FIRE AND SWORD IN THE CAUCASUS
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NAKHITCHEVAN AND THE MAY MASSACRES
THIS remote little town on the Persian border, like Djulfa, has played a part in the history of the land in past centuries. To-day it is again to the fore as one of the chief centres of the Tartar-Armenian conflict and the scene of what was perhaps the most abominable massacre since the outbreaks began. I spent several days visiting the town and the neighbourhood, which gave me a clearer idea of this great racial feud than I had obtained either at Baku or at Tiflis. In the two latter places the issues are more complex ; at Baku social and labour problems are mixed up with racial and religious hatred, and the situation is further complicated by the presence of large numbers of Russians, and by the activity of the Social-Democratic party ; at Tiflis all the various Caucasian races are represented, but the Tartars are not numerous; only quite recently have Tartar-Armenian disturbances occurred there at all. But in the Nakhitchevan district the two races are face to face, and the question appears divested of extraneous issues. Nor are the Armenian Committees at all active, and there are no Tartar “intellectuals.”
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Nakhitchevan-on-the-Araxes * is a very ancient town. It was founded according to the local tradition by Noah, after he had planted the first vine on the slopes of Mount Ararat. It is mentioned by Ptolemy as Naxouana. In the Middle Ages and in more recent times it was an important place, and when all this part of the country was under the dominion of the Persian Shahs, Nakhitchevan was ruled by vassal khans of great power and influence. In 1829 Russia, after her last war with Persia, received Nakhitchevan, together with Erivan, by the treaty of Turkoman Chai. The Armenians played the same role in this conquest as they had done in that of other parts of the Caucasus, and it was largely through their action that the local princes were dispossessed. But if the khans no longer actually rule they are still very wealthy and exercise enormous influence over the rest of the Moslem community, who have looked on them as their natural leaders for centuries. Various members of the princely family, which bears the Russified cognomen of Nakhitchevansky, have entered the Russian public services, chiefly the army. To-day Djafar Kuli Khan Nakhitchevansky, an ex-officer, is Mayor of the town, while his brother Raghim Khan has also been in the State service, and is a man of great local authority.
In character Nakhitchevan is quite Persian.† The
* There is another Nakhitchevan on the Don, a suburb of Rostoff, founded
by Armenian refugees from the Caucasus in 1780 (see p. 146), and a village
of the same name near Kars.
† The Tartars having no civilization of their own, imitated that of Persia, just as the Turks adopted an imitation of Arab culture.
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mud walls, the architecture, the life, the general appearance of the streets, make of it almost a prolongation of the neighbouring Empire. Little of the ancient city survives, save the ruins of a palace, and the curious old “ tower of the khans,” a twelve-sided building. On its walls is an inscription in large blue letters, which if set out would develop a length of 450 metres.* It is built on an eminence in the middle of the valley of the Araxes, which here broadens out into a very large plain surrounded by bold, high mountains. There are many trees, two public gardens of the usual Russian type, and a swift torrent which divides the town into two parts. Nearly all the houses are of a flimsy construction; even the mosques are of wood and mud. But the place is very picturesque, and would not be unpleasant but for the dust, which, as I said before, is appalling. I never realized so thoroughly before the meaning of Gilbert's immortal verses about the place “ where the dust of an earthy to-day is the earth of a dusty to-morrow.”
Nakhitchevan is the capital of a district in the government of Erivan. The population of the town amounts to about 8,000, of whom three-quarters are Tartars and one-quarter Armenians. In the rest of the district there is rather less disproportion between the two races, which amount to 65,000 and 33,000 respectively. As at Erivan, the Tartars are wealthier than the Armenians, and own nearly all the land, whereas the bulk of the Armenians are peasants on Tartar properties or on those of the State. A small proportion have land of their own,
* Élysée Réclus, Geographie Universelle.
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divided into small plots, and a few thousands are scattered about in the town and the larger villages engaged in commercial pursuits. At Nakhitchevan itself nearly all the house property is in Tartar hands, and even the Armenian shops in the bazaar are built on land belonging to Tartars. The two brothers Nakhitchevansky are the largest landowners in the district.
This part of the Caucasus is exceedingly wild and unruly. Russian authority is weakly upheld by a tiny force of soldiers distributed between Nakhitchevan itself and the chief villages, which was even smaller before the recent disorders. Public safety has never been assured, and murders were almost daily occurrences in the rural districts. The Tartar khans and begs are oppressive landlords, especially towards their Armenian peasants, and some of them are little better than brigand chiefs, keeping armed bands of retainers who regularly “ forage ” for them. It is said that certain begs live almost entirely by plunder, and many villagers certainly do. If the outrages and oppression to which the Armenians had been subjected in Persian times were no longer so violent and redress was sometimes obtainable before the Russian courts, yet life was anything but pleasant for them. It was only in trade that they had the advantage over the Tartars, although in the primitive conditions obtaining in this part of the world commerce could not play an important rle, and the more energetic and enterprising Armenians usually emigrated to Tiflis, Baku, Elizavetpol, or to European Russia, where there was more scope for their activities. There are certain
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villages whose inhabitants have all emigrated at one time or another and returned home wealthy. Even the Tartars themselves, who did not happen to be either large landowners or brigands, suffered from the prevailing anarchy.
After the Baku outbreak in February the agitation among the Tartars spread to Nakhitchevan, and grew more and more acute ; like their Baku co-religionists, the local Moslems thought that the policy of the Russian Government was a plain encouragement for them to fall on the Armenians. They were all more or less armed, but their weapons were not always of the latest patterns. They set about to make good the deficiency, and through the early spring consignment after consignment of arms were smuggled in, chiefly from Persia. It is said that they were in communication with the Azerbajan Tartars and Kurds over the border, and that even in the matter of religion they were more influenced by Persia mujtaids than by the then local mullahs whom they regarded as mere Russian officials. The Armenians had far fewer arms, most of the peasants possessing kinjals only, for they never expected a general attack.*
During the month of April the situation became critical, and the Armenians applied to the Russian authorities for protection. The District Governor, M.
* For the account of the Nakhitchevan troubles I am indebted to information supplied by the Archimandrites Mesrop and Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian, who were eye-witnesses, and contained in their reports to the Viceroy, and by that given by other Armenian and Tartar notables, as well as to corroborative evidence obtained from two of the foreign contractors working on the Nakhitchevan railway and other impartial sources.
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Enkel, a Finn, and his assistant, M. Gogoberidze, a Georgian, were bitterly anti-Armenian; the mayor, most of the minor officials and magistrates, and all the police were themselves Tartars so that there was little to be hoped from them. The Erivan authorities were hardly of more assistance, and the Vice-Governor, M. Taranovsky, did not disguise his Armenophobe bias. The number of murders assumed alarming proportions, and the Armenians began to fear that a general attack on them by the Tartars was possible. On the 20th of May the Armenian merchants closed their shops. Three days later the Vice-Governor of Erivan arrived together with Djafar Kuli Khan, the mayor of Nakhitchevan, and on the 24th they were followed by the Archmandrite Karapet, and M. Melik-Agamaloff, the Armenian mayor of Erivan; with the object of pacifying the population, they consulted the Armenian notables. “M. Taranovsky, the mayor of Nakhitchevan, and his brother Raghim reassured the Armenians, the former in the name of the public force, the two latter on account of their influence with the Tartars, and insisted that the Armenian merchants should open their shops.”*
The next morning, May 25th, the Armenian merchants, trusting in these assurances, reopened their shops at 9 a.m. The small force of soldiers stationed in the town had gone out into the country some miles distant, for shooting practice. Suddenly, bands of armed Tartars appeared from all sides, and rushed into the bazar, where they proceeded to set fire to
* Official report by Archimandrite Mesrop to the Viceroy of the Caucasus.
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Photo by Grigoriantz.
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and plunder the Armenian shops and murder every Armenian who showed himself. A circumstance which proves that the plot had long been arranged beforehand is the fact that the assailants were divided into four parties, each of which had definite duties assigned to it; one was to attack and kill the Armenians, another was to plunder and burn the shops, a third was to remove the plunder in carts, which were kept ready for the purpose, while a fourth was to attend to the Tartar killed and wounded (if any). The actual leader of the Tartars was a certain Assad Aga Kingerlinsky, a most notorious scoundrel.* It is said that bands of Tartars from over the border crossed the Araxes and took part in the operations. A foreign resident told me that some actually came, but were driven back by the troops before they could do much mischief.† The Armenians were completely taken by surprise ; few of them had firearms, and there was no time to concentrate or organize resistance against this ferocious onslaught. One Armenian merchant, the richest in the town, was in his own shop at the time, together with his clerks ; the building was set on fire, and he and the other inmates were suffocated. Their bodies were afterwards sprinkled with kerosene and burnt by the infuriated Tartars ; others were roasted alive. Out of 195 Armenian shops in the bazar, 180 were completely plundered, twenty safes were broken open and their contents stolen.
* He was afterwards murdered at Batum.
† A Russian officer declared that in the subsequent encounters in the district between the troops and the Tartars those from Persia were the fiercest fighters. They were distinguished by metal badges.
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It is said that among the papers destroyed were various documents relating to large sums of money lent to prominent Tartars by an Armenian merchant who was himself one of the victims. Murder and arson are in the Araxes valley recognized means of getting rid of unpleasant obligations. After being plundered some of the shops were set on fire, but as the flames threatened also to envelop the Tartar shops, they were quickly extinguished. The carnage lasted three hours, during which some fifty Armenians were killed and many wounded; of the Tartars only three or four were killed. The total value of the goods plundered was 1,200,000 roubles (£125,000), of which a small proportion, valued at 16,600 roubles, has since been returned. The stolen goods were hidden away in the houses of various prominent Tartars both in Nakhitchevan and the neighbourhood. It was clear that although the original cause of the outbreak was racial hatred, the desire for plunder played no small part in bringing it about.
What happened at Nakhitchevan was repeated on similar lines in other parts of the district. Out of a total of fifty-two villages with an Armenian or mixed Armeno-Tartar population, the official reports mention forty-seven in which Armenians were killed and wounded or their houses plundered and burnt. The Tartar villagers from the whole countryside rose on May 25th in concert with those of the town and from Persia and attacked their Armenian neighbours. Here are a few items characteristic of the events of May and June:—
TAZAKENT, suburb of Nakhitchevan. Armenian
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Photo by J. Gordon Browne.
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quarter attacked and completely plundered; two persons wounded, and 33,000 roubles' worth of goods stolen, of which a part were afterwards returned.
HADJIBAR. Completely plundered, including the church; twelve houses burnt, five persons killed, four wounded, property worth 50,000 roubles carried off.
OKHARY-UZUM. The church and every house plundered, two men killed, 40,000 roubles' worth of property stolen.
NAZARABAD. The church and every house plundered and some burnt, two men killed, plunder worth 107,000 roubles carried off.
DJAGRY (a mixed village). Armenian quarter totally plundered, church desecrated and sacked, four houses and eight shops burnt, fifty-one persons killed and thirteen wounded, plunder worth 393,000 roubles stolen.
KHAL-KHAL. The church and all the houses sacked, two men wounded, 67,000 roubles' worth of plunder removed.
ALAGÖZ-MAZRA. Completely plundered, six houses burnt, two persons killed, four wounded, plunder worth 82,000 roubles.
KARABABA. Church and village sacked, two killed, plunder worth 44,000 roubles.
ARINDJ. Completely sacked, two killed, plunder worth 103,000 roubles.
GHINDJAZOR. Completely sacked, two killed, plunder worth 73,000 roubles.
NORS-MAZRA. Completely sacked, fifty killed, plunder worth 19,000 roubles.
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GYALDJARADJUR. Completely sacked, three killed, plunder worth 47,000 roubles.
TUMBUL. Thirty-nine houses plundered and partly burnt, twenty persons killed, nine wounded.
ABRAKUNIS. Sixty houses sacked, of which six were burnt; plunder worth 20,000 roubles.
Out of forty-seven villages attacked, nineteen were destroyed and abandoned by their inhabitants, ten partly destroyed but not abandoned, and from eighteen the cattle were carried off. The total of killed in the town and village amount to 239, and that of the wounded to fifty-nine (without counting the slightly wounded), and the total plunder is estimated at 2,609,054 roubles (about £280,000).
The reason why the Tartars succeeded so admirably in the villages is that the Armenian peasants were nearly all unarmed. In the case of the few villages where the inhabitants had arms the Tartars were repulsed with loss; one or two others, such as Sheikh-Mahmud, where arms were known to be, gave shelter to refugees from elsewhere, and were not disturbed. One Tartar village, Itkran, was afterwards attacked by armed Armenians out of revenge, and thirty-six persons killed. Isolated murders, outrages, and robbery continued since that fatal 25th of May, and the villagers have had in many cases to abandon their harvests, as they dared not reap them from fear of being attacked.
As to the responsibility for these atrocities, it rests in the first place with the Tartars, and secondly with Russian authorities who neglected to take measures for the protection of the Armenians. It cannot be
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denied that the blood-guiltiness is largely on the heads of the khans and begs, the natural leaders of the Moslem community. It was universally admitted by all impartial people that if the brothers Nakhi-tchevansky had raised a finger the outbreak would have ceased instantly, for they exercise an almost absolute influence over their co-religionists. I myself realized this on talking to Tartars of the lower class, who spoke of the Nakhitchevanskys almost with veneration. But they never moved.
The events of Nakhitchevan created a profound impression throughout the country, which eventually reached St. Petersburg. The Armenians realized more than ever the necessity for arming, and the Russian Government began to feel that something must be done to restore order in this anarchical district. The usual remedy was resorted to—the province was placed under martial law and a Governor-General appointed. Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoff had only recently arrived in the Caucasus, and had not had time to take stock of the situation. The appointment fell on General Alikhanoff Avarsky, of Pendjeh fame. Alikhanoff is a Tartar himself, and a brother-in-law of Raghim Khan Nakhitchevansky, in whose house he actually took up his residence while in the town, so that the Armenians hardly dared to approach him! A more characteristic example of the fatuous policy of the bureaucracy could hardly be conceived. Instead of redressing wrongs and punishing the guilty, his mere presence was a direct encouragement to the Tartars in their truculent attitude. Even to Alikhanoff himself, a man
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of ability and culture and a devoted public servant, the position cannot have been a pleasant one. Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoff saw that the situation remained very serious, and on leaving Tiflis for Kislovodsk in the early summer he sent Prince Napoleon to Erivan as Governor-General. One of the Prince's first acts was to recall Alikhanoff and to visit Nakhitchevan himself. His arrival inspired far more confidence, as his impartiality was obvious to all. Bodies of troops visited various parts of the district, and had numerous encounters with Tartar bands. But even Napoleon did not wholly pacify the country, and either because he had not sufficient powers or for some other reason,* he failed to punish the guilty Tartars. He assured the Armenians that the murderers should be punished, and he ordered the Tartars to give up their plunder. But at the time of my visit, although four months had elapsed since the outbreak, no one was in prison for the events of May, except the village starosta of Djagry, who had actually been seen leading a band of Tartars to plunder the Armenian houses. Of the plunder only the merest trifle was restored, the murders continued, and the only improvement was due to the fact that the troops had been increased, and that their presence prevented a recurrence of the outbreaks.
As a specimen of the language used by the mullahs, the following passage, reported in the Razsviet of St.
* At the Tiflis police department I was told that the Prince had full powers, but would not use them ; while Colonel von der Nonne, the Prince's Chief of the Staff, absolutely denied this.
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Photo by J. Gordon Browne.
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Petersburg (June 19/July 2, 1905) is characteristic, if genuine:
“ The Tartar mullahs Musan, his sons, Mamad Taghi and Alshafor, and Mashadi- Mamad-Hadji-Kerim, said : ‘ In any case we shall not leave a single Armenian alive, we shall kill them all, the more so as the Government does not punish us for it, soldiers and all that—it only exists for show, if by the grace of Allah we quickly make an end of the Armenians— then we shall raise all Iran and drive even the Russians out, uniting the Caucasus to the domination of our powerful Lord the Shah. Soon, glory be to Allah, at Tiflis the red standard of Pan-Islamism will be raised before the Governor's palace. This land belonged to Iran before and must belong to it again.’” *
Our first impression of Nakhitchevan, as the reader will have gathered, was not an agreeable one, and I cannot say that better acquaintance corrected it. The inn was a most curious place. It was extremely small, very dirty, and quite elemental. Our tiny rooms were fearfully hot and stuffy, and looked into an untidy courtyard ; we were kept awake until a late hour by the excited conversations going on in the dining-room (this alone is a sign of Russian domination, for nowhere in the Tzar’s dominions do people go to bed early). And yet in the midst of all this barbarism our dirty beds were supplied with the latest thing in spring-mattresses, and at breakfast rancid butter was served up in an English butter-cooler!
* It is quoted in a little pamphlet (in Russian) by G. Chalkushian on The Armenian Question and the Armenian Pogromy in Russia.
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The first person on whom I called was the Archimandrite Mesrop, in charge of the spiritual needs of the Armenian community, and its natural leader. He occupied a small house near the Armenian church, a large stone building. A number of booths had been erected in the church enclosure to serve as a new bazar for the Armenians, who were afraid to return to the old one, which was in the midst of the Tartar quarter. Father Mesrop could speak good German, for he had been educated at Dorpat, and was altogether a cultivated man. I was much struck with his impartiality, for after having given me his views on the situation, he concluded, “ But you must not hear our side only. As you are a foreigner seeking for information, I strongly advise you to call on the Tartar khans as well and learn what they have to say.”
I subsequently explored the bazar, and the Armenians, professing themselves very solicitous for my safety, gave me a couple of youths as a bodyguard ; not that it was necessary, for I afterwards wandered about the town alone and was never molested. I was shown the many Armenian shops “ plundered to cleanliness, ” as the Russians say, a few burnt houses, and other signs of the devastations. A few Cossacks and infantry were about, and a number of Tartar policemen. Otherwise life seemed to be proceeding much as usual. In the boulevard I saw an aged mullah, and my companions, who interpreted for me, asked him in Tartar if he minded being photographed. He willingly assented, for the Shiahs have not the same objection to the process as
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Photo by J. Gordon Browne.
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the Sunnis. When wandering about alone I wished to walk out to a spot whence I thought I could obtain a good view of the neighbourhood ; as I was going past some farm-buildings a tall, good-looking Tartar peasant called out to me in Russian, asking where I was going. On my replying that I wished to reach the hill opposite, he said—
“You must not go this way, for there are biting dogs. But wait; I will go with you.”
He thereupon came out of his way to escort me past the haunts of the dangerous canines, and then bade me farewell with a dignified salutation worthy of a Spanish cavalier. If I have some hard things to say of the Tartars, I cannot deny that their manners are most attractive ; the courtesy even of the peasants is princely, and quite explains their popularity with foreigners.
I did not neglect Father Mesrop's advice, but went to call on the brothers Nakhitchevansky. I first visited Raghim Khan, and what I have said of the Tartar peasant applies still more strongly to this man. He is a true grand seigneur, a typical Mohammedan feudal lord, owner of wide lands and master of many peasants, both Armenian and Tartar. His house is by far and away the finest in Nakhitchevan, and would, indeed, not be out of place even in a more civilized city. It is situated on the outskirts of the town, at the edge of a cliff overlooking the broad plain of the Araxes. The garden in front of it is not very flourishing, for the climate is probably unsuited to the cultivation of flowers. But internally the house is quite splendid. The drawing-room is
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filled with expensive European furniture, not always in the best style, but very gorgeous ; the floors and walls are covered with Persian, Turkish, and Caucasian carpets of the richest description ; the ceiling is a mosaic of little pieces of looking-glass, like that of the Sardars’ kiosk at Erivan. The decorations, the upholstering, the ornaments, have all been brought from a great distance before the days of the railway, and fitted up regardless of cost, with a view to impressing people with the importance, wealth, and dignity of the Nakhitchevansky family. Raghim Khan himself is a dark man of middle height, not as handsome as many Tartars I have met, but with a fine gentlemanly bearing and a pleasing manner. He was attired in the uniform of a Russian official, although he has now retired from the public service. He is better educated than most Tartars, and has travelled a good deal in Russia and in foreign countries ; he knows Russian perfectly, but speaks no Western tongue. Although I bore no introduction he received me with the utmost courtesy and an outspoken frankness which surprised me. He is every inch a khan, and bears the outward impress of being the descendant of a long line of rulers over a storm-swept land. I put to him a few “leading questions” as to the Tartar-Armenian strife, to which he at once replied by launching forth into an eloquent discourse.
“ Do you want to know the real state of affairs ? ” he asked me. “ Very well, I shall tell you all about it. I shall only tell you the absolute truth. When the Russian Government confiscated the lands of the Armenian Church and closed its schools, the Arme-
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nian revolutionary committees became very active, and tried to enlist our support on behalf of their movement. But we Tartars are peaceful people, loyal to our Tzar, and refused to listen to them. Whereupon the Armenians proceeded to threaten us, saying that if we did not help them we should be killed. They distributed menacing proclamations and pictures of Djon-fidais (Armenian revolutionists who have sworn to die for their country), armed to the teeth, and told the Tartars that they had large stores of bombs and rifles. As the Tartars still persisted in their refusal the Armenians fell on them, and assassinated a great number. The Armenians have long been arming; in every Armenian house there are two or three Berdanki* and in the whole district of Nakhitchevan there are from three to four thousand Mausers in Armenian hands. Every village of five hundred inhabitants has at least a hundred rifles. They obtained them from Armenian ex-soldiers, or even from the Cossacks and from the Arsenal, for Government officials are always open to bribes. The Tartars, on the other hand, had hardly any weapons at all except kinjals and a few revolvers. But the Armenians are cowards. They never attack an armed Tartar unless they are in overwhelming numbers, and even then they prefer to hide behind a bush or a rock. As for the May outbreak, it is all humbug; it began with an attack by the Armenians on the Tartars in the bazar, the Armenians being armed with rifles, the Tartars defending themselves with kinjals. Then our people managed to get a few
* Berdan rifles formerly used in the Russian army.
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rifles and revolvers, and a rumour was spread abroad that my brother, Djafar Kuli Khan, and I had been murdered; this aroused the Tartars to a frenzy, and seizing every weapon they could find, they fell on the Armenians and killed several. You may think me prejudiced,” he added, “but go and ask F——, the Austrian railway contractor who has lived here so many years, he will confirm every word I said.”
On my alluding to the Armenian who had been burnt in his shop, Raghim said
that what had happened was as follows : when the ripts broke out the merchant
shut down the shutters of his shop, and as it was dark he lit a match, which
he inadvertently dropped on a pile of papers ; these caught fire, and the
premises were soon in a blaze; the inmates were asphyxiated.
I next hinted at the burning and plundering of Armenian villages and the desecration of their churches. “ Do you know how that happened ? ” asked Raghim. “ The Armenians themselves burnt their own houses and desecrated their own churches, so as to throw the blame on us! The Tartars never burnt villages nor killed women and children, as the Armenians did in the Tartar village of Itkran.”
The khan admitted that after the May riots the Tartars had begun to arm—purely in self-defence, of course—and had obtained rifles from Persia, paying as much as 100 roubles for weapons worth only 20, or had taken them from the Armenians at the time of the outbreak. He went on to speak of the Armenians in general as a set of bloodthirsty and bloodsucking scoundrels, cowards, assassins, and swindlers.
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Photo by a Nakhitchevan Photographer.
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Photo by J. Gordon Browne.
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Their wealth, according to him, is enormous, and has its origin in the fact that during the war of 1877 they issued 96,000,000 roubles of forged notes ; now they maintain it by going into business in Moscow and other towns, and after accumulating large sums they become bankrupt, leaving their creditors and non-Armenian partners ruined. To my question as to the Pan-Islamic movement, of which the Armenians make so much, he replied that there is such bitterness between Sunnis and Shiahs that there can be no possible basis for common action between the two sects. “There is more chance of a union between Tartars and Armenians,” he said, “ than between Sunnis and Shiahs.” He concluded by stating that the Government was largely to blame. This is the one point on which Tartars and Armenians agree.
I left Raghim’s house much edified by my conversation, for if what I heard from the worthy Tartar cannot be taken exactly as a contribution to recent Caucasian history, it was a most interesting revelation of the Tartar mind, and incidentally showed what contempt he has for the judgment and discriminating power of the Western stranger.
I also visited Raghim’s brother, Djafar Kuli Khan, the mayor. He too lives in a palatial dwelling richly furnished, though less beautifully situated than that of Raghim. He has served in the Russian army, and was attired in a tcherkesska. He is very handsome, and has the same Oriental dignity as his brother, but he was more reticent in his speech, and although equally bitter against the Armenians he was less reckless in his statements.
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The District Governor, M. Enkel, was away, and from his assistant I obtained very little information. Far more interesting was my visit to the foreign railway contractor to whom Raghim Khan had directed me in order to have confirmation of his own statements. I found him at home early one morning, a burly, good-natured, homely Austrian who talked German with a strong Tirolese accent; his wife, a German Bohemian, was everything that a good Hausfrau should be. It was a pleasant change to be among “ white folk” once more, and it made me realize how small are the differences between Englishmen, Germans, Italians, and Frenchmen, when compared with those between West Europeans and Orientals. Herr F , when questioned as to the events of last May, instead of confirming the Tartar version, described the occurrence almost exactly as I had heard it from Armenian sources. His report on the Tartars in general and on the khans and begs in particular was the reverse of flattering.
Before leaving Nakhitchevan G. B. and I wished to make a tour through some of the villages where there had been recent fighting. It was a very instructive experience, and gave us some idea of the conditions of rural life in the extreme south of Transcaucasia. We set out one morning in a carriage, a party of three—G. B., myself, and a young Armenian acting as interpreter. The day was very hot and very dusty as had been many days preceding it, and as were many others to follow. We had hardly quitted the town when a figure on
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Photo by J. Gordon Browne.
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horseback emerged out of a cloud of dust behind us. He was a very tall, dark-bearded man, attired in a long black overcoat, a black alpaca tunic, black trousers, high boots, and a dilapidated straw hat, and was mounted on a sturdy little Tartar pony. He followed our carriage and exchanged greetings with our interpreter. He was, we learned, one of the celebrated Armenian Djon-fidai from Asia Minor, and the mere fact of his existence was illegal; having been informed that we were going to visit the burnt and plundered Armenian villages he had come to escort us as a voluntary guide and protector. His presence would ensure the confidence of the peasantry, for he was known throughout the country, while as for any possible attack on the part of the Tartars, two huge revolvers protruding from beneath his coat showed that he was well prepared for all eventualities. Anything more parched and desolate than the country round Nakhitchevan can hardly be imagined. The burnt yellow grass, the sandy soil, the bare rocks, and the suffocating dust, under the blazing autumn sun, compose a most depressing picture; yet not without beauty. The desolation is relieved at intervals by patches of cultivation. We came upon very few people along the road, now and then a small party of Armenians or Tartars with carts and horses, and occasionally some peasants working in the fields, these usually armed with rifles. Our first halting-place was Nazarabad, a poor little hamlet of mud huts with narrow tortuous streets. We looked into several houses which had been plundered of everything; the inhabitants all fled at the time of the outbreak, but
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a few had now returned. The church, too, was desecrated and plundered, and presented a most forlorn appearance.
Next came Djagry, a much bigger village, with a mixed population of 3,000 or 4,000. Several of the houses are large and well built, but some of the best ones belonging to rich Armenians had been burnt. The Armenian quarter had been looted even down to the doors and window-frames, and nearly £50,000 worth of property had been stolen. A small detachment of soldiers was quartered in the village, as further trouble was expected. The one fairly well-to-do Armenian who had something left entertained us in his house with such hospitality as he could afford; he treated us with the greatest friendliness, refusing to accept the least payment. On our tour of inspection we were accompanied by half the population, all of them anxious to see the strangers and tell them their wrongs. It was here that the village starosta, Abbas Zaloghi, led the plunderers and directed the massacre. He was eventually imprisoned.
From Djagry we proceeded to cross a broad valley to a group of villages on the other side. The road was as usual a mere track; there was no bridge across the river, but we drove down into a bed of immense width, over an expanse of large pebbles, through several channels with fairly deep water, then up a very steep bank, in negotiating which we were nearly upset. It is extraordinary where a reckless Caucasian driver will take you, and how you do manage to get through safe and sound. Many large and important towns have no other means of com-
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munication with the outside world than roads of this description ; in the rainy season they are impassable for weeks on end. On the other side the country is more fertile and green. There is a fairly wide area of cultivated fields and vineyards, watered by a number of irrigation channels. The harvest seemed everywhere excellent. But in the villages themselves we found the same traces of devastation and outrage. At Khal-khal every house had been pillaged, and at Alagöz-Mazra the same thing had happened. The church here had been completely gutted, the moneybox broken open and its contents stolen. Ever since May, however, the villagers had been arming, and everywhere small bodies of village guards were being raised, strictly illegal and unauthorized of course, but constituting the only means of protection against possible raids. At one village the whole of the “ guard ”—about a dozen men armed with good rifles and bristling with cartridge-belts—turned out to do us honour. We passed them solemnly in review, and then photographed them. It was the first time in our lives that either of us had inspected a military force. “ Once we have eight or ten Berdanki” one of the men told us, “ in the village, we are no longer afraid of the Tartars. Let them come and attack us now if they like ; we shall give them more than they expect.” They seemed to think that when a village has a few rifles the danger of attack is minimized, for the Tartars will only go where they are sure of finding unarmed men and plenty of plunder. The experience of the May and June disorders seems to bear out this contention. If only the Armenians were able to get
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arms there would be no fear of disturbances. I sincerely hope that they may do so. One of their priests told me that until recently he had always counselled his flock against the use of force, and advised them to remain peaceful. “ But now, seeing that the Government will not or cannot protect us, my advice to them is, ‘ Arm yourselves, and if attacked shoot without hesitation.’ I told this to Prince Napoleon when he came here.”
The last village at which we stopped was Sheikh-Mahmud, which is wholly Armenian. It was not attacked by the Tartars, as its inhabitants were armed, and in fact the villagers from many other villages which had been plundered and burnt by the Tartars, took refuge here. We were taken to see the little church, all bright with ornaments and decorations “ You see,” the priest said to us, “ what our churches are like when they have not been plundered; all the churches in the district were like this before the Tartar robbers came last May.” The village school was duly unlocked for my inspection, a poor little building, with a few benches, a portrait of the Tzar, and some pictures of objects for school use. The villagers were most anxious to have a better school, and hoped now to get one.
In every village I found the Armenian peasantry as sympathetic and friendly as they could possibly be. They are not in the least like the traditional money-grubbing, money-lending Armenian of the towns, who to the Western mind is so obnoxious. They are simple, ignorant, and primitive no doubt, but kindly, honest, and hard-working, and are endowed with those
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qualities which make nearly all rustic folk so agreeable.
My tour in the Araxes valley called vividly to mind a similar journey through Macedonia and the Adria-nople vilayet during the autumn rising of 1903. In Russian Armenia we have the same general anarchy, the same brigandage, the same succession of murders of a more or less political and religious character as in Macedonia. There has been a persecution of the Armenians by the Russian Government similar to that of the Bulgarians and other Christians by Turkey, although a far less bloody one. Just as the Turkish Government encouraged and protected the bands of Albanian, Pomak, and Turkish bashi-buzuks, and permitted the depredations of the Mohammedan begs, so the Tartar brigands were allowed to work their sweet will on the Armenian peasants of Transcaucasia. In Macedonia the Bulgarians, goaded to despair, formed themselves into revolutionary organizations, and powerful committees arose which practised terrorism, collected and distributed arms, and did not hesitate to murder obnoxious people. In the Caucasus the Armenian committees fought against Russian officials and Tartar bandits in the same way. The tale of their murders is no doubt a long one, but not so long as that of the Tartars, and in any case can one blame them under the circumstances ? They are fighting an unequal fight with the only weapon left to them. In this case as in that of Macedonia, one need not be long in doubt as to where “the balance of criminality” lies. The revolutionary movement in Turkey led to a bloody
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repression on the part of the Turkish Government; in the Caucasus the repression was carried out by the Tartars with the tacit encouragement of the Russian officials. The same incapacity to restore order and really pacify the country, in spite of the presence of huge armies, has been exhibited both by the Turkish and Russian Governments, with the result that chaos reigns in the Caucasus as in Macedonia and Asia Minor. We must not, however, neglect the differences. The Christians in the Caucasus are not precluded from carrying arms in the same way as are their coreligionists in Turkey; nor are the Russian law courts as farcical as those of the Ottoman Empire, and redress is sometimes obtainable, brigands and murderers are sometimes punished. A Baku lawyer had collected a vast mass of material concerning the Nakhitchevan affair which he was going to send to the authorities at St. Petersburg, and the villages had joined together to bring an action for damages against the Governor of Erivan. "Bui the same spirit inspires both administrations.
A prejudice common among Europeans concerning the Christian races of the East is that the latter are all cowards ; the Turco-Greek war is pointed to as conclusive evidence on this point, and the fact that Mohammedans succeed in massacring Armenians and Bulgarians is quoted to prove that the Christians are incapable of defending themselves. Recent events, however, have shown that when supplied with arms Christians are just as good fighters as Moslems. In Macedonia 8,000 to 10,000 Bulgarians kept several Turkish army corps at bay for many months,
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Photo by Grigoriantz.
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inflicting severe defeats on them ; in the Caucasus the Armenians, once the first massacres made them realize the situation, have struck quite as doughty blows as they received, as many a Tartar has had good reason to remember; they have given examples of pluck such as the bravest fighting races might be proud of.
A further parallel may be found in the resemblances between the Armenians and the Bulgarians. The latter, in spite of massacre and persecution and the indifference or unfriendliness of the Powers, are obviously destined to be the ruling race in the Balkans; in the same way the Armenians are the most capable race in the Caucasus, and in spite of Tartar outrages and the Armenophobia of the Muscovite bureaucracy, they will unquestionably end by becoming the predominant element in the country.
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
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
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