Shusha massacre

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Shusha 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
Location Nagorno-Karabakh (disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia)
Date March 1920
Target Armenian civilians
Attack type
Massacre,[1] Riots, Pogrom
Deaths 30,000 (estimated)

The Shusha massacre (Armenian: Շուշիի ջարդերShushii charder) was the mass killing of the Armenian population of Shusha and the destruction of the Armenian half of the city that followed the suppression of the Armenian revolt[2][3][4] against the authorities of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1920.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

The event 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. It resulted in the complete destruction of the Armenian-populated quarters of Shusha and the elimination of the town's Armenian population.


Armenian half of Shusha destroyed by Azerbaijani armed forces in 1920, with the defiled cathedral of the Holy Savior and Aguletsots church on the background
Ruins of Armenian part of Shusha after the 1920 pogrom. On the background - Armenian church of the Holy Mother of God (Kanach Zham).
Armenian quarters of the city of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh after the massacre, with the defiled Armenian cathedral of the Holy Savior on the background

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

The government of Azerbaijan proclaimed in Baku about the annexation of the disputed territory and, on January 15, 1919, appointed Khosrov bek Sultanov, the "owner of vast tracts of Karabagh ... an ardent pan-Turkist, a friend of the Ittihadists of Constantinople, and a terror to all Armenians",[15] as governor-general of Karabagh. Britain (which had a small detachment of troops stationed in Shusha) agreed to Sultanov's appointment as a 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 pretense of Azerbaijan with regard to Armenian Karabagh, which said Assembly has declared an integral part of Armenia".[16]

On April 23, 1919 the National Council of Karabagh met again in Shusha and rejected again 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 fortress. Shots were fired, but when the British mediated, Armenians agreed to surrender to them.[15]

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".[17] 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 Azeri mounted "irregulars", about 2,000 strong, attacked, looted and burnt a large Armenian village, Khaibalikend, just outside Shusha, and approximately 600 Armenians lay dead.[15]

The seventh Congress of the Armenians of Karabagh was convened in Shusha on August 13, 1919. It concluded with the agreement of August 22, 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 February 19, 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".[18] 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".[18] Armenians of Karabakh prepared a revolt against the Azerbaijani power.[19]


According to Richard Hovannisian, the failure at Khankendi sealed the doom of Shusha. "As planned, the Varanda militia entered Shushi 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 Shushi by surprise. Several thousand fled under cover of the dense fog by way of Karintak into the Varanda countryside.[20][page needed]

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 to have murdered the Azerbaijani half during the latter's traditional Novruz Bayram holiday celebrations.[21]


According to Richard Hovannisian, "Azerbaijani troops, joined by the city’s Azerbaijani inhabitants, turned Armenian Shushi 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, including Bolshevik Alexander Tsaturyan, were among the 500 Armenian victims".[22]

According to the description of Azerbaijani communist Odzhakhkuli Musayev, "a ruthless destruction of defenceless women, children, old women and old men began. Armenians were exposed to a mass slaughter .... And what beautiful Armenian girls were raped and then shot. ... At an order of ... Khosrov-bek Sultanov, pogroms proceeded for more than six days, houses in the Armenian part were crushed, plundered and reduced all to ashes, everyone led women away whenever they wished, to musavatist executioners. During these historically "artful" punishments Khosrov-bek Sultanov, keeping speeches, talked to Moslems about holy war (Jihad) and called on to them to finish off the Armenians of city Shusha, not sparing women, children, etc." [23]

According to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (Third Edition, 1970), these events contributed to the death of 2,096 of the city's population. Subsequently, only a few Armenian families remained.[24]

Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote about Shusha in the 1920s: " this town, which formerly, of course, was healthy and 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 downtown, in the market-square there were a lot of people, but there wasn't any Armenian among them, they were all Muslims."[25]

On January 21, 1936, in the Moscow Kremlin, during the reception of the delegation from the Azerbaijan SSR, Sergo Ordzhonikidze remembers his visit to destroyed Shusha: "Even today I remember what I saw in Shusha in 1920, with horror. The most beautiful Armenian town was completely destroyed, and in the wells we saw corpses of women and children."[26]

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.[27]


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).[28] Estimates of casualty figures are uncertain and varied: 500[20][29] to 20,000–30,000 Armenian victims[30][31][32][33][34] – and destruction of many buildings in Shusha.


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 at the mountains.[35][36]

One of the Komsomol leaders of the Azerbaijan SSR, Olga Shatunovskaya, later wrote in her memoirs: "Azerbaijan didn't want to lose the power as Nagorno-Karabakh is a great region. It's autonomous but only nominally, during these years they ousted many Armenians, closed schools and colleges. Earlier, the main city was Shusha. When in the 1920s there was a massacre, they burnt all the central part of the town, and then they didn't even restore it."[37]

Two prominent Armenian-Russian Communist activists, Anastas Mikoyan and Marietta Shaginyan, wrote about the massacres in their memoirs.[38] Mikoyan, who was in the region, later remarked: "According to the reconnaissance information, at Azerbaijani Mousavatist government's disposal was army of 30-thousands, of whom 20 thousands deployed near the border of Armenia... The army of Azerbaijan shortly before that massacred the Armenians in Shusha, Karabakh."[39]

Russian-Georgian writer Anaida Bestavashvili in her "The people and the monuments" publication compares the pogroms and the burning of Shusha to the tragedy of Pompeii.[40]

Historian Christopher J. Walker wrote, in regard of Sultanov's activities, "The Karabagh affair was a grave one for the British. Accusations of direct British complicity in Armenian massacre cannot really be sustained; but the killings were a result of the almost unconscious British tendency to support 'our traditional friends' – the wealthy – and to disregard the wishes of the majority".[15]

Research analyst Kalli Raptis wrote in her book Nagorno-Karabakh and the Eurasian Transport Corridor, "In July 1918, the First Armenian Assembly of Nagorno Karabakh declared the region self-governing and created a national Council and government. In August 1919, the Karabakh national Council entered into a provisional treaty arrangement with the Azerbaijani government in order to avoid military conflict with a superior adversary". Azerbaijan's violation of the treaty culminated in March 1920 with the massacre of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, Shushi (called Shusha by the Azerbaijanis)".[41]

The Armenia, Armenia: about the country and the people from the biblical times to our days reference book considers the pogroms of Shusha as a part of genocide of Armenians practiced all over Eastern Armenia: "Shushi, the capital of Karabakh was seized by Azerbaijani nationalists on March 23, 1920, over 20.000 Armenians were killed and 7000 houses, libraries, churches, cemeteries and pantheons were leveled in three days and three nights."[42]

Prof. Richard G. Hovannisian wrote about the massacres: "Finally, in August 1919, the Karabagh National Assembly yielded to provisional and conditional Azerbaijani jurisdiction. The twenty-six conditions strictly limited the Azerbaijani administrative and military presence in the region and underscored the internal autonomy of Mountainous Karabagh. Violations of those conditions by Azerbaijan culminated in an abortive rebellion in March 1920. In retribution, the Azerbaijani forces burned the beautiful city of Shushi, hanged Bishop Vahan, and massacred much of the population. It was the end of Armenian Shushi."[43]

Modern journalist Thomas de Waal wrote in his book Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War about these events:[44]

In Karabakh, the Armenian community was split between the age-old dilemma of cooperation or confrontation. There were those – primarily Dashnaks and villagers – who wanted unification with Armenia, and those – mainly Bolsheviks, merchants, and professionals – who, in the words of the Armenian historian Richard Hovannisian, “admitted that the district was economically with eastern Transcaucasia and sought accommodation with the Azerbaijani government as the only way to spare Mountainous Karabagh from ruin”. The latter group was mainly concentrated in Shusha, but both groups were killed or expelled when an Armenian rebellion was brutally put down in March 1920 with a toll of hundreds of Shusha Armenians. He also wrote that "In March 1920, an Azerbaijani army sacked the town, burning the Armenian quarter and killing some five hundred Armenians."[29]

According to Tim Potier: Following the October Revolution, Karabakh became part of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan, although its control was hotly disputed by Ottoman and British forces, as well as, of course, Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Eventually, however, the British re-affirmed Azerbaijani jurisdiction over Karabakh by appointing a Muslim governor at Shusha. Shusha had, by this time, come to be regarded by the Armenian people as an Armenian cultural center and it was not until 28 February 1920 that the Armenian elders of Shusha reluctantly agreed to recognise Azerbaijan's authority. The situation was to alter following the events of 4 April, when a mass exodus of Armenians from Shusha to nearby Khankendi (Stepanakert, today the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh), following an Armenian uprising put down by Azeri forces, transformed, almost overnight, Shusha into an Azeri city.[45]

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.[46]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]



  1. ^ The Journal of international relations, Volume 10 By Clark University-page 252
  2. ^ Thomas de Waal. Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, p. 128. ISBN 0814719449
  3. ^ Michael P. Croissant. The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Causes and Implications. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. ISBN 0275962415, 9780275962418, p. 17
  4. ^ Tim Potier. Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia: A Legal Appraisal. ISBN 9041114777
  5. ^ Edward Thomas Devine, Paul Underwood Kellogg, The Survey, Volume 43, Survey Associates, Charity Organization Society of the City of New York, 1920, p. 346 "...caused a recent exodus of over two thousand Armenians form Shusha (survivors of a Tartar post-war massacre there) through hostile villages to the nearest rail point..."
  6. ^ S. Neil MacFarlane, Oliver Thränert,, Balancing hegemony: the OSCE in the CIS, Centre for International Relations, 1997, p. 71 "Another event of the period was the massacre in March 1920 of Armenians in Shusha, the historic centre of Karabakh, which shifted its ethnic status from an Armenian-dominated town to an Azeri-dominated one."
  7. ^ Brook, Stephen (1993). Claws of the crab: Georgia and Armenia in crisis. p. 326. In the 1920s a massacre of Armenians led to an Azeri majority in the town. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ (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."
    "British administrator of Karabakh colonel Shuttleworth didn't impede 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."
  10. ^ Verluise, Pierre (April 1995), Armenia in Crisis: The 1988 Earthquake, Wayne State University Press, p. 6, ISBN 0814325270 
  11. ^ "exterminé la population arménienne dans l'ancienne capitale Chouchi au début du 20ème siècle." La nation, un concept républicain (14ème partie): les solutions républicaines fondées sur les états-nations pour des conflits actuels, par Valentin Boudras-Chapon // ReSPUBLICA journal, Mardi 22 mai 2007
  12. ^ "Situation des réfugiés et déplacés d'origine arménienne sur le territoire de l'ex-Union soviétique" (PDF). Commission des recours des refugies (in French). De 1918 à 1920, les républiques indépendantes d’Arménie et d’Azerbaïdjan se sont disputées le contrôle du Karabagh, pour des raisons symboliques et stratégiques. Des pogroms et des incendies anéantissent le quartier arménien de Chouchi en février 1920. 
  13. ^ 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)
  14. ^ For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism, and War By Stephen M. Saideman, R. William Ayres
  15. ^ a b c d "Armenia: The Survival of a Nation", revised second edition, 1990, by Christopher J. Walker, page 270
  16. ^ "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."
  17. ^ The New York Times, Sept. 4, 1919. "Nurses stuck to post"
  18. ^ a b "Nagorno Karabagh in 1918–1920" Archived 2008-01-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ The Armenian People from ancient to modern times, ed. by prof. Richard G. Hovannisian, USA, 1997, Vol. II, p. 318: «Finally, in August 1919, the Karabagh National Assembly yielded to provisional and conditional Azerbaijani jurisdiction. The twenty-six conditions strictly limited the Azerbaijani administrative and military presence in the region and underscored the internal autonomy of Mountainous Karabagh. Violations of those conditions by Azerbaijan culminated in an abortive rebellion in March 1920. In retribution, the Azerbaijani forces burned the beautiful city of Shushi, hanged Bishop Vahan, and massacred much of the population. It was the end of Armenian Shushi.»
  20. ^ a b Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. III: From London to Sèvres, February–August 1920
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. III: From London to Sèvres, February–August 1920 p.152
  23. ^ Институт Истории АН Армении, Главное архивное управление при СМ Республики Армения, Кафедра истории армянского народла Ереванского Государственного Университета. Нагорный Карабах в 1918–1923 гг. Сборник документов и материалов. Ереван, 1992. Документ №443: из письма члена компартии Азербайджана Оджахкули Мусаева правительству РСФСР. стр. 638–639 (Institute of History of the Academy of sciences of Armenia, the Main archival department at Ministerial council of Republic Armenia, Faculty of history of Armenian people of the Yerevan State University. Nagorny Karabakh per 1918–1923. Collection of documents and materials. Yerevan, 1992. The document №443: from the letter of a member of communist party of Azerbaijan Odzhakhkuli Musayev to the government of RSFSR. рр. 638–639)
  24. ^ Great Soviet Encyclopedia, vol. 17, London, Collier Macmillan, 1973, p. 301. quoted by Tim Potier. Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia: A Legal Appraisal. ISBN 90-411-1477-7
  25. ^ (in Russian) Н. Я. Мандельштам. Книга третья. Париж, YMCA-Ргess, 1987, с.162–164.
  26. ^ Партиздат ЦК ВКП(б), 1936, с. 60–63
  27. ^ "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)
  28. ^ «Кавказский календарь» на 1917 год. Тифлис, 1916, p. 190—196
  29. ^ a b Thomas de Waal. Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War. ISBN 0-8147-1944-9
  30. ^ Giovanni Guaita (2001). "Armenia between the Bolshevik hammer and Kemalist anvil". 1700 Years of Faithfulness: History of Armenia and its Churches. Moscow: FAM. ISBN 5-89831-013-4. 
  31. ^ "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, Shushi, in which it is estimated that more than 20,000 Armenians were killed.  External link in |work= (help)
  32. ^ Why IDPs Matter in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict by Seepan V. Parseghian, p.5
  33. ^ Historic Maps of Armenia: The Cartographic Heritage – Page 7 by Rouben Galichian
  34. ^ Russian analysts Igor Babanov and Konstantin Voevodsky write that "On March, 1920, during the occupation of Shusha town, 30 thousand Armenians were massacred". / Игорь Бабанов, Константин Воеводский, Карабахский кризис, Санкт-Петербург, 1992
  35. ^ Осип Мандельштам, Фаэтонщик, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-08-13. Retrieved 2007-08-29. 
  36. ^ Осип Мандельштам. Сочинения. В 2-х т. Т.1, с.517–519.
  37. ^ (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
  38. ^ "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
  39. ^ (in Russian) Микоян Анастас. Так было (воспоминания),
  40. ^ Anaida Bestavashvili, Lyudi i pamyatniki (in Russian)[permanent dead link] // Армянский вестник, # 1–2, 2000
  41. ^ Kalli Raptis. "Nagorno-Karabakh and the Eurasian Transport Corridor" (PDF). Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy. massacre of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, Shushi (called Shusha by the Azerbaijanis)" [dead link]
  42. ^ Armenia, Armenia: about the country and the people from the Biblical times to our days", a reference-book, by V. Krivopuskov, V. Osipov, V. Alyoshkin and others, ed. V.V. Krivopuskov, Third ed., revised and expanded. Moscow, Golos-Press, 2007. 136 p., p. 30-31, ISBN 978-5-7117-0179-8
  43. ^ The Armenian People from ancient to modern times, ed. by prof. Richard G. Hovannisian, USA, 1997, Vol. II, p. 318
  44. ^ de Waal, Thomas (2003). Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. New York: New York University Press. pp. 51–25. ISBN 9780814719459. 
  45. ^ Tim Potier. Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia: A Legal Appraisal. ISBN 90-411-1477-7
  46. ^ Nagornyy Karabakh marks 80th anniversary of 1920 Armenian pogroms, Noyan Tapan, 24 Mar. 2000