April 2021 Aram Danielyan ‘Small Motherland (Artsakh, Yemishchan)’

So, something about my ‘Small Homeland’. My roots are Artsakh (Karabakh). Artsakh is one of the ancient Armenian provinces, located in the eastern part of the Armenian Highlands and has been one of the provinces of the historical Armenian kingdoms since ancient times. Even before our era, Artsakh was part of Greater Armenia as its 9th province. It is very pleasant, being in Rome, to see ancient mosaic maps near the Colosseum, on which Armenia, including the territory of Artsakh, was indicated even before our era, next to the Roman Empire and other powerful states of that time.


Already in our era, Artsakh, together with the whole Armenia, was the first in the world adopted Christianity as the state religion. It was in 301. Also, it is very pleasant when every time leaving the Vatican museums, any visitor necessarily sees the huge figure of the founder of the Armenian Apostolic Church – St. Gregory. By the way, the Armenian Church is called apostolic because the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, Jesus’s pupils, preached Christianity in Armenia.


Artsakh is directly related to the spread of the ancient Armenian alphabet and writing: it was in the Amaras monastery created in the south of Artsakh by the founder of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Gregory in the 4th century. The creator of the Armenian script Mesrop Mashtots founded the first school for children to study the Armenian alphabet. The year of creation of the Armenian alphabet is considered to be 405. Thanks to it, an unprecedented cultural upsurge has been observed in Artsakh since the 5th century. In Amaras, despite the hardships and destruction during the raids of enemies and numerous wars, there are still letters laid out on the walls and ceilings for students.


In all subsequent centuries, Artsakh was raided by enemies, conquerors, both nomadic tribes and empires, for example, the Persian one. if during the period of being in the Persian Empire, Artsakh nevertheless was being developed, temples, monasteries, schools were built, then during the invasion of the Arabs, Mongol-Tatars or Turkic tribes, everything was only being destroyed.

In the 16th century, a number of self-governing administrative and political units were formed in Karabakh. They were called melikstv, and their rulers got names – meliks. In the 18th century, these Armenian melikstvs became the basis of a new administrative unit of Persia – the Karabakh Khanate. The princely houses of Karabakh existed until the 19th century, remaining an important political factor in the region. The Hamsa Melikstvs (the so-called unification of the 5 Karabakh melikstvs) prevented the attempts of the Ottoman Empire to invade the region. In the 17-18th centuries, the meliks of Artsakh led the liberation struggle against Persian and Turkish dominion.


During the same period, the Persian authorities, in order to reduce the local Christian population, pursued a policy of exterminating or relocating Armenians and settling empty lands with Turkish nomadic tribes, their Shiite co-religionists. In parallel with the armed struggle, the Artsakh meliks sent their envoys to Europe and Russia in order to receive the help of the Christian West. They also corresponded with Russian tsars. Russian tsars and emperors highly valued the Armenians, granted them the right to establish their cities on the territory of Russia, to build temples. For example, in my beloved St. Petersburg, Armenian temples were built in the 18th century, while the city was also founded in the 17th. And the main church of the Armenians of St. Petersburg began to be called the ‘blue pearl of Nevsky Prospekt’ for its white-blue colours. It may be interesting to read that such Russian cities as Budennovsk, Edissia, Armavir were founded by Armenian settlers in the late 18th – early 19th centuries and Nakhichevan-on-Don or Nor-Nakhichevan (New Nakhichevan) is a part of the present greater Rostov-on-Don. Budennovsk was founded just by people from Karabakh and before it got its name in honour of Budyonny, it was called Surb Hach, which means ‘Holy Cross’ in Armenian.


In the historical period before the Russian-Persian wars in Transcaucasia there was a migration of people, including the settlement of the native Armenian territories, the plain and mountainous Artsakh, by nomadic Turkish tribes of northern Persia. By the way, it was with the arrival of the Turkish tribes that ancient Artsakh began to be called Karabakh, which means ‘black garden’ in Turkish and Persian. The Russian-Persian War of 1804-1813 ended with the signing of the Gulistan Treaty (October 12, 1813), according to which Persia conceded to Russia almost all the khanates of the Eastern Transcaucasia, including Karabakh. After the next Russo-Persian war and the signing of the Treaty of Turkmanchay in 1828, the rest of the Transcaucasian khanates, including the remaining lands of eastern Armenia, also were given to the Russian Empire.

Thanks to Russian poet and writer Griboyedov, who at that time was the Russian ambassador to Persia, Armenian families, whose ancestors were forcibly resettled from Armenia in previous centuries, were resettled.


And here I would like to stop at the town of Emishchan, from which the well-known history of my family on my father’s side begins. This high mountain village is located in a very picturesque place surrounded by forests, at a level of 1760 m above sea level. It is believed that Emishchan was founded by the Armenians of this region at the beginning of the 19th century. And after the return migration of Armenians from Persia, the descendants of Artsakh Armenians settled in Emishchan. It is noteworthy that during the construction of my ancestral home, during the formation of the foundation, a medieval khachkar was discovered — a stone slab with Christian crosses carved on it. This khachkar has been in the house all these years and it is considered a local shrine.


During the period of the power of the Russian Empire, all khanates were abolished. Nagorno-Karabakh entered Russia geographically, first as the Karabakh province, and later as a part of the Elizavetpol province. Since that period, unprecedented development has been observed in the center of Karabakh – the fortress city of Shushi. And it is Shushi that is the birthplace of my maternal ancestors.


In the period after the First World War, in 1915, the first genocide in the history of mankind was recognized, including by the Russian Federation. After the October Revolution in Russia, the Turks, promising the Bolsheviks a proletarian revolution in Turkey, were persuading and blackmailing the young Bolshevik Russian leadership, and sometimes Turkish-Azerbaijani forces were destroying the civilians of Karabakh, Armenian towns and villages. But despite these cruel events, during the rapidly changing post-revolutionary situation, from May 1918 to April 1920, Karabakh had become de facto independent. It was during this period, according to the results of the Congress, Nagorno-Karabakh (the majority of its population were Armenians), was legitimately proclaimed an independent administrative and political unit with National Council, government, armed forces and other attributes of statehood.


During the Sovietization of Transcaucasia by the Bolsheviks after the Sovietization of Azerbaijan (which happened on April 28, 1920), Karabakh and several other Armenian territories were transferred to Azerbaijan. But immediately after the proclamation of Soviet power in Armenia, on December 02, 1920 the Revolutionary Committee – (the main authority of the Bolshevik government of that time) of Azerbaijan by a special declaration recognized the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhichevan, which Azerbaijan had previously claimed and which it had received earlier, as an integral part of Soviet Armenia. Moreover, by the declaration of June 12, 1921, the National Council of the Azerbaijan SSR declared Nagorno-Karabakh an integral part of the Armenian SSR. The new government of Soviet Armenia welcomed this decision and even offer to establish state institutions in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, soon the Azerbaijani leadership evaded the statements made earlier and began to make new efforts to establish control over Karabakh and Nakhichevan. On July 4, 1921, the Caucasian Bureau of the Communist Party of Russia held a plenary session in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, during which it was confirmed that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of the Armenian SSR. This decision was voted and approved. However, under Stalin’s dictation and direct intervention on the night of July 5, the decision was revised, and even without observing the regulations, a new decision was made without voting to include Nagorno-Karabakh into Soviet Azerbaijan with the status of an autonomous region. Thus, Nagorno-Karabakh has never been a part of independent Azerbaijan, which existed in 1918-1920ss, but was included there by force. The borders of the autonomy were drawn in such a way to exclude the presence of contact with the Armenian SSR. In 1936, this autonomy was renamed into the PKAR. During the entire period of their staying in Soviet Azerbaijan, the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh were exposed to systematic harassment, violation of their rights and interests. Throughout the history of the Soviet Union, the Armenian population of Artsakh repeatedly appealed to the leadership of the Soviet Union with a request to reunite Nagorno-Karabakh with the Armenian SSR. This issue was being discussed in 1963-1966, in 1977, but the people’s desire to restore historical and moral justice was not realized. On February 20, 1988, the deputies of Nagorno-Karabakh adopted a petition to give PKAR to the Armenian SSR. The response to the desire to be free were the pogroms and mass killings of Armenians, ethnic cleansing in Baku, Sumgait, Kirovabad and other cities of Azerbaijan. And then the fighting began when the Azerbaijani army attacked the peaceful population of Karabakh. In the period before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared its independence on August 30, 1991, and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) was proclaimed it on September 2, 1991.


In response to the realization of the legitimate right to self-determination by the people of Artsakh, the policy of ethnic cleansing pursued by Azerbaijan took the form of a large-scale military aggression, in which, along with the armed forces and bandit groups, 2,000 militants from international terrorist centers, as well as militants from Chechnya led by Basayev, were involved on the Azerbaijani side. Having suffered huge losses, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh defended their right to be free and independent. In May 1994, Azerbaijan and Nagorno–Karabakh signed an indefinite ceasefire agreement. Armenia also joined.


However, in September 2020. Azerbaijan, not only with the support, but under the leadership of neo-Ottoman Turkey and President Erdogan, started the war again, using all types of weapons, including those prohibited by international conventions. The result of this war was the occupation of part of the territory of Artsakh, tens of thousands of dead on both sides. Only the personal intervention of Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin led to the cessation of hostilities and the introduction of Russian peacekeeping forces into the conflict zone.


This is the long—suffering history of my ‘Small Homeland’ – Artsakh and its heroic people. And I am sure that it, like the whole Mother Armenia, will have even more millenniums of history ahead.