Misuse of Sources on the Armenian Population of Mountainous Karabakh. George A. Bournoutian/текст

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Politics of Demography: Misuse of Sources on the Armenian

Population of Mountainous Karabakh

George A. Bournoutian


The Armeno-Azeri conflict over Nagorno- or Mountainous Karabakh has spilled over into the academic world. Armenian historians maintain that all of Karabakh was at one time part of the ancient Armenian kingdom and that the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has had an Armenian majority for several hundred years. Azeri historians assert that the region was never part of Armenia and that the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh arrived there from Iran and Turkey after 1828, and only thanks to Russian policy, which favored Christians over Muslims, did the Armenians establish a majority in Nagorno-Karabakh. That Azeri diplomats and journalists echo this claim in their statements and articles is understandable. What is lamentable is the willingness of some Western scholars to accept the Azeri claims without examining primary sources. In her study The Azerbaijani Turks: Power and Identity under Russian Rule (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1992), Professor Audrey Altstadt states,

In the first decade of Russian rule, immigration [to the Caucasus] appears to have been confined to Russians . . . and Armenians from Iran, as provided in the Treaty of Turkmanchai. Armenian immigration affected mainly the Shemakhi, Ganje, and Karabagh regions and areas west including Erevan (p. 28). She cites my article, "The Ethnic Composition and Socio-Economic Condition of Eastern Armenia in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century," in Ronald G. Suny, ed., Transcaucasia: Nationalism and Social Change, East European series 2 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1983), pp. 77-79, as the source for this information. My study deals primarily with Erevan and Nakhichevan. Nowhere in that work, nor in my two books on the region,(1) have I ever discussed population figures for Shemakhi, Ganje, or Karabakh. Altstadt, well aware of the narrow scope of my work (she participated at the conference held at the Kennan Institute in 1980 where I presented the paper cited in her work), uses it inaccurately to give credence to the Azeri point of view. By lumping Karabakh with Erevan, she confuses the issue

Page 100 begins here and the reader; from her footnote, those not familiar with my work would assume that it contained population data on Karabakh as well as Erevan.

Later in her same work, Altstadt is even less cautious, for she states,

On the issue of the current majority in mountainous Karabagh, Vahabzade and Aliyarov noted that the Armenians had been a minority in most of Caucasia at the time of the Russian conquest and were encouraged to immigrate from Iran by the Treaty of Turkmanchai (1828) and Russian state policy until they formed majorities in several pockets (p. 196). An uncited Russian survey of 1832 and my article are used as the main sources for this statement. The survey lists the Armenian population of the whole of Karabakh at 34.8 percent (slightly over one-third) and that of the Azeris at 64.8 percent. This time Altstadt confuses the reader by identifying the whole of Karabakh with Mountainous Karabakh. The Armenian population of Karabakh (as will be demonstrated below) was concentrated in 8 out of the 21 districts or mahals of Karabakh. These 8 districts are located in Mountainous Karabakh and present-day Zangezur (then part of Karabakh). Thus 34.8 percent of the population of Karabakh populated 38 percent of the land. In other words the Armenians, according to the survey cited by Altstadt, formed 91.58 percent of the population of Mountainous Karabakh.

Altstadt continues her campaign of misinformation in a volume entitled Ethnic Conflict in the Post-Soviet World: Case Studies and Analysis (New York, 1997). She states,

As a result of the Russo-Iranian Treaty of Turkmanchai (1828), thousands of Armenian families were relocated from Iran to the Caucasus. The influx of Armenians, from Iran and the Ottoman Empire, led, by the end of the century, to the formation of Armenian majorities in various areas of that region, including the mountainous part of Karabakh (p. 229). My article is once again used as a source.

Unfortunately, those who have the habit of copying sources without verification have used Alstadt's misleading footnotes and have further damaged my credibility as a scholar. The worst offender is Suzanne Goldenberg's Pride of Small Nations: The Caucasus and Post-Soviet Disorder (London: Zed Books, 1994), which states,

Even in 1832, after considerable migration had taken place, it is generally accepted [my emphasis] that Muslims were a majority in Karabakh. An official Russian survey of that year recorded that Muslims made up 64.8 percent of the region and Armenians 34.8 percent (p. 158). The note cites my article as the sole source. The survey, which I have never seen or cited, is now attributed to me. To add insult to injury, Azeri newspapers in the

Page 101 begins here West, including one in Toronto, portray me as the Armenian scholar specializing in the region who agrees with the Azeri point of view.

To aid Professor Altstadt and all the others who have either misused their sources or cannot decipher manuscripts, have no or poor knowledge of the necessary languages, or are just too slothful to check sources, I shall present below the information I have gathered from the primary sources on the demographics of Karabakh. I hope that this material will finally clear the smoke and spare me the embarrassment of the last few years.

Correct Figures on the Armenian Population of Mountainous Karabakh as Derived from Primary Sources Prior to Soviet rule, the Russians conducted a number of surveys in the different regions of Transcaucasia.(2) Although not as accurate as a present-day census might be, the surveys were the first of their kind in Western Asia. In 1822, the Russian administration decided to determine the Armenian population in Transcaucasia. The survey was primarily to determine how many "non-Orthodox" Christians there were in the region.(3) The survey managed to record the number of Armenians in Georgia, Ganje (Elisavetpol), and Baku.(4) Erevan and Nakhichevan were under Persian rule and were not included. The Khan of Karabakh, Mahdi-qoli, fearing that the Armenian-populated districts might be removed from his control, did not permit the survey in Karabakh. Later that year, he fled to Persia, and the Russian were able to commence their first survey of Karabakh. The survey began in early 1823 and was completed on 17 April of that same year.(5) Its more than 300 pages recorded both the Armenian and Muslim population, not by numbers, but by villages and tax assessments. It noted that the district of Khachen had twelve Armenian villages and no Tatar (Russian term for the Turkish population) villages; Jalapert had eight Armenian villages and no Tatar villages; Dizak had fourteen Armenian villages and one Tatar village; Gulistan had two Armenian and five Tatar villages; and Varanda had twenty-three Armenian villages and one Tatar village. Thus the five mountainous districts (generally known as Nagorno-Karabakh today) which, according to Persian and Turkish sources, constituted the five (khamse) Armenian melikdoms,(6) had an overwhelming Armenian population before 1828.(7)

Page 102 begins here The mahal of Tat'ew had twelve Armenian and one Tatar village; that of Kiopar, six Armenian villages; and Bargushat, two Armenian and three Tatar villages. Thus these mahals, which form part of present-day Zangezur and were a part of the larger region called Karabakh, were also overwhelmingly Armenian. Armenians were also represented, in small numbers, in all the other non-nomadic districts of Karabakh.

It is possible that the cryptic survey cited by Altstadt was an official Russian state publication regarding the population of Caucasus which was published in St. Petersburg in 1836.(8) That source puts the Armenians of all of Karabakh at approximately 19,000 and the Tatars at approximately 35,000. Thus the Armenians were 35.2% of the population, which is close to the so-called 1832 survey cited by Altstadt. The important fact is that the official 1836 survey clearly states that the Armenians were concentrated in the mountainous part of Karabakh (generally called Nagorno-Karabakh). Thus once again 35.2% of the population of Karabakh (the Armenians) inhabited 38 percent of the land, where they formed an overwhelming majority.

The Myth of Armenian Immigration from Iran and Turkey Having disposed of one myth, I shall concentrate on the question of the immigration of Armenians from Iran and Turkey into Karabakh. Between 1828 and 1831, 45,207 Armenians immigrated to Erevan (23,568 from Iran and 21,639 from Turkey), and 3,883 to Nakhichevan (3,856 from Iran and 27 from Turkey).(9) The Armenians of Bayazid desired to settle in Karabakh but were told that there was not enough land for them there. They were encouraged rather to settle around Lake Sevan, where Muslim tribes had evacuated. They did, and the district became known as Novo-Bayazid or New Bayazid (later Gavar and Kamo).(10) The only work which deals primarily with the Armenian immigration from Persian Azerbaijan to Russia is by Sergei Glinka.(11) He does not supply any numbers, but makes it clear that the majority of the Armenians were headed towards the newly-established Armenian Province, created from the Khanates of Erevan and Nakhichevan. An archival document, however, does shine some light on the issue. The document states that only 279 Armenian families decided to immigrate to Karabakh, and that they settled in Kapan and Meghri on the banks of the Arax (in the southernmost

Page 103 begins here part of Zangezur bordering Iran).(12) All documents relating to the Armenian immigration make it clear that Russia, for political, military, and economic reasons, strongly encouraged the Armenians to settle in the newly-established Armenian province, especially the region of Erevan, which between 1795 and 1827 had lost some 20,000 Armenians who had immigrated to Georgia.(13) Since few Georgian Armenians planned to return, Russia concentrated on repatriating the Armenians taken to Iran in the seventeenth century by Shah Abbas. The only major immigration into Karabakh was by the former Armenians of Karabakh who had escaped the oppression of its ruler Ebrahim Khan,(14) some as late as the 1790s, who had sought refuge in Ganje, Georgia, and Erevan. They began returning home after a decade or so, following the Russian protectorate over Karabakh in 1805 and continued to do so until the 1820s. According to archival documents most of them returned to their own villages, which, for the most part, had remained abandoned.(15)

In conclusion, non-Armenian primary sources clearly demonstrate that the Armenians of Mountainous Karabakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) had an overwhelming majority in the region presently claimed by them long before 1828, as far back as the seventeenth century.(16) Scholars who deal with the issues of Karabakh and Nagorno-Karabakh would do well to respect this fact.

Iona College New Rochelle, New York

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1. George A. Bournoutian, Eastern Armenia in the Last Decades of Persian Rule, 1807-1828 (Malibu, CA: Undena Publications, 1982) and The Khanate of Erevan Under Qajar Rule, 1795-1828 (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1992).

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2. The first survey was conducted in Georgia at the start of the nineteenth century, and the last was the complete survey of Transcaucasia in 1897.

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3. The Georgian Church was in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church.

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4. Akty sobrannye Kavkzskoiu Arkheograficheskoiu Kommissieiu (Documents Pertaining to the Russian Administration of the Caucasus), VI/1 (Tiflis, 1866), doc. 601.

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5. The survey, conducted by State Counselor Mogilevskii and Colonel Ermolov II (a relative of General Ermolov, commander-in-chief of the Caucasus), was printed in Tiflis in 1866 (no pagination).

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6. For example see Tarikh-e Qarabagh, written by Mirza Jamal Javanshir, the vizier of Ebrahim Khan of Karabagh, manuscript no. B-712/11603, Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, Baku (my English translation and the facsimile in A History of Qarabagh [Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1993]).

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7. The survey lists Goris and Khan-Kend (present-day Step'anakert, capital of Nagorno-Karabakh) as Armenian settlements.

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8. Obozrenie rossiskikh vladenii za Kavkazom v statisticheskom, etnograficheskom, i finansovom otnosheniiakh (St. Petersburg, 1836), no pagination.

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9. Russian survey of the Armenian Province (former Khanates of Erevan and Nakhichevan) 1829-1832 in Ivan Shopen, Istoricheskii pamiatnik sostoianiia Armianskoi-oblasti v epokhu eia prisoedineniia k Rossiskoi-Imperii (St. Petersburg: V tip. Imp. Akademii nauk, 1852), English translation of the survey in Bournoutian, The Khanate of Erevan, pp. 204-270.

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10. Central State Historical Archives of Georgia (Tbilisi), record group 2/1, file 2254, f. 8.

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11. S. Glinka, Opisanie pereseleniia Armian Adderbidzhanskikh v prediely Rossii (Moscow: V Tip. Lazarevykh In-ta Vostochnykh Iazykov, 1831).

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12. Central State Archives of Military History, record group VUA, file 978, ff. 22-26.

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13. Akty sobrannye, docs. 559, 564, 568, 570, 573, 582, 586, 614; and S. Glinka, Sobranie aktov otnosiashchikhsia k obozrenii istorii Armianskogo naroda, II (Moscow, 1838), pp. 163-166.

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14. Panah Khan and his son Ebrahim Khan were the first Muslims to make any inroads into mountainous Karabagh. They controlled parts of the region from 1755 to 1805 and were responsible for the temporary Armenian emigration.

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15. Archives of the Foreign Policy of Russia, record group 100/3 (Russian Relations with Armenians), file 464, ff. 5-9, 12, 189-190, 347-348; Akty sobrannye, I, docs. 871, 874.; II, doc. 1714; III, 598-600.

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16. The documents cited here are included in my Russia and the Armenians of Transcaucasia, 1797-1862: A Documentary Record (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1998), which contains an annotated translation, with commentary, of hundreds of documents from various archives of the former USSR.

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Volume 9 of the Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies can be purchased for $20 from the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) at the following address:

Armenian Research Center University of Michigan-Dearborn 4901 Evergreen Rd. Dearborn, MI 48128-1491 USA.