1988: Final stage of the deportation of Azerbaijanis from Armenia - PART 3
The demand for the handover of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region to Armenia was ideologically based, firstly, on the myth that Karabakh belonged to Armenians from time immemorial and secondly, on the right of nations to self-determination, which was unilaterally blown out of proportion and taken out of the system of the constitutional principles of the Soviet state, which also included respect for the territorial integrity of republics.
All the propaganda rhetoric of the separatist movement was carefully adapted to the context of the ideological processes of Perestroika.Namely, the critical reassessment of the history of the Soviet Union was used for spreading far-fetched claims that Stalin allegedly “gave” Karabakh to Azerbaijan in 1921. The idea of dismantling the command-administrative system in the USSr, which was actively discussed in society, was transferred to the national and state structure of the Soviet Union and used for substantiating the revision of the territorial and legal status of the NKAR. Criticism of the socioeconomic problems of Soviet society, in turn, served as a favorable background for real hysteria around the socioeconomic and ethno-cultural problems of the autonomous region, which was actually in a relatively better condition compared to other mountainous regions of the Azerbaijan SSr. The propaganda activities of the Armenians were support- ed by active political and organizational work. Under the leadership of emissaries from Armenia, organizational bases of the separatist movement were created and later legitimized in the NKar under the names of “Krunk” and “Karabakh”.
Inter-ethnic tensions grew in Armenia too. From the end of 1987, the Azerbaijani population of Armenia was under enormous moral and psychological pressure and threats, and there were cases of physical violence against persons of Azerbaijani nationality. as an inevitable consequence, the first hundreds of Azerbaijani refugees from Kafan and Megri districts of Armenia appeared in the adjacent regions of Azerbaijan in January 1988. in February, the extent of the displacement of people increased significantly. By 18 February 1988, i.e. by the time when first reports (unofficial) spread in Azerbaijan about territorial claims and Azerbaijani events in Armenia, the number of Azerbaijanis forced to leave it as a result of tensions, fear and violence had al- ready exceeded four thousand. Most of them gathered in Baku gradually escalating the situation in the capital. The former secretary of the Baku City Party Committee, Fuad Musayev, recalls those events in one of his inter- views: “in those days, i was on vacation ... When rallies began in the NKAR on 12 February, we were all con- fused, and it seemed like something unusual and in- comprehensible to us, because until that moment the USSr had not seen any strikes or protests.
On 19 February, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan issued an instruction to immediately recall all responsible party and state officials from leave. I immediately returned to Baku. Without even going home, I went straight to the city committee. Employees of the city committee told me that several buses carrying refugees from Kafan Districts of Armenia recently arrived in Baku. People were in a terrible state, battered and crippled. The refugees appeared on college campuses, where they began to talk to students about what happened to them in Armenia. I was sure that this incident smacked of provocation. Why did they go to college dorms instead of asking the leadership of the city and the republic for help? They were specially sent to Baku with one purpose - to aggravate the situation. To avoid provocations, I decided to close the entrance to the city. already on the morning of 21 February, I ordered that the refugees from Kafan be evicted from Baku, and they spent the night in the village of Mehdiabad. Of course, the refugees from Kafan were slightly outraged, but they were still put on buses and sent to the territory of Absheron District.”
The second secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, Vasiliy Konovalov, recalls his meeting with refugees from Armenia and their reaction to the inaction of the republican leadership: “Yes, Azerbaijani refugees from Kafan, Masis and Megri districts of the Armenian SSRR began arriving in Azerbaijan at the time. I met with them, and I still remember their questions that remained unanswered: “Why didn’t Moscow and Baku protect us from Armenian extremism?” . The retired lieutenant-general and former commander of the air defense forces of the southern strategic direction of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, Petr Polyakh, who was responsible for security during the withdrawal of Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia, expressed his impression about the state of Azerbaijanis leaving Armenia in the following way: “i was just struck by the appearance of Azerbaijanis expelled from Armenia. Armenians burned and looted peaceful Azerbaijani villages located on the territory of Armenia. The Soviet army was doing everything possible to save the Azerbaijanis in Armenia. We flew into these villages and encircled them so that Armenians would not make raids on them, and then took the Azerbaijanis to Azerbaijan. We mostly took them to the city of Gazakh. We handed over the refugees to the republican authorities.”
The refugees coming from the neighboring republic told of the atrocities committed against them and the difficult, depressing atmosphere forcing them to leave their native land, the graves of their ancestors and their property. Here are the accounts of Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia recorded by Baku journalists: “Since 19 February, we have not slept a single night. Azerbaijanis from the neighboring villages came to our village of Kalinin in Masis District for security. and the village itself was under the protection of border guards,” said Huseyn Qambarov from the Ararat state farm in Masis District. “The Azerbaijani school was closed. At nights, 10-20 men gathered around the campfire in the center of the village or town to guard the houses. and still not a single night passes without a house being set on fire. Old men, women and children go to bed dressed, even in shoes, in order to be able to jump up and run away.”
Farmer Humbat abbasov described his experiences: “in our village of Artashat in Masis District they set fire to three houses. Since 19 February, we have not been al- lowed to the markets, and the harvest we have grown with hard work is being lost. You will not find a single Azerbaijani surname in the records of hospitals, clinics and health centers in Armenia. We are refused medical care. They do not sell bread and products to us. They do not allow us to use urban transport. Mass unreasonable dismissals of Azerbaijanis have begun. They literally spat in our face and shouted: Turks, get out of Armenian land.” Such reports about events in Armenia, the appearance of refugees on roads and in towns across the republic and their stories about what happened greatly alarmed and angered people and led to an increased need to demonstrate national solidarity.
The emotional atmosphere in Baku began to heat up even more when reports started coming in from Stepanakert about the appeal of deputies of the region- al council to join Armenia. On 22-23 February, the first crowded, yet spontaneous rallies were held in front of the building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan. Only on 24 February 1988, did the press, in the form of a TaSS report, finally publish the official position of the CPSU Central Committee on the events in the NKAR, which set out the decision of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee. It officially described the territorial claims and separatist demands as unreasonable and unlawful, and thus, the center did not support them. However, it did not say anything about the refugees, as well as the involvement of Armenia in the events in the NKAR.
In contrast to the clear estimates contained in the decision of the Politburo, a hefty element of ambiguity was added to the Kremlin’s position by Mikhail Gorbachev’s appeal to the Azerbaijani and Armenian peoples in the same days. Gorbachev’s appeal softened these estimates with exhortations to be tolerant and patient and wait until the entire complex of national problems in the USSR is considered in the near future. The arminian side perceived such hesitations in the appeal of the secretary-general as a signal for increased pressure on the central government. Apparently, the usual bureaucratic formula “consider” was regarded by Armenians as a sign of hope and even the belief that their demands about Nagorno-Karabakh would be taken into account. Such a dead-end strategy for some sort of balance in the guilt of the two republics, conducted by the center, only added fuel to the fire.
Thus, the center gradually retreated from national constitutional principles and increasingly resorted to mutually exclusive political arguments of the right to self-determination and the inviolability of national borders, which inevitably fueled the conflict even more. as a result, together with the strengthening of the Armenian- Azerbaijani conflict, political opposition to the Kremlin originated in both republics.
Ilgar Niftaliyev, PhD in History, is from the Institute of History of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences.