Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 03/23/2015


`Baku 1905' - savagery in the Caucasian family - Part One

Armenian News Network / Groong
March 23, 2015

By Eddie Arnavoudian


The year 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Ottoman/Young Turk
Genocide against the Armenian people the catastrophic consequences of
which - national, territorial, political, social, economic and
demographic - are still felt today, and most acutely so in an
unsustainable and enfeebled Third Armenian Republic. 2015 was however
also the anniversary of another historic catastrophe, the 110th of
events misnamed 'the 1905 Baku Pogroms', but in fact an eruption of
Armenian-Azeri mutual mass slaughter throughout the Caucuses that has
since become home to Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian states.

Hrachig Simonian's 'On the Paths of Liberation' (Book 1, 2003, 815pp,
Yerevan), meticulously reconstructing the 1905 events that destroyed
entire Armenian and Azeri communities, corrects one-sided views that
these were 'Tsarist abetted Azeri pogroms against defenceless
Armenians'. Irrefutable narrative beyond impeachment shows that in
Baku, in Nakhichevan, in Yerevan and through the Caucuses both Azeri
and Armenian were guilty of crimes against each other. Outrages were
in the first instance incited and facilitated by Tsarist officialdom
but then they were driven on, and ruthlessly so, by respective
nationalist leaderships pursuing their elites' ambitions.

While discussion, debate and memoir in 2015 will rightly focus on the
Young Turk Genocide against Armenians in their western homelands and
the Ottoman Empire, it would be an error to omit simultaneous
consideration of the 1905 tragedy in the Caucuses. The legacies and
lessons of both continue to shape Armenian futures and the future of
all the peoples in the Caucuses and Asia Minor. Both 1915 and 1905
have proved fatal to all democratic nation-formation in the region;
both expose the impossibility of exclusive, ethnic-based statehood and
nationhood and the study of both can point to more honourable
democratic resolutions. Furthermore commemorating 1915 we need to bear
in mind that impending danger to Armenian statehood emanates
immediately, not just from Turkey but from Azerbaijani elites and
national chauvinists too who preparing for renewed war in Garabagh
also eye Armenian Yerevan, Sevan and Zangezur.

The anniversary of 1905, and of 1915, demands of Armenian and Azeri
and Turk too, to cast aside hideous sentimentality, to silence
jingoist exclamations, to abjure chauvinist historical mythology,
prejudice and hatred and let go of postured outrage about the alleged
barbarism of 'the other' people. In the complex of Azeri-Armenian
relations none of us are all saint or sinner. Even as it is marred by
sickening prejudice (Note 1) Simonian sets before us a terrain on
which Armenian and Azeri can look each other in the eye with honesty.


I. Bitter truths....the opening chapter of mutual murder

The 1905 Armenian-Azeri clashes erupted in the wider context of
Armenian resistance to the 1903 Tsarist clampdown on the national
movement in the Caucuses and the powerful social upheaval of the First
1905 Russian Revolution. What became a merciless conflagration did
indeed begin with a deadly assault on Baku's Armenian community
organised through a convenient albeit temporary alliance between
Tsarist authority and the Azeri elites. Tsarist officials, as they did
through the Empire, set about provoking inter-national conflict and
pogrom as a means of derailing the political and social revolution.
Azeri elites acted as willing agents ready as they were to seize an
opportunity to hit out at their Armenian competitors, even by means of
mass murder.

Armenians were not helpless victims for any length of time. Following
early casualties, led mainly by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation
(ARF), they responded in kind going on to undertake deadly retaliation
against innocent Azeri communities and against Tsarist officials too,
many of whom were executed. Attack, retaliation and counter
retaliation created an inferno of blood lust, a deranged festival of
savagery the like of which had not been witnessed before. By the
year's end:
    'It was not just a case of the massacre and slaughter of the
    Armenians but of the Turks as well (p343)'.

This truth is confirmed by Mikael Varantian, an official historian of
the ARF who wrote that 'in the motherland' referring here to the
Caucuses, 'from one end to the other, the Turk burns, plunders,
murders and the Armenian does the same (Volume 1, p390)'.

1905 became a turning point, a 'deadly blow' to 'centuries of
neighbourly existence' that visiting 'unlimited shame' on the land
'opened a century of endless crime' (p98), to which we are witness to
this day. Let it be underlined that this historic disaster was brought
about not by the actions of unorganised or uncontrolled mobs, nor was
it the result of cynical Tsarist provocation alone. It was generated
by the contending ambitions and political calculations of a triumvirate
of Tsarist, Azeri, and Armenian leaderships, each in pursuit of
hegemony in the region. To their aims and ambitions we shall turn, but
first a survey of the bloodied land they left behind.

The first, 6-9 February, round of clashes opened with anti-Armenian
pogroms in Baku that was then home to a large Armenian community a
segment of which had amassed huge wealth in the oil industry. The
ground had been carefully prepared. Just days earlier with tensions
already running high, Tsarist police spread the news that it had been
an Armenian officer under their command who had fired a fatal shot
that killed an Azeri prisoner fleeing their custody. It was an
incendiary act that offered Azeri elites the pretext to hurl mobs
against Armenian quarters. Fifty Armenians were murdered on the first
day. Calls for help fell on deaf ears.
    'Armenian homes were put to flames but no fire fighters appeared
    on the scene, no soldiers or police appeared either, and when they
    did they were "late"' (p83)

Defending inaction infamous Governor Nagashidze, later executed,
exclaimed 'I can do nothing. I have no troops' (p53-57). Meanwhile
Armenian telephone communication with police headquarters had also
been disrupted. Where intact, help was still withheld. Wealthy
Armenian Lalayev pleaded but to no avail. Shot and wounded, as he
crawled from his burning home, two applauding Tsarist officers looked
on while he was 'literally chopped to bits (p92).' Elsewhere 'police
supplied fuel to bands burning people from their homes (ibid)'.

In his early pages Simonian joins no anti-Azeri racist chorus.
    'The substantial part of Baku's Turkish population judged the
    slaughters to be an indescribable tragedy...Many Armenians
    survived with the help of Turks. Particularly thankful were those
    Armenians who lived in Turkish (Note 2) owned properties. The
    majority of Turkish landlords would not allow mobs to enter their
    Armenian tenants' homes. (p113)

It is Tsarist authority, Azeri oil millionaires and the Azeri
intelligentsia that are indicted for enabling and leading minority
mobs while:
    'The majority of the peaceful Muslim population reacted to the
    slaughter with the same horror as did the Christians.' (p92)

Simonian adds indeed that the numbers of Azeris helping Armenians
survive 'put to shame the so-called Christian (Russian) friends of the
Armenians (p113-115).' Here was testimony to common human solidarity
that remains possible between peoples!

We need not rehearse the detail of Armenian suffering. We remember our
dead and have mourned them for a century and more. But it must
nevertheless be noted that despite evidence Azeri historians deny that
hundreds of Armenians were murdered with unspeakable savagery, their
property, wealth and livestock plundered and their communities burnt
out and driven from their homes. About all of this Simonian provides
the horrific evidence (p116-117 - cleansing of Baku; 196-200 -
Nakhichevan; 202-203; 205; 210-211; 362-363 - Mikent; 363-5, 372; 432;
450; 547)!

But what of the unspeakable suffering we inflicted on our Azeri
neighbours, the criminal murder of our Caucasian brothers and
sisters. Armenians readily wipe these from consciousness and
discourse. Simonian despite prejudice presents Armenian crimes without
reserve, they 'no less than Azeri mobs manifested evil, killing left
and right (p454).'


II. The story of Armenian crime

Whilst not shying from depicting Armenian violence, Simonian sordidly
tries to pass it off as self-defensive, explaining it as tragic but
inevitable, as forced reaction to a greater evil. It is deceit refuted
by his own narrative and statistics. On 9 February 'with four days of
conflict behind them' 'the fighting parties counted their losses' that
registered `huge damage' to a city that 'until then was of mixed
population' but now divided into 'exclusive Armenian and Turkish
districts (p116).' The Armenian dead numbered 205 with 121
injured. Azeri casualties were not insignificant. 'On the fourth
day...(Azeris) failed to appear in Armenian quarters preoccupied as
they were with collecting up their corpses (p89)' - 111 in all, in
addition to 128 wounded (p92). Ninety-seven Armenian and 41 Azeri
shops had also ransacked. Were all Azeris killed arms in hand? Were
all Azeri shops military fortification to be targeted? The account of
subsequent events suggests that Azeris too would have been innocent
victims.

As clashes spread from Baku to Yerevan, Nakhichevan, Garabagh,
Zangezur and to Georgia too, contemporary Armenian sources describe
countless 'savage Armenian actions'. Steadily through the volume
Simonian takes on the role of ARF cheerleader, reiterating the alleged
self-defensive nature of its operations. But even as he does he tells
of the organisation's conscious, planned, organised slaughter of
innocents. 'Aggressive retaliation' was the driving slogan of the main
commander of Armenian operations ARF member Nigol Touman. Unflinchingly
he demanded of his men to respond with 'an eye for an eye', 'tirelessly
urging fighters to inflict 'immediate revenge', with 'ten casualties
for every Armenian (p67, 245)'.

'Aggressive retaliation' proved no deterrent. It stoked revenge that
escalated into indiscriminate, tit-for-tat killings, plunder and
arson. A summary of the deadly 24-25 May clashes describes an overall
picture:
    'As a result of the battles all Azeri and Armenian populated
    villages were reduced to ruin with both peoples suffering heavy
    casualties. Together with the clashes went mass plunder. (Such)
    reprehensible practice now began to feature in the behaviour of
    the Armenian rural population (p240).'

By the summer:
    'The Caucuses were a veritable battleground...on which two peoples
    engaged in ruthless and savage combat in an attempt to annihilate
    each other (p312).'

Pogrom and retaliation was transformed into civil war in which
slaughter, plunder and arson were used by all parties.

When in June 1905 the Azeri village of Ushi was captured, Armenians
killed at least 150 and injured another 180 people before going on to
attack and 'burn down 9 adjacent Azeri populated villages (p244).' In
Nakhichevan Armenians joined Russian forces in the 'pillage and
burning' of the village of Tchahri leaving 'its streets strewn with
more than 170 Azeri corpses (p354).' In between murderous forays on
opposing villages Armenians and Azeris took to hunting and killing
travellers, particularly at railway junctions, a 'form of senseless
revenge' that 'cost hundreds of innocent lives (p245).' Sickening
butchery piled body upon body.

In Shushi 40 Armenians were murdered and 68 wounded. But Armenians
slaughtered 500 Azeri and wounded many more injured (p373). A month
on, to avenge the sadistic murder of 6 Armenians from Mirashallou,
'enraged Armenians' attacked Azeri Kilaflou and 'slaughtered whoever
fell into their hands.' `Burnt hearts' writes Simonian `wished only
for blood and so unforgivable crimes were committed (p396-397).' An
Armenian eyewitness regretted that 'the Armenian was sullied, but
children had been skinned, the Armenian was disgraced, but women had
been executed (p397).'

In the second half of October when 30 Armenians were killed in clashes
in Zangezur 'armed Armenian groups responded annihilating more than
200 Azeris before moving on to destroy more villages and dozens of
hamlets (p410-11).' Renewed outbreaks in Baku left 270 Azeris and 130
Armenians dead. A month later, in Jivanshir responding to declared
Azeri policy to 'show no mercy to any Armenian falling in your hands'
Armenians 'entered two villages committing barbarisms... mercilessly
killing left and right (p453-4).' Meanwhile in Goris, `Ghizirin
Galouste organised an early morning assault on the (Azeri) village of
Kyurtlari destroyed it, plundered it and then put it to flame (p465).'

Casting guilty verdicts only on the other side is falsification.
Innocent Armenians were slaughtered. But ARF led Armenian forces
slaughtered innocent Azeris. Statistics in fact indicate overall Azeri
casualties to have been much higher (p234, 237, 244, 372, 379*, 410,
551, 554, 643)! These crimes all took place under the watchful eye of
Tsarist authorities (p39). When it suited them they refused to move a
muscle to halt the Azeri slaughter of Armenians. When it suited them
they refused to move a muscle to halt the Armenian slaughter of
Azeris.


III. From social uprising to nationalist slaughter

Across Russia and its vast colonial territories social, class and
national relations reached critical pitch in 1905 to explode into a
continent wide anti-Tsarist democratic revolution. For the Russian
Crown, the landed aristocracy and a burgeoning capitalist class, as
well as for Tsarist colonial privileges, the challenge was deadly
especially given an imperial state already weakened by the 1904
military defeat at the hands of the Japanese. The very structure of
Empire, its feudal privileges, its colonial possessions and the powers
of its capitalist class were called into question.

The tide of revolution reached the Caucuses too, that cornerstone of
imperial power and home to prodigiously profitable Baku oil fields
fuelling Russian capitalism. An important trade route, the Caucuses
was also a rampart against hostile encroachment and a potential
springboard for expansion into the Ottoman Empire, Persia and the
Middle East. But in Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan as well the mines of
Alaverti and Ghaban, in railway depots in Gyumri and along the
Caucasian rail network thousands of workers of all nationalities
struck for freedom, for improved wages and better conditions while
peasant protests erupted, and with particular force in Lori and
Haghbad. They were joined by students in Tbilisi and Yerevan, Baku,
Etchmiadzin and elsewhere in the Caucuses.

It would not do to exaggerate the breadth of the popular social
movement in the Caucuses, something habitual in Soviet historiography.
For reasons of economic and social development it could not compare
with that of Russia. Yet even in modest form it bloomed with
manifestations of potential for the unification of different
nationalities fighting together for better lives, a potential not
welcomed by the Russian ruling classes. In Baku, not frequently but
still too often for the oil magnates and Tsarist authorities, Armenian
and Azeri workers organised jointly, even producing a bilingual
newspaper. In the mines of Ghapan efforts to incite Armenian-Azeri
hostility failed with Armenian and Azeri leaders demonstrably
embracing at a public meeting. Across the rail network Georgian,
Armenian and Russian workers collaborated in resistance (Note 3).

Here in embryo was a revolutionary movement being forged through joint
efforts of many regional nationalities. A grim prospect this for
Russia's imperial rulers, they set about dividing to rule, a strategy
for which they had ready ballast in the Caucuses. The empire was
responsible, but history and social and economic development generated
grounds for internecine warfare.
    '...the territory was an ideal place to stir national animosities,
    for there were ten different nationalities at different levels of
    development with frequently opposing interests and ambitions... in
    such conditions it was much easier to raise one against the other
    (p40).'

The complex, chequered national demographics of the region, the
mingled populations and communities in an era of growing national
consciousness and the emergence of nationalist movements whose
economic elites were in bitter competition all offered colonial
authorities a powerful hand.

To bring the movement to heel Tsarist governors using official and
unofficial agents, police, army, the press and Black Hundred gangs,
organised meticulously to drive nations into conflict. Fabricated
leaflets appeared in Azeri communities charging Armenians with the
murder of Azeris. Wealthy Azeri's received letters warning of imminent
Armenian assassination. Turkish language leaflets then appeared urging
Azeri retaliation. When hostilities broke out Tsarist powers looked on
indifferently or encouraged one side or another as it fitted their
design.

Besides the breaking of the revolutionary movement Russian power had
an additional urgent aim, that of cutting Armenian capital down to
size. 'In the Caucuses (Russia) judged Armenians to be the main
culprits disrupting internal stability (p39)' and 'challenging Tsarist
control'. The Russian press claimed that the Armenian business class
nurtured political ambitions for an autonomous Caucuses in which it
would be top dog.
    'Within a definite period the region's present and future
    production would become an Armenian monopoly. This caused great
    concern to Russian manufacturers in the Caucuses and to Russian
    capital in general. They criticised the government for failing to
    put competition in the Caucuses on an 'ordered footing',
    i.e. securing the dominance of Russian capital.'

So Tsarism took steps to deliver simultaneous blows against the
revolutionary movement and Armenian capital, to tame the latter
particularly in the oil fields of Baku where Russian capital operated
as an envious competitor (p42). In Azeri elites Tsarism had a ready
partner.

NOTE 1: Simonian's volume is value for only one reason: the facts that
it offers. Otherwise it is a mishmash of pseudo-Marxism, chauvinism
and romantic nationalist mythology at the centre of which is a vile
dehumanisation of the Azeri people. As he goes about his main
ideological business, that of acting as an apologist for the ARF,
Simonian loses all self-respect in his treatment of the Azeri common
people. Repeatedly he depicts them as less than human, as uncivilised
savages, as a people without judgement led by barbarians, as people
without culture who have spent history creating only a sea of blood
and plunder. In Simonian's narrative the Azeri peasant appears as a
vicious, violent and ignorant mob readily manipulated by Azeri
economic and intellectual elites (p47, p51). And in the fact of
Armenian violence he offers a sickening explanation - it was
regrettable, but an inevitable, unavoidable response forced upon
Armenians against their better nature by a primeval Azeri barbarism
(p155, 161-2, 453) that could be stayed only by this compelled,
unwilling Armenian barbarism. The flow of this intellectual sewer is
endless (p189, 190, 201, 202)

NOTE 2: Prior to the 1918 emergence of an Azerbaijani state, with no
distinctive Azeri nationality, frequent terms used to describe the
population of the region were `Turkish' or `Tatar'. This has been the
case with both Armenian and non-Armenian authors.

NOTE 3: For further detail, read with care and discrimination H.
Muratyan's `Armenia During the Years of the First 1905 Russian
Revolution (1905-1907)', 260pp, 1964

--
Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from
Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on
Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues
have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open
Letter in Los Angeles.
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