But by the end of
1917 the Russian army had disintegrated, and in February 1918 the Ottoman
Turkish army moved into Armenia. The Ottoman Turks threatened Yerevan and
made a desperate drive to oil-rich Baku, then held by a multi-ethnic coalition
of Bolsheviks (headed by the Armenian Stepan Shaumian) and small Armenian
military forcas. While this struggle went on, representatives of the Armenians,
Georgians and Azeris met and formed a short-lived Transcaucasian Federation.
By May, 1918 this federation failed and three separate, independent republics
were proclaimed: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia formed the cores of today's
Soviet republics in the same region. The capital of the Azerbaijani Republic
was at Elizavetpol (Ganja). The new government, indifferent to the wishes
of its Armenian inhabitants, claimed Karabagh, as part of the territory
of the new republic. The commander of Ottoman Turkish forces, Nun Pasha
(brother of the Minister Enver Fasha), ordered the Armenians of Karabagh
to submit to the new government of its ethnic ally, Azerbaijan.
In August 1918, the Armenians of
Karabagh formed their own national assembly, called the First Assembly
of Karabagh Armenians, which then elected a People's Government of Karabagh.
This government rejected the demand that Turkish troops be permitted to
enter theft capital of Shushi. By the end of the summer, on September 15,
the Turks took Baku. With the ethnic Azerbaijani Turks at their side, they
carried out a systematic massacre of the Armenians in the city, during
which it is estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 Armenians died. when the news
of that massacre came to Karabagh, Armenians understood they too were incapable
of resisting successfully the regular troops of the Ottoman Turkish army.
On September 25, they submitted to the Turks and 5,000 Turkish soldiers
entered Shushi. Within a week, 60 prominent Armenians had been arrested,
the townspeople disarmed, and gallows ominously erected in the central
square of the town. There is no telling what would have happened had the
Turks stayed much longer.
Faced with this Turkish occupation,
the Karabagh Armenians were looking for aid from armed Armenians outside
their borders. The newly-founded Armenian Republic around Yerevan was much
too weak to help. The only force of any consequence was the independent
command of General Andranik, an ingenious guerrilla fighter and military
leader, in Zangezur. General Andranik decided to help and he moved toward
Shushi. This advance, however, was hindered by Muslim resistance and by
lengthy discussions among Armenians, which resulted in a fatal delay. Before
Andranik could reach Shushi (he got within 26 miles), the First World War
ended and Turkey, along with Germany and Austria-Hungary, surrendered to
The British occupation forces would
now play the key role in eastern Transcaucasia. The British ordered Andranik
to stop all further military advances and to await the solution of the
Armenian Question at the Paris Peace Conference. Andranik, not wanting
to antagonize the British, retreated to Goris in Zangezur. Thus the Armenians
placed the fate of Karabagh in the hands of the British and the Western
Allies. The Armenians had every reason to expect that they would be treated
well by the British; after all, Armenians had fought with the Allies and
had been the victims of their enemy, the Ottoman Turks. President Wilson
had pledged support for the Armenians. At the same time, the Azerbaijanis
had been allies of the Turks in 1918. Despite all this, within a few rnonths
the British shifted their support in eastern Transcaucasia to the Azerbaijanis,
motivated both by a traditional Turkophilia and by their geopolitical assumption
that they needed to favor and dominate emerging Muslim entities in the
Middle East, between the Suez and India, particularly those controlling