In late April-early May 1991, the special forces (OMON) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan with the support of the forces of the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR launched the large-scale punitive Operation Ring, the goal of which was the expulsion of the Armenian population from the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, Shahumyan district, and some regions of Northern Artsakh (Khanlar, Dashkesan, Kedabek, and Shamkhor districts of the former Azerbaijani SSR).
As a result of this operation, dozens of Armenian settlements were completely devastated, destroyed, or settled by Azerbaijanis. Tens of thousands of people were deported, hundreds died.
The report of the OSCE mission dated February 28, 1992, noted that “a particularly serious escalation took place in April-May 1991 when the Soviet army with the participation of the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry deported Armenians from many villages in the region. The deportation was carried out with particular cruelty.”
The events that took place during Operation Ring were reflected in documents of several international organizations, became the subject of hearings at the Human Rights Committee of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation, and were evaluated in resolutions of the European Parliament and the US Senate.
The human rights center of the Moscow “Memorial” society noted gross violations of fundamental human rights: “Everyone’s right to life, liberty, and security was grossly violated, torture was carried out, arbitrary arrests and detentions were made, and numerous property violations were committed.
The practice of deportation has become widespread. A particularly cynical character is imparted to these violations by the fact that massive violence against civilians was committed by law enforcement agencies.
Responsibility for this lies on the top leadership of the Republic of Azerbaijan; the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the KGB, and the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan; the Ministry of Defense of the USSR; and the command of the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR. These crimes cast a shadow on the top leadership of the USSR.”
On May 1, 1991, the US Senate unanimously adopted a decision condemning the crimes committed by the authorities of the USSR and Azerbaijan against the Armenian population.
The decision, in particular, condemned “attacks on innocent people, women, and children in Nagorno-Karabakh, the adjacent Armenian settlements, and in Armenia, and the widespread use of military force, as well as shelling of the unarmed population on the eastern and southern borders of Armenia. The decision also urged to “put an end to blockades and other forms of use of force, as well as terror directed against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.”
On May 25, a draft statement was submitted to the meeting of the Fourth Congress of People’s Deputies of the RSFSR in connection with the situation in a number of regions of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was adopted by the overwhelming majority.
In the statement, in particular, it was noted that “in accordance with internationally recognized norms and agreements on human rights, it is necessary to immediately stop the deportation of civilians, release hostages, and transfer those under investigation in cases involving armed clashes to the USSR Prosecutor’s Office.”
However, the crimes committed during Operation Ring did not receive the proper political and legal assessment of the international community, and the organizers and performers went unpunished.
Unfortunately, none of the documents proposed by international mediators to resolve the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict mention the deportees of the NKR Armenian villages who were deported during the Operation Ring, many of whom have been unable to return to their own homes and have not received any or compensation.
Meanwhile, as noted in a statement issued by the NKR Ministry of Foreign Affairs from April 29, the Operation Ring, characterized by brutality and massive violations of human rights, sharply increased the level of tension in the region and transferred the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict to a military plane, becoming a prelude to the subsequent full-scale aggression of Azerbaijan against NKR.
Thus, the punitive Operation Ring became a precedent for new war crimes and inhuman actions of Azerbaijan against the peaceful Armenian population. And that is why it requires the most severe condemnation from the international community.