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Why were Azerbaijani people exiled from the Armenia SSR in 1948?

During the early years of the Second World War, the leaders of the Soviet Union drew up a terrifying plan for Azerbaijan. According to this plan the country’s population had to be evacuated to Central Asia and Kazakhstan. The reason for this strategy was that the Soviet Union did not trust Azerbaijanis, due to the ethnic and religious origin of the population. However, the involvement of the high number of Azerbaijanis to the Second World War, the significant role of the Baku oil for the Soviet Union in the war, the victory of the Red Army in Stalingrad and the Caucasus, and the coherent arguments of Mir Jafar Baghirov, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan during the Second World War prevent Stalin to fulfil this plan.[1]

However, the divide and rule policy of Russia was also used during the Soviet Union with the purpose to manage its control over the nations of the Soviet Union republics. To this end, it created conflicting territories between the republics. One of these hot spots was the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a territory that belonged historically to Azerbaijan that had been populated by Armenians as a result of the Tsarist Empire’s expansionist policy in the region. However, Armenia argued that this region was given to Azerbaijan under the terms of a Kavbureau CC RCP (b) decision dated July 5, 1921. Therefore, a secret “Karabakh Committee” was established in Moscow in the early 1940s, under the command of Anastas Mikoyan, an Armenian leader in the USSR. The aim of this committee was to encourage the leaders of the Soviet Union as much as possible to preserve their interests in the Caucasus. The committee thus appealed again to the leaders of the Soviet Union in the autumn of 1945, calling on them to secede Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan SSR and annex it to the Armenia SSR. The letter that was sent to Mir Jafar Baghirov on November 28, 1945 asked for his opinion on this issue. Mir Jafar Baghirov maintained that there was no scientific and historical basis for annexing the historical territory of Azerbaijan to Armenia. However, he made counter-proposal that it is possible to transfer Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, except Shusha that overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis, in exchange for the transferring certain regions of the Armenian SSR to the Azerbaijan SSR that were historical territories of Azerbaijan and mainly populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis, which had been seceded from it and annexed to Armenia and other neighbouring countries. This counter-proposal by Mir Jafar Baghirov was welcomed neither by the Soviet leaders nor by the Armenians.[2]

In addition to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Armenia tried to use the Second World War as a suitable pretext for putting the settlement of Armenians from neighbouring countries in the Armenian SSR on the Soviet leadership’s political agenda, in order to achieve their goal of establishing a “Greater Armenia”. Stalin was informed about the matter and his consent was ensured when Soviet-Iran relations were being discussed at the Tehran Conference from November 28 to December 1, 1943 between the Soviet Union, the USA, and Great Britain.[3]

After the Second World War, Moscow therefore began the next stage of counter-measures against Azerbaijan, under pressure from Armenia. Thus, in October 1946 the Soviet Union leadership passed a decree authorizing Armenians living abroad to settle in the Armenian SSR. Furthermore, on December 23, 1947, the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union adopted a resolution “On the Resettlement of Collective Farmers and other Azerbaijani People from the Armenian SSR to the Kur[a]-Aras Lowlands of the Azerbaijan SSR”. On March 10, 1948, a further resolution was adopted authorizing Azerbaijanis to be deported from Armenia. During the deportation, Armenia took special care to deport Azerbaijanis from economically, socially, and culturally significant settlements. The first wave of Azerbaijani deportations was thus from areas around Yerevan, and then from district centres, nearby villages, and other settlements. This showed that there was a close link between Armenia and the Soviet Union leadership, and that the latter were considering Armenia’s claims relating to Nagorno-Karabakh at that time. As a result of this Soviet policy, over 150,000 Azerbaijanis were deported from the Armenian SSR between 1948 and 1956 and resettled in the Saatli, Goychay, Tartar, Imishli, Ali Bayramli (Shirvan), Zardab, Salyan, Kurdamir, Sabirabad, Baylagan, Yavlakh, Ujar, Gadabay, and Barda regions of the Kura-Aras and Mil-Mugan economic-geographical zones of the Azerbaijan SSR.[4]

[1] İsmayılov, İsrafil, Azərbaycanlıların II Dünya müharibəsində iştirakı (Bakı: Qızıl Şərq mətbəəsi, 2000), pp. 28-51.

[2] Niftaliyev, Ilgar, “Armenian’s Territorial Claims on Azerbaijan (The Late 1940s-1960s)”, Visions of Azerbaijan, 2010, p. 54.

[3] Azərbaycan tarixi, Vol. 7, (2008), pp. 134-135.

[4] Arzumanlı, Vaqif and Mustafa, Nazim, Tarixin qara səhifələri-Deportasiya. Soyqırım. Qaçqınlıq (Bakı, 1998), pp. 89-97.