Author: Oleg KUZNETSOV, Moscow
Archives of state security agencies of the post-Soviet countries are often full of surprises. After reading the cases, one begins to understand that the idea of "proletarian internationalism" declared by the USSR was so utopian and far from practical implementation that introducing the idea to the general public would be nothing more than hypocrisy. One such case from the archives (1948) of the State Security Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan about the plans of Armenians to settle Chechnya after deportation of Chechens and create an autonomy in the North Caucasus as part of the RSFSR confirms this thesis.
This story dates back to November 21, 1945, when the Council of People's Commissars (SNK) of the USSR adopted a resolution "On measures to return foreign Armenians to Soviet Armenia." Three months later, on February 22, 1946, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, TsK VKP(b), approved a resolution made jointly with the USSR People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (NKID) "On practical measures for the relocation of foreign Armenians to Soviet Armenia." On January 29, March 24 and December 10, 1947, SNK adopted resolutions on the so-called "repatriation" of Armenians.
To solve the "Armenian issue", the government set up a special commission presided by the head of the Department of Middle East of the Soviet NKID I. V. Samilovsky. The main idea was to ensure the resettlement of Armenians from Greece, Romania and Bulgaria to the Soviet Transcaucasia. It was also planned to organise "repatriation" of Armenians living in Iran, Lebanon, Romania, Syria. In the future, the same plan could also concern Armenians from the USA, France, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq.
In general, the plan provided for the resettlement of 360 thousand Armenians exclusively on the territory of Armenian SSR. However, as of June 1948, 86,346 foreign Armenians were resettled in the USSR, of which only a little more than 37,000 settled Armenia. Two thirds of Armenian settlers were from Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Greece and Cyprus. Re-emigration from France, Egypt, Bulgaria, and Romania was also quite significant. Resettlement of Armenians was suspended by the respective SNK decision on September 14, 1948.
At the same time, the post-war "repatriation" of Armenians caused two deportations: a deportation of Azerbaijanis living in several regions of Armenia to Azerbaijan in 1948-1953 and a deportation of part of the Armenian population from Armenia to the Altai Krai of Russia in 1949. On December 23, 1947, the USSR Council of Ministers adopted a resolution "On the resettlement of collective farmers and other people from Armenian SSR to the Kur-Araz Lowland of Azerbaijan SSR". Thus, it was planned to ensure in three years a "voluntary resettlement" of 100,000 Azerbaijanis. At the same time, the Council of Ministers of Armenian SSR was allowed to use the vacated buildings and houses of the Azerbaijani population for the resettlement of repatriated Armenians. In three years, 144,654 Azerbaijanis were expelled from Armenia. In other words, a simple calculation shows that there were three to four Azerbaijanis deported from Armenia for each Armenian "repatriated" to Armenia. Therefore, it will be fair to assume that the process was a deportation based on ideological reasons, and not a resettlement.
Obviously, the territory of the Kur-Araz Lowland was not enough to resettle such a huge number of people, especially since the actual number of the deported Azerbaijanis was almost one and a half times more than the estimated number. Therefore, the authorities of Azerbaijan had no choice but to provide immigrants with permanent residence in Ganja, Shamkir, Tovuz and other western regions of Azerbaijan outside the lowland. In fact, these regions were not ready to receive immigrants, and the local authorities made great efforts to resettle the compatriots deported from Armenia. Eventually, this caused the discontent of local Armenians leading to domestic, economic and other conflicts, which, as the number of immigrants continued to increase, would turn into social and nationalistic conflicts. At that time, all regional branches of the Azerbaijani Ministry of State Security (MGB) were focused on screening the mentality of the reshaping society. Along with other state bodies, they were instructed to coordinate the measures on neutralising through ideological or administrative means any social, national and even domestic antagonism and to report quarterly to the ministry in Baku.
The whole body of operational memos is currently stored in the archives of the State Security Service of Azerbaijan. We hereby publish one of such documents, the content of which allows not only to take a fresh look at the events of those days, but also to define some ideas about the aspirations of Armenians living in Azerbaijan who were involved unwillingly in the mass migration of fellow compatriots.
Below is a special memo No. 720 dated July 23, 1948, addressed to the Minister of State Security of Azerbaijan, Major-General S. F. Yemelyanov, by the head of the Shamkhor (currently the Shamkir Region of Azerbaijan, R+) regional branch of the ministry, Senior Lieutenant Y. Nurov:
"According to the order of the Council of Ministers of the Azerbaijan SSR on the reception and accommodation of migrants from the Republic of Armenia, the leadership of the Shamkhor regional branch conducted preparatory works.
It was decided to accommodate the migrants at large vine-growing kolkhozs (kolkhoz, R+) of Shamkir, namely the Klara Zetkin and Azi Aslanov kolkhozs, which required a considerable labour force, for after the expulsion of Germans, the region did not have capacity to staff the kolkhozs. It was necessary to accommodate the migrants in apartments already used by collective farmers because there were no vacant ones. However, a number of collective farmers showed discontent, while some of them, mainly the collective farmers of Armenian nationality, resisted.
In fact, none of the houses in these kolkhozs belongs to farmers, but is the property of respective kolkhozs to which they were transferred after the eviction of the Germans.
We also received signals that Armenian collective farmers were extremely dissatisfied with the relocation of Azerbaijanis from Armenia to kolkhozs of the Shamkhor Region.
To identify and analyse the reasons for discontent, a group of informants (callsigns SARKHAN, FATALIYEV and APRES) were dispatched to the region.
On July 9, 1948, SARKHAN reported that according to his neighbours Suren Mkrtichian and Ruben Oganesov, farmers from the Klara Zetkin kolkhoz, Voskanov Ambartsum Oganesovich, Martirosian Smbat Khachaturovich, Virabian Sergey and other farmers of Armenian descent, were promoting the idea of moving to the Grozny Oblast with allegedly good living conditions and freedom of developing individual farms.
The above persons spread rumours that the Azerbaijani migrants will start oppressing and expelling Armenians from the kolkhoz, which can even lead to a bloody revenge, for they have been severely abused by Armenians in the past.
Thus, Voskanov and his accomplices have so far been able to persuade forty Armenian families to move to Grozny. For this purpose, the group collected money to send Voskanov to Moscow to make a request for resettlement.
Martirosian Smbat Khachaturovich, also known as secret informant GEROS, has not provided any information about the activities of Voskanov and others. As mentioned above, he is a member of the group as well.
Thus, GEROS was summoned and asked about the activities of their group, particularly the intention to move to Grozny. GEROS reported the following:
"The group members expressed dissatisfaction with the measures of regional bodies aimed for accommodating the migrants in the houses of collective farmers. They explained that no one would have a house and yard for personal use, because each house and yard would have a family of migrants, hence creating difficulties for other house members and their privacy.
In addition, there was a suggestion about a possible nationalist antagonism between local Armenians and Azerbaijani migrants, since the latter were resettled by Armenians, and can harbour grudges against Armenians.
Thus, the group members came to a common conclusion to move to and settle the Grozny Oblast, and build their future lives in a relaxed, free atmosphere, as they were told that Grozny needed migrants and were ready to create excellent conditions for them. Therefore, the group members decided to persuade Armenians of the Klara Zetkin kolkhoz for relocation to Grozny and organisation of Armenian national village there.
In general, they could get the consent of forty Armenian families for resettlement. To implement the plan, they made a collective statement addressed to the Council of Ministers requesting a permission to move to Grozny. They also assigned Ambartsum VOSKANOV as their representative to Moscow and collected 500 roubles for his mission".
Thus, the report of GEROS completely confirmed the intelligence reported by SARKHAN...
...A similar manifestation of nationalistic sentiments of Armenians was observed at the Azi Aslanov kolkhoz, where the interested people demonstrated a tendency to move to the Grozny Oblast.
In this regard, a collective farmer, a member of VKP(b) Mamikon Arutyunovich ZAKHARIAN, left for Grozny for inspection. However, the local authorities in Grozny told him that they would not accept Armenian migrants without prior knowledge of the leaders of the Republic of Azerbaijan. That is why the attempts of Armenian farmers of the Azi Aslanov kolkhoz to move to Grozny failed...
There are also rumours that Armenians are planning to occupy Chechen-Ingushetia to create an Armenian autonomy in Grozny Oblast. This explains why Armenians are trying to move to Grozny.
Whether these rumours are true or not, they are worth considering because it is possible that the current situation is a result of the Dashnak propaganda."
It is not an accident that the head of the Shamkhor regional branch of MGB draws attention to the personalities of activists promoting mass relocation of Armenians to Grozny Oblast. It turns out that Ambartsum Oganesovich Voskanov "has been removed from Komsomol due to his nationalistic sentiments and was a great intriguer and troublemaker"; winemaker Sahak Gevorkovich Tumasov "arrived to Shamkhor from Turkey in 1922 as a refugee"; agronomist Artazav Khalatovich Safarian "is from Armenia"; and Smbat Khachaturovich Martirosian "was a Dashnak fighter in the past being a member of the squad led by the Dashnak general Dro". The latter, as noted above, was recruited by the security services of Azerbaijan in 1942 and was a secret informer known with his call-sign GEROS.
An unbiased look at this document gives reason to believe that in 1948 almost the entire Armenian population of Azerbaijan, regardless of their place of residence, was obsessed with the idea of mass resettlement to the Grozny Oblast of RSFSR (Russia). Obviously, Armenian collective farmers could not know what was happening on the other side of the Greater Caucasus Mountains themselves, because someone had to inform them about it. Such information would have to be transmitted verbally, from one Armenian village to another, since in the post-war USSR, all communication lines including posts, telegraphs, telephone lines were closely monitored by the Soviet state security agencies. Therefore, the idea of resettlement was not autochthonous or spontaneous. On the contrary, it was spread among ethnic Armenians who lived in Azerbaijan in the late 1940s purposefully.
In fact, the lands of Chechnya have attracted Armenians throughout the twentieth century, which can be clearly seen from the statistical data showing the national composition of the region since 1897 up to now. Thus, in 1897, only 339 Armenians lived in the territory of the Grozny Oblast of the Russian Empire, which accounted for 0.2% of the population. In 1939, the number of Armenian population of Chechnya reached 8,170, or 1.5% of the population. In 1959, this number reached 12,136 people, or 2% of the total population of the autonomous republic. Thus, according to the most modest calculations and without taking into account natural deaths, deaths from Nazi bombardments, wartime epidemics, at least 4,000 Armenians, mainly from Azerbaijan, took advantage of the temporary deportation of Chechens and deliberately moved to Chechnya. This had already been observed before, during the 1917-1921 civil war in Russia. However, in reality, the number of such immigrants was much greater.
This story shows that Armenian population of the region has always aimed for territorial expansion, the seizure of family pastures and cemeteries of indigenous peoples of the Caucasus. Remarkably, such activity has always taken place during the periods of social cataclysms and upheavals, when the lives of indigenous peoples was subjected to external shocks and threats. That is why it is so important to remember the lessons of history.