Armenian civilization had its beginnings nearly 5,000 years ago and during the 3rd millenium BC. In the centuries following, the Armenians withstood invasions and nomadic migrations, creating a unique culture that blended Iranian social and political structures with Hellenic-- and later Christian--literary traditions. For two millennia, independent Armenian states existed sporadically in the region between the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, until the last medieval state was destroyed in the fourteenth century.
A landlocked country in modern times, Armenia was the smallest Soviet republic from 1920 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The future of an independent Armenia is clouded by limited natural resources and the prospect that the military struggle to unite the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region with the Republic of Armenia will be a long one.
The Armenians are an ancient people who speak an Indo-European language and have traditionally inhabited the border regions common to modern Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. They call themselves hai (from the name of Hayk, a legendary hero) and their country Haiastan. Their neighbors to the north, the Georgians, call them somekhi, but most of the rest of the world follows the usage of the ancient Greeks and refers to them as Armenians, a term derived according to legend from the Armen tribe. Thus the Russian word is armianin, and the Turkish is ermeni.
- 1 The Ancient Period
- 2 Early Christianity
- 3 The Middle Ages
- 4 Between Russia and Turkey
- 5 World War I and Its Consequences
- 6 The Communist Era
- 7 Nagorno-Karabakh and Independence
- 8 See also
- 9 External Links
The Ancient Period
Early Armenian history
Armenia has been populated since prehistoric times, and has been proposed as the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden. Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat, upon which Noah's Ark came to rest after the flood. (Gen. 8:4). In Armeni Sumerian records written ca. 2,700 BC, tells us the story of the Great Flood and the rebirth of Life [the Tree of Life or the Garden [Partez - Paradise - the main motif in the Armenian-Hurrian Mitanni and Araratian reliefs] of Eden located in Armenia - the Land of Four Rivers. Archeologists continue to uncover evidence that Armenia and the Armenian Highlands was the earliest site of human civilization. The earliest record identified with Armenians, is from an inscription which mentions Armani together with Ibla, as territories conquered by Naram-Sin (2300 BC) identified with an Akkadian colony in the Diarbekr region. To this day the Assyrians refer to Armenians by this form Armani. Another mention by Thutmose III of Egypt, mentions the people of Ermenen in 1446 BC, and says in their land "heaven rests upon its four pillars" (Thutmose was the first Pharoah to cross the Euphrates to reach the Armenian Highlands). To this day Kurds and Turks refer to Armenians by Ermeni. From 10,000 BC to 1000 BC, tools and trinkets of copper, bronze and iron were commonly produced in Armenia and traded in neighbouring lands where those metals were less abundant. Several states flourished in the area of Greater Armenia, including Aratta (Haik's time), mentioned in Armeni Sumerian records (3rd millennium BC), the Hittite Empire (at the height of its power), Mitanni (South-Western historic Armenia) and Hayasa-Azzi (15th - 12th cc BC), and in the Iron Age the Nairi people (12th - 9th cc BC) and the Kingdom of Urartu (Biblical Ararat) (9th - 6th cc BC), each participating in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian people. Yerevan, the modern capital of Armenia, was founded in 782 BC by the Urartian king Argishti I.
Scholars V.V.Ivanov and Tamaz Gamreklide place the Indo-European (Aryan) homeland in Armenian Highland, postulating the Armenian language as an in situated development of a 3rd millennium BC Proto-Indo-European language. The first major state in the region was the kingdom of Aratta. The word Armani - an early form of Armen-Armin [Armen or Arman denotes the national affiliation, as with many cultures standing for the particular nation thus, the God AR being the primary deity in the Indo-European pantheon - thus AR MAN denotes -- Men of Ar or Children of Ar, again initially AR standing for ARAREL-ARARICH [hence Ar-Ar-At the Place of ARAR] -- Create-Creator, also Sun, Light, Life and Love.
The modern Armenian name for the country was Hayk, or Hayastan. Haya, combined with the suffix '-stan' (land). Hayk was one of the great Armenian leaders after whom the The Land of Hayk was named. He is said to have settled at the foot of Mount Ararat, traveled to assist in building the Tower of Babel, and, after his return, defeated the Babylonian king Bel (believed by some researchers to be Nimrod) in 2492 BC near the mountains of Lake Van, in the southwestern part of historic Armenia (present-day eastern Turkey). Nairi, meaning "land of rivers", used to be an ancient name for Armenia and Armenians, used by Assyrians and Egyptians.
Greek historians first mentioned the Armenians in the mid-fifth century B.C. Ruled for many centuries by the Persians, Armenia became a buffer state between the Greeks and Romans to the west and the Persians and Arabs of the Middle East. It reached its greatest size and influence under King Tigran II, also known as Tigranes or Tigran the Great (r. 95-55 B.C.). During his reign, Armenia stretched from the Mediterranean Sea northeast to the Mtkvari River (called the Kura in Azerbaijan) in present-day Georgia (see fig. 5). Tigran and his son, Artavazd II, made Armenia a center of Hellenic culture during their reigns.
By 30 B.C., Rome conquered the Armenian Empire, and for the next 200 years Armenia often was a pawn of the Romans in campaigns against their Central Asian enemies, the Parthians. However, a new dynasty, the Arsacids, took power in Armenia in 53 A.D. under the Parthian king, Tiridates I, who defeated Roman forces in 62 A.D. Rome's Emperor Nero then conciliated the Parthians by personally crowning Tiridates king of Armenia. For much of its subsequent history, Armenia was not united under a single sovereign but was usually divided between empires and among local Armenian rulers.
After contact with centers of early Christianity at Antioch and Edessa, Armenia accepted Christianity as its state religion in 301 A.D. (the traditional date - the actual date may have been as late as 314 A.D.), following miracles said to have been performed by Saint Gregory the Illuminator, son of a Parthian nobleman. Thus Armenians claim that Tiridates III (238-314 A.D.) was the first ruler to officially Christianize his people, his conversion predating the conventional date (312 A.D.) of Constantine the Great's personal acceptance of Christianity on behalf of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire).
Early in the fifth century A.D., Saint Mesrop, also known as Mashtots, devised an alphabet for the Armenian Language, and religious and historical works began to appear as part of the effort to consolidate the influence of Christianity. For the next two centuries, political unrest paralleled the exceptional development of literary and religious life that became known as the first golden age of Armenia. In several administrative forms, Armenia remained part of the Byzantine Empire until the mid-seventh century. In 653 A.D., the empire, finding the region difficult to govern, ceded Armenia to the Arabs. In 806 A.D., the Arabs established the noble Bagratid family as governors, and later kings, of a semiautonomous Armenian state.
The Middle Ages
Particularly under Bagratid kings Ashot I (also known as Ashot the Great or Ashot V, r. 862-890 A.D.) and Ashot III (r. A.D. 952-977), a flourishing of art and literature accompanied a second golden age of Armenian history. The relative prosperity of other kingdoms in the region enabled the Armenians to develop their culture while remaining segmented among jurisdictions of varying degrees of autonomy granted by the Arabs. Then, after eleventh-century invasions from the west by the Byzantine Greeks and from the east by the Seljuk Turks, the independent kingdoms in Armenia proper collapsed, and a new Armenian state, the kingdom of Lesser Armenia, formed in Cilicia along the northeasternmost shore of the Mediterranean Sea. As an ally of the kingdoms set up by the European armies of the Crusades, Cilician Armenia fought against the rising Muslim threat on behalf of the Christian nations of Europe until internal rebellions and court intrigue brought its downfall, at the hands of the Central Asian Mamluk Turks in 1375. Cilician Armenia left notable monuments of art, literature, theology, and jurisprudence. It also served as the door through which Armenians began emigrating to points west, notably Cyprus, Marseilles, Cairo, Venice, and even Holland.
The Mamluks controlled Cilician Armenia until the Ottoman Turks conquered the region in the sixteenth century. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Turks and the Persians divided Caucasian Armenia to the northeast between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The Persians dominated the area of modern Armenia, around Lake Sevan and the city of Erevan. From the fifteenth century until the early twentieth century, most Armenians were ruled by the Ottoman Turks through the millet (see Glossary) system, which recognized the ecclesiastical authority of the Armenian Apostolic Church over the Armenian people.
Between Russia and Turkey
Beginning in the eighteenth century, the Russian Empire played a growing role in determining the fate of the Armenians, although those in Anatolia remained under Turkish control, with tragic consequences that would endure well into the twentieth century.
Russian Influence Expands
In the eighteenth century, Transcaucasia (the region including the Greater Caucasus mountain range as well as the lands to the south and west) became the object of a military-political struggle among three empires: Ottoman Turkey, tsarist Russia, and Safavid Persia. In 1828 Russia defeated Persia and annexed the area around Erevan, bringing thousands of Armenians into the Russian Empire. In the next half-century, three related processes began to intensify the political and national consciousness of the ethnic and religious communities of the Caucasus region: the imposition of tsarist rule; the rise of a market and capitalist economy; and the emergence of secular national intelligentsias. Tsarism brought Armenians from Russia and from the former Persian provinces under a single legal order. The tsarist system also brought relative peace and security by fostering commerce and industry, the growth of towns, and the building of railroads, thus gradually ending the isolation of many villages.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a major movement toward centralization and reform, called the Tanzimat, swept through the Ottoman Empire, whose authority had been eroded by corruption and delegation of control to local fiefdoms. Armenian subjects benefited somewhat from these reforms; for instance, in 1863 a special Armenian constitution was granted. When the reform movement was ended in the 1870s by reactionary factions, however, Ottoman policy toward subject nationalities became less tolerant, and the situation of the Armenians in the empire began to deteriorate rapidly.
The Armenians themselves changed dramatically in the mid-nineteenth century. An intellectual awakening influenced by Western and Russian ideas, a new interest in Armenian history, and an increase in social interaction created a sense of secular nationality among many Armenians. Instead of conceiving of themselves solely as a religious community, Armenians--especially the urban middle class--began to feel closer kinship with Christian Europe and greater alienation from the Muslim peoples among whom they lived.
Lacking faith in reform within the empire, Armenian leaders began to appeal to the European powers for assistance. In 1878 Armenian delegates appeared at the Congress of Berlin, where the European powers were negotiating the disposition of Ottoman territories. Although Armenian requests for European protection went largely unanswered in Berlin, the "Armenian question" became a point of contention in the complex European diplomacy of the late nineteenth century, with Russia and Britain acting as the chief sponsors of Armenian interests on various issues.
The Armenian independence movement began as agitation on behalf of liberal democracy by writers, journalists, and teachers. But by the last decade of the nineteenth century, moderate nationalist intellectuals had been pushed aside by younger, more radical socialists. Armenian revolutionary parties, founded in the early 1890s in Russia and Europe, sent their cadres to organize in Turkey. Because of the self-destruction of one major party, the Social Democratic Hnchaks, and the relative isolation of the liberals and the "internationalist" Social Democrats in the cities of Transcaucasia, the more nationalist of the socialist parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, also known as the Dashnak, a shortened form of its Armenian name), emerged by the early twentieth century as the only real contender for Armenian loyalties. The ARF favored Armenian autonomy in both the Russian and the Ottoman empires rather than full independence for an Armenia in which Russian and Ottoman-held components would be unified.
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the Armenians' tendency toward Europeanization antagonized Turkish officials and encouraged their view that Armenians were a foreign, subversive element in the sultan's realm. By 1890 the rapid growth of the Kurdish population in Anatolia, combined with the immigration of Muslims from the Balkans and the Caucasus, had made the Armenian population of Anatolia an increasingly endangered minority. In 1895 Ottoman suspicion of the westernized Armenian population led to the massacre of 300,000 Armenians by special order of the Ottoman government.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Russian border, Armenian churches and schools were closed and church property was confiscated in 1903. Tatars massacred Armenians in several towns and cities in 1905, and fifty-two Armenian nationalist leaders in Russia were tried en masse for underground activities in 1912.
The Young Turks
The Armenian population that remained in the Ottoman Empire after the 1895 massacre supported the 1908 revolution of the Committee of Union and Progress, better known as the Young Turks, who promised liberal treatment of ethnic minorities. However, after its revolution succeeded, the Young Turk government plotted elimination of the Armenians, who were a significant obstacle to the regime's evolving nationalist agenda.
In the early stages of World War I, in 1915 Russian armies advanced on Turkey from the north and the British attempted an invasion from the Mediterranean. Citing the threat of internal rebellion, the Ottoman government ordered large-scale roundups, deportations, and systematic torture and murder of Armenians beginning in the spring of 1915. Over 1 million deaths out of the prewar population of about 2.5 million Armenians. By 1917 fewer than 200,000 Armenians remained in Turkey.
Whatever the exact dimensions of the genocide, Armenians suffered a demographic disaster that shifted the center of the Armenian population from the heartland of historical Armenia to the relatively safer eastern regions held by the Russians. Tens of thousands of refugees fled to the Caucasus with the retreating Russian armies, and the cities of Baku and Tbilisi filled with Armenians from Turkey. Ethnic tensions rose in Transcaucasia as the new immigrants added to the pressures on the limited resources of the collapsing Russian Empire. )
World War I and Its Consequences
As was the case for most of Europe, World War I changed Armenia's geopolitical situation. The war also precipitated an ethnic disaster of rare magnitude and brought the Armenians who remained in their native territory into a new type of empire.
Between 1915 and 1917, Russia occupied virtually the entire Armenian part of the Ottoman Empire. Then in October 1917, the Bolshevik victory in Russia ended that country's involvement in World War I, and Russian troops left the Caucasus. In the vacuum that remained, the Armenians first joined a Transcaucasian federation with Azerbaijan and Georgia, both of which, however, soon proved to be unreliable partners. The danger posed by the territorial ambitions of the Ottoman Turks and the Azerbaijanis finally united the Caucasian Armenian population in support of the ARF program for autonomy. In May 1918, an independent Armenian republic was declared; its armies continued to fight on the Allied side south of the Caucasus until the Ottoman Empire surrendered in October 1918. The independent republic endured from May 1918 to December 1920. In the new government, ARF leaders R.I. Kachazuni and A.I. Khatisian became prime minister and foreign minister, respectively.
The First Republic of Armenia included the northeastern part of present-day eastern Turkey, and the League of Nations forsaw mandated it continue west along the Black Sea coast past Trabzon and southwest past Lake Van. But Armenia's precarious independence was threatened from within by the terrible economic conditions that followed the war in the former Ottoman Empire and, by 1920, by the territorial ambitions of Soviet Russia and the nationalist Turks under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Atatürk had rehabilitated Turkey rapidly under a new democratic system, but the ruling party still hoped to create a larger state by taking territory in western Armenia from which Armenians had been driven. In defending its independence, the Republic of Armenia waited in vain, however, for the material and military aid promised at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The Allies' memories of the 1915 massacre faded as war weariness and isolationism dominated their foreign policy.
In agreeing to the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, the World War I Allies and Turkey recognized Armenian independence; as part of the treaty, Armenia received some disputed territory in what had been the Ottoman Empire. However, most of western Armenia remained in Turkish hands. Eastern Armenia, ravaged by warfare, migration, and disease, had an Armenian population of only 720,000 by 1920. Caught between the advancing Turks and the Red Army, which had already occupied neighboring Azerbaijan, in November 1920 the ARF government made a political agreement with the communists to enter a coalition government. The Treaty of Aleksandropol', signed by this government with Turkey, returned Armenia's northern Kars District to Russia? and repudiated the existence of Armenian populations in newly expanded Turkey.
Into the Soviet Union
In 1922 Armenia was combined with Azerbaijan and Georgia to form the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (TSFSR), which was a single republic of the Soviet Union until the federation was dissolved and each part given republic status in 1936. When the TSFSR was formed, the new Soviet government in the Armenian capital of Erevan ruled over a shrunken country with a devastated economy and few resources with which to feed the populace and rebuild itself. In integrating their republic into the newly forming Soviet Union, Armenian communists surrendered the sovereignty that the independent republic had enjoyed briefly. Although it eliminated rival political parties and restricted the range of public expression, the new government promoted Armenian culture and education, invited artists and intellectuals from abroad to return to Armenia, and managed to create an environment of greater security and material well-being than Armenians had known since the outbreak of World War I.
The Communist Era
During the rule of Joseph V. Stalin (in power 1926-53), Armenian society and its economy were changed dramatically by Moscow policy makers. In a period of twenty-five years, Armenia was industrialized and educated under strictly prescribed conditions, and nationalism was harshly suppressed. After Stalin's death, Moscow allowed greater expression of national feeling, but the corruption endemic in communist rule continued until the very end in 1991. The last years of communism also brought disillusionment in what had been one of the most loyal republics in the Soviet Union until the late 1980s.
Stalin's radical restructuring of the Soviet economic and political systems at the end of the 1920s ended the brief period of moderate rule and mixed economy under what was known as the New Economic Policy (see Modern Economic History , this ch.). Under Stalin the Communist Party of Armenia (CPA) used police terror to strengthen its political hold on the population and suppress all expressions of nationalism. At the height of the Great Terror orchestrated by Stalin in 1936-37, the ranks of CPA leaders and intellectuals were decimated by Lavrenti Beria, political commissar for the Transcaucasian republics.
Stalin's enforced social and economic engineering improved literacy and education and built communications and industrial infrastructures where virtually none had existed in tsarist times. As they emerged from the Stalin era in the 1950s, Armenians were more mobile, better educated, and ready to benefit from the less repressive policies of Stalin's successor, Nikita S. Khrushchev (in power 1953-64). The years of industrialization had promoted an upward social mobility through which peasants became workers; workers became foremen or managers; and managers became party and state officials.
Communism after Stalin
After Stalin's death in 1953, Moscow granted the republic more autonomy in decision making, which meant that the local communist elite increased its power and became entrenched in Armenian politics in the 1950s and 1960s. Although overt political opposition remained tightly restricted, expressions of moderate nationalism were viewed with greater tolerance. Statues of Armenian national heroes were erected, including one of Saint Vartan, the fifth-century defender of Armenian Christianity.
Even as Armenia continued its transformation from a basically agrarian nation to an industrial, urban society--by the early 1980s, only a third of Armenians lived in the countryside--the ruling elite remained largely unchanged. As a result, corruption and favoritism spread, and an illegal "second economy" of black markets and bribery flourished. In 1974 Moscow sent a young engineer, Karen Demirchian, to Erevan to clean up the old party apparatus, but the new party chief soon accommodated himself to the corrupt political system he had inherited.
The New Nationalism
Three issues combined by 1988 to stimulate a broad-based Armenian nationalist movement. First, the urbanization and industrialization of Armenia had brought severe ecological problems, the most threatening of which was posed by a nuclear power plant at Metsamor, west of Erevan. Second, many Armenians were angered by the pervasive corruption and arrogance of the communist elite, which had become entrenched as a privileged ruling class. Third and most immediate, Armenians were increasingly concerned about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, an autonomous region of Azerbaijan having nearly 200,000 Armenians living within Azerbaijan under Azerbaijani rule, isolated from mainstream Armenian culture.
Control of Nagorno-Karabakh (the conventional geographic term is based on the Russian for the phrase "mountainous Karabakh") had been contested by the briefly independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan after World War I. In 1924 the Soviet government designated the region an autonomous region under Azerbaijani jurisdiction within the TSFSR. At the time, 94.4 percent of the estimated 131,500 people in the district were Armenian. Between 1923 and 1979, the Armenian population of the enclave dropped by about 1,000, comprising only about 76 percent of the population by the end of the period. In the same period, the Azerbaijani population quintupled to 37,000, or nearly 24 percent of the region's population. Armenians feared that their demographic decline in Nagorno-Karabakh would replicate the fate of another historically Armenian region, Nakhichevan, which the Soviet Union had designated an autonomous republic under Azerbaijani administration in 1924. In Nakhichevan the number of Armenians had declined from about 15,600 (15 percent of the total) in 1926 to about 3,000 (1.4 percent of the total) in 1979, while in the same period immigration and a higher birth rate had increased the Azerbaijani population from about 85,400 (85 percent) to 230,000, or nearly 96 percent of the total.
In addition to fearing the loss of their numerical superiority, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh resented restrictions on the development of the Armenian language and culture in the region. Although the Armenians generally lived better than Azerbaijanis in neighboring districts, their standard of living was not as high as that of their countrymen in Armenia. Hostile to the Azerbaijanis, whom they blamed for their social and cultural problems, the vast majority of Karabakh Armenians preferred to learn Russian rather than Azerbaijani, the language of Azerbaijan. As early as the 1960s, clashes occurred between the Karabakh Armenians and the Azerbaijanis, and Armenian intellectuals petitioned Moscow for redress of their situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. )
A series of escalating attacks and reprisals between the two sides began in early 1988. Taking advantage of the greater freedom introduced by the glasnost (see Glossary) and perestroika (see Glossary) policies of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev (in power 1985-91) in the late 1980s, Armenians held mass demonstrations in favor of uniting NagornoKarabakh with Armenia. In response to rumored Armenian demands, Azerbaijanis began fleeing the region. A two-day rampage in the industrial town of Sumgait, northwest of Baku, resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Armenians. During 1988, while Moscow hesitated to take decisive action, Armenians grew increasingly disillusioned with Gorbachev's programs, and Azerbaijanis sought to protect their interests by organizing a powerful anti-Armenian nationalist movement.
Nagorno-Karabakh and Independence
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (often called simply Karabakh) served as a catalyst for nationalist movements following the precipitous decline of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s (see fig. 3). In the early 1990s, the struggle defied all negotiating efforts of the West and Russia.
Karabakh as a National Issue
The protests of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh against Azerbaijani rule began in the spirit of perestroika, but the movement evolved quickly into a political organization, the Karabakh Committee, a broad anticommunist coalition for democracy and national sovereignty. In the confusion following the earthquake that devastated northern Armenia in December 1988, Soviet authorities tried to stem the growing opposition to their rule by arresting the leaders of the committee. The attempt by the CPA to rule in Armenia without support from Armenian nationalists only worsened the political crisis. In March 1989, many voters boycotted the general elections for the Soviet Union's Congress of People's Deputies. Massive demonstrations were held to demand the release of the members of the committee, and, in the elections to the Armenian Supreme Soviet, the legislative body of the republic, in May, Armenians chose delegates identified with the Karabakh cause. At that time, the flag of independent Armenia was flown for the first time since 1920. The release of the Karabakh Committee followed the 1989 election; for the next six months, the nationalist movement and the Armenian communist leadership worked as uncomfortable allies on the Karabakh issue.
Gorbachev's 1989 proposal for enhanced autonomy for NagornoKarabakh within Azerbaijan satisfied neither Armenians nor Azerbaijanis, and a long and inconclusive conflict erupted between the two peoples. In September 1989, Azerbaijan began an economic blockade of Armenia's vital fuel and supply lines through its territory, which until that time had carried about 90 percent of Armenia's imports from the other Soviet republics. In June 1989, numerous unofficial nationalist organizations joined together to form the Armenian Pannational Movement (APM), to which the Armenian government granted official recognition.
The Karabakh Crisis Escalates, 1989
The Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict escalated steadily in the summer and fall of 1989. Both the APM and the newly formed Azerbaijani Popular Front (APF) called for abolition of the Special Administrative Committee that Gorbachev had established to manage Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians held to their position that the region must become part of Armenia, and radical Azerbaijanis called for abolition of Karabakh autonomy. As hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis demonstrated in Baku, their government further restricted the flow of goods and fuel into Karabakh and Armenia. In August 1989, Karabakh Armenians responded by electing their own National Council, which declared the secession of Karabakh from Azerbaijan and its merger with Armenia. The Armenian Supreme Soviet then declared the Karabakh National Council the sole legitimate representative of the Karabakh people. The Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet responded by abrogating the autonomy of both Karabakh and Nakhichevan.
Although the declarations and counter declarations of mid1989 were ultimately declared invalid by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, and although both Armenia and Azerbaijan continued to be governed by communist parties, neither republic was willing to obey Moscow's directives on the Karabakh issue. In November 1989, in frustration at its inability to bring the parties together, the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union abolished the Special Administrative Committee and returned direct control of Karabakh to Azerbaijan. Rejecting Moscow's decision, the Armenian Supreme Soviet declared Karabakh a part of Armenia in December 1989.
After more than two years of the Karabakh conflict, Armenia had gone from being one of the most loyal Soviet republics to complete loss of confidence in Moscow. Gorbachev's unwillingness to grant Karabakh to Armenia and his failure to end the blockade convinced Armenians that the Kremlin considered it politically advantageous to back the more numerous Muslims. Even the invasion of Azerbaijan by Soviet troops in January 1990, ostensibly to stop pogroms against Armenians in Baku, failed to dampen the growing anti-Soviet mood among Armenians (see Within the Soviet Union, ch. 2).
A New Political Climate
The resignation of Suren Harutiunian as first secretary of the CPA in April 1990 and the triumph of the APM in the elections of the spring and summer of 1990 signaled the end of the old party elite and the rise of a new Armenian political class that had matured during the two years of tensions over Karabakh. The newly elected Armenian parliament (which retained the Soviet-era name Supreme Soviet or Supreme Council) chose Levon Ter Petrosian instead of the new CPA first secretary as its chairman, and hence as head of state of the republic.
With the APM in power and the communists in opposition, the transition from Soviet-style government to an independent democratic state began in earnest. The new government faced a nearly complete collapse of order in the republic. Buildings were seized by armed men in Yerevan, and several independent militia groups operated in Erevan as well as on the Azerbaijani frontier. Frustrated by the Azerbaijani blockade and determined to defend their republic and Karabakh, members of Armenia's Fidain (whose name was taken from an Arabic term literally meaning "one who sacrifices himself" and recalling the Armenian freedom fighters of the turn of the century) raided arsenals and police stations to arm themselves for the coming battles. In July Gorbachev demanded immediate disarmament of the Armenian militias and threatened military intervention if they did not comply. In response, Ter-Petrosian's government itself disarmed the independent militias and restored order in Yerevan.
On August 23, 1990, Armenia formally declared its intention to become sovereign and independent, with Nagorno-Karabakh an integral part of what now would be known as the Republic of Armenia rather than the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Armenian nation was defined broadly to include not only those living in the territory of the republic but also the worldwide Armenian йmigrй population as well.
In redefining Armenian national interests, the government acknowledged--but temporarily put aside--the painful question of Armenian genocide, having in mind improved relations with traditional enemies Turkey and Iran. This policy prompted strong criticism from extreme nationalist groups that wanted to recover territory lost to Turkey in World War I. The CPA was also vehemently critical.
In January 1991, the Armenian Supreme Soviet decided not to participate in Gorbachev's planned referendum on preserving the Soviet Union. In March the parliament announced that, instead, the republic would hold its own referendum in September, in compliance with the procedure outlined in the Soviet constitution for a republic to secede. Although literal compliance would mean that Armenia would not be fully independent for five years after the referendum, Moscow soon moved to change Armenia's course. Without notifying the Armenian government, Moscow sent paratroopers to the republic in early May, ostensibly to protect Soviet defense installations in Armenia. Ter-Petrosian's official statement in reaction characterized the move as a virtual declaration of war by the Soviet Union.
In August 1991, when a self-proclaimed emergency committee attempted to overthrow Gorbachev and take control in Moscow, the Armenian government refused to sanction its actions. Fearing an extension of the Soviet incursion of May, Ter-Petrosian approached the Moscow coup very cautiously. The republic's Defense Committee secretly resolved to have the Armenian armed forces go underground and wage guerrilla warfare. Ter-Petrosian, who believed that Gorbachev's personal blunders, indecisiveness, and concessions to conservative communists were to blame for the coup, was overjoyed when the conservatives were defeated. But the coup itself convinced Armenians of the need to move out of the Soviet Union as rapidly as possible, and it validated TerPetrosian 's refusal to participate in the revival of the Soviet Union advocated by Gorbachev.
Within two months of the coup, Armenians went to the polls twice. In September 1991, over 99 percent of voters approved the republic's commitment to independence. The immediate aftermath of that vote was the Armenian Supreme Soviet's declaration of full independence, on September 23, in disregard of the constitution's restraints on secession. Then in October, Ter-Petrosian was elected overwhelmingly as president of the republic. He now had a popular mandate to carry out his vision of Armenian independence and self-sufficiency.
As political changes occurred within the republic, armed conflict continued in Nagorno-Karabakh during 1991. Armenia officially denied supporting the "Nagorno-Karabakh defense forces" that were pushing Azerbaijani forces out of the region; Armenia also accused the Soviet Union of supporting Azerbaijan as punishment for Armenia's failure to sign Gorbachev's new Union Treaty. In turn, Azerbaijan called Armenia an aggressor state whose national policy included annexation of Azerbaijani territory.
Two immediate tasks facing independent Armenia were rebuilding its devastated economy and strengthening its fledgling democratic institutions. But the escalating war in Nagorno-Karabakh and the effective blockade of the republic by the Azerbaijanis led to a total collapse of the economy. By early 1993, the government seemed helpless before mounting economic and political problems. The last remaining oil and gas pipelines through neighboring Georgia, which itself was being torn by civil and interethnic war, were blown up by saboteurs. To survive the cold, Armenians in Erevan cut down the city's trees, and plans were made to start up the nuclear power plant at Metsamor. In February 1993, demonstrations called for the resignation of the government, but Ter-Petrossian responded by naming a new cabinet headed by Hrant Bagratian.
While economic and political conditions deteriorated within Armenia, the military position of the Armenians in the Karabakh struggle improved dramatically. Various peace negotiations sponsored by Iran, Russia, Turkey, and a nine-nation group from the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe ( CSCE--see Glossary) had begun in 1991 and sporadically had yielded cease-fires that were violated almost immediately. In the spring of 1992, while the Azerbaijani communists and the nationalist Azerbaijani Popular Front fought for control in Baku, Karabakh Armenian forces liberated most of Nagorno-Karabakh, took the old capital, Shusha, and drove a corridor through the Kurdish area around Lachin to link Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. But the immediate result of this victory was the collapse of Russian-sponsored peace negotiations with Azerbaijan and the continuation of the war.
Beginning a counteroffensive in early summer, the Azerbaijanis occupied two disctricts of Nagorno-Karabakh and created thousands of new refugees by expelling Armenians from the villages they took. In midsummer this new phase of the conflict stimulated a CSCE-sponsored peace conference, but Armenia stymied progress by demanding for the first time that Nagorno-Karabakh be entirely separate from Azerbaijan.
By the end of 1992, the sides were bogged down in a bloody stalemate. After clearing Azerbaijani forces from NagornoKarabakh and the territory between Karabakh and Armenia, Armenian troops also advanced deep into Azerbaijan proper--a move that brought condemnation from the United Nations (UN) Security Council and panic in Iran, on whose borders Armenian troops had arrived. In the first half of 1993, the Karabakh Armenians gained more Azerbaijani territory, against disorganized opposition. Azerbaijani resistance was weakened by the confusion surrounding a military coup that toppled the APF government in Baku and returned former communist party boss Heydar Aliyev to power.
The coup reinvigorated Russian efforts to negotiate a peace under the complex terms of the three parties to the conflict: the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the increasingly independent and assertive Karabakh Armenians. CSCE peace proposals were uniformly rejected during this period. Although Russia seemed poised for a triumph of crisis diplomacy on its borders, constant negotiations in the second half of 1993 produced only intermittent cease-fires. At the end of 1993, the Karabakh Armenians were able to negotiate with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia from a position of power: they retained full control of Nagorno-Karabakh and substantial parts of Azerbaijan proper.
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