Vol. 1, No. 11 (July 1, 2008)

Historical roots of the IDP crisis in Azerbaijan

Ali Hasanov
Deputy Prime Minister, Chairman
State Committee on Work with Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

Karabakh and the surrounding mountainous area are considered one of the ancient and culturally rich regions of Azerbaijan.  Azykh grotto is one of the first places of human origin and also it is a source of pre-Islamic culture.  Albanian-Christian temples and cultural monuments of the Islamic era, generated throughout thousands of years, compose this rich cultural heritage and wealth.  Karabakh is a fundamental part of Azerbaijan’s history, culture and national identity. 

Azerbaijan’s geo-strategic location and rich natural resources are key components of interest in the region.  Therefore, the territory of Azerbaijan has been the site of various bloody wars, with the foundation of these conflicts being laid in the late 18th century.  To best understand the current IDP crisis in Azerbaijan it is important to examine the progression of events that shaped the history and foreshadowed the future of Azerbaijan.  
In 1721-23, Peter I invaded Azerbaijani territories along the Caspian, including Baku.  Having faced strong resistance from local people, Peter the Great decided to use the so called “Armenian card” and ordered to settle Armenians in historical Azerbaijani lands, especially in Baku and Derbend.   
This historical heritage addressed by Peter I to his successors formed the policies of the Russian Empire, but also provided the core of Bolshevik Russia’s South Caucasus policy.  In 1768, Ekaterina II announced a decree of imperial trustee over Armenians and in 1802 Tsar Alexander I conveyed an order to the Caucasus police Sisianov when he declared that: “Armenians should be used at any cost to occupy the Azerbaijani khanates.”  This was the start of the occupation of Azerbaijani territories. 

As a result of war of 1826-1828; 18,000 Armenian families were moved to the South Caucasus from Iran and southern lands of Azerbaijan.  In the next two years, 40,000 Armenians from Iran and 84,000 Armenians from Turkey were moved to Elizavetpol and Irevan provinces.  In March of 1828, immediately after the Turkmenchay Treaty, the decree of Emperor Nikolay I established the “Armenian province” within the Irevan and Nakhchivan khanates. 
As a result of these policies, the foundation of the future Armenian state within the Azerbaijani lands was laid.  According to the official statistics of the period; 7,331 Azerbaijanis and 2,369 Armenians were living in the Irevan city, which was the center of the “Armenian province.”  In addition, according to the Turkmenchay Treaty; 40,000 Armenians from Iran were moved to Azerbaijani lands, namely Irevan, Karabakh and Nakhchivan.  A similar process unfolded during the Russian-Turkish wars of 1829 and 1878, when about 85,000 Armenians were moved to the above-mentioned regions from Turkey.  Consequently, this process contributed to the displacement of thousands of Azerbaijanis from their homelands. 
In the second half of the 19th century, the massacre of Azerbaijanis by Armenians acquired stronger organizational character and was implemented as a more integrated planned policy.  Armenians with the intention of building “Great Armenia” in the territories of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia instigated the activities of the political-terrorist organizations like “Hnchaq” (1887, Geneva), “Dashnaksutyun” (1890, Tbilisi), and “Union of Armenian Patriots” (1895, New-York). 
One of the main goals of these organizations was to intimidate and pressure Azerbaijanis to move out from their homeland.  The revolution of 1905-1907 created more opportunities for these organizations and during this revolutionary period many Azerbaijanis in Baku, Shusha, Zangezur, and Garabagh were massacred by Armenians.  Even after the 1905-1907 revolution, mass deportation of Azerbaijanis continued while many Armenians were moving into the occupied territories.  According to the Russian statistical reports published in 1916, during the 1830-1914 years the population of the Irevan province had increased 40 times to nearly 570,000 people.  However, the Azerbaijani population living in the region increased just 4.6 times.  Despite this oppression and deportation, in 1916 about 45% of the population of the Irevan city, that is 247,000, were Azerbaijanis.   
World War I and the Great Russian Revolution of 1917, created another opportunity for Armenians to accomplish their “Great Armenia” plan.  In 1915, over the course of World War I, the majority of Armenians living in the northeast regions of Turkey were deported to Irevan, Karabakh and Zangezur provinces.  Supported by Moscow and their Russian army, Armenians continued to persecute Azerbaijanis in Nakhchivan, Irevan, Karabakh and many other regions of Azerbaijan. 

In December of 1917, according to the Arzinjan agreement signed between the Ottoman state and the Bolsheviks’ Caucasus Commissariat, Armenian armed forces replaced the Russian army that was withdrawn from the Caucasus.  As a result, by the end of March 1918, nearly two hundred Azerbaijani villages were destroyed in the Irevan province, while thousands of Azerbaijanis were massacred by Armenians.
In December 1917, Stepan Shaumyan, who was appointed an emergency commissar in the Caucasus by Russia’s People’s Commissars Soviet, was given the authority to implement the sovietization policy in the South Caucasus and create “Turkish Armenia” in the Turkish territories under Russian occupation.  As a consequence of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty (March 1918), Russian troops left Kars, Ardagan, and Batumi, and these territories were returned to Turkey.  However, some of the Russian and Armenian troops that returned from Iran and Turkey were placed in Baku.  Commissar Shaumyan utilized this opportunity against Azerbaijanis. 
In March 30, 1918 Armenian-Bolshevik united forces launched an attack on Azerbaijani settlements and during 3 days of violence some 17,000 people were massacred in Baku.  The Armenian-Bolshevik forces confiscated many properties and destroyed many historical landmarks of Baku.  In March and April of 1918, close to 50,000 Azerbaijanis in Baku, Shamakhy, Guba, Mugan and Lankaran were killed, and many more people were forcefully displaced. 
In April 13, 1918 the organizer of this massacre Shaumyan confessed in his letter to the Russian People’s Commissars Soviet: “We used the armed attacks on our infantry as an excuse and attacked along the front.  We already had 6,000 armed forces.  Dashnaks also had 3-4 thousand military forces, which were under our authority.  Their participation especially gave the attribute of national massacre to the civil war.  But it was impossible to prevent it.  We went on this while being conscious.  If the Azerbaijanis would prevail, then Baku could be announced capital of Azerbaijan.” 
Nevertheless, after the dissolution of the Caucasus Seym in May 27, 1918 Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia announced their independence.  The Emergency Investigation Commission established by the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) on July 15, 1918 collected a number of documents and materials related to these events.  Unfortunately the collapse of the ADR in April of 1920 terminated the investigation process that would otherwise reveal adequate information and the scale of this massacre and destruction.
In order to prevent the spread of bolshevism, the western states considered the existence of independent Caucasus states important.  However, they stated that ADR’s independence would be recognized only if Irevan was given to Armenia as a capital.  Azerbaijan had to compromise in order to defend its independence and gain recognition by the international community.  As a result, thousands of Azerbaijanis living in Irevan province were forced to move out of the region.
In 1920, as a result of Bolshevik Russia’s military aggression, Azerbaijan’s independence was brought to an end.  The Dashnak Armenia was also occupied by the Soviets.  In 1920, Soviet Russia handed in Azerbaijan’s Zengezur province to Armenia; and in 1923, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was artificially created.  
Almost 70 years of the Soviet regime significantly altered Azerbaijani history.  The forced displacement of Azerbaijanis from their homeland continued during the Soviet period.  The deportation of 100,000 Azerbaijanis living in Armenia to the Kura-Araz valley of Azerbaijan perpetrated during Stalin’s regime in 1948-1953 is worth a separate note.    

In 1985, with the beginning of Michael Gorbachev’s rule Armenians and the others supporting them tried to materialize the plan for “Great Armenia” that they had been cherishing for decades.  
Beginning in 1988, some more than 250,000 Azerbaijanis living in Armenia were turned out of their native land by the way of terror.  As a result of this policy of ethnic cleansing, 216 people were killed.  Thus the last stage of the Armenian nationalists’ policy of “Armenia without Turks” was realized; Armenia became a mono-ethnic state.  
By the summer of 1991, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh became evident.  The collapse of the Soviet Union gave a push to the organized Armenian military groups to begin large-scale military activities in Nagorno-Karabakh.  In February 25-26, 1992 Armenian military units that were positioned in Nagorno-Karabakh supported by Khankendi-based 366th Russian motorized infantry regiment made a massive assault on Azerbaijani town of Khojaly killing 613 peaceful citizens.  
Between 1991-1993, Armenian armed forces occupied some 20% of Azerbaijani land, namely Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions.  Nearly 700,000 Azerbaijanis became refugees in their native land, and almost 20,000 people were killed, 250,000 were injured.  As a result of the military aggression, the damage to the state economy has been more than 60 billion US dollars.  Many Azerbaijani refugees driven out of their native country were obliged to live in unbearable conditions. 
After coming to power again in 1993, Heydar Aliyev began work towards eliminating the results of this humanitarian misfortune.  For this a legal basis was established according to international norms, and many state programs were adopted.  The very first oil revenues were spent for social security and to better the life of refugees and internally displaced persons.  The decree signed in March 26, 1998 by Heydar Aliyev is the first legal-political assessment of the crimes and terror of this ongoing conflict.  The decree revealed many facts that had been banned for decades and confirmed that March 31 will be the Day of Genocide of Azerbaijanis.
Ilham Aliyev informed the public before the presidential elections that there would not be any refugee tent settlement during the next five years of his tenure.  President Aliyev kept his promise and in December 2007 the last tent was disassembled.  

With the growth of the economic potential of the state, the measures relating to the social protection of internally displaced persons grow as well.  Over 270,000 internally displaced persons are provided with monthly food products and basic necessities.  Continuous improvement and development of the temporary settlement is among the highest priorities of our government.  

Apparently, the sustainable solution to the refugee problem may only be possible after the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is resolved.  Our leadership will continue to make every effort to resolve this issue.  Our occupied territories will be freed and our internally displaced persons will return back to their homeland.