The Guba Massacres
In accordance with a prefabricated plan, the Dashnak-Bolshevik forces were to enter the Guba uyezd after occupation of Shamakhi. The Armenians of Khachmaz were informed of this and received additional arms and ammunition. Calling the massacres of the Muslim population of Guba since the beginning of 1918 a tragedy does not fully express the essence of the events. The torturous killings of thousands of civilians—including women, children, and elderly—were a catastrophe. The tragedy in Guba had a pure political motive. Bolshevik soldiers took part in the massacres side by side with the Armenian Dashnak troops. The Armenian tormentors seized the occasion and skillfully exploited the anarchy in the country to launch a vast massacre in Guba.
The tragedy in Guba was featured by extensive advance preparations by the Dashnaks. An interethnic conflict was planned to serve as a pretext for much wider massacre. Members of the Dashnaktsutiun sent telegrams abroad, claiming that the Armenians were oppressed by the Muslims in Azerbaijan. The cables sent by the Guba residents M. Kasparov, H. Hayrapetov, A. Mukanian, and A. Bogdanov assured that the Muslims feuded with the local Armenians, had launched ethnic massacres, destroyed the Armenian and Russian villages, and burned the churches.
Guba was subject to the Armenian violence for three times. The major assault against the province was led by David Gelovani with two thousand soldiers and Sturua, who claimed to be a Bolshevik, with one thousand troops. The assault was preceded by an attack of some two thousand Armenian soldiers led by Muradian. These troops were comprised of the soldiers of the Dashnaktsutiun, which had posed as the closest ally of the Russian Czarism during World War I. These troops were backed by the local Armenian gangs in the number of three hundred gunmen led by Avakov and Vartan.
In the beginning, apart from some one hundred soldiers in Gelovani’s disposal in Guba, he received additional reinforcement from Khachmaz. Gelovani writes, “A group of 150 soldiers exclusively comprised of Armenians and led by Lieutenant Aghajanian, and 2 cannons from Khachmaz came to our relief.” Appearance of Gelovani and his troops in Guba, his request for reinforcement, and the arrival of a solely Armenian unit points to the fact that the ethnic hostility against the Muslims in the northern provinces of Azerbaijan had been arranged in advance. Thus, in early March 1918, the wealthy Armenian families sold their property and hastily left Guba. When they were inquired about the reason, they replied, “Something is expected between Muslims and us, that’s why the Committee has called us back.”
Upon arrival in Guba, Gelovani released up to two hundred Armenian military prisoners from jail. As it proceeds from the papers of the Extraordinary Investigation Commission and witnesses’ testimonies, the prisoners were the Armenian soldiers who had initiated violence in the region earlier that year. A reputed religious figure educated in the Ottoman Empire, Mohub-Ali Effendi, who resided in the Kuzun village of Gusar together with Hatam Serkarov, a resident of Jaghar village, invoked the local population to rise against the Dashnaks, and with a support from Lezgins of South Dagestan, they rebuffed the aggressors. Muradian managed to escape together with some one hundred soldiers, but up to two hundred Dashnaks were taken captives and imprisoned in a jail in the Guba prison at the direction of Mohub-Ali Effendi. While being banished from Guba, Gelovani blustered to return with trained Armenian punitive detachments. Indeed, ten days after his threats, the Armenian troops armed with cannons and machine guns were dispatched from Baku to Guba.
A gang led by Amazasp began to burn the town all the way from the town gates to the distant hillside quarters. The Dashnaks shot everyone on their way—making no distinction of age or sex—stabbed the wounded with bayonets, and poked out the victims’ eyes. Those who missed a chance to run and hide in the nearby forest made unsuccessful attempts to hide in their houses. They were forced out of their houses; some of them were killed right away and the rest taken to the square.
Hundreds of people were murdered within several hours. A number of documents and witnesses’ testimonies fortify the fact that the Dashnak leaders skillfully utilized Bolshevik soldiers. One of the witnesses writes, “The Dashnaks went out of control and we had to fight with them on an unequal footing. During a day-long battle we lost 200 men and had to retreat to the Digah village with only 40 men. Amazasp was maddened, but he also became more careful. He gathered all inhabitants of the town in the square and declared that he was the Erzurum Armenian who had decapitated thousands of Turks, burned and destroyed more than 200 Turkish villages: ‘I fought against Turks for a long time, and defended the interests of the Armenian people. This is the reason I came here. If you make a stand, I will kill all of you to the last man.”
The massacres arranged by the Dashnak-Bolshevik gangs in Guba proved to be fiercer than in other provinces. Another witness testifies, “Amazasp called Harun Hayrapetov, an Armenian from Guba who acted as a guide for the Dashnaks, and told him something. Harun took a piece of paper out of his pocket and began reading. That was a list of 26 rich people of Guba. Amazasp sent some of his armed soldiers for those people.
When the soldiers returned only with 6 people, the Dashnak commander threw a fit. 4 of these people were women and the other 2 were teenagers. Amazasp ordered to cut off the heads of the teenagers. The women were made to drink their blood. When they wailed and pounced at the Dashnaks, the soldiers stabbed them with bayonets and chopped them in two with swords. When howling grew in the square, Amazasp aligned the soldiers and ordered to open fire at the unarmed and innocent people. Hundreds of men, women and children were killed. It was hard to realize that a man could be so cruel against a human being. ‘I will drink your blood,’ said Amazasp and ordered to burn the property of the people from that list. With such behavior he proved that he was the cruelest man and blood-sucker.”
Amazasp was tasked by Shaumian to kill all the Muslims in Guba and devastate their towns and villages. Then the massacre should have been explained as a conflict between the Shiites and the Sunnites. According to the investigation papers, the number of the Dashnak-Bolshevik troops that arrived in Guba on May 1, 1918, exceeded five thousand. This made it possible to easily slaughter the unarmed civilians. It is enough to say that almost four thousand people were killed within two days to illustrate the scale of the violence in Guba. This figure equaled to one-fifth of the population of Guba.
Harun Shahbali-Oghlu, an eyewitness of the massacre, remembers the following: “The Armenians killed so many people that the streets of Guba turned into a river of blood. When they prepared to shoot all of the 2,000 captives on the square, a man approached their leader. They said he was a commissar. They talked briefly and the soldiers were again ordered to lower their arms. Women and children were weeping. A husky Armenian with five other men came up to the crowd and began to pick young and attractive women. They took more than fifty women away. When one of their brothers protested, they shot him. His body was thrown on the ground and his eyes were gouged out. An Armenian, with the hands in blood, threw the eyes to the crowd. The people howled. The Dashnaks began to beat the people with buttstocks cussing in the Armenian language. Then they stabbed an old man, who had come forward, with a bayonet. It was a repulsive sight.”
Another witness bears out the slaughter: “The Armenians brought mullahs to the central square in Guba. The mullahs were the most respectable elders of the uyezd. They had been thrashed. Amazasp called a local Armenian, Harun, well-known to everyone. Harun translated the order into the Azerbaijani language: ‘Split into two rows, Sunnites and Shiites, and stand face-to-face!’ The crowd obeyed. The distance between the rows was about 20-30 yards. Then they brought two rifles and said that they would kill them anyway: ‘Those who want to survive have to do what we say. The Sunnites and the Shiites will shoot at each other by turn. We shall leave in peace those who survive.’ The first two men were drawn forth and given rifles. One of them was a Lezgin, Muhammed, another was a Shiite elder, Mashadi Mir-Sadig. Neither of them wanted to take the Armenian rifles. The soldiers hit their heads with butts and made them take the rifles. They aimed the rifles at one another. Everyone was stunned. Muhammed, who was comparatively younger, suddenly turned back and killed one of the Dashnaks. In the scuffle Mashadi Mir-Sadig also killed one Armenian. Hundreds of people who attempted to run were killed with machine-guns. The majority of them were women and children. Muhammed was quartered: first they dismembered his arms, and then his legs. His head was cut off and raised up on the tip of a bayonet so that everyone could see it. Mashadi Mir-Sadig’s eyes were gouged out, his arms and neck were fractured. That day the Dashnaks destroyed the mosque and killed more than 20 mullahs both from the Sunnites and the Shiites.” A. Novatski clarified the details and emphasized that the Dashnaks burned twenty-six mosques merely in Guba, Gusar, and Khachmaz to offend the religious dignity of the Muslims.
The Dashnaks completely demolished a number of Muslim shrines and burned thousands of books on Islam, Oriental history, and literature. The Armenians made a bonfire out of 1,300 books when they burned the medrese of Abdur-Rahim Effendi in central Guba. An influential religious leader, Ibrahim Aydemirov, who was an eyewitness of the events, remembers, “There were 6-7 hundred year old books in the Digah Mosque written in the Albanian and the Arabic alphabets. Besides burning the books, the Armenians blew up a rock with Albanian inscriptions on it in a shrine located a mile away from the Mosque.”
More than sixteen thousand people were killed in total by Amazasp’s gang in Guba during the first five months of 1918. According to different sources and witnesses’ testimonies, the death toll included approximately 12,000 Lezgins and over 4,000 Azerbaijani Turks and Muslim Tats. Within few months the allied Dashnak-Bolshevik units devastated 162 villages in Guba; 35 of them were razed to the ground and were never inhabited again.
The Armenian gangs did not confine their crimes solely to Muslims; the Jews of Guba became their victims as well. Investigations revealed that the Armenians killed up to three thousand Jews in Guba during 1918-19. Recent studies have elucidated the names of eighty-one of the Jewish victims. According to the records of the Extraordinary Investigation Commission, the majority of casualties among the Jews were children, elderly, and women. Amazasp was at the head of the Jewish blood purge. The bodies of the killed Jews were thrown into the Shimi ravine. Those who managed to escape the slaughters and leave the town fled to Khachmaz and then to Derbent. But not all Jews were fortunate to get away. From hearsay, the list of the Jews killed by Amazasp and his gang was kept in the local synagogue. The discovery and archeological examinations of mass grave sites in Guba in 2007 confirmed that the people buried there had been tortured prior to being killed.
These mass graves proved to be the result of the 1918 genocide against Azerbaijanis and other ethnic groups in Guba. In the Kurdemir village of the Goychay uyezd, Dashnaks burned 56 houses and shops, 127 mansions, and 2 mosques; they also plundered the house of the local imam. His precious collection of Quranic commentaries, or tafsirs, was put on fire. Quran itself was desecrated. Jengi (Chayly), Garavelli, Garabujag, Mustafany, Khalil-Gasimbey, Arab-Mehdibeyli, Sadaly, and other villages of the Goychay uyezd were completely ruined. The chairman of the commission, Khasmammadov, wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs that there was enough factual material on the Dashnak-Bolshevik atrocities in Baku, Shamakhi, Guba, Goychay, and Javad for the Azerbaijani delegation to take to the Paris Peace Conference. Besides, the commission possessed documents on the carnage in the Lankaran uyezd launched by the armed units of the Armenian colonel Avetisov, the hostilities directed by Colonel Illarinovich in the Javad uyezd, and other massacres in the Erivan guberniya and in four uyezds of the Ganja guberniya—Jabrayil, Javanshir, Shusha, and Zangezur.
Anar Isgenderli. Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920