At the Crossroads of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict: History, Territory, Nationalisms

Series: Armenian Studies Series. 19
Availability: Forthcoming
Published: 2024
Page #: ix + 346
Size: 6 x 9
ISBN: 978-1568593371
bibliography, index, notes

Quick Overview

This book adopts a thematic and comparative approach to shed light on the antagonism of these two nations. Its first part deals with the Armenian and Azerbaijani self-representation of their nations’ identity and historical territory. This is the core of their nationalisms, for it provides them with a historically-grounded form of national legitimation and pride. The first chapter presents and analyzes debates about the ethnic origins of these nations and the historic homeland they occupied in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Central to these debates are the concept of “ethnos” and the ethnogenetic approach to nation formation, both Soviet ethnographic constructs that pursued specific political goals. Besides promoting the desired sense of territorial legitimacy by rooting often recently formed national identities into the distant past, ethnogenetic studies led to arcane debates and historiographical conflicts between the academes of various republics. These debates became the field of predilection for venting nationalistic feelings on such themes as the ancientness or indigenousness of the nation on the one hand and the historic territory of various groups on the other. The chapter on the Armenian and Azerbaijani ethnogeneses illustrates these issues, while analyzing the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in the field of history. It also shows, in the Azerbaijani case, the still unsettled search for the nation’s historical identity. The second chapter is a detailed comparative study of Armenian and Azerbaijani nationalisms and their “styles,” that is, the psychological attitudes and emotions that suffuse them. This comparison, set against the background of the current theories of nationalism, shows that the paths leading to nationalism can be extremely different and that the Armenian and Azerbaijani versions of it do not fit well in any of the currently dominant theories of nationalism. It also shows that while antagonism to the Armenians is one of the themes of the Azerbaijani nationalist narrative, Azerbaijanis are strangely quasi-absent from the core historical themes of Armenian nationalism, the Turks being the main enemy. Thus, not unlike German nationalism, which was to a significant extent a reaction against the Napoleonic French invasions, Azerbaijani nationalism is reactive. On the other hand, the Armenian and Azerbaijani nationalisms share common characteristics: irredentism is one of them; a sense of victimization is another. The second part of this book focuses on the two main ethnoterritorial conflicts of diverse intensity that have defined the interactions of these nations in the twentieth century. The first one is the “Armenian-Tatar War” (1905-06), a key moment in the formation of Azerbaijani national identity. This is an ethnic conflict in a multinational imperial setting, the South Caucasus under Russian rule. Coinciding approximately with the Russian Revolution of 1905, it originated in an incident that occurred in February 1905 in Baku, the main oil-producing center of the world at that time. This incident, in turn, resulted in pogroms against the Armenian population of that city. Thereafter the conflict mutated from pogroms into interethnic fighting and spread throughout the South Caucasus, lasting for more than a year and a half. The dominant socioeconomic position of the Baku Armenians in relation to that of the Caucasian Muslims seems to explain the origins of the clashes, but their duration and their diffusion throughout the region, including to distant rural areas, suggest that a multi-layered explanation is needed. This conflict was a turning-point, both in terms of the consolidation of the Caucasian Muslims’ sense of solidarity and of the Armenians’ unprecedented sense of vulnerability in the Russian Empire. More generally, it laid the foundation for the Armenian-Azerbaijani century-long antagonism and it was a key component in the development of an Azerbaijani identity. The next chapter deals with the Armenian-Azerbaijani ethnoterritorial conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been central to these nations’ relations since the late 1980s. In the twentieth century, this conflict originated in the interethnic clashes of 1905-1906, erupted again during the short-lived independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan (1918-1920), and had been simmering throughout most of the Soviet period. Despite its overwhelmingly Armenian population, Nagorno-Karabakh was integrated by Bolshevik leaders into the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic [Azerbaijan SSR] as an autonomous region in July 1921. Dormant throughout the Stalinist period, the conflict resurfaced from the 1960s onwards in the form of Armenian complaints. It is in early 1988, however, that Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians took to the streets to ask for the union of that region with Armenia. This led to similar actions in Armenia and to Azerbaijan’s opposition to such demands. Both countries witnessed the emergence of popular movements that later morphed into political parties that undermined Soviet and Communist Party rule. Initially limited interethnic clashes were followed by low-intensity warfare and then a full-blown war from 1992 to 1994, which resulted in Azerbaijan’s defeat and massive territorial losses. Since the May 1994 truce, negotiations to settle this conflict, involving among others the U.S., Russian, and French presidents, have led nowhere. This chapter deals with the origins, diverse dimensions (Soviet, national, regional, and international), and major consequences of a local conflict that has now serious international implications. At the level of these nations, the war has shaped the state formation and politics of both countries and inflamed their nationalisms. It has also resulted in the mono-ethnic consolidation of both republics through ethnic cleansing and pogroms. The third part of the book (chapter five) moves outside the boundaries of the nation-state and analyzes the interactions between the Armenian and Azerbaijani post-Soviet States and their diasporas. These interactions pertain to issues of political coordination, to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and to state policies regarding the existing or the claimed historic “Homeland.” For most members of the large Armenian diaspora in the West, who are the descendants of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, the historic Armenian homeland is now in Eastern Turkey. On the other hand, the majority of the smaller Azerbaijani diaspora in the West is made up of Iranian Azeris, whose historic homeland is in northwestern Iran. As for the political agenda of the mobilized part of that diaspora, it had much more to do with the rights of the Azeri population in Iran than with Nagorno Karabakh. After outlining the differences between these diasporas, this chapter will analyze the degree to which the agendas of the States differ from those of the diasporas. It will also discuss the States’ policies aimed at controlling their diasporas or at channeling their energy and activities. We will conclude that Azerbaijan has successfully engaged in a process of State-sponsored and controlled diaspora formation, focused on that country’s conflict with Armenia, whereas the successive Armenian governments have largely failed to harness the potentials of the existing, large Armenian diaspora. The conclusion of this book will assemble some of the key analytical findings of the above-mentioned thematic chapters in a chronological narrative that explains the origins and evolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani antagonism. It constitutes the answer to the central question of this book: how did these two nations reach their current sense of hostility toward each other?


Stephan H. Astourian

Dr. Stephan Astourian is the William Saroyan Director of the Armenian Studies Program at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also an Associate Adjunct Professor in Armenian and Caucasian history in its Department of History. Professor Astourian was born in France, where he went through the rigorous training of the elite preparatory classes to the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Astourian received his Licence (B.A.) from the University of Paris I (Sorbonne). He then pursued his graduate education there and earned a Maîtrise (M.A.) and D.E.A. (Diplôme d'Etudes Approfondies), both summa cum laude. His interest in modern Armenian history led him to move to U.C.L.A. where he earned a second M.A. and completed his Ph.D. in Modern Armenian and Caucasian History. Dr. Astourian is currently serving as a member of the Executive Council of the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies at U. C. Berkeley Academic; of the Board of Directors of the Zoryan Institute; and of the Editorial Board of the Armenian Review. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Genocide Education Project, a non-profit organization that assists educators in teaching about and human rights and genocide. Dr. Astourian served as editor-in-chief of Jusur: The UCLA Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (1988-1990). He is the editor of MemorIkon (Los Angeles: Arvest Publishing, 1997) and Armenia’s Foreign Policy: Some Perspectives, Occasional Paper of the Armenian Studies Program at U.C. Berkeley, No. 2. (May 2016). He has published extensively on modern Armenian, Ottoman, and Azerbaijani history and on post-Soviet Caucasian politics. His publications include, among others: “Reflections on the Ottoman Historiography (1960s-1990s) about the Role of Non-Muslims and Armenian Ottomans in Trade and the Urban Economy,” in Le génocide des Arméniens : Cent ans de recherche (1915-2015), ed. Conseil scientifique international pour l’étude du génocide des Arméniens, Annette Becker; Hamit Bozarslan, Vincent Duclert, Raymond Kévorkian, et. al. (Paris: Armand Colin, 2015); “The Silence of the Land: Agrarian Relations, Power, and Ethnicity in Late Ottoman Turkey,” in A Question of Genocide: 1915: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire, ed. Ronald Grigor Suny, Fatma Müge Göçek, and Norman M. Naimark (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); and From Ter-Petrossian to Kocharian: Leadership Change in Armenia, Working Paper Series, The Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies (Winter 2000-2001).


1. In Search of Their Forefathers: National Identity and the Historiography and Politics of Armenian and Azerbaijani Ethnogeneses.

2. Nationalism and Its Theory in a Comparative Perspective: The Armenian and Azerbaijani Cases

3.: The Armenian-Tatar War (1905-06): Ethnic Conflict in an Imperial Setting

4. The Nagorno-Karabakh Ethnoterritorial Conflict: From Local to Global (1918-2016)

5. States, Homelands, and Diasporas

Conclusion: Reassembling the Puzzle: The Nature of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Antagonism


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