In late April – early May 1991, special police detachments (OMON) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan, with the support of the USSR Interior Ministry’s troops, launched a large-scale punitive operation of Ring, the essence of which was to exile the Armenian population of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, the Shahumian region, and some regions of Northern Artsakh (the Khanlar, Dashkesan, Kedabek, and Shamkhor regions of the former Azerbaijani SSR).
As a result of this operation, dozens of Armenian settlements were completely devastated, destroyed or populated by Azerbaijanis. Tens of thousands of people were deported, hundreds were killed. It was the operation of Ring characterized by unprecedented cruelty and mass human rights violations that dramatically increased the level of tension in the region and transferred the Karabakh conflict to a military plane.
The report of the CSCE Mission of February 28, 1992 noted that “particularly serious escalation took place in April-May 1991 when the Soviet Army, with the support of the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry’s units, deported Armenians from many villages of the region. The deportation was carried out with extreme cruelty”.
The events, which took place during the operation of Ring, were reflected in the documents of some international organizations, became a subject of hearings at the Human Rights Committee of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation and got the corresponding assessment in the resolutions of the European Parliament and the U.S. Senate.
The Human Rights Center of Memorial Moscow Association stated gross violations of the basic human rights: “They grossly violated the right of every person to life, liberty, and security; they used tortures, carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions and committed numerous property offenses. The practice of people’s deportation acquired a mass character. Particularly cynical these violations were made by the fact that the mass violence against the civilians was committed by the law enforcement agencies. The responsibility for this rests with the top leadership of the Azerbaijani Republic, Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry and Committee for State Security (KGB), as well as with the leadership of the USSR Interior Ministry, Ministry of Defense and the Command of the USSR MIA Interior Troops. These crimes cast a shadow also on the top leadership of the USSR”.
On May 1, 1991, the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the crimes committed by the authorities of the USSR and Azerbaijan against the Armenian population. The resolution, in particular, condemned “the attacks on innocent men, women and children in Nagorno-Karabakh, in the adjacent Armenian settlements and in Armenia; the large-scale use of military force and firing of the unarmed population on the eastern and southern borders of Armenia”, as well as contained calls “to put an end to the blockades and other forms of force and the terror against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh”.
On May 25, a draft statement on the situation in some regions of Armenia and Azerbaijan was submitted to the session of the Fourth Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) for consideration and was approved by the overwhelming majority of votes.
The statement, in particular, noted that “in accordance with the internationally accepted norms and conventions on human rights, the deportation of civilians must be immediately stopped, the hostages must be freed, and the suspects on cases of armed clashes must be transferred to the prosecution of the USSR Prosecutor’s Office”.
However, the crimes committed during the operation of Ring haven’t got the proper political and legal assessment by the international community and their organizers and executors are still unpunished. This became a precedent for new military crimes and inhumane actions by Azerbaijan against the peaceful Armenian population.
The deported residents are still unable to return to their homes and they haven’t received any reimbursement so far.
Unfortunately, we also have to state that the Armenian villages deported during the operation of Ring are not mentioned in any of the documents proposed by the international mediators for the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict settlement.