The Karabagh movement started in 1988 with the goal of reuniting the region of Mountainous Karabagh (an autonomous enclave artificially created in Azerbaijan) to Armenia by legal means. The joint statement of reunification, issued on December 1, 1989, seemed to be the culmination of that process. However, the opposition of Azerbaijan, with the consent of the Soviet central power, became the main obstacle for its realization.
Another process, the collapse of the Soviet Union, was playing simultaneously. As a result, the Soviet republics prepared to break away, especially after the failed coup d’état in Moscow on August 19-21, 1991. On August 30, 1991, Azerbaijan adopted the Declaration on the Restoration of the State Independence (a document similar to the Declaration on Independence adopted by Armenia on August 23, 1990), declaring itself the successor of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan of 1918-1920.
The first Azerbaijani Republic did not include Mountainous Karabagh, which was recognized as a disputed territory by the League of Nations. The legislature of Karabagh enjoyed the right to take advantage of existent Soviet legislation, particularly the Soviet law of April 3, 1990 “On the Procedure for Secession of a Soviet Republic from the USSR.” According to this law, in the case of a Soviet republic withdrawing from the Soviet Union, autonomous entities and densely settled minorities in that republic had the right to independently determine their political-administrative status. Azerbaijani repression against the Armenian population, which would take the shape of ethnic cleansing, led to the joint session of the Regional Councils of Mountainous Karabagh and Shahumian, which declared the establishment of the Republic of Mountainous (Nagorno in Russian) Karabagh on September 2, 1991, within the borders of the former Autonomous Region of Mountains Karabagh and the Shahumian region.
The declaration was consolidated with a referendum held on December 10, 1991, days before the official dissolution of the Soviet Union. The question asked to the voters was: “Do you agree that the proclaimed Republic of Mountainous Karabagh becomes an independent state, which will determine the ways of cooperation with other states and unions by its own will?” A total of 132,328 people were eligible to vote. The participation was 82.20% (108,736) of the voters, with the Azeri population of Karabagh boycotting the referendum. The “yes” had a resounding 98.89% (108,615 votes), with 95 votes annulled.
Azerbaijan, which would not recognize the result of the referendum, did not stop shelling the capital Stepanakert and other towns. Ten people died on the referendum day and another eleven were wounded.
After parliamentary elections held later in the month, the Supreme Council of the new republic was formed. The first session of the Supreme Council in January 1992 ratified the proclamation of the independence and elected its president, Artur Mkrtchyan. The Council of Ministers was also created, with Oleg Yesayan as first prime minister. Soon the republic would have its own flag, coat-of-arms, and anthem.
The Constitution of the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh, however, was not ready until 2006. The project was also put to referendum on December 10, 2006. Of 90,077 people eligible to vote, 77,279 voted to approve the Constitution (85.79%). There were 554 votes against. After 2006, December 10 became a holiday in Karabagh.