The 25th anniversary of the declaration of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence


Alla Pierce

September 2nd is the 25th anniversary of the declaration of independence of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. I have accumulated a lot of material after my visit to the NKR, and would like to share them with the resources which I am constantly cooperating with. I hope that the excerpts from the interviews and conversations that were scheduled or happened spontaneously will help readers feel the spirit of the people that live in Karabakh, understand their aspirations, increase protest against the military action and raise sympathy towards the inhabitants of the unrecognized and indomitable Republic.

The situation before the declaration of the independence

Aram Khachatryan
Aram Khachatryan

Aram Khachatryan, a retired lieutenant colonel, social activist, journalist and chief editor of the Internet resource “Center for support of the Russian-Armenian strategic and community initiatives“, holder of military awards, a man with boundless energy full of sincerity and honesty. He speaks emotionally, sometimes jumping from one subject to another because his overflowing emotion. It was him who told me that everyone who comes to Karabakh, leaves their heart there, because it is a very special land. Karabakh is a really special land where mountains covered by curly woods, where the fragrant alpine meadows extend, and the sky is unusually clean and blue. But also, there are dead villages, the houses with empty eye-sockets that were hollowed out by shelling. There is pain from wounds received from the war, an extraordinary unity and willingness to be the last shield for their land and for the people living on it.

I asked Aram what the situation was like in Nagorno-Karabakh before they declared their independence.

– Azerbaijan has always pursued a policy of assimilation of the Armenian population in Karabakh. In addition, they began gradually cutting back the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Formally it was a creation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region with Stepanakert, Shushi, Askeran district and Martakert district, and they began slowly passing the villages under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan. Then they began to prohibit the teaching of the Armenian language. Armenians could not enroll in prestigious universities of Azerbaijan, because whether we like it or not, Azerbaijan has always had nationalism as part of its policy.

Ashot Beglaryn
Ashot Beglaryn

Ashot Beglaryn, journalist, writer, The Assistant of President of NKR, the participant of the first Karabakh war, the holder of military awards and literary prizes

Now Azerbaijan tells us that we can have broad autonomy. Well, we already had autonomy and remember what it meant. If there was no independence movement, then everything would end up with the last Armenian leaving everything and going out of Karabakh. Here, in this region, the Armenian locality started being surrounded by newly created by Azerbaijan. By the way, the Meskhetian Turks from Central Asia were moved and resettled in Khojalu. They were brought down there to increase the population. They were then to become victims later. They were completely set up. This was a very subtle and at the same time a very harsh game.[1]

Albert Sarkisyan, artist, sculptor, the participant of the first Karabakh war, the holder of military awards and winner of various art competitions

– Azerbaijan conducted a policy of discrimination against Armenians when Karabakh was part of it. Everything was done in such a way to make life for Armenians harder and to create better living conditions for Azerbaijanis.

Ashot Beglaryan
There were not too many Azerbaijanis in Karabakh, 20-25 percent, but our universities had special departments for them. The students from Aghdam and even from Baku came here to enroll in the universities and colleges. The Azerbaijani government tried to increase the Azerbaijani population here.

Albert Sarkisyan
I live at the edge of Stepanakert. Before these events, first people threw rocks, just as hooligans. We had to set up night duty watches at the beginning. We didn’t have any weapons, nothing. Just the neighbors got together and decided that it was necessary to watch out at nighttime, because anything can happen. The city of Shushi is right here, although essentially it is different cities, but you can walk there in half of hour [2]. So, it was easy to organize any provocation. First, it started without weapons, and then it became more and more violent, little by little.

It usually started like this: one village was mostly populated by Azerbaijanis, and next to it was an Armenian village. If somebody had to go from one Armenian place to another one he had to go through the Azerbaijani place, and they threw rocks at him. Then we started to do the same. It was like this all the time. First, they started using weapons, then we did. Machine guns was used by them first, then we did the same. Then they used Alazan [3], after that it was the same thing with artillery, they had and then we had.

Ashot Beglaryan
– By the way, it could be noted, that during the Great Patriotic War, when Karabakh was part of Azerbaijani SSR, their authorities drafted an excessively large percentage of men from Karabakh. It turns out that they wanted to get rid of the young people from here. Many were gone, my grandfather was gone too, hundreds, thousands of people disappeared during that war.

The Great Patriotic War was a good reason for the destruction of the Armenians of Karabakh. Almost 1/3 of Armenians of Karabakh, the 45,000 of 150,000 were sent to the front. As a consequence of this and other events there is no Armenians in Lowland Karabakh. The same fate was awaiting the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.

About the Azerbaijani refugees

There was a comment on « A few words about the recent “four day war” in Nagorno-Karabakh» in RINF newspaper:
One thing I would like to clarify about how the Azeris were treated in the 1991-1994 war, which was touched upon in this article but not fully explored. The refugee Armenians that are from Azerbaijan living in Karabakh today did not actually have it easy like the Azeris who were living in Armenia and thus their plight is not comparable. The Armenians were subject to massacres in Azerbaijan, the Azeris were not subjected to such crimes in Armenia. In fact, where Armenians in Azerbaijan lost everything and fled for their lives, the Azeris in Armenia sold their belongings and properties and moved to Azerbaijan. Here is the difference between Armenian Culture and Azeri-Turkish culture.”

After I read it I tried to find out more information about this issue.

Aram Khachatryan
After the war, many Armenians were returning to Soviet Armenia. These were the descendants of survivors of the Genocide. Then part of the Azerbaijanis moved of their own free accord to Azerbaijan.
Today, many Azerbaijani scientists say that it was the forced relocation of Azerbaijanis. But actually, it was not. Those who moved out got paid for their houses and for their cattle.

– Tell me more, please, since there is lots of speculation regarding this. I have read that Armenia suppressed Azerbaijanis, I saw the heartbreaking photos of refugees. But at the same time, I know that they were allowed to sell their property, and they moved out peacefully.
The first refugees were Armenians, after Sumgayit and then after Baku’s pogroms. There were 500,000 to 600,000 Armenians in Azerbaijan. Only in Baku 340,000 Armenians lived. And when they began to expel Armenians, it became clear that the Armenians could not remain there. At the same time Azerbaijanis began to move out to Azerbaijan. I’ll tell you about the earthquake in 1988 [4]. Residents of the Azerbaijani villages in the Shirak region, where the earthquake happened left two days before this terrible event, just as if they received a warning. [5] Do you know how they left? I have a neighbor, Sandro, he lives in the same building as I do in Moscow. He bought a house from one of the Azerbaijanis in one of those villages. He told me that all Azerbaijanis sold their houses, loaded their stuff and peacefully left. He saw it with his own eyes. Everything was done according to the law. Some of them returned later, after the earthquake, and received compensation for destroyed homes.

Of course, it was not so easy for those who were forced to leave their houses because of the war. I have asked Ashot Belgaryan about those refugees. He was a military correspondent in that war and witnessed many events.

Ashot, tell us about Azerbaijani refugees during the war of 1991-1994. I saw many destroyed houses in the villages in which they lived.

War is war. The city of Agdan is now completely destroyed. The shelling of Stepanakert was carried out there. I have it in my articles, I personally witnessed it. And I wrote about it right away, in hot pursuit. Azerbaijanis fired long-range guns from Agdan. Their core group for the attack on Stepanakert was concentrated over there. They turned that city into a military base and the population was used as a human shield. Maybe they thought we would not dare attack. Well, this is war. If they shoot from there, then we shoot back. The aggression came from there and we managed to suppress that act of aggression. Of course, no normal person will remain in the village, if there is such a fierce war. It was a war zone, and the people voluntarily or forcibly had to flee.
When our military forces took the city of Shushi we found 10 thousand Grad shells in the Armenian Church there in the city. So, Azeri, being Muslims, made our Armenian church a warehouse for lethal weapons. So, if Armenians attacked their weapon storage, they would have blown up their own church.

Aram Khachatryan
– People lived in the basements In Stepanakert, women gave birth in the basements. There was no water, there was no light. People were killed while out trying to find water. A Russian journalist who was in Shushi at that time, wrote that at night drunk Azerbaijani soldiers could shell the residential houses in Stepanakert just for fun. They used missiles, while they’re laughing, but people were dying. Then a very skilled military operation was initiated to liberate Shushi.

From the same comment in RINF: “Now its true that the Azeris who lived in the region of Karabakh didn’t have it as easy as the Azeris from Armenia, but then why should they when Azerbaijan initiated a war against Karabakh and tried to starve the Armenians and thus commit genocide? The aggression of Azerbaijan was what caused Azeris to flee Karabakh, by necessity.”

Legal basis

Aram Khachatryan
There was an Article in the old Constitution of the Soviet Union that stated if any republic exits from the USSR, and if it had any autonomy provinces, they could also hold a referendum to secede from the republic. [6]
Nagorno-Karabakh got out from Azerbaijan, in accordance with the existing Constitution. It was totally legal.
In addition, the new Constitution of Azerbaijan says that Azerbaijan is not a legal successor of the Soviet Azerbaijan. They declared that they are a successor of the first Azerbaijani Democratic Republic, which lasted one and a half – two years. But Nagorno-Karabakh was not part of Azerbaijan at that time.

It turns out that in terms of jurisprudence the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has all legal rights to its independence. Azerbaijan, from the point of view of their own documents commits aggression against the neighboring state.


[1] In 1992, the Armenian armed forces with the support of heavy equipment have implemented the seizure of Khojaly. As result, hundreds of civilians, including women and children were killed. Armenians warned about the storm of Khojaly a month before in order for Azerbaijani side to be able to withdraw the civilian population, which was not done. The most of the population were Meskhetian Turks there.

[2] The distance between Stepanakert and Shushi is approximately 14.6 km (8 miles).

[3] Alazan is anti-Grad unguided missiles, which can be also used just like an artillery system.

[4]  On December 7, 1988 an earthquake happened in the Armenian city of Spitak. It reached 12 on the Richter scale, and as result of it the whole city with its own infrastructure, many buildings, and people was destroyed in just 30 seconds. 25 thousand people were killed, 500 thousand people were left homeless.

[5] There is a version that the earthquake occurred due to military trials, the preparation and conduct of which were well known by the Head of the Soviet Government Judas-Gorbachev.

 [6]  In April 1990, The Supreme Council of the USSR passed a law that regulated the process of exit any republic of the Soviet Union. According to Article 3 of this law, if a republic wishing to secede from the Soviet Union republic had autonomous entity within its structure, that autonomy had the right to hold a referendum to decide their status. When the “Republic of Azerbaijan” in August 1991, withdrew from the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh was declared a republic (NKR) in the structure of the USSR, and then, after the USSR collapse, the NKR trough the referendum, declared its independence.