`Baku 1905' - savagery in the Caucasian family - Part Two Armenian News Network / Groong March 30, 2015 By Eddie Arnavoudian Hrachig Simonian's 'On the Paths of Liberation' (Book 1, 2003, 815pp, Yerevan) shows clearly that like their Georgian counterparts wealthy Azeris also regarded Armenians as outsiders, as interlopers who had seized commanding economic heights. From the 1890s Azeri urban nationalists had been chomping at the bit. So when in 1905 opportunity presented itself to strike out against Armenian positions in Baku and the Caucuses in general the Azeri elite was ready to extend Tsarism a helping hand. The 1905 civil war, a savage clash initially sparked by Tsarist design was for this elite an opening gambit, a test run as it turned out, for the more decisive 1918 assaults on Armenian positions. I. Azeri Elites on The Rampage The Azeri capitalist class was also tethered to the oil industry where it was deeply resentful of Armenian superiority and its seemingly unstoppable expansion in oil production and associated industries and not just in Baku but throughout the Caucuses. It was therefore completely natural that behind Tsarist orchestrated '...ugly anti-Armenian provocations there stood wealthy Azeris. Here a particularly significant role was played by large oil producers Taghiev and the Mukhtar brothers (p47).' In turn oil rich Azeris had a natural ally in the decayed feudal landed aristocracy that thought to stem further decline by snatching what little remained of Armenian land in the region. Gearing up for nationalist war Armenians were offered up as legitimate mob targets, as foreign colonial settlers and exploiters who needed to be removed at all cost. A 1905 propagandist put the point succinctly: 'The Armenians have seized our land from us and exploit us without conscience. It is not enough that they suck our blood, now they have set about to exterminate us. We must now fight. It is either us or the Armenians.' (p416) The humbling of the Armenian capitalist class, the carving out of a structure for Azeri nationhood that would then strike out against Russian domination of which Armenians were also charged as agents - this was the ambition of emergent Azeri nationalism. It was a nationalism well oiled by anti-Armenian pan-Turkish chauvinism (Note 1) borrowed in part from an Ottoman Empire that happily sponsored Azeri elites as a battering ram against Tsarist Russia. Simonian correctly notes that: '...when tied to a political movement possessing a significant economic foundation pan-Turkism proved itself an extremely effective ideology. And here it was in 1905 adopted by a Turkish bourgeois class throughout the Caucuses that was conquering more and more positions and serving in addition the needs of a declining class of landowners (p349) Targeting all Armenians, Azeri mobs made a beeline for wealthy Armenian quarters and production centres in Baku. Arson and plunder of plush residences went hand in hand with attacks on Armenian owned oil fields that were put to flame. 'A substantial part of Baku's oil production' 'that belonged in the main to Armenians (p382)' was destroyed and a large section of Armenian workers and their families expelled from the city (p389). In another round of violence in October, 'tens of Armenian workers were killed while Armenian oil fields not burnt down in August and other Armenian owned workshops and factories, houses and dormitories were now put to flame (p416).' Azeri justification was that: 'They were only taking back oil rich fields that in the past had in fact belonged to them but had been seized by Armenians.' (p379). While Armenian oil fields burnt in Baku, in rural areas Armenian villages, land and property were targeted, livestock and stores looted and villages emptied of Armenians and repopulated with Azeris. Once again Armenian economic bastions were first targets with many well to do families murdered and their property seized. One example will suffice. In the wake of the Mikent slaughter, in 'just a day or two' Armenian 'wealth that had been built over 60 long years was transferred to Azeri landlords - over 590 head of cattle, thousands of sheep, mules and horses as well as vast amounts of accumulated domestic equipment and stores from 20 odd shops (p363). In such manner: 'The destruction of the Armenian economy in Nakhichevan that was one of the main aims of the slaughter was fully accomplished... with Azeris also going some way to cleansing the territory of Armenians. (p215) Representing a significant economic and demographic blow to Armenian life, the Azeri assaults of 1905 represented also a political defeat helping as it did to cement and solidify Azeri nation-formation, unify Azeri urban and rural elites, supplying them with national ambition and instilling them with confidence and aggression. 'If until (1905) Azeris from different provinces ... possessed no common aims, and for that reason a pan-national consciousness remained terribly weak, now with all Azeris fighting against Armenians, whether in Baku, Nakhichevan, Yerevan, Shushi, Gantzag or Zangezur there rapidly took shape a pan-Turkish identity and national consciousness (p342).' To drive forth their ambition Azeris united with Georgian elites to further ram their joint bandwagons against Armenian positions. Striving for Baku and Tbilisi to be core and capital for Georgian and Azeri states: 'They demanded that Tbilisi and Baku with its oil fields, cease to be separate municipal entities but be incorporated instead into their respective provinces. The population of the province of Tbilisi was overwhelmingly Georgian, that of Baku almost without exceptions Azeri... as a result the political weight of Armenians in both towns would be diminished (p533).' Thus did the Azeri elite gear up for the next round of its anti-Armenian battles. II. The Impotence of Armenian Elites Against the Azeri assault, Armenian elites could do no serious battle! Tsarist and Azeri leaderships acted with clear aims, the one to safeguard Russian imperial interests and, as an element of this, reduce the power of Armenian capital, the other to build positions for future moves against Armenian wealth in Baku. The Armenian leadership in contrast floundered pathetically. Its economic pillars and foundations were built in foreign, non-Armenian territories, in Tbilisi and Baku. It had no serious footholds in native Armenia and so no hinterland from which to project power, to defend its economic or social privileges or to retreat and regroup when necessary. It was to be their undoing. With no native base it could only and did only survive by virtue of the protective umbrella offered by Russian Tsars. Throughout the Caucuses Armenian elites had developed earlier and more rapidly than their Georgian and Azeri counterparts and had secured dominant positions and vast wealth, but decidedly only under the auspices of Tsarist colonial power. Without the structures and the apparatus of Russian colonial domination Armenian wealth would be powerless. Of this, Tsarism had made sure when it dismantled independent Armenian principalities immediately upon conquering the region in the early 18th century. Confronted in 1905 by a master now judging Armenian capital too big for its boots the Armenian leadership buckled. Simonian is scathing, showing the Armenian business class as grimy, shameless, sycophantic, crawling and despicable, relying on Tsarist power even as it was being whipped by it. Almost completely Russified in Baku (and Tbilisi) Armenian business had no national interests, no nation-building ambition and was contemptuous of anything not connected to cash. 'Even foreigners wrote frequently of the disgust brought forth by sycophantic Armenian merchants possessed only of unquenchable thirst to accumulate money (p525)'. In 1905 it was passive and impotent, 'a spiritually broken class just waiting for divine assistance (p69)', 'hiding like snails, hoping for peace through miracle (p94).' Wanting of any independence the Armenian leadership desired only the restoration of the status quo, only the re-imposition of a bankrupt Tsarist political, social legal and economic order, but tweaked to render it less anti-Armenian and to enhance Armenian national and religious rights, but always within the framework of Russian imperial power! In so far there was any hint of an 'independent' Armenian programme it was anti-democratic, designed to underpin commanding positions in Baku and Tbilisi at Georgian and Azeri expense. To isolate these towns from their Georgian and Azeri hinterland and so retain their commanding positions they proposed to assign them non-national status (p525, 531-534) in a wider a Caucasian Federation. Under intense Azeri fire, abandoned by the Tsar and with no fighting forces of its own the Armenian business class had little choice than to turn to the ARF that they had hitherto scorned, shunned and even betrayed to the state. A prominent ARF leader, Rouben, noting the pitiable state of the Armenian elite wrote in his 'Memoirs of an Armenian Revolutionary': 'One should have seen the confusion, the disillusion, the despair to which the Armenian bourgeois, its clergy and intelligentsia succumbed. They had become a ship without sail or oar. In view of the Tatar (Note 2) storm they hurled curses against that bent Russian cross they had worshipped only yesterday. And willy-nilly they began to turn their eyes towards us (p69).' And so it was to happen. As Armenian moneyed fortresses fell to Azeri assaults, an alliance was eventually secured between Armenian capital and the ARF. It is ironic that in its now 'socialist' phase the ARF began deploying forces to protect the homes, factories and wealth of Armenian capitalists that Shirvanzade reminds were as ruthless as any in exploiting Armenian workers (Note 3)! Brutally ironic too that this 'socialist' force described by Simonian as a defender of the Armenian people and aligned with the best of the revolutionary sections of the time, is shown to be driving internecine slaughter. And this for political ends essentially no different to those of Armenian elites - the securing of continued Tsarist rule but reformed to exclude the most virulently anti-Armenian wing of Tsarist power and rendered more tolerant of the Armenian national movement and Church! The Armenian elite survived 1905. But it was the long-term loser. Its realm in Baku was delivered a battering. Marking a major advance for Azeri nationalism, 1905 proved to be a first step in edging Armenian oil capital out of Baku. Against Azeri (and Georgian) elites rooted in their native lands, the Armenians had no real riposte unable as they were to match a challenge buttressed by an Azeri demographic majority, by Azeri wealth, by pan-Turkish fervour and Tsarist connivance. 1905 was to flare again in 1918, as bloody and as brutal. This time in the context of Tsarist collapse and of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, without imperial Russian protection Armenian elites were routed. For the common people of all nations 1905 was death, destruction and suffering and, worse still, a poisoning of the sources of national harmony almost beyond recovery. It heralded the break-up of the Caucuses as a possible `Swiss-style' but democratic state. It shattered prospects for a common supranational Caucasian patriotism that would incorporate in a democratic domain all its different nations and peoples enabling them to rise above and prosper beyond fratricidal animosities. III. Re-Evaluation of All Values The century and decade since 1905 enables at least one substantial conclusion. In the Caucuses, and Asia Minor too, exclusive, ethnically homogeneous nation states are untenable and anti-democratic, infecting the region with hatreds that will assuredly generate more blood, brutality and death. Nationhood after the fashion of some assumed classical model, built on the dominance of a single national group was born of catastrophes and required as premise extensive violent ethnic cleansing, national oppression and assimilation, all justified by supposed considerations of national security and cemented by various forms of odious chauvinism. In 1905 the Caucuses was inhabited by at least ten different national groups living in proximity, in adjacent villages, linked by dozens of determining, defining and indispensable social, economic, cultural and traditional bonds. Each community of common people, be they Azeris in Yerevan or Armenians in Baku contributed to building the towns and the land on which they lived. The land belonged not just to one, but to all. All quite legitimately regarded these as homeland, as the source and foundation of their lives. This demographic diversity had developed across the centuries both in times of vicious conquest and plunder and in times of peace (Note 4) Large Azeri communities lived in what is now the Armenian Republic. The 1897 census records Yerevan's population at 29,000 of whom 13,500 were Armenian, 13,000 Azeris and the remainder others. The population of the Yerevan province was 829,000 of whom 434,000 were Armenian and 352,000 Azeris. In Etchmiadzin, historic centre of the Armenian Church out of a population of 124,000, Azeris counted 45,000. Ganztag was inhabited by 878,000 people of whom Armenians numbered 294,000 and Azeris 554,000. Only 390 of its 1613 villages were Armenian. Zangezur was mixed and though Armenians constituted majorities, substantial Azeri communities had built lives in Sissian, in Ghaban and in Megri. Only in Goris was there no Azeri community. In Garabagh the population of Shushi totalled 33,000, of whom 18,000 were Armenian and 13,000 Azeris. The list is longer and we talk not of small minorities but frequently almost equal division. No Armenian or Azeri State could be constructed without whole regions being populated by large numbers of 'foreigners' who would naturally resent the dominant national group. Ethnically homogeneous states would be possible only through the removal or silencing of these native 'foreigners', be it by 'peaceful' means or other. Poet Avetik Issahakyan put it thus: 'Taking into account that we are dispersed among Turks... that this and other mixed communities give most cause for mutual grievance... we must endorse the concept of gathering up, we need to force out those Turks living in our midst, possibly even coming to mutual agreement to swap villages and thus create a collective Armenian mass...(p424)' Tragically aspects of this ugly programme have been realised. In the Soviet era Yerevan, Etchmiadzin and settlements around Lake Sevan have been emptied of their Azeri communities. Their descendants remember their history and chauvinist Azeris draw maps of `Greater Azerbaijan' that incorporate Yerevan, Zangezur and Sevan. The reverse story of Nakhichevan is well known, its Armenian community that in 1905 constituted 35% has vanished completely and every trace of Armenian civilisation that dates back a thousand years and more eliminated, reduced literally to dust. Bustling Armenian communities in Baku have been cleansed and all acknowledgement of their vast contribution to its economy effaced from records. In Tbilisi once a major Armenian educational, cultural and economic hub, the Armenian presence is now virtually invisible. Ethnic cleansing in the region continued into the post Soviet age, at an accelerated rate. The cost of constructing these exclusive, nationally homogenous states has been a century and more of injustice. To consolidate position and privilege factions of Armenian, Georgian and Azeri leaderships have each constructed a narrative of suffering, slaughter, injustice and land grabbing, of horrific crimes, but caused and committed only by the 'other'. Movements have mushroomed across all borders that legitimise oppression and ethnic cleansing in the name of `historical justice' and in the name of such `justice' claim entire regions exclusively for one or another national group. Yet history yields alternatives to all this, visions that can enable diverse national development within a single Caucasian entity. Azeri and Georgian movements can point to their own democratic thought. Armenian culture lines up figures such as Abovian, Derian, Toumanian, Shirvanzade, Movsisyan and many others whose patriotism rose to incorporate the diversity that has become the form of national existence in the Caucuses and in Asia Minor too. Respected today as literary figures, their wider social vision has been sidelined, even buried, falsified. Recovery is essential. IV. 1905 and 1915 - The Dye Is Cast - To Be Or Not To Be Armenia today is a nation in perilous retreat, at the endgame of survival. The 1915 Young Turk Genocide failed to annihilate the Armenian people. The 20th century witnessed a remarkable flourishing of Armenian life especially in the Soviet Armenian Republic. Even the Armenian Diaspora registered enduring cultural achievements. The Genocide did fail, but it did nevertheless deliver an almost fatal blow. In western Armenia, the larger portion of historical Armenian homelands, Armenian communities are no more. There, Armenian life, its architectural monuments, Churches, educational and artistic centres, an entire historical and cultural legacy in fact, has been buried beneath the rubble of Turkish State vandalism. Some of this can be salvaged. Many thousands of 'hidden Armenians' may emerge to challenge for national rights, but only as one community in a different society of diverse but equal nationalities! Many descendants of the Genocide may wish to return to their ancestral homelands. But whatever future democratic resolutions between Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish peoples there can be no resurrection of an imagined homogenous western Armenian historical past. In the Caucuses, the sole remaining Armenian-inhabited region of our historical homelands, 1905, 1918 and the round of post-Soviet nationalist wars have bloodied relations with the Azeri people with whom we have to live as neighbours if we are to survive. In Armenia itself, the corrupt elite of the Armenian Republic continues to bring the nation to its knees rapidly emptying the land of its people, impoverishing and driving them overseas. This elite that is an accomplice in the destruction of the Armenian nation cannot defend the Armenians of Garabagh who are subject to an unrelenting Azerbaijani offensive that will eventually target Armenia as a whole. In Georgia Armenian communities are being asphyxiated. Bastions of the Diaspora, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iran are in terminal decline while assimilation inevitably washes away national identity from Armenian communities in Europe, Russia and the Americas. No 100th anniversary commemoration or Great Power Genocide Recognition will reverse this decline. Those from whom our leaders plead for recognition have no interest in a viable and empowered Armenia. In the USA all administrations would much rather the Armenian community and Armenian lobby vanished! The French state, despite its Genocide Recognition, has never been a friend to the Armenian people (Note 5). Russia similarly (Note 6). Today it resorts to correcting its demographic crisis by enticing young and skilled Armenians to abandon their homeland in order to rebuild Russia. Simultaneously it shackles Armenia militarily and economically. Only the nations and peoples of the region can fashion a viable future. Acknowledging that we all belong to the region and that we all have a right to live in what has historically become homeland for us all, we alone can secure a decent, humane co-existence. How this will be done cannot be clear before the effort is begun. But one thing is certain: any democratic resolution will discard hardened and fixed conceptions of nationally exclusive statehood that has been secured in part by doing wrong to other peoples. Historical wrongs done by any party are amenable to correction, but outside the structures of ethnically defined nation states. -- NOTE 1: Besides Azeri, Ottoman and Georgian chauvinism sits their Armenian brother marked by its particular elite supremacism, a Euro-centric haughtiness, an express readiness to act as 'agents of (European) civilisation' in a backward east. Simonian's book is a prime example! How tragic a degeneration when compared with his fine two volume biography of Antranig! NOTE 2: Prior to the 1918 emergence of an Azerbaijani state, with no distinctive Azeri nationality, frequent terms used to describe the population of the region were `Turkish' or `Tatar'. This has been the case with both Armenian and non-Armenian authors. NOTE 3: See Shirvanzade, `In the Furnace of Life', Selected Works, Volume 5, 1988; and `The Autobiography of an Armenian Novelist', Groong, 8 November 2004 NOTE 4: See `Giragos Gantzagetsi - History of the Armenians' Groong, 27 July 2009, `Tovma Medzopetsi's Chronicle of the Final Destruction of Armenia', Groong, 3 June 2013 NOTE 5: See `Cilicians and the Armenian Genocide', Parts 1 and 2, Groong, 28 February 2014 and 27 August 2014 NOTE 6: See `Armenia's Russian Problem - a historical overview', Groong 5 December 2011 -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.
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