Western Azerbaijan during the of Soviet rule

In 1918–1920, the policy of ethnic cleansing against the Azerbaijani population was continued in Soviet Armenia in different stages and in different ways, just as it was during the rule of the Dashnaks in the territory of Western Azerbaijan. Along with the policy of ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis, the process of expanding the territory of Armenia at the expense of Azerbaijani territories has been continued.

In accordance with the treaty signed on June 4, 1918, between the Ottoman Empire and Armenia, in Batumi, Armenia’s territory was approximately equal to 10,000 km2, upon the establishment of Soviet rule, the Dashnak-led Armenia controlled about 18,000 km2. Soviet rule was established in Armenia on November 29, 1920. On December 2, 1920, a military and political agreement was signed between Soviet Russia and Soviet Armenia in Iravan. The agreement was signed by Boris Legran, the diplomatic representative of Russia, and by General Dro and A. Terteryan, who had defected to the Bolsheviks from the Armenian side. In return for Armenia’s Sovietization, Russia recognized without dispute that the entire former Iravan province, the mountainous part of the Zangezur uezd, and the Qazakh uezd would become part of Soviet Armenia.

On July 20, 1921, the Armenian People’s Commissariat confirmed Armenia’s administrative-territorial division into 8 uezds and 33 nahiyahs. On August 31, a new 9th uezd was created – Zangezur uezd with Gorus city as its center. In response, Azerbaijan removed the western part of Zangezur from its administrative-territorial division. As a result, Zangezur was divided into two parts, and its western part was integrated into Armenia. Subsequently, several districts, including Mehri, Gafan, Garakilsa, and Gorus, were established in Western Zangezur.

Due to its economic dependence on Azerbaijan, the Soviet Armenian government attempted to attribute the policy of ethnic cleansing carried out in the years of 1918–1920 to the Dashnak government. However, the Soviet Armenian government also tried to prevent the return of Azerbaijani refugees to their ancestral lands through various pretexts. In the matter of repatriation, the Armenian government mainly insisted that Azerbaijani refugees who had sought asylum in Iranian territory could return to Zangezur and Vedibasar regions only if they proved that they did not participate in any fights against Armenians during the years 1918–1920.

In the autumn of 1921, the government of Armenia made a decision to stop the re-evacuation of refugees by the Julfa-Iravan railway line until the spring of 1922, citing the country’s difficult economic situation and the spread of infectious diseases. On the one hand, the Armenian government appealed to the Azerbaijani government to stop the return of the Azerbaijani refugees who found refuge in Azerbaijan to their homeland, and on the other hand, it decided to resettle the Armenian refugees from Turkey in districts inhabited mainly by Azerbaijanis. It was decided to settle 25,000 Armenians in Zangibasar, 60,000 in Vedibasar, 25,000 in Garnibasar, 25,000 in Dilijan okrug, 25,000 in Qarakilsa okrug, and 10,000 in Novo-Bayazid okrug. The Armenian government did this so that when the Azerbaijani refugees return to their homeland, they see that their houses and villages as a whole are inhabited by Armenian refugees, so that they either return or find a new shelter for themselves in another place. All this was a deliberate step taken by the government of Soviet Armenia to discriminate against Azerbaijanis.

Despite all this, Azerbaijanis returned to their native lands in Western Azerbaijan. From May 1921 to the end of May 1922, 96,500 Azerbaijanis returned to the current territory of Armenia. Among them, 26,000 Azerbaijani refugees returned to Iravan uezd, 14,000 to Novo-Bayazid region, 9,000 to Echmiadzin uezd, 10,000 to Alexandropol uezd, 15,000 to Zangezur, 5.5,000 to Derelayez, and 17,000 to Loru-Pambak and Karvansara (Ijevan) region.

According to the census conducted in Armenia in 1922, there were 5,431 people in Dereleyez uezd, 8,476 people in Dilijan uezd, 6,464 people in Zangezur uezd, 4,497 people in Qarakilsa uezd, 6,372 people in Alexanderpool (Gumru) uezd, 4,807 people in Lori uezd, 53 people in Mehri (Meghri) uezd, 10,666 people lived in the Novo-Bayazid uezd, 16,723 people in the Iravan uezd, and 7,224 people in the Echmiadzin uezd. There were 71,190 Azerbaijanis in Armenia at that time, which constituted 11.2 percent of the population of Armenia.

In 1922, Azerbaijanis returned to 164 settlements of Armenia.

According to the results of the general Transcaucasian census held in 1926, 84,717 Turkish-speaking (Azerbaijani) people were registered in Armenia.

Since 1930, the district administrative-territorial division was abolished in Armenia and transferred to the district administrative division. In 1931, there were 27 districts in Armenia. The names of the regions were: Pashaly (Azizbayov), Allahverdi, Akhta, Amasiya (Aghbaba), Ashtarak, Abaran, Artik, Basarkecher, Gorus, Dilijan, Karvansara (Ijevan), Duzkend (Leninakan, later Akhuryan), Boyuk Qarakilsa (Kirovakan), Kotayk, Gurdugulu (Hoktemberyan), Gamarli (Artashat), Gafan, Garanliq (Martuni), Mehri (Meghri), Keshishkend (Mikoyan), Novo-Bayazet, Shamsheddin, Garakilsa (Sisian), Jalaloghlu (Stepanavan), Uchkilsa (Vagarshapat), Vedi (Vardenis). 99,796 Azerbaijanis lived in those regions. In 1931, 6,656 Azerbaijanis lived in Iravan and 316 in Gumru (Leninakan). In total, 106,708 Azerbaijanis were registered in Western Azerbaijan, which constituted 10.1 percent of the republic’s population. At that time, there were 1242 settlements in Western Azerbaijan.

In general, 40 regions have existed in the current territory of Armenia at different times.

According to the results of the All-Union census held in 1939, 130,896 Azerbaijanis were registered in Western Azerbaijan, which constituted 10.2 percent of the republic’s population.

At the beginning of December 1947, a letter was sent to Stalin on behalf of the first secretaries of the Central Committees of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan and Armenia. In the joint letter, it was requested to resolve the issue of relocation of 130,000 Azerbaijanis living in Armenia. Under that letter, a copy of which is kept in the Archive of Political Documents of the Republic of Azerbaijan, there is no signature, date of signing and sending number. On December 23, 1947, the Council of Ministers of the USSR adopted a decision “On the resettlement of collective farmers and other Azerbaijani population from the Armenian SSR in the Kur-Araz lowland of Azerbaijan SSR “. With that decision, 100,000 Azerbaijanis were to be relocated from 22 regions of Armenia. Paragraph 1 of the decision provided for the resettlement of 10,000 people in 1948, 40,000 in 1949, and 50,000 in 1950. In 1948–1953, approximately 100,000 Azerbaijanis were deported from their historical-ethnic lands- from more than 200 settlements in 24 districts and the city of Iravan. As a result of the deportation, the leaders of Armenia succeeded in erasing the traces of Azerbaijanis from Ashtarak, Garanliq (Martuni), Karabaghlar, Eller (Abovyan), Uchkilsa (Echmiadzin) regions. Then the Karabakhlar region was abolished, and now most of the villages of this region are in ruins. The decisions made by the USSR government on the resettlement of Azerbaijanis gave the Armenian government the opportunity to erase most of the Azerbaijani settlements around the city of Iravan and along the borders of Armenia with Iran and Turkey from the map once and for all. Only after the death of Stalin in 1953, some of the Azerbaijanis who were deported from Armenia were able to return to their historical and ethnic lands.

According to the results of the All-Union census held in 1959, 107,748 Azerbaijanis were registered in Western Azerbaijan, which constituted 6.1 percent of the republic’s population.

In Armenia, anti-Turkish and anti-Azerbaijani propaganda was launched again in the mid–1960s. In 1965, the decision to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the fictitious “Armenian genocide” further inflamed Armenian chauvinism.

In 1970, the number of Azerbaijanis was 158,189 (5.3%), and in 1979, it was 160,841 (5.3%).

After Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, an annexation plan against Azerbaijan was developed under the guise of self-determination of the Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region. Heydar Aliyev, the only person who could prevent the implementation of Armenia’s annexation plan against Azerbaijan, was removed from the membership of the Political Bureau of the former Central Committee of the CPSU and from the position of the first Deputy Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers in October 1987 under the pressure of the Armenian lobby.

On February 20, 1988, during an extraordinary session of the National Deputies’ Council of Armenia held with the participation of only Armenian deputies, a decision was made to remove the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) from the jurisdiction of the Azerbaijan SSR and include it within the administrative territory of Armenia. After the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR rejected the decision of the National Deputies’ Council of Armenia as unconstitutional, the nationalist leaders of Armenia began to implement the “Armenia without Turks” program of the “Dashnaksutyun” party. As a result of Moscow’s support for the Armenians, in 1988–1989, during the period of territorial disputes, Azerbaijani settlements were evacuated from 170 entirely Azerbaijani-inhabited villages and 94 mixed-population settlements in present-day Armenian territory. The last Azerbaijani village, Nuvedi, situated in the region adjacent to Zengilan in Armenia’s Meghri district, was evacuated on August 8, 1991. In general, as a result of the final episode of ethnic cleansing, approximately 250,000 Azerbaijanis were forcefully expelled from their historical and ethnic territories, which encompassed 22 village regions and 6 cities within Armenia. The long-desired policy of “Armenia without Turks” that Armenians had aimed for over the years was implemented.

In general, until recently, the names of 704 administrative-territorial units belonging to Azerbaijanis in the current territory of Armenia were changed.

After 1920, with direct assistance from Moscow, the territory of Soviet Armenia expanded by approximately 11,000 km2. The territory of the Republic of Armenia, which exists in the historical territory of Azerbaijan, is currently equal to 29,743 km2. As of today, Armenia’s total border length is 1,261 kilometers. It shares a border of 787 kilometers with Azerbaijan (with 221 kilometers of this being the border with Nakhchivan), 268 kilometers with Turkey, 164 kilometers with Georgia, and 42 kilometers with Iran. In fact, all areas along Armenia’s external borders are inhabited by Azerbaijanis.b

On November 7, 1995, a new law on the administrative-territorial division of the Republic of Armenia was adopted. According to the new administrative-territorial division of Armenia, the division into regions that existed until that time was abolished, and 11 provinces (marz) were created instead. Amasiya (Aghbaba), Gizil Goch (Gukasyan), Duzkend (Akhuryan), Aghin (Ani) and Artik districts were included in the Shirak province, Kalinino, Jalaloglu (Stepanavan), Allahverdi (Tumanyan), Hamamlı (Spitak) and Boyuk Qarakilsa (Gugark) districts became Lori province, Barana (Noyemberyan), Karvanserai (Ijevan) and Shamsheddin (Tavush) districts became Tavush province, Talin, Aparan, Elayaz (Aragats), Ashtarak districts became Aragadzon province, Akhta (Hrazdan), Ellar (Abovyan, Kotayk), Nairi districts became Kotayk province, Chambarak (Krasnoselo), Basarkecher (Vardenis), Garanliq (Martuni), Kavar (Kamo) and Yelenovka (Sevan) districts became Gegharkunik province, Baghramyan, Gurdugulu (Hoktemberyan) and Uchkilsa (Echmiadzin) districts became Armavir province, Zangibasar (Masis), Gamarli (Artashat) and Vedi (Ararat) districts became Ararat province, the former Pashali (Azizbayov, Vayk) and Keshishkend (Yeghegnadzor) districts were included in the Vayots Dzor province, and the former Mehri (Meghri), Garakilsa (Sisian), Gafan and Gorus districts were included in the Syunik province. The city of Iravan was also given the status of a separate province. 

Nazim Mustafa,
Doctor of philosophy in history, recipient of the State Prize