In the last three decades, Armenian-Azerbaijani territorial disputes have focused on Nagorno Karabakh and some of the border areas. A century ago, after two independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan were proclaimed in May 1918, the disputed areas were much larger.
The map prepared by Richard Hovannisian and published in Robert Hewsen’s 2001 book “Armenia: A Historical Atlas” offers an illustration. It is based on the claims advanced by Alimardan Topchibashev, chief Azerbaijani negotiator at the Paris peace conference in 1919.
According to his memoirs, Topchibashev presented the map – similar to the one prepared by Hovannisian – to British diplomat Robert Vansittart. The Azerbaijani diplomat argued that the newly independent republic had grounds to claim all Muslim majority areas of the South Caucasus that until 1918 were part of the Russian empire, including Kars, Ardahan and Batum that were also claimed by Turkey, Armenia and Georgia.
When Vansittart suggested that the map was “hard to agree with” and “impractical,” in particular in that it gave Armenians “a sort of territory in which they could not exist,” Topchibashev said that Armenians also expected to acquire large areas that until 1918 were part of the Ottoman Empire. He also argued that Muslim Georgians living around Batum had the right to decide whether they wanted to be part of Georgia or Azerbaijan. Noting the existing oil pipeline that linked Baku and Batum, Topchibashev noted the importance of access to open seas.
Topchibashev further claimed that Armenian majority areas – such as those in Karabakh and Zangezur – could exist under Azerbaijani dominion, they same was not true for majority Muslim areas, such as that in Nakhichevan, within an Armenian republic.
For their part, the British – who starting from 1918 had a military presence in the Caucasus – deferred to Russian imperial administrative border as the default dividing line between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Thus, under this approach the Yelisavetpol (Ganja) gubernia – with Karabakh and Zangezur – would be assigned to Azerbaijan, whereas Erivan gubernia – with Nakhichevan and Surmalu around Igdir – as well as Kars oblast would make up the Republic of Armenia.
As part of that policy, the British facilitated entry of the Armenian military into Nakhichevan (though it was soon evacuated due to local rebellion), while they also opposed Armenian advances into Zangezur and Karabakh.