Since the signing of the ceasefire on May 5, 1994, in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the beginning of the negotiation process between the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic of Artsakh, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan has started demanding the return of “occupied” regions: the former Jebrail, Qubadli, Zangilan, Fuzuli, Agdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts.
The work carried out by Azerbaijani diplomats and propagandists was not in vain – for a relatively long period, even among Armenians, the opinion prevailed that these regions should be unconditionally handed over to Azerbaijan after the final resolution of the conflict.
In doing so, it was absolutely not taken into account how these lands became part of Azerbaijan, despite actually being a single entity with the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO), to the questions of whose creation we will return later.
Also, the facts of Azerbaijan’s occupation of a significant portion of the Shaumyan, Martakert, and Martuni districts of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic were rarely voiced. Even less frequently mentioned is the occupation of the Armenian exclave of Artsvashen.
Already in the 17th century, when Artsakh was represented by the Melikdoms of Khamsa, subordinate to Safavid Persia, the resettlement of Kurdish tribes to the borderlands began, located between Artsakh and Syunik (territories of the former Kalbajar, Qubadli, and Lachin districts of the Azerbaijani SSR).
The lowland area of Karabakh also began to be actively Turkicized and Islamized, resulting in a very low number of Armenians living there by the time Karabakh was incorporated into the Russian Empire.
All of this created fertile ground for Azerbaijan, founded in 1918, to claim the lands of lowland Karabakh, as well as the territory of the above-mentioned 7 former districts of Azerbaijan.
After the Sovietization of Armenia and Azerbaijan, in July 1921, the territories that were disputed at the time, primarily Artsakh (Karabakh), were transferred to the Azerbaijan SSR through a legally questionable decision made by the political structure of a third party—the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks).
This illogical, counterintuitive, and unfounded action by the leadership of Soviet Russia sowed the seeds of the bloody conflict that erupted in 1988.
The establishment and demarcation of the borders of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region were entrusted to the leadership of the Azerbaijan SSR. As a result, in 1923, a significant part of Nagorno-Karabakh ended up outside the autonomous region. The same fate befell many Armenian-populated territories.
Until 1936, the area was not called the NKAO (Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region), but rather the AONK (Autonomous Region of Nagorno-Karabakh), indicating that the AONK did not cover the entire territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. A subsequent renaming of the region to NKAO allowed people to “forget” about this.
Parallel to the creation of the AONK, the Kurdistan District (“Red Kurdistan”) was also established in 1923—it covered the territory of the former Kalbajar, Lachin, and Qubadli districts.
The administrative center of the district was the village of Abdallar, later renamed Lachin. Despite promises from the leadership of the Azerbaijan SSR, the borders of this district were never defined.
Moreover, in 1929, this territorial entity was abolished and incorporated into the Azerbaijan SSR as the previously mentioned Kalbajar, Lachin, and Qubadli districts.
During this process, part of the AONK territory was removed from the autonomous region and transferred to the Lachin district (this moment is even indicated on a map by the U.S. State Department, see Fig. 1).
It was on this day that Artsakh lost its land border with Armenia. Now it becomes clear why this enigmatic district was created, which essentially existed only on paper.
Only thanks to the heroism of Armenians who fought for the freedom of their lands, was it possible to turn history back and restore justice. Now the main task is to preserve and multiply the efforts of these people, and there can be no talk of any concessions to the adversary.
The adversary does nothing but threaten a new war at the highest state level and considers all Armenians worldwide as its enemies. The release of Ramil Safarov is a stark example of this. Armenia and Artsakh are once again interconnected and indivisible—so it must always be.
by Leonid Nersisyan
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan