FACT SHEET: NAGORNO-KARABAGH
ARMENIAN RESEARCH CENTER
The University of Michigan-Dearborn
Dearborn, MI 48128
The Autonomous Region of Mountainous Karabagh (also known in America as Nagorno-Karabagh) recently declared independence from Azerbaijan because of continued persecution, oppression, and human and civil rights violations by the Azeri Turks. It was attached to Azerbaijan as an Autonomous Region by Joseph Stalin in 1921 and has suffered under Azeri rule from that time onward.
Mountainous Karabagh had a pre-war population of approximately 200,000 people, 77% of whom were Christian Armenians. The remaining 23% were mainly Muslim Azeri Turks. Nagorno-Karabagh’s capital is Stepanakert. It has an area of about 1,700 square miles, slightly smaller than the state of Delaware.
- On December 10, 1991, Nagorno-Karabagh held an independence referendum in which 82% of all voters participated, and 99% voted for independence.
- On January 6, 1992, the leaders of Nagorno-Karabagh declared independence as the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh (RMK).
- On January 8, 1992, Artur Mkrtchian was elected President and Oleg Yessaian as Prime Minister of Karabagh by Karabagh’s Parliament. Note that this Presidency is not an independent office such as in the United States.
- On January 24, 1992, Karabagh’s Parliament elected Georgi Petrosian to the office of Vice President.
- On April 14, Artur Mkrtchian died in an accidental weapons misfire. Georgi Petrosian became acting President.
- On May 8, the Karabagh Defense Forces took Shushi, a city in Karabagh overlooking Stepanakert, from which the Azeris had been shelling Stepanakert.
- On May 18, the Karabagh Defense Forces took Lachin and connected Karabagh to Armenia, thus breaking the Azeri economic blockade on Karabagh (however, Armenia’s situation was not much better since it too was—and still is—under Azeri blockade).
- On June 12, following the June 7 election of Abulfez Elchibey as President of Azerbaijan, the Azeris launched a massive offensive that seized almost half of Karabagh by September. Beginning in late fall, the Karabagh Defense Forces retook nearly all of these territories and restored the political integrity of Karabagh by late March 1993.
- On March 27, 1993, the Karabagh Defense Forces, to forestall an Azeri spring offensive, launched attacks at two strategic Azeri cities, Kelbajar and Fizuli. They took Kelbajar on April 3, but were unable to take Fizuli. The capture of Kelbajar gave Karabagh a new connection to Armenia.
- On June 14, acting President Georgi Petrosian resigned as Armenian President Levon Ter Petrosian travels to Stepanakert to persuade the Presidium of Karabagh’s Parliament to accept a new CSCE peace plan, which it does by a vote of 6 to 5. Garen Baburian became the new acting President.
- June through August 1993 was a time of confusion in Azerbaijan as Surat Huseinov led a revolt against Elchibey; Haidar Aliyev became the new President of Azerbaijan; and a short-lived Mughan-Talish Republic was declared in Lenkoran, a port city near the Iranian border.
- July 23 to September 4 1993, Karabagh Defense Forces take Agdam, Fizuli, Jebrail, and Horadiz (although Horadiz keeps changing hands), thus taking the war to the rest of Azerbaijan.
- From December 22, 1993, to November 1994, the re-formed Azeri army, stiffened by Turkish and MegaOil (renegade Americans) training; Ukrainian, Turkish, and Chinese weaponry; and Afghan mujaheddin, launched new unsuccessful attacks on Karabagh.
- In May of 1994 a tenuous cease-fire went into effect, which is still holding today.
- December 28, 1994, The Karabagh Parliament created an independent Presidency such as in the United States and elected Robert Kocharian to fill it the next day.
Historically Armenian, Nagorno-Karabagh was connected to Armenia in ancient times, a connection that was lost after the division of the Armenian Kingdom in 387 AD. With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Karabagh fell under Arab rule, where it stayed for 300 years.
In the eleventh century, Karabagh came under the rule of the Bagratid Kings of Georgia, relatives of the Armenian Bagratids, who held it until the Mongol invasion. After 100 years of Mongol rule, Karabagh fell into Turkish hands, where it stayed until the Persians took power in the early 1600s.
In 1603, Shah Abbas the Great of Persia allowed local Armenian rule in Karabagh under five meliks (kings). These five kinglets, later joined—but not supplanted—by a Muslim khanate, survived until the Russian conquest of Karabagh in 1828.
Under Russian rule, a deliberate effort was made to link Karabagh economically with the “Baku Province,” later to be named Azerbaijan. With the withdrawal of Russian power following the Russian democratic revolution in February/March of 1917, Karabagh reemerged as a state, governed by the Assembly of Karabagh Armenians.
The Azerbaijanis, who were trying to organize their own state, contested the Armenians’ right to rule Karabagh, even though it was overwhelmingly Armenian. The Azeris first turned for help to the British occupation force led by General Dunsterville, then to the Ottoman army under Nuri Pasha, and finally to the Russian Bolsheviks. With foreign aid, they won out.
At 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 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.
- The United States and the United Nations should recognize the independence of the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh.
- Azeri leaders and Turkish leaders should reduce belligerent talk and cease to incite their people to war.
- Azerbaijan should cease hiring mujaheddin and other foreign mercenaries.
- Turkey should no longer train and supply Azerbaijani troops and should cease threatening gestures towards Armenia.
- Azerbaijan and Turkey should cease their illegal blockades of Armenia and Karabagh, which have caused untold suffering and death for the civilian population of Armenia.
- A permanent truce must be agreed upon and enforced.
- United Nations troops should be sent in to monitor a self- determination plebiscite.
The current situation is one of “no peace, no war.” Negotiations continue, but with Azerbaijan insisting on the principle of “territorial integrity” (despite the fact that Eritrea was recognized by the world community as independent from Ethiopia after a war), little progress has been made.
April 3, 1996