Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 03/30/2015

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

Armenian News Network / Groong
March 30, 2015

By Eddie Arnavoudian

Hrachig Simonian's 'On the Paths of Liberation' (Book 1, 2003, 815pp,
Yerevan) shows clearly that like their Georgian counterparts wealthy
Azeris also regarded Armenians as outsiders, as interlopers who had
seized commanding economic heights. From the 1890s Azeri urban
nationalists had been chomping at the bit. So when in 1905 opportunity
presented itself to strike out against Armenian positions in Baku and
the Caucuses in general the Azeri elite was ready to extend Tsarism a
helping hand. The 1905 civil war, a savage clash initially sparked by
Tsarist design was for this elite an opening gambit, a test run as it
turned out, for the more decisive 1918 assaults on Armenian positions.

I. Azeri Elites on The Rampage

The Azeri capitalist class was also tethered to the oil industry where
it was deeply resentful of Armenian superiority and its seemingly
unstoppable expansion in oil production and associated industries and
not just in Baku but throughout the Caucuses. It was therefore
completely natural that behind Tsarist orchestrated '...ugly
anti-Armenian provocations there stood wealthy Azeris. Here a
particularly significant role was played by large oil producers
Taghiev and the Mukhtar brothers (p47).'

In turn oil rich Azeris had a natural ally in the decayed feudal
landed aristocracy that thought to stem further decline by snatching
what little remained of Armenian land in the region. Gearing up for
nationalist war Armenians were offered up as legitimate mob targets,
as foreign colonial settlers and exploiters who needed to be removed
at all cost.  A 1905 propagandist put the point succinctly:

    'The Armenians have seized our land from us and exploit us without
    conscience. It is not enough that they suck our blood, now they
    have set about to exterminate us. We must now fight. It is either
    us or the Armenians.' (p416)

The humbling of the Armenian capitalist class, the carving out of a
structure for Azeri nationhood that would then strike out against
Russian domination of which Armenians were also charged as agents -
this was the ambition of emergent Azeri nationalism. It was a
nationalism well oiled by anti-Armenian pan-Turkish chauvinism (Note
1) borrowed in part from an Ottoman Empire that happily sponsored
Azeri elites as a battering ram against Tsarist Russia. Simonian
correctly notes that:

    '...when tied to a political movement possessing a significant
    economic foundation pan-Turkism proved itself an extremely
    effective ideology. And here it was in 1905 adopted by a Turkish
    bourgeois class throughout the Caucuses that was conquering more
    and more positions and serving in addition the needs of a
    declining class of landowners (p349)

Targeting all Armenians, Azeri mobs made a beeline for wealthy
Armenian quarters and production centres in Baku. Arson and plunder of
plush residences went hand in hand with attacks on Armenian owned oil
fields that were put to flame. 'A substantial part of Baku's oil
production' 'that belonged in the main to Armenians (p382)' was
destroyed and a large section of Armenian workers and their families
expelled from the city (p389). In another round of violence in
October, 'tens of Armenian workers were killed while Armenian oil
fields not burnt down in August and other Armenian owned workshops and
factories, houses and dormitories were now put to flame (p416).'
Azeri justification was that:

    'They were only taking back oil rich fields that in the past had
    in fact belonged to them but had been seized by Armenians.'

While Armenian oil fields burnt in Baku, in rural areas Armenian
villages, land and property were targeted, livestock and stores looted
and villages emptied of Armenians and repopulated with Azeris. Once
again Armenian economic bastions were first targets with many well to
do families murdered and their property seized. One example will
suffice. In the wake of the Mikent slaughter, in 'just a day or two'
Armenian 'wealth that had been built over 60 long years was
transferred to Azeri landlords - over 590 head of cattle, thousands
of sheep, mules and horses as well as vast amounts of accumulated
domestic equipment and stores from 20 odd shops (p363). In such

    'The destruction of the Armenian economy in Nakhichevan that was
    one of the main aims of the slaughter was fully accomplished...
    with Azeris also going some way to cleansing the territory of
    Armenians. (p215)

Representing a significant economic and demographic blow to Armenian
life, the Azeri assaults of 1905 represented also a political defeat
helping as it did to cement and solidify Azeri nation-formation, unify
Azeri urban and rural elites, supplying them with national ambition
and instilling them with confidence and aggression.

'If until (1905) Azeris from different provinces ... possessed no
common aims, and for that reason a pan-national consciousness remained
terribly weak, now with all Azeris fighting against Armenians, whether
in Baku, Nakhichevan, Yerevan, Shushi, Gantzag or Zangezur there
rapidly took shape a pan-Turkish identity and national consciousness

To drive forth their ambition Azeris united with Georgian elites to
further ram their joint bandwagons against Armenian positions. Striving
for Baku and Tbilisi to be core and capital for Georgian and Azeri

    'They demanded that Tbilisi and Baku with its oil fields, cease to
    be separate municipal entities but be incorporated instead into
    their respective provinces. The population of the province of
    Tbilisi was overwhelmingly Georgian, that of Baku almost without
    exceptions Azeri... as a result the political weight of Armenians
    in both towns would be diminished (p533).'

Thus did the Azeri elite gear up for the next round of its
anti-Armenian battles.

II. The Impotence of Armenian Elites

Against the Azeri assault, Armenian elites could do no serious battle!
Tsarist and Azeri leaderships acted with clear aims, the one to
safeguard Russian imperial interests and, as an element of this,
reduce the power of Armenian capital, the other to build positions for
future moves against Armenian wealth in Baku.

The Armenian leadership in contrast floundered pathetically. Its
economic pillars and foundations were built in foreign, non-Armenian
territories, in Tbilisi and Baku. It had no serious footholds in
native Armenia and so no hinterland from which to project power, to
defend its economic or social privileges or to retreat and regroup
when necessary.  It was to be their undoing. With no native base it
could only and did only survive by virtue of the protective umbrella
offered by Russian Tsars.

Throughout the Caucuses Armenian elites had developed earlier and more
rapidly than their Georgian and Azeri counterparts and had secured
dominant positions and vast wealth, but decidedly only under the
auspices of Tsarist colonial power. Without the structures and the
apparatus of Russian colonial domination Armenian wealth would be
powerless. Of this, Tsarism had made sure when it dismantled
independent Armenian principalities immediately upon conquering the
region in the early 18th century. Confronted in 1905 by a master now
judging Armenian capital too big for its boots the Armenian leadership

Simonian is scathing, showing the Armenian business class as grimy,
shameless, sycophantic, crawling and despicable, relying on Tsarist
power even as it was being whipped by it. Almost completely Russified
in Baku (and Tbilisi) Armenian business had no national interests, no
nation-building ambition and was contemptuous of anything not
connected to cash. 'Even foreigners wrote frequently of the disgust
brought forth by sycophantic Armenian merchants possessed only of
unquenchable thirst to accumulate money (p525)'. In 1905 it was
passive and impotent, 'a spiritually broken class just waiting for
divine assistance (p69)', 'hiding like snails, hoping for peace
through miracle (p94).'

Wanting of any independence the Armenian leadership desired only the
restoration of the status quo, only the re-imposition of a bankrupt
Tsarist political, social legal and economic order, but tweaked to
render it less anti-Armenian and to enhance Armenian national and
religious rights, but always within the framework of Russian imperial
power! In so far there was any hint of an 'independent' Armenian
programme it was anti-democratic, designed to underpin commanding
positions in Baku and Tbilisi at Georgian and Azeri expense. To
isolate these towns from their Georgian and Azeri hinterland and so
retain their commanding positions they proposed to assign them
non-national status (p525, 531-534) in a wider a Caucasian Federation.

Under intense Azeri fire, abandoned by the Tsar and with no fighting
forces of its own the Armenian business class had little choice than
to turn to the ARF that they had hitherto scorned, shunned and even
betrayed to the state. A prominent ARF leader, Rouben, noting the
pitiable state of the Armenian elite wrote in his 'Memoirs of an
Armenian Revolutionary':

    'One should have seen the confusion, the disillusion, the despair
    to which the Armenian bourgeois, its clergy and intelligentsia
    succumbed. They had become a ship without sail or oar. In view of
    the Tatar (Note 2) storm they hurled curses against that bent
    Russian cross they had worshipped only yesterday. And willy-nilly
    they began to turn their eyes towards us (p69).'

And so it was to happen. As Armenian moneyed fortresses fell to Azeri
assaults, an alliance was eventually secured between Armenian capital
and the ARF. It is ironic that in its now 'socialist' phase the ARF
began deploying forces to protect the homes, factories and wealth of
Armenian capitalists that Shirvanzade reminds were as ruthless as any
in exploiting Armenian workers (Note 3)! Brutally ironic too that this
'socialist' force described by Simonian as a defender of the Armenian
people and aligned with the best of the revolutionary sections of the
time, is shown to be driving internecine slaughter. And this for
political ends essentially no different to those of Armenian elites -
the securing of continued Tsarist rule but reformed to exclude the
most virulently anti-Armenian wing of Tsarist power and rendered more
tolerant of the Armenian national movement and Church!

The Armenian elite survived 1905. But it was the long-term loser. Its
realm in Baku was delivered a battering. Marking a major advance for
Azeri nationalism, 1905 proved to be a first step in edging Armenian
oil capital out of Baku. Against Azeri (and Georgian) elites rooted in
their native lands, the Armenians had no real riposte unable as they
were to match a challenge buttressed by an Azeri demographic majority,
by Azeri wealth, by pan-Turkish fervour and Tsarist connivance. 1905
was to flare again in 1918, as bloody and as brutal. This time in the
context of Tsarist collapse and of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution,
without imperial Russian protection Armenian elites were routed.

For the common people of all nations 1905 was death, destruction and
suffering and, worse still, a poisoning of the sources of national
harmony almost beyond recovery. It heralded the break-up of the
Caucuses as a possible `Swiss-style' but democratic state. It
shattered prospects for a common supranational Caucasian patriotism
that would incorporate in a democratic domain all its different
nations and peoples enabling them to rise above and prosper beyond
fratricidal animosities.

III. Re-Evaluation of All Values

The century and decade since 1905 enables at least one substantial

In the Caucuses, and Asia Minor too, exclusive, ethnically homogeneous
nation states are untenable and anti-democratic, infecting the region
with hatreds that will assuredly generate more blood, brutality and
death. Nationhood after the fashion of some assumed classical model,
built on the dominance of a single national group was born of
catastrophes and required as premise extensive violent ethnic
cleansing, national oppression and assimilation, all justified by
supposed considerations of national security and cemented by various
forms of odious chauvinism.

In 1905 the Caucuses was inhabited by at least ten different national
groups living in proximity, in adjacent villages, linked by dozens of
determining, defining and indispensable social, economic, cultural and
traditional bonds. Each community of common people, be they Azeris in
Yerevan or Armenians in Baku contributed to building the towns and the
land on which they lived. The land belonged not just to one, but to
all. All quite legitimately regarded these as homeland, as the source
and foundation of their lives. This demographic diversity had
developed across the centuries both in times of vicious conquest and
plunder and in times of peace (Note 4)

Large Azeri communities lived in what is now the Armenian
Republic. The 1897 census records Yerevan's population at 29,000 of
whom 13,500 were Armenian, 13,000 Azeris and the remainder others. The
population of the Yerevan province was 829,000 of whom 434,000 were
Armenian and 352,000 Azeris. In Etchmiadzin, historic centre of the
Armenian Church out of a population of 124,000, Azeris counted
45,000. Ganztag was inhabited by 878,000 people of whom Armenians
numbered 294,000 and Azeris 554,000. Only 390 of its 1613 villages
were Armenian. Zangezur was mixed and though Armenians constituted
majorities, substantial Azeri communities had built lives in Sissian,
in Ghaban and in Megri. Only in Goris was there no Azeri community.
In Garabagh the population of Shushi totalled 33,000, of whom 18,000
were Armenian and 13,000 Azeris. The list is longer and we talk not of
small minorities but frequently almost equal division.

No Armenian or Azeri State could be constructed without whole regions
being populated by large numbers of 'foreigners' who would naturally
resent the dominant national group. Ethnically homogeneous states
would be possible only through the removal or silencing of these
native 'foreigners', be it by 'peaceful' means or other. Poet Avetik
Issahakyan put it thus:

    'Taking into account that we are dispersed among Turks... that
    this and other mixed communities give most cause for mutual
    grievance... we must endorse the concept of gathering up, we need
    to force out those Turks living in our midst, possibly even coming
    to mutual agreement to swap villages and thus create a collective
    Armenian mass...(p424)'

Tragically aspects of this ugly programme have been realised. In the
Soviet era Yerevan, Etchmiadzin and settlements around Lake Sevan have
been emptied of their Azeri communities. Their descendants remember
their history and chauvinist Azeris draw maps of `Greater Azerbaijan'
that incorporate Yerevan, Zangezur and Sevan. The reverse story of
Nakhichevan is well known, its Armenian community that in 1905
constituted 35% has vanished completely and every trace of Armenian
civilisation that dates back a thousand years and more eliminated,
reduced literally to dust. Bustling Armenian communities in Baku have
been cleansed and all acknowledgement of their vast contribution to
its economy effaced from records. In Tbilisi once a major Armenian
educational, cultural and economic hub, the Armenian presence is now
virtually invisible. Ethnic cleansing in the region continued into the
post Soviet age, at an accelerated rate.

The cost of constructing these exclusive, nationally homogenous states
has been a century and more of injustice. To consolidate position and
privilege factions of Armenian, Georgian and Azeri leaderships have
each constructed a narrative of suffering, slaughter, injustice and
land grabbing, of horrific crimes, but caused and committed only by
the 'other'. Movements have mushroomed across all borders that
legitimise oppression and ethnic cleansing in the name of `historical
justice' and in the name of such `justice' claim entire regions
exclusively for one or another national group.

Yet history yields alternatives to all this, visions that can enable
diverse national development within a single Caucasian entity. Azeri
and Georgian movements can point to their own democratic thought.
Armenian culture lines up figures such as Abovian, Derian, Toumanian,
Shirvanzade, Movsisyan and many others whose patriotism rose to
incorporate the diversity that has become the form of national
existence in the Caucuses and in Asia Minor too. Respected today as
literary figures, their wider social vision has been sidelined, even
buried, falsified. Recovery is essential.

IV. 1905 and 1915 - The Dye Is Cast - To Be Or Not To Be

Armenia today is a nation in perilous retreat, at the endgame of

The 1915 Young Turk Genocide failed to annihilate the Armenian
people. The 20th century witnessed a remarkable flourishing of
Armenian life especially in the Soviet Armenian Republic. Even the
Armenian Diaspora registered enduring cultural achievements.

The Genocide did fail, but it did nevertheless deliver an almost fatal

In western Armenia, the larger portion of historical Armenian
homelands, Armenian communities are no more. There, Armenian life, its
architectural monuments, Churches, educational and artistic centres,
an entire historical and cultural legacy in fact, has been buried
beneath the rubble of Turkish State vandalism. Some of this can be
salvaged. Many thousands of 'hidden Armenians' may emerge to challenge
for national rights, but only as one community in a different society
of diverse but equal nationalities! Many descendants of the Genocide
may wish to return to their ancestral homelands. But whatever future
democratic resolutions between Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish peoples
there can be no resurrection of an imagined homogenous western
Armenian historical past.

In the Caucuses, the sole remaining Armenian-inhabited region of our
historical homelands, 1905, 1918 and the round of post-Soviet
nationalist wars have bloodied relations with the Azeri people with
whom we have to live as neighbours if we are to survive. In Armenia
itself, the corrupt elite of the Armenian Republic continues to bring
the nation to its knees rapidly emptying the land of its people,
impoverishing and driving them overseas. This elite that is an
accomplice in the destruction of the Armenian nation cannot defend the
Armenians of Garabagh who are subject to an unrelenting Azerbaijani
offensive that will eventually target Armenia as a whole. In Georgia
Armenian communities are being asphyxiated. Bastions of the Diaspora,
in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iran are in terminal decline while
assimilation inevitably washes away national identity from Armenian
communities in Europe, Russia and the Americas.

No 100th anniversary commemoration or Great Power Genocide Recognition
will reverse this decline. Those from whom our leaders plead for
recognition have no interest in a viable and empowered Armenia. In the
USA all administrations would much rather the Armenian community and
Armenian lobby vanished! The French state, despite its Genocide
Recognition, has never been a friend to the Armenian people (Note
5). Russia similarly (Note 6). Today it resorts to correcting its
demographic crisis by enticing young and skilled Armenians to abandon
their homeland in order to rebuild Russia. Simultaneously it shackles
Armenia militarily and economically.

Only the nations and peoples of the region can fashion a viable
future. Acknowledging that we all belong to the region and that we all
have a right to live in what has historically become homeland for us
all, we alone can secure a decent, humane co-existence.  How this will
be done cannot be clear before the effort is begun. But one thing is
certain: any democratic resolution will discard hardened and fixed
conceptions of nationally exclusive statehood that has been secured in
part by doing wrong to other peoples. Historical wrongs done by any
party are amenable to correction, but outside the structures of
ethnically defined nation states.


NOTE 1: Besides Azeri, Ottoman and Georgian chauvinism sits their
Armenian brother marked by its particular elite supremacism, a
Euro-centric haughtiness, an express readiness to act as 'agents of
(European) civilisation' in a backward east. Simonian's book is a
prime example! How tragic a degeneration when compared with his fine
two volume biography of Antranig!

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: See Shirvanzade, `In the Furnace of Life', Selected Works,
Volume 5, 1988; and `The Autobiography of an Armenian Novelist',
Groong, 8 November 2004

NOTE 4: See `Giragos Gantzagetsi - History of the Armenians' Groong,
27 July 2009, `Tovma Medzopetsi's Chronicle of the Final Destruction
of Armenia', Groong, 3 June 2013

NOTE 5: See `Cilicians and the Armenian Genocide', Parts 1 and 2,
Groong, 28 February 2014 and 27 August 2014

NOTE 6: See `Armenia's Russian Problem - a historical overview',
Groong 5 December 2011

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.
Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written consent from Groong's Administrator.
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