FIRE AND SWORD IN THE CAUCASUS
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RECENT EVENTS IN THE CAUCASUS
THE disturbances which I had witnessed at Vladikavkaz were reproduced on a larger or smaller scale in many other Caucasian towns, and ever since then the agitation has continued in one form or another. A summary of the principal events in Transcaucasia during the last few months is needed to complete the sketch which I have given of that much-disturbed country. The manifesto of October 30th was followed by a series of outbreaks between the revolutionists and the Government, which at Baku took the form of a recrudescence of Armeno-Tartar hostility. Then, while the authorities resorted once more to a policy of brutal repression against the Socialists and Georgian revolutionists, the Armeno-Tartar feud continued unabated, and gave rise to a series of outbreaks.
On October 28th a general political strike broke out at Tiflis, organized by the Social Democrats acting in sympathy with those of Russia, in order to bring about the introduction of constitutional government. The schools closed, the train service was stopped, and the air was full of excitement and appre-
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hension. Two days later the Tzar's manifesto was published and the whole population turned out to exult and celebrate the event. The turbulent and revolutionary elements came to the fore, red flag processions paraded the streets, and orators raised on the shoulders of stalwart workmen made impassioned speeches. One speaker pointed out some of the finest houses in the town, and said, “You think that that house belongs to Mr. X., do you not? You are wrong, it belongs to you !” Another proposed that the Viceroy should be hanged, while a third demanded the blood of all the officials and schoolmasters. But in spite of wild speeches, the temper of the crowd was one of rejoicing and happiness, and no violence was actually committed.
The next day came the patriotic demonstration, headed by an officer carrying a portrait of the Tzar; the procession included many well-dressed people who waved Russian flags and sang the National Anthem, and was escorted by Cossacks and police. There was gaiety and high spirits at first, but unfortunately as the procession was returning from the Vera suburb it encountered some schoolboys and Socialist demonstrators, who refused to doff their caps, at the corner of the Baryatinskaya Street. A shot was fired no one knows whence, and the troops then discharged whole volleys into the crowd and against the houses where revolutionists were supposed to be sheltered, and the cavalry trampled people underfoot. For several days the disturbances went on, during which large numbers were killed and wounded, including some schoolboys in the gymnasium where they had been pursued by
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Cossacks, and three houses were bombarded by the artillery. Even after the fighting ceased the unrest continued, and it was not until November 10th that a semblance of order was established and the town resumed its normal aspect.
While these events were occurring at Tiflis, Baku was undergoing its third pogrom, which was, however, much less serious than the other two. On the famous 31st of October the Social Democrats organized a procession consisting chiefly of Russians, although a number of Armenians and some Tartars took part in it. The proceedings were orderly at first, but it was unlikely that in an atmosphere as highly charged as that of Baku any demonstration could end peacefully. A second demonstration was organized for the next day. That evening a prominent Tartar named Hadji. Arslan Ashuroff, who had walked with the demonstrators, was summoned by the Governor-General, and asked by him if he was going to take part in further red flag processions. Ashuroff said that he would, whereupon General Fadeieff asked him, “ Do you know what the red flag means? ” “ It means a demonstration for the manifesto,” replied the Tartar. “ No it does not, my friend ; it means a demonstration against the Tzar. You Tartars must have nothing to do with it.” Ashuroff understood, and the next day a loyalist procession was organized under police auspices, in which he and many of his co-religionists took part. Several Armenian houses were plundered and burnt, and collisions between Liberals and reactionaries, the latter reinforced by Tartar roughs, occurred at various points. On November 3rd a number of Armenians
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were murdered at Bailoff. The 4th passed off quietly, but on the 5th a thanksgiving service was held at the Russian Cathedral, at which many Tartars were present, but no Jews nor Armenians, for a friendly Tartar named Safaralieff had warned them that they would be in danger. A patriotic meeting was afterwards held, at which the question of further demonstrations was discussed. The more moderate and liberal party —two currents of opinion had now appeared among the Tartars—took the line that no more processions should be held; the more violent reactionary spirits thought that the occasion was too good to be wasted, and that a demonstration should parade the Armenian quarter on the plea that no Russian flags had appeared there (it seemed monstrous that the Armenians should not love the Russian Government).
A rumour reached the assembly that forty-seven Russian women and children had been murdered by Armenians. The moderate party sent a deputation to the Governor-General to find out if this were true, and were informed that it was a pure invention. But the patriotards insisted on going to the Armenian quarter, and General Fadeieff finally gave them permission and an escort of Cossacks. As was only to be expected, the demonstrators proceeded to plunder and burn houses and shops, and even attacked a refuge for the aged. But they killed nobody, leaving that task to the Cossacks, who killed or wounded about eighty people. On the 6th an order was issued to the troops to fire on looters, and peace was at once restored.
On this occasion the leading Tartars seem to have
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tried to keep order, the trouble being due to the hooligans, both Russian and Tartar. Subsequently a joint proclamation was issued by several revolutionary committees, including a Moslem one, stating that they had formed an alliance to protect innocent people from the hooligans.
In the Western Caucasus disturbances of all sorts continued. At Batum murders and robbery were more numerous than ever, strikes broke out, and the whole life of the town was suspended for weeks. Various other coast towns were in open revolt, and a bombardment by warships had to be resorted to. In Guria collisions took place from the 29th of October onwards. At Ozurgety the Gurians held their own against the troops; a large part of the railway was in the hands of the revolutionists, and the train service stopped. At Kutais disturbances took place and the revolutionary party was predominant. On the 14th M. Staroselsky, the Governor, went to Tiflis by a special train provided by the revolutionists to confer with the Viceroy. The Government was still disposed to treat the Georgians leniently, and M. Staroselsky received a mandate to abolish martial law in Georgia and make wide concessions. Trains were not yet running between Tiflis and the West, but on the 17th the Social Democrats again ran a special for M. Staroselsky, which left Tiflis draped with red flags amidst the cheers of the people. Although some further collisions -between the troops and the Georgians occurred, the Western provinces were more or less pacified for a time, and the Gurian question appeared satisfactorily settled.
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Photo by J. Gordon Browne.
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This “ Pax Caucasica” lasted about a fortnight, during which every one thought that the Empire was on the high-road to freedom and prosperity. But at the end of November the town of Elizavetpol, which had hitherto been free from disturbances, felt that its reputation as a respectable Caucasian city was seriously compromised, and that it must not remain out in the cold. Elizavetpol has some 33,000 inhabitants, of whom the majority are Tartars and the rest Armenians; the government of which it is the capital contains 557,000 Moslems (of whom 374,000 are Shiahs) and 293,000 Armenians. Throughout the summer and autumn a number of outbreaks had occurred in the province, though not in the town, where only murders and abductions had been committed. The Governor-General Takaishvili took no measures to avert trouble, although the two races were arming fast. The town is divided into two parts by the Ghanjinka, at that time a dry watercourse ; the Armenians live on the right bank, the Tartars on the left. On the 29th of November the Tartars, reinforced by armed and mounted bands from outside, proceeded to attack the Armenians, but the latter, although less numerous, were better disciplined. For two days the fighting went on, and a large part of the town was set on fire. General Takaishvili ordered the troops not to interfere, but at last the Viceroy dismissed him and put General Fleischer in his place. The latter now took energetic measures and placed a detachment of troops at the bridge across the Ghanjinka, with one gun pointing up stream and another down, and he threatened to
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fire on all who should try to cross. But fighting did take place on a large and systematic scale; the station, which is five versts from the town, was defended by some soldiers and Armenian and Russian volunteers against a horde of Tartars. A good half of Elizavetpol was in flames, and numbers of people were killed. General Malama now arrived from Tiflis with reinforcements, inflicted heavy losses on the Tartars, and insisted on a pacification. Both parties were disposed to stop fighting, but unfortunately some Tartars were murdered in the Armenian quarter and some Armenians in the Tartar quarter very soon after, and fighting began again. It is said that a number of police agents went about carefully undoing the work done by General Malama, and egging on the two races against each other. Nevertheless, after a few days’ desultory firing, quiet was restored. In the remote districts there were sporadic encounters from time to time, and Tartar bands plundered the countryside.
The Elizavetpol riots were followed by a similar outbreak at Tiflis a few days later. The Tartars there number about 10,000 or 15,000, and live in the southern quarters round the Maidan. The trouble began with the inevitable series of murders of Tartars and Armenians, which many people believe to have been organized or instigated by the police. Much excitement was caused thereby, and it spread to the surrounding country. On December 3rd the Tartars and Turks attacked the Armenians in the bazar quarter, but the Christians being prepared, defended themselves successfully and burnt some
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Tartar houses. But a rumour was spread about that the Tartars from Bortchalu, a place southwest of Tiflis, were marching towards the city to plunder it under the leadership of one Yedigaroff, a Tartar officer in the Russian army, and that a number of Georgian and Armenian villages had been looted and their inhabitants killed. There was great alarm among all classes, and the Solalaki quarter, where the Armenians live, “ was,” in the words of an eye-witness, “like a disturbed ant-hill. Many families left Tiflis, and every man armed himself, even the schoolboys went about with revolver or kinjal.” Mounted troops patrolled the town ceaselessly, and the Viceroy solemnly promised the citizens that the Bortchalu Tartars would be kept out. The Armenians occupied the citadel hill and the Avlabar on the opposite side of the river, thus commanding the Bortchalu road. Suddenly it became known that Tartars from other places had come into the town ; a deputation of the town council immediately repaired to the Viceroy at 9 p.m., and after waiting some hours was informed by his Excellency that he had promised to keep out the Bortchalu Tartars, and this he had done, but he was not responsible for the others! However he promised to expel those who had got in and prevent further incursions. The Maidan (Tartan quarter) was still in flames, and a determined attack on the Armenian position was made by the Bortchalu Tartars, who were driven back with heavy losses. For two or three days the fighting continued, but the Armenians were admirably organized and disciplined and gave a very good account of themselves.
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Then the Social Democrats held a meeting and decided that the Tartar-Armenian feud was not in accordance with Socialist principles, and must be stopped. They sent a deputation to the Viceroy, who had completely lost his head, offering to restore order if he gave them arms; by some strange freak of the bureaucratic mind the offer was accepted and 500 rifles were served out to the Socialists. They marched forth in a body and took up positions in the Avlabar and the botanical gardens between the Armenians and the Tartars. But the Tartars did not see the point, and proceeded to fire on the Socialists for all the world as if they had been Armenians, and killed a few of them, whereupon the Socialists promptly retreated behind the Armenian lines. Finally some reinforcements of troops arrived, and General Malama intervened and occupied the positions hitherto held by the Armenians who were sent back into the town. By December 12th the Tartar attacks ceased, and eventually a pacification was arranged in the usual way. The officers of the garrison told the Viceroy that the fact that the defence of the town was entrusted to Armenian, Georgian, and Russian volunteers was an insult to the army, whereupon he ordered the revolutionaries to give up their arms. This they refused to do, and finally a compromise was agreed to, by which the defence of Tiflis was undertaken by the troops and volunteers together. Soldiers and revolutionists fraternized and all went on happily for a few weeks, but murders and fires proceeded without abatement.
Three weeks later this much-tried city was again
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the scene of disturbances, due this time not to Tartar-Armenian hatred but to the general wave of reaction which now set in all over Russia. A meeting of officials and officers, under the presidency of General Gryaznoff, was held at the headquarters’ staff, where a series of repressive measures was organized. Numbers of people were arrested, and a general reversal of the former conciliatory policy was inaugurated. The Tartar General Alikhanoff was made Governor-General of Tiflis, and martial law was proclaimed. A strike of railwaymen and post and telegraph clerks broke out on December 28th as a protest against the reaction, and spread to other trades. For some days Tiflis was without food or kerosene. The authorities issued an order that on the 30th, at midday, the shops must reopen, under threats of fines and imprisonment, but the revolutionary committee insisted on their being closed, and closed they remained. On January 3rd the committee gave orders that the strike was to end, and the shops were to reopen at midday, promising security to the inhabitants. At midday every shop was open. But disturbances did not altogether cease. Some bombs were thrown, and several houses destroyed by the troops. On the 7th the soldiers and Cossacks proceeded to loot the shops, near which bombs had exploded. They set some houses on fire, and shot down all the inmates who tried to escape. Another detachment proceeded to a general massacre of railwaymen; no one knows how many were killed, but eye-witnesses report that several cartloads of bodies were removed at night.
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General Gryaznoff, who had organised the repression, was assassinated a month
When order was restored in Tiflis General Alikhanoff was sent into Western Georgia as Governor-General to crush the revolutionary movement. The Gurians and Imeretins held the line between Mikhailovo and Batum, and resisted desperately. Whole districts were now given over to the Cossacks and devastated. Mikhailovo, Karely, Chiatury, Kvirili, Notaneby, and other villages were bombarded and burnt, as well as parts of Ozurgety, Batum, Poti, and Kutais. In Batum and Kutais there were barricades and severe street fighting. The Cossacks committed nameless atrocities on the inhabitants, behaving exactly like bashi-buzuks. In the course of the repression an extraordinary and almost incredible incident occurred. An impostor, who passed himself off as an aide-de-camp to General Alikhanoff, went about the country, and was given detachments of Cossacks, with which he plundered and burnt several villages, and actually arrested M. Staroselsky and his assistant at Kutais, and sent them to General Alikhanoff's headquarters! On their meeting the General the imposture was discovered, but the aide-de-camp had disappeared. Some people are inclined to doubt whether the man were really an impostor after all, and whether perhaps he might not be merely a tool of the police. Colour is given to this suspicion by the fact that all through these events the Government has been following two lines of policy, and also by the fact that M. Staroselsky and his assistant, although not under arrest, are now
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being tried for complicity with the revolutionists. The whole of this preposterous story was printed in the Russian press, where the initials of the impostor were given.
Gradually the troops succeeded in getting the upper hand. One by one the railway stations were recaptured and communications restored about the end of January, although the service continued to be extremely erratic, as large numbers of the railway-men had been killed or imprisoned, and the rest were thoroughly disaffected. Wholesale arrests and shooting went on for weeks, but the leaders of the movement succeeded in escaping. All the towns and many of the villages were more or less “pacified,” and the revolution may be regarded as crushed. But the committees are by no means dead, and are resorting to their old methods of terrorism, assassination, and bomb-throwing.
“ Neither the Government nor the revolutionists,” a well-informed foreign resident writes to me from Batum, “has achieved a definite result. The former has, however, reacquired a part of its lost prestige, owing to the effective action of the troops who have not only shown themselves loyal to the old régime, but here in the Caucasus, on account of racial and other differences, have acted with cruelty and ferocity. The situation is anything but a happy one, and we are further than ever from a real pacification and a return to normal existence.”
The general position of things in the Caucasus may be summed up as follows : in Western Transcaucasia revolt against the Government repressed by force,
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but still latent and dangerous ; in the east Tartars and Armenians still at daggers drawn, both well armed, while the Government either does nothing at all or attempts with one hand to pacify a feud which it stirs up with the other, and in many districts it is leaving the two races to fight out their quarrel undisturbed. Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoff, his nerves shattered and his health broken, now swayed by Sultan Krym-Ghirei and M. Staroselsky, inclines towards liberalism, now by the Ober-Politsmeister and General Alikhanoff, towards reaction.
What the outcome of this anarchy will be I do not venture to prophesy. But we may draw certain deductions from known facts. In the first place the conditions of the Caucasus will depend primarily on those of Russia itself. The triumph of the reaction— the permanent triumph, I mean, if such a thing be possible—will result in the perpetuating of the present state of things, viz., anarchy repressed, but always more or less latent and ready to break out whenever the Government, owing to external circumstances, is weakened. In no case will the authorities be able to count on a revival of loyalty to Tzardom and of reactionary tendencies among the masses as they can to a large extent in Russia. The Caucasian peoples have none of that sacred veneration for the person of the Tzar which the Russian peasants feel; they can only be made to acquiesce in reaction by force, and as rebels they are more difficult to deal with, in their mountain fastnesses, than the Russian inhabitants of plains and broad-streeted cities.
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If, on the other hand, the Liberals triumph to any extent and some form of constitution is introduced, there is more chance of really pacifying the Caucasus. At the same time it must not be thought that the problem will be easily settled, as some enthusiastic revolutionists imagine. Hatred of Russia and the racial and religious differences, which recent events have intensified, must be taken into account, and some form of government devised by which justice shall be done to all sections of the community. The Georgian Nationalists, whose views I have set forth in detail in another chapter, desire the autonomy of the Caucasus, and possibly a special autonomy for Georgia. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, would disregard all racial distinctions and apply a sort of procrustean bed of uniformity to the whole Empire on a basis of crude and ill-digested economic and political theories. The Armenians to some extent oppose autonomy, as they fear they will be swamped by other more numerous races. The Tartars, they say, will "plump" for the candidates proposed by their own khans and begs without question, so that the Armenians will be almost unrepresented. Others, however, believe that by a system of proportional representation this danger will be avoided, and here I think they are right. In my opinion proportional representation is the only fair basis of election in countries where the population is mixed and national feeling runs high. In the Caucasus, nationalism has been greatly increased and strengthened by recent events, and even the Tartars are being imbued with a sense of their common racial
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origin. The great bulk of the Armenian people would be satisfied with a régime which protected them from the attacks of the Tartars, guaranteed the immunity and independence of their Church, allowed them freedom of education, and left them in peace to attend to their own affairs ; in the matter of political rights they ask for nothing more than a very moderate form of constitution, and an honest and responsible administration. Were these demands granted, they would be the pillars of law and order in the Caucasus, the steadiest and most reliable element of the population.
On the question of liberty of language and education, all sections of the community are agreed. There is also no disagreement as to the necessity that the Government put an end once and for all to brigandage and private vengeance, which contribute more than anything else to retard the development of the country.
The races of the Caucasus contain many valuable elements which should prove of great use to Russia, and indeed to the common patrimony of civilization. They possess many qualities in which the Russians are deficient, and might thus provide a leaven to the inert and somewhat inorganic mass of the mujiks. But, on the other hand, they themselves require to be under the protection of a strong Empire, which alone can prevent internecine racial and religious warfare, and ensure their economic and civil development ; at all events for the present they cannot stand alone any more than Poland can. If the Caucasus is less exposed to foreign aggression than Poland, it is far more divided, and has no national unity. But the
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Russia under whom they can prosper should be a very different one from that which has existed at present. It remains to be seen whether a liberalized and progressive Russia will succeed in dealing with the problem which the autocratic and bureaucratic Russia has failed to solve.
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E M P T Y _ P A G E
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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