CHAPTER 13 KARABAKH UNDER SIEGE (1917-1920)

“At the same time (early 20th century), a Turkish nationalist ideology was taking shape which was to have grave and far-reaching implications for the Armenians. This was pan-Turkism or pan-Turanism – a doctrine which continues even today to have many powerful adepts in Turkish ruling circles. Serge Zenkovski describes the ideology thus: First the Ottoman Turks had to consolidate their grip over the empire and Turkicize its minorities. In the second, pan Turkic phase, the closestrelatives of the Ottoman Turks – the Azerbaijanis of Russia and Persia were to be taken into the Turkic state. The third step would be the uniting of all the Turanian peoples of Asia around the Turkish rore.

A biographer of one of the chief pan-Turkists, Zia Gokalp, comments: Gokalp, Halide Edib and their associates dreamt of a union of all the Turks under a single ruler who would renew the days of Attila, Jengiz Khan or Timur-leng.

The implications of pan-Turkism for the Armenians were extremely grave. They were among the least willing of the minorities within the empire to be Turkicized, clinging to their ancient Church as a symbol of that defiance”.

Before the First World War in 224 villages of Karabakh 222 Churches were functioning. The population was 206768. The International conscience and Karabakh and Transcaucasian Armenians in particular were shocked by the 1915 April genocide of the Armenians in Turkey. The events of the World War I took a tragic turn for the Armenians. The war served as a pretext for the Turkish authorities to solve the Armenian question. On April 24, 1915 after the massacre of the Armenian intellectuals of Istambul, the Young Turk Government organized the mass deportation of the Armenian population of Turkish Armenia and Asia Minor, in course of which about one and a half million Armenians perished. It is beyond doubt that the successfully executed genocide had an official and deliberate nature and resulted from the dominent pan-Turkic ideology and the decisions taken by the Young Turks party. The Ittihad took the opportunity of the turmoil and hostilities among nations after the World War I to organize the genocide thus solving the Armenian issue. The Karabakh Armenians crossed the border in small groups to support their compatriots. But most of the able-bodied male population of Karabakh was conscripted into the Russian army and fought in differrent fronts, as the loyal Armenians did their duty of Ottoman citizens in the Turkish army, where they were starved, beaten or machine-gunned.

Despite this terrible disaster the over-hopeful Armenians didn’t cease to believe that they could achieve justice through the civilized world, which had turned a blind eye to the Armenian torture, left them unprotected and done nothing concrete in their behalf. They ceased to understand that a wretched, toothless nations are always being placed under the heals of alien masters, Turk, Mongol, English…. People usually give mercy to the beggers, but don’t like or respect them. Justice, in particular, can’t be begged. It must be conquered, achieved. And this is the only way.

Parallel to pan-Turkism there existed another factor, no less important for the Armeno-Tatar or Karabakh-Muslim relations, which resulted in frequent bloody clashes. This factor was the traditional way of life of the Armenians and Tatars. In this context their relations were always problematic, despite the fact that they had long lived together in the same region. The Tatars were mainly nomad stockbreeders, who, in summer, took their herds up into the hills, while the Armenians, in contrast to them were settled farmers and agriculturalists. The Tatar nomads wintered in the Arran valley, from where the Armenians had been driven out in late medieval period. They occupied the western Arran, stretching in the north-eastern section of the Armenian mountain range. In summer the nomads from the plain were accustomed to go up into the Karabakh, Zangezur, Sevan mountain pastures with their herds. The masters of the herds were the Tatar chiefs of tribes, beks, mullahs. The Russian rule established a situation of balance between the two opposing forces, as it was beneficial for it to receive regularly the taxes paid by the Armenian melik owners of the areas, collected from the Tatar stockbreeders. But on their way to the mountains the Tatars passed through the Armenian inhabited areas, treading on their fields, gardens, which resulted in clashes. Whenever needed, the pan-Turkist nationalists spread rumours that the Armenians had decided to close the way to their pastures and that was enough to instigate a nationalistic confrontation. In such cases the nomads took arms, cut the roads and liquidated the surrounding Armenian villages.

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