The Genesis of Azerbaijan-Armenia Relationship: Under the Russian and Soviet Rule to the Present

Nagorno-Karabakh in the Caucasus in South-East Europe and is significant as an energy corridor. This conflict has started to destabilize an area which is now drawing regional powers. It is rather important to understand why Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh has emerged as a conflict between two nations, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh — “Nagorno” is derived from the Russian language which means mountainous whereas “Karabakh” can be broadly understood as a black garden which is an admixture of Turkish and Persian words.

Artsakh is composed of Armenian majority and had declared independence from Azerbaijan in 1991 which had a Muslim majority populace, yet it has received no recognition as sovereignty even in the 21st century. It was in 1823 that this area had come under the administration of Tsar Nicholas I, which was retained under the Soviet Republic. The region was ceded to Armenia by the treaty signed between USSR and Turkey. Artsakh was accorded the status of an Autonomous Oblast. The Russian Government during the 19th century had favoured the Armenians as they had linguistic commonality with them and promulgated policies that would result in the growth of the Armenian population. By the time of the Russian Revolution of 1905, both Armenia and Azerbaijan engaged into an ethnic conflict which would be renewed before the collapse of the Russian Empire. Armenia dominated population established the Armenian National Council of Nagorno-Karabakh as a protest to Azerbaijan laying claim over Karabakh. However, the ongoing resistance against Azerbaijan must be perceived as a war of self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh that began in the 19th century. However, between 1918 and 1920, this region was under the administration of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. A failed Armenian rebellion witnessed massacres of Armenians by Azeri forces, inhabiting Shusha or Shushi as Armenians termed it, until 1920. 

Agreements between two countries were reached by the Bishkek Protocol, of which Russia was a signatory in 1994.  During 1987, a petition was propagated by the Armenian academy which argued for the reunification of Nakhichevan to Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1988, Armenia took over the region and a six-year war led to the death of 30,00 people and mass displacement occurred. Armenia traces claim over Nagorno-Karabakh as public opinion believes that this region was part of the Armenian Kingdom since the 4th century BCE. However, human rights violations, refugee crisis and repercussions on the economy have been continuing phenomena in this region. However, it is important in this regard to highlighting how warring tensions in the Caucasus between Azerbaijan and Armenia accentuated as Turkey chose to side with the former, an ally. Pakistan, like Turkey, has pledged support towards Azerbaijan and it cannot be denied that it has never recognized Armenia as a state. Rather, she was equally engaged in the narrative of denial of the Armenian Genocide. Hence, she does not acknowledge Armenia’s claim over Artsakh and stated that the ethnic cleansing of the Azeris must be condemned. It would not be surprising if mercenaries from Pakistan join this war. Weapons have been majorly supplied under the regime of the Turkish Prime Minister. Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a recent statement argued that Armenia must withdraw from this region as it never belonged to her. Additionally, he stated that Armenia has been the greatest threat to peace in Nagorno-Karabakh and even rejecting the path towards a cease-fire. Missile strikes have now become a continued occurrence which has led to casualties for both Armenia and Azerbaijan and it is believed that violence has been fueled by Turkey for it cannot be denied that she has never perceived Armenia to be a country. Nonetheless, Turkey has denied of any of these statements, which is a hoax and the International Community must understand this. On the other hand, Artsakh experienced a war-like situation as Syrian forces had been deployed by Turkey which resonates with her inflicting mass annihilation on the Armenians. Four United Nations Security Council resolutions namely 823,853,874, 884 were passed in 1993 calling for Armenia’s withdrawal from Artsakh which Yerevan had refused to implement. Azerbaijan even aimed to attack the Republic of Armenia, expanding the geography of the conflict in recent developments. The United States of America responded to this crisis in 1988 by raising huge sums of money for humanitarian relief till date. The Trump administration has been facing excessive pressure by American legislators. The House of Representatives of Armenia Caucasus has introduced a resolution that condemns Turkey’s influence in the region and Azerbaijan’s military operations. Immediate US security assistance would be provided as suggested by the letter signed by 12 Senate Democrats. It had been suggested that the Republic of Artsakh would be recognized as an independent nation if violence would persist. The State Armenian Fund submitted a bill which stated the recognition of the Artsakh Republic.  On the other hand, Iran has stated that the disputed territory belongs to Azerbaijan as the Azeris are the most influential in Iran. President Hasan Rouhani has commented that Armenia must end the conflict.

Animosity Towards Armenia, Turkey’s History of Genocide: 1894-1916

The interests of Turkey in this region can be examined when one analyzes its relationship with Armenia. The Armenian Genocide had been perpetrated by under the Ottoman Empire and the Young Turks. This has been recognized as the first modern genocide which received immense publicization from North America and Europe, yet had been eradicated from popular consciousness in less than two decades later. World War I witnessed the defeat of Ottoman Turkey in the hands of the allied powers namely the British, French and the United States. The first massacre of Armenians occurred during 1894-96 by Sultan Abdul Hamid II during his reign. The Young Turks usurped the throne in 1908, thereafter entering the World War on the support of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, history repeated itself through the culmination of bloodshed of the Armenians during 1915-1916. This genocide was executed by the Committee of Union and Progress with the justification of national security in the face of an encroaching Armenian insurgency. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), infamously known as the Young Turks now reigned who believed in the notion of pan-Turkism.

Armenians of Constantinople celebrating the establishment of the CUP government

All ethnic groups would be brought under one umbrella: the rule of the Ottomans through the idiom of political unification and therefore, the formation of a one-party state that allowed them to exercise such control which was the pathway to completely annihilate the Armenians. An anti-reform attitude was inherited by the CUP during the advent of their rule in 1908 when its foremost leader, Mehmed Talata dismissed the notion of equality with the non-Muslims, who were known by the terminology of ‘ghuirs’ evoking that the Shari‘a believes such an idea to be maleficent with the sentiments of the Muslims. The French ambassador at Istanbul, Paul Cambon opines that Diaspora Armenians had problematised the issue of administrative mishandling into that of racial persecution. The hatred of the government towards Armenians crystallized in the state’s conspiracy to prosecute the mass killing. These perpetrators have been conferred with the name of front-line killers who believe that their actions are for the greater good of the nation. The Interior Ministry announced that it propagated the ideology of benevolence, which functioned under the Ministry of war lead by Enver Pasha. This was indeed a distorted truth as the young girls were distributed in Muslim households, whereas boys of Armenian origin were made to work in factories. It must be pointed out how nationalist historiography claims that its officials were conducting rescue operations. Here one must be able to decipher the racial connotations which were clearly revealed through the government’s policies, as well as the vocabulary of de-humanization when its Anatolian populations were increasingly termed as tumours and leeches who must be exterminated for the greater good of the nation (Morris and Ze’evi, 2019, pp:137-300 ). A first-hand account of a Turkish Official, Lieutenant Moukhtar Beas dating to 26th December 1916 had been elucidated which promulgates how order from Constantinople led the deportation of Armenians inhabiting the frontier towns to the interior. Large convoys passed through Erzeorum, consisting mainly of men, children and women. In 1915, he was transferred to Trezibond, where a large number of Armenians would be expatiated for the slaughter. The Armenian culture had been completely destroyed. It has been termed as the loss of moral, intellectual and spiritual life. This leads to the community questioning its position in history and in turn the self’s understanding of rootedness with the community. Rather, the collective identity of a community is submerged in its institutions.  Nevertheless, Turkey shares no diplomatic ties with Armenia which clearly can be perceived as the staunch hatred it holds for the Christian minorities who have been regarded as a threat to her beginning from the regime of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.


It is rather necessary for the international community to voice their opinion against such atrocities that are simmering in Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey’s prominent role in this conflict arises from the fact that she wishes to propagate herself as the new leader of the Muslim leader, with Pakistan following the footsteps. The generational trauma that the Armenian population experience remains a horrifying truth. Yet, it is repeating itself in a new form. 

Samanneeta Chakraborty

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