Artsakh Must Be Independent

A full-scale war started between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey on September 27th, 2020. The disputed region of Artsakh or “Nagorno-Karabakh” hasn’t seen such escalation in over two decades. It is an ethnic conflict, that has a religious taste and an almost perpetual political engine keeping it up. It started as an attempt to redistribute power between different nations of the region, but today is used by local dictators to create an illusion of an external enemy. However, this article is not about the motives. It’s a survey of territorial claims for both sides, but I promise you at least one irrefutable argument in favour of Armenia. Here is the plan!

The Short Story

  1. The region of Anatolia was a bloodbath in the first quarter of the 20th century. Muslim Turkic nations attacked every Christian ethnic group, which resulted in the Armenian, the Assyrian and the Greek Genocides of 1914-1923. Entire cities were wiped out, families were destroyed and needless to say, the borders were redrawn. That timespan overlaps with WW1 for a reason, so the geographical changes were further amplified by third parties.

  2. A few international treaties later, the remaining parts of Eastern Armenia join the USSR together with the Transcaucasian republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The territory assigned to Azerbaijan contained huge historical populations of Armenians. The biggest of them - Artsakh (NK), receives the status of Autonomy to avoid ethnic clashes. People coexist happily for about 60 years.

  3. As the fall of the USSR nears, the quality of life drops and the forgotten ethnic resentment re-emerges. Numerous large-scale anti-Armenian provocations happen, which bring up the painful memories of the Genocide. NK runs a referendum and declares independence to avoid ethnic and religious prosecution. Azerbaijan resists the separation, the war begins.

Today Armenians around the globe are convinced, that giving up those lands to Azerbaijan is equivalent to dooming those people. So how did the two sides plan to settle this?

The Truce

The active phase of the war ended in 1994. No peace treaty was signed, and at least one confrontation happens every year until now. In 2007, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the mediators drafted the Madrid Principles, but the negotiations hit the wall in 2009. Here is how I see the two sides.

  Armenian Position Azeri Position
Guided by The principle of
self-determination
The principle of
territorial integrity
Fate of NK/Artsakh Artsakh becomes an independent state. A referendum is held, where the people of Artsakh decide if they want to join Armenia, Azerbaijan or remain independent. NK becomes an autonomous region within Azerbaijan. Armenian language, schools and churches are allowed. Independent regional police are allowed, the military is not.
Fate of surrounding territories Nearby Azeri villages can be returned to Azerbaijan, but the safety belt remains. The entire territory becomes part of Azerbaijan.

It’s worth noting that the principle of territorial integrity (as defined in the Article 2 of the United Nations Charter) is inferior to Articles 51 and 73, that prioritize the right for self-defence and the interests of the inhabitants of these territories! Those articles have already been exercised in international law. Most famously, in South Sudan, which in 2011 became the latest country to receive widespread recognition as an independent state. Before that, they went through the Darfuri Genocide and in 2010, the CIA issued a warning that “over the next five years,…a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in southern Sudan.” Similarly, Artsakh’s independence must be recognized to prevent bloodshed!

The Claims

The Armenian Viewpoint

  • Armenians lived in NK since 4th century BC.
  • In 1926: 89% of the population was Armenian.
  • In 1989: 77% of the population was Armenian.
  • Subsequently:
    • Language is Armenian and not Azeri.
    • Religion is Christianity and not Islam.
    • All modern infrastructure was constructed by Armenians.

The Azeri Viewpoint

  • NK is enclaved into Azerbaijan, which didn’t recognize the referendum and it’s results. De-juro, most legal entities still consider NK part of Azerbaijan.

  • Their historical claims are somewhat weaker. The first mention of any Turkic tribes north of the Iranian Plateau dates back to 11th century AD. Meaning, 15 centuries after Armenians. The relation between those tribes and modern Azeris is still debatable.

For the sake of completeness, some claim, that Azeris are relatives of ancient Caucasian Albania. That’s a common topic in Azerbaijani revisionist theories, which came under criticism in Western and Russian academic and analytical circles, and were often characterized as “bizarre” and “futile”.

The Massacares

So the Azeri viewpoint is essentially reducable to a simple statement: the Armenians “occupy” the territory where they have always lived. Irony aside, there is something else I haven’t mentioned. Something far more important than history or borders. The human lives!

The Indesputable Argument

Below is a sample of ethnic clashes limited to the territory of Azerbaijan in chronological order. Before joining USSR:

Year Event Deaths Offenders Targets
1918 Shamkhor Massacre 1000 Azeris Russians
1918 March Days 12,000-20,000 Russians & Armenians Muslims
1918 September Days 10,000-30,000 Azeris & Turks Armenians
1919 Khaibalikend Massacre 600-700 Azeris & Kurds Armenians
1920 Shusha Massacres 20,000 Azeris Armenians
1920 Ganja Revolt 1,000 Russians Azeris

In the 2nd half of the century:

Year Event Deaths Offenders Targets
1988 Sumgait Pogrom 30-200 Azeris Armenians
1988 Stepanakert Pogrom 1 Armenians Azeris
1988 Kirovabad Pogrom 7-130 Azeris Armenians
1990 Baku Pogrom 48-90 Azeris Armenians

A friendly reminder. It’s only a sample, the full list is much longer. Furthermore, it excludes the numerous Armenian massacares, conducted in other parts of Anatolia.

Even within the borders of Azerbaijan, this quid pro quo continues for centuries, and every nation contributed to it! Some were much more violent than the others, but today, pointing fingers and accusing each other isn’t constructive!

What is genuinely undeniable - is that Azerbaijan as a state is incapable of preventing ethnic clashes on its territory! The moment NK joins Azerbaijan the fundamental human right for personal safety will be violated, and nothing can compensate that! The civilian population of NK will suffer from hands of radical nationalists in the government and broader community of Azerbaijan. I am not exaggerating. Here is how World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov remembers the Baku Pogroms:

No one would halt the Armenian pogroms in Baku, although there were 11 thousand soldiers of internal troops in the city. No one would intervene until the ethnic cleansing was carried out. The pogroms were happening not in a random place but in the huge capital city with blocks of flats. In such a megapolis as Baku the crowd simply cannot carry out targeted operations like that. When the pogrom-makers go purposefully from one district to another, from one apartment to another this means that they had been given the addresses and that they had a coordinator.

The Aftertaste

The above events happened decacdes ago. We often say we are more civilized than our parents. We say we won’t repeat their mistakes. We say that the crimes of the past remain in the past. To my deepest regret, it’s not always the case. Decades of propaganda have turned otherwise adequate Azeris into nationalists. Here is a story you may remember if you are a tiny bit older than me. Sadly, it’s very illustrative.

Year Place Event
2004 Budapest, 🇭🇺 NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace training for military personnel starts in the heart of Europe. Soldiers from many countries arrive to study together.
2004 Budapest, 🇭🇺 Ramil Safarov 🇦🇿 breaks into Margaryan’s 🇦🇲 dormitory room at night and axes Margaryan to death while he was asleep.
2004 Baku, 🇦🇿 Elmira Süleymanova, the human rights commissioner (ombudsman) of Azerbaijan, declares that Safarov’s punishment was far too harsh and that: “Safarov must become an example of patriotism for the Azerbaijani youth”.
2006 Budapest, 🇭🇺 Safarov was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary with a minimum incarceration period of 30 years.
2012 Baku, 🇦🇿 Safarov was extradited to Baku, where he was greeted as a hero, pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev, promoted to the rank of “Major” and given an apartment and over eight years of back pay.

If one story isn’t enough, here is a quote from a much wider study – “Nation and history in Azerbaijani school textbooks” by Yasemin Kilit Aklar, dated 2005.

Azerbaijani official textbooks misuse history to encourage hatred and feelings of ethnic and national superiority. The Armenians… are presented as historical enemies and derided in very strong language. [The fifth grade history textbook by] Ata Yurdu stimulates direct hostility to Armenians and Russians. Even if the efforts to establish peace in Nagorno-Karabagh are successful, how can it be expected to survive? How can a new generation live with Armenians in peaceful coexistence after being inculcated with such prejudices? As of now, the civic nationalism that Azerbaijani officials speak of appears to be a distant myth or a mere rhetorical device.


So what we see? Artsakh is historically, culturally and demographically tied to Armenia. By far, the most likely outcome of NK joining Azerbaijan - are ethnic cleanings. As they say in chess: “If it’s the only move, it’s the right one”! Artsakh must receive full sovereignty and decide its own future!

  • I have found an article by BBC about mobilization in Azerbaijan dated 3 days prior to the war!
  • I have found an article by ILiveMap about Turkish involvement dated a full month prior to the war!
  • This article was visualized on YouTube: