After the collapse of the Russian Empire in February 1917 and Bolshevik-led armed insurrection followed shortly in October, Azerbaijani people had to choose their own path of national development.

The Musavat Party (transl: Equality), the largest national party in Azerbaijan at the outset of 1918, consolidated its position as a leading political force in Azerbaijani society. The party advocated a provision to Azerbaijan a statute of the national and territorial autonomy within the Russian Democratic Federative Republic. This idea bumped up against a visceral opposition by the Bolsheviks, who managed, in October 1917, to consolidate their power in Baku, the largest city of the South Caucasus, considering it as an important springboard for the Soviet regime expansion throughout the South Caucasian region.

Stepan Shaumian, head of the Baku Commune, came to a determination that the only way to hold the Bolshevik control over Baku and, at the same time, to prevent any attempts to announce the Azerbaijani autonomy, was to eradicate a national Azerbaijani «spirit» out of the political life of the city, and, given a chance, to execute a dramatic reduction of the Azerbaijani population in Baku province, as well as across the entire South Caucasus.

On March 2, 1918, Shaumian, in his speech at the Baku Commune's meeting, accused the South Caucasus's democratic forces, including the Musavat party, of searching for opportunities to secede from Russia.

In this regard, he said, «Guided by their interests, the South Caucasus's democrats should vigorously protest against such a secession, they must be ready, with weapons in their hands, to fight against the perpetrators of this reactionary policy. In this case, the leading role shall belong to the Baku Commune. If we are irresolute and tolerant to the counterrevolutionaries, they will come after us. Bear in mind that the Muslim (Azerbaijani) nationalists have been dreaming of making Baku the capital of Azerbaijan. Therefore, these rabid reactionaries will make a move towards the Baku Commune at their first opportunity» [1].
Armed dashnaks in World War I times.
The Bolsheviks, led by Shaumian, prepared in advance for a decisive battle. They mainly were relying, as one of the leading forces, on the detachments of Armenian forces returning from the Middle Eastern theater of World War I. They all were under the massive influence of the Armenian nationalist party «Dashnaktsutyun».

Thus, Baku Bolsheviks, having entered into tacit collusion with Armenian nationalists, were preparing for an armed struggle with the Musavat forces in Baku. Soon it became clear that the struggle, presented by the Bolsheviks as a «class struggle» had been, in reality, a provoked carnage against the Azerbaijanis.
An incident with the steamship «Evelina» in March 1918 triggered the bloodshed of the Muslim population in Baku and its suburbs. The pivot point was March 24, 1918 – the date when the soldiers and officers of the Muslim (Azerbaijani) Savage Division, who arrived in Baku on board of the steamship «Evelina» to attend the funeral of their colleague, were suddenly disarmed by the Bolshevik forces.

Disarmament of a small Azerbaijani force of the Savage division caused righteous indignation among the defenseless Azerbaijani population in the face of the well-armed Armenian forces. This resulted in spontaneous protests of Azerbaijanis across Baku and Baku suburbs with a demand to return the seized weapons to the officers.

The Bolsheviks promised to satisfy the demands of the protesters. However, instead, on the night of March 30 to 31, 1918, the Bolsheviks formed, as a matter of urgency, the «Revolutionary Defense Committee» and declared it «the highest military-political body in Baku and its suburbs». Meanwhile, the Dashnaktsutyun Party, together with the Armenian National Council, which, before the March events, had announced their neutrality in this conflict, suddenly sided with the Baku Commune.

Baku was declared to be in a state of siege – the Muslim (Azerbaijani) quarters of the city were attacked by Bolsheviks from hydro aeroplanes and were shelled by the military vessels of the Russian Caspian Flotilla, which were convinced by Armenians that the Muslims (Azerbaijanis) were exterminating the Russian population from Baku. The Russian sailors stopped shelling the Muslim quarters only after identifying that this information was false.

After the massive attacks, a significant number of Azerbaijani public facilities and cultural centers were in ruins, the «Kaspiy» printing house, the «Achyg Soz» newspaper editorial office and the «Ismailia» Islamic Charity Society building burned out. The genocide that started on the evening of March 30, 1918 actually lasted for the whole week, with the first three days being the most brutal with massacres and lootings. During the March genocide, around 12 thousand Azerbaijanis and other Muslim civilians were killed by the rampant Dashnak detachments [2].
Memories of Ida Dewar Dury, the wife of a British officer serving with the military mission in Tiflis, who unwittingly witnessed the brutal massacre of the Azerbaijani population of Baku:

"As I looked, and without a second's warning, the group halted, and the prisoners were shot in the head"

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As it looked more and more as though the Germans would shortly take over Tiflis, she had left for the seeming safety of Baku, together with other Allied wives and civilians.

She was staying in the Hotel d'Europe, anxiously awaiting word of her husband Robert, when she found herself caught up in the battle for Baku, which she watched from her bedroom window.

In a letter to her family she described what she, and another Englishwoman sharing her room, saw as the battle ebbed and flowed in the streets around the hotel and shells from the gunboats shook the town.

'Curiosity and excitement kept us recklessly glued to the window most of the day.'

Through the cracks in the shutters of their darkened room they saw the gleam of rifle barrels in windows and other vantage points up and down the street, while from a rooftop above them a Maxim machine-gun fired ceaselessly all day. The hotel itself, she went on, 'wore a ghastly, deserted, squalid appearance, its dark, shuttered hall and staircase remaining packed with nervous people who bolted back up the stairs at the least alarm.' The hotel stood in a part of the town held by the Bolsheviks, and 'perspiring, red-faced, breathless' soldiers rushed in and out, periodically barking 'desperate orders hoarsely down the telephone'.

Across the road from Mrs Dewar Durie's room was a hospital run by the Swedish Red Cross, already full of wounded German and Austrian POWs from the Eastern Front. Now the staff found themselves having to deal with local casualties too.

'Every few minutes a dead or wounded man was dragged in by his feet and head. For the first time I looked down upon ashen faces smeared with blood, the hair black and ragged, and standing on end.'

Their colouring reminded her of the faces of the dead 'in the huge battle pictures I had seen at Versailles long ago'. One wounded man was very nearly dropped as firing suddenly broke out, startling those lifting him out of the car which had brought him. All the wounded delivered to the hospital appear to have been Bolsheviks or Armenians, for Mrs Dewar Durie makes no mention of seeing any Tartar casualties, except for the dead, who were strewn about the streets in scores. Indeed, periodically search parties would comb the hotel 'hunting for Tartars who had eluded them', and once she witnessed two Muslims being dragged roughly along by a party of Bolsheviks.

'As I looked, and without a second's warning, the group halted, and the prisoners were shot in the head.' Their executioners then wrenched off their boots and tossed their corpses into the gutter, where they remained for two days.

Occasionally the staff of the hospital opposite came out and washed away the blood from the entrance. But eventually, as more and more cases arrived, they gave this up. Some of the stretcher-bearers, she noticed, were German and Austrian POWs, 'who worked splendidly'.

Despite the fighting, an unending stream of men, women and children passed by below carrying huge bundles of possessions and bedding. Aged and aristocratic-looking ladies were being helped along by friendly soldiers, while one young girl, shrieking hysterically, was brought into the hotel to recover. After resting awhile, she was hustled on again by her wealthy-looking but distracted parents, her harassed, grey-haired mother 'imploring her to bear up'. Other groups consisted of Tartar prisoners, their armed escorts holding aloft white flags on their bayonets.

By now the Muslim leaders […] sued for peace. But the Armenians, seeing that at last they had their ancient foes on the run, were now out for vengeance. The fighting thus continued, until virtually the entire Muslim population had either been driven from the city or been slaughtered. By the fifth day, although much of the city was still ablaze, all resistance had ceased, leaving the streets strewn with dead and wounded, nearly all of them Muslims.

From her window, Mrs Dewar Durie watched grimly as the corpses were collected from where they lay and flung unceremoniously on to carts. 'Some of the bodies', she wrote, 'were practically naked after the looting. Officers could be seen roughly searching their pockets, snatching out notebooks and papers soaked in blood, their own hands and arms red to the elbows.' Although the shooting was over, the worries of those in the hotel were not. In the Muslim quarter, its flames fanned by a gale which had suddenly sprung up, a huge fire was raging out of control. Mrs Dewar Durie was told that it had been deliberately started by the Bolsheviks and Armenians in order to drive the Muslims out of their positions.

Were the wind to change direction, and blow from the north, they were warned, then the hotel would be in the path of the flames. Desperately tired after several nights without sleep, they now packed up their belongings, ready to flee to the sea-front. 'Until midnight,' she wrote, 'we watched the semicircle of flames now so close to us. Then, gradually, the wind began to die down, and we knew that another peril had passed us by.'

However, a further two months were to go by before she was reunited with her husband at Vladikavkaz, 100 miles north of Tiflis, where the British military mission was now based.


Like Hidden Fire: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire

Author: Peter Hopkirk

On April 13, 1918, Shaumian, cynically, stated the results of the March genocide in his letter to the Council of People's Commissars of Russia: «...For us, the results of the battle are brilliant.

We have dictated them the conditions, which were signed without any reservation. Before the Soviet power in Baku was suspended in the air due to the Muslim (Azerbaijani) nationalist parties' resistance.

These parties, led by the feudal clerisies (beks and khans), gained a foothold in Elizavetpol and Tiflis thanks to the vile and cowardly policy of the Mensheviks. Recently their attitude has become quite aggressive also in Baku... If they had managed to win over here, the city would have been declared the capital of Azerbaijan, with all non-Muslim (non-Azerbaijani) elements disarmed and massacred…

We needed to give them a rebuff, and we exploited an opportunity of their armed assault on our cavalry unit and then began attacking them across the whole front. Due to the efforts of both the local Soviet and the Military-revolutionary committee of the Caucasus Army, which moved here (from Tbilisi and Sarikamish) we already had armed forces – about 6,000 soldiers. Dashnaktsutyun also had around 3,000 – 4,000 strong national forces dedicated for our disposal. The participation of the latter lent the civil war, to some extent, the character of an ethnic massacre, however, it was impossible to avoid it. We were going for it deliberately. The Muslim (Azerbaijani) poor suffered severely, however they are now rallying around the Bolsheviks and the Baku Commune» [3].

Almost simultaneously with the Baku massacre, the genocide of Azerbaijanis took place in another Azerbaijani town of Shamakhi. The armed assault started intentionally at dawn from an artillery bombardment of the sleeping city. The results were horrifying.

Shamakhi fell to ashes after severe arsons, bashings, and bloodcurdling atrocities against Azerbaijani civilians - the entire Muslim (Azerbaijani) part of the city, as well as Azerbaijani houses located in the Armenian quarter, Azerbaijani commercial and civil objects, and even the mosques where the Muslims were hiding – all got burned to the ground.

The bashings also spread to some of the Shamakhi County villages, with 72 Azerbaijani villages destroyed and wiped out. The Azerbaijani civilians killed in Shamakhi County reached 7 thousand people, including 1 653 women and 965 children.

One of the bloodiest crimes against Azerbaijani civilians by the Armenian forces was committed in Guba County, in May 1918. The capture of the Guba city was followed by a brutal beating and exertion of force over the Muslim population. Within the first two days, more than 1 700 Muslims were massacred by Armenians in Guba.
Chief of the Armenian detachments that were involved in the Guba genocide openly stated in his speech to the Azerbaijani community: «We got the instruction to wipe out every Muslim (Azerbaijani) from the shores of the Caspian Sea till Shahdag, as we did in Shirvan (Shamakhi), and to level your houses with the ground…» [5].

Along with Azerbaijanis, Armenian armed groups exterminated local Lezghins, Jews, Tats, Avars and other ethnic groups.

The survivors after the Guba genocide later were re-calling: «Armenians started a ruthless and cruel massacre of Muslim (Azerbaijani) men, women, and kids. After killing all Muslims (Azerbaijanis) they met in the streets and squares, the Armenians started breaking into the Azerbaijani houses and murdered all members of Muslim (Azerbaijani) families, having no mercy even to infants. Within several days Armenians were going wild and blood-drunk, and decomposing corpses were laying here and there - in the streets, in the houses» [6].

Azerbaijani victims of the Armenian massacre within the March-September 1918 period became over 50 thousand people.

The next stage of the Armenian terror and genocide against Azerbaijanis occurred in the Karabakh region during 1918-1920's. This was the time, when, after the end of World War I and the fall of the Russian Empire, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent states.

Armenia, having made its territorial claims to Azerbaijan, sought to detach Karabakh from Azerbaijan. Back in July 1918, Armenians from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, relying on military and political assistance from the Republic of Armenia, declared Karabakh's independence. After this, in the fall of 1918, Andranik Ozanyan, a head of the Armenian gangs, fortified his forces in the Zangezur region and declared it an Armenian governorship. Then he moved on his attacks on capturing the city of Shusha [7].

The «Azerbaijan» newspaper posted some stories told by the survivors after the Andranik gangs' massacres: «In Karabakh the Armenian gangs are attacking the Muslim (Azerbaijani) locations. The villages of Lahvaz-chay, Aldara, Nuvedi Ali-Ohchy, Shabaddin, Meydan, Kara-Gul, Karachiman, Shahidli, Burunli, Askerler, Tey, Vartanazir and others have been all burned to ashes. The population of these villages, partly escaping from the attack, fled to Ordubad and Persia. Nowadays, all mosques and streets are full of widows and orphans. Every day, these unfortunate ones die of cold and hunger by the dozens... one million Muslims (Azerbaijanis), between the territories of Erivan and Shusha, are languishing, begging, dying…» [8].
Fatali khan Khoyski
At the session of the ADR Parliament held on December 20, 1918, Prime Minister Fatali Khan Khoyski stated:

«... Andranik ... continued to commit outrages in Zangezur, trying to clear the area out of the Muslims (Azerbaijanis), and, for this purpose, he put the defenseless Muslim (Azerbaijani) villages located there to the fire and sword.

Then he transferred his attacks from Zangezur to the Shusha district, where local Armenians, incited by Andranik, closed the Yevlakh-Shusha road in the famous Askeran gorge, thus putting the Muslim (Azerbaijani) population of Shusha in a rather dangerous situation.

As you can see, Andranik's plan was to «clear» Zangezur and Shusha from the Muslim (Azerbaijani) population and to tear off them from a live body of Azerbaijan. But this will never happen…»
The Azerbaijani government, in its turn, was taking steps to suppress the Armenian aggression. An important political measure of the Azerbaijani government was to establish in January 1919 the Karabakh Governorate General with an appointment of Khosrov bey Sultanov as the Governor-General of Karabakh, by the support of the Allied command headed by the British Major General W. Thomson [10].

The facts of a bloodbath in Karabakh organized by the Andranik gangs are also reflected in the materials of the Extraordinary Commission of Inquiry established by a decision of the ADR Government in July 1918.

N. Mikhailov, a Special Investigation Officer and a head of the Commission to Investigate the Crimes of Armenian Armed Gangs against the Azerbaijani civilian population in Karabakh and Zangezur, stated in the report the facts of various acts of violence suffered by «the Muslim (Azerbaijani) population of Javanshir, Shusha, Jabrayil and Zangezur counties from the Armenian population of Karabakh and the Armenian soldiers from the Turkish vilayets demanding Muslims (Azerbaijanis) to submit to the state authority of the Armenian Republic» [11].

As highlighted in the report, «completely enslaved life led by the Muslim (Azerbaijani) population in that area was lasting for long months, in some villages until September and in others even until December 1918. This was the time when Muslims (Azerbaijanis), driven to despair, decided to break through an engulfed ring of Armenian gangs and move towards the Muslim (Azerbaijani) villages in the lowlands, notwithstanding the sacrifices that escape could take.

And they did succeed, but with terrible losses – the Muslim (Azerbaijani) refugees lost all their movable properties and agricultural implements. Their livestock, homes, and farm buildings were mostly destroyed. A great number of women and children died from hunger, cold, diseases and other hardships. The Armenian gangs were pursuing the refugees during their escape to finish off killings. They had no mercy on Azerbaijani old and disabled men and women, that were unable to run away, and murdered them in their own houses» [12].

In his report, N. Mikhailov gave numerous examples of the enormity of offenses committed by the Armenian gangs against Azerbaijanis in Karabakh. Here is one of N. Mikhailov's citations: «Having committed innumerable murders of the county's Muslim (Azerbaijani) residents, giving quarter neither to people's gender nor age, showing no mercy to kids, old men, women and even disabled, Armenians were carrying out their murders sometimes in a refined, cruel and bestially savage manner.

Thus, the citizens of Umudly village Suleyman-Kazakhaslan ogly, Mamed Meshadi Pasha ogly and Kazum Atam ogly were murdered with their body parts chopped - in this way killed were later found by their fellow villagers.

The body of a woman killed in the Haji Gerravand village, Zeynab Shirin gyzy, was found with her breasts cut off.

The citizens of the Dovshanlu's Korakor village Ramazan Novruz Ali ogly, Kuncha Ojag-Kuli gyzy and disabled Suleyman Hasan Ali ogly were foully murdered with their corpses burned, as witnesses Armenian Zachary Kukurov from the Bomgukain. Soltan Ali Iman ogly, a resident of the Sirakhvend-Bollu-Kaya village, was entrapped near the Gazanchi village, then brutally killed with his corpse burned. Sharit Ismail ogly and Rajab Novruz Ali ogly, the citizens of the Guney-Gaya-Sirhavend village, were beheaded and their heads stolen by Armenians»

The papers of the Extraordinary Commission of Inquiry also included a detailed analysis of Armenian atrocities witnessed in the city of Shusha and the villages Tug, Atmazly, Geshtmazly, Gazanly and others of the Shusha county. It was pointed out that only in the Shusha county there were killed more than 100 Azerbaijanis, and their villages were looted and burned [14].

In the early summer of 1919, Armenian aggressors triggered a new round of the bloody conflict. The Armenian Republic supplied a large number of weapons to Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh. On June 4-5, several soldiers of the Azerbaijani army were killed during the clashes with Armenians. The Governor-General of Karabakh Kh. Sultanov implemented tough measures to suppress the Armenian aggression by expelling the Armenian National Council members from Karabakh. After this action a relative order in Karabakh was restored.
Despite an agreement on the cessation of armed clashes reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan in November-December 1919, Armenian troops resumed their attacks against the Azerbaijani population. More than 10 thousand regular Armenian troops marched through Zangezur to Karabakh, destroying every Azerbaijani village in their path [15]. Fatali Khan Khoyski, Foreign Affairs Minister of ADR, in his note to the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Armenia, stated that starting from January 19, 1920 the Armenian troops had launched an offensive from Zangezur towards the Shusha county, subjecting «all Muslim (Azerbaijani) villages along the way of their attack to a depopulation, with nine of the villages, wiped out in recent days... the Armenian troops, apparently fulfilling a certain plan of their government, resumed their attacks against Muslim (Azerbaijani) villages, subjecting the inhabitants to inhuman extermination» [16].

Armenians used the same methods of terror against the Muslim population in 1918-1920, just as during the ethnic conflict in 1905-1906.
Blocking of vital roads, leading to the Azerbaijani settlements in Shusha during the Armenian-Azerbaijani massacre of 1905-1906, was committed again in 1918-1919 when ADR was fighting against the Armenian aggression in Karabakh.

At the session of the Parliament on July 7, 1919, the deputy K. Karabekov pointed out that Armenians from the villages located on the hills along the Yevlakh-Shusha road were shelling the highway, killing Azerbaijanis and robbing the wagons. The Kariagino-Shusha and Kariagino-Gerus roads were controlled by Armenians, and no Azerbaijanis was allowed to use these roads. Azerbaijani districts were completely cut off. «...The whole city [of Shusha] was lit on fire. Azerbaijani townsmen took up their positions, as used to in Shusha since the first Armenian-Muslim (Azerbaijani) massacre in 1905. The gunplay along the border between the Armenian and Muslim (Azerbaijani) parts started», said K. Karabekov [17].

It is evident that after the 13-year pause (from 1905) the Armenians resumed their acts of terrorism and violence against Azerbaijani civilians in Karabakh.

Recommended reading:
[1] Author: Shaumian S.G., Selected Works - Moscow 1978, Volume 2, p. 223
[2] Archive of political documents of the Administrative Department of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan: fund 277, inventory 2, file 27, page 16-24.
[3] Author: Shaumian S.G., Selected Works - Moscow 1978, Volume 2, p. 259-260
[4] The State Archive of the Republic of Azerbaijan: fund 1061, inventory 1, file 3, page 65.
[5] The State Archive of the Republic of Azerbaijan: fund 1061, inventory 1, file 96, page 49.
[6] The State Archive of the Republic of Azerbaijan: fund 1061, inventory 1, file 96, page 113-114
[7] The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920) - Baku 1998, p. 166
[8] Azerbaijan newspaper, 1918, December 10 (November 27); Central Archive of Azerbaijan Republic fund 268, inventory 23, file 503, pages 29-32
[9] Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Parliament, Verbatim Records - Baku 1998, p. 36-37
[10] Nagorno-Karabakh in 1918-1923, Collection of Documents and Materials, Yerevan 1992, p. 62
[11] Author: N. Mamedzade, «Genocide of Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh District of Azerbaijan (1918-1920)», Baku 2014, p. 29
[12] Author: N. Mamedzade, «Genocide of Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh District of Azerbaijan (1918-1920)», Baku 2014, p. 33
[13] Author: N. Mamedzade, «Genocide of Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh District of Azerbaijan (1918-1920)», Baku 2014, p. 39
[14] The State Archive of the Republic of Azerbaijan: fund 100, inventory 2, file 791, page 95.
[15] Author: N. Mamedzade, «Genocide of Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh District of Azerbaijan (1918-1920)», Baku 2014, p. 53
[16] Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920). Foreign Policy (documents and materials), Baku 1998, p. 529-530.
[17] The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920), Parliament, Verbatim Records - Baku 1998, p. 256