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References — Data on Refugees, Displaced Persons
and the Territories, Occupied During Military Actions
in Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan


Nagorno Karabakh

The Nagorno Karabakh Republic ("NKR") is also referred to as the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region ("NKAR") or the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast ("NKAO", the Russian word "oblast" means "region").

The current geographical territory of NKR does not include all of the areas which were historically and ethnically considered as Armenian1 it does however include the territories of what was formerly considered as the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast under the Soviet Regime, as well as the Shahoumian region.

It is on these territories that the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh was established. On September 2, 1991, the Joint Session of Soviet People's Deputies of NKAR and the Shahoumian Region proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, pursuant to Article 3 of the "Law of the USSR on the Procedure of Cessation from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics", adopted on April 3, 1990. This Proclamation of Independence was based on the national referendum held on December 10, 1991. The population of these territories participated in the election of the state authorities, who are referred to as "elected and other representative of Nagorno Karabakh" in the 1992 mandate of the OSCE Minsk Group.

1 The territory historically and ethnically considered as Armenian covers a considerably larger area, including the northern part of Nagorno Karabakh where prior to 1988 the population was predominantly Armenian.


Refugees and Displaced Persons in Nagorno Karabakh

The Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh reached 300,000-330,000 in 1918. Had conditions of consistent economic growth and reliable security been ensured in the region, the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh would have reached 700,000-800,000 by 1988. Between 1918 and 1920, a Turkish-Azeri campaign of ethnic cleansing was launched against the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, resulting in the killing of 20% of the population. In Shoushi alone, one of the largest cities in the Transcaucasus and the capital at the time, 20,000 Armenians were massacred by the Turkish-Azeri troops. Even after such atrocities, Armenians still made up 95% of the population of the Autonomous Region (Oblast) of Nagorno Karabakh at the time of its creation in 1923, whereas the Azeris constituted only 3%. The region was renamed the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region ("NKAR") in 1936.

Due to such systematic discrimination and forced emigration during the Soviet-Azeri regime, which lasted over 70 years, the growth of the Armenian population in Nagorno Karabakh stagnated (currently 600,000 Nagorno Karabakh Armenians live in Armenia and the CIS countries); proportionally, it even decreased - to 77% in NKAR. Whereas the number of Azeri population in Nagorno Karabakh consistently increased under the Soviet-Azeri regime, due to the influx of Azeris from Azerbaijan.

According to the official data of the 1989 USSR census, the population of NKAR was 189,000, of which 145,500 (76.9%) were Armenians and 40,600 (21.5%) were Azeris. Over 17,000 Armenians (80% of the population of the Shahoumian region) and approximately 3,000 Azeris lived in the Shahoumian region.

The census, however, did not include 23,000 Armenian refugees from Baku, Sumgait and several other cities, who, when the census was being conducted in January of 1989, actually lived in the former known as NKAR. These people did not have NKAR "registration" (a stamp in the passports of all Soviet citizens indicating the place of their permanent residence) and hence were considered to be living in their previous places of residence.

Thus, the total number of the Armenian population of both NKAR and the Shahoumian region was 185,500, of which Azeris constituted 44,000, and the Russians, Ukrainians, Greeks, Tatars and others- about 3,500 thousand.

In 1923, the regime in Moscow entrusted the Azeris with the task of determining the borders of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region, and the Northern areas of Nagorno Karabakh (regions mainly populated by Armenian, such as the Shahoumian region), which were originally included in the territories given to Azerbaijan by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1921, were not included in this newly established autonomous oblast.

In the 1930s, in an effort to dilute the overwhelming majority of the Armenian population in the northern territories of Nagorno Karabakh (such as Dashkesan, Shamkhor, Gedabek, and Khanlar regions), the Azeris redrew the borders of Nagorno Karabakh, and these northern territories which were densely populated by Armenians were divided and included in the newly created administrative regions of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic ("AzSSR"). The ancient Karabakh town of Gyanja - formerly Elizavetpol and then Kirovabad in Soviet times- was part of these regions which were divided and included in the AzSSR. Nevertheless, until 1988, Armenians constituted an absolute majority of the population of Northern Karabakh, which included the mountainous regions and partly also the foothills of the above-mentioned regions of the AzSSR. In 1988, the number of Armenians living in this area was as follows:

the Khanlar district 14,600
the Dashkesan district 7,300
the Shamkhor district 12,400
the Gedabek district 1,000
the city of Gyanja 48,100
Total 83,400

These figures demonstrate that the Armenian population of Northern Karabakh alone was twice as large as the Azeri population of the former NKAR. In the city of Gyanja alone there were7,000 more Armenians than Azeris in the whole of the former NKAR, or 4 times the number of Azeris living in the town of Shoushi.

By the end of 1988, the entire Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh (the NKAR, the Shahoumian region and Northern NK) was 268,000.

The deportation of the Armenians of Northern NK started in the autumn of 1988 and came to an end only after the initiation of armed combat in 1991. The last Armenian settlements in Getashen and Martounashen were ravaged in April-May, 1991, as a result of the joint operation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan and internal troops of the USSR. During this operation called "Ring," 24 Armenian settlements in Nagorno Karabakh were occupied by Azerbaijan and their entire population was deported. Currently the overwhelming majority of the refugees from Northern NK live in Armenia, some of them are in Russia and only a few have returned to NKR.

During the military actions in the summer and autumn of 1992, the Azerbaijani army completely took hold of the Shahoumian region, approximately two-thirds of the Martakert region, as well as some parts of Martouni, Askeran and Hadrout regions of NKR. As a result, 66,000 Armenians became refugees or displaced persons. After the liberation of the greater part of the occupied territories (except for the Shahoumian region and parts of the Martakert and Martouni regions) by the Defense Army of Nagorno Karabakh, 35,000 refugees returned to NKR. However, most of these refugees qualify as "displaced persons", since either their villages were completely destroyed or they are sill under Azeri occupation.

The total number of Armenian refugees from Nagorno Karabakh is 114,000, of which 83,000 are from Northern NK, and 31,000 are predominantly from the Shahoumian and Martakert regions.

There are about 30,000 displaced persons in the NKR.

From the 185,000 NKR Armenians in 1991, currently there are 61,000 refugees and displaced persons from NKR proper, which represents 33% of the Armenian population of NKR (1991 figures).

Information is based on the following sources:

  • The 1989 Soviet Union census
  • The Department of Statistics of the Oblast Soviet of the NKAO
  • The Regional Executive Committee of the Shahoumian Region
  • The Committee on Refugees of the NKR

This means that one-third of the NKR population are refugees or displaced persons.

Together with the refugees of Northern NK (see above) the total number of refugees and displaced persons reaches 144,000, which is 54% of the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh as a whole (NKR and Northern NK), according to 1988 figures.

Thus, since 1988, every other Armenian from Karabakh, who, at that time, lived in their Motherland, has become either a refugee or a displaced person.

Although most of the Armenians who had lived in Baku, Sumgait and several other towns and regions of Azerbaijan and became refugees as a result of the conflict, are of Karabakh descent, we deliberately limited ourselves to the geographic and demographic borders of Nagorno Karabakh and do not speak here about this considerably large category of Armenian refugees, which should become a subject of discussion between Armenia and Azerbaijan. (More than 350,000 Armenians left Azerbaijan and now live in Armenia, Russia, CIS and other countries)

When comparing the aforementioned figures for the refugees and displaced persons from NKR, with the figures available for Azerbaijan (please see below) it is clear that of the two conflicting parties, NKR has suffered an incomparably more difficult situation in terms of refugees and displaced persons. It should also be added that contrary to the fact that Azeri refugees receive humanitarian aid from international organizations, until recently, NKR did not receive any assistance from such organizations for its refugees and displaced persons.


Occupied territories of the NKR

By occupied territories of Nagorno Karabakh, the authorities of the NKR mean the territories of the NKR, occupied by Azerbaijan. As stated earlier, NKR does not cover the whole Armenian Nagorno Karabakh in its geographic, historical and ethnic entirety, but only the territories of the former NKAR and the Shahoumian region (see above), where the authorities of the NKR had full control at the onset of the military conflict.

As a result of military actions between Azerbaijan and the NKR in 1992, the Azeri troops occupied and still hold approximately 750 sq. km, or 15%, of NKR territory including the whole of the Shahoumian region (600 sq. km) and some parts of the Martakert and Martouni regions.



The Azeri authorities consistently, through state propaganda and official statements, claim that 20% of Azerbaijani land is occupied at present and there are more than 1 million refugees and displaced persons. They claim that this situation is a result of Armenia's aggression against Azerbaijan, as well as the seizure of both NK and the adjacent regions by Armenia.

It should be noted that none of the UN Security Council resolutions concerning the NK conflict contains any expression of "aggression" by Armenia or demands that its troops be withdrawn from the territory of Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh (see the 1993 UN SC resolutions 822, 853, 874, 884).


The Issue of the Occupied Azeri Territories

According to the maps issued by the Azerbaijani officials, the total area of the territories occupied by the Defense Army of Nagorno Karabakh allegedly is 8,780 sq. km., the total area of the Azerbaijani Republic being 86,600sq. km. Simple arithmetic calculation shows that the seven regions adjacent to Nagorno Karabakh make up only 10% of Azerbaijan's territory. Even if we were to consider the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh proper as an "occupied territory," as it is officially claimed by the leaders of the Azerbaijani Republic, the area would make only 13% and not 20% (Taking into account the territories that both Azerbaijan and Karabakh have occupied from each other).

As stated earlier, none of the UN or OSCE documents make any mention of "Armenia's occupation of the territories of Azerbaijan." These are merely allegations made by the Azeri authorities in their propaganda material.

Furthermore, the maps issued by Azerbaijan are, first, drawn on a distorted scale, as Nagorno Karabakh and adjacent territories, in comparison with the neighboring regions, are drawn larger than they are in reality, and second, the line of contact between the Karabakh and Azeri military is drawn more eastward than the real borders of conflict: a fact which is easily verified when the Azeri maps are compared with the military and other maps used by the OSCE Minsk Group. Notwithstanding the above-mentioned distortions, the area of the occupied territories is overstated.

Curing the military actions, the Defense Army of Nagorno Karabakh seized 5 districts of Azerbaijani Republic (Lachin, Kelbajar, Koubatly, Zangelan and Jebrail), as well as approximately 30% of Agdam and Fizuly regions.

According to Azerbaijani data, the area and population of the said regions are as follows:

Territory(sq. km.)

Information is based on the following sources:

  • Data of the Ministry of Defense of the AR, disseminated by the Embassy of the AR
    in the Russian Federation in the autumn of 1994;
  • 1989 census in the USSR
  • Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic: Administrative-Territorial Division.
    Azgosizdat. Baku 1979;
  • Mukhalifat (Azeri newspaper) 03.04.1996, etc.

The total area of the first five districts is 6,330 sq.km. The total area of Agdam and Fizuly regions is 2,480 sq.km. However the Defense Army of Nagorno Karabakh controls only 35% of Agdam and 25% of Fizuly regions, i.e. respectively 383 and 347 sq. km. Hence, the figure of 8,780 sq. km. of occupied territories, claimed by the Azeri side, is also a fabrication.

The total area of the territories of the Azerbaijani Republic, controlled by NKR, is not 8,780sq.km. It is 7,059 sq. km. which is 8% of the area of the former Azerbaijani SSR, i.e. it is 2.5 times smaller than 20%, a figure constantly mentioned by the leaders and representatives of Azerbaijani Republic, deliberately misleading the international community and world public opinion.

Whereas Azerbaijan occupies 15% of the territories of NKR.


Refugees and Displaced Persons in Azerbaijan

Between 1988-1989, 168,000 thousand Azeris left Armenia. (These figured are based on the official figures for Azeris living in Armenia in the beginning of 1988, although Baku arbitrarily speaks of some 200 or even 250 thousand Azeris.) Most of these 168,000, who left Armenia 8-10 months after of the pogrom of Armenians in Sumgait and forced deportation of 350,000 thousand Armenians from the AzSSR, were able to exchange or sell their houses, which were built in rural areas. The rest received financial compensation (a total of 72 million rubles or about 100 million USD) from the government of Armenia (to date Armenian refugees have received no compensation).

Virtually all of the Azeri population, 40,600 people or 21.5% of the population of the former NKAR (according to the 1989 USSR census) left former NKAR during the military actions in 1991-1992. It should be mentioned that Azerbaijan deliberately overstates the number of the Azeri population of the former NKAR, speaking of "60 thousand people" or about "a third of the population."

The Azeri population of the Shahoumian region stayed to live at their homes in all of the four Azeri villages situated along the border, in the northern and eastern parts of the region (where the Karabakh-Azeri front-line passed through in 1992-93). The Azeri population living on the territories adjacent to the northern Nagorno Karabakh and in the populated areas of the northern Nagorno Karabakh did not suffer either; whereas 83,000 Karabakh Armenians were deported in 1988-91. Moreover, more than 100,000 Azeri refugees were housed in the abandoned homes and apartments of Armenians, who were driven out of the northern part of Nagorno Karabakh. (According to the 1989 USSR census, the average Azeri family in the AzSSR consisted of 5.6 individuals and the average Armenian family in the AzSSR, 3.85 individuals. Moreover, as a result of 70 years of discriminatory policies against Armenians in AzSSR, there were many empty Armenian houses in Azerbaijan. The owners of these houses had left for Armenia, Russia or other republics of the USSR earlier.)

According to Azerbaijani data cited above, the population of the seven districts that have been either entirely or partially occupied by the Defense Army of Nagorno Karabakh, totaled to 483,900 in 1989. Taking into account that the Agdam and Fizuly regions are occupied partially, the total number of displaced persons from these regions constituted about 420,000; of which 45,000, again, according to the Azerbaijani data, returned to their homes in 1997. Thus, of the total number of the inhabitants of the mentioned 7 regions, only 375,000 are refugees and displaced persons (40,000 of these refugees and displaced persons have left for Russia. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, 1,5 m. Azeris, citizens of Azerbaijan, currently live in Russia.)

The total number of Azeri refugees and displaced persons should be calculated by adding to the aforementioned figures the number of refugees from Armenia (168,000, who, as stated earlier, either exchanged their houses or received compensation for their property, and would not qualify as "refugees") and from Nagorno Karabakh (40,000).

Thus, as a result of the NK conflict, there are 583,000 refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan, comprising 7.9% of the officially declared population of Azerbaijan. Claims about " a million refugees in Azerbaijan" are propagandistic falsification like the claim about "20% occupied territories of Azerbaijan."

It should be recalled that one-third of the NKR population are refugees and displaced persons. According to the data from the Republic of Armenia, refugees make up 12% of the population of Armenia. Apart from this, 300,000 individuals remained without shelter after the 1988 earthquake, while blockade has been imposed on Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey, which is one of the OSCE Minsk Group countries.

Main Comparative Data

NKR Territory
Occupied by AZERBAIJAN
  Azerbaijani Territories
Controlled by the Defense
Army of NKR
15% 8%
Refugees and Displaced
Persons in NKR
(% of the Population)
Refugees and Displaced
(% of the Population)
33% 7.9%

NKR President Writes to UN Secretary General
on Territories and Refugees

President of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh

August 17, 1997

United Nations Secretary-General

cc: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
cc: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
cc: International Organization for Migration
cc: Inter-Parliamentary Union
cc: Parliamentary Assembly of the CIS
cc: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
cc: Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
cc: Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Member States of the OSCE Minsk Group


The lack of accurate data regarding the occupied territories and the number of refugees and displaced person resulting from the conflict between Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan further complicates the settlement process.
In an effort to conduct an aggressive information war, the Azerbaijani authorities consistently disseminate inaccurate figures and data; and these figures appear in mass media and sometimes even in the documents of international organizations.

The use of inaccurate references only lead to incorrect conclusions and decisions that may further aggravate the already complicated situation faced by Nagorno Karabakh.

The enclosed document, which has been prepared on the basis of objective analysis and with references to official sources, aims at clarifying issues and contributing to a just settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

I remain, Excellency, at your disposal for any additional or more precise information if any such need should arise.

Yours sincerely,

Leonard Petrossian
Acting President of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh


The NK Border Changes and Demografic Situation
in the 20th Century

The Autonomous Oblast was established in 1923, on a portion of what is now known as Nagorno Karabakh. For centuries, this territory to the north of the Araks river was referred to as "Nagorno Karabakh" on geographic maps, prior to it being renamed to "Azerbaijan" in the XX century. The "Azerbaijani Republic" emerged in 1918, due to Turkish expansion in the Transcaucasus, and it included the vast territory from Baku to Batoumi. Naming this territory "Azerbaijan", which was the historical name for the northwestern province of Iran, was also part of this Turkish expansionist policy.

In July 1921, the Caucasian Bureau of Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, decided to hand over Nagorno Karabakh to the newly-formed Azerbaijani SSR. At that time there were no recognized borders: neither the NKAO borders, nor the ones between Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan. The borders of provinces and regions in the Russian Empire were defined based on the population residing within a specific administrative unit; the names of provinces and regions were generally based on the toponymy of the largest populated areas, situated within a given administrative unit (for example, Elizavetpol - Elizavetpol Province). During the short-lived independence of the Transcaucasian republics between 1918-1920, the borders between them were not defined due to territorial conflicts, including Azerbaijan's claims for a large Armenian-populated territory, and consequently these republics were not admitted into the League of Nations.

In early 1920's, when the Russian Bolsheviks were deciding Nagorno Karabakh's fate, they used such terms as "mountainous parts" of those regions of the Elizavetpol province, the territories of which were completely included Nagorno Karabakh. This means that they considered the geographic unity of Nagorno Karabakh.

Ethnically, since the ancient times Nagorno Karabakh has been populated exclusively by Armenians, while bordering to it plains, formerly Armenian-populated, in the late Middle Ages were subjected to expansion by nomad-Turks. Since the nomads were only cattle-breeders, ousting the indigenous Armenian population, they consequently settled down on those lower territories, which were most suitable for cattle breeding. Thus, already in XVI-XVII centuries, there took place the separation of the ancient Armenian province of Artsakh, which embraced the interfluve between Kura and Araks. It was divided into the Armenian-populated Nagorno Karabakh and the bordering plains, mostly populated by Turks.

Mirza Jamal Jevanshir was originally from Karabakh and was one of the first Turkic-Azerbaijani historians. In mid-XIX century he wrote (in Persian) about Karabakh's borders in his manuscript "History of Karabakh". (The Russian translation was printed in 1855 in the Tiflis-published newspaper "Kavkaz" (N61-69)). In 1959 the manuscript was published in three languages in Baku: Persian and the new translations were also available in Russian and Azerbaijani ("History of Karabakh", Baku, Publishing House of the AzSSR Academy of Science, Institute of History, 1959). Jevanshir wrote: "According to ancient historic (books), borders of Karabakh vilayet are the following: to the south -Araks river, from the Khudaferin bridge to Synykh kerpi, which is now situated in the territory of Kazakh, Shamsaddin and Demirchi-Khasanly districts. Russian officials call it the "Red Bridge" (it is situated on the borders of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. - editor's note). To the east - where river Kura joins the Araks river, near the village of Javad, and flows into the Caspian Sea. The Northern border of Karabakh and Elizavetpol (Ganja) to the river Kura is Geran river and the Kura river, which runs along the border and reaches Araks river. To the West are the high mountains of Karabakh…" (p.63).

Thus, the ethno-geographic borders of Nagorno Karabakh (based on the administrative borders of the former Azerbaijani SSR) consist of not only the territory of the NKAO and Shahoumian region, but also the Lachin, Kelbajar, Jebrail, Fizuly, Koubatly and Zangelan regions (the last two regions partially), and in the North - mountainous and foothill areas of Dashkesan, Khanlar, Shamkhor regions and partially - Gedabek region of the former AzSSR. It is significant that in the documents and materials prepared by the League of Nations and submitted for discussion at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, these were the boundaries defined for Nagorno Karabakh (see British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data, Caucasian Boundaries: Documents and Maps 1802-1946).

It is noteworthy that in most documents issued between 1918-1920, when the Karabakh issue appeared on the world arena as a territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the terms "Armenian" or "Nagorno Karabakh" were used (see Nagorno Karabakh in 1918-1923, Documents and Materials, Publishing House of Armenian Academy of Science, Yerevan, 1992).

In the process of annexation of Nagorno Karabakh in 1923, in contrast to the previous decision of the Caucasian Bureau of Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, the AzSSR authorities excluded a significant part of the NK territory in the newly established autonomous region.. According to the same decision of the Caucasian Bureau, the town of Shoushi was to become the capital of the autonomous region. However, this decision also remained unimplemented by the Azerbaijani authorities, since the leadership of Soviet Azerbaijan intended to preserve the demographic situation: the Armenian massacres in March of 1920 left Shoushi with a prevailing Azerbaijani population. In addition, Armenian refugees were prohibited from returning to Shoushi, whereas an intensive settlement of Azerbaijanis was implemented there.

Thus, most of the original historic and geographic parts of Nagorno Karabakh were not included in the newly created Autonomous Oblast. Specifically he territories in the north of the country - the Shahoumian region (in 1988 more than 80% of its population were Armenians) and the territories in the north, including parts of Dashkesan, Shamkhor, and Khanlar regions, which until 1988 were densely populated by Armenians. The Armenian population in the northern parts of Nagorno Karabakh was approximately 83,000 people - more than twice the number of Azerbaijanis in the NKAO. Between 1988 and 1991, the Armenian population of the northern NK has been systematically and forcibly deported from places of their permanent residence by Azerbaijani authorities.

The maps published in the USSR, illustrate that until 1936, AONK had common borders with Armenian SSR (the 1928 USSR Atlas, Publishing House of the USSR Central Election Committee, Moscow, 1928). On July 7, 1923, when Azerbaijan declared the creation of AONK, it also declared the creation of an independent Kurdish district, known as "Red Kurdistan", which linked Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia. Nevertheless, in 1929, when the "Red Kurdistan" was abolished, its borders were not documented in any published maps, nor in any decisions of the AzSSR Central Election Committee (A. Bukshpan, Azerbaijanskiye Kurdy (Azerbaijani Kurds), Baku, 1932). Simultaneously with the abolishment of the Kurdish district, it was decided that its territories (now - Kelbajar, Lachin, Kubatly and a part of Jebrail regions) would become separate administrative units of the AzSSR.

Hence, a part of the AONK territory, which bordered with Armenia, was excluded from the newly created autonomous region, and consequently the Nagorno Karabakh Armenian Autonomy became an enclave, deprived of a common borders with Armenia.

The ensuing demographic changes are shown in the tables below:

Population number
(in thousands of people)
according to 1970 census /Results of the 1970 Union-wide census, vol.4, M., 1973, p.263-300/
Population number (in thousands of people) according to 1979 census
Actual increase (in thousands of people)
for the period of 1970-1979
Estimated increase (in thousands
of people)
for the period of 1970-1979
Difference between estimated and actual increase (in thousands
of people)


Including (in thousands of people)
Russians and others
Growth rate 102.8%

(Information of the NKAO Department of Statistics)

734 15th Street, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005
tel: (202) 481-3341, e-mail: info@nkrusa.org