In the early 19th century, during the period which preceded accession of the Azerbaijani khanates into the Russian Empire, the Azeris constituted a considerable proportion of the population of what now is modern-day Armenia and was part of the Irevan (Erivan) khanate.
According to Armenian historian George Burnutyan, in the first quarter of the 19th century 80% of the population of the Erivan khanate were Muslims, and remaining 20% were Christians (Armenians). (George A. Bournoutian. «Eastern Armenia in the Last Decades of Persian Rule, 1807—1828», Malibu: Undena Publications, 1982, рр. 22, 165).
After the incorporation of the Irevan khanate into the Russian Empire in 1828, many Azeris left this area, and their place was taken by Armenian settlers from Persia, and later from the Ottoman Turkey too. These types of migration processes continued on a smaller scale till the late 19th century. By 1832, Armenians were already more numerous than Muslims on the territory of the former Irevan khanate.
According to the Brokgauz and Yefron Encyclopedia, by the early 20th century, Azeris populated "almost all parts of the Russian Armenia." Their number in the Erivan Governorate was almost 300,000 people, or 37.5%. Azeris were the majority in four out of seven counties of the governorate, including the city of Erivan (present-day Yerevan), where they constituted 49% of the population (compared to 48% of Armenians). Traveller Luigi Villari, who visited the region in 1905, wrote that the Azeri population of Erivan was overall better off than Armenians; most of the lands belonged to them. ("Fire and Sword in the Caucasus" by Luigi Villari, London, T. F. Unwin, 1906: p. 267).
In 1905-1906, the Erivan Governorate was the arena of clashes between Armenians and Azeris (known to the contemporaries as the "Armenian-Tatar massacre").
Tensions increased again after the dissolution of the Russian Empire, when in 1918 Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent republics. The Dashnak Armenia stated annexation of the Azerbaijani lands in Zangezur and Upper Karabakh. Mass extermination and expulsion of the peaceful Azeris from Armenia began to clear the ground for resettlement of the Armenians from Ottoman Turkey. American historian F. Kazemzadeh, citing the Armenian historian A. Boryan, wrote that the Dashnak government of independent Armenia in 1918-1920 was created not for the purposes of governance, but to "expel the Muslim population and seize their property." (Firuz Kazemzadeh, PhD, University of Harvard, «The struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921», Philosophical Library Inc., NY, USA: 1951 г., pp 214-215).
In the Soviet era, Azeris who lived in Armenia for centuries were regularly discriminated against and socially sidelined, which resulted in major changes in the ethnic map of the country. Despite this, the Azeris had managed to remain the largest ethnic minority until the Karabakh war of the late 20th century. After sovietization, relatively few Azeris returned to Armenia; the 1926 census registered only 78,000. Only by 1939 their number increased to 131,000.
In 1947, the USSR Council Ministers passed the resolution "On resettlement of collective farmers and other ethnic Azeri residents from the Armenian SSR to the Kura-Araks lowlands in the Azerbaijani SSR." As a result, about 100,000 Azeris were resettled "on voluntary basis" (in effect, they were deported) to the unpopulated Mugan steppe of Azerbaijan. During the next four years, Azeris were deported from Armenia, leaving their places of residence to the repatriated Armenians from abroad. By 1959, the number of Azeris in Armenia almost halved and was 107,000. Then the process of expulsion of the remaining Azeris from Yerevan and other major cities of Armenia began. In Yerevan, the number of Azeris, who were once the majority, fell to 0.7% in 1979 and to 0.1% in 1989.
The process of expulsion of the Azeris from Armenia was indolent in the 1960s and 1970s too, when the Azeri cultural centers and educational institutions were closed, newspapers in the Azeri language were abolished, and the educated Azeris and Azeri intelligentsia were leaving the Armenian SSR.
As a result of the above processes, by 1987 the vast majority of the Azeri population in the Armenian SSR was peasants who mainly leaved in the high-mountain areas of the republic. According to the 1979 census, Azeris in Armenia were only 6.5% of the population (whereas in the early 20th century, they 40-50% of the population were Azeris).
The total deportation of the Azeris from the Armenian SSR started with the outbreak of the Karabakh conflict. From 1987 to 1990, about 200,000 Azeris were deported from the Armenian SSR, of which more than 4,000 were driven out before the Sumqayit events of February 1988.
However, several years before that, a powerful alarm signal, the harbinger of the tragic events to come, was sounded in Armenia on the day of commemoration of the victims of so-called "genocide" of Armenians on 24 April 1983. The point is that, beginning from 1965, on the Armenian authorities' request the Soviet leadership approved organizing annual events on the day of "genocide" of Armenians, 24 April. From then on rallies and demonstrations were organized every year, which would often end in disorders and outbursts against the Azeri population of Armenia. On that day, 24 April 1983, in the center of the Masis (Zangibasar) District, Armenian extremists attacked the Azeri wedding (during the wedding ceremony of the son of Karim and Sona Qafarovs) and started carnage. The rallying Armenians of the Masis district broke into the house of the bride and seriously wounded four people and lightly wounded tens of people. (Sanuber Saralli "Genocide. Annotations for Districts. The list of the dead and brutally killed in Western Azerbaijan in 1987-1992"). After that, many Azeri victims sent numerous complaints, which the local authorities refused to accept. Angered by the outrageous lawlessness, the victims decided to complain at the central government bodies of the USSR. However, criminal cases against the culprits had never been initiated in the end.
"On the same day, 24 April 1983, the Azeri cemetery was vandalized. In protest against the act of vandalism by Armenians, the Azeris gathered on the Turkish border and organized a protest action, demanding permission to cross over to the Turkish territory. Only after that, the leadership of the Masis District of Armenia ordered to rebuild the cemetery, which was done overnight. In the mean time, the inspectors from Moscow arrived and in their final report described the tragic event which took place on the grounds of ethnic hatred as a routine conflict between neighbors. No one was properly punished, and this gave rise to further bouts of cruel militant nationalism (Habib Rahimoglu. "Unforgettable names, unhealed wounds").
The first threats addressed to Azeris were issued by Armenian nationalists in 1986, when the Karabakh issue was raised, for now unofficially, by some circles of the Armenian diaspora abroad. In 1986 and 1987, refugees started to arrive in Azerbaijan, mainly from the Kapan and Meghri districts of Armenia. In 1986-1987, the Azerbaijani SSR Government passed special resolutions (although it did not advertise them in the interests of "friendship of the peoples") on these refugees, who were accommodated in Sumqayit and around it.
The statement by Academician Abel Aganbegyan, advisor to USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev, for the L'Humanite newspapers in Paris on his desire to "see the NKAA as part of Armenia" was considered in Armenia as M. Gorbachev's assent to incorporate Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia. These rumors spread at the speed of lightning in the republic, which triggered the ethnic conflict. It was a spark which soon started the conflagration of anti-Azeri hysteria all over Armenia.
British journalist Thomas de Waal reported that Armenian extremists drove Azeris out of the Kapan District in Armenia in November 1987. The BBC also reported than on 25 January 1988, Azeris were being deported from the Kapan District.
Eyewitness reports show that the tragedy took place in the south of Armenia, in the Meghri and Kapan districts, in the predominantly ethnic Azeri-populated villages. In November 1987, two cargo cars arrived in the Baku railroad station, full of Azeris who had to flee from Kapan after the ethnic clashes. Eyewitnesses of those events, for example, Sveta Pasayeva, widowed Bakuvian Armenian, said that she saw the refugees who arrived in Baku and gave them clothes and food.
In his interview with journalist Thomas de Waal, second secretary of the Kapan District party committee Aramais Babayan did not deny the fact that Azeris were leaving the district in November 1987, but claimed that there was no violence, simply "Azeris left because something scared them."
Evidently, the process of expulsion of the Azeris from the Armenian SSR started long before the Karabakh conflict and the Sumqayit events.
The organizer of the mass expulsion of the Azeris from Western Azerbaijan was First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Armenian Communist Party Suren Arutyunyan. He was the very Dashnak wearing the Communist coat who as early as in 1965 organized student demonstrations in Yerevan on the 50th anniversary of the "Armenian genocide." So, the Communist government of the Soviet Armenian completed the ethnic cleansing of Azeris which was started by the Dashnak government of the early 20th century.
On or around 25 January 1988, four buses full of Azeri refugees from Kapan arrived in Baku. They were in terrible state. Mainly there were women, children and the elderly. Few young people arrived. Many of them were badly beaten up. By February 1988, the mechanism of the deportation campaign was fully fine-tuned and ready for launch. Aramais Babayan, then second secretary of the Kapan Party Committee, confirmed that "one night in February 1988, 2,000 Azeris did leave the Kapan District, but I believe that the mass exodus was caused by rumors and acts of provocation."
In February 1988, the third Karabakh delegation of "writers and artists" arrived in Moscow. In the mean time, tens of thousands of leaflets were delivered to Nagorno-Karabakh, with calls for the struggle "for miatsum" (uniting Armenia and the NKAA). All the events that took place later were coordinated to make certain that their launch would coincide with the return of the Karabakh delegation from Moscow. Here is what one of the main provokers of the ethnic conflict, Karabakh movement activist Igor Muradyan had to say:
"On the night of 12 February, these leaflets were delivered to all the mail boxes of Stepanakert without exception. We had no problems to speak of. Already on 12 February, we know that the city was ours because the police, law enforcement bodies, party functionaries -- everyone came to us to say: 'You can count on us.' They informed us of the KGB's intentions, who was to arrive from Moscow, who was to arrive from Moscow. We had this information, they did not hide anything from us."
A.F. Dasdamirov (secretary of the Azerbaijani SSR Communist Party Central Committee in 1988-1991) testified that "by 18 February 1988, the number of Azeris who were forced to leave Armenia as a result of the policy of intimidation and violent actions, had already exceeded 4,000." (Vestnik Analitiki, issue 3, 2005).
Here are the testimonies of Azeri refugees from Armenia, which were recorded by Bakuvian journalists: "From 19 February, we did not sleep for a single night. Azeris from neighboring villages assembled in our Kalinin village in Masis District for greater safety. The village itself was guarded by the border guard units," Husayin Qambarov from the state farm Ararat in the Masis District said. "The Azeri-language school was closed. Groups of men 10 to 20 strong would gather by the fire in the center of the village to guard the houses. And yet, there was not a single night when some house would not be burned. The elderly, women, children would lie in bed dressed, even shod. So that they could scramble up on their feet and run." (Vestnik Analitiki, issue 3, 2005).
"In our village of Artashat in the Masis District, three houses were burned -- homes of U. Abdullayev, A. Sadiqov and Nizami" -- collective farm worker Qumbat Abbasov said. "From 19 February, they would not let us to go to the market, so our hard-earned harvests were perishing. From 19 February you will not find a single Azeri name in the records of hospitals, policlinics and first-aid posts in Armenia. Although 200,000 Azeris lived there. They would not sell us bread and food. They would not let us use urban transport. From 19 February, mass dismissals of Azeris from jobs started. They spat in our faces in the direct sense of the word and shouted: 'Turks, out, out from the Armenian land!" (Vestnik Analitiki, issue 3, 2005).
Russian writer Aleksandr Prokhanov, who visited the zone of the incipient Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict many times in the capacity of a reporter, noted that expulsion of ethnic Azeris from the Armenian city of Kapan started in late 1987. "The people there had lived there together for centuries, but then they started to drive out Azeris from the area. Armenians initiated the bloody conflict which continues to this day. The Azeris who were ousted from Kapan started the journey through the mountain passes to Azerbaijan. And this happened in the winter! Children, women and elderly were dying on the trails. The Kapan journey caused pain and hatred across Azerbaijan. The Azeris who were expelled from Kapan arrived in Sumqayit, where eventually the notorious Sumqayit events took place," -- A. Prokhanov reminisced.
Vasiliy Konovalov, second secretary of the Azerbaijani SSR Party Central Committee in 1983-1988, also stated that Azeri refugees started to arrive in Azerbaijan in the winter 1987 from the Kapan, Masis and Meghri districts of the Armenian SSR. "They were expelled by Armenians. People grabbed essential items and fled to the Azerbaijani SSR. I met with them and still remember their questions which have never been answered since: 'Why did Moscow and Baku not protect us from Armenian extremists?'" -- V. Konovalov reminisced.
"Refugees from Armenia were mainly accommodated in Sumqayit. People did not have clothes or shelter. In addition, new reports arrived every day that Armenians were driving Azeris out of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. In the end, all that resulted in the Sumqayit events of the February 1988," V. Konovalov concluded.
"The Armenian side turned out to be better prepared for the military confrontation. Armenians were more decisive, faster and more merciless, they were helped with their certainty that they were right, which was inspired in them by their 'historians.' Very early on, from the summer 1987, they started to poise themselves for strong-arm action. The cultural society Krunk (Crane in Armenia) was, as many people say a front for the secret organization KRUNK (Committee for revolutionary governance of Nagorno-Karabakh). The Azerbaijani reaction was initially that of confusion of a party which was caught off-guard," -- Aleksandr Sevastyanov, member of the Union of Men of Letters of Russia and the Union of Journalists of Russia, noted.
Colonel Oqtay Haciyev, chief of the Civil Defense Staff of Ganca in 1985-1991, reminisced: "My driver was Armenian, Gerasim Babayan, he lived in the Vorovskiy district of Baku. Gerasim told me that he was going to move from Baku to Yerevan, where he had already bought a house. However, his parents categorically refused to leave Baku and move to Yerevan. So I asked him why he wanted to move if his parents were staying here. Here is what he told me: "Comrade Colonel, when I saw how Azeris are treated in Armenia, I know that we will not be able to live normal lives here. They put out cigarettes on Azeris' bodies, strip women naked. When those Azeris come here, it will become impossible for us to live here. Please do not tell this to anyone, though -- or else they will kill me."
The facts and testimonies mentioned above prove that expulsion of the Azeris from Armenia was not a spontaneous process, but rather a coordinated one. There is every reason to say that the actions by "hooligans" were controlled by the Armenian authorities who decided to take advantage of the situation that had taken shape and drive out the entire Azeri population from Armenia.
In 1988, at one of the rallies in Yerevan, Karabakh committee activist Rafael Kazaryan (now member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences) openly urged the crowd: "With help of the detachments which were created in advance, we must guarantee emigration. For the first time in these decades, we were given the unique opportunity to purge Armenia of these Turks. I think that this is the greatest achievement of our struggle in the last 10 months." ("Armenia: Twenty Months of Struggle. Compilation of Documents. Armenian National Movement Publishing, Yerevan, 1989, p 15).
When the last round of ethnic cleansing was completed in 1988 in the Armenian SSR, it marked the implementation of the final phase of transforming the republic into a mono-ethnic state. As a result, 98-99% of the entire Armenian population are ethnic Armenians. The responsibility for these events lies with the Armenian nationalists and the leadership of the republic, which was stated even in the resolution which was adopted by the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee Politburo. However, the Armenian SSR authorities simply ignored the resolutions by the Soviet leadership. It has to be stressed that Mikhail Gorbachev and his entourage were very well informed about the outrages and violence in Armenia.
It would suffice to remember a very interesting dialogue between Mikhail Gorbachev and Yerevan State University Rector Academician S.A. Ambartsumyan, which was broadcast for the entire Soviet Union to see.
At the 18 July 1988 session of the USSR Supreme Council Presidium on the situation in the NKAA of the Azerbaijani Republic, Soviet Communist Party Central Committee General Secretary M. Gorbachev asked S. Ambartsumyan:
M.S. Gorbachev: "Tell me please, how many ethnic Azeris lived in Yerevan at the turn of the century?
S.A. Ambartsumyan: "At the turn of the century in Yerevan?"
M.S. Gorbachev: "Yes."
S.A. Ambartumyan: "I would be hard pressed to answer."
M.S. Gorbachev: "You must know. Let me remind you -- 43% of Yerevan's population was Azeri at the turn of the century. What percentage of the population are Azeri at present?"
S.A. Ambartsumyan: "Now there is a very small percentage. Perhaps 1%."
M.S. Gorbachev: "By saying this, I do not want to accuse Armenians that they have pushed Azeris out of there. Apparently, some processes were under way there, which we should find out more about."
(Materials of the session of the USSR Supreme Council Presidium, published in the Pravda newspaper issue dated 19 July 1988).
An interesting phrase by Mikhail Gorbachev that "some processes were under way in Armenia which we should find out more about" clearly demonstrates that he knew about the forced deportation which resulted in total expulsion of the Azeris who once constituted a considerable proportion of the population of the Armenian SSR were driven out.
According to the report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Azeri population, which was the largest ethnic minority in Armenia until 1988, "was driven out of the republic with participation of the local authorities. (UNHCR report, pp 33-35).
The changes of demographic nature were accompanied with sweeping renaming of the towns, villages and geographic objects in the Armenian SSR. In total, from 1924 to 1988, about 1,000 toponyms were changed in the Armenian SSR. This kind of changing of toponyms and place names continued in the post-Soviet era too. The last phase involved renaming the Turkic place names which were traditionally used in the republic. Manuk Vardanyan, head of the Armenian State Committee for the Real Estate Cadaster, 57 towns and villages were renamed in 2006. In 2007, 21 towns and villages of the republic were renamed. This process took a long time because there were problems with selecting a new name.
In summary, it can be said that the process of expulsion of ethnic Azeris which was launched in 1987 in Azerbaijan was a deliberate effort by the Armenian nationalists in the country's government and in the diaspora abroad. The Armenian SSR leadership was certain that the top officials of the USSR -- Mikhail Gorbachev and his entourage -- would not hamper the "plan," otherwise the Armenian nationalists would not dare to exterminate and expel Azeri population of Armenia so boldly and openly.
These cold-blooded nationalists did not care at all that by doing this, they put at risk the Armenians in Azerbaijan, quite the contrary -- one of the goals of deportation of Azeris from Armenia was precisely their desire to cause clashes with ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan. And then they used the method which has already become "classical" for the leaders of Armenian leaders: The Armenian victims were used for propaganda purposes, as yet another group of victims of the "ever-long-suffering people."