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March 31 – The genocide of Azerbaijanis: bloody annals of our history

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The genocide is a systematic, complete or partial extermination of ethnic, racial, religious, or national groups. In the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
In the preamble of the Convention, the genocide is considered not only a crime in the civilian world in violation of international law, the essence and goals of the United Nations, but also the genocide of mankind in all historical times.
According to international law, criminal prosecution and punishment of genocide perpetrators is inevitable. International law recognizes the concept of genocide and defines the responsibility of the perpetrators. In accordance with Article 5 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Contracting Parties must take effective measures to punish those charged with genocide crimes. According to Article 6 of the Convention, these persons must be tried by an international court if they are not tried in competent courts in state courts. Our country has suffered a severe deprivation and suffering as a result of the ethnic cleansing and genocide policy aimed at Azerbaijanis in the Caucasus over the past two centuries. As a result of such inhuman politics strengthened in stages, the Azerbaijanis were exposed to mass killings and massacres by expelling from the historical lands, which they have lived for thousands of years and was called Armenia now, and thousands of historical and cultural monuments of our nation have been ruined and destroyed.
From the beginning of the 19th century, the Armenians, who were massively settled in the Caucasus, turned the region into a “bloodbath” shortly afterwards. The steps taken by Armenians for the realization of the so-called “Big Armenia” resulted in mass killings and genocide acts committed against the Azerbaijanis.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Armenians carried out massacres, pillage, fire, terror and other acts of violence not only in the territory called Armenia, but also in Baku, Shamakhi, Guba, Goychay, Garabagh, Zangezur, Nakhchivan. In these areas, the Armenian dashnaks brutally murdered thousands of civil Azerbaijanis women, children, and elderly, just because of their nationality, plundered destroyed and burned down their homes, national cultural monuments and mosques.
The March Days, or March Events, are massacres of about 12,000 Azerbaijanis and other Muslims that took place between 30 March – 2 April 1918 in the city of Baku and adjacent areas of the Baku Governorate of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. Facilitated by a political power struggle between Bolsheviks with the support of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) on one side and the Azerbaijani Musavat Party on another, the events led to the suppression of the Muslim revolt by Bolsheviks and Dashnak forces and the establishment of the short-lived Baku Commune in April 1918.
The Armenian nationalists and their Dashnaktsutiun party, which took advantage of the situation that arose during the arrival of communists to power, began to hold rallies against Azerbaijanis in Baku and elsewhere. Armenians who used the situation in Russia in 1918 tried to achieve their goal under the flag of Bolshevism. The Baku Commune begins to implement a crime plan in March 1918. In addition, 70 percent of the 10-12 thousand armies formed under the name of “Red Guard” consisted of Armenians. On March 30, 1918, the Dashnak group gathered near the Armenian Church opened fire on Muslims. On the morning of March 31, the Bolshevik-Dashnak brigades attacked the “Karpickhana”, “Mammadli” and other districts which the Azerbaijanis had lived. Those districts began to bomb by the airplanes and naval ships from the sea. The Armenians reassured the Russians that the Azerbaijanis in Icherishehir had killed Russians. Even though the seamen stopped firing late when knew that it was a lie, it was too late and there were a lot of casualties in the blazing streets. The Armenian nationalists did not show mercy to anybody, and killed everyone. The May 1918 dispatch of the New York Times stated that “2000 were killed and 3000 were wounded in the struggle between the Russians and Mussulmans”. Later 1919 publication by the New York Times reported – presumably citing Azerbaijani officials – that 12,000 people were killed during the March Days of 1918. The same publication wrote that according to Azerbaijani representatives, Bolsheviks crushed Muslims with assistance from Armenians who wanted to “wipe out old enemies and seize their lands”. The post-1920 New York Times editions used the same figure of 12,000 victims, as did several historians.
According to various estimates, more than 12,000 people were killed in Baku in three days alone. In this regard, S.Shaumyan, the Chairman of Baku Soviet, did not hide his satisfaction: “We were frightened by the national structure of our city. We were afraid that the fight might assume an unwanted coloration. We even had to resort to the Armenian Dashnak Regiment. We could not even allow ourselves the luxury of refusing their services. The Armenian National Council carried out arrests, searches, requisitions, etc. on its own. However, the victory is so great that it does little to overshadow the reality”. Baku Soviet’s reliance on the Dashnak forces caused outrage among the Bolsheviks of other nationalities. One of the witnesses of the genocide of Azerbaijanis, Bolshevik Blyumin, later noted in his memoirs, “With the advent of the events of 1918, we resorted to Dashnak troops, as we had no armed forces of our own. Still, Dashnak troops did their dirty work. They turned a civil war into a national cleansing, having slaughtered up to 20,000 poor Azerbaijanis”. The events evidenced that Armenian nationalists did not give up their notorious purposes, massacred civilians by cruel methods and falsified the history converting facts to their own use to curtain the crime committed.
The March events of 1918 became the focus of attention following the proclamation of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). The Extraordinary Investigation Commission (EIC) was established by ADR on July 15, 1918 in order to investigate the violence against Azerbaijani population. An important trait of this commission was that it was comprised of the best lawyers of that time representing different nationalities – Russians, Jewish, Polish, Georgians and even Armenians. These factors testify competence and impartiality of the EIC. Materials collected by the EIC by August 1919 filed in 36 volumes and 3,500 pages. Based on this evidence, the EIC prepared 128 reports and drafts to file lawsuits against 194 persons accused of different crimes against a peaceful population. Thus, by mid-August, 24 people in Baku and about 100 people in Shamakhy were arrested. This was the first attempt to conduct a political and legal assessment of the policy of genocide perpetrated against the Azerbaijanis. However, the demise of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic made it impossible to complete this work.
In 1998, as the President of independent Azerbaijan, National leader Heydar Aliyev issued a decree condemning March Days as the beginning of Azerbaijani genocide and declared March 31 as the day of genocide of Azerbaijanis. On 18 September 2013, president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev inaugurated the Guba Genocide Memorial Complex, which is dedicated to victims of March Days. In October 2013, the French Senate delegation, headed by senator Nathalie Goulet, laid a flower before the monument and commemorated the memory of the massacre victims. Every year on March 31 events and conferences are held in various countries to commemorate the Day of Genocide of Azerbaijanis.
History is never forgotten, it is written. While the Armenian aggression is a bloody page of the history of Azerbaijan, powerful Azerbaijan is able to succeed in solving all the problems with its reputation and influence in its region. The commemoration of the Day of Genocide of Azerbaijanis raises the awareness of the world community to the facts of the massacre and ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis in the past and present.

Murteza Hasanoğlu, The Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Associate Professor PhD

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