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Karabakh – Republic of Azerbaijan: Thirty Years Of Armenian Occupation – OpEd


Introduction And Historical Background

The region of Karabakh is one of the historically rich and ancient territories of Azerbaijan. The name of this integral part of Azerbaijan is shaped by two Azerbaijani words: “kara/gara” (black) and “bakh/bagh” (garden). In Azerbaijani language, the word “gara” also means “thick” or “large.” In this context, Karabakh means: “a large garden” or “a thick garden.”


Since the ancient period until its invasion by the Russian Empire Forces in the early XIX century, the Nagorno-Karabakh region was part of different Azerbaijani states.  On May 14, 1805, the Treaty of Kurakchay (1805) was signed between Ibrahim Khan, the Khan of Karabakh, and the official representative of the Russian Emperor, General Pavel Tsitsianov.  Under the auspices of this treaty, the Karabakh khanate was part of the Russian rule of law.

The Gulustan Peace Treaty (1813) between Russia and Iran de jure recognized the annexation of Northern Azerbaijan khanates by the Russian Empire with the exception of the Nakhchivan and Iravan khanates.  At the conclusion of the second Russo-Persian War of 1826-1828, the Turkmenchay Peace Treaty was signed on February 10, 1828 and Iran relinquished Northern Azerbaijan, including the Nakhchivan and Iravan khanates to the Russian Empire.

Location of Nagorno-Karabakh. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Location of Nagorno-Karabakh. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The Gulustan and Turkmenchay treaties led to a rapid resettlement of Armenians en masse in Azerbaijani ancient lands. As a consequence, an artificial territorial division emerged.  Furthermore, the First World War contributed to the artificial increase in the number of Armenians in the South Caucasus.  From 1828 to 1911 alone, the Russian Empire resettled more than 1,000,000 Armenians from Persia and Ottoman Turkey in this specific region, mainly on present-day Azerbaijan.

On May 28, 1918, the founding of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) was officially declared. The Republic of Armenia was established at the same time.  Article 1 of the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan provided that “starting from this day the people of Azerbaijan are entitled to their sovereign rights. Azerbaijan that consists of Eastern and Southern Transcaucasia shall be a legal independent state”.

In April 1919, the Allied Powers recognized the provisional General-Governorship of Karabakh, including Shusha, Javanshir, Jabrayil, and Zangazur regions that were established in January 1919 by the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (ADR). The town of Shusha was Karabakh’s administrative center and Khosroy-Bay Sultanov was appointed as its governor. That same year, the Armenian National Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh officially recognized the authority of Azerbaijan.  This fact completely refutes the allegations made by the Armenian side that Nagorno-Karabakh possessed at that time the status of “an independent legal entity” or “an independent political unit”. 


In 1919, Scotland-Liddel, a British journalist, wrote to London from Shusha: “peace came to Karabakh. The Armenians agreed to obey the Azerbaijani government … The Armenians tell me that there has never been such order and peace in Shusha and Karabakh before”.  The British journalist notes: “both peoples were ready to continue peacefully their course of life and will continue to do so, if not for the intervention of agitators. I believe that — Armenians are responsible for the Armenian-Tartar (Azerbaijani) massacre in other parts of Transcaucasia. An Armenian propagandist does its job conscientiously, as it concerns propaganda, but I am sure that their activities in Transcaucasia are a mere provocation”. 

After Azerbaijan was politically incorporated into the Bolshevik Regime of Russia in 1920, Armenian nationalists launched territorial claims against the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. In response, on July 5, 1921, the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist (Bolsheviks) Party decreed that in the interest of upholding peace between Muslims and Armenians, maintaining economic relations between Upper and Lower Karabakh and establishing permanent relations between Upper Karabakh and Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh shall remain within the boundaries of Azerbaijan SSR with a broad autonomy and Shusha as its administrative center.

On July 7, 1923, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) was established in the mountainous part of Karabakh and the town of Khankandi was designated as its administrative center. In September 1923, the name of Khankendi was changed into Stepanakert in honor of the Bolshevik leader Stepan Shaumian.  However, about 300,000 Azerbaijanis residing in Armenia were denied cultural autonomy both by the USSR central government and by the government of Armenian SSR.

The status of Nagorno-Karabakh as an Autonomous Oblast within Azerbaijan SSR was stipulated in the Constitutions of the USSR of 1936 and 1977. The legal status of NKAO was defined in the Constitutions of USSR and Azerbaijan SSR as well as the June 16, 1981 “Law on the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”. As a national territorial unit, NKAO enjoyed a form of administrative autonomy, and according to its legislation this territory had a number of rights that ensured specific requirements for its local population. Under the Constitution of the USSR, NKAO was represented by five deputies in the Council of Nationalities of the Supreme Soviet Council of the USSR and by 12 deputies in the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR.

Armenian language was used in the operations of: government, administrative and judicial branches, and even in the Prosecutor’s Office to reflect the language rights of the region’s majority population. Moreover, the Armenian language was also used in education, local TV station, radio broadcasts, in newspapers and magazines.

In the period between 1971 and 1985, capital investments amounted 483 million rubles they were channeled into the development of the NKAO, 2.8 times more than in the previous 15-year period. Between 1981 and 1985, the volume of per-capita investments was augmented almost four times in comparison to the previous 20 years (226 rubles in 1981-1985 against 59 rubles in 1961-1965). Construction of housing in NKAO had amounted to 4.76 square meters per capita, whereas the overall Azerbaijan average in the previous 15 years amounted to 3.64 square meters per-capita. The number of hospital beds per 10,000 inhabitants was 15 percent higher in NKAO than in the rest of the republic.

NKAO ranked relatively high among the country’s regions in terms of the number of kindergarten facilities available. Thus, in the period between 1971 and 1985 the number of nursery schools per 10,000 inhabitants was 1.4 times higher than the overall average. Similarly, the number of secondary schools per 10,000 inhabitants was 1.6 times higher in NKAO when compared to the nation’s average.

The availability and quality of housing, goods and services in the Oblast were superior to those in the rest of the country as a whole and were characteristic of the social and cultural development of the region. Per capita living space in apartment buildings in NKAO was almost one third greater than the average for the Republic; meanwhile rural dwellers had 1.5 times more living space than peasants in the republic as a whole.  Moreover, the population of the Oblast had greater access to healthcare and to cultural venues and libraries containing 1.6 times more books and magazines than national average.

In fact, NKAO was developing more rapidly than Azerbaijan as a whole. As an example, industrial output in the Republic increased three times between 1970 and 1986, whereas in NKAO the industrial production had a growth of 3.3 (8.3 percent higher growth rate). Compared to 1970, 3.1 times more housing was available in the Oblast in 1986. In the Republic this figure only grew by 2.5 percent. As far as basic social development indicators were concerned, NKAO exceeded indicators of the average republic-wide standard of living in Azerbaijan SSR. 

There was significant progress in the development of cultural establishments, both in the Oblast and throughout the Republic.

In the 1988-1989 school year there were 136 secondary education schools in Nagorno-Karabakh using Armenian as the language of instruction (16,120 students). The State Pedagogical Institute in Khankandi had more than 2,130 students, mostly Armenian, studying in its Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian departments. Moreover, Nagorno-Karabakh had dozens of specialized secondary schools and vocational training institutes offering instruction in Armenian and Russian languages.

Five periodicals appeared in the Armenian language. Unlike other administrative territorial units of Azerbaijan located in the mountainous areas far from the capital city, NKAO was equipped with technical infrastructure for receiving television and radio programs. Therefore, NKAO’s autonomy within Azerbaijan reflected the economic, social, cultural lifestyle and national characteristics of the population in NKAO.

As the result of the exceptional conditions created, Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast became a developed agro-industrial region, whereas the Azerbaijani populated lowland regions of Karabakh became a source for raw materials and precious minerals.  In this respect, the standard of living in NKAO was improving at a faster pace than the standard of living in Armenia and in other regions of Azerbaijan. Indeed, there were these essential factors that increased subsequent feelings of ethnic superiority and separatist tendencies of the Armenian nationals that resettled en masse to Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region between the 19th and 20th centuries and who made up the majority of the NKAO population in the 1980s.  As a result, on February 20th, 1988, a number of Armenian members of the NKAO People’s Deputy Council appealed to the Supreme Council of the USSR, Azerbaijan SSR and Armenian SSR to cede NKAO from Azerbaijan SSR and to join Armenian SSR.

Khojaly Genocide

The town of Khojaly is an important urban center in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan with a total area of 0.94 square km., it had a population of 7,000 citizens before the armed conflict. While it is home of the only airport in the region, Khojaly was a strategically important center of communication. On the night of February 25-26, Khojaly suffered a massive artillery bombardment from the positions occupied by the Armenian Armed Forces.  Soon after the intensive shelling, the Armenian Armed Forces, including the irregular armed bands and terrorist groups, and with the direct participation of 366th Motorized Infantry Regiment of the former USSR, detained this town.

Under heavy conditions of frosty weather, several thousands of local – civilian residents fled the town in the dark and found refuge in nearby forests and mountain terrains, only to be eventually trapped and ambushed by Armenian Forces and Militia. As a result of these horrific actions, 613 civilians perished, including 106 women and 63 children. 1,275 Khojaly residents were taken hostage, while 150 people to this day remain unaccounted and lost.  In the course of the massacre, 487 inhabitants of Khojaly were severely dismembered, including 76 children.  6 families were completely wiped out, 26 children lost both parents and 130 children lost one of their parents. 56 of those citizens that were killed were murdered with particular cruelty: most were slaughtered, some were burned alive, beheaded, some were mutilated, and others were scalped. 

The responsibility of the Republic of Armenia, its political and military leadership as well as subordinate local armed groups for the crimes committed in Khojaly is confirmed by numerous facts, including investigative records, reports, testimonies of the eyewitnesses, evidences from international media sources, and reports of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. In its judgment of April 22, 2010, the European Court of Human Rights arrived at an important conclusion with respect to the crimes committed in Khojaly, qualifying the behavior of those carrying out the incursion as “acts of particular gravity which may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity”.

The European Court made in this regard the following observation, which leaves no doubt as to the question of qualification of the crime and pointing out a clear responsibility for it: “It appears that the reports available from independent sources indicate that at the time of the capture of Khojaly on the night of 25-26 February 1992 hundreds of civilians of Azerbaijani ethnic origin were reportedly killed, wounded or taken hostage, during their attempt to flee the captured town, by Armenian fighters attacking the town”. In her letter dated March 24, 1997 addressed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Watch/ Helsinki responded as follows to attempts by the Armenian propaganda to confuse and disguise this human rights organization with its fabrications. 

The Executive Director notes:  “Our research and that of the Memorial Human Rights Centre found that the retreating militia fled Khojaly along with some of the large groups of fleeing civilians. Our report noted that by remaining armed and in uniform, the Azerbaijani militia may be considered as combatants and thus endangered fleeing civilians, even if their intent had been to protect them. Yet we place direct responsibility for the civilian deaths with Karabakh Armenian forces. Indeed, neither our report nor that of Memorial includes any evidence to support the argument that Azerbaijani forces obstructed the flight of, or fired on Azeri civilians”.

According to the Armenian author Markar Melkonian, who dedicated his book to his brother, the well known international terrorist Monte Melkonian, who personally took part in the assault on Khojaly, the town “had been a strategic goal, but it had also been an act of revenge”.  Melkonian particularly mentions the role of the fighters of the two Armenian military detachments “Arabo” and “Aramo” and describes in detail how they butchered the peaceful inhabitants of Khojaly. Thus, as he puts it, some inhabitants of the town had almost made it to safety, after fleeing for nearly six miles, when “[Armenian] soldiers had chased them down”. The soldiers, in his words, “unsheathed the knives they had carried on their hips for so long, and began stabbing”.

It should be emphasized that the Khojaly events took place in a period when the former president Serzh Sargsyan of the Republic of Armenia served as the head of the illegal military structures in the occupied Azerbaijani territories and, accordingly, his recollections constitute one of the most important sources of evidence.  The following words by S. Sargsyan leave no doubt as to the question of the perpetrator of the crime in Khojaly: “Before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that [stereotype]. And that’s what happened.”

There are sufficient grounds to conclude that the Government of the Republic of Armenia and subordinate forces, for which it is liable under international law, are responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law amounting to crimes under international law.  The violations of the rules of war by the Armenian side include, inter alia, indiscriminate attacks, including the killing of civilians, the taking and holding of hostages, and the mistreatment and summary execution of prisoners of war and hostages. 

According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. & Dr. Honoris Causa Sabahudin Hadžialić: “The suffering of the Azerbaijani People is merely a continuation of suffering that encompasses human civilization since its appearance from the Holocaust to the Khojaly Genocide; the last major genocide in XX Century Europe.  Every annual commemoration of the Khojaly Genocide creates a new pain, a suffering that will eternally survive in the history of modern civilization.”

The following elements of the crime of genocide, as defined under international law, are present with regard to the attacks on civilians in Khojaly: the actus reus consisting of killing and causing serious bodily or mental harm; the existence of a protected group being targeted by the authors of the criminal conduct; and the specific genocidal intent to annihilate, in whole or in part, a group distinguished on racial, ethnic, national or religious grounds. 

The Khojaly Genocide – Massacre and acts of vandalism perpetrated by the Armenian Armed Forces and Yerevan’s Fascist Regime must be condemned by all nations that defend Human Rights and Promote Basic Freedoms; it is time for Washington, London, Berlin, Brussels, Moscow, Beijing and Paris to condemn the ongoing Genocide – committed by Yerevan – against the cultural and intangible treasures of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Armenian occupation of twenty percent of the sovereign territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan (including the seven surrounding districts of Nagorno – Karabakh), must be energetically condemned by the International Community at large and the world’s largest democratic governments; including all pertinent international organizations and renowned world leaders.


[1] I. Shopen, Historical monument of the status of the Armenian oblast in the period of its annexation to the Russian Empire (Saint-Petersburg: Publishing House of the Emperor’s Academy of Sciences, 1852), pp. 636, 639-641, 706; N. Shavrov, A new challenge to the Russian issue in Transcaucasia: Upcoming sale of Mughan to foreigners (Saint-Petersburg:Publishing House of the Editorial Board of the Ministry of Finance Periodicals, 1911), pp. 59-60.

[2] See, e.g., History of the Armenian people (Yerevan: Yerevan University Press, 1980), p. 268; Compilation of statistical data of the Caucasus (Tiflis, 1869), volume I, chapter I, part III; Caucasian calendar for 1917 (Tiflis: Press Office of the Governor-General E.I.B of the Caucasus, 1916), pp. 183, 219-221; Acts of the Archeological Commission of the Caucasus (Tiflis, 1870), volume IV, doc. 37, p. 37.

[3] Provisional agreement between the Government of Azerbaijan and the Armenians of Nagorny Karabakh, 26 August 1919 года. For text, see To the History of Formation of the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. 1918-1925: Documents and Materials (Baku: Azerneshr, 1989), pp. 23-25. See also Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), pp. 75-76.

[4] See, e.g., A/63/781-S/2009/156, p. 7, para. 23.

[5] See, e.g., Legal aspects for the right to self-determination in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, Annex to the note verbale dated 21 March 2005 from the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the Office of the United Nations High

Commissioner for Human Rights, E/CN.4/2005/G/23, 22 March 2005, p. 2.

[6] State Archive of the Republic of Azerbaijan, f. 894, inv. 10, f. 103, p. 18.



Peter Tase

Peter Tase is a freelance writer and journalist of International Relations, Latin American and Southern Caucasus current affairs. He is the author of America's first book published on the historical and archeological treasures of the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (Republic of Azerbaijan); has authored and published four books on the Foreign Policy and current economic – political events of the Government of Azerbaijan. Tase has written about International Relations for Eurasia Review Journal since June 2012.

6 thoughts on “Karabakh – Republic of Azerbaijan: Thirty Years Of Armenian Occupation – OpEd

  • January 20, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Ahhhh. Azerbaijani petrol-dollars at work. A certain Peter Tase plays fast and loose with opinions-turned-facts. Such “opinions” , (read: propaganda) peopagated by the likes of Tase, is nothing but a pathetic use of modern-day tool which we now call “fake news”.

    It is enough to read the first two paragraph to determine that Tase does not know what he’s talking about. Starting with the name of Kara/gara-bagh: “gara” is Turkish for the word “black” and “Bagh” is Iranian or Farsi meaning “garden”. This region called “Artsakh” in Armenian, was part of the Armenian Kingdom inhabited by Armenians continuously for three millennia. And today’s Republic of Azerbaijan is an ancient Persian territory which saw many wars between Russia and Persia.

    This much for the first two paragraphs. The rest of the article is tailor-made paid advertisement ordered by the Aliyev regime in Baku. An unadulterated verbal diarrhea.

    Mr.Tase, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”


    • January 22, 2020 at 7:00 pm

      Imagine if one day the Greeks take back Constantinople, then some “journalist” write : “Istanbul, Turkish ancestral lands, 30 years of occupation of Constantinople by the Greeks”.

  • January 20, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    Much of this article’s unreferenced text comes from the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan website in a pdf, Khojaly Genocide 28.02.2018.pdf. By itself does not demonstrate the author, Peter Tase, doesn’t know what he is talking about but does make him a plagiarizer. Let’s take a sampling of the claims made this article, probably coming from Azerbaijan, as demonstrated in the past.

    * Tase claims Karabakh or Gharabagh means Large Garden or Thick Garden. Kara or Ghara means black in Turkish, and Bagh means a garden in Persian, not large or long. Thus, Karabakh means Black Garden. Tase is wrong!

    * Tase claims there were various Azerbaijani states. There were never any Azerbaijani states until 1918. This Caucasus region was under Persian rule until lost to Russia in 1813, then 1828. There were Persians and Turkish speaking Persians that shared rule over this region previously. None of this historical revisionism is surprising considering Azerbaijan’s claim the Persian Safavid Dynasty was Azerbaijani. Tase is wrong!

    Tase claims Armenians are newcomers to the southern Caucasus, yet there are Armenian churches as old as the 4th century in the southern Caucasus. Tase is wrong!

    * Tase claims Nagorno-Karabakh was securely under Azerbaijan jurisdiction in 1919. Yet the Azerbaijani Revolutionary Committee and the Azerbaijani People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs Mirza Huseynov stated that territorial disputes with Armenia were abolished and that Nagorno- Karabakh, Zangezur, and Nakhichevan were recognized as integral parts of Soviet Armenia on November 20, 1920. How can this be, unless Tase is wrong again!

    *Tase neglected to state that from March 23-26, 1920, the Armenian part of Shushi was destroyed by Azerbaijan and Turkish-inspired forces. This destruction is why another capital, Stepanakert, was built. Tase forgot this.

    * Tase neglected to state that Heydar Aliev admitted that he continuously attempted to empty Nagorno-Karabakh of Armenians and replace them with Azerbaijanis. This policy previously emptied Nakhichevan of Armenians. However, for Tase to know this, he would have to read Aliev’s admission in “Зеркало,” 23 июля 2002 года. Tase forgot to read this!

    *Tase forgot to mention, as have his friends in Baku, a twenty-five old video taken by Azerbaijani video journalist Cengiz Mustafayev. This video clearly shows Azerbaijani soldiers having collected, moved, and postmortem mutilated bodies of Azerbaijani casualties in the war between Azerbaijani soldiers and Armenian defenders in the Khojaly village of Nagorno-Karabakh. This video was finally released by Mustafayev’s brother, Vahid, in 2017 on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mustafayev’s mysterious death. It coincided with the forced shutdown of Vahid’s TV program in Baku. Tase forgot this too!
    Peter Tase also neglected to note that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh administer sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, regardless of continued Azerbaijan land claims.

    Peter Tase was pro-Albanian Kosovo, yet he posts anti-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh historical revisionism. So much for consistency, no memory, revisionism, and plagiarism.

    Yerevan, Armenia

  • January 20, 2020 at 9:22 pm

    Article just been issued and there are already two armenian pakemons in comment section with their copy paste armenian facts :)

    • January 21, 2020 at 5:31 pm

      Lets not start talking about azeri copy paste facts. aZerI hiStorical lands bla bla, mubariz ibrahimov killed 100 armenians and destroyed a tank bla bla, un 4 resolutions about armenian withdrawal bla bla. At least David gave valid arguments. If you can’t see this article is sponsored by Azerbaijan, then you’re blind.

    • January 22, 2020 at 9:23 am

      Attila, from where are you so “well-informed” about this region? Have you ever been in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh). Or you are just another caviar-eater on aliyev’s oil dollars…?


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