Thousands of Azerbaijanis were killed in three days of slaughter at the end of March 1918, when Armenian nationalists went on the rampage in Baku. In this article Prof Atakhan Pashayev looks at events leading up to the massacre and at how Bolshevik leaders sought to play down its significance.
Armenians gain privileges in Baku´s oil industry. The rapid development of the oil industry in Baku in the late 19th and early 20th centuries attracted a wave of Armenian migration to the city. The Christian Armenians were obedient subjects of the Russian Empire, so the imperial government used them as a tool in their Eastern policy. The Armenians were, therefore, able to gain privileges from the government in Baku´s oil industry and soon became the major entrepreneurs in Baku oil. Armenians dominated the industry to such an extent that they were able to dictate their will to the Congress of Baku Oil Entrepreneurs.
Alongside the industrial elite, poorer Armenians flocked to Baku to find work in the oil fields. As one of the main industrial centres in Tsarist Russia, Baku saw the emergence of an industrial proletariat and revolutionary fervour. Armenian workers, whose number increased considerably in the early 20th century, were active in Baku´s revolutionary and socialist movements.
On the eve of the first Russian revolution the Armenian nationalist Dashnaksutyun Party started to spread socialist ideas among Armenian.
Bolshevik revolution brings chaos and terror.
The Dashnaks and other Armenian nationalist parties took advantage of the disintegration of the Russian Empire, when the Tsarist government was overthrown in the revolution of February 1918, and of the Bolshevik seizure of power in the October Revolution. They used the harsh, revolutionary ideas to promote their nationalist agenda.
In 1918-20 Armenians perpetrated massacres, violence and terror against Azerbaijanis in Baku and throughout the Caucasus, plundering their property. They started in Baku in 1905. The massacre of 1918 was prepared more skillfully and implemented more ruthlessly than the 1905 attacks. The Bolsheviks´ victory in Russia and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the battlefields of World War One opened the way for the massacre.
Lenin appointed Stepan Shaumyan commissar of the Transcaucasus. Shaumyan was a Baku Armenian and Dashnak masquerading as a Bolshevik. When Shaumyan’s attempt to implement his mandate in Tbilisi failed, he returned to Baku. He seized absolute power in Baku - an international proletarian city after the collapse of the Russian Empire - and used his position to fight the Azerbaijanis. Shaumyan took advantage of Armenian officers and soldiers amongst the Russian troops who were returning from the front to Azerbaijan and used them in his anti-Azerbaijani campaign.
Armenian nationalists try to provoke Azerbaijani uprising
The Azerbaijani Democratic Republic set up an Extraordinary Investigation Commission to look into the March killings and charted the following events in the build up to the massacre. (Under the Gregorian calendar the massacre occurred from 31 March to 2 April 1918, but under the Julian calendar, in use in the former Russian Empire at the time, the date of the killings is 19 to 21 March 1918. This article uses the modern Gregorian dates.)
In early January 1918 the headquarters of the Muslim troops, organised and led by General M. K. Talishinsky, came to Baku. Most of the members of the Muslim corps general staff were then arrested by Armenian Bolsheviks.
Taking advantage of the arrest of the Muslim soldiers, the Armenians tried to provoke the Azerbaijanis to rise up against the Bolsheviks and Armenians. But the Azerbaijanis did not succumb to this provocation. As the Azerbaijanis did not rise up, Armenian soldiers began to use violence against them and murdered women, the elderly and children.
According to Christian clergymen who attended meetings in the Baku mosques, all the Muslim clergymen urged Azerbaijanis to remain calm in the face of difficulties and violence. The report said that the Azerbaijanis used every opportunity to find reconciliation.
Azerbaijani representatives repeatedly attempted to form an alliance with the Armenians against the Bolsheviks, but the Armenians would not commit themselves.
On 30 March 1918 Armenian Bolsheviks killed most of a division of Muslim troops who were accompanying the remains of Mammed Tagiyev, son of oil baron Zeynalabdin Tagiyev, by boat from Lenkoran to Baku. Armenian Bolsheviks demanded that the Muslim division surrender their weapons and, when the division refused, the boat was shelled.
The next day Armenian soldiers appeared in the Armenian-populated part of the city. In the streets they started to dig trenches and build barricades with stones and earth. The commission’s report says that the same day Azerbaijanis met in the Ismailiyye, the building of the Muslim Charitable Society. Haik Ter-Mikaelyan, a former Baku officer, attended the meeting and declared on behalf of the Armenian Council and the Dashnaksutyun Party that if the Azerbaijanis opposed the Bolsheviks, the Armenians would help to oust them from Baku.
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