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When was the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) created?

During the first years of the Soviet Union, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh was one of the controversial issues between the Azerbaijan S.S.R. and the Armenian S.S.R. The most significant document on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, namely whether to secede from Azerbaijan and unify with Armenia or remain within the territory of Azerbaijan, is the Kavbureau CC RCP(b) (Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party of the Bolsheviks) plenum decree of July 5, 1921. During the plenary session of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)/C.C. R.C.P.(B.), Stalin, a member of the C.C. R.C.P.(B.), together with the 7 members of the Caucasian Bureau – comrades Orjonikidze, Kirov, Nazaretian (Armenian), Orakhelashvili, Figatner, Narimanov, and Miasnikov (Armenian) – as well as People’s Foreign Affairs Commissar of A.S.S.R. Huseynov, decided to leave Nagorno-Karabakh within the territory of Azerbaijan, while granting it broad regional autonomy. This was stated in the first paragraph of the document: “For the sake of national peace between the Muslims and Armenians and economic ties between Upper and Lower Karabakh and its continued contacts with Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh shall remain within the Azerbaijanian S.S.R. with broad regional autonomy and its administrative center in the town of Shusha”.[1]

The decree also instructed the C.C. of Azerbaijan to establish the borders of the autonomous region and present them to the Caucasian Bureau for approval, but the process took two more years to be completed. When the Transcaucasian Federation was formed in 1922, Orjonikidze, who was elected as head of the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee of the R.C.P.(B.) at the 1st Congress of the Communist Organizations of the Transcaucasus in February 1922, began to use administrative resources of the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee for the formation of the autonomous oblast in Nagorno-Karabakh. In this regard, on October 27, 1922, the meeting of the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee demanded that the 5 July decision by the Caucasus Bureau be implemented.[2]

Therefore, in order to adhere to the decision by the Caucasian Bureau and administer the area, the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijan Communist Party (Bolsheviks)/C.C. A.C.P.(B.) established a Central Commission on Karabakh Affairs, which consisted of three members: Kirov (Russian), Mirzabekian (Armenian), and A. N. Karakazov (apparently Armenian). Besides this, the Presidium of C.C. A.C.P.(B.) also set up a seven-man committee for Nagorno-Karabakh under the Council of People’s Commissars of Azerbaijan, in order to pursue the creation of an autonomous oblast in mountainous Karabakh, which was headed by Karakozov and lasted until July 24, 1923. The committee consisted of two Azerbaijanis and four Armenians, as well as Karakozov. The party secretary of Zangezur and a member of the Armenian Sovnarkom were also included in the committee. According to Audrey Altstadt, “the commission that would administer the hotly disputed territory included no representatives from one of the claimants. Its working committee on the equally controversial matter of separate administration would be made up of twice as many members from one contending nation as from the other”.[3]

With the formation of the Soviet Union, the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee became more insistent and its plenary session added a report by the Committee for Nagorno Karabakh to its agenda in May 1923. Later, the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) decided to issue a decree on autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh at its plenary meeting on June 1, 1923. On June 27, the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee passed a decision at its plenary session  to ensure the establishment of the autonomous region in Nagorno-Karabakh in three months. The following month, the Presidium of the C.C. A.C.P.(B.) discussed the issue of Karabakh and adopted a six-point decision on July 1, which recommended granting autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh.[4] Based on this, the Azerbaijan Central Executive Soviet Committee passed a decree on July 7, 1923, in which it was decided, “to establish an autonomous oblast from the Armenian part of the Nagorno-Karabakh, as a constituent part of the ASSR with the center in Khankendi”.[5] Two months later, in September 1923, Khankendi was renamed Stepanakert after Stefan Schaumian, the Armenian Bolshevik leader of the Baku commune, who led the killing of thousands of Azerbaijanis during the March massacre of 1918.[6] It was much later, in November 1924 that the Autonomous Oblast of Nagorno Karabakh (AONK) was officially proclaimed as a constituent part of Azerbaijan.[7]

[1] The decree of the July 5, 1921 plenum of Kavbureau CC RCP(b) (Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party of the Bolsheviks). Retrieved from К истории образования Нагорно-Карабахской автономной области Азербайджанской ССР 1918-1925/K istorii obrazovania Nagorno-Karabakhskoy Avtonomnoy Oblasti Azerbaidzhanskoy SSR 1918-1925 (Баку, 1989), p. 92.

[2] Shukiurov, Kerim, “On Autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh: Lessons of History”, The Caucasus & Globalization: Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Vol. 2, Issue 2, 2008, p. 148.

[3] Altstadt, Audrey, The Azerbaijani Turks: Power and Identity under the Russian Rule (Hoover Institution Press, 1992), pp. 125-126.

[4] Shukiurov, “On Autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh”, pp. 148-149.

[5] The decree “On establishment of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast” of the Azerbaijan Central Executive Soviet Committee, July 7, 1923.

[6] 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.

[7] Altstadt, The Azerbaijani Turks, p. 126.