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Luigi Villari

FIRE AND SWORD IN THE CAUCASUS


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CHAPTER VII.

PERSONS AND POLITICS IN THE CAUCASIAN CAPITAL

TIFLIS in September, 1905, was literally bristling with politics. The conditions of the town were anything but peaceful. Everywhere soldiers were patrolling the streets; every important building was guarded by soldiers; the white coats of infantry and cavalry, and the papakhs and tcherkesskas of the Cossacks were conspicuous at every turn. Passers-by, whether on foot or in cabs, were repeatedly searched for arms, especially at the bridges, where sentinels with fixed bayonets were always posted. One of the advantages of staying at the Hôtel de Londres is that besides the ordinary sights of the Vorontzoff bridge you witness amusing scenes as people are being searched for concealed weapons. Once while “snapping” an incident of this sort I was accosted by a soldier who asked me severely what I was photographing. I innocently replied that I was immortalizing Tiflis street views, and added that I should be much obliged to him if he would tell me the quickest way to the post-office, which after some hesitation he did. I myself was repeatedly searched, but in vain, as my revolver, on the strong advice of a friend who

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Tiflis. Martial Law. The Search for Arms.

[caption] Tiflis. Martial Law. The Search for Arms.
(Monument of Prince Vorontzoff in the Background)

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had lived fifteen years in the Caucasus, had been left behind at Batum. At Tiflis, however, every native who has a permit carries arms, besides many who have not. A story is told of a gentleman who had obtained a revolver-permit from the authorities and always carried both the weapon and the permit with him. One evening, as he was returning home he was stopped at the bridge and searched. The revolver being found on him, he triumphantly exhibited his razrieshenie (permit). The soldier looked at the document with a puzzled expression, and then said, “It may be all right, but I cannot read. You must come with me to the pristav” (district police commissioner). Off they went to the pristav, who saw that everything was en rgie and let the man depart. On reaching the bridge a second time, another soldier was on guard, and exactly the same thing happened. Again he was escorted to the pristav, dismissed by him, and allowed to go in peace ; but for a third time the same thing happened. It was not until the fourth time of asking that the unfortunate man was able to get home. Other stories were told of soldiers who, while professing to search for arms, took the opportunity of relieving people of their purses and valuables; although I never met any one who had had such an experience, it did not sound by any means an impossibility in Russia.

The state of affairs in Tiflis was one of constant unrest. There have been many serious disturbances in the town since the beginning of 1905, and it is here that most of the revolutionary committees have their headquarters and many of the

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revolutionary plots are hatched. In the early part of the year the Armenians were the element of disorder, for the Troshakist society was on the warpath avenging the confiscation of the Church property. But since the Government restored what it had taken away, it has ceased to conspire against the authorities. The Georgian parties, although most numerous and strongest in the west, have been very active at Tiflis, and many disturbances and strikes were due to their initiative. There is a certain amount of antagonism between the Georgians and the Armenians, largely based on economic grounds, the Georgians accusing the Armenians of gradually ousting them from the Tiflis, while the Armenians sometimes accuse the Georgians of being too friendly with the Tartars. The Social Democrats are also annoyed with the Armenians because the latter are too practical to accept the Social Democratic programme, and demand nothing but a moderate measure of constitutional reform, and the right to practise their religion and their business in peace. But two events brought about a partial reconciliation of Armenians and Georgians as a protest against the brutality of the authorities. In the month of May a meeting of Georgian priests and bishops was held at Tiflis to discuss the question of an autocephalous Georgian Church. At the instance of the Exarch, who is a Russian, troops and police invaded the premises, forcibly broke up the meeting, and beat and maltreated the priests there assembled. This was regarded as such a flagrant act of despotism that it made both communities realize the necessity for co-operation against the Government.

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On September nth a second occurrence took place which united Georgians and Armenians, Socialists and Constitutionalists in their execration of Russian methods of government; it is a deed which for unprovoked and stupid brutality is hardly equalled in all the annals of Russian rule in the Caucasus. For some time past, especially since the ukaz of August granting a certain measure of freedom, meetings had been held repeatedly at Tiflis, in which political matters were discussed, and the authorities never attempted to interfere with them. The meetings were usually held in the municipal building, with the permission of the mayor and council. On the above-mentioned day a group of Georgian Social Democrats organized a meeting for that evening, to discuss the question whether the party was to take part in the elections for the newly introduced zemstva, and proceeded to the town-hall as usual. But being a holiday the council was not sitting, and the large hall was closed. The Socialists, however, forced their way in, followed by a crowd of some two thousand people, mostly Georgians. Various speeches were delivered and all went quietly for a time. But suddenly a pristav and some policemen made their appearance, and ordered the meeting to break up. The Socialists refused and hooted the pristav. The latter communicated with General Yatzkievich, temporary Governor-General of Tiflis, who telephoned to M. Vermischeff, the mayor. The mayor replied that he had nothing to do with the meeting as it had assembled independently of him, and that he could not now stop it. General

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Yatzkievich thereupon went in person to the town-hall with a few hundred Cossacks and infantry, whom he posted at the exits from the building, in the court, on the stairs, and in the rooms adjoining the assembly-room. The pristav said that he would attempt once more to dissolve the meeting peaceably, but General Yatzkievich replied that the matter was no longer in the hands of the police, and that he himself would deal with it. He sent some Cossacks into the hall and ordered the crowd to disperse. There were shouts and hoots, and the Cossacks opened fire on the assembly both from the platform and through the windows from the courtyard. One of the shots from outside killed an orator who was standing up to speak. A sauve qui peut followed, every one trying to get out of the building. But at every turn on the stairs, in the passages, in the municipal offices there were more Cossacks and soldiers shooting indiscriminately on all comers. Men, women, and children were massacred by the dozen. A few succeeded in getting out, but even in the street they were pursued, one man being shot dead several hundred yards from the town-hall in a back street. A ghastly incident was that of a lady doctor who, having come to the meeting out of curiosity, was wounded by a shot, but in spite of her injuries she tended others whose injuries were more serious. She was in the act of bandaging a wounded man with some strips of her own clothing, when a Cossack came up and brained her with the butt of his rifle. About a hundred persons were killed, most of whom were buried at the dead of night in a common grave without any religious

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ceremony, permission being refused to the relatives to carry the bodies away. The wounded were at least two hundred. It was said that a few revolver shots had been fired from the crowd, which in itself would not be surprising in a country where most people carry arms; but as a matter of fact the only Cossack who was wounded had been hit by a rifle bullet from one of his comrades and not by a revolver shot.

I visited the town hall some days after the occurrence (which took place while I was at Baku); the building was riddled with bullets; broken glass, smashed electric lamps, doors burst in, shattered woodwork, bore witness to the violent scenes enacted. I interviewed several members of the uprava, or administrative council, who, although they were Armenians, and had not been on too friendly terms with the Social Democrats, took the affair as much to heart as though their own people had been the victims. The whole of the Duma resigned, the uprava alone remaining in office to carry on the administration until new elections were held.

Not long after, General Yatzkievich was removed from the position of Governor-General of Tiflis, as a sort of punishment for his brutality, but, with the usual tergiversations of the Russian bureaucracy, he was subsequently sent to succeed Prince Napoleon as Governor-General of Erivan.

On the fortieth day after the massacre, when the panikhida of the dead was held (a funeral ceremony of the Orthodox Church), nine bombs burst in different parts of the town—all in the vicinity of Cossack barracks. It was the answer of the Social

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Democrats to the affair of September 11th. Until then that party had refrained from methods of violence ; but now they felt that the time for “peaceful propaganda ” was over. A number of Cossacks were killed or wounded, and their companions revenged themselves by shooting down every one whom they came across. Among others, Herr Müller, the Ober-Pastor of the German Lutheran Colonies in the Caucasus, a most worthy and esteemed man, was killed while on his way to a christening. A Cossack saw him walking along, with a bundle containing his vestments, and, thinking that it was a bomb, fired at him. The clergyman fell, badly wounded, but the soldier, instead of coming to his assistance, fired again and rode off. Herr Müller remained on the ground for two hours, until he was picked up by a passing cab and taken home. He died that night. In the same way, several other innocent persons were killed or wounded, and popular feeling was bitterly aroused against the Cossacks. The latter became so insubordinate that for some days they had to be placed under the surveillance of infantry regiments. The Chief of Police is reported to have described them as “ a horde of savages who no longer obey orders,” and a few days later, at his instance, the Viceroy had them sent away from Tiflis. But it was not long before other detachments arrived.

In spite of repressive measures, the weakness and impotence of the Government were every day more manifest. Although the town was under martial law and the streets were ceaselessly patrolled and no one was supposed to carry arms, hardly a man or boy

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was without his revolver and kinjal, and political murders were of frequent occurrence. One day Prince Amilahory, a Georgian landowner, and two other persons were shot dead by unknown men while sitting in a tramcar. Not one of the assassins was arrested. Bomb factories were being perpetually discovered—the one form of industry which seems to flourish in Russia at the present moment—but there were always others which escaped detection. Terrorism and blackmail were rife. The censorship of the Press was at times very severe; the censor had been Finance Minister in Bulgaria at the time of the Russian occupation (1878-1885). “No wonder,” a Tiflis editor said to me, “the Bulgarians were ungrateful to their ‘liberators,’ and were anxious to get rid of them, when Russia sent functionaries like that man to rule their country! ” But, like all Russian institutions, even the censorship was on the decline, and for some time before the Constitutional manifesto of October 30th, the Tiflis papers were frequently allowed to express themselves pretty openly. One paper in particular, whose editor had the ear of the Ober-Politsmeister, was on several occasions permitted to attack the action of the Government and even the conduct of individual officials who were obnoxious to the police department, mentioning them by name. Information concerning their shortcomings was liberally supplied.

The Government of the Tzar in the Caucasus is at present vested in the person of the Imperial Viceroy (Namiestnik), Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoff. After the annexation of Georgia, in 1801, the country was

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ruled by a succession of military governors, of whom the first was General Knorring. Subsequently the custom was introduced of appointing a member of the Imperial family as Viceroy, and, under Grand Ducal rule, the Caucasus enjoyed a certain measure of administrative authority. But in 1882 the Vice-royalty was abolished, and Russian noblemen of high rank were appointed instead, with the title of Governor-General. The last of these was Prince Golytzin, whose unwise policy of setting one race against another, and of encouraging class hatred, resulted in such disastrous consequences. On his departure, the government was held for a time by General Malama, a Cossack of Greek extraction, who, although he speaks nothing but Russian, and is not a man of great genius, seems to have been not unpopular. Finally, in February, 1905, Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoff was appointed, with the revived title of Viceroy, and granted very full powers. He is a general of cavalry and aide-de-camp to the Tzar, and had served in the Caucasus in his youth, but for many years he held the position of Minister of the Imperial Court. After resigning that very dignified appointment he had retired into private life, but continued to hold a high social position in the capital. He is a man of immense wealth, of very noble family, and has received almost every honour which the Tzar can confer. He is a thorough man of the world, speaks many languages, knows half the crowned heads in Europe, and is altogether a very favourable specimen of the Russian grand seigneur. He was sent to the Caucasus, where his name should have proved a popular one, for his

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Tiflis. Martial Law: People Searched for Arms.

[caption] Tiflis. Martial Law: People Searched for Arms.

 

Tiflis. Martial Law: an Arrest.

[caption] Tiflis. Martial Law: an Arrest.

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relative, Prince Vorontzoff, was one of the most successful rulers the country has ever had. At the same time, his career at Court was not exactly the best preparation for the task of putting this anarchic land in order, restoring Russian prestige, and reconciling bitter racial and religious animosities.

On my arrival at Tiflis his Excellency was away at the baths of Kislovodsk, where he had been spending the summer; on his return, G. B. and I asked for an interview with him, which was readily granted. The Viceroy's position is superior to that of a mere governor, for he is the direct representative of the Tzar, and is surrounded by all the pomp and panoply of power. To approach him it is necessary to make a formal request for an audience through the Chief of Police, or some other high dignitary, as in the case of Royalty. The chief objection to a visit of this kind is the necessity for donning dress-clothes at 3 p.m., but one must, of course, conform with the customs of the country. His Excellency lives in a huge palace on the Golovinsky Prospekt, painted bright pink, like all Government residences in Russia, containing seventy rooms ; it is, in spite of its ugly colour, an imposing edifice, and very handsome inside. The doors are guarded by the Cossacks of the Viceroy's convoy, or bodyguard, with drawn swords; a fine set of men, in magnificent red tcherkesskas and a variety of silver ornaments. Other Cossacks are at the head of the stairs, waiting to relieve us of our coats and hats. We were first admitted into the ball-room, a beautiful apartment, decorated in white stucco, with a few portraits of Tzars and rows of gilded chairs against

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the walls, where about a score of other people were waiting. Most of them were in military or civil uniform ; others, who were Georgian nobles, wore the traditional native costume ; one or two were, like ourselves, in evening clothes. From the ball-room one enjoys a splendid view of the town and the mountains beyond. On the other side you have a glimpse into an apartment decorated in the Persian style. After about half an hour, a polite young aide-de-camp ushered us into the presence of the Namiestnik. His Excellency is an oldish but well-preserved man, with a dignified bearing and a pleasant manner. His attitude was very friendly, and he talked openly on many subjects. The burning question of the moment was the Tartar-Armenian struggle, then in full swing throughout the Eastern Caucasus. He frankly admitted the errors of the Russian Government in its treatment of the Armenians, and spoke of cette désastreuse politique de Golytzin. In his opinion the Armenians were really a very peaceful and industrious race, and, once the property of their Church was restored to them, and permission to reopen their schools granted, they would, he believed, settle down quietly to their business occupations. “They are too good business men,” he added, “not to wish to be on good terms with the Government.” Speaking of the Tartars, he expressed a great personal liking for them, but added that they all had “ the instinct of brigandage,” and that they needed to be kept in order with a firm hand. “ It will be necessary, however,” he said, “to grant them liberties and rights, for all men ought to have them equally,

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whatever their race or their religion." Such a statement, in the mouth of a Russian Viceroy, even if it were, merely a Platonic profession, shows how much progress had been achieved by liberalism at that time. “The Tartars,” he continued, “ must be educated, for they are among the most backward races of the Empire, and they themselves desire schools, although, unlike the Armenians, they do not want to pay for them ; but the Government is quite willing to defray the cost.”

On the Georgian question, Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoffs sentiments seemed to be no less liberal. He waxed quite enthusiastic in his praise of the Gurian popular tribunals, and said that the revolutionary movement was going to be “ killed by kindness.” “ With concessions of a sort which is called liberal, but is in reality nothing more than justice, we shall satisfy all the better part of the population; while, as for the others, we can easily deal with them.” The Viceroy admitted that the chief evil of the Caucasus was its bad administration. “We have a few good officials, no doubt; but the great majority are dishonest. We require a far superior staff of men to that hitherto appointed, and they must be better paid. We give the functionaries great power and very small salaries. Is it surprising that they make use of the former to augment the latter ?” How often has this been admitted by Russians in high and responsible positions, yet how seldom has any serious attempt been made to remedy it!

We discussed many other questions, and the impression conveyed on me was that the Viceroy was a man

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of excellent intentions and full of goodwill, but far too much of a courtier to deal with the situation. The conditions of the Caucasus required then and require still statesmanlike qualities of the highest order, and great tenacity of purpose, and I much doubted whether Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoff possessed them. Ferocious racial and religious antagonism and the spirit of revolt born of generations of oppression cannot be soothed with pleasant speeches and comfortable optimism. Had Count Vorontzoff-Dash-koff's predecessors been like him possibly things would never have reached such a pitch, but to repair the errors of men of the Golytzin stamp, and do away with the demoralization produced by an incapable and corrupt bureaucracy requires a far stronger man. Subsequent events have borne out the impressions which I received at my interview, and Russian policy in the Caucasus has followed now one course, now another, the acts of one day being rescinded the next. The Viceroy is much influenced by the more important of his subordinate officials, among whom there is the widest divergence of views.

With the advent of Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoff to the Caucasus, several of the higher functionaries were changed. The civil assistant to the Viceroy, General Freze, was succeeded by Sultan Krym-Ghirei, a gentleman of Tartar blood descended from the hereditary khans of the Crimea, but being the son of an English mother he has been brought up a Protestant. He is one of the most honest and respected of the Russian officials of the Caucasus, and has always used his influence with the Viceroy in favour of

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liberalism. In Guria, where he conducted an inquiry into the condition of the peasantry, his is a name to conjure with. Most of the provincial governors were changed, and whenever serious disorders had broken out special military governors-general were appointed. Also the Viceroy’s own staff was largely changed, a new Ober-Politzmeister (General Shirinkin) was appointed, who also brought several new officials in his train. Curiously enough, the police department professed to be the most liberally disposed of all sections of the administration, and one official, M. G., expressed quite democratic opinions, which are said to have influenced both General Shirinkin and Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoff. I was told by an Armenian journalist that his Excellency made the appointment of M. G. a sine qua non of his own acceptance of the Caucasian Viceroyalty. M. G. is a tall, dark man with black hair and beard, about forty or fifty years of age; he has keen, intelligent eyes, and a glance that seems to take in everything around him. He wears no uniform, which is perhaps in keeping with his position as chief of the secret police. He seems unemotional, cold, and exceedingly astute. One of his most curious peculiarities, for a Russian police functionary, was his outspokenness. Unlike the typical Russian bureaucrat of fiction, or even of fact, he made no secret of his opinions nor of his official methods. On many occasions when G. B. and I went to call on him, he confided his proposals to us, gave us a great deal of interesting information concerning the affairs of the Caucasus and of the revolutionary movement, and even showed us certain

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confidential papers concerning the business of his department, papers of a kind which I very much doubt if any British official would have shown to a stranger. Nor were we his only confidants; several correspondents and editors of local papers were treated in the same way, and the latter, although not usually permitted to print the documents in question, were allowed to make use of them for their articles. His ideas, although not untainted with the traditional Russian bureaucratic system, were certainly not those of Prince Golytzin, and he expressed the belief that the Government should look for support to the Armenians as being the most orderly element of the population. He had certain definite views as to how the administration of the country should be carried on, and he was anxious to make them known. One evening he asked G. B., myself, and an Armenian journalist to his office in order to expound them to us. We were there two hours, and a most interesting visit it was. He read out a doklad, or report, on the situation in the Caucasus, which he had drawn up especially for the Tzar, suggesting a number of reforms. The document was a very careful and impartial expos; of the history of the country during the last three months. M. G.’s views of the affair of the Tiflis town hall were characteristically instructive. He said that once the Cossacks were in the building, and the meeting refused to obey the order to disperse, they were obliged to fire—a somewhat doubtful contention —but that the mistake was to send them there at all. “It would have been better to allow even an irregular and illegal meeting to continue unimpeded, than to

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fire on the people. In the first case, no serious harm would have been done, whereas, in the second, a great deal of bitterness has been aroused." He was no believer in the application of martial law, especially in the half-hearted, farcical way in which it was enforced in Tiflis. “ Either you have martial law, in which case you apply it in all its rigour—you disarm the population, you allow no one to be in the streets after nine o'clock, and you place the town under a real military dictatorship ; or you abolish it altogether. The present system merely annoys peaceful citizens, and interferes with business without being of the least use in maintaining order."

He was by no means well-disposed towards the military governors appointed to enforce martial law in the outlying districts. “ They may be good generals,” he said, “but they are very bad administrators.” He was particularly opposed to the Georgian General Takaishvili, who was in command at Shusha, and he showed me the drafts of several letters, calling that officer over the coals for various sins of omission, especially for failing to restore order, and to protect the lives of the Armenians from the Tartar bands. Even towards Prince Louis Napoleon, who was then Governor-General of Erivan, he was not too tender, for he believed him to have shown insufficient energy in dealing with the Tartar-Armenian disturbances, although my impression was that the Prince was a shining exception among the host of incapable nonentities governing the various provinces of the Caucasus. It is said that it is due to the opposition of the police department, that his Imperial Highness eventually re-

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signed the position, and a member of his suite stated that he was perpetually being interfered with by officials whose interest it was to keep things in a disturbed state. It is quite possible, though I have no proof of it, that while M. G. was following one line of policy, other officials of the police department-were following an opposite one.

On another occasion he showed me a letter from the police department, addressed to the commandant of the district of Gory concerning that official's intention of arresting sundry persons accused of political offences, and exiling them to the north of Russia “ by administrative order ” (i.e., without trial). The commandant was advised not to carry out this proposal, "for, on the one hand, the persons in question, being guilty of serious political and even common offences, deserve a more severe punishment than mere exile ; while, on the other hand, punishment by administrative order will cause great dissatisfaction among the inhabitants of the district who see friends and relatives removed without any reason being given. As conclusive proofs of their guilt exist, it is useless to resort to a system of punishment which should be reserved for cases in which there is not sufficient evidence for the purpose of an ordinary trial.” These documents which M. G. showed to me and to others were all marked soviershenno sekretno (extra confidential). M. G. seemed to be no believer in the censorship of the Press, and often declared that in his opinion the Press could by free criticism greatly assist the Government, and was perpetually using his influence to obtain a reduction of the absurd restrictions of the

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censorship. The foreign Press was then completely immune from the interference, and the black smears on the English, French, and German dailies, had become a thing of the past in the Caucasus, although in Russia proper they still continued to some extent. On the whole, it appeared to me that M. G. merely wished to see order restored in the way least calculated to arouse the opposition or offend the susceptibilities of the inhabitants. If he sympathized more with the Armenians it was because he saw in them the most peaceful element of the population, and also no doubt because it was the policy of the Government to reverse the Golytzin methods.

About his past record there is some mystery. His opponents declare that he was once a revolutionist, and connected with the Russian political exiles in Paris, although this was denied by his friends ; he did belong to the secret police of Russia, and is mentioned in Father Gapon's memoirs as a member of Zuba-toffs association of working men organized under police auspices. All I can say for certain is that I experienced unfailing courtesy, assistance, and hospitality from him, and that to judge by what I saw he was a really capable official.

Towards General Shirinkin, the chief of police, public opinion was not very favourable. Although he too professed liberal opinions and did some liberal acts at the time, he was regarded with the deepest suspicion. “ When you have lived in Russia a long time,” a Baku friend said to me, “you realize what the methods of the gendarmerie are, and you can never believe in any member of that force.” The recent

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return to reaction in the Caucasus is believed to be largely the work of the Ober-Politzmeister, although of course the movement has its origin in St. Petersburg. The tergiversations of the Caucasian administration, which now follows liberal tendencies, and now reactionary ones, are said to be due to the fact that the Viceroy is sometimes influenced by such men as Sultan Krym-Ghirei and M. Staroselsky, and at others by General Shirinkin and the reactionary officers.

One thing which was absolutely clear to me from my conversations with official and non-official personages was the general inefficiency and impotence of the Government. In many districts of the west all authority was in the hands of the revolutionary committees, although here and there the troops might hold a town or district. In the south and east the country was a prey to the Tartar-Armenian feud, which the Government was unable to control. In Tiflis itself order could be maintained for just so long as the various revolutionary committees thought desirable. Every Government official complained of the lack of troops, and indeed it was very curious to see a country apparently swarming with soldiers, and yet to hear that they were absolutely insufficient to maintain order. In the course of my tour I visited all the more important centres of the country, and everywhere I saw soldiers, gendarmes, and police; yet nowhere was order fully assured. It might be said of the Government of the Caucasus as was said of the British Government in South Africa at one period of the war, that its authority extended no further than

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the range of the rifles of the army. Of course the absence of large bodies of men in Manchuria accounted to some extent for the shortage at home, but as a matter of fact the actual numbers of the Russian army must have been enormously overestimated, and a large part of it evidently existed only on paper.

Daily existence in Tiflis was frequently enlivened by riots and assassinations, and by news of similar occurrences, often absurdly exaggerated, from other parts of the country. Yet life went on much as usual in spite of the unrest. Reading about events in Russia, in foreign newspapers, one is apt to imagine that everybody is in a perpetual state of wild excitement and terror. Relatives and friends abroad saw me in imagination swimming in pools of blood with bombs bursting on all sides ; whereas as a matter of fact I was at the time probably eating my dinner in a restaurant to the sound of a band, or expostulating with a railway porter for not having secured the best place for me in the train.

Nevertheless, politics monopolized conversation, and one could talk of nothing else, especially in Armenian circles. But to obtain information about any particular event was not easy, for accuracy is far from being a Caucasian virtue. I do not suggest that the people always wilfully tell lies, although no doubt some of them do. But the Caucasian, be he Georgian, Russian, Armenian, or Tartar, has no notion of the nature of evidence. Moreover, I was constantly delayed in my inquiries by the inveterate Oriental habit of recounting everything ab ovo. As I said in a previous chapter, I discovered this charac-

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teristic among the Georgians almost the first day I landed in the Caucasus. I had hoped that the Armenians, being a more business-like people, would be a little more plain-spoken, and that I should have no difficulty in getting at the bottom of the situation, or at least of the Armenian view of it. But I was mistaken. One evening I had asked an Armenian gentleman for information on certain matters, whereupon he invited me to call on him the next day to meet one or two other prominent Armenians who would make the situation as clear as day to me. On reaching his house I found my host seated on a sofa with a huge pile of newspapers and type-written manuscripts beside him ; around in a circle sat about a dozen other Armenians all bursting with information. Among themselves they talked Armenian of which I understood nothing save such words as “ Armian,” “Tatar,” “Vorontzoff-Dashkoff,” “Sultan Krym-Ghirei,” “ Baku,” “ Erivan,” “ Nakhitchevan,” “Shirinkin,” “revolutzia” “revolver,” “Mauser,” &c. But one of them, a journalist who had lived in Constantinople, talked fairly fluent French and acted as interpreter. I shall not attempt to reproduce the conversation, which, if I remembered it all, would run into several chapters. But this was the sort of thing.

Q. “ Can you tell me the cause of the troubles at Nakhitchevan last May ? ”

A. “When Constantinople was captured by the Latins at the time of the Fourth Crusade, the Armenian people,” &c., &c.

After about an hour we come to concrete facts concerning the events in question.

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Q. “What are the present demands of the Armenians in Russian territory? Is there any aspiration for an independent Armenia ? ”

A. “At the time of the conversion of the Armenians to Christianity in the III. century, A.D.,” &c., &c. An hour later we have got down to the Turkish conquest, and by midnight we have almost reached the Russian invasion of the Caucasus.

These gentlemen were also very kind in furnishing me with a number of documents concerning recent events; the reports are quite accurate, and replete with interesting matter, but all very long. But we must not forget what a great part history plays in actual politics in the East. We in the West are apt to disregard the importance of historic claims, and consider only the questions of the moment; but the national spirit of Oriental oppressed races is based on their past history, and abstract ideas which to us may seem vain things, to them are all in all.

Another characteristic of the Caucasian Armenians is the persistence with which they ask you to express your opinion as to the merits of their feud with the Tartars the moment you arrive in the country. “Who do you think is in the right?” “I do not know yet; I have not had time to inquire carefully into the matter.” “ But you must know; it is so obvious that the Armenians are in the right that no impartial person can have any doubts.” The Armenians realize their own unpopularity, and they make desperate efforts to win strangers over to their side.

After a stay of some months in the Caucasus I

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confess that at times I felt a little weary of the Armeno-Tartar controversy, and of the Socialistic aspirations of the Georgians; even the accounts of the iniquities of the Russian Government began to pall. It was quite a relief to be taken one day to see the buildings of the Tiflis Musical Society, and to hear animated discussions concerning the probable programme, not of the Georgian Federalist party nor of the Armenian Constitutionalists, but of the symphony concerts for the coming winter. I was shown over a really very handsome hall which a wealthy Armenian had built, not as a storehouse for bombs nor even for the session of the future Caucasian Parliament, but for the concerts of choir and chamber music.

A still greater contrast to the local atmosphere was afforded by an American man of science staying in my hotel. He had been sent out by the United States Ministry of Agriculture to inquire into the condition of bees in various Eastern countries. He had been in Turkey, the Balkan States, and the South Slavonic provinces of Austria-Hungary, and was now visiting apiaries in the Caucasus, and was interested in the country solely from the point of view of bees. On hearing that he was going to Erivan, from which I had just returned, I began describing the place to him, saying how interesting the political situation was. But he interrupted my account of the Tartar-Armenian disturbances : “ Yes, I am told it is a very interesting place indeed. There is a particular kind of grey bee there which does not exist in the United States nor in any part of Europe.” On my advising

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him to go to Etchniadzin, the headquarters of the Armenian Church, he replied that it had no interest for him. But the next day he informed me he had changed his mind, because he had heard of some hives of an unusual type which the monks kept, and were worth seeing. He had taken a number of photographs on his tour, all of them of beehives and bees. Although in weak health, owing to a bad digestion, and not caring for riding, he was preparing to start on a journey across Persia to India on horseback, all for the sake of his insects. I have seldom come across such an instance of pluck and persistence as in this delicate, middle-aged man, who was ready to undergo any amount of privations and discomfort for the sake of scientific work.

 


Table of contents
Cover and pp. 1-4 | Prefatory note | Table of contents (as in the book) | List of illustrations
“Chronological table of recent events in the Caucasus”
1. The Caucasus, its peoples, and its history | 2. Eastward ho! | 3. Batum
4. Kutais and the Georgian movement | 5. The Gurian “republic” | 6. Tiflis
7. Persons and politics in the Caucasian capital
8. Armenians, Tartars, and the Russian government
9. Baku and the Armeno-Tartar feud | 10. Bloodshed and fire in the oil city
11. The land of Ararat | 12. The heart of Armenia | 13. Russia's new route to Persia
14. Nakhitchevan and the May massacres | 15. Alexandropol and Ani
16. Over the frosty Caucasus | 17. Recent events in the Caucasus | Index

 

Acknowledgements:

Source: Villari, Luigi. Fire and Sword in the Caucasus by Luigi Villari author of “Russia under the Great Shadow”, “Giovanni Segantini,” etc. London, T. F. Unwin, 1906
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Karen Vrtanesyan

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See also:
The Flame of Old Fires by Pavel Shekhtman (in Russian)
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