The Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict stemmed from large-scale geopolitical transformations that shook up the South Caucasus after Azerbaijan and Armenia gained their independence following the collapse of the Russian Empire.

From that moment onwards, the conflict was smoldering and breaking out throughout the 20th century, oscillating between "cold" and "hot" phases.

Declaration of Independence: Onset of Territorial Claims
It was in May 1918 through November 1920 when the first "hot" conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out, the reason being the national borders of the two independent nations not matching those between the former Russian governorates. The two nations were making mutually exclusive territorial claims to one another, quarreling over frontier lands with mixed Armenian-Azerbaijani population.

One of such lands was Karabakh, which just before the collapse of the Russian Empire, was a part of the Yelizavetpol Governorate and encompassed four uyezds, namely Shusha, Zangezur, Jevanshir, and Karyagin (later Jabrayil).
Karabakh as part of the Elisavetpol gubernia (province) of the Russian Empire (1868-1917)
Its total population, according to the Caucasian Calendar, was as of 1 January 1916 242,000 Armenians and 322,000 Azerbaijanis, the former concentrated in a narrow intermittent belt of Karabakh's piedmont areas [1].
The parties offered their own solutions from the very onset of the conflict. While the Azerbaijani government suggested using the historical principle as a basis for the demarcation of borders between the states, the Armenian party acted on the principle "Armenian land is where Armenians live".

It was the very phase when the term "Nagorno-Karabakh" attained political significance. Setting up their own administrative power, Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh was trying to unify the region with Armenia. The conflict resolution process was actively mediated by the world powers: the Central Powers, represented by the Ottoman Empire, and the Entente in person of Britain.

With Turkish military forces arriving in Nagorno-Karabakh early in October 1918, Azerbaijan managed to establish a certain control over this area, although it failed to secure unconditional recognition of its jurisdiction by the Armenian community. After World War One culminated in the capitulation of the Central Powers, the Turkish army was withdrawn from the South Caucasus in October-November 1918, and the Entente took control over the national-administrative setup of the region.

That event marked the onset of British domination in the South Caucasus, with its defining role in the resolution or escalation of territorial disputes between the two independent republics.

The United Kingdom proposed to isolate the conflict zone by setting up in January 1919 the special Karabakh General Governorate administration under Azerbaijan's jurisdiction. [2]. Such decision, though, was not because they sympathized with Azerbaijan, but because British military commanders were trying to resolve Karabakh's humanitarian issues in a most efficient way, bearing in mind that the latter is linked infrastructure- and economics-wise to Baku rather than to Irevan.
Karabakh as part of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918 - 1920)
As the Karabakh General Governorate was set up within the Azerbaijan Republic, the term "Karabakh" restored its administrative and political sense it had lost when the Russian Empire abolished the Karabakh Khanate back in 1822.

The British government's resolution influenced Karabakh's Armenian political moods to a certain extent, which in turn reflected in resolutions adopted by the 7th Karabakh Armenians' Congress, which was held on 22 August 1919 in Shusha. The Congress adopted the "Interim Agreement between Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians and Azerbaijani Government" that included 26 items. It stated, in particular, the following: "The mountainous part of Karabakh, that is, Shusha, Jevanshir, and Jabrayil uyezds (Dizak, Khachen, Varanda, and Jerabert), which are populated by Armenians, temporarily considers itself a part of the Azerbaijan Republic, with this issue to be finally resolved at the Paris Peace Conference» [3].

This was the first document where the term "Nagorno-Karabakh" was used in a political sense, and this very territory was recognized as a part of the Azerbaijan Republic. Besides, the document specifically mentioned the Armenian part of Nagorno-Karabakh, that is, Dizak, Khachen, Varanda, and Jerabert. Armenia, however, would not recognize this agreement, believing it was signed under the pressure of the Azerbaijani General Governor of Karabakh.

Armenian government, therefore, went on backing separatist movements in Nagorno-Karabakh, which resulted in clashes and armed provocations against Azerbaijani forces in the region.

It was in March-April 1920, just before the fall of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, when Armenians launched the largest armed assault, which was eventually suppressed by the Azerbaijani army. Those provocations, however, forced Azerbaijan's government to keep sizeable military forces on the western borders.

Sovietization of Azerbaijan
Occupied by Bolsheviks, Azerbaijan was again subjected to Armenia's aggressive policy, which wanted to take advantage of the situation. Once the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic fell and was occupied by Soviet Russia, the 9th Congress of Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian community (23-29 April 1920) deemed the agreement with Azerbaijan void and declared the unification of the region with Armenia [4].

After Bolsheviks took over North Azerbaijan in spring 1920, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue rose anew. Now, however, Soviet Russia assumed the mantle of "peacekeeper" and played on Armenia's territorial claims to Azerbaijan to promote Soviet power all across the South Caucasus.
Karabakh as part of the Azerbaijan SSR (1920 - 1922)
Bloody clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, so frequent in the previous years, were put to an end by Sovietization of Armenia late in 1920. The Azerbaijan SSR's resolving on 30 November 1920 to grant Nagorno-Karabakh the right to self-determination [5] showed the Azerbaijani side's readiness to discuss the Armenian autonomy issues.

The Soviet Armenian government, on the other hand, saw this issue only through the prism of Nagorno-Karabakh's transfer from Azerbaijan to Armenia. To make that happen, they were deliberately trying to distort and interpret in their own way the 30 November 1920 resolution of AKP(b) CC Politburo and the 1 December 1920 statement made by the Azerbaijan SSR Council of People's Commissars Chairman Nariman Narimanov on the topic of Nagorno-Karabakh [6].

As a result, the RKP(b) CC Caucasian Bureau issued a secret resolution on 3 June 1921, authorizing the government of Armenia to adopt a special declaration, which stated Nagorno-Karabakh belonged to the republic [7].

Signed by the Chairman of Armenian SSR Council of People's Commissars A.Myasnikov, decree dated 12 June 1921 stated that "based on the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic Revolutionary Commissariat declaration and the agreement between the governments of socialist republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is hereby declared that Nagorno-Karabakh is from now on an integral part of the Soviet Republic of Armenia." [8]

Nagorno-Karabakh will "remain" Within Azerbaijan
Resolution of Azerbaijan's party leadership dated 30 November 1920 was clearly distorted and even presented as an agreement between the governments of the two Soviet republics. This fraud, however, was soon exposed by Soviet Azerbaijan's premier N.Narimanov.

On 27 June 1921, Narimanov expressly objected the distortion of his words; he said on 1 December 1920: "If they are referring to my statement, let me repeat it word by word for their information: Nagorno-Karabakh is granted the right to self-determination. The issue at hand shall be resolved on this basis alone, otherwise Sovnarkom waives all responsibility; if Soviet Armenia plans to use this decree (12 June decree on the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia – I.N.) to make a certain impression on Dashnaks and non-partisans in Armenia, we should not forget that thereby we effectively risk to raise various groups throughout Azerbaijan, which are as anti-Soviet as Dashnaks themselves." [9]

Further to this statement, the RKP(b) CC Caucasian Bureau convened a special session to discuss the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Karabakh issue was in the center of discussion during the meeting held on 4 July 1921 with participation of eight Caucasian Bureau members (Ordzhonikidze, Makharadze, Narimanov, Myasnikov, Kirov, Nazaretyan, Orakhelashvili, and Figatner), RKP(b) CC member Joseph Stalin, Komsomol Caucasian Bureau Secretary Breitman, and three members of Georgian Communist Party CC. Two conflicting opinions were presented and put to the vote. Only Caucasian Bureau members were allowed to vote; seven out of eight were voting as Orakhelashvili was absent when the issue at hand was raised, Stalin also did not vote.

The voting concluded as follows: Narimanov, Makharadze, and Nazaretyan voted in favor of retaining Karabakh within Azerbaijan and holding a Karabakh-wide plebiscite with the participation of all its population (both Armenians and Azerbaijanis); Ordzhonikidze, Myasnikov, Figatner, and Kirov voted against this initiative. Besides, Ordzhonikidze, Myasnikov, Figatner, Kirov, and Nazaretyan voted for the plebiscite to be held only in Nagorno-Karabakh, that is, among Armenians.

The Plenum therefore ruled: "Nagorno-Karabakh shall be integrated in the Armenian SSR, and the plebiscite held in Nagorno-Karabakh alone." Narimanov then made the following statement: "Since the Karabakh issue is of paramount importance to Azerbaijan, I deem it necessary to refer it to the RKP(b) Central Committee, which shall deliver the final judgement." Having considered Narimanov's statement, the Caucasian Bureau Plenum reached a new decision: "Since the Karabakh issue has caused a serious discord, the RKP(b) Central Committee Caucasian Bureau deems it necessary to refer it to the RKP(b) Central Committee for final settlement." [10]

On the next day, on 5 July 1921, Ordzhonikidze and Nazaretyan made a motion during the RKP(b) CC Caucasian Bureau Plenum session to revise previous resolution on Karabakh.

The Plenum members adopted the following resolution: "Bearing in mind the requirement for reaching national peace between Muslims (Azerbaijanis) and Armenians, as well as the Upper and Lower Karabakh's permanent economic and other connections to Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh shall remain within the Azerbaijan SSR and be granted broad region-level power of autonomy; the administrative center shall be in the town of Shusha, which sits therein."
Minutes of the 12th meeting of the Plenum of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation dated July 5, 1921
It was not recorded in the minutes of meeting who voted in person and how, although it was recorded that four members cast an affirmative vote and three abstained. Nobody voted against the resolution [11].

We draw your attention to several important points; the 4 July resolution does not provide a single argument in favor of taking Nagorno-Karabakh away from Azerbaijan, while the 5 July resolution, on the other hand, provides clear reasons as to why this very territory was kept within Azerbaijan. Besides, it contains three additional items: establishment of the autonomous region's borders, the nomination of Nagorno-Karabakh's extraordinary commissar, and scope of its autonomy.

Armenian Myth about Stalin's "Gift"
One cannot help but ask a question: "What was Joseph Stalin's position on this issue as People's Commissar of Nationalities?" Made up by Armenian historians and instilled in the society, there is a myth that the famous resolution of the July Plenum of RKP(b) CC Caucasian Bureau was allegedly imposed by Stalin.

This being said, Armenian side has never been able to provide any documents to justify this version, as the 4-July sessions were not recorded at all. On the other hand, historical sources evidence that Stalin was on vacation in Nalchik starting late May [12]. Late in June, he arrived in Tbilisi and on 2 through 7 July participated in the RKP(b) CC Caucasian Bureau plenums as People's Commissar of Nationalities and the central government representative.
V. Lenin and I. Stalin
Stalin neither spoke nor voted during the Plenum that addressed the Karabakh issue. Too, we know from historical sources that on 4 July Lenin sent a telegram to Tiflis, addressing Ordzhonikidze, where he writes as follows: "I am surprised you are interrupting Stalin's vacation. He'd better have more rest" [13].

It is understood from the telegram that Stalin participated in 4-5 July 1921 Caucasian Bureau plenum without coordinating this issue with Lenin, at Ordzhonikidze's request. We can also realize by reviewing Stalin's statements that he always held opportunistic positions on the issue of borders between South Caucasian Soviet republics, which varied depending on specific historical circumstances and geopolitics across the region. To be more specific, Stalin had earlier approved of Nagorno-Karabakh's transfer to "Soviet Armenia" [14].

The Armenian version, which says that Stalin "gave Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan as a gift" due to his special sympathy for Azerbaijanis is, therefore, completely groundless.

Establishment of Autonomous Oblast As a Time Bomb
The 5 July 1921 RKP(b) CC Caucasian Bureau Plenum resolution was implemented only two years later, in 1923.

The Azerbaijan SSR Central Executive Committee issued on 7 July 1923 the Decree titled "Establishment of the Autonomous Oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh" (АОNК).

It ruled as follows:

1) The autonomous oblast shall be set up using the Armenian part of Nagorno-Karabakh and represent a constituent part of the ASSR, with the center in town of Khankendi

2) The autonomous oblast shall be governed by the Regional Executive Soviet and local Soviets

3) Prior to setting up the Regional Executive Committee, the Interim Revolutionary Committee shall be set up and charged with convening, within 2 months, a congress of Soviets and elect a permanent executive body. A mixed commission with representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh, Lower Karabakh, Kurdistan, and ASSR central authorities shall be set up to develop the regional statute and arrange the physical transfer of administrative units to Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, and to define the borders thereof.
NKAO within the borders of Azerbaijan SSR (after 1923)
According to the preamble, the main argument in favor of granting autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians was tragic events that took place in the region as well as in other parts of the South Caucasus back in 1905-1906 and 1918-1920; they were ascribed to the Tsarist Russia's government, Dashnaks, and Mensheviks [15].

Azerbaijanis obviously suffered a worse fate than Armenians in the process, so, logically speaking, the Azerbaijani community of the Armenian SSR must have been granted autonomy as well.

It also becomes clear from the document that Armenians inhabited not the entire Nagorno-Karabakh but rather a certain part thereof, so, under the 1923 Decree (as opposed the 5 July 1921 Resolution), the newly established autonomous entity covered just the part of Nagorno-Karabakh where the Armenian community lived.

On the other hand, there was no dense Armenian habitat in Nagorno-Karabakh, whereby it seemed quite difficult to establish ethnic borders of the future autonomy. They therefore had to be drawn artificially and tailored to meet the requirements of the above decree.

It took them another year to tackle this issue, and the special statute on AONK borders was approved in 1924. Finally, whereas it had been planned to make Shusha the administrative center, the 7 July 1923 decree relocated the regional administration to the town of Khankendi. Although it was a historically Azerbaijani town, a big number of Armenians had already lived there.

When the USSR Constitution was adopted in 1936, Autonomous Oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh was renamed to Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NКАО), which drastically changed the nature of this autonomous entity in a multi-faceted way.

Whereas the first variant covered a part of Nagorno-Karabakh that was identified as an autonomous entity, the new one implied the entire Nagorno-Karabakh as an oblast (region). Another point is worth considering in this context: while official names of all Union and autonomous republics, oblasts, and districts included the titular ethnonym, the one set up within the Azerbaijan SSR, "AONK", was the only exception, as its name did not refer to the ethnic group the autonomy was granted to.

With AONK (NKAO) set up, the USSR granted Armenians the exclusive right to have, alongside the Armenian SSR (which in its turn had been set up on the lands of the former Azerbaijani khanate of Irevan), a second territorial entity – again at the cost of Azerbaijani territories.

The establishment of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR, however, was only temporary relief in Armenian-Azerbaijani territorial standoff. Given the presence of the neighboring Armenian SSR, the very decision to establish a territorial Armenian autonomy within the Azerbaijan SSR automatically created two ethnically identical formations and sowed the seeds of future conflicts.

Aftermath of Great Patriotic War: New Wave of Claims
It became clear towards the end of World War Two that the Armenian side would not consider the autonomous region a solution and rather believe such setup was a legal basis for the unification of the territory in question. These schemes were mainly plotted by the republican government, which submitted them application-shaped to Moscow [16].

In his telegram to the VKP(b) Central Committee Secretary G. Malenkov, the Armenian SSR Communist Party Secretary G. Arutinov attempted to justify his proposal to unify NKAO with the Armenian SSR by the desire of the former's population, suggesting that it would be provided more favorable conditions for development.

Arutinov undoubtedly believed Stalin might be somewhat interested in his proposals, as the "Armenian issue" would emerge full-blown anew as an extension of Moscow's new foreign policy. With the Cold War unfolding and the global political map redrafted in the aftermath of World War Two, the Soviet government conceived expanding the Union's borders at Turkey's expense; to that end, it planned to unilaterally terminate in March 1945 the 17 December 1925 treaty of friendship with the latter.

We cannot rule out that Grigory Arutinov took this step after consultations with Anastas Mikoyan, who in turn had complicated relations with Mir Jafar Baghirov, the then head of Soviet Azerbaijan. Even more so, Arutinov's niece was married to his son Alexey and therefore was a daughter-in-law to Mikoyan.
Telegram of the Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks Malenkov to the Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks of Azerbaijan Bagirov
When Arutinov's telegram was forwarded to Baghirov, head of Azerbaijan drafted and on 10 December 1945 submitted an extended response to the VKP(b) CC Secretary G. Malenkov, attaching the reference to Karabakh's political history since the mid-18th century (that is, from the time this territory was a part of the namesake khanate).

According to Baghirov, it had been decided in 1923 to leave it within Azerbaijan and set up an Armenian autonomy as Nagorno-Karabakh did not have any common borders with Armenia proper and was separated from it by Azerbaijan's districts with exclusively Azerbaijani population.

In conclusion, Baghirov put forward a counter-proposal, whereby he agreed to cede NKAO (save Azerbaijani-populated Shusha District) to Armenia in exchange for Azerbaijani-populated Azizbayov, Vedin, and Garabaglar districts of the Armenian SSR [17].
Telegram of the Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks of Azerbaijan Bagirov to the Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks Malenkov
As it was the Armenian government's objective to expand its territories rather than exchange districts and population, it dropped the issue from the agenda. Still, the propaganda campaign grew stronger after the petition, and a certain part of the Armenian community succumbed to its influence.

In August 1946, the Azerbaijan SSR Minister of State Security S. Yemelyanov presented the memo titled "Negative Sentiments Among Some Part of Armenian Middle Class in NKAO", from which it can be derived that the Karabakh branch of the republican Writers' Union was playing a very active role in spreading anti-Azerbaijani propaganda. Promoting the unification with Armenia, Executive Secretary of branch B. Janyan said: "Had NKAO joined Armenia, our culture would have blossomed again. We are lagging behind Armenian culture, we do not see their opera or other achievements. We have to be organically connected to Armenia."

Similar sentiments were reported among faculty members of universities. For instance, S. Voskerchyan, Associate Professor of the Pedagogic Institute, said: "What a kind of victory is that? England does not allow resolving the Armenian issue once and for all, for they do not want the USSR to get closer to Bosporus. It is all the fault of Karabakh's previous leadership; if not for them, NKAO would now be within Armenia, nor would we need Turkey."
Information about negative sentiments among some of the Armenian intelligentsia of the NKAO, author: the Minister of State Security of the Azerbaijan SSR, Major General Yemelyanov (August 1946).
Decree regarding resettlement
In summer 1946, a student of the Yerevan (Irevan) Pedagogic University, one G. Khachaturyan, told Stepanakert Pedagogic Institute lecturer K. Arutinov that "they in Armenia have put forward the question of unifying Karabakh with the Armenian SSR. We, the students, have also raised this question and demanded they report as to why this is not done. To this question, one professor explained to us that it could not be done as such unification is demanded by Karabakh's middle class alone, not by the entire nation." [18]

Failing to expand the republic's borders at Nagorno-Karabakh's expense, Arutinov appeals in autumn 1947 to Stalin, asking to resolve the "pressing" issue with accommodation of dozens of thousands "repatriates" coming back "home".

That was the very moment when the idea emerged to resettle the 100,000-strong Azerbaijani population from Armenia to Azerbaijan; it was, so to speak, a "compensation" for Armenians' failed hopes to expand their "historical homeland" by humiliating and violating the rights of Azerbaijani people. It is beyond any doubt that this initiative was raised by Armenian leadership and backed without reservations by Moscow, as, furthered by the former, it was eventually approved by Stalin.

On 23 December 1947, the USSR Council of Ministers [19] adopted the Decree "Resettlement of Collective Farmers and Other Azerbaijani Population From Armenian SSR to Kura-Araz Lowland of Azerbaijan SSR».

The Thaw: New Shape of Armenian Claims
Large-scale petitions from a middle class and signature collections "on behalf of the working people." [20] across Nagorno-Karabakh, demanding to unify the region with Armenia marked the period of Thaw [21].

These processes were not known to the general public as the USSR was a media-closed society, but still were a bright example of how Armenian mentality and the Soviet Union as whole operated: Armenians never referred the issue to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

Armenian claims to the Azerbaijan SSR lands gained new traction in 1960s. The Karabakh movement activists, for instance, attempted pressuring the Armenian SSR authorities and stirring them to action. Vladimir Semichastny, who was in 1959-1961 the Second Secretary of the Azerbaijan SSR CP CC, recollected his visit to Nagorno-Karabakh in his interview to Russian journalist Andrey Karaulov: "…there was plenty of gossips and talks about Karabakh, something strange was happening… I spoke at the regional conference there, they flooded me with questions, complained about every single thing; I answered them all, explained what's what. Later on, we replaced some authorities, assigned a more competent second secretary to the regional committee, and it calmed down somehow." [22]

But it was only the beginning.

Taking advantage of the Soviet government's decision to repatriate Armenians, the Dashnaktsutiun party activated its undercover network by the early 1960s, planning to dispatch sabotage agents to the Soviet Union via repatriation channels.

This fact is reported in the confidential memo dated 7 February 1962, submitted by KGB Second Chief Directorate to Lieutenant Colonel Heydar Aliyev, Head of 2nd Division. The document bears the indorsement (set by Aliyev's hand) that instructs to develop specific actions to investigate and uncover foreign Dashnak connections, as well as capture spies attempting to infiltrate Azerbaijan's section of the USSR's southern border. [23].

Signed by Head of 2nd Division Lieutenant Colonel Heydar Aliyev (KGB of the Azerbaijan SSR), the follow-up letter (marked "Top Secret") was sent on 20 June 1962 to Moscow and addressed to Colonel V.M. Khamazyuk, Head of 2nd Division of the USSR KGB Second Chief Directorate. It wrote: "Some 60 former Dashnaks and other Armenian middle-class nationalists have been reported within the Azerbaijan SSR. They mainly reside in Baku, Kirovabad (Ganja), Stepanakert (Khankendi), and Nakhchivan." In the same communication, Aliyev pointed out that "back in May 1962, it was reported to the Azerbaijan SSR KGB's NKAO Division that some nationalistically oriented individuals among Armenians residing in Stepanakert (Khankendi) and Yerevan (İrevan) were taking advantage of economic issues the region was facing and spreading incendiary gossips, saying that the Azerbaijan SSR's Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast is to be unified with Armenia. We have identified active purveyors and put them under surveillance." [24]

Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party, received in 1963 the letter of protest signed by some 2,500 Armenians of Karabakh and adjacent Armenian-populated districts.

The signers demanded "to resolve the issue in an expedited manner and either reunify Nagorno-Karabakh and all adjacent Armenian districts with the Armenian SSR or incorporate them into the RSFSR." [25]

Armenian diaspora sent on 18 May 1964 a petition to Khrushchev, which ended as follows: "We insist the immediate decision on Nagorno-Karabakh is taken: it shall be unified, together with other Armenian-populated areas, with either the Armenian SSR or the RSFSR." [26]

No specific document has been ever found as to Khrushchev's reaction to such petitions. There is only one reference, which is provided in the book by Y. Pompeev, a famous Russian historian; citing "a reliable source", Pompeev gives Khrushchev's response to the early 1964 suggestion to unify Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, which was put forward by the USSR Supreme Soviet Anastas Mikoyan following the successful transfer of Crimea to Ukraine ten years back. Khrushchev reportedly said, testily: "I can provide 12 thousand military trucks to move NKAO Armenians to Armenia in a single day." [27]

Armenian Activity During Brezhnev era
The next turn of the anti-Azerbaijani campaign coincided with the USSR Communist party leadership change when Khrushchev was ousted, and Leonid Brezhnev came to power in October 1964. Sanctioned by Moscow, Armenia in 1965 launched preparations for the 50th anniversary of the notorious "Armenian genocide", which was said to have been taken place in the Ottoman Empire during World War One.

The upcoming events deeply concerned the Azerbaijani community of Armenia; they sent letters in March 1965 to the Communist Party Central Committee and public figures, warning that Armenians might want to "take revenge" on "the day of the 50th anniversary of the Armenian massacre committed by Turks".

One of the letters to Brezhnev and Gromyko stated: "Armenia now is like a huge balloon, full of explosive and ready to go off at the first spark." Authors of such letters asked to take action and prevent potential incidents [28].

In June 1965, the Azerbaijan SSR Writers' Union's Karabakh branch Executive Secretary B. Ulubabyan submitted an application to the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party, demanding NKAO be unified with the Armenian SSR; the application was also signed by a number of regional party and administration executives of Armenian origin.

The republican branch of KGB reported all these processes to the leadership of the Azerbaijan SSR. Urgent steps were taken to prevent provocateurs' actions: in 1966, Azerbaijani security services uncovered and put an end to several illegal nationalist organizations.

For instance, Yerevan emissaries from the undercover organization "Armenian Youth Union", which consisted of over 40 people, worked to create their cells across the region. Another youth group, which brought together high school students of Stepanakert, was spreading leaflets with calls to "reunify all Armenian territories", Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhchivan among them [29].

Fresh in his office, Brezhnev received in August 1966 a letter signed by some 2,000 representatives of Armenian middle class, which wrote, notably, the following: "Karabakh is Armenia in terms of both territory and national composition; it is Armenia in form, spirit, and way of life. History of Karabakh is history of Armenia; Karabakh's language, art, and literature are inseparably Armenian. And since there is the Armenian SSR in place, it does not make any sense whatsoever to estrange its integral part from Soviet Armenia." [30]

Submitted by "a group of Armenian SSR scientists and artists" to the 23rd Congress of the Communist Party, this petition is also referred to in the 30 September 1966 letter to the USSR Communist Party Central Committee. Arbitrarily interpreting, or, more specifically, falsifying historical documents related to establishment of NKAO and Nakhchivan ASSR, the signatories, First Secretary of the Armenian SSR's Communist Party A. Kochinyan and Chairman of the Council of Ministers B. Muradyan, attempted to justify their claims by "political, economic, and ethnic factors" and "numerous letters submitted to the Central Committee of Armenia's Communist Party from different groups of working people in NKAO".

The letter further pointed out "the unsound situation where a small Armenian nation has two administrative entities within the Soviet Union, one union republic and one national autonomous oblast (that is, NKAO), the latter included in another union republic." Indeed, no other nation within the USSR would ever boast such privileges.

The authors cynically concluded that they "addressed the issues raised on the basis of the paramount objective – to deepen brotherly friendship among the nations of the Soviet Union, Armenian and Azerbaijani in particular. One should not fear potential ramifications, as the question is raised as to not taking away any territories of the Azerbaijan SSR but rather merging the autonomous national region with the union republic due to the population of both being Armenian." [31]

President and National Leader of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev, who at that time was Deputy Chairman of the Azerbaijan SSR KGB, recollected later on: "I recall it was either in 1966 or in 1967 when the decree was sent from Moscow. Vali Akhundov summoned me to his office. The Communist Party decree requested to have Akhundov (on behalf of Azerbaijan's Communist Party) and Kochinyan (on behalf of Armenia's Communist Party) discuss the issue and report to the central government. What was it all about? It was about Armenia having been charged with resolving Azerbaijan's issue… I told him this issue had better be discussed with Brezhnev in Moscow. So he went to Moscow and explained the matter to Brezhnev, and the latter canceled that decree." [32]
National leader of the Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev.
Until late 1980s, Soviet authorities managed to maintain control and prevent information on these events from spreading beyond the borders of the region or being covered in Soviet media.

Kremlin preferred a hardline approach in inter-ethnic relations, which helped it maintain peace and good neighborliness between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Such approach was also backed by inevitable punishment for those who would violate rules of coexistence in the "common Soviet house". The Soviet Union was a universally recognized arbitrator.

Perestroika: From Petitions to Action
The tempo of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh stepped up markedly when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev had to admit in his recollections that Moscow was up to speed on complicated processes around Nagorno-Karabakh long before it entered a bloody phase in 1988. The government received sufficient reports on sentiments in both the region and Armenia and knew what was going on and what was planned, as conspirators would not really conceal their intentions and plans, thoroughly building them into the democratic rhetoric of perestroika.

Gorbachev pointed out: "Over three years (in 1985-1987), the Central Committee received over 500 letters concerning the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Perestroika has set huge wheels in motion, and old wounds hurt anew. National feelings came to life again, and with them came national extremism." [33]

Since the next "hot" phase of the conflict coincided with Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost, it was the first time the issue was pushed out onto the pages of union-wide and republican media, thereby leaving the latent state and becoming a subject of extensive discussions.

It was the first time since 1920s that a formal request was submitted to revise the administrative and territorial setup of the Azerbaijan SSR. It was also the first time when Armenia's and NKAO's authorities took specific legal steps to unify the latter with the former [34]. Moscow waived the role of unbiased arbitrator and used an equidistant approach to the territorial conflict, which eventually radicalized the populace and, first time in the history of the Soviet Union, culminated in armed clashes between the union republics.

Azerbaijan's party leadership also was up to speed on the events around Nagorno-Karabakh, and they systematically reported them through state security channels to Moscow long before the final phase of the conflict spiraled out of control.

Colonel G. Septa, former Chairman of KGB's NKAO branch, recollects: "We systematically reported rising nationalistic trends to our superiors and other instances. We spotted arriving emissaries from Yerevan (Irevan) and stirs within factions under our surveillance. We were submitting reports, writing to the leadership, repeatedly discussing the rising issues with Kevorkov (First Secretary of NKAO Regional Committee of Communist Party in 1973-1988 - I.N.). The top brass in Moscow pretended nothing happened, saying something along the lines of 'your problems are nothing compared to what we're already having here'. The leadership in Baku would never show due concern; neither in the case with dissemination of Zori Balayan's essay Hearth, which was effectively a call to "Miatsum" (unification of the region with Armenia), nor later on, when separatists cunningly used broader democracy and glasnost slogans as a distraction." [35]

Therefore, everyone knew the danger was imminent; but no decisive action was taken to prevent it. Baku was relying on Moscow, believing Kremlin would one more time suppress Armenian fuss over Nagorno-Karabakh's unification with Armenia by using local party and law enforcement authorities just as they did back in 1945, 1960, 1965, and 1977.

The highest echelons of the Communist Party and Soviet government, on the other hand, would not definitively react to the signals, thereby effectively provoking the Armenian side to ramp up their territorial claim efforts.

As we said above, the threat was imminent, and Center's inaction fueled Armenians' separatist aspirations. According to some sources, 75 thousand signatures were collected during 1987 alone under the petition demanding to unify the region with Armenia [36]. Influential Armenians were actively lobbying the Karabakh issue overseas. In their interviews to US media, historian Sergey Mikoyan (son of Communist functionary Anastas Mikoyan) and writer and journalist Zori Balayan openly promoted the idea of unifying Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

Abel Aganbegyan, one of Gorbachev's chief economic advisors, spoke out in November 1987. On 16 November, he met a group of French Armenians in Intercontinental hotel in Paris and offered his vision of how to resolve the issue: "I would be happy if Nagorno-Karabakh was returned to Armenia. As an economist, I believe they have much tighter connections to Armenia than to Azerbaijan. I have already put forward such suggestion and I hope these ideas will be implemented in the spirit of perestroika and democracy." [37]
In 1988, the influential American newspaper The New York Times devoted an article to A. Aganbegyan's visit to the United States, in which it called him "the guru of economics and the inspirer of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev."
Aganbegyan's opinion was published in French Communist paper L'Humanité, which was also disseminated in the Soviet Union.

From these revelations, it was the first time Azerbaijanis learned about the conceived Armenian company. Nor did Gorbachev disprove his advisor expressly or indirectly. Armenians, therefore, believed such a bold statement from the mouth of the General Secretary's economic advisor was not by chance and most likely had been approved by Gorbachev in advance.

Aganbegyan's statement instantly made headlines in foreign Armenian newspapers and magazines, AYP FM (Paris), and Armenian branches of Radio Liberty, Voice of America, etc. Many Armenian diaspora entities overseas came to life. The marked card of Karabakh was played.
From the standpoint of the political facet of the conflict, one should bear in mind that the Armenia's middle class and local authorities played a key role in bringing up the separatist movement in NKAO. Over the years of Soviet rule, a numerous nationalistic middle class (historians, writers etc) has shaped in both NKAO and Armenia proper that played, especially since post-Stalin times, an important role in aggravating ethnic tensions with Azerbaijani people.

These individuals were stirring up hostilities in their public speeches and academic essays on Armenian history. The request to give NKAO to Armenia was ideologically based, firstly, on the mythical "primordial belonging of Karabakh to Armenians", and, secondly, on thoroughly building these requests into the context of perestroika's ideology.

Notably, they used critical revision of the Stalinist period of Soviet history to try and spread unsubstantiated statements that Stalin supposedly "gave Nagorno-Karabakh away" to Azerbaijan in 1921. Actively discussed throughout the society, the ideas of dismantling the USSR's command-and-control system therefore extended to the national and governance setup of the Soviet Union and were used to justify the revision of NKAO's territorial and legal status.

During perestroika, many Armenians emerged in Gorbachev's close circle as ideological and economic advisors and heads of Communist Party divisions, who openly, without looking back at top government officials (more likely, at the latter's direction) used the pages of both Soviet and foreign media to advocate the separatist movement in Karabakh. That was how the discussion of Karabakh issue was steadily leaving the latent state.

The Karabakh movement, launched in 1988, had an important feature in that it was accompanied by a large-scale resignation of government officials from the Communist Party, who joined newly established public organizations such as Krunk, Karabakh, Pan-Armenian National Movement etc.

High-rank officials were therefore the active participants of provocations that resulted in a strained ethnopolitical situation across both NKAO and Armenia. Arrests, persecution, and sanctions against members of these organizations by Soviet authorities would only popularize these individuals in Armenian society, boosting their influence and promoting their slogans about "Miatsum" (unifying NKAO with Armenia).

Also heavily influencing the conflict genesis was a complex of collisions related to regional demography and the economic development of the region as part of the Azerbaijan SSR.

The change in demographic situation was quite a sensitive subject to the Armenian side, eventually culminating in the interethnic standoff across the region. It was despite the fact that such changes stemmed from post-war activation of migration flows and therefore represented objective factors rather than 'Azerbaijan's deliberate politics' blasted by Armenian propaganda.

Boosted by the Union government-backed party propaganda, the initial phase of the conflict was marked by a widespread and oversimplified opinion that the conflict over NKAO stemmed from predominantly social and economic factors.

The USSR government was trying to trace the cause of the crisis to NKAO's social and economic lags, denying, however, other substantial aspects of a different nature.

Since they viewed economics as a root cause for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Soviet government attempted to neutralize it by increasing budget allocations and deliveries of consumer goods to the region. To that end, the USSR Communist Party Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers adopted on 24 March 1988 the ad hoc regional social and economic development program [38].

The issue, however, was not at all about the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian community's welfare being lower than that of their Azerbaijani counterparts. On the contrary, the living standard in NKAO was even above the republic's average in terms of some social and economic parameters. If we compare 1965-1987 social and economic development figures between the Azerbaijan SSR in total (including Nakhchivan ASSR) and Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, the autonomous region obviously saw significant improvements in this field over the given period.

In the Soviet period, NKAO's Armenian community enjoyed and actively utilized the right to develop national culture; they were entitled to university and high school lessons in their mother tongue, cultural and educational facilities, TV and radio broadcast, printed media, etc.

The new phase of the conflict was also different in that both Armenia's and NKAO's leadership took specific unilateral steps to bring NKAO under Armenia's umbrella, even in gross violation of both the USSR's and Azerbaijan SSR's constitutions. Baku took legal counteractions, but it could not stop the separatists.

Special session of the USSR Supreme Soviet was even convened in July 1988 to discuss the situation over Nagorno-Karabakh. Further to these discussions, the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium issued on 18 July 1988 the Decree titled "Regarding the Decrees of Supreme Soviets of the Armenian SSR and the Azerbaijan SSR on The Issue of Nagorno-Karabakh", which pointed out that, having reviewed the 15 June 1988 request of the Armenian SSR Supreme Soviet concerning the integration of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast with the Armenian SSR, the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium deemed it not possible to revise the borders or introduce any other changes to the constitutionally established national and territorial division of the Azerbaijan SSR or the Armenian SSR. [39]

It looked like the issue was resolved once and for all.

On 25 July 1988, however, the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium adopted the Decree titled "Practical Implementation of the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium Decree on Nagorno-Karabakh Issue" [40], followed by the institution of emergency rule in Nagorno-Karabakh since January next year (under the chairmanship of A.I. Volsky, representative of the two supreme entities). This step was a clear sign of Moscow effectively withdrawing NKAO from the Azerbaijan SSR, thereby raising Armenians' hopes that the region's association with Azerbaijan was henceforth, but a formality and they could completely ignore it and double down on their efforts to turn the region over to the Armenian SSR. Such ambiguous positions exacerbated the conflict and gradually turned it into an armed confrontation, where the parties used light weapons and even missiles.

The 1988 events in Nagorno-Karabakh made Armenian-Azerbaijani relations extremely tense along the entire interface between the two communities in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sounded at meetings and demonstrations in Stepanakert (Khankendi) and Yerevan (Irevan), demands for the secession of the autonomous region from Azerbaijan shaped a heated environment and bore hostilities and tension between the two communities; it was happening not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also in Azerbaijan as a whole. Associating themselves with refugees from Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, people here were resolved to stand up to the territorial claims.

The growing inflow of refugees from Armenia, combined with the resentment within Azerbaijani society, was now turning the Armenian population of the republic into hostages of the Karabakh conflict. And Armenian blood spilled outside Nagorno-Karabakh was exactly what nationalists in Yerevan (Irevan) and Stepanakert (Khankendi) were counting for, as it could give them a good reason to launch a propaganda show. Should Armenians have gotten killed, they could easily claim the encroachment of the Armenian community's rights in Azerbaijan and that the two nations cannot live peacefully side by side.

Those who perpetrated the Sumgayit provocation on 28-29 February 1988 were employing namely these tactics. The Sumgayit events aggravated the conflict and heightened tensions between the two nations over Nagorno-Karabakh, sucking more and more people from both sides into its vortex. First Armenian refugees emerged from Azerbaijan, giving initiators and organizers of the Karabakh movement an argument to lead anti-Azerbaijani propaganda by using the image of Azerbaijani pogromists and utilizing the codeword "genocide" to instill fear into masses. Making the best out of the tragedy, the "genocide" enthusiasts besmirched the Azerbaijani nation and gained moral and social support in the country and in the world over, thus trying to turn the tables in their political fight for Nagorno-Karabakh.

A cunningly presented model of the Azerbaijani nation laid the foundation for the universal smear campaign that was advanced across the Soviet Union and all over the world. Exploiting the Sumgayit events, Armenian media persistently advanced the version of allegedly preplanned massacre of Sumgayit Armenians by Azerbaijanis. They accomplished a very important, even strategic, objective to present the Armenian side, which in fact had provoked the explosive national standoff as a victim of the confrontation in the post-Sumgayit environment. On the other hand, they successfully created the image of Azerbaijan as an aggressive, reactionary, and hostile party to the conflict, and it was viewed in no other way since then.

From that time on, the Sumgayit events have become a convenient excuse for any atrocities committed by Armenian militants that eventually provoked Azerbaijani reprisals.

Perpetrators of Sumgayit provocation achieved their goal; the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh became an irreversible and uncompromising process and finally culminated in bloodshed.
The Armenian side viewed it as some civilizational standoff between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis. Using rhetorical statements about some "genetic incompatibility" between the two, Armenian nationalists were trying to camouflage their territorial claims and present them from the standpoint of confrontation between two mutually exclusive national identities or even confessions.

As the conflict turned into an open military showdown, this mediated perception became an additional source of argumentation for the Armenian side, and the commanding elite of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh utilized it to justify their actions from an ideological standpoint.

The conflict resulted in a humanitarian disaster, causing a large-scale outflow of Azerbaijanis from Armenia and occupied districts of Azerbaijan's Karabakh region.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Azerbaijan and Armenia regained their independence, the conflict has spiraled into a large-scale interstate war.

Armenia occupied the territory of the liquidated in 1991 autonomous oblast in Nagorno-Karabakh and, under the pretext of setting up the "security belt", seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan, resulting in over a million Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs.

Recommended reading:
[1] Caucasian Calendar-1917. Tiflis, 1916, pp.190-197.
[2] Nagrono-Karabakh in 1918-1923: Collection of Documents and Materials / Under Executive Editorship of V.А. Mikaelyan. Yerevan, 1992, p.62.
[3] Nagrono-Karabakh in 1918-1923: Collection of Documents and Materials, pp.323-327.
[4] Nagorno-Karabakh in International Law And Global Policy. Documents and Comments / Prepared by Prof. Yu.G. Barsegov, LLD (opening chapter and comments by author). In 2 volumes. М.: 2008. V. 1. p.425.
[5] Archive of political documents of the Administrative Department of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, fund 1, inventory 1, file 24, page 51.
[6] On History of Establishment of Azerbaijan SSR's Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. - Baku, 1989, p.44.
[7] Russian State Archive of Social and Political History, fund 64, bordereau 1, folder 1, sheet 77.
[8] Nagrono-Karabakh in 1918-1923: Collection of Documents and Materials, p.636.
[9] Nagrono-Karabakh in 1918-1923: Collection of Documents and Materials, p.645.
[10] Russian State Archive of Social and Political History, fund 64, bordereau 1, folder 1, sheet 114.
[11] Russian State Archive of Social and Political History, fund 64, bordereau 1, folder 1, sheet 122-123.
[12] I.V. Stalin. Works. V.5, М.: Gospolitizdat, 1947, pp.426-427.
[13] V.I. Lenin. Complete set of works. V.53, М.: Politizdat, 1965, p.10.
[14] I.V. Stalin. Works. V.4, М.: Gospolitizdat, 1947, p.456.
[15] On History of Establishment of Azerbaijan SSR's Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. Baku, 1989, pp.152-153.
[16] Political Document Archive under Presidential Property Management Department of the Republic of Azerbaijan, fund 1, bordereau 169, folder 249, part 1, sheet 2.; Armenians' struggle for the reunification of NKAO with Soviet Armenia. Yerevan, 2011, pp.61-67.
[17] Political Document Archive under Presidential Property Management Department of the Republic of Azerbaijan, fund 1, bordereau 169, folder 249, part 1, sheets 1-5.
[18] Political Document Archive under Presidential Property Management Department of the Republic of Azerbaijan, fund 1, bordereau 169, folder 249, part 1, sheets 1-3.
[19] Deportation of Azerbaijani People From Armenian SSR (1948-1953). Collection of Documents. Баку, - 2013, pp.81-83.
[20] Armenians' struggle to reunify NKAO with Soviet Armenia, pp.84-85, 91-95, 95-96, 97-98.
[21] Armenians' struggle to reunify NKAO with Soviet Armenia, pp.85-90, 99-103.
[22] А. Karaulov. Around Kremlin. М., 1990, p.30.
[23] E. Akhundova. Heydar Aliyev: Personality and Epoch. In 4 parts. Part 1 (1923-1969). Baku, 2007, pp. 331-332.
[24] M. Gasimli. Heydar Aliyev: The Path to Independence (1969-1987). Baku 2006, pp.60-64.
[25] Armenians' struggle for the reunification of NKAO with Soviet Armenia. Collection of documents and materials. Yerevan, 2011, p.23.
[26] Nagorno-Karabakh Chronicles: History and Present Day (1918-1993). By R. Danilyants. Yerevan, 1995, p.31.
[27] Yu. Pompeev. The Bloody Vortex of Karabakh. Baku, 1992, p.11.
[28] Zubkova E.Yu. Power and development of the ethno-conflict situation in the USSR 1953-1985. The journal "Domestic history", p. 22
[29] E. Akhundova. Heydar Aliyev: Personality and Epoch. In 4 parts. Part 1 (1923-1969), pp. 324-325; History of Soviet State Security Bodies. М.1977, pp.581-582.
[30] Armenians' struggle for the reunification of NKAO with Soviet Armenia. Collection of documents and materials, p.23.
[31] А. Kochinyan. Documents, Letters, Recollections. Yerevan: 2003. Original is not available
[32] H. Aliyev. Our Independence Forever. Multivolume edition. V. 23. Baku, 2008, p.93.
[33] М.S. Gorbachev. Life And Reforms. Book 1, М., 1995, p.506.
[34] Nagorno-Karabakh Chronicles: History and Present Day (1918-1993), pp.37, 38, 41, 46, 47, 48, 54, 64, 70.
[35] V. Huseynov. More Than a Life. V. 2. — М.: Krasnaya Zvezda Publishing House, 2013. p.118.
[36] Thomas de Waal. Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. Moscow, 2014, p.37.
[37] Ibid. p.38.
[38] Baku Worker, 29/03/1988.
[39] Nagorno-Karabakh: The Reason Will Prevail. Documents and Materials. Baku, 1989, pp.153-155.
[40] Pravda, 26 July 1988.