The Shushi Massacres, Shusha, or Shushi pogroms, till 1905, the two main population groups in Shushi, the Armenians and Shiite Turks, lived in accord and relative peace. However, the Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism ideology started penetrating Shushi too. The Turkish population of the town was significantly influenced by the Armenian-Turkish clashes in Baku in February, 1905. Prior to that, some violence, robbery and murders had occurred on the Shushi-Yevlakh and Shushi-Goris roads, but the Armenians of Shushi tried to attach no importance to that. However, the atmosphere was tense and it erupted on August 16, 1905, and lasted six days. There were several attempts to re-establish peace, but to no avail. The Turks hoisted a white flag only when they felt that are going to be defeated. Both parts of Shushi bore considerable losses. One hundred Armenians were killed, the losses born by the Turkish side were much greater. Some 370 public and cultural building and residential houses in the center of the rapidly developing Armenian part of the town were ruined and set to fire, and 200 shops were destroyed. The overall damage totaled 5-6 million roubles.
Once these clashes stopped, General Takaishvili, Yelizavetpol’s governer, arrived in Shushi. He arrested three prominent and respected Armenian community leaders.
On July 12, 1906, shooting between the Armenians and Turks started once again, which fiercely escalated on the following days. The Armenians come to realize that one of Shushi’s important Turkish leaders, Najaf Kuli bek, was making plans for secretly massacring the Armenians with help from Ildrim, head of Haji-Samlu’s gang, and Pasha bek Sultanov, while the police and the military were simply shooting from the Armenian positions onto the Turkish positions, and from the Turkish positions onto the Armenian positions.
On June 4-5, 1919, an armed Armenian-Turkish clash takes place in Shushi, organized and incited by Governor-General Sultanov. The town was isolated and blockaded, and the Armenian population found itself in acute need of food. The barracks in Khankendi (Stepanakert) were filled with soldiers of the Azeri army, and only a single unit of the English army was located in the town, which comprised of Sipayis (?), Muslim Indians. The Armenian part of Shushi was under a siege imposed by the armed Turks. The Armenian forces were not only scarce, but had no weapon cartridges.
The attempts to subjugate Karabakh to Azerbaijan kept failing. The Armenian National Council of Karabakh remained unflinching. Sultanov’s goal was bring Karabagh to its knees through massacres, violence and terror, and he was going to start from Shushi. The shootings of June 4-5 left casualties on both sides. The English mission in Shushi presented to the Armenian side Sultanov’s condition for a ceasefire: removal of the Armenian National Council members from the town. On June 5, three members of the Council left Shushi. The ceasefire was reached partially due to the interference of the English soldiers. But a new wave of violence swept through the neighboring villages of Ghaibalishen, Pahlul and Krkzhan, which were pillaged June 5-7. About 700 people, mostly innocent civilians, were killed in Ghaibalishen.
The gang activities were led by the brother of the Governor-General.
Massacres in Shushi on March 22-26, 1920
From the very start of 1920, Governor Sultanov, breaking the terms of the temporary agreement of August 22, 1919, tightened the blockade around Karabagh, not only through accumulation of armed forces in the strategically important locations, but also by arming the Turkish population, preparing the latter for guerrilla fights.
In the winter and spring of 1920, Sultanov, as always, was well aware of the degree of the Armenian population’s armament in Karabakh, which in fact was much worse than that of the Turks. One of his dispatches reads: “I think this is the most suitable moment for the final resolution of the Nagorno Karabagh issue, since they have few cartridges available.
Armenians were also aware of Sultanov’s preparations and tried to resist them.
In the early morning of March 23, 1920, when the Turkish population of Shushi was celebrating Novruz Bairam, a small Armenian detachment entered Shushi and tried to take over the barrack in accordance with an uprising program developed by the Karabakh self-defense commanders.
This started an exchange of fire, which served as a signal for Shushi’s armed Turkish population, the Azeri army soldiers and Kurdish gangs abounding in the town to attack the Armenian district, plunder, set everything on fire and start a horrible massacre of the Armenian population.
There is another version of what exactly started the massacre, according to which a Turkish officer tried to disarm a young Armenian and insulted the honor of the Armenian’s wife in the guy’s presence. The young man killed the officer, and then his whole family was slaughtered by the Turks accompanying the officer. While the shooting was going on, the Turks called for help from their companions-in-arms and brothers in faith.
The Turkish part of Shushi, the army located in the town, the “guerrilla” gangs that had arrived from other locations, seized by the rage of killing and plundering, ceaselessly and mercilessly slaughtered, destroyed, burnt and looted the Armenian part of the town for three days.
Nobody did or could have counted the number of victims and those who miraculously survived the ordeal. Let us mention again that, according to the 1914 data, more than 22 thousand Armenians lived in Shushi, whereas in 1921 their number was about 300.
The documental records provide more than sufficient evidence for stating that the massacre of the Armenians in Shushi was thoroughly prepared by the Azerbaijanian authorities, under the command of experienced Turkish emissaries (Khalil pasha). Otherwise it would be hard to believe that the peaceful population that was amid sending its prayers to God could in a wink of an eye, without arms, rush out for an attack upon hearing the shooting noise, and start the beastly destruction of everybody and everything.
On February 29, 1920 Sultanov sent a telegram to the Minister of Azerbaijan’s home affairs regarding the askyars’ dream: “They cherish an unfaltering dream of conquering Karabakh”.
The part of the dream that relates to Shushi was fulfilled.
“Ermenistan that you have seen is now burnt down, just about five or ten houses were left…“ “After killing the prominent Armenians, their severed heads were carried and displayed during rounds made at the marketplaces…” “You will see no more Armenians in our area; neither will you meet a Turk who has brought less than one hundred thousand’s worth of loot”. (Excerpts from the originals of Ottoman letters written in Arabic letters).
After Shushi’s destruction (April 1920 – July 1923)
On March 23-26, 1920 the Armenian part of Shushi was completely destroyed. These events left their mark on the Turkish part of the town as well. According to the data of 1921, some 8 thousand Turks lived in Shushi, and the number of Armenians was about 300.
The ruins of the once blossoming town made horrible impression on its first visitors, former Shushi residents. The dust of the ruins and the stifling smell of the corpses was everywhere over the town. The newly formed Revolutionary Committee did not even allow the Armenian survivors to carry out the metal roof sheets of their own homes, explaining that those were part of war trophies.
In the Armenian part of the town, about 750-800 houses survived the fire, in a relatively good shape, which after a light refurbishment could be used for living. The authorities rejected the collective petition of 400 former residents of the town about returning to Shushi, repairing their homes and re-establishing there.
Starting from 1920 till July of 1921 Shushi, and Karabakh, too, continued to be semi-independent, under Armenian jurisdiction. On July 5, 1921, the Caucasian Bureau of the Russian Communist Party passed a decision to give Karabakh wide autonomy within the Azerbaijan, and proclaimed Shushi the administrative center of the autonomy. Azerbaijan resolved the autonomy issue two years later, on July 7, 1923, and proclaimed the Khankendi settlement (Stepanakert) as the administrative center.
In 1988, Shushi had a population of 13.5 thousand people, of which 2.2 thousand (15%) were Armenians. The majority of Armenians were those who moved there from the neighboring villages.
Based on the January 1, 1989 census, when most Armenians had left Shushi, there remained 290 Armenians there, which is the official number currently used by the Azerbaijani side.