Armenians, who formed a majority in the Zangezur committee, formed a separate committee in Goris. As political relations increasingly deteriorated, Azerbaijanis left Goris at the end of that year and formed their own national committee in the village of Dondarli in Gubadli (Hovannisian, 1971:86).
By the beginning of 1918, mutual dissatisfaction in Zangezur had reached the point of ethnic conflict, which was temporarily stopped when the Ottoman army entering Zangezur. After Armenia’s victory over the Ottomans in the Battle of Sardarabad, the parties began negotiations. According to the terms of the Treaty of Batum, Armenia was to have an area of 12,000 sq. km (De Waal, 2018:63). Armenia officially dropped its claims to Karabakh and Zangezur. General Andranik, who did not recognize the treaty between the First Republic of Armenia and the Ottomans signed in Batum, arrived in Zangezur from Turkey with a 5,000-strong group. The local Armenian committee in Zangezur supported Andranik’s movement. Andranik tried to join his group with the British forces in the north of Iran but was defeated by Ottoman troops near Khoy. Having then retreated to Nakhchivan, Andranik’s group encountered strong resistance in the area. Seeing the difficulty of capturing Nakhchivan, Andranik returned to Zangezur.
In Zangezur, he and his gang began pillaging Azerbaijani villages. In early September, Andranik and his gang destroyed 18 Muslim villages, killing 500 women. The report of the chief of the regional police department stated that the massacre had been carried out at the request of Armenian villagers who wanted to seize the property of those expelled and slaughtered. In the face of the military superiority of the Armenian forces, an unprecedented influx of refugees began from Zangezur to Nakhchivan and surrounding areas. About 50,000 people were forced to flee from Zangezur Uyezd to the neighboring Jabrayil and Javanshir Uyezds. As a result of these raids, more than 100 villages were devastated, bringing the total number of deaths to 10,000 (Baberowski, 2010:166).
A British journalist in Zangezur witnessed the slaughter of the population but did not see the need to report it because the people being slaughtered were Muslims. The state-owned Azerbaijan newspaper wrote that it was surprising that no one in Europe showed any interest in the tragedy. Archbishop of Yerevan Khoren acknowledged in his notes on these events in 1920 that Tatar massacres had indeed taken place. Although he compared the ethnic cleansing in Zangezur with the Ottoman massacres of Armenians in 1915, he blamed the pro-Ottoman Tatars (Azerbaijanis) for this ethnic conflict (Bloxham, 2005:105). Andranik settled about 30,000 refugees he had brought with him from Bitlis and Van in the villages vacated by the Azerbaijanis. Richard Hovannisian describes Andranik’s policy as the beginning of the “process of transforming Zangezur into a solidly Armenian land” (Bloxham, 2005:103).
Halil Pasha sent a note to Armenia protesting against the massacres committed by Andranik. The Armenian government responded that they had nothing to do with Andranik’s actions and that Armenia recognized Zangezur as Azerbaijani territory. After the Armistice of Mudros, which formalized the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the Armenian groups in Zangezur became even more active. After the massacres in Zangezur, Andranik launched an attack on Shusha in October 1918 in an attempt to seize Karabakh. The road from Zangezur to Shusha passed through Azerbaijani and Kurdish villages in the Hakari River valley. This area was controlled by Sultan Bey Sultanov’s forces. After the fighting that began in November 1918, the Dashnaks were able to seize several Muslim villages, including Lachin, having suffered heavy casualties. Shusha was now 40 km away. However, by the time it happened, the British corps under General Thomson had already entered Azerbaijan. Thomson sent Squire, his regional aide, from Baku to Shusha to put an end to hostilities. Squire went from Shusha to Lachin, demanding that the Dashnak army return to Goris (Hovannisian, 1971:89).
Although the British command initially stated that it did not officially recognize the Musavat government, after a while certain changes began to take place in British policy. In April 1919, the British command made a move that would provoke protests from both the Armenian government and the Armenian committee in Zangezur. General Shuttleworth issued a declaration confirming the appointment of Khosrov Bey Sultanov as the Governor General of Karabakh and Zangezur (Shirokograd, 2009:100). This meant that Britain recognized Zangezur and Karabakh as Azerbaijani territories. However, the British command advised the parties to wait for the Paris Peace Conference before making a final decision. Returning to Goris from Lachin at the request of the British, Andranik left his group and went to Georgia. With Andranik’s departure from Zangezur in 1919, the Armenian National Committee of Zangezur remained militarily weak and demanded troops and weapons from Armenia. It also demanded that the Kachaznuni government appoint an interim governor of Zangezur. However, the Armenian government, too weak to contest the British command’s decisions, secretly sent Arsen Shahmazov as interim commissioner to the region. Shahmazov was secretly instructed to bring Zangezur into Armenia.
In the first months of 1919, British officers came to Zangezur and demanded that the Armenian National Committee recognize the Azerbaijani government. The Armenian National Committee rejected this demand. When it became clear that the Armenians were impossible to convince, General Shuttleworth went to Goris. During the talks in Goris, Shuttleworth demanded that Khosrov Bey Sultanov be recognized as the governor of Zangezur, but he did not succeed in that either. Shuttleworth warned that if the demand was not met, the members of the Armenian National Committee would be arrested and Goris would be bombed. All these threats were ineffective. Seeing this, Shuttleworth left the region in May, accusing the Armenian government of interfering in the internal affairs of Zangezur.
The intractability of the Armenian National Committee in Zangezur forced the British to change their mind. In late May, General Cory, the new commander of the 27th Division, told the Azerbaijani government that any attempt to establish their own administration in Zangezur would be regarded by him as military aggression. Three days later, General Cory sent a letter to Armenian Prime Minister Khatisian saying that Azerbaijan would resign itself to the rule of the Armenian National Committee in Zangezur, which he regarded as a major concession to the Armenians. Taking advantage of this situation, the local Armenian committee began mass ethnic cleansing against the Azerbaijanis living in the region. As a result of mass murder and violence, a large-scale migration from Zangezur to Iran began.
The bloodshed caused serious protests in Azerbaijan. On June 21, the Azerbaijan newspaper reported that the Armenians had blocked mountain crossings and that 10,000 Muslim nomads with 150,000 livestock had no access to summer pastures. Sultanov asked the government to give permission for a military intervention. After the Azerbaijani army seized control of Karabakh in the summer of 1919, the leader of the Musavat party, Rasulzade, declared that it was time to liberate Zangezur and open the Julfa road (Hovannisian, 1971:188-189). In October, the Azerbaijani government mobilized the 1st Infantry Division under the command of General Javad Shikhlinski and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment under the command of Davud Bey Yadigarov to establish control over Zangezur. Before the beginning of the campaign, the territory of the present-day Kalbajar, Gubadli, Lachin and Zangilan Districts was under the control of the Azerbaijani army. The Armenian National Committee of Zangezur controlled the present-day Goris, Meghri, Kapan and Sisian districts. The military success of the Azerbaijani army in the fighting for Karabakh and Lankaran raised hopes for the capture of Zangezur. Sultan Bey Sultanov and his group also began preparations for the attack.
In late October, Javad Bey Shikhlinski advanced from Lachin to the village of Dig and gave an ultimatum to the Armenian group in the area to open the road to Goris. After the Armenian group rejected the ultimatum, the Azerbaijani army launched the Zangezur campaign in early November. The operation to seize Zangezur began on November 4 from Karabakh, where Azerbaijani military forces were concentrated. At the same time, the local government committee in Nakhchivan attacked the territory of Sisian, and two Turkish divisions attacked the center of Zangezur.
In the first days of the hostilities, the Armenian army was forced to retreat along the entire front. However, the defeat of the Azerbaijani army in the direction of Kecheldala-Dig changed the outcome of the operation. Suffering heavy casualties, the Azerbaijani army had to return to its starting positions on November 7. The main reason for the failure of the Azerbaijani army was the arbitrary behavior of Sultan Bey Sultanov’s gang. This group was even remembered for firing at Azerbaijani soldiers in one of the battles. It was the withdrawal of this group at the Armenian counter-attack that put Javad Bey Shikhlinski in danger of being surrounded. Thus, the Azerbaijani army returned to its pre-war positions.
In mid-November, British and US officials Oliver Wardrop and Colonel James Rhea demanded an immediate cessation of the hostilities. Negotiations began in Tbilisi (Georgia) on November 20, 1919, and on November 23, the Prime Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Khatisian and Yusifbeyli, signed a peace treaty. At the request of the Azerbaijani delegation, the third point was changed so that the administration of Zangezur remained under the control of the representative of the United States of America, until the issue could be resolved by the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace conference (Hille, 2010:187).
Despite the signing of the peace agreement, the fighting did not stop. Halil Bey, attacking from Nakhchivan and advancing in the direction of Daralayaz, could not capture Keshishkendi despite the help from the Turkish 11th Division. At the same time, in central Zangezur, Armenian troops led by Garegin Nzhdeh gathered near the Urud Valley separating Tatevi from Kapan, and prepared to launch a campaign against the remaining Azerbaijani villages in the region. The attack began with explosions of barrel bombs on December 1. Local Azerbaijanis held three columns of the Armenian army at bay for 3 days, not allowing them to approach the villages. However, on the morning of the fourth day of the operation, Armenian soldiers with artillery support captured the village of Shaharjik in Kapan. On December 7, the last Azerbaijani village of Ajibaj was pillaged and burned. The Azerbaijani population of the region that survived the massacre and ethnic cleansing carried out by the Dashnak leaders was forced to flee to the mountains or toward Nakhchivan and the Hakari valley (Hovannisian, 1982:225-226).
These massacres provoked strong protests among the Azerbaijanis. Khosrov Bey Sultanov called on the government to declare war, as more than 400 houses had been destroyed in 9 villages. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Mammad Yusif Jafarov included this information in his protest to the Allied missions in Tbilisi. In his letter to Allied representatives Haskell, Wardrop and Georgian Foreign Minister Gekechkori, Nasib Bey Yusifbeyli said that Zangezur would be invaded unless the heavy weapons were confiscated from the Armenians were not confiscated and all terms of the truce enforced. Returning to the Caucasus on December 3, Allied High Commissioner William Haskell accused Colonel Rhea of having failed to resolve the Zangezur crisis. He was also dissatisfied with the non-implementation of the US plan of Governorate General in Nakhchivan. Haskell blamed the Azerbaijani government for this problem. Rhea said it was difficult to tell facts from propaganda in the current conflict. British General Mark Bristol in Istanbul accused the allies of ignoring Armenian interests over Azerbaijan’s plan to build the Karabakh-Zangezur-Nakhchivan bridge. Bristol’s words strained the relationship between Haskell and Rhea so much that Rhea resigned a week after Haskell returned.
Haskell promised that in response to Azerbaijan’s protests against the massacres in Zangezur, he would send officers to the region to investigate the role of the Armenian regular troops in the massacre. He also recommended to the Armenian government recalling all military equipment and personnel being sent to Zangezur, and said that if the presence of Armenian regulars in the area was confirmed, it would be a heavy blow to Armenia (Mahmuryan, 2002:70). Armenian Prime Minister Khatisian denied that no regular troops were stationed and no military operations were carried out in the region, but promised to punish those implicated should such cases be confirmed. Khatisian later admitted that regular troops had been sent against local Azerbaijani groups in Daralayaz.
To placate Haskell and Wardrop, the Armenian government recalled Arsen Shahmazov in December and appointed General Kazarov as commissioner. Kazarov was instructed to determine whether there was any truth to the Azerbaijani allegations and if so to punish the transgressors. On December 8, Azerbaijan threatened to withdraw from the agreement and demanded the establishment of a commission on Zangezur. The Azerbaijan-Armenian conference was held on December 14-21, 1919. Speaking at the opening of the conference, Fatali Khan Khoyski said that only the closest association of the Caucasian peoples could save them from disruptive international commotions and domestic turmoil. Speaking on behalf of Armenia, Tigran Bekzadian said that they recognized the “free nation of Azerbaijan” and that their people wanted only to live in peace and liberty (Hovannisian, 1982:225-231). But despite all the optimistic expressions, neither side wanted to give up their claim for Zangezur. The discussions in April 1920 did not yield positive results either.
Seeing that talks would be useless, the Azerbaijani government began to gather troops on the border with Zangezur. Convinced that Azerbaijan would start hostilities, the Armenian government encouraged the Armenian National Committee in Karabakh to revolt. On Novruz, the Karabakh National Committee announced its withdrawal from Azerbaijan. After the uprising, which engulfed the area from Shusha to Ganja, the Azerbaijani government sent to Karabakh a 20,000-strong army, which took Shusha back within a week.
On the eve of the suppression of the Karabakh uprising, a Bolshevik military coup took place in Azerbaijan. The rivalry over Zangezur would continue between the Azerbaijani SSR and the First Republic of Armenia.
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Charlotte Hille, (2010), State Building and Conflict Resolution in the Caucasus
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Thomas De Waal, (2018), The Caucasus: An Introduction
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