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Armenian–Azerbaijani War
Part of World War I and the Russian Civil War
Soldiers of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.jpg
Soldiers of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1919
LocationArmenia and Azerbaijan
Result Soviet victory
Sovietisation of Armenia and Azerbaijan; disputes over Karabakh and Nakhichevan settled in favor of Soviet Azerbaijan; Zangezur gained by Soviet Armenia
Armenia First Republic of Armenia
Armenia Republic of Mountainous Armenia
Armenian militia/rebels

Only for the Battle of Baku: United Kingdom United Kingdom
Flag of the Centrocaspian Dictatorship.svg Centrocaspian Dictatorship
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan Democratic Republic

Only for the Battle of Baku:
 Ottoman Empire

After April 1920:
 Russian SFSR
Turkey Turkish Revolutionaries
Flag of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (1920-1921).svg Azerbaijan SSR
Commanders and leaders
Armenia Andranik Ozanian
Armenia Drastamat Kanayan
United Kingdom Lionel Dunsterville
Azerbaijan Samedbey Mehmandarov
Azerbaijan Khosrov bey Sultanov
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Anatoli Gekker
United Kingdom Dunsterforce (1,000 elite Australian, British and New Zealand soldiers)

The Armenian–Azerbaijani War, which started after the Russian Revolution, was a series of brutal and hard to classify conflicts in 1918, then from 1920 to 1922 that occurred during the brief independence of Armenia and Azerbaijan and afterwards. Most of the conflicts did not have a principal pattern with a standard armed structure. The Ottoman Empire and British Empire were involved in different capacities: the Ottoman Empire left the region after the Armistice of Mudros but British influence continued until Dunsterforce was pulled back in 1920s. The conflicts involved civilians in the disputed districts of Kazakh-Shamshadin, Zanghezur, Nakhchivan and Karabakh. The use of guerrilla and semi-guerrilla operations were the main reasons for the high civilian casualties, which occurred during the nation-building activities of the newly established states. The reasons behind the conflict are still far from being resolved after nearly a century.

The story of this campaign has very different perceptions; according to Armenian historians, the First Republic of Armenia aimed to include Nakhchivan among the basic (Eastern Armenian) territories of the Erivan Governorate, as well as the eastern and southern parts of the Elisabethpol Governorate.


The first clashes between the Armenians and Azeris took place in Baku in February 1905. Soon, the conflict spilled over to other parts of the Caucasus, and on August 5, 1905 the first conflict between the Armenian and Azeri population of Shusha took place.

Active stages

In the March 1918, ethnic and religious tensions grew and the Armenian-Azeri conflict in Baku began. Musavat and Committee of Union and Progress parties were accused of Pan-Turkism by Bolsheviks and their allies. Armenian and Muslim militia engaged in armed confrontation, which resulted in heavy casualties. Many Muslims were expelled from Baku, or went underground. Meanwhile the arrest of General Talyshinski, the commander of the Azerbaijani division, and some of its officers all of whom arrived in Baku on March 9, increased the anti-Soviet feelings among the city's Azeri population. On 30 March, the Soviets, based on the unfounded report that the Muslim crew of the ship Evelina was armed and ready to revolt against the Soviet, disarmed the crew which tried to resist [1] This led to 3-day fighting resulting in the death of up to 12,000 Azeris.[2][3][4]

Fight for Baku and Karabakh, 1918–1919

Place of British forces after Armstice

British forces in Baku

At the same time the Baku Commune was involved in heavy fighting with the advancing Caucasian Ottoman Army in and around Ganja. Enver Pasha, the Ottoman Empire, began to move forward with the newly established Army of Islam. Major battles occurred in Yevlakh and Agdash, where the Turks routed and defeated Dashnak and Russian forces. Dunsterville ordered the evacuation of the city on September 14, after six weeks of occupation, and withdrew to Iran; most of the Armenian population escaped with British forces. The Ottoman Army of Islam and its Azeri allies, led by Nuri Pasha, entered Baku on September 15 and slaughtered between 10,000 - 20,000 Armenians in retaliation for the March massacre of Muslims.[5] The capital of the Azerbaijan was finally moved from Ganja to Baku. However, after the Armistice of Mudros between the United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire on October 30, Turkish troops were substituted by the Triple Entente. Headed by British general W. Thomson, who had declared himself the military governor of Baku, 1,000 Commonwealth soldiers arrived in Baku on November 17, 1918. By General Thomson's order, martial law was implemented in Baku.

Karabakh Reconciliation commission

The Armenian government tried several times to seize Shusha militarily. Beginning with 1918, Republic of Mountainous Armenia was declared in the region. However throughout the summer of 1918, Armenians in the mountainous Karabag region, under the leadership of Andranik Ozanian resisted the Ottoman 3rd army.[6] After the Armistice, the Ottoman Empire began to withdraw its forces and Armenian forces under Andranik seized Nagorno-Karabakh.[7] Armstice of Mudros brought General Adriank the chance to create a base for further expansion eastward and form a strategic corridor extending into Nakhchivan.[7] In January 1919 Armenian troops advanced towards Shusha, captured and destroyed 9 Azeri villages on their way but eventually had to retreat. Just before the Armistice of Mudros was signed, Andranik was on the way from Zangezur to Shusha, to control the main city of the Karabakh. The Armenian government tried several times to seize Shusha militarily, before. In January 1919, while Armenian troops advancing, the British military command ordered Andranik back to Zangezur, and gave him the assurances that this conflict can be solved with the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. Andranik pulled back his units and British command at Baku gave the control to Khosrov bey Sultanov, a native of Karabakh, who was appointed the general-governor of Karabakh. He had three Armenian and three Azeri aide.

Fight for Nakhchivan, 1919–1920

In response to a border proposal by Sir John Oliver Wardrop, British Chief Commissioner in the South Caucasus, that would have assigned Nakhchivan to Armenia, Azeris of Nakhchivan revolted under the leadership of the local landowner Jafargulu Khan Nakhchivanski in December 1918 and declared the independent Republic of Aras, with its capital in Nakhchivan.[8] The republic, which essentially subordinated to Azerbaijan, continued to exist until May 1919, when Armenia advanced its troops led by Drastamat Kanayan into it to gain control over the region. They managed to capture the city of Nakhchivan in June 1919 and disestablish the Republic of Aras, but immediately clashed with regular Azerbaijani troops, which reinstalled Azerbaijan's control over the city in July. Azerbaijani troops led by former Turkish officer Khalil Bey successfully defended the town of Beiuk Vedi, twenty-six miles from the Armenian capital.[9] On 10 August 1919, the Armenians were forced to sign a peace treaty.[10]

Fighting resumed in March 1920, echoing the Armenian revolt in Karabakh, and continued until the Sovietization of Nakhchivan in 1920 when the 11th Red Army, now including former Azerbaijan Democratic Republic troops, effectively defeated the Armenians in Ordubad and Shahtakhty. Despite this, Armenia continued unsuccessful incursions into Nakhchivan until November 1920.[10]

Fight for Karabakh, early 1920

The largest Armenian-Azeri ethnic clashes in Shusha took place on March–April 1920. On the night from March 21–22, 1920 when the Azeris were celebrating Spring Equinox (Novruz Bayram), the Armenians of Karabakh began to revolt and organized a surprise attack. On March 22–26, 1920, the Shusha pogrom[11][12][13][14] took place, which resulted many Armenian deaths and the destruction of the Armenian quarter of the city.

Sovietization of Azerbaijan, April 1920

In early April 1920 the Republic of Azerbaijan was in a very troubled situation. In the west, the Armenians still controlled large parts of territory claimed by Azerbaijan; in the east, the local Azeri communists were rebelling against the government; and to the north the Russian Red Army was steadily moving southward, having defeated Denikin's White Russian forces.

On April 27, 1920 the government of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic received notice that the Soviet army was about to cross the northern border and invade the ADR. Faced with such a difficult situation, the government officially surrendered to the Soviets, but many generals and local Azeri militias kept resisting the advance of Soviet forces and it took a while for the Soviets to stabilize the newly proclaimed Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, headed by the leading Azeri Bolshevik Nariman Narimanov.

While the Azerbaijani government and army were in chaos, the Armenian army and local Armenian militias used the opportunity to assert their control over parts of Azerbaijani territory, taking Shusha, Khankendi, and other important cities. By the end of April the Armenian forces were in control of most of western Azerbaijan including all of Karabakh with the surrounding areas. Other areas captured included all of Nakhchivan and much of Kazakh-Shamshadin district. In the meantime, the Armenian communists attempted a coup in Armenia, but ultimately failed.

Soviet takeover, May 1920

In 1920-21 the only 'solution' of this dispute could come either by military victory – as basically happened in Anatolia, Zangezur and Nakhchivan – or by the imposition from above of a new structure by an imperial power. After the British failed to impose a settlement, the imperial arbiters turned out to be the Bolsheviks, whose 11th Army conquered Karabakh in May 1920. On 5 July 1921 the Bolsheviks' Caucasian committee, the Kavbiuro, under the chairmanship of Stalin ruled that the mountainous part of Karabakh would be part of Azerbaijan. In July 1923 the Nagorny (or Mountainous) Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO) was created within Azerbaijan, with borders that gave it an overwhelming Armenian population of 94 per cent of the total inhabitants.

End of hostilities, September–November 1920

In late November, there was yet another Soviet-backed communist uprising in Armenia. On November 28, 1920 blaming Armenia for the invasions of Sharur (20.11.1920) and Karabakh (21.11.1920) the 11th Red Army under the command of Anatoli Gekker, crossed the demarcation line between First Republic of Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan. The second Soviet-Armenian war lasted only a week.


The Armenian national liberation movement was exhausted by the 6 years of permanent wars and conflicts; the Armenian army and population were incapable of any further active resistance.

Sovietization of Armenia, December 1920

On December 4, 1920, when the Red Army entered Yerevan, the government of the First Republic of Armenia Armenia effectively surrendered. On December 5, the Armenian Revolutionary Committee (Revkom) made up of mostly Armenians from Azerbaijan also entered the city. Finally, on the following day, December 6, Felix Dzerzhinsky's dreaded secret police, the Cheka, entered Yerevan, thus effectively ending all existence of the First Republic of Armenia.[15]

The Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic was then proclaimed, under the leadership of Gevork Atarbekyan. On February 18 of 1921 a national revolt against Bolsheviks started. General Garegin Nzhdeh, commander Garo Sasouni and the last PM of independent Armenia Simon Vratsyan took the lead of anti-bolshevik rebellion and forced out the Bolsheviks from Yerevan and other places. By April the Red Army reconquered most part of Armenia. However, Atarbekyan was dismissed and Aleksandr Miasnikyan, an Armenian high-ranking Red Army commander, replaced him.[citation needed] Garegin Nzhdeh left the Zangezur mountains after the sovietization of Armenia was finalized in July 1921, leaving Azeri-populated villages cleansed of their population.[16] Persuaded by Soviet leadership, Zangezur had already been ceded by Azerbaijan to Armenia in November 1920 as a "symbol of friendship".[17]

Treaty of Kars, 23 October 1921

The violence in Transcaucasia was finally settled in a friendship treaty between Turkey and the Soviet Union. The peace Treaty of Kars was signed in Kars by representatives of the Russian SFSR, Azerbaijan SSR, Armenian SSR, Georgian SSR, and Turkey. Turkey had another agreement, the "Treaty on Friendship and Brotherhood", also called the Treaty of Moscow, signed on March 16, 1921 with Soviet Russia.

By this treaty Nakhchivan was granted the status of an autonomous region within Azerbaijan. Turkey and Russia became guarantors of Nakhichevan's status. Turkey agreed to return Alexandropol to Armenia and Batumi to Georgia.


  1. Документы об истории гражданской войны в С.С.С.Р., Vol. 1, pp. 282–283.
  2. "New Republics in the Caucasus". March 1920. p. 492. 
  3. Smith, Michael (2001). "Anatomy of Rumor: Murder Scandal, the Musavat Party and Narrative of the Russian Revolution in Baku, 1917-1920". pp. 211–240 [p. 228]. Digital object identifier:10.1177/002200940103600202. 
  4. (Russian) Michael Smith. "Azerbaijan and Russia: Society and State: Traumatic Loss and Azerbaijani National Memory"
  5. Croissant, Michael P. (1998). Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Causes and Implications. Westport, CT: Praeger. p. 15. ISBN 0-275-96241-5. 
  6. Malkasian, Mark (1996). Gha-ra-bagh! The Emergence of the National Democratic Movement in Armenia. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-8143-2604-8. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hafeez Malik "Central Asia: Its Strategic Importance and Future Prospects" page 145
  8. Dr. Andrew Andersen, Ph.D. Atlas of Conflicts: Armenia: Nation Building and Territorial Disputes: 1918-1920
  9. Asia: Journal of the American Asiatic Association, Volume 20. American Asiatic Association. Asia Magazine, 1920; p. 724: "The villain of the piece was one Khalil Bey, a former Turkish officer who had headed the Turkish delegation at the Transcaucasian Peace Conference in Batum on May 15, 1918. A cunning little man, sallow, thin-faced, slippery, he had built up a great personal following among the Tartars of the Aras Valley. In the summer of 1919, he had conducted the defense of Beiuk- Vedi, a Tartar town only twenty-six miles from Erivan, the capital of Armenia, and the strategic key to the whole plain at the foot of Mt. Ararat."
  10. 10.0 10.1 Armenian-Azerbaijani Military Conflicts in 1919-20.
  11. "The British administrator of Karabakh Colonel Chatelword did not prevent the discrimination of Armenians by the Tatar administration of Governor Saltanov. The ethnic clashes ended with the terrible massacres in which the most of Armenians in Shusha town perished. The Parliament in Baku refused to even condemn those responsible of the massacres in Shusha and the war started in Karabakh. A. Zubov (in Russian) А.Зубов Политическое будущее Кавказа: опыт ретроспективно-сравнительного анализа, журнал "Знамья", 2000, #4,
  12. "massacre of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, Shushi (called Shusha by the Azerbaijanis)", Kalli Raptis, "Nagorno-Karabakh and the Eurasian Transport Corridor",
  13. "A month ago after the massacres of Shushi, on April 19, 1920, prime-ministers of England, France and Italy with participation of the representatives of Japan and USA collected in San-Remo..." Giovanni Guaita (in Russian) Джованни ГУАЙТА, Армения между кемалистским молотом и большевистской наковальней // «ГРАЖДАНИН», M., # 4, 2004
  14. Verluise, Pierre (April 1995). "Armenia in Crisis: The 1988 Earthquake". Wayne State University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0814325270. 
  15. Robert H. Hewsen. Armenia: A Historical Atlas, p. 237. ISBN 0-226-33228-4
  16. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Garegin Nzhdeh and the KGB: Report of Interrogation of Ohannes Hakopovich Devedjian". August 28, 1947. Archived from the original on 2007-10-30. Retrieved 2012-06-24.(Russian)
  17. Duncan, Walter Raymond; Holman (Jr.), G. Paul (1994). Ethnic nationalism and regional conflict: the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Westview Press. p. 109. ISBN 0-8133-8813-9. Retrieved 2012-01-23. 

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