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The first Armenian-Azeri Conflict

Thus, after Northern Azerbaijan became part of the Russian empire, the ethnic as well as economic and political situation there seriously changed there over a one hundred-year period. The policy of increasing the Christian population in Azerbaijan at the expense of Armenians by the end of the nineteenth century caused undesirable consequences for the Russian authorities themselves. There was no longer a particular threat from Turkey or Iran and, beginning in the 1840s, the issue of the colonization and Russification of the region appeared. It then became clear that there were few free lands left for the Russian migrants as the majority of the state land available, moreover the most profitable land, was already in the hands of Armenians. Armenians bought tens of thousands of Azeri lands, primarily in Karabakh, very cheaply. As a result, in a century of Russian governance in the region, they discovered with irritation that “the economical dominance in the South Caucasus is concentrated in hands of Armenians – now they are the owners of the territory” (69). Armenians, not Russians, let alone Azeris had the majority of posts even in state services in Azerbaijan.

Thus, in the 1890s a threat to implement the policy of colonization and Russification in the South Caucasus, and particularly in Azerbaijan, appeared there in the form of the Armenians and their political organizations. As the Tsarist officials mentioned at the time “Russian state affairs should be carried out by Russian people with the help of natives and properly contacted local forces in any land: Georgians in Georgia, Azeries in Karabakh and Dagestanians themselves in Dagestan” (70).

Thus, in the 1890s a chill in Russian-Armenian relations appeared for the first time. Prince G.Golitsyn, appointed to the post of General-Governor of the Caucasus in 1896, undertook a number of measures aimed at weakening the influence of Armenians and improving of the position of Azeris. He considerably reduced the number of Armenians in the state service and employed Azeris in their place. And in 1903 he confiscated the property of the Armenian church.

In response, Armenians organized a series of terrorist acts against Tsarist officials in the territory of the Russian empire for the first time. As a result, Golitsyn, wounded in 1903, left the Caucasus. Then the authorities of Russia adopted a policy of kindling Armenian-Azeri discord. In February 1905, during the revolutionary unrest in Baku, the first Armenian-Azeri clashes occurred, which very soon covered almost the whole of Azerbaijan, especially Karabakh, as well as Yerevan and Tbilisi. However, even that oldest policy of “divide and conquer” was not carried out very thoughtfully and consistently by the Russian authorities.” Earl I.Vorontsov-Dashkov, appointed in May 1905 to the post of Viceroy of the South Caucasus, did not hide his pro-Armenian sympathies and thought that friendship with the Armenians was the basis for Russian dominance in the South Caucasus. As early as May 1905 Russian troops took an openly pro-Armenian position in the conflict and attacked, often jo intly with Armenians, Muslims in many districts of Azerbaijan. In August 1905, a Tsarist decree to return property to the Armenian church and permitting Armenian schools to open followed.

But that first Armenian-Azeri conflict left a deep impression in the memories of people of the time who realized what kind of genie had been let out of the bottle. Thus one of them wrote: “Before the appearance of Armenian revolutionary figures, and especially the party “Dashnaktsutun,” the South Caucasus lived in peace and quiet. Here nobody remembers even a shadow of those terrors that we saw in the frequently and widespread Armenian- Tatar (that is how Azeries were mistakenly called in the Russian empire – A.Y.) slaughter…Then the Dashnaks came with their propaganda about the establishment of an entire Armenian territory for the future autonomous Armenia and then the feelings of national hostility and hatred burst into the patriarchal life of Transcaucasian villages…” It is no longer a secret to the Armenian population that “Dashnaktsutun,” which played a leading role in Armenian-Tatar slaughter, often used the proofs of their necessity for purely provocative actions, as in so-called tactical attacks of bands of “fidays” on the neighboring Tatar (Azeri – A.Y.) population, who in turn naturally paid the Armenians back. That tendency of “Dashnaktsutun” was explained by their struggle to establish more or less considerable territory with a solely Armenian population to prepare better grounds for the establishment of an autonomous Armenia in the future (71).

That first Armenian-Azeri conflict, which cost about 10,000 lives from both sides,revealed the main distinguishing features of the two nations and their actions in those and other circumstances. The better organized a nd considerably better armed Armenians widely used terrorist acts as well as “scorched earth” tactics and sudden attacks, forcibly ousting Azeris from the territories of the future Armenian state and, first of all, from Armenia and Karabakh. The propaganda machine was also utilized very well: the Russian and Western press, reflecting the mood of the public, highlighted those events in the early twentieth century with obvious sympathy for the Armenians. The Russian and western readership was also under the strong impression of the bloody events of the 1890s, that took place in Ottoman Turkey, and numerous articles about Pan Islam. At the same time, the Armenians used both methods of threat, in the form of terror acts, and bribery in their search for allies “from Christian nations in their struggle with Islam” and in their relations with the authorities of Russia.

In turn, although the actions of the Armenian nationalists caused universal indignation and spontaneous repulsion among Azeris, nevertheless, the latter, as a law-abiding people, placed their hopes in the authorities of Russia for a long time. That is why, despite numerous signs of an upcoming disaster and the provocative role of the Russian authorities, Azeris did not hurry to organize any defensive measures. Even when the first victims appeared, Azeris tried not to make show of it and sought a compromise and initially even hid the number of dead. That is why the actions of Azeris in the military-political and propagandist spheres appeared out-of-date, as if “in pursuit of events.”


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