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Black Garden

Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War

Thomas de Waal

Publication Year: 2004

Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2003

Black 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.

Published by: NYU Press

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Author’s Note

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pp. ix-xi

The research done for this book is based on around 120 original inter-views done in 2000–2001, supplemented by eyewitness reporting and secondary sources. Personal testimony is of course subjective, so I have tried to balance my reconstruction of events from as many sources as possible. The problem is that the written record on the subject is also...

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Introduction: Crossing the Line

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pp. 1-9

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...

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1. February 1988: An Armenian Revolt

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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. Alarge statue of Lenin (now removed) dominated the square with the neoclassical Regional Soviet building...

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2. February 1988: Azerbaijan: Puzzlement and Pogroms

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pp. 29-44

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...

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3: Shusha: The Neighbors' Tale

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pp. 45-54

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...

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4. 1988–1989: An Armenian Crisis

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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...

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5. Yerevan: Mysteries of the East

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pp. 73-81

The city was Yerevan. At the time it had a mixed Armenian and Muslim population, a Russian governor, and a thoroughly Middle Eastern atmosphere. For several centuries, Yerevan had been an outpost of the Persian empire, and when Villari visited it had been under Russian administration for less then eighty years. The city became the...

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6. 1988–1990: An Azerbaijani Tragedy

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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...

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7. Baku: An Eventful History

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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, or...

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8. 1990–1991: A Soviet Civil War

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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...

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9. Divisions: A Twentieth-Century Story

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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...

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10. Hurekavank: The Unpredictable Past

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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...

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11. August 1991–May 1992: War Breaks Out

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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...

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12. Shusha: The Last Citadel

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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...

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13. June 1992–September 1993: Escalation

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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...

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14. Sabirabad: The Children's Republic

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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...

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15. September 1993–May 1994: Exhaustion

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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...

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16. Stepanakert: A State Apart

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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...

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17. 1994–2001: No War, No Peace

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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...

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Conclusion: Sadakhlo: The Future

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pp. 269-283

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...

Appendix 1: Statistics

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pp. 284-286

Appendix 2: Chronology

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pp. 287-297


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pp. 299-320


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pp. 321-326


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pp. 327-336

About the Author

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pp. 337

E-ISBN-13: 9780814785331
E-ISBN-10: 0814785336
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814719459
Print-ISBN-10: 0814719457

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2004