Shusha massacre

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Shushi massacre
Ruins of the Armenian part of the city of Shusha after the March 1920 pogrom by Azerbaijani armed units. In the center - church of the Holy Savior.jpg
Ruins of the Armenian half of Shusha after the city's destruction by Azerbaijani army in March 1920. In the center: defaced Armenian Ghazanchetsots Cathedral
LocationNagorno-Karabakh (disputed between Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and First Republic of Armenia)
DateMarch 1920
TargetArmenian civilians
Attack type
Massacre, riots, pogrom
Deaths500 [1] up to 20,000 Armenians[2]

The Shusha massacre or Shushi massacre (Armenian: Շուշիի ջարդեր, romanizedShushii charder), also known as the Shusha pogrom, was the mass killing of the Armenian population of Shusha and the destruction of the Armenian half of the city in 1920[3][4]

The massacre took place between 22 and 26 March 1920, and had as its background a conflict over competing claims of ownership of the region by Armenia and Azerbaijan.


Shusha's Armenian quarters in the aftermath of their destruction by Azerbaijani army in March 1920. In the background: defiled Cathedral of the Holy Savior and Aguletsots church.
Ruins of the Armenian part of Shusha after the 1920 pogrom. In back is the church of the Holy Mother of God (Kanach Zham).
The Armenian quarter of Shusha after the massacre, with the Holy Saviour cathedral in the back.

At the end of the First World War, the ownership of the territory of Nagorno-Karabagh was disputed between the newly founded states of the Democratic Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Shusha – the territory's largest settlement, its capital, and with a mixed population consisting mostly of ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis – found themselves at the centre of the dispute.

The government of Azerbaijan proclaimed in Baku the annexation of the disputed territory and, on January 15, 1919, appointed Khosrov bek Sultanov,[5] as governor-general of Karabagh. The United Kingdom had a small detachment of troops stationed in Shusha and acceded to Sultanov's appointment as provisional governor, but insisted that a final decision on the territory's ownership should be decided only at a future peace conference.

In response to Sultanov's appointment, the General Assembly of the Armenians of Karabagh (Armenian National Council of Karabagh), meeting in Shusha on February 19, "rejected with legitimate indignation all pretence of Azerbaijan with regard to Armenian Karabagh, which said Assembly has declared an integral part of Armenia".[6]

On April 23, 1919, the National Council of Karabagh met again in Shusha and again rejected Azerbaijan's claim of sovereignty, insisting on their right of self-determination. After this, a local Azerbaijani detachment encircled the Armenian quarters of Shusha, demanding the inhabitants to surrender the fortress. Shots were fired, but when the British mediated, Armenians agreed to surrender to them instead.[5]

On the 4 and 5 June 1919, armed clashes occurred in Shusha between the two communities and Sultanov began a blockade of the town's Armenian quarters. American nurses working in Shusha for Near East Relief wrote of a massacre "by Tartars of 700 of the Christian inhabitants of the town".[7] A cease-fire was quickly organised after the Armenian side agreed to Sultanov's condition that members of the Armenian National Council leave the town. However, a new wave of violence then swept through neighbouring Armenian-populated villages: in mid-June Azerbaijani mounted "irregulars", about 2,000 strong, attacked, looted and burnt a large Armenian village, Khaibalikend, just outside Shusha, and approximately 600 Armenians lay dead.[5]

The seventh Congress of the Armenians of Karabagh was convened in Shusha on 13 August 1919. It concluded with the agreement of 22 August, according to which Nagorno-Karabagh would consider itself to be provisionally within the borders of the Republic of Azerbaijan until its final status was decided at the Peace Conference in Paris.

On 19 February 1920 Sultanov issued a demand that the Armenian National Council of Karabagh "urgently to solve the question of the final incorporation of Karabagh into Azerbaijan".[8] The Council, at their eighth congress held from 23 February to 4 March, responded that Azerbaijan's demand violated the terms of the 22nd August provisional agreement and warned that "repetition of the events will compel the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh to turn to appropriate means for defence".[8] Armenians of Karabakh prepared a revolt against Azerbaijani authority.[9]


According to Richard Hovannisian, the failure at Khankendi sealed the doom of Shusha. "As planned, the Varanda militia entered Shusha on the evening of March 22, supposedly to receive its pay and to felicitate Governor-General Sultanov on the occasion of Novruz Bairam. That same night, about 100 armed men led by Nerses Azbekian slipped into the city to disarm the Azerbaijani garrison in the Armenian quarter. But everything went wrong. The Varanda militiamen spent most of the night eating and drinking and were late in taking up their assigned positions, whereas Azbekian's detachment, failing to link up with the militia, began firing on the Azerbaijani fort from afar, awakening the troops and sending them scurrying to arms. It was only then that the Varanda militiamen were roused and began seizing Azerbaijani officers quartered in Armenian homes. The confusion on both sides continued until dawn, when the Azerbaijanis learned that their garrison at Khankend had held and, heartened, began to spread out into the Armenian quarter. The fighting took the Armenians of Shusha by surprise. Several thousand fled under cover of the dense fog by way of Karintak into the Varanda countryside."[1]

Audrey L. Altstadt writes, referring to a British correspondent in Baku, that representatives of Allied Powers in the region decided that the police of Karabakh should be made up of equal numbers of Armenians and Azerbaijanis; however, in late March 1920, the Armenian half of the police murdered the Azerbaijani half during the latter's traditional Novruz Bayram holiday celebrations.[10]


According to Richard Hovannisian, "Azerbaijani troops, joined by the city's Azerbaijani inhabitants, turned Armenian Shusha into an inferno. From March 23 to 26, some 2,000 structures were consumed in the flames, including the churches and consistory, cultural institutions, schools, libraries, the business section and the grand homes of the merchant class. Bishop Vahan (Ter-Grigorian), long an advocate of accommodation with the Azerbaijani authorities, paid the price of retribution, as his tongue was torn out before his head was cut off and paraded through the streets on a spike. The chief of police, Avetis Ter-Ghukasian, was turned into a human torch, and many intellectuals were among the 500 Armenian victims."[1]

The former Minister of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Behbud Khan Javanshir, was assassinated during Operation Nemesis of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation for his involvement in these events.[11]

Human toll[edit]

According to the latest statistical data published in Caucasus calendar in 1917, in 1916 just before the Russian revolution, the population of the town of Shusha was 43,869, of which 23,396 (53%) were Armenians, and 19,121 (44%) were Tatars (Azerbaijanis).[12] A conservative estimate by Hovannisian places the death toll at 500 Armenians and the destruction of many buildings in Shusha.[1]


The prominent Russian poet Osip Mandelstam who was in Shusha in 1931 wrote a poem ("The Phaeton Driver") dedicated to the Shusha massacres:

So in Nagorno-Karabakh
These were my fears
Forty thousand dead windows
Are visible there from all directions,
The cocoon of soulless work
Buried in the mountains.[13][14]

Visiting Shusha several years after its devastation together with Osip, Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote, "in this town, which formerly, of course, was healthy and endowed with every amenity, the picture of catastrophe and massacres was terribly vivid ... They say after the massacres all the wells were full of corpses.... We didn't see anyone in the streets or on the mountain. Only in the centre of town, in the market-square, there were a lot of people, but there wasn't any Armenian among them, they were all Muslims."[15] Numerous other communist officials recalled the destruction of the town, including, Sergo Ordzhonikidze,[16] Olga Shatunovskaya,[17] and Anastas Mikoyan and Marietta Shaginyan,[18] Russian-Georgian writer Anaida Bestavashvili drew a comparison between the burning of Shusha to the destruction of Pompeii in her The People and the Monuments.[19]

On March 20, 2000, a memorial stone was laid in Shusha on the site of the planned monument to the victims of the pogrom. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic government introduced a proposal to the National Assembly to establish March 23 as a day of memorial of the victims of the Shusha pogroms.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. III: From London to Sèvres, February–August 1920 p. 152.
  2. ^ "The Nagorno-Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution" (PDF). Public International Law & Policy Group and the New England Center for International Law & Policy. June 2000. p. 3. In August 1919, the Karabagh National Council entered into a provisional treaty agreement with the Azerbaijani government. Despite signing the Agreement, the Azerbaijani government continuously violated the terms of the treaty. This culminated in March 1920 with the Azerbaijanis' massacre of Armenians in Karabagh's former capital, Shusha, in which it is estimated that more than 20,000 Armenians were killed.
  3. ^ Chorbajian, Levon (1994). The Caucasian Knot: The History & Geopolitics of Nagorno-Karabagh. London: Zed Books. p. 141. ISBN 9781856492881. The city of Shushi, formerly the third largest city in Transcaucasia, saw its Armenian population decimated by the massacre of March 1920.
  4. ^ (in Russian) A. Zubov, Политическое будущее Кавказа: опыт ретроспективно-сравнительного анализа (Political future of the Caucasus),"Znamiya" journal, 2000, #4 "Британская администрация почему-то передала населенные армянами уезды Елизаветпольской губернии под юрисдикцию Азербайджана. Британский администратор Карабаха полковник Шательворт не препятствовал притеснениям армян, чинимым татарской администрацией губернатора Салтанова. Межнациональные трения завершились страшной резней, в которой погибла большая часть армян города Шуши. Бакинский парламент отказался даже осудить свершителей Шушинской резни, и в Карабахе вспыхнула война."
    "The British administrator of Karabakh, Colonel D.I. Shuttleworth did not interfere with the discrimination of Armenians by Tatarian administration of governor Saltanov. The national clashes ended by the terrible massacres in which the most of Armenians in Shusha town perished. The Parliament in Baku refused even condemn the accomplishers of the massacres in Shusha and the war was started in Karabakh."
  5. ^ a b c "Armenia: The Survival of a Nation", revised second edition, 1990, by Christopher J. Walker, page 270
  6. ^ "letter from Avetis Aharonian, president of the delegation of the Republic of Armenia, addressed to the presidents of the delegations of Italy, France, England, and the U.S."
  7. ^ "Nurses Stuck to Post," The New York Times, 4 September 1919.
  8. ^ a b "Nagorno Karabagh in 1918–1920" Archived 2008-01-24 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ The Armenian People from ancient to modern times, ed. by Richard G. Hovannisian, USA, 1997, Vol. II, p. 318.
  10. ^ Audrey L. Altstadt. Azerbaijani Turks: Power and Identity Under Russian Rule. Hoover Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8179-9182-4, ISBN 978-0-8179-9182-1, p. 103
  11. ^ "Помимо лидеров младотурок руководство операции "Немезис" приняло решение о ликвидации некоторых деятелей мусаватистского правительства Азербайджана, виновных, по их мнению, в организации резни армян в Баку в сентябре 1918 г. – бывшего премьер-министра Фатали хана Хойского (июнь 1920 г.), а также бывшего министра Бехбуд хана Дживаншира (июль 1921 г.), организатора резни армян в Шуши (Карабах)." I. P. Dobaev, V. I. Nemchina: И.П.Добаев, В.И.Немчина. Новый терроризм в мире и на Юге России: сущность, эволюция, опыт противодействия (Ростов н/Д., 2005)
  12. ^ Kavkazskii Kalendar na 1917 god. Tiflis, 1916, pp. 190–196.
  13. ^ Osip Mandelstam, "Faetonshchik," "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-08-13. Retrieved 2007-08-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Osip Mandelstam. Sochineniia. 2 vols. (Moscow, 1990) 1: pp. 517–519.
  15. ^ (in Russian) N. Ya. Mandelstam. Kniga tretia. Paris: YMCA-Ргess, 1987, pp. 162–164.
  16. ^ Partizdat TsK VKP (b), 1936, pp. 60–63.
  17. ^ (in Russian) Шатуновская О. Г . Об ушедшем веке. Рассказывает Ольга Шатуновская / сост.: Д. Кутьина, А. Бройдо, А. Кутьин. – La Jolla (Calif.) : DAA Books, 2001. – 470 с., c. 71
  18. ^ "Here during the 3 days in March 1920, 7000 houses were destroyed and burnt, and the people are marking different numbers of that who were massacred...". (in Russian) Marietta Shaginyan, "Soviet Transcaucasus", Armgiz, 1947, p. 254
  19. ^ Anaida Bestavashvili, Lyudi i pamyatniki (in Russian)[permanent dead link] // Армянский вестник, # 1–2, 2000
  20. ^ Nagornyy Karabakh marks 80th anniversary of 1920 Armenian pogroms, Noyan Tapan, 24 Mar. 2000

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