The present-day stage of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan began at the end of 1987 with the attacks on the Azerbaijanis in Khankandi (during the Soviet period – Stepanakert) and Armenia resulted in a flood of Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons.
On 20 February 1988, the representatives of the Armenian community at the session of the Soviet of People’s Deputies of the NKAO adopted a resolution seeking the transfer of the NKAO from the Azerbaijan SSR to the Armenian SSR.
On 22 February 1988, near the settlement of Asgaran on the Khankandi-Aghdam highway, the Armenians opened fire on a peaceful demonstration by the Azerbaijanis protesting against the above-mentioned decision of the Soviet of People’s Deputies of the NKAO. Two Azerbaijani youths lost their lives in consequence, becoming the first victims of the conflict.
On 26-28 February 1988, twenty-six Armenians and Azerbaijanis were killed as a result of the disturbances in Sumgait. It is notable that one of the leading figures in these events was a certain Edward Grigorian, an Armenian and native of Sumgait, who was directly involved in the killings and violence against the Armenians and the pogroms in the Armenian neighborhoods. By decision of the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court of the Azerbaijan SSR dated 22 December 1989, Grigorian was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. The Court found Grigorian to be one of the organizers of unrest and massacres. Depositions by witnesses and victims show that he had a list of flats inhabited by the Armenians and, together with three other Armenians, called for reprisals against the Armenians, in which he took part personally. His victims (all Armenians) identified Grigorian as one of the organizers and active figures in the violence. In fact, events in Sumgait, being necessary to the Armenian leadership as a mean of launching an extensive anti-Azerbaijani campaign and justifying the ensuing aggressive actions against Azerbaijan, had been planned and prepared in advance.
The events in Sumgait also could hardly be managed without outside powerful support. As The Times wrote, the KGB leadership tried “to weaken the Kremlin’s authority and powerbase” and “organised acts of provocation, using genuine local dissatisfaction as a base, in cities across the Soviet Union, including Sumgait and Baku…”
Following the aforementioned petition of 20 February 1988, a number of other declarations and decisions were taken by both the Armenian SSR and the local Armenians of the NKAO with the view of securing the unilateral secession of Nagorny Karabakh from Azerbaijan.
On the eve of the independence of Azerbaijan, the unlawfulness within the Soviet legal system of attempted unilateral secession of Nagorny Karabakh without Azerbaijan’s consent was confirmed at the highest constitutional level. Azerbaijan did not so consent, so that the definition of the territory of Azerbaijan as it proceeded to independence and in the light of the applicable law clearly included the territory of Nagorny Karabakh. Azerbaijan was entitled to come to independence within the territorial boundaries that it was recognized as having as the Azerbaijan SSR within the USSR.