Soviet Union Table of Contents
The complexity of the nationalities question and the potential danger it has raised for the Soviet regime were clearly demonstrated in the mass shown in the Armenian Republic in 1988. In the past, Armenians had been one of the nationalities most loyal to Moscow. Nevertheless, in February 1988 hundreds of thousands of Armenians staged a four-day demonstration in Yerevan, the republic's capital, demanding the return to the Armenian Republic of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, an autonomous region that had been under the administration of the Azerbaydzhan Republic since the early 1920s and was populated largely by Armenians. When Soviet authorities showed some sympathy for Armenian demands, infuriated Azerbaydzhan residents of the city of Sumgait, which had a considerable Armenian population, went on a rampage that left 32 dead and 197 wounded, according to official accounts. The regime recognized that altering nationality borders could provoke dire consequences and refused the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast's request to unite with the Armenian Republic. When the NagornoKarabakh soviet voted to secede from the Azerbaydzhan Republic, the regime declared the vote illegal, arrested and expelled the leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh Committee, which had been formed in the Armenian Republic, and sent armed troops into Yerevan, the capital of the Armenian Republic. Other members of the Nagorno-Karabakh Committee were arrested and taken to Moscow. But the aroused passions continued, and the Armenian national movement gathered momentum in September 1988, when 100,000 people demonstrated in Yerevan.
Data as of May 1989