Vol. 4, No. 19 (October 01, 2011)

Moscow and the delimitation of Karabakh in the 1920s

Jamil Hasanly, Dr.
Professor of History
Baku State University

Editorial Note: As a contribution to the unveiling of the history of Soviet policy toward Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan in the World offers what is the final half of the second of a three part article on the origins of Soviet policy on this region that was prepared by distinguished Azerbaijani historian Jamil Hasanly.  It originally appeared in Russia’s Regnum News Agency at http://regnum.ru/news/fd-abroad/armenia/1429237.html.  The previous sections of Professor Hasanly’s account were published in the preceding issues of Azerbaijan in the World.  The remaining sections will be published in the following issues of the journal.

In reality, it was immediately after the Moscow Treaty of 1921that the government of Armenia made the first step toward annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh.  At the time, the government circles prepared a six-point document called “The Basic Provisions on the Annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh to the Republic of Armenia.”

The document noted that Nagorno-Karabakh was separated from lowland Karabakh by a natural border in the form of a low mount ridge.  As one would certainly expect, the Armenians took care of this mountain ridge as well and substantiated its attachment to Nagorno-Karabakh by two arguments.  First of all, the document said, this zone supposedly is used by the Armenian population, and second, there is not so much land in the mountainous zone which is suitable for sowing.  The most interesting portion of the document is its fifth paragraph, which says that, “with the transfer of Nagorno-Karabakh to the Republic of Armenia, so-called Kurdistan which occupies a narrow point band between Karabakh and Zangazur should naturally be transferred to it as well.  However, because of the specific situation of this district and the continued existence of nationalistic tendencies in the population, certain complexities were possible.  To mitigate the latter problems, decisions must be taken according to the following guidelines.  This region is located above the northern Shusha-Gerusin highway and consists of six rural communities, with a total of 27,000 residents.  A special canton under the administration of the Republic of Armenia or, in the extreme case, under the protectorate of Azerbaijan could be established out of this district.”  The sixth, concluding, paragraph of the document clearly reveals the intention of the Armenian government.  It notes that, “to the south of Kurdistan along the valley of the Akkara are situated the Kaladaras and Jamilla societies, a large portion of the population of which consists of Armenians.  This is the zone through which the highway passes, and Nagorno-Karabakh can only be united with Zangazur—and a single administrative unit and a single administration could therefore only be created—by and through this path.  There is no sense of annexing Nagorno-Karabakh to the Republic of Armenia without this unit.” [1] 

Based on these considerations and without any legal foundation, the Armenian government in May 1921 unilaterally took a decision about the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.  On May 23, 1921, the Plenum of the Central Committee of the KP(b) of Armenia appointed Akop Ioanisyan the plenipotentiary of Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh.  Following the hearing of Pirumov’s report about the declaration of the Zangazur Commission, that body adopted the following decision: “To hold off from presenting a note to Azerbaijan until the question of Nagorno-Karabakh will be clarified at the upcoming plenum of the Caucasus Bureau of the RKP(b).” [2] As we see, already in May, Armenia had begun to take practical steps toward the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh to itself and concerning this, it was informed about the upcoming discussion of the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh at the June plenum of the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RKP(b).

What were the reasons behind such rapid and illegal actions toward the transfer of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and what was the subtext of the actions of the Armenian leadership and the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RKP(b) in May-June 1921?  The point is that a meeting of the commission on the regulation of border issues among the Caucasus republics was scheduled to take place in Tiflis on June 15.  To clarify the internal borders of the Caucasus republics, a designated commission consisting of representatives of the three republics and headed by S. Kirov was created at a plenum of the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RKP(b), on May 2, 1921. [3] Thus, the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RKP(b) by its decision of June 3 and the Armenian government by its decree of June 12 about the inclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh within Armenia wanted to put before Azerbaijan a fait accompli in advance of the Tiflis discussions.  

At its June 26 session, the Azerbaijan Council of Peoples Commissars discussed the report of A. Karayev about his trip to Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhchivan.  It was recognized as useful to study the claims of Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh and to prepare a detailed report for the Council of Peoples Commissars.  A group of three people—Shakhtakhtinsky, Vazirov, and Aliyev—was created to that end.  They agreed that they ought to end the plenipotentiary powers given to Mravyan by the Armenian government until the work of this group was completed and to inform about this G. Ordzhonikidze; Masnikov, the president of the Armenian Revolutionary Committee; Karayev, the naval commissar of Azerbaijan; and Mravyan himself. [4] Following this decision, on June 27, N. Narimanov sent a telegram to Ordzhonikidze and Masnikov that the Council of Peoples Commissars of Azerbaijan unanimously considered the unilateral resolution of the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh by the Armenian revolutionary Committee and the appearance in Nagorno-Karabakh of Mravyan as the extraordinary representative of Armenia an outrageous political and tactical mistake.  At the same time, it requested the immediate withdrawal of Mravyan. [5] 

On June 27, a joint session of the Political and Organizational Bureaus of the Central Committee of the AKP(b) took place.  Following the discussion of the question “On the Borders Between Azerbaijan and Armenia,” the Politburo and Orgburo considered improper the way in which the question about Nagorno-Karabakh was put by A. Bekzadyan, given the indisputable economic linkage of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan; the proposal about the division of places of settlement of the Armenian and Azerbaijan population between Armenia and Azerbaijan, correspondingly, cannot be accepted from the point of view of administrative and economic considerations; the only plausible resolution of the issue is seen, as was mentioned in Narimanov’s declaration, in the involvement of the Armenian and Muslim population in the villages in wide-ranging Soviet construction; the further discussion of this question must remain open until information is received from Tiflis.  N. Narimanov directed to inform Tiflis about this decision taken by the Politburo and Orgburo. [6] 

This session was still continuing, when A. Shirvani already reported this decision to M.D. Huseynov in Tiflis, adding as well that, “the Council of Peoples Commissars also joins this decision.  Comrade Narimanov asks to report that the question must be resolved only in this vein, otherwise the Council of Peoples Commissars will disavow responsibility; for if Soviet Armenia by this act wants to make an impression on the Dashnaks and the non-party masses of Armenia, one must not forget the fact that by acting this way we are boosting in Azerbaijan other anti-Soviet groups of the Dashnak kind.”  At this time, Narimanov came to the telephone and continued the conversation with M.D. Huseynov: “Say that this is the opinion of the Politburo and Orgburo.  If they refer to my declaration, then the declaration literally reads as follows: ‘Nagorno-Karabakh is offered the right of free self-determination.’”  Following this, N. Narimanov reported that “today a telegram addressed to your name was sent, with copies to Sergo, Masnikov and Karayev, about the recall from Karabakh of Comrade Mravyan.”  N. Narimanov asked M.D. Huseynov to tell Ordzhonikidze that “our comrade Armenians think exclusively in terms of territory, but not about the well-being of the poorest population of Armenians and Muslims and about the solidification of the revolution.” [7] 

Who then gave the Armenians the occasion to refer to the Azerbaijan political leadership?  The subsequent course of events showed that the “anonymous” agreement in the name of Azerbaijan was given to the Armenians by people who concentrated in their hands real power in the Caucasus—G. Ordzhonikidze and S. Kirov.  They were looking for a path of transferring Karabakh to the Armenians and, in their June 26 telegram to N. Narimanov, presented the idea promoted by A. Bekzadyan about the division of Karabakh on a national-ethnic line: “If you are interested in our opinion, then it is as follows.  In the interests of the final resolution of all tensions and the establishment of truly friendly relations following the resolution of the question about mountainous Karabakh, one should be guided by the following principle: not one Armenian village must be joined to Azerbaijan, just as not one Muslim village must be joined to Armenia.” [8] 

Having received the directive of N. Narimanov, M.D. Huseynov on the very same day, June 27, presented the question for the discussion of the Caucasus Bureau, which decided: “To convene an extraordinary Plenum of the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RKP and to send to comrades Narimanov and Masnikov the following telegram: ‘The Presidium of the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RKP proposes that, on receipt of this message, you immediately come to an extraordinary session of the Caucasus Bureau.  The session will focus on the delimitation of the republics.  There are six members of the Caucasus Bureau in Tiflis.  In the case of Your non-appearance, the six members of the Caucasus Bureau now in Tiflis will be considered sufficient.  Therefore, we insist on Your immediate appearance.’” [9] 

On June 28, a new session of the Council of Peoples Commissars under the chairmanship of N. Narimanov took place.  The declaration of A. Masnikov that proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh to be part of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic was discussed and rejected.  At the same session, the issue of the recall of the extraordinary representative of Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh A. Mravyan was finally resolved.  Following this decision, N. Narimanov left for Tiflis for the plenum of the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RKP(b), which was set for July 4, 1921.


[1] Basic Propositions on the Annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh into the Republic of Armenia, 1921, Russian State Archive of Social-Political History (hereafter RSASPH), f. 64, op. 1, d. 137, l. 7-7ob. 

[2] Protocol No. 4 of the session of the Central Committee of the KP Armenia, 23 May 1921, RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d. 105, l. 5 ob. 

[3] Protocol No. 2 of the session of the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RKP(b), 2 May 1921, RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d. 1, l. 57.

[4] Protocol of the Session of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars of Azerbaijan, 26 June 1921, State Archive of Azerbaijan Republic (hereafter SA AR), f. 411, op. 1, d. 12, l. 1. 

[5] Telegram of N. Narimanov to G. Ordzhonikidze and A. Masnikov (copies to A. Mravyan and A. Karayev), 28 June 1921, RSASPH, f. 85, op. 13, d. 98.

[6] Protocol No. 20 of the session of the Politburo and Orgburo of the Central Committee of the AKP(b), 27 June 1921, Political Documents Archive under the President of Azerbaijan Republic (hereafter PDA PAR), f. 1, op. 74, d. 1231, l. 64.

[7] Conversation of A.G. Shirvani and N. Narimanov by direct line with M.D. Huseynov, 27 June 1921, RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d. 215, l. 14.

[8] Telegram of G. Ordzhonikidze and S. Kirov to N. Narimanov, 26 June 1921, RSASPH, f. 85, op. 18, d. 229, l. 1-2.

[9] Protocol No. 5 of the session of the Presidium of the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RKP, 27 June 1921,RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d.2, l. 73.