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History of Nagorno Karabagh (Artsakh)

Armenian Reserch Center
The University of Michigan - Dearborn.

Soviet Period (1919-1991) 

t first the Soviets returned Nagorno-Karabagh to Armenia; but after a brief period, Joseph Stalin gave it to Azerbaijan as an "autonomous region," and altered the boundaries so that Karabagh was cut off from Armenia and was smaller in size.

The next 70-plus years witnessed Azeri persecution of Armenians in an attempt to drive them out and replace them with Azeris, as was done in the Armenian territory of Nakhichevan. 

In the Gorbachev era of glasnost, the Armenians brought the persecution of their brethren to the world's attention through massive peaceful demonstrations in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, in February 1988.

By openly and bravely protesting Soviet ethnic injustice for the first time, the reform movement in Nagorno-Karabagh ignited the independence movements in the Soviet Bloc of Eastern Europe. The "Karabagh Movement" is thus the grandfather of freedom not only in Eastern Europe but in the former USSR itself.

At that time the Armenians wanted to attach Nagorno-Karabagh to Armenia, to ensure its survival, but now they respect the wishes of the Nargorno-Karabagh Armenians to be independent. The independence movement has been met with appalling violence from the Azeris. In February 1988 there was a pogrom (massacre) against Armenians in Sumgait, a suburb of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. In November of 1988, there was a pogrom against Armenians in Kirovabad (now Ganja), in the interior of Azerbaijan. In 1989-90, there are joint Soviet-Azerbaijani forced deportations of Armenians living in towns and villages of Azerbaijan bordering Nagorno- Karabagh. In January of 1990, there was pogrom (massacres) against Armenians in Baku itself.

When the Azeris began an outright military assault on the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh itself, they took up arms to defend their homes, their land, and their ancient culture. The Armenians are fighting for self-preservation and for the right of self- determination, while the Azeris are fighting to expel an ancient people from their historic homeland and to preserve power over a foreign province.

Today, a tenous cease-fire is in place and has been holding for the past 16 months. However, the Azeris number eight million and have a wealth of oil resources to draw upon in the coming years, and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh only 160,000 and scant resources. Very little would prevent the Azeris from reopening hostilities and starting a full-scale war once the oil money enters its coffers. A genocide similar to that of 1915 is threatened unless the world takes an interest in and protects the lives of the embattled Armenian minority.

Despite numerous acts of provocation on the part of Azerbaijan—including a six-year-old blockade of Armenia—the Armenian government has studiously avoided being drawn into the war between the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh and the Azeri leaders in Baku. In October 1992, the US Congress enacted legislation banning direct US assistance to the government of Azerbaijan until the blockade is lifted and the aggression ends.

The six-year-old war has taken the lives of more than 16,000 people, and over 1,000,000 have been displaced. Azerbaijan currently has 600,000-1,000,000 refugees, Armenia 400,000 refugees, and Nagorno-Karabagh 60,000 refugees.

Political Conditions

Armenian Youth Federation, Greece. 

he Republic of Nagorno Karabagh officially declared its independence following a December 1991 referendum which revealed a majority in favor of secession from Azerbaijan and of self rule. Nagorno Karabagh was a part of Armenia until 1921 when Joseph Stalin, then the Commissar of Nationalities, placed the region under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan. The decision to separate from Azerbaijan resulted from a history of economic, political, and cultural repression at the hands of Azeri authorities. 

Independence was officially declared on January 6, 1992, during the inaugural session of the newly elected 82-seat parliament which two days later elected Artur Mkrtichian as its first president. Mkrtichian, however, was fatally shot 3 months later and vice President Georgi Petrosian was appointed acting parliamentary president. Petrosian resigned in June 1993 and was replaced by Garen Babourian.

In the following months, the parliament did not hold session, as many parliamentarians were fighting on the frontlines. In fact, elections were held in July 1994 for 4 seats left vacant by the deaths of parliamentarians on the battlefields.

Parliamentary elections were held again in April 1995, forming a new 33-seat legislature to replace the Soviet-era 81-seat body. In the first election under the terms of a new presidential system of government, incumbent President Robert Kocharian was elected to a five-year term in November 1996, with international observers from the European Union and the Russian parliament certifying the election as free, fair and democratic. 

Nagorno Karabagh self-defense forces continued to control most of the republic as well as a buffer area to the east and south in an effort to protect Karabagh civilian centers from Azerbaijani shelling. The establishment of the Lachin land corridor, connecting Karabagh with Armenia, allowed for the delivery humanitarian food and medical supplies to offset the five-year full transport blockade of the region by Azerbaijani forces.

The Nagorno Karabagh conflict became the focus of an international mediation effort by the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as of some sporadic mediation attempts by individual countries. The OSCE formalized its mediation effort with the formation of an internal working group, called the "Minsk Group," consisting of eleven OSCE member states with Russia and a rotating state serving as co-chair. The Minsk Group sought to build on the progress reached by the continuation of the informal cease-fire agreement in place since May 1994 and aimed to hold an eventual peace conference to settle the conflict. The fundamental obstacle toward the settlement of the conflict was the necessity for reconciling the principles of territorial integrity and the right to self-determination, a challenge compounded by the bloody history of the conflict.

The Nagorno Karabagh's Parliament convened a special session on March and resolved to suspend its normal legislative duties. The secretary and the parliamentary chairman though, continued to hold their full legislative portfolios.

On the 20th of March, Robert Kocharian was named Prime Minister of the Armenian Republic as Armen Sarkisian, the former Prime Minister, resigned due to health reasons. Leonard Petrosian, Prime Minister of the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh, assumed the leadership until the next presidential elections.

The OSCE mediated talks in Moscow yielded no tangible results as stated by the Armenian deputy Foreign Minister V. Oskanian. Moreover OSCE suspended its regular monitoring of the southern Armenian-Azerbaijani border as a result of an incident in the Azerbaijani town Horadiz where a vehicle transporting an OSCE official monitor was fired upon. Despite the suspension of official monitoring the OSCE sent a new delegation to the region in an effort to stabilize the situation along the border area.

On June 1st, 1997, the OSCE "Minsk Group" announced a set of new proposals following a series of meeting with Armenian, Azerbaijani and Nagorno Karabagh officials. The new proposals that aimed at restarting the stalled mediation effort, would reportedly enable Azerbaijan to retain control over Karabagh while giving Karabagh a significant degree of autonomy within Azerbaijani proper. The proposal was rejected by the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh, while Armenia and Azerbaijan considered it as a basis to resolve the conflict. Furthermore, the foreign affairs minister of Karabagh, Arkadi Ghoukasian, reaffirmed that his country will continue to struggle for the recognition of its independence.

A new mission by the Minsk Group's French-American-Russian co-chairs, to the region from July 18 to 20 did not give the expected results. New negotiations, initiated by the American co-chairman were put to start in September after the presidential elections of the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh.

On September 1st, 1997, Karabagh elected Foreign Minister Arkadi Ghoukasian to the presidency with 89,3% of the vote. Later in the week, the Secretary of the Parliament Emma Gabrielian, was appointed temporary parliamentary chairman after the resignation of A. Tovmasian, while Leonard Petrosian was appointed Prime Minister of the Republic.

. During the same month the President of the Armenian Republic took the side for a gradual (stage by stage) settlement of the situation with, in the first place, the retreat from the territories and then the discussion about Karabagh's status. A position that was unanimously rejected by the opposition forces in Armenia (NDU, ADP, ARF) and by the President of Nagorno Karabagh Arkadi Ghoukasian, who prefers a package settlement that would directly define the region's status. On December 1, O. Yessaian was elected as Karabagh's Parliamentary Speaker.

The summit of foreign affairs ministers' of the OSCE in Copenhagen brought nothing new as the adoption of a resolution reiterating the principles of the Lisbon Summit about Azerbaijan's territorial integrity was blocked by Armenia.  

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Updated 30 August 1999 ..
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