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Electronic version of  “ARMENIA: The Survival of a Nation”, revised second edition © 1990 Christopher J. Walker


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3 The Infirmities of Autocracy



The Russo–Turkish War of 1877–8


The war of 1877–8 differed from the Crimean war in originating less from the rivalries of the great powers than from the bid of subject peoples for freedom – in this case the people of eastern Europe under the heel of the Turks. The Ottoman empire was incapable of giving them the rudiments of a civilised administration, or, when they rose in revolt, of responding in a way other than massacre. Few acts of internal suppression have had such extensive repercussion as the 'Bulgarian atrocities' of April 1876 (see below, pp. 106–7). Such manifestations of Turkish policy increased the strength of the new ideology of pan-Slavism within Russia, creating a wave of feeling there which led to war, despite the fact that the tsar and his foreign minister were not men of a pan-Slavist outlook.

            Pan-Slavism was a popular ideology, anti-Western, anti-Habsburg – it had emerged among the Czechs in the 1820s – and anti-Ottoman. Its devotees sought to unite the Slav peoples under Russian protection, and to control Constantinople and the Straits.1 Its ideological ramifications could only be seen as insulting by the Asiatic non-Slav peoples of the Armenians and Georgians; but in the context of eastern Europe it constituted a genuine idealistic force, inspiring the people to throw off the alien yokes of Austria and Turkey. By extension it had the practical benefit of focusing attention on Turkey's unjust and cruel treatment of all her subject peoples (including the Armenians) at a curious and brief juncture in history when moral considerations were actually a factor to be taken into account. It is no accident that one of the most influential and able pan-Slav activists, the Russian ambassador at Constantinople, count N. P. Ignatyev, was also a supporter of the Armenians.

            Russia had made great economic and administrative advances in the two decades following the Crimean war, which were reflected in a confident foreign policy. In 1871 she took advantage of disarray among the other great powers to obtain their agreement for the nullification of the clauses in the treaty of Paris, which had concluded the Crimean war, which bound her not to build naval arsenals or dockyards in the Black Sea. Although there was no immediate aggressive intention in this action, Russia was thereby ready to seize any opportunity which was offered.2

            The crisis which began with revolts in the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina led to war between Russia and Turkey in April 1877. As in the Crimean war, the Asiatic theatre of the war was comparatively unimportant


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when set beside the struggle for eastern Europe. Exemplifying Armenian progress within Russia, and the alignment of the vast majority of Armenians in the imperial struggle fought in their land, six of the commanders of the Russian army in Asia were Armenians; in overall command of the Asiatic front was General M. T. Loris-Melikov (descended, as his name indicates, from the meliks of Lori, but 'at some remove'), who was later to become Alexander II's last chancellor.* Among those beside him were General Ter-Gukasov, in command of the Yerevan force, and Generals Lazarev and Shelkovnikov (Ipekdjian).3

            Loris-Melikov captured Ardahan on 17 May. But thereafter Russian progress was slow, chiefly due to the strong defence put up by the Turkish commander, Ahmed Mukhtar Pasha, whose ability was in complete contrast to that of the Turkish generals at the time of the Crimean war. The Russians were repulsed at Zivin (25 June) and on the Yahni hills (2 October), when Ahmed Mukhtar's stand earned him the title of Ghazi, but they broke through at the Aladja Dagh. On 18 November Russian forces, acting upon a plan drawn up by General Lazarev, took Kars by storm.4

            Meanwhile on 4 November another Russian force, under the leadership of General Heimann (of Jewish extraction), a man with a taste for bold and spectacular exploits, had captured the vital, heavily defended Deve Boyun ('camel's neck') pass, a feat of extraordinary bravery.5 Four days later Heimann, impatient for action, made an attempt against Erzerum itself; but he was beaten back, and his soldiers paid dearly for it, for


nearly every Russian found lying on the ground was decapitated, or otherwise mangled; and these dreadful crimes appear to have been perpetrated by women from the city, who, when it was seen that the Russians were defeated, issued forth with knives, hatchets, and other household weapons, to despatch the wounded who lay gasping on the ground.6


The Russians proceeded to lay siege to Erzerum. Weather conditions were extreme: streets were a mass of solid ice, and rivers froze to a depth of eighteen inches. Typhus raged in the Russian camps, claiming three Russian generals (including Heimann) as victims. The siege only ended with the Turkish capitulation in Europe on 31 January 1878. Under the terms of the armistice Russian forces entered the town eight days later.7

More than five months later the treaty of Berlin settled the affairs of the Near East to the satisfaction of the statesmen of Europe. The international footfalls that led to the convening of the Berlin congress and the conclusion of


* Loris-Melikov spoke Armenian as his first language, and remained a member of the Armenian Apostolic Church, thereby showing the high position that non-Orthodox could attain within the Russian empire (Capt. H. M. Hozier, The Russo–Turkish War (London, 1878?), p. 828).


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the treaty belong more to the sphere of Ottoman Turkey, and are therefore discussed in the next chapter (pp. 111–16). But the outcome for the Asiatic boundary between Russia and Turkey was that, although Russia was compelled for the second time in the century to evacuate Erzerum, she kept Kars (captured for the third time), and gained Ardahan and Batum (which had remained unconquered by the time of the armistice).



Armenian Thought after 1878


With the addition of Kars to the Russian empire, a new confidence can be discerned among Armenian nationalists, writers and political thinkers. It was a confidence which led to impatience. The caution and steady advancement which most Armenians had pursued in the preceding half-century gave way to a fierce desire for change. But here their views mirrored those of earlier decades, since the change which they sought was not within Russian dominions, it was across the border, in Turkish Armenia. Most were still prepared to tolerate for the time being the restrictive bureaucracy of tsardom, which afforded them a secure base as they devoted their energies to amelioration of their fellow Armenians in the realm of the sultan.

            Russian Armenians showed an increasing concern for their brethren in Ottoman domains: Armenian patriots considered Turkish Armenia as the yerkir, or the land, the real homeland of the Armenians, of which Russian Armenia was just an outlying province. A movement came into being called Depi Yerkir, or 'Towards the Homeland', which directed the energies and attentions of Russian Armenians on conditions across the frontier. A number of Armenians from Transcaucasia went into Turkish Armenia to study and report on the conditions of their brethren there.8

            Armenian writers of the time reflected this overriding concern with Turkish Armenia. The most important Armenian novelist of the period was Raffi (1835–88, the pen-name of Hakob Melik-Hakobian). Two of his works, Jelaleddin and Khente ('The Fool') were set in the period 1877–8 and depicted the sufferings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. He had travelled in Turkish Armenia as early as 1857. His novels had an overtly political content, even when they were historical romances. He advocated the use of arms for throwing off the Turkish yoke – a policy which had been so successful in the Balkans – but warned his fellow-countrymen not to expect assistance from Europe, since the great powers only used the Armenian question as a counter in their intrigues with one another.9

            Another writer whose work encapsulates the new feeling after the war of 1877–8 was Rafael Patkanian, often known by his pen-name of Kamar Katiba. He spoke of a new life awaiting the Armenian people, and of the emancipation that would come to the Armenians as it had come to the Balkan


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peoples. The lesson was that they should awake, organise and arm themselves.10

            Developments in education showed that the tendency towards emancipation was general. Paradoxically, the movement towards the secularisation of education came from the Church itself. When the Russian authorities had entrusted Armenian education to the Church (under the terms of the statutes of 1836) they believed that they had left it in the ineffectual hands of ignorant clerics. However, the Armenian Church again demonstrated its role as the bastion of the entire nation, for a number of the teachers in the parochial schools were men of a modern outlook, who had been educated in Europe or Russia. They taught their disciplines in a critical and scientific manner, and paid great attention to Armenian history and culture. The Armenian schools thereby became centres of opposition to Great-Russian assimilation.11



The Conflict with the Autocracy


It was the position of these schools which brought about a lengthy conflict between the Armenian people and the Russian government. Until the 1880s the tsarist authorities had in general favoured the Armenians, as they had favoured all eastern Christian peoples; and the Armenians had recognised the benefits of security and progress that Russian rule conferred. Many Armenians, while maintaining their allegiance to their Church, had since the Russian conquest been happy to speak Russian and to change the endings of their surnames from -ian and -iantz to -ov.12

            Yet just at the moment when the Armenians in the Russian empire seemed to be gaining a new confidence, their political fortune changed. Tsar Alexander II, the 'Tsar-Liberator', was assassinated in 1881 by anarchists, and his successor, Alexander III, was an inflexible reactionary, dedicated to the extension of the Russian and Orthodox elements throughout the empire. The new tsar's mentor was a man of the narrowest outlook, K. P. Pobiedonostsev, procurator of the Holy Synod. His autocratic methods led to growing tension with Bulgaria, which since the Berlin congress had been a Russian satellite; Russo–Bulgarian disagreements culminated in a coup of 1885, when Bulgaria united with Eastern Rumelia, and ousted direct Russian influence from her affairs. Russia was thereafter very cautious about sponsoring nationalist movements among Ottoman Christian peoples. At the same time she needed to come to an understanding with Turkey over the Black Sea, where her ports were open to a possible British naval attack.

            In the Caucasus, the viceroyalty was abolished in 1882 with the retirement of the Grand Duke Michael, and the post of the imperial functionary in Tiflis was downgraded to that of governor-general. The fairly relaxed political climate in Transcaucasia, where the nationalities had been granted a tolerable measure of autonomy, changed into one of discipline and suppression.13


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            In this atmosphere of non-interference abroad and hardening arteries at home the Russian government struck at the Armenian schools. In 1884 it ordered a general shift in the elementary curriculum, with Russian language, history and geography as compulsory subjects. It also tried to control the finance of the schools, so that the Armenian Church would no longer be able to found schools at will.14

            The Armenian clergy rejected these demands; the government retaliated by closing all the schools. In 1886 the Armenian clergy acquiesced in the demands, and the elementary schools were reopened. For ten years the conflict smouldered, with the government demanding further Russification and the Armenians resisting it, but at the same time trying to keep the schools open.

            While the conflict remained unresolved, developments occurred within the Armenian community which made the government yet more suspicious of Armenians. Revolutionary organisations began to make their appearance among them. The circumstances which gave birth to these societies derived without exception from the social and political condition of the Armenians in the Ottoman empire; and the revolutionaries initially devoted all their attentions to their brethren across the border. But the presence of revolutionary organisations and their evident popularity among educated Armenians was sufficient for the whole Armenian population to be regarded with a suspicion and disfavour that would have been unimaginable even a decade earlier.

            Since the origin and development of the Armenian political parties pertain to the course of events within the Ottoman empire, they will appear in the context (see below, pp. 125–31). But their impact within Russian domains was sufficient to merit a brief glance here. Moreover, the two main revolutionary organisations were founded by men from Russian Transcaucasia, and the imprint of Russian Populism15 is strong on them – so strong indeed that it can be argued that they frequently misunderstood political relationships within the Ottoman empire.

            The first Armenian political party, the Armenakan, was founded in 1885 on Ottoman soil, and its policies related directly to Ottoman conditions. Two years later a group of émigrés from Russian Transcaucasia founded the first Armenian revolutionary party, in Geneva. It became known as the Hunchakian party (or Hunchaks – properly Hnchaks – for short), hnchak being the Armenian for 'bell'. The party aimed at a liberated socialist Armenia as a beacon for world revolution, an idea of some promise in Russia, but irrelevant to the backward medievalism of Turkish Armenia.16

            In 1890, a dashnaktsutiun, or federation, of the Armenian revolutionaries was formed, initially including the Hunchaks. But within a few years it had formed itself into a new, distinct organisation, Hai Heghapokhakan Dashnaktsutiun, or Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Its three intellectual fathers, Kristapor Mikayelian, Stepan Zorian and Simon Zavarian, had been educated at Russian universities, where they had been influenced by Populist ideas. Mikayelian himself was a member of the Narodnaya Volya.17


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            Within the first decade of their existence, the Hunchaks gained more supporters within Turkish Armenia and Anatolia, especially at the American missionary schools, but on Russian soil the Dashnaks (as members of Dashnaktsutiun became known) gained more support within the Russian Caucasus. The Dashnak party organ Droshak ('flag') was published in Tiflis, and soon they had cells in all the major cities in Transcaucasia. All their attentions were directed outside the Russian empire, towards Turkish Armenia; they were scrupulously careful not to attack the realm of the tsar in their early utterances.

            The mid-1890s, far from seeing the progress of the Armenians towards constructive national goals, were a period of disaster for them. In Turkey the failure of the great powers (principally Britain) to persuade the sultan to undertake reforms was cynically demonstrated in a series of massacres instigated by Abdul Hamid himself. And at the time when Turkish Armenians most needed assistance and help, two appointments were made which minimised any aid which the 'supporting elm' of Russian Armenia might have given to alleviate the suffering across the border.

            In January 1895 Russia's foreign minister, N. K. Giers, died. Giers's foreign policy, although formal and correct, was animated by a measure of concern. He was prepared to co-operate with the other great powers if events in the Ottoman empire became characterised by continuous massacre. This was not true of his successor, Prince A. B. Lobanov-Rostovsky. Prince Lobanov was a narrow reactionary, a stern upholder of the autocracy who refused to collaborate with the other powers in concerted action against the sultan. As Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, the brilliant and perceptive observer of the Near East, recorded in his diary:


I found out afterwards that on Giers' death the Russian policy towards Armenia underwent an entire change, though Philip Currie [British Ambassador at Constantinople] was not aware of it at the time. Instead of the old policy of protecting the Christian subjects of the Porte, Lobanov's policy was to encourage the sultan to exterminate the Armenians as allies of Russia's own Nihilists.18


            Prince Lobanov only held office for a year, but the time was sufficiently critical for his policies to have permanent influence.



Prince Golitsyn


The other appointment had a more direct bearing on Armenians within the Russian empire. From 1896 until 1905 the governor-general of the Caucasus was Prince Grigory Golitsyn. Professor D. M. Lang has written of him:


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Nicknamed 'Gri-Gri' in St Petersburg society, he was a man of the narrowest upbringing and outlook, owing his appointment to the personal patronage of a member of the imperial family. He had no understanding of the multiracial structure of the Caucasian society, and of the flexible tactics needed to maintain peace and harmony. His one idea was to russify the Caucasus politically and culturally, not by persuasion and example, but by the crudest political methods.19


            Golitsyn was just one arm of the ultra-reactionary bureaucracy that gripped the whole of the Russian empire at this time. Headed by Tsar Nicholas II, it included K. P. Pobiedonostsev, and the pogrom-fomenting V. K. von Plehve, minister of the interior. Golitsyn was von Plehve's creature in Transcaucasia.

            Golitsyn did not take long finally to close the Armenian schools. Then most of the Armenians were removed from the civil service throughout Transcaucasia.20 At the same time he encouraged the Russian colonisation of Armenia21 – although this was never popular with Russians, since the land on the eastern fringe of the Armenian plateau was scrubby and poor.

            His most spectacular assault on the Armenian community – one which irrevocably changed the relationship between the Armenians and the tsarist regime – occurred in 1903: a decree was issued on 12/25 June declaring that the state would henceforth manage the properties of the Church. Although the Church properties were not confiscated, since the Church still derived revenue from them, it henceforth had no control over the way in which it was spent. In the words of Luigi Villari, 'the Church was placed under tutelage, like an infant or a lunatic.'22

            The Church was outraged, and refused to co-operate; Russian police reacted by occupying Echmiadzin. They demanded that the aged Catholicos – the great patriot Khrimian Hayrig – hand over the keys of the monastery's safe to Prince Nakashidze, vice-governor of Yerevan (and a whole-hearted supporter of Golitsyn's policies), so that he could obtain the title deeds: the Catholicos too refused, so they broke the safe open and seized the papers.23

            Overnight, the entire Armenian nation in the Russian empire became converted to the cause of the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries, moreover, did not as previously direct their activities across the border, but against the functionaries of the tsar. They won over to their cause the two classes who had hitherto resisted them: the clergy and the bourgeoisie. Golitsyn's answer was police and Cossack terror; the Armenians retorted with bombing and shooting. An attempt was made on the governor-general's life in October 1903; although seriously wounded, he was able to continue for some months at his post. A number of other officials who had collaborated in the suppression of Armenians were assassinated.24

            Although Golitsyn's policies had met with unexpected opposition, he was determined that his anti-Armenian campaign should continue. But there were problems: the Russo–Japanese war broke out in January 1904, so all available soldiers were despatched to the Far East, Of the peoples within Transcaucasia,


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both the Georgians and the Russian minority were brimming with revolutionary sentiments, and so could not be expected to be servants of the autocracy. However there remained the Tatars.



Armenians and Tatars (Azeris)


The Tatars (or Azeris, as they have been known since the 1930s) were the least socially advanced of the three main national groups in Russian Transcaucasia. They had clung to their ancient loyalties to their feudal leader, and remained obedient to the dictates of their mullahs. The Russian conquest had altered but little the traditional patterns of their life in the countryside, since the government had permitted their leaders, the khans, beys and aghas, to keep their lands. But in the towns the enterprise that the Armenians had shown far outstripped that of the Tatars – something that was most noticeable in Baku, the industrial centre of Transcaucasia.

            Their predominant attitude to the Armenians was contempt; it would be wrong to say that there was a deep and bitter hatred towards them. There were indeed cases of extreme civility between the different nationalities – something that Baron von Haxthausen had found to be the general rule when he visited the country fifty years earlier.25 But there was an entrenched feeling of superiority of Muslim over Christian, and now a jealousy at Armenian material progress; and among the educated classes the ideology of pan-Turkism was making advances, which gave ‘intellectual’ justification to anti-Armenian sentiments. (Pan-Turkism was a secular, anti-Shi’ite, pro-Turkish movement, which necessarily entailed a reduction of the Armenian element and a neutralisation of their political claims. It had made progress among educated Tatars since the launching of Ismail Gasprinsky’s journal Ekinchi in 1875. See below, pp. 189–91).

            The varying national antipathies were kept in check by the stern hand of tsarism; and for their part the authorities realised that, if their hold were to be relaxed, and if they were to support one faction against another, a wave of terror would be unleashed.

            In July 1904 Golitsyn, who was said to have boasted ‘In a short time there will be no Armenians left in the Caucasus, save a few specimens for the museum,’26 left Tiflis for St Petersburg. His anti-Armenian policy was nevertheless pursued as vigorously as before; its main executant was Prince Nakashidze, now governor of Baku. Nakashidze paid a brief visit to Golitsyn in 1904.





Baku and the other industrial centres were at this time in a ferment of labour unrest. The labour movement in Baku had begun its work in 1898, and such was the exploitation of the work-force in the oil industry that it soon found a


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response. To a worker Baku must have seemed like a region of hell. There was no escape from the grime and grease; vegetation had fled from the peninsula decades ago. From time to time it rained oil. The oil magnates could impose the harshest and longest working days on their work-force in the certainty that nothing would stop them. At night the workers were herded into large rooms into which as many beds as possible had been crammed. (‘Dormitory’ would be a euphemism.) Almost the only solace was provided by vodka.27

            But with the coming to Baku of the Social Democrats the workers soon gained the weapon of the strike. There was a series of strikes in 1903, culminating in a general strike in July, in which Armenians joined. The division of the Social Democrat movement in 1904 into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions did not slow down the labour agitation. In December 1904 there was another general strike in Baku, led by the brothers Lev and Ilya Shendrikov (sympathisers of the Menshevik faction), to which all radical groups gave their support.28

            It has been said that this strike was one of the factors which precipitated the Russian revolution of 1905. Nevertheless, the 1905 revolution found Transcaucasia – and Baku in particular – in a turbulent and confused state. This was because there were two types of conflict in the region: the class conflict, between workers and capitalists, and the nationality struggle, between the various ethnic groups. Sometimes the conflicts merged into one another, when nationalist organisations (such as Dashnaktsutiun) assumed a vaguely socialist tinge. More often it led to a confusion of aim.

            Prince Golitsyn was relieved of his office of governor-general of the Caucasus on 14/27 January 1905, just five days after Bloody Sunday. The tsar realised that the loyalty of the turbulent Caucasus was in doubt and that conciliatory measures had to be taken. The office of Viceroy of the Caucasus was restored and Count I. I. Vorontsov-Dashkov appointed to it.29


Map 3. Baku


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            Vorontsov-Dashkov did not reach Tiflis until May. In the meantime the officials of Golitsyn’s era remained at their posts, notably Nakashidze in Baku.



The February Clashes


In early February 1905 bodies of murdered Armenians and Tatars were discovered in Baku. The atmosphere of wavering government authority had brought antipathies to the surface. The authorities for their part, by continually warning of the dangers of race conflict, could not fail to focus attention upon it. One day, a Tatar was arrested for offences against Armenians; as he was being taken away he tried to escape and was shot dead by an Armenian member of the police escort. His relatives thirsted for revenge, and a cousin named Babayev determined to do the deed. But Babayev was a poor shot, and in his attempt to get retribution he was himself shot by an Armenian. Baku seethed with racial hatred and fear.30

            Babayev’s funeral procession was a pretext for a political demonstration. But very quickly it developed further, as the Tatars saw the slain man’s body. On 19 february/4 March they poured out of their quarter and slaughtered all the Armenians they could lay their hands on. The authorities remained impassive. Thousands of requests for help were sent to Nakashidze, and despite having 2,000 soldiers at his disposal, he replied that he had no troops. Observers saw him travelling around Baku giving encouragement to the Tatars. In one incident, seeing some soldiers disarming a Tatar, he ordered that the man’s weapon be returned to him, which it was.31 British consul Gough, who visited the city just after the outbreak, described the situation thus:


The Armenians were mostly taken by surprise, and were slaughtered in the most brutal manner in the streets. Shops were broken open and plundered, and men, women and children fled for their lives towards the Armenian quarter of the town. When the firing began, a few Cossacks were sent into the streets, and in the many cases Armenians took refuge within their ranks, to be thrust out by the Cossacks and slaughtered by the Mussulmans. Fighting was going on in nearly every quarter of the town, and not a finger was raised by the authorities on either the Monday or Tuesday to put a stop to it.32


            Many of the Armenians were slaughtered without mercy in the streets; but one – a wealthy oil magnate by the name of Adamov – defended himself and his family with great bravery. Adamov lived in one of the grand, showy palaces that were the characteristic dwellings of Baku capitalists. Very soon after the killing began his villa was surrounded by a horde of Tatars, bent on murder. However, Adamov was a crack shot, and in a siege that continued for several days he felled many of his would-be assailants with a bullet between the eyes.


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Even when mortally wounded, and after the Tatars had set fire to the hallway of his palace, he continued to fire at his besiegers. When eventually he died his entire house was engulfed; but he had sold his life dearly.33

            About 1,500 were killed in the fighting; the proportion of Armenians to Tatars was three to two.34 Once the killing had ended the Tatar notables admitted, according to J. D. Henry, that they had been incited to violence by the authorities, who had armed many of them with rifles.

            Peace was proclaimed by (as vice-consul Urquhart put it) 'the authorities calling “time” '.35

            It was officially declared by a joint procession of the local Armenian bishop and the Chief Sayyid of the Shi'a Muslim community. The Sayyid later gave an address in the cathedral, and the bishop spoke in the mosque. The fires of hatred were damped down; nevertheless both sides continued to arm themselves.36

            Two months later Vorontsov-Dashkov arrived in Tiflis. He was a humane and enlightened Russian nobleman, a complete contrast to Golitsyn, whose disastrous policies he set about undoing. He sought an end to enmities in the Caucasus, but some people feared he was not strong enough to bring this about.



Nakhicheven and Karabagh


Within a week of Vorontsov-Dashkov's arrival Nakashidze was assassinated by Armenians – members of Dashnaktsutiun, which at this time was virtually the only organisation which stood between the Armenian population and the tyranny and violence of the government and the Tatars. On the day following the assassination Vorontsov-Dashkov faced his first real political challenge: an outbreak of massacre in Nakhichevan. In the town of Nakhichevan there were 6,000 Tatars to 2,000 Armenians, and in the surrounding countryside the Tatars numbered 65,000 and the Armenians 33,000.37 The landowners were all Tatar; the peasantry mixed Armenian and Tatar. Russian authority had never been powerfully exerted in Nakhichevan; most of the 'governing' was left to local Tatar feudal lords, whose policies amounted to little more than brigandage and extortion. Many Armenians had consequently abandoned the countryside; the large Armenian proletariat in Tiflis and Baku was drawn from the harassed peasantry of Nakhichevan.

            An atmosphere of violence had built up in Nakhichevan since the Baku massacre. The Armenians had requested protection, but the district governor and his assistant (a Finn and a Georgian) were anti-Armenian and denied them protection. All the local officials were Tatars. Fear grew rapidly. On 20 May/2 June 1905 Armenian shopkeepers in Nakhichevan closed their shops, believing atrocities and looting imminent. Three days later officials tried to allay Armenian fears, and on the 24th/6th they were persuaded to open their shops on the following day.38


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            When they did so bands of Tatars at once converged on them, looting them and setting fire to them and killing their owners. Prior to the assault the Tatars had organised themselves into four groups: one to murder the Armenians, a second to plunder and burn the shops, the third to take away the loot in carts, and the fourth ready to tend the Tatar wounded.39

            The Armenians were quite unprepared. Vile atrocities were perpetrated: Armenians were burnt alive in their shops. During the three hours of the attack about 50 Armenians were killed, and over a million roubles' worth of goods plundered.40

            After the town, the countryside: in the following days the murder and destruction spread to the countryside around Nakhichevan. Over a dozen nearby villages suffered a similar fate, with the inevitable result that the countryside was further depopulated.41

            Despite at first making the unsuitable choice of a Tatar general to conduct an enquiry, Vorontsov-Dashkov shortly afterwards appointed Prince Louis Napoleon, an officer with many years' service in the Russian army, as governor-general of Yerevan. (In Yerevan itself there had been a similar outbreak of massacre on 5–6/18–19 June.)

            His position gave him authority over Nakhichevan and Zangezur too, and he travelled there in person. Napoleon was one of the best sort of imperial public servants: energetic, impartial and firm. His methods were entirely different from those intriguing tsarist officials of the Golitsyn type, who secretly encouraged Tatars to attack Armenians, only to discover that their protégés had got out of hand. Napoleon managed to reassert a measure of order.42

            At this time Russia itself was in revolution. Georgia too, especially after the massacre of her citizens at Tiflis town hall on 29 August/11 September, was in a state of total defiance to the regime. But within Armenia, and in the Armenian communities throughout Transcaucasia, there was almost no participation in the revolution: their struggle was with the Tatars, who had been permitted by the authorities to wage race war against Armenians. (Whether the Tatars themselves were acting purely out of localised hatred and greed, or whether their attacks amounted to a larger pan-Turkist campaign of reducing Armenians so as to pave the way for a greater Turkish state is open to question.) Armenian energies were almost entirely taken up in combating the Tatar movement. Only dedicated Social Democrats like Stepan Shahumian pitted themselves against the autocracy.

            In late August further clashes occurred in Shushi (or Shusha), which is situated in Karabagh district, and at this time was within the Yelizavetpol guberniia (province). The population of 35,000 was evenly divided between Armenians and Tatars, but the Armenians had the advantage of occupying the upper parts of the town. Armenians were also well organised at Shushi. The Tatars had been emboldened by the impunity of the Baku massacres, and adopted a truculent attitude towards them. The events on this occasion began


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with Tatars attacking and plundering a busload of Armenians; for a few weeks counsels of peace prevailed, but then the killing increased in intensity, until by 2/15 September about 300 lay dead, of whom two-thirds were Tatars.43

            When the inhabitants of Baku heard of the Shushi outbreak, the city, fairly quiescent since February, grew tense. There had been a general strike in May, and three months later there was a tram strike. The workers were ordered back to work by the governor-general, and the trams were given armed escorts on 2/15 September. The strikers demonstrated and attacked one of the cars; shots were fired, and some Tatars were hit accidentally. At once firing became general throughout the city: soon several entire streets were alight. A strike had turned into a race riot.44



The Oilfields Ablaze


However, what made the September outbreak different from that of February was the effect that the news had on the population in the oilfields. Twelve miles to the north-east of Baku lies the triple oilfield of Balakhani-Sabunchi-Ramani. News of the outbreak in the city caused the Armenians to close their shops, and flee the centres for safety. On 3/16 September, hourly telephone calls from Baku told of the tide of death: then the telephone failed. At 4.00 that afternoon shots were fired: a volley from the 'Black Hundreds' (the striking-force of reaction throughout Russia), who tried to incite the Tatars against Armenians. But the attack was delayed, and it was not until the following day that the killings began. During a night of terrible suspense the bell of the Armenian church at Balakhani tolled ominously: no one was able to ascertain by whom or why this was done.45

            First target was some Armenian workmen who had taken refuge in a building of the Baku Oil Producers' Association; but the Tatars were driven off from here. They were driven off from a similar attack on workmen at the Va Wotan works. And, to their great surprise, they were themselves attacked and severely wounded by the Cossacks. A semblance of order returned. Later that day, however, encouragement came from Baku when the leaders of the Tatar community arrived at the oilfield. Then the inferno began. Oil wells and derricks were set ablaze; soon whole areas of the Balakhani were engulfed in a great beard of flame. The speed and size of the blaze astonished all who saw it. Panic-stricken men rushed out of the blazing debris, only to be shot down by Tatars. Oil tanks exploded, heavy shooting continued in all directions, and over all hung a mantle of thick smoke. One of the works to be set ablaze was the Armenian Ter Akopov business; an Armenian caught fleeing from it was torn apart, and the pieces thrown back into the blaze. The Tatar mob went from one works to another, setting them alight. On 7/20 September it was the turn of the Mantashev company. Again there was an immense conflagration, and the Tatars claimed afterwards that every workman had either been burned to death


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or shot. In the Ramani section of the field the Melikov works were fired, and 70 Armenians were burned to death. Eleven derricks were even destroyed in the Vorontsov-Dashkov property, belonging to the Viceroy himself.46 In the fields an estimated minimum of 1,500 men died.47

            On the other side of Baku lies the Bibi-Eibat field, adjoining the Caspian Sea. When news of the killings came to Bibi-Eibat, most Armenians were able to escape to a hill overlooking the oilfield. It was a desperate flight, undertaken in a sandstorm, but it secured their safety. Burning and killing lasted for a week in Bibi-Eibat: three-quarters of the entire oilfield was destroyed. A sinister aspect of the Bibi-Eibat outbreak was that some vessels landed numbers of killers at the bay. One night a schooner without lights was seen to glide by, making its way to the landing-stage of the Tagiev works, owned by a Tatar millionaire from Baku. The next day hundreds of armed Tatars were discovered at the works, who ran off in all directions when the authorities tried to arrest them. The one man arrested said that they had thrown a cargo of rifles into the sea.

            Close on 600 had been killed in a week – about three times as many Tatars as Armenians, for the latter had been prepared since the preceding February. This time the Tatars were denied the entire, overt complicity of the authorities, save for a few members of the Black Hundreds. During the week of conflagration, the monthly output of the five main fields was reduced from 735,036 tons to 296,218; out of 1,609 wells 1,026 had been destroyed.48

            As a tailpiece, and as an indication of industrial relations in Baku in 1905, one story should be told. On 8/21 September, the day after the worst inferno, the workshops of one Balakhani company received an order for 'quick delivery of thirty troughs'. The ground was still littered with corpses – many not yet rigid – of men butchered or burnt to death, whose dependants would now be destitute. Such matters were, however, mere trifles to the employers, and on the morning of 9th/22nd the works whistle blew as on any other day. Unfortunately the prophet Ezekiel was not present, and the corpses remained dead.49

            The 1905 Armeno–Tatar conflict, and the massive destructive violence of the September blaze in the oilfields, appear as a preposterous and gratuitous self-inflicted wound by the already weakened force of the tsar; but the situation has been duplicated elsewhere where 'subject races' have been controlled by a spiteful imperial functionary. Golitsyn's ill-educated, weak-kneed malevolence masquerading as strength has been echoed many times in other situations where the imperial power has been prepared to bring the country to the edge of ruin, and do serious damage to itself, rather than lose 'face' among the natives. This was the policy which Golitsyn and Nakashidze began. Once the policy had been initiated – once the Tatars had been incited to attack the disobedient Armenians – it proved very difficult to call a halt. The new conciliatory viceroy did not show himself strong enough to control the animosities; for if there is one thing that the low cunning of men of the Golitsyn type tells them it is that by playing with racial animosities they are playing with a very


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powerful poison indeed. The only antidote is an administrator of real authority and impartiality. It was not until 1912 that Vorontsov-Dashkov gained the confidence of the Armenians.

            With the collapse of the revolutionary movement at the end of 1905, conditions returned to autocratic stability in Transcaucasia, as in the rest of Russia. One of the main lessons that the Armenians had learnt from the battles was that they could fight back perfectly well, and were not always 'suffering Armenians'; in view of the sultan's killings across the frontier ten years earlier, this was of importance.



After 1905


In 1907 the Dashnak party adopted socialism as its goal; it had grown more radical as a result of the 1905 events; at the same time the party was admitted to the Second Socialist International. Its primary aim was still the liberation of Turkish Armenia, and the creation of an Armenian autonomous (but not independent) region, to which end the party put forward a list of somewhat impractical demands, largely irrelevant to the harsh, backward conditions of Ottoman Turkey.50

            Despite the autocracy's wish to consign Transcaucasia to slumber, revolutionary currents and nationalist activity continued. In one notorious incident, on 23 June/6 July 1907, a Bolshevik gang led by Kamo Ter-Petrosian raided the state bank at Tiflis, and netted a quarter of a million roubles for their party's funds.51

            Dashnaktsutiun, for its part, having been the main defence of the Armenian people in 1905, was viewed with increasing suspicion by the authorities, especially the arch-reactionary P. A. Stolypin, president of the Russian Council of Ministers. In 1911 the autocracy undertook a mass trial of the party; advocates for the defence included Alexander Kerensky and Pavel Miliukov. The trial fizzled out in a shower of light sentences in early 1912, as the direction of Russian policy changed with the need for the government to receive the backing of all influential Armenian groups for their adventures in northern Persia. Russia revived the question of Turkish Armenia, dormant since 1878. A renewed sense of hope ran through Armenian patriots.52



On the Eve


Russian policy exhibited a complete change. In November 1912 representatives of all Russian Armenian bodies met in Tiflis to discuss the situation in Turkish Armenia, and to set up an information campaign about Armenians. All this was done with the full co-operation of Vorontsov-


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Dashkov. Also with permission of the viceroy, the Catholicos of All Armenians established an 'Armenian Delegation' in Paris to co-ordinate pro-Armenian activities, and to publicise the Armenian case. In charge of the delegation was Boghos Nubar Pasha, wealthy son of Nubar Pasha, former prime minister of Egypt.53

            The viceroy, too – in a remarkable gesture – admitted that mistakes had been made. In his report of 11/24 July 1913 Vorontsov-Dashkov declared that Russia herself had created the past friction with her Armenian subjects 'by careless interference with the religious and national ideals of the Armenians'. He acknowledged that Caucasian Armenians entertained no separatist tendencies, and that outbursts of nationalist feeling had resulted from the confiscation of Church property. He averred that he had tried to prevent the recent prosecution of Dashnaktsutiun (which had been set up 'to demonstrate the revolutionary tendency of the whole Armenian nation'); but the counsels of 'ill-informed persons' in St Petersburg had prevailed.54

            There was in the air an almost palpable sense that Armenians were on the brink of a new political move, which would set to right the central, overriding concern of Armenians everywhere: the misrule of their people across the frontier at the hands of the Turks. The perceptive traveller, writer and Liberal member of Parliament Noel Buxton has given an unforgettable picture of Russian Armenia on the eve:


One fine evening in September [1913] I took a drive from Erivan, the Russian town near Ararat, to see the Armenian villages in the Araxes valley. The plain, that would be arid waste without irrigation, has here come to look like the rich land one sees in Belgium from the Berlin express, small farms intersected with cypress-like Lombardy poplars, but here growing vines, rice and cotton. The presence of orchards – mulberry or peach – is denoted by high mud-walls along the road. As we moved farther the walls became continuous, and ripe apricots and quinces leaned over them. Water-courses lined our route on each side, feeding the roots of a double row of poplars. At intervals the wall was pierced by the windows of the farmer's house, flat-roofed, and at this season surmounted by stacks of corn. Old-fashioned mud-dwellings were yielding here and there to new fronts of stone, finely dressed. Big doorways at the side gave a glimpse of yards and verandahs, wellheads, great earthen jars, and farther on the orchard, with the raised wooden sleeping-platforms, used in the hot Araxes valley. In time the holdings become so thick as to give the effect of a continuous village, an unending community of picturesque market-gardeners – every man happy under his vine and his fig tree.

As we travelled southwards, and the sun sank westward, Ararat, flanked with sunset colour, dominated the world below. Ararat is higher than Mont Blanc, and standing alone it towers uniquely. Yet there is something specially restful about the broad shoulders of perpetual snow. With the


[Page 80]


            soaring quality of Fuji it combines a sense of holding, up there, a place of repose:

The high still dell

Where the Muses dwell

Fairest of all things fair.

In the shadow of the great mountain winnowers were using the last day-light on the green; a man was washing a horse after the burning day, standing shoulder-deep in the stream; buffaloes walked sedately home from their bath, shining like black velvet. The day's work was ending, and we now kept passing family groups sitting at the doorway. Here a boy was playing with a tame hawk; there a father, in most un-English fashion, held in his arms the baby.

The houses became continuous and shops appeared, wine-presses, forges, agricultural machines. Russian gendarmes gossiping outside the inn, wagon-builders and copper-pot makers. The slanting sun displayed a kaleidoscope of industry, not primitive and not capitalist – human economy at its most picturesque stage of development.

We halted to see the village priest, whose son was a student at St Petersburg University. As we sat in his balcony, the hum of village movement arose above the gathering stillness of nature, and we remarked on the prosperity of the priest's flock. He agreed; but there was a blot upon it – refugees from Turkey constantly arriving in rags, their property abandoned, driven out by violence and often by brutal violation, even of the very young. Russia was to them a godsend, though beggary was the price of escape from worse evil.

To the right of Ararat stretched the line of hills which forms the present Russo–Turkish frontier. Upon this horizon the sun set. It was a memorable combination – the eternal snow one associates with the north framed with the glowing brilliance of the southern sun. Byron was within the mark when he wrote of that sun:

Not as in northern climes obscurely bright,

But one unclouded blaze of living light.

There is something more than that. Those who have watched the white flames of a smelting furnace, and still more those who have climbed to its rim on a dark night, can picture something of the effulgence that streamed up from behind that blackening line of mountains – an effulgence quite correctly described as 'molten'. Hidden now from our view, it still bathed the hills from which these refugees had fled – that noble upland given over to misery and waste.

Why has the tide of civilisation paused at that particular line of hills? The frontiers of Turkey on the European side were easily held against the small Balkan states whose territories adjoined them, till those states became powerful by combination, but here the defence is obviously powerless. The fortifications of Erzerum itself have twice been in the hands of Turkey's


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great neighbour. Yet for thirty-five years the Russian armies have been as if paralysed. Forces even greater than they have said, 'Hands off that frontier, defenceless though it is.'

            We are face to face with the Cyprus Convention and the Berlin treaty, which specify that this Turkish frontier is guaranteed by the powers, and by England in particular. Those documents, till you visit the spot, seem abstract and intangible embodiments of justice. Here they are concrete enough to the peasant escaping penniless through the hills; to the Armenian priest in Russia, trying to find him bread; to the Russian prefect, dealing with brigands who can always escape into a lawless country. These diplomatic instruments, usually cited as vague landmarks in past history, are here playing a tragically definite part.55


Buxton's account, written on the eve of the first world war, makes superbly clear the rich potential of Armenia, and sums up what Armenians had achieved in almost ninety years of Russian imperial rule. But the shadow across the hills is no less discernible, and it is now our task to discover why Turkish rule was so different for Armenians – why to describe it one employs an entirely new mode of discourse – and why, despite its cruelly inferior form of administration, the Turkish empire's frontier with Russia was 'guaranteed by the powers, and by England in particular'.





1. A. J. Grant and Harold Temperley, Europe in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1927), pp. 372–4.

2. M. S. Anderson, The Eastern Question, 1774–1923 (London, 1966), pp. 172–3.

3. W. E. D. Allen and Paul Muratoff, Caucasian Battlefields (Cambridge, 1953), p. 216n.

4. Allen and Muratoff, Caucasian Battlefields, Chapters XII and XV.

5. Ibid., Chapter XIV.

6. Cassell's Illustrated History of the Russo–Turkish War (London, 1878?), p. 506.

7. Allen and Muratoff, Caucasian Battlefields, p. 212.

8. Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1963), pp. 136–8.

9. Ibid., pp. 63–5.

10. Ibid., pp. 61–3.

11. Vartan Gregorian. 'The Impact of Russia on the Armenians and Armenia', in Wayne S. Vucinich (ed.). Russia and Asia (Stanford, 1972) p. 196.

12. Luigi Villari, Fire and Sword in the Caucasus (London, 1906), p. 148.

13. Ibid., p. 150.

14. Ibid., p. 153; Gregorian, 'The Impact of Russia', p. 197.

15. On Populism see Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers (London, 1978), pp. 210–37.

16. Nalbandian, Armenian Revolutionary Movement, pp. 90–118.

17. Ibid., pp. 151 ff.

18. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, My Diaries (New York, 1932), p. 192.

19. David Marshall Lang, A Modern History of Georgia (London, 1962), p. 119.

20. Villari, Fire and Sword, pp. 153, 155.

21. Gregorian, 'The Impact of Russia', p. 184.

22. Villari, Fire and Sword, p. 156.

23. Ibid., pp. 156–7.


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24. Ibid., p. 157.

25. Baron von Haxthausen, Transcaucasia (London, 1854), p. 270n.

26. Villari, Fire and Sword, p. 157.

27. See Eva Broido, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (London, 1967), pp. 68–9.

28. Ronald Grigor Suny, The Baku Commune, 1917–1918 (Princeton, 1972), pp. 28–35.

29. Villari, Fire and Sword, p. 127.

30. Ibid., pp. 193–4.

31. Ibid., p. 195.

32. Great Britain, Public Record Office, FO 881/8475, p. 71 (henceforward 'FO 881/8475', 'CAB 23/25', etc.).

33. J. D. Henry, Baku: an Eventful History (London, 1905), pp. 157–60.

34. FO 881/8475, p. 71.

35. FO 881/8560, p. 33.

36. Villari, Fire and Sword, pp. 195–6.

37. Ibid., p. 267.

38. Ibid., pp. 269–70.

39. Ibid., p. 271.

40. Ibid., p. 272.

41. Ibid., pp. 272–4.

42. Ibid., p. 276.

43. Ibid., p. 199; Henry, Baku, p. 172.

44. Henry, Baku, p. 174.

45. Ibid., pp. 181–2.

46. Ibid., pp. 183–5.

47. FO 881/8560, p. 35.

48. Henry, Baku, p. 215.

49. Ibid., p. 192.

50. Richard G. Hovannisian, Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967), p. 22.

51. David Shub, 'Kamo, the Legendary Old Bolshevik in the Caucasus', The Russian Review, vol. XIX, no. 3 (July 1960), pp. 227–47.

52. Hovannisian, Armenia on the Road to Independence, p. 22.

53. Ibid., p. 32.

54. The Times Russian Supplement, 20 October 1913, p. 5.

55. Noel and Harold Buxton, Travels and Politics in Armenia (London, 1914), pp. 140–4.



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