Pogroms in Azerbaijan and Armenia of 1988-89 As Historical Echo of the 1915 Armenian Genocide ( 1988-89 1915 )

Pogroms in Azerbaijan and Armenia of 1988-89 As Historical Echo of the 1915 Armenian Genocide ( 1988-89 1915 )

The intended question to be posed in this essay relates to the Armenian
Genocide of 1915 and its evident connection to the massacres of Armenian minority in Azerbaijan in 1988-89. The path I have chosen to answer this question leads throughout the history of Genocide in 1915. Hence, the tragedy at the outset of the twentieth century provoked the slaughter of the same prosecuted ethnical minority by the same perpetrating ethnic majority only seventy years later.

According to the theory introduced by sociologist Alfred Schults, any event by its own nature has no meaning. His view is that a meaning is something ascribed to events or objects and is based on two concepts functioning evenly: the sediment of past experience and another one projected in future. These two factors establish what he calls the system of relevances that enables to interpret a current even out of dual perspective based on past and future.[1] By all means this theory is applicable to massacre of 1915 and the pogroms in 1988. The outlined parallels between the two series of events denote a much more disastrous circumstance under which all the Armenian population in Azerbaijan was jeopardized by the Turks. In this case the Schutzs theory indicates that the significance of past events (the various massacres and genocide) became evident in interpretation of the pogroms that occurred in 1988-
No crime carries as much destruction and cruelty as genocide. It aims at loss of ethnic identity of a victimized party. Genocide intends not just to kill, maim, or violate people; the ultimate purpose is to deprive the victim of its future as a strong national entity. Any massive crime has impact on contemporary and/or possible prospective relations of the victim and the perpetrator on global political arena. One well-documented massive crime against humanity is the Armenian Genocide of 1915 when number of casualties was estimated from 600 000 to 2 000000 people. The bloody event in history of Armenia caused not only human loses, but deprived Armenia partially of ancestral territory.

On the 9th of December 1948, the United Nations adopted the Genocide
Convention, compiling the following definition in Article II:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following facts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The definition of genocide accepted by United Nations has caused a great deal of controversy, for it excluded social and political groups.
Thereafter, in the 1980s Helen Fein developed a broader and more profound definition of genocide, from which she excluded killing as a mandatory attribute of warfare, and on the opposite, included groups being persecuted based on their social and political belonging:

Genocide is a sustained purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a collectivity directly or indirectly, through interdiction of the biological and social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or lack of threat offered by the victim.[3]

In the case of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 the governmental atrocity against its own people wasnt specified anywhere in the scrolls of
International Law. It contained certain regulations on account of a civilian, noncombatant population during wartime, but this incident became first of its kind for which international law had no stipulation. When the legislative definition of genocide was accepted by the United Nations in
1948, it turned out to be that Armenian genocide fell under each of the five categories of it.[4] Although the pogroms in Sumgait and Baku of 1988-
90 resemble more the pogroms in Ottoman Empire in 1890s rather than actual genocide which occurred in 1915 and culminated in 1921 in the fight and expulsion of survivors who returned to Celicia, the analogy between 1915 and 1988-90 is apparent.

Armenians were a minority population in both Azerbaijan and Turkey, thus clearly identifiable for persecution. Armenians were more upwardly mobile than the majority population, hence creating the possibility of potential social conflict. The overarching political conditions were unstable in both the Soviet Union and the Ottoman Empire revolutionary change often being a prerequisite of genocide. Armenians were scapegoated for political events outside the borders of the country in which they were residing.[5]

Armenian genocide is one of the first genocide of the twentieth century. It became a model for the political type of genocide. The majority of the current genocides followed this pattern.

In order to examine to what degree the Genocide of 1915 is related to the pogroms in Azerbaijan in 1988-90 some history of Armenians is to be examined.

Armenians have populated the highland region between the Black,
Caspian and Mediterranean seas for centuries long. This area presented a crossroad between East and West. As a result of the geographic location
Armenia wasnt govern by its own dynasties constantly. The state has experienced direct foreign rule as well as paying fees to the surrounding states. Besides the geography, Armenia had another disadvantage. It was the only Christian state surrounded by Muslim entities, this aspect kept
Armenia apart from others. Such distinct difference referred Armenians as second-class citizens after the Ottoman Empire annexed the territory that had molded ancient and medieval Armenian kingdoms, in the sixteenth century. The Ottoman Empire established on its territory confessional- based Muslim, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian millets. Through these establishments the Ottoman administrative system legalized the social inequality within a structure of the society. The millet system enabled
Armenians to preserve their cultural-religious identity, but kept them politically and militarily inefficacious. Armenians didnt pose any threat onto the multinational, unequal society and retained in accord to certain degree with the dominant Muslim millet as long as they paid the tributes to the government and remained politically inactive.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a wind of changes came across the Ottoman Empire and caused external challenges and internal instability. Incapable of competing with the West economically and military, the ruling authority lost a number of provinces and ended up in debt. Such immediate breakdown of law and consequent venality fractured the foundations of Ottoman multinational society. Due the increasing threats to continued existence of the Ottoman Empire, the sultans, under the pressure of Great Britain, launched a program of remodeling that broke away from the traditional sociopolitical theocracy.

The tanzimat period, stretching from 1839 to 1876, was designed to commence theoretical equality of all Ottoman subjects. However, while the decree went into power, the system of millets maintained, and the equality within it correspondingly. During the political internal and external torments Armenians endeavored to uphold and to follow the reforms in order to secure life and property. They had no intentions to develop a task of separation or acquiring independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Then followed the Russian-Turkish War, in which Turkey lost severely.
The military and diplomatic failure of the sultan Abdul-Hamid II attributed to the break away of the most of Balkan provinces. Thus, the attention of the European community was drawn to the Armenian Question. However, the fact of European protectorate, explicitly expressed verbally in regard to the domestic policy of the crumbling Ottoman Empire only aggravated the condition of Armenians in Turkey. Armenians quest for security and equality resulted in brutal pogroms ordered by Abdul-Hamid, which were carried out by armed Kurdish brigands in almost every province inhabited by
Armenians. The ultimate purpose of Abdul-Hamid wasnt to exterminate the
Armenian population, but rather to point out that they have to follow the policies of the Ottoman Empire. Particularly, to look up at Europe was a forbidden act. His successors aimed at creating an entirely socionationalistic frame of the state, free from Armenians, rather than just preserving a political status quo.[6] The only way to achieve the goal was to whip out the entire Armenian population from the Ottoman Empire territory.

In early 1913 the Young Turk government was overthrown by its militaristic and nationalistic wing, with Enver, Taalat, and Jemal Pashas in head of it. This threesome involved the country into WWI as the ally of
Germany. Later in 1915 the same government outlined and put into effect a plan for the elimination of Armenians, estimated between two and three millions subjects. The plan was carried out in phases. In April 1915 people represented the Armenian religious, political, educational, and intellectual authority in the Western tradition, variously one thousand individuals, were jailed throughout the entire Empire, and consequently killed within few days. The next phase consisted of liquidation of the young male adult population, which mainly were recruits of the Turkish army. The number approximated 200,000. They were purged through mass burials, incineration, executions and weakness in labor battalions. The leftovers of those who survived those phases were primarily children, women and aged people. All of them were to be deported to distant regions of
Empire. Within six months of deportation half of those who survived first two phases were killed, buried alive or thrown into the sea or the rivers along the way.[7]

The murder of Armenians was characterized like the war against
Entente, as a jihad or holy war. Throughout the Empire it became illegal to assist the survivors. The governmental decree established a penalty for everyone who broke the law, which was to hang those who were helping
Armenians in front of their own house; the house was to be burnt.[8] Yet, history records the removal of some governors from the office for the resistance to the supreme order. Many Kurds and Arabs throughout Empire were saving the refugees. The outcome of the genocide was catastrophic.
Out of two to three million Armenians in Western Armenia, a million and a half perished during the massacres. Thousands of those who escaped the purge and fled to Russian Armenia died because of starvation that had been dwelling in Russia after the WWI. Those Armenians, who converted to Islam and remained within Ottoman Empire borders never regained the status of citizens and lost the ability to retain a sense of religious or national identity. [9]

The history of the massacres in Nagornyi Karabakh and Baku took the following path.

The survivors of the genocide have been affected by a deep psychological shock, caused by the pathos and negligence that the European community attributed to the Armenian Question on the brink of the twentieth century, and Turkish endeavor to deny the crime. Once the horror seemed to be over, a totalitarian and oppressive, yet protective system of the Soviet
Union gave guarantee to its subjects to prevent any external attack or invasion, or in a case of such to defense. Armenias fear of Turks has almost vanished, even though neighboring Azeris by their culture, group language and historical background belonged to Turks. Armenia had to barter its right to seek justice and the recognition of the Genocide for the security provided by the USSR. This illusion of peace and fear-free life crashed in 1988. The aura of the past became vivid again. It occurred after the doctrines of Mikhail Gorbachev on glasnost and perestroika became an essential part on sociopolitical aspects of the domestic policy. The president of the USSR declared that the time had come to correct past errors of the Stalin era. The message seemed to be addressed directly to the Armenian population of Armenia and Nagornyi
(Mountainous) Karabakh, for despite the prevailing percentage of Armenian population located in Karabakh, the administration of this region was conferred upon Azerbaijan by the central government in 1921.[10]

Since late nineteenth century and especially after 1915 nationalism has been on a wave amongst Armenians. This preoccupying doctrine of
biological survival, identity, and nationality became the dominant argument for trading-off national independence in 1920 to Soviets, aiming thus, to escape another assault by the Kemalist Turks. However, the protectorate of the Soviet government employed brutality and violence towards the new republic. It led to an uprising in Armenia against Soviet system in February 1921. However, the revolt was suppressed by Bolshviks, and later on the territory was attached to the republic of Azerbaijan populated primarily by Shiite Moslem Turks. In 1923, the Karabakh region was defined as the Autonomous Region of Mountainous Karabakh, the population was 94 percent Armenian at that time, and it was 75 percent
Armenian in 1988.[11]

The conflict over Nagornyi Karabakh didnt come about overnight.
Nationalism and feeling of insecurity drove Armenians to petition to the
Soviet Supreme for unification of Armenia with Nagornyi Karabakh, however, the central government didnt take into consideration any of the appeals.
Granted Karabakh to Azerbaijan wasnt the only legacy of Sovietization.
Some other factors contributed to the development of conflict over years.
First, all referrals to the genocide were prohibited from 1920 to 1965, second, the Soviet dictatorial regime caused fragmentation of society,[12] third, despite all the efforts Soviet rule failed to achieve its objective of ethnic symbiosis. [13] Every time when there was a change in leadership of central state government Armenia reasserted its national ambition and longing for re-unification with Nagornyi Karabakh. This issue involved all aspects of the Armenian national predicament: Karabakh is governed by Azerbaijan, viewed by Armenians as the traditional enemy
Turkey, the population is experiencing various discrimination and is coerced to migrate, the question of preserving cultural identity is crucial, and economic issues are arising.[14]

During brutal decades of Stalin regime the movement for the reunification of Karabakh was almost out of question, for any revolts were put down immediately, and those found guilty were punished severely.
However, from 1956 till 1961, during Khrushchev rule, when his Thaw policy was enforced as a key of foreign and domestic policies, the reassertion of the Armenian claim began to unfold again and acquire support from Armenian Diaspora in the West. In 1965, the fiftieth anniversary of the genocide was marked by demonstrations in Armenia. Demonstrators made it clear that their top priorities were the reunification with Karabakh and establishment of a monument into commemoration of the genocide. The monument was built, yet the petition for the reunification was declined again.[15]

Then began Gorbachev era, during which the nationality question became a sensitive issue not only in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The history of the conflict proved that it didnt develop suddenly, however it escalated as a nationality problem in a multinational state during periods of crisis or sociopolitical changes in ideology and a governmental structure. Preceding 1987 Gorbachev didnt approach the problems with ethnic groups within USSR from ethno-psychological perspective, which was perceived as an interfering element for a functioning economic internationalism.[16] Instead, he identified the nationality question with the total economic complex, with national distribution of resources, and intra-national division of labor in the Soviet Union.[17]

When the conflict broke out, Gorbachev had to accept the failure of his affirmation of the national question, which has been basically solved, that he made himself three months earlier. As the conflict was growing more complicated, Gorbachev referred the Karabakh crisis as the outcome of local mafia disagreements.[18] Soviet central government refused to take any actions towards solving the conflict when it still was at a negotiable stage. However, lack of competency and willingness not to let bloodshed to begin caused first pogroms of anti-Armenian nature in
Sumgait, an industrial city of Azerbaijan. The same governmental negligence led to liquidation of thousands of Armenians in Turkey in the early twentieth century.

On 12 and 13 February 1988, the district councils of Mountainous
Karabakh adopted a resolution that called for a meeting of the Regional
Council of Deputies of Mountainous Karabakh for the purpose of examining the issue of reunification. On the 21st, this council voted in favor of reunification by a large majority, providing a legal basis for Armenian demands.[19]

The massacres that took place on February 28-29 brought in tragedy and interrupted the peaceful events. A few dozens of Armenians according to official records, were killed by Azerbaijanis in the industrial city of
Sumgait, although estimates range is as high as two hundreds. The percentage of the Armenian population estimated less that 10% of all inhabitants of Sumgait. During the night of 27 February several hundreds of Azerbaijanis armed with weapons and flammable liquids raped, tortured and burned alive victims after beatings and torments. There were hundreds of wounded who became invalids. The rapes included rapes of underage girls. More than two hundreds houses were destroyed and robbed; automobiles owned by Armenians were burnt or smashed. Thousands of refugees fled to Armenia and Russia.[20]

The past became present. Such words as pogroms, massacres, and even genocide became current vocabulary words in the turbulence of the events. This provoked resurrection of memories and implied immediate, direct analogy with the Genocide of 1915. The Azerbaijanis related by race, language, and culture to the Turks were perceived by Armenians as the same savage executors who carried out the genocide of 1915.[21]

There were traced some indirect evidences that led Armenian community to suspect Azerbaijani governmental authority being involved in these murders.
1. During the days preceding 27 February, the Third Party Secretary of Baku personally participated in several violently anti-Armenian television broadcasts.
2. Some Azerbaijanis in Sumgait, knowing the massacres were coming three days before the 27th, warned some Armenians of their fate.
3. Piles of rocks were delivered beforehand by trucks to the outskirts of the Armenian quarters.
4. The killers were brought to Sumgait in special coaches and vans.
5. Telephone lines linking Sumgait and the outside world were cut before the killings.
6. Soviet soldiers stood aside for three days, doing nothing to put a stop to the massacres.
The indifference of Moscow towards the massacres was expressed clearly by giving no orders to Azerbaijani government and Soviet troops that were located precisely on the boarder of Armenia and Azerbaijan to stop the violence. Is it a repetition of what Turkish government did against
Armenians who were a subject of Ottoman Empire in 1915? There was no explicit approval from the Kremlin on measures Azerbaijanis took against
Armenian population, yet there was no immediate response to it either. The official record displayed 32 deaths for the three days of the outrage; however, during the entire year of 1988, the case didnt take place in court. As the memories of the genocide became vivid the Azerbaijani authorities played with this psychological trauma caused many years ago and passed into a new stage of fear by letting Armenians know they had gone too far and, thus jeopardizing those who reside in territories governed by

By November and then aggravating in December 1988, pogroms started to spread in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The attitude towards Armenian population rapidly began to decline after Sumgait pogroms with only periodic help from the Soviet Army. Breaks out of hostility and hatred were directed even at religious objects. The Armenian Cathedral in Baku was burned. On December 5, 1989, crowds of Azeris started threatening
Armenian population. Gangs of young Azerbaijanis (age range was 16-30), carrying the Turkish flag stopped buses, checked IDs of passengers and after tracking down an Armenian they would pull a person out of a bus and beat him/her (!) up, regardless of age of the victim. Such violence and cruelty are not easy to understand, for Armenians and Azerbaijanis were living in peace and harmony prior to the events. The perpetrators apparently were given the implicit approval from the Azerbaijani government in regards to Armenians. Azereis were granted with right to do whatever they wanted with Armenian population. In stores if a sales person suspected in a customer an Armenian, a clerk would refuse to sell bread to that person. And the more harming assaults are not even to mention. They raped young pregnant women and older women, torturing and outraging them;
Azeris poured their victims with gasoline and burned them. The entire city seemed infected by hysteria. On the day of the earthquake in Armenia
Azerbaijanis were jumping up and down in celebration of the catastrophe, rejoicing over sufferings of other humans. Only on January 19, 1990, a state of emergency was declared and 20 000 Soviet troops were dispatched to put down the riots again the Armenian population of Azerbaijan.[23]

Many Armenians made a direct analogy between events in Azerbaijan and
1915 in Turkey. Armenians living in Baku and Sumgait were assimilated with the native population. Intermarriages were popular and well accepted by people. Most Armenians living in Azerbaijan sent their children to Russian schools, and therefore, the primarily spoken language was Russian even at homes. Hence, the history of Armenia was more known from books and family memories rather than through official teaching. Therefore, how can be explained hasty leaving by 350 000 Armenians their homes, possessions and lifetime memories except that they feared the old scenario to be played again. The pogroms left houses in Armenian quarters of Baku ravaged, however, the massacres of 31 people in Sumgait and 160 in Baku (according to official records, though the number might be underestimated) is a relatively small number. Hence, the explanation for such massive reaction of Armenians can be found in a historical memory that led to conviction that Armenians refused to be scapegoats again. There is a palpable parallel between sociopolitical status of Armenians in Azerbaijan and
Armenian in Turkey on the eve of slaughtering. In both cases Armenians were a prosperous element of the society they lived in, however, they were in minority, thus obviously suitable for any kind of persecution.
Ironically, but pogroms and killings in Sumgait and Baku as well as the compulsory migration of Armenians to Armenia and Russia might have prevented a second cycle of genocide against Armenian population.[24]

Some aspects in analogy between 1915 and 1988-90 dont fit the large scaled picture, compiled of both tragic periods of the Armenian history.
However, some parallels are obvious. For example, deprivation of basic essentials and lack of even first necessities present during the blockade against the Republic of Armenia and while deportation of Armenians was carried out in Ottoman Empire. Also, the sadistic tortures against
Armenian population took place in both Sumgait-Baku massacres and the genocide. Moreover, there is an ideology and attitude of perpetrators in both cases played an important role. There were cases in Turkey where officials refused to follow the orders of the central government and to carry out execution of innocent people and many Turks hid their Armenian neighbors in their houses, thus saving their lives. The same way some
Azerbaijanis treated Armenians, as interviews with survivors testify.
However, the overwhelming majority of Azerbaijanis and Turks celebrated festively deaths of Armenians, and that was common in both cases.

Although, the pogroms in Sumgait and Baku resemble more the pogroms of the late nineteenth century rather than the genocide of 19154, yet the methodology and ultimate purpose were figuring as major aspects of projecting the genocide of 1915 to massacres in 1988-90. The political environment was also an important element of the turmoil, for if Armenians didnt side with Russians in the early twentieth century and if Armenians didnt claim reunification with Karabakh in the late nineteenth century, all of the bloodshed would have not, perhaps, take place at all. [25]

The Karabakh crisis reveal much about the transgenerational psychological impact of genocide. In the best of circumstances, the trauma persists for decades, even generations and manifests itself in a very unexpected way. The trauma is clearly compounded when the perpetrators are left unpunished, when there are no acts of contrition or indemnification, and when external society or governments find it inexpedient to join in remembrance. Historical memory forcefully shapes contemporary outlook. The past is present[26].

[1] Alfred Schultz, The Phenomenology of the Social World (Evanston,
Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1967)
[2] Donald E. Miller ,The Role of Historical Memory in Interpreting events in the Republic of Armenia,in Richard G. Hovanessian (ed.) Remembrance and Denial (Detroit, Michigan, Wayne State University Press, 1998) p.187
[3] Frank Chalk Redefining Genocide, ed. George J. Andreopulos Genocide:
Conceptual and Historical Dimensions (Philadelphia, University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1994) pp. 48-50.
[4] Richard G Hovanessian Etiology and Sequelae of the Armenian Genocide ed. George J. Andreopulos Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions
(Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994) pp.111-112
[5] Donald Miller The role of Historical Memory in Interpreting Events in the republic of Armenia, ed. Richard G. Hovanessian Remembrance and Denial
(Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1998) p. 197
[6] R. G. Hovanissian Etiology and Sequelae of the Armenian Genocide, ed.
G.J. Andreopulus Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania University Press, 1994) pp.117-121
[7] Gerald J. Libardian The Ultimate Repression: The Genocide of the
Armenians, 1915-1917 in I. Walliman and M. Dobkowski (ed.) Genocide and the Modern Age (Westport, Connecticut, Grrenwood Press, 1987) p. 204
[8] Ibid., p. 205
[9] Ibid., pp. 204-206
[10] Richard G. Hovanissian Etiology and Sequelae of the Armenian
Genocide, G.J. Andreopulus (ed.) Genocide: Conceptual and Historical
Dimensions (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania University Press, 1944) p. 115
[11] Pierre Verluise Armenia in Crisis, The 1988 Earthquake (Detroit, Wayne
State University Press, 1995) p. 82
[12] Pierre Verluise Armenia in Crisis, The 1988 Earthquake, (Michigan,
Wayne State University Press, 1995) p.82
[13] Alexander Benigsen The Caucasian Fuse, Arabies, nos. 19-20
(July/August 1988)

[14] Pierre Verluise Armenia in Crisis, The 1988 Earthquake, (Michigan,
Wayne State University Press, 1995) pp. 82-83
[15] Pierre Verluise Armenia in Crisis, The 1988 Earthquake (Detroit, Wayne
State University Press) p.83
[16] Uwe Halbach Anatomy of an Escalation: The Nationality Question,
Federal Institute for Soviet and International Studies (ed.) The Soviet
Union 1988-1989, Perestroika in Crisis? (San Francisco, Westview Press,
1990) p.73
[17] Pr, 8 February 1986
[18] Uwe Halbach Anatomy of Escalation: The Nationality Question, Federal
Institute for Soviet and International Studies (ed.) The Soviet Union 1988-
1989, Perstroika in Crisis? (San Francisco, Westview Press, 1990) p. 74
[19] Pierre Verluisse Armenia in Crisis, The 1988 Earthquake (Detroit,
Wayne State University, 1995) p. 86
[20] Donald E. Miller The Role of Historical Memory in Interpreting Events in the Republic of Armenia Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.) Remembrance and
Denial (Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1998) p. 191
[21] Richard G. Hovannisian Etiology and Sequelae of the Armenian
Genocide, G. Andreopoulos (ed.) Genocide: Conceptual and Historical
Dimensions (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press,1994) p.116
[22] Pierre Verluise Armenia in Crisis, The 1988 Earthquake (Detroit, Wayne
State University Press, 1995), p. 89
[23] Donald E. Miller The Role of Historical Memory in Interpreting Events in the Republic of Armenia, Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.) Remembrance and
Denial: The Case of Armenian Genocide (Detroit, Wayne State University
Press, 1998) pp. 192-195
[24] Ibid., pp. 196-197
[25] Ibid., pp. 197-199
[26] Richard G. Hovannisian Etiology and Sequelae of the Armenian
Genocide, George J. Andreopoulos (ed.) Genocide: Conceptual and Historical
Dimensions (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press,1994) p.117