Republic of Artsakh, what nation is that? A country in Asia? Or some small African republic? No, it is in fact the former name of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, a unrecognized nation that is bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus. Artsakh is the 2017 name of the Nagorno-Karabak region, that started out as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan Socialist Soviet Republic in 1923. The modern day Republic of Artsakh is not recognized as a independent state. It is seen as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan by the UN and the world community. By the late 80’s, local nationalism was on the rise in the USSR. Religion, language and heritage suddenly became core values as people, friends and former communist party members turned on each other. Its story is that of right-wing nationalism, race hatred and ethnic cleansing!
Armenia and Azerbaijan do not have formal diplomatic relations. This is because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The seeds of the distrust go back to 1918, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Bourgeois nationalists took the opportunity to declare their nations independent of Istanbul, capital of the empire. On 24 May 1918, the Democratic Republic of Armenia was founded. The Treaty of Sèvres gave the new state huge parts of modern day Turkey. However the Turkish nationalists under Mustafa Kemal never allowed the Armenians to take control. The Turkish-Armenian War of 1920 resulted in a clear victory for the nationalists of Mustafa Kemal. After the war, the Democratic Republic of Armenia was very weak and political unstable. Since 1918, the Armenians were also at war with the bourgeois nationalists of Azerbaijan, a Turkish people who were allied to Turkey!
The roots of the conflicts lay with ethnic nationalism, race hatred of two people who’s borders were not fixed in 1918. You have the territory of Karabakh, located in Azerbaijan but population by Armenians. Then on the other side there is the territory of Nakhchivan, a landlocked enclave with a majority of Azerbaijani. Because of bourgeois nationalism and the differences in culture, languages, heritage and religion, Armenians and Azerbaijanis have always hated and mistrusted each other. It is this 100 year old feud that lay the groundwork for the modern conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh!
In the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, many workers were supportive of the Russian Revolution. After their capitalist government proved to be ineffective, they came to reject the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. On 1 April 1920, the bourgeois government in Baku resigned. Supporters of the Bolsheviks then founded the Provisional Revolutionary Committee which demanded an end to capitalist rule. By 28 April most elements of the bourgeois state had defected to the revolutionaries. As the Red Army of Soviet Russia entered Azerbaijan, they were welcomed by its workers. However the ruling class was not happy. They organized nationalist uprisings which lasted until 1924. It was clear that the rule of the workers would not go win-out a fight!
Armenia was in a terrible position. They were fighting a losing war with nationalist Turkey. In November 1920, the Turks were closing in on the Armenian capital. It was clear that bourgeois rule had led the country to ruins. To save what was left of capitalist Armenia, the government agreed on signing the Treaty of Alexandropol. However it would never be rectified by the Armenian Parliament. Because the Democratic Republic of Armenia collapsed on 3 December. The pro-Bolshevik: Armenian Revolutionary Committee took over administration and declared the Armenian Socialist Soviet Republic. Although Moscow had organized the Armenian Revolutionary Committee, they had little control over them. In 1920 the Russian Civil War was still ongoing and communication with the Caucasus was slow. The Armenian Bolsheviks started a brutal campaign of terror against anybody who supported the previous government. Nationalist forces were able to organize popular uprisings which were supported by the western world. The 11th Red Army defeated the anti-Soviet revolts and prevented the restoration of the bourgeoisie. It was clear that the tactics of the Armenian Bolsheviks had aliened many workers!
Alexander Miasnikian was elected as first Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Armenia. Unlike the first Soviet leaders who’s brutality almost led to a restoration of capitalist rule, Miasnikian was supportive and worked hard to rebuild the nation. To end future conflicts about borders, the nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were united in a federation called the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The Georgians were not happy with this, they did not liked the idea that they had to share power in this new federation. However Vladimir Lenin believed that proletarian unity in the Caucasus would end the hatred and mistrust, unfortunately it did not. Despite the good intentions of Lenin, the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic was never a success. Joseph Stalin agreed with his Georgian supporters and in 1936, he disbanded the federation. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent Soviet republics again!
As stalinism took control over the Soviet-Union, great Russian chauvinism was enforced. In the 1920’s there was a policy of tolerance towards native cultures in the USSR. Stalin however wanted Russian culture and language to become dominate. All this was done under the pretense of proletarian internationalism. People who rejected the increasing Russian cultural dominance were called ”bourgeois nationalists” and then arrested. During the Great Terror of 1936, Stalin killed off all old Bolsheviks. Even his loyal Georgian supporters were not spared. By 1939, all important government functions were filled with slave-minded Stalinist gooses. It would not be until Micheal Gorbachev came, that local nationalism started to rise again. Gorbachev’s policy of tolerance towards none-Russian people lay the groundwork for the rise in ethnic hatred and a return of the deep mistrust between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. To blame are the nationalists, the right-wing forces who by 1988 had penetrated the communist parties!
It is said that the first signs of ethnic hatred started in 1987, in the small towns in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan Socialist Soviet Republic. Ethnic Azerbaijanis claim they were forced out of their homes by Armenians. Although the mayors of these towns denied that forced expulsions happened, many in Azerbaijan believed them. In February 1988, two Azerbaijani female students came to a hospital. They claimed to have been raped by Armenian men. As a result an ethnic clash happened in the town of Askeran. Azerbaijani nationalists fueled the hatred by organizing a pogrom in the town of Sumgait. Mobs made up of ethnic Azerbaijanis formed into groups and attacked and killed Armenians on the streets and in their apartments. Soviet Azerbaijani police officers did nothing to stop the violence. For three days the mobs attacked anybody who was ethnic Armenian. Official data indicate the 32 people were murdered, Armenia however claims that over 200 died. Despite attempts of Gorbachev to end the hostility, a ethnic war was about to start in Nagorno-Karabakh!
By now the old bourgeois flags of Armenia and Azerbaijan were re-adopted by the nationalists on both sides. Although the official state flags were still based on the Soviet model, the symbols of the nationalists became more and more popular. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation called on Soviet Armenia to defend its people in Nagorno-Karabakh against Azerbaijani nationalism. Because they feared that Azerbaijan would remove all Armenians as they did in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic. Between 1988 and 1990 most ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan were forced to move to Soviet Armenia and ethnic Azerbaijani in Soviet Armenia, were forced to move to Soviet Azerbaijan. January 1990 was a black month as Moscow ordered a state of emergency in Baku to stop the growth of nationalism. The Azerbaijani Popular Front organized the resistance and mass demonstrations started. In order to stop the massive civil disobedience, soldiers were ordered to open fire. 150 Azerbaijani civilians were killed together with 25 Soviet soldiers. Despite Black January the communist party would remain in control of the country until 16 September 1991, when it was dissolved!
Full warfare between Armenian soldiers and Azerbaijani soldiers started right after the USSR collapsed. With communism officially declared death and the nationalist flags restored, Armenia and Azerbaijan resumed their old feud. Armenian militants in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (official name after 1991) numbered around 20.000. The Republic of Armenia was sending another 8.000 to boost their tanks. Azerbaijan could organize 60.000 troops with 350 officers send by Turkey to train the new army. Three years of brutal fighting led to the deaths of 6.000 Armenian soldiers, Azerbaijan lost far more with over 20.000 killed. The Bishkek Protocol ended the war officially. For Azerbaijan it was a defeat, since they lost a part of their country. Also 1/3 of their army ended up death and many were wounded. Nagorno-Karabakh did not got recognition as a independent nation (not even by Armenia). Internationally it is regarded as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan!
724,000 Azerbaijanis from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas were forced out of their homes between 1988 and 1994. At the same time 400,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan had to leave. The war has resulted in the fact that Armenians and Azerbaijanis still hate each other. A sad reality that is the result of ethnic nationalism. Azerbaijan is now the personal kingdom of the Aliyev family since 1993. This KGB nest took power when the Republic of Azerbaijan was at its weakest. Heydar Alirza oghlu Aliyev was the KGB boss of Soviet Azerbaijan and worked his way up to become president. Democracy and freedom of speech are empty words, because Heydar Aliyev never allowed criticism of his government. After he died in 2003, his son became the next president in line. Ilham Aliyev is now in power for 15 years. Like his father he uses Azerbaijani nationalism to oppress his critics. Azerbaijan is very supportive of Turkey and the two countries share a similar cultural heritage!
Armenia struggled after the collapse of stalinism. Turkey supported the 1993 blockade imposed by Azerbaijan, which resulted in a economic crisis. Levon Ter-Petrosyan was the first president of independent Armenia. Although popular in 1991, he was called a fraud as it is said that Ter-Petrosyan manipulated the 1996 elections. He ordered the army to suppress any demonstration and even banned the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Levon Ter-Petrosyan was finally forced out of office in early 1998. But it has not changed Armenia for the better. The country lacks a workers party as all political parties elected are pro-capitalist. Even the Armenian Revolutionary Federation abandoned its socialist ideology and joined the right-wing government in February 2016. The main ruling party is the Republican Party of Armenia. The conservatives have always won 30% to 40% of the total vote. It must however be said that voter turnout is low. In 2017 only 60% came to vote. 1/3 of all Armenians do not vote, which is understandable since there is no party for working class people. The old stalinists are still out there, but who would vote for a communist party that glorifies the Stalinist period?
On 1 April 2016, the war briefly resumed. Both sides claimed that the other started the conflict. The war lasted four days with Azerbaijan taking 1,000 hectares of land in the conflict area. It is difficult to say how many soldiers were killed this time. American sources claim that both countries lost around 300 to 400 soldiers each. The Armenian media claims that over 1.000 soldiers of Azerbaijan died in the fighting while Baku claims that 320 Armenian ”occupiers” were killed. As in the last conflict, civilians suffer from the ethnic hatred and nationalism of the soldiers. 2.000 people were forced to leave their homes and were not able to return!
In 2017, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic changed its name to Republic of Artsakh. The country is a presidential state with a lot of power centralized in the office of the president. Artsakh is regarded as a partly free nation by Freedom House. However it is clear that it is not a full democracy. To reject the ruling Armenian nationalists in Artsakh is regarded as ”disloyal” and even ”traitorous”. Despite that Armenia does not recognizes Artsakh as a independent state, it is clear that the Armenians are supporting the breakaway republic. Revolutionary socialists reject both the nationalists in Artsakh and the dictatorial Aliyev family in Azerbaijan. We call on workers in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to rise to up against their capitalist rulers. Socialism must be build on proletarian internationalism and class unity. The current hatred between Armenians and Azerbaijanis is the direct result of right-wing nationalism. Since these countries lack a internationalist party for all workers, nationalists can poison their minds. It is up to a new generation of socialists, trade unionists and anti-capitalists to stand against nationalism and the bourgeoisie!
Դանդաղեցրեք կապիտալիզմը եւ ազգայնականությունը Հայաստանում
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