Author: Natig MAMMADZADEH
In spring 1918, tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis became the victims of aggressive Armenian aspirations. The purpose of mass extermination of the peaceful Azerbaijani population was the conquest of Azerbaijani territories in order to create the ‘Great Armenia’.
“We have wilfully opted for this action...”
In fact, the Baku Soviet acting as an authoritative body of the Bolsheviks was a military-political regime led by Armenian Bolsheviks and Dashnaks. In spring 1918, this regime headed by Stepan Shaumian, who seized power in Baku and in the Baku Governorate in November 1917, purposefully carried out a criminal action of unprecedented cruelty - the genocide of Azerbaijani people.
In March 1918, hiding behind the slogan “fighting counter-revolutionary elements”, the Baku Council carried out a mass extermination of Azerbaijani population, which was the social base of the Azerbaijani national-democratic forces, primarily the Musavat party, which enjoyed great popularity.
In his report to the leadership of the Soviet Russia shortly after the tragic events in Baku, Shaumian admitted: “If they (i.e. Azerbaijani political forces) took over in Baku, the city would be declared the capital of Azerbaijan... We seized this opportunity... and launched an offensive along the frontline... We already had armed forces - about six thousand people. Dashnaktsutyun also had about 3-4 thousand national units, which were at our disposal. The participation of the latter resulted in a kind of national massacre during the civil war but there was no way to avoid it. We have wilfully opted for this action...”
According to various sources, on March 30 - April 1, 1918, that is within three days only, Armenian killers murdered from 10 to 50 thousand peaceful Azerbaijanis under the direct instructions of the Baku Council and its chairman, Stepan Shaumian. However, Shaumian did not hide his satisfaction: “The national composition of our city has frightened us. We were afraid that the fight would lead to undesirable implications. We even had to resort to the help of the Armenian Dashnak regiment. We could not afford the luxury of giving up their services. The National Armenian Council independently carried out arrests, searches, confiscations, etc... However, the victory is so great that it does not cast shadow over the reality.”
Stepan Shaumian’s policy proved that his priority was Armenian interests, not the Bolshevik ones. By the way, Shaumian has established ties with Armenian nationalist organisations long before the events of 1918. According to information of the Tiflis gendarmerie administration from July 1908, Shaumian was a member of the Baku committee of the Dashnaktsutyun Party. Shaumian’s personal case compiled for the mayor of Baku in 1912 and based on intelligence information received by the head of the Baku Security Department in December 1910, Shaumian supported the Dashnaktsutyun members and assisted them in finding jobs in the oil fields of Baku.
However, irrespective of purely formal attitude of Shaumian towards the Dashnaktsutyun, he proved himself to be an adherent of Armenian nationalism and its leading forces. It is no coincidence that Shaumian, as the head of the Bolshevik government, has contributed to the establishment of a tactical union between the Bolsheviks and the Dashnaks. In implementing his policy, he has relied exclusively on key Armenian figures, who had played an instrumental role in the mass slaughter of peaceful Azerbaijani population.
Victims for ‘Great Armenia’
A Dashnak nationalist, Tatevos Amirian, was one of Shaumian's closest associates. In the Soviet period, he was misrepresented to Azerbaijanis as one of the 26 Baku commissars, although in fact he was a hard-core terrorist. Amirian was a gang leader robbing apartments in Baku, kidnapping the children of rich Azerbaijanis and returning them only after receiving large sums of money that would later be used to finance the Dashnaktsutyun. In addition, he was known for his involvement in the attempted assassination of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II. In early 1918, just before the genocide of Azerbaijanis, Tatevos Amirian together with his brothers Alexander and Armenak created in Baku an armed cavalry detachment made up of Dashnak members. Shaumian invited the detachment to participate in massacres against Azerbaijanis. Amirian and his armed bandits were killing the Azerbaijanis irrespective of their sex and age.
The documentary evidence compiled by the Extraordinary Investigation Commission (EIC) of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic reports about an arson attack on a unique architectural structure, the building of the Ismailliya charitable society, by Amirian’s Armenian bandits. In Shamakhi, Amirian's detachments burned all the mosques of the city including the famous Juma Mosque, a prominent architectural monument of the twelfth century.
Yet another companion of Stepan Shaumian, Bagdasar Avakian, also took an active part in the organisation and the genocide of Azerbaijanis. Just before the bloody events of March 1918, Avakian distributed a large number of weapons and cartridges to Armenians united under the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Bolshevik Caucasian Army regardless of their social status. In early April 1918, Avakian was appointed a commandant of Baku and its districts and became one of the key figures involved in the practical implementation of the genocide.
Meanwhile, another closest associate of Shaumian, Georgiy Korganov (Korganian) headed the Military Revolutionary Committee mentioned above. He was a coordinator between the structures that massacred the Azerbaijanis: the Bolshevik guards, the Red Guard and the Dashnak detachments. Korganov was also a member of the Revolutionary Defence Committee of Baku created on March 30 specifically for the purpose of forcible suppression of ‘public enemies’, which implied the national forces of Azerbaijan and, most importantly, their social support, the Azerbaijani population.
Other persons from Shaumian's closest circle such as the Dashnaks Stepan Lalayan and Amazasp Srvantzian also played a great role in the organisation and implementation of mass extermination of Azerbaijanis. Particularly, they have distinguished themselves in atrocities over the Azerbaijani population of Shamakhi and Guba.
Tens of thousands of peaceful, unarmed representatives of the Turkic-Muslim population of Baku and other cities and villages of the province became victims of the criminal policy of the Baku Council. Armenian military groups mercilessly killed Azerbaijani Turks, Lezgins, Talishes, as well as the representatives of other nationalities, regardless of their gender and age thus ‘clearing these territories for ‘Great Armenia’.
The leaders of the Azerbaijani national movement tried to resist to the punitive operation of Shaumian's Baku Council. However, without sufficient military force, they were forced to accept an ultimatum on recognizing the power of the Baku Council. At the same time, the Transcaucasian Sejm was also the arena of political efforts of the Azerbaijani leaders. The Azerbaijani faction called for a military offensive against Baku to protect the Muslim population. The life proved to Azerbaijani politicians that the only guarantor of the existence and security of their native people might be an independent state.
Agha Haji Aslan oglu Ashurov (1880-1936) was one of the prominent public and political figures of Azerbaijan at the beginning of the last century. He was from a well-known merchant family. By the decree of Tsar Nicholas II, the members of the Ashurov family were declared as hereditary honourable citizens of the Russian Empire. Agha Ashurov’s father played an instrumental role in organizing the protection of the Muslim population of Baku from Dashnak gangs during the massacres of 1905-1906. One of the Dashnaks, Shakiriants, tried to put a bomb in Ashurov’s house and blow it up with his family.
Upon Agha Ashurov’s return from Germany, where he received education in electrical engineering, he made a great contribution to the construction of a new power station in Baku, the Shollar Water Pipeline. He actively participated in public life and was one of the representatives of Caucasian Muslims at the 3rd All-Russian Muslim Congress held in Nizhny Novgorod. Ashurov was one of the leaders of the enlightenment society Nashri-maarif.
During the events of 1917, he became one of the leaders of the Azerbaijani national movement, was a member of the Interim Executive Committee of the Muslim National Council, participated in the work of the Congress of Caucasian Muslims held in Baku. During the genocide of Azerbaijanis in March 1918, Ashurov, as part of the Muslim delegation, participated in negotiations with the Revolutionary Defence Committee and the Armenian National Council.
During the period of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR), Ashurov was the Minister of Trade and Industry, Minister of Food, Minister of Postal Services and Telegraph, as well as a member of parliament. He is recognised as one of the most prominent Azerbaijani statesmen of that time, since he has demonstrated himself as a principal guardian of Azerbaijan's independent course. Despite difficult conditions of that time, when the leading world powers were fighting over Azerbaijan's natural resources, Ashurov advocated the establishment of a system of state control over the national economy. Ashurov was an ardent supporter of decisive steps in the fight against speculation and those representatives of private capital whose actions contradicted the state interests.
On April 27, 1920, at the last meeting of the ADR parliament, Agha Ashurov was the only deputy who voted against the surrender of power to the Bolsheviks.
Unable to emigrate to Turkey, Ashurov moved to Rostov-on-Don, where he died in 1936.