What effect did the massacres perpetrated by Armenians in 1918 in different parts of Azerbaijan have?

The massacres perpetrated by Armenians in Azerbaijan in 1918 were directly related to the siege of Baku by the the Baku Council of People’s Commissars after the October Revolution in the Tsarist Empire. The chairman of the Baku Council of People’s Commissars at that time was Stephan Shaumyan. Following the October Revolution, Shaumyan was appointed Commissar Extraordinary for the Caucasus and Chairman of the Baku Council of People’s Commissars by V.I. Lenin, the head of the Council of Peoples Commissars of Russia. The arrival of Shaumyan in Baku in December 1917 from Tiflis (Tbilisi), together with the Military Revolution Committee headed by Korganov, therefore caused political tensions in Baku. After the Tsarist Empire withdrew from World War I, some of the soldiers who were returning from the Caucasus front gathered in Baku, instead of going to their homes. Shaumyan played a crucial role in making those soldiers stay in Baku. Therefore, at the end of 1917 and the start of 1918, the Dashnak-Bolshevik united front began to fight the national forces of Azerbaijan in Baku.[1]

Because the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces were concerned about the increasing popularity of the Musavat party that led the national forces of Azerbaijan, they turned Baku into an area divided between those in favour of and those against the revolution. The Baku Council of People’s Commissars had 20,000 armed soldiers who were gathered under the banner of the Red Army of Baku Council. These soldiers were recruited from Armenians who had previously committed punitive crimes in Anatolia. The political situation in March 1918 was extremely intense in Baku. The victory by a large margin of the Musavat party in the Baku Soviet election increased the concerns of the Bolsheviks and Dashnaks. Musavat party that changed into one of the most prestigious parties of the South Caucasus was struggling confidently for the sake of Azerbaijan’s independence in that time. The Bolshevik forces headed by Shaumyan therefore began the real war against the Musavat party, together with the Armenian National Council and the Dashnakstyun party. Shaumyan was well informed that the national forces of Azerbaijan in Baku were few in number, and in many cases badly armed. He therefore used that chance to go to war against the population of Azerbaijan.[2]

In March 1918, Muhammad Taghiyev, the son of Haji Zeinal Abidin Taghiyev, died after not being careful enough with his rifle while he was doing military service in Lankaran. His corpse was taken to Baku by a small Muslim division consisting of 48 soldiers. This increased the concerns of the Bolsheviks, who asked Muslim division that bringing corpse of Muhammad Taghiyev to surrender their weapons. However, the Muslim soldiers rejected the Bolshevik demand and this resulted in the Bolsheviks firing their rifles and machine guns. The disarmament of the ‘Evelina’, a ship that was carrying the corpse of Muhammad Taghiyev, on March 29 became a good excuse for Armenians to begin to massacre Baku’s Muslim population. The headquarters of the Muslim division headed by Talishlinsky was attacked. The Dashnak-Bolshevik forces disarmed and arrested members of the headquarters with the order of Shaumyan. They were asked to leave Baku and go to Lankaran on the ‘Evelina’. However, when the ‘Evelina’ began to leave the city, Armenians fired at it. These events triggered the anger of Baku’s Muslim population, who began to protest about the atrocities committed in the city by the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces. They demanded that the weapons should be returned to the Muslim division and that the people from Muslim division headquarters should be released. The Dashnak-Bolshevik forces politicized this action by the Muslim population and used it as pretext to massacre them. They created the Revolutionary Defence Committee of the Baku Soviet on March 30. Members of the Dashnakstyun party and the Armenian National Council were very active in the ongoing process. Shaumyan and his followers perceived the process as a national problem and started to massacre the Muslim population of Azerbaijan in Baku. The Bolsheviks confiscated the arms in the ‘Evelina’. The next day, Armenian soldiers appeared in the southern part of the city. They began to dig trenches in the streets and build dikes with soil and stones. On March 30, 1918, the joint military forces of the Dashnak party and the Armenian National Council that had gathered in the Armenian Church began to fire at the Muslim population. On the morning of March 31, the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces began to attack the part of the city where Muslims lived. The Armenians managed to convince the Russians that the Muslim population of the city had attacked and murdered Russians in the Inner City (Icheri Sheher). The Muslim quarter of the city was therefore also bombed from the sea by Russian warships. Although they stopped firing as soon as they learned that this had been misinformation by the Armenians, it was too late, because the city was already ablaze and the streets were full of dead Muslim bodies. Meanwhile, the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces were continuing their atrocities in the Muslim quarter of the city. They showed no compassion or mercy for the Muslim population, and they set them on fire, murdered pregnant women with unbearable torture, and plundered their houses.[3]

The Dashnaks carried out their nationalist-chauvinist policy against the Azerbaijanis in the name of the Baku Soviet. According to documents of the Emergency Investigation Commission that was set up on July 15, 1918 by the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic to investigate the massacre of Azerbaijanis by Armenians,[4] during the massacre of March 1918, Armenians slaughtered 11,000 Azerbaijanis in Baku. The vast majority of the dead bodies could not be found. The Armenians seized valuable jewellery and other possessions from the population worth 400 million manats of the time. Places of pilgrimage and historic monuments were razed to the ground, and the Taza Pir Mosque was damaged by long-range cannons. The Dashnaks set fire to the “Ismailliye” building, which was considered one of the pearls of world architecture.

The March Genocide or March Events refer to the massacre carried out between March 30 and April 3, 1918 in Baku. Later, Armenians continued to butcher thousands of Muslims in Shamakhy, Guba, Khachmaz, Lankaran, Hajigabul, Salyan, Zangazur, Karabakh, Nakhchivan, and other regions of western Azerbaijan until the spring of 1920. One of the bloodiest massacres after Baku was carried out in Shamakhi. 3,000 Armenian soldiers headed by S. Lalayan had been deployed to the city. The Executive Committee of local Muslims was informed about the situation. Therefore, Hajimalibeyov, the governor of the Shamakhi uyezd and Abdulkhalik Efendi, the religious leader of the Uyezd, were sent to talk to the Armenian bishop and ask him to intervene, in order to prevent the Armenian military intervention in Shamakhi and to have the Armenian soldiers sent back. However, the Armenian bishop was clear and precise in his answer: “We came here to slaughter all Muslims”.[5] During the riots, 13 mosques, as well as the Shamakhi Juma (Friday) Mosque, the oldest in Azerbaijan, which was built in 743, were burnt, pillaged, and subjected to Armenian vandalism in Shamakhi. The Armenians executed 8,027 people in 53 villages of the Shamakhi uyezd; 4,190 men, 2,569 women, and 1,277 children.[6]

According to the plan that had been drawn up beforehand, after the Shamakhi uyezd was occupied, the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces had to enter the Guba uyezd. The Armenians that were living in Khachmaz had been informed in advance and they had received additional weapons and ammunition. The situation in the Guba uyezd was similar. It should be stressed that the biggest massacre in the region at that time was the one carried out precisely in the Guba uyezd. Hamazasp, the commander of the Dashnak groups sent to Guba in April 1918, recalled that “I am the hero of the Armenian people and its defender. I was ordered to kill all Moslems in the area from the Caspian Sea to Shahdagh”.[7] The Dashnak troops under Hamazasp’s command burned 122 villages in the Guba uyezd, whose inhabitants were killed and suffered much brutality. Armenians even made “amulets” using the eyes of people they had murdered. As a result of the Armenian vandalism under Hamazasp, more than 16,000 people were butchered in the first five months of 1918 in the Guba uyezd. According to various sources and eyewitness accounts of the Guba massacre, approximately 12,000 ethnic Lezgins, more than 4,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis, and Muslim Tats were executed. During the riots, the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces razed 162 villages to the ground, 35 of which no longer exist.

In mid-March, Dashnak-Bolshevik forces were sent from Baku by sea to disarm the ‘Muslim Savage Division’ in Lankaran. The Armenian National Council spearheaded the operation. The Bolshevik soldiers destroyed and plundered every Muslim village they encountered on their way. Astara, a city in southern Azerbaijan, was destroyed by Bolshevik gunfire. The local Muslim population was forced to leave their houses. The villages between Gizilaghaj and Lankaran on the Caspian shore were exposed to bombardment from the steamship ‘Alexander’. Overall, 2,000 people were murdered by the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces in the southern part of Azerbaijan.[8]

Armenian military gangs also encroached into Karabakh. They massacred local Muslims in the Zangazur, Shusha, Jabrayil and Javanshir uyezds of the Yelizavetpol (Ganja) guberniya. Andranik, an Armenian military commander, intended to execute the local Muslim population of Karabakh, so that this region could be annexed to the newly-created Armenian Republic. He ordered to slaughter thousands of people in more than 150 villages in the Karabakh region in 1918 and 1919.[9]

Up to 200 Azerbaijani villages in the Iravan uyezd had been razed to the ground by March 1918. 62 Azerbaijani villages in the Echmiedzin uyezd had been levelled by September 1919. All but a few villages in Zengibasar (the Iravan uyezd) and Vedibasar provinces were destroyed, and the population cruelly killed. Those who remained alive fled in search of shelter. The fleeing families took refuge in Persia, Turkey, and other Azerbaijani provinces.[10]

Zangazur was one of Azerbaijan’s provinces that suffered the most from Armenian cruelty between 1918 and 1920. As described in the papers of the Extraordinary Investigation Commission, 115 Muslim villages in the Zangazur uyezd were reduced to rubble by the Armenians and a total of 10,068 people from those villages were murdered.[11]

It should be mentioned here that during those times of hardship, the Ottoman Empire sent its military forces to support Azerbaijan. This military support prevented Armenian atrocities in some regions of Azerbaijan. The Islamic Army of the Caucasus, which was formed by joining the military forces of the Ottoman Empire and Azerbaijan, liberated all territories in Azerbaijan between Ganja and Baku. On September 15, Baku was liberated from the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces, and in October Shusha, as well as the whole of Karabakh, was completely taken under the control of the Islamic Army of the Caucasus.[12] However, events later took a different course. On October 30, 1918 the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Mudros with the Entente states of the First World War. The treaty obliged the Ottoman Empire to withdraw the Islamic Army of the Caucasus from Karabakh, as well as from (the rest of) Azerbaijan, and this gave Armenians the chance to continue their atrocities and their vandalism in Karabakh.[13]

In general, there is plenty of documented evidence of the massacre of Muslim civilians by Armenian forces between 1918 and 1920 in the north, south, and west of Azerbaijan. Of all the records, the documents that were compiled during those years by the Emergency Investigation Commission are particularly relevant. The Commission produced thirty-six volumes of text, occupying 3,500 pages. These are the witness testimonies of those, who survived the mass murders committed by Armenians. Overall, 50,000 Azerbaijanis were murdered in the bloody massacres by the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces between the ‘March events’ of 1918 and 1920. With the goal of providing legal and political value to the massacres that Armenians committed against Azerbaijanis, on March 26, 1998 a decree was issued on “The Azerbaijani Genocides”. This Azerbaijan Parliament decree stated that March 31 should be declared the Day of the Azerbaijani Genocide.

[1] İsgəndərov, Anar, “1915-1920-ci illərdə Azərbaycanda Türk və Müsəlmanlara qarşı həyata keçirilən soyqırımlar”, in Süleymanov, Mehman and Rıhtım, Mehmet, (eds.), Azərbaycan Xalq Cümhuriyyəti və Qafqaz İslam Ordusu (Bakı: Qafqaz Universiteti nəşri, 2008), p. 76. See also: Геноцид Азербайджанского народа 1918 года: организаторы и палачи (Баку: Turxan, 2013), pp. 13-14.

[2] Arzumanlı, Vaqif, Həbiboğlu, Vəli and Muxtarov, Kamil, 1918-ci il qırğınları (Bakı: Öyrətmən, 1995), pp. 3-4. See also: Abışov, Vaqif, Azərbaycanlıların soyqırımı:1917-1918-ci illər (Bakı: Nurlan, 2007), pp. 33-34.

[3] Arzumanlı, Həbiboğlu, and Muxtarov, 1918-ci il qırğınları, pp. 8-10.

[4] Azərbaycan Xalq Cümhuriyyəti (AXC) Ensiklopediyası (Two volume), Vol. 1, (Bakı: Lider nəşriyyat, 2004), p. 32.

[5] Azərbaycan Respublikası Milli Dövlət Arxiv Fondu 1061, siy. 1, vər. 85.

[6] İsgəndərov, “1915-1920-ci illərdə Azərbaycanda Türk və Müsəlmanlara qarşı həyata keçirilən soyqırımlar”, pp. 78-81.

[7] Qaraca, Bəxtiyar, “Məqsəd Azərbaycanı məhv etmək idi”, Azərbaycam qəzeti, 31 mart 2013; http://www.anl.az/down/meqale/azerbaycan/2013/mart/300324.htm. Accessed on October 1, 2020.

[8] Arzumanlı, Həbiboğlu, and Muxtarov, 1918-ci il qırğınları, pp. 23-25. See also: İsgəndərov, “1915-1920-ci illərdə Azərbaycanda Türk və Müsəlmanlara qarşı həyata keçirilən soyqırımlar”, pp. 82-86.

[9] Uçarol, Rifat, Siyasi Tarih (1789-1994) (İstanbul: Filiz yayınevi, 1995), pp. 485-491. See also: Erməni terroru və quldur birləşmələrinin bəşəriyyətə qarşı cinayətləri (XIX-XX)-Müxtəsər xronoloji ensiklopediya, (Bakı: Azərbaycan Milli Elmlər Akademiyası İnsan Hüquqları İnstitutu, 2003), pp. 42-100. See also: Arzumanlı, Həbiboğlu, and Muxtarov, 1918-ci il qırğınları, pp. 25-30. See also: Məmmədova, Həvva, Azərbaycan Xalq Cümhuriyyəti dövründə Yuxarı Qarabağ ərazisində vəziyyət: erməni terrorizminin güclənməsi (1918-1920) (Bakı: Nağıl-evi nəşriyyatı, 2006), pp. 28-41. See also: Süleymanov, Mehman, Nuri Paşa və silahdaşları (Nurlar, 2014), p. 211.

[10] İsgəndərov, “1915-1920-ci illərdə Azərbaycanda Türk və Müsəlmanlara qarşı həyata keçirilən soyqırımlar”, p. 89.

[11] Arzumanlı, Həbiboğlu, and Muxtarov, 1918-ci il qırğınları, pp. 31-38.

[12] Osmanlı Belgelerinde Karabağ, (İstanbul: T.C. Başbakanlık Devlet Arşivleri Genel Müdürlüğü, 2009), pp. 240-241. See also: “Karabağ”, Meydan-Larousse, Büyük lugat ve Ansiklopedi, Vol. 6, (İstanbul, 1971), p. 917. See also: Süleymanov, Mehman, Qafqaz İslam Ordusu və Azərbaycan (Bakı, 1999), pp. 72-83-139-216-223. See also: Ağayev, Yusif və Əhmədov, Səbuhi, İstiqlal Yürüşü-1918 (Bakı: Altun Kitab, 2009), pp. 109-167. See also: Abışov, Azərbaycanlıların soyqırımı:1917-1918-ci illər, pp. 126-130.

[13] Süleymanov, Qafqaz İslam Ordusu və Azərbaycan, pp. 224-225.