Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict: roots. Massacres of 1905-1906
(End) Events of 1905-1906
The reconstruction of an objective picture surrounding the massacres 1905-1906 is not easy task because Russian and Western media expressed sympathy to the Armenians. Tadeush Swietochowski noted that, “the events were reported in the world press generally with a tone of partiality towards the Armenians”. (Swietochowski, pp. 41-42)Audrey Alstatd stressed that the media displayed an anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim tone. Observers nearly always blamed Muslims for the violence. The right-liberal newspaper Slovo blamed nationalism; the left-liberal Russkaya Vedomost blamed Pan-Islamism. (Altstadt, p. 41) Conservative Sankt- Peterburgskiye Vedomosti accused only the Tatars. (Moreover, an Azerbaijani publicist Rahim Bek Melikov blamed “Sankt-Peterburgskiye Vedomosty” for insinuation and abetting. He wrote in «Kaspiy» (№ 14, 18 January 1906): “It is a futile attempt to prove to these newspapers that the ongoing hostility between the Armenians and the Muslims is not caused by pan-Islamism but by other factors. Because these conservative and pro- government newspapers want to increase the ethnic hatred in the Caucasus while all forces of the society try to stop violence”) Armenian newspapers joined that choir. But they sometimes had to acknowledge that the Armenians shared some responsibility for the massacres. An American-Armenian publication wrote:
The view of the Armenians as harmless sheep uncomplainingly stretching their necks to the slaughter is nor borne out by the facts. [I]t is also untrue that the Armenians have always been the chief sufferers. Although in Baky and Nakhichevan this was the case, at
Erivan and Etchmiadzin they remained the victors. At Shusha and Baky in September they suffered heavy material losses, but otherwise they fully held their own and paid the Tatars in their own coin.
Pavel Shekhtman used those aforementioned reports from Russian publications to create an argument which takes an anti-Azerbaijani tone. He frequently quoted the newspaper Tiflisskiy Listok about which a contemporary journalist, Ossetian writer Arsen Kotsoyev said: “The more I work for this newspaper more I am convinced that Tiflisskiy Listok is a pure shop, which trades and cheats”.(Sawa Dangulov, Slovo ob Arsene Kotsoyeve.
“Sovremennik” (Moscow, 1971), <http://biblio.danal-online.rn/text/
Kotsoev/dangulov.shtml>.)Luigi Villari’s book is also clearly biased towards Armenians. (Charles van der Leeuw, p. 246)I quote and mention many sources (most of them are available on internet) about the massacres of 1905-1906 both Armenian, pro-Armenian and Azerbaijani sources. A reader can make his own judgment; I offer the following reconstruction of the events.
After the December 1904 strike which appalled the Russian authorities, rumors about an upcoming slaughter of Tatars by Armenians and vice-versa circulated in Baky. Luigi Villari reported that Baky Governor Prince Nakashidze, a Georgian noble, openly encouraged the Tartars and treated the Armenians with marked coldness. (Villari, p. 193)One of the leaders of the Azerbaijani political class Ismayil Ziyatkhanov witnessed in Russian State Duma (parliament) in 1907:
We, the Muslims, were told by the administration: you have been economically enslaved by the Armenians. They are arming themselves and plan to create a State. [T]he Armenians were told that the idea of Pan-Islamism had put down deep roots in all strata of the Muslim community and one day the Muslims would massacre them. [W]e had been living as good neighbors and liked each other. [i]n the past there had been no armed clashes. (Gosudarstvennaya Duma Rossiyi. Vtoroy Soziv (Sankt-Petersbutg, 1907), p. 1229)
According to some sources, a small incident served as the pretext of the outbreak of the massacres. On January 12 two soldiers of Armenian origin killed 18-year old detainee, Bula-Aga Reza Oglu, when he attempt to escape from a guard. The deceased Azerbaijani was previously imprisoned on the charge of assaulting Armenians.
Luigi Villari wrote that the person was the shopkeeper Gashum Beg. He also suggested that that – according to a Tartar version – the soldier whispered to Gashum Beg that if he tried to escape he would be allowed to get away and the moment he did so fired on him. The Armenians say that the offer of escape was not suggested. (Villari, p. 193) The murder of the young Azerbaijani negatively affected the Azerbaijani community. Rumors spread that the Armenian escort intentionally killed the Azerbaijani. Villari further asserted that the Armenian killer was a member of the Armenian revolutionary committee the Dashnak, but the Armenians once again denied this. (Ibid., p. 194)
The Armenian and Tatar educated stratum, feeling the rising tension, gathered at the premises of the Azerbaijani newspaper Kaspiy and elected a committee, comprising five people, in the aim of preventing further such troubles.
Soon, on February 6 (by Russian Orthodox calendar and February 19 by European calendar) a relative of the deceased Babayev hunted down an Armenian escort soldier near the Armenian Church and opened fire to kill him but failed and was shot to death by other Armenians who reportedly were members of the Dashnak party. (Swietochowski, p. 41) This day and event became a starting point for the Armenian-Tatar massacres.
According to Villari, immediately after this murder of Babayev, Prince Nakashidze, “summoned some Armenian journalists to his Chancery, and delivered them a
long discourse on the dangers of an Armenian-Tartar pogrom. He declared that if the Tartars did rise against the Armenians he would be powerless to defend them, as he had not enough troops, and the police were unreliable, many of them being Tartars. In fact one of the said Armenians reported that parts of this speech corresponded almost word for
word with the report that the Governor made following the massacre, which suggests that he had foreseen the whole affair.” (Villari, p. 194) The British diplomatic source reported that the city was placarded with leaflets purportedly signed by the local chief of police but those leaflets turned to be forgeries, inciting the Muslims to a massacre of Armenians on March 4. (Dominic Lieven, Kenneth Bourne, Cameron Watt, p. 67)The same source reported that the authorities supplied the Muslims with arms. (Ibid, pp. 91-92) Tadeush Swietochowski stated, however, that:
Widespread speculation had it that Nakashidze intended to weaken the antigovernment forces by exploiting the enmity between the Muslims and the rebellious Armenians. In actuality, the measure of the responsibility born by the tsarist authorities for the events
that followed has never been fully determined. No incontrovertible proof of official connivance has been discovered, and there was at any rate enough accumulated hostility between the two peoples to set off an explosion without it. It is known, however, that Nakashidze, after a visit to St. Petersburg in January 1905, authorized the issue of large numbers of arms permits to the Muslims. (Swietochowski, p. 41)
The massacres began soon after the Babayev death. Russian newspapers reported that a Tatar crowd attacked the Armenian quarter of the city. However, it is also known that the Armenians were well prepared for the attack and soon launched counter offensive. The massacres continued for three days. Many Armenian and Azerbaijani-owned stores were destroyed and pillaged. “The majority of looters from the Muslim sides were Iranian workers, from the Armenian side the Dash-naks, arrived from Turkey, and other volunteers joined them.” (Ordubadi, p. 14) The three-day massacre left about 300 to 400 dead. Luigi Villari informed that 218 Armenians and 126 Azerbaijanis were killed. (Villari, p. 195) In Baky, police reports stated that some Armenians found shelter in Azerbaijani houses. (Gosudarstvenniy Istoricheskiy Arkhiv Azerbayjanskoy Respubliki, F. 375, O. 1, D. 17, pp. 136-137,143-145)
Both Azerbaijani and Armenian sources blamed the police and the authorities for inaction. Luigi Villari wrote that Nakashidze encouraged and supported the Tatars. However, on February 9 he himself led the peaceftil procession that included the Muslim Sheikh Ul-Islam and the Armenian bishop, calling the two communities to peace and reconciliation. Nevertheless, the Dashnaks passed a death sentence on the governor and on May 11 the Dashnak Dro Kanayan threw a bomb on a Nakashidze’s carriage, killing him.
After the three days of riots in Baky the situation stabilized despite some isolated incidents
and murders. Luigi Villari noted:
Both Armenians and Tartars armed themselves but the former did so on a larger scale, for their having previously experienced government hostility led them to feel that they had only themselves to rely on. The revolutionary committee displayed great zeal in collecting money both front Armenians and foreign firms who paid the blackmail and it was used to smuggle arms and explosives into town from Moscow. The Tartars, thinking themselves secure in the Government’s favour, were less active. (Villari, p. 196)
In Baky the Azerbaijanis had the strategic advantage, as surrounding settlements were populated by Azerbaijanis but in other regions and cities – Erivan, Shusha, Ganje (then Elizavetpol) the Armenians were better positioned and armed.
In May, Nakhichevan became the battleground. Luigi Villari reported, based on accounts of the Armenian clergy, that the Tatars, instigated by local nobility and news from Baky, launched an offensive against the lightly armed Armenians. (Ibid., Chapter “Nakhitchevan And The May Massacres”, pp. 265-291)Ordubadi wrote that before the outbreak on May 11 several Azerbaijanis were murdered on May 5, 7 and 9. On the night of May 11 Armenian gangs shelled the city of Nakhichevan. (Ordubadi, pp. 18-20) Russian vice-governor Taranovskiy arrived in the city from Erivan to restore order but his efforts failed. The Russian administration displayed no will to deal with the problem. Armenians, led by the Dashnak leader Duman, sent a message to the chief of Russian forces, warning him not to intervene and threatening Nakashidze if things turned otherwise. At the end of May, violence erupted in Erivan and spread to surrounding areas. There the Armenians were much stronger and celebrated victory.
In May 1905, Vorontsov-Dashkov was appointed Royal envoy in the Caucasus. Russian troops received orders to fire at the Azerbaijanis. The new envoy applied other measures against them. He considered the Armenians loyal to the Russian throne and maintained that since Peter the Great’s Russian policy was based on benevolence toward the Armenians. They in turn rewarded Russia with their active aid. (Swietochowski, pp. 42-43) From that time the Armenians felt confident to attack the Azerbaijanis.
In response to superior organization of the Daslinaktsutun, various Muslim groups that had been fighting in a hit-or-miss fashion began to coordinate their actions. Yet it took the menacing reality of the Russian-Armenian entente to move the Azerbaijanis to create a clandestine political association, specifically to counteract this danger. Know as the Difai (Defence) was founded in Ganja, in the fall 1905 on the initiative of some local notables. [F]rom Baky they were joined by Ahmad Agayev. (Ibid)
The latter was considered by Russian sources as a main proponent of pan-Islamism. However, he tried to persuade the Muslims that they lived peacefully with the Armenians for centuries. In general, the Difai blamed Russia for the bloodshed but also warned the Armenians that violence on their part would be answered in kind. (Swietochowski)
In June violence broke out in Jebrail. Ordubadi reported that the Dashnaks invited Azerbaijani local leaders at a meeting and in a categorical manner called for joint struggle against the Russian rule. “We, Armenians, long ago started fighting for our national rights and self-rule. Our enemy, the Russian Empire resembles a big elephant. We, you and other non-Russian peoples suffered for many centuries and were helpless against this brutal government. We all skulk in the corner because of the fear, live in poverty and hunger.” Another Dashnak member concluded: “If you will not help us in this matter, sufferings will fall upon your motherland, which will be burnt out and destroyed. Your homes will become your graves.” (Ordubadi, pp. 44) This passionate passage from Ordubadi might be biased. However, we can find the confirmation of similar conversations between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis on other places from a pro-Armenian source. Luigi Villari reported his conversation with a local bek in Nakhichevan, Raghim-khan who told the following story:
When the Russian Government confiscated the lands of the Armenian Church and closed its schools, the Armenian revolutionary committees became very active and tried to enlist our support on behalf of their movement. But we Tartars are peaceful people, loyal to our Tsar, and refused to listen to them. Whereupon the Armenians proceeded to threaten us, saying that if we did not help them we should be killed. They distributed menacing proclamations and pictures of Djon-fidais (Armenian revolutionists who have sworn to die for their country), armed to the teeth and told the Tartars that they had large stores of bombs and rifles. As the Tartars still persisted in their refusal the Armenians fell on them and assassinated a great number. (Vilarri, p.281)
Further Raghim-khan reported that the Armenians were better armed and “obtained them from Armenian ex-soldiers, or even from the Cossacks and from the Arsenal, for Government officials are always open to bribes.” “They [Armenians] never attack an armed Tatar unless they are in overwhelming numbers and even then they prefer to hide behind a bush or a rock”, (Ibid)Ragim-khan concluded his story, which was accepted by Villari with a great sense of skepticism, while he did not question the version of events in Nakhichevan as narrated by Armenian archimandrites.
It is not clear why the Armenians, having heard the refusal from the Azerbaijanis, decided to attack their possible future allies, as the refusal did not imply future enmity. Ordubadi noted that the Armenians were trying to achieve an independent State that would have no place for Azerbaijanis and Georgians. He doubted that the attempt to separate from the Russian Empire would be possible under any circumstance. “No matter how it [the Russian Empire] is weak, it has enough power to strike back. It is clear that in this case other Caucasian peoples will suffer. And needless to say, this strike will affect us Muslims. The Russian government will not be involved directly in the fight against the Armenians – it will use another Caucasian people against them”. (Ordubadi, p.54)This is what eventually happened.
The Azerbaijanis, at least the leaders of the nobility, refused to join the fight against Russian domination perhaps, because, as Audrey Alstadt pointed out, they wanted to reach their goals at the Russians’ expense; the Armenians – at the Azerbaijanis. (Altstadt, p.43)The Azerbaijani leaders also might have been suspicious of the Armenians’ sincerity and strategy. After May 1905 the Armenians allied with the Russian administration. The aforementioned Raghim-han blamed the Russian government for the enmity between the two peoples.
Perhaps initially the Azerbaijanis were not inclined to fight for their national rights. However, starting from this period the national liberation movement began to form. One of its leaders, Naki Keykurun blamed the Russians for the massacres as well. He believed that the Russian government supported and armed the Armenians. (Naki Keykurun, The Memoirs of the National Liberation Movement in Azerbaijan. Published by Tomris Azeri, 1998, see at <http://www.azerbaijan.com/azeri/tomrisbookl.htm>)
Despite the enmity, violence and clashes, the Armenian and Azerbaijani educated stratum tried to stop the massacres. In July 1905, peace committees were established to facilitate reconciliation. Tadeush Swietochowski noted that the Azerbaijanis “extended their open hand to the Armenians above the heads of the angry mobs [which] were more that just a manifestation of the intelligentsia’s enlightened humanitarianism, and even more than simply alertness to the scheming of Russian officialdom”.(Swietochowski, p.45) Unfortunately, these peace committees did not succeed in breaking the vicious circle of violence.
In August 1905 violence and fires again hit Baky. Ordubadi reported that after the February events the Armenians decided to take revenge:
If we had pondered something bad against the Armenians we would have never left the city, trusting it to the hands of porters and cabmen. And the Armenians would have never dared to act, if the Muslims had stayed in the city. The Armenians portrayed the actions on August 20 as an act of heroism. They wanted revenge for the February defeat.
(Ordubadi, p. 64)
The British diplomatic source confirmed this opinion: “The Armenians had not forgiven the Tatars for the February massacres, and, considering themselves sufficiently well prepared to deal the Tatars a blow, may in all probability have arranged to attack them”. (Dominic
Lieven, Kenneth Bourne, Cameron Watt, p. 189)
The second turn of violence in Baky started with a bell ringing at an Armenian Church and soon the Armenians attacked the Azerbaijanis. The latter, outnumbered and defeated in the city, burnt Armenian-owned oil fields in the outskirts of Baky in revenge. Vorontosv-Dashkov, having arrived in the city, took immediate and sharp measures to suppress the violence. Troops bombed any house from which fire was opened. By September 14 order was restored. Ordubadi reported that many Azerbaijanis and Armenians, led by their respective nobility and clergy, walked along streets and celebrated a peace accord. (Ordubadi, p 69)
In summer 1905, the armed activities took an unprecedented dimension in Karabakh and Zangezur, particularly in Shusha. The events started with the murder of an Azerbaijani lamplighter on August 6. On August 16 Cossaks killed several Armenians but Azerbaijanis were blamed for this. The violence started immediately. On the next day the Azerbaijanis were successful in ousting the Armenians from the city. Two Armenian attempts to storm Shusha failed. On August 21 an armistice was concluded.
In November the two ethnic groups clashed in Ganja (then Elizavetpol). Armenian publicist Alibegov reported that on the night of November 18 two Azerbaijani corps were sent to an Armenian quarter. On the next morning an Azerbaijani opened fire on Armenians. It signaled the assault on the Armenian quarter. The Armenians quickly organized a defense. Alibegov blamed the city authorities for inaction. (I.Alibekov. Elisovetpolskiyi krovaviyi dni pred sudom obshestva (Tiflis, 1906), pp. 1-6, see at <http//www.genocide.ru/lib/alibegov/elizavetpole.html>) He believed that a Russian governor Takaishvili abetted the massacres. (Alibekov, pp. 7-8) Ordubadi reported the murder of Azerbaijanis by certain Armenians and named them. (Ordubadi, p. 90)
Takaishvili was replaced by Fleischer but violence continued despite numerous attempts to reach peace. Order was restored with the arrival of general Malama. Villari reported that while troops tried to restore order, police worked to undo those efforts. (Villari, p. 332)
On November 20 interethnic violence erupted in Tbilisi (then Tiflis) – capital of the Russian administration in the South Caucasus. The event was preceded by the murders of Azerbaijanis and Armenians. In Tbilisi the Armenians significantly outnumbered the Azerbaijanis. The latter asked for help from surrounding Azerbaijani settlements in the Borchali region. After reaching a military balance, the two parties agreed to sign a peace accord brokered by the Social-Democrats on December 1.
In February 1906, a peace conference was called in Tbilisi to put an end to the interethnic violence. The conference delegates from both communities pointed to the inaction of the Russian administration as a major problem. Azerbaijani delegates also blamed the Dashnaktsutun party for massacring and propelling violence. Armenian delegates blamed Pan-Islamism. Vladimir Mayevsky, describing the conference, agreed that, “We need to acknowledge the guilt of ‘Dashnaktsutun’.” (V.Mayevskiy, ibid)The Armenians repelled this accusation, saying that the party just helped to organize self-defense of Armenian population.
Despite growing hopes that the enmity would end, in the summer 1906 new clashes erupted in Shusha. It was here that Russian Co-Governor Goloshapov had helped the Armenians significantly in the summer 1905 by backing their cause. After summer 1905 Goloshapov was dismissed as Governor of Elizavetpol guberniya, which included Karabakh with Shusha. Governor Alftan replaced him. But in summer 1906 Russian authorities decided to appoint two governors for this guberniya – Alftan was retained and Goloshapov was brought back. With Goloshapov’s help, the Armenians laid siege to Shusha, but the Azerbaijanis succeeded in defending the city.
After failure in Shusha, Armenians launched offensive operations in Zangezur and Nakhichevan. According to Ordubadi, they tried to create a mono-ethnic Armenian zone from Erivan to Karabakh. (Ordubadi, p. 126)This operation was not successful either. This was the last big clash between the ethnic communities within the Russian Empire, which collapsed later, in 1917. Isolated incidents continued until winter 1906.
The massacres of 1905-1906 claimed thousands of lives and destroyed hundreds of settlements. According to an Armenian source, 158 Azerbaijani and 128 Armenian villages were destroyed and pillaged. (Quoted from Swietochowski, p. 39 – E.Aknouni, Political persecutions: Armenian Prisoners of the Caucasus (NewYork, 1911), p. 30)The same source acknowledged that more Azerbaijani were killed than Armenians and their total of victims might be greater because Muslims concealed the number of killed as a result of the Muslim custom to bury the dead on the same day. Moreover, the Azerbaijanis – unlike the Armenians – did not cooperate closely with the authorities after May 1905 and probably did not report their losses. Another Armenian source says that from 3,000 to 10,000 people died during the interethnic clashes. (Richard Hovannisian, Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918. Reprint (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University o! California Press, 1967), p. 264)Obviously, the Azerbaijanis suffered greater losses. Ordubadi notes:
Had the Armenians conducted their preparations in a clandestine manner, the total of Azerbaijanis killed would have been even greater. In the meantime, the Muslims in Baky did not take the confrontation seriously and defended many Armenians. We have a number of letters about that. [W]e hope that in the future the two peoples will not feel anything except love and trust. [I] would like to say that both peoples should not think of revenge because they have to live on this land together, free from troubles, trying to honour their laws and dignity. (Ordubadi, p.17)Conclusion
Unfortunately, the tragedy of 1905-1906 was repeated on an even larger scale. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Russian Empire in March 1918 the Dashnaks, together with the Bolsheviks massacred close to 12,000 Azerbaijanis in Baky. In 1988 the current conflict started and resulted in grave consequences causing much loss and suffering. The events of 1905-1906 are imprinted in the memory of the two peoples.
Before 1905 the two groups lived together peacefully. The Turkish-Armenian clashes in the Ottoman Empire in the 1890s affected the Azerbaijanis; this effect was even greater after the event of 1915. The Armenians led by the nationalist Dashnaktsutun considered the Azerbaijani Turks as their enemy too. While the Russian authorities bore their own portion of responsibility for their colonial policy, the Armenian nationalist groups, particularly the Dashnaks, are responsible for the outbreak and continuation of the hostilities. Armenian revolutionary aspirations were channeled to narrow chauvinistic ideas aimed against the Turkic population of the South Caucasus and creation of an independent State on the territories where the Azerbaijani Turks lived. (Speaking about hese territories and its population, I put aside a moot concept of ‘historical lands” and their belonging to certain ethnic groups 500, 1000 or 2000 years ago)
Azerbaijani violence was frequently spontaneous and initiated among the grassroots. Some local leaders of the nobility and perhaps emissaries from the Persian State are also responsible for clashes. The same patterns of violence can be observed during the ongoing conflict. The pogroms in Sumgait in February 1988 and in Baky in January 1990 differ radically from the Azerbaijani exodus from Armenia in the fall of 1989 and the massacre in Khojaly in February 1992. While violence on the part of the Azerbaijanis stemmed from the grassroots and conducted either by groups of criminals or refugees fleeing from Armenia, on the Armenian side it were conducted by the leaders of the country, parties or the elites who meticulously planned and organized the acts of violence against the Azerbaijanis.
As for the massacres of 1905-1906, violence usually started in response to the murders of Azerbaijanis. Some scholars believe that these murders were organized provocation by the Russian authorities. It seems, however, the Russian administration did not act as executer of these events but rather facilitated to the massacres by its inaction and later manipulated the two ethnic groups. At the very least, the colonial policy of the Russian Empire created conditions for animosity between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis.
During the Soviet era the policy of favoritism and discrimination continued. For example, the Soviets allowed Armenians and Georgians to retain their ancient alphabets but introduced the Latin script for the Azerbaijanis to change traditional askl alifba based on the Arabic script. Later when Turkey adopted the Latin script, the Soviets introduced the Cyrillic script. The Bolsheviks considered the Azerbaijani Turks proximity to their Anatolian brethrens as a threat to the Soviet rule. The resettlement policy was also continued by the Soviet Union. In 1948-1953- as a result of a decision of Soviet Cabinet of Ministries dated December 23, 1947 – thousands of Azerbaijanis were resettled from Armenia to Azerbaijan, and some even ended up in Kazakhstan these are just few examples of the Soviet policy of discrimination and favoritism.
Many other parallels can be found between the events of 1905-1906 and the modern conflict after the 1905-1906 massacres the two ethnic communities – particularly their nobility, clergy and educated classes – cooperated and interacted. However during the current conflict, hatred prevails, and the rhetoric of territorial claims and ethnic incompatibility, as described by the former Armenian president Robert Kocharian, overwhelms the vocabulary of politicians and academics.
Farid Shafiyev“Diplomatiya aləmi”. 2008.-N18-19.-S. 14-29
According to a UNESCO decision, the Mugham of Azerbaijan has been proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In Azerbaijan proper, where the Mugham is perceived as an integral part of a system of fundamental cultural values of the Azerbaijani people, this decision is viewed both as a recognition of the merits by outstanding representatives of the genre and as a desire to attract the attention of the world’s cultural community to this unique heritage.
The book titled “Nagorno Karabakh: facts versus lies” (Нагорный Карабах: факты против лжи) by Arsen Malik-Shahnazarov, advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the so-called Nagorno Karabakh Republic since 1993, was printed in 3,000 copies by Volshebniy Fonar publishing house (Moscow).