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What were the reasons for the mass killing of Azerbaijanis in Karabakh by Armenians in 1905-1906?

As a result of the Tsarist Empire’s migration policy, the Armenian population of the Ottoman and Persian empires were settled at the beginning of the 19th century in the northern part of Azerbaijan, mainly in Karabakh, Iravan, Ganja and Nakhchivan. This dramatically influenced the demographic situation in these regions. The main intention of the Tsarist Empire’s migration policy was to keep its promise of creating an Armenian state in this part of Azerbaijan,[1] which was also envisaged in the decree of Peter I that issued on 10 November 1724. The creation of Armenian province and the Iravan guberniya by Tsarist Empire respectively in 1828 and 1848 was a significant step in the realization of this promise of Tsarist Empire to create an Armenian state in the north Azerbaijan in order to use them for the political intention and further expansion of Tsarist Empire to the South Caucasus and neighboring countries. Thus, national terrorist organizations were formed in the last quarter of the 19th century by Armenians who were living abroad. These terrorist organizations initially were formed and functioned as charity organizations. The Hinchak and Dashnakstyun committees were the best-known and most active Armenian organizations in the last quarter of the 19th century.

The Hinchak (Sound of the Bell) Committee was established in Switzerland in 1886-1887 by Russian Armenians. The Committee’s main political goal was to unify Armenians who were living in Azerbaijan, the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire in order to create a “Greater Armenia”. Although the Committee was established by Russian Armenians in Switzerland, its headquarters were later moved from Switzerland to London and it came under the influence of the British Empire.

Meanwhile, the Armenian National Committee of Dashnakstyun was established in Tiflis (Tbilisi) in 1890. This Committee’s main political aim was to unify all the functioning Armenian committees and organizations in order to organize a revolution against the Turks.[2] It was after the establishment of the Committee of Dashnakstyun that the mass killing by Armenians of the Muslim and Turkish population began in the Ottoman Empire and Azerbaijan. If one takes a look to the functions of these two committees in that time it is possible to see that they organized a lot of revolts and subversive activities in the regions where the Muslim and Turkish population were living. The first atrocity perpetrated by the Hinchak Committee was the murder of 65,000 civilian Muslims (Turks and Kurds) in the southeastern part of the Ottoman Empire between 1890 and 1892. Furthermore, the Sassoun resistances that began in 1894 and continued for more than a decade were also organized by these committees.[3] These kinds of bloody actions by Armenian terrorist organizations were organized also in Azerbaijan in 1905 and 1906.[4]

The first ethnic clash in history between Armenians and Azerbaijanis occurred on the eve of the Russian Revolution of 1905. The bloody events that were organized by Armenians in February that year, using the revolution as a pretext, spread to the other regions of Azerbaijan in a short period of time. Karabakh thus became a focal point of these events in 1905 and 1906. During that time, the Russian military units based in Karabakh and Tiflis (Tbilisi) supported Armenians strongly in this regard. Most victims of Armenia’s atrocities were in Shusha, where Armenians killed thousands of Azerbaijanis, who made up approximately half of the population.[5]

In his book ‘Years of Blood’, Mammad Said Ordubadi gives precise information about the events of 1905-1906 between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. As an eyewitness of the riots, the author establishes in his book four causes, based on media reports of the time, Russian military officer protocols and complaint letters by victims.

  1. Numbers of bloody acts of the Committee of Dashnakstyun and its direct involvement to eruption of more than 400 carnages in the various regions of Azerbaijan;
  2. Direct support of Tsarist Empire to Armenians and indifference of the local authorities to the atrocities by Armenian terrorist organizations;
  3. Lack of knowledge and education, and the ignorance of the Muslim population of ongoing political processes and events. Meanwhile, Muslim population were unarmed, unprepared, and unaware of current world affairs;
  4. All kind of support that Armenian received from foreign countries (Tsarist Empire, British Empire, France, and the USA) for creating an autonomous-independent Armenian state.[6]

Regarding the demographic situation in Karabakh and the Shusha uyezd, which covered the territory of today’s Nagorno-Karabakh, the riots of 1905-1906 took place both on a national and an ethnic basis. The migration and the settlement of Armenians in Azerbaijan from the Ottoman and Persian empires as a result of the Tsarist Empire’s migration policy dramatically influenced the ethnic composition of Karabakh’s population. The Armenian population settled in the Shusha uyezd reached 58 percent of the entire population of the Uyezd in 1886. According to the Tsarist Empire’s 1897 population census, Karabakh had a total population of 415,721 people. 39.5 percent of them ethnic Armenians, one percent Russians, and the remainder 59.5 percent ethnic Azerbaijanis.[7] It is important to mention that the Russian historian Skibitsky writes that the Armenian population of the Shusha uyezd fell to 25 percent at the beginning of the 20th century.[8] Although the demographic situation in Karabakh changed in favor of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijanis 62 percent, Armenians 36 percent) after the bloody events of 1905-1906, according to the 1912 census, the Armenian population of Shusha uyezd increased.[9]

The abovementioned Tsarist Empire’s 1997 population census shows that there were approximately 900,000 Armenians in the South Caucasus. However, a decade later, the Russian historian Shavrov wrote that the number of Armenians in the South Caucasus had already reached 1.3 million in 1911. Thus, around 15 years the number of Armenians increased 400 thousands (45%), which gave them a chance to politicize their national interests in the South Caucasus in a great extend. As a result, Armenians, as one of the three main ethnic groups that played a decisive role in the political processes of the South Caucasus, were entitled to send representatives to the State Duma of the Tsarist Empire.

[1] Nəcəfli, Güntəkin, “Qarabağın xristiyan məlikləri və ermənilərin Qarabağda dövlət yaratmak cəhdləri”, Renessans, No. 3-4, 2006, pp. 64-68.

[2] Sakarya, İhsan, Belgelerle Ermeni Sorunu (Ankara: Genel Kurmay ATASE Yayıları, 1984), pp. 73-92. See also: Uçarol, Rifat, Siyasi Tarih (1789-1994) (İstanbul: Filiz yayınevi, 1995), p. 377. 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. 13-18.

[3] Rusiyanın Erzurumdakı Baş Konsolu Mayevskinin qeydləri (tərcümə edən Vasif Quliyev) (Bakı: Azərbaycan nəşriyyatı, 1995), pp, 6-10. See also: Sakarya, Belgelerle Ermeni Sorunu, pp. 93-127.

[4] Heydərov, T.K., Bağırov, T.R. and Şükürov, K.K., (eds.), Qafqazda “erməni məsələsi”. Rusiya arxiv sənədləri və nəşrləri üzrə, (Three Volume), Vol. 2, (Bakı: “Elm” nəşriyyatı, 2010), pp. 38-109-456-559.

[5] Heydərov, Bağırov, and Şükürov (eds.), Qafqazda “erməni məsələsi”, Vol. 2, pp. 38-109-456-559. See also: Ordubadi, Məmməd Səid, Qanlı illər 1905-1906-ci illərdə Qafqazda baş verən erməni-müsəlman davasının tarixi (Bakı: Qafqaz nəşriyyat evi, 2007), pp. 42-52. See also: Nəvvab, Mir Möhsün, 1905-1906-cı illərdə erməni-müsəlman davası (Bakı: Azərbaycan nəşriyyatı, 1993), pp. 36-37-40-41.

[6] Ordubadi, Qanlı illər 1905-1906-ci illərdə, pp. 5-11.

[7] Кавказский календарь Российской империи 1897, Л-13-Елизаветская губерния (С-Петербург, 1904), pp. 230-233.

[8] Erməni terroru və quldur birləşmələrinin bəşəriyyətə qarşı cinayətləri (XIX-XX)-Müxtəsər xronoloji ensiklopediya, pp. 36.

[9] Mahmudov, Ceyhun, “Karabağ’ın Etnik Yapısının Oluşumuna Tarihsel ve Demografik Bakış”, in Yılmaz, Reha (ed.), Qarabağ bildiklərimiz və bilmədiklərimiz (Qafqaz Universiteti, 2010), pp. 564-565.