BRIEF HISTORY OF ARTSAKH
The Republic of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno Karabakh has historically been and continues to be an integral part of Armenia. Dating back to the 9-6th century BC, the region was governed by various Armenian kingdoms, and in the 17th century it was annexed by the Russian Empire.
After the collapse of the Russian Empire, the newly formed independent Republic of Armenia fought for the historic Armenian lands of Artsakh, Syunik, and Nakhichevan, which were being subjected to ethnic cleansing by the local Azeri and Turkish populations.
In 1921 when both Armenia and Azerbaijan had joined the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin arbitrarily carved out Artsakh and placed it under the administration of the Azerbaijani SSR as an autonomous oblast. Under Soviet Azerbaijani rule, the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) was subjected to discriminatory policies, aimed at reducing the Armenian population and keeping the area economically underdeveloped. Because of this, the Armenian population of NKAO made formal demands to transfer the territory to the Armenian SSR on multiple occasions--a common practice in the Soviet Union--but was repeatedly denied.
In 1988 the governing body of NKAO appealed to the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan SSR with the request to secede from its structure and join the Armenia SSR. Azerbaijan not only denied the request, but also launched an ethnic cleansing campaign against individuals of Armenian descent with pogroms in the cities of Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad, Shamkhor, Mingechaur, and later throughout Azerbaijan. The Armenian population was terrorized, raped, brutally murdered, mutilated, burned alive and forced to flee.
On December 10, 1991, Nagorno Karabakh held an independence referendum in which 82% of all voters participated and 99% voted for independence. In response, Azerbaijan launched an all-out war against the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, targeting civilians and recruiting Islamic extremist mujahideen from Afghanistan and Chechnya to join the Azerbaijani army. Fighting continued until 1994, when Russia brokered a ceasefire.
Over the past 26 years, conflict settlement negotiations have been held in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship (Russia, USA, France), however Azerbaijan has repeatedly broken the ceasefire agreement and adopted an increasingly aggressive and maximalist rhetoric. There have been documented cases of the Azerbaijani military committing war crimes against both military servicemen and villagers over the course of the 26-year-long ceasefire. Despite repeated calls by the OSCE Minsk Group for a halt in hostilities, Azerbaijan launched an attack on Artsakh in April 2016 which resulted in a 4 day war.
Sumgait Pogrom – 1988
Beginning on February 27, 1988, during the early stages of the Karabakh Movement, the Armenian population of Sumgait in Soviet Azerbaijan came under attack.
Mobs of ethnic Azerbaijanis with lists of Armenian inhabitants in hand, targeted, attacked and killed Armenians in their homes and on the streets of the city. Armed with metal rods, stones, axes, knives, bottles and fuel cans, they attacked, killed, raped, mutilated and burned alive ethnic Armenians. Calls to ambulance services were handled late or in many cases, unheeded completely. There was no intervention on the part of the police to stop the perpetrators.
One day later, on February 28, a small contingent of troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs attempted to put an end to the massacres without success. It was only after the government imposed a state of martial law that the massacre was put to an end.
“Izvestia” Newspaper, 20.08.1988: “On February 27, a crowd of many thousands had gathered in Lenin Square... They began calling for attacks on anyone who belonged to the Armenian race... In different parts of town, groups of youths started to assault all who were ethnically Armenian.”
Thomas de Waal, Journalist, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment: “Gangs, ranging in size from about a dozen to more than fifty, roamed around, smashing windows, burning cars, but above all looking for Armenians to attack... The roving gangs committed acts of horrific savagery. Several victims were so badly mutilated by axes that their bodies could not be identified. Women were stripped naked and set on fire. Several were raped repeatedly.”
Source. Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War, 2003.
Official figures released at the time by the Prosecutor General of the USSR put the number of dead at 32, although unofficial reports place the figures much higher. Hundreds became disabled and scores went missing. Around 18,000 Armenians fled the town, leaving behind their homes and possessions.
Soviet authorities arranged for the mass killings to be characterized as “groups of hooligans out to commit acts of hooliganism.” Thus, a crime directed from an organised, unified base was reduced to individual criminal cases, most of which were transferred to the jurisdiction of Azerbaijani courts. Only one of the eighty convicted were sentenced to death; the rest received prison sentences of a few years, many with parole. The organisers of the crime have not yet been revealed.
Frank Pallone, member of the House of Representatives, USA: “These crimes were never adequately prosecuted by the government of Azerbaijan, and most of its organizers and executors were set free.”
Source. Statement to the US House of Representatives, 28 February 2006, available at: http://wvvw.anca.org/press_ releases/press_releases.php?prid=905
Andrei Sakharov, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate: “If anyone was in doubt before Sumgait whether NagornoKarabakh should belong to Azerbaijan, then after this tragedy no one can have the moral right to insist that it should.”
Source. From the letter of A. Sakharov addressed to M. Gorbachev, August 1988, published in “Nezavisimaya gazeta”, 27.10.1992 (Russia).
For a detailed account of the Sumgait Pogram see The Sumgait Syndrome. Anatomy of Racism in Azerbaijan (WARNING: some of the photos in this book are horrific. Viewers discretion is advised.)
Baku Pogrom - 1990
Starting on January 12, 1990, a week-long pogrom against Armenians broke out in Baku, Soviet Azerbaijan. A large crowd gathered in the Lenin Square of Baku, and at nightfall different groups separated from the Azerbaijani Popular Front demonstrators, and started to attack Armenians. As in Sumgait, their activities were distinguished by extreme cruelty: the area around the Armenian quarter became an arena of mass killings. Armenian civilians were beaten, burned alive, tortured, murdered and expelled from the city.
“Izvestia” Newspaper, 15.01.1990: “After 5 pm on 13 January 1990, about 50,000 people left the rally in Lenin Square, split into groups and launched the pogrom — with destruction, arson, rape and killing...”
There were verified reports that the attacks were not spontaneous as those responsible had lists of Armenian residents. At the time, approximately 250,000 Armenians were living in Baku. As a guide for the violence and massacres, attackers had been given maps of Baku marked with crosses to show areas that were densely populated by Armenians.
Robert Kushen, Reporter at Human Rights Watch: “The massacres were not entirely or perhaps not at all spontaneous, as the attackers had lists of Armenians and their addresses.”
Source. Conflict in the Soviet Union: Black January for Azerbaijan, Human Rights Watch, May 1991.
Vagif Huseynov, Azerbaijani KGB Chief (1989–1991): “The Baku riots had been planned in detail by the Popular Front. On New Year’s Eve, the State Border with Iran was destroyed by the masses; and, on January 11 the pogroms started in Baku. About 40 mobs (with 50–300 people in each) roamed the city.”
Source: “Moskovskiy Komsomolec ” Newspaper, 6 February 2004.
The activities of Azerbaijani authorities intensified, along with their policy of suppression, ethnic cleansing, and terror. Active members of the Karabakh Movement were persecuted at increasing rates and arrested under the false pretense of real “criminal cases.”
Around 400 Armenians became victims of the Baku pogroms and massacres of 13–19 January 1990. Several thousand suffered various degrees of bodily harm. Over the period 1988–1990, hundreds of thousands of Armenians living in Baku were deprived of their homeland, forcibly exiled from their homes.
Radio Liberty, 15 January 1990, 06:46: “Russians living in the capital city of Azerbaijan recall with horror scenes of retribution — how their neighbours were shot at point-blank range, thrown off balconies, burned alive and even dismembered by a fanatical Azeri mob.”
For a detailed account of the Baku Pogram see The Sumgait Syndrome. Anatomy of Racism in Azerbaijan (WARNING: some of the photos in this book are horrific. Viewers discretion is advised.)
Maragha Massacre – 1992
On 10 April 1992, in the village of Maragha in Nagorno-Karabakh’s Martakert region, about 50 people were brutally killed. Another 49 were taken hostage, including 9 children, 18 women and 3 elderly persons, one of which was blind. Without exception, the peaceful residents were subjected to severe torture. The Azeri soldiers dismembered, burned or desecrated the bodies of those who had already died. To this day, the fate of 19 of the hostages remains unclear.
Baroness Caroline Cox of Queensbury, Member of the House of Lords, UK: “What we saw defies description [...] The photographs taken on those days in Maragha showed the horror of the massacre perpetrated there: decapitated and charred bodies, remains of children, blood-stained earth and pieces of human flesh scattered in places where Azerbaijanis had sawed up people while they were still alive. We saw sickles they had used for dismembering the bodies with dried up blood on them... Having killed the residents of Maragha, the Azeris went on to loot and burn the village.”
For a detailed account of the Maragha Massacre see The Sumgait Syndrome. Anatomy of Racism in Azerbaijan (WARNING: some of the photos in this book are horrific. Viewers discretion is advised.)