When Heydar Aliyev came to power in the Azerbaijan SSR in July 1969, it was his first decision on Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast to reinforce its leadership with trusted professionals.

In autumn 1973, Aliyev nominated Boris Kevorkov, previously First Secretary of Kirov District Committee in Baku, for First Secretary of AzCP Nagorno-Karabakh Regional Committee. Heydar Aliyev held a plenum on 12 October 1973, relieving Gurgen Melkumyan from his duties of First Secretary and Member of Nagorno-Karabakh Regional Committee Bureau and replacing him with Kevorkov.

Kevorkov held his office longer than any of his predecessors, that is, as many as 15 years. He was dismissed in February 1988 when the conflict erupted in the autonomous republic.

Aliyev also made some other personnel shifts among Nagorno-Karabakh authorities.
A long-time state security officer of the Azerbaijan SSR, Ilhuseyn Huseynov recalled on this matter: "1970s were different in that Armenian nationalists were already openly raising the point of "historical affiliation of Karabakh's territory with Armenia". Steered by nationalist circles in Yerevan (İrevan), liberal communities and youngsters across the region were playing a main role in these activities. According to Azerbaijan KGB sources, preventive actions were taken in 1972-1974 in respect to 35 Armenian nationals in the region alone, who were issued an official notice." [1]

Always abreast of current events, Armenian nationalists traditionally raised the border issue in the times of important political changes or on the eve of significant events occurring in the republic or the broader USSR.

It happened in 1972, when the entire country was preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the USSR, and in 1973, when the country was still hangover from the celebrations, and the Azerbaijan SSR launched preparations for "celebrating the 50th anniversary of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast."

K. Brutents, Head of CPSU Central Committee's International Division, wrote in his memoir: "In 1972, Armenia's leadership took advantage of the fact that Mikhail Suslov was on vacation with A. Kirilenko substituting him as a secretary, and put forward the official initiative to unify Karabakh with Armenia. The Secretariat charged heads of Armenia and Azerbaijan with performing a joint investigation and suggesting a solution.

The leading "quads" (first and second secretaries of the Central Committees, chairmen of Councils of Ministers, and chairmen of Presidiums of Supreme Soviets) of the both parties held a two-day meeting (one day on each republic's territory) but yielded no result.

It was only natural that Azerbaijan's officials would vigorously oppose Yerevan's suggestions. Armenian side eventually pressured the Azerbaijani counterpart into agreeing to meet again in order to draw up some memo for the Secretariat. The scheduled meeting, however, never happened: Azerbaijan's leadership went to see Suslov, then on vacation in Mineralnye Vody, and the latter, upon his return to Moscow, talked Brezhnev into ordering Yerevan to "withdraw their suggestion", which was done forthwith."
Some Yerevan (İrevan)-based representatives of "Armenian liberal community" sent in 1972 a letter to Moscow, addressed to General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev; it stated "a separate existence of the Armenian SSR and Nagorno-Karabakh is impractical".

Providing a brief historical reference, they blamed Zinoviev, Baghirov, and Beria for allegedly canceling "fair 1 December 1920 resolutions of Baku Soviet" and the "June 1921 agreement between the governments of the Azerbaijan SSR and the Armenian SSR concerning the transfer of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia."

It was not a random choice of "scapegoats"; Zinoviev was a victim of Stalin's repressions, but he was not rehabilitated after the 20th CPSU Congress of 1956. Baghirov and Beria, on the other hand, were believed to have orchestrated the Stalinist terror.

It was convenient to ascribe all "Bolshevik mistakes in national policy" to politicians who made the "enemy of the people" list.

Most interestingly, none of these names had actually been on any rosters of meetings held in respect to the Karabakh issue, or mentioned in intraparty correspondence of 1920s that discussed the territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The authors were still positive that "an insignificant change of republican borders", that is to say, transfer of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, would not aggravate the brotherly friendship, as "it has been fifty years of Soviet power that our nations have been raised in the spirit of internationalism."

As an example, the decrees of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of January and February 1972 on the partial change of the borders between the Uzbek SSR and the Kirghiz SSR, as well as the Uzbek SSR and the Tajik SSR were cited. At the end of the letter, a request was expressed on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Soviet Union to resolve the issue of the reunification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Soviet Armenia [3].

A petition from the so-called "public representatives of NKAO" was submitted to Brezhnev almost simultaneously, with its contents glued together in the best traditions of Armenianhood genre. Apart from usual demands to incorporate Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, the authors of this opus made a point of eternal Armenian allegiance to the elder Russian brother and equally never-ending distrust of Muslims.

Distorting the facts and indulging in a dream, the authors chose to completely ignore the last 50 years of the region's development. Omitting the inevitable Armenian tractate about Karabakh's history, let us provide some extracts where the authors make up a bleak picture of "the actual situation" in the region:

"Using Moscow's trust and non-involvement to their advantage, the republic's leadership stops at nothing to strip Karabakh of its territorial and legal capacities. They slowly yet systematically cut off scarce lands left to the region and include them in vast plains of Azerbaijan's neighboring districts. Karabakh does not even have the right to have rivers and streams irrigate its lands. Only an insignificant part of the region's water resources can soak its soil."

Seemingly realizing how far they have gone with their imagination, the authors of this "humble petition" asked not to be too surprised with an unusual tone thereof, as it was submitted "on behalf of the entire progressive mankind". They concluded the letter by blaming the region's leadership for keeping silence and giving in to the situation in Karabakh. [4]

Armenian nationalists based their baseless claims on the alleged underdevelopment and low investments in the region as compared to the rest of Azerbaijan, encroachment of political and cultural rights of Armenian community, and attempts by Azerbaijan's leadership to artificially shift demography region-wide by displacing Armenians. The petitions of this kind just kept on going to the party leadership in Moscow.

All of it was but a camouflage they put on to cover the actual goal: to defame the party leadership of Azerbaijan in front of the Center and take Nagorno-Karabakh away from the republic.

When Russian journalist Andrey Karaulov asked him during an interview "Could you name encroachment of Armenian community's rights and shortcomings in social and economic development of the region among potential reasons of the conflict?", Heydar Aliyev provided a detailed reply, illustrating it with concrete facts and figures that evidenced high NKAO's social and economic development in 1970-80s:

"Alas, after the tension grew in the region, an opinion was put forward that the conflict stemmed from Nagorno-Karabakh's social and economic gaps, and even from some allegedly improper attention to NKAO's problems and population on the part of the republic's former leadership.

NKAO's social and economic development figures were above average in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. It was namely in 1970-80s that the regional economy gained the biggest boost; a railroad up to the center of the region, a great railway terminal in Stepanakert (Khankendi), a new airport that had regular flights between Stepanakert (Khankendi), Baku, and Yerevan (İrevan) were built. I called Demirchyan, and we agreed to have Azerbaijan's and Armenia's Aeroflot operate these flights. You see how we went into tiniest details? We set up large production facilities: a shoe factory, an electrical engineering plant, an electronic capacitor plant, an agricultural machinery plant etc.

We also took significant steps in the field of agriculture; we build two large water reservoirs with a power plant and irrigation channels, thereby significantly improving water supply. Grape production rose from 50-60 thousand tons per annum in early 1970s to 120-130 thousand tons in 1980. The livestock sector almost doubled over those years. It was quite a big achievement for a small region with population of 170,000. Many things were done in social and cultural field as well.

We opened a pedagogic institute in Stepanakert (Khankendi); maybe not that necessary for such a small region, but we did a favor to the local creative community. Lessons were conducted in Armenian language. I already said we had built residential buildings, schools, clinics; we reconstructed the drama theater building and furnished it with the state-of-the-art equipment. We built a large Political Education House, I personally visited the construction site. We opened new monuments… Many people of art were awarded the title of People's or Honorary Artist of Azerbaijan. Each year, youngsters from NKAO were enrolled to universities across Azerbaijan and the broader USSR on a non-competitive basis. There used to be a large church in Shusha that was completely destroyed in 1918. We restored it by inviting craftsmen from Armenia. NKAO's cultural ties with Armenia deepened significantly, and we promoted them at every level. Heads of ministries and agencies of Armenia, theatrical and concert groups, people of art, and scientists were frequently visiting the autonomous region. Any talk of some kind of limitations is absolutely groundless."
Heydar Aliyev at the mausoleum of Molla Panakh Vagif in the city of Shusha
Each visit Aliyev paid to Nagorno-Karabakh – he came there several times a year – was a significant event in the region as it featured inaugurations of new industrial and social facilities, roads and so on, thereby contributing heavily to NKAO's life.

In October 1973, Heydar Aliyev was in Stepanakert (Khankendi) as Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was awarded the Red Challenge Banner of CPSU Central Committee, USSR Council of Ministers, All-Union Central Council of Trade-Unions, and All-Union Leninist Young Communist League Central Committee. A month later, Aliyev took part in the ceremonial meeting held by the NKAO's Communist Party Regional Committee and Soviet on the 50th anniversary of the region, whereby the region was awarded the Order of Lenin and the Order of People's Friendship.

Some dilettantes in Azerbaijan would later on blast H. Aliyev for special attention he had paid to NKAO's development. Responding to these unfair accusations, President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev said in his 23 February 2001 speech in Milli Majlis: "When I was leading the republic – it should be openly admitted – we created more favorable economic conditions for Nagorno-Karabakh and gave preference to development of its economy. For the issue was always raised that Azerbaijan was encroaching Nagorno-Karabakh's rights and therefore local Armenians could not develop there. We paid more attention to Nagorno-Karabakh that time, I repeat, to preserve Azerbaijan's integrity and keep its territory intact. It is even today that I admit to having done it to prevent Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenians from raising this issue over and over again." [6]
The NKAO Regional Committee Plenum took place on 21 March 1975, causing a blast of criticism from a broad range of Armenian nationalists. They flooded Armenian and USSR leadership with letters, slamming the regional party leadership and demanding its dismissal.

Such reaction was prompted by First Secretary of AzCP Nagorno-Karabakh Regional Committee Kevorkov speaking up and providing concrete names and facts on nationalist movements that strived to disrupt political stability in the region.

Starting his report with current issues, Kevorkov went on to discuss the main topic, that is, struggle of "working class against bourgeois nationalism and small bourgeoisie sentiments such as national egoism, false pride, exceptionalism, secretiveness."

He sharply denounced attempts to entice Armenian youngsters to commit actions that harm "the friendship of Soviet people", saying such actions resonated with "political ideas spread by Dashnak centers overseas and attitudes instilled by imperialism's ideology." He called upon Communists to "confront in a principal manner any, even the tiniest expressions of nationalist anachronisms" and create an environment "intolerant to national narrow-mindedness, national exclusiveness, and arrogance."

Denouncing nationalist biases, Kevorkov said "attempts by Bagrat Ulubabyan (Chairman of NKAO's Writers Union) and some ideologically immature individuals who associated with him to interpret the Nagorno-Karabakh issue from the corrupt standpoint of national egoism and narrow-mindedness "were "politically detrimental", and called 1965-67 Armenian claims to Karabakh "attempts exerted by ideologically immature individuals to raise the issue of where Nagorno-Karabakh's place shall be."

Referring to the pre-Soviet history of Karabakh, Kevorkov said "Dashnaks were trying hard to unify Nagorno-Karabakh with Dashnak Armenia, and did quite a lot to that end …", providing an extract from Mikoyan's 22 May 1919 report to Lenin together with the opinion shared by Karabakh's party functionary A. Karakozov during his 10 July 1920 report to the Azerbaijan Communist Party Bureau.

Defending Nagorno-Karabakh's integrity and unity with Azerbaijan, Kevorkov told the plenum participants: "By setting up Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR, we have once and for all resolved the notorious "Karabakh issue" that was repeatedly used by imperialists and their Dashnak […] agents against the people." To justify his statement, he quoted Levon Mirzoyan, Sovnarkom representative and subsequently First Secretary of Azerbaijan Communist Party Central Committee (1926—1929), who said back on 1 August 1921 during the special congress of Shusha's 2nd District Soviets that Karabakh was closely related to Azerbaijan and its capital city Baku from the economic, spiritual, political, and national standpoint.

"The second fact", Kevorkov went on, "was the RKP(b) Central Committee Plenum resolution dated 5 July 1921."
Boris Kevorkov
First Secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh Regional Committee of the Communist Party of the AzSSR
Kevorkov harshly criticized representatives of Armenian liberal community and regional leadership, such as poet Bogdan Janyan, Head of Cultural Administration Jean Andryan, museum manager Sh. Mkrtchyan, statistic agency manager Zakharyan, regional newspaper editor A. Avanesyan etc, and stated examples of dismissal, termination of party membership etc.

Kevorkov was especially angered with Medical College students relating the poem Cry of Karabakh; he also denounced the spread of trial records of one Soghomon Tehlirian, a Dashnak terrorist who had assassinated in Berlin the Ottoman Minister of the Interior Talaat Pasha back in 1921. Blasting Armenian assassination of Arshad Mammadov in July 1967, he recalled a grenade blast that occurred back in 1971 in vicinity of Karabakh Inn in Stepanakert (Khankendi). Kevorkov pointed out gross mistakes committed under his predecessor G. Melkumyan and Secretary for Ideology Affairs N. Arutyunyan.
Published in Soviet Karabakh on 23 March 1975, Kevorkov's speech gave rise to another nationalist fuss over Nagorno-Karabakh, as the pause ensued after celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the autonomous region.

A large-scale campaign was initiated, with Moscow flooded with petitions; most frequently met among signatories were Armenian writers L. Gurunts and S. Kaputikyan.

Interestingly, none of these individuals would dare openly raise the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh's transfer to Armenia when sending numerous letters to CPSU General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev.

They still found it insulting that Kevorkov, dwelling on the so-called "Armenian genocide" on the eve of the 60th anniversary of 1915 events in the Ottoman Empire, said literally the following: "A few years back, a trial record of Soghomon Tehlirian was disseminated among some youngsters in Stepanakert (Khankendi); by the way, it was printed on a typewriter in the regional prosecutor's office building, under the officials' nose. What is the reason behind such interest in this personality? A Dashnak terrorist, he assassinated Talaat Pasha, one of Young Turk movement leaders, in Berlin... And now let us try and look into legal implications of actions committed by those who have effectively become agitators of Dashnak "heroism"…"

What angered the authors was the fact that Kevorkov, an ethnic Armenian, used the stand not to blast perpetrators of "Armenian genocide", but rather describe Talaat Pasha's personality in milder terms, branding him "an unpleasant man". Even more irritating to them was the 29 May 1967 editorial in Pravda, dedicated to the March plenum in NKAO, and an appreciation of Kevorkov's speech it provided.

The editorial notably wrote: "The Nagorno-Karabakh Regional Committee Plenum of Azerbaijan Communist Party has decisively denounced an opportunistic position of the former Bureau towards politically immature individuals who had admitted idealization of old times, glorified patriarchal traditions, and strayed from party class-motivated positions on historical events." [7]

Heydar Aliyev also recalled the ramifications of Kevorkov's speech: "…Nationalists rose again and committed provocations against NKAO's party committee, Kevorkov in the first place. Telegrams were sent to Moscow and other regions; the situation was quite tense. After couple months, I met Demirchyan in Moscow and we had a four-hour meeting. I brought it to his attention that NKAO's issues, if any, shall be only addressed by the regional leadership and the government of Azerbaijan. If individuals are meddling with Karabakh's affairs, it would only damage our relations, which we cannot afford… The situation defused again." [8]
Kevorkov was blasted by his kinsmen again when his interview came out in 1977 in the sixth issue of Problems of Peace and Socialism, a periodical published in Prague and disseminated in 32 languages across 145 countries of the globe. The authors of the interview titled "We Have Seen the Brotherhood of Nations", Member of Indian Communist Party National Council Sarada Mitra and Member of Iraqi Communist Party Central Committee Adel Haba visited the Azerbaijan SSR at the invitation of CPSU Central Committee in order to look at the development of interethnic relations. They met Kevorkov in NKAO and asked him why Nagorno-Karabakh sat within the Azerbaijan SSR and not the Armenian SSR, if it was separated from the latter with only a narrow strip of land.

To that Kevorkov replied: "Although our autonomous region is close to the Armenian Union republic, they are separated by high mountains. Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians chose statehood as part of Azerbaijan, and did it on their own volition. The region has prospered within Azerbaijan… Only nationalists could say: "I would rather live poorly but associated with Armenia." [9]

As soon as this magazine fell into the hands of writer Sero Khanzadyan, he wrote an open letter to Leonid Brezhnev. The timing was selected perfectly, as they could one more time remind the central government about transferring Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia just on the eve of enactment of the new USSR Constitution.

In the beginning of his letter, Khanzadyan revisited the March 1975 Plenum of Nagorno-Karabakh Regional Committee and denounced Kevorkov's speech as an attempt to "defame successes and achievements of socialist Armenia". Going into details on Kevorkov's statement that "Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians chose statehood as part of Azerbaijan, and did it on their own volition", he branded it "an injustice that has to be addressed".

In the conclusion, he wrote:

"Dear Leonid Ilyich,

It is not the first time when the unresolved Karabakh issue stands in the way of deepening friendship between the two nations. Our only hope is that you finally put an end to this issue, which has been the injustice incarnate for over half a century.

Sitting within our unified and powerful state, the historically Armenian region with the Armenian population over 80% of the total count and Armenian schools does belong with the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. A fair resolution of this issue will be viewed by people around the world as a new triumph of Lenin's national policy." [10]

First Secretary of Armenian Communist Party Karen Demirchyan was in a lot of hot water because of his bold litterateur, and Azerbaijan did not succumb to Armenian provocation..

In 1975, famous writer Marietta Shaginyan arrived in Baku to participate in the Days of Soviet Literature. She had been heavily criticized back in 40s and even had to apologize to M.J. Baghirov-led government of Azerbaijan for slandering the Azerbaijani population of Karabakh in the book Soviet Transcaucasia, which was published by Yerevan (Irevan)-based Armengiz Publishing House in 1946; in this book, she ascribed backwoods mentality and savagery to our people, and trampled with facts from Azerbaijan's history and culture.

After stopping in Kirovabad (Ganja) and NKAO and meeting local Armenian community, she headed to Baku and was received by Heydar Aliyev. Sharing her observations during the meeting, she had to admit that Armenians lived extremely well in Azerbaijan. She still pointed out that some Armenians harbored ideas of transferring NKAO to Armenia. [11]

In 1977, the preparation for adoption of the third USSR Constitution (branded by historians "Brezhnev's Constitution") was at a full swing; on the eve of this event, Armenians traditionally flooded Moscow with petitions, demanding Karabakh be incorporated with Armenia.

A letter was forwarded to the Constitutional Commission on 5 July 1977, signed by the famous Armenian writer Silva Kaputikyan, former NKAO Regional Committee Secretary T. Grigoryan, Professor G. Yepiskoposov, retired USSR official S. Аkopyan et al., which one more time raised the issue of transferring NKAO and Nakhchivan ASSR to Armenia.

In the first few sentences, the authors played with historical facts and indulged in wishful thinking to justify the revision of borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan. They tried to convince the Soviet leadership that these borders had been established during the reign of nationalist forces in the both republics (1918-1920) and were a direct consequence of interethnic wars and massacres, aggravated by "invasion of Transcaucasia by German-Turkish imperialists". They once again manipulated figures to play the "Armenian genocide in Turkey and Azerbaijan" card. Presenting such unilateral information, it was their intention to display Armenians as the only victims of ethnic clashes, with their lands "taken away by Azerbaijanis".

Distorting historical facts, authors attempted to prove that "ancient Armenian territories", that is, Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as Dashkasan, Shamkir, Gadabay, Khanlar, and Shaumyan (now Goranboy district of Azerbaijan) districts "had been occupied by Turkish forces and ceded to Azerbaijan".

Nor could the authors be unaware of that fact that it had been unresolved border disputes that caused bloody wars between the two states; the war only ended when Soviet power was established in Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1920. The Soviet government effectively froze these conflicts by setting up autonomous entities in Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The authors provided the text of 1 December 1920 Baksovet Declaration, which, in their view, was effectively representing the Bolshevik program towards the resolution of land disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This Declaration suggested ceding Zangezur and Nakhchivan to Armenia and granting Nagorno-Karabakh the right to self-determination. As far as Nakhchivan was concerned, the authors said, Turkey was the mastermind behind the failure of this program. The Nakhchivan issue was eventually resolved based on the Soviet-Turkish Treaty of Brotherhood. As to Nagorno-Karabakh, the authors wrote Armenians were not allowed to exercise their right to self-determination.

For some reason, the letter did not specify who prevented Armenians from exercising this right. For then they had no way but to admit that the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian autonomy issue had been resolved on the operating level by Moscow emissaries to Caucasus, Ordzhonikidze and Kirov, and not by some "Turkish-German imperialists and Musavatist nationalists." It had been but Moscow that played a decisive role in a final determination of borders both between Armenia and Azerbaijan and between these republics and Turkey.

The main reason why Nagorno-Karabakh should have been ceded to Armenia, the letter went on, was about Azerbaijan's leadership allegedly obstructing economic and social development of the region's Armenian community, plus the lack of usable lands for economic development and accommodation of migrants in Armenia proper.

The authors manipulated with the outcomes of 1926 and 1970 censuses, while deliberately skipping over objective causes of demographic processes underway in NKAO, that is, reduction of Armenian population and increase of its Azerbaijani counterpart. They lamented that the same situation was observed in other Armenian-populated regions of Azerbaijan, especially in Baku and Kirovabad (Ganja). Armenians, they wrote, were stripped of their right to education in mother tongue, of their theater, and so on.

They one more time glorified the "eternal bonds of friendship between Armenian and Russian people", recalling Armenian contribution to Russia's triumphs in Russo-Persian and Russo-Turkish wars and in the Great Patriotic War. The authors made a conclusion that Armenian nation had the exclusive right to have its interests and hopes be regarded alongside its legit intention to preserve its historical, material, and spiritual values, as well as to unification with regions allegedly taken away from Armenia by Turkish invasions and Azerbaijani Musavatists.

They cynically suggested Azerbaijan yield a part of its historical territories for the sake of "brotherly interests", making a point that Azerbaijan would not suffer at all in the process. Comparing the territories and populations of the two republics, they showed Azerbaijan's superiority and called upon the USSR government to satisfy Armenia's territorial claims as the latter had always lacked usable lands for economic development and accommodation of migrants.

Concluding the letter, the authors tried to prove that revision of borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan would be in line with principles of democracy, construction of a communist society, and the genuine friendship of nations. They therefore suggested making the respective amendments to the USSR Constitution and considering incorporation of both Nakhchivan ASSR and NKAO in Armenia.

In a short memo attached to the 22 July 1977 message, Head of CPSU CC Organization Work Division's Sector A. Sannikov reported that Organization Work Division Instructor Gromyko had talked on this issue with one of the authors, S. Akopyan; the letter was reported on 11 August 1977 to CPSU CC Secretary Ivan Kapitonov. [12]
Receiving on 10 November 1999 a group of Azerbaijani writers in the Presidential Palace, Heydar Aliyev recalled those twenty-year-old events:
September 30, 1970, Leonid Brezhnev at the Baku railway station
"Back in 1977, the new USSR Constitution was enacted. The Constitutional Commission was set up with Brezhnev as Chairman and us as members. I represented Azerbaijan; the Commission held systematic discussions under the chairmanship of Academician Ponomaryov, Secretary of Central Committee.

I was in Moscow once, taking part in the Commission session, and saw numerous petitions about "the necessity to transfer Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan to Armenia".

I heard Ponomaryov say the issue should be brought before the Commission; he was obviously under Armenian influence. Do you realize what the mere fact of bringing up this issue meant? I attempted to get the issue withdrawn a day before the session, but saw there was no use trying… Then I went to see now-deceased Brezhnev, and I told him something along "what on earth is happening? This is not right!" So he called Ponomaryov and told him to dismiss the issue."
But even this decision was unable to stop the flow of petitions and letters to Moscow, which were often accompanied by various references and other documents from representatives of the so-called Armenian society. Influenced by these petitions, the following wording even appeared in the 23 November 1977 minutes of the USSR Council of Ministers' Presidium: "Owing to some historical events, Nagorno-Karabakh was artificially incorporated in Azerbaijan several decades ago. In doing so, they would not consider its historical past, national composition, people's desire, or economic interests. After all those decades, the Karabakh issue is still in the air and causes concern and malignity between the two neighborly nations, eternally bound by friendship. Should Nagorno-Karabakh be incorporated in the Armenian SSR, the order and peace will be restored." [14]

The Soviet leadership subsequently weighed all pros and cons and chose to dismiss the issue. It still would not escape Heydar Aliyev's attention. Academician Igrar Aliyev recollected later on that Heydar Aliyev had summoned him early in 1978 and told him: "Armenians have elevated the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh's transfer to Armenia to the governmental level. We have to prepare a fundamental reference on the matter."

Igrar Aliyev told Heydar Aliyev that such reference had been prepared right after the war for Mir Jafar Baghirov, and he had taken part in the process. The Academician asked Heydar Aliyev to help to get the document from party's archives. "On the next day, Heydar Aliyev summoned me. He presented a reference that we had written 30 years back. It took me a month to draw up a broad reference on Nagorno-Karabakh's history and submit it to the Central Committee. Just the next day, its main points were discussed and approved at the Central Committee Bureau session. I learned later on that Heydar Aliyev thwarted another Armenian provocation against Azerbaijani nation." [15]

Discussing Sumgayit events during 29 February 1988 CPSU CC Politburo, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev said in surprise: "Although Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian autonomy, in fact Secretary of the Regional Committee in Stepanakert has spent 14 years in office without ever going to Armenia." [16]

Gorbachev must have known Yerevan (Irevan) would not at all be happy to see Kevorkov, the reason being his harsh statements towards individual representatives of Armenian "liberal community", who were using nationalist rhetoric to rise tensions in the region.

On the other hand, scientists, journalists, workers or art and culture were coming from Armenia to NKAO on a regular basis; they all enjoyed a great reception, and left impressed by the significance of transformations taking place in all spheres of NKAO's life.

One of such visits took place on 5-6 September 1980; Kevorkov reported on 26 September 1980 to Azerbaijan CP CC a trip to Karabakh by an editorial staff group of Sovetakan Hayastan (newspaper published under the auspices of Armenian CP CC, Supreme Soviet and Council of Ministers of Armenian SSR), led by Deputy Editor-in-Chief N. Sarukhanyan.

Upon their request, the group members were received by Kevorkov, who updated them on significant successes the region had been attaining in economy and culture and provided information on striking changes NKAO had faced following the August 1969 Plenum of Azerbaijan Communist Party Central Committee.

In his report to Heydar Aliyev, First Secretary of Azerbaijan Communist Party Central Committee, Kevorkov made a special note that the visiting journalists "had a poor idea of present-day Nagorno-Karabakh; not only were they unaware of its economic and social accomplishments, but also, misled by slurs spread by such individuals as Zori Balayan, Bagrat Ulubabyan, Leonid Gurunts etc, they originally displayed a hostile attitude towards the regional party leadership and functionaries."

According to Kevorkov's report, the first meeting was marked by the visitors' doubting statistical data that reflected the NKAO's current social and economic development and expressing their concern over allegedly ongoing reduction in its population. The report shows, however, that as the visitors toured the towns of Stepanakert (Khankendi) and Shusha and Mardakert (Agdere) and Martuni (Khojavend) districts, they were quite impressed with local economics. All the journalists praised what they had seen and pointed out that their visit to NKAO and seeing everything with their own eyes did change their previous notion of Nagorno-Karabakh as stemming from wrongful information. Kevorkov especially highlighted in his report that such meetings confirmed Aliyev's instruction to not elude meetings with Armenian liberal community representatives, especially those held upon their request, but rather receive them and use this opportunity to catch them up on NKAO's economic and cultural achievements. [17]

During his time in the high office Heydar Aliyev, a true statesman, worked to develop any and all regions of the republic without discrimination, nor did he divide the citizens on the basis of ethnicity.

Both at the onset of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and in subsequent times, Heydar Aliyev stated that this very issue had originated not in NKAO but elsewhere. Aliyev said in his interview with David Remnick, the Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post: "During my 14 years as First Secretary of Azerbaijan Communist Party Central Committee, I visited Nagorno-Karabakh every year, sometimes even more than once a year, and not a single person in the entire autonomous region would ever say to me that Nagorno-Karabakh belonged to Armenia rather than Azerbaijan. There were individual nationalist sentiments in Armenia, with some people making plans, but they never enjoyed any support from NKAO's population." [18]

"Karabakh activists even received the tacit support of the local Armenian Party leader, Karen Demirchian, for one of their schemes: a campaign to discredit the senior Azerbaijani politician, Heydar Aliev, whom they had identified as the man most likely to obstruct their campaign."

Thomas de Waal
Recollecting his trip to Nagorno-Karabakh on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, Aliyev reiterated a piece of his speech, which, he believed, was something Armenian nationalists had never forgiven: "I said: NKAO is and will always be an inseparable part of Azerbaijan [19]. After I left Azerbaijan, it turned out for the worse because of the events in 1988. The control over Nagorno-Karabakh weakened, enabling them to do what they wanted."

Thomas de Waal, the author of Black Garden, is convinced that the dismissal of Heydar Aliyev from his office in the highest echelons of the Soviet power in October 1987 finally gave Armenians the upper hand. The author opines that Armenian nationalists had a direct relation to Aliyev's retirement: "The Karabakh activists even received the tacit support of the local Armenian Party leader, Karen Demirchian, for one of their schemes: a campaign to discredit the senior Azerbaijani politician, Heydar Aliev, whom they had identified as the man most likely to obstruct their campaign."

Heydar Aliyev recalled in one of his interviews that back in 1987 he had received a letter from Karabakh movement activist Igor Muradyan, choke-full with threats and insults. The author of the letter accused Heydar Aliyev of hindering the reunification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. The letter was accompanied by a long list of Azerbaijani and Turkish names who had fallen victims to Armenian terror attacks [20]. The author apparently hinted to Heydar Aliyev that the latter would share their fate unless he gets out of the way.

Interestingly, the very Muradyan forwarded in March 1987 a letter to Alternate Member of the Politburo of the CPSU CC and perestroika ideologist A. Yakovlev, in which he openly accused Heydar Aliyev of "deepening the partition of Eastern Armenia (toponym used by Armenians to describe the territory incorporating the Armenian SSR, NKAO, and Nakhchivan ASSR – author's note)."

Muradyan indicated in his letter that they had filed a lawsuit at the USSR Supreme Court against Heydar Aliyev, with 600-page materials collected and submitted to support the case [21].

Muradyan's letter was another evidence that perestroika emboldened Armenian nationalists, who were now taking the liberty of pressing charges against the incumbent Member of Politburo and one of the highest officials in the Soviet government. They apparently would have not dare to do so unless backed by CPSU CC General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and his Armenian entourage in person of A. Aganbegyan, G. Shakhnazarov etc. It was not by chance that Shakhnazarov wrote in his memoir that Heydar Aliyev had accused him and other Armenians close to Gorbachev of trying to take Karabakh away from Azerbaijan. [22]

According to Thomas de Waal, the Karabakh activists even received the tacit support of the local Armenian Party leader, Karen Demirchyan, who was reportedly delighted at the political demise of his political rival Heydar Aliyev. Recalling those events, Demirchyan said in 1990: «The main thing we did was to remove Aliyev before the beginning of the movement. That was very important» [23].

Thus, at the verge 1988, Armenian claims to Nagorno-Karabakh acquired a systematic nature and created tensions in the republic.

While Heydar Aliyev was in charge, Azerbaijani leadership somehow thwarted Armenian efforts by proactively intervening in processes around the autonomous region.

It is beyond any doubt that Heydar Aliyev's good standing in the highest echelons of Soviet power was the greatest obstruction to Armenian expansionist plans. When he was removed from government, their dreams have come true.

Recommended reading:
[1] А. Huseynbayli. An Interview with Intelligence General. Baku, 1997, pp.57-58.
[2] К. Brutents. Third Years on Staraya Square. Moscow, 1998, p.510.
[3] The struggle of Armenians for the reunification of the NKAO with Soviet Armenia. Collection of documents and materials. Yerevan. 2011, p. 84-85.
[4] Armenians' struggle for reunification of NKAO with Soviet Armenia. Collection of Documents and Materials, pp.85-90.
[5] А. Karaulov. Around Kremlin. A book of Political Dialogues. In 2 parts, Part 1. М.,1990, pp.251-252.
[6] Heydar Aliyev. Our Independence Forever. Multivolume edition. V. 32. Baku, 2010, p.164.
[7] Pravda, 29 May 1975.
[8] E. Akhundova. Heydar Aliyev: Personality and Epoch. In 4 parts, Part 2 (1969-1982), pp.597-598.
[11] А. Karaulov. Around Kremlin. A book of Political Dialogues. In 2 parts, Part 1, p.254.
[12] Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, fund 100, bordereau 5, folder 696, sh. 173-183.
[13] Heydar Aliyev. Our Independence Forever. Multivolume edition. V. 23. Baku, 2008, p.96.
[14] Armenians' struggle for reunification of NKAO with Soviet Armenia. Collection of Documents and Materials, p.25.
[15] Heydar Aliyev and Issues of Azerbaijan's History // Elm, 10 May 2002, No. 13-16, pp.15-16.
[16] Rodina, No. 4, 1994, pp. 82-90.
[17] Political Document Archive Under Presidential Property Management Department of the Republic of Azerbaijan: fund 1, bordereau 67, folder 198, sh. 193-198.
[18] А. Karaulov. Around Kremlin. A book of Political Dialogues. In 2 parts, Part 1, p.271.
[19] From interview with Heydar Aliyev / Ulduz, 1990, No. 6, p.69.
[20] From interview with Heydar Aliyev / Ulduz, 1990, No. 6, p.71.
[21] Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, fund 100, bordereau 5, folder 631, sh. 1-2.
[22] G. Shakhnazarov. With And Without Leaders. Moscow, 2001, p.45.
[23] Thomas de Waal. Black Garden. Armenia and Azerbaiijan Through Peace and War. М., 2005, pp.34-35