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What was the status of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Soviet Constitution of 1936?

The USSR Constitution of 1936, also called Stalin’s Constitution, proclaimed the victory of socialism in the USSR and reshaped the structure of the state and of Soviet society. The Constitution enshrined the principle of federalism, and also the voluntary association of equal Union republics by delimiting the competence of the Union and the Union republics, and reconfirmed the right of Union republics to exit the Union freely.[1] In addition to this, the Constitution resolved issues relating to the formation, organization, and activities of the supreme representative bodies of state power in Union and autonomous republics, and also defined the system and powers relating to government, courts and prosecutors. According to the Constitution, “the sovereignty of the Union Republics was limited only within the provisions set forth in Article 14 and outside of these provisions, each Union Republic was able to exercise state authority independently”.[2] The Constitution confirmed the right to sovereignty of the Union Republics in their territories, and Article 18 stressed that “the territory of a Union Republic may not be altered without its consent”. [3]

According to the Constitution, Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and the Nagarno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast were included as part of the overall territory of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.[4] However, their status was determined by the Soviet Constitution of 1936, and all other legal regulations in the new Constitution of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic were adopted a year later, in 1937.[5]

The new constitution of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic confirmed that Nagorno-Karabakh enjoyed the status of Autonomous Oblast (AO), and defined its public authorities and administrations, election procedures, rules of representation, their competence and actions, the structure of government and its relationship with other government agencies. The Constitution also established that acts by state bodies should be published in the languages of the AO, namely Armenian and Azerbaijan.[6] Moreover, according to the Constitution of Azerbaijan SSR (Article 31), one of the Vice-Chairmen of the Presidium of the Supreme Council would be elected by the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast.[7] NKAO did not have its own constitution; however, it had special rights in its territory that allowed it to establish the boundaries of its districts and divisions, which needed to be approved by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Union Republic.[8]

The USSR Constitution and the Constitution of the Azerbaijan SSR confirmed and strengthened the perception that the autonomous republic and region of Azerbaijan was an integral part of the Union Republic and would not be changed against its will.

[1] The Constitution of USSR, 1936.

[2] “Article 15”, The Constitution of USSR, 1936.

[3] “Article 18”, The Constitution of USSR, 1936.

[4] “Article 24”, The Constitution of USSR, 1936.

[5] “Chapters: V,VI,VII”, The Constitution of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, 1937.

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

[7] “Article 31”, The Constitution of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, 1937.

[8] “Article19 (q)”, Constitution of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, 1937.