CHAPTER 13 KARABAKH UNDER SIEGE (1917-1920)

The Karabakh and Zangezur contributions to the Patriotic Society Fund enabled to form a new self-defence group in Tiflis by the name of “Shushi Legion” which headed for Shushi via Zangezur. The legion was led by Colonel Michael Melik-Shahnazarian. The soldiers of the legion were well-armed and well-trained, they could realize the defence of the region. Not only the Turkish army but the local Tatars and Turkic tribes were threatening the safety of Shushi. The Shushi “Interparty Bureau” was renamed “Council of Commissars”, which was de facto replacing the government. The “Council” set up a “Provisional Revolutionary Tribunal” which had to investigate especially violent cases.

After the 1917 revolution, Russia withdrew from World War I. The new treaty signed between the Turks and the Bolshevik government on March 3, 1918 of Brest-Litovsk, left the Caucasias peoples defenceless before the Turks and their German allies. The Turkish authorities thought that their enemy – the “blond infidels” (sari-giavur) were destroyed. The restored Turkish divisions took Erzinjan on February 13 and Erzerum on March 12. Advancing inexorably, soon the Ottoman army seized the Kars fortress and entered Alexandropol on May 15. A part of the army moved towards Yerevan, another part towards Gharakilissa (Vanadzor) and Dilijan. Refusing to recognize the Bolshevik government in Petrograd, the Transcaucasian socialist parties (with the exception of bolsheviks) separated the region from the rest of Russia by declaring autonomy, later independence for the whole of Transcaucasia and finally establishment of three seperate independent republics. The Tatars identified the Soviet power in 1917-1918 with the Christians, Soviet power met indifference or active resistence, when attemped to extend its sway over the surrounding countyside and in the town Giaja. The Baku Commune, a Soviet government that ruled Baku a couple of months, failed to rally the peoples of Transcaucasia around the Soviet power. After crushing a Muslim revolt in the city, the Bolshevik led government was forced to rely on Armenian troops led by Dashnak officers. The Tatar nationalist leaders welcomed and offered support to the advancing Ottoman Turkish army and entered Baku with those troops, which resulted in a new killing of Armenians.

The Armenian soldiers, which had deserted the front, refusing to fight against the “liberator” Turks, sensed the new Turkish threat, coordinating the military capability of the regular armed divisions and volunteers in Sardarabad, succeeded, in desperate circumstances to stop the Turkish advance. The Armenians were led by their heroic generals and partisan commanders of the time. The Karabakh Armenians took an active part in that battle, which was to become a national legend. The “Karabakhian Legion” fought with great courage. The Commander-in-Chief of the whole army was Daniel Bek Pirumian, who belonged to Karabakh. Another Karabakhian – Archbishop Garegin Hovsepian, appealed to the Armenian soldiers and volunteers to defend their country against the bloodthirsty enemy. Many of them fell on the field of honour, defending the Motherland. The vigourous fights resulted in the destruction of the 30 thousand army of Shevki Pasha. The remains of the army retreated to Giumri. The Turks then captured Baku a few weeks before the Ottoman Empire surrendered to the Allies.

After Sardarabad, the Armenians found that they possessed one of the most powerful military forces in the region. The propoganda of the revolutionary parties; the effective mobilization of the Armenian population to vote and fight for the national future, had worked.

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