CHAPTER 13 KARABAKH UNDER SIEGE (1917-1920)

The Eighth Congress was to open again in Shosh, but on orders from Sultanov all the roads, leading to Shosh were blocked up. One hundred sixty eight delegates had to go to Shushi, where on 22 February the Eighth Congress of Karabakh Armenians met. The division of Karabakh leaders into two factions was already clear, and as a result two district assemblies were held. The minority, led by the Bolshevik, founder of the Communist Party of Karabakh Alexander Ruben Tsaturian, including the towndwellers, was already to compromise. The resolution of their assembly was published in the March 24 issue of the Bolshevik newspaper “Iskra”.58 Blaming the “imperialist” governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan, it appealed for social resolution and called the Karabakh, Zangezur, Nakhichevan, Goghtn and Kars Armenians to unite for further struggle. The fate of Karabakh was tied to the tides of revolution, it was evident that the resolution was dictated “from above”. It was written that;

“In view of the close economic ties with Azerbaijan the political departure of Karabakh from the territory (from Azerbaijan – B), opposes the vital interests of the two people (the agreement of the Seventh Congress), inhabiting Karabakh and consequently the instigations of Armenian government opposes to the interests of Armenians and Muslims of the region, hindering their peaceful co-existence.”59

Meantime, at Shosh the majority of the delegates, including the Dashnaks, taking a harder line, categorically refused integration in Azerbaijan. The resolution accepted by this Eighth Congress of the Karabakh Armenians (28 February – 4 March 1920) denounced Sultanov’s attitude and violations of the provisional agreement.

By the beginning of March, it was clear that an attack on Karabakh was imminent. Faced with this situation the Armenians set up “the Central Body of Karabakh Self-Defence”. Meanwhile the collapse of the White Guards had reinforced the position of Red Army on the borders of Transcaucasia. On March 24, 1920 new clashes took place between the Azerbaijani army and the Karabakh self-defence forces. The fighting was especially violent in Askeran. The front here stretched for 20kms. The cannon-ball “Schneider”, seized from the Turks in 1918 was carried to Askeran by the Armenians. The 80% of the Azerbaijani regular army was fighting in the Karabakh front, leaving the northern borders defenceless, from where the Bolsheviks were expected to enter.

Karabakh struggled, awaiting the Armenian help. Meanwhile Sultanov on orders from the Musavatists, was organizing the destruction of Shushi. On the night of March 23, 1920, a group of 50 Armenians attacked the reinforcement of the troops, deployed in the Armenian part of the town. It served as a signal for the Tatar terrorist brigades and the mob to enter the Armenian part. Thousands of houses were burnt down and the majority of the inhabitants were massacred. The deliberate and official nature of the Shushi destruction is beyond doubt. It was organized by Sultanov – Kurd by origin and Mehmandarov – Tatar by origin. Both of them were physicians. Leo wrote, “Those two doctors, under the academical vow of serving the suffering humanity, ordered the mob, “Kill them! Loot them! Burn down everything! Yours are all the Armenian girls and women!.

Seven thousand Armenians were slaughtered, about five thousand managed to flee, 2-3 thousand were taken captive. New Tatar troops, advancing from Gandzak, destroyed all the Armenian villages on the way…”60

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