From the Archives: In 1991 Ter-Petrosyan Urged Bush to Prevent War with Azerbaijan

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A Karabakh view by Gevorg Haroyan for Civilnet

Less than two weeks after their meeting in Washington on November 14, 1991, Armenia’s president Levon Ter-Petrosyan addressed a letter to President George H.W. Bush warning of deteriorating security situation in Karabakh and on Azerbaijan-Armenia border, Azerbaijani acquisition of heavy weaponry, the tightening of the blockade against Armenia, and move to officially abolish the Karabakh Armenian autonomy.

According to Ter-Petrosyan, all of these moves pointed to Azerbaijan’s “dangerous and short-sighted intent to resolve the question from a position of strength.”

The Armenian president noted that the situation deteriorated since November 20 crash of a Soviet military helicopter carrying senior Azerbaijani, as well as Kazakhstani and Russian government officials, which Azerbaijan “blam(ed) on Armenia without awaiting results of the official investigation.”

The letter went on to say that while Ter-Petrosyan government is ready to continue looking for peaceful, political solutions, “Armenia reasserts its determination to defend its freedom and independence and the human rights of the Armenian people by all means available.”

As part of the letter, the Armenian leader renewed his request for U.S. emergency assistance and support for United Nations observers to be sent to the region.

The letter that Ter-Petrosyan likely drafted with the help of his U.S.-born foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian, was transmitted to Washington via the U.S. embassy in Moscow on December 4, 1991 and released through official declassification of State Department documents. The full text is below:

NOVEMBER 27, 1991
THE PRESIDENT
THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON, D.C.

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT,

IT IS MY OBLIGATION TO INFORM YOU THAT RELATIONS BETWEEN AZERBAIJAN AND ARMENIA HAVE REACHED A CRITICAL STAGE AS A RESULT OF THE DEVELOPMENTS OF THE PAST WEEK.

THE MEDIATING EFFORTS OF PRESIDENTS B. YEL’TSIN AND N. NAZARBAYEV LAST SEPTEMBER SET THE CONTEXT WITHIN WHICH THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE TWO REPUBLICS, THE ESSENCE OF WHICH IS THE QUESTION OF THE AUTONOMOUS REGION OF MOUNTAINOUS KARABAKH, COULD HAVE LED TO A POLITICAL SOLUTION.

HOWEVER, AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES SINCE THEN HAVE UNDERTAKEN A SERIES OF STEPS THAT TESTIFY TO A DANGEROUS AND SHORT-SIGHTED INTENT TO RESOLVE THIS QUESTION FROM A POSITION OF STRENGTH. THE GOVERNMENT OF AZERBAIJAN HAS UNDERTAKEN THE MILITARIZATION OF ITS INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION CAPABILITIES, THE FORMATION OF A REGULAR ARMY, AND THE EXPROPRIATION OF THE MILITARY ARSENAL OF THE SOVIET ARMED FORCES STATIONED IN AZERBAIJAN.

ARMED GROUPS — EQUIPPED WITH ARMORED VEHICLES AND CARRIERS AND MODERN AUTOMATIC WEAPONS, A CONSIDERABLE PORTION OF WHICH HAS REACHED AZERBAIJAN ILLEGALLY FROM NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES — ARE BEING DEPLOYED TO AREAS SURROUNDING MOUNTAINOUS KARABAKH. THE SHELLING OF ARMENIAN VILLAGES AND TOWNS AND ATTACKS AGAINST BORDER DISTRICT BY REGULAR AND UNIDENTIFIED GROUPS HAVE BECOME DAILY OCCURRENCES.

MILITARY AGGRESSION IS ACCOMPANIED BY SYSTEMATIC BLOCKADES OF TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS AND BY ENERGY EMBARGOS. THE RUSSIAN GAS PIPELINE TO ARMENIA, WHICH ORIGINATES IN RUSSIA AND PASSES THROUGH AZERBAIJAN AND WHICH IS THE MAIN SOURCE OF ENERGY FOR ARMENIA, HAS BEEN SHUT OFF FOR THE PAST THREE WEEKS. AS A CONSEQUENCE, THE INDUSTRY OF ARMENIA HAS BEEN COMPLETELY PARALYZED AT A TIME WHEN WINTER CONDITIONS ARE SETTING THROUGHOUT THE REPUBLIC. IN ADDITION, ALL SYSTEMS OF COMMUNICATIONS ARE THREATENED WITH TOTAL DISRUPTION. THE CONSEQUENCES ARE STILL WORSE FOR THE INHABITANTS OF THE DISASTER ZONE CREATED BY THE DEVASTATING DECEMBER 1988 EARTHQUAKE.

THE POLITICAL CRISIS DETERIORATED AFTER NOVEMBER 20 WHEN A MILITARY HELICOPTER CARRYING HIGH-RANKING OFFICIALS CRASHED IN MOUNTAINOUS KARABAKH. AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES, BLAMING ARMENIA FOR THE CRASH WITHOUT AWAITING THE RESULTS OF THE OFFICIAL INVESTIGATION, CALLED A SPECIAL SESSION OF THE AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT FOR NOVEMBER 26. THE AGENDA OF THE SESSION INCLUDED A REVIEW OF THE STATUS OF THE AUTONOMOUS REGION OF MOUNTAINOUS KARABAKH, A DECLARATION OF MARTIAL LAW THROUGHOUT AZERBAIJAN, AND THE SEVERING OF ALL ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL TIES WITH ARMENIA.

YESTERDAY THE AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT DID VOTE TO DENY THE POPULATION OF MOUNTAINOUS KARABAKH ANY AUTONOMY BY DISSOLVING THE REGION AS AN AUTONOMOUS UNIT WITHIN AZERBAIJAN. THIS DECISION MAY LEAD TO UNPREDICTABLE CONSEQUENCES.

IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT THE TRAGIC DEATH OF OFFICIALS IS BEING USED BY AZERBAIJAN AS A CASUS BELLI THAT JUSTIFIES THE ESCALATION OF THE CONFLICT TO ITS CURRENT DANGEROUS LEVEL. ARMENIA IS PARTICULARLY DISTURBED BY THE POSITION OF SOME GOVERNMENTS WHOSE INADEQUATE ASSESSMENT OF THE SITUATION COULD CONTRIBUTE TO THE DISEQUILIBRIUM OF THE REGION. A TIMELY RESPONSE FROM THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY WILL CONSTITUTE A SERIOUS STEP IN KEEPING THE CONFLICT FROM BEING INTERNATIONALIZED AND FROM CREATING A NEW HOTBED OF PERMANENT INSTABILITY.

MY GOVERNMENT IS READY TO CONTINUE ITS SEARCH FOR POLITICAL SOLUTIONS IN ORDER TO PREVENT FURTHER ESCALATION OF THE CONFLICT AT THE SAME TIME AS ARMENIA REASSERTS ITS DETERMINATION TO DEFEND ITS FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE AND THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE ARMENIAN PEOPLE BY ALL MEANS AVAILABLE.

WE REQUEST RESPECTFULLY, MR. PRESIDENT, THAT AS THE LEADER OF A NATION THAT CANNOT REMAIN INDIFFERENT TO THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY, AND TO THE DEFENSE OF PEOPLES RIGHTS, YOU UNDERTAKE APPROPRIATE AND NECESSARY MEASURES TO SEND UN OBSERVERS TO THIS REGION FOR THE PURPOSE OF ASSURING LONG-TERM STABILITY AND PEACE.

MAY I ALSO REQUEST THAT YOUR GOVERNMENT CONSIDER EMERGENCY MEASURES TO PROVIDE URGENT ECONOMIC ASSISTANCE TO ARMENIA DURING THESE DIFFICULT AND TRYING TIMES.

PLEASE ACCEPT, MR. PRESIDENT, THE EXPRESSION OF MY HIGHEST CONSIDERATIONS.

SINCERELY,
LEVON TER-PETROSYAN

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