Armenian pogroms in 1905

The public disturbances taken place in St. Petersburg on January 9 1905, echoed in the other major industrial cities of Russia and widely spread out to the Caucasus as well, including Tbilisi, Batumi and Baku. The working-class demonstrations and strikes ended with the burning of a number of oil-wells. These incidents were accompanied with the anti-Armenian propaganda in the circles of the Azeri Turks (aftermath the Türks). 

Soon some warning expressions such as “Ya Allah” (with the God) and “Urus” appeared on the walls of the houses belonging to the Turks and the Russians.

The Mayor of Baku Michael Nakashidze also had a significant role in the organization of the Armenians' pogroms in 1905. The propaganda to slaughter the Armenians started to spread in the mosques as well. For the initiators of Baku pogroms the invention of a cause was just a matter of time.

On February 6, 1905 in Parapet city center an incident happened nearby the Armenian Church; a Türk named Babaev wounded an Armenian solider. The Armenians took Babaev to the police and demanded to search him but the latter resisted and got off the police coach and ran away. The angry crowd lynched him in Krivaya street. Babaev’s relatives put his corpse on the cart and went around the Türkic  neighbourhood with a purpose to rouse the Muslim  population against the Armenians.

French Joseph Kublin who at that time left Tbilisi for Baku testifies “….Our landlord’s son, who was a Türk guy, came into the room with a gun in his hands. To the question what is going on he replied that neither they nor the Armenians are guilty of these pogroms. It was ordered ordered to kill the Armenians and they must kill them for three days”.   

The cruel murders of the Armenians started immediately after the alarm of the pogroms. On the very first day approximately 35 Armenians were wounded and killed. On February 6 the massacres restarted and lasted for three days and nights.

In his accounts of the events in Baku, the journalist of the newspaper “Novoye Obozrenie” Orest Semonin states “The population of Baku lives dreadful minutes. In Vorontsov, Bazarnaya and Shamakhi streets the Türks are mercilessly slaughtering the Armenians…. The horror hartened my muscles, my blood freezes in my veins, when I remember what I saw within three hours. In Bazarnaya Street hundreds of Türks were breaking and plundering the Armenians’ shops. I saw a corpse of an Armenian child in Vvedinski street, it is already the second day that the killed doctor’s corpse is laying in the Malakani park, student Lebedev is also killed. On February 9 at 11 a.m. Russian actor P. Morski and I went to Vorontsovskaya street where the burnt houses of Babajanov and Lazaryan were located. There were gathered almost 17 deformed and burnt corpses five of which were children…. We heard shots behind the shoemaker’s shop and when we approached we saw the Türks rushed into the Armenians houses and started torturing and slaughtering the dwellers”. 

The Türks attacked the house of rich businessman Balabek Lalaev. Twenty people were killed including Lalaev’s brother.  Jewish doctor Urbanovich was the eyewitness of the tragic fall of Lalaev’s house “The Türks had started shooting at Lalaev’s house. The mayor was scolding as if there was shooting from Lalaev’s house at the innocent Türks. Lalaev was resolutely denying and asking the mayor to search his house and is sure that there was not any weapon. The violent rabble plundered Lalaev’s house, took him out to the street and shot both him and his wife”.

It was impossible to conceal the pogroms of Baku. The Türks’ violence and inhuman treatment of the Armenians were stated not only by the foreigners but also  by the Türks.

In the newspaper “Bakinskeye Izvestya” a Türk eyewitness writes down “ In the district where I live the Muslims were preparing for the war the whole night. The shooting started from early morning, which was getting more and more fierce… When I heard gun shots I ran out and saw that in Tserkovnaya street Babajanov’s house was surrounded by the Türks… One of them offered to burn the house. At 6 p.m. the house was put in fire. Everything was burnt except the basement where big boxes were placed. The miserable people had hidden themselves in those boxes. The violent crowd found victims, took them out and slaughtered in front of the people.  I can not describe the horror which was seen in the victims’ eyes. The crowd found also ten women in the same place. A woman of fifty was asking to set free her son who was the sole survivor from the burnt house. Soon the crowd saw a figure covered his head with the hem of the coat coming out from the yard. The mother recognized her son, but the crowd was happy with the new victim and lacerated him. The mother fell down next to the burning logs and fainted. She also was burnt in front of the furious crowd”.

A journalist of the newspaper “Tifliski listok” writes about the cruelties of Baku pogroms. “No, no, I cannot tell you even the tenth or the hundredth of what I saw there. It should be seen in order to be able to imagine even dimly the bloody tragedy. There was a common conviction that the pogroms of the Armenians were organized. All the Türks were armed. ...On the first day of the bloody events 34 corpses were taken to the hospital: they all were Armenians, only one was a Georgian. They all were shot in the back. The Türks shot in the back... When I went to the place where the pogroms were committed, everything went dark before my eyes, I felt giddy, and was about to faint but somehow could stay. At first I saw a thin, poor old man who was shot and the head was cut. In the city cemetery a pregnant woman was lying on one of the heaps of the corpses. The murderers had stabbed the uterus of the poor woman, had taken out the child and thrown on the corpse”.

During the three days grim massacre 205 (218) Armenians were killed and 121 were wounded. 

Lalaev’s family was one of the last victims. February 9 was the deadline for the pogroms  set up by mayor Nakashidze. The chief mayor together with bishop Anania Shirvanatsi and other renowned Armenian figures traveled around the city with a white flag as a sign of the peace. The pogroms were immediately stopped. 

During the Armenian massacres, which took place from February 6 to 9, the city was put to violence consequently the Armenians had neither personal nor property security. To avoid the risk of any resumption of massacres and new victims in future some young Armenians composed groups of five to ten people to defend the Armenian districts, streets and houses. Italian historian and diplomat Luigi Villari explains that first of all it was due to the fact that the Türks were in large numbers and better armed.

After the slaughter in February there was temporary peace in Baku. However, The population of Baku had to be a subject of a new pogrom. The beating of the employees in the City Council, the visits of the armed groups to the oil-wells, the death threats and the regular strikes warned about the upcoming second massacre in Baku. At the end of August the pogroms and the bloody clashes resumed. A significant number of oil-wells were destroyed within a week. It was impossible to give the exact number of the victims due to fires. This time the number of the victims was more: there were 300-400 killed and 700 wounded. 

The pre-planned massacre was carried out precisely. The Türks did not spare even those who tried to hide and save the Armenians. French engineer Michel Timon who had saved several Armenian families was a victim of the slaughter in August: the Türks threw him into the burning oil-well. 

In consequence of the pogroms, thousands of workers were deprived of their work and subsistence. As a result of the fires Caspian, Caucasian, Petrov, Balakhanskaya and other oil companies belonging to the Armenians, as well as storehouses and Bekendorf Theatre were burnt down. The damage of the massacres in August reached around 25 million rubles: chiefly the Armenian companies suffered as the fires were against the Armenians. The pogroms in August were followed by the resumed slaughter on October 20. 

On the 21st of October Mirzabekyan’s, Shagidanyan’s, Budeughyan’s and other houses in Nikolaevski street were put in fire. Among the Armenians killed in the above mentioned streets there was priest Mesrop Khorkhoruni. On October 24 the slaughterers entered the Armenian poorhouse and killed 6 women and children.

After the pogroms in February, 1905 the surprised and greatly suffered Armenians could organize counterattacks against the local Türks and cause them heavy losses. 

Russian writer and public figure Maxim Gorki referring to the events of the Caucasus in “Russian Tsar” pamphlet says “In the Caucasus the Armenians were slaughtered by the Tatars who are loyal to the Turks. But the events were named national hatred and one should believe that it was true and that is the truth. But how the Armenians and Tatars that had lived together for centuries  can suddenly become enemies”.

The pogroms of 1905 were the first in the list of the massacres committed against the Armenians in Baku. In consequence of the new pogroms carried out at the end of the 20th century almost 250 000 Armenians left the city and became refugees.