Dated July 19, 1988, the article “Our solidarity with Artsakh” was written (originally in Armenian) for the integration of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region into the Armenian S.S.R., at the peak of the mass demonstrations in Yerevan. Melkonyan prefaced the open letter as follows: “As in the case of my April 4, 1988, letter, I am writing as a sincere internationalist, as an honest Armenian patriot and as a militant convinced of the theoretical centrality of scientific socialism. I am writing with constructive intentions, as a friend of the USSR and all its peoples.

I wrote about our solidarity with Karabakh three months ago. That name is no longer correct to use today, as the overwhelming majority of the region’s population and their council members have decided to name the area after its historical name, Artsakh. Moreover, the population and its representatives stated that their region is a part of the Armenian S.S.R. As a leninist, I respect the will of the population of Artsakh and I rely on their initiatives and decisions. As I announced in the past, I believe that these decisions show the real interests of all peoples of that area, including the azeris. 

The supreme Soviet authorities announce incomprehensible statements and pursue ineffective policy against the clear and recurrent decisions of the people of Artsakh, the members of its Communist party, and the council of people’s deputies. For instance, during the presidency of the USSR supreme council’s last session, it was announced that “Karabakh”  must remain within the administrative borders of the Azerbaijani SSR, and at the nineteenth All-Union conference of the Communist party it was said that the internal borders of the USSR could not be changed. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that according to the USSR constitution, all borders can be changed. In fact, the Soviet Union’s internal borders have been redrawn many times, as  the country’s borders with the neighboring states. However, it is more important that Lenin’s principles of national self-determination  demand that the will of the people in question should be decisive. Lenin was remarkably consistent and unwavering on this issue and he repeated it many times in his writings on the national question. 

What is even more surprising is that the official opposition to the democratic will of the people of the region comes from the defenders of “perestroika” and “glasnost”. It is unbelievable, but the loudest of these defenders supported the statement of the Supreme Council that if the people of Artsakh continue to express their will through a mass movement, the authorities will use “all methods in order to recover the law and discipline”. 

The events of the past two weeks have shown the meaning of the phrase “all resources”. The movements of Artsakh and Soviet Armenia were initiated by the masses. Their communist representatives have received the active support of the vast majority of the region’s population. From the point of view of these facts, what kind of Marxism-Leninism does the deployment of tanks represent in Yerevan? From the Marx-Leninism approaches, it is completely unfair to use force and to impose sanctions on the masses who defend the socialist principles and the truth. The use of such policy has only deepened the uncorrected mistake of the past, which is the refusal to reunite Artsakh with Soviet Armenia. That policy can only lead to further human losses and an inevitable loss of confidence in the Soviet authorities.

The current decisions and methods of the central authorities contradict the spirit and the word of “glasnost” and “perestroika”. Actually, they are typical of the mentality of bureaucratic centralism, stagnation and instinctive reaction of the past years. In almost all other areas, in economic policy, in political reform, in disarmament, the new policy has made significant progress. But it would not be realistic to assume that the progress in other areas can be continued without the progress in the issue of nationalities. 

Marx and Lenin knew that each process, each event has its consequences. You have to pay for mistakes, and in order to avoid a  high price you need to make corrections today.  Realizing this, comrade Gorbachev  called workers for showing strict discipline and responsibility, improving the quality of the work and even suffering for years in order to start economic reconstruction. Similarly, new steps have been taken in the area of political and administrative reconstruction, including the strict punishment of bureaucrats who use their position for personal benefit.

You have to pay dearly for solving national issues too. The Artsakh issue has remained in a state of abscess for sixty-five years. During that period, the inhabitants of the region have demanded many times that Artsakh be united with the Armenian SSR. Official letters and petitions were sent, formulas were adopted by the local council, mass demonstrations took place. The longer the solution has been extended, the issue has become more complicated. Moreover, as the events of the last fifteen months show, we had to pay a much higher price with the lives of innocent people.

It has already been mentioned that there are nineteen “smoking” national problems in the USSR and that the reunification of Artsakh would encourage other Soviet peoples to seek similar solutions to those problems. For a long time the anti-Soviet press has been propagating the view that disputes over national issues will lead to the collapse of the USSR. Our friends in the USSR  are practically obliged to deny the anti-Soviet view. If there are nineteen national problems, then for the USSR the only beneficial step will be to find nineteen solutions as soon as possible. Of course, there will be difficulties, however ignoring these issues will have more harmful consequences. 

Really, the reason for  greater damage is the policy of disguising the issue by blaming the victim. Describing  the people of Artsakh as reckless robbers with unreasonable demands is not useful at all. That people have been the target of bigotry for sixty-five years. In response to their peace-loving constitutional protests, nationalist murderers from the Azerbaijani SSR have committed massacres and destruction. Strengthening cooperation and relationship is in the interests of all the peoples of the USSR but continuing the mistakes of the past does not serve for that purpose. Just as some political programs that were once considered “right” are now severely criticized, similarly, the day will come when the refusal for solution of the Artsakh issue will become the subject of severe criticism.  

I believe that Armenians with good will still want to maintain friendly relationships with their Azeri neighbors. We realize that there are true internationalists, sincere communists and friends in the Azerbaijani SSR and we will never forget the Azeri compatriots who risked their lives to protect Armenians from raging nationalists in Sumgait. However, it is very disappointing that the recent events together with the opposition of the Azeri authorities to the will of the people of Artsakh, prove that nationalists still dominate the republic. For six decades, these nationalists have ignored the will of the people of Artsakh. Their criminal inaction (and even muted approval) in the case of the Sumgait massacre shows that the true communists and internationalists of Soviet Azerbaijan are now powerless against the nationalists. Unfortunately, after sixty-five years of supposed socialist progress, a part of the population of Azerbaijan, including many in the leadership of the party and republic, remained unaware of socialist values. 

The fact that the cooperation with Artsakh among the Soviet fraternal peoples increased and the inhabitants of Artsakh and Soviet Armenia have begun to take direct steps to oppose the selfish bureaucracy and corruption of the past is encouraging. The Armenian patriots of the diaspora are extremely proud that the people of Artsakh have organised  such courageous and decisive steps in order to improve intolerable conditions in which they have lived.  We are proud that the people of Artsakh, who are so small compared to the entire Soviet population, have become a vanguard in the USSR, demanding to correct the mistakes of the past. We are also excited that most of the communists of Artsakh and Armenian SSR stand for our people. And finally we are proud that our nation and homeland play such an active and constructive role for making positive changes in the USSR.

Of course, being proud of the efforts of our compatriots of Artsakh and Soviet Armenia is not enough. We need to show our solidarity with more practical steps. Protests are already taking place and there are financial aid programs. These efforts are highly important and they must continue in the context of the policy that Artsakh has adopted. Besides, providing announcements for peace from advanced and national forces is very essential. This is especially true for the official declarations of solidarity by the communist and workers’ parties. They can provide significant moral and political support to the people of Artsakh. 

And it is more important  to remember that in order to support our nation, each of us must participate in the struggle. Just as the people of Artsakh and Soviet Armenia massively join in the reunification of our homeland, similarly we must fight for our right in diaspora in order to live in the part of our homeland which lies outside the current Soviet borders. Our compatriots in Artsakh are a bright example that we owe to follow.

Excerpt from the book of Monte Melkonyan “The Right to Struggle: Selected Writings of Monte Melkonian on the Armenian National Question, 1993” (2007)

Translator: Marieta Stepanyan © All rights reserved.