Thursday, December 1, 2016

Unification of Armenia and Artsakh (December 1, 1989)

Demonstration in Karabagh, 1988

The movement for the reunification of Karabagh to Soviet Armenia in the 1980s did not start from one day to another. After Mikhail Gorbachev, the last First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, declared the new formula of glasnost (“transparency”) in the plenary session of the party (April 1985), many issues came to the surface. The atmosphere of openness and relative freedom offered the opportunity to look forward to reunification. In August 1987 the Armenians in the Autonomous Region of Mountainous Karabagh, then a part of Azerbaijan, submitted to Moscow a petition signed by more than 80,000 people.
The crucial step was taken in the February 20, 1988 session of the Regional Soviet of Mountainous Karabagh, which voted 110 to 17 to request the transfer of the region to Armenia.  Instead of a conciliatory solution, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party issued a resolution that qualified the Karabagh movement as “extremist” and “nationalist,” as well as contrary to the interest of the workers of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The lack of a solution from the top instilled the need for a solution from the bottom: massive popular demonstrations in Yerevan and Stepanakert followed, to which Azerbaijan reacted with the massacre of Sumgait on February 28, 1988.
The situation became more and more complicated and conflictive during 1988. In an attempt to find a solution, in January 1989 Gorbachev attached the Karabagh region directly to Moscow and designated Arkady Volsky as head of a special committee for administration. The Regional Soviet and the regional committee of the Communist Party were dissolved. However, hopes for a solution of the conflict were dashed and a congress of plenipotentiary representatives of Mountainous Karabagh was held in Stepanakert on August 16, 1989. It elected a National Council, to which it delegated the faculties of executive power. On November 28, 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union decided to eliminate the special committee and reattach Karabagh to Azerbaijan. It also created an Organizational Committee, led by the second secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, Viktor Polyanichko. In response, on December 1 a joint session of the Supreme Council of Soviet Armenia and the National Council of Mountainous Karabagh adopted a resolution about the unification of Armenia and Karabagh.
The resolution was based “on the universal principles of self-determination nations” and reflected “the legal aspiration of the two sections of the Armenian people separated by force.” The Supreme Council recognized the self-determination of the Autonomous Region, approved by the resolutions of the Regional Council of February 20 and July 12, 1988, as well as the resolutions of the congress of representatives of Artsakh (August 19, 1989) and the National Council (October 19, 1989) (article 1). It also recognized the congress of plenipotentiary representatives and the National Council as only legal authority of Karabagh (article 2). The Supreme Council and the National Council declared the reunification of Soviet Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh, and the citizenship rights of Soviet Armenia were extended over the population of Karabagh (article 3). A joint committee was created by the Supreme Council and the National Council to set up the steps towards reunification (article 4). Both legislative bodies took upon themselves the representation of the districts of Shahumian and Getashen, in the north of Karabagh, which still have their Armenian population (they would be occupied by Azerbaijan and its population expelled in 1991-1992) (article 5). The presidency of both bodies and the Council of Ministers of Armenia were tasked with the execution of measures derived from the resolution “to realize the actual fusion of the political, economic, and cultural structures of the Armenian SSR and Mountainous Karabagh in a unified state and political system.” (article 6). 
Azerbaijan characterized the resolution as an intromission in the internal affairs of the country. The tension between both countries was rising, and the conflict was shaping up towards a military solution. However, the Soviet Union still existed and its police and army, regardless of who they protected, were the last force that prevented the confrontation between Karabagh and Azerbaijan. Once they disappeared, the war became unavoidable.
Although the referenda on independence by Armenia (September 21, 1991) and Mountainous Karabagh (December 10, 1991) declared the independence of both countries, the resolution about the unification was never challenged. As a matter of fact, when Robert Kocharian was proclaimed candidate to the presidency in February 1998, his candidacy was questioned since article 50 of the Constitution of Armenia, sanctioned in 1995, established that the president should have a ten-year citizenship and permanent residency in Armenia. The courts of Armenia, however, determined that the candidacy was legally based on the resolution of December 1, 1989, since article 3 had proclaimed the “reunification of the Armenian SSR and Mountainous Karabagh” and extended the rights of Armenian citizens over the population of Karabagh. The declaration on independence of Armenia (August 23, 1990) had been based on the December 1, 1989 declaration, which was and still is in force. As it is well known, the independence of Karabagh remains unrecognized, even by Armenia.