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Legal Basis for the Conflict Resolution: Century-Old Dead Documents and Forgeries vs. UN Resolutions

Following the Russian annexation, there was neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus. Migrations rendered the entire territory ethnically mixed. Hence, after the collapse of the Empire, mutual territorial claims were inevitable, writes Vugar Seidov.

In the op-ed on the origins of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Ara Papian twists the historical facts to fit his country’s propaganda agenda. The roots go earlier than 1918, the date designated by the author as a ‘starting point’ of the dispute. By the Russian annexation of the South Caucasus in 1828, the overwhelming majority of the population in the semi-independent feudal khannates of Erivan (territory to later become the Republic of Armenia), Karabakh and Nakhichevan remained ‘Muslim Tatar’—an ethnonym that the Russians gave to the Azerbaijani Turks and the Soviets later arbitrarily renamed ‘Azeris.’A number of Armenian historians, including for example Prof. George Burnutian, refer to Russian statistical data to openly admit that by the time of the Russian conquest in the early 19th century, ethnic Armenians barely accounted for 20 percentof the region’s demographic setup, even indeed in Erivan, while the rest of the population was Muslim.

Russian contemporaries, including Ambassador Alexander Griboyedov and historian Sergei Glinka among others, scrupulously recorded massive Armenian resettlements from Persia and the Ottoman Empire to the Caucasus and the parallel flight of Muslims in the reverse direction to have followed the annexation. Another Russian historian, Nikolai Shavrov, noted in 1911 that, ‘[o]ut of 1.3m. Armenians currently living in South Caucasus, 1m. are not indigenous and are settled here by us;’ ‘Armenians were settled in Yelizavetpol and Erivan, where originally they were very few. The mountainous part of Yelizavetpol [Nagorno-Karabakh] and the area around Lake Goycha [Sevan] had been settled by those Armenians.’

Even following the 70-year-long process of Armenian immigration to and ‘Tatar’ emigration from the region, according to the only Russian Imperial census held in 1897, the former still remained a minority in the uezds of Erivan, Surmali, and Nakhichevan, as well as in three (Zangezur, Javanshir and Jabrail) out of the four uezds of Karabakh. Only in the uezd of Shusha, the immigration resulted in a marginal majority for Armenians; still, Karabakh’s overall population was dominated by Tatars who numbered 235,304, against 172,872 Armenians.

Consequently, had president Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination based on demographic majority been taken as a guiding rationale for a decision, as Ara Papian suggests was the case,most of the above territories should have become part of Azerbaijan, since the migration had clearly failed to produce an Armenian majority in the areas his country later moved to claim. It is not immediately clear which ‘ethnographic map’ Papian refers to, but, assuming that such a map exists, it is even less clear who its authors were and what sources they used todraw it. Considering that the official census data was the only reliable source for any demographic research at the time, the mysterious ‘map’ that Papian mentions but fails to publish is most likely yet another forgery.

At one instance, Papian makes the right point that an entity called Azerbaijan Republic was established, for the first time in history, on May 28, 1918. He, however, conveniently conceals another truth: that the first Armenian Republic was proclaimed on that very same day, and no earlier maps had featured an entity called ‘the Republic of Armenia’ either.

Papian gained prominence with his domestic audience as an advocate for the reviving of the Treaty of Sèvres (August, 1920) and President Woodrow Wilson’s arbitration role in defining his country’s border. What he, however, failed to note is that the Senate rejected the US mandate for Armenia and declined the president’s arbitration, while Ankara refused to ratify Sèvres. By signing the humiliating Treaty of Alexandropol in December 1920, the Armenian government renounced all the claims to Turkey stipulated in the Sèvres, whereas by signing the Treaty of Kars in October 1921, the government of Soviet Armenia reconfirmed the existing Turco-Armenian border. After regaining independence in 1991, the Third Republic never renounced the Treaty of Kars. Addressing my question during Q&A following his speech at Central European University in Budapest on October 30, 2007, Armenia’s then-Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian publicly reasserted that, ‘We have signed the Treaty of Kars, and we have no territorial claims towards Turkey.’ For the former Armenian ambassador, who tries today to revive what senators of both parties almost a century ago designated as ‘dead of the dead,’ it would be more useful to consult the official position of his minister and the government he used to represent.

Ironically, Armenia and Azerbaijan did later come to a compromise that the Allies had once hoped they would. In July 1921, representatives of the three now sovietized South Caucasus republics convened in Tiflis and ruled to retain (!) Karabakh within Azerbaijan (Armenian propaganda often deliberately misquotes the document by twisting its original wording ‘retain within’ to ‘transfer to’ and exaggerating the role of Joe Stalin who, in fact, had then no power,  not even the right to vote). Interestingly, Armenian representative Nazaretian voted in favor of the resolution. The Armenian majority in the upper part of Karabakh was granted autonomy. No parallel autonomy, however, was offered to ethnic Azeris in Armenia, despite a solid majority they formed in the provinces of Zangezur, Vedi, Agbaba and Lake Goycha; an imbalance that would prove a ticking mine to have exploded in 1988.

Following the Russian annexation, there was neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus. Migrations rendered the entire territory ethnically mixed. Hence, after the collapse of the Empire, mutual territorial claims were inevitable. There was barely any border that would have left both nations equally satisfied; still, a border had to be somehow drawn. Armenians might have been unhappy about the upper part of Karabakh staying in Azerbaijan, but so were Azeris who formed a demographic majority in many areas of Armenia yet were even denied autonomy similar to Karabakh.

Meanwhile, an Azeri autonomy in Armenia, had it been thought about, could have served as an instrument of deterrence against Armenian separatism many decades later. Another solution that would have ruled out any possible conflict, was suggested by the British Foreign Office in the memo of November 18, 1921: ‘The best permanent settlement might be to bring about a segregation of the Armenians and Azerbaijanis into separate areas by persuading the Karabagh Armenians to emigrate to the Erevan district and the Erevan Azerbaijanis to Karabagh’. This proposal was reiterated once again in the British Cabinet’s memo of February 7, 1919: ‘In order to settle the discord between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Armenian population of Karabagh should be exchanged for the Muslim population of the Erivan guberniia’.

These two brief quotations prove that the Allies considered Karabakh and Erivan part of Azerbaijan and Armenia, respectively. This comes at no surprise, given that the former was an integral part of Azerbaijan in 1918-1920. Armenia reluctantly recognized this (according to historian Richard Hovannisian, during the official celebrations of the first anniversary of the Republic on May 28, 1919, the delegates from Karabakh were seated in Erivan among the foreign guests), and later, in August 1919, the Armenian Council of Karabakh accepted the jurisdiction of Azerbaijani government.

An explosion of the mine planted in 1921 was a matter of time. But in order to safely speak about the self-determination of her ethnic kins in Azerbaijan and, at the same time, secure her own territorial integrity, Armenia had to first rid herself of the Azeri population, a process that unfolded in several waves—in the 1920s, 1940-50s, and finally after the outbreak of an open conflict in the late 1980s set to complete the ethnic cleansing.

Over 160 years since the Russian conquest, the Muslim population of Erivan shrank from 80 percent to zero. Having cleansed their own territory, Armenian politicians went on to expel Azeris from Azerbaijan—first from Nagorno-Karabakh where Azeris formed a substantial part of the population and then from the seven surrounding districts which were entirely Azeri throughout history. Clearly, it is nonsense to talk about self-determination following ethnic cleansing!

Ara Papian appeals to the international community to exhume some mysterious century-old ‘annexed ethnographic maps’ of dubious origin (this from the times when even the League of Nations was not yet founded), calling this… a ‘legal basis’ for conflict resolution. Perhaps, for a senior diplomat that Papian is, calling upon his own government to implement the four resolutions of the UN Security Council on Nagorno-Karabakh (822, 853, 874, 884) would set to a young generation of Armenian diplomats far better an example of sober understanding of contemporary international law.

Ed.’s Note: Vugar Seidov (PhD) is a political analyst with the AZERTAG news agency, consultant to a number of MEPs and members of PACE. He holds PhD in History (Moscow Lomonosov University), MA in European Studies (Central European University) and MPhil in International Relations (University of Cambridge). The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.


Contributed by Vugar Seidov
Contributed by Vugar Seidov