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Azerbaijanís Policy of
Economic, Political and Cultural Discrimination

Inclusion of Nagorno Karabakh in the Soviet Azerbaijan within the guise of "autonomous status" practically legalized the annexation of historically Armenian territories. For its population it meant the establishment of a discriminatory regime, which would undertake "quiet deportation" of Armenians from their ancient lands. The policy of suppression was applied to practically all spheres of the autonomous oblast's economic, social and political life.

The backwardness of the Soviet economic system, which was based on centralized planning and command management, had its imprint on the economy of Nagorno Karabakh. Its structure depended on the demands of the USSR and the soviet republics, rather than on the interests of the oblast itself. Economic problems were being solved through the prism of political goals pursued by the government of Azerbaijan. As a result, the structure of the Nagorno Karabakh economy, distribution of production, and economic workload did not correspond to the true economic condition and potential of Nagorno Karabakh.

During 1968-1979, the level of capital investments in NKAO did not change significantly (24-26 million rubles per year), while they doubled in Azerbaijan and reached 1,820 million rubles in 1979 ("Narodnoe Khozaystvo Azerbaijana za 60 let", Baku, 1980). These proportions were of a political nature. Not less than half of the funds allocated for Nagorno Karabakh were spent on the construction of Sarsang reservoir. Despite the fact that the reservoir was built on Nagorno Karabakh's territory, only about 13% (130 thousand hectares) of its lands were irrigated using its water. Thus, for ten years sizable capital investments of 10 million rubles annually were made available for the construction of the reservoir, which allowed Azerbaijan to claim a sharp increase of investments in Nagorno Karabakh.

Winemaking was the most developed economic activity. Nagorno Karabakh used to lead in the world in the production of grapes per capita (about one metric ton per capita), counting only the government-grown grapes. However, only 20-22% of the harvest was used to make wine - the other 78-80% went to Azerbaijan as raw material.

In the biggest industrial enterprise of NKAO, the Karabakh Silk Factory, which employed 2500 workers, the entire technological production chain was in place except for the last link - dyeing the final product. The fabric was sent to a destination hundreds of kilometers away to the Azeri town of Sheki for this process. From there the final product was shipped out to markets for sale. Nagorno Karabakh was thereby deprived of great profits.

The government of Azerbaijan allocated almost no funds for development of roads within the oblast, which seriously hindered the economic development of Nagorno Karabakh. Thus, land communications between the capital and regional centers of Nagorno Karabakh was diverted to pass through surrounding Azerbaijani regions.

Average annual rates of capital construction were 2.5 times lower than those of Azerbaijan proper despite the fact that in the 1950-1960 nine deposits of Island spar, seven deposits of asbestos, thirteen deposits of limestone, several vast deposits of copal and valuable marble were found in Nagorno Karabakh. The abundance of local valuable natural resources was ignored and 93% of all construction material was imported to Karabakh from surrounding regions of Azerbaijan.

No labor-intensive and especially no science-intensive technologies were introduced in Nagorno Karabakh, despite the fact that all requirements for establishing a robust metal-mining industry were present in the region. Azerbaijan blocked introduction of science-intensive technologies to Nagorno Karabakh in order to keep the area agricultural. As a result, many highly-educated residents left.

The aforementioned indicates that Nagorno Karabakh's economy did not have a place in that of Azerbaijan due to the absence of complete-cycle production capabilities. Instead, Karabakh was used as a source of raw materials for Azerbaijan. Nagorno Karabakh was economically dependent on the outside due to its economic structure and management mechanisms.

The intentional stalemate of economic development had its impact on the welfare of the Armenian population and became a major factor in its migration. As a result, the Armenian population declined both nominally and proportionally, despite the high birth rate. Thus, while the Armenians constituted 96% of the entire population of Nagorno Karabakh in 1921, in 1979 their numbers dropped down to 75% of the entire population of the NKAO. Meanwhile, the Azeri population of Nagorno Karabakh grew several times as its growth was predominantly sustained by the influx of migrants from Azerbaijan. On July 22, 2002 during his meeting with reporters, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev admitted that he had attempted to change the ethnic composition of Nagorno Karabakh during his years as the First Secretary of Azerbaijani SSR: "I tried to change Nagorno Karabakh's demography… Instead of sending Azeri workers to Baku, I sent a large number of them to Karabakh from surrounding Azerbaijani regions… With these and other measures, I was trying to make sure that Azerbaijani population grew in Karabakh while the Armenian population diminished. Those who worked in Karabakh back then, know what I am talking about." In 1923 Azeries constituted 3% of the population of the area, in 1953 their number grew to 13%, reaching its peak of 24% in 1988.

Interventions into the spiritual and cultural life of Armenians, insults of national dignity, gross falsification of history - this was the cultural policy of Azerbaijan. In all reference books of Azerbaijani SSR, Azeris were mentioned as the indigenous population of Nagorno Karabakh. Radio and television broadcasts from Yerevan were banned. Cultural and spiritual links with the Armenian SSR were practically severed.

Azerbaijani authorities shut down several Armenian schools. Forty-six of them were abolished starting in 1960. The History of Armenia was removed from the curricula of secondary schools and replaces by the history of Azerbaijan. The official language of the autonomous region was not mentioned at all in the Law of Azerbaijan on NKAO.

Even the historic monuments of Nagorno Karabakh were subject to an anti-Armenian policy. There are approximately 1,700 historic architectural monuments in Nagorno Karabakh, most of them churches and monasteries. They were not included in the official list of monuments protected by the government of the Azerbaijani SSR. Moreover, the Academy of Science of the Azerbaijani SSR named them "dangerous religious centers of the past".

Many of these monuments were built in the Middle Ages and played a unique role in the history of the Armenian people. Armenian ancient sources and more than 1,000 Armenian writings carved into the walls of those monuments give evidence to the Armenian nature of those monuments.

The Azerbaijani authorities tried to ignore Armenian cultural monuments, which date back to early times and up to the 19th century, with one purpose - to create an inaccurate "record" that Nagorno Karabakh was not populated with Armenians until the 18th century. In addition, Azerbaijani authorities tried to Islamize Nagorno Karabakh, portraying these monuments as Albanian.

The abolition of Armenian monuments became widespread and systematic during the Soviet period. On the territory of Nagorno Karabakh alone, hundreds of churches, monasteries and cemeteries were bombed, destroyed and wiped out. Hundreds of khachkars (cross-stones) were crumbled and used as construction material. Settlements of cavemen in the caverns of Tstsakhach, Mets Taghlar and Azokh were damaged. The burial vault of St. Grigoris (5th century AD) in the Amaras monastery was torn open. A vivid example of the Azerbaijani policy of discrimination is the fact that beginning from 1930s there were no functioning churches in Nagorno Karabakh, while in Shushi, mosques were openly serving the religious needs of the Azeri population.

Education and employment policy towards Nagorno Karabakh was also discriminative. The Armenian-language higher educational institution in Baku was abolished. In order to raise the educational level of the population of republics, special quotas were established by the central USSR authorities to educate people in higher education facilities located in other cities. According to the program, Azerbaijani SSR was given a quota of 850-900 students while Nagorno Karabakh did not receive a single place. Azerbaijani authorities explained this fact by saying that the program is intended for indigenous inhabitants only. In other words Azerbaijan officially considered Armenians population of NKAO as non-indigenous and created unbearable conditions in order to force the Armenians from the area of their historic residence eventually changing the demographic picture of Nagorno Karabakh. For the same reason, persons who received higher education in the Armenian SSR were denied employment. As a result, many promising individuals were forced to leave Nagorno Karabakh and seek employment elsewhere. Meanwhile, Azeris were being sent to Nagorno Karabakh in large numbers to work in the local Communist Party, administrative, economic, law-enforcement, educational, cultural and health-care arenas. Besides, using the pretext of building nation-wide industrial and energy giant enterprises, people were forcibly recruited in NKAO and relocated to Baku, Sumgait, Mingechaur and other cities of Azerbaijani SSR. (Later, in 1988-1990 these very people and their families fell victim to the massacres and mass pogroms of Armenians on the territory of Azerbaijan.) Thus, it is not surprising that during 1926-1976 the number of Armenian towns and villages decreased by 85, while Azeri settlements grew by 17 ("Dostizheniya Nagornogo Karabakha v devyatoy pyatiletke", Stepanakert, 1979.)

Realizing, that this situation had serious consequences, the Armenian majority of Nagorno Karabakh appealed to the central authorities with letters and petitions on numerous occasions. They demanded the annulment of the unconstitutional and illegal decision of 1921 and the review of the option of transferring of Nagorno Karabakh from Azerbaijan SSR to Armenian SSR. All these demands remained unanswered, while Azerbaijan responded with new repressions. The national liberation movement was reborn in 1988 as the people of Karabakh saw hope in Mikhail Gorbachev's democratization agenda to correct the mistakes of the Soviet totalitarian past.


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