Were Armenian population of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast discriminated against by Azerbaijan SSR during the Soviet Union?

During the Soviet period, the status of the NKAO was stipulated by the USSR Constitutions of 1936 and 1977.[1] According to those constitutions, the NKAO had the right to be represented by five deputies on the Council of Nationalities of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and by twelve deputies on the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR.[2] Additionally, the law entitled “On the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast,” adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR on June 16, 1981, determined the status of the autonomous region.[3] Within the autonomous oblast, the Armenian language was accepted as one of the working languages for all government, administrative, and judicial bodies and at the Attorney General’s Office.[4]

Moreover, publication and broadcasting in the Armenian language were also allowed on local TV, radio, and newspapers. The Armenian side claims that during the 1960s and 1980s, the Azerbaijani government did not allocate significant funds to the region, while it doubled its investment in other regions of Azerbaijan. But, according to statistics, between 1971 and 1985, around 483 million rubles in capital investment were channeled towards the development of the NKAO. That was 2.8 times more than in the previous 15-year period.

Additionally, the housing construction figure in the NKAO was higher than in the other regions of Azerbaijan. While it had amounted to 3.64 square meters per capita in Azerbaijan, for the NKAO the figure was 4.76 square meters.[5] Statistics show that whereas industrial output in the republic increased threefold between 1970 and 1986, in the NKAO, it grew by a factor of 3.3. The NKAO was growing in fact faster than Azerbaijan.

During the 1988-1989-education year, there were 136 secondary schools (16,120 pupils) and 13 mixed-type schools (7,045 pupils) in Nagorno-Karabakh, where the Armenian language was used as a teaching language. During the same period in Azerbaijan, there were 181 Armenian schools (20,712 pupils) and 29 mixed-type schools (12,766 pupils). In addition, more than 2,130 students, mainly Armenians, studied during the 1988-1989-education year at the Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian sectors of the Pedagogical Institute in Khankendi (Stepanakert), the capital city of the NKAO. Furthermore, several specialist secondary schools and vocational training institutions offered programs in Russian and Armenian languages. Table 1 evaluates the NKAO’s social-economic conditions during the conflict’s start, particularly in 1988. The figures were presented during the governmental meeting organized to discuss the economic and social conditions in the region in March of 1988. According to the data, the social conditions in the NKAO were better than in Azerbaijan and Armenia and even better than in the entire USSR.

Table 1: Comparable Social Development Indicators as of 1988[6]

Items AzerbaijanSSR NKAO USSR Armenian SSR
1. Number of hospital beds per 10,000 persons 97.7 101.7 130.1 86.2
2. Number of physicians of all specialties per 10,000 persons 38.4 29.1 42.7 38.6
3. Number of middle-level medical workers per 10,000 persons 93.5 122.7 114.7 93.5
4. Number of public libraries per 10,000 persons 6 13 4.8 4.1
5. Number of clubs per 10,000 persons 5 15 4.8 3.8
6. Number of movie projectors [Movie theatres] per 10,000 persons 3 11.2 5.4 2.9
7. Number of children served by preschool institutions (in percentages of the size of the population of the corresponding age) 20 35 57 39
8. Number of students attending first shift (in percentages of the overall number of students) 74.3 92.5 78.2 87.8
9. Housing fund per inhabitant (Square meters) 10.9 14.6 14.9 13.7
In urban localities 12.2 14.6 14.3 13.1
In rural localities 9.2


16.1 15.0

[1] “Article 24,” The Constitution of USSR, 1936. See also: “Article 78,” The Constitution of USSR, 1977.

[2] The Constitution of USSR, 1936. See also: The Constitution of USSR, 1977.

[3] Gazıyev, Yusif, “Karabakh in 1920-1980,” Virtual Karabakh, 2009; http://www.virtualkarabakh.az/en/post-item/22/36/karabakh-in-1920-1980.html. Accessed on December 1, 2022.

[4] “Article 78,” The Constitution of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, 1937.

[5] Gazıyev, “Karabakh in 1920-1980”.

[6] Baguirov, Adil, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Basis and Reality of Soviet-era Legal and Economic Claims used to Justify the Armenia-Azerbaijan War,” Caucasian Review of International Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2008, p. 9.