Georgy Mamulia: "Bolsheviks and Dashnaks killed Azerbaijanis in March of 1918 to gain authority over Baku"
One of the tragic dates in the history of the Azerbaijani people is March 1918, when the Bolsheviks and the militants of the Dashnaktsutyun party, on a far-fetched pretext, organized mass killings of Muslims in Baku and other Azerbaijani cities and villages. The killings on ethnic and religious grounds lasted about a week and forced the Musavat party, against which the Bolsheviks were waging a political struggle, to accept their ultimatum, that is, in essence, to give up power. March 31 is celebrated in Azerbaijan as the Day of Genocide of Azerbaijanis. The Vestnik Kavkaza talked about the causes and consequences of the March events of 1918 with the famous historian, researcher of the history of the Caucasus Georgy Mamulia.
- Georgy Guramovich, first of all, what is known about the causes of the massacres of the Azerbaijani population in March 1918?
- About these reasons, as well as about the events themselves, not so little is known, because a certain amount of evidence has been preserved, and not only in the Azerbaijani, but also in foreign archives. One of the first documents in chronological respect that I met was the report of an Austro-Hungarian officer, Lieutenant Desiderius Brandtner, who visited Baku with a secret mission in early May, that is, exactly one month after the end of these events. He describes these events in some detail, and his data mainly agree with the data of Azerbaijani sources. The number of victims is indicated objectively (12 thousand people). Brandtner emphasizes that the pretext for the killings was the desire of the Baku Council, the coalition of Bolsheviks and Dashnaks who ruled in Baku at that time, to disarm a small detachment of former officers of the Wild Division, that is, those Azerbaijani officers who arrived in Baku after the dissolution of the Wild Division and should have to form an Azerbaijani army.
Of course, the disarmament of several dozen officers of the former Wild Division was only an excuse, since the true purpose of the Baksovet was to seize and monopolize power in Baku and, accordingly, throughout Azerbaijan. We know that on March 3 the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was concluded. Turkish troops were rapidly approaching the Caucasus. The German command showed no less interest in the region. It was possible that the Turks could come to the aid of the Azerbaijanis in their quest to create an independent state. To prevent this, the Bolsheviks entered into a direct alliance with the Dashnaks and literally a few weeks after the Brest-Litovsk Treaty organized a massacre in Baku.
Thus, at this time there was a temporary bond between the Bolsheviks and Dashnaks on an anti-Azerbaijani and anti-Muslim basis. Both those and others did not want to allow the Caucasus and its industrial center of Baku to leave the control of the central Bolshevik authorities. It must be remembered that at that time more than 90% of the oil in the territories of the former Russian Empire was produced by the oil producing enterprises of Baku, and the Bolsheviks in no way could afford to lose control of this city. There is direct evidence of this in the correspondence of the Baksovet with the central Bolshevik authorities.
For this reason, the Armenian military units, which are rightly called Dashnak in the Bolshevik documents (there were very few Russian units in Baku) and which were often accidentally in the city at that time, were accepted into the Red Army. In general, the alliance of the Bolsheviks with the Dashnaks was directed against three factors: 1) the existence of the Azerbaijani population in Baku, 2) the independence of Azerbaijan and 3) the whole Caucasus. Let me remind you that at that time there was a real possibility of creating a united independent South Caucasian state. Due to the defeat in the First World War, the Russian Empire had already broken up, the armies of the countries of the Fourth Union entered the Caucasus, in particular Germany and Turkey, which, despite the rather serious disagreements between them, generally sought to contribute to the independence of the peoples of the South Caucasus in the hope, first of all, take advantage of the region’s richest natural resources. And this, especially the loss of the Baku oil fields, the Bolsheviks could not allow.
- In addition to Baku, what other cities and lands suffered from the attacks of the Bolsheviks and Dashnaks?
- The Azerbaijani population was attacked not only in Baku, since the Bolsheviks and Dashnaks wanted to establish their power both in Azerbaijan and throughout the South Caucasus. Having seized power in Baku, the Baksovet decided to seize Tiflis, the administrative center of Transcaucasia, where the creation of an independent Transcaucasian Federal Democratic Republic was proclaimed on April 22. In the summer of 1918, already after the declaration of state independence of Azerbaijan in Tiflis on May 28, the Red Army of the Baksovet, consisting mainly of Dashnak military units, organized a campaign against Tiflis. The Baksovet’s army advanced quite deeply, right up to Kurdamir. On the way, the Dashnak units that were part of it organized mass pogroms of Muslim villages, killing their inhabitants. Incidentally, Russian commanders of the Baksovet army reported this in their reports, complaining about Dashnak officers and soldiers who use Bolshevism to settle ethnic accounts with Azerbaijanis. In their reports, they emphasized that it was for this reason that the Azerbaijani population offered them such stubborn resistance. That is, in this case, the behavior of the Dashnaks in the Azerbaijani provinces already acted against them.
In the battles near Kurdamir on July 7-10, the Red Army was stopped, since by that time a Caucasian Islamic army had already been formed in the Ganja region under the leadership of Turkish General Nuri Pasha, which also included Azerbaijani units. As a result, the Baksovet’s army was stopped, and then thrown back to Baku. The fact that Bolshevism was only a convenient pretext for the Dashnaks for the realization of their goals is also shown by the fact that it was the Dashnak units that played one of the decisive roles in the overthrow of the Baku Commune in mid-August 1918 and the coming to power of the Socialist-Revolutionary government of the Central Caspian dictatorship.
Thus, in order to settle their own accounts with the Muslim population in 1918, the Dashnaks showed complete ideological unscrupulousness and omnivorousness. At first, they sought to take advantage of the alliance with the Russian Bolsheviks, and then, when it became clear that the central Bolshevik authorities were not able to help them keep Baku, they relied on the Socialist Revolutionary government of the Central Caspian dictatorship, relying on military support from the British. It should be noted that, in the final analysis, the Armenian people suffered from such behavior. Instead of thinking about creating a single South Caucasian state, the only guarantee of gaining and preserving independence by all the peoples of Transcaucasia, in which, by the way, they could play an important role, the Dashnaks did everything to antagonize the Azerbaijani population, while at the same time opposing themselves not only Muslim Azerbaijanis, but also Christian Georgians. The March events are the most obvious result of the unprincipled and suicidal policy of the Dashnaks for the Armenian people to try to solve their problems at the expense of their neighbors, relying on whatever external force they like.
- How were the massacres stopped?
- Initially, Azerbaijanis resisted, but the forces were too unequal. Only a handful of former officers and servicemen of the Wild Division, as well as Musavat party volunteers who did not have combat experience (during the tsarist period, Azerbaijanis were not subject to military draft) who were in Dashnak battalions in Baku with solid military experience of the First World War organized and armed. Do not forget that the Bolshevik-Dashnak alliance supported the Caspian Navy, whose artillery bombarded the Muslim quarters of Baku, destroying buildings and people.
The killings stopped only due to the fact that Musavat, realizing the futility of continuing resistance, sent parliamentarians and agreed that the armed clashes would be stopped and its supporters lay down their arms. Thus, the Bolsheviks and Dashnaks temporarily achieved their goal and monopolized power in Baku. Previously, members of other parties, including representatives of the Muslim population of the city, entered the Baksovet, after the March events of 1918, only Bolsheviks and Dashnaks remained in it.
- Did the organizers and perpetrators of these killings bear any responsibility?
- Not everyone. Some of those responsible for these crimes were subsequently detained and suffered appropriate punishment, but most of the Dashnak leaders were able to escape. Many evacuated along with the British to the port of Anzeli on the Iranian coast of the Caspian Sea after the liberation of Baku on September 15, 1918.
- What problems could the Dashnaks have with the Azerbaijanis if they had nothing to do with the events of 1915 in Turkey?
- There were several illusory reasons. Firstly, the traditional policy of the tsarist government, which opposed Armenians to Muslims. Especially during the First Russian Revolution of 1905-1907, when the tsarist government resorted to the divide and conquer tactics, artificially setting these peoples against each other. Secondly, unfortunately, the religious factor also played a very important role in these events. Instead of thinking in state terms, the Dashnaks believed that since Azerbaijanis are Muslims of Turkic origin, they should be treated as hostilely as Turks. And this despite the fact that the objective interests of the Armenian people strongly dictated to their leaders the need to have good relations with their neighbors, resolving all issues on the basis of mutual compromises within the framework of a single South Caucasus. This opinion was shared by all Western representatives who visited the Caucasus in 1918-1921.
Reflecting on the March tragedy from a historical perspective, we can say that, having committed this crime, the Dashnaks rendered a great service to the central Bolshevik authorities of Russia, thereby undermining the foundation of the possibility of creating a single South Caucasian state. To a large extent, precisely because of this factor, the Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic, as we have already noted, proclaimed on April 22, 1918, was formed too late. By that time, that is, after the March events, the contradictions were already too strong for Armenia and Azerbaijan to be a single state. Often, historians do not take into account the fact that Bolshevism in Baku itself was possible only if it was supported by the battalions, which were at that time in this city, infiltrated by Dashnak propaganda. The historian should not talk about what did not happen, but today it is obvious that if there weren’t the March events of 1918, the prospect of creating a single federal state in the South Caucasus would be more than possible.
In 1918-1921, all foreign observers - German, Turkish, British, French, Italian and so on - agreed that the South Caucasus had only one chance to maintain independence from the Bolsheviks - the creation of a single South Caucasian state. This was well understood in Tiflis and in Baku, but, unfortunately, they did not understand and did not want to understand in Yerevan. Dashnak territorial claims against Azerbaijan and Georgia poisoned the atmosphere throughout the entire period of independence of the Caucasian states. It was the refusal of Yerevan from a constructive approach, first of all, to its own state building that was one of the greatest tragedies of that time in the South Caucasus.