CHAPTER 13 KARABAKH UNDER SIEGE (1917-1920)

The communist government of “Baku Commune”, ruled by Stepan Shahumian, sensing the Turkish threat, moved its troops towards the Yerlakh station on June 10, trying to transfer the battlefield with the Turks far from Baku. On March 3, 1917 new Armeno-Tatar clashes broke out in Baku. The Musavat party, organized a rising against the Soviet power. A new wave of pogroms was driggered. Houses and the Tatar market were burnt. The Tatar inhabitants fled to the country. In three days a delegation headed by the Tatar religious representatives, accepted the terms of Revolutionary Guards Committee, the main demand of it being the recognition of the Bolshevik rule. The number of casualties was 1700 Tatar and 1200 Armenian-Considerable material damage was done to the Tatars. Bishop Yeghishe Geghamiants in his book “Tatars in Caucasia and the Fall of Baku” called the classhes a civil war, as both sides followed far reaching political aims, but it grew into nationalistic confrontation within itself.12

The Turkish divisions, allied to the local “Army of Islam” forced the Commune army to retreat to Shamakhi. Practicing diplomacy, the head of the Soviet state Lenin tried to keep the Turks away from Baku. He applied to the Germans to press the Turks in the matter but without success.

Vehib Pasha, commander of the Turkish army on the eastern army, summed up in 1918;

“We have left the Balkans, and we are also leaving Africa, but it is our duty to spread to the east, for it is there that our blood, our faith and our language are to be found.”13

Baku, with its strategic oil had attracted the attention of Britain, who despatched an army from Baghdad to northern Iran and Caspian shores, from where they moved in the north-eastern direction and captured Krasnodar. Soon they succeeded in destroying the power of the Baku Commune. On July 25, 1918 in a session of the Commune against the advice of Shahumian, the Baku Soviet invited the British to enter the town. The Baku Commune was replaced by a new government of Mensheviks, Eserrs and Armenian Revolutionary Dashnaks. A month later, on September 15, 1918, the Turkish army under Nuri Pasha took Baku. For three days the Turkish-Tatar mob massacred the Armenian population and looted their houses. This was the predictable continuation of the pan-Turkic project of physical elimination of the Armenian nation. Thirty-five thousand Armenians were killed, a part of which were the Armenians of Karabakh and Siunik, which had left for Baku in search of work. The Baku Commissars, included Shahumian, were executed, with the possible connivance of the British.

Of course, if the civilized Europe and America turned a blind eye to the 1915 massacres and later did their utmost to forget the promises given to the Armenian state, then the Turks, with their personal dislike or religious, social or political fanatism were free to massacre or deport whole communities of the disliked nations; Armenians, Bulgerians, Greeks…. Such tragedies should shock international conscience and gain international condemnation and recognition. Russia’s guilt is leaving the Armenians unprotected was great. They did very little for the Armenians since early 18th century, when, despite their high sentiments did nothing concrete on their behalf and even left them to the fate in critical moments.

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