This dissertation is broken up into 5 chapters on Virtual Azerbaijan (VAR):
"To my great regret, the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan long ceased to be a war between two rivals from the Caucasus. This is a war in which the combating peoples have become the pawns of the mightier powers."
- Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey
In 1918, a short-lived Transcaucasian Federation failed and three separate, independent republics were proclaimed: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The spark that ignited the powder keg of Nagorno-Karabakh, came in Spring 1918, when the Pan-Turkic "Army of Islam", invaded Eastern Armenia. By October, the Karabakh leadership, was forced to submit to the "Army of Islam" in exchange for the promise of merciful treatment.  However, under the terms of the Mudros armistice of 30th October, the Ottoman Empire agreed to pull its troops back from Transcaucasus in order to make way for the forthcoming British Military presence.
As Croissant points out, the intercession of Britain into the emerging Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, was a fateful event for both sides. The British, motivated by strategic and economic concerns, embarked immediately upon a generally pro-Azerbaijanian policy. It was believed that a strong and independent Azerbaijan allied with Britain would provide a valuable barrier against pan-Islamism. Furthmore, it was perceived that unhindered British access to the vast oil reserves near Baku, would require good relations between the two countries.  In order to introduce goodwill, the British set out to provide the Azerbaijanianis with an important carrot: The attachment of Nagorno-Karabakh to the Republic of Azerbaijan.  In mid-January1919, British general Thompson in Baku, made his decision public; both Zangezur and Mountainous Karabakh would be administered by Azerbaijan pending the final verdict of the Paris Peace Conference. Moreover, Thompson approved the Azerbaijanian Dr.Khosrov Bek Sulanov, as the Govenor General of the two regions. 
As a result of talks held through August 1919, a twenty-six point document for the provisional authority of Baku, over a quasi-autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh, was concluded, pending the final determination of its status at the Paris Peace Conference. By this agreement , the Armenians of Karabakh, were granted cultural autonomy. 
In 1920 after Sovietization of both republics, Karabakh- Azerbaijan on 27th April and Armenia on 1st December, conflict was transformed from an inter-state dispute to an internal matter of the Soviet Union. The declaration of the Azerbaijanian Revolutionary Committee (Azrevkoun) of 30th November 1920, recognised the disputed regions of Zangezur and Nakhichevan as integral parts of Soviet Armenia, and granted Nagorno-Karabakh the right to self-determination. As Richard G. Hovannisian indicates, this demonstrated the great Soviet paternalism of declaring that "boundaries had no meaning among the family of Soviet peoples.”  Moreover, the Soviet Azerbaijanian leader, N. Narimanov, later denied any transfer of territories.
In addition, 16th 1921, a treaty between republican Turkey and the Soviet Union, determined that both regions, apart from Zangezur, were to be under the authority of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR). In 1924, Nakhichevan obtained the status of an autonomous republic (the NASSR), whereas Nagorno-Karabakh had been granted the status of an "Autonomous Oblast" (the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast).  The Bolsheviks were initially positively inclined to Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk, whom they saw as a potential ally at that time. Alternatively, Turkey was hostile to any terretorial arrangements favouring Soviet Armenia, since a strong Armenia could have poential territorial claims on Turkey. Thus, keeping Armenia weak was a way to guarantee the territorial integity of the new Turkish republic.  On its final decision, the Caucasian Bureau of Communist Party (Kavburo), on 5th July 1921, considering Nagorno-Karabakhs strong economic links to Azerbaijan, attached Karabakh to Azerbaijan, while granting it broad regional autonomy. 
However, the true motive behind the Soviet intervention in the decision on Nagorno-Karabakhs status, was the principle of ‘divide and rule’. By placing the region within the borders of Azerbaijan, the Armenian inhabitants could be used as potential "hostages", to ensure the Armenian SSR's cooperation with the wishes of the Soviet leadership. At the same time, an "autonomous" Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, could serve as a poential pro-Soviet fifth column in the event of disloyalty by the Azerbaijanian's. 
In 1923, the capital of Karabakh was moved from Shusa to Khankendi and the city was renamed Stepanakert, after Stefan Schaumian, the "great Armenian Bolsheik" of the Baku commune. Also, in 1937, the regions name was changed permanently to the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO). 
In the late 1940's and during the "thaw" of the Krushchev period, Armenians tried to bring Nagorno-Karabakh under their authority. Nevertheless, it was ignored by Soviet leadership.
During M. Gorbachev's "perestroika", two events occurred in 1987, that led the Armenians to believe that "a window of opportunity" had opened up the possibility of realizing unification with the NKAO. First, Heydar Aliyev, the former Communist party chief of Azerbaijan, was removed from his post in the Politburo in October, possibly signalling to the Armenians that the last high-level opponent of their claims to Nagorno-Karabakh, was out of the way. Several weeks later, Abel Aganbegyan, a senior economic advisor to Gorbachev, suggested while on a trip to London, that Moscow was willing to treat the Armenian demand for unification with Karabakh symathetically. Even though later denied, this comment, together with Aliyev's dismissal and the growing climate of openess in general, gave the Armenians cause to believe that a redressing of the territorial "injustices" imposed by Soviet leaderships, was on the horizon. 
In 1987, after deportation, nearly two hundred thousand Azerbaijanians from Armenia, Armenian nationalists claimed unification with Karabakh.
On the 20th February 1988, the Soviet of Peolpe's Deputies of Nagorno-Karabakh, passed a resolution by a vote of 11-17, requesting the Oblast's transfer to the Armenian SSR.  This decision of the 20th February, marked the start of the "war of laws".
The Azerbaijanian government quickly rejected this request, on the basis of the USSR Constitution of 1977, Article 78, which provides that "the territory of the Union Republics, may be altered by mutual agreement of the Republicans concerned, subject to ratification by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  In fact, it was clear that such a consitutional mechanism, would be incapable of yielding a solution suitable to all involved parties.
However, on July 18th 1988, a special session of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, discusssed the resolution of the Supreme Soviet of the NKAO on secession from Azerbaijan and incorporation into Armenia and adopted a decision confirming that Nagorno-Karabakh remain an Autonomous Region within Azerbaijan. The response to this decision was strikes and mass protests in Nagorno-Karabakh. 
One of the most profound impacts to the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict, was the Sumgait violence. Deputy USSR Prosecutor-General A.Katusev, speaking on Central TV on 27th February 1988, told the audience about the killing of two young Azeri's, specifically naming the nationality of those killed. This announcement has acted as a catalyst. Within hours, a pogrom against Armenian residents began in the city of Sumgait, twenty five kilometres from the Azerbaijan capital. After three nights of violence, which the Azeri authorities did little to suppress, the official death toll was 32-36, most of whom were Armenians. To the Armenians, Sumgait was like a reminder of the massacres of World War I, and equated the Azeri's with the Ottoman armies. This only made them firm in their belief, that there was no way they could live in any form of arrangement with the "Barbarian Turks". From this point of view, the Armenians systematically chased all Azeris from Armenia, especially from the Ararat region where they were majorities.  Therefore, after almost sevevty years of uneasy but generally peaceful co-existence under Soviet rule, the Armenians and Azerbaijanian's turned upon each other once again with lethal violence.
After several years, the Azerbaijan National Security Ministry, arrested several Armenians who were citizens of the Azerbaijan Republic, condemning them on Sumgai pogroms. The Kremlin's move was clear: Gorbachev hoped that by removing the Karabakh Armenians from Baku's rule would satisfy their demands, while leaving the NKAO within Azerbaijan's borders would do the same for the demands of the Azeris.
Although initially welcomed by the Armenian population, the "Special Administration Committee" failed to halt tensions in the region.  Consequently, on the 28th November 1989, the USSR Supreme Soviet voted essentially to restore the status quo by abolishing the Volskiy committee and reinstating direct Azerbaijanian rule over the NKAO.  On the other hand, Armenians answered the November decision of central authorities with the proclaimation of a "United Armenian Republic" consisting of the Armenian SSR and the NKAO.  This was quickly decried by Azerbaijan, as an illegal and impermissable interference in the Azerbaijan SSR's affairs, the declaration further accentuated the Armenian-Azerbaijanian political dual for control over Nagorno-Karabakh.  In fact, the events of late 1990, saw both an escalation in Armenian-Azerbaijan violence and a subsequently large-scale Soviet military intervention in Azerbaijan.
What came to be known as "Black January" in Azerbaijan - the bloody takeover and occupation of Baku by Soviet troops on 20th January 1990 - was the culmination of heightening nationalist fervor in Armenia and Azerbaijan, and growing inter-communal violence in the Azerbaijan capital itself. Moreover, "Black January" had brought inter-ethnic tensions and anti-Moscow feelings to a new level in both republics, propelling Armenia and Azerbaijan further down the road toward open warfare. 
"Black January", had a momentous impact on the parties involved in the conflict. The brutal use of Soviet troops in Baku and the repression of the APF(Azerbaijan Popular Front), did not root out the Azerbaijanian nationalist movement, or prevent re-establishing strong links with the centre.
On the other side, Armenians also, were not happy because Soviet Interior Ministry troops stationed in Baku, had stood by and watched as the anti-Armenian pogroms ran their course, and that intervention was ordered only after the violence had ended. Thus, after being under Soviet military protection, Armenians began forming independent militias.
Nevertheless, since early 1991, time has changed matters in the favour of Azerbaijan. Still dependent largely upon Moscow for its continued grip on power, the Azerbaijani government, headed by Ayaz Mutalibov, supported Gorbachev's efforts to revive the Soviet Union. 
Therefore, on 7th March, the Azerbaijan Supreme Soviet, decided to take part in the all-Union referendum. In contrast to Azerbaijan, Armenia boycotted the referendum, as did Georgia, Moldova and the Baltic republics. Despite all these boycotts, the 17th March referendum, resulted in a victory for President Gorbachev with a vote of more than seventy five per cent in favour of the new Union treaty. 
After the Union treaty, Moscow decided to teach Armenia a lesson. Hence, the Soviet Interior Ministry and Azerbaijan police forces under an operation called "Ring", precipitated an attack on the Armenian villages of Getashen and Martinashen some twenty five kilometres north of Karabakh. The main reason for attack was to search for Armenian guerrillas and waepons.
In May 1991, operation "Ring" expanded within Armenia proper, once again under the pretext that illegal militias had been conducting guerrilla operations on Azeri villages from there. In fact, the objective of operation "Ring" from Moscow's point of view, was to frustrate Armenia's drive for independence; the action was a dismal failure.
On the other hand, operation "Ring" also failed to achieve the objectives of Azerbaijan. Rather than breaking the desire of the Karabakh Armenians for union with Armenia, anti-Azeri feelings among the Karabakh populus, were brought to a new level.
Michael P. Croissant argues that operation "Ring", was the major turning point in the Armenia-Azerbaijan clash. For the first time, clashes between armed units of both republics had broken out with Soviet forces actively taking the side of Azerbaijan. The final catalyst for war came in 1991,  when the failed coup in Moscow led to the dissolution of the USSR. After seventy years under Soviet rule, the antagonism between Azerbaijan and Armenia, was no longer an internal matter of the USSR. The clash instead, became an affair between two newly sovereign members of the international community.
On 31st August 1991, the Azerbaijan Supreme Soviet passed a declaration on the re-setablishment of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan, the one that had previously existed in 1918-1920. For the Karabakh Armenians, this meant that the legal foundation for the Soviet-era autonomous status of the NKAO, was now revoked. The Karabakh side countered the proclaimation of Azeri independence, by proclaiming the "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic"(NKR), on the 2nd September 1991. The NKR was procliamed within the borders of the former autonomous Oblast and the Shaumian Raion (which had not been part of the former NKAO). 
As a direct answer to the declaration of Karabakh independence, on the 26th November, Azerbaijanian parliament abolished the autonomous status of Nagorno-Karabakh and reduced it to a "region", with the same status as any other district. Naturally, this move had more theoretical political importance than any real value, since the military control of the region was rapidly slipping out of Azerbaijan's hands.
The declaration of an independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was a tactical change by the Armenian side; the failed Armenian teritorial claims were replaced by the "self-determination" notion. The population of the region had been called the "people of Nagorno-Karabakh", who strove for independence. Moreover, Armenia withdrew territorial claims and called the dispute to be between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite strong pressure from Karabakh and from within Armenia itself, Armenian president Levon Ter Petrosian consistently refused to recognise the Mountainous Karabakh Republic, reasoning that such an act would complicate matters, since it was tantamount to rejection of the territorial integrity of another state. 
Azerbaijan, also responded to the declaration of Nagorno-Karabakh by a major attack at the beginning of 1992, from the nearby town of Agdam on the 31st January. However, after, Azeri forces were beaten back in rapid fashion by Stepanakert's Armenian defenders. 
After the collapse of the large scale Azeri ground assault against Stepanakert, ethnic Armenian forces were clearly ascendant and won a number of critical military victories, including the opening of a corridor at Lachin, through Azeri territory to the disputed enclave and the fall of Shusha, which was the last remaining Azerbaijan stronghold in Karabakh.  The reason for these Armenian successes was the relative discipline of their forces against against the chaotic and anarchic Azeri armed formations. Political instabiltity in Baku also did not assist the Azeri cause. In other words, after the Khojaly massacre  by the Armenians, as from February to May, the Azerbaijanian Popular Front (APF) battled with , and finally ousted, the ex-communist president Multalibov. It was sypmtomatic of the power struggle, that during the first five months of 1992, six defence ministers marched through that office. 
Generally speaking, the Karabakh conflict, helped topple the last Communist head of state, Ayax Mutalibov, and bring to power, the Popular Front Leader Pro-Turkish Elchibey, who promised upon his election in June 1992, that Azerbaijan would restore conrol over Shushi and the rest of Karabakh within two months. As a result, in the summerof 1992, the balance shifted. The initial Azeri offensive after Elchibey, was sworn in to office was encouraging, after Azeri forces seized large amounts of equipment from the former Soviet army garrisons inside Azerbaijan. The entire district of Shahumian (Goranboy) and the northern half of Mountainous Karabakh, were occupied in a single seeping operation. The Lachin Corridor however, remained under Armenian control, and in the autumn, the Azeri advance was halted, as the Armenian defence forces in Karabakh, consolidated and strengthened their defense. Although balance was shifted at the end of 1992, in 1993 the Karabakh Armenian separatists carried the war outside the boundaries of Nagorno-Karabakh, and into Armenia proper.
After an occupation of the Azeri district Kelbajar,  which was not a part of Nagorno-Karabakh, by Armenian forces, the balance changed in favour of Karabakh Armenians. The expansion of military operations significantly beyond the borders of Karabakh by local Armenian forces, sparked a major artery by a host of international actors. The UN Security Council released a statement on the 6th April expressing "serious concern" with the capture of Kelbajar and calling for an immediate cessation of the hostilities.  In the aftermath of the Kelbajar operation and the political slaps by the USA and the United Nations in April 1993, Armenian spokesmen became more assertive in their declarations about the right of the Karabakh Armenians to defend themselves, and even about Armenia's direct assistance. 
The poularity of President Elchibey and the Azerbaijan Popular Front among the Azerbaijanian populus, began to decline substantially in the first half of 1993. Consequently, angry and frustrated following a string of humiliating military defeats, Azerbaijan's armyrebelled. In June 1993, Colonel "Surat Huseiov"  and his 709th Brigade remained in city Ganja, marched on Baku and toppled the country's first democratically elected president Abulfaz Elchibey, who fled the capital. As a result Elchibey’s place, who had been in power only a year, was given to the republic's former KGB chief and Communist Party Leader, Heydar Aliyev. 
Consequently, taking advantages of the political instability in Baku and also weak Azeri defence, Karabakh Armenians expanded their occupation in Azeri proper. In Autumn of 1993, Armenian forces already occupied all of Southwest Azerbaijan. Karabakh Armenian's military advance, was alarmed by regional powers such as Iran and Turkey. Iran, whose Northwestern provinces are inhabited by large numbers of ethnic Azeri's, were faced with a potentially overwhelming flood of Azerbaijanian war refugees, and viewed events with increasing concern. Hence, Turkey, whose population has close ethnic and linguistic links with the Azeri's, reacted with alarm. At the United Nations, Turkey's envoy noted that "the Turkish government will take every measure, up to and including military measures to repulse Armenian aggression. 
The International Community was also concerned about recent Armenian military advance. The UN Security Council condemned the Armeian invasion and occupation of Azerbaijan's territories, making its position clear and unambiguous, by passing three other resolutions, which addressed Armenian aggression Resolutions 853-874, which included the following provisions:
(1) Expressing serious concern at the deterioration of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the tensions between them and continouation of the conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Azerbaijan Republic:
(2) Expressing grave concern at the displacement of a large number of civilians within the Azerbaijan Republic:
(3) Reaffirming the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and all other States in the region:
(4) Reaffirming the inviolability of international borders, and the inadvisability of the use of force for the aquisition of territory.
Ultimately, the Security Council condemened the seizure and Armenian occupation of the Kalbajar, Aghdam, Fuzuli. Zangelan districts and all other occupied areas in Azerbaijan, and demended the immediate cessation of all armed hostilities along with the unilateral withdrawal of occupying forces from all those districts and areas. 
Despite the international communities concern about the Armenian advance into Azeri proper, the new reime of Heydar Aliyev was faced with a dire situation. Recognising the need to bolster his position, both at home and at the negotiating table, Aliyev launched a large-scale offensive along several fronts in the conflict zone on the 10th December 1993. Much to the surprise of many that had counted Azerbaijan out, the operation experienced some small yet noteworthy gains. 
In a winter offensive Azerbaijan lost as many as five thousand troops and sixty armoured vehicles in the two month operation that was characterised often by "human wave" assaults, reminiscent of the Iran-Iraq War.  Neverless, the human and material toll paid off, to the extent that it resulted in some noteable territorial gains for Azerbaijan.
After a brief April offensive by local Armenian forces, intended ostensibly to regain lost territory, the warring parties agreed to a termination of military operations on the 12th May 1994. Apart from small incidents, the cease-fire has held to the present.
In spite of the Azeri armies winter offensive, the Karabakh Armenians appeared to have achieved the long standing goal, of ensuring the security and viability of Nagorno-Karabkh. According to the UNHCR, nearly one million refugess had been driven out of the region, along with the Azerbaijan army.  In view of this massive refugee flow, the help efforts of the international community, was indeed seen as massive and wobbling. The total population of Azerbaijan, being less than seven and a half million, the impact on the country of such a refugee flow, is easy to imagine. In addition, a buffer zone had been created around Nagorno-Karabakh to place its population centres largely out of the reach of Azeri missiles and artillery. With 20% of Azerbaijan territory  (which roughly one third accounts for Karabakh itself) under their control and Baku's armed forces routed at nearly every turn, the Karabakh Armenians appeared in a position to dictate terms for peace.
With the establishment of a viable cease-fire in the conflict zone, this gave Azerbaijan the oppoetunity to improve its oil and gas industry in the Caspain basin. Conversely, since 1994, Azerbaijan will use its "oil diplomacy" as a tool against Armenian aggression.
 The most successful of all Azerbaijanian military commanders was "Colonel" Suret Husseinov. Husseinov first achieved fame in 1992, as the leader of parmilitary army, which he claimed to have equipped from his personal fortune. The original source of his wealth was a wool processing factory, of which he was director, in Azerbaaijan's second city of Gianje. Subsequently, he made much larger sums by earning "commission" as a middleman in arms deals between the Azerbaijan government and the Russian Military. He was also widely to be reputed to be involved in narcotics trafficking. At the moment, he is in jail in Azerbaijan National Security Ministry. The role played by Husseinov, in Azerbaijan politics, is very reminiscent of that played by Kitovani or Ioseliani in Georgia. See also : Aves Jonathon., "Politics, Parties and Presidents in Transcaucasia" Caucasian Regional Studies, Issus 1, 1996.http:/www/poli.vub.ac.be/publi/crs/eng/0102-02.html.
 Aliyev Yashar T., "The Nagorno-Karabakh Question: UN reaffirms and Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of Azerbaijan" Azerbaijan International, Winter 1998 (6,4)http:/www.azec.com/AIweb/categorica/MA...der/64.articles/64.un-yasharaliyev.html.
 Cornell Svante., "Undeclared War" http://scf.usc.edu/~baguirov/azeri/svante.html.
 The occupied districts are Agdam, Fizuli, Jebrail, Kelbajar, Kubatli, Lachin and Zangelan. However, over half of Fizuli district and less than half of Agdam distict, are not occupid by the Karabakh Armenians. In addition, there were five districts within the NKAO in the Soviet period: Askeran, Gadrut, Mardakert, Martuni and Shusha. Karabakh forces currently do not control a small amount of territory (approximately 150 square km) in Mardakert and Martuni districts.
Walker Edward W., "No Peace, No War in the Caucasus" (Cambridge: Harvard University 1988) p.28
Copyright © 1999-2001 by Dadash Alishov. All rights reserved.
Web presentation with exclusive permission from the author.
Copyright © 2001 by Virtual Azerbaijan (VAR).