How many Azerbaijani people were displaced as a result of the First Karabakh War?

Azerbaijan was one of the first republics of the former Soviet Union that was challenged by the problem of refugees (ethnic Azerbaijanis displaced from Armenia) and internally displaced persons (ethnic Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven occupied regions of Azerbaijan surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. The displacement of ethnic Azerbaijanis from their historical places of residence was a direct consequence of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia from 1988 until the signing of the ceasefire agreement in 1994. The deteriorating situation that triggered the tension between these two neighboring countries in the South Caucasus forced approximately one million Azerbaijan to abandon their homes.

During the conflict, the displacements took place in two stages. The first flow of refugees occurred between 1988 and early 1991, when ethnic tension increased due to Armenia’s attempt to separate Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan SSR and integrate it into the Armenian SSR.[1] The expansion was accompanied by atrocities perpetrated against the Azerbaijani people. For three days, from November 27 to 29, 1988, Armenians in the towns of Gugark, Spitak, and Stepanavan killed 33 Azerbaijanis. According to the office of Azerbaijan’s State Prosecutor, during the years 1988-1989, 216 Azerbaijanis died, 49 froze to death, 41 died as a result of savage beatings, 35 were killed after brutal torture, 115 were burnt alive, 16 were shot, 10 died from heart attacks because they could not stand the humiliation, 2 were killed by Armenian doctors in hospital, 3 were drowned, 1 was hanged, 1 killed himself to avoid suffering an agonizing death at the hands of Armenians, 1 was electrocuted, 2 were beheaded, 29 were deliberately run over, 3 died in hospital because of a lack of medical attention, and 8 were missing.[2] Consequently, during the first wave of ethnic clashes, all ethnic Azerbaijanis in Armenia, numbering approximately 250,000 people, were forced to abandon their homes and flee to Azerbaijan, where they were settled in different parts of the country.[3]

The second wave of displacements began at the end of 1991 when the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated into war. In 1992, Armenians seized the whole Nagorno-Karabakh region and captured Lachin, the Azerbaijani province that linked Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. Over the next two years, other regions of Azerbaijan, namely Kalbajar, Gubatli, Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, and Zangilan, were occupied by Armenian forces. As a result, a wholesale displacement of the population of these regions took place.[4] It was estimated that approximately 22,000/25,000 people were killed during the conflict, and more than 4,500 are still missing. According to the Republic of Azerbaijan State Committee for Refugees and IDPs figures for 2010, the number of IDPs was 586,013, consisting mainly of ethnic Azerbaijanis, including Kurds, Russians, and Turks living in the region.[5] On this same question, the US Committee for Refugees (USCR) also writes that as a result of Armenian aggression, since 1993, more than 568,000 persons, 42,072 from Nagorno-Karabakh and the rest from the other occupied regions of Azerbaijan, namely Fuzuli (133,725), Aghdam (128,584), Lachin (63,007), Kalbajar (59,274), Jabrayil (58,834), Gubadli (31,276), Zangilan (34,797), Tartar (5,171) and Aghjabadi (3,358), have been displaced.[6]

According to United Nations Development Program statistics for 2000, IDPs mainly lived in tents, camps, and public premises in extreme conditions. The figures show that about 18.7 % of them lived in camps, 19.1% in railway wagons, 23.3% in schools, 16.6% in hostels, and 1.4 % in sanatoria or children’s camps. Approximately 20.9% of IDPs settled in rented accommodation or the houses of friends or relatives, and only 2.9% managed to establish their own homes. Some were resettled in rural regions of Azerbaijan adjoining the hostilities zone. Nearly 18,000 people were resettled in Aghjabady, 19,000 in Sabirabad, 20,000 in Imishli, 21,000 in Bilasuvar, and 51,000 in Barda.[7]

The Azerbaijani government has made significant progress in housing IDPs and increasing their benefits later. Under the national program launched in 2004, 4.4$ billion USD has been spent on refugees and IDPs, and about 140,000 have been settled in new houses.[8] Early in 2005, the Azerbaijani government planned to settle IDPs living in tent camps in new houses. As a result, in 2007, all IDP tent camps disappeared. 108,000 IDPs were placed in new single-family houses or apartments between 2008 and 2011. The government of Azerbaijan has also promised to resettle another 115,000 IDPsin new houses by 2015 who were living in other people’s homes or flats.[9] After liberating the country’s territories as a result of the Second Karabakh War, the government of Azerbaijan has started resettlement of its citizens within the “Great Return” state program, which aims to resettle the IDPs in their displaced territories step by step.

[1] Profile of International Displacement: Azerbaijan,” Global IDP Database of the Norwegian Refugee Council, February 25, 2005, p. 10.

[2] “Letter dated October 25, 1996 from the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General”.

[3] International Crisis Group, “Tackling Azerbaijan’s IDP Burden,” Europe Briefing, No. 67, February 27, 2012, p. 2.

[4] “Azerbaijan Human Development Report 2000,” United Nation Development Program, 2001, p. 53.

[5] “Azerbaijan: After Some 20 years, IDPs Still Face Barriers to Self-Reliance,” Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, December 10, 2010, p. 3.

[6] Abilov, Shamkhal and Isayev, Ismayil, “The Consequences of the Nagorno-Karabakh War for Azerbaijan and the Undeniable Reality of Khojaly Massacre: A View from Azerbaijan,” Polish Political Science Yearbook, Vol. 45, 2016, p. 294.

[7] “Azerbaijan Human Development Report 2000,” United Nation Development Program, 2001, p. 53.

[8] “Internal Displacement in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia,” Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, Global Overview, 2012, p. 45.

[9] International Crisis Group, “Tackling Azerbaijan’s IDP Burden,” p. 4.