Anti-Armenian Policy of Azerbaijan and Turkey in Karabakh. March, 1920

30 m.   |  2020-03-24

100 years ago, in Mach 1920, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan launched another large-scale attack on Karabakh. Despite the stubborn resistance, Azerbaijani are able to succeed in some areas such as in Shushi, where the massacres of Armenians begin.

Turkey actively supported Azerbaijani attempts to occupy Karabakh. In February 1920, Turkish high-ranking military Nuri Pasha and Khalil Bey came to Karabakh and numerous officers were training the Azerbaijani Army.

We talked with the Head of the Department of the Armenian Cause and Armenian Genocide of NAS RA Institute of History, Candidate of Historical Sciences, associate professor Armen Marukyan about Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian policy and Turkey’s role in it.

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— At the beginning of the 20th century, between 1918-1920, Azerbaijan adopted a tough anti-Armenian policy, although initially there was an impression that the three Transcaucasian republics could have more or less good neighborly relations. If trying briefly explain: what caused it, how did it begin and what were the manifestations of Azerbaijan’s persecution of Armenians and attacks on Armenia?

— First, we should begin with how the state called Azerbaijan was created, which was an artificial state formation, at the origin of which was the Turkish state. The name of the state was elected Azerbaijan just on the advice and recommendation of Turks, with the long-term aim of further seizing northern part of Iran, historical Atropatene territory, thus establishing a direct link with the Turkish State. Still before the First World War, the Young Turk Government, which came to power in the Ottoman Empire was trying to implement the program called “Great Turan”, which was the unification of all the Oghuz tribes in the Great Turan State. This concept also included the Great Azerbaijan micro-project, which should have covered most of the Transcaucasus, including the Armenian-populated areas, Karabakh, Zangezur and of course Nakhichevan. That is, the first step of the creation of an imaginary pan-Turkic state Great Turan was just the implementation of the Great Azerbaijan micro-project. It’s no coincidence, that in 1918, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First World War, it still didn’t give up the idea of creating the Great Turan and sent their emissaries to the Transcaucasia, who do a great deal of work. You mentioned Nuri Pasha, who was Enver Pasha’s brother, later in 1920, just on the eve of the massacre in Shushi, Halil Bey, who was the uncle of Enver Pasha, appeared here. That is, these figures were responsible for the implementation of the project, as there was a problem of guiding the Azerbaijani people, also in the actions of the designated governor-general of Kurdish origin Khosrov Bek Sultanov. Hence, everything was envisaged for creating these ideas and this imaginary state. It is no coincidence, that the same style of killing Armenians that we notice in the policy of the Young Turks, is repeated with almost the same identity in the genocidal actions implemented by Musavatist Azerbaijan during the massacres of the Armenian population of Shushi, Nuhu, Aresh and Karabakh, particularly Shushi.

Sometimes we try to view these historical events separately: we try to view the massacres of Armenians in Baku or Shushi as separate episodes, which is not true both historically and politically, as these genocidal acts are the links of the criminal chain of the same Armenian extermination policy and are interrelated with a cause-effect relationship. Within this context it is sometimes attempted to contrast the massacre of Armenians in Eastern Armenia and also in Transcaucasus with the Armenian Genocide, and when it comes to give a legal-political assessment to these massacres , they try to say that no, it cannot be identified or compared with the Great Genocide. However, if we discuss and study the historical events objectively, it becomes obvious that these genocidal actions were the logical continuation of the Great Genocide. These should be viewed as separate manifestations of the same universal Armenian extermination policy, which are the separate links of the same policy chain.

—  Even in the end of 1918, the defeated Turkey, being under the great pressure of the international community, however, continued to find resources in the direction of Transcaucasus and to strive to achieve its goals. At the same time, it’s very interesting, that the same Azerbaijani Governments, which changed 3-4 times between 1918-20, despite their internal disagreements, continued to have the same and absolutely indifferent attitude towards the Armenians, the Armenian Question, Karabakh and Zangezur. This is quite an interesting phenomenon and I would like you to clarify it a little: except for the Pan-Turkist goals, what was the cause for this consistent and uncompromising stance on Karabakh which only the Armenian Forces could stop?

— Indeed, the Turkish State was defeated in World War I, but unfortunately, the victorious powers lacked political will and determination to bring this defeat to a logical end. If we compare the decisiveness of the Nazi Germany’s anti-Hitler coalition Member States to root out Nazism to the end, that inhumane policy and ideology, which was also the basis of another crime, the Holocaust, unfortunately we didn’t see the same manifestations after World War I, as there were differences in interests and there were contradictions between the Entente Powers. This created a fertile ground for the Turkish State to avoid tougher and more severe conditions of capitulation and why not, to get revenge through its younger brother the State of Azerbaijan created by him. We talk about the qualification of the crime called Genocide: the UN Convention of December 9, 1948, gives the following definition for this crime: a certain criminal act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. There are 5 major criminal acts and almost all of them are considered in this anti-Armenian policy implemented against Armenians. As long as the Russian Caucasian Army stood in the way of the Turkish Army during World War I, the intention to completely exterminate the Armenian nation was unrealizable. When Russia was so weakened after the revolutionary shocks that the troops were withdrawn and the hands of the Turks were released, even in a defeated state there wasn’t the barrier for the Turks to spread that partial extermination on the Eastern Armenians and other parts of the Armenian living in the Transcaucasus. In this case, of course, their natural lifelong ally – the same Turkic-speaking people as the Caucasian Tatars, future Azerbaijanis, should be united in these Pan-Turkic ideas as they were implementing a great goal and the wedge existing along that Pan-Turkic route was of course the Armenians. The problem related with Western Armenians was considered solved, as Western Armenia was already empty, but in case of the First Republic, our liberation center Karabakh and its center Shushi were a serious obstacle to the implementation of this plan. As well as Zangezur.

 — There is another interesting feature about Karabakh. In late February and early March of 1920, the regular congress of the National Council of Karabakh is held, which reaffirms the decision of last year’s congress and the agreement signed with Azerbaijan. The agreement consisted of 26 points, with one of which Karabakh was temporarily accepting Azerbaijani authority until the problem was resolved at the Paris Conference. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan was obliged not to move its troops, disarm the population and many other clauses. Karabakh had some form of agreement with Azerbaijan, which didn’t prevent Azerbaijan at all from again attacking with the aim of suppressing or destroying the population of Karabakh. To what extent is the agreement between the country and the government maintained?

— You asked a very important and interesting question. Let me first turn to the agreement. With the agreement signed on August 22, 1919, the Armenians of Karabakh had to accept this condition at the 7th convocation in Shosh. Why am I saying that they had to? Because before that the governor-general Khosrov bey Sultanov, who wasn’t accepted by the Karabakh authorities, directing the cannons to the village of Shosh, where the convention was held and also on the direction of the Armenian district of Shushi and delivering an ultimatum, by giving 48 hours to enforce the 26-point agreement formed in Baku. That is, the situation was fatal, and in the absence of military assistance from the First Republic of Armenia, the population of Karabakh had remained face to face with this demand.  Let’s not forget, that before signing this agreement, the massacre in Shushi had already taken place on June 4-5, 1919 and about 1000 people were killed in the surrounding villages. New units were brought to Karabakh by the example of Kurdish Hamidian regiments. This is also very interesting. Khosrov Bek Sultanov of Kurdish origin, led by his brothers Eldrim and Sultan Bek Sultanov created Kurdish tribes, that is, horse-drawn bandits by the example of Hamidian regiments, who entered Karabakh. Actually, they made it clear that unless the agreement is signed, the massacres will go on. Under these constraints, they had to make concessions, but the agreement was still temporary. Later, we see that just the Azerbaijani side, Khosrov Bek Sultanov violates this term and proposes a new claim. This is by the way the chronic illness of Turkish States: the same Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey, in all treaties that somehow referred to Armenia and the rights of Armenians, even by signing and ratifying them, they violated.

See, after signing the agreement on August 22, 1919, a special letter from Baku is sent to Khosrov bey Sultanov, congratulating him on this great success. He is offered the post of Minister of Internal Affairs for his services to the Azerbaijani State, but he refuses and says that highly appreciating and being grateful for the offer, I think that my place is in Karabakh, because we should develop success towards Zangezur and let Zangezur also accept the authority of Azerbaijan.

— You said about Sultanov’s letter. There is another interesting thing. Numerous memories state that the adoption of the August 22 agreement was temporary for Sultanov and they thought that this was the first step, after a while they will have a greater opportunity and will continue what we see already in January-February of 1920, when 10 thousand soldiers are concentrated in Karabakh, who later attack it. Many international military attaches and representatives were actively involved in this conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It will be interesting to know how Shushi massacres and in general the events in Karabakh are perceived and what the reactions are.

— The same passive style we observed in case of Karabakh, manifested during the appointment of Khosrov bey Sultanov, when on January 15, 1919, he was appointed governor-general of Karabakh with the consent of the English. Certainly, there was a great riot. The National Council of Karabakh was against this person’s appointment, as they had many facts, that still in 1918, on the eve of the massacres of Armenians in Baku, Khosrov bey Sultanov was already known for his anti-Armenian activity as he had created Tatar bands, who attacked Baku as part of Nuri Pasha’s troops and actively participated in the massacres of Armenians in Baku. These facts were presented, for instance, to the commander of English troops, General Thomson and it was noted that under these circumstances, we have reservations about Sultanov’s being governor-general. Do you know what an interesting answer is given? Thomson mentions in an interview with Armenian representatives, “we also know that Khosrov bey Sultanov is pan-Islamist, who was in close contact with the Young Turks who came to power of the Turkish party’s former authority and that he was a Turkic agent”. That is they were well aware of all this. Nevertheless, he says; “We believe that despite all these circumstances our military command will oversee Sultanov’s activity and we will use his experience to establish order and development in Karabakh”. The facts showed that the fears were completely settled. There is an episode that after the first massacres of June 1919, Colonel Clotenberg, commander of Shushi troops, sums up the facts and sends a report to Thomson demanding to prosecute Sultanov, that he has committed so many crimes, he must be dismissed and prosecuted. He was temporarily dismissed, but on August 12, when the American mission leaves Shushi and a day later British troops are also withdrawn, Sultanov returns to his former position. This inconsistency, this passive behavior and perhaps being too overwhelmed with Baku’s oil was more appreciated rather than maintaining security in the region. In this work-style we see the indirect support of the English, sometimes even turning a blind eye to Khosrov bey Sultanov’s activities, which weighed heavily on the Armenian people. Twice in June 2019 and in March 1920, we see that genocidal actions and policies of ethnic cleansing were being pursued, with the ultimate goal of breaking our national-liberation struggle centers: both Karabakh and Zangezur.

— Have Shushi events received any legal assessment by the international community or not?

— As I have already mentioned, the only proposal by the English troops was Colonel Clotenberg’s proposal, which wasn’t accepted. As for the other structures, they were busy with other tasks: a new distribution of the world and with the task of creating a new Versailles-Washington System. The victorious powers, of course, were not very active in discussing this issue or especially giving it a legal assessment. The First Republic of Armenia has repeatedly referred to this issue in his political statements and also in his reports to the Paris Peace Conference and tried to draw attention to the massacres of Armenians in Karabakh and in Shushi, also noting that the agreement was imposed on the people of Karabakh. Despite the memoranda and facts presented, this was a minor episode in the geopolitical and regional games and processes of the great Powers. Unfortunately, both the massacres of Armenians in Baku in September 1918 and the repeated massacres of Armenians in Shushi in June 1919 and in March 1920 didn’t receive any legal assessment. When we say the Armenian Genocide and try to bring legal and historical arguments and legal norms to prove it or to give it a legal assessment, then we should consider the massacres of Armenians in Baku, Nuhi, Aresh, Gandzak, as well as in Karabakh and in Shushi.

We see that it looks like that Azerbaijani policy at the beginning of the 20th century and now hasn’t changed significantly. The approach, the problem solving through force has always been preferable for them.

— Unfortunately, you are right and we see the way of solving problems through the same genocidal actions in the activity of the newly independent Azerbaijan as well as the legatee of Soviet Azerbaijan, as that criminal policy started with the February 1988 events, the massacres of Sumgait, which is in the logic of the same policy. After Sumgait, there comes Kirovabad, then Baku in January 1990, Maragha in 1992.  This shows that Azerbaijan as a state has not changed. Regardless of what color it will have in terms of authorities, the clear direction of pan-Turkism and Armenophobia is always firmly established in all regimes.