Научная статья на тему 'On autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh: lessons of history'

On autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh: lessons of history Текст научной статьи по специальности «История и археология»

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Аннотация научной статьи по истории и археологии, автор научной работы — Shukiurov Kerim

This article, which offers new approaches to the already known facts and documents dating to 1920-1923 when Nagorno-Karabakh acquired its autonomy, can be described as a successful attempt at restoring an objective picture of the past events. This process, which was neither natural nor historically justified, was a result of the old imperial policies pursued by the new Center (read the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and the Caucasian Bureau of the RCP (B) that infringed on the rights of the Azeris of Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as elsewhere across the Caucasus [in Armenia, Georgia and Daghestan]). The author has convincingly demonstrated that the autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh imposed on Azerbaijan served as the first step toward the region’s gradual degeneration into a seat of ethnic extremism and separatism.

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Текст научной работы на тему «On autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh: lessons of history»

C o n c l u s i o n

So light can be shed on the history of the Transcaucasian Seym and the drawing up of a Transcaucasian Constitution in particular only through the joint efforts of academics from the three Central Caucasian countries. This article can only be regarded as a call to begin such work. Having an idea of the archive documents that exist in the Georgian language will help researchers to delve more deeply into the history and experience of the Transcaucasian Seym.


D.Sc. (Hist.), associate professor at the History of Azerbaijan Department, Faculty of the Humanities, Baku State University

(Baku, Azerbaijan).



This article, which offers new approaches to the already known facts and documents dating to 1920-1923 when Nagorno-Karabakh acquired its autonomy, can be described as a successful attempt at restoring an objective picture of the past events. This process, which was neither natural nor historically justified, was a result of the old imperial policies pursued by the new Center (read the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party

(Bolsheviks) and the Caucasian Bureau of the RCP (B) that infringed on the rights of the Azeris of Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as elsewhere across the Caucasus [in Armenia, Georgia and Daghestan]). The author has convincingly demonstrated that the autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh imposed on Azerbaijan served as the first step toward the region’s gradual degeneration into a seat of ethnic extremism and separatism.

I n t r o d u c t i o n

The lessons of history are invaluable when it comes to settling contemporary conflicts—we have learned that much from the political practices of other countries. In fact, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is no exception: its autonomy gained through purely Soviet-Bolshevist methods has become part of the conflict’s roots. This means that the time has come to study the issue in detail.


Armenian historians have already falsified the history of the issue. The historical-political section in one of the Armenian works on the subject says: “Logic raises the following question: Why was the autonomous region formed two years after the decision of the Caucasian Bureau? Because the chauvinist-minded [?] leaders of Azerbaijan used all kinds of pretexts [?] to avoid realization of this solution to the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh that contradicted the will and aspirations of the Armenians [!]. It was realized only because the head of the Transcaucasian Federation insisted [!] on it.”1 Those who wrote this never mentioned the fact that at that time Azerbaijan was headed by Sergey Kirov, a Russian who could hardly be described as a “chauvinist-minded” Azeri. The authors failed to clarify which “pretexts” they had in mind. Here is another example: “The Armenian autonomous region [?] was formed by a decree of the Central Executive Committee of Azerbaijan.”2 None of the official documents refers to the autonomy as the Armenian autonomous region, etc. Regrettably, the Azeri historians likewise failed to fully expose the meaning of the autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh and its negative role in the history of Azerbaijan.

This means that the issue needs a fresh, objective, and balanced approach, hence I have posed myself several tasks in this article.

■ First, the historical context of the Armenians’ settlement in Azerbaijan and Karabakh should be investigated in detail.

■ Second, the meaning of Nagorno-Karabakh’s autonomy and the process of acquiring it in 1920-1923 should be given more profound consideration since later the autonomy served as an institutional foundation for the Armenian-Azeri conflict.

■ Third, we should learn the lessons of history to acquire more adequate ideas about the conflict’s current realities in order to be able to find new solutions to it.

Relocation of the Armenians to Azerbaijan as a Historical and Political Prerequisite of Autonomy

Karabakh, its mountainous part included, has been part of Azerbaijan throughout its entire history; the Armenians, on the other hand, of Azerbaijan, and of Nagorno-Karabakh as its part, have never been an autochthonous population. Armenians started coming to Azerbaijan under Peter the Great (1672-1725). It was at that time that resettlement of the Armenians became Russia’s central issue in the Caucasus and Azerbaijan. In his charter to the Armenians of 10 November, 1724, Peter the Great wrote: “We inform you through Priest Antony and Kevkh Chelebia, whom you sent to us, that we received your humble letter; those who brought this letter told us in great detail that you, your households and your families, were seeking Our Imperial Protection to be able to live today and in the future quite freely in Our newly acquired Persian (Azeri.—K.Sh.) provinces along the Caspian coast; that We should order to allocate you convenient places for settlement and send Our Imperial decrees to Our governors of these newly acquired Persian provinces asking them not only to welcome you in Gilan and Mizendrone, as well as in Baku and other suitable places, when any of you reached them, but also give you convenient places to settle in and protect you in all other respects.”3

Russia was seeking ethnic, confessional, and military-strategic support of the Armenians; Catherine the Great (1762-1796) continued the course started by Peter the Great with good results: during

1 Karabakhskiy vopros. Istoki i sushchnost v dokumentakh i faktakh, Stepanakert, 1991, p. 7.

2 Ibidem.

3 G. Ezov, Snoshenia Petra Velikogo s armianskim narodom. Dokumenty, St. Petersburg, 1898, pp. 392-293.

Russia’s aggressive wars in the Caucasus in the 19th century, the Armenian settlers completely justified Russia’s expectations. The Turkmanchai (1828) and Adrianople (1829) peace treaties opened a new stage in Armenian settlement on the newly acquired lands. Alexander Griboedov, prominent Russian author and diplomat, publicist writer S. Glinka, and others described the Armenian settlement of Azerbaijan.4

In the photographs:

1. The monument erected in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of resettlement of the Armenians from Iran to Northern Azerbaijan, Agdere (Mardakert), 1978.

2. The same monument ruined by the separatists who destroyed part that showed the date (150th) of the Armenian resettlement. Agdere (Mardakert), 1988.5

4 See: A.S. Griboedov, Sochinenia v dvukh tomakh, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1971, pp. 339-341; S. Glinka, Pereselenie armian adderbidzhanskikh v predely Rossii, Moscow, 1831.

5 See: Ia. Makhmudov, K. Shukiurov, Karabaq: real’naia istoriia, fakty, dokumenty, Baku, 2007, p. 35.


In his Notes on Armenians, Alexander Griboedov wrote: “Together with him (head of the set-tlers.—K.Sh.) we spoke a lot about how to convince the Muslims to accept their present problem, which would not last long, and how to uproot their fears that the Armenians would take possession of the lands they had been allowed to settle on. I spoke in the same vein to the police chief, members of the board, and the khans who visited me.”6 Armenian historian Ts. Agaian wrote that in 1828 over 40 thousand Armenians moved from Persia to the Transcaucasus; in 1829 they were joined by about 90 thousand Armenians from Turkey.7 “Asker Khan, one of the Persian bureaucrats, wanted to know whether the Armenians were moving out on their own free will. ‘Yes,’ was the answer. ‘We would rather eat Russian grass than Persian bread.’”8

In 1978, the 150th anniversary of Armenian relocation, after the Turkmanchai Peace Treaty of 1828, to Azerbaijan (that is, to Nagorno-Karabakh) was marked by a monument erected in Nagorno-Karabakh. Later, during the events of the 1980s it was deliberately destroyed to conceal “ill-fitting facts” (see the photographs on p. 142).

The mass inflow of Armenians that went on after the Turkmanchai Treaty inevitably increased the region’s Armenian population. N. Shavrov, a Russian expert on the Caucasus, wrote: “Out of the 1,300 thousand Armenians living in the Transcaucasus over 1 million were not locally born; we brought them in. The following figures provide an idea about the number of Armenians who arrived in the last 13 years: in 1896 Aide-de-Camp-General Sheremetev, in his Most Loyal memo, quoted a figure of about 900,000 Armenians in the Transcaucasus; in 1908 there were 1,300,000 Armenians of both sexes, that is, there was an increase of no less than 400,000 during this period. In 13 years we brought in over 300,000 Armenians if we exclude natural growth.”9

The Russian Empire not merely moved Armenians to Azerbaijan—it offered them all necessary conditions. Peter the Great’s decree of 10 November, 1724 was followed by similar legal acts, including the Imperial Decree to the Local Authorities in the Caspian Regions on Allocating Suitable Lands for Armenian Settlers and Extending All Possible Assistance to Them,10 one of the most important of its kind. A plan appeared under Catherine the Great that issued instructions “to first gain a foothold in Derbent, capture Shemakha and Ganja and, after gathering enough forces in Karabakh and Signakh, comparatively easily occupy Erivan.”11 At that time, the plan remained on paper.

The Russian-Iranian War of 1826-1828 demonstrated that the plan was not forgotten: the Nakh-chyvan and Erivan khanates were captured; the decree of 21 March, 1828 issued by Nicholas I (18251855) set up the Armenian region12 that was liquidated 12 years later during the administrative reform of 1840.

Until the last days of the Russian Empire the Armenians remained one of the priorities. American historian Tadeusz Swietochowski has written that under Russia’s patronage the Armenian population developed much faster than the Muslims (Azeris.—K.Sh.). This meant that they were better prepared to profit from the economic growth that began in Azerbaijan. At the 1872 auction the “Tartars” (Azeris.—K.Sh.) acquired merely 5 percent of the leasing rights on the oil-rich stretches, while Armenian businessmen received almost ten times more. By 1900, writes the same author, 29 percent of the 115 industrial companies of the Baku Gubernia belonged to the Armenians, while the Tartars owned as little as 18 percent of the total number.13 In 1905, having strengthened their position in the social, economic, and political life of Azerbaijan, the Armenians openly moved against the Azeris.14

6 A.S. Griboedov, op. cit., p. 340.

7 See: Ts.P. Agaian, Pobeda Sovetskoy vlasti i vozrozhdenie armianskogo naroda, Moscow, 1981, p. 26.

8 Ibid., p. 27.

9 N. Shavrov, Novaia ugroza russkomu delu v Zakavkazie, St. Petersburg, 1911, p. 64.

10 See: G. Ezov, op. cit., pp. 394-397.

11 Sobranie aktov, otnosiashchikhsia k obozreniu istorii armianskogo naroda, Part II, Moscow, 1838, p. 69.

12 See: Polnoe sobranie zakovov Rossiiskoy imperii. Sobr. Vt, Vol. III, 1828, St. Petersburg, 1830, pp. 272-273.

13 See: T. Swietochowski, “Russkiy Azerbaijan. 1905-1920,” Khazar, No. 1, 1990, p. 99.

14 See: V.F. Maevskiy, Armiano-tatarskaia smuta na Kavkaze, kak odin iz fazisov armianskogo voprosa, Tiflis, 1915.


In the post-October 1917 period Soviet Russia continued the pro-Armenian course; in November 1917, Bolshevik-Dashnak power established itself in Baku, which reached its apogee in March 1918 in the form of the Armenian-instituted genocide of the Azeris. Azerbaijan protected itself against the Armenian expansion by setting up the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) on 28 May, 1918. Simultaneously a Republic of Armenia was set up on the historical territory of Western Azerbaijan. From that time on Armenian territorial claims to Azerbaijan took the form of state policy. For almost two years the ADR protected Karabakh against Armenian aggression. The situation changed when Soviet power was established throughout the Caucasus—the new historical context allowed Soviet Russia (the Soviet Union since 1922) to impose autonomy of the mountainous part of Karabakh on Azerbaijan.

“Nagorno-Karabakh Should Remain within the Azerbaijanian S.S.R. and be Granted Broad Regional Autonomy...”

Karabakh consists of lower (plain) and upper (mountainous) areas. In his article “Karabakhskiy krizis” (The Caucasian Crisis), A. Skibitskiy wrote: “The entire mountainous part of the Karabakh Khanate (1747-1822.—K.Sh.) was called Nagorno-Karabakh. This territory included the Karabakh mountain ranges in the east, the lands between the Zangezur mountains in the west, and the Karabakh Plateau that separates upper and lower Karabakh.”15 As part of czarist Russia the former Karabakh Khanate was deprived of its original administrative and political status, which was later regained within the ADR. It was at that time that the Dashnaks coined the term Nagorno-Karabakh.”16 From that time on the term gradually acquired political meaning as well. After 28 April, 1920, when the Bolsheviks captured Northern Azerbaijan, it was used as an administrative-political term and the key political concept in the relations between the Armenians and Azeris and Soviet Russia that kept interfering in their bilateral relations. Simultaneously, the geographical limits of Nagorno-Karabakh also changed. As A. Skibitskiy wrote in the same article: “In 1923 the Karabakh Plateau became autonomous; it was named the Autonomous Region of Nagorno-Karabakh or, within the new borders of Azerbaijan, simply Nagorno-Karabakh.”17

Soviet power in Azerbaijan set up the Soviet of People’s Commissars (SPC of the Azerbaijanian S.S.R.) and appointed extraordinary commissars. A. Karakozov (1890-1938) was appointed extraordinary commissar for Nagorno-Karabakh.18 On 30 April, 1920 the government of Soviet Azerbaijan demanded in its note that the Republic of Armenia pull its troops out of Zangezur and Karabakh.19 In May 1920 Soviet power was established in Karabakh.

At the same time, Soviet Russia continued Sovietization of the Caucasus and expected to resolve the territorial conflicts with the help of a special commission. The instructions of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) to the Military-Revolutionary Soviet of the Caucasian Front issued on 7 July said that a “mixed commission chaired by a Representative of Russia should be set up. It will be guided by the population’s ethnic composition and its will.”20 Later, however, this principle was never applied when Armenia acquired its territory.

15 A. Skibitskiy, “Karabakhskiy krizis,” Soyz, No. 7, 1991; separate edition, Baku, 1991.

16 S. Shadunts, “Karabakh,” Bakinskiy rabochiy, 21 December, 1922; K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karaba-khskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR. 1918-1925. Dokumenty i materialy, Baku, 1989, pp. 135-137.

17 A. Skibitskiy, op. cit.

18 See: Ocherki istorii Kommunisticheskoy partii Azerbaidzhana, Baku, 1963, p. 334.

19 See: K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR, p. 41.

20 Karabakhskiy vopros, pp. 49-51.

On 29 November, 1920 Soviet power was established in Armenia, while on 28 December the Revolutionary Committee of Armenia abandoned its claims on Nakhchyvan in full conformity with the will of its population.21 Armenia persisted in its claims to Nagorno-Karabakh; the issue was revived by the two republics when discussion turned to their common borders. On 27 June, 1921 the Politburo and Orgburo of the C.C. of the Azerbaijanian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) discussed the progress made by the commission in Tbilisi that tried to settle the problem of the borders with Armenia. The sitting adopted a resolution of five points. Point 3 said: “3. The problem (of Nagorno-Kara-bakh.—K.Sh.) can be resolved solely through extensive involvement of the Armenian and Muslim masses into the cause of Soviet construction (as proved by the declaration of Comrade Narimanov).”22 On the same day Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan M. Huseynov (1894-1938) informed the Caucasian Bureau of the C.C. R.C.P.(B.) about the issue. It was decided to convene an extraordinary plenary meeting of the Caucasian Bureau to discuss the issue and invite N. Narimanov and A. Mias-nikov (Miasnikian) to Tiflis.23

The Caucasian Bureau held its plenary meeting in Tiflis on 4 and 5 July, 1921. The special importance of the sitting requires that the verbatim reports of its evening session of 4 July and the meeting of 5 July should be quoted in parts.24


4 July, 1921

Attended by25: Member of the C.C. R.C.P. Stalin; members of the Caucasian Bureau: comrades Orjonikidze, Makharadze, Narimanov, Miasnikov, Kirov, Nazaretian, Orakhelashvili and Figatner.

Secretary of the Komsomol Caucasian Bureau Breytman, members of the C.C. of Georgia: Tsintsadze, Mdivani and Svanidze.



5. The Karabakh question. The discussion revealed two points of view; the following issues were put to the vote:

21 See: D. Guliev, “Sledovat istine, a ne ambitsiiam,” in: Koflikt v Nagornom Karabakhe, Collection of articles, Baku, 1990, p. 48.

22 This implies the speech by Chairman of the Azerbaijanian Revolutionary Committee Nariman Narimanov (18701925) at the ceremonial sitting of the Baku Soviet dedicated to the establishment of Soviet power in Armenia on 1 December, 1920. Armenian historiography falsified the main points of Narimanov’s speech (for more detail, see: T. Kocharli, “Neobkhodimoe utochnenie,” in: Koflikt v Nagornom Karabakhe pp. 32-34).

23 See: K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR, pp. 86-90.

24 See: Ibid., pp. 90-92.

25 Stalin (Dzhugashvili), Iosif Vissarionovich (1879-1953)—at that time commissar for the nationalities (19171922); Orjonikidze, Grigory Konstantinovich (Sergo) (1886-1937); Makharadze, Filipp Ieseevich (1868-1941)—Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Georgia; Narimanov, Nariman Kerbelai Najaf ogly (1870-1925)—Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Azerbaijan (1920-1922); Kirov (Kostrikov), Sergey Mironovich (1886-1934); Miasnikov (Miasnikian), Alexander Fedorovich (1886-1925)-Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Armenia; Naza-retian, Amaiak Markarovich (1889-1937)]—in 1920-1922 was Secretary of the Caucasian Bureau, member of the Revolutionary Committee and C.C. C.P.(B.) of Georgia; Orakhelashvili, Ivan (Mamia) Dmitrievich (1881-1937)—in March 1921 was appointed member of the Revolutionary Committee of Georgia, Secretary of the C.C C.P.(B.) of Georgia and Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars; Figatner, Iury Petrovich (Iakov Isaakovich) (1889-1937)—in March 1921 was Secretary of the Caucasian Bureau (see: Grazhdanskaia voyna i voennaia interventsia v SSSR. Entsiklopedia, Moscow, 1983).


(a) Karabakh shall remain within Azerbaijan.

(b) A plebiscite shall be organized throughout the territory of Karabakh and involve the entire Armenian and Muslim population.

(c) The mountainous part of Karabakh shall be part of Armenia.

(d) The plebiscite shall be limited to Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian population.

Statement of Comrade Narimanov: since the Karabakh issue is very important for Azerbaijan I deem it necessary to transfer it to the C.C. R.C.P. for a final decision.

Voted for: Narimanov, Makharadze, Nazaretian;

Against: Orjonikidze, Miasnikov, Kirov, Figatner.

Voted for: Narimanov, Makharadze.

Voted for: Orjonikidze, Miasnikov, Figatner, Kirov.

Voted for: Orjonikidze, Miasnikov, Figatner, Kirov, Nazaretian.

Decided: To consider Nagorno-Karabakh part of Armenia and limit the plebiscite to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Since the Karabakh issue stirred up serious disagreements, the Caucasian Bureau of the C.C. R.C.P. believes it necessary to transfer the final agreement to the C.C. R.C.P.

Comrade Orakhelashvili was absent when the Karabakh issue was put to the vote. Secretary of the Caucasian Bureau of the C.C. R.C.P. Figatner.


5 July, 1921

Attended by: Member of the C.C. R.C.P. Stalin; members of the Caucasian Bureau: comrades Orjonikidze, Kirov, Nazaretian, Orakhelashvili, Figatner, Narimanov and Miasnikov; People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs of A.S.S.R. Huseynov:


1. Comrades Orjonikidze and Nazaretian put forward a motion to reconsider the previous decision on Karabakh.


(a) For the sake of national peace between the Muslims and Armenians and economic ties between Upper and Lower Karabakh and its continued contacts with Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh shall remain within the Azerbaijanian S.S.R. with broad regional autonomy and its administrative center in the town of Shusha, which is part of the autonomous region.

For: 4 votes, 3 abstentions.

(b) To instruct the C.C. of Azerbaijan to establish the borders of the autonomous region and present


them to the Caucasian Bureau of the C.C. R.C.P. for approval.

(c) To instruct the Presidium of the Caucasian Bureau of the C.C. R.C.P. to talk to the C.C. of Armenia and the C.C. of Azerbaijan about a candidate to the post of extraordinary commissar of Nagorno-Karabakh.

(d) The C.C. of Azerbaijan shall outline the scope of autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh and present it to the C.C. Caucasian Bureau for approval.

Secretary of the Caucasian Bureau of the C.C. R.C.P. Figatner.

S o u r c e: Central Party Archives of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, rec. gr. 64, inv. 2, f. 1, sheets 118, 122-122rev.; K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR, pp. 90-91, 92.

The final decision of the Caucasian Bureau adopted at the 5 July, 1921 sitting said: “Nagorno-Karabakh shall remain within the Azerbaijanian S.S.R. with broad regional autonomy.”

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Decree on the Formation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region: Critical Analysis

The leaders of Azerbaijan were entrusted with the task of implementing the decision of the Caucasian Bureau of 5 July, 1921; as a follow-up the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the Azerbaijanian S.S.R. (Az CEC) met on 19 July, 1921 to approve the results of Nariman Narimanov’s trip to Tiflis; in turn, the Politburo and Orgburo of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) met on 20 July to pass a decision on setting up a commission to draft the constitution of the autonomous region.26

There is an important point that needs clarification. The decision of 5 July, 1921 on the autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh assigned implementation to the A.C.P.(B.), which means that Kirov was appointed First Secretary of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) in July 1921 to carry out the task. Simultaneously, the official position of the republic’s leaders on Karabakh’s autonomy changed, and the process took two more years to be completed.

Kirov’s position and the factors that affected it deserve special consideration. The extracts from the minutes of 4 July testify that Kirov was against leaving the mountainous part of Karabakh within Azerbaijan (Point 5a) and voted for its transfer to Armenia (Point 5c). On 19 July, Kirov attended the meeting of the Presidium of Az CEC; the next day he took part in the meeting of the Politburo and Orgburo of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.), which passed corresponding decisions. By 26 September, when the Politburo and Orgburo of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) met for another meeting under his chairmanship, Kirov had obviously changed his viewpoint. Seven out of the nine participants (Kirov, Narimanov, Akhundov, Karaev, Efendiev, Stukalov, Mirzoian, Buniatzade, and Huseynov) suggested that they should ask the Caucasian Bureau to revise its earlier decision on autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh. Only two participants (Narimanov and Buniatzade) wanted the decision to be

26 See: K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR, pp. 94-95.


implemented as promptly as possible. A special commission was set up to collect relevant materials.27 On 21 October Buniatzade sided with Kirov at a meeting of executives from Karabakh and the Orgburo of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) members. A special note to the meeting’s decision pointed out that autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh would serve no useful purpose.28 On 30 July, 1922 Kirov sent the following telegram to the C.C. R.C.P.(B.): “The territory of Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan and its party organization is part of the A.C.P.”29

Kirov, who realized he had been wrong, was behind the new approach to the autonomy issue. He was also convinced that the Caucasian Bureau had been wrong in passing the decision on autonomy and that it was wrong to insist on the decision’s prompt implementation.

On 8 October, 1923, that is, four months after the decree on autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh had been passed, a meeting of the Presidium of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) chaired by Kirov pointed out that the local population, especially the Turks (Azeris.—K.Sh.), remained unconvinced and that much would have to be done to sell the idea of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region to them.30

This worried the Caucasian Bureau to the extent that it deemed it necessary to put pressure on Azerbaijan: on the one hand, it demanded that its decision of 5 July be executed; on the other, Armenian functionaries were dispatched to Nagorno-Karabakh to strengthen the local administrative structures and undermine the Azeris’ position.

This process coincided with the formation of the Transcaucasian Federation and the U.S.S.R., however the position of the leaders of the A.C.P.(B.) on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue did not change. In fact, the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee of the R.C.P.(B.) headed by Orjonikidze (who was elected its head at the 1st Congress of the Communist Organizations of the Transcaucasus in February 1922) preferred to use its administrative resource (this had already happened on 5 July and later when the decision was implemented). On 27 October, 1922 the meeting of the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee insisted that the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) should implement the decision of 5 July. It was decided to appoint Karakozov as chairman of the Executive Committee and dispatch Armenian Shadunts to the A.C.P.(B.) to be appointed to an executive post.31 On 15 December, in fulfillment of the above, the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) set up a Central Commission (Kirov, Mirzabekian, and Karakozov) and a committee of seven members for Nagorno-Karabakh under the Council of People’s Commissars of Azerbaijan, which functioned until 24 July, 1923. Azerbaijan meanwhile remained under pressure.32 On 22 December, the Union Soviet of the Transcaucasian Federation passed a decision that demanded prompt resolution of the autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh issue.33

Moscow’s obvious desire to realize “Armenian autonomy” inevitably spurred on Armenian nationalism in the republic. Speaking at the 12th Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) (17-25 April, 1923), Karl Radek (1883-1939), a prominent Bolshevik, went as far as saying that there was Armenian chauvinism in Azerbaijan.34

When the Soviet Union was formed, the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee became even more insistent. In May 1923, the plenary session of the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee included a report of the Committee for Nagorno-Karabakh on its agenda.35 On 1 June, 1923 the

27 See: K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR, pp. 96-97.

28 See: Ibid., pp. 99-101.

29 A. Kirilina, Neizvestny Kirov. Mify i real'nost', St. Petersburg, Moscow, 2002, p. 90.

30 See: K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR, pp. 191-194.

31 See: Ibid., p. 127.

32 See: Ibid., pp. 132-133.

33 See: G. Martirosian, “Obrazovat iz armianskoi chasti Nagornogo Karabakha avtonomnuiu oblast,” in: Karabakh-skiy vopros, p. 57.

34 See: Dvenadtsaty S'ezd Rossiiskoy Kommunisticheskoy partii (bolshevikov). Stenograficheskiy otchet, Moscow, 1923, pp. 565-568.

35 See: K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR, p. 148.


plenary meeting of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) passed a decision to issue a decree on autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh, a draft of which was to be presented to the C.C. within three days.36 The Transcaucasian Territorial Committee was satisfied. At its plenary meeting of 27 June, it passed a decision based on the reports submitted by Karakozov and Shadunts, which instructed the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) to ensure autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh in three months.37 Shortly after that, on 1 July, the Presidium of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) discussed the Karabakh issue and adopted a decision of

6 points recommending that the Az CEC grant autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh and set up the “Karabakh Autonomous Region” with its center in Khankendy. It also set up a commission of Karaev (Chairman) and Karakozov, Sviridov, Ildrym, and Buniatzade (members) to draw the borders of the newly established region.38

On 7 July, 1923 the Az CEC passed a Decree on Formation of the Autonomous Region of Nagorno-Karabakh signed by its Chairman M. Kasumov (1879-1949) and Secretary M. Khanbud-agov (1893-1937).39 The text consisted of a preamble, four points, and a conclusion that recommended setting up a mixed commission. The decision of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) and the decree were obviously two different documents since instead of giving autonomy to the plain and mountainous areas of Karabakh the decree dealt with Nagorno (Mountainous) Karabakh alone. The decree gave the title of the newly formed unit as the Autonomous Region of Nagorno-Karabakh (ARNK), which later became known as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAR). The decree was a fairly primitive document that could not be accepted as a serious legal document. The preamble distorted the chronology and failed to justify the granting of autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh. Point 1, which says: “To form an autonomous region of the Armenian part [?] of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the A.S.S.R. with its center in the Khankendy settlement,” contains a gross political and legal error: it deliberately singles out a specific Armenian part of the united Karabakh region. According to Point 3, an Interim Revolutionary Committee was set up to function until convention of the congress of Soviets. This obviously gave unlimited powers to the region’s Armenian leaders. Ten days later, on 16 July, the Presidium of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) passed a decision on including the town of Shusha in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region.40 The 1923 Regulations of the Gubernia Executive Committees were extended to the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region.41 It was much later, on 26 November, 1924, that the Regulations of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous region were adopted.42

In this way, Karabakh, an inalienable part of Azerbaijan, was deliberately divided to give autonomy to the Armenians who had moved there. Those who sealed the fate of the region never bothered to find out what the local Azeris wanted, which means that their rights were flagrantly violated. In fact, while the “Armenian autonomy” project was being actively promoted the idea of autonomy for the Azeris living in compact groups in Armenia, Georgia or Russia was never contemplated.

In 1919, in his article “Armianskiy imperializm” (Armenian Imperialism), Anastas Mikoian wrote in connection with the situation in which the Azeris who lived in the former Ararat Republic found themselves: “The Armenians are amazed by the fact of Armenian imperialism. It is a comic, or even tragicomic, fact that stands apart because of its reactionary nature and content. Today,

36 See: Ibidem.

37 See: Ibid., p. 149.

38 See: Ibid., pp. 149-150.

39 See: Ibid., pp. 152-153; Sobranie uzakoneniy i rasporiazheniy raboche-krest'ianskogo pravitel'stva ASSR za

1923 g., Baku, 1923, pp. 384-385.

40 See: K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR, pp. 154-155.

41 See: Ibid., pp. 165-166.

42 See: Ibid., pp. 268-270; Sobranie uzakoneniy i rasporiazheniy raboche-krest'ianskogo pravitel'stva ASSR za

1924 g., Baku, 1926, pp. 333-335.


Armenia occupies practically the entire territory of the Erivan Gubernia, the Muslim population of which is slightly smaller than the Armenian population. This is the only territory where Armenians live in relatively compact groups and are in the majority. As a result of the reactionary and chauvinist policy of the Armenian government the Muslims, who account for two-fifths of the entire population, are not only removed from power and administrative functions but together with foreigners are deprived of all rights.”43 This went on under Soviet power in Armenia: all the Azeris were either deported or liquidated during the Armenian-instituted genocides of 1948-1953 and the late 1980s-early 1990s.44

C o n c l u s i o n

On 5 May, 1924, speaking at the 6th Congress of the A.C.P.(B.), Kirov, who summed up the process of granting autonomy to the mountainous part of Karabakh, sounded very doubtful about the decision in general, although he had to remain positive: “We settled the issue after a while and we were absolutely right. There will be no going back on this major issue—of this I am


Life disproved Sergey Kirov: the Armenians refused to accept this solution. As soon as the Soviet Union disappeared, the Armenian formula for Nagorno-Karabakh (ranging from regional autonomy to its withdrawal from Azerbaijan and unification with Armenia) was not peacefully executed. Armenia’s expansionist policies resulted in an undeclared war against Azerbaijan and occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent Azeri districts.

The settlement hinges on the status of the region. Today we can see that history is repeating itself: the OSCE Minsk Group has de facto replaced the Center of Soviet times—it can no longer be seen as an intermediary. Azerbaijan is being offered all sorts of settlement alternatives, all of them inevitably infringing on its national interests. The history of “autonomy Soviet style” has demonstrated beyond a doubt that this is the wrong approach because under international law the right to identify the status of Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to the Republic of Azerbaijan as a sovereign state.

At one time, late President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliev pointed out at a parliamentary sitting that discussed the Armenian-Azeri conflict that the talks with the Minsk Group and its suggestions had convinced him that there was an obvious intention to settle the conflict by making Nagorno-Karabakh independent de facto or even de jure.46

The above suggests the following conclusions:

—The territory of Karabakh (including Nagorno-Karabakh) is an inalienable part of Azerbaijan;

—In 1923 Azerbaijan was forced to accept its autonomy;

—From the very first days the NKAR has been and remains a seat of ethnic separatism and extremism;

—Under contemporary historical conditions no stability can be achieved by confirming its “new” status of a separate administrative and geographical unit: it will remain a source of

43 Quoted from: J. Gasanly, SSSR-Turtsia: ot neitraliteta k kholodnoi voine. 1939-1953, Baku, 2008, p. 454.

44 Erich Feigl, A Myth of Terror: Armenian Extremism: Its Causes and Its Historical Context, Salzburg, 1986; Prestuplenia armianskikh terroristicheskhikh i banditskikh formirovanii protiv chelovechestva, Baku, 2002.

45 K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR, p. 241.

46 See: Azerbaijan newspaper, 24 February, 2001 (in Azeri).

separatist claims of the Armenians. In short, Azerbaijan will continue living under Damocles’ sword.

It seems that joint local self-administration in the ethnically mixed Azeri-Armenian districts is the shortest road to unity of the plain and mountainous parts of Karabakh and to normal relations between the local Azeris and Armenians.

Armenia’s socioeconomic and political development depends on its relations with Azerbaijan and its constructive approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.


Ph.D. (Hist.),

senior fellow at the Bakikhanov Institute of History, National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan (Baku, Azerbaijan Republic).



The author draws on analytical and factual data to look into the entanglements in the political relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia that predated the emergence of two independent states—the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADP) and the Armenian Republic—in 1918. Zakhida Alizade describes the national policy of the

Provisional Government that set up a Special Transcaucasian Committee, the activities of the Transcaucasian Seym, and the thorny road leading to national statehood; she dwells on the ethnic cleansing the Armenians organized in the Irevan uezd and offers facts about the tragic events of March-April 1918 in Northern Azerbaijan.

I n t r o d u c t i o n

The defeats of the Russian army on the fronts of World War I, heavy losses, skyrocketing food prices, and the transportation crisis that created shortages stirred up public discontent. Socioeconomic and political confrontation intensified, while the ruling circles turned out to be even more displeased with the autocracy than the common people.

Czarism was doomed; on 2 (15) March, 1917 the Provisional Government came to power with major priorities: democratic freedoms and settlement of the agrarian, labor, and nationalities issues.

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