Mountainous Karabagh had a pre-war population of approximately 200,000 people, 77% of whom were Christian Armenians. The remaining 23% were mainly Muslim Azeri Turks. Nagorno-Karabagh's capital is Stepanakert. It has an area of about 1,700 square miles, slightly smaller than the state of Delaware.
Historically Armenian, Nagorno-Karabagh was connected to Armenia in ancient times, a connection that was lost after the division of the Armenian Kingdom in 387 AD. With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Karabagh fell under Arab rule, where it stayed for 300 years.
In the eleventh century, Karabagh came under the rule of the Bagratid Kings of Georgia, relatives of the Armenian Bagratids, who held it until the Mongol invasion. After 100 years of Mongol rule, Karabagh fell into Turkish hands, where it stayed until the Persians took power in the early 1600s.
In 1603, Shah Abbas the Great of Persia allowed local Armenian rule in Karabagh under five meliks (kings). These five kinglets, later joinedbut not supplantedby a Muslim khanate, survived until the Russian conquest of Karabagh in 1828.
Under Russian rule, a deliberate effort was made to link Karabagh economically with the "Baku Province," later to be named Azerbaijan. With the withdrawal of Russian power following the Russian democratic revolution in February/March of 1917, Karabagh reemerged as a state, governed by the Assembly of Karabagh Armenians.
The Azerbaijanis, who were trying to organize their own state, contested the Armenians' right to rule Karabagh, even though it was overwhelmingly Armenian. The Azeris first turned for help to the British occupation force led by General Dunsterville, then to the Ottoman army under Nuri Pasha, and finally to the Russian Bolsheviks. With foreign aid, they won out.
At first the Soviets returned Nagorno-Karabagh to Armenia; but after a brief period, Joseph Stalin gave it to Azerbaijan as an "autonomous region," and altered the boundaries so that Karabagh was cut off from Armenia and was smaller in size.
The next 70-plus years witnessed Azeri persecution of Armenians in an attempt to drive them out and replace them with Azeris, as was done in the Armenian territory of Nakhichevan.
In the Gorbachev era of glasnost, the Armenians brought the persecution of their brethren to the world's attention through massive peaceful demonstrations in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, in February 1988.
By openly and bravely protesting Soviet ethnic injustice for the first time, the reform movement in Nagorno-Karabagh ignited the independence movements in the Soviet Bloc of Eastern Europe. The "Karabagh Movement" is thus the grandfather of freedom not only in Eastern Europe but in the former USSR itself.
At that time the Armenians wanted to attach Nagorno-Karabagh to Armenia, to ensure its survival, but now they respect the wishes of the Nargorno-Karabagh Armenians to be independent. The independence movement has been met with appalling violence from the Azeris. In February 1988 there was a pogrom (massacre) against Armenians in Sumgait, a suburb of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. In November of 1988, there was a pogrom against Armenians in Kirovabad (now Ganja), in the interior of Azerbaijan. In 1989-90, there are joint Soviet-Azerbaijani forced deportations of Armenians living in towns and villages of Azerbaijan bordering Nagorno- Karabagh. In January of 1990, there was pogrom against Armenians in Baku itself.
When the Azeris began an outright military assault on the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh itself, they took up arms to defend their homes, their land, and their ancient culture. The Armenians are fighting for self-preservation and for the right of self- determination, while the Azeris are fighting to expel an ancient people from their historic homeland and to preserve power over a foreign province.
Today, a tenous cease-fire is in place and has been holding for the past 16 months. However, the Azeris number eight million and have a wealth of oil resources to draw upon in the coming years, and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh only 160,000 and scant resources. Very little would prevent the Azeris from reopening hostilities and starting a full-scale war once the oil money enters its coffers. A genocide similar to that of 1915 is threatened unless the world takes an interest in and protects the lives of the embattled Armenian minority.
Despite numerous acts of provocation on the part of Azerbaijanincluding a six-year-old blockade of Armeniathe Armenian government has studiously avoided being drawn into the war between the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh and the Azeri leaders in Baku. In October 1992, the US Congress enacted legislation banning direct US assistance to the government of Azerbaijan until the blockade is lifted and the aggression ends.
The six-year-old war has taken the lives of more than 16,000 people, and over 1,000,000 have been displaced. Azerbaijan currently has 600,000-1,000,000 refugees, Armenia 400,000 refugees, and Nagorno-Karabagh 60,000 refugees.
April 3, 1996