Black Garden

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 360
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    Black Garden
    Book Description:

    Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2003Black Garden is the definitive study of how Armenia and Azerbaijan, two southern Soviet republics, got sucked into a conflict that helped bring them to independence, bringing to an end the Soviet Union, and plaguing a region of great strategic importance. It cuts between a careful reconstruction of the history of Nagorny Karabakh conflict since 1988 and on-the-spot reporting on its convoluted aftermath. Part contemporary history, part travel book, part political analysis, the book is based on six months traveling through the south Caucasus, more than 120 original interviews in the region, Moscow, and Washington, and unique primary sources, such as Politburo archives. The historical chapters trace how the conflict lay unresolved in the Soviet era; how Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders exacerbated it; how the Politiburo failed to cope with the crisis; how the war began and ended; how the international community failed to sort out the conflict. What emerges is a complex and subtle portrait of a beautiful and fascinating region, blighted by historical prejudice and conflict.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8533-1
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Author’s Note (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Two Maps, of the South Caucasus and of Nagorny Karabakh (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Crossing the Line (pp. 1-9)

    No border is more closed than this one. A few miles after the Azerbaijani city of Terter, the road stopped in a dusty field. Soldiers at a guard post blocked the way. Sheets of camouflage and dried grass covered the barbed wire.

    From here Colonel Elkhan Aliev of the Azerbaijani army would escort us into no-man’s-land. We were a party of Western and Russian diplomats and journalists. The mediators were hoping to build on progress made the month before at peace talks in Florida between the presidents of the two small post-Soviet Caucasian republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

    By crossing...

  6. 1 February 1988: An Armenian Revolt (pp. 10-28)

    The crisis began in February 1988 in the depths of the Soviet Union. The central square of Stepanakert, a small but beautifully situated town in the mountains of the southern Caucasus, was a large open space, perfectly suited for public meetings. A large statue of Lenin (now removed) dominated the square with the neoclassical Regional Soviet building and a steep hill raking up behind it. A long flight of steps fell down to the plain of Azerbaijan below.

    On 20 February 1988, the local Soviet of the Nagorny Karabakh Autonomous Region of Azerbaijan—essentially a small regional parliament—sitting inside...

  7. 2 February 1988: Azerbaijan: Puzzlement and Pogroms (pp. 29-44)

    The extraordinary events in Nagorny Karabakh in February 1988 caught Azerbaijan by surprise and revealed its hidden insecurities.

    Azerbaijan had a far more diverse population than Armenia. With double the number of inhabitants—more than seven million in 1988—it had a far greater ethnic mix, with substantial minorities of Russians and Armenians, as well as smaller Caucasian nationalities, such as Talysh and Lezgins. Its population centers ranged from the cosmopolitan capital Baku to some of the most deprived towns and villages of the Caucasus.

    Superficially, as soon as the Politburo upheld Azerbaijan’s claim to Nagorny Karabakh, the local Party...

  8. 3 Shusha: The Neighbors’ Tale (pp. 45-54)

    Drinking tea in their garden, surrounded by nodding flowers and looking out at their old ruined school, Albert and Larisa Khachaturian seemed like the survivors of an earthquake.¹

    The Khachaturians’ house in the upper part of Shusha is one of the few in the town that is still intact. As I walked up through the flagged streets of this formerly prosperous city, in the shade of oak and apple trees, I passed the black empty shells of old balconied mansion houses. Shusha (called Shushi by the Armenians), situated high above a gorge in the central hills of Nagorny Karabakh, was...

  9. 4 1988–1989: An Armenian Crisis (pp. 55-72)

    In May 1988, hostility between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, spreading like an infection through Nagorny Karabakh, reached the village of Tug. It was a fateful moment. Tug, in the South of Karabakh, was the only village in the region with a mixed population. Both nationalities lived side by side, with only a small brook separating them; if intercommunal harmony could not be maintained there, it could not survive anywhere. Yet on 3 May, Interior Ministry units were called out to Tug to prevent fighting between hundreds of villagers. The Moscow official Grigory Kharchenko had visited the village in February 1988, and...

  10. 5 Yerevan: Mysteries of the East (pp. 73-81)

    In 1905, A journalist named Luigi Villari was captivated by a small city in the Caucasus with twenty-eight thousand inhabitants and an abundance of Eastern charm:

    [T]he vaulted passages themselves, redolent of all the mysteries of the East, with their dark curtained shops, the crowds of Tartars clad in long blue tunics, and the green turbans of themullahspassing up and down, are very attractive. In one small open room I came upon a teacher imparting religious instruction to about a dozen little boys; he was droning out his lesson in a sing-song, monotonous voice, swaying to and fro....

  11. 6 1988–1990: An Azerbaijani Tragedy (pp. 82-95)

    On the afternoon of 23 July 1988, five Azerbaijani academics stood disconsolately on the pavement in front of the main Communist Party headquarters in Baku. They had just come out of a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with the new Party leader of Azerbaijan, Abdurahman Vezirov, and they were depressed. One of the group, Leila Yunusova, confessed that Vezirov had been even more conservative and blinkered than she had expected. Another, the physicist Tofik Qasimov, remarked that the best course of action he could think of was going home and finishing the repair work on his apartment. A third, the Arabist scholar Zardusht...

  12. 7 Baku: An Eventful History (pp. 96-107)

    On a chilly spring day in 2000, a crowd of Azerbaijanis, all dressed in long black coats, was standing under a canopy of pine trees on a hill high above the curving Bay of Baku. Everyone was holding carnations and chatting to friends—and waiting for something to begin. We were standing at the entrance to the Alley of Martyrs, orShehidler Khiyabani, formerly the Kirov Park, which had been dug up in 1990 to make way for the graves of the one hundred thirty victims of the 20 January bloodshed. Every year on that day tens of thousands of...

  13. 8 1990–1991: A Soviet Civil War (pp. 108-124)

    In January 1990, as order broke down in Baku, the area around Nagorny Karabakh slid out of control. On 15 January, Moscow imposed a State of Emergency on the province and the border regions with Armenia. A delegation sent by the Politburo flew into Karabakh but was turned back at the airfield by Armenian villagers. There was fighting in the villages of the Khanlar region. Then, after the bloodshed of 20 January, Arkady Volsky and his team pulled out of the region, leaving it without any working administration.

    This was Viktor Polyanichko’s hour. After Black January, Azerbaijan’s Russian second secretary...

  14. 9 Divisions: A Twentieth-Century Story (pp. 125-144)

    On the border between Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan, between the towns of Ijevan and Kazakh and just south of Georgia, there used to stand a monument of a tree. At its crest it blossomed into a flower, whose petals symbolized the friendship of the three Soviet republics of the South Caucasus.

    In Soviet times probably no one paid much attention to this exotic tree-flower, but that was probably because for most people its message appeared self-evident. Most inhabitants of the Caucasus insist that right up until the late 1980s they lived in friendship with their neighbors of all nationalities and...

  15. 10 Hurekavank: The Unpredictable Past (pp. 145-158)

    Samvel karapetian unrolled a six-foot square of stiff paper on the floor of his office. From a distance it was a large white space sprinkled with colored dots that could have been an abstract painting by Jackson Pollock. But standing beside it, Samvel was a general, outlining his campaign plan.

    Before us was a map of the Caucasus, based on the Russian imperial census of 1914. Samvel had ascertained the ethnic makeup of all the settlements, large and small, between the Black and Caspian Seas and given each nationality a coded color. Then he had colored in every village and...

  16. 11 August 1991–May 1992: War Breaks Out (pp. 159-183)

    Early on the morning of 19 August 1991, the Russian parliamentary deputy Anatoly Shabad woke up in the village of Haterk in the northern hills of Nagorny Karabakh. He was there to try to negotiate the release of forty Soviet Interior Ministry soldiers who had been taken hostage by Armenian partisans. Soviet troops from the 23rd Division, based in Azerbaijan, had surrounded the village and been given orders to free the hostages by force. There were fears that it would end in bloodshed.

    Then Shabad switched on the radio and heard shattering news. In Moscow, a newly declared State Committee...

  17. 12 Shusha: The Last Citadel (pp. 184-193)

    On a rock above the serpentine road that twists up from Stepanakert to Shusha stands a victory memorial. It is the same T-72 tank from which Gagik Avsharian was thrown headlong in the heat of battle at midday on 8 May 1992. After the Armenians had won the war for Karabakh, they had the burned tank rebuilt, resprayed olive green, and placed on the hill with its original number, 442, repainted in white on its hull. It pointed toward Shusha.

    Eight years and one day later, on 9 May 2000, Armenian Nagorny Karabakh was celebrating its Victory Day. It was...

  18. 13 June 1992–September 1993: Escalation (pp. 194-216)

    In the middle of June 1992, an exodus of thousands of people streamed south through Nagorny Karabakh, fleeing their homes in the face of an enemy attack. Film footage of the human tide shows trucks overloaded with people bouncing over the dirt roads. Others follow on foot. They are country folk: old women in head scarves, younger women with children slung over their shoulders, farmers leading bullocks on ropes or driving them with sticks. Weary villagers try to scrape the mud from the house shoes they are trudging in. A gaunt woman with gray straggly hair appeals to the camera:...

  19. 14 Sabirabad: The Children’s Republic (pp. 217-224)

    Music was coming out of the big hall with the corrugated iron roof. There was the rasping gut of a stringed instrument, the beat of stamping feet, an accordion, and a banging drum. Inside a line of young girls, hand in hand and dressed in pinks and greens, glided in a line, urged on by a clutch of musicians sitting in the corner. The dancing master clapped his hands, the music stopped, and the girls laughed and went back to their positions.

    The hall teeming withjoie de vivrewas in a refugee camp outside the town of Sabirabad in...

  20. 15 September 1993–May 1994: Exhaustion (pp. 225-240)

    On 3 October 1993, Heidar Aliev was elected president of Azerbaijan. The result was preordained and he was awarded an improbable 98.8 percent of the vote. What was in doubt was whether Azerbaijan was a functioning state at all. By the time Aliev was elected, Armenian forces had conquered a vast crescent of land to the east, west, and south of Nagorny Karabakh. It constituted the entire southwestern part of Azerbaijan, save only the thirty thousand people of the Zengelan region, who were trapped in a pocket of territory with the Iranian border to the south. In late October, a...

  21. 16 Stepanakert: A State Apart (pp. 241-250)

    The small austere room was lined with wooden benches and illuminated by a bank of strip lights. But for the floor-to-ceiling metal cage on the left side, it could have been a school classroom. Inside, two rows of young men sat together under guard; seated at a short distance from them was Samvel Babayan, a small man with a wispy moustache and an inscrutable expression. The former commander of the Karabakh Armenian armed forces was on trial for attempted murder and high treason.

    Babayan had a swift fall from power. For five years after the 1994 cease-fire agreement with Azerbaijan,...

  22. 17 1994–2001: No War, No Peace (pp. 251-268)

    In May 1994, both Armenia and Azerbaijan entered a state of frozen conflict, in which mass violence had ended but the political dispute was unresolved. Armenia spent the next few years in continuous political turbulence; Azerbaijan, unable to develop peacefully, was condemned to the suffocating order imposed by Heidar Aliev.

    President Aliev used the end of fighting to begin stamping his control on Azerbaijan. He gradually cleared the field of actual or would-be opponents, beginning with the army. In August 1994, a group of army commanders, including the former defense minister Rahim Gaziev and the Popular Front commander Arif Pashayev,...

  23. Conclusion: Sadakhlo: The Future (pp. 269-283)

    “They fight, we don’t,” said Mukhta, a trader from Azerbaijan, giving his view of war in the Caucasus and locking his Armenian colleague, Ashot, in a tight embrace.

    The two black-moustachioed men were standing in front of a sea of ancient box-shaped Soviet-era cars and a heaving crowd of commerce. We were in Sadakhlo, a village on the Georgian-Armenian border—close to the hinge on the map where the three Caucasian republics meet—the site of the largest wholesale market in the southern Caucasus. At the edge of the village stood a line of white and dirty-yellow buses, from Baku,...

  24. Appendix 1: Statistics (pp. 284-286)
  25. Appendix 2: Chronology (pp. 287-298)
  26. Notes (pp. 299-320)
  27. Bibliography (pp. 321-326)
  28. Index (pp. 327-336)
  29. About the Author (pp. 337-337)


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