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February 20: the Birth of Artsakh Movement

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Since 1988, February 13 rallies with the participation of 40-50 thousand people were being held every day in the Lenin square in Stepanakert. People were demanding reunification with Armenia. Six days later, they received the support of mass demonstrations in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. On February 17 the delegation of Artsakh artists and writers who had taken a petition to Moscow and were there since February 8, returned.

On February 20, 1988, the People’s Deputies made a decision at extraordinary session of the (Soviet) Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Republic Council to appeal to the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijani SSR for secession, to the Supreme Soviet of Armenian SSR for unification, and to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to approve this act based upon the existing legal norms and the precedence of resolving similar disputes in the USSR. With the votes 110 to 17, the resolution was passed. Thousands of people in such cold weather, under the snow were waiting for the decision of Council. The decision of the Council was read by NKR People’s Deputy Vachagan Grigoryan. It is the following:


"ON A PETITION TO THE SUPREME COUNCILS OF AZERBAIJANI SSR AND ARMENIAN SSR ON THE NKAO’s SECESSION FROM SOVIET AZERBAIJAN AND ITS TRANSFER TO SOVIET ARMENIA"
February 20, 1988


After hearings and debates on a petition to the Supreme Councils of the Azerbaijani SSR and Armenian SSR on the secession of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast from Soviet Azerbaijan and its transfer to Soviet Armenia, the special session of Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast Regional Council of Peoples Deputies have decided:

Meeting the requests of the NKAO workers, to appeal to the Supreme Councils of Azerbaijani SSR and Armenian SSR to show a profound understanding of the expectations of the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh and to resolve the issue of NKAO’s secession from Azerbaijani SSR and its transfer to Armenian SSR and at the same time to submit a petition to the Supreme Council of the USSR on a positive resolution of the issue on NKAO’s secession from Azerbaijani SSR and its transfer to Armenian SSR.


This action was in full accordance with the USSR Constitution, specifically the article on the right of secession. However, Moscow decided to reject Karabakh's demands for reunification with Armenia. This decision brought out tens of thousands of demonstrators, both in Stepanakert and in Yerevan.  

This was followed by an escalation of violence, massive and widespread disregard of the Armenian population's rights, economic blockade, etc. Massacres and mass murders of Armenians were carried out in Azerbaijani cities of Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad, Shamkhor, and later throughout Azerbaijan.

It was only On December 10, 1991 an independence referendum was held in Nagorno Karabakh. The independence of Artsakh was approved by 99.89% of voters. The NKR Supreme Council that was formed on December 28, 1991 adopted a Declaration of Independence confirming the results of the referendum the right of the people of Nagorno Karabakh on self-determination.

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