Author: Natiq NAZIMOGLU Baku
This summer marks the 100th anniversary since the beginning of World War I. While Azerbaijan was not a party to the war, the latter had a dramatic impact on the fate of our nation. It was in the crucible of this global conflict - the first in the world history - that the Azerbaijan Democ-ratic Republic (ADR) came into being. However, at the final stage of the war our nation was struck by a terrible tragedy - genocide, and this fact brought the Azerbaijanis into line with the peoples that suffered most from the war.
Events that changed the course of history
It is known that WWI broke out as a result of policies pursued by the great powers which sought a new division of the world. The Caucasus and in particular Azerbaijan was one of the epicentres of fierce geopolitical struggle that unfolded during the war. This was largely due to Baku oil which was the target of control of the two opposing blocs of great powers - the Entente and the Quadruple Alliance.
The events of 1917 put an end to absolute domination of Russia in Azerbaijan and in the region as a whole. The disintegration of the Russian Empire and the Bolshevik take-over that soon followed in Petrograd sped up the process of gaining sovereignty by the nations at the empire's outskirts including in the South Caucasus. Its peoples embarked on the path of establishing independent states, first within the framework of the Transcaucasian Federation, and then as separate State entities.
"Dashnak troops did their dirty work"
The year of 1918 was the last year of WWI. By this time, however, the Armenian nationalist organisations, and first of all the Dashnaktsutyun Party [also known as Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)], became much more active. Making use of the upheavals within the space of the former Russian Empire and the events taking place in the region in the context of war, they proceeded with the plan of establishing an Armenian state on large parts of the territory of Azerbaijan and Turkey. It was Armenian nationalists, which dreamt of creating so-called "Great Armenia from sea to sea," that actually run things at the Baku Soviet led by Stepan Shaumyan, a representative of the Dashnak-Bolshevik political regime that was established in the eastern regions of northern Azerbaijan including Baku. The activity of the Baku Soviet resulted in genocide of the Azerbaijani people, tens of thousands of which lost their lives in the course of implementation of the man-hateful ideology of "Great Armenia."
On 2 March 1918, speaking at a meeting of the Baku Soviet, Shaumyan strongly criticised the Tiflis-based Transcaucasian Sejm - the South Caucasian parliament in fact, which united anti-Bolshevik political forces of the region. Shaumyan's main "argument" was that this body expressed support for the Musavat Party, which was seeking secession of Azerbaijan from Russia. Shaumyan said: "Proceeding from their interests, democratic-minded people of Transcaucasia must vigorously protest against such secession, they should be ready to oppose the architects of this reactionary policy in arms, and the leading role in this should belong to the Baku Soviet. If it does not come out against the counter-revolutionaries, then they will come to us. After all, Muslim nationalists dreamt of making Baku the capital of Azerbaijan."
Later, Shaumyan repeatedly used this argument as a kind of indulgence that redeemed his guilt for authorising the massacre of a peaceful Muslim population which essentially supported the Musavat Party including on the issue of autonomy of Azerbaijan.
In March-April 1918, thousands of Azeri residents of Baku were exterminated because of their ethnicity. According to various estimates, from 12,000 to 30,000 people were killed in Baku in three days alone. However, the Baku Soviet chairman did not hide his satisfaction: "We were frightened by the national structure of our city. We were afraid that the fight might assume an unwanted colouration. We even had to resort to the Armenian Dashnak Regiment. We could not even allow ourselves the luxury of refusing their services. The Armenian National Council carried out arrests, searches, requisitions, etc. on its own. However, the victory is so great that it does little to overshadow the reality."
Reporting to the leadership of Soviet Russia shortly after the tragic events in Baku, Shaumyan personally admitted: "If they [i.e. the Azerbaijani political forces. - N.N.] had taken over in Baku, the city would be declared the capital of Azerbaijan... We used an opportunity ... and launched an offensive on all fronts ... we had under our command about 6,000 people. The Dashnaktsutyun also possessed national units about 3,000-4,000 strong that were at our disposal. The participation of the latter gave civil war the character of ethnic cleansing, but it was impossible to avoid this. It was a deliberate action on our part..."
Reliance of the Baku Soviet on the Dashnak forces caused outrage among the Bolsheviks of other nationalities. One of the witnesses of the genocide of Azerbaijanis, Bolshevik Blyumin, later noted in his memoirs: "With the advent of the events of 1918, we resorted to Dashnak troops, as we had no armed forces of our own. Still, Dashnak troops did their dirty work. They turned a civil war into a national cleansing, having slaughtered up to 20,000 poor Muslims."
Another participant in the events, Bolshevik Baranov, also admitted that the participation of the Dashnaktsutyun Party in quelling the so-called "Musavat rebellion" was accompanied by indiscriminate massacre of Muslims.
Genocide of Azerbaijanis was perpetrated not only in the Baku, but also in Samaxi, Quba and other districts. Shaumyan's closest associates including Georgiy Korganov (Korganyan), Tatevos Amiryan, Stepan Lalayan, and Hamazasp Srvantstyan were directly involved in the organising and carrying out mass extermination of Azerbaijanis.
On 8 October 1918, the Azerbaijan newspaper wrote: "After Tatevos Amirov [Amiryan], the leader of a gang of robbers engaged child abduction, became the head of the "socialist army" and slaughtered up to 16,000 innocent poor Muslims in Baku, and Styopa Lalayev [Stepan Lalayan] in charge of Dashnak gangs (which were socialist their political affiliation) cleared a number of residential quarters from the Muslim intellectuals, whom he dragged from their homes and shot in the streets, Shaumyan and the like "leaders of democracy" must have found that experience to be extremely valuable for their commanders, and both Amirov and Lalayev were assigned to deal with the "counter-revolution" in Samaxi together with a selected Dashnak detachment."
Armed Armenian units 20,000 strong led by Atarbekov, Stepan Lalayan, Mikhail Arzumanov and others, which were dispatched by the leadership of the Baku Soviet, conducted raids on the villages in the Samaxi, Goycay and Aras Mahal [now Agdas] districts, killing about 7,000 people, including 1,653 women and 965 children.
In particular, according to the materials of the Extraordinary Committee of Inquiry set up by the ADR Government, in the spring of 1918, a large detachment of armed Armenians unexpectedly surrounded and attacked a Muslim village of Kurd, Aras Mahal District, early in the morning. The document reads: "...Bursting into the village, Armenians started killing the inhabitants mainly in their houses, as most of them were half asleep and could not run away, and they killed 68 people including many women and children. Notably, the manner of killing was incredibly brutal: people were bayoneted, cut with daggers, and had the skin stripped from their faces; children were thrown into the air and cut to pieces, nailed to the walls of houses while they had still been alive, etc. Such atrocities continued in the streets of the Kurd village until the inhabitants of all of the nearby Muslim villages came to their aid…"
The massacre of the Muslim population in the Quba District was perpetrated by the Armenian armed units under command of Amazasp, a Dashnaktsutyun member, who was authorised by Shaumyan. Arriving in Quba, he openly declared: "I am an Armenian hero... I will exterminate the entire Muslim race from the Caspian Sea to Mount Sahdag." As many as 122 villages were devastated and hundreds of Turkic and Lezgin residents were killed in the Quba District.
The Baku Soviet also maintained contacts with the leaders of the Armenian gangs which committed violence in eastern Turkey and the western part of Azerbaijan. The head of the Baku Soviet highly appreciated the services of Armenian gang leader Andranik Ozanyan who was guilty of mass killings of Azeris in Naxcivan, Sarur and Zangazur. During the summer of 1918, a total of 3000 people were killed by Armenian gangs in Sarur and Naxcivan and 7,700 people in Zangazur. Moreover, about 50,000 inhabitants were ejected from their homes. Nonetheless, in a telegram sent to Andranik, Shaumyan praised him as a "true hero."
On 25 April 1918, the Council of People's Commissars (CPC) of the Baku Soviet was established in which the leading positions were held by Armenians. Shaumyan himself became Chairman of the Baku CPC and Commissar for Foreign Affairs. The armed forces of the Baku Soviet consisted of 20 battalions organised into three brigades led by Hamazasp, Bek-Zurabyan and Harutyunyan. Colonel Ghazaryan was the corps commander; Colonel Avetisyan was the Chief of Staff. The Baku Soviet launched a full-scale offensive in the direction of Yelizavetpol (Ganca), the centre of the Azerbaijani national movement. It was here that the process of laying down the political foundation of future free Azerbaijan was unfolding within the framework of formation of South Caucasian states (an attempt which eventually proved to be abortive).
"From Erivan to Susa, one million Muslims are languishing, being ruined and perishing..."
Further strengthening of the Dashnak-Bolshevik regime was prevented by the proclamation of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) on 28 May 1918 with the temporary capital in Ganca. The ADR's military alliance with the Ottoman Empire and the formation of the Turkish-Azerbaijani Caucasian Islamic Army, which began a victorious march towards Baku, thwarted the plans of the Armenian-Bolshevik forces on the final capture of Baku and Azerbaijan's entire Caspian Sea region.
On 31 July 1918, in an atmosphere of heightened political struggle in the Baku Soviet, Shaumyan's clique resigned its commission. After the defeat in the Baku Soviet, the Armenians pinned their hopes to preserve Baku under their control on the British troops in the region. Counting on support from the Entente, a new Dashnak-SR-Menshevik government known as Central-Caspian Dictatorship was formed in the city. However, this expansionist plan was also doomed to failure. On 15 September 1918, the Turkish-Azerbaijani troops liberated Baku, and a day later the government of the Democratic Republic moved in here.
Meanwhile, since the early days of its existence, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was faced with aggression of the Armenian Republic which was established in the historical lands of Azerbaijan - the territory of the former Erivan Khanate. Having embarked on the path of conquering Azerbaijan's native regions - Zangazur, Naxcivan, Karabakh, the Armenian Republic led by the Dashnak Party proceeded to the mass extermination of the local Azeri population.
On 10 December 1918, reporting about the criminal activities of Andranik's gangs, the Azerbaijan newspaper wrote: "In Karabakh, Armenians are attacking Muslim villages... The population of these areas, in trying to escape the attack, fled to Ordubad and Persia. Now all the mosques and the streets are full of widows and orphans. They are dying in dozens every day because of cold and hunger... From Erivan to Susa, one million Muslims are languishing, being ruined and perishing..."
In order to prevent crimes committed by Armenians, the Azerbaijani government established Karabakh Governorate-General in January 1919. Xosrov bay Sultanov, a prominent figure in the republic, was appointed Governor General of Karabakh. Already in April 1919, the Azerbaijani army drove Andranik's gangs out of the country.
However, late in 1919 and early in 1920, despite the conclusion of an agreement on the peaceful settlement of disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, an Armenian regular army more than 10,000 strong passed into Karabakh through Zangazur, destroying Azerbaijani villages on its way.
On 17 January 1920, in a note to High Commissioner of the Allied Powers in Transcaucasia Colonel William Gaskell of the United States, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Fatali-xan Xoyski stated that in the occupied part of Zangazur, the Armenian troops continue to "systematically destroy Muslim villages, clearing the Zangazur District from Muslim population... My government obtained information that from the date of the agreement and up till now, the Armenians destroyed about 40 Muslim villages in the Zangazur District..."
To stop the Armenian aggression, the Azerbaijani government sent to the frontline a 20,000-strong corps led by Major General Habib bay Salimov. For most of April, the Azerbaijan army had been liberating Karabakh and Zangazur from Armenian gangs. However, the Armenian aggression and the redeployment of the ADR's best military forces to the western regions of the country to curb this aggression allowed the 11th Red Army of Soviet Russia to freely cross Azerbaijan's border on 27 April 1920 and move in the direction of Baku.
The aggression of the Armenian Republic against the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which began in the last months of World War I with the connivance of the great powers, resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis. Moreover, in a memorandum sent to Vladimir Lenin in 1920, Chairman of the Council of the Economy of the Azerbaijani SSR N.I. Solovyev noted: "...at the establishment of the Republic of Armenia, there were 250 Muslim villages within its border; all of them have been destroyed; now there is not a single Muslim there."
All this is yet another lesson of a massacre that remained unpunished - a lesson which, unfortunately, has not been learned by the world community up till now: for more than 20 years, Azerbaijan has been living under the conditions of aggression from a neighbouring state created in our historical lands by external forces during World War I.
WHILE AZERBAIJAN WAS NOT A PARTY TO THE WAR, THE LATTER HAD A DRAMATIC IMPACT ON THE FATE OF OUR NATION
"The Dashnaktsutyun also possessed national units about 3,000-4,000 strong that were at our disposal. The participation of the latter gave civil war the character of ethnic cleansing, but it was impossible to avoid this. It was a deliberate action on our part...". Stepan Shaumyan