- Armenian Literature, History, Religion in in Russian

Luigi Villari


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THE connection between Russia and the Armenian people dates from the time of Peter the Great, although even before his reign a certain number of Armenians had found their way into Russia. Until that monarch's expedition to Baku in 1722, practically the whole of the Armenian race were living within the dominions of the Turkish Sultan or the Persian Shah. Most of them dwelt on the border territory between Turkey and Persia, which formed a battle-ground between those two Powers. “ Oriental frontiers,” writes “ Odysseus,” “ are generally vague, unless they have been ‘rectified’ by European commissions, and it is one of the maxims of Oriental statecraft that it is a good thing to keep the border districts desolate and depopulated, in order that when your enemies invade your territory they may not find much in the way of supplies, and may have some difficulty in advancing. The Armenians suffered severely from the application of this principle. Devoid of all national government, they were raided alternately by Turks and Persians, and harried continuously by local Mussulman chiefs. The government exercised by

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Turkey and Persia alike meant little but the exaction of tribute and taxes, with occasional sanguinary reminders that it was the business of Christians to keep quiet."

But after the Russians began to advance into the Caucasus and seized Baku and Derbent, the Armenians, oppressed and persecuted by their Mohammedan masters, applied, through their Patriarch Isaiah, to the Tzar for permission to settle in his territories, where they would enjoy freedom of conscience and a right to live in peace. Peter willingly granted this request, and ordered his representatives to protect them in every way. The wily Romanoff saw in the Armenian people a most useful instrument for the advancement of his Middle and Near Eastern policy, a race widely scattered over the dominions of Turkey and Persia who might be employed against those Powers at the opportune moment. Armenians were granted many exemptions and privileges, and admitted into the ranks of the Russian army and public service, while commercial colonies of them were established in all the chief towns of the Empire. Peter’s successors followed a similar policy, and the immigration of Armenians continued and increased.

Where the Armenians were most cruelly persecuted was in South-Eastern Transcaucasia, which was then ruled by Tartar khans or princes under the nominal suzerainty of Persia. The chief khanates were those of Baku, Derbent, Shemakha, Nukha, Erivan, Nakhitchevan, and Ghanja (Elizavetpol). It was from these districts that the Armenians emigrated in the largest numbers. Throughout the XVIII. century,

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Russia advanced steadily, ever wresting fresh territories from Turkey and Persia, and every new conquest was followed by a further influx of Armenians from over the border. Sometimes even those who remained behind sent their property to Russia for safe keeping. The Gregorian Armenian Church thus came to have most of its estates in European Russia. Under Catherine II. fresh privileges were conferred on the Armenians and new colonies of refugees were founded, some of which bear the names of the ancient homes of the people, such as Nakhitchevan-on-the-Don and Armavir (Kuban territory).

With the annexation of Georgia in 1800 Russia further increased the number of her Armenian subjects. Wherever she advanced into Mohammedan countries she found the Armenians friendly and helpful, for they regarded her as their deliverer. Nay, the very generals commanding the Russian invading armies were often Armenians, such as Lazareff and Loris Melikoff. It is indeed safe to say that but for the Armenians, Russia would never have conquered the Caucasus. Baku, which had been handed back to Persia in 1735, was reoccupied in 1806 ; the province of Karabagh which contained the semi-independent Armenian communities known as the Melikates, the last survivals of Armenian feudalism, in 1813; the khanates of Erivan and Nakhitchevan were conquered in 1828—29 after a last war with Persia ; this was a most important annexation from the Armenian point of view, for not only did the territory contain a large Armenian population, but it comprised the monastery of Etchmiadzin, the religious capital of Armenia, and a

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large number of Armenians fought on the Russian side. Akhaltzykh was occupied after the war with Turkey in 1829; and finally, in the campaign of 1877-78, Kars, which had already been twice taken from the Turks and given back to them, was definitely annexed. Numbers of Armenians emigrated from the districts which the Russians had occupied in these various campaigns but did not hold; thus 10,000 families from Erzerum followed the Russian army out of Turkey after the peace of Adrianople (1829), and 40,000 refugees from Azerbajan did the same after the Treaty of Turkoman Chai in the same year; other immigrations took place in 1878.

The result of these conquests was that the bulk of the Armenians, formerly divided between Turkey and Persia, came to be divided between Russia and Turkey ; Turkey has now 1,500,000 Armenian subjects, Russia 1,200,000, only a few hundred thousands remaining in Persia and other parts of the world.

Under Russian auspices the Armenians flourished and progressed in every way, and from the status of miserable rayahs of Moslem taskmasters they rose rapidly to that of a wealthy and active bourgeoisie. We find them as bankers, merchants, shopkeepers, manufacturers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, and officials all over the Caucasus, and even in European Russia. The Baku oil industry is largely due to Armenian enterprise ; at Tiflis, the ancient capital of Georgia, the Armenians form over a third of the population, have practically all the business of the town in their hands, own most of the house property, and constitute 80 per cent, of the town council. Even in the Russian

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army Armenians occupied high positions; the Com-mander-in-Chief of the Russian forces in the Asiatic campaign of 1877 was General Loris Melikoff, an Armenian from Lori, and one of his ablest lieutenants was General Ter-Gukassoff, also an Armenian. The same Loris Melikoff afterwards became chief Minister to Alexander II.; he was all-powerful for a time, and is believed to have drawn up a constitution which would have been promulgated had not the Tzar been assassinated in 1881.

The affection of the Armenian people for Russia is thus easy to understand. Under Russian rule, although subject to all the disabilities of citizens of an autocratic Empire, and to those entailed by a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy, they were at least not liable to periodical massacres ; no bar was placed on their advancement in any profession ; their property was comparatively secure ; and if the conditions of public safety in Transcaucasia left much to be desired, they were incomparably better than those obtaining in Turkey or Persia. The Russian Armenians tended to assimilate themselves to their rulers in many respects. Although attached to their nationality and language, they regarded themselves more or less as Russians, talked Russian almost as much as Armenian, at all events, in the towns, and even Russified their names by changing the terminations ian and iantz into off or eff.

In the meanwhile the misgovernment and persecution of the Armenians in Turkey was going from bad to worse, and they were now beginning to dream of imitating the other Christian peoples of

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the Ottoman Empire, the Rumanians, the Greeks, the Serbs, and the Bulgars, and throwing off the Turkish yoke. In the middle of the XIX. century Armenian societies were formed in Paris and elsewhere advocating the idea of a revived Armenian nation, and the history of the ancient Armenian kingdom was studied diligently and evoked visions. During the Russo-Turkish war of 1877 many Armenians were massacred by the Turks for their real or supposed complicity with the Russians. The Berlin Treaty and the Anglo-Turkish Convention of 1878 contained clauses obliging Turkey to institute reforms “ in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians.” But the reforms were never executed, and the discontent of the Armenians took the form of active revolutionary agitation. Turkey being too uncomfortable a place to hatch plots in, Tiflis became the centre of the movement, which the Russian Government did not discourage. In fact, whenever a question between Turkey and Russia arose, it was followed by a recrudescence of Armenian agitation, and by the smuggling of arms across the frontier. Russia made use of the committees for the purpose of furthering her own Eastern policy, and the committees made use of Russian protection to conspire against Turkey. Russia at that time posed, and to some extent actually was, the protector of the Sultan's Christian subjects. The first Armenian society, the Troshak, was very favourable to the Russian Government, and until quite recent times refused to have any connection with the Russian secret societies. The newer committee, formed at Geneva—the Henchak—

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was on good terms with the revolutionary party, especially the exiles, who were helped by it to introduce literature into Russia viâ Persia. But the main object of all Armenian revolutionists was to liberate Turkish Armenia.

With the murder of Alexander II. the attitude of the Russian Government and the temper of the people underwent a radical change. The tendencies in the direction of liberalism, already on the wane during the last years of the late Tzar, were now succeeded by a return to rigorous repression such as had not been known since the days of Nicholas I. The old ideals of Pan-Slavism, which, however much they may have been used and abused for questionable purposes, had a genuinely humanitarian and generous basis, went out of fashion and gave place to a narrower Pan-Russian and Pan-Orthodox policy. Attempts were made to convert all, the non-Russian and non-Orthodox peoples of the Empire into Orthodox Russians. The first outbreak of anti-Semitism was then witnessed throughout the southern and western provinces, an outburst to which the authorities allowed full licence, if they did not actually instigate it. The Poles and the Baltic Germans likewise suffered by this reactionary and bigoted temper, and even the highly-favoured Armenians were not left undisturbed. In the first place, the mere fact that the Armenians “ dealt in” plots, even if not directed against the Russian Government, made them suspects in the eyes of the bureaucracy. Then the old Viceroyalty of the Caucasus was abolished, and instead of a Grand Duke under whom the country enjoyed a certain measure of

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autonomy, a Governor-General was appointed with a more strictly bureaucratic position, and wholly dependent on St. Petersburg. Lastly, Russia for a variety of reasons, abandoned her old anti-Turkish policy.

She had hoped that by supporting the Eastern Christians she would be enabled to bring more or less the whole of the Ottoman Empire under her protectorate, if not her direct dominion. But the Berlin Treaty deprived her of the fruits of victory, and the liberated peoples of the Balkans showed a spirit which no one, neither Alexander II. nor Lord Beaconsfield, Prince Gortchakoff nor Lord Salisbury, had suspected. The Russian Government, and to some extent the Russian people, were getting tired of the Eastern Christians, and began to regret that so much blood had been shed and so much treasure wasted for their liberation with so little result, both in immediate advantages to Russia and even in gratitude. In the case of the Armenians, moreover, there was less sympathy with their sufferings owing to the difference of religion, for they were not Orthodox, besides being personally unpopular in Russia.

In addition to all these circumstances, Anglo-Russian relations in the early ’eighties were much strained, and war between the two Empires at one time seemed imminent. England, as the friend and protector of Turkey, could send her fleet into the Black Sea at any moment, making its base in the Turkish ports; as Sevastopol was still in ruins, Batum not yet fortified, and the Russian Black Sea fleet still in its infancy, the whole of Russia's southern littoral was open to an English naval attack. Even if a

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diversion could be created on the Indian frontier, all the Black Sea ports would be seized or laid in ruins. Consequently an understanding with Turkey became most desirable, both to supplant Great Britain in the East and for purposes of self-protection. But for such an agreement to be possible Russia must cease to worry the Sultan about the Eastern Christians, especially the Armenians, who were regarded as the most dangerous enemies of the Ottoman Empire. This coincided with the suspicion which the St. Petersburg bureaucracy felt towards all agitators, and with its dislike of alien nationalities and heterodox Churches within her dominions.

The first object of attack was the Armenian schools. The Polojenie, or regulating statute of the Gregorian Church, issued by the Russian Government in 1836, recognized the Armenian schools, although the curriculum was subject to the approval of the Russian Minister of the Interior. The love of education is one of the most striking characteristics of the Armenian people, and all classes show great anxiety to learn and to have their children well educated. Illiterate peasants are ready to save and starve so as to send their children to good schools, and if possible to the university, and many Armenians have given large sums to endow schools and scholarships. The Armenian schools in the Caucasus amounted to five hundred, and they were, on the whole, superior to the Russian ones, the teachers being for the most part educated men, sometimes with university degrees. Teaching was conducted in Armenian, although the Russian language and the history and geography of the

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Empire were also taught. Most of the schools provided elementary instruction alone, but a certain number had five classes, and there were even several gymnasia. The Government has never viewed education in a too friendly spirit, and that which does not impart Russian ideas was always suspected of objectionable tendencies. Suddenly by the ukaz of 1884 the last three classes were suppressed, for it was desired that all higher education should be conducted in Russian schools. The control of the Armenian elementary schools was then transferred to the Ministry of the Interior.*

The Armenian clergy protested in vain against the ukaz, and the Government's sole reply to these remonstrances was the closing of all the Armenian schools. In 1886 the newly-elected Katholikos † Makar was at last induced to acquiesce in the ukaz, and the elementary schools were reopened, but the higher forms remained suppressed, and the teachers were required to possess a Russian certificate and to know Russian. The seminaries were alone left undisturbed. In 1896 the schools were again partially closed, and in the following year Prince Golytzin, who was destined to be the arch-enemy of the Armenian people, was appointed Governor-General of the Caucasus. Almost his first act was the final suppression of all the Armenian schools.

In the meanwhile the Armenophobe policy was progressing in other directions. The censorship of


* See Lynch’s “Armenia,” vol. i.
† The head of the Armenian Church. See Chapter X. for an account of that Church.

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the Press was made even more severe. The Armenian massacres in Turkey, which commenced with a small affair at Erzerum in 1890, went on increasing until they culminated in the hideous butcheries of 1894, 1895, and 1896. Russia did nothing to restrain the Porte, and did not even express disapproval, but on the contrary protected the Sultan against the other Powers who were demanding the execution of the promised reforms. She feared that were these reforms carried out and some form of Armenian autonomy granted, a new Bulgaria in Asia Minor would arise, which in its turn would create an Armenia irredenta movement in the Caucasus. Russian statesmen, indeed, regarded the Turkish massacres with the most cynical indifference, and Prince Lobanoff is reported to have said, “ Nous voulons 1’Armnie sans les Armniens ” —a dictum thoroughly in keeping with Russia's Armenian and Macedonian policy of the last twenty years. But in this connection the sole blame must not be cast on Russia; the Western Powers were also largely responsible, especially England as the prime author of the Berlin Treaty. It is very doubtful whether Russia would have resolutely opposed an energetic action against Turkey had British statesmen had the courage to insist upon it. The Armenian revolutionists were no longer allowed to use Russian territory to conspire against Turkey, and in fact they were now beginning to turn against the Russian Government itself, which had become hardly less hostile than that of the Porte. A few Armenians were found even among the Russian revolutionists.

The year 1896 marks the beginning of a trying

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period for the Armenians of Russia. Prince Golytzin was the arm of the reactionary bureaucracy of St. Petersburg, personified in such men as Sipiaghin, Von Plehve, and Pobiedonostzeff. The object of these statesmen was to Russify the Armenians. The Armenian intellectuals were regarded with extreme dislike, and the conception of a revived Armenian nation, which was then being spread about by means of books and pamphlets, was viewed with perfect horror. There were no doubt Armenian patriots who did aspire to a free Armenia, but their proposals were of so vague a nature as to alarm only such nervous and hysterical Governments as those of Turkey or Russia. The new Governor-General felt a peculiar personal antipathy against the Armenians, and carried out the policy of his superiors con amore. The schools, as I said before, were closed; little by little all the Armenians were weeded out of the public service, or resigned voluntarily, until none remained save a few inspectors of taxes. But even this was not enough. It was realized that if the Armenians were to be thoroughly subdued they must be attacked in the chief stronghold of their nationalism—the Gregorian Church. That Church had been placed, to some extent, in leading strings by the Polojenie of 1836, but it still managed to maintain a certain measure of independence, and the whole of the clergy from the Katholikos downwards were ardent patriots and natural leaders of the people. The Church property had been used, to some extent, for political or semi-political purposes. It is, moreover, not unlikely that the Russian bureaucrats had a sort of deep down

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hope that by making the Church’s position impossible and by allowing only Russophil prelates to be appointed, it might some day be drawn within the fold of Orthodoxy. However that may be, on June 12/25, 1903, M. von Plehve issued a decree in which he declared that the property of the Armenian Church had been badly managed and used for political purposes, so that the intervention of the State was necessary for its proper maintenance. Henceforth the lands would be administered by the Russian Government. Ten per cent, was to be deducted from the income for administrative expenses, 5 per cent, for a pension fund, and the rest to be paid back to the Church, the various heads of expenditure being carefully specified. In fact, the Church was placed under tutelage, like an infant or a lunatic. It continued to own the capital of its property, but had no control over the revenue.

The measure in itself, arbitrary as it was, might be not altogether indefensible. Armenians themselves admit that the property was mismanaged ; but that the charge should proceed from the notoriously corrupt Russian bureaucracy, who was now to administer the estates, and the brutal way in which the decree was executed aroused the indignation of the Armenian people throughout all the world, more especially as the Church property did not belong to the Russian Armenians alone, but to the Church as a whole. The monastery of Etchmiadzin was occupied by police and troops, the Katholikos was ordered to hand over the keys of the safes, where the Church's title-deeds were kept, to the Vice-Governor of Erivan (Prince

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Nakashidze), and, on the prelate’s refusal, the safe was broken open and the papers seized.

This act of brigandage converted the whole Armenian people into revolutionists, and the revolutionary committee became co-extensive with the nation. It enjoyed a power and prestige never before dreamed of, and it turned its activities directly against the Russian Government. The Church refused to accept the doles offered to it out of its own property, but every Armenian contributed money for its maintenance, and for the work of propaganda. Prince Golytzin arrested, punished, exiled numbers of Armenians, and ordered dragonnades of Cossacks in the Armenian districts. The Armenians replied with bomb and revolver. In October, 1903, the Prince's life was attempted by Armenians, and he was seriously wounded. His fury against the nation was redoubled, and he is reported to have said, “In a short time there will be no Armenians left in the Caucasus, save a few specimens for the museum.” This attempt was followed by others ; the officials, who had been closely identified with Armenian persecutions and the seizure of Church property, and Russian priests who had attempted to convert Armenians by questionable means,* were systematically assassinated. The Vice-Governor of Elizavetpol, the District Governor of Igdyr, and the Orthodox priest of Alexandropol were among the many victims of Armenian vengeance. The committee came to exercise a veritable reign of terror,


* Some visited the prisons and promised the Armenian prisoners guilty of common offences that they would be liberated if they joined the Orthodox Church.

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and if its methods were violent and bloodthirsty, I do not think that the most law-abiding European can blame it. It became a perfect bugbear to the Russian authorities, who thought they saw its hand in every untoward occurrence. With the growth of its power it also grew more arbitrary, and in many cases its victims were Armenians who were suspected of treachery or refused to acquiesce in its pecuniary demands. The action of the committee also put Russian non-official opinion against the Armenians, who were viewed with increasing dislike and suspicion.

The bureaucracy had hoped that by paralyzing the Church the political activity of the people would cease. But the result was very different, and the officials went about in terror of their lives. The war with Japan having broken out, the dearth of troops was beginning to make itself felt, and the prestige of the Government was on the wane. Georgia was a prey to revolutionary agitation; the Russian element in Transcaucasia was too small and too much imbued with revolutionary ideas to be of any use; there remained only one element to be relied upon—the Tartars—and to them the bureaucracy applied in its difficulty.

For many centuries Tartars and Armenians had dwelt side by side in the same territories. The Tartar khans who ruled what is now Russian Armenia, owned nearly all the land on which Tartar and Armenian peasants worked. The Moslem landlord is always an oppressive taskmaster, but it is particularly on the Christian rayah that his yoke is heaviest;

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the Armenian peasants of Transcaucasia were a downtrodden race taillables et corvéables at the pleasure of their landlords, and even in the towns, where they might accumulate wealth, they were liable to be plundered and murdered by covetous neighbours and freebooters. After the Russian occupation, in which, as I have pointed out, the Armenians played no small part, this oppression ceased and some sort of order and justice was established. Yet, although deprived of political power, the khans and begs still preserved great influence in the country, and the Tartar peasantry looked upon them as their hereditary chiefs, whom it was their duty to obey. Nor were the Tartar estates touched ; on the contrary, owing to the more settled state of the country, they increased in value. Russian nobility was conferred on the chiefs, who were treated with every mark of respect, and often given official positions in the army, the civil service, and the local administration. But the Moslem community could not forget that the loss of their predominance was largely due to the Armenians, for which they never forgave them.

While the Tartars enjoyed many privileges, they could no longer maltreat, rob, and murder Armenians with absolute impunity; and at the same time they saw their erstwhile miserable rayahs progressing in wealth, education, and influence, monopolizing all professions requiring intelligence, and rising in the Russian public service. Although many Tartars were still rich, the sight of the progress of the Armenians was as gall and wormwood to them. Even the richest Moslems preferred to hoard their wealth and lead the

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“simple life,” which means dirty, untidy houses, coarse food, and no civilized amusements. A few did adopt Western ways and luxuries, but they were exceptions. The Armenians, on the other hand, once they have acquired wealth, indulge their taste for building showy, stone houses; they furnish them more or less in the European style, dress smartly, travel abroad, send their children to the university, in a word, try to Westernize themselves as much as possible. Their wealth irritated the Tartars and aroused the covetousness of the poorer ones ; some Tartar landlords, moreover, became indebted to Armenian bankers. At the same time Tartar barbarism excited the disgust and contempt of the educated Armenians. An intelligent and well-bred Armenian professor told me of his meeting with an immensely rich Baku Tartar in the train. “ You will hardly believe it,” he said, “ but that man was attired in a ‘reach-me-down ’ suit, and was eating some very nasty sweets, of the kind which the commonest people like, out of a dirty paper bag. He offered them to me, and I was obliged to eat a few for politeness, but I confess that they nauseated me.” It must be admitted that the Armenians do not hide their contempt for the Tartars, and they like to rub in their own superiority.

A more serious cause of hostility is the fact that the Tartars have all, more or less, the instinct of brigandage. From time immemorial they have been raiders, and to this day many villages have no other means of livelihood than plunder. The khans themselves, especially in the mountains, are often little better than robber barons, who keep hosts of armed

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retainers to forage for them. According to a secret official document on the conditions of the Elizavetpol Government (written some years ago), the richer and more influential are the Tartar landowners, the worse are the conditions of the people and the more complete the absence of security. Nor have the Tartars much respect for human life. The custom of the vendetta is very widespread, and one murder leads to a dozen others. A Tartar will murder a man of his own race and religion for a trifling cause, and be thought none the worse of; all the more easily will he murder a Christian. A large number of Tartars are still nomads, and migrate annually from the mountains to the plains and from the plains to the mountains with their flocks and herds. In the course of these peregrinations they frequently come into armed conflict with the sedentary Armenians, and murders, outrages, and abduction of cattle are the result.

Then of course there is the religious difference which is at the bottom of all quarrels between Christians and Moslems. Tartars are Mohammedans of the Shiah sect, and it must be mentioned that in the Caucasus it is only the Shiahs who attacked the Armenians ; the Sunnis, who are also numerous, took no part in the recent disturbances, and in some cases, as, for instance, at Shemakha, actually prevented the Shiahs from starting a pogrom.

When we come to the question of character, we find yet further causes of hatred. The outward characteristics of the Armenian are not attractive. “He produces,” according to an Armenian writer, “ anything but a pleasing impression on those with whom he

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comes in social contact. He is reserved, brusque, rude; his egotism and amour propre are excessive; and he is often arrogant to the verge of insult. Though undeniably honourable in all business relations and careful of the rights of others, he is often cruel and merciless in maintaining his own rights. An excellent husband and father, and passionately attached to his home, his conduct towards strangers is often selfish and arrogant. He is cautious and suspicious, and though capable of deep feeling, is averse from any show of emotion. He is wholly lacking in the great talent of making himself agreeable in social intercourse. ... He is not so much devoid of delicacy of feeling, as boorish and unsociable. In general he shows a want of genuine kind-heartedness, and of that habit of mind which is disposed to treat all men as friends.” Of course this is not true of the whole people, and in any case applies chiefly to the urban classes; in my own experience I have met many Armenians whose manners and habits were those of men and women of the world, and among whom, apart from their kindness and hospitality to me, I felt myself in the company of polished Europeans. The hospitality of the Armenians is very great, although seldom accompanied by courtly manners. The result is that they are usually unpopular; and to their real defects others are added by their enemies, which find easy credence among those who cannot get over their unconciliating behaviour.

The Armenians also enjoy a reputation for sharp and not always straight business methods, and they

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are accused of being usurers. There is some ground for both charges, no doubt, but it must be remembered that they are of the kind always levelled at peoples who, having great business ability, live among other races who have very little. It is the same with the Jews, especially in Russia. In the Caucasus it is popularly said that it takes ten Jews to cheat an Armenian, just as in England it is said that it takes many Jews to cheat a Scotchman. But on the whole it cannot be admitted that they are really dishonest, most of them are perfectly honourable, and by a commercial ability amounting almost to genius, they have got the economic development of the country into their own hands. With regard to money-lending, the usurers of Baku are nearly all Tartars, whereas those of Tiflis are mostly Armenians. But in no case is usury a very serious evil, and the Tartars suffer from it less than the Georgians ; for the former retain their land, while the latter have lost much of theirs, especially in the towns, where they had ruined themselves by extravagant living. It must not be supposed, however, that all the Armenians are mere money-grubbing merchants. Of the 1,200,000 Armenians of the Caucasus, not more than 35 per cent. live in the towns, and of these a large proportion are workmen. The other 65 per cent. are peasants, and peasants of great industry, but without the defects which make the town Armenians disliked.

Although peaceful and hard-working, the Armenians are by no means unwarlike or cowardly, as they are popularly supposed to be, because, being unarmed in

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Turkey, they are massacred by armed Moslems. Not to go back to the days when Armenian generals distinguished themselves in the armies of the East Roman Empire, they fought desperately against the Persians in the XVIII. century, and they took part in most of the Russian campaigns in the Caucasus, as I remarked before. Of General Ter-Gukassoff, Mr. C. B. Norman, the correspondent of The Times in the Asiatic campaign of 1877, wrote : “ The way in which he handled his men at Taghir on the 16th of June, where with eight battalions he thoroughly defeated the twelve which Mahomed Pasha opposed to him; the stubborn resistance with which he checked Mukhtar Pasha’s onslaught on the 21st at Eshek-Khaliass; the gallant retreat which his half-division effected in front of Ahmed Pasha's twenty-three battalions; and finally his dashing flank march from Igdyr to Bayazid, and the relief of that place in front of two Turkish corps, both superior to him in numbers, stamp him a general of division of the first class. Had the Tzar many more like him, this war would have been completed a month ago." Some four hundred officers and several thousand soldiers of the same race fought in that campaign. During the present troubles, although almost invariably outnumbered by the Tartars,* they usually got the better of them, being more disciplined and better led. It is interesting to compare the popular

* The total number of Armenians is not far short of that of the Tartars, but in the districts where troubles broke out the latter were nearly always in a large majority (Baku, Erivan, Nakhitchevan, Shusha, Elizavetpol, and Zangezur).

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Western estimate of the Armenian with that of the Tartars. The latter, far from regarding them as cowards, profess to fear them greatly ; M. Agaieff told me that every Tartar must now arm to protect himself from the bloodthirsty Armenians, and Raghim Khan of Nakhitchevan spoke as though the Tartars were the peaceful lambs devoured by the ferocious Armenian wolves!

Politically, the Armenians are democratic and bourgeois; they have no aristocracy, the old feudal system having died out under Moslem rule, and there are really no birth distinctions. The middle class is wealthy, and composed of professional and business men, and an influential higher clergy. They have little love of doctrinaire abstractions, and, in fact, enthusiastic Georgian Social Democrats blame them for their bourgeois sentiments. They wish to succeed in life, to be undisturbed in their work, to educate their children, and they do not bother their heads about crack-brained Socialistic theories, which they know cannot be realized, and if they could, would not benefit them. Like Alice, when told that if something or other were done, the world would go round much faster, they reply with regard to Socialism, “Which would not be an advantage.” But if their ideals are prosaic and practical, they have shown the most whole-hearted devotion to their Church. Throughout centuries of persecution they have never swerved, and even individual cases of apostasy have been very rare, although they had every inducement to become Moslems. Now in Russia union with the Orthodox Church would have

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ended their difficulties, but they have never dreamed of such a possibility.

The Tartars are in every respect the opposite of the Armenians. Their outward characteristics are most sympathetic. They have a dignity of bearing and a charm of manner which endear them to all who come in contact with them. These qualities are indeed common to most Mohammedans, who have a chivalry and gentlemanliness which make us forget even serious faults, and disregard the wrongs and sufferings which they inflict on less attractive Christian peoples. They have been a ruling military caste for centuries, and this has made them an aristocracy of grands seigneurs. I have met Tartars whom, although I knew them to be utter scoundrels, I could not help liking. There is something magnificently mediaeval about them which the virtuous but bourgeois Armenian lacks.

The reader will ask why the Tartars should hate the Armenians more than other Christians—Russians and foreigners. I think the reason lies in the fact that the Armenians are in large numbers, whereas the other Christians are comparatively few ; secondly, the Armenians are permanent inhabitants, whereas the Russians come as soldiers, officials, temporary workmen, and leave after a few years, and the foreigners come to make their pile and also leave soon. Then the Armenians tend to regard every town where they are fairly numerous as being within the Armenian ' sphere of influence," and their progress is to some extent at the expense of the Tartars. The latter realize instinctively, although they would be the last

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to admit it, that they are a declining race, and that every step of civilized progress puts them at an ever greater disadvantage, while the Armenians profit by it to become richer and more powerful. They are also less afraid of the Armenians than of the Russians; the former are merely fellow-subjects, whereas the latter are the lords of the land and must be obeyed, as otherwise unpleasant consequences may follow.

The Tartars are extraordinary backward in their development, and as ignorant and barbarous as any race in Asia; for this the Russian Government is largely to blame, as it has hitherto discouraged education among them, while they themselves seldom troubled to provide schools of their own. Until quite recently no Tartar newspapers were permitted, except one at Bakhtchi Sarai in the Crimea, the number of mullahs, the only teachers for a large part of the people, has been strictly limited, and the Moslem faith placed in a position of tutelage under an officially appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam. Politically the Tartars have very few ideas at all. Their natural instincts are in favour of absolutism, and they acquiesce willingly in their old feudal and tribal system. In each district there are two or three families usually the descendants of the khans, enjoying enormous prestige, who can order their Moslem vassals to do almost anything. They have accepted Russian rule without enthusiasm and without hostility, although in the war of 1877 there was some agitation among the Moslems on the frontier, and one or two regiments were actually mutinous.

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But they have taken no part in liberal and revolutionary agitations, strikes, and similar movements, because they are incapable of understanding the meaning of “progressive” theories, and cannot read the literature on the subject. They are united by a religious tie into one community of Shiah Moslems, which includes many who are not Tartars at all, but they have hitherto had no idea of racial or national unity as we in the West understand it. Unlike the Sunni Mohammedans they have not even a spiritual head to look up to; the Sheikh-ul-Islam, being a Government official, has little moral authority, and even the mullahs have less power than among the Sunnis. It is said that certain holy men in Persia called mujtaids have some influence over them.

Within the last few years a movement has been growing up among a small group of influential Tartar “intellectuals” to educate the people and create a national political spirit among them. M. Taghieff, the Baku millionaire, perhaps the richest Mohammedan in the world, is the financier of the movement, and M. Topehibasheff, also a very rich man, is its intellectual leader; among his lieutenants are the Baku journalists, Agaieff and Hussein Zadé, and Ismail Beg Gasparinsky, the proprietor of the Bakhtchi Sarai sheet. Although not allowed to print Tartar papers in the Caucasus, they propagated their ideas in other ways, and a Baku paper called the Kaspii, although written in Russian, was devoted to Tartar interests; quite recently they have been allowed to issue a Tartar paper at Baku called the Heyat, edited by Agaieff, an able scholar,

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although a bitter partizan. The Tartar intellectuals are by way of being moderately liberal, but they are furiously anti-Armenian, and have not been without Government backing, as an offset to the Armenian and Socialist movements. More than once they have sided with the reactionaries, but within the last few months they have split up into two parties, one more liberal, the other very retrograde. According to some opinions, there is little to choose between them.

But although no love was lost between Tartars and Armenians, and racial and religious murders were common occurrences, they managed to live side by side under Russian rule more or less at peace with each other. They did not mix socially, but they met over business, at the club, and in connection with Government affairs. It was not until February of last year that the two races actually fought. The origin of the outbreak is somewhat obscure; Tartars and Armenians accuse each other of having begun, but both are agreed that the authorities promoted, or at least encouraged, the feud on their old principle of divide et impera. There is, I think, no doubt that the Government did actually encourage the Tartars in the belief that if they attacked the Armenians they would not be interfered with, and would indeed be thought the better of. During the Golytzin régime, the Armenians were, as I said, weeded out of the Government service ; gradually a new staff was appointed in the Armenian and mixed districts, consisting either of Tartars or of Russians who shared Golytzin's prejudices. Some district

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governors, police-masters, and pristavs, and practically all the common policemen were Tartars. Consequently the state of affairs in Eastern Transcaucasia came to resemble that obtaining in those parts of Turkey where Christian and Moslem dwell side by side, all offices and authority being in the hands of the latter. Prince Golytzin and his lieutenants conferred many favours on the Tartars, and were perpetually descanting before them on the iniquities of the Armenians. The Tartars were not slow to profit by this state of things. Arms were smuggled over from Persia in large quantities, and a sort of understanding was arrived at between all the chief Tartar notables as to a plan of action. Probably at first only those of the Baku government, where the racial antagonism was most bitter, were implicated in the conspiracy, but very soon the whole Tartar element of Transcaucasia was involved, and possibly also some of the Mohammedans of the West. Of the complicity of those of Persia there is no direct proof. Their general scheme was probably nothing more than an indiscriminate massacre of every Armenian in the governments of Baku, Daghestan, Elizavetpol, and Erivan. The Russian authorities were constantly prophesying an Armeno-Tartar outbreak, and telling the Tartars that the Armenians were sure to attack them sooner or later. When you prophesy a thing long enough the chances are that it will really happen. Then the war in the Far East broke out, and every alien race in the Empire began to advance demands for freedom and reforms. The Tartars felt that they too might

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obtain something, and although they cared nothing for constitutions, they felt that the time had come to wipe out their old rivals the Armenians, whom the Government disliked, and, they thought, was not in a position to defend, even if it wanted to do so. In such an atmosphere, the smallest spark was enough to set the whole country alight.

I have set forth the details of the outbreaks and massacres in other chapters and the probable share of responsibility attributable to the authorities in each case. Here I shall merely state a few main facts. In July, 1904, Prince Golytzin left the Caucasus for good, but his lieutenants, General Freze (acting Governor-General) and Prince Nakashidze (Governor of Baku), remained behind to continue his Armeno-phobe policy; its natural outcome was the Baku outbreak in February, 1905. After Baku there was comparative peace, save for a small affair at Erivan in March, until the ghastly massacres of Nakhitchevan in May. In the meanwhile Count Vorontzoff-Dashkoff had arrived in the Caucasus as Viceroy with instructions to initiate a more conciliatory policy. His civil assistant, Sultan Krym-Ghirei, although of Tartar extraction and not too sympathetic towards the Armenians, proved himself a liberal and fair-minded official, and his military assistant, General Malama, took little part in politics, but is admitted to have acted with impartiality; the part played by General Shirinkin, the Ober-Politzmeister* is more


* The Russified German word Politzmeister denotes the chief of police of every capital of a government or province ; in a few more important towns there is an Ober-Politzmeister.

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doubtful, but at all events, at the beginning, he too adopted a friendly attitude towards the Armenians. It seemed as though the Government were getting alarmed at the Frankenstein which they had created in the Tartar movement, and beginning to feel that once this ferocious and warlike people were aroused it would be difficult to stop them, and that they might one day turn against their rulers. Then the Armenians, who, it had been thought, could be so easily crushed, had proved themselves very tough customers. Thirdly, the whole of the Western Caucasus was more or less in open revolt, and the Georgians were advancing far more radical demands than the Armenians, who merely asked to be left in peace, and that the Church lands and the schools should be given back to them. The authorities also realized that the Armenians, if conciliated, would prove the most reliable and conservative element in the Caucasus, and that with their friendship the task of subduing the others would be greatly simplified. Consequently, in August, 1905, just before the first of many constitutional ukazes, the Government policy performed a complete volte-face by restoring the property of the Gregorian Church and granting permission to the Armenians to reopen their schools. This, of course, caused immense rejoicing among the community ; the activity of the committees diminished, outrages ceased, and the people were well on the way to be completely satisfied. But the Tartar movement was by no means dead, and recommenced on a larger scale than ever with the Shusha civil warfare and the September massacres at Baku. The authorities may

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have been willing, but they were certainly not able, to put an end to the trouble for a long time. As soon as quiet was restored in one place a pogrom broke out in another. Consequently the committee again became active in certain towns, and devoted itself to arming the people and directing the operations against the Tartars.

There is one last point to be considered in this connection. I think I have shown that sufficient causes, internal and external, existed for the Armeno-Tartar feud. But there is another view, shared by the bulk of the Armenians, according to which Tartar outbreaks are merely part of a much wider movement of a Pan-Islamic character. It is a vast conspiracy organized in Constantinople and in Teheran, to bring about a union of the whole Mohammedan world, to exterminate the Christians of the Middle East, expel all alien Governments, and revive the glories of the Bagdad Khalifate. To succeed in this scheme it was necessary to begin by getting rid of all the Christian elements in the heart of the great Moslem region, and of these the Armenians were the most important. Hence the Armenian massacres in Turkey. Those of Russia could not be exterminated so long as the Russian Government was strong and more or less friendly to them; but once these conditions had ceased to be, and actual encouragement from the Russians had been received, the attempt to wipe out the Armenians was undertaken.
I took some trouble to inquire into this question, and interrogated a number of people of all races and

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classes. But I was unable to obtain any satisfactory evidence on the point. I was told that emissaries from Persia and Turkey had been stirring up the Tartars; that mullahs and softas * had been preaching the Jehad † in the mosques ; that the authorities had seized treasonable correspondence on the person of a certain Turkish beg at Batum; that Pan-Islamic proclamations had been published in Agaieff’s paper, the Heyat, and in a Young Turkish sheet published at Geneva called the Ittiad. But I never met any one who had actually seen a Pan-Islamic emissary, or heard him preach Pan-Islamism in a mosque; the proclamations in question were all extremely vague, and could hardly be regarded as advocating anything but hatred of the Armenians and a desire to get concessions from the Government, and as for the treasonable correspondence, it was limited to one letter of no particular importance. Moreover, it is impossible to overcome two difficulties in the way of the Pan-Islamic theory; firstly, the profound hostility between Shiahs and Sunnis, which divides the Mohammedan world into two sections as different and antagonistic to each other as, say, the Ultra-montane Clericals and the members of the Free Church of Scotland; and secondly, the fact that the enormous majority of the Moslem people in general and of the Tartars in particular are far too ignorant to understand the meaning of such a thing as Pan-Islamism, which is merely an imitation, originated by a group of Young Turks who have been educated abroad, of the various Pan-Nationalist and Imperialist


* Mohammedan theological students.
† Holy War.

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movements of Europe, such as Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism. It is an exotic which cannot hope to flourish, at all events for many years to come, on the uncongenial soil of Mohammedanism.

To sum up, in considering the Armenian Question, we must try to avoid being led away by personal sympathies and allowing our admiration for the “noble savage” with dignified manners to warp our reason and outweigh appreciation of the more solid qualities of the Armenians. The virtues of the Armenians are of a kind which are bound to become more and more valuable as civilization progresses, while his vices are for the most part the rough edges which, under a wise and progressive Government, will be rubbed away. This people is the civilizing element of the Middle East, and is likely to remain so. Other races will also, no doubt, become really advanced in course of time ; the intelligence of the Georgians is an important factor to be reckoned with, and even the Moslem peoples may eventually shake off the paralyzing influence of tradition and take their place in the general scheme of the world's progress. The best that can be hoped is, not that one race will dominate the others, but that each may contribute something towards the common good of the country.

Table of contents
Cover and pp. 1-4 | Prefatory note | Table of contents (as in the book) | List of illustrations
“Chronological table of recent events in the Caucasus”
1. The Caucasus, its peoples, and its history | 2. Eastward ho! | 3. Batum
4. Kutais and the Georgian movement | 5. The Gurian “republic” | 6. Tiflis
7. Persons and politics in the Caucasian capital
8. Armenians, Tartars, and the Russian government
9. Baku and the Armeno-Tartar feud | 10. Bloodshed and fire in the oil city
11. The land of Ararat | 12. The heart of Armenia | 13. Russia's new route to Persia
14. Nakhitchevan and the May massacres | 15. Alexandropol and Ani
16. Over the frosty Caucasus | 17. Recent events in the Caucasus | Index



Source: Villari, Luigi. Fire and Sword in the Caucasus by Luigi Villari author of “Russia under the Great Shadow”, “Giovanni Segantini,” etc. London, T. F. Unwin, 1906
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Karen Vrtanesyan

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See also:
The Flame of Old Fires by Pavel Shekhtman (in Russian)
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