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BOOKS FROM THE THIRD REPUBLIC Armenian News Network / Groong January 19, 2010 By Eddie Arnavoudian The end of Soviet Armenia dealt a heavy blow to the publishing industry. The republication of Armenian classics slumped. So did print runs for new books. But the lifting of restrictions led to a flood of new titles. Many are of no value. But there are plenty that, even when hugely controversial, widen and even create new space for debate and discussion of the manifold issues confronting men and women in the 21st century. Will there be justice for the Armenians of Nakhichevan? Does anyone remember, let alone care? Argam Ayvazian's `Nakhichevan 1905 & 1918: the battle for survival inside the ring of fire' (432pp, 2005, Yerevan) provides important material for a discussion of the tragedy of the Armenians from the province of Nakhichevan and on the problems of nationalism and state formation in multiethnic regions such as the Caucuses. Armenians from Nakhichevan, that is now under Azerbaijani jurisdiction, have certainly suffered a terrible injustice. They have been expelled from their homeland by Azerbaijani chauvinists operating first within the ambit of Tsarist Russia and then during the Soviet era. Once a centre of thriving Armenian communities Nakhichevan has today been emptied of all Armenians. The current Azerbaijani government is furthermore working to ensure that soon nothing will remain of its once rich and ancient Armenian cultural legacy. Recording an aspect of the historical background to the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from a part of their ancient homeland Argam Ayvazian's volume is remarkable for its readiness to also record controversial historical truths. With a harsh objectivity his work shows also that on the basis only of the Armenian sources that he sites, Nakhichevan's Azeri community could construct its own narrative of suffering, ethnic cleansing, murder and arson at Armenian hands. Resting on memoirs, press reports and government documents Ayvazian chronicles the 1905 chauvinist Azerbaijani anti-Armenian pogroms and the bloody Armenian-Azeri clashes of 1918. The condition of the Armenian community then recalled that of the Irish republican minority in the British occupied 6 counties of north Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s. Like the Irish republicans Armenians too were a beleaguered minority, locked into isolated enclaves having to withstand the full force of an imperial power and its local agents. Like sections of the Loyalist population, sections of the Nakhichevani Azeris were also whipped into a sectarian frenzy and transformed into mobs by the Azeri leadership intent on denying Armenians in the province their legitimate national democratic rights. I. Armenian losses during the 1905 pogroms were huge. Armenian business districts in Nakhichevan City were looted and put to flame. In villages further into the hinterland Armenian homes were attacked and destroyed - sheep, cattle and domestic property stolen, men-folk murdered, many women and girls raped and others abducted. With tacit suggestions of Armenian counter-violence and arson, the 1905, No.5 issue of the Armenian `Luma' states that: `A month after the bloodletting began 183 shops have been looted and destroyed in the (capital) with only 3 Armenian ones escaping. The number of Armenian dead has reached 50...Up to 50 villages, two thirds of them Armenian have also been destroyed. (p42)' These pogroms were organised methodically by Nakhichevan's Azeri elite in collaboration with its religious establishment. They did their bloody deed furthermore under the watchful but indifferent eye of the Tsarist constabulary and military who, at the behest of their masters in Moscow, played one community off against the other. In the case of anti-Armenian pogroms they frequently failed to respond to calls for help until the damage was done. Armenians did organise self-defence and even counter-attacked, in conjunction sometimes with sympathetic or opportunist local Russian troops. But they remained at a significant disadvantage. They constituted only an overall minority of the province's population and their demographic distribution left them fragmented with their villages dispersed and encircled by hostile Azeri, Persian and Kurdish villages. In 1829 Armenians constituted 41.2% of the province's population. This dropped to 34.4% in 1897. An official 1912 census registers 58,552 Armenian compared to 108,407 Azeris. At the outbreak of World War One Armenians form 39.3% of the region's population. And in 1917 they number 83,374 compared to 139,684 Azeris. (p8) Armenian disadvantage was compounded as Azeris were in general permitted go about their business armed and had both means to acquire `the most modern weapons' and to `engage daily in shooting practice. (p79)' Armenians on the other hand, according to the 1905, No.10 issue of `The Dawn', would be `immediately disarmed if caught with weapons.' Moreover perhaps as a virtue of their numerical superiority Azeris appeared to constitute a larger part of a hostile local constabulary. As Ayvazian tells what is a horrific story of violence against the Armenian community, he also highlights incidences of indiscriminate Armenian violence against Azeri people, frequently discrediting himself, one needs to add, by choosing to describe Armenian slaughterers as `braves'. A 1934 edition of the Monthly `Hairenik' reprints an Armenian eyewitness account about events on 12 June 1905 when an Armenian: `...unit of ten men went to work and immediately put to flame the first shop they came across and others systematically thereafter... Having taken the enemy by surprise they succeeded in killing many and causing substantial damage...'(p61) The same issue reports that Armenian `villagers from Nors', in retaliation for brutal Azeri assaults on their village, counter-attacked and captured an Azeri village and `drove its cattle back to their own village.' (p85) Another participant, Ato, recalls that `Armenians participated in the slaughter' during a Russian troop assault on the village of Tchahri which `was put to flame and the streets filled with large numbers of corpses. The Turks counted more than 170 dead.' (p66) The 1905 anti-Armenian pogroms had begun first in Baku and only then spread to Nakhichevan. But in Nakhichevan they appear to have been precipitated by an Armenian killing of an Azeri villager. Irrespective of the immediate spark that unleashed the pogroms, the stage was set for tit-for-tat killings and an ever-growing cycle of hatred and violence that endures to this day. A letter in the 5 November 1905 edition of `The Dawn' records the total breakdown of Armenian-Azeri relations noting that: `The once close relations between Armenian and Turkish villages have now reached a level of extreme tension. Trade, labour, movement, in a word life among us has been condemned to death... And this is quite ordinary today as a result of the fact that the trust between Armenian and Turk has broken down. Thus, if by accident they fall into the each others hands, there is no escaping.' (p80) And in a sort of summary of mutual destruction the 8 December 1905 edition wrote that: `Turkish trade has been destroyed, their market has been reduced to ashes. The Armenians' had been destroyed on 12 May. This is where the mindless, internecine fighting has got us. Though the Turks looted Armenians in all localities, they today find themselves in a worse economic situation than the Armenians. Where is all this going to take us? (p66)' II. Bypassing the 10-12 years following the 1905-6 pogroms Ayvazian goes directly to the Armenian-Azeri wars of 1918-1919 where the conflict remained essentially of the same character as that of 1905, but the advantage now even more decidedly on the Azeri side. Ayvazian writes plausibly that in the wake of the collapse of the Russian Empire a coalition of Azeri nationalists and Turkish military officers resumed their ethnic cleansing against the Armenians of Nakhichevan (p106). Financed by the wealthy in the region they were able to purchase vast amounts of weaponry and ammunition from the retreating Russian army with which to launch their new war. As in 1905 Armenians in 1918 also organised self-defence but again fell foul of the distribution of Armenian villages `cut off from the outside world', `isolated and short of arms. (p125)' Weakness was aggravated further by inept leadership described as made up of `the town's wealthy and good for nothing stratum.' (p115) Furthermore while the Azeri side received Turkish and Azeri government support, the Armenians of Nakhichevan obtained no aid from the Armenian government. The 27 November 1918 edition of `Zank' writes that `for a second time there were appeals to the Armenian government, but all these for the moment produced no result. (p124)' In another context Ayvazian notes that `the First Armenian Republic formed... was not always in a position to extend support' to Armenians in the province. (p126)' Another contemporary Gh. Kotcharyan, records that the Armenian government even demanded of Nakhichevan Armenians that they surrender strategic positions by opening the Yerevan to Julfa railway to Turkish forces and removing Armenian forces to a substantial distance on either side (p139). For a short period Armenians defended themselves successfully. A 40-day battle in Nakhichevan City saved them from certain death. But with no overall guidance and no broad political strategy these battles could not secure any long term or enduring settlement. Armenians were subsequently driven from their homes with at least 6000 savagely slaughtered. This savagery and ethnic cleansing was then repeated in Sharour, in Goghtn and in Akoulis. Armenians charge that Azerbaijani victories were successful only because they were organised and led by Turkish military officers. But this account of foreign assistance to the Azeri side is balanced by Ayvazian's evidence that Armenians for their part allied with and received support from Russian and British forces that were present in the region. (It is perhaps worth noting that in a certain sense the 1918-1919 Armenian-Azeri conflict expressed the age-long Tsarist-Ottoman contest for control of the Caucasus with the British intervening and playing Armenians and Azeris against each other in the hope of themselves reigning supreme.) Ayvazian's record of Azeri violence against Armenians is shocking. But even as this was on a massively larger scale, Armenian victories also often degenerated into bloody revenge with `ordinary `Armenian peasants' `engaging in the destruction of Turkish villages.' (p223). In March 1918 Armenians `wrecked' six `Turkish villages in the Abragounis area.' In April they `succeed in entering the Turkish village of Dev where they slaughtered the uncontrollable Turks, put the village to flame and looted it.' In the same month Armenians captured a further three Turkish villages and `drove out the population' and also `put them to flame (p126).' The catalogue of Armenian violence becomes gruesome with quotes from and about Nzhdeh's operations in the area that included murder, arson, deportation and ethnic cleansing (p304, 313, 359 and 362). During all these trials and tribulation, and in the nearly hundred years that have since passed neither Armenian nor Azerbaijani leaderships have proved capable of advancing a way forward that would secure the future of all communities from Nakhichevan. The Armenians of Nakhichevan have paid a high price for the failure of democratic nationalism. After the defeats of 1918-1919 and the establishment of Soviet power, the Soviet Armenian government for its part proved utterly impotent as Azeri nationalists finally cleansed the province of its native Armenian communities. The Third Armenian Republic in turn seems powerless to halt the current chauvinist elimination of Nakhichevan's Armenian cultural legacy that remains A new dispensation is necessary, one that goes beyond the existing conceptions and conditions, one that can secure the national rights and democratic harmony among all the peoples of the region. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.