PRELUDE TO CONFLICT: Events Leading to the Defense of Karabagh

April 3, 2001

Note to Editors: Events at the height of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, from 1992 to 1993, cannot be fully understood outside the context provided by the occurrences of the preceding four years. Accordingly, the following timeline notes significant events leading up to the major clashes between the self-defense formations of Karabagh Armenians and the armed forces of the Azerbaijani state.

Prelude to Conflict: Events Leading to the Defense of Karabagh

Events at the height of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, from 1992 to 1993, cannot be fully understood outside the context provided by the occurrences of the preceding four years. Accordingly, the following timeline notes significant events leading up to the major clashes between the self-defense formations of Karabagh Armenians and the armed forces of the Azerbaijani state.

February 11, 1988: Armenian activists organize public demonstrations in Stepanakert and other regional centers of Karabagh. Open letters, flyers, and petitions calling for reunification with Armenia are distributed during the rallies. Christian Science Monitor, 2/29/88

February 20, 1988: By a 110-17 vote, the Regional Soviet of the Nagorno-Karabagh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) calls for the reunification of Karabagh with Armenia. Azerbaijani members of the Soviet abstain during the voting. Christian Science Monitor, 2/29/88

February 21-22, 1988: In Hadrut, Karabagh’s southernmost district, Armenian residents are attacked in retaliation for the recent public demonstrations. Many Armenians are driven from their homes toward Stepanakert.

February 23, 1988: The Central Committee of the Communist Party rejects the demands of NKAO. Massive demonstrations taken place in Yerevan, Armenia’s capitol.

February 27-29 1988: Azerbaijani mobs organize premeditated anti-Armenian pogroms in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, an industrial city on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Hundreds are killed. Nearly all of the remaining Armenian inhabitants hastily flee. United Press International, 2/29/88; New York Times, 3/1/88

March 4, 1998: Gangs of Azerbaijanis attack, beat, and kill Armenians in the streets of Kirovabad (Ganja). The number killed is unknown. Azerbaijani police do little to stop the violence. Toronto Star, 3/11/88

March 28, 1988: The USSR Supreme Soviet presidium rejects Nagorno-Karabagh’s call for reunification.

May 13, 1988: An Armenian child is killed when Azerbaijani gangs destroy an Armenian kindergarten in Stepanakert. United Press International, 3/13/88

June 15, 1988: The Supreme Soviet of the Armenian SSR adopts the decision taken during the NKAO’s February 20 session regarding reunification.

July 12, 1988: The NKAO Regional Soviet once again decides, in accordance with the provisions of the USSR Constitution, to secede from Azerbaijan. Macleans, 7/25/88

July 18, 1988: The USSR Supreme Soviet rejects NKAO’s call for reunification.
July 29, 1988: Half a million people rally at night in the Armenian capital of Yerevan to protest a Kremlin ruling dashing Armenian claims to Nagorno-Karabagh. Los Angeles Times, 8/3/88

September 18, 1988: One Armenian is killed and 70 others are wounded in disturbances in Khojalu, near Stepanakert. Economist, 9/24/88; Washington Post, 9/21/88

November 20-24, 1988: Anti-Armenian pogroms take place in several Azerbaijani cities, including Baku, Nakhichevan, and Ganja (Kirovabad), during which 20 Armenians and 3 Soviet soldiers guarding them are killed. At least 300 Armenian homes are burned down in Ganja. Soviet troops are assigned to guard the homes of Armenians in Baku. A state of emergency and curfew are established in Ganja and Baku. BBC, 11/26/88; Guardian, 11/26/88

January 12, 1989: The USSR Supreme Soviet decides to keep NKAO under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. The Supreme Soviet also forms a Special Commission to directly govern the region.

August 16, 1989: The Armenians of NKAO form their own National Council.

August 19, 1989: The New York Times reports (in an article filed from Barda, Azerbaijan) that a bus full of Armenians from Mir-Bashir to Stepanakert was violently attacked by Azerbaijani youth and had to be rescued by Soviet troops. New York Times, 9/17/89

August 20, 1989: Moscow home service reports that traffic to Nagorno-Karabagh is completely cut off by an Azerbaijani-imposed blockade.

November 28, 1989: The USSR Supreme Soviet removes NKAO’s special administrative status, reinstating Azerbaijani direct rule.

January 1990: Azeri Forces begin to use the heights of Khojalu as a missile launching point upon the nearby Armenian inhabited areas of Askeran and Getashen.

January 13, 1990: Azerbaijani mobs descend upon the Armenian districts of Baku, killing more than 100 Armenians. Thousands of others are raped, wounded, and otherwise assaulted. Tens of thousands of Armenian homes are broken into and plundered. Virtually all remaining Armenians — from a previous figure of a quarter million — are driven out of the city.

January 14, 1990: Anti-Armenian rallies are held in cities throughout Azerbaijan, including Sumgait, Masally, Aksu, Divichi, Aghdam, Belokani, Zakataly, Sabirabad, Pushkino, Mingechaur, and Kusari.

February 14, 1990: According to Interior Ministry Major-General Yevgeny Nechayev, quoted in Komsomolskaya Pravda, corpses have been found buried in a grave and in a sandpit, about 30 miles apart, in northwestern Azerbaijan. Authorities announce they have found six more mutilated corpses in Azerbaijan, bringing to 18 the total discovered in two separate graves earlier in the week. Eleven of the 12 earlier victims, found in Yenikend, were described as handicapped Armenians who had disappeared from the Ganja State Invalids’ Home on January 24, 1990. Each of the bodies had numerous bullet and knife wounds. Nechayev did not identify the last six by nationality. The Ganja victims appeared to have died after the anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku.

October 23, 1990: The Armenian populated village of Berdadzor is subjected to attack by Azeri forces.

December 2, 1990: The water supply of Karabagh’s capital, Stepanakert, is sabotaged, leaving 60% of the city’s population without water. BBC, 12/8/90

January 18, 1991: A Rossiyskaya Gazeta report quotes Igor Bobanov, co-chairman of the Leningrad Committee for Humanitarian Assistance to Artsakh [Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabagh], as saying that the Armenian population (20,000 to 25,000 people) has been deported en masse from the recently dissolved Shahumian region of northwestern Karabagh, and that there have been casualties. All communication with the district has been cut off, and Interior Ministry troops have disarmed the district police. The Armenpress news agency reports that servicemen have been allowed to open fire without warning if passing cars refuse to stop at checkpoints.

March 14, 1990: The European Parliament issues a statement to Soviet authorities calling for the restoration of Karabagh’s own legally endowed political bodies.

April 30, 1991: In a massive attack, Soviet forces succeed in taking over the Armenian inhabited villages of Gedashen and Martunashen. The Russian-Azeri alliance results in the capture of many prisoners.

May 1, 1991: A Moskovsky Novosti correspondent in Getashen, a town in the Shahumian region, reports seeing with his own eyes the bodies of men and women floating in pools of blood. Many of these ‘‘had had their ears chopped off and their faces slashed beyond recognition.’’ Almost all of them had their throats slit from ear to ear, he reports. In a house [evidently used as a hospital], the journalist saw a scalped corpse and a little girl sitting beside a dismembered woman’s body. Many people had bullet wounds, mostly in the arms and legs. The journalist was also an eyewitness to the shelling by heavy guns of another Armenian village, Martunashen.

May 7, 1991: Joint attacks by Soviet and Azerbaijani OMON (Interior Ministry police special forces) succeed in overrunning the villages of Getashen and Martunashen. Armenians there are ethnically cleansed, and 53 prisoners are taken to nearby Ganja. Some of the prisoners are eventually released as part of a swap after Armenian fighters manage to capture 16 Russian soldiers. BBC, 5/22/91

May 13, 1991: Soviet Fourth Army troops surround the village of Aragiul. As a pretext for the mass deportation of the village’s 233 Armenians, Azerbaijani special forces arrive to check residence papers and search for armed Armenian militants. Newsday, 5/28/91

July 2-4, 1991: Azerbaijani OMON troops, supported by USSR Internal Affairs Ministry forces, shell, overrun, and loot Armenian villages in Nagorno-Karabagh under the pretext of conducting searches. Atrocities are perpetrated against Armenians in Martuni, Vosketevan, Vank, and Arakadzor; property, money, and valuables are pillaged and looted. BBC, 7/8/91

July 13-14, 1991: Azerbaijani Interior Ministry forces, with the support of sub-units of the USSR MVD Internal Troops and the 23rd Division of the Soviet Fourth Army, forcibly deport Armenians from the villages of Manashid and Buzlukh in the Shahumian region. Women and children flee to neighboring Armenian villages, and the men hide in nearby forests. Azerbaijani troops enter the villages and pillage Armenian property. Agence France Presse, 7/15/91

October 4, 1991: The Armenian village of Khramort in the Askeran region of Nagorno-Karabagh is shelled by some 40 missiles, fired from the direction of the city of Aghdam in the adjoining Azerbaijani region of the same name. BBC, 10/17/91

December 10, 1991: In a public referendum, 99% of Karabagh Armenians vote in favor of the creation of an independent Mountainous Karabagh Republic (MKR). The legislature ratifies independence on January 6, 1992.

December 16-17, 1991: “Alazan” missiles and mortar shells rain down on the capital, Stepanakert, from the heights of Shushi and Kirkijan, overlooking the city. Scores are killed or wounded. Over 80% of the city is hit by the continuous shelling.

December 29, 1991: Backed by armor, 18 Azerbaijani battalions head toward Nagorno-Karabagh. Azerbaijani troops have increased their shelling of Armenian villages since Soviet Interior Ministry troops started their pullout from the newly declared republic. The Independent (London), 12/30/91

Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region 3/01

For Immediate Release
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