After Communist Rule
Azerbaijan was strongly affected by the autonomy that spread to most parts of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev's liberalized regime in the late 1980s. After independence was achieved in 1991, conflict with Armenia became chronic, and political stability eluded Azerbaijan in the early years of the 1990s.
Demands for Sovereignty and the Soviet Reaction
In the fall of 1989, the nationalist opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front (APF) led a wave of protest strikes expressing growing political opposition to ACP rule. Under this pressure, the ACP authorities bowed to opposition calls to legalize the APF and proclaim Azerbaijani sovereignty. In September 1989, the Azerbaijani Supreme Court passed a resolution of sovereignty, among the first such resolutions in the Soviet republics. The resolution proclaimed Azerbaijan's sovereignty over its land, water, and natural resources and its right to secede from the Soviet Union following a popular referendum. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the legislative body of the Soviet Union, declared this resolution invalid in November 1989. Another manifestation of nationalist ferment occurred at the end of 1989, when Azerbaijanis rioted along the Iranian border, destroying border checkpoints and crossing into Iranian provinces that had Azerbaijani majorities. Azerbaijani intellectuals also appealed to the CPSU Politburo for relaxation of border controls between Soviet and Iranian Azerbaijan, comparing the "tragic" separation of the Azerbaijani nation to the divisions of Korea or Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijanis unleashed a wave of violence against Armenian residents of Baku and other population centers, causing turmoil that seemed to jeopardize ACP rule. In response, in January 1990 Moscow deployed forces of its Ministry of Internal Affairs (Ministerstvo vnutrennikh del--MVD), Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti--KGB), and the military in a brutal suppression of these riots. Moscow also began a crackdown on the APF and other opposition forces in Baku and other cities, and Soviet forces cooperated with Iranian authorities to secure the Azerbaijani-Iranian border. These actions further alienated the population from Moscow's rule. Ironically, the Soviet crackdown targeted the large and increasingly vocal Azerbaijani working class. In this process, martial law was declared, and the ACP leader was replaced by Ayaz Mutalibov, a former chairman of the Azerbaijani Council of Ministers. In May 1990, while martial law remained in effect, Mutalibov was elected president by the Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet; elections to the Supreme Soviet were held four months later. The APF, although declared illegal, retained immense popular appeal and visibility.
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