The beginning of the conflict
On February 20, 1988, the Supreme Soviet of People’s Commissars of NKAO issued an appeal to the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to make the region part of the Armenian SSR. With that, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict started. This appeal was not approved by either the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR or the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. After this, the clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis started in Nagorno-Karabakh. The first confrontation that ended in a fatality took place on February 22 in Askeran, where two Azerbaijanis were killed  (De Waal, 2008:46).
In the spring and summer of 1988, the situation in the region was completely out of control. Units of the Internal Troops of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs were setting up posts in densely populated areas where Azerbaijanis and Armenians lived together in order to prevent clashes in the area. Prior to that, Major General Vladislav Safonov was appointed the first commandant of the Special Situation Zone in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast . Safonov recalls: “Colonel General Yuri Shatalin, commander of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR at the time, ordered me to fly to Stepanakert. This happened on May 12, 1988 . Upon my arrival I instantly found myself in a very complicated and confusing situation. Henrik Poghosyan, the First Secretary of the Regional Committee of the NKAO, said right away straightforwardly that Karabakh would be annexed to Armenia in a couple of weeks, that it was a done deal. ‘There is nothing for you to do here, Comrade General. We’ll put things in order on our own,’ Poghosyan told me openly. But we already knew what kind of ‘order’ he was talking about. What Poghosyan called ‘order’ was the beating of Azerbaijanis, the forcible seizure of their property, and all kinds of violence.” In September 1988, pogroms of Armenians began in Shusha and of Azerbaijanis in Stepanakert. The internal troops started relocating Azerbaijanis from Stepanakert to Shusha and Armenians from Shusha to Stepanakert to prevent confrontations. In early 1989, the Soviet leadership introduced direct administration in the NKAO. This measure virtually abolished the local self-government authorities (Sanamyan, 2016:6).
Seeing that there was no political way for the NKAO to become part of Armenia, the Armenians began arming themselves in early 1989. Tensions were becoming apparent not only in the NKAO, but also in the surrounding areas. In particular, the skirmishes along the Azerbaijani-Armenian border went on non-stop. On April 25, 1989, the “Armenian National Army” under the command of Razmik Vasilyan was established. Throughout that year the number of illegal armed groups grew rapidly. According to official data of the Republic of Armenia, there were 30,000 policemen, 1,000 OMON (rapid response forces) fighters, 750 “Armenian National Army” fighters, a 1,000-strong “Yerkrapah” detachment, 1,000-strong “David of Sassoun” group, 20 small detachments of 20 to 40 men each, 25 volunteer detachments and separate armed groups operating in the country (Yemelyanenko, 1991:6). All of them, with the exception of the police and OMON, were considered illegal armed groups.
The situation was the same in Karabakh. Dozens of illegal armed groups operated in Karabakh from the summer of 1988 until early March 1990 (Krivopuskov, 2007: 221). Factories in Karabakh began to produce piecework and mass-produced weapons, including assault rifles, hand grenades and portable mortars (Melik-Shakhnazarov, 2009:541). At first, the Armenian sentries at the posts were selected from the local population and armed with rifles. In the spring of 1990, with the influx of volunteers from Armenia, the number of armed groups in the conflict zone increased. This led to a series of clashes between the Soviet troops and the Armenian fighters. The heaviest clash between them took place in Yerevan on May 28, 1990. 22 Armenians were killed in the clashes between Soviet troops and Armenians during the Republic Day events in Armenia. These events took place after the decision of Armenian authorities to include Nagorno-Karabakh in the upcoming elections. The USSR leadership sent an ultimatum to Armenia to disarm the nationalist groups, but it was not implemented. In this situation, the leadership of the Azerbaijan SSR was counting on Moscow to resolve the problem, but the Armenians were arming themselves through illegal arms trade from other countries.
During that period observers in Armenia recorded flights loaded with military equipment arriving in Yerevan from Beirut that was then transported to Karabakh (Cornell, 2001:76). In the summer of 1990, the Dashnaktsutyun Party decided to provide military aid to the Armenian population of the former Shahumyan and Khanlar  districts (Volkhonskiy & Mukhanov, 2009:325). In particular, a representative of the Armenian diaspora in Iran, one of the leaders of the Dashnaktsutyun Party Hrant Markaryan was actively involved in the distribution of weapons and ammunition and delivery of Armenian volunteers to Karabakh. The costs of supplying the front were covered by the Armenian diaspora.
In August, Armenian paramilitaries attacked villages in Qazakh District bordering Armenia. In these fights, the Soviet military supported Azerbaijani self-defense forces. All these events led to the strengthening of the opposition in Armenia. The Communist Party of Armenia lost its popularity under the pressure of Dashnaks, Hnchaks and liberal political groups. On August 4, 1990 the Soviet regime in Armenia was overthrown. The state was effectively ruled by Levon Ter-Petrosyan, leader of the Armenian National Movement (ANM), chairman of the Supreme Soviet. On August 23, 1990 the Armenian government issued a 12-point declaration of independence. The declaration mentioned Nagorno-Karabakh as an Armenian territory. On September 12, 1990 Ter-Petrosian met with Mikhail Gorbachev, President of Azerbaijan Ayaz Mutallibov and other Soviet officials. At this meeting, Gorbachev rejected Ter-Petrosyan’s demands for the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Armenian settlements and a border to be drawn between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh (Suny, 2015:379).
The leadership of the Azerbaijan SSR was concerned about people in Armenia arming themselves and began to form special forces within the Ministry of Internal Affairs to address the threats posed by that armament. In May 1990, the OMON of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijan SSR was established. By September, the formation of OMON of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijan SSR was completed and the forces began to carry out combat missions in the NKAO and areas bordering the Armenian SSR. Colonel Abil Rzayev was appointed the first commander of the OMON. A special force group “A” was also created as part of the Azerbaijan SSR KGB. This group was headed by Riad Ahmedov (Velimamedov, 2021:21).
Political situation prior to the operation
In 1991, the economic and political situation in the USSR was tense. The democratic reforms in the country gradually led to the loss of control by the center over the regions. Most of the governments of the Union republics sought to restructure the USSR. For this purpose, the “Referendum on the Preservation of the USSR” was to be held in March. Depending on the outcome of that referendum, there were plans to create a “Union of Sovereign Republics” (USR). The leadership of the Azerbaijan SSR supported this initiative, believing that the Karabakh issue would be resolved by Soviet troops. The Armenian leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan did not accept Mikhail Gorbachev’s proposal for a new union treaty. Armenia was one of the six Soviet republics (the other five were Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, and Georgia) that did not participate in the March 1991 referendum (Suny, 2015:381-382).
In the spring and summer of 1991, violence began to escalate. The conflict turned into a guerrilla war between neighboring villages, with surprise raids and people being taken hostage. The Armenians began to use a new weapon, the Alazan rocket, which was not designed for warfare. This rocket consisted of a thin 60 cm long pipe and a projectile. The Soviet meteorological service used this rocket to disperse hail clouds in mountainous areas to prevent hail. 6 Azerbaijanis were killed in one of these assaults of the Armenian military on the village of Garadaghly in Martuni District (De Waal, 2008:139). On January 9, a car carrying Salatin Askerova, a correspondent of the Molodezh Azerbaydzhana (Youth of Azerbaijan) newspaper, came under fire on the Lachin—Shusha road. Journalist Salatin Askerova and three personnel of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR (Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Larionov, Major Igor Ivanov, Sergeant Igor Goek) were killed in the attack (Velimamedov, 2021:18).
The main threat was in the north of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1990, residents of Mirzik, Zurnabad, Gushchu-Armavir and several other villages of Shamkhor (now Shamkir) and Khanlar districts, where Armenians lived, swapped houses with Armenian Azerbaijanis and left. However, what was going on in Khanlar District worried official Baku. Armenian militants attacked civilians in the villages of Chaykend, Kamo, Azad  and Martunashen , as well as in the village of Todan of the former Shaumyan District, and the Ganja—Baku buses passing through the area. However, not all of these villages were hostile to the Azerbaijani government. Vagif Huseynov, the then chairman of the Azerbaijani KGB recalls: “We collected a lot of information about the population of the region. The vast majority of residents of Kamo and Azad wanted to move to Stavropol Krai in the spring of 1990. Representatives of the executive authorities of these villages begged us at every meeting to save them from the Yerevan emissaries. They had no grievances whatsoever against the leadership of the republic, the regional authorities, or the Azerbaijani neighbors in general. Everyone wanted to sell their property at a reasonable price and leave.” (Huseynov, 2013:345).
In the summer of 1990, the residents of the villages of Azad and Kamo also sold their property and left. Azerbaijani refugees driven out of Armenia in 1988 were relocated to the remaining villages. Residents of the villages of Chaykend and Martunashen refused to leave their homes, despite repeated suggestions from the district administration. These two villages, one kilometer apart, were virtually under blockade. Food and medical aid were delivered by helicopters from Armenia. Until 1991, about 3,000 people lived in Chaykend and 315 in Martunashen.
There were armed groups in the former Armenian-dominated Shahumyan District, in the villages of Chaykend and Martunashen of Khanlar District. The government of the Azerbaijan SSR effectively lost control over these territories. In April, the leadership of the Azerbaijan SSR prepared a package of urgent measures to overcome Armenian resistance in the territories bordering with the Armenian SSR, as well as in the NKAO and the former Shaumyan District. This plan was developed at the beginning of the year. In February 1991, the idea of expulsion of Armenians from Karabakh if they refused to obey Baku was openly voiced in Azerbaijan. Victor Polyanichko, Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, head of the Organizational Committee on Nagorno-Karabakh, speaking in Baku, said, “1991 has been declared the year of Karabakh. This year will be the last year in Azerbaijan’s hardships. The land of Karabakh is our land, and we must take it for our children.” (Krivopuskov, 2007:156).
As the first stage of preparation for the operation, the Azerbaijani leadership, backed by the Soviet Army, introduced a “passport regime” in the border villages of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia in March 1991. In an interview with Helsinki Watch in June 1991, officials of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs cited the illegal migration of Armenians into Nagorno-Karabakh, Khanlar and Shahumyan districts as the main reasons for the passport regime (Denber and Goldman, 1992:7). In the same month, the leadership of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, the KGB and the USSR Ministry of Defense in their reports to the President of the USSR suggested the use of force to resolve the conflict. At the beginning of April, the leaderships of the USSR and Azerbaijan SSR agreed to conduct a joint military operation to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. At the session of Azerbaijan’s Defense Council on April 10, it was decided to conduct “a military operation in the territory of a number of Armenian-inhabited villages of the NKAO and adjacent districts”. At the meeting of the heads of the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Republican Prosecutor’s Office in Baku on April 16, Mutallibov suggested deporting the Armenians living in Shahumyan District, as well as in the villages of Chaykend and Martunashen of Khanlar District if they disobeyed.
On April 19, units of USSR Internal Troops, guarding those settlements and reporting to the Special District Commandant of the NKAO, were withdrawn from Chaykend and Martunashen. Units of the USSR Internal Troops of the Baku Regiment were sent to the area from Ganja. Units of Internal Troops consisting of military units No. 5477 and No. 5478, the Baku Operational Regiment of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, tank and fortification units of the Soviet Army, OMON units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan took part in the operation (Melik-Shakhnazarov,2009:563). On April 23, in view of the aggravated situation, the Presidium of Armenia’s Supreme Soviet convened an extraordinary session of the Supreme Soviet. On the same day, the electricity and water supply were cut off in Chaykend and Martunashen, and the area was cordoned off. Soviet units prohibited helicopters from Armenia to enter the area. On April 24, in response to the blockade of Chaykend and Martunashen, Armenian armed groups fired Alazan rockets at Shusha. Several houses in the city were destroyed and three civilians were wounded as a result (De Waal, 2008:140).
Two days later, the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Armenia raised the issue of convening an extraordinary session of the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR to discuss the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenia-Azerbaijan border area (Zhirokhov, 2012:65). This request, rejected by the USSR Supreme Soviet, was also harshly criticized by the Azerbaijani government: “The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Azerbaijan considers the decision of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Armenia ‘to raise the issue of convening an extraordinary Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR’ to discuss the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region of Azerbaijan and other Armenian-populated areas to be a blatant interference in the internal affairs of our Republic, contradicting Article 76 of the USSR Constitution, an attempt to aggravate the situation in the region, inflame animosity between the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples, and drag the Soviet authorities into this dirty business again.” To avoid international pressure, Ayaz Mutallibov called the plan submitted to the Union Center “a large-scale operation to seize illegally held weapons from the Armenian population of the NKAO and adjacent territories”. However, speaking on Azerbaijani TV on April 27, the President was more categorical: “This operation is a step towards the solution of the problem of the Armenian population of Azerbaijan. If Moscow cannot do it, the republic will resolve it with its own forces and means.” (Kocharyan, 2019:59). On April 29, troops of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs began moving along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The 23rd Division of the 4th Soviet Army took up positions in the area of Chaykend. Everything was ready for the operation. Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan Ismet Gayibov and Minister of Internal Affairs Mohammad Asadov arrived at the site. Lieutenant Colonel Igor Mashkov was in charge of the operation. And the overall command was under Viktor Polyanichko’s control (Huseynov, 2013:347).
The Chaykend and Martunashen operation
The USSR and Azerbaijani OMON first launched an operation in the Chaykend direction. Here the population was more heavily armed and posed a serious threat. An Armenian woman from Chaykend, who wished to remain anonymous, admitted this to Helsinki Watch: “Women prepared bottles with Molotov cocktails. The village was prepared to defend itself. The villagers did have weapons to defend themselves and their families. People are afraid to talk about owning weapons.” (Denber and Goldman, 1992:9-10). Tatul Krpeyan, a school history teacher, headed the group in Chaykend. He taught upperclassmen self-defense skills. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijan SSR knew that there was a group operating in the village, but could not identify its leader. There was also a group led by Armen Ghazaryan, an Armenian from the USA, nicknamed Pzo, operating in the village. It was assumed that Ghazaryan, who was involved in arms trade, had connections with the US intelligence services (Huseynov, 2013:344).
On April 30, the troops of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs took up positions on the hills overlooking Chaykend and began shelling the village. Lieutenant Colonel Ilham Ismayilov recalls the operation: “On April 30, at dawn, more than 10 armored military vehicles passed through the villages of Kamo and Azad and took up positions near the Chaykend cemetery. We paralyzed the Chaykend radio station. We pinged all the airwaves and completely cut off their communications with the outside world. When the Armenians changed frequencies, we quickly detected that and immediately disrupted the signal using Radio station No. 3. Each time I had to go from Hajikend to Khanlar because of this, to tell them the frequencies. Lieutenant Colonel Mashkov said he would enter the village in an APC and asked for a guide. Since I knew the village well, I volunteered. Our commander, Rakhman Mikailov, did not allow it, saying, ‘You’re needed here all the time.’ A young guy named Aydin, who worked at the bus station in Khanlar, said he would be the guide and got into the APC. We used loudspeakers to encourage the villagers to turn in their weapons. They made no move. Then Asadov ordered the OMON to enter the village from the Togana direction. Colonel Mashkov went to the village in an APC.” (Ismayil, 2011:12)
When Soviet units, wishing to start with peaceful means, reached the center of the village, they were surrounded by armed Armenians. Around 10:30 a.m. Krpeyan’s group took hostage Lieutenant Colonel Mashkov, 13 soldiers and the Azerbaijani civilian guide who accompanied them. Vardan Hovhannisyan recalls that moment: “There were two armored cars in the center of the village. Tatul jumped onto one of the vehicles, pulled the pin out of a grenade and said: ‘That’s it, order the soldiers to back off, or I’ll throw the grenade inside.’ A few meters away, a horrified expression appeared on the Russian officer’s face. From the other armored car, three or four Russian soldiers pointed their automatic rifles at Tatul. This scene lasted five or ten minutes. Maybe less, but it felt long to me.”
During the skirmish, the Azerbaijani guide was brutally beaten. Taking the Soviet soldiers hostage, the Armenians demanded the withdrawal of the Azerbaijani OMON units from Chaykend. Three members of the Armenian armed group took Lieutenant Colonel Mashkov with them and started negotiations with the Azerbaijani OMON. During the negotiations with the Soviet soldiers, one of the villagers pointed at Krpeyan and said that he was the head of the group in Chaykend. When the Soviets saw that the man they had been looking for a long time stood right in front of them, they opened fire. Ilham Ismayilov recalls: “The capture of the Russian soldiers messed up the whole thing. The OMON eliminated several Armenian fighters in Togana, near the village. The military were not happy. The officers argued that the OMON had used excessive force and opened fire unnecessarily, harming civilians. First Secretary of the Central Committee Ayaz Mutallibov called and said that the issue should be dealt with as soon as possible and that Moscow was beginning to express dissatisfaction. Vagif Huseynov told Eldar Hasanov, ‘Your people and our guys should get ready to rescue the captives.’ The Russian officers also stood up: ‘We will free our comrades.’ Before they moved, the Ganja militia and our special detachment moved deeper into the village. Tatul Krpeyan stood behind Mashkov. As soon as the shooting started, Mashkov jumped back to hide behind Tatul. The moment first shots were fired, Tatul and the fighters who came to his aid fell to the ground. The soldiers were freed. Unfortunately, Aydin the guide was not among the captives. The Armenians had tortured him to death.” (Ismayil, 2011:12).
Mashkov was wounded in the leg in the shootout. After that, the OMON forces opened fire on the village using large-caliber machine guns. On May 1, at 3 p.m., tanks began moving toward the village and the beginning of the offensive was announced over loudspeakers. After this ultimatum, the Armenians immediately released the other captives and handed them over to the military along with their weapons. In response, the military returned 27 detained villagers, while the rest were taken to the detention center in Ganja, where those villagers were given a signed notice saying that they wanted to leave Chaykend. Nevertheless, most of the Armenians did not want to leave the village. Tanks were firing at the mountain slopes to create panic in the population, large pieces of rock falling on the territory of the village. This caused fear among the villagers and they agreed to surrender their weapons and leave Chaykend willingly. In the course of the overall operation, several houses on the outskirts of Chaykend were burned down and about 50 villagers were arrested by the military and OMON. The Azerbaijani public TV reported in the evening broadcast that Chaykend was taken by OMON and Soviet units, 15 Armenians were killed, 45 Armenians were taken hostage, and 4 Azerbaijani military personnel were wounded (Zhirokhov, 2012:65-66).
The second main stronghold of the Armenian fighters in Khanlar District was Martunashen. The “Arabo” squad operated in that village. It was led by Simon Achiggozyan, nicknamed Baba (Grandpa) (Huseynov, 2013:344). Achiggozyan, a geologist by profession, worked at the Institute of Geology of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. When the Karabakh movement began, he formed a squad consisting mainly of reserve officers and arrived in Martunashen. Unlike in Chaykend, the Soviet military entered Martunashen together with the Azerbaijani OMON. That is why in the morning of April 30, the Armenians put up strong resistance. A Soviet armored personnel carrier was hit in the firefight and there were wounded among the OMON forces. In response, tanks opened fire on the village, killing one armed Armenian and one civilian. Seeing that heavy vehicles were being brought into the village, most of the Armenian militants left the area. Another 3 Armenians were killed in a shootout in the center of Martunashen. Among those killed was Simon Achiggozyan (Harutyunyan, 2013:93-94). But the Armenians who retreated into the forests fought back for two days. The OMON and Soviet troops seized the village on May 3. Martunashen was burned to the ground. In these fights 12 Armenians were killed, 20 went missing, and 7 were taken hostage (Zhirokhov, 2012:66).
The deportation of the residents of both villages to Armenia began on May 2. The Azerbaijani OMON issued a document in which the residents of Chaykend and Martunashen ask the OMON and the military to allow them to leave the villages unhindered. Kryuchkov, Chairman of the KGB, mentioned the text of the document in a telephone conversation with Ter-Petrosyan and said that the resettlement was entirely legal. Despite serious protests in Armenia, the deportation continued until May 8, resulting in the eviction of more than 3,000 residents of Chaykend and Martunashen in Khanlar District. From May 4 to 7, 2,287 children, women and elderly people were taken by military helicopters to Stepanakert and a few days later to Yerevan. On May 8, more than 700 men were taken to Ijevan by buses. Thus, the operation in that area was completed.
Deportation of Armenians of Hadrut and Shusha districts
Troops of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Azerbaijani OMON began deporting residents of 17 settlements in Hadrut and Shusha districts in early May. Typically, before the deportation, Soviet troops would surround the village, and the Azerbaijani OMON would enter the area and begin searching houses. During the operation, as elsewhere, weapons were confiscated and the population was asked to leave the village for good. Men who tried to resist in the villages were arrested and taken to Lachin, Shusha and Jabrayil.
The operation to protect the border villages of Jabrayil District began with Hadrut District. At the same time, the Azerbaijani leadership justified the operation in Hadrut with the complaints of the local Armenians. Seyran Mirzayev, Polyanichko’s assistant at the time, says: “They had complaints from the Armenian villagers themselves about the fighters. For example, six old men from the Hadrut region had begged him to help them to leave; apparently they were unprotected in a village bereft of young men, and armed partisans from Armenia were coming and going at will.” (De Waal, 2008:145).
On May 13, the Azerbaijani OMON surrounded the villages of Dolanlar, Khandzadzor (now Aghjakend), Arakyul, Banazur (now Binederesi) and Kohne Taglar of Hadrut District. The Azerbaijani militia arrested 37 people in the village of Dolanlar and 60 people in the villages of Arakyul, Dashbashi and Zamzur (now Derekend). Of the 60 hostages detained in Hadrut District, 47 were later released. The 22 people arrested in the neighboring villages were taken to Jabrayil, and 12 were taken to Fizuli. Among those arrested were the director of the state farm of the village of Tug, his deputy and the school principal. More than 1,350 Armenians, who lived in the villages of Aghbulag, Arpaghadik, Arakyul, Banazur, Bunyadli, Jilan, Dolanlar, Mulkyudara, Dashbashi, Petrosashen, Spitakashen, Tsamdzor (now Derekend), Sor, Khandzadzor were deported from May 5 to 16, about 600 people from this population fled to neighboring villages. South of Hadrut, only the residents of the villages of Kohne Taglar and Chaylagala were not deported. 750 villagers were taken to the Khndzoresk (Khinzirek) deportation camp near the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
On May 15, Armenian militia attempted to enter the villages of Jilan and Bunyadli, but the Azerbaijani OMON prevented it from doing so, after which fire was opened and the militia was forced to retreat. During the operation, deputy head of the NKAO Regional Department of Internal Affairs Garib Harutyunyan and police officer Vilen Verdiyan were arrested. On May 17, the Azerbaijani OMON arrested and took some residents of the villages of Arakyul, Dolanlar and Arpagadik to an unknown destination. The village of Kohne Taglar was fired upon from a military helicopter. On May 20, 1991, the residents of the villages of Banazur, Arakyul, Dashbashi, Darakend, Aghjakend Arpagadiq who had been driven out of Hadrut returned to their homes. But on June 3-4, the returnees were deported again. On May 21, a post of internal troops of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs was set up in the Hadrut village of Sor. Later, at the beginning of June, some of the residents who had fled to the town of Hadrut returned to the village and settled there. This concluded the operation in the region. The Azerbaijani government planned to resettle Azerbaijani population to the deserted villages. By June 28, 1,870 Azerbaijanis were accommodated in eight Hadrut villages.
The leadership of the Azerbaijan SSR intended to deport all the Armenian villages of Shusha District. The operation in Shusha began in early 1991. For example, as a result of the operation conducted by the Azerbaijani OMON during that period, the village of Sakhkadzor  of Shusha District was burned. Prior to the operation, the Armenian armed forces were plotting against the representatives of the Azerbaijan SSR. On May 10 around 9:05 p.m. in Stepanakert (now Khankendi) a grenade launcher was fired from the square in front of the building of the Republican Organizing Committee of the NKAO. A grenade, fired from a distance of 150 meters, hit the office of head of the committee Viktor Polyanichko , second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, who was having a meeting with the heads of the law enforcement bodies at that time. Miraculously, no lives were lost in the attack and the officials received non-life-threatening injuries (Velimamedov, 2021:36).
The operation for the mass cleansing of Shusha of Armenians began on May 15. At 5 a.m., the Azerbaijani OMON, with the military support of the troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR, entered the villages under the pretext of checking the passport regime. On the first day, the village of Berdadzor was seized , 100 people living there were taken hostage. During the capture of the village, one Armenian who put up resistance was killed. The Azerbaijani OMON gave the residents until 7:00 p.m. to leave the village. On the same day, the Azerbaijani militia entered the village of Kirov .
Police Colonel Sadir Mammadov, Deputy Head of the NKAO Department of Internal Affairs, who participated in those operations, recalls: “I remember that we concentrated the main forces around Metsgaladeresi  and Kirov. Armenian militants were mainly concentrated there. They usually flew in helicopters from the Armenian town of Kafan to Galaderesi, brought weapons and ammunition and food, and from there they infiltrated other villages. As a result of the operation, we seized a helicopter that had landed near Metsgaladeresi. It turned out that there were four pilots and 24 militants in the helicopter. Then we brought all the arrested Armenian terrorists to the Shusha prison for investigation.” In Shusha District, units of the Soviet Army supported the Azerbaijani OMON, but did not allow the situation to escalate too much. On May 15, during passport control in the village of Metsgaladeresi, the Azerbaijani OMON killed an Armenian civilian. To avoid tension in the village, the Soviet troops intervened here and prevented clashes. They prevented the deportation of the residents of the Shusha village of Dashalty that day . On May 17 the Azerbaijani OMON entered the Azerbaijani-populated village of Karkijan, near Khankendi. During the operation, 10 people were detained there and taken to Agdam. Among those arrested was member of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Armenia Hamlet Grigoryan . On May 15-18, more than 550 residents of the villages of Metsgaladerasi, Kirov and Yekhtsakhog were deported as a result of a joint operation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijan SSR  (Zhirokhov, 2012:75). Of these, 316 managed to escape to Stepanakert, while the rest were taken to the deportation camp located near Khndzoresk. As a result of these operations, the entire Shusha District was under Azerbaijani control.
Armenian-Azerbaijani border operations
Although the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict began in Nagorno-Karabakh, the most serious clashes took place in the villages of Qazakh District bordering Armenia. The situation deteriorated even more after the massacre committed by Armenian militants in the village of Baganis Ayrum in 1990. The situation was particularly difficult in the Qazakh villages of Yukhari Askipara, Barkhudarli and Sofulu, Azerbaijani enclaves within the borders of Armenia. For this reason, the 23rd Division of the 4th Army of the USSR was deployed in the Qazakh direction. However, the ceasefire was regularly violated by shelling from the villages of Voskepar, Kirants and Barmekavan. There was also continuous gunfire in the border areas of Lachin and Gedabey. For this reason, the most important part of the May operations was conducted here. On April 30, Soviet troops began active operations in the border villages of Armenia. First, the village of Voskepar in Noyemberyan District was surrounded from the positions in Ashagi Askipara and Yukhari Askipara. On May 1, Noyemberyan, Ijevan and Tavush districts were shelled from the Azerbaijani side by internal troops of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Azerbaijani OMON. During the fighting in that direction, many Armenians were wounded and one killed. On May 3, women and children from several villages of Ijevan District were evacuated due to the escalation of hostilities. On the same day, the villages of Paravakar, Movses, Karmiragpur, Nerkin-Shen in Tavush District were fired on from artillery and automatic weapons. One Armenian was also killed in that area. During the shelling of the village Kirants of Ijevan District one projectile hit a Zhiguli moving on the road, killing 2 Armenians. The bloodiest fights took place in the village of Voskepar in Noyemberyan District on May 6. The military delivered an ultimatum to the leaders of Voskepar, demanding that they hand over their service weapons to the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Since this demand was not complied with, the village was bombed. The land and forests adjacent to the village were burned. Near Voskepar a bus with about 30 Armenian policemen was ambushed by soldiers of the 23rd Division. 14  were killed, the rest were taken prisoner (De Waal, 2008:142). During the shelling of the village of Barekamavan in Noyemberyan District, 1 Armenian militiaman was killed. On May 6, Soviet troops took 40 more policemen hostage in Noyemberyan District. On the evening of the same day, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Armenia, called Felix Mamikonian, Armenia’s permanent representative in Moscow and said, “The Soviet Union has effectively declared war on Armenia. The Soviet Army continues its punitive operations in the territory of Armenia. Units of the 4th Army of Soviet troops stationed in the territory of Azerbaijan, using helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery, razed the village of Voskepar in Noyemberyan District of Armenia to the ground. All houses were destroyed and nearby orchards and forests were burned.”
On May 7, operations began in the southern sector of the border. In these fights, the Azerbaijani OMON, using helicopters, started shelling the village of Tegh of Gorus District. On the same day, at the same time, helicopters opened fire on a farm in the village of Aravus, where weapons were stored, and 3 cars were put out of commission. The official Soviet news agency TASS reported that Armenian extremists in Gorus had bombed Qubadli District. On May 7 and 8, the Azerbaijani OMON entered the villages of Kornidzor and Shurnuh and arrested 25 militia officers connected with Armenian fighters there (Velimamedov, 2021:34).
On the same day operations began in the central sector of the border. The Soviet military delivered an ultimatum to the population of Armenia’s only enclave in Azerbaijan, the village of Artsvashen (Bashkend) in Krasnoselsky District, to turn in all weapons. The villagers accepted this ultimatum and armed militia officers in the area were disarmed. The heaviest fighting began on May 10 in the direction of the village of Parakavar, Tavush District. Armenian units began to use large-caliber artillery to shell the Soviet troops in that area. 50 tanks, 10 military helicopters, 1,000-1,200 soldiers were brought in to prevent the offensive. Lieutenant-General of the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR Andreyev was in charge of combat operations there. Fighting in the Paravakar direction continued until the end of May. After the population relinquished their weapons, operations were halted, and the Soviet troops withdrew from Armenia. As a result of military operations on the Armenian border from May 1 to 8 at least 24 Armenians were killed, including 14 policemen and 10 civilians (Melik-Shakhnazarov, 2009:566). The Soviet military and the Azerbaijani OMON captured 104 people, 67 of whom were law enforcement officers. 40 policemen and 5 civilians captured in Noyemberyan District were taken to Ganja. The operation resulted in the seizure of 166 pieces of firearms from the Armenian militants, including 124 service weapons and 42 rifles (Zhirokhov, 2012:69).
Operations in Askeran, Martuni, Mardakert and Goranboy Districts
On May 13, the Azerbaijani OMON began an operation to disarm Armenian units in Martuni, Askeran and Mardakert districts of the NKAO. The “passport control” was first launched in Martuni District. In 1990-1991 the situation remained tense in the village of Yukhari Veysalli in Fizuli District, which ended up within the borders of Martuni District. Since the village was under constant fire, the OMON set up a post there to protect the area. On May 13, Azerbaijani militia fired on a Zhiguli carrying armed Armenians on the Martuni—Chartar highway near the village of Yukhari Veysalli. One Armenian was killed and another was wounded. On the same day, OMON forces entered the villages of Kichan, Karmiravan (now Giziloba) and Seysulan of Mardakert District. After encountering armed resistance during a search in the village of Kichan, the militia neutralized one Armenian. The OMON forces arrested 16 people in the village of Karmiravan and 11 in Seysulan, including the chairman of the village council, the director of the collective farm and a physician assistant. During the operation in the village of Talysh 2 people were arrested and 6 service guns were seized from the officers of the district militia. On May 16, Azerbaijani militia entered the village of Mets Shen (now Ulu Garabay) of Mardakert District and issued the villagers a notice of deportation to Armenia. On the same day, OMON units entered the villages of Dashbulag and Badar in Askeran District and deported the population. The search during the operation in the village of Ketuk of Askeran District with a detachment of 3 tanks and 9 trucks was unsuccessful, and the militia left the village. On May 17, OMON units entered the town of Martuni (now Khojavand). After raids in the town, 70 people were detained, including the mayor of the town, the district prosecutor, and the manager of the power grid (Zhirokhov, 2012:73). On the same day, more than 20 Armenians were arrested in Mardakert (now Aghdara). During the operation, which continued till May 20, a UAZ vehicle belonging to an Armenian armed group was burned in the village of Talysh, 2 Armenians were taken as hostages. As a result of the shelling of the village of Zaylik from the neighboring village of Umudlu of Mardakert District, 1 armed Armenian was neutralized. Thus, the operation of USSR troops and OMON in Askeran, Mardakert and Martuni districts from May 13 to 20 successfully ended with the disarmament of Armenian militants.
The last operation was conducted by the Azerbaijani OMON in the former Shaumyan District. The Armenians living in that district declared that they were joining the NKAO in violation of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan SSR. Although the eastern part of the district (4 villages) populated by Azerbaijanis was controlled by the Azerbaijan SSR government, the larger part populated by Armenians was virtually independent. On January 14, 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan abolished Shahumyan District and incorporated it into Goranboy District in order to avoid Armenian claims. International pressure caused by the deportation carried out by the Azerbaijani OMON in April and May led to the postponement of the operation in this sector of Goranboy District. But in early July 1991, taking advantage of the more relaxed political climate, the government launched an operation in that area. The decree signed by Gorbachev on July 4, 1991, signaled the start of the operation. With this decree he lifted the state of emergency in the area due to the “normalization” of the situation. The purpose of this measure was to withdraw the Soviet internal troops from the region, who had been protecting Armenian villages or maintaining neutrality. Once the troops were withdrawn, the Azerbaijani OMON surrounded the villages of Erkech, Buzlug and Manashid. The region was under blockade since April 16, with no electricity or communications. For this reason, the OMON forces thought they could easily capture the area. At 6 a.m. on July 6, the Azerbaijani OMON began the operation, with about 350 OMON and republican KGB personnel. However, the first attack ended in failure. Elchin Ismayilov, who took part in the fighting there, recalls: “In the summer of 1991 we were divided into 4 squads to check the passport regime in the villages of Erkech, Manashid, Todan and Buzlug. Our unit went to the village of Buzlug. On the way to Buzlug, we were divided into 3 groups, 10 people each, to enter the village from 3 directions. It was around 6 a.m. We were told that there were no armed people in the village, we would quietly enter the village, conduct passport control, and come out. We had no heavy weapons, only automatic rifles. Some of us had grenades just in case. The village was 100 meters away. They saw us and we heard yelling from the village. There were fortified positions in the rear of the village, from where the artillery fire came. The odds were against us, so we had to retreat. We lost a comrade named Vugar  in that fight. There were also wounded. In our squad, our comrade named Fuad was wounded.”
On the first day of fighting, the Azerbaijani OMON lost three men, while the Armenians lost two. According to the Armenian press, at the end of the fighting, the OMON squad headed by Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Rufat Mammadov, who led the operation, was surrounded, and only through the intervention of the NKAO commandant Colonel Valentin Zhukov was the encirclement broken. The operation failed because the offensive was carried out without the support of the Soviet Army. “We are not ready to fight in the mountains,” Colonel Felix Vyskubov, head of department at the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs, told Kommersant. On 8 July, Minister of Internal Affairs Boris Pugo spoke at a session of the Supreme Soviet and told the deputies the following: “In the morning, on July 6, employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan, while conducting a check of the passport regime in the Armenian villages of Erkech, Manashid and Buzlukh, came under heavy fire. As a result, the Azerbaijani militia was forced to retreat. Aerial reconnaissance showed that the village of Erkech had essentially been turned into a fortified position. Over the previous night, 500 to 1,000 fighters and a lot of equipment were gathered there. Women and children have been taken out of the village. Now efforts are being made to convince the Armenian side to remove militants from the village, leaving weapons behind.” (Velimamedov, 2021:40). But since the negotiations were unsuccessful, a new operation started a few days later. The 23rd Motorized Rifle Division of the Soviet Army participated in this operation along with the Azerbaijani OMON. Colonel Budeykin was in charge of the operation (Kalinkin,1991:9). For the first time in the conflict, aviation was used in the village of Erkech. The strong resistance here once again showed that the territory was militarily fortified. However, the Armenian forces, unable to withstand the air strikes, were forced to retreat towards Yukhari Aghjakend (Melik-Shakhnazarov, 2009:571). Two Armenian civilians were also killed in the battle for the village (De Waal, 2008:144). On July 12, the villages of Erkech, Manashid and Buzlug were captured and the population relocated to the Armenian SSR. On July 14, internal troops of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs surrounded the villages of Yukhari Aghjakend, Garachinar, Ermeni Borisi and Gulistan in Goranboy District. But that operation was not finished. The Armenian leadership was forced to beg for peace, realizing that they were unable to oppose the USSR and the Azerbaijani OMON.
The political impact of the operation
After Operation Ring was launched, protests began in Armenia. The implementation of the operation during the period of “glasnost” allowed Armenians to conduct information propaganda. During his official visit to the USSR, French President François Mitterrand, following the request of the Armenian diaspora, raised this issue during talks with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev responded, “In the period from March to May 1991 alone, there were 235 attacks and firefights in Nagorno-Karabakh and the border regions. Of these, 150 were from the Armenian side and 82 from the Azerbaijani side. About 20 Azerbaijanis and 10 Armenians were killed. Internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh came under fire 115 times. Nine soldiers of internal troops were killed and 15 wounded. And it was these illegal actions that made it necessary to unconditionally implement the decree on the disarmament of illegal armed groups.” (Velimamedov, 2021:35).
Nevertheless, there was a lot of propaganda against Azerbaijan in the press. The Russian liberal newspapers Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Moskovskiye Novosti published pro-Armenian materials. The opposition in Russia openly supported Armenians. On May 4, Levon Ter-Petrosyan had talks with Yeltsin, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR. At those talks, Yeltsin promised Ter-Petrosyan to keep the situation in the villages of Chaykend and Martunashen under his control and to send a special commission to the area. The Azerbaijani opposition also actively opposed the government in this matter. The leader of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan Abulfaz Elchibey called the restoration of the Republican government’s jurisdiction in Khanlar, Goranboy, and Shahumyan districts “deportation”. On May 14, the PFA functionaries met in Riga  with representatives of the Armenian National Movement and signed a joint statement “On the violation of the rights of the local Armenian population during the operations carried out by Mutallibov in Karabakh” (Velimamedov, 2021:36-37).
Vagif Huseynov recalls: “I’ll never forget Mammad Asadov’s contorted face as he said, ‘I read the PFA’s statement. These are our own people, you’d think, but there you go, they condemned both the Communist Party and the military for deporting civilians from Armenian villages. It means they condemned my men who died on those hills, bleeding in Goranboy, too! What can I say? Thank you, noble gentlemen, for the lesson, for your democracy…’” (Huseynov, 2013:353). In mid-May, international pressure on Azerbaijan and the USSR government increased. In his May 15 statement for the press, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Armenia, called Operation Ring a genocide: “The Armenian leadership appeals to parliaments, to leaders of all countries, as well as all people of good will to use all means at their disposal to influence the leadership of the USSR to prevent the genocide of Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.” (Zhirokhov, 2012:72). A day later, an extraordinary session of the Supreme Soviet of the Armenian SSR adopted an appeal to UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar to send observers to Armenia and Karabakh. On the same day, the Socialist Party of France issued a statement condemning the actions of the Soviet military. On May 17, Carl Levin, senator from the state of Michigan, drafted a resolution on “the aggression of the leadership of the USSR and Azerbaijan against Armenians“. The US Senate passed the resolution. On the same day, the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR also adopted an anti-Azerbaijani declaration. It stated the unacceptability of using the Armed Forces of the USSR in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia (Dudnik, 2013:40). In an interview with Le Monde on May 18, Armenia’s Minister of Internal Affairs Ashot Manucharyan echoed the words of the Chairman of Armenia’s Supreme Soviet: “Soviet troops have surrounded about thirty villages in Nagorno-Karabakh. What is happening now in the region is certainly reminiscent of the 1915 genocide.” Zori Balayan’s publications in Literaturnaya Gazeta, the actions of the Faryad committee established by Armenian and Russian intellectuals in Moscow, and Western pressure on Moscow led to the suspension of the operation. In particular, a rally in mid-May in the center of Moscow, in Manezhnaya Square, made a lot of noise (Kocharyan, 2019:59-60). However, after the operation began in July, this time in the Goranboy direction, the political leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia were forced to reconsider. They sent a statement to the Soviet leadership stating their willingness to withdraw most of their demands if the operation were to be terminated.
On July 15-16, a dispute erupted in the Armenian parliament over the visit of a Nagorno-Karabakh delegation to the capital of Azerbaijan. Of the 260 members of the Armenian parliament, 10 voted against the trip and 18 abstained. Chairman of Supreme Soviet Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Shavarsh Kocharyan and dozens of other MPs voted for the proposal of the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership to begin political negotiations with the Azerbaijani authorities and seek compromise within the framework of the USSR Constitution. Three days later the issue was discussed in the NKAO Supreme Soviet. Azerbaijan demanded that the NKAO participate in the upcoming presidential elections. Oleg Yesayan, First Deputy Chairman of the Executive Committee of the NKAO Regional Council, recalls: “Should we accept Baku’s proposal and take part in the presidential elections in Azerbaijan? It was Moscow who proposed our trip to Baku to negotiate. We discussed and rejected the proposal to participate in the elections, but decided to send a delegation to Baku. We had to play for time. Leonard Petrosyan, Georgy Petrosyan, me and many others were at this meeting. The political leaders of the movement, including Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan, knew about this decision. It was decided to send a delegation to buy time and avoid radical moves.” Then on July 20, a 6-person delegation led by Leonard Petrosyan, Chairman of the NKAO Regional Council, was sent to Baku from Karabakh to negotiate directly with Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutallibov. Other members of the delegation were the heads of 4 districts of NKAO, one of the party leaders from Stepanakert and Valery Grigoryan. At this meeting, the Armenian leaders of Karabakh had prepared a letter to Mutallibov outlining the new position of the NKAO. The letter effectively amounted to a capitulation (Melander, 2001:70).
Despite the Armenians’ willingness to enter negotiations on terms favorable to Baku, the ascendance of an alternative, more radical Armenian leadership in Stepanakert proved decisive in the subsequent escalation of the conflict. The elite, as well as the population of the blockaded region, were divided over how to respond to Operation Ring. The younger, more militant leaders, who were not members of the traditional nomenklatura and had risen to prominence through paramilitary organizations, argued that the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh now had no choice but to engage in an all-out military struggle. On July 29, a statement about the meeting in Baku was broadcast on the radio. The opposition’s harsh criticism caused indignation in the radical strata of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. On the same day, Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian guerrilla fighters attacked a village previously captured by Azerbaijani special forces and killed 7 policemen. (De Waal, 2008:145). Two more people were killed and three people were taken hostage in another Armenian attack the next day. Nevertheless, Levon Ter-Petrosyan had already made a decision on the Karabakh issue and stressed this once again, answering the questions of a Moskovskiye Novosti correspondent during his visit to Moscow on August 4:
-Your visit to Novo-Ogaryovo was a surprise to many. What is the reason behind it?
-My visit to Novo-Ogaryovo was in response to the recent appeal by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to the parliaments and deputies of the republics that had not participated in the consultative meetings on the Union Treaty.
-Does this mean that Armenia is ready to change its course towards unconditional independence?
-We are not going to backtrack from our proclaimed course, but we have a republican referendum ahead, which will reveal the will of the people. Let me remind you, the referendum is held under the Soviet law, and the exit itself, if that will be the people’s choice, envisages a transitional period of 5 years.
-Was the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh discussed in Novo-Ogaryovo?
-I spoke about recent months’ events in Armenia and the adjacent Goranboy (former Shahumyan) District, deportations and reprisals against the Armenian population of the region. With the consent of the President of the USSR the heads of the delegations were given packages of documents reflecting the willingness of the NKAO to engage in dialogue with Azerbaijan. The President welcomed the political initiative of the plenipotentiary representatives of the working people of the NKAO and the Armenian parliament’s support for it.
However, the Armenian nationalists in Karabakh had no intention of backing down. On August 10, Valery Grigoryan, one of the participants of the meeting in Baku, was killed in the center of Stepanakert . The assassination of one of the leaders of the old nomenklatura was an attempt of the radicals to silence the supporters of negotiations with Baku. Officially, no one claimed responsibility for Grigoryan’s murder. However, the comments of Zhanna Galstyan, one of the leaders of the radical wing of the Karabakh Armenians, indirectly indicate that the killing was connected specifically to the Baku document: “Anyone who signed such a document, we would have threatened his life; he would simply have been shot, even if this was a close friend of ours.” (Melander, 2001:71). On August 19, an event occurred that changed the fate of the document, Azerbaijan, and the course of history in general. A group of communists who did not recognize the new Soviet Union policy staged a coup d’état. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was removed from power in what went down in history as the August Coup of the GKChP (State Committee on the State of Emergency) (Suny, 2015:386). During these events, Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutallibov was visiting Iran. Levon Ter-Petrosyan said that the Armenian government did not accept the authority of the GKChP. Ayaz Mutallibov and Polyanichko supported the coup, hoping that the conservatives striving for power in Moscow would take a tougher stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in favor of Azerbaijan. Former presidential aide Vafa Guluzade recalls: “Before we returned to Baku, I asked Mutallibov not to comment on what was happening in Moscow. We went to Tabriz and the Iranians persuaded Mutallibov to give an interview at the Shahriyar monument on purely cultural issues. After a couple of questions, the journalists asked the president’s opinion on the events in Moscow. Mutallibov did not hesitate to declare his support for the coup leaders and criticized Gorbachev. I was shocked.”  However, what Ayaz Mutallibov and Polyanichko had hoped for did not happen. The coup failed, and Soviet Minister of Internal Affairs Boris Pugo, who had supported Azerbaijan in the operations in Karabakh, committed suicide. Immediately after the news of the failed coup, the government refuted the statement made by Mutallibov in Iran. Rasim Agayev, Ayaz Mutallibov’s press secretary at the time, recalls: “On the next day, Viktor Polyanichko, who had been monitoring information from Moscow until the last minute, invited me and Afrand Dashdamirov to his office. The second secretary was taciturn: ‘That’s it. We’ve lost. We should expect the worst.’”
Analysis and conclusion
Operation Ring was the first large-scale military operation in the Karabakh conflict. During the operation all the important issues planned for the initial period were resolved. Particularly, gaining control over the villages of Chaykend and Garabulag of Goygol District eliminated the possibility of artillery attacks on Ganja, 24 km away. As a result of the operation a total of 7,000 Armenians were deported. As a result of resistance, at least 50 Armenians were killed and 200 went missing. Svante Cornell, historian at Uppsala University and honorary member of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, writes that 816 people became victims of the operation as of June 1991 (Cornell, 2001:77).
The August events made it impossible to resolve the operation politically. The failed coup attempt in Moscow dealt a great blow to Azerbaijan. At the end of August, the power in the country was effectively taken over by President of the RSFSR Boris Yeltsin. The first thing Yeltsin did was ban the Communist Party of the USSR. Mikhail Gorbachev’s presidency was a mere formality. The new Russian parliament, led by Boris Yeltsin, entered into a close alliance with the Armenian leadership. They had a common enemy, and that enemy was the elite of the Soviet security services. Russian MPs also began to defend Armenians (De Waal, 2008:141). With the arrival of Yeltsin’s team, Mutallibov had no friends left in Moscow, but many enemies (Cheterian, 2008:126). Besides, after these events Viktor Polyanichko left the country. Azerbaijan was now on its own in the Karabakh issue. Politically, until the very last moment, Baku counted on Moscow’s support to maintain the legal status quo in Karabakh. That is why Armenia’s second president Robert Kocharyan wrote in his autobiography that he believed that if the USSR had not collapsed, Soviet troops would have driven all Armenians out of Karabakh (Kocharyan, 2019:59).
As the political situation changed, the government made a radical decision nine days after the GKChP coup. The results of the referendum “On the Preservation of the USSR” held in March 1991 were annulled. On August 30, 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan adopted the “Declaration on the Restoration of the State Independence of Azerbaijan“. The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia continued. After the August events, Armenian armed groups in the region became active again. At the end of August 1991, the National Council of Nagorno-Karabakh created the “Self-Defense Committee and the Headquarters of the Self-Defense Forces” (Harutyunyan, 2013:94). This was one of the first steps towards the building of the armed forces of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan, whose armed forces consisted only of militia, was not ready for a war with the military groups formed in both Armenia and Karabakh. At the beginning of September Armenian units launched an offensive in the north. Without the assistance from the Soviet Army, the OMON was unable to put up much of a fight. An Armenian squad led by Shagen Megryan easily recaptured the villages of Erkech, Buzlug and Manashid (Melik-Shakhnazarov, 2009:606; Krivopuskov, 2007:218) . In October, Armenian troops captured the south of Hadrut District, as well as the village of Tug, a large Azerbaijani settlement in the area. And soon Azerbaijan would be struck by the Garakend tragedy.
 This was carried out by the commander of the Askeran group Vladimir Balasanyan.
 At the end of 1990, after completing his service in Azerbaijan, Safonov was sent to Rostov-on-Don. On April 8, 1991, Armenian terrorists organized an attempt on his life here but killed Colonel Vladimir Blakhotin, Deputy Chief of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs Administration for the North Caucasus and Transcaucasus, by mistake.
 The city was officially renamed Khankendi on November 26, 1991.
 Officially renamed Goygol on April 25, 2008.
 The village of Kamo was officially abolished in 1999. In the same year, the village of Azad and the former village of Kamo were merged to form the settlement of Yeni Zod.
 Officially renamed Garabulag on December 29, 1992.
 100 residents of the village were sent to Armenia by truck.
 Officially renamed Onverst in 1999.
 Viktor Polyanichko became a victim of Armenian terrorists in North Ossetia on August 1, 1993.
 The village was abolished and incorporated into Boyuk Galaderesi. In some Armenian sources, 4 villages of Shusha have the geographical name “Berdadzor”.
 Officially renamed Kichik Galaderesi in 2004.
 Renamed Boyuk Galaderesi on December 29, 1992.
 The men of Dashalty were taken out of the village by buses one day later.
 Hamlet Grigoryan arrested along with Rafik Gabrielyan was taken to prison in Baku. He was released later.
 Renamed Sarybaba on October 5, 1999.
 11 people were killed on the spot, and 3 other wounded militiamen died in the hospital.
 Vugar Huseynov, who had been killed in this fight, was awarded the title of the National Hero of Azerbaijan by Decree No. 831 of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan of June 6, 1992.
 According to Ronald Grigor Suny (Suny, 2015:386).
 Grigoryan was hit with 18 bullets. 7 remained in his body and 11 went through.
 In an interview in 2019, Ayaz Mutallibov claimed that he had made no such statement.
 Head of the Todan Village Police Department Anvar Farajov was killed in these fights. He was awarded the title of the National Hero of Azerbaijan posthumously.
Cheterian, V. (2008). War and Peace in the Caucasus: Ethnic Conflict and the New Geopolitics. Columbia University Press.
Cornell, S. (2001). Small Nations and Great powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus. Routledge.
Denber, R., & Goldman, R. K. (1992). Bloodshed in the Caucasus: Escalation of the Armed Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh (Vol. 1245). Human Rights Watch.
İsmayıl, İlham (2012) Unudulmuş qələbə [A forgotten victory], Təzadlar, April 16-19.
Melander, E. (2001). The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict revisited: was the war inevitable? Journal of Cold War Studies, 3(2), 48-75.
Sanamyan, E. (2016). The Logic of Occupation in the Nagorno-Karabakh War: The Cases of Agdam and Shaumyan (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech).
Suny, R.G. (2015). Ararat’a bakmak: Modern tarihte Ermenistan [Looking Toward Ararat: Armenia in Modern History]
De Waal, Tomas (2008) Qarabağ Ermənistan və Azərbaycan Sülh və Savaş Yollarında [Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War]. Baku, Ilay LLC.
Harutyunyan M. (2013) Iz istorii stroitel’stva Armii oborony NKR // Gosudarstva de-fakto Chernomorsko-Kaspiyskogo regiona: problemy vnutrennego razvitiya i vliyaniya na politicheskiy protsess Yuga Rossii [From the History of the Building of the NKR Defense Army // De facto States of the Black Sea-Caspian Sea Region: Problems of Internal Development and Influence on the Political Process of Southern Russia]. Center for System Regional Studies and Forecasting of IPPK SFU and ISPI RAS / Ed. by Babayan G.M., Chernous V.V. (Yuzhnorossiyskoye Obozreniye, No 77). pp. 93 – 100.
Velimamedov M. (2021) Karabakhskaya voyna 1991-1994 [Karabakh War of 1991-1994]. Moscow: Editus
Volkhonskiy, M. A., & Mukhanov, V. M. (2009). Rossiya na Kavkaze. Pyat’ vekov istorii [Russia in the Caucasus. Five Centuries of History]. Ed. Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation.
Huseynov, V. (2013). Bol’she, chem odna zhizn’ [More Than One Life]. Book 2. Moscow: Krasnaya zvezda
Dudnik, A. (2013). Nagorno-karabakhskiy vopros vo vneshney politike Ukrainy (1992-2012 gg.) [The Nagorno-Karabakh Question in Ukrainian Foreign Policy (1992-2012)]. Kavkaz i Globalizatsiya, 7(3-4), 36-48.
Yemelyanenko, Vladimir (1991) Karabakh: partizany ukhodyat v gory [Karabakh: Guerrillas move into the mountains] // Moskovskiye Novosti.
Zhirokhov, Mikhail (2012). Mech i ogon’ Karabakha. Khronika neznamenitoy voyny (The Sword and Fire of Karabakh. A Chronicle of a Non-Famous War. 1988-1994). Tsentrpoligraf.
Kalinkin, Nikolai (1991) V Karabakhe bez peremen [Nothing new in Karabakh] // Novoye Vremya, No 43
Kocharyan, Robert (2019), Zhizn’ i svoboda: Avtobiografiya eks-prezidenta Armenii i Karabakha (Life and Freedom: The Autobiography of the Ex-President of Armenia and Karabakh) Moscow: Intellektualnaya Literatura
Krivopuskov V.V. (2007) Myatezhnyy Karabakh. Iz dnevnika ofitsera MVD SSSR [Rebellious Karabakh. From the Journal of an Officer of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs]. Golos-Press
Melik-Shakhnazarov, A. (2009). Nagornyy Karabakh: fakty protiv lzhi [Nagorno-Karabakh: Facts vs. Lies]. Volshebnyy Fonar.