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What were the results of Armenian claims over Nagorno-Karabakh between 1945 and 1965?

Armenia’s territorial claims over Nagorno-Karabakh continued after the Second World War. In the autumn of 1945, Armenia appealed once more to Moscow for Nagorno-Karabakh to be annexed to the Armenian SSR, when Grigory Arutyunov, the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Armenian SSR, sent a telegram that November to Georgy Malenkov, the Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party, in an attempt to “give reasons” for Nagorno-Karabakh to be transferred to the Armenian SSR. When Malenkov forwarded Arutyunov’s telegram to Mir Jafar Baghirov, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, on November 28, 1945, the latter drew up a comprehensive response and counter-proposal and sent it to Malenkov on December 10. In this counter-proposal, Mir Jafar Baghirov said it was possible to transfer Nagorno-Karabakh to the Armenian SSR, except for Shusha, which was overwhelmingly inhabited by ethnic Azerbaijanis. However, in exchange, certain regions of the Armenian SSR that were historically part of Azerbaijan and were mainly inhabited by ethnic Azerbaijanis, but which had been seceded from it and annexed to Armenia and other neighbouring countries, should be transferred to the Azerbaijan SSR. This counter-proposal by Mir Jafar Bagirov was welcomed neither by Soviet leaders nor by Armenians, and the Armenian leadership withdrew the issue from the agenda and returned to it only after the death of Stalin.[1]

After the Second World War, Armenia therefore began to adopt counter-measures against Azerbaijan. In October 1946 the Soviet leadership passed a decree whereby Armenians living abroad would be resettled in the Armenian SSR. Furthermore, on December 23, 1947, the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union adopted a resolution “On Resettlement of Collective Farmers and other Azerbaijani People from the Armenian SSR to the Kur[a]-Aras Lowlands of the Azerbaijan SSR”. As a result, more than 150,000 Azerbaijanis were deported from the Armenian SSR between 1948 and 1956 and settled in the Kura-Aras and Mil-Mugan economic-geographical zones of the Azerbaijan SSR.[2] Through these deportations, the Armenian SSR therefore achieved its goal of considerably reducing the number of Azerbaijanis in the Armenian SSR. It was then a case of waiting for the right moment to make further territorial claims against the Azerbaijan SSR.

The more relaxed political atmosphere in the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s, after the death of Stalin, led to the rise of a national consciousness in Azerbaijan. This Azerbaijani trend toward nationalist revival increased the concerns of the Soviet leadership. They therefore again raised the question of Nagorno-Karabakh, acting on the advice of Anastas Mikoyan and Mikhail Suslov, with a view to keeping Azerbaijan under control. Anti-Turk and anti-Azerbaijan propaganda flared up in the Armenian SSR again. As a result, the Azerbaijan Pedagogical Technikum and its students were transferred from Yerevan to the Khanlar (nowadays Goygol) region of the Azerbaijan SSR. The Azerbaijani branch of the Armenian Pedagogical Institute in Yerevan was closed,[3] local and regional newspapers that were publishing in the Azerbaijani language were also shut down, and Yerevan’s Jafar Jabbarli Azerbaijani Drama Theatre ceased work.[4] However, the Soviet leadership realized that this might lead to undesirable results, and it therefore resolved the problem in favor of Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, during his visit to Baku in 1958, the Armenian Catholicos Vazgen I raised an issue regarding transition of Nagorno-Karabakh to the Armenian SSR, the opening of an Armenian theological seminar in Baku, and permission for ringing the bell of Armenian Church in Baku. However, the Azerbaijani leadership rejected all the issues Vazgen I raised.[5]

In the 1960s, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue entered a new phase, inspired by the Khrushchev ‘thaw’ after the death of Stalin. The next round of anti-Azerbaijan propaganda by Armenia began in the mid-1960s with the preparations for the 50th anniversary of the so-called Armenian genocide, in 1965. Meanwhile, the ‘Karabakh Committee’ began to operate openly. In May 1963, Armenia sent a new petition to Khrushchev, with 2500 signatures of Karabakh Armenians and with the same content as before. However, the Armenian demand for Nagorno-Karabakh to be annexed to Armenia was rejected by Khrushchev. The petition was followed by a massive demonstration in Yerevan in 1965.[6] National sentiments among the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh were roused further and they began to suppress Azerbaijanis openly. At that time the Soviet leadership was doing nothing serious to prevent hostilities between Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of Nagorno-Karabakh, just trying to strengthen the idea of “friendship of nations”.[7] In 1967, the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh region sent yet another petition to the leadership of the Armenian SSR, and this only served to increase the hostility and mistrust between the two communities in the region and resulted in a clash in Khankendi (Stepanakert) in 1968 in which a number of people on both sides died.[8]

Additionally, on May 7, 1969 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR confirmed the same body’s decision of dated May 5, 1938, whereby certain land from the territory of Azerbaijan should be given to the Armenian SSR. However, the appointment of Heydar Aliyev as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Azerbaijan SSR on July 14, 1969 prevented this decision from being implemented.[9] Heydar Aliyev took a great risk for the sake of the national interests of the people of Azerbaijan, and prevented Azerbaijani lands from being annexed to the Armenia SSR. However, due to the indifference of the Azerbaijan leadership in 1986, some of the areas specified in the May 5, 1938 decision were annexed to the Armenian SSR.

[1] Azərbaycan tarixi, Vol. 7, (2008), p. 134. See also: Qasımlı, Musa, “Ermənilərin Azərbaycan torpaqlarına yerləşdirilməsi və Dağlıq Qarabağa əsassız iddiaları”, in Yılmaz, Reha (ed.), Qarabağ bildiklərimiz və bilmədiklərimiz (Qafqaz Universiteti, 2010), p. 8.

[2] Ilgar Niftaliyev, “Deportation of Azerbaijanis from Armenia (1948-1953)”, Heritage, Vol. 1, No. 16, 2014, p. 45.

[3] Hasanli, Jamil, Khrushchev’s Thaw and National Identity in Soviet Azerbaijan, 1954–1959 (Lexington Books, 2015), p. 77.

[4] Niftaliyev, “Armenian’s Territorial Claims on Azerbaijan”, p. 57.

[5] Hasanli, Khrushchev’s Thaw and National Identity in Soviet Azerbaijan, p. 376.

[6] Demirtepe, Turgut and Laciner, Sedat, “The Role of the Karabakh issue in Restoration of Azerbaijani Nationalism”, Yönetim Bilimleri Dergisi, Vol. 2, Issue 1, 2004, pp. 195-196.

[7] Azərbaycan tarixi, Vol. 7, (2008), p.144-147. See also: Qasımlı, “Ermənilərin Azərbaycan torpaqlarına yerləşdirilməsi”, p. 12.

[8] Demirtepe and Laciner, “The Role of the Karabakh issue in Restoration of Azerbaijani Nationalism”, pp. 195-196.

[9] Azərbaycan tarixi, Vol. 7, (2008), p.144-147. See also: Qasımlı, “Ermənilərin Azərbaycan torpaqlarına yerləşdirilməsi”, p. 12.