On the Zangezur Question

Azerbaijan’s state archive possesses numerous documents from the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic’s Extraordinary Investigation Commission on the massacres perpetrated against Azerbaijanis in the Zangezur region between 1918-1920 by Armenian armed groups led by Andranik, Dro, Nzhdeh and others. It is recorded that the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic asked the commander of British Forces in the Caucasus to take action to bring to an end the mass murder of Azerbaijani civilians. According to the findings of the Extraordinary Investigative Commission, more than 10,000 Azerbaijani civilians in Zangezur region were killed and 115 Azerbaijani villages razed to the ground and depopulated during the period.

Due to the demographic change brought about by the mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis, the Bolsheviks awarded the Zangezur region to the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, after they occupied the Caucasus. The depopulation provided the justification for what was essentially a geopolitical policy of cutting Nakhchivan off from the rest of Azerbaijan. The Bolsheviks shared with the British Imperialists the objective of establishing an Armenian barrier between Turkey and Azerbaijan. The aim was to divide the Turkic world so it did not present a challenge to the Russian and British Empires.

British sources also give us a good picture of what happened in Zangezur during this period.


W.E.D. Allen gave the following description in a British survey of the region, edited by the famous John Buchan, in the early 1920s. Zangezur was in the Tsarist administrative area of Elisavetpol:

“The territories inhabited by a majority of the so-called Turks or Tatars of Azerbaijan comprise the ex-Russian Governments of Baku and Elisavetpol, and parts… of Daghestan, Tillis, Zakatali and Erivan… In the hilly regions of Zangezur and Kara Bagh, comprising the south-eastern part of the Government of Erivan and the south-western part of the Government of Elisavetpol, Tatar (Azerbaijani), Armenian, Kurdish and gipsy elements are intermingled. It is in this region that the racial and religious feud between Tatar and Armenian has assumed the most acute form.”[1]

The 1905-6 Massacres

During the inter-ethnic violence of 1905-6 Zangezur was affected by massacres, just like Baku and Karabakh. Mammad Said Ordubadi’s Years of Blood has detailed contemporary reports of what happened at the end of July 1906 in the village of Gatar. In the area, the Armenians “wanted to destroy the Muslim villages located along the road which led from Irevan to Nakhchivan, combine the Armenians of Irevan with their armed forces in Nakhchivan, destroy the Muslim villages located along the road from Nakhchivan to Zangezur and combine the Armenian volunteers of Zangezur with the armed forces in Nakhchivan.”[2]

The idea of the Armenian armed groups, therefore, was to carve out a proto-Armenian state in the area around Irevan, with as much territory as possible. To do this they had to create an Armenian majority from a mixed population, so they indulged in the co-ordinated ethnic cleansing and killing of the non-Armenian population. In 1905 at a conference convened by the Russian Viceroy, Armenians demanded the establishment of an autonomous Armenia consisting of territory including Irevan, Kars and parts of Tiflis province, Karabagh and Zangezur.[3] This was a direct challenge to the Tsar since the 1906 Constitution described the Russian State as “one and indivisible.”

The 1905-6 violence was the first attempt of Armenian nationalism to realise its territorial objectives. The Armenian offensive was defeated in Shusha so they attempted to regroup in Javanshir and Jebrail. An aim was to discourage Muslims living in the Gatar area from aiding their kin in Okhchu and Shabadak, villages that blocked the Armenian road to Zangezur, and which were besieged by numerous and well-armed Armenians. After valiant resistance over 4 days nearly the entire village of Okhchu – men, women and children – was massacred by the Armenians.

A large number of people had taken shelter in Gatar as Armenian forces destroyed their villages in the surrounding area. Gatar was surrounded on all sides and the 8,000 Armenians, aided by Cossacks (shades of Khojaly) assaulted it over 11 days. Although the village was completely destroyed and many of its outnumbered inhabitants killed, its defenders resisted until the end, driving the Armenian forces off from their ruined habitations.[4]

While order was restored in the latter part of 1906 this was only to be the start of the problems for the Azerbaijanis of Zangezur, who found themselves in the way of Armenian nationalism and its death squads.

After the Russian Collapse, 1918

The next emergency for the Azerbaijanis of Zangezur occurred in the instability after the Russian collapse in late 1917, when the Armenians saw another chance of carving out a homogenous state for themselves. However, disappointment came when the Ottoman army, driving through the collapsing Russian lines, imposed the treaty of Batum, in June 1918, on the Armenians, within a territory that greatly dissatisfied their appetite for expansion.

The establishment of such a small Armenian state was seen as a sell-out by some of the Dashnaks. When the Armenian National Council signed the Treaty of Batum with the Ottomans, giving up their demand for Western Armenia and settling for the Erivan Republic in the Caucasus, General Andranik took a die-hard position, refused to recognise the Armenian state and set out with his forces to realise the original demand for Magna Armenia. Blocked by the Turks in the west, Andranik took his “Special Striking Division” of 3,500 Dashnaks to Nakhchivan, Zangezur and Karabakh to extend the territories of the Armenian state he would not recognise. With the arrival of Turkish forces he moved his forces into Zangezur in order to put an Armenian territorial barrier between Turkey and Azerbaijan.

An admiring Armenian publication, Andranik – Armenian Hero is quite frank about the ethnic cleansing this involved, that denuded Zangezur of Muslims to make it a part of Armenia:

“Andranik’s irregulars remained in Zangezur surrounded by Muslim villages that controlled the key routes connecting the different parts of Zangezur. According to David Bloxham, Andranik initiated the change of Zangezur into a solidly Armenian land by destroying Muslim villages and trying to homogenize key areas of the Armenian state. In late 1918 Azerbaijan accused Andranik of killing innocent Azerbaijani peasants in Zangezur and demanded that he withdraw Armenian units from the area.”[5]

During the Spring and Summer of 1918 these attacks continued unabated in the areas menaced by Dashnak armed units, including in Nakhchivan and Karabakh.[6] Andranik’s forces remained in the area for most of the rest of the year, harassing, and burning Muslim villages. The instability caused by the Ottoman defeat in the Great War and the British entry into the Southern Caucasus as a victorious occupation force created a vacuum for these activities.

The British Occupation 1918-9

General Thomson, who commanded the British occupation forces, was opposed to any attempted Armenian land-grab in Karabakh and Zangezur on the grounds that all territorial differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan should be resolved at the future Peace Conference in Paris. He was particularly concerned at the prospect of inter-ethnic fighting destabilising the region. So, Thomson despatched a British-Armenian-Moslem delegation from Baku and warned the Dashnaks against aggressive actions towards the Muslim population.

After information had reached him from Azerbaijani Prime Minister Khoyski about atrocities committed by Andranik in the Jabrayil district, Thomson demanded that the Armenian leader cease all his military operations against the local population. As a result, Andranik issued orders to his commanders to suspend operations, not wanting to antagonise the British.[7] Andranik was persuaded to leave Erivan for Britain, to do a propaganda speaking tour.

The problem of maintaining order during this period had much to do with the lack of a serious military force and poor communications with the regions. Azerbaijan was in a kind of interregnum, under British military occupation with Azerbaijani authority restrained. Azerbaijani forces finally ousted Andranik’s forces in April 1919, when Britain utilized the local forces that were available to them to create stability. The British took up Khalil bey Khasmammadov’s decision, as Minister of Internal Affairs of the ADR, to appoint Sultanov Governor-General of Karabakh and Zangezur, and the Azerbaijani governor quickly restored order.[8]

General Thomson concluded, on the basis of reports from his officers in Zangezur and Karabakh, that Yerevan was inciting the Armenian inhabitants to disobey the lawful authorities through its agents and it was decided to expel their representatives from the area.[9]

While the new resolute approach had a temporary stabilising effect on the situation the British authorities in Baku were not able to overcome the destabilising effects of their government’s insistence that the borders of Azerbaijan would not be finally settled until the Peace Conference in Paris concluded. This had the effect of encouraging further Armenian territorial designs and their intentions of seizing any opportunity to occupy territories and drive out non-Armenians in order to influence a decision. Since the Peace Conference, sitting all through 1919, never came to any final decision this helped maintain a hugely unstable situation in which territory was constantly seen as up for grabs. When the British suddenly announced the departure of the bulk of their forces in mid-1919 this invariably compounded the problem.

The Azerbaijan Republic Period (1919-20)

The next period of destabilisation, brought about by the British withdrawal of military forces from the Southern Caucasus, in August 1919, brought the Armenian armed groups back into Zangezur and surrounding areas.

After the withdrawal the region was visited by Colonel William Haskell, Chief of Staff US Army, who was made High Commissioner for the South Caucasus on behalf of the Supreme Allied Council. Haskell, brushing aside Armenian protests, proceeded from the understanding that Zangezur and Karabakh were parts of Azerbaijan, having been delineated de facto as such by the British authorities.[10]

An Azerbaijani-Armenian peace conference was organised for late November 1919 in Tiflis by Haskell. As part of this the ADR government agreed to a demilitarisation of disputed territories to aid a permanent settlement through agreement. However, no sooner had this agreement been honoured by Baku that they found these areas being infiltrated again by armed Armenian formations. This proved a major problem because there were at time 60,000 Azerbaijani refugees from Zangezur requiring returning to their homes and the insecurity caused by the armed Armenian presence deterred them.[11] Further talks with the Armenians were arranged for Baku in mid-December, despite this. Azerbaijan was trying its best to reach a settlement which would end instability in the region.

The Prime Minister of the ADR, Nasib Yusifbeyli, sent a telegram to Oliver Wardrop, British High Commissioner for the South Caucasus, stating the position:

“Zangezur is inalienable part of Azerbaijan Republic and was always considered, not only by us but by Allies of British command and by Colonel Haskell, High Commissioner, Peace Conference, recognizing our inalienable rights to Zangezur district. In one of points of agreement Nakhchivan question demanded Armenian Government help Azerbaijan authorities peacefully liquidate rebellious movement Zangezur district and thus compel Armenian population that district to authority Azerbaijan Republic. According latest news received Azerbaijan Government, Armenian Government not only unfulfilled this obligation towards Colonel Haskell but the country sent regular troops to Zangezur to support and strengthen rebel rising.”[12]

The British High Commissioner cabled the Foreign Office in London emphasizing the seriousness of these breaches by the Armenians:

Azerbaijan Government informs me they have news from Zangezur and Deralageuz of recent action by regular Armenian troops culminating in massacres of hundreds of Mussulmans and destruction of fifteen villages. I am making representations in Erivan requesting immediate enquiry and punishment of guilty and departure of Armenian Delegates to meet Azerbaijanis without further delay.”[13]

During late 1919/early1920 ethnic cleansing operations conducted by the infiltrating Dashnak forces against Muslim villages resulted in much destruction and deaths.[14] The Armenian guerrilla leaders General Andranik (Ozanian), Dro (Drastamat Kenayan) and Colonel Garegin Nzhdeh (Harutunian), who were involved,

“carried out a programme of ethnic cleansing, slaughtering hundreds of Turks and Kurds in order to frighten the remainder into leaving so they could be replaced with Armenian settlers which would provide homogeneous Armenian populations to support their claims at the Peace Conference. Thousands of Turkish refugees from the east fled into Central Anatolia…”[15]

On 21st October 1919 the Persian Ministry of Foreign Affairs made representations to British government in Persia regarding the massacres of Caucasian Muslims by Armenians. The declaration complained about:

“…the recent events at Erivan, Nakhichevan, Kars and on the whole border of Armenia, atrocities committed by Armenians on the Moslems in those parts, by massacre and plunder…The Armenians have spared no acts of violence against the Moslems of those parts irrespective of their nationalities. Families of the Moslems have been scattered, innocent men and children have been massacred, women violated, properties plundered, and villages destroyed… The Foreign Office are sure that these atrocities, committed by the Armenians, which are most repugnant to equity and justice, will not remain unpunished.

The evil consequences of this news in Persia coupled with the odious memories left by the Nestorians, Assyrians, Jelus Ac in Urumia, Khoi, Salman and in fact on the whole border of Azerbaijan during the international war… will be of a most unpropitious and dangerous character.”

The Persian Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the British Government “…to restrain the Armenians from their evil deeds and to protect the lives of the peaceful inhabitants on the borders of Armenia. Since the representatives of the Great Powers are witnesses to the barbarous practices of the Armenians they are expected to take measures for the prevention of the atrocities and for the punishment of the perpetrators”.[16]

Sir Percy Cox of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force, had been sent by the British Foreign Secretary to Tehran to impose a treaty on the Persians, in order to create a buffer state for the Indian Empire. Later he went to Iraq to sort out resistance there and organised an election in which he kidnapped the opposition candidate, after inviting him for tea. Cox was a ruthless Imperialist and he made excuses for the Armenian behaviour in his reply, suggesting Erivan might have been threatened, without knowing the facts of the matter. He dismissed the allegations, stating “the extent and nature of the alleged excesses are probably exaggerated” and washed his hands of the problem in the following way:

“In any case of course it is idle to maintain that the Allied governments can be held responsible for what is nothing but the latest incident in a blood feud on a large-scale between Christians and Mahommedans which was in existence long before the Armistice.”[17]

[1] W.E.D. Allen, The Caucasus and Caucasian Azerbaijan, in John Buchan (editor), The Baltic and Caucasian States.p.228.
[2] Mammad Said Ordubadi, Years of Blood, p.162
[3] R. Hovannisian, Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918, p.15 and pp.186-91.
[4] Ibid, pp. 166-72.
[5] Patriot Publishing, Andranik, Armenian Hero, loc.191. 
[6] Mustafa Sari and Enis Shahin, Massacres of Muslims in Nakhchivan and Karabakh by Armenian Chieftain Antranik, from June to October 1918 in Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, The Realities of Genocide, pp.135-184.
[7] Richard Hovannisian, The Republic of Armenia, Vol. 1, p. 89. Azerbaijan, 20.12.1918, p. 2.
[8] Nigar Gozalova, The Karabakh Issue in Relation with Armenia and Azerbaijan, AVIM Conference Book, No.24, 2019, p.48.
[9] Ilgar Niftaliyev, The Diplomatic Struggle around Karabakh and Zangezur under the ADR, IRS Spring 2018, p.38.
[10] Ibid, p.39
[11] Ibid, pp.39-40.
[12] FO 371/51882/ME88/7837/39, 20.11.2019.
[13] FO 371/51882/ME88/8215/451, 4.12.2019.
[14] Musa Gasimli, From the ‘Armenian Issue’ to the ‘Armenian Genocide’: In search of Historical Truth, pp.465-8.
[15] Stanford Shaw, From Empire to Republic, Vol III, Part 2, p.1443.
[16] ‘Massacre of Moslems by Armenians’, Persian Foreign Office. 21.10.1919. included in Nigar A. Maxwell, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic: Great Britain’s Archive Documents, pp.21-2.
[17] Persian Foreign Office, 7728/25.10.1919 

As 1919 gave way to 1920 the Government of the Azerbaijan Republic faced the same old problem in Zangezur, with the infiltration of Armenian armed gangs. On January 24th, 1920, it was reported that:“Four days ago, Armenian guerrillas, helped by regular troops, began an offensive in the Zangazur area with the assistance of cannons and machine guns. There was a huge number of victims… The Turkish population is fleeing in panic while asking for assistance… The tens of thousands of women and children who are refugees from Zangazur are now at Cebrail without any shelter. The district of Zangazur has been entirely destroyed by those who came from Erivan armed with hundreds of cannons and machine guns. More than ten thousand Armenians are attacking. From the hills between Hocagane and Zebuh, the Armenians have destroyed all the villages…”[1]This report is contained in Admiral Bristol’s information to the U.S. Secretary of State, about events during January/February 1920. A further report adds that,

“… the Armenian Government has carried out an offensive in the Zangazur district against the Tartars, destroying forty villages, and are continuing their offensive. Further that, the Armenian Government attacked ten or more Tartar villages in the Kards district destroying these villages, pillaging the houses and carried off all the cattle. The villages were bombarded by artillery and part of the population killed while a large number of those remaining died of exposure and cold. Further it is claimed that the Armenian Government is carrying on a policy of extermination towards the Tartar population in the district of Kars and the Armenian troops are proceeding to a final extermination of the Tartars in this district.”[2]

It should be noted that the Kards area referred to in these reports, is not Kars, in present day Turkey, but Kard, in Zangezur, now the “Kajaran” district of present-day Armenia, close to the border with Nakhichevan. Armenian sources are quite frank about what the Dashnak forces were aiming to do, from late 1918, and ultimately succeeded in doing, to the area. For instance, Andranik – Armenian Hero states:

“Antranig Chalabian wrote that, ‘without the presence of General Andranik and his Special Striking Division, what is now the Zangezur district of Armenia would be part of Azerbaijan today…’ Andranik’s activities in Zangezur were protested by Ottoman General Halil Pasha, who threatened the Dashnak government with retaliation for Andranik’s actions. Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovhannes said he had no control over Andranik and his forces.”

During the period from the British evacuation until April 1920 hundreds of reports of Dashnak atrocities came from the Ottoman Army as well as from British and U.S. Intelligence Officers. One such report from British Military Intelligence from April 1920 is typical:

“From various reports which have been received it would appear that the aggressive action of the Armenians against the Tartar inhabitants has been on a much larger scale than was at first imagined… It would appear that after the surrender of approximately 24 Tartar villages, the Armenian troops shelled and opened rifle fire on the houses, causing considerable loss of life. A large number of villagers have fled to the hills… The responsibility for the hostilities at present in progress in the Karabagh and Zangezur districts must be largely laid on the shoulders of Armenia, as they were due directly to the oppression of Moslems both in the Kards and Nakhichevan districts… The ill feeling which has been gradually growing between Tartars and Armenians reached a point when fighting became inevitable. For some weeks past Azerbaijan has been sending detachments of troops to the Karabagh district. On the night of the 19th March the Armenians attacked the Tartar troops in the vicinity of Shousha but were driven back by a counter-attack. Ever since this date fighting has continued with little advantage to either side… A small massacre of Armenians is reported to have taken place in the vicinity of Gandja, and much anxiety is noticeable among the Armenian inhabitants of Baku. The responsibility for the commencement of massacres lies largely with the Armenians themselves, for the ill-feeling between Moslem and Christian in this part of the Caucasus was brought to a head by the murder of Tartars in the Kards province…”[3]

J.R. McDonnell, an officer for the Caucasus in the British Foreign Office, concluded from reading the incoming reports from a number of years, and making an assessment of them, that the Armenians were definitely the aggressors in the developing conflict with the Azerbaijanis:

“The present situation is the result of many regrettable incidents on both sides, but more especially owing to the attitude of the Armenians to the Mohametan population within their boundaries and in the disputed areas of Nakhchivan, Karabagh and Zangezur. Both the Armenian and Azerbaijanian governments have… signed an agreement whereby both republics undertook to submit all disputes to arbitration. Yet there is evidence that points to the fact that in many instances the Armenians have taken the initiative in aggressive action and oppression, and that the present Government is entirely unable to control its armed forces which, for the most part, seem to be led by the extremists of the Dachnaksutium party, Dro, Hamazas, and Gulhandanian, being the chief offenders. It will be seen from the appended comparative statement that since the signing of the agreement of November 23rd the balance of aggression, as far as very incomplete evidence can show, has been on the side of the Armenians…”[4]

The American High Commissioner, Admiral Mark Bristol, who complained bitterly about the anti-Muslim propaganda that the Armenians and U.S. Protestant missionaries were saturating the America with, noted in his War Diary:

“In Armenia the Armenians have perpetrated atrocities upon the Moslem races… I know from reports by my own officers who served with General Dro that defenceless villages were bombarded and then occupied, and any inhabitants that had not run away were brutally killed, the village pillaged, and all the livestock confiscated, and then the village burned. This was carried on as a regular systematic getting-rid of the Moslems. A district forty verrsts (about 40 kilometres) on each side of the railway from Erivan to Djulfa, which is on the Araxes river, was cleared of all Tartars and their villages destroyed. The inhabitants that did not flee into exile were killed. Our own people have seen camps along the Araxes River where thousands of Moslems were living in dug outs dying of starvation or disease. These were some of the exiles that the Armenians had driven out of their country.”[5]

At this point Britain was attempting to persuade the U.S. to take responsibility for ‘Armenia’ having tired of the Armenian territorial demands itself. So Britain was determined to either stop the Armenians committing excesses or covering up reports of them. The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, was made aware of the negative effect such activities were generating in the U.S, where the effect of them would be to increase opposition to the country taking a Mandate for the Armenians. He summoned an Armenian delegation including Boghos Nubar, the Archbishop of Erivan and Aharonian in April to his office and,

“… spoke to them in the strongest possible manner about the foolish and indefensible conduct of their compatriots on the northeast frontiers of Armenia. I read out the detailed list of outrages committed since beginning of year by Armenians on one hand and Tartars (Azerbaijanis) on the other, showing a heavy balance against Armenians, and told them that we were not at all keen about giving them arms to fight Turks which they would almost certainly use to fight Azerbaijan. I said that there was very little chance of League of Nations or anyone else consenting to look after Armenia in future if they showed such complete instability and love of disorder, and that their only chance was to stop these proceedings and carry out the agreement of November last.”[6]

To pacify the British Foreign Secretary Boghos Nubar showed Curzon a telegram he said he was intending to send to Erivan, criticising these activities and demanding the dismissal of those responsible. The British did not trust the Armenians and intercepted their wire, finding that their suspicions had been justified – criticism had been toned down as well as the demand for the sacking of military leaders removed. Curzon, who needed the Armenians at this point against the Red Army did nothing.[7]

One of the few British journalists who publicised the attacks on Azerbaijanis was Robert Liddell Scotland, who had served with the Tsar’s Army during the War and knew the Transcaucasus well. He reported for The Graphic on December 6th, 1919, about the “148,000 Musselman refugees in Azerbaidjan” in an article entitled “People Who Have to Eat Grass.” Liddell revealed to the British public that “great refugee camps have been established” in Elisavetpol/Ganje but “the large majority of the refugees are still in remote and almost inaccessible villages in the South Caucasus, where they live in stables and mud shelters and… even like animals, in the open air.” The British journalist had witnessed a famine in which “thousands of starving and nearly naked people who were existing in most distressing circumstances” and reported that “disease is claiming hundreds of victims; weak with dysentery and typhus the wretched people are dying in ditches by the wayside from which they have no strength to crawl.”

Scotland Liddell reported on the Muslims who were left to die in Armenia, whilst the Western Powers sent their entire relief to the Erivan Republic. Believing that Muslim lives mattered as much as those of Christians, the British journalist was appalled at a situation where “very much is being done for the Armenians” but “practically nothing is being done for the Musselmans, who have themselves suffered innocently at Armenian hands.” Liddell wrote that he had “appealed several times for help for the suffering Musselmans, who have been far more sinned against than they themselves have sinned.” Whilst noting that “the Musselman refugee children are mostly all orphans, and the Musselman refugee women are nearly all widows” Liddell described the situation as “very unjust” in which “a great deal of use is made of the word “Christian” for the purposes of propaganda.”[8]

A few months later Scotland Liddell found he had to counter Armenian propaganda published in The Graphic, via a letter from Tiflis. His reply is very interesting with regard to Armenian disinformation so is worth quoting at length. The British reporter wrote:

“In The Graphic of February 21, an article is published under the heading, “The Armenians of Karabagh.” The information, you state, was furnished by Mr. Tigron Nazarian, an Armenian, of course, so that one is not surprised to find it Armenian propaganda. And, alas! One is not surprised to find this propaganda false. As regards the history, geography and natural riches of Karabagh I have nothing to say. But, as Nazarian’s visit to London is in order that he can urge on the Peace Conference the Armenian request that Karabagh be included politically in the Armenian and not in the Azerbaijan Republic, and as the figures he gives regarding the population of Karabagh are of vital importance in this respect, I must point out that they are grossly untrue…

Today the Armenian regular troops are carrying on a war against Mussulman partisans in Karabagh. For the bloodshed that, is taking place, even as I write, the Armenians, and the Armenians alone, are to blame. Although the province of Karabagh was placed under Azerbaijan administration by the British authorities until such a time as the future status of the province would be decided by the Peace Conference, the Armenian leaders and agitators for a long time refused to acknowledge Mussulman rule and strove in every way to incite the peaceful Armenian population against the Azerbaijan Government.

 This constant agitation and this provocation led on several occasions to fighting. In November of last year an agreement was signed in Tiflis between the Azerbaijan and Armenian Governments. By this it was arranged that all fighting would cease and that both sides would await in peace the Conference’s decree. The Azerbaijan Republic faithfully kept to this agreement. The Azerbaijan troops were withdrawn from Zangezour, but no sooner had this been done than the Armenians very treacherously attacked the Mussulman villages, massacred hundreds of innocent peasants, and within a few weeks had succeeded in destroying over forty Mussulman villages.

Azerbaijan has been very patient and long-suffering. But there is a limit to a Government’s patience. War has for long seemed inevitable. Now, on March 22, the Armenians, taking advantage of the Mussulman festival of Nowruz Bairam, and the fact that there were only insignificant Azerbaijan troops for the purpose of keeping order in Karabagh, have again launched attacks on many Mussulman villages in the province. So far, only partisan troops have opposed them, but I hear on good authority that the Azerbaijan Government is despatching regular troops to the assistance of the unfortunate Mussulman population of the country, who are faced with the threat of complete extirpation at the hands of their Christian neighbours. Armenian propaganda is excellent. Doubtless the many propagandists in England, France and America will take advantage of their losses in the present clash to further their pleas and greedy territorial claims. But we in Trans-Caucasia know what the truth actually is. Surely it is time that the British public knew it too.”[9]

There is an eye-witness account, from the autobiography of one of Admiral Bristol’s officers, Robert Steed Dunn, who acted as the U.S. High Commissioner’s eyes and ears in the Caucasus, of the type of activity the Dashnaks were engaging in against Azerbaijanis. The information assisted Admiral Bristol in forming his negative opinion about American intervention and consequently the U.S. having serious doubts about what the Armenian cause actually represented, along with the decision not to have anything further to do with them. Lieutenant Dunn observed at first hand General Dro’s military activities in the Nakhchivan, Zangezur and Karabakh regions. “My troops have freed forty-five infidel villages in Zangezour,” Dro told Lieutenant Dunn.[10]

On February 29th Oliver Wardrop relayed the following information to the British Foreign Office from Tiflis:

“Azerbaijan Minister for Foreign Affairs continues acting in strict conformity with agreement of November 23rd and has not (undecipherable) advanced against Zangezur or elsewhere. But since November 23nl Armenian troops in that district have destroyed about twenty Mussulman villages and from January 19th Armenian troops with irregulars were marching to Shusha destroying villages. Azerbaijan Government are sending small force to prevent further destruction of life and property and restore state of things existing before November 23rd.”[11]

Wardrop warned the Foreign Office on March 4th that:

“Action of Armenian troops against civil Mussulman population… is rousing very strong feeling in Azerbaijan. I consider presence of Allied officers in regions affected matter of urgency. I believe Azerbaijan Government wish loyally to carry out agreement of November 23rd. They ask for immediate appointment of Allied Commission to enquire and act locally.”[12]

The Soviet Period

In the Spring of 2020, with the Red Army assembling on the northern border of Azerbaijan, the Dashnaks saw their chance of grabbing Zangezur and Karabakh. They broke an agreement with the Azerbaijanis, which was brokered in order to assist the common defence of the Southern Caucasus, and began an uprising against Baku’s authority in Zangezur and Karabakh. On the night of the Nowruz holiday of 22-23rd March, the Armenians mounted a large-scale armed uprising against the Azerbaijani government in Karabakh. Azerbaijanis were suddenly attacked in a number of places. Around the same time regular Armenian army units attacked Zangezur. Although the Azerbaijani national army had managed to defeat the Dashnak thrust into Karabagh and press into Zangezur they did so by having to concentrate their territorial defence to the west, leaving the road to Baku open to the Red Army.

Professor Malcolm Yapp of the London School of Oriental and African Studies has written the following summation of Dashnak activities in 1920 in Zangezur and Karabakh, in his review of Richard Hovannisian third volume of ‘The Republic of Armenia’:

“Ethnic cleansing was a term not then used but its practice was everywhere. The Armenians of the Republic wanted to dominate Karabagh and to clear the Moslems out of the Arras valley and resettle the region with Armenians: the majority of Armenians of Nagorno Karabagh saw the dangers and advocated a much more moderate line of compromise… It is also clear that Armenian adventures in Karabagh and along the Arras contributed to the breakdown of government in Azerbaijan, the establishment of Soviet power in that Republic in April 1920 and eventually the subversion of Armenia itself.”[13]

The Armenians were not finished in Zangezur, however. In late 1920, Garegin Nzhdeh brought his bands into Zangezur and mounted armed resistance against both Soviet Azerbaijani and Bolshevik forces. His intention was to keep Zangezur out of Soviet control and to totally Armenianize it. In this pursuit Nzhdeh’s forces engaged in extensive ethnic cleansing of the local Azerbaijanis in Zangezur. Because Azerbaijan was in the process of being subdued by the Bolsheviks and the Soviets were otherwise engaged in an important war against Poland Nzhdeh enjoyed considerable space to pursue his activities in Zangezur.

Nzhdeh and his supporters only ended resistance and fled to Iran in July 1921 after the Red Army regathered its forces in the Southern Caucasus and the Bolsheviks assured Nzhdeh that the region would not be incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan. Nzhdeh went on to offer his services, along with General Dro, to Hitler and he fought with a large Armenian Legion for the Nazis during the Second World War in Crimea.

After the Armenians had enabled the Bolsheviks to conquer Azerbaijan (along with the whole of the Southern Caucasus) by disabling its common defence, the settlement imposed by Stalin involved Zangezur being taken out of Azerbaijan and granted to Armenia as a barrier between Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan and Karabakh.  For Azerbaijan, the loss of Zangezur was a bitter blow, although it was reluctantly accepted by the Azerbaijan Communists as the price for retaining Karabakh and achieving a functional settlement of a dispute that had plagued relations in the region. The Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan decisions were trade-offs based on Stalin’s nationality policy and the Azerbaijanis accepted the situation as the basis of a permanent settlement.

Maps contained within the British archives have a bearing on the issue of the historical status of Zangezur.[14] These maps show the national boundaries in the Southern Caucasus as understood by the British and the Allied Powers. These are made from an original map drawn by the British in April 1907 on which subsequent maps were based. It is clear from these maps what the British took to be the national boundaries of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Azerbaijan’s national territory includes the regions of Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan on them. The lake that Armenians refer to as Sevan is called Goycha Lake on the British map, the old Azerbaijani name. A  July 1922 British map of Caucasia has the following note: “The frontiers shown on this map have been checked by Allied Headquarters, with the information in their possession and are in agreement with their information.”


The 1923 map was produced by the Geographical Section of the General Staff, British War Office. It records its sources for boundaries between Turkey, Persia, Iraq and Syria as the March 1921 Treaty of Moscow, the October 1921 Treaty of Kars, with regard to the boundaries of autonomous Nakhchivan. The British cartographers used Russian maps included with the Treaty of Kars for this purpose. It should be noted the Treaty of Sevres mentioned would soon be superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne, which was, at that moment, in the process of final negotiations between Britain and the Turkish Republic. There is a note, numbered 7 which states: “Frontiers other than those mentioned above are compiled from reports the accuracy of which is still in doubt.” Presumably this was because the other areas and boundaries in the Southern Caucasus were, at that time, subject to Soviet control and the decision making of the Bolsheviks.

So, whilst the British expected, on the basis of their evidence, information, and experience that Karabakh, Zangezur and Zakatali remained a part of Azerbaijan, they could not be sure of what the Bolsheviks might do, if Soviet Russia remained in permanent occupation of the Southern Caucasus.

These maps show definitively that Stalin never “gave Karabakh to Azerbaijan” as Armenians pretend. In fact, they back up the Soviet documents that describe Karabakh as having “remained” part of Azerbaijan. What the maps also show is that the Bolsheviks did give Zangezur, which the British and Allies saw as an integral part of Azerbaijan, to the Armenians, largely for geopolitical reasons.

However, the sequence of maps produced over a generation and obtained in the British archives, clearly show that both Zangezur and Karabakh were regarded as part of Azerbaijan by the Western democratic world.

The Armenians, with their unrelenting nationalist orientation, only accepted the settlement as a fait accompli achieved by Soviet power, that they could not challenge for the present. They waited patiently until the collapse of the Soviet state to resume their activities to occupy Karabakh and surrounding areas when Azerbaijan was in political turmoil.

However, in 2020 the occupation of Karabakh was ended and Azerbaijan restored its territorial integrity . It would be ironic if the Armenians have reopened the Zangezur question through their disrespect for long-standing borders and international law and attempting to prevent the Azerbaijanis utilizing the Zangezur corridor according to the peace statement of November. 

[1] USDS Decimal File 867.00/1284, 19.04.1920, Admiral Bristol to Secretary of State, speech made to Azerbaijan Parliament by Vahid Sultanov, 24.01.1920.
[2] USDS Decimal File 867.00/1215, No. 279, 14.04.1920, Admiral Bristol to Secretary of State, Report from the Azerbaijani Government.
[3] FO 371/5167/E4346/262/44, Weekly Report No.63, 7.4.1920.
[4] FO 371/4954/E3056/134/58, Minute by McDonnell, 7.4.1920.
[5] USDS Decimal File 867.00/1540, Bristol War Diary.
[6] FO 371/4954/E3070, 11.4.1920, Curzon to Wardrop.
[7] Stanford Shaw, From Empire to Republic, Vol III, Part 2, p.1452.
[8] The Graphic, 24.1.1920.
[9] The Graphic, 8.5.1920.
[10] Robert Dunn, World Alive, p. 140.
[11] Mr. Wardrop, Tiflis, 29.2.1920, included in Nigar A. Maxwell, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic: Great Britain’s Archive Documents, p. 557.
[12] Mr. Wardrop, Tiflis, 4.3.1920, included in Nigar A. Maxwell, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic: Great Britain’s Archive Documents, p. 558.
[13] M. E. Yapp, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 60, No. 2 (1997), p. 371
[14] British Library. Caucasia, TSGS 2167. Great Britain. General Staff. Topographical Section. [London] : [TSGS, War Office], 1906.