19 years ago, on May 12 1994, a ceasefire was finally declared to end the fighting in the terrible Nagorno-Karabakh Liberation War. Too many people had been killed, there was untold misery and suffering for millions of people throughout the South Caucasus, and hundreds of thousands had been displaced as life was becoming untenable in mixed communities. Although the formal military conflict had stopped, life was never going to be the same for many ordinary people left in limbo, suspended in a political vacuum, waiting for the final resolution that has never arrived. For the 150,000 people in Artsakh, it has meant the continuing unrecognised status, the on-going “passive” siege by Azerbaijan, the blockading by Turkey, and simmering sniping across the Line of Contact. For the many Armenians who had to leave their homes in Azerbaijan and fled to Artsakh, still remain caught, still residing in a fragile environment; the Azerbaijani politicians still threatening to cleanse them from their homes. For the many Azerbaijani people who left Armenia and Artsakh and are still living in temporary accommodation, who are still being used as political pawns, on the infinitesimally small chance that they may return back to their homes are being deprived of the investment to give them a sensible standard of living so the politicians can gain power through sympathy, and build up of obscene levels of military equipment.
21 years ago, on May 9 1992, the many months of planning were being executed to liberate Shushi from the Azeri forces and, as importantly, to finally free the people of Stepanakert from the continual bombing from the GRAD missiles. Arguably, the turning point in the war, as control over the powerful promontory of Shushi, and the gateway to the Lachin Corridor, was seized, and the Armenian forces could start influencing the outcome of this conflict.
After such a long time, the people of Stepanakert could get some relief from what seemed to them to be an eternal siege. A siege that has never made its way into the public consciousness outside of Artsakh. It may not have been as deadly as Stalingrad, or as long as Sarajevo –but a siege of one day is too long for innocent civilians who are trying to live a peaceful life in the place that they, and their family have lived in, for centuries.
22 years ago, on April 30 1991, the combined forces of the Azerbaijani OMON and the Soviet 4th Army entered Getashen and so started the intimidation of many men in the outlying villages of Artsakh as part of Operation Ring. Supposedly this offensive was to flush out the Fedayin fighters who had “infiltrated” the villages. As a result of the general intimidation by the Azerbaijani forces, the men of each of the villages were gathering together to defend their homes and families, and being resourceful in obtaining weaponry, however basic. Very few, if any of these men, had any formal military training – this activity just depended on their basic instinct and bravery.
The Azerbaijani tactics resulted in many men being kidnapped , flown to Khojaly, and then to the prison in Shushi, where they were tortured until either they agreed to lies about themselves, or neighbours, or paid ransom money for their release. This was not war under International conventions ; this was just gangsterism!
These inflammatory tactics led to an increase in animosity between the two sides and resulted in an inevitable decline into a more sustained conflict.
25 years ago, on February 28 1988, the established Armenian citizens of Sumgait in Azerbaijan were subjected to the pogroms by the local Azeris. Different communities living together in peace for decades beforehand were turned against each other for what reason? Had those individuals who were, previously, friendly neighbours now become fierce enemies for no reason? Had there been a brutal sectarian incident that had caused people to “take sides”….and that would subsequently lead to over 6 years of unnecessary conflict?
No! The Karabakhi Armenians had simply expressed a democratic wish.
25 years ago, on February 20 1988, the local Soviet of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of Azerbaijan passed a resolution:
“Welcoming the wishes of the workers of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region to request the Supreme Soviets of the Azerbaijani SSR and Armenian SSR to display a feeling of deep understanding of the aspirations of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh and to resolve the question of transferring the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region from the Azerbaijani SSR to the Armenian SSR, at the same time to intercede with the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to reach a positive resolution on the issue of transferring the region from the Azerbaijani SSR to the Armenian SSR”
A polite and deferential resolution seeking approval from the Soviet hierarchy, but a request that was revolutionary and with fundamental implications to the Soviet Union. Whilst this activity must have been contemplated under the auspice of perestroika, were the Soviets still wedded to the notion of controlling the republics through disunity?
25 years ago, on February 13 1988, a few hundred gathered at a rally in Lenin Square in Stepanakert, following the return of a delegation of people who had been to Moscow to lobby for the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. The rally was unprecedented in Soviet times, so those who attended were risking arrest, but after the brief speeches, the crowd made their position clearly understood by chanting “Miatsum” (Unity). Through “Miatsum”, they would have security…and Peace.
The prevailing anti-Armenian rhetoric of the last 25 years has lost sight of this peaceful and entirely reasonable request for unification of the Armenian people. This was necessary to correct the act of sick cynicism carried out by Stalin in 1921. The response of Azerbaijan to the peaceful 1988 resolution is evidence enough, together with the Genocide of 1915, to tell the world that Armenians should never be controlled by Turks, again, -never again!