Armenian pogroms in 1918

The Armenian Genocide organized and implemented by the Ottoman Turks in Western Armenia continued in Eastern Armenia and in other areas of Transcaucasia largely inhabited by the Armenians. The Turkish invasion of Transcaucasia had several objectives: to posses the oil of Baku together with the Germans, to eject the Russians from the Caucasus, to join the Muslims of  Transcaucasia and the North Caucasus, to path the way to the Turkic world and to annihilate the Armenians as the main obstacle to the implementation of the  Pan Turkic program. 

At the beginning of 1918 there were three major political groups in Baku: Baku Commune under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, the Armenian National Council, which was leading the majority of the Armenian population, and the Muslim National Council: among the Muslims “Musafat” party and the “Wild division” were also powerful. The Armenian National Council had turned to the Muslim National Council for several times persuading them to open the road and secure the return of the Armenian soldiers who were coming back from the front, but all their efforts were in vain. 

At the beginning of March, 1918, Taghiev’s son Haji Zeynal Abdi who was an officer of the “Wild division” committed suicide in Lenkoran (also Länkäran, a city in the South of Azerbaijan). The armed guard of the division consisted of 43-48 soldiers transferred his body to Baku by ship. The guard shot several Bolshevik soldiers on the ship. When the detachment of the division delivered the corpse to Taghiev and got on the ship to return, the Commune soldiers disarmed them. This infuriated the Muslim population of the city, and the leaders of “Musafat” party proclaimed that if the Bolsheviks did not return the snatched weapons the rebellion would follow. The Commune and “Musafat” party began to negotiate. The third power of Baku, the Armenian National Council, tried to reconcile the two sides. The deadline for the negotiations between the Bolshevik power and “Musafat” party was  6 p.m. on March 17.  But the Muslim population of the city did not wait till the deadline and started armed attack. The clashes lasted for two days and nights and ended with the loss of “Musafat” party. Some of the leaders of  “Musafat” fled to Yelizavetapol, the others hid in the suburban Muslim villages. At that time the Armenian National Council hid and gave a shelter to thousands of Muslims. Z. Taghiev in his announcement published in the “Znamya Truda” newspaper on March 29, 1918, speaks about the fact: “There is tranquility in Baku. In the interest of the prosperity of the region, I feel a moral obligation to say that the events in Baku did not have the nature of the Armenian-Tatar clashes. During the battles the Tatars did not hurt the Armenians living in the Tatar districts. And the Armenians have saved more than 14000 Muslim lives…”

On April 9 1918 the Transcaucasia Federative Republic (Andrfederatsia) was established, but it did not exist long. On the one hand the obvious threat from Turkey, on the other hand the Turkish position of the Muslim population corroded the bases of the newly independent republic: on May 26 the collapse of Transcaucasia was announced. On May 27 Azerbaijan declared its independence. On July 31 after getting reinforcement, the Turkish divisions and “The Caucasian Muslim Army” launched the offensive towards Baku. The operation was under the control of Nuri pasha (the latter was the nephew of Enver pasha- the military minister of Turkey and the organizer of the Armenian Genocide in Western Armenia).

The defense of Baku lasted for two months. In the morning of September 15 1918 the Turkish-Azerbaijani troops entered Baku. The city was subjected to the barbarity and brutality of the invaders for three days and nights. These were named “The Great Horrors of Baku”. The whole Armenian population of the city was subjected to slaughter, and their property was damaged and plundered.

The calamities of the pogroms of 1918 against the Armenians were recorded not only by the foreign diplomats, and officers, but also by the survivors.

“The Great Horrors of Baku” by Bashkhi Ishkhanyan is a unique source for the study of Baku pogroms of 1918. In his book the author, who was an eyewitness of the tragedy, presents the documentary and statistical data in details. “The Turk askers (soldier), thousands of the local Muslim gangs and the peasants were plundering whatever they want and could take from the houses, shops, offices, and institutes of the Armenians…

Jewish writer and publicist Sergey Raphalovic, who witnessed the horrors of Baku, while describing the pogroms of September 1918 in his article “The Truth about the events in Baku” states “For some days dead bodies were being taken out from the city by the carts and trucks. Eight days passed since the pogroms but in the downtown and nearby the station, where there was still the unbearable smell of the corpses. In completely destroyed houses I saw raped and killed women, bloody corpses of infants”.

The major of the chief headquarter of the Ottoman Empire, Mayr has reported about the annihilation of the Armenians of Baku and about the current political situation in his letter addressed to General Fon Kress – the head of the German Mission “Many Armenians, including women and children, but chiefly prisoners of war fit for the military service are killed. There is not yet exact data about several thousands. The trustful locals state that the number of the victims is now greater than it was during the events of March. The Germans, who we can believe, speak about 10 000 victims… Two German dwellers (they were not citizens of the Empire) were killed and the wives of some German new comers have been raped. There have been committed violence against the Austrians and Russians too…”

Essad Bay in his “Blood and Oil” states that eye witnesses of the following three days report the annals of history could hardly show such another massacre. ''All the Armenian houses were systematically stormed and the inhabitants slaughtered. Only those Armenians who were harbored by friends among the Mohammedans could save themselves. The Mohammedans’ sole difficulty was to distinguish Armenians from others, especially the Jews whose facial type is remarkably like the Armenian. Many an Armenian tried to pass for a Jew, and many a Jew was threatened instead of an Armenian. Luckily the far-sighted government had decreed that everyone who was attacked and pretended to be a Jew should immediately be examined to determine his Judaism. During the three days only one Jew was killed as an Armenian by mistake. It was much harder for Jewish girls, who had upon them no proof of their Judaism and the government prohibited the assault of Jewish girls most strictly. To prevent confusion, a few Jewish soldiers who were in the Turkish army acted as experts during these three days and were easily able to save their countrywomen''.

In his accounts Essad Bay describes the cruelty and immoral tortures to which the Armenians were exposed: “Again blood flowed in the streets of the oil-city… Men and women were killed mercilessly. The victors cut open the bodies of their victims, smashed their skulls and laid themselves on the corpses, howling in the delirium of victory, literally bathing in blood. They tore their bodies into shreds, bit through their throats, drank their blood. Several hundred Armenians were not put to death immediately but taken to the large city square and there guarded by soldiers. Every Mohammedan, - child, woman, or old man- might come and kill. The victims stood chained and were handed, together with a dagger, over to the avenger on demand. Some dipped their cloths into the blood of the enemy to show it at home as proof of their vengeance. At the end of the second day the Pasha granted his officers permission to take part in the plundering also. Everyone considered it his duty to commit murder in the streets. Even shreds of Armenian flesh became the symbol of those three days.

Similarly Jacques Kayaloff portrays the three – day sufferings of the Armenians in her book titled “The Fall of Baku”. Various testimonies, unpublished documents are the bases of the book. It is of great importance to present the report of Khristofor Mikhailovich Evangulov, the Commissar of the telegraph, Post, Telephones and Chief of the Auto Division of the Caucasian Army, to the Military and Naval Commissar of the Baku Dictatorship General Isakov Bagratuni:

“Robberies, murders, rapes were at their maximum. In the whole town the massacres of the Armenian population and robberies of all the non-Muslim population was going on. They broke the doors and windows, entered the apartments, dragged men, women and children and killed them in the street. 

From all the houses the yells of the attacked people were heard; the crowds of bestial Tatars and Askers with wild cries rushed in the streets and looked for new victims. The horrors of the Bartholomew night were nothing in comparison with the murders at Baku on the 15th and 16th of September. In some spots there were mountains of dead bodies, and many had terrible wounds from dum-dum shots. The most terrible picture was at the entrance to the Treasury Lane from the Surukhanski Street. The whole street was covered with dead bodies of children not older than nine and ten years. About 80 bodies carried wounds made by swords or bayonets, and many had their throats cut; it was obvious that miserable ones were slaughtered like lambs''.

He continues: ''From Telephone Street we heard cries of women and children and we heard single shots. Rushing to their rescue I was obliged to drive the car over the bodies of dead children. The crushing of bones and strange noises of torn bodies followed. The horror of the wheels carrying the interiors of dead bodies could not be stood by the Colonel and the Asker. They closed their eyes with their hands and lowered their heads. They were afraid to look at the terrible slaughter. Half mad from the scene the driver wanted to leave the street and immediately met another bloody hecatomb''. 

The Consuls of the neutral countries in Baku expressed their protest to Nuri Pasha. The protest confirms:
September 18 1918
To Your Excellency 
Ferik Nuri Pasha 
The Commander of the Caucasus Muslim Army
We, the undersigned, the representatives of the neutral countries feel a moral obligation on humanitarian grounds to express our protest to Your Excellency as the Chief Commander of the Turkish military unit against the systematic brutality and plunders that have carried out after the seizure of Baku city.

Without analyzing the military reasons, we think, that the major guilt of the accomplished fact should be searched in

1) the fact that the regular army entered the city considerably late; 48 hours later after the partial seizure of the city, the necessary patrol service was also organized late 

2) the fact that the troops, which were ordered to protect the population, apparently were not given enough commands on  the equal protection of  all the nations, which in this case  would have been extremely necessary; a detail that is probably known to Your Excellency as well.

These events had a very unpleasant influence on us as on September 15 General Murzel pasha in the name of Your Excellency had officially promised the Danish and Iranian consuls “to protect the lives and property of the dwellers of the city”, moreover there was not a word about an exception.

The purpose of this protest is to remind Your Excellency about Your written promise and at least now to take the most impressive steps in order to restore the legality and despite the nationality to rescue the lives and property of all the citizens.

Therefore, we permit ourselves to draw the attention of Your Excellency to the fact that taking into consideration the interests of our compatriots as well as the international economic interests we feel a moral obligation to inform our governments about the accomplished fact and the current unstable situation of the city.

We think we have the right to claim reparation and relief for the damage and injustice done to our compatriots during the plunder of the city.