Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War


Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2003

Black Garden is the definitive study of how Armenia and Azerbaijan, two southern Soviet republics, got sucked into a conflict that helped bring them to independence, bringing to an end the Soviet Union, and plaguing a region of great strategic importance. It cuts between a careful reconstruction of the history of Nagorny Karabakh conflict since 1988 and on-the-spot reporting on its convoluted aftermath.

Part contemporary history, part travel book, part political analysis, the book is based on six months traveling through the south Caucasus, more than 120 original interviews in the region, Moscow, and Washington, and unique primary sources, such as Politburo archives.

The historical chapters trace how the conflict lay unresolved in the Soviet era; how Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders exacerbated it; how the Politiburo failed to cope with the crisis; how the war began and ended; how the international community failed to sort out the conflict.

What emerges is a complex and subtle portrait of a beautiful and fascinating region, blighted by historical prejudice and conflict.



No border is more closed than this one. A few miles after the Azerbaijani city of Terter, the road stopped in a dusty field. Soldiers at a guard post blocked the way. Sheets of camouflage and dried grass covered the barbed wire.

From here Colonel Elkhan Aliev of the Azerbaijani army would escort us into no-man’s-land. We were a party of Western and Russian diplomats and journalists. The mediators were hoping to build on progress made the month before at peace talks in Florida between the presidents of the two small post-Soviet Caucasian republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

By crossing the front line between the positions of the Azerbaijanis and of the Armenians of Nagorny Karabakh, who occupied the land on the opposite sides, the party of diplomats and journalists wanted to give the peace process a public boost. But by the time we reached the front line, a peace deal was slipping off the agenda again.

No one had crossed here since May 1994, when the cease-fire was signed that confirmed the Armenians’ military victory in two and a half years’ of full-blown warfare. From that point, the line where the fighting stopped began to turn into a two-hundred-mile barrier of sandbags and barbed wire dividing the southern Caucasus in two.

Colonel Husseinov, dressed in neat camouflage fatigues, was inscrutable behind his dark glasses. There had been a shooting incident across the line that morning, he said, but no one had been hurt. Some of the party put on flak jackets. Nikolai Gribkov, the Russian negotiator, was wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap and someone teased him that if there was an Armenian Mets fan on the other side of the line, he might get a bullet through the head.

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