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March Days

March Days
Part of Russian Civil War

Azerbaijani victims in Baku
Date 30 March – 2 April 1918
Location Baku, Transcaucasian Federation
Result Bolshevik–ARF victory
Armenian Revolutionary Federation
Musavat Party
Commanders and leaders
Stepan Shahumyan
6,000 regular troops, Russian Fleet gunboats[1]
4,000 militiamen[1]
10,000 troops and militiamen[1]
Casualties and losses
2,500 ARF soldiers[2] between 3,000 to 12,000 Azerbaijanis and other Muslims including civilians massacred

The March Days, or March Events, refer to an inter-ethnic strife and massacres of between 3,000[3] to 12,000[4][5] Azerbaijanis and other Muslims[6] 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.[7]

Facilitated by a political power struggle between Bolsheviks with support of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun)[8][9][10] on one side and Azerbaijani Musavat Party on another, the events led to a suppression of Muslim revolt[11] by Bolshevik and Dashnak forces[12][13] and establishment of a short-lived Baku Commune in April 1918.[14]

Azerbaijan officially refers to March Days as soyqırım ('genocide').[15][16] Other sources interpret the March events in the context of civil war unrest.[17]


  • Background 1
    • Political situation 1.1
    • Demographics and armed groups 1.2
  • Events of 30 March – 2 April 1918 2
  • Casualties 3
  • Aftermath 4
  • Analysis and interpretations 5
    • Azerbaijani position 5.1
    • Soviet position 5.2
    • Armenian position 5.3
    • Other positions 5.4
    • International recognition 5.5
  • Legacy 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10


Political situation

Following the South Caucasus under the control of the Russian Provisional Government. After the October Revolution, on 11 November 1917, this committee was replaced by the Transcaucasian Commissariat, also known as the Sejm, with headquarters in Tiflis. The Sejm opposed Bolsheviks and sought separation of the South Caucasus from Bolshevik Russia. To prevent that, on 13 November 1917, a group of Bolsheviks and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries (SR) proclaimed the Baku Soviet, a governing body which assumed power over the territory of Baku Governorate under the leadership of Bolshevik Stepan Shahumyan. Although the Baku Soviet included Azerbaijanis and Armenians who were neither Bolsheviks nor necessarily sympathetic towards the Bolshevik ideas,[18] the two nationalist parties and members of the Sejm ― the Musavat[19] and Armenian Revolutionary Federation ― refused to recognize its authority. The Baku-based Musavat dominated Muslim National Councils (MNCs), a representative body which eventually formed the first Parliament of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). Mammad Hasan Hajinski chaired the Temporary Executive Committee for the MNCs, while Mammed Amin Rasulzade, Alimardan Topchubashev, Fatali Khan Khoyski and other prominent political figures were among the 44 Azerbaijani delegates to the Sejm. Meanwhile, the ARF, which was established in Tiflis, formed a 27-member Armenian delegation to the Sejm. The leader of the Baku Soviet, Shahumyan, kept contacts with ARF and viewed it as a source of support for eliminating Musavat influence in Baku.[20] It is noteworthy that during the March Days of 1918, one of the ARF founders, Stepan Zorian, was present in Baku.

Stepan Shahumyan, an ethnic Armenian leader of the Bolshevik Baku Soviet

After the Noe Ramishvili, ordered to disarm them. The Russian soldiers were stopped near Shamkhor station and, upon a refusal to surrender, were attacked by Azerbaijani bands in what became known as the Shamkhor massacre.[21] The Baku Soviet played out this incident into its favor against the Sejm.[notes 1]

On 10–24 February 1918, the Petrograd under General Bagradouni and called upon all Armenian military personnel scattered throughout Russia to mobilize on the Caucasus front.[24] In response to this call, by early March 1918, a large number of Armenians gathered in Baku, joining a group of 200 trained officers accompanied by General Bagradouni and the ARF co-founder Stepan Zorian (Mr. Rostom).[24]

The Azerbaijanis grew increasingly suspicious that Shahumyan, who was an ethnic Armenian, conspired with the Dashnaks against them. The units of Savage Division, composed of Caucasian Muslims who served in the Imperial Russian Army, disarmed a pro-Bolshevik garrison in Lankaran, and Dagestani insurgents under Imam Najm ul-din Gotsinski drove the Bolsheviks out of Petrovsk, severing Baku's land communications with the Bolshevik Russia.[25] The Armistice of Erzincan, followed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed on 3 March 1918, formalized Russia's exit from World War I. According to Richard G. Hovannisian, a secret annex to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk obligated the Bolsheviks to demobilize and dissolve ethnic Armenian bands on territories previously under Russian control.[26] At the subsequent Trabzon Peace Conference, the Ottoman delegation called for a unified position of the Sejm before the negotiations could be completed. The Bolsheviks grew increasingly concerned about the emerging Transcaucasian Federation, and in a given situation, had to choose between Musavat and ARF in the struggle to dominate Transcaucasia's largest city. Thus the Baku Soviet was drawn into the nationalistic struggle between the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians, trying to utilize one people against the other.[27]

As Baku produced 7 million tons of oil per year (about 15% of the global oil production), during World War I the city remained in sight of the major warring powers. Even though most of the oil fields were owned by Azerbaijanis and less than 5 per cent by Armenians, most of the production/distribution rights in Baku were owned by foreign investors, primarily the British. At the beginning of 1918, Germans transferred General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein from the Sinai and Palestine Campaign to establish the German Caucasus Expedition with the aim of capturing Baku. In response, in February 1918, the British dispatched General Lionel Dunsterville with troops to Baku through Enzeli, in order to block the German move and to protect the British investments.[28] Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks lost control of Grozny oilfields at the end of 1917, and Baku became the single source of oil. Vladimir Lenin even asserted in one of his speeches that "Soviet Russia can't survive without Baku oil."

Demographics and armed groups

Postcard from Iran. Iranian consul M.S. Vezare-Maragai near muslim (Azerbaijani) victims in Baku after March days

Before World War I, the population of Germans, 1,500 Poles and many other nationalities numbering less than 1,000 each. Azerbaijanis formed the majority among natives and owned the greater part of land including the oil fields. They also constituted most of the labor force and small trading class as well as some commercial and financial posts. The petroleum industry was largely owned by a small number of foreign capitalists.[29]

Prior to 1918 March events, the major armed groups in Baku consisted of 6,000 men from the remnants of

  • Kazemzadeh, Firuz (1950). The Struggle for Transcaucasia (1917-1921). Anglo Caspian Press Lted. p. 360.  
  • Alstatdt, Audrey L. (1992). The Azerbaijani Turks: power and identity under Russian rule. Hoover Press.  
  • Ratgauzer, Iakov A. (1927). Революция и гражданская война в Баку, 1917-1918. Красный Восток. 
  • Swietochowski, Tadeusz (2004). Russian Azerbaijan, 1905-1920: The Shaping of a National Identity in a Muslim Community. Cambridge University Press.  
  • Suny, Ronald Grigor (1972). The Baku Commune. Princeton University Press. pp. 217–221.  
  • Northcote, Dudley S. (1922). "Saving Forty Thousand Armenians". Current History (New York Times Co.,). Retrieved 12 December 2008. 
  • Balayev, Aydin (October 2008). "A Defining Moment For Azerbaijan.". Azerbaijan in the World I (18). 


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ (Pasdermadjian 1918, pp. 193)
  3. ^ Russia and a Divided Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition, by Tadeusz Świętochowski, Columbia University Press, 1995, p. 66
  4. ^ a b Smith, Michael (April 2001). "Anatomy of Rumor: Murder Scandal, the Musavat Party and Narrative of the Russian Revolution in Baku, 1917-1920". Journal of Contemporary History 36 (2): 228.  
  5. ^ a b Minahan, James B. Miniature Empires: A Historical Dictionary of the Newly Independent States. p. 22.  
  6. ^ a b "New Republics in the Caucasus". The New York Times Current History 11 (2): 492. March 1920. 
  7. ^ a b c d Michael Smith. "Pamiat' ob utratakh i Azerbaidzhanskoe obshchestvo/Traumatic Loss and Azerbaijani. National Memory". Azerbaidzhan i Rossiia: obshchestva i gosudarstva (Azerbaijan and Russia: Societies and States) (in Русский). Sakharov Center. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  8. ^ De Waal, Thomas (2010). The Caucasus: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 62.  
  9. ^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (1993). The revenge of the past:nationalism, revolution, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford University Press. pp. 41–42.  
  10. ^ Buttino, Marco (1993). In a collapsing empire:underdevelopment, ethnic conflicts and nationalisms in the Soviet Union Volume 28. Feltrinelli Editor. p. 176.  
  11. ^ World and Its Peoples: The Middle East, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. Marshall Cavendish. 2006. p. 786.  
  12. ^ De Waal, Thomas (2003). Black garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through peace and war. NYU Press. p. 100.  
  13. ^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (1993). The revenge of the past:nationalism, revolution, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford University Press. p. 42.  
  14. ^ Cronin, Stephanie (2004). Reformers and revolutionaries in modern Iran: new perspectives on the Iranian left. Psychology Press. p. 91.  
  15. ^ a b c Decree of President of Republic of Azerbaijan about genocide of Azerbaijani people, March 1998
  16. ^ PACE Written Declaration, "Recognition of the genocide perpetrated against the Azeri population by the Armenians", Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Doc. 9066 2nd edition, 14 May 2001
  17. ^ Croissant, Michael (1998). The Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict: causes and implications. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 14.  
  18. ^ a b c d Hopkirk, Peter (1994). Like hidden fire. The Plot to bring down the British Empire. New York: Kodansha Globe. pp. 281, 283, 287.  
  19. ^ van Schendel, Willem; Zürcher, Erik Jan (2001). Identity Politics in Central Asia and the Muslim World. I.B.Tauris.  
  20. ^ Swietochowski, Tadeusz; Collins, Brian C. (1999). Historical dictionary of Azerbaijan. Scarecrow Press. p. 117.  
  21. ^ a b (Kazemzadeh 1950, pp. 83)
  22. ^ (Northcote 1922, pp. 788)
  23. ^ (Pasdermadjian 1918, p. 196)
  24. ^ a b (Pasdermadjian 1918, pp. 192)
  25. ^ (Swietochowski 2004, pp. 113)
  26. ^ Hovannisian. "Armenia's Road to Independence", pp. 288-289.
  27. ^ (Kazemzadeh 1950, pp. 69)
  28. ^ a b "Soviet Russia" published by Russian Soviet Government Bureau, 1920, page 236
  29. ^ Luigi Villari "Fire and sword in the Caucasus," page 186
  30. ^ a b Stepan Shahumyan. Letters 1896-1918. State Publishing House of Armenia, Yerevan, 1959; pages 63-67.
  31. ^ (Altstadt 1992, pp. 85)
  32. ^ "The Russian Revolution as National Revolution: Tragic Deaths and Rituals of Remembrance in Muslim Azerbaijan (1907–1920)," Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, vol. 49 (2001).
  33. ^ Минц, И.; Городецкого, Е. (1940). Документы по истории гражданской войны в СССР. Т.: Первый этап гражданской войны 1. pp. 282–283. 
  34. ^ (Swietochowski 2004, pp. 115)
  35. ^ a b c d (Altstadt 1992, pp. 86)
  36. ^ G. Tchalkhouchian. Le livre rouge, Paris, Veradzenout, 1919, pp. 85-86
  37. ^ B. Baikov. Воспоминания о революции в Закавказии, Memoirs of Russian Kadet in Baku 1917 - 1920, p. 122.
  38. ^ Achiq Söz, No. 627, 1918, cited in (Ratgauzer 1927, pp. 143)
  39. ^ a b c d e f g (Suny 1972, pp. 217–221)
  40. ^ Alex, Marshall (2009). The Caucasus Under Soviet Rule (Volume 12 of Routledge Studies in the History of Russia and Eastern Europe ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 89.  
  41. ^ a b c (Kazemzadeh 1950, pp. 73)
  42. ^ (Swietochowski 2004, pp. 116)
  43. ^ Г. Гасанов, Н. Саркисов. Статьи. Советская власть в Баку в 1918 году (Бакинская Коммуна). Историк-марксист, No. 5(069), 1938, 41
  44. ^ "BAKU IN FLAMES AS BATTLE RAGES; 2,000 Killed and 3,000 Wounded in Struggle Between Russians and Mussulmans". New York Times. 20 May 1918. p. 2. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  45. ^ a b "Land of Eternal Fires: So the little Republic of Azerbaidjan is called - Its territorial dispute with Armenia". New York Times. 19 October 1919. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  46. ^ Claims of the Peace Delegation of the Republic of Caucasian Azerbaijan presented to the Peace Conference in Paris, Paris, 1919, pp. 18–19.
  47. ^ (Ratgauzer 1927, pp. 144)
  48. ^ Richard Pipes. The formation of the Soviet Union: communism and nationalism, 1917-1923. p.200
  49. ^ Year One of the Russian Revolution | Chpt. 6
  50. ^ Tadeusz Swietochowski. Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition. ISBN 0-231-07068-3
  51. ^ (Swietochowski 2004, pp. 119)
  52. ^ a b Marshall, Alex (2009). The Caucasus under Soviet rule. Taylor & Francis. p. 96.  
  53. ^ a b (Kazemzadeh 1950, pp. 143–144)
  54. ^ B. Ishkhanian. Великие ужасы в городе Баку, Tiflis, 1920, pp. 28-30 quoted (Kazemzadeh 1950, pp. 143–144)
  55. ^ "Azerbaijan" newspaper, 6 December 1919
  56. ^ Алиев Г.А. Мужественный борец за дело Ленина, за коммунизм. К 100-летию со дня рождения С.Г. Шаумяна. Доклад на торжественном собрании, посвященном 100-летию со дня рождения С.Г. Шаумяна. Баку. 11 октября 1978 года. Баку. 1978. С.16.
  57. ^ Stepan Shahumyan. Letters 1896-1918 State Publishing House of Armenia, Yerevan, 1959; pages 63-67.
  58. ^ (Swietochowski 2004, pp. 118)
  59. ^ , № 100, 23 May 1918ПравдаJ. Stalin. "Положение на Кавказе",
  60. ^ Jean Loris-Melikof. La revolution russe et les nouvelles Republiques Transcaucasiennes, Paris, Felix Alcan, 1920, pp. 115-117.
  61. ^ a b c d e Herbert Adams Gibbons, (1919), The New Map of Asia (1900-1919), Published by The Century Co., page 321
  62. ^ Michael P. Croissant. The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Causes and Implications, p. 14. ISBN 0-275-96241-5
  63. ^ Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition. ISBN 0-231-07068-3
  64. ^ (Kazemzadeh 1950, pp. 75)
  65. ^ "J3784-2011: Memorializing Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to proclaim Saturday, March 31, 2012 as Azerbaijani Remembrance Day in the State of New York". The New York State Senate. 27 March 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2012. 
  66. ^ "New York State Senate adopts resolution proclaiming March 31 as remembrance day of Azerbaijanis subjected to genocide". AzerTAg State News Agency. 24 June 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2012. 
  67. ^ "Nevada governor proclaims 31 March Azerbaijani Remembrance Day". Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  68. ^ "Genocide Memorial Complex opened in Guba". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  69. ^ "French senators visit Guba Genocide Memorial Complex". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  70. ^ "French senators visit Guba Genocide Memorial Complex - PHOTOS". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 


  1. ^
    Here is what Bakinsky Rabochy reports about it:
    — Joseph Stalin (March 26–27, 1918). "Transcaucasian Counter-revolutionaries Under a Socialist Mask". Marxists Internet Archive. 
  2. ^
    Dear Comrade Shahumyan:
    Many thanks for the letter. We are delighted by your firm and decisive policy; do unite with it a most cautious diplomacy, which is doubtlessly made necessary by the present most difficult situation, and we shall win.
    The difficulties are unfathomable; up to now we have been saved by the contradictions and conflicts and the struggle among imperialists. Be able to use these conflicts; now it is necessary to learn diplomacy.
    Best wishes and greetings to all the friends.
    — V. Ulyanov (Lenin), Stepan Shahumyan, Статьи и речи, Bakinskii Rabochii, Articles and speeches of the Bolshevik Extraordinary Commissar for the Caucasus, 1924, p. 224
  3. ^
    Peter Hopkirk:
    alarmed by the growing military strength of the Armenians, to which British founding had undoubtedly contributed, the Baku Muslims had secretly sought help from their co-religionists elsewhere. Among those who responded were units of the all-Muslim Savage Division, which had until the Revolution formed part of the Tsarist forces. Flushed by their success in overthrowing the Bolshevik garrison at the Caspian port of Lenkoran, some detachments now set sail for Baku. Their arrival, on March 30, caused great consternation among both Bolsheviks and Armenians. When officials were sent down to the dockside to try to discover what their intentions were, they were driven back by gunfire, a number of them being killed. Eventually however, the newcomers were disarmed by a stronger Bolshevik force. But then more units of the Savage Division arrived on April 1, in MacDonell's words, "the Baku cauldron boiled over". No one really knows who fired the first shot, but very soon it had become a battlefield, with trenches and barricades being hastily prepared everywhere.
    — Peter Hopkirk, Claims of the Peace Delegation of the Republic of Caucasian Azerbaijan presented to the Peace Conference in Paris, Paris, 1919, pp. 18–19.
  4. ^
    The contents of the ultimatum presented by the Bolsheviks and accepted by the Musavat:
    — (Suny 1972, pp. 217–221)
  5. ^
    On one side were fighting the Soviet Red Guard; the Red International Army, recently organized by us; the Red Fleet, which we had succeeded in reorganizing in a short time; and Armenian national units. On the other side the Muslim Savage Division in which there were quite a few Russian officers, and bands of armed Muslims, led by the Musavat Party... For us the results of the battle were brilliant. The destruction of the enemy was complete... More than three thousand were killed on both sides
    — Stepan Shahumyan. Letters 1896-1918. State Publishing House of Armenia, Yerevan, 1959; pages 63-67
  6. ^
    The leaders of the Tartars at Baku were convinced that they would easily disarm the Armenian soldiers, because they were somewhat shut up in Baku, but they were sadly mistaken in their calculations. After a bloody battle which lasted a whole week the Armenians remained masters of the city and its oil wells. They suffered a loss of nearly 2,500 killed, while Tartars lost more than 10,000. The commander of the military forces of the Armenians was the same General Bagradouni, who, although he lost both of his legs during the fight, continued his duties until September 14, when the Armenians and the small number of Englishmen who came to their assistance, were forced to abandon Baku to the superior forces of the Turco-Tartars, and retreat toward the city of Enzeli in the northern Caucasus
    — (Pasdermadjian 1918, pp. 193)


See also

On 18 September 2013, president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev inaugurated the Guba Genocide Memorial Complex, which is dedicated to victims of March Days.[68] In October 2013, the French Senate delegation, headed by senator Nathalie Goulet, laid a flower before the monument and commemorated the memory of the genocide victims.[69][70]


On 31 December 2010, Governor Jim Gibbons of the U.S. State of Nevada proclaimed 31 March as Remembrance Day of the 1918 massacres of Azerbaijani civilians in what became the first such recognition by the U.S. government institution.[67]

On 27 March 2012, the New York State Senate adopted the first-ever legislative resolution J3784-2011 proclaiming 31 March 2012 as the Azerbaijani Remembrance Day and describing March Days as the genocide "committed by the members of Armenian Dashnak party in concert with Bolsheviks against Azerbaijanis".[65] The resolution was introduced by the State Senator James Alesi at the initiative of the members of Azerbaijan Society of America and Azerbaijani-American Council.[66]

International recognition

According to Firuz Kazemzadeh, the Soviet provoked March events to eliminate its most formidable rival - the Musavat. However, when Soviet leaders reached out to ARF for assistance against the Azerbaijani nationalists, the conflict degenerated into a massacre with the Armenians killing the Muslims irrespective of their political affiliations or social and economic position.[64]

Other positions

Armenians had been inflamed by the sight and pitiful stories of several hundred thousand refugees who had succeeded in reaching Transcaucasia, fleeing before the Ottoman Army.[61] Consequently, when the Russian Army broke up, the Armenians preserved their discipline against all attempts of the Bolsheviks, and were the only force upon which the Allies could count in southwestern Asia during the last year of the war.[61] The two million Armenians of Transcaucasia, increased by several hundred thousand refugees from the Ottoman Empire, persisted in their loyalty to Russia until the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk delivered them to the Ottoman Empire.[61] Then they moved to form their own state, which succeeded in maintaining itself during the period of anarchy and famine that Bolshevism brought upon the Russian Empire.[61] At the Peace Conference, speaking before the Council of Ten, M. Aharonian, delegate of the Armenian Republic of the Caucasus, stated that the two and a half million Armenians in Transcaucasia wanted to cast in their fortunes with the Armenians of Ottoman Empire to form a Greater Armenia.[61] According to Michael P. Croissant, the ARF set out to take revenge for the persecution and genocide suffered by Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans,[62] while Tadeusz Swietochowski states that "Armenian historians do not offer an explanation for the political calculations behind this move, which was bound to entail terrible retribution, and they hint rather at an uncontrollable emotional outburst".[63]

The Armenian view of the March 1918 events was documented in a letter written by Archbishop Bagrat to the American mission in Baku. The letter began with the accusation that the Azerbaijanis, being the disciples of the Turks and the Germans, could not be trusted. Having thus disposed of the Azerbaijani version of the events, Bagrat stated that the battle was waged by the Musavat and the Soviet, while the Armenians remained neutral. The Archbishop claimed that some Armenian soldiers took part in the fighting, but that those were only isolated individuals for whom the Armenian National Council could not be held responsible.[41] He also claimed that the Armenians gave shelter to some 20,000 Muslims during the struggle.[60] Persian Armenians in Baku indeed saved many lives of their fellow citizens, which may have been the basis for Bagrat's exaggerated assertion.[41]

Armenian position

Victor Serge in Year One (First Year) Of the Russian Revolution: "The Soviet at Baku, led by Shahumyan, was meanwhile making itself the ruler of the area, discreetly but unmistakably. Following the Moslem rising of 18 (30) March, it had to introduce a dictatorship. This rising, instigated by the Musavat, set the Tartar and Turkic population, led by their reactionary bourgeoisie, against the Soviet, which consisted of Russians with support from the Armenians. The races began to slaughter each other in the street. Most of the Turkic port-workers (the ambal) either remained neutral or supported the Reds. The contest was won by the Soviets."

Joseph Stalin, who was Bolshevik People's Commissar at the time, tried to justify the provoking of the March Days by the Baku Soviet in "Pravda" newspaper: "While the center of Muslims, Baku, the citadel of Soviet power in Transcaucasus, unified around itself the entire Eastern Transcaucasus, from Lenkoran and Kuba till Elizavetpol, with arms in hands is asserting the rights of people of Transcaucasus, who try by all forces to maintain a link with Soviet Russia".[59]

In the opinion of the American historian Tadeusz Swietochowski, "in his enthusiasm, Shahumyan might not have remembered that in 1905 he himself had accused the tsardom of reaping in benefits of the Muslim-Armenian massacres. It is doubtful that to him, as opposed to the Azerbaijanis, any similarity suggested itself."[58]

Shahumian considered the March events to be a triumph of the Soviet power in the Caucasus:

The Baku Soviet's Committee of Revolutionary Defense issued a proclamation early in April explaining the events and their causes. The statement claimed an anti-Soviet character of the rebellion and blamed Musavat and its leadership for the events. Soviet's statement asserted that there was a carefully laid out conspiracy by Musavat to overthrow the Baku Soviet and to establish its own regime:

Soviet position

Exactly twenty years later, as the President of independent Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev issued a decree condemning March Days as the beginning of Azerbaijani genocide. Text of the 1998 Presidential decree describes the March events as follows:

In Stepan Shahumyan as follows:

The leader of Musavat Mammed Amin Rasulzade stated with regard to the March Days:

Azeri sources say that the "Greater Armenia" was used in order to "justify" the attempts to create this artificial state on Azerbaijani land[15]

Azerbaijani position

According to Michael Smith, Muslims faced a crushing defeat at the hands of Baku Soviet followed by an "unrestrained brutality of Dashnak forces".[7] While in the aftermath of the tragic events, Musavat used them to foster a national memory of pain, its leader M. E. Rasulzade provided an analysis which seems to reflect the essence of witness accounts. In Rasulzade's view, Bolsheviks and their supporters sought to diminish Musavat's influence among Azerbaijani masses for a long time, and Muslim elites felt frustrated and powerless in face of this pressure. March Days were a violent culmination in this assault of Russian Bolshevism against the unprepared Azerbaijani people.[7]

Analysis and interpretations

While trying to escape Baku amidst the Ottoman-Azerbaijani offensive, the Bolshevik Baku Commissars were taken by a ship across the Caspian to Krasnovodsk, where they were imprisoned by the Social Revolutionary Transcaspian Government with alleged support of the British. Few days later, on 20 September 1918, between the stations of Pereval and Akhcha-Kuyma on the Trans-Caspian railway, 26 of the Commissars were executed by a firing squad.[52]

The March Days brought the underlying tension between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis to the fore. Less than six months after the March massacres, when the Ottoman-Azerbaijani force entered Baku, the city fell into chaos and nearly 10,000 Armenians were massacred.[52] A special commission formed by the Armenian National Council (ANC) reported a total of 8,988 ethnic Armenians massacred, among which were 5,248 Armenian inhabitants of Baku, 1,500 Armenian refugees from other parts of the Caucasus who were in Baku, and 2,240 Armenians whose corpses were found in the streets but whose identities were never established.[53] Although these figures were gathered by the Armenian National Council, and have been questioned by some,[53] given the general run of events, they were unlikely to be too exaggerated.[54]

March Days of 1918 had a profound effect on the formulation of Azerbaijani political objectives as well. While before Azerbaijani leaders only sought an autonomy within the Russian domain, after the Bolshevik-perpetrated massacres in Baku, they no longer believed in Russian Revolution and turned to the Ottomans for support in achieving total independence.[51] Therefore, when Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was proclaimed on 28 May 1918, its government immediately dispatched a delegation to Istanbul for discussing a possibility of the Ottoman military support for the young republic. The Ottoman triumvir, Enver Pasha, agreed to Azerbaijani requests and charged his brother, Nuru Pasha, with forming an Ottoman military unit, known as the Caucasus Army of Islam, to retake Baku. When in July 1918, the Ottoman-Azerbaijani force defeated the "Red Army of Baku" in several key battles in Central Azerbaijan, Bolshevik power in Baku started crumbling under pressure from the Russian Socialist Revolutionaries, Dashnaks and British agents in the city. On 1 August 1918, the Baku Commune was replaced by the Centrocaspian Dictatorship, which desperately invited a 1000-strong British expeditionary force led by General Lionel Dunsterville to the city. But this was a futile effort and, in face of an overwhelming Ottoman-Azerbaijani offensive, the Dunsterforce fled and the Caucasus Army of Islam entered the Azerbaijani capital on 15 September 1918.

On 13 April 1918, within few days of the massacres, the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Stepan Shahumyan proclaimed the Baku Commune. This new body endeavored to nationalize Baku's oil fields, drawing ire from the British,[28] and to form the "Red Army of Baku", an undisciplined and poorly managed force composed largely of ethnic Armenian recruits.[49] Although the majority of the Commissars (leaders of Baku Commune) were ethnic Armenians, two of them were ethnic Azeri revolutionaries, Meshadi Azizbekov and Mir Hasan Vazirov. Nevertheless, in Azeri psyche, the Baku Commune symbolized the Bolshevik - Armenian collusion born out of the March Days bloodbath.[50]

In the immediate aftermath of the March Days, many of the Muslim survivors fled to Elisabethpol (Ganja) in central Azerbaijan. While the Temporary Executive Committee of the Muslim National Councils and the Musavat ceased their activities on the territory of the Baku Governorate, the left-wing Azerbaijani political groups, such as the SRs and the Hümmet, benefited from the developments and became effective leaders of the Azerbaijani community in Baku. The Muslim Socialist Bureau appealed to the Committee of Revolutionary Defense to redress some of the grievances of some of the Muslims.[39]

The aftermath in the Azerbaijani quarter


The leader of Baku Soviet, Stepan Shahumyan, claimed that more than 3,000 killed in two days.[35][47][48][notes 5] However, in his October 1918 article for the Armenian Herald, publication of the Boston-based Armenian National Union of America, one of the prominent ARF leaders, Karekin Pastermadjian, asserted that over 10,000 Azerbaijanis and nearly 2,500 Armenians were killed during the March Days of 1918.[notes 6]

Azerbaijani delegation to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference provided the following interpretation of the March Days:

The May 1918 dispatch of the New York Times stated that "2000 were killed and 3000 were wounded in struggle between Russians and Mussulmans".[44] Later 1919 publication by the New York Times concluded that 12,000 people were killed during the March Days of 1918.[45] 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".[45] The post-1920 New York Times editions used the same figure of 12,000 victims,[6] as did several historians.[4][5]

Removing the dead from the streets


On the afternoon on 1 April, a Muslim delegation arrived at the Hotel Astoria. The Committee of Revolutionary Defense presented them with an ultimatum[notes 4] and demanded that representatives of all Muslim parties sign the document before the shelling stopped. Early in the evening, the agreements were signed and the bombardment stopped.[39] The fighting did not subside, however, till the night of 2 April 1918, when thousands of Muslims started leaving the city in a mass exodus. By the fifth day, although much of the city was still ablaze, all resistance had ceased, leaving the streets strewn with dead and wounded, nearly all of them Muslims.[18] So the armed conflict between the Musavat and the joint Soviet-ARF forces ended on 3 April 1918 with the victory of the latter.

No quarter was given by either side: neither age nor sex was respected. Enormous crowds roamed the streets, burning houses, killing every passer-by who was identified as an enemy, many innocent persons suffering death at the hands of both the Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The struggle which had begun as a political contest between the Musavat and the Soviet turned into a gigantic ethnic-religious riot.[41] There were descriptions of Dashnak forces taking to looting, burning and killing in the Muslim sections of the city.[42] According to Peter Hopkirk, "Armenians, seeing that at last they had their ancient foes on the run, were now out for vengeance".[18] In Balakhany and Ramany districts of Baku, the majority of Muslim workers stayed at their places and avoided the battles, while the peasants were not moved to join the anti-Soviet rebels. The Persian workers remained passive during all of the fighting, refusing to take sides.[39] Left-wing Muslim leaders, including those of SRs and Hümmet Party, such as Narimanov, Azizbekov, Bunyat Sardarov and Kazi-Magomed Aghasiyev, supported the Soviet forces[43] During the battles, Bolsheviks decided to use artillery against the Azerbaijani residential quarters in the city.[35]

Forced to seek support from either Muslim Musavat or Armenian Dashnaktsutyun, Shahumyan, himself an Armenian, chose the latter. Following initial skirmishes in the streets, the Dashnaks proceeded to initiate a massacre, wildly killing Musavat military elements and Muslim civilians alike without mercy or discrimination in both Baku and the surrounding countryside.[40]

Armenians initially remained neutral as the Muslim rebellion against the Soviet began. The Musavat Party proposed an alliance with the Dashnaks, but was given a rebuff. The Armenian leadership withdrew its forces to the Armenian areas of Baku and limited its action to self-defense. On the evening of 31 March, machine-gun and rifle fire in Baku intensified into a full-fledged battle.[39] On the morning of 1 April 1918, the Committee of Revolutionary Defense of Baku's Soviet issued a leaflet which said:

In the morning of 31 March, Azerbaijanis opposed to the Bolshevik disarming of Savage Division held protests in Baku, demanding to arm the Muslims. The Azerbaijani Bolshevik organization Hümmet attempted to mediate the dispute by proposing that the arms taken from the Savage Division are transferred to the custody of the Hümmet. Shahumyan agreed to this proposal. But on the afternoon of 31 March, when Muslim representatives appeared before the Baku Soviet leadership to take the arms, shots were already heard in the city and the Soviet commissar Prokofy Dzhaparidze refused to provide arms and informed the Hümmet leadership that "Musavat had launched a political war".[35][39] The talks broke off abruptly after the Soviet's soldiers were fired upon. Bolsheviks accused the Muslims in the incident, stopped negotiations, and opened hostilities. Later Shahumyan admitted that the Bolsheviks deliberately used a pretext to attack their political opponents:

By 6 p.m. on 30 March 1918, Baku was filled with fighting. Trenches were being dug, barricades erected, and preparations made for warfare.[36] The Soviet side, led by Shahumyan, realized that full civil war was starting and its own forces were insufficient against Azerbaijani masses led by Musavat. Allies were found among the Mensheviks, SRs, and the Kadets (right-wing liberals), which promised support the Bolsheviks as the champions of the "Russian Cause."[37] In response to these, Musavat's Achiq Söz newspaper noted that while Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were fighting all year, both were uniting against Musavat even with the Kadets and the Dashnaks. The paper attributed such alliance to national factors, and concluded that the Soviet's attempt to provoke "one nationality against another, instead of fighting a class war, was a tragic capitulation of democracy".[38]

The March 1918 confrontation was triggered by an incident with the steamship "Evelina". On 27 March 1918, fifty former Savage Division servicemen arrived in Baku on board of this steamship, to attend the funeral of their colleague Mamed Tagiyev, son of a famous Azerbaijani oil magnate and philanthropist Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev. M. Tagiyev was killed in a skirmish with the Russian-Armenian forces in Lenkoran.[7][32] Some sources state that when soldiers got back on the "Evelina" to sail out of Baku on 30 March 1918, the Soviet received information that the Muslim crew of the ship was armed and waiting for a signal to revolt against the Soviet. While the report lacked foundation, the Soviet acted on it, disarming the crew which tried to resist.[33][34][35] Other sources claim that [notes 3] Azerbaijanis were alarmed by the growing military strength of the Armenians in Baku, and called for help of the Savage division units in Lenkoran. Their arrival caused great concerns among both Bolsheviks and Armenians, and when officials were sent down to the dockside to try to discover what their intentions were, they were driven back by gunfire, a number of them being killed. Eventually, however, these Savage Division soldiers were disarmed by a stronger Bolshevik force.[18]

When the staff of the disbanded Savage Division arrived in Baku on 9 March 1918, the Soviet immediately arrested its commander, General Talyshinski. The move sparked protests from Azerbaijani population, with occasional calls to offer armed resistance to the Soviet. According to Firuz Kazemzadeh, Shahumyan could have prevented bloodshed, had he been less impulsive and stubborn. Only a few days earlier, Shahumyan received a telegram from Lenin, in which he was advised "to learn diplomacy", but this advice was ignored.[notes 2]

Bazarnaya Street (modern day Azerbaijan Avenue) during the March days in 1918.

Events of 30 March – 2 April 1918

[31] disbanded in January 1918.Savage Division and an undefined number of soldiers of the [30]

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