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The Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR

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As the Armenian side insists, “[o]n  30 November 1920, the Soviet Government of Azerbaijan adopted a Declaration on recognition of Nagorny Karabakh as an integral part of Soviet Armenia as a welcome act towards the victory of Soviet forces in the country”, while “[o]n 21 June 1921, the Government of Soviet Armenia, based on Azerbaijan’s Declaration and the agreement with the Azerbaijani Government, issued a Decree recognizing Nagorny Karabakh as an integral part of Soviet Armenia”. The Armenian side further claims that “[t]hese documents were registered in the League of Nations resolution of 18 December 1920, and in the 1920/21 annual report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, respectively”.1 In this regard, the following observations need to be made.

After the occupation of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan on 28 April 1920 by Bolshevik Russia, on 19 June 1920,  S.Orjonikidze, head of the Caucasian  Bureau of the Central Committee  of the Russian  Communist {Bolshevik) Party sent a telegram to G.Chicherin,  People’s Foreign  Affairs Commissioner  of Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, stating that the Soviet rule is declared in Karabakh and Zangazur and they “consider themselves to be part of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan”.2

The Azerbaijan SSR covered the following areas as described in the document dated 5 August 1920 from the Central State Archive of the Red Army:

The territory of Azerbaijan covers the whole of Ganja province and all uyezds of Surmali, Nakhchyvan and Sharur-Daralayaz of the Erivan province, as well as the southern part of Erivan province with villages of Kamarli. Bovuk-Vedi and Davali and the eastern part of Novo Bayazet”.3

Dashnak Armenia, the independence of which, due to the growing threat from the Bolsheviks, was de-facto recognized by the League of Nations on 19 January 1920,4 i.e. 7 days following the de-facto recognition of Azerbaijan Azerbaijan and Georgia by the League of Nations, i.e. on 12 January,5 was shortly replaced by “Soviet” Armenia in the winter of 1920-1921.

On 1 December 1920, N.Narimanov, Chairman of the People’s Commissioners’ Soviet of the Soviet Social ist Republic of Azerbaijan, guided by the decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan of 30 November 1920, made a declaration on the occasion of the proclamation  of the Soviet rule in Armenia. In this declaration, the western part of Zangazur uyezd was conceded to Armenia and “the working peasants of Nagorny Karabakh are given the full right to self-determination”.6 As is seen, contraty to the understanding of the Armenian side, the declaration made no reference at all to the “recognition of Nagorny Karabakh as an integral part of Soviet Armenia”.

On 2 December 1920, the agreement was signed between Russia and Armenia, according to Article 3 of which Russia recognized the following territories to be undisputed part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia: “Erivan province […] part of Kars province […] Zangazur province […] and part of Gazakh uyezd […] and those parts of Tiflis province, which were in the possession of Armenia until 23 October 1920”.This document testifies that until 2 December 1920 not only Nagorny Karabakh, but also the whole Karabakh, except half of the Zangazur uyezd, were not part of Armenia. It also proves that the declaration by N.Narimanov of 1 December 1920 did not mean concession of Nagorny Karabakh to Armenia.

Moreover, the Armenian side distorts the text of a decree by Soviet Armenia dated 21 June 1921, presenting it as “a Decree recognizing Nagorny Karabakh as an integral part of Soviet Armenia”.8 In reality, according to this document, “on the basis of a declaration by the Revolutionary Committee of the Azerbaijan SSR [dated 1 December 1920] and agreement between the governments of Soviet Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Revolutionary Committee of Soviet Armenia declares that from this day on Nagorny Karabakh is inseparable part of the Soviet Republic of Armenia”.9 In other words, the decree confirms that until June 1921 Nagorny Karabakh could not be a part of Armenia.

1   As  far  as  the  purported  “agreement  between  the  governments  of  Soviet  Republics  of  Armenia  and Azerbaijan” is concerned, it is important to notice that on 19 June 1921 the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of Azerbaijan held its meeting and discussed inter alia “the report of Comrade Narimanov about his visit to Tiflis on the issue of external borders between the Soviet Republics of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia”. This report  states  in  the most  unambiguous  manner  that  “Nagorny Karabakh  remains  an  inseparable  part  of  Soviet Azerbaijan  with  the right  of internal  self-rule”.  Following  the discussion,  the meeting decided  “to approve the activities  of  the  Commission  on  the  establishment  of  external  borders  between  the  Azerbaijan  SSR  and  the neighbouring Soviet Republics of Transcaucasia”.10

The Armenian position is discredited also by a number of additional inconsistencies. Thus, the natural question arises as to why Soviet Armenia recognized Nagorny Karabakh as its integral part only in June 1921 if Soviet Azerbaijan had allegedly given its consent to that as early as on 1 December 1920.

1   Furthermore, another Armenian official source (information entitled “Legal aspects for the right to self- determination in the case of Nagorny Karabakh” circulated by the request of the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva) addresses the chronology of events at that time differently and thereby redoubles the curiousness of the position of Armenia. Thus, the document provides that “[according to this declaration [of 30 November],  the  borders  previously  accepted  between  Armenia  and  Azerbaijan  were  abrogated  and  Nagorny Karabakh, Zangezour and Nakhichevan were recognized as an integral part of Soviet Armenia”. The document further states that “the Azerbaijani Revcom in its ‘Declaration Regarding the Establishment of Soviet Power in Armenia’ of December 2, 1920, recognized … Nagorny Karabakh’s right for self-determination”, and “[o]n June 12,1921, the National Council of the Azerbaijan SSR … adopted a declaration, which proclaimed Nagorny Karabakh as an integral part of Armenian SSR”. According to the document, “[o]n June 19, 1921, Alexander Miasnikyan, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Armenia, issued the following decree: ‘On the basis of the declaration of the Revolutionary Committee  of  the  Soviet  Socialist  Republic  of  Azerbaijan,  and the agreement  between  Socialist Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is declared, that from now on Nagorny Karabakh is an inseparable part of Soviet Socialist Armenia'”.11

The impression from this chronological overview is that Azerbaijan was surprisingly persistent in its purported desire to get rid  of its territories and attempts  to persuade Armenia to accept  this gift. The absurdity of such proposition logically derives from the aforementioned information provided by the Armenian side, according to which Azerbaijan allegedly declared no less than three times, i.e. on 30 November 1920,2 December 1920 and 12 June 1921, that it recognizes Nagorny Karabakh as an integral part of Armenia, while Armenia agreed wit h that only in June 1921. It is notable, by the way, that the two aforementioned documents circulated by Armenia in the United Nations contradict one another as to the date of this purported consent (19 June 1920 in document E/CN.4/2005/G/23 and 21 June 1920 in document A/63/78 l-S/2009/156).

Furthermore, in  view of the Armenian  side, “[following the collapse  of the [Russian] Empire, Nagorny Karabakh (with 95 per cent of Armenian population) refused to subject itself to the authority of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan”,12 “[f]rom 1918 to 1920 … possessed all necessary attributes of statehood, including army and legitimate authorities” and was “an independent legal entity”13 or “independent political unit”14, while “[o]n 23 April

1920 the Ninth Assembly of the Karabakh Armenians declared Nagorny Karabakh as an inalienable part of the Republic of Armenia”.15At the same time, according to the Armenian side, following the declaration allegedly made by Azerbaijan  on 30 November  1920, “the borders previously accepted  between  Armenia and Azerbaijan  were abrogated  and  Nagorny  Karabakh,  Zangezour  and  Nakhichevan  were  recognized  as an  integral  part  of  Soviet Armenia”.16 In other words, as per contradicting arguments of the Armenian side, on the one hand, Nagorny Karabakh is considered to be “an independent legal entity” or “an independent political unit” from 1918 to 1920 and likely as part of Armenia since 23 April 1920, while, on the other, there were “borders previously accepted between Armenia and Azerbaijan” and Nagorny Karabakh, Zangazur and Nakhchyvan formed an integral part of Azerbaijan.

It is naturally enough that, while falsifying facts, Armenia reaches a deadlock. Otherwise, it would present credible arguments, especially as far as the alleged declarations of Azerbaijan are concerned. The Armenian side at the same time states that “[njeglecting the reality, on 5 July the Caucasian Bureau of the Communist Party, acting under Joseph Stalin’s personal pressure, revised its own decision of the previous day and resolved to subject Karabakh to Azerbaijani rule and to create an autonomous province (oblast) of Nagorny Karabakh, within the territory of Soviet Azerbaijan”.17 The Armenian side also acknowledges that “[i]n July 1921, the Azerbaijan SSR insisted that Nagorny Karabakh’s issue be considered at the Plenary Session of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party-Bolshevics (RCP-B)”.18 The question arises as to what for it was necessary to consider the issue of Nagorny Karabakh on 4 July 1921, revise the decision of the previous day on 5 July 1921 and “subject Karabakh to Azerbaijani rule” if Nagorny Karabakh, as the Armenian side insists, was already a part of Armenia. The Armenian side passes over in silence how it could happen against the background of the purported three declarations of Azerbaijan, especially less than a month after the latest one of 12 June 1921.

In  reality,  the  Azerbaijani  leadership at  that  time  was  consistent  in  retaining  Nagorny Karabakh  within Azerbaijan. All its declarations do not leave any doubt that there could be no agreement between the Soviet Socialist Republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia on the inclusion of Nagorny Karabakh in Armenia. On the other hand, the purpose of those declarations on Nagorny Karabakh published in Armenia was the pacification of Dashnak rebellions, with the liquidation of which in Zangazur, on 15 July 1921, the “Soviet” rule was again established in Armenia.

It was with the same purpose of more effective pacification of Dashnaks that the Bolsheviks chose the method of indulging Armenian nationalists and the Nagorny Karabakh issue was raised in the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist (Bolsheviks) Party on 4 July 1921 and 4 items were put forward for discussion: to retain Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan; to hold a referendum with the participation of all the Armenian and Muslim population in the whole of Karabakh;

to include the mountainous part of Karabakh in Armenia;

to hold a referendum only in Nagorny Karabakh, i.e. among the Armenians.

The Caucasian Bureau decided that “Nagorny Karabakh shall be included in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia” and “the referendum shall be held only in  Nagorny Karabakh, i.e. among the Armenians”.  However, according to the same decision, “[s]ince the Karabakh issue gave rise to serious controversies the Caucasian Bureau of the CCRCP deems it necessary to submit it for the final decision of the CCRCP”.19

The next day, on 5 July 1921, the Caucasian Bureau discussed “the reconsideration of the decision taken on Karabakh at the previous plenary” and decided to retain Nagorny Karabakh within the Azerbaijan SSR. The following quotation proves that the Bureau decided to leave Nagomy Karabakh within the Azerbaijan SSR, not to “transfer” or “subject” it to Azerbaijani rule, as the Armenian side claims20:

“Taking into account the necessity of national peace between the Muslims and the Armenians, the economic relations  between  upper  and lower  Karabakh  and the  permanent  relations  of  upper  Karabakh  with  Azerbaijan, Nagorny Karabakh shall be retained within the Azerbaijan SSR and broad autonomy shall be given to Nagorny Karabakh with Shusha city as an administrative centre”.21

In this regard, the attention should be drawn to the contradictory position of the Government of Armenia as to the status of the Caucasian Bureau. Thus, according to the document circulated by the request of the Permanent Representative of Armenia to the United Nations on 24 March 2009, “the decision [taken by the Caucasian Bureau] cannot serve as a legal basis for the determination of the status and the borders of the Nagorny Karabakh” insofar as it was adopted by a third-country party, i.e. the Russian Bolshevik Party, with no legal power or jurisdiction”.22 Along with the same understanding, in the initial report of Armenia under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the Caucasian Bureau is referred to as “an unconstitutional and unauthorized party organ”, which “had no right to participate on the national State-building activities of another State”, while its decision of 5 July is considered as “an act of gross intervention in the internal affairs of another sovereign Soviet Republic”. 23 On the contrary, as per the document circulated by the request of the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva on 22 March 2005, the Caucasian Bureau is viewed as a legitimate body with the authorization to decide on territorial issues affecting Armenia and Azerbaijan at that time. Thus, Armenia is confident that “[d]e jure, only the […] decision [of the Caucasian Bureau] of July 4, 1921 [to] ‘include Nagorny Karabakh in the Armenian SSR, and to conduct plebiscite in Nagorny Karabakh only’ was the last legal document on th e status of Nagorny Karabakh to be legally adopted without procedural violations”.24

In reality, the decision of 5 July 1921 was the final and binding ruling which would be repeatedly affirmed by the Soviet leadership and recognized by Armenia over the years. Despite of the fact that Nagorny Karabakh was retained within Azerbaijan, it was given the status of autonomy, though more than half-a-million strong Azerbaijani community compactly residing in Armenia at that time was refused the same privilege.

On 7 July 1923, the Central Executive Committee of the Azerbaijan SSR issued a Decree “On the Formation of the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”.25 The town of Khankandi was defined as the administrative centre of the autonomy. In September 1923, the name of the town was changed to Stepanakert after Stepan Shaumian, a dashnak and a “bolshevik” leader.

The administrative borders of the NKAO were defined in a way to ensure that the Armenian population constituted a majority. According to the population census of 12 January 1989, the population of the autonomous oblast was around 189,000 persons; of them: around 139,000 Armenians – 73,5 %, around 48,000 Azerbaijanis – 25,3 %, around 2000 representatives of other nationalities – 1,2 %.26

The allegations of discrimination against the Armenian population of Nagorny Karabakh27 do not stand up to scrutiny. In reality, the NKAO possessed all essential elements of self-government.

The status of Nagorny Karabakh as an autonomous oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR was stipulated in the USSR Constitutions of 1936 and 1977.28 In accordance with the Constitutions of the USSR and the Azerbaijan SSR, the legal status of the NKAO was governed by the Law “On the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”, which was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR on 16 June 1981.29 Under the Constitution of the USSR, the NKAO was represented by five deputies in the Council of Nationalities of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. It was represented by 12 deputies in the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR.

The Soviet of People’s Deputies of the NKAO – the government authority in the oblast – had a wide range of powers. It decided all local issues based on the interests of citizens living in the oblast and with reference to its national and other specific features. Armenian was used in the work of all government, administrative and judicial bodies and the Prosecutor’s Office, as well as in education, reflecting the language requirements of the Armenian population of the oblast. Local TV and radio broadcasts and the publication of newspapers and magazines in the Armenian language were all guaranteed in the NKAO.

As a national territorial unit, the NKAO enjoyed administrative autonomy, and, accordingly, had a number of rights, which, in practice, ensured that its population’s specific needs were met. In fact, statistics illustrate that the NKAO was developing more rapidly than Azerbaijan as a whole. The existence and development of the NKAO within Azerbaijan confirms that the form of autonomy that had evol ved fully reflected the specific economic, social, cultural and national characteristics of the population and the way of life in the autonomous oblast.

Against this background, Armenia should not overlook the fact that, unlike itself, which has purged its territory of all non-Armenians and become a uniquely mono-ethnic state, Azerbaijan has preserved its ethnic diversity to the present day. Instead of accusing Azerbaijan for “discrimination towards Nagorny Karabakh”, it is for the Government of Armenia to exercise some degree of self-evaluation in the field of human rights. Thus, the relevant United Nations bodies  have repeatedly expressed  their  concerns  about  the  spirit  of  intolerance  prevailing  in  Armenia  and  the discriminatory policies and practices pursued in that country against ethnic and religious minorities, refugees and asylum-seekers, women and children.30

In this regard, it would be appropriate to refer to the Bolzano/Bozen Recommendations on National Minorities in  Inter-State  Relations  (June  2008),  which  make it  clear  that  “[s]hould  States  demonstrate  greater  interest  in minorities abroad than at home or actively support a particular minority in one country while neglecting it elsewhere, the motives and credibility of their actions may be put into question”.

Thus, the illustrative evidence of racial prejudices prevailing in the policy and practice of Armenia is the unconcealed conviction in “ethnic incompatibility” between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. This word combination has been first used in a speech at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow in 2003 by the then President of Armenia Robert Kocharian.31 The discriminatory conduct of Armenia towards Azerbaijanis, especially the aforementioned statement of of President Kocharian, has produced indignation within the international community. Thus, the then Secretary- General of the Council of Europe Walter Schwimmer said “Kocharian’s comment was tantamount to warmongering” and manifestation of “bellicose and hate rhetoric”, while the then President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Peter Schieder stated that “since its creation the Council of Europe has never heard the phrase ‘ethnic incompatibility”.32


1 UN Doc A/63/78 l-S/2009/156, p. 8, paras. 27-29.
2 State Archive of Political Parties and Social Movements of the Republic of Azerbaijan, f. 609, in. 1, f. 21, p. 100.
3 Central State Archive of Red Army, f. 195, in. 4, f. 385, p. 53.
4 Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, Paris Peace Conference, 1919, volume IX (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946), pp. 899 & 901.
5 Ibid., p. 904.
6 Communist (Baku), 2 December 1920, p. 1.
7 International policy of the newest time in treaties, notes and declarations, Part 3 (from raising blockade from Soviet Russia to the decade of the October Revolution). Issue 1 (Acts of Soviet diplomacy) (Moscow: Publication of Litizdat of the People Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, 1928), doc. 41, pp. 75-75; Great October Socialist Revolution and victory of the Soviet rule in Armenia (Collection of documents) (Yerevan: Aypetrat, 1957), doc. 295, pp. 441-442.
8 UN Doc A/63/781-S/2009/156, p. 8, para. 28.
9 Khorurdain Ayastan, 19 June 1921, p. 1.
10 State Archive of the Republic of Azerbaijan, f. 379, inv. 1, f. 7480, p. 10.
11 UN Doc. E/CN.4/2005/G/23, pp. 3 -4.
12 UN Doc A/63/78 l-S/2009/156, p. 7, para. 21.
13 Ibid., p. 7, para. 23.
14 UN Doc. E/CN.4/2005/G/23, p. 2.
15 UN Doc A/63/781 -S/2009/156, p. 7, para. 24
16 UN Doc..E/CN.4/2005/G/23, p. 3.
17 UN Doc A/63/78 l-S/2009/156, p. 8, para. 30
18 UN Doc. E/CN.4/2005/G/23, p. 4.
19 Extract from the Protocol of the plenary session of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist (Bolsheviks) Party of 4 July 1921. For text, see To the History of Formation of the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. 1918 -1925 Documents and Materials, pp. 90-91.
20 UN Doc. A/63/78 l-S/2009/156, pp. 8-9, paras. 30 & 34.
21 Extract from the Protocol of the plenary’ session of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist ( Bolsheviks) Party of 5 July 1921. For text, see To the History of Formation of the Na gorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. 1918-1925:
Documents and Materials, p. 92.
22 UN Doc. A/63/78 l-S/2009/156, p. 8, para. 30.
23 UN Doc. E/l 990/5/Add.36, p. 3, para.2.
24 UN Doc. E/CN.4/2005/G/23, p. 4.
25 For text, see To the History of Formation of the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. 1918 -1925: Documents and Materials, pp. 152-153.
26 National composition of the population of the USSR. According to the findings of the Ail -Union population census of 1989. (Moscow: Finance and Statistics, 1991), p. 120.
27 UN Doc. A/63/78l-S/2009/156, p. 9, paras. 32-33.
28 USSR Constitution (Moscow, 1936), p. 14, article 24; USSR Constitution (Moscow, 1977), pp. 13 -14, article 87.
29 Law of the Azerbaijan SSR “On the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”, 16 June 1981 (Baku: Azeraeshr, 1987), p. 3, article 3.
30 See, e.g., UN Docs. A/57/18, paras. 277, 278, 280, 282 and 283; CRC/C/15/Add.l 19, paras. 24, 32, 46 and 48; CCPR/C/79/Add.lO O, paras. 14,15, 16 and 17; and E/C.12/1/Add.39, para. 10.
31 Press article by Artur Terian published on 16 January 2003, -69C0-69C0-40AF-83DB-24E810DA88E4.aspSeeRFE/RL>.
32 Council of Europe criticizes Armenian President, RFE/RL Newsline, 17 January 2003, < html>.

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