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I plan to collect historical documents and articles by various authors in this blog, usually without comments. Opinions expressed within the articles belong to the authors and do not always coincide with those of mine.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Armenian Atrocities in the Caucasus

Source: Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922, The Darwin Press, 2nd Printing, 1996, pp. 208-218:


The suffering of Armenians in the Caucasus during and immediately after World War I, particularly the suffering of Armenian refugees from Anatolia, is well-known and well-recorded. 141 Starvation and disease among them were great and mortality massive. The direct cause of mortality undoubtedly was the precipitous flight of Armenians from Ottoman armies at the end of the world war. To the toll of dead refugees must be added the deaths of Armenians caught by vengeful Ottoman soldiers or by Muslim villagers who had returned to their homes to find their Muslim brothers slaughtered. What is not generally known is the great suffering and loss of Turks and other Muslims of the region.

The history of Muslims in Caucasian Russia was closely tied to the political and military events that followed upon the Russian Revolution of 1917. The slaughter of Muslims within the borders of the Russian Empire began after the initial Ottoman invasion and defeat in the Kars region (1914-15). An example of the events was recorded in the district of Oltu (part of the Russian Empire since 1878). The Russians lost Oltu to the Ottomans in December of 1914, but soon retook it, in January of 1915. Attacks on Muslim villages followed, comparable to those occurring in eastern Anatolia. However, such slaughter was localized and generally kept in check by Russians in the borderlands. There is little evidence on the status of Muslims in Russian Transcaucasia in the quiet middle period of the war. They were surely more secure in 1916 than from 1917 to 1920.

In the spring of 1917, the Russian army was poised to complete its conquest of eastern Anatolia, ready to take Diyarbakir, Harput, and all the territories south to Iraq. However, the Russian February Revolution changed all campaign plans. Word of the revolution filtered through to the troops in Anatolia in spring, and no one, troops or officers, was willing to act before the new political situation was understood. Although Russian troops in Anatolia held on longer than those on the Russian western front, eventually they, too, began to desert en masse. After the Bolshevik Revolution (7 November 1917), there was no Russian army left. What remained were a few hundred Russian officers and the Caucasian troops, primarily Armenians. In theory, these were the troops of the newly founded Transcaucasian Federation, which included Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, but the three new republics soon separated and the soldiers became the army of the Armenian Republic.

The soldiers of the Armenian Republic and allied Armenian guerrilla bands faced an impossible prospect between 1917 and 1918. Without the Russians, the Armenians were militarily incapable of standing up to the Ottoman army. Moreover, the Armenians were forced to organize and protect a vast Armenian refugee migration from the Anatolian provinces. (After the events of the war, the Armenians of the regions of Anatolia previously conquered by Russia could rightfully expect deadly revenge from local Muslims and returning Muslim refugees.) Because of their weakened military state, the Armenians were forced to withdraw to Russian Armenia (the old Erivan Province) and surrounding areas. They resolved to ensure that at least one region would be Armenian -- ensured by massacring or forcing the migration of resident Muslims. To the west, a similar fate was to befall the Armenians of Azerbaijan, although to a far lesser degree. Refugees crossed the borders in both directions.

By 1919, the majority of Muslims who had resided in Erivan Guberniia (Province) had either died or had become refugees outside the boundaries of the Armenian Republic. These Muslims had not easily left their homes. Even though many had been expelled in the spring of 1918 (some as early as late 1914), some had returned to their homes several times in the hope that political events would become more settled. Upon each return, more Muslims were lost, and fewer of them remained to migrate yet again. Their farms were never returned to them. They were caught up in the last act of the great population exchange that had begun a century before. As Armenian refugees from Anatolia came into the Armenian Republic, they took the farms of the refugee Muslims. The Muslims in turn were either massacred or driven out to Anatolia or Azerbaijan. There were perhaps 150,000 surviving Muslim refugees from the Armenian Republic in September of 1919, and these were rapidly dying. Many of the survivors had in fact been forced to flee to whichever regions offered the most immediate refuge. These were often mountainous territories little able to sustain large numbers of refugees. For example, the survivors of 22 Muslim villages of Erivan Province fled to the plateaus of the Üçtepeler Mountains. It is not possible to trace the ultimate fate of these people, but it could not have been a happy one. The Muslims who had returned to their farms in the Novobayazit area were not heard from again. It was rumored that they were massacred. The few Muslims that survived within the Armenian Republic were often in worse shape than the refugees, and no hand was raised to help them. They had no food and no seed. Through numerous forced migrations they had lost everything.

In areas under the control of the Armenian government, the machinery of the state was brought to bear against Muslims. For instance, not only were taxes on Muslims arbitrarily raised beyond their ability to pay, but those who went to the Armenian gendarmerie to complain were never heard from again. When possible, Muslim villagers resisted, probably armed by the Ottomans. This was particularly true in Nahcivan (Nakhichevan) and in the area of the Russian Kars Province, where Muslim Turks were a majority. The resulting war in those regions added greatly to the casualties on both sides. Ottoman forces that invaded the Caucasus at the end of the war estimated that by May of 1918, 250 Muslim villages in the eastern Caucasus had been burnt down by Armenians.

Local Muslims in the Kars Province formed governmental bodies after the Ottoman defeat in World War I removed for a time the chance for protection afforded by Ottoman troops. These bodies made contact with the Turkish Nationalist forces that were organizing in northeastern Anatolia and provided the Nationalists with detailed lists of the destruction wrought in their region by the Armenian forces. One report from Kaǧzman, for example, listed more than 100 Muslim Turkish villages that had been destroyed by Armenians, along with estimates of the thousands who had been killed and the approximately 10,000 who were homeless.

The Ottoman Army Command in the east stated in May of 1918 that "the majority of the Muslim villages of Kars, Sarikamş, Erivan, Ahilkelek, and Kaǧzman have been destroyed by the Armenians." In their reports, they listed many villages by name (e.g., in one report, Tekueli, Haci Halil,Kalul, Harabe, Dagor, Milanli, Ketak, Alaca, Ilham, Dangal, Ararca, Mulabi, Morcahit, etc.) 151, or sometimes only stated the number of villages destroyed (e.g., "in April, 67 villages of Saragil District were razed to the ground").

Even the British, who were powerfully committed to the Armenian cause and the creation of an Armenian state, formally warned Armenians about massacres of Turks in "Armenia proper" and in Baku. They told the Armenians that they would lose world sympathy if such massacres went on.


Prior to the war, the city and province of Kars had been part of the Russian Empire. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, many of the Armenians of Kars Province had emigrated to the southern Caucasus, fleeing the Ottoman advance. Muslims who had earlier fled the province returned. The Muslims of Kars had unquestionably been a majority before the war. 154 Upon the Ottoman defeat, they formed a Muslim National Council (the Shura) in Kars Province. The British, who began a de facto occupation of Kars on 19 April 1919, gave civil and military power in the province to the Armenians, because it was expected that Kars would become part of the new Armenian Republic; 155 the Muslim majority was not consulted on this issue. Muslims were disarmed and their weapons given to Armenians, so that in effect the only armed forces in the province were Armenian bands and some Kurdish tribes.


Religion Population Proportion
Orthodox 49,295 0.17
Armenian* 72,967 0.251
Roman Catholic 4,373 0.015
Other Christian 16,963 0.058
Jewish 1,204 0.004
Muslim 145,852 0.502
Total 290,654

* Gregorian and Armenian Catholic.
SOURCE: 1897 Russian Census.

Muslims began to be massacred even before the British had left Kars. On 19 April, the band of the Armenian "Karch Murat" dragged 7 Muslims from a train on the Kars line and killed them. Because the British were still present, a board of enquiry was set up and Karch Murat and his band convicted, but no one would or could arrest them. The crimes in Kars continued in this vein -plunder, robbery, devastation, and murder. In July 1919, the Armenian army began to attack and destroy the Muslim villages of the Karakurt-Sarikamş region with artillery and machine guns. The village of Büyük Şatak was destroyed and five Muslims were killed. Thirteen villages were devastated in the SaǧlŞk District, and 25 villages in the Horosan District. Large numbers of Muslim-owned sheep and cattle were confiscated.

The slaughter of Muslims in the Kars district was mostly contained in the agricultural areas of the province, the areas inhabited by Turkish speakers. Armenian bands plundered Turkish villages between Kars and Oltu and plundered Akqakale, Babirguend, and other towns and villages. Sixty Muslims of Kaǧzman were killed by Armenians, as were the Muslims of the village Puzant. The Turks of Iǧdir were either led away by armed bands or killed. Ali Riza, the Turkish governor of Kaǧzman, compiled a list of villages pillaged by Armenians after the Muslim National Assembly in Kars was dissolved: Digur 63; Kaǧzman 45; Karakorun 45; Sarikamş 46; and many more. Ali Riza also cited the names of the leaders of the Armenian bands -- 68 names in all. A formal Turkish Commission of Inquiry sent to the areas of Shuregel and Zarshat to investigate Armenian atrocities listed the houses destroyed in each village ("45 in Shurgel, 60 in Agnatch, 70 in Ilanli. . . ."). The crimes reported were sadly typical of what had been seen often in eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus -- villages pillaged and burned, flocks and belongings taken, rapes and murders. Nowhere on the Kars plain, or in the Erivan region to its north were Muslim villages safe. Individual murders and pillaging of Turks living on the plain by Armenians and sometimes Greeks were frequent. However, the mountainous areas of the province were defended by Kurdish tribes, who kept the Armenian forces from going too far beyond the plains and the cities. Kurds and Armenians fought what can only be called a blood feud -- each murdering any of the other who fell into their hands. Perhaps the only Western observer to actually see the situation, the British Colonel Rawlinson, reported that caravans of Muslim refugees were constantly leaving the Kars plain. He recorded reports of torture as well as murder, which he investigated and found to be accurate. Kars was also the scene of terrible suffering for Muslim refugees from Erivan Province and other areas designated as Armenian. Twenty-five thousand refugees from those areas were gathered in the Kars region in 1919. Many of these refugees were set upon by Armenian bands and soldiers in Kars province. Many were killed at Sarikamş after they had fled from Armenian massacres and destruction of their villages. In a letter to King George of England the president of the Muslim meclis (assembly) of Kars, Ibrahim, described the situation emotionally, portraying the Armenians as those "who completely destroyed and ruined more than 1,000 Mohammedan villages in the south west of the Caucasus [including the Kars region], who shed the blood of about 100,000 innocent Mohammedan women and children, and who have left neither honour nor property unspoiled and untouched."

Colonel Rawlinson came to the same conclusions regarding Armenian actions and intentions:

I had received further very definite information of horrors that had been committed by the Armenian soldiery in Kars Plain, and as I had been able to judge of their want of discipline by their treatment of my own detached parties, I had wired to Tiflis from Zivin that "in the interests of humanity the Armenians should not be left in independent command of the Moslem population, as, their troops being without discipline and not being under effective control, atrocities were constantly being committed, for which we [the British, who gave Kars to the Armenians] should with justice eventually be held to be morally responsible."


Baku felt the effect of the Russian Revolution of 1917 more quickly and more completely than other areas of the Caucasus. Workers in the oil industry and Armenians of the town were ripe for Bolshevik and Armenian nationalist revolutionary organization. Baku was thus ruled by an uneasy alliance of a Soviet revolutionary committee and Armenian Dashnaks. Such a combination worked against the Azeri Turks (or, in the Russian usage, Tatars) of the city, who were neither Armenian nor Bolshevik sympathizers. From 30 March to 1 April 1918, the Tatars were attacked. Almost half of the Muslim population of Baku was compelled to flee the city.

Between 8,000 and 12,000 Muslims were killed in Baku alone. On the night of 14 September 1918 as the Armenian forces had retreated from the city, local Muslims took their revenge and killed almost 9,000 Armenians. Turkish troops entered the city on 16 September, restored order, and protected the remaining Armesnians.

Armenian troops who entered territory claimed by the Azerbaijan Republic destroyed all Muslim villages in their path.

As Richard Hovannisian has written of one guerrilla leaders, Andranik:

The routes south were blocked by regular Turkish divisions. Backtracking, [the Armenian guerilla leader and general] Andranik then pushed over Nakhichevan into Zangezur, the southernmost uezd of the Elisavetpol guberniia. Remaining there for the duration of the world war, Andranik's forces crushed one Tatar village after another.

The Azerbaijani population was forced to feed and house, when they could, approximately 60,000 refugees who had fled into their territory by the end of 1919. Admiral Bristol, the American plenipotentiary in Istanbul, basing himself on the reports of the American representatives in the Caucasus, stated that the 60,000 refugees had come from 420 Muslim villages destroyed by the Armenians.

American intelligence operatives and diplomatic representatives reported the usual sequence in which Armenian troops attacked Turkish villagers, often killed them, and forced them to flee, in response to which the government of Azerbaijan was sometimes able to respond. The Armenian Prime Minister stated to H. V. Bryan, American Liaison Officer to the Allied High Commission in Armenia, that the Armenian army was busy surrounding Turkish villages and "starving them into submission." The attacks were partly due to the desire of the Armenians for more extensive and secure boundaries and access to the railroad running through primarily Turkish-inhabited lands, and partly due to traditional hatreds that had surfaced in 1905. Whatever the reason, the result was that Turks were forcibly removed from their villages or killed. In London, Curzon told an eminent Armenian delegation of the "foolish and indefensible conduct of their compatriots on north-eastern frontiers of Armenia." Curzon quoted to them lists of outrages committed, which showed the Armenians had been much the worse offenders.


[Admiral Bristol] I know from reports of my own officers who served with General Dro that defenseless villages were bombarded and then occupied, and any inhabitants that had not run away were brutally killed, the village pillaged, and all the livestock confiscated, and then the village burned. This was carried out as a regular systematic getting-rid of the Moslems.

Before the war, the Muslims of Erivan Province constituted almost as large a population as the Armenians. They were among those of the Caucasus who most suffered. Evidence from Erivan, however, was fragmentary. Refugees brought out reports of villages burned and massacred, but few first-hand reports by others were available. The Ottoman or Turkish Nationalist armies never entered much of Erivan Province, so the Ottomans made few detailed reports on Erivan's Muslims. The Muslim Council of Kars compiled a list of destroyed Muslim villages in part of Erivan, probably from refugee reports, which detailed by name and mortality the villages destroyed by 1 October 1919 -- 91 villages destroyed in two districts alone. The Turkish government stated that 199 Muslim villages in the Armenian Republic had been destroyed, probably not much of an exaggeration. In March of 1920, the Republic officially protested the massacres in the Armenian Republic, listing by name the villages destroyed and estimating that the Armenian state "had devastated more than 300 villages and massacred the most part of the Mussulmans populating these villages." Even the Persian government, which was not given to complaint because it was largely under the control of occupying British soldiers, spoke out against the slaughter.

However, the most telling criticism came from Armenians, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party of the Armenian Republic:

To the President of the Parliament [of the Armenian Republic].

We beg you to announce to the Minister for Home Affairs the following demand: Is the Minister informed that during the last three weeks on the territory of the Armenian Republic within the boundaries of the Echmiadzin, Erivan and Sourmalin districts a series of Tatar villages, for instance Pashakend, Takiarli, Kouroukh-Giune, Oulalik of the Taishouroukh Society, Agveren, Dalelar, Pourpous, Alibek of the Arzakend Society, Djan-Fida, Kerim-Arch, Agdjar, Igdalou, Karkhoun, Kelani-Aroltkh of the Echmiadzin district as well as a series of other villages have been cleared of the Tatar population and have been exposed to robbery and massacre. That the local police not only did not prevent but even took part in these robberies and massacres, that these events left a very bad impression on the local population which is disgusted with these robberies and disorders and who wish to live in peace with their neighbors and request that the guilty be accordingly judged and punished as they are to this day left unpunished.

The Armenian Socialist Revolutionaries had complained of the massacres both in the Parliament and in their newspaper, The Revolutionary Banner.

Although, as might be expected, their evidence tended to lay blame solely on their political opponents, the Dashnak Party in power, their evidence completely supported the contentions of the Azerbaijan government.

The Nahcivan region, in the south of the Russian Erivan Province, had the misfortune to be the site of the main railroad line that connected Armenia to Iran and further east. The Armenian Republic decided not only that it must hold the railroad line, but that the line would never be secure as long as the region through which it passed was almost totally Turkish in population. Therefore, it was decided to rid the entire line of the railroad of adjacent and nearby Turkish villages, which were destroyed by Armenian regular troops. The Armenians attacked Muslim villages with artillery and machine guns, as they had earlier near Sarikamş. Armenian partisan bands assisted in the attacks on the Turkish villages. For example, a large Armenian band of perhaps 1,200 attacked the villages of Elmah (688 reported dead) and Aǧuşma (516 dead), among others in the Nahcivan region. The villagers were either killed or forced to flee to Azerbaijan or Turkey.

Admiral Bristol summarized the events and laid political blame for the tragedy:

The Armenian government, with its regular forces, attempted to clear the Tatars away from a railroad for twenty-seven miles and this has caused Tatar refugees to the extent of many thousands. This is similar to the Greek operations in the Vilayet of Aydin. It will also be noted that the British, in encouraging the Armenians, did not act according to the principles of humanity or self-determination. They were party to a plan to conquer another race and place the minority to govern a majority when they must have known full well that the minority was not capable of governing itself, not to mention providing government for the majority.

It was the Armenian attacks that actually cemented the resolve of the Azerbaijanis to form an army and defend the Turks. They eventually made a stand and held the Armenians, but not until the "twenty-seven miles" of villages had been lost.


270,000 "Turco-Tatars" in 1914*
89,000 in 1926
181,000 Lost (67%)

*Adjusted to postwar boundaries.
SOURCES: 1915 Russian Statistical Yearbook and 1926 U.S.S.R. Census.

The best evidence on the massacres and forced deportations of the Muslims of Erivan comes from population statistics taken before and after the wars. Table 15 presents figures for the population of Turks (called "Turco-Tatars" in the Russian statistics) in Erivan before and after the wars. All Muslims are not included in the table, because the 1926 U.S.S.R. census did not give population by religion, and Muslim ethnic groups other than Turks were not specifically listed in the 1914 figures. The non-Turkish Muslims in Erivan can be assumed to have suffered as badly as did the Turks.

From the beginning of the First World War until the first postwar census, two-thirds of the Muslims had disappeared from Erivan Province. Many of these were refugees and many of them died. Erivan Province, which had begun as a majority Muslim province in the 1820s, had only a small Muslim minority at the beginning of the 1920s.

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