In memory of March, Azerbaijan’s early 20th century massacres

Rachel Brooks

March 22, 2021

News, history, and analysis 

Above image credit: “File:2016 Voghdji River, Zangezur (1).jpg” by GeoO is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Zangezur was the scene of much inter-ethnic killing during the Red Army advance at the turn of the 20th century. Many in the western world are not aware of the pogroms that targeted Turkic people during this period as well as some of their neighboring counterparts. 

March 22 has been selected as a day of commemoration for the slaying of Azerbaijani civilians in Zangezur, at the turn of the century. Politically-motivated pogroms dominated the headlines of the 1915-1920 era in the region, with the infamous March Days of 1918 also sharing an anniversary week with the Zangezur pogroms. 

The years that followed the “March Days” of 1918 would be no less bloody as the Red Army of the Soviets marched through the region and occupied Zangezur, which was handed over to Armenian control in 1920. 

The events of 1917-1920 were documented in the research book Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920 by Anar Isgenderli. The book was opened with a foreword by Professor Justin McCarthy. 

“It should not be possible anymore to write the history of atrocity and inhumanity without including the losses of the Turks of Azerbaijan,” wrote Pro. McCarthy. 

Propaganda blurs the lines of history

The book goes into detail regarding the propaganda and falsification of official documents in memoirs of the era that have led to miseducation in the west regarding the Red Army advancing era of killings. Miseducation has led to a poor understanding of the inter-ethnic slaughter which precluded the rise of the Soviet Union in the South Caucasus region. 

The author of “Realities of Azerbaijan” has referred to such works as Aram Andonian’s “Reminiscences of the Armenian Genocide” as standing on “loose ground.” Andonian, according to Isgenderli, did not provide the original copies of alleged official Ottoman correspondence he had obtained and cited in his book. Isgenderli noted the absence of “in the name of Allah” in the header of these documents, as well as the use of the Roman Calendar, which strongly suggested forgery.

The book’s third chapter then goes into detail regarding the massacres of Turks and other ethnicities in Baku, Shamakhi, Guba, Lankaran, Zangezur, Erivan (a.k.a. Yerevan) Maku, Khoy, and Urmia. 

Contrary to common knowledge 

Karabakh.org, the online project recording the Azerbaijani history of Karabakh for an English-language audience, cited “staggering facts” that offer supporting evidence to the claims of an Azerbaijani ethnic cleansing from 1918-1920. The referrenced works are cited directly from Armenian narrators.  

“In his article «Red Army of Armenia» published on November 29 1921 in the newspaper «Khorurdain Hayastan» Myasnikyan wrote: «Dashnaks instilled into their troops- rob the people, bring up hatred to the Turks, exterminate Azeris, try to revive with every brutality the spirit of khmbabets» (the Armenian notion of chivalry),” wrote the Karabakh.org project.

The Karabakh project also cited a list of documents that were obtained by the newspaper “Georgia” which appear to detail the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis from Zangezur from 1918 to 1920 era.

Azerbaijan now comes out from under the shadow of the Karabakh conflict, which continued throughout the 20th century in various episodes, came to a boil with the fall of the Soviet Union, and finally paused with the reclamation of Armenian-occupied territories. As the nation emerges from the darker pages of its history, to a more engaged international player, an international conversation about its history of inter-ethnic killings and national traumas becomes a more fluid opportunity.

In memory of March, Republic Underground news will explore the history of these events in greater detail.