Were Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) discriminated against by Azerbaijan during the Soviet era?

The USSR Constitutions of 1936 and 1977 stipulated the status of the NKAO.[1] According to those constitutions, the NKAO had the right to be represented by five deputies on the Council of Nationalities of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and by twelve deputies on the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR.[2] Additionally, the law entitled “On the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”, which was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR on June 16, 1981, determined the status of the autonomous region.[3]

Within the autonomous oblast, the Armenian language was accepted as one of the working languages for all government, administrative, and judicial bodies, as well as at the Attorney General’s Office.[4] Moreover, publication and broadcasting in the Armenian language was also allowed on local TV and radio and in newspapers.

The Armenian side claims that during the 1960s and 1980s, the Azerbaijani government did not allocate significant funds to the region, while it doubled its investment in other regions of Azerbaijan. But, according to statistics, between 1971 and 1985 around 483 million rubles in capital investment were channeled towards the development of the NKAO. That was 2.8 times more than in the previous 15-year period. Additionally, the housing construction figure in the NKAO was higher than in the other regions of Azerbaijan. While, it had amounted to 3.64 square meters per capita in Azerbaijan, for the NKAO the figure was 4.76 square meters.[5] Statistics show that “whereas industrial output in the republic increased threefold between 1970 and 1986, in the NKAO it grew by a factor of 3.3”. In fact, the NKAO was growing faster than Azerbaijan.

During the 1988-1989-education year, there were 136 secondary schools in Nagorno-Karabakh that were using Armenian as a teaching language (16,120 pupils), and 13 international schools (7,045 pupils). During the same period in Azerbaijan, in total there were 181 Armenian schools (20,712 pupils) and 29 international schools (12,766 pupils). In addition to this, more than 2,130 students, mainly Armenians, studied during the 1988-1989-education year at the Pedagogical Institute in Khankendi (Stepanakert), the capital city of the NKAO, in Azerbaijan, Armenian and Russian sectors. Furthermore, a number of specialist secondary schools and vocational training institutions offered their programs in Russian and Armenian. Table 1 evaluates the social economic conditions of the NKAO during the start of the conflict, particularly in 1988. The figures were presented during the governmental meeting organized to discuss the economic and social conditions in the region in March of 1988. According to the data, the social conditions in the NKAO were better than Azerbaijan and Armenia, and even better than the entire USSR.

Table 1: Comparable Social Development Indicators as of 1988[6]

Items Azerbaijan SSR NKAO USSR Armenia SSR
1. Number of hospital beds per 10,000 persons 97.7 101.7 130.1 86.2
2. Number of physicians of all specialties per 10,000 persons 38.4 29.1 42.7 38.6
3. Number of middle-level medical workers per 10,000 persons 93.5 122.7 114.7 93.5
4. Number of public libraries per 10,000 persons 6 13 4.8 4.1
5. Number of clubs per 10,000 persons 5 15 4.8 3.8
6. Number of movie projectors [Movie theatres] per 10,000 persons 3 11.2 5.4 2.9
7. Number of children served by preschool institutions (in percentages of size of population of the corresponding age) 20 35 57 39
8. Number of students attending first shift (in percentages of overall number of students) 74.3 92.5 78.2 87.8
9. Housing fund per inhabitant (Square meters) 10.9 14.6 14.9 13.7
In urban localities 12.2 14.6 14.3 13.1
In rural localities 9.2 14.6 16.1 15.0

[1] “Article 24”, The Constitution of USSR, 1936. See also: “Article 78”, The Constitution of USSR, 1977.

[2] The Constitution of USSR, 1936. See also: The Constitution of USSR, 1977.

[3] Gazıyev, Yusif, “Karabakh in 1920-1980”, Virtual Karabakh, 2009; http://www.virtualkarabakh.az/en/post-item/22/36/karabakh-in-1920-1980.html. Accessed on Oktober 1, 2020.

[4] “Article 78”, The Constitution of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, 1937.

[5] Gazıyev, “Karabakh in 1920-1980”.

[6] Baguirov, Adil, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Basis and Reality of Soviet-era Legal and Economic Claims used to Justify the Armenia-Azerbaijan War”, Caucasian Review of International Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2008, p. 9.