Armenians of Baku

Photo: www.haycafe.ru
Photo: www.haycafe.ru

There are numerous articles about our lost homeland, Armenians living there, their way of living, achievements, etc. Yet our society pays little attention to the history and activity of the powerful Armenian community in Baku until the 1990s. In this article we intend to demonstrate the life, history and tragedy of the Armenian community in Baku. Besides, we hope that this article will contribute to helping our compatriots from Baku overcome the complexities.

Baku has been inhabited since ancient times, and the first references to this city can be found in the 5th century sources. The city is located in the southern part of the Absheron Peninsula and is rich in oil and natural gas reserves.

And how did the Armenians appear in Baku? Still in 500 the king of Artsakh, Vachagan the Pious ordered to build the first Armenian church in Baku. Unfortunately, little is known about it. The 7th century Armenian geographer Anania Shirakatsi mentions also Alti-Bagavan along with the 12 districts of the Province Paytakaran, and orientalist Kerovbe Patkanov identifies it with Baku. Orientalist and academician Vasily Bartold citing the 15th century Persian historian Hamdallah Ghazvini, speaks about the possible existence of an Armenian church here, and the 15th century Arab traveler Rashid al Bakuvi writes that the majority of the population of Baku (Bakuya) were Christian. In 1798 St. Astvatsatsin Church was built in the Old District with the efforts of Marcos and Zohrab Tumanyans of Syunik, as well as Hovhannes and Karapet Tumanyans of Shushi.

Over time the number of Armenians in Baku increased. In 1851 the Armenians made up the 5,5% of the total population of Baku which had 7431 inhabitants. According to the data of the 1897 census, Baku already had a population of 111,904 people, and 17% of them were Armenians. The Armenians lived in separate districts and on the outskirts. They also had wide participation in the governmental positions of the city. In the mid-1840s the mayor of Baku was Pavel Parsadani Arghutyan who later worked as a juryman at Shamakhi Provincial Department in 1849-50. During the governing years of the mayor Stanislav Despot-Zenovich (1885-1895) Kristophor Antonyan was a member of Baku City Department and the Deputy Mayor. 13 of the 17 members of the Council of Elders who conducted the Social Assembly of the city were Armenians, and the chairman was Grigor Ovianyan. In addition, foreign countries that had interests in Baku appointed the Armenians as their representatives. For example, in 1908 the ambassadors of Belgium and Italy were Armenians. The authorized representatives of Russian and European different companies were also Armenians.

The Armenians contributed to the advancement of the city in all the fields ranging from culture to trade. This is proved by the facts that the Armenians were the first in Baku to:

  1. Print a book (“The Indians’ case in an uninhabited island”, translated by Avak Grigorian (1872)),
  2. Publish a newspaper ( “Armenian Wold”, Baku, 1877-78, editor and publisher Stepanos Stepane),
  3. Found a printing house (1870, adjacent to the library of Baku Humanitarian Organization)
  4. Open a reading hall (1880, Baku Humanitarian Organization),
  5. In 1897-1907 Baku-Batumi oil pipeline was constructed for the first time by the Armenian manufacturers (Alexander Mantashyan, Arkady Ter-Akopov and others).
  6. The first chocolate factory was established by Piliposyan brothers.
  7. In 1891 the Caucasus Mirrors Factory was first established in Baku by A. Kharajyan.
  8. Conductor A. Ionnisyan founded the first orchestra of the Azerbaijani national instruments.
  9. In the 1870-s the famous actors Stepan and Alma Safrazyans were the first to perform the translated plays of the famous playwrights for the Azerbaijani society.

These facts which are nowadays so carefully concealed by the Azerbaijani authorities indicate that until the 1990-s Baku was not an Azerbaijani city. Therefore, a question arises as to where the Muslims were when the Armenians were enriching the city.

Before speaking about the above mentioned question, let’s slightly deviate from the title and find out how the Muslims had appeared in Baku. At almost all the stages of its history Baku was inhabited by people belonging to different nationalities and beliefs, and the Muslims (Persians, Tats, Caucasian Turks and others) made up a significant part of them. It is scientifically proved that Turkic speaking tribes that moved to Eastern Transcaucasia including Baku in 11-17th centuries, by the beginning of the 20th century had various tribal names, such as Padars, Shahsevans, Karapapakhs (Jinlis), Jevanshirs, Turks, Tatars, and Caucasian Turks etc.

In 1907 the “Caucasian Calendar” wrote: “The vast majority of population in Baku and generally in the province of Baku is Tatars of Atropatene. They belong to the Mongol race and Turkic generation and they speak in a dialect influenced by Persian.” It is not difficult to guess that this nation which was still deprived of even an ethnonym, could hardly be able to make any contribution to the economy or to carry the progress. It is known that before the establishment of the Soviet regime and even after its establishments the Muslims in Baku lived in relatively poor socio-economic and living conditions. We don’t deny the fact that many Armenians could have lived in similar conditions. However, the number of the Armenians who held higher positions in the social hierarchy was much greater. This status of the Armenians can be contrasted with the status of the Muslims, of course with some reservations (let’s mention Tagirov who co-operated with Armenians, and his oil business “Tagirov and Sarkisov Brothers”). Of course, a question arises as to why we deviate from the title and portray the social conditions of the Muslims, as at first sight it has nothing to do with the Armenians. Yet it is known that the first impressions are always deceptive. That difficult social condition of the Muslims, combined with a number of other reasons, becomes the cornerstone of the misfortune of the Armenians in Baku, renaming Baku “the capital of three massacres”. The Armenians in Baku were subjected to massacre three times:

  • 1905 (as a part of the Russian Empire)
  • 1918 (in Baku commune)
  • 1990 (in Azerbaijani SSR)

Let’s start with 1905’s massacres and represent the memories of the witnesses about these events, paying little attention to the thorough discussion of the historical incidents, not forgetting to estimate the losses of the Armenians.

The public unrests which took place in Saint Petersburg on 9 January, 1905, found a response in other large industrial centers in Russia. The wave of these movements spreads also in Caucasus, including Tbilisi, Batumi and Baku. The workers’; demonstrations and strikes in Baku ended in a number of oil wells burning. These events were accompanied by an anti-Armenian propaganda by the Azerbaijani Turks. Soon cautionary words such as “Ya Allah!” (with God) and “Urus”, written with a chalk or coal appeared respectively on the walls of the houses of the Turks and Russians (this ensured the latter from a possible confusion and massacre). On 6 February, 1905, an incident took place near the Armenian church in Parapet: a Turk named Babaev wounded an Armenian soldier with a gunshot. The Armenians handed him over to the police and demanded to search him, but the latter showed resistance and getting off the carriage escaped under the gunshots. On Krivaya Street the angry crowd got revenge on him. In order to irritate the Turkic population against the Armenians, his coreligionists placed his body on a cart and wandered about the Turkic districts.

The 1905’s massacres of the Armenians were the first among the three anti-Armenian massacres in Baku. As a result of the new massacres throughout the 20th century around 200,000 Armenians left the city. This figure is more than impressive. These 200,000 Armenians had possessed apartments, finances, property, and thousands of rubles passed to the Azeri-Turks. The city also lost its strong economic potential and the Armenians were deprived of their daily bread. However, we should not forget about the Armenians’ self-defense led by Nikol Duman, which managed to somewhat reduce the scale of the disaster. It is noteworthy that the Armenians could quickly unite and counterattack without any doubts about the future. At the end of February during the conference in Baku it was decided to set up a Military body adjacent to the ARF Central Committee, and this body was intended to carry out the organization of the self-defense. Nikol Duman, Abraham Gyulkhandanyan and Hovhannes Kajaznuni were selected as members of the Military body. Besides, some fedayee groups were also involved in the self-defense operations in Baku. The results of the self-defense were satisfying. This is proved by the fact that on 9 February the governor invited the representatives of the Armenian and Tatar communities and after brief negotiations the Armenians agreed with the peace proposal made by the Tatars (by the way, Hovhannes Ter-Martirosyan writes: “In the course of three days the number of the killed : Armenians-205, Turks-111. The number of the wounded: Armenians-121, Turks-128. 7 of the killed Armenians were women, 20 of them were children and 13 of them were elderly people”).

Let’s turn to the 1918’s massacres, not diverting from the above mentioned scheme. The genocide of the Armenians planned and committed by Turkey finds its continuation in Eastern Armenia and other areas in Transcaucasia inhabited by the Armenians, and for its implementation Turkey undertook a raid to Transcaucasia. This pursued several goals: to take control of Baku oil with the Germans, to push Russia out of the Caucasus, to join the Muslims of Transcaucasia and South Caucasus and to implement the policy of Pan-Turkism, which implied also the elimination of the Armenians.

On 31 July the Caucasian Islamic Army led by Nuri Pasha began a large-scale attack. In the morning on 15 September 1918 after two months of defense the Turkish-Azerbaijani troops entered Baku.

Jewish author and publicist Sergey Rafalovich who witnessed the events in Baku depicts the massacres of September 1918 in his article. Turkish author Essad Bey also writes about the above mentioned events in his book “Blood and Oil in the Orient”.

And finally, let’s present the massacres of 1990 which were unprecedented in the economic losses caused by them and have resulted in the irrevocable extermination of the Armenian community in Baku which had a history of centuries.

On 13-19 January 1990 the third largest massacre of the Armenians was committed in Baku. The Armenian community with about 200, 000 Armenians was subjected to violence and massacre and was expelled from the city only because of their ethnicity. Still in 1988-1989 all the Azerbaijani media (especially television) was flooded with anti-Armenian propaganda which provided a serious ground for the Armenians’ massacres in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. The Azerbaijani “National Front” where the radical wing was dominating openly urged to expel the Armenians from the city and occupy their apartments. Throughout 1989 the Armenians in Baku were afraid to walk out as the citizens of Armenian origin were being attacked, beaten and plundered in urban transport as well as on the streets.

Yet a question arises as to why after the 70 years’ relatively peaceful co-existence the hatred between these nations arose again. On 1 December 1989 at the joint session of the Armenian SSR Supreme Council and the NKR National Council, the decision was adopted upon the reunification of the Armenian SSR and Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region. With this decision the Armenians got somewhat closer to the achievement of their aim. But while making the decision they committed a great mistake not considering seriously Gorbachev’s words addressed to Zori Balayan and Silva Kaputikyan in 1988, “Have you thought about 207,000 Armenians in Baku”? Why Gorbachev needed such accurate data is another question.

On 29 March 1990 the USSR Supreme Council’s closed session concerning the happening events was held in Baku. The Azerbaijani delegation required creating a commission on deploying troops to Baku and investigating the actions. In response to this request, the USSR government (Minister of Defense Dmitry Yazov, Minister of Internal Affairs V. Bakatin, head of the State Security Committee Vladimir Kryuchkov) told the attendees the details of the massacres. However, due to the acceleration of the collapse of the USSR, the further investigation of the case of the Armenians’ massacres in Baku did not come to an end.

The Armenians’ massacres in Baku in January 1990 are condemned by the European Parliament and the USA Congress.

Attached to these data we want to insert our interview with a former resident of Baku, Mrs. Anush:

(What did you do in Baku?)

“I was a taskmaster in a shoe factory, and my husband was a driver”.

(And how did everything begin?)

“At first we were getting rumors that somebody was fired or killed. Then everything began to intensify and the impending danger was felt every day. We were even afraid to go shopping. One day we felt everything on our skin, when we were fired without any reason”.

(And what kind of relations did you have with the Azerbaijani neighbors before and after 1989-1990?)

“Until 1989-1990 we were in good relations with them, but when the movement began the atmosphere was full of fear. We were afraid of them and they avoided us as in case of helping us they would be subjected to an equal punishment”.

(How did you manage to survive?)

“Over a night my husband went to Syunik and arranged housing problems. Next night we moved from Baku, leaving there our flat and part of our property”.

Now let’s present the online interview with the former resident of Baku 50-year- old Kyazim of Azerbaijani origin who preferred to keep in secret his current address fearing for the security of his grandchildren.

(What opinion do you have about the Armenians?)

“The Armenians did not cause any harm to me but they caused damage to my country. Yet it doesn’t mean that I hate them or want them to be dead, especially to my former neighbors and friends of Armenian origin”.

(How did everything begin?)

“Anti-Armenian slogans were being constantly heard, then they put it into action. I remember the speech of the famous singer Zeynab Khanlarova which inspired the assembled and convinced them of their truthfulness. I also remember that random people were stopped at the streets and were forced to pronounce the word фындых (walnut) and those who did not pronounce “f ” correctly were beaten, as it was thought that the Armenians could not pronounce the sound “f ””.

(Who took part in the massacres?)

“The young nationalists and «yerazlars» (еразлар) (they were the Azerbaijanis who had emigrated from Armenia) who were irritating them. They were the main protesters”.

(What kind of relations existed with the Armenians before and after the movement?)

“We were in very good relations before the movement, but when it began we were afraid to communicate with them as the nationalists would kill us too. Despite this, several times I bought bread for my close neighbor during the most difficult times”.

Thus the Armenians of Baku were expelled from the city through the state policy of portraying  them as enemies and those who caused harm to the Azerbaijani national dignity, promoted especially by the Azerbaijanis who had emigrated from Armenia to Azerbaijan. According to Robert Kushen, a journalist in the newspaper “Humans right watch”, the massacres were not spontaneous as the slaughterers had the addresses and lists of the names of the Armenians in advance. Garry Kasparov also refers to this question, saying, “Had it been a village, it would be somewhat clearer, as everybody would know in which houses lived the Armenians, in which ones the Jews and in which ones the Azerbaijanis. But we speak about a megalopolis, and when there is a 16-storeyed building and the mob enters precisely only the apartments of the Armenians, many questions arise”. Vagif Yunusov who was the head of the Azerbaijani State Security Committee during the massacres, writes that massacres of the Armenians were carried out by the Azerbaijani National Front (ANF).

“And what is the ANF?”, the reader may ask. This is a political party founded on the basis of the Scientists’ Club in Baku and around which the Azerbaijani intelligentsia was united. This party supported Gorbachev’s policy of reconstruction: therefore it is not difficult to guess that Gorbachev in his turn supported and approved of the policy adopted by this party. Taking into account Vagif Yunusof’s words mentioned above and considering that the massacres in Baku were part of the ANF policy, and taking into consideration Gorbachev’s threats, the inaction of the police and the television’s arbitrariness in propagating hatred, it may be concluded that the elimination of the Armenian community in Baku was planned and implemented if not by some representatives of the Soviet authorities, then at least under their complete awareness and permission.

The above mentioned events entered the world history under the Russian term “pogrom”. And what is the so-called “pogrom” or massacre? “Pogrom” is a mass violence against a particular segment of the population, based on religious, ethnic, classificational or racial grounds. Let’s recall the UN convention adopted on 12 January 1951, which states that “the destruction of an ethnic, religious or racial group, causing serious bodily (physical) or mental harm to members of the group, imposing and implementing measures intended to prevent births within the group, providing conditions which result in the destruction of the groups in whole or in part, is called genocide”. Whether the so-called pogrom or massacre is not a special case of genocide? Perhaps the only difference is that the international community does not display the same attitude towards pogrom and the term genocide. Besides, the punishment is milder than in case of genocide. As to how this Convention is connected with the Armenians of Baku we leave to the logic and preference of the reader. It would be appropriate to present the conclusion resulting from this convention in transnational organizations in order to be opposed to the “Qara yanvar” (black January) of our respected neighboring country, as well as to properly assess the events of Baku. Monuments in memory of the victims of the genocide of Khojalu are being raised one after another in different countries (the Hague, Mexico, Berlin, Lidice, Sarajevo, Ankara), statements are being made from the stage of the UN (let’s recall the speech of the president of Israel when he mentioned Khojalu along with other genocides, or let’s recall the 324 th written declaration of the PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) on 26 April 2001, which was joined by 30 members of the PACE who demanded to recognize the massacres of the Azerbaijanis by the Armenians which had continued since the XIX century). Yet the international community keeps silence and generally does not speak about the massacres of Baku. There is no monument in memory of the innocent victims of Baku. Despite the lack of evidence and the falsification, the events of Khojalu find their response and are even “recognized”, while the facts about the massacres of the Armenians in Baku, found in the world and Soviet press, are being ignored. Yet there are living witnesses, and the events they have seen should be submitted to the public as a vivid example of the crime against humanity in order to avoid the recurrence of such phenomena in the world.


 Bibliography

  1. Хачатур Дадаян-“Армяне в Баку”
  2. Բաքվի պատմությունը
  3. Azerbaijani blockade imperils Armenia
  4. Ирина Мосесова-Армяне Баку:Бытие и исход
  5. Вениамин Арустамян-Город утраченный-город утративший
  6. Фархад Джаббаров-Армянский «вклад» в развитие нефтяной промышленности Баку

Author: Raffi Tadevosyan: © All rights are reserved.

Translated by Lusine Marutyan


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