`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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