The Artsakh Struggle and the ARF

The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Dec. 2015: The ARF at 125

Special for the Armenian Weekly

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) has enjoyed a long and varied history, one filled with achievements as well as setbacks, joys as well as frustrations. Amidst this history, the party has played many roles: revolutionary force, social movement, state-builder, community-builder, lobbyist, and much more. Here I’d like to explore one of its more remarkable roles—driving force in liberating Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh)—which often receives only passing mention, rather than the comprehensive treatment it deserves. I do not pretend to offer comprehensive treatment here. Rather, I offer a narrative and critical celebration that can point the way toward fuller discussions, which may be pursued by others possessing the requisite background and knowledge.

The ARF has enjoyed a long and varied history, one filled with achievements as well as setbacks, joys as well as frustrations. (Photo: Hakob Poghosyan)

To assess properly the ARF’s role in the Artsakh struggle, we must view two loci of activity that emerged in the USSR of the 1980’s: 1) budding activism inside Artsakh; and 2) solidarity movements in Armenia, organized in the name of (or on behalf of) Artsakh. While both loci are vitally important, my main interest here is the relationship of the party to the first of these loci: How it navigated its way, tendered support, fostered dialogue, and eventually recruited cadres among the activists found within Artsakh. (Here we must recall that the ARF had to inject itself into this milieu, for while it may have held symbolic or moral value among Artsakhtsi nationalists, it had practically no organizational presence—officially, unofficially, or underground—at the movement’s outset.)

Let us look at the matter more closely.



The contemporary Artsakh struggle actually went through a substantial gestation period before emerging fully clothed in 1988. On the surface, it was “business-as-usual” during the first half of the 1980’s, as Artsakh’s Armenians displayed a largely defensive, even quiescent posture amidst Azerbaijan’s tightening control over the region. Baku’s authorities were actively promoting “Azerbaijanization”—resettlement of Azeris inside Artsakh, accompanied by heightened cultural, political, and economic discrimination toward the native majority. Resistance to these trends was weak and scattered among microsites of activity, while popular attitudes—so far as they could be traced—appeared extremely cautious and muted regarding the reassertion of self-determination claims.1 Not surprisingly, Armenian emigration continued to grow: By 1988, the enclave’s Armenian population—once a 95 percent majority—had dipped below 80 percent.

Beneath the surface, however, a culture of resistance and organizational mobilization was taking shape. A prime mover in this regard was one Igor Muradyan: Born in Baku to a family hailing from Artsakh, Muradyan settled in Yerevan soon after completing his doctorate in economics, and in the 1980’s became a catalyst in re-energizing the self-determination movement. As he shuttled between Yerevan, Baku, Moscow, and various points inside Artsakh, Muradyan cultivated support among well-placed Armenians and arranged meetings with Soviet officials, in an attempt to generate a favorable climate of opinion. He was also instrumental in forging working links among Armenians—both established elements as well as budding activists—in order to generate organized pressure from below.2

Things proceeded rather quietly until 1986, when the landmark 27th CPSU Congress3 installed a young reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev, as General Secretary. Gorbachev ushered in the era of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), as he called for the revival of citizens’ initiatives, announced the release of political prisoners, and spoke of the need to fill in the “blank pages” of history.4 It is in this milieu that Muradyan and company—basically taking Gorbachev at his word—began their remarkable efforts to organize a referendum amongst Artsakh’s entire population, in the process establishing an activist network that linked local concerns with a broader understanding of the workings of Soviet power. In Artsakh, this network relied on a small group of “no-name” activists—mainly organic intellectuals with strong peasant ties—who were coordinated by Muradyan, his associates Gagik Safaryan, Manvel Sargsyan, Arkadii Karapetyan, and a few others. These activists took to the streets, fields, and factories with a plan that was conceived in late 1986 and carried out throughout 1987. The plan’s centerpiece was a petition directed to Moscow, calling for unification of the Nagorno-Karabagh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) with Soviet Armenia.5 The petition eventually garnered more than 75,000 signatures from throughout Artsakh and Armenia. During this time, more than 40 deputies of the Oblast Soviet (legislative power) also signed the petition and openly declared the need to convene a special legislative session.

The above activity arose in decentralized fashion, with contacts in each of Artsakh’s districts operating separately and largely through Muradyan’s orchestration.6 And while much planning and discussion took place in Stepanakert, a key center of gravity turned out to be remote Hadrut, where activists tied self-determination demands to the district’s severe state of repression and dependency.7 Throughout 1987, fledgling activists such as Emil Abrahamyan and Artur Mkrtchyan circulated from village to village, obtaining signatures while identifying cultural and economic issues that gave voice to popular grievances.8 This effort, while both painstaking and risky, afforded broad experience among the people—something that served these activists well when they later emerged as rebel leaders during the struggle’s partisan phase. According to Abrahamyan, their aim went beyond simply gaining reforms; it was to galvanize Artsakh’s workers, intelligentsia, and peasantry-at-large into the makings of a movement. By presenting concrete issues in an open and lawful manner, they sought to instill belief in direct action and self-empowerment over inertia, cynicism, or conspiracy theories that had abounded among the people. Such “coming out” also featured the convening of informational meetings where villagers received updates on recent activities and progress. Gone, it seemed, was the age of clandestine samizdats9 activists now openly acknowledged their identity, whereabouts, and the risks involved, relying on the freedoms ostensibly guaranteed by Moscow. In turn, Moscow refrained from any crackdowns or negative pronouncements, apparently viewing such activity—within limits—as good publicity for the emerging glasnost campaign.10

Arthur Mkrtchyan

Meanwhile, Azerbaijani authorities, although hardly pleased, were well aware of these activities and grudgingly tolerated them…until the end of 1987. At that time, Artsakh’s atmosphere became irrevocably charged, beginning with October incidents in the small Armenian village of Chardakhlu, located just outside the oblast’s borders. When the native inhabitants opposed the nomination of an Azeri for the position of kolkhoz chairman, the party’s First Secretary organized a response in the form of a punitive raid, in which children, the elderly, and even injured war veterans were beaten up.11 The news spread quickly among Artsakh Armenians, fuelling a mood of unrest. Seizing the moment, Muradyan organized the first unofficial NKAO delegation to Moscow in late November. That delegation included representatives of Artsakh’s various districts, who arrived with signed petitions in hand.12 Although unable to gain an audience at the Supreme Soviet, the delegation did meet with CPSU nationalities official Vyacheslav Mikhailov, who was welcoming in demeanor, conciliatory in approach, and who suggested further discussions. These suggestions bore fruit in January 1988, when a second delegation was received by USSR Politburo candidate member Pyotr Demichev.

These visits appeared to offer significant prospects: Upon returning to Artsakh, delegation members printed and distributed leaflets reporting that negotiations were making headway. Then, as if to confirm this, Gorbachev himself issued a statement on Feb. 6 regarding the situation. Although warning against “the power of spontaneity and emotion,” the general secretary acknowledged that “not a few shortcomings and difficulties have accumulated in the Nagorno Karabagh Autonomous Oblast.” Gorbachev concluded by urging that Artsakh’s problems be solved in the spirit of perestroika.13

Unfortunately, in the ensuing months Gorbachev proved to be an ineffective broker, giving conflicting signals and ultimately ruling against Artsakh’s self-determination, while Armenians would suffer violent crackdowns in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and of course Artsakh itself. But at this early stage, these hints of progress aroused popular enthusiasm, as Artsakhtsi activists pressed forward during the course of that winter. More signatures were gathered. Worker collectives passed resolutions calling for unification, often sending these directly to Moscow.14 Even Communist Party meetings were given over to the self-determination issue. Quickly, nationalism had ceased to be an abstraction; instead, it had begun snaking through a whole host of social relations, with no-name activists assuming roles soon rivaling those of more established Soviet politicians and bureaucrats.

Led by Muradyan’s peripatetic team, these efforts finally brought activists from various districts into direct contact with each other, as they discovered that their activities had been conducted not in isolation, but as part of a larger regional scheme. Indeed, as the movement grew in scope, local parochialisms began to fade as activists emerged in ever-larger numbers and in heightened coordination. This involved not simply a spatial but a cultural transformation: The surge of activism had converted local populations from sunken, passive inertia, into thinking, feeling agents of change.15 In the process of seeking to restore its integrity, Artsakh had become a different place.

Mikhail Gorbachev

(Remarkably, these efforts were not once directed against Moscow or even Soviet authority per se. Indeed, demonstrators usually affirmed their solidarity with the Soviet center, e.g. carrying placards with pro-glasnost slogans, even holding up pictures of Gorbachev. Certainly, much of this was tactical in nature: Activists did not wish to pose as a threat to the USSR’s stability, nor did they wish to cast doubt on their own loyalty as Soviet citizens. But tactics aside, there were also deeper reasons for the pro-Moscow tilt: These included the innate Russophilia and anti-Turkism found among much of Artsakh’s populace; a widespread, naïve belief in the integrity of Gorbachev’s pronouncements; as well as a deeply ingrained restorationist bent to the movement: Most activists did not seek the transformation of society so much as its reorientation along national lines.16)

Space does not permit a fuller discussion of the struggle that ensued. Suffice it to say that winter 1988 was marked by weeks of tense confrontation between public protesters who grew in size and boldness, and recalcitrant authorities, who sought various means to disperse the gatherings. Eventually, on Feb. 17, shortly before midnight, the NKAO Regional Soviet, in a tense special session, voted for unification with Soviet Armenia by an overwhelming margin of 110 to 17, with 13 abstentions (30 Azeri deputies did not attend). Although authorities had made sure that the official party seal was not available to validate the resolution, the deputies went home satisfied that their historic decision had met the necessary legal requirements.


Escalation and Regionalization

Needless to say, the Artsakh struggle was greatly impacted by parallel developments outside the oblast, especially in neighboring Armenia, Azerbaijan, as well as Moscow. While detailed treatment is not possible here, we should acknowledge the winding chain of events that within a few years converted Artsakh into a veritable battlefield.

In Armenia, solidarity rallies grew to nearly 1 million by late February 1988. These rallies, while peaceful and largely optimistic, sent shock waves through officialdom in Moscow and Baku, eventually blowing back upon the Armenians. The Soviet center, at first discreetly, later more brusquely and violently, dismissed any possibility of reunifying Artsakh with Armenia. Meanwhile, in Azerbaijan, with seeming impunity Azeri mobs organized brutal pogroms—first in Sumgait, later elsewhere—that eventually drove most Armenians from the country, thereby refashioning the struggle from a constitutional reform effort into a bloody, ethno-national conflict with regional implications.

Amidst these developments, we may return to the main scene of combat in Artsakh itself. On Feb. 22, shortly after the Oblast Soviet’s ruling, several thousand Azeris crossed into Artsakh from nearby Aghdam, heading down the railroad toward Stepanakert. Along the way, offices, equipment, and factory vehicles were destroyed. After ransacking two other factories and demolishing a militia post, the crowd collided with local (mainly Armenian) residents. While Soviet troops were ultimately called in to restore order, 25 people were injured in the clash. More importantly, 2 Azeris—one only 16 years old—were killed. Later investigations revealed that at least one of them had been shot by a Soviet soldier.17

Demonstrations in Yerevan calling for the unification of Karabagh with Soviet Armenia (Photo: Ruben Mangasaryan)

These deaths changed the mood considerably. Until Feb. 22, Artsakhtsi activism had proceeded in a spirited, often contentious environment, but had remained largely peaceful and directed at authorities. Now, Artsakhtsis faced new forces that threatened to shift their focus toward a popular struggle against the Azerbaijani people.18 What had begun as a campaign for self-determination through constitutional means had been suddenly recast in the context of an ethnic feud. Indeed, even as Armenian leaders sought to make distinctions between the lynch mobs and the Azerbaijani people as a whole, the overall momentum moved decisively toward nationalist warfare. Increasingly, Armenians viewed Azeris once again as threatening, implacable foes: For many, the Sumgait pogroms represented a resurrection of the specter of genocide at the hands of Turks. For others, it brought back distant memories of the bloody Armeno-Tatar clashes.


Temporary Stability

The events of 1988 continued to move at a rapid, heady pace that most participants could not have expected. Indeed, activists have commented that history seemingly was compressed into the frame of that one year, contributing to a sense of vertigo that see-sawed between euphoria and battle-fatigue. But after the massive Dec. 7 earthquake, both Armenia and Artsakh moved into a phase that was more grinding and protracted—although no less brutal. That phase began more or less on Jan. 12, 1989, when the USSR Supreme Soviet issued a decree endowing the NKAO with a special status. While remaining formally attached to Azerbaijan, the enclave was to be administered by a special board (five Russians, three Armenians, one Azerbaijani) under the aegis of Moscow’s plenipotentiary representative, Arkadii Volskii. The functions of local authorities were either suspended or subordinated to Volskii’s supervision.

Designed as a palliative measure, the Volskii Commission did manage to contain the violence in and around Artsakh. However, the NKAO’s new special status ultimately satisfied no one: Baku viewed it as an infringement on its sovereignty, while Artsakh’s Armenians resented that many of their leaders had been forced to step down or accept lesser positions. Stymied by the recalcitrance of both sides, Moscow decided in late 1989 to disband the Volskii Commission. This ushered in a decisive phase of struggle, one marked by escalating armed conflict and ethnic polarization throughout 1990-91. A digest would include the following developments:

1) Upon reclaiming authority, Baku immediately formed a Special Organizing Committee for Artsakh, headed by Major General V. Polianichko. Ostensibly, the committee’s mandate was to supervise Artsakh’s return to normalcy; however, it quickly revealed strong military dimensions that included heightened security, surveillance, and counterinsurgency apparatuses. In December 1989, the committee invited local Armenians to participate in its activities, but nearly all elements rejected the overture. Instead, Armenian activists organized a resistance network that involved for the first time irregular armed detachments, which sought and received assistance from Armenia as well from the Armenian Diaspora.19 This move was accompanied by the development of organic, village-based structures that forged durable bonds between Artsakh’s activist leadership and civilian population.

2) Beginning in January 1990 and extending through the year, intermittent clashes mushroomed into ongoing warfare on a regional scale, featuring the use of automatic weapons and medium artillery. This stage commenced when Azerbaijani units—bolstered by helicopters and armored vehicles—attacked the Armenian-populated towns of Shahumyan and Khanlar, located in the north, just outside the oblast. In the ensuing months, Azerbaijan began employing Alazan rockets20 to inflict damage on targeted Armenian villages, using elevated sites—notably the heights of Shushi and Khojali—as launching points. The Armenian response, although still largely defensive, began to rely on guerrilla tactics—raids, ambushes, assassinations—aimed at disorienting authorities while restoring popular confidence in the movement.

3) In parallel with these efforts, Baku declared a state of emergency that enabled it to reassert control on the ground. In January, nearly 1/5th of the oblast’s population was detained in a house-to-house search that netted more than 3,000 weapons. Shortly thereafter, authorities conducted several deportation raids against villages suspected of housing or supplying rebel leaders. In the months that followed, authorities began to pursue Armenian militias with the intent of disarming and imprisoning them: These activities crested in April, when Soviet Major General V. Safonov initiated a region-wide manhunt seeking to apprehend key rebel leaders. While partly successful, the manhunt met with swift retaliation, as Armenian guerrillas captured several Red Army soldiers while mounting an assassination attempt on Safonov himself.

4) The state of emergency also enabled Baku to tighten its grip on the oblast’s physical infrastructure. Backed by Soviet security force, authorities occupied all highways leading to Stepanakert and commandeered the regional airport, virtually severing Artsakh’s helicopter links with Yerevan. Toward year’s end, Azerbaijan imposed additional restrictions including the severing of all television and telegraphic connections to points other than Baku.

5) Escalation reached a watershed beginning in winter 1991, when Azerbaijani Special Function Militia Troops (the OMON,21 or Black Beret units), accompanied by Red Army troops, conducted passport and arms checks throughout the NKAO and bordering districts.22 Operating under the code name “Operation Ring,” the mission’s official aim was to “prevent massive armed action and get rid of bandits.”23 In reality, Operation Ring represented a campaign of intimidation, deportation, plunder, and killing that amounted to nothing short of ethnic cleansing. The operation’s name comes from its modus operandi: Soviet troops would surround targeted Armenian villages, upon which OMON forces would enter the villages and force inhabitants to leave. Upon entering, OMON troops would search for weapons and guerrillas, check the passports of inhabitants (in the process often beating them), round up the male heads of households, and often engage in or allow the looting and burning of homes. One observer noted the following, after speaking with eyewitnesses:

Most of the witnesses told us that the beatings and killings were carried out by the Azerbaijani OMON… [T]he Soviet Army organized the surrounding of the villages and taunted the villagers, ‘Why have you not left already?’ Then they stood aside while the OMON terrorized the villagers. The villagers were left on the Armenian side of the border with only the clothes they were wearing.24

Armenian men suspected of weapons possession, or of violating passport regulations, were routinely arrested and imprisoned. Deported families were usually forced to sign statements that they were leaving of their own accord. And in some localities, the process was drawn out over several weeks, during which villages were often left without vital supplies and completely cut off from the outside world. By August, the campaign had resulted in hundreds of arrests, thousands of deportations, and the emptying of between 22 and 24 Armenian villages.

More than any prior operation, Operation Ring posed a viable threat to the self-determination movement. For in its combined forces and sweeping descent upon the countryside, it forced both rebels and civilians into a reactive, often desperate position in which sheer survival became the highest priority. Operation Ring was cut short, however, by the failed August coup in Moscow, which signaled the imminent demise of the Soviet Union. This development would rescale the balance of power so as to allow Armenian insurgents to regain momentum.


Interlude: Artsakh’s Organic Leadership Emerges

Escalating conflict also brought on a reorganization of social space, as Artsakhtsi nationalism became radicalized and redefined along class lines. Specifically, as the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides began to polarize and harden their positions, there came a steady evaporation of the “third space” that had existed in the form of limited dialogue and constitutional means of addressing the problem. This left little room for conventional Artsakhtsi figures such as Henrik Poghosyan, Arkadii Manucharov, and others who had replaced the old guard in Stepanakert but whose political reflexes had likewise been conditioned by Soviet Azerbaijani rule.25 While these men sought to lead the movement through a combination of resistance, accommodation, and bureaucratic maneuvers, they held an uneasy relationship with—and steadily lost ground to—a new breed of organic leadership that advanced the armed struggle. This organic leadership included, but was not limited to, the activists of 1987-88, now featuring a mixture of 1) petty-bourgeois elements (artists, intellectuals, managers) who were in the process of committing “class suicide”; and 2) peasants who possessed little professional training but whose practical knowledge and adaptability was considerable. In contrast, Artsakh’s conventional politicians—with backgrounds in established positions of power—were poorly equipped to deal with the new situation. Indeed, they had much to lose by the turn of events, and as matters got out of hand in 1990-91, many either left Artsakh, retired from active political life, or in rare cases retooled themselves toward new forms of activism.

This shift did not occur without a struggle, however. Especially during Operation Ring, there was active contestation between local Armenians—accommodationists vs. insurgents—who not only grappled with Azerbaijani authorities, but with each other, as they vied for the hearts and minds of their own people. Indeed, the armed struggle had to overcome a period of extreme vulnerability, as Armenian villagers were faced with the choice between backing down in order to secure sheer survival or moving forward at the risk of incurring heavy losses. In the words of Artur Mkrtchyan:

Psychologically, many people had already reconciled themselves to the idea that they would be deported, and did not doubt that the wave [of deportations] would reach the district center in a day or two… These events were exploited by certain leading elements, who propagandized even more vigorously on the necessity of negotiating with the Azerbaijanis, as things hadn’t yet gotten out of hand… In those difficult days, many people were concerned not with finding ways to come out of that state, but in finding people to blame over it. It is no coincidence that many were cursing the movement, unification, the activists, as well as Armenia, which had brought them such trouble.26

As the summer wore on, however, Artsakh’s insurgents gained momentum and eventual preeminence due to a combination of superior organizational skills, responsiveness to popular needs, as well as bold displays of resistance. Indeed, as Operation Ring met with increased retaliation, the armed struggle won over much of the once-reluctant peasantry, who began to believe in the partisans and their message: There was no turning back.

Artsakh’s early organic leadership thus led a new “war of position” that converted once-muted aspirations into symbolic and material acts of contestation. This operated at two levels simultaneously: 1) acts of rebellion, sabotage, and intimidation directed at officials and occupation forces; 2) seizure of strategic roads, factories, and transport facilities. Through these efforts, insurgents sought not only tactical advantage on the ground, but ideological advantage in mobilizing their own people, shifting them from a culture of complaint to one of active resistance and self-reliance. This shift crucially involved a new attitude toward violence. As one activist put it,

Over 70 years, an Artsakhtsi generation arose under Azerbaijani rule that was satisfied being simply afraid for its own skin. Now these Armenians have transformed into people who have become capable of burning homes, killing women and children, etc. Soon after the [armed] struggle began, an Azeri mullah announced over television: ‘Fear the Armenian who has begun burning houses and killing children.’ Armenians had never done such things before, and indeed, from that moment forward many Azeris began to fear the Armenians—it was a new and strange Armenian they were facing now.27

Indeed, the importance of violence in “breaking out” and achieving new states of consciousness cannot be overstated. And yet, violence in itself would have meant little without the presence of other practices that wove a practical unity among insurgents and the larger peasantry. This was based on a popular mobilization that not only armed peasants but tended to their social needs, relying wherever possible on the securing of broad consent over coercion. This insurgency was not “parachuted from above,”28 but rather drew numerous peasants to its ranks while remaining village-based in operation. This ensured an ongoing mixing between civilian and military structures, while reinforcing the ideological, rather than purely military, nature of the struggle. The archetype for this modus operandi was found once again in Hadrut, which emerged as a spartan “enclave-within-an-enclave” during this phase:

Hadrut’s leaders, from the earliest days of the movement, have been ideological people who remain in the ranks until this very day. These people have led the mass meetings, have put forth the idea of arming ourselves, and have themselves organized fighting units. These men have led the war effort and continue to govern the district. Their model of developing a leadership that is both militarily and civilianly adept is one that should have been adopted by all of Artsakh… From the beginning, they had a clear plan of action, endowed with ideology, working in coordinated fashion and based on dialogue.29

While it had many faces, Hadrut’s organic leadership was typified by the contrasting cases of Artur Mkrtchyan and Armen Gasparyan (“Armencho”). Mkrtchyan was a soft-spoken history Ph.D. who had studied in Yerevan, only to return to become director of Hadrut’s historical museum. A close associate of Igor Muradyan, Mkrtchyan had participated in early underground activities, traveled to Moscow as part of the 1987 delegations, and led early petition drives and civil disobedience efforts. He became an unlikely guerrilla leader beginning in 1990, and an even more unlikely politician the following year, when he was elected president of the fledgling Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR), following the USSR’s break-up.30 Mkrtchyan was among the early cadres of organic intellectuals that included numerous “renaissance” men and women—poets, artists, scholars, architects—whose popular appeal derived not from skilled oratory, military prowess, or specialized knowledge, but from unreservedly blending their talents into the service of the movement. These were not “leaders” in a conventional sense—they did not seek governance as an objective—nor did they attempt to separate professional skills from the broadly human attributes that defined one’s worth in the eyes of the struggle.31 Indeed, in these heady times when the “special was found in the ordinary,”32 Mkrtchian was among those humble, “unremarkable” people who at once became remarkable.

Igor Muradyan

The juxtaposition was even more striking in the case of Gasparyan: Here was a semi-literate laborer with little formal understanding of Armenian history or politics, who held vocational training but no other higher education. A lifelong villager,33 Gasparyan emerged as part of a lumpen element of “nobody”s who became “somebody”s, often at very young ages, through the opportunities afforded by armed struggle. In a fluid, highly unstable situation where conventional rules no longer applied, Gasparyan was among those who, in improvisatory fashion, forged new rules of conduct and new facts-on-the-ground through acts of terror, hostage-taking, appropriation of facilities, and more, in which learning by doing—rather than the legacy of ossified knowledge—became part-and-parcel of the liberation process. Indeed, for Gasparyan social learning was multi-faceted; his immersions brought him into contact with an Armenian political culture he had not known before. National liberation thus became a time not only to reassert nationhood, but in a sense to rejoin and redefine the nation in whose name he fought.


The Role of the ARF

It is no coincidence that Mkrtchyan, Gasparyan, and other early partisans often became associated with the ARF, which decades earlier had been the enclave’s preeminent nationalist party, was forced underground and banished in the 1920’s, and then returned clandestinely in 1989, after nearly seven decades of exile. Starting from its diasporan headquarters, the ARF was a key element in organizing Artsakh’s armed struggle, funneling millions of dollars of assistance in the form of fieldworkers, arms, and logistical and humanitarian supplies. During the next two to three years, the party gained influence not by parachuting in its presence, but by methodically attracting leading native activists to its ranks, thus emerging as a force throughout the enclave. While it was hardly alone in this, the ARF early on carried a special appeal that lay in several factors: 1) At a time when Artsakh was receiving only intermittent backing from Armenia, many saw in the ARF an organization that was more reliable and committed to their needs—particularly regarding arms. This sentiment would become even more pronounced over the next two years, when a newly independent Armenia took initially a soft stance on Artsakh as it sought to normalize relations with neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan. 2) In the movement’s early years, the ARF still carried great prestige for its historic, almost mythical, role in the defense of Artsakh and other Armenian-populated lands. Stories of its heroic acts earlier in the century created an aura around the party, one that was actually bolstered by the ongoing propaganda of Baku and Moscow, which had vilified—and therefore validated—the party’s nationalist credentials. 3) The ARF chose to work in a highly pragmatic fashion that resonated with the immediate needs and approaches of many activists. Despite having marked socialist pretensions in the diaspora, the ARF streamlined its message in Artsakh to stand mainly for the defense of the homeland. This no-nonsense approach appealed to many Artsakhtsis who sought immediate results rather than a comprehensive political platform. As one respondent noted, “Many of us joined with a very simple saying: If Njdeh was a Dashnak, then I should be one, too.”35 Moreover, while the ARF did import fieldworkers into Artsakh, it worked largely through recognized activist networks and leaders—including Mkrtchyan himself—who accepted its policies and methods of operation.

The ARF’s early pragmatism was not without its problems, however. For one, the party sometimes attracted unwanted adherents due to its (too?) liberal policy of distributing arms. Future adversaries, such as Artsakh’s despotic commander Gen. Samvel Babayan, were in fact ARF members for brief periods during the early 1990’s, until they were able to establish power bases independent of the party. Second, and perhaps more important, was the party’s approach toward cadre development and societal transformation. In choosing to mobilize nearly all cadres toward direct involvement in armed struggle, it would pay a heavy price: Nearly 30 Dashnak commanders—many of whom enjoyed broad prestige and influence, well beyond the military sphere—were killed by the time a cease-fire had been declared in 1994. This left the party in an especially vulnerable position, as it did not have a cadre development or replacement process in place. Meanwhile, the party’s adversaries at that time—Robert Kocharian, Serge Sarkisian, Samvel Babayan, and others—quickly took advantage of the vacuum, consolidating their grip on power and leading Artsakh down a rather different path in the post-war era.36

In retrospect, the partisan resistance to Operation Ring was one of the remarkable moments in the Artsakh struggle. Led in large part by the ARF, it managed to stay the combined onslaught of Moscow and Baku, holding out just long enough for the playing field to tilt back in the Armenians’ favor. That tilt began with the failed August coup in Moscow, which effectively tied up central authorities and signaled the gradual withdrawal of Red Army forces over the next six months. As we shall see, this withdrawal opened new possibilities for the bolstering of Armenian resistance, while at the same time exposing serious weaknesses in Azerbaijan’s military capabilities. Over the ensuing 2.5 years, these factors would converge in the form of a decisive Armenian victory, including the total eviction of Azerbaijani military and civilian presence and the establishment of the self-declared Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (NKR), which enjoyed fundamental ties to Armenia.

We shall also see, however, that it was a bumpy, precarious road that led to victory: For one, Artsakh’s Armenians often found themselves at odds with newly independent Armenia, whose leadership evinced a markedly different orientation. Indeed, at various points during the war, Artsakh’s Armenians became vulnerable in a different way, as Armenia displayed great pliancy at the negotiating table—speaking in Artsakh’s name while often dangling it as a bargaining chip as it sought a stabilizing peace settlement.



[Artsakhtsi soldier speaking into his walkie-talkie] Aliyev is a #$)^(^%!
[Azeri soldier] No, Levon is a #$)^(^%!
[Artsakhtsi soldier] Well, I can’t argue with you there.37

The above passage aptly depicts the war-time predicament of many Artsakhtsi nationalists: Their struggle aspired ultimately to join the Armenian nation-state, and yet they found themselves often impeded, diverted, even undermined at times by the leadership of that very nation-state. For some, this led to confusion; for others, resentment and resistance; for still others, a reinforcement of Artsakhtsi indigenism and mistrust of outsiders (including Armenian outsiders). My aim here is 1) to explore the main contours of this difficult relationship, both as it evolved on the ground and as it related to post-Soviet statecraft as pursued by Armenia’s new government, headed by Levon Ter-Petrosyan; and 2) to examine this relationship in light of growing friction between Ter-Petrosyan and the ARF.

As we have seen, the initial outbursts of 1988 were followed by a slow-but-steady change in outlook38 among the new Yerevan elite that had risen in the name of Artsakh. By 1990, this group of ex-dissidents—once called the “Karabagh Committee”—stood poised to seize power, and its new outlook had crystallized as the question of independent statehood came to dominate political discussions, leaving Artsakh occupying a vague, uncomfortable niche in which its importance was simultaneously acknowledged and elided. With the advent of independence one year later, such elisions swiftly gave way to concrete policies and approaches: Now in the driver’s seat, Armenia’s dissidents-turned-statesmen came forth with a series of pronouncements revealing great pliancy regarding Artsakh. Such “softness” received full and immediate expression on Sept. 24, 1991, when a newly elected Levon Ter-Petrosyan agreed to renounce territorial claims to the enclave,39 setting a precedent for compromise that he would follow for the remainder of his presidency.

(L to R) Samson Ghazarian, Samuel Gevorkian, David Vardanian, Papken Ararktsian, Hambartsum Galstyan, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Khachig Stambultsyan, and Alexander Akopian of the Karabagh Committee

At the time, Ter-Petrosyan’s move was widely derided by Armenian nationalists, some of whom equated it with national betrayal. It especially created a stir in Artsakh, where leading elements hardened their position of self-reliance and wariness toward Yerevan. Not surprisingly, the ensuing two years were marked by much friction between authorities in Armenia and those in Artsakh, while Artsakh itself became the scene of growing contention between elements bearing different alignments toward the Ter-Petrosyan regime. Let us take a closer look.


The Early 1990’s: Ter-Petrosyan, Artsakh, and the ARF

Independent Armenia’s first years witnessed a sweeping reorientation in Armenia’s foreign policy. From 1991-93, the Ter-Petrosyan administration rapidly distanced itself from Moscow, remained aloof from Iranian overtures toward cooperation, and instead emphasized the normalization of relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan as part of an “East-West” integration actively encouraged by the United States. While perhaps unobjectionable in itself, “normalization” soon came to reveal specific priorities, e.g. avoiding antagonisms with Baku and Ankara, and instead promoting “regional stability” along Western lines. Within this framework, issues such as Artsakh’s self-determination and Turkey’s responsibility for the 1915 Armenian Genocide were quickly transformed from longstanding priorities to costly distractions, even impediments, toward the genuine historical tasks of the day, variously described via neoliberal mantras such as “economic reform,” “global competitiveness,” “attracting foreign investment,” “market integration,” etc.40

The inauguration of Levon Ter-Petrosyan

Yerevan’s “flexibility” was soon revealed in a series of policies and pronouncements regarding Artsakh: Ter-Petrosyan officially relinquished Armenia’s territorial claims against Azerbaijan, repeatedly signing multilateral documents that affirmed Baku’s sovereignty over the enclave. At the same time, he withheld official recognition from the fledgling NKR, calling it “Azerbaijan’s internal affair.”41 Once again, these developments alone were enough to spur widespread discontent. But they became potentially explosive when accompanied by official statements that seemed to go beyond the call of duty:42 Speaking in the name of value-free “realism” and “pragmatism,” Ter-Petrosyan began to label the Artsakh struggle as “adventuristic,” “unwinnable,” and “disastrous to Armenia.”43 Most broadly, he posited a collision course between Artsakh and Armenia’s independent statehood, adding that in the event of dire necessity, one might have to be sacrificed for the sake of the other. Such statements drew intense criticism—both in Artsakh and in Armenia—which only grew stronger after Ter-Petrosyan associate Ashot Bleyan went to Baku on a peace mission in spring 1993, after which Bleyan and presidential advisor Ktrich Sardarian founded an organization called Nor Ughi (New Path), advocating the return of Artsakh to the status quo ante as an autonomous region within Azerbaijan.

Needless to say, Ter-Petrosyan’s vision of national sovereignty was considerably more limited than it was for most Artsakhtsis, who swallowed their newly marginal status with great difficulty. Such friction was only compounded by the rivalry that emerged between Ter-Petrosyan and the ARF. While detailed analysis here is impractical, suffice it to say that the ARF’s influence in Artsakh became a thorn in Ter-Petrosyan’s side during the early 1990’s: For one, the party possessed high-quality cadres that both commanded great legitimacy within Artsakh and were largely immune to Yerevan’s methods and approaches. And, as we have seen, these cadres pursued policies that were frequently at odds with Ter-Petrosyan’s “new realism” (indeed, sometimes managing to foil Yerevan’s attempts at conciliation). Moreover, these cadres enjoyed the backing of a party leadership that was comparatively well heeled, headquartered in the diaspora, and thus largely able to side-step the controlling influence of the Armenian government. Such factors sometimes reinforced Yerevan’s tendency to leave Artsakh high and dry rather than to tender it active support; indeed, by late 1991 Yerevan had moved beyond neglect toward active attempts to restrict support for Artsakh, including efforts aimed at diverting, intimidating, even eliminating its ARF-led leadership.44


A Shift in Policy: For Better and for Worse

By 1993, Armenia’s foreign policy had already shifted away from earlier positions, enabling more active support for the Artsakh war effort. This shift is attributable to two main developments: 1) After a two-year experiment, the Ter-Petrosyan regime began to acknowledge—albeit tacitly—the failure of its foray into good-neighborly relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Specifically, Yerevan saw that its policies of accommodation were not being sufficiently reciprocated by these countries, which had remained largely belligerent and inflexible. Meanwhile, Armenia’s vulnerability was only compounded by its separation from Russia. Indeed, Moscow had issued stern warnings, even occasional shows of force, reminding Yerevan of the price to be paid for abandoning its former patron. Blockaded, economically punished, and with few allies to turn to, Armenia thus moved—quietly and reluctantly—back into the Russian orbit. Given Russia’s interests in the region, this move in turn facilitated a stronger stance from Yerevan regarding the war effort. 2) At the same time, Yerevan began to take note of progress made on the ground in Artsakh: With only piecemeal support from Armenia, Artsakh forces had managed to hold off Baku’s best efforts and now were scoring significant victories, making the war actually seem winnable for the first time. In response, Yerevan’s tone began to change: Artsakh moved from being a risky adventure toward becoming a responsibility that Armenia—however reluctantly—had to shoulder.

As a result, Yerevan worked to create a closer alignment between itself and Artsakh, organizing a better-managed flow of assistance and—after a two-year delay—creating a national army. This army was vigorously supervised by Ter-Petrosyan’s one-time colleague, Vazgen Manukyan, who had parted company with his “new realism” but who now returned to the fold as newly appointed Minister of Defense. Under Manukyan, Armenia’s armed forces would play a major role in sealing Artsakh’s victory: He oversaw the expansion of Armenia’s military budget and authorized unsparing support for Artsakh’s offensives, even in cases where he clashed with the dovish Ter-Petrosyan.45

Vazgen Manukyan

Alongside increased support, however, came growing penetration, as Ter-Petrosyan sought to control Artsakh through a combination of persuasion, intimidation, and infiltration of military and civilian power structures. Most notable in this regard was the establishment in March 1992 of the NKR State Defense Committee (SDC), which operated in parallel and acted parasitically upon Artsakh’s existing governmental bodies. While questioned at first on legal grounds—the NKR Parliament already possessed a Defense Council of its own—the SDC soon gained preeminence following the mysterious killing of Artur Mkrtchyan by gunshot in April. During this period, it became apparent that the SDC had been pushed forward at Yerevan’s behest: Headed by former Communists Serge Sarkisian and Robert Kocharian (both opposed to the ARF and closely tied to Yerevan), the SDC received direct backing from Armenia, and steadily revealed a divisive approach as it began to divert badly needed arms, money, and supplies away from regular NKR channels and toward unrecognized elements found directly under its own patronage.

For a time, the SDC’s approach served to dampen the war effort as well as Artsakhtsi morale, as it created friction and grievances among those who were doing most of the actual fighting. For example, one of the more deplorable incidents took place in February 1993, when an armed group of 15-20 young men (members of the so-called “SariShen battalion”) sought to occupy the district command headquarters in Hadrut. Although the coup attempt failed, it generated a chain of internecine violence that eventually left five dead and slowed military progress considerably. Upon further investigation,46 the so-called “SariShen incident” was found to emanate primarily not from local disagreements or youthful immaturities, but from a conscious, designed effort that sought to undermine Hadrut’s existing civilian and military authorities (which—not coincidentally—were under ARF control). Moreover, such efforts were found to be carried out with the blessings of officials within the SDC as well as Armenia’s Defense Ministry, who allowed the creation of supply lines circumventing Hadrut’s own administration while enriching and emboldening the young rebels, who engaged in many weeks of agitation, harassment, and armed theft prior to mounting their takeover attempt. Although Hadrut’s conditions subsequently normalized, district commanders reported a temporary draining of momentum—e.g. having to cede certain vantage points to Azerbaijani forces—while they attended to repairing the internal situation.47

While the SariShen incident reveals some of the internal dynamics of Yerevan’s strengthening grip, a second development reveals some of the broader issues at stake. This development revolved around the taking of Kelbajar by NKR forces in April 1993. Most Artsakhtsis understood this maneuver as a way of securing Artsakh’s borders, expanding its ties with Armenia, and manufacturing a new bargaining chip for its fledgling independence. Ter-Petrosyan, however, sternly disapproved. Indeed, within weeks he had entered into Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)-brokered negotiations that led to a preliminary agreement to hand back this strategic territory without preconditions. In Artsakh, this led to widespread consternation, which only grew further when—in his first visit to Artsakh as Armenia’s president—Ter-Petrosyan sought to pressure NKR officials into co-signing an agreement recognizing Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the entire enclave. Coercive tactics reached their peak when Artsakh’s new president, Georgi Petrosyan (also an ARF member), refused to give in to Ter-Petrosyan, was eventually forced into hiding, and ended up resigning rather than signing. On the diplomatic front, the end result was a stalemate: In the face of public disapproval, Ter-Petrosyan retreated from the Kelbajar agreement and managed to save face only when a July coup in Azerbaijan removed international pressure for a speedy settlement. On the domestic front, meanwhile, the resignation of Georgi Petrosyan contributed to a further weakening of ARF influence and heralded the ascendancy of Robert Kocharian, Serge Sarkisian, and others loosely allied with Ter-Petrosyan.

Georgi Petrosyan

With this new team came other changes: By war’s end, political power had shifted away from representative bodies, which increasingly would serve as rubber-stamps for the clique forming around Kocharian, Sarkisian, and their newly appointed military commander, Gen. Samvel Babayan. This shift was expressed also in socio-spatial terms: Earlier modes of organization—decentralized, movement-based, cross-fertilizing between different segments of society—had given way to a less supple, command model of administration relying on a reconstituted bureaucracy and professionalized army.48 Not coincidentally, this shift was accompanied by a host of anti-democratic turns, including economic penetration by Yerevan-based mafias and the curtailment—at times active repression—of oppositional currents such as the ARF. Indeed, by 1995 the party that had propelled the movement through its darkest, most tenuous days had been largely straitjacketed and marginalized: Outmaneuvered by Kocharian and Ter-Petrosyan, reeling from heavy losses among its leadership, and subject to a military that removed or harassed its remaining operatives, the Dashnaks had never been so weak, so vulnerable; they had been reduced, in effect, to a moral presence within the enclave.49


In Retrospect

Today, with the dust largely settled, we can better reflect on these “messy” years, and better evaluate the ARF’s role within the Artsakh struggle. In a nutshell, I would offer the following:

1. First, I must re-emphasize what I am not arguing:

a) The ARF was not the only force involved in Artsakh’s liberation. Certainly, many other groups and individuals contributed significantly—often heroically—to the liberation struggle between 1988 and 1994.

b) The ARF was not an initiating force inside Artsakh, except in the most indirect sense. Rather, the party was able to attract the hearts and minds of existing activists—especially organic intellectuals and the peasantry—who grew in influence and ultimately took charge of the movement.

c) Developments inside Artsakh, while crucial, did not work in a vacuum. To understand the struggle more fully, we must take a stereoscopic view that jumps between scales of activity—including Armenia and Azerbaijan, neighboring states, as well as Moscow and later the U.S. and multilateral agencies.

2. As for what I am arguing, let me summarize as follows:

The ARF’s most decisive role came in the early self-defense phase—roughly from 1989/90 until 1992/93—when conditions were at their most precarious. When the population needed arms to defend itself, the ARF was there. When the population needed physical protection, the ARF was there. But above and beyond self-defense, the ARF instilled confidence among a population that was dangerously close to capitulating to the enormous pressures Baku and Moscow applied. It did so by remaining close to the people, even as it waged armed struggle. Indeed, its model of activism—blending military and civilian functions, relying on broad, popular participation featuring the special-amidst-the-ordinary—was unusual for its time, contributing not only to the larger victory but to the party’s popular ascendancy.50

True, the ARF’s preeminence did not last. But even as the party’s strength began to ebb in 1993, it could take solace in the fact that Artsakh, by then, had crossed a point-of-no-return: Village-based, partisan fighting had given way to a national army; Armenia (not to mention Moscow) had swung firmly in favor of the struggle; meanwhile, nearly all strata of Artsakh’s society had lined up behind a single goal: independence. That goal was achieved in short order: By spring 1994, NKR defense forces had driven all Azerbaijani civilian and military presence from the enclave, thus rendering worthwhile the ARF’s difficult years of struggle.

There are many lessons to be learned from this page of our history. Among them is the glimmer of hope it provides to present-day activists in Artsakh and Armenia. For in looking back on these days, we can see that a different political culture, one based on broad popular representation, is indeed possible. But realizing this requires great effort, including organizational preparedness, ideological soundness, and a willingness to undertake great risks and sacrifices. I hope and trust that our new generation is up to the challenge.



  1. Interview with activist Volodya Harutiunian, July 1995, Yerevan.
  2. According to Muradyan, such links began to develop as early as 1977, when in Baku there emerged an unofficial (‘extralegal’) group called the Armenian Patriots’ Union, which included 69 people hailing not only from Baku but from Yerevan, Moscow, and Stepanakert. Of the 69, many were managers of economic units who became involved in financing, organizational development, propaganda, and other activities. The group’s efforts expanded rapidly (albeit discreetly), and reached a point where celebrated Armenian writer Sero Khanzadian was persuaded to write an open letter to Brezhnev. That letter created a small stir, especially among Azerbaijani political circles, and quickly the group was exposed, becoming subject to repression and eventual dispersion by the corresponding governmental bodies. (Interview with Igor Muradyan, August 1993, Hadrut.)
  3. CPSU stands for “Communist Party of the Soviet Union.”
  4. Mouradian (1990, pp. 13-14).
  5. The Nagorno-Karabagh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) was the legal political entity created by decision of Josef Stalin (then USSR Commissar of Nationalities) in 1923.
  6. Indeed, activist cells operated not only separately, but often without knowledge of each other’s presence. Thus, interviewees Garik Petrosyan (Stepanakert) and Emil Abrahamyan (Hadrut) offer wholly different recollections of how they were first approached by Muradyan’s emissary, Arkadii Karapetyan, in 1987.
  7. Hadrut’s emergence was due largely to its inherently radical tendencies, given its history as Artsakh’s most underdeveloped district. At the same time, it was a congenial hearth for Muradyan, whose family hailed from the district and who had many personal connections there.
  8. The most common grievances were 1) authorities’ continuing refusal to sanction Armenian history and language instruction in schools, and 2) the continuing state of disrepair of roads and infrastructure.
  9. Samizdat was a key form of dissident activity, in which individuals (re)produced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader. This practice was fraught with danger, as harsh punishments were given to people caught possessing or copying such materials.
  10. Indeed, analysts such as Shireen Hunter argue persuasively that in order to help the process along and to weaken conservative local communist organizations, Moscow actually encouraged the emergence of the so-called informal groups. The pro-Gorbachev elements of local communist organizations also often favored such groups, because at the beginning they were usually not seen as serious rivals (Hunter, 1994, pp. 34-35).
  11. This according to Sel’skaya Zhizn’ (Rural Life), the fourth largest daily in the USSR at the time (C. Mouradian, 1990, p. 15).
  12. Sources vary as to the exact amount of signatures.
  13. Furtado, C. and Chandler, A. (eds). Perestroika in the Soviet Republics: Documents on the National Question. Boulder, CO. Westview Press.
  14. Interview with activist Garik Petrosyan, August 1995, Stepanakert. Petrosyan indicates that Ago’s modus operandi centrally included mobilizing economic units toward self-determination demands.
  15. Interview with activist Emil Abrahamyan, July 1995.
  16. This approach would become bitterly contested in 1988, especially in Yerevan, where Muradyan would eventually clash with “Karabagh Committee” members over strategy and tactics.
  17. Malkasian (1996, p. 52).
  18. These early provocations involved mostly Azeris who entered Artsakh from outside. According to eyewitnesses, the reaction from local Azeris was mixed and generally more subdued. Indeed, respondent Maxim Mirzoyan reports that many Azeris were present during the initial rallies in Stepanakert, often as interested onlookers who displayed surprise, curiosity, and even occasional shows of casual support.
  19. Sources are widespread on this fact. For academic treatments, see K. Tololyan (1993), S. Cornell (1998).
  20. Used primarily as short-range missiles, Alazan rockets were converted from their normal function of seeding rainclouds (see e.g. T. Goltz, 1998, p. 75).
  21. OMON is the acronym for Otriady militsii osobogo naznacheniia, or Special Function Militia Troops.
  22. Soviet troops came principally from the 23rd Division of the USSR Fourth Army (Helsinki Watch, 1992).
  23. Helsinki Watch interview with Telman Khaliogly, First Deputy Chairman of the Azerbaijan Supreme Soviet, June 17, 1991 (Helsinki Watch, 1992).
  24. Chorbajian (2001, p. 17), citing Cox and Eibner (1993).
  25. Poghosyan was elected chairman of the NKAO Soviet in 1988, replacing Baku’s long-time strongman Boris Gevorgov. Manucharov was a prominent factory manager who organized the Krunk Committee, an early voice publicizing the self-determination issue. Both were ‘men of the system,’ but decidedly more nationalist in outlook than the reigning nomenklatura.
  26. Mkrtchyan (1992, pp. 5-7).
  27. Interview with NKR Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Atajanian, July 1995, Stepanakert.
  28. This quotation is adapted from Fanon (1963, p. 201).
  29. Interview with military commander David Ishkhanian, August 1995, Martuni.
  30. Although widely considered as Artsakh’s head of state, Mkrtchyan actually served as President of Parliament, as the NKR at that time operated within a parliamentary system.
  31. Underscoring this tendency was respondent Emil Abrahamyan, who insisted on calling certain activists ‘great men’ before entering into their professional skills and involvements. (Interview with Emil Abrahamyan, July 1995, Hadrut; see especially the discussion concerning activist/artist Armen Hakobyan.)
  32. The quotation is based on statements made by Emil Abrahamyan (Interview, August 1993, Hadrut).
  33. Gasparyan hailed from Togh, a mixed Armenian-Azeri village that witnessed some of the war’s most explosive confrontations.
  34. Interview with David Ishkhanian, July 1995, Stepanakert. The reference is to nationalist hero Garegin Njdeh, who was instrumental in the fight over Zangezur and Artsakh from 1918-21.
  35. Of course, these dilemmas are not new in the history of national-liberation struggles. For an excellent discussion regarding Guinea-Bissao’s struggle against Portuguese colonialism, see P. Chabal (1983, pp. 156-159).
  36. This conversation is actually a paraphrase of typical cross-border exchanges held during the war.
  37. Some would call this simply an unfolding of latent tendencies.
  38. The Sept. 24 announcement came as part of the ‘Zheleznovodsk agreement,’ brokered between Armenia and Azerbaijan by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
  39. Melkonian (2001, p. 193).
  40. Ter-Petrosyan’s comment came during a March 3, 1992 speech (cited in L. Papazian, 2001, p. 81).
  41. Some authors speculate that Ter-Petrosyan actually walked a tightrope between seeming submissiveness and on-site resistance, citing the ‘under-the-table’ assistance he tendered to Artsakh during the war (e.g. Papazian, 2001, pp. 81-82). Such speculation is countered by 1) his often gratuitous pronouncements regarding the need to concede over Artsakh, which served only to inflame popular fears as to his real intentions; and 2) the fact that Armenia offered unstinting support for Artsakh only after 1992-93, when a series of factors converged to make the war winnable from Yerevan’s standpoint.
  42. Acemoglu (1996).
  43. A pertinent example comes from activist Maxim Mirzoyan, at the time a prominent ARFer who served as mayor of Stepanakert and as advisor to Artsakh’s new president, Artur Mkrtchyan: Mirzoyan recalls how he was summoned to Yerevan at that time by Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who offered him his choice of high-level posts within the Armenian government, on condition that he terminate his party membership.
  44. Not surprisingly, by war’s end in 1994, Manukyan had already been sacked for apparent insubordination.
  45. That investigation was conducted by myself during July-August, 1993. Relying mainly on eyewitness accounts.
  46. Interview with military commander Vahan Badasyan, July 1993, Hadrut.
  47. The bureaucracy, in particular, drew into its ranks many of the old chinovniks—depoliticized or reactionary elements who had largely faded from the scene during the height of the struggle, but who now reemerged in populist or quasi-nationalist garb.
  48. By 1995, most Artsakhtsis still spoke with a sense of acknowledgement, even admiration, toward the ARF’s past accomplishments, but with an increasingly hard-boiled sense that the party was no longer a formidable presence. Indeed, as Yerevan’s operatives solidified their hold in Artsakh, the ARF increasingly served as ‘whipping boy’ for authorities—especially the brutal Babayan—who followed Ter-Petrosyan’s lead by directing a campaign of harassment and intimidation against the party.
  49. We should also acknowledge that the party—while not present in 1988—would enter the scene soon thereafter, attracting some key activists who had sparked the initial self-determination movement. Such activists included the likes of Igor Muradyan, Artur Mkrtchyan, Emil Abrahamyan, and others who would eventually join the ARF ranks.


Works Cited

Acemoglu, M. 1996. “Armenian Organizations, Their Public Accountability and Responsibility to the Armenian Nation.” Armenian Reporter International. September 21. p.25.

Chabal, P. 1983. Amilcar Cabral: revolutionary leadership and people’s war. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Chandler, C.F. and A.Furtado, eds. 1992. Perestroika in the Soviet Republics: documents on the national question. Boulder, CO. Westview Press.

Chorbajian, L. 2001. “Introduction.” pp.1-53 in L.Chorbajian, ed. The Making of Nagorno-Karabagh: From Secession to Republic. Houndmills, UK. Palgrave.

Cornell, S. 1998. “Turkey and the conflict in Nagorno Karabagh: A delicate balance.” Middle Eastern Studies. 34:1. pp.51-72.

Fanon, F. 1963. The Wretched of the Earth. New York. Grove Weidenfeld.

Goltz, T. 1998. Azerbaijan Diary: A Rogue Reporter’s Adventures in an Oil-Rich, War-Torn, Post-Soviet Republic. Armonk, NY. M.E. Sharpe.

Helsinki Watch. 1992. Bloodshed in the Caucasus: Escalation of the Armed Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh. New York. Human Rights Watch.

Hunter, S.T. 1994. The Transcaucasus in Transition: Nation-Building and Conflict. Washington, DC. Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Malkasian, M. 1996. “Gha-ra-bagh!”: The Emergence of the National Democratic Movement in Armenia. Detroit. Wayne State University Press.

Melkonian, M. 2001. “Betrayed Promises of the Karabagh Movement: a Balance Sheet.” pp.178-201 in L.Chorbajian, ed. The Making of Nagorno-Karabagh: From Secession to Republic. Houndmills, UK. Palgrave.

Mkrtchyan, A. 1992. What Really Happened in Hadrut? Yerevan. Mikayel Varandian Publishing House.

Mouradian, C. 1990. “The Mountainous Karabagh Question: Inter-Ethnic Conflict or Decolonization Crisis?” Armenian Review. 43:2-3. pp.1-34.

Papazian, L. 2001. “A People’s Will: Armenian Irredentism over Nagorno-Karabagh.” pp.54-94 in L.Chorbajian, ed. The Making of Nagorno-Karabagh: From Secession to Republic. Houndmills, UK. Palgrave.

Tololyan, K. 1993. “Political Analysis: This Spring Offers Real Hope for Thaw in Five-Year-Long Karabagh Conflict.” Armenian Reporter International. May 1. p.21.


Source: Armenian Weekly
Link: The Artsakh Struggle and the ARF

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