The popular protests that took place in St Petersburg on January 9th, 1905 found their echo especially in other production centres in Russia. The protest movement’s waves reached the Caucasus, notably Tiflis, Batum and Baku. Workers began protests and strikes in Baku which culminated in the firing of several oil wells. These events were accompanied, in Caucasus Tatars circles, by anti-Armenian propaganda. Rumours were circulated that the Armenians were making preliminary preparations to massacre Muslims.
Soon the walls of Turkish and Russian houses were smeared with chalk and charcoal warning words such as “Ya Allah” (With God) and “Urus”.
The city mayor and provincial governor Nakashidze (was later assassinated by Martiros Ch’arukhchyan and Dro) told a group of Muslims about the Baku Armenians’ military mobilisation and suggested a form of reaction:
1. To spread massacring Armenians in the mosques
2. To arrange assassinations
3. To take no notice of Armenian protests.
The creation of an opportunity for the instigators of the Baku massacres was just a matter of timing. An incident occurred at 11am on February 6th, 1905 at Parapet, next to the Armenian church where, on Sundays, hundreds of young people would gather. A Turk by the surname of Babayev, who was a “ghoch’i” (any Turk who undertook to kill individuals for money was given this name) wounded an Armenian soldier using a pistol. Babayev had sworn an oath to exact revenge, so he enthusiastically went through the crowd looking for, and wounding, the soldier. The Armenians near the wounded soldier handed Babayev over to the police and demanded that they search him, but he resisted and firing his pistol, jumped out of the police carriage and tried to escape. He didn’t get far; the Armenians caught and killed him.
An angry crowd, gathered near Krivaya Street, wanted to put things right as they saw them. Babayev’s body, put on a cart by his co-religionists, was taken through the Turkish quarters of the city, with the aim of inciting the Turkish population.
In connection with this, Josephine Coupline, a Frenchwoman who had moved to the city from Tiflis stated:
…Our landlord’s son, who was a young Turk, entered the room with a pistol in his hand. Replying to the question as to what was happening, he replied that neither they nor the Armenians were guilty of massacre. They had been ordered to massacre the Armenians and to do so in a three-day period.
Immediately the signal was given, from 4pm until midnight on February 6th Armenians were killed indiscriminately. On that day alone, approximately 35 Armenians were killed. When the Armenians, on the following day, February 7th, came onto the streets in the usual way, the massacre resumed from 10am and continued for three days and three nights.
The correspondent for the newspaper “Novoie Obozrenie”, Oreste Meomin, described the events in Baku:
…The population suffered dreadful moments. The Turks killed Armenians on Bazarni and Shamakhi Streets ruthlessly… The horror makes my muscles turn to stone and my blood freeze in my veins when I recall all that I saw in only three hours. Hundreds of Turks were massacring Armenians and looting their shops on Bazarni Street… I saw the body of a slaughtered Armenian child on Vvedinski Street; on the following day I saw the body of a dead doctor in Malakan Park and the gymnast Lebedin had been killed. In the company of the Russian actor P. Morski I went to Vorontsov Road at 11am on February 9th; the Babadjanov and Lazaryan houses burnt down. There were about 17 bodies piled up, burnt, of which five were children… We heard the sound of firing behind Vlasov’s shoe repair shop and, when we got closer, we saw how the Turks had invaded a house and were torturing and killing the people living in it.
The Tatars attacked the house of the wealthy merchant Balapek Lalayev. The result was the killing of 20 people, among whom was Lalayev’s brother. The Jewish Dr. Urbanovich’ witnessed the tragic fall of the Lalayev’s house:
The Turks began to fire at the Lalayev house. The provincial governor reprimanded the Lalayevs for apparently firing at innocent Turks from it. Lalayev firmly denied this, asking the governor to search his house to be assured that there were no weapons inside. The furious crowd looted the Lalayev house, brought him and his wife out and shot and killed them both.
The Lalayev family were some of the last victims. February 9th was the final day of the massacres as provincial governor Nagashitse had previously foreseen. Bishop Anania Shirvanatsi and other influential Armenian activists and the mayor-governor went through the city, under a white flag, declaring the re-establishment of peace. The massacre stopped immediately.
Anarch reigned in the city during the time the massacre of Armenians took place from the 6th to the 9th, therefore there was no protection of life and property for the Armenians. That was the reason why young Armenian men created voluntary groups of between five and ten individuals to defend the Armenian quarter and streets. Their patriotic activities couldn’t, however, recover the permanent losses suffered by the Armenian population of Baku. The Italian historian and diplomat Luigi Villari explained that this was because of the greater number of Turks and their being better armed.
It is impossible to hide the Baku massacres. The violence and inhuman barbarity visited upon the Armenians was testified to not just by foreigners, but also by the Turks themselves. A Turkish witness wrote, in the newspaper “Bakinskaya Izvestia”:
…In the part of the city where I live the Muslims prepared for war throughout the night. Firing began in the early morning which grew in intensity… When I heard the sound of rifle fire, I ran out of my house and saw that Babadjanov’s house on Tserkovnaya Street was surrounded by Turks… One of the people in the mob suggested setting fire to the house. The house was ablaze from about 6pm. Everything was burnt apart from the basement, where there were large boxes. Some poor people were hiding in them. The wild mob found nine people who were brought out and massacred in front of everyone. I cannot describe the horror that could be seen on the victims’ faces. The mob found ten women in the same place. A 50-year old woman was screaming for her son, who was the only living person left in the house, to be saved. Soon those present saw a human figure emerging from the courtyard of the burning building with a coat over his head. The mother recognised her son, but the crowd, happy to find a new victim, tore him to pieces. The mother fell to the ground insensible near the burning beams. She too was burnt in front of the eyes of the wild, animal-like mob.
The correspondent of the “Tifliski Listok” newspaper commented on the emotional shocks suffered:
No, no, I can’t describe even a tenth, even a hundredth of what I saw. One had to see it with one’s own eyes to be able to even vaguely present the bloody drama that took place there. It is generally considered that the Armenian massacre, that dreadful slaughter, had been organised. All the Turks were armed… On the first bloody day 34 bodies were taken to the hospital. All of them were Armenians and only one was a Georgian. All of them had been struck from behind. The Turks fired at them from behind, killing them… When I went to the scene of the massacre, my eyes grew dim and I felt I wanted to faint but managed to stop myself. The first thing I saw was a poor, thin, small old person who, apart from being killed with three bullets, had had his head chopped off.
There was, in the city’s cemetery, a dead pregnant woman on top of a pile of bodies. The barbarians had, with a few strokes of their knives, cut her open and pulled her unborn child out of her body and thrown it on top of her.
The son of the wealthy oil owner Essad Bey, in his book “Blood and oil” writes, as an eyewitness of the Baku bloodletting:
We emerged from our hiding place and went along the bloodstained street. The first things I saw were bodies without noses or ears.
During the three days of atrocious bloodletting 215 (218) Armenians were killed and 121 were injured.
Peace was temporarily restored in Baku after the February massacre. The population of the city was to undergo another – worse – bloody massacre which would incur losses. The beating of administration officials in the city’s council chamber, marching round oil wells by armed groups, death threats and regular strikes, gave notice of Baku’s second massacre. The police disarmed the Armenians, while providing weapons to the Turks “for self-defence”.
Rifle fire began, with a few intervals, at about 5pm on 20th August. It lasted all night and ended at 8am the next morning. It resumed on 21st August and lasted all night. The centre of the massacres moved to the oil wells on August 22nd and was accompanied by fires. It was a convenient time for disarming and moving Armenians. Armenian property was looted and burnt. Most of the oil reserves were destroyed in one week. It is impossible to accurately determine and present the number of victims because of the fires, but an approximate count is 300-400 killed and 700 people wounded.
The massacres were carried out according to plans worked out beforehand. The Turks didn’t even spare those who were trying to conceal or save Armenians. Thus, the French engineer Michel Timon, who saved several Armenian families, became a victim of the August massacres, when the Turks threw him into a burning oil well pit.
Thousands of labourers were denied work and therefore the means to earn a to living. As a result of the fires the Caspian, Caucasus, Petrov, Balakhanyan and other companies premises, the Tuman, Arshaluys, Mantashev, Pitoyev, Mirzoyev, Aramazd, Adamov, Ter-Hakopovs and other factories, storehouses and the Bekendorff theatre were all burn down. The losses sustained in the August massacres amounted to 25,000,000 roubles. Armenian organisations suffered most, as the fires were mostly aimed at them. The August massacres were followed by those that started on October 20th.
On October 21st the Mirzabekyan, Shagidanyan and Budughyan houses and 13 others on Nigolayev Street were burnt down. One of the Armenians killed in that street was the married priest Rev. Mesrop Khorkhoruni. The killers, on the 24th, forced their way into an almshouse and killed six women and children. When self-defence forces arrived, the killers escaped, leaving 30 people dead behind them. Although orders had been given that the three-day period for massacre was over, they continued until October 30th.
The Russian writer and community activist Maxim Gorky, referring to the events taking place in the Caucasus, noted, in the pamphlet titled “The Russian tsar”:
The Armenians have been massacred by the Tatars, faithful subjects of the Turks. But that event has been given a national hate appearance and it must be believed that it is so and is the truth. But how could it happen that the Armenians and Tatars, who had lived together for centuries, could suddenly become enemies?
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15. L’illustration, 30 Septembre, 1905.