Maxime Gauin: Soviet government played with Armenian nationalism, provoking creation of ASALA (INTERVIEW)

News.Az presents an interview with Maxime Gauin, a research fellow at the Institute for Development and Diplomacy (IDD).

News.Az – Mr Gauin, you are researching ethnic cleansing policy by Armenian nationalists. Unfortunately Azerbaijani people were subjected to deportation and massacres during the 20th century. At the beginning of the century it happened in 1905, 1918-20 and also in 1948-53 and 1988-91. How was the historical condition? What caused these tragic facts?

Maxime Gauin - The main factor is the Russian policy of replacement of populations in the South Caucasus by 1828.  One of the results, by 1850s-1860s, was the emergence of the Armenian nationalism, one of the most aggressive ones—aggressive also against the Armenians who opposed racism and irredentism: Isahag Jamaharian was assassinated in Moscow by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (the main Armenian nationalist party, established in 1890) in 1902, after having repeatedly refused to give money to this terrorist organization.

In 1918-1920, it was the ethnic cleansing by the Armenian volunteers in Urmia, then by the independent Republic of Armenia, ruled by the ARF, then in 1921 by the “Mountain Republic” of Zanguezour, led by Garegin Nzhdeh. The expulsions of 1948-1953 were decided by Stalin, after he had failed in his claims on Kars and Ardahan. He had attracted Armenians from the diaspora, promising a bright future. Of course, Soviet Armenia was unable to offer anything of this kind. He decided to expel about 100,000 Azeris from Armenia to Azerbaijan to make space.

The 1988-1991 expulsions, attacks and assassinations took place because the monster escaped to the control of its master. The Soviet government played again with Armenian nationalism, against Turkey again, provoking the creation of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and encouraging the establishment of the ARF-affiliated Justice Commandos for the Armenian Genocide (JCAG, later renamed Armenian Revolutionary Army). The nationalism was encouraged in Soviet Armenia, in addition to the diaspora. One too little commented example in this regard: The corpse of Nzhdeh (famous for having collaborated with the Nazis, largely for ideological reasons) was discreetly repatriated from the gulag where he was deceased in 1955 to Soviet Armenia, in 1983. The demand from the Armenian public opinion was considered too high to resist a demand which was at the opposite of all the official positions and self-legitimation of the USSR. Yet, it happened in 1983, namely under Youri Andropov. Many things may be said about him, but nobody ever called him a weak man.

News.Az - You said you are working with archives from West countries. What kind of new facts you have found out during your researches?

Maxime Gauin - In June 1919, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote a note on “The Issue of Zangezour”. The note mentions the “pillages and destructions of towns” by Antranik and his men in 1918 and the destruction of “more than 40 Tatar villages,” including by Antranik and his men, in 1919. By February 1920, the repeated demands of Antranik to serve in the French-occupied part of Turkey (Adana) were rejected. Antoine Poidebard, an officer who was moderately pro-Armenian, wrote on 20 February 1920 that Antranik “is unable of any discipline. He cannot lead anything but a gang. […] His departure to Cilicia must be prevented at any price.”

One year later, the Armenian (ARF) government asked for British and French weapons. The demand was forwarded to Damien de Martel, High Commissioner in the Caucasus. In his dispatch dated 20 July 1920, de Martel did not reply yes or no, but by a list of grievance against the ARF cabinet. The last one was about ethnic cleansing. He mentioned the massacre of 4,000 Azerbaijanis and the expulsion of 36,000 others “with cannon shots” between Yerevan and Turkish boundary, in June 1920 only. In its issue dated 25 July 1920 (note the proximity of the dates), Le Temps, the mouthpiece of the French MFA at that time, published an information from Tbilisi (the place de Martel worked): “dozens of thousands” Azerbaijanis have been massacred by Armenia during the last months only, without counting those who have been expelled.

At the end of 1922, Jean Schlicklin, who was the correspondent of Le Petit Parisien in Turkey, published a book on this country. He discussed the Armenian issue and described a “plan of systematic extermination of the Muslim population” implemented by Armenia, on its soil, in Karabakh and in Kars. One detail no historian except me seems to have noticed: His book was published by a house which was, at that time, under the complete control of the French General Staff; nobody published a book here, still less on a sensitive subject, without support among the generals.

All these sources are largely confirmed by a report written in December 1920 by Reverend H. William Harcourt, the representative of the Lord Mayor’s Fund in Armenia. Harcourt, who can be called a disappointed Armenophile, explained that since 1917, the “Armenian volunteers’ bands” had “degenerated into bands of brigands and assassins,” yet “most of these bands were connected” with the ARF, that is why, he explained, they acted with impunity. The only example he knew of an Armenian civil servant who tried to stop them was a man who was assassinated by perpetrators of the ethnic cleansing. Similarly, Lord Curzon blamed the ARF for the massacres of Azerbaijanis, on a written form and orally, especially from February to April 1920; and in The Graphic dated 8 May 1920, Scotland Liddell, a journalist present on place, reported the same.

One remark to finish with the Caucasus: The last volume of the Memoirs written a the end of his life by Rouben Ter Minassian (1882-1951), the Armenian Minister of Interior in 1920, was translated into French in 1989, but published in this language in 2021 only. In this volume, Ter Minassian does not try to justify the ethnic cleansing by any “revenge” but only by the desire to build an Armenian state with an Armenian majority.

That having been said, the Azerbaijanis are not only the inhabitants of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The French military mission in Urmia was horrified by the massacres of Muslims by Armenians in Urmia in 1918, and even were threatened for having protected those who took refuge on time. On purpose, I am not quoting a document but a book, to show that these facts were published:

“Girls disemboweled, the intestines unwound on the snow, still alive and holding their entrails in their hands. A child, his eye drawn from the orbit, screaming his pain and handing me his bloody stump for me to pull it out of the smoky rubble where his executioners had thrown it.

Shattered skulls, brains whose spit has sprayed on the walls!” (Dr. Paul Caujole, Les Tribulations d’une ambulance française en Perse, Paris : Les Gémeaux, 1922, p. 83 ; you can find similar sentences ibid., pp. 89-90, 101, 103 and in Émile Zavie, D’Archangel au Golfe persique. Aventures de cinquante français en Perse, Paris : La Cité des livres, 1927, pp. 173, 248-250, 258-260 and 266).

News.Az - How do you think, what should be done now so that this type of hatred and tragic acts don’t happen anymore?

Maxime Gauin - A first symbolic act, after the departure of the Russian soldiers from Khankendi, would be to destroy the statue of Nzhdeh erected here and to immediately replace it by a statue of the Armenian civil servant who was assassinated in 1920 by the ARF for having tried to stop the killings and expulsions—if his name can be found.

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