The Memoirs of the National Liberation Movement in Azerbaijan
The Minister of National Security of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920)
Copyright © 1998 by Tomris Azeri
Published by Tomris Azeri
All rights reserved.
Reproduction or translation of any part of this work beyond that permitted by Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act without the permission of the copyright owner is unlawful. Requests for permission or further information should be addressed to Tomris Azeri.
The Memoirs of the National Liberation Movement in Azerbaijan.
Printed in the United States of America
A Note from Tomris Azeri
Genje in History
The Birth of Difai Party
The Struggle in Genje
The Activities of the Youth Organization of Genje
The Grand Concert
The Events Caused by Anarchy
The Great Russian Revolution of 1917
The Press Review
The Return to the Caucasus
The Causes of the Fall of the Azerbaijani Republic
The Traditions of the Azerbaijani People
The Period of Independence
The Letter of Gratitude
The North Caucasus
Nesib bey Yusufbeyli
What I heard about Nesib bey from others
My last meeting with Nesib bey
The best article about Nesib bey
Developments during the Independence Period
Our Relations with Georgians
Our Relations with Armenians
My last meeting with my elder brother Memmed Baghir
I remember my grandfather as if it were yesterday. He used to love to talk about Azerbaijan and his memories in a land that changed before his eyes. He always told us “do not settle down anywhere, we have a beautiful country. One day we will all go back and live there.” He talked of the struggles to achieve nationhood and his part in it. He talked about the overwhelming odds that the Azeri people overcame to become the first Muslim nation to achieve a democratic republic on May 28, 1918. He talked about the mountain mists, the clear lakes, the wildlife and the natural beauty of the land and the people. As he had lived, he died with the word Azerbaijan upon his lips. One lifetime was not enough to live, love, struggle and die for his motherland.
I remember my grandfather as the gentlest of all men. Whenever a lady walked into a room, no matter how old or young, he would always speak softly and respectfully as he rose up to greet her. His respect for all people won him the hearts of many who were privileged to know him. His compassion for those in need and his endless devotion to all Azeris was legendary. When he talked about Azerbaijan and his people his eyes would light up and twinkle with pride and passion. He would talk endlessly about the duty we all have to Azerbaijan and to the Azeri nation. He taught us to be proud of who we are as Azeris and to always defend the honor of Azerbaijan.
He was proud of the book he wrote and often asked “I wonder which one of my grandchildren is going to get my book translated into English?” We all promised to do so, grandfather, and we have kept that promise.
I want to thank Ferhad Abasov from the bottom of my heart for making my grandfather’s wish come true and helping us translate his book.
Rest in peace grandfather! Your memories of Azerbaijan will forever live on.
The most important part of my memoirs with which I want to familiarize my dear readers is the struggle for the independence of Azerbaijan. Since this struggle was carried out primarily underground, the press covered few details. This movement began after the occupation of the Azerbaijani Khanates at the turn of the 19th century. The national liberation struggle of the Azerbaijanis was conducted under very difficult circumstances. We had to defend ourselves without any representative in the international community or even a publication. The secrecy in which the movement occurred was the principal reason that no comprehensive history of the Azerbaijani National Liberation was written. The intensification of the struggle coincided with the Russian Revolution of 1905. Despite the tyrannical rule of the Czar, the Azerbaijani underground movement was quite powerful. The backbone of this struggle was the Azeri people who entered a new era in their history. They were dedicated to defending their nation. It was the nation that was just waiting for a signal to act. This signal came after February of 1917. The Czar was deposed; the empire collapsed, and the Russians themselves executed their Czar together with his entire family. The Azerbaijani patriots immediately moved to disarm the Russian forces and take over their own country. The national government was established in Genje. The press did not pay much attention to this extraordinary and very important event. As you will see from my memoirs, unlike the events in Genje the national government was not established in Baku. Our enemies seized the power in Baku and made it a part of Lenin’s Moscow. The enemy in Baku suppressed all the publications and resources supporting the national cause of Azerbaijan. The publishing facilities were destroyed and its workers arrested. Genje had to bear the entire national struggle on its shoulders. After a very short time the peace and stability was established throughout the country, and a new generation of national cadre began managing Azerbaijan. However, the national government did not feel sufficiently strong in the military aspect and had to request military aid from brotherly Turkey. Turkey provided such assistance, and allied Azeri-Turkish forces liberated Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
In 1906 the Azerbaijani deputies submitted a proposal to the Russian authorities on recruiting the Azeris into the Russian army. The Czar regime rejected this plan by expressing their distrust to the Azerbaijanis. It is certain that if this plan had been adopted, the Azeris would have had as many trained and skilled military personnel as other nations. These soldiers and officers could have played a crucial role in the years to come. With this military power we could have prevented the occupation of Baku and declared our independence a year earlier.
I firmly believe that any Russian or other domination of Azerbaijan will not take roots and last in our country. The Azerbaijani people who hold their freedom above all will rise and gain their independence again. My mortal body and eyes longing for freedom may not see that glorious day. However, I am certain that our nation eternally proud of its history will embellish my humble book with illustrations and publish it again. Our people will diligently study its heroic past and always be grateful to their ancestors who relentlessly fought for the independence of our motherland.
My dear readers, the national liberation struggle cost us many lives and tremendous efforts. These sacrifices are expected of any struggle. Nevertheless, our independence movement went on under the most difficult conditions. If we succeed in shedding some light on the history of our Independence War we will consider ourselves very happy since we will have helped our national cause. In fact it is the only purpose of this book.
In the beginning of the 19th century the Russian Empire invaded Azerbaijani Khanates and occupied them within ten years. Russia annexed the Azerbaijani Khanates to its empire without leaving any rights in their jurisdiction. These Khanates included Baku, Genje, Garabakh, Sheki, Shirvan, Zakatal, Lenkoran and other smaller entities.
The Azerbaijani Khanates failed to unite among themselves. The Russian Imperialism took advantage of this situation and absorbed them one at a time. However, after such a terrible tragedy these Khanates and their people launched a brutal warfare against the Russians. These unfortunate peoples who had the same religion, language, customs and traditions quickly came to terms with each other and confronted the enemy as one nation.
The Khanate of Genje gave the fiercest resistance to the Russian imperialists and inflicted huge casualties on the Russian armies. General Tsitsianov, the Russian Commander, was sending insulting ultimatums to Javad Khan of Genje. Tsitsianov was comparing the battle with Javad Khan to that with a fly:” Surrender and the Emperor will spare your life at once!” Javad Khan, however, would continue his resistance to the enemy:” You won’t enter Genje as long as I live on this earth. You won’t take the fortress of Genje!” In the end the Russians understood that the siege would not succeed in forcing the city to surrender, and they changed the direction of the river that was supplying Genje with water. The starvation and thirst on one hand and the continuous heavy artillery bombardment on the other allowed the Russians to enter the city. It happened, as Javad khan had said, after Javad Khan and his son had fallen in the battle.
The savage Russian soldiers who entered the city were massacring everyone whom they encountered on the streets. These atrocities were the rights of the Russian soldiers approved by the Czar. During the siege of the city the elderly, children and sick had found a refuge in the main mosque of the city. When the Russian infantry approached the mosque an older man who spoke Russian appealed to them:” This is not barracks. This is God’s house. We only pray here. No one has a right to enter the mosque with arms. The mosque is full of the sick, old and children. They all came here to find protection from their God. Please, spare their lives.” The Russians killed the man first. Then they entered the mosque and carried out an unheard of massacre of all the helpless and unarmed civilians. It took the Russians one week to clean up the blood in the mosque after that bloodbath. This was the real face of the Russian culture and civilization… The Azeris still remember the poetic lines dedicated to the national hero of our land Javad Khan by heart. Poet Kazakhli Deliboz said:
“ The death of Javad Khan was the death of Genje.”
(Encyclopedia Islamica. Article on Genje).
Genje was a very developed city since the ancient times as it straddled the major trade routes, rich and fertile lands. The residents of Genje are also famous for their courage and bravery. Thus, in 1221 when the Mongols approached this city, they decided not to attack the city that was known for its savage warriors. The Mongols were content with the silver and gold they received and left. A 13th century Armenian historian from Genje Karakos wrote:” Khorezmshah Jelaleddin who escaped from the Mongols to Azerbaijan seized Genje after Ozbek Khan the last of the Eldeniz had fled from Tebriz to Genje. Several years after this event the Genje resident revolted and murdered the Khorezmshahs in the city. In 1231 Jelaleddin crushed the rebellion, but hanged only around 30 ringleaders. He did not permit his troops to loot the city. In the late 14th century Genje did not surrender to Tamerlane.” According to Karakos from Genje, the Mongols who chased Jelaleddin approached the city twice in 1235, but were met by an armed resistance of Genje residents. The people of Genje who realized that the city was going to fall after a week of siege burned their homes and belongings in order not to let the enemy have them. The Mongols who were angered by this act massacred the population.
In 1920 Mr. Yusuf Vezirli, the former Azerbaijani Ambassador in Istanbul published a book titled “The Economy, History and Geography of Azerbaijan” in which (page 24) he described Genje as follows:” The people of Genje have been famous for their ability to defend their land and freedom. The heroic people of Genje who successfully resisted the Georgian invasions had also attracted Chenghiz Khan’s attention. Chengiz’s armies did not attack Genje while they were causing destruction elsewhere in the Caucasus. The Mongols were believed to respect the brave and warlike peoples. Genje has the best-organized national institutions in Azerbaijan. The majority of the prominent individuals who fought for the independence of Azerbaijan come from Genje. Genje is the land of Sheykh Nizami. His shrine is located in that city.”
Let’s go back to the struggle for independence Genje waged against the Russians and which I witnessed. We have already briefly touched on the atrocities and oppression that the Russians brought to Genje in 1803. I will note one more historic event after which we will travel to the modern times. The Russian history books claim that Javad Khan was killed in the tower of the Genje fortress. The Russian soldiers decided to see the fallen Khan themselves and climbed to the tower. They saw the following scene: the bodies of Javad Khan and his son Huseyn on one side and Azeri soldiers on the other. One of the Azeri soldiers was paying his last tribute to his Khan. At this time a Russian sergeant insults the dead body of Javad Khan and strikes the body with his sword. The unarmed Azeri soldier gets up from his position and grabs the Russian in the throat. In the end of this skirmish they both die. The Russian from strangling by the Azeri soldier, and the Azeri from the blows of other Russians. The Russian history gave the following interpretation to these events in The Caucasian Calendar: “ Our heroic officer strangled the criminal officer of Javad Khan to death.” Another example of the great Russian culture!
The hot-blooded people from the rural areas went on the brutal guerilla warfare with the Russian authorities. The people knew these freedom fighters by the name of “Gachag” (literally fugitive). They were killing and being killed. The Gachags earned fame by terrifying the Russians. Our poets dedicated poems to these heroes, and the people learned them by rote. The mountains, valleys and villages around Genje witnessed the mushrooming of the Gachags. They were also well organized. If the Russian police planned any operations against them, the youth from Genje would notify the Gachags immediately.
The struggle for independence was raging all over Azerbaijan. But we shall elaborate on the events in and around Genje. The national liberation movement was visible in every field. Young intellectuals conducted a very efficient struggle as well. This strife that did not find its reflection in history lasted for many years. The Azerbaijani people were waiting for any power to start an armed conflict with Russia. We would have considered that country our ally and assisted it even if it had been a devil itself. Finally, our dream came true in the form of the Japanese who were barely known to us. Japan declared a war on Russia. Since we were far from that region of the world, we could not participate in the war. The only thing we could do was praying All Mighty to provide help to the Japanese. Thank God the Japanese defeated the Russians both in sea and on land. The disaster of the Russian army sent a shock wave to the center. All Socialist parties of Russia protested the Czar regime. Non-Russian, oppressed nations demanded independence.
The Russians realized what disaster the further military actions could entail. That’s why they agreed to the very harsh and humiliating peace terms of the Japanese. After the peace the Russians attempted to rectify the situation in the center. The Russian regime resorted to all kinds of legal and illegal measures to divert the attention from the defeat. First, the authorities incited the Russian chauvinists to attack the Jews in central Russia. They organized the pogroms on Jews across Russia. This massacre of the Jews in Russia was unheard of in the annals of history. All Russians regardless of their class and denomination joined this Jewish slaughterhouse.
The Czar regime achieved its goals in central Russia: the Russian people put the class struggle aside and were engaged in the Jewish pogroms. But the Czar had another problem on hand. Azerbaijan was on its feet demanding the answer for the massacre of the Genje people. With this in mind the Russian authorities began playing the second part of the tragedy in Azerbaijan. In the city of Shusha (an administrative center of Garabakh district of Genje region) the Armenians were provoked to assault the Azeris. The Russian general Kalashchapov realized how terrified the Armenians were when facing the Azeris. So, he ordered his soldiers of Armenian descent to dress in civilian clothes and spearhead the attacks on the Azerbaijanis. In response to this action, the people from Genje sent help to their brethren in Shusha. The secret agents of the Czar did not waste any time and successfully spread the Azeri-Armenian riots to Genje. Then Baku became the battlefield. Thus, all parts of Azerbaijan came under the attack of its Armenian citizens. However, the Azeris defeated Armenians in every corner of Azerbaijan.
Throughout the history of Azerbaijan the Armenians have never dared fight the Turks. The Russians who overtly delivered military assistance to the Armenians in Shusha could not do the same thing in Baku and Genje. The Azeri intellectuals followed every move by the Russians in these major administrative centers. However, the Russians were still secretly providing help to the Armenians in these cities. At any rate, the Czar regime succeeded in Azerbaijan as well. In 1905 Azerbaijanis were engulfed in a fight for existence. As a result, the 1905 Revolution died as quickly as it emerged. The victorious Russians drafted a declaration in which they promised some minor rights to the non-Russian peoples of the Empire. The Azeris accepted these new rights as a certain achievement. Below is the summary of the principal rights declared in 1905:
1 – Establishment of the State Duma (Parliament). All nations were permitted to send their deputies to the Duma.
2 – Religious freedom to the nations. Right to open national-language schools, publish newspapers, magazines and books in native languages.
3 – Rights to freedom, justice and equality.
People in all corners of Azerbaijan immediately began implementing these rights by opening schools where the courses were taught in our mother tongue. Besides 20 daily newspapers, numerous weekly and monthly publications appeared in Baku. These publications were disseminated to all parts of Azerbaijan. As anywhere else in Azerbaijan Genje also witnessed the birth of four major organizations: Philanthropic Society, Society for Education, Theatre Group and underground Revolutionary party.
The mission of the Philanthropic Society was to meet all the needs of our people with the funds it obtained. The Society for Education was funneling the public money into creating new schools and other educational institutions. The Czar regime allowed the operation of the Turkish-language schools, but furnished no technical or financial assistance. The Theatre Group propagated the role of theatre in the Azerbaijani society, particularly in regards to our national liberation movement.
The Revolutionary party was founded out of necessity to defend our people against the Russian authorities who were hostile to us and openly sided with the Armenians in their aggression against the Azeris. The members of the party would kill any Russian public servant who harmed the Azeri civilians and issue a statement informing the people of their actions and position on different matters.
The birth of the Difai party
In order to suppress the Revolution of 1905 in Azerbaijan, the Czar authorities provoked inter-communal violence between Turks and Armenians, two nations that had lived peacefully together for centuries. The Russians went even further by openly backing the Armenians.
The Russians never liked the position of Azerbaijan, however the Russians were always aware of the national consciousness, language, religion, traditions, the intellectual potential and entrepreneurship of the Azerbaijanis. Despite the Czar’s annexation of the Azerbaijani Khanates in the 19th century, the Azeris continued to make progress in their society. These activities of the Azeris were quite disconcerting to the Russian authorities. The most important objective of the Czar regime was to keep the Azeri Turks in the darkness of ignorance and illiteracy. Thanks to the ever-increasing efforts by the brilliant Azeri intellectuals Azerbaijan was rapidly moving to its independence and national well being.
The Russians were well aware of this situation. Nevertheless, the Azerbaijanis realized the dream of freedom and soon turned their ideals of liberty and independence of their beautiful and wealthy motherland into reality (May 28th, 1918).
After having given this brief explanation I would like to describe the causes and events that led to the formation of the Revolutionary party. The city of Genje is divided into two parts by the river of Genje. The Armenians inhabit the mountainous villages, while the Turks live in the villages that are located in valleys. There was also an Armenian village among the Turkish towns known as Noreshen. Other Turkish villages and neighborhoods included Ozan, Zerrabi, Ettarlar, Imamli, Dördyol, Soflu, Sefarabad, Toyugchu, Böyük Baghban. Three Turkish villages were also located in mostly Armenian district: Mullahchelili, Chayli, Hajimelikli. These three Turkish villages had to bear the most intensive Armenian attacks. The women, children and the disabled from these Turkish villages had to cross the river to find refuge in mostly Turkish district, while the men stayed to fight the Armenian aggressors. The Armenians, however, were looting the deserted houses of the Turks. The Turkish houses were then set on fire.
Tatoglu Kara famous for his bravery was severely punishing the Armenians for their aggression. Soon the Russian troops instigated by the Armenians shot Tatoglu dead. Tatoglu’s troops took his body and decided to ford the river to the Turkish side. The people in Genje were deeply upset by the murder of Tatoglu by the Russians. The skirmishes continued. In return for the murders of the Turkish farmers and businessmen on the Armenian side, the Turks were also killing the Armenians who dared come to the Turkish towns. The most striking part of this bloodshed was the position of the Russian authorities who were silently watching the conflict flare.
On the second day of the conflict when both sides were ready for further battles, the news of clashes in Baku and Garabakh reached Genje. According to the available information the situation in Garabakh was terrible as the Russians were openly supporting the Armenians, and the Turks’ weapons and ammunition were in short supply. The transportation issues complicated the provision of any assistance to Garabakh. The Armenians occupied a route that went through the mountains, and the Russians controlled the railroad traversing through Yevlakh to Garabakh. Finally, the help reached Garabakh. A major by the name of Zulfugar bey Bagirbeyli (originally from Garabakh) who served in the Russian battalion in Genje delivered the weapons to Garabakh under the disguise of personal belongings. On the third day of the fight General Fleysher (of German descent), a commander of the Russian kazak troops led his infantry to the main square of Genje. No sooner had they appeared on the square than the Azeris launched deadly drumfire on the enemy from the direction of Dortyol street and Sofulu. After having lost several soldiers dead and wounded the Kazaks took off. An hour later the Chief of Police together with his servicemen came to the square to collect the dead and wounded. The Azeri population had taken their weapons. The questions remained. Why did this battalion arrive in Genje? What purpose did they pursue? Did they want to intimidate the Azeris? It was never clarified. The Russians had to swallow the losses.
That day famous Gachag Deliali entered the city with two thousand armed young men.
He met with the leaders of the city. They decided that at the sunset there would be a major offensive against the Armenians. It was resolved that everything in the Armenian side of the city would be set on fire or otherwise destroyed. One thousand young men from Genje joined Gachag Deliali’s group, and the attack began at 7 P.M. the same evening. The fires erupted all over the Armenian side of the city. Powerful Alekber bey Rafibeyli was directing the people in Genje. All Azeris were involved. The building of Philanthropic Society and Publishing house became the headquarters of the popular movement. Alekber bey was giving orders from that building. Such turn of events took the Russian Military Commandment and Viceroy by surprise. They were completely confounded by the situation and did not know how to settle the confrontation. The Russians finally came to a conclusion that Alekber bey was the only man capable of stopping these actions. All the Georgian residents, retired officers and civil high officials from Genje pleaded with Alekber bey: “ Alekber bey, it is a tragedy to burn the half of the city, and the Armenians are sorry for their actions.” On the other hand, the Chief of Police, prominent religious leaders, merchants and bankers appealed to Alekber bey to stop the killing. At last Alekber bey ordered the troops to halt the military action.
The cease-fire was established, and General Viceroy brokered the peace with ten representatives of the Azeris and the same number of people from the Armenian side.
Deliali remained in the city one more day, then he and his two thousand men left Genje under emotional ovations and manifestations of the people.
We later found out that the Turks and Armenians signed peace in Tiflis as well as in Baku and Garabakh. Since the accord in Tiflis was more interesting I will provide some details of that meeting. The talks took place in the office of the Viceroy of the Caucasus. At the invitation of the Viceroy the Azeris requested the presence of ten Georgian representatives as well. So the members of the Azeri, Georgian and Armenian communities met in Tiflis.
After a long speech the Russian Viceroy of the Caucasus appealed to the warring parties to sign a peace accord and promised that the infamous events would never repeat. Naturally, the Georgians and Armenians supported his request immediately. The Turks, however, had a different reaction: “ We are not against the peace, but we are in minority in Tiflis. We, the Turks, live in one district of greater Tiflis. We do not even constitute two percent of the Armenian population of the city. We did not commit massacres. We became the victims of massacres. Your office remained indifferent to these crimes. If it were not for the Georgians, believe us that you would not locate ten Turks who would agree to peace. We do not oppose the peace, but we have certain demands.”
The Viceroy asked the Turkish delegation to lay down their terms. Below is what the Turks demanded:
1 – The Armenian Catolicos would arrive in Tiflis and apologize to our Sheykhulislam for the massacres perpetrated by the Armenian gangs.
2 – The murderers of the Turks would be handed over to the government.
The Armenians proposed a different way to handle the demands: “ The Catolicos is sick. Instead of him, the Armenian Episcope Eaturyan will give the apologies to the Sheykhulislam for the Armenian actions. The Armenians can not hand the killers over to the Russian court, as the legal action will just exacerbate the conflict. Let’s entrust the just resolution of this matter to the conscience of the Armenian people. Let the Armenians use their own means to punish the criminals.”
Obviously, the Russian government was doing its best to hush up the embarrassing events that it had created. The conflict was over, but the cooperation between the Russians and Armenians during the conflict induced our people to think about the future consequences.
At the request of the Russian Viceroy, Mr. Ahmed bey Agaoglu, one of the Azerbaijani national leaders who was an editor of a major newspaper in Baku and popular with general population and especially the intellectuals, arrived in Genje. The government invited the people to the largest mosque in Genje. I was also in the mosque that was overcrowded and saw Ahmed bey for the first time. Mr. Agaoglu stepped behind the pulpit and began preaching the audience: “ Dear people of Genje, the recent clashes between the Turks and Armenians deeply upset most of us. Neither Islam nor humanity in general can justify those atrocities. If we begin pointing fingers at the culprits, analyze why it happened and start another conflict, no one will gain from this war. Both Turks and Armenians have to forget the bygone. They should remember that all the predators put on this earth by God attack other animals, but they never kill their own kind. It is so unfortunate that the human race does what the wild animals do not dare do. The people attack and kill each other. We should all remember that before the Russian foot stepped on the Caucasian soil the Turks and Armenians lived together peacefully for centuries. No tragic event similar to the recent conflict has taken place in the history of these two nations.”
At that time our underground organization was led by such prominent Azerbaijani patriots as Alekber bey Rafibeyli, Ali Akber and Ali Asker Hasmemmedli brothers, Nesib bey Yusufbeyli and Doctor Hasan Agaoglu. They invited Mr. Ahmed bey Agaoglu for a dinner and had a conversation well into the night. They discussed the current situation of the Azeri people, how the Russians could use the Armenians against the Azeris again. The leaders concurred that the strong organization was needed to confront the Russian Imperial rule. The Russians would have a very difficult time trying to destroy Azerbaijan and its people. The participants resolved that the Russians should be intimidated, and a new secret party must be founded to carry out these plans. The organization came to be known as Revolutionary Party.
An official seal of the Party was designed. The first victim of the Party was Kirescinski, an advisor to the Regent of Genje, known for his anti-Azerbaijani activities. No Azeri would greet him at any rate. Later he was heard saying that he could not stay in Genje any longer and requested his transfer to another place. The day following the assassination of Kirescinski the Revolutionary party disseminated the statement in which the party took the responsibility for the murder and explained the reasons for such an action.
A week later an Azeri from Garabakh by the name of Bilal was dispatched to Tiflis to assassinate General Kalascapof. This Russian General used to arm the Armenian soldiers in his regiment and send them to butcher the Azeris in Shusha. Two days later Bilal assassinated pro-Armenian Kalascapof in the street. Thus, the overzealous Russian officials were eliminated one by one. Such assassinations were undertaken throughout Azerbaijan even without the orders of the Revolutionary Party. However, the Revolutionary party would take the credit for the assassination in an official statement if it was carried out at its orders.
After these developments the Russian officials were very cautious in their actions and words. At the same time they were trying to determine who founded and led the outlawed Revolutionary party. Their efforts were failing, as they could learn nothing from the people. The public knew nothing about the Revolutionary party. Even if they knew they would not divulge it to the Russians. The authorities raided the Azeri houses periodically, but with no success. There was no trace of the Revolutionary party anywhere. The only evidence of its existence was its official seal. Even the leaders of the party did not know who held the seal all the time.
The Russian government promised fifty thousand gold Rubles as a reward to an individual who would inform the Russians of any member of the party or the location of the seal. However, even this huge amount of money had no effect on the search of the Russians. The Revolutionary party, however, did have to suspend its activities for a short time as the Russians increased the pressure. There was a suspicion that someone leaked the information about the party. The Revolutionary party had its people in every branch of the Russian establishment. Thus, an Azeri by the name of Sedrettin worked in the Russian National Security office as a translator and secretary. Sedrettin’s information had always been very valuable for the survival of the party. Sedrettin informed the party of the visit by a certain Mullah Hedi to the Russian security services. According to Sedrettin, Mullah Hedi arrived in the office and had long talks with an Armenian inspector unknown to Sedrettin. The Armenian could have been interpreting for Mullah Hedi. The Party decided to suspend its meetings for the time being but exert every effort to discover what the Russians planned. Sedrettin bey was instructed to relay all the pertinent information to the central committee. The party put Mullah Hedi under surveillance. After the investigation by the party it became clear that Mullah Hedi was collaborating with the Russian police. The party members could not determine the origin of Mullah Hedi and when he had come to Genje. The party, however, found out that a policeman dressed in civilian clothes always escorted Mullah Hedi. The Revolutionary party decreed to assassinate Mullah Hedi, and the order was carried out a day later. The policemen carried his body to his house and left him there. None of the mullahs dared undertake his funeral and burial. Finally, a certain Mullah Musa approached a person who he suspected to be a member of the party and asked him for a permission to bury the body since it had been in the house for several days. The person is said to have snapped at Mullah Musa that he was no one to make such a decision, and if Mullah Musa wanted to bury the dead, it was Mullah’s business. Mullah Musa took that answer as permission from the party and buried the body.
I am not going to narrate all the activities of the party in detail, however the truth was that even the most ferocious Russian officials were completely intimidated. Thus, the struggle between the Revolutionary party and the Russian authorities continued from 1906 to the middle of 1909. Thanks to the efforts of the party and other organizations and individuals the Russian officials were doing all they could to become amiable to the Azeris. I was also participating in an underground movement. At one of our secret meetings, one of the activists asked:” The party stopped its activities. Do we still have the seal, or we destroyed it?” Mirza Mohammed replied that “ we can not destroy the seal. It belongs in the future Museum of Azerbaijan.” It was the first time when we found out that Mirza Mohammed had the seal.
In 1909 a Russian agricultural engineer by the name of Kruchkov arrived in Genje. He was a nice person who was busy establishing good relations with many people in the city and intellectuals in particular. One evening Kruchkov was talking to a group of young intellectuals in a city club. I was among them as well. Kruchkov introduced himself: “ I am an agricultural expert, however I quit my work long time ago. Now I am promulgating the international “Esperanto” language. I am planning to open a new Esperanto school in your city, and you should be able to write, read and speak within two months. I visited the Armenian club yesterday, and they agreed to attend the classes. Please, register so that we can start the classes right away.”
The Society for Education gave its consent, and classes began in one of the primary schools of the city. Kruchkov was teaching his students and disseminating his propaganda during the classes. He claimed that there would be only one language and one government in the world. The Russian was also befriending many people and organizations in Genje. He developed very good relations with me, and one day asked me whether I could do Russian-Turkish translations. I replied that I could introduce him to another person who may be helpful to him. I arranged a meeting of Kruchkov with Mirze Mohammed who was a teacher of Turkish at a gymnasium. They found a common language immediately and began communicating with each other on a regular basis.
Kruchkov soon told me the truth about his background. He was an officer of the Revolutionary Socialist party. Two months passed by, and there was no progress in his efforts to teach Esperanto. One evening Mirza Mohammed’s wife came to see me. She was very worried:” Tragedy happened! The Russian security forces stormed into our house today. They turned the whole house upside down and found some important documents. They also stumbled into the seal. The Russians took everything to the station.” I immediately realized that it was the official seal of the Revolutionary party that the Russians sniffed out. Mirza Mohammed had two small children as well. We asked his wife to sit down. However, she said that she had locked her two children in the house in order to notify us of the incident. The lady went back home.
I immediately contacted the individual who worked in the Russian security services as a secretary-translator. When we met we were both very sad and disturbed. To my question what we should do next he responded that there was not much we could do. “ The seal will destroy our patriots”, he said. I told the man that he was the only one who could save our lives. I asked him where the seal was. The translator said that the seal was locked in the safe together with other documents. “ I can not either steal or destroy it,” was his answer. He said that his supervisor had ordered him to come in the morning and study the documents, especially the seal. “What can I do?” asked the agent in desperation. It dawned on me that we could replace the seal of the Revolutionary party with the seal of the Socialist party that we kept in the Theater Group building. After pausing a little the secretary said that he could do it, but it would be impossible to walk out with the seal in his pocket. Instead he suggested throwing it into the fireplace. We agreed.
I happily ran to the Theatre building and grabbed the Socialist seal. I handed it over to the man within a few minutes. The next morning we found out that Kruchkov had also been detained by the Russian secret police. I could not wait to meet with our man in the Russian police the next night. I finally met with the translator. He described what had happened:” I went to the office one hour early. The fire was glowing in the fireplace. I took the seal out and tossed it into the fire. The Socialist seal went into the safe instead.” I was immensely happy. I closed my eyes and felt both joy and grief. We dreamed that the seal would embellish the Museum of Independent Azerbaijan in the future. Now the seal that decorated the statements claiming the responsibility for the assassinations of Azeri enemies: General Kalascapov in Tiflis, Regent’s advisor Kresckinski and police chief Bannikov in Genje, Armenian Vasili and finally Mullah Hedi, was burning in the fireplace of the Russian secret police. This burning seal was averting the tragedy for many Azerbaijani patriots. I opened my eyes. I did not understand whether tears were of happiness or sadness. I asked the translator to continue with the rest of the story. He went on: “ The colonel came in when I was warming up my hands near the fireplace. He requested that I take out the seal immediately and study it. I made an imprint on a paper. I told him it was a Socialist seal with both Turkish and Russian texts.
Then Kruchkov and Mirza Mohammed were brought into the interrogation room. The colonel asked them about the documents. Mirza kept silent while Kruchkov spoke up: “ I asked Mirza to translate these documents into Turkish for money.” The colonel asked Mirza whether he belonged to the Socialist party. Mirza gave a negative answer. The colonel went on: “ If you are not a Socialist, how come you have this seal in your house?” Kruchkov spoke for Mirza again: “ It is my seal. I gave it to him.””
Kruchkov was arrested and escorted to Russia. Mirza Mohammed was exiled to a remote Russian region for five years. Later he was transferred to a jail near Iranian border. The youth of Genje took care of the family of their beloved Mirza Mohammed for five years.
After Mirza Mohammed had been exiled the Society for Education proposed the candidacy of Mirza Husseyn for the vacancy in Genje Gymnasium. However, the Russian chief of education refused to appoint this person. The Russian official had plans to install a very incompetent person by the name of Ali Razi. The Society for Education of Genje informed Alekber bey Rafibeyli of the situation. Alekber bey in his turn promised to meet and discuss the issue with the Russian education official. Alekber bey asked the Russian why he refused to appoint Mirza Husseyn. He emphasized that the students demanded Husseyn’s appointment. Alekber bey also warned that the Russian official’s decision not to appoint Mirza Husseyn could create a political problem. Alekber bey urged the education chief: “ You have to do all in your power to prevent any complication of the political situation. You can do that by approving Mirza Husseyn’s nomination.” After the conversation the education chiefs weighed all the options and in order to avoid any conflicts changed his mind and appointed Mirza Husseyn as a teacher of Turkish at the Gymnasium.
In 1917 the Russian Empire disintegrated. The Czar was deposed, and Kerenski’s interim government was formed. The oppressed nations of Russia, which was called the prison of nations, began distancing themselves from the Russian government. Kerenski was working hard to prevent a complete collapse of the Empire. He attempted to keep those non-Russians in the Russian yoke at all costs. The Provisional government sent special orders to the provinces instructing them to topple the viceroys and install the mayors in office. These chiefs were called District Commissars. At this time late mayor of Genje Halil bey Hasmemmedli started his functions as the District Commissar. 25 most prominent political and social figures from the Turkish and Armenian communities were invited to run the office.
Kerenski continued sending out his directives. One of those circulars requested that an executive committee be set up at the office of the District Commissar. The representatives of all political parties and social organizations were to take part in its work. Although the Turks constituted the majority in Genje, the Armenians were allowed very active participation in government. The members began discussing the program of the District Commissar. The Turkish and Armenian members of the Executive Committee were highly educated nationalists. One Turk and an Armenian from arts and commercial organizations were elected to the board. Halil bey also added two more people from the District Congress. Again one member was Turkish, while the other was an Armenian. Both sides were satisfied with the results of the elections.
It was the turn of the political parties. An Armenian Socialist requested a word. The Russian Socialist party had two factions at that time. After a long speech that described the history of those parties the Armenian suggested that each socialist faction give two candidates. He also named these Socialists. Two of them were Russians; one was Georgian, and one was Armenian. Before the Armenian finished his speech, the congress began voicing its discontent. A Turkish representative proposed the following:” Dear member of the Congress, the people you have just nominated may well be valuable and experienced candidates. However, they will be linked to the Socialist centers because of their beliefs and values. The people of this region are not Socialists. They are nationalists. Only the Turkish and Armenian national leaders can run the government in this region. We should elect one Turkish and one Armenian from the Socialist parties to the board. They have to deal only with our local problems and issues. These members should suspend any ties with the Socialist centers.”
The debates were ending. The Speaker touched on two letters he had received. One letter was from the Russian residents of Genje. They asked the District Commissar to allow the Russian population to have one representative in the Committee. The Turks immediately objected to this idea. The letter was not even put on the agenda. The Armenians did not express their opinion on the issue. The second letter was written by the “Soldier Deputy” which was an organization of the Russian army soldiers. The military requested that fifteen-thousand strong Russian troops in Genje should have at least five representatives in the congress. The Turks fiercely opposed the suggestion again. They protested that there was no need for the Russian soldiers in Genje in the first place. The Russian troops were in Genje illegally. The Turkish deputies proposed that the first task of the Executive Committee should be encouraging the Russian soldiers to leave Genje for Russia. They continued that in case of their refusal the soldiers should be disarmed and forcibly deported from Genje. The meeting endorsed this decision, and the soldiers’ letter was rejected.
The convention went on. The Turks nominated a candidate from the Turkish Decentralization party, and the nomination was approved. In response the Armenians proposed the candidacy of a Dashnak member. The Armenian proposal was accepted as well. The participants were discussing the issues for the fourth hour. In the end of the hearings an Armenian asked for a word. He informed those present that the Armenian people had two main political parties: Dashnak and Hanchekist. He elaborated on the long history of the latter and accentuated that Hanchekist stood for friendly relations with the neighbors. The Armenian contended that the Turks would not lose anything by allowing one member of that party into the committee. He concluded that the Turks were in majority at any rate. Everyone kept silent. I was sitting in the fourth row. I whispered to an Azeri sitting in front of me: “ Please, get up and support the idea. Then offer a candidacy of Naki, a member of Difai faction.” The man followed my advice. I stood up, introduced myself. The secretary took the note of my name, occupation, party adherence and address. The eyes of both Armenians and Turks were fixed on me. They saw a representative of the Difai faction, which had terrorized the Czar regime for ten years. I said that our mission was to satisfy the majority of people. There was no need for Difai faction at the present time. Our people could denounce the Russians as they wished.
The debates were over. The secretaries compiled a very detailed report of the discussions and sent it to Kerenski. I received a telegraph from Kerenski the next day. He requested the Charter and regulations of the Difai faction. I sent all the appropriate materials. Kerenski asked that we organize the local branches of the faction and function legally. We immediately set up divisions of the faction in every neighborhood of Genje. The faction also assigned one officer to every branch to hold military training for the members of the faction. The military exercises and instructions were proceeding at a very intensive pace. After two months the Difai faction had much disciplined and highly trained military force. These military detachments assisted the Genje national committee to disarm the 218th and 219th Russian regiments and escort them to the trains heading to Russia. The strict discipline and military skills of the Difai troops terrified both Russians and Armenians.
The combat skills of the Difai troops became evident during the World War I when the Russians created a six-regiment force including the Caucasian Turks and called it a Savage Division (Dikaya Diviziya in Russian). This division included the Azerbaijan regiments called Tatar regiments by the Russians, the troops from Kabardins, Ingush, Chechens, Ossetians and other nationalities of the Caucasus.
It is important to stress that despite all the efforts of the Azerbaijan people to make the Russians identify us as Azeri Turks, the Russians deliberately continued to call us Tartars and our language Tatar language. When we demanded that our language be called Turkish, they corrected it to the “native language”. The Savage Division did not succumb to the propaganda during the 1917 events. Unlike the Russian soldiers, the fighters of the Savage Division did not kill their officers and generals. Faithful to their customs and traditions they returned to their motherland on their own horses led by their own commanders. The Azerbaijani regiment came to Genje. They congregated on the main square of the city. On one side one could see a large number of students, on the other there were armed groups of the Difai faction. The square was crowded with spectators. The leaders of the city took their places at the head of the square. The center was designated for the Azerbaijani regiment that had just returned from the war. The well-trained and highly disciplined regiment marched into the square at 11 PM. The Genje National Committee welcomed the troops and described the heroism of the Azerbaijanis in the World War. I spoke on behalf of the Difai faction: “ My dear and heroic brothers! Before you volunteered to fight in the Russian army against the Germans we had a long discussion with the delegation of your regiment. You were told that people did not approve your voluntary draft into the Russian army. Your response was that the goal was not to assist Russians in their war effort, but gain invaluable experience in combat. You were right. The press repeatedly described the heroism and superior military skills that you demonstrated during battles. The Russian Empire collapsed. As Russia immersed into chaos, the Russian army deserted the front. No trace of discipline was left in the Russian ranks. Soldiers were murdering their own officers and superiors. However, you remained faithful to our national traditions and returned home under your officers. Today you, full of energy and drive, are standing in front of our people who are ready to happily embrace you. Our National Committee is running our district very efficiently and providing peace and security to our residents. The Difai faction supports the National Committee with its armed troops as well. You are the core of the future Azerbaijani army, and our people lay great hopes on you!”
No sooner had I finished my speech than famous poet Mohammed Hadi, a spiritual leader of the Azerbaijani regiment, began praising the fighters: “ Dear citizens, the words can not express all the heroism, bravery and military savvy the Azerbaijani Turks displayed during this war. Let me just dwell on one battle. The battle was raging on. The Russian armies led by general Samsonov were engaged in a fierce scrimmage with the German troops. The Savage Division was defending Samsonov’s right flank. The Germans were gaining the upper hand in the battle. Finally, they cut off the Savage Division and surrounded them. As the German grip was getting tighter, a commander of the Azerbaijani troops ordered our soldiers to attack the Germans. The Azeris broke through the German lines and divided the German forces into two. Our troops continued beating the German back and saved five regiments comprised of our brotherly Caucasians from the German encirclement. The Russian press covered this important development in the front for several weeks. The Russian Czar awarded his highest military honors to the Azerbaijani regiment.”
Our dear poet, Mohammed Hadi’s words met with repeated applause from the people. I was very delirious myself. I heard this galvanizing and heroic story once more in Istanbul 35 years later when I met Ahmed bey, an Avar by nationality, who was the commander of the Savage Division’s Daghestan regiment.
Struggle in Genje
After 1905 the struggle against the Russian oppression intensified throughout Azerbaijan. The National Committee in Genje was handling all the national issues. The most powerful struggle was the guerrilla warfare waged by the Gachags against the Russians. I am not going to delve into the heroism of the Gachags. You can find very interesting and specific information about the ferocious warfare of the Gachags against the Russians in the following issues of “Azerbaijan magazine” published in Ankara: 1 through 12 1960-1961.
The strife that started in 1905 continued until 1914 without decreased intensity. After the eruption of the First World War the methods and scope of the independence movement were modified. Just like an army modernizing its weaponry, the Gachags also were substituting their outdated Berdan rifles for new Mauzer guns. How were our Gachags and people obtaining this new military equipment? The Russian soldiers who were deserting the German front were selling their guns at very low prices. The youth of Genje who volunteered to the front would purchase those rifles and transport them to Genje using multiple routes and ways.
1. Zulfugar bey Bagirbeyli was killed by a stray bullet in a remote village of Olti in the Caucasus in the second year of World War I (1915). It was later discovered that an Armenian had assassinated Zulfugar bey. However, the Russian commanders blamed a stray bullet and never searched for a killer.
1916 brought one defeat after another to the Russian army.
Their manpower was diminishing, and the regular officer corps was disappearing. In order to fill in these gaps the Russian commandment set up intensive training schools in numerous Russian cities and recruited reserve officers with only four-month experience. As we were rejoicing at such a disastrous situation in the Russian army, a Russian news agency reported something that was completely unexpected for us. According to the information we received the Russian army was planning to recruit the Caucasian Turks into its ranks. This news stunned the nation. The armed groups of Difai faction were contemplating to join the Gachags in the mountains. At the same time a representative of the National Committee met with the regent of Genje and found out that the information was correct. After having discussed the situation the National Committee decided to dispatch a delegation of three representatives to Tiflis to negotiate with the Viceroy of the Caucasus. Alekber bey Rafibeyli (retired), Halil bey Hasmemmedli (lawyer and mayor of Genje) and Ismail Khan (lawyer and grandson of late Javad Khan of Genje) departed to Tiflis. Both of these lawyers, by the way, were the deputies to the Russian Duma in 1907. They proposed that the Azeris be drafted into the Russian army because of their exceptional military skills and abilities. However, the Czar refused to grant any permission to this move because of his deep suspicion and distrust of Azeris. The Azeri representatives told the Viceroy of that initiative and informed him that after that event the hearts of the Azeris were broken. They emphasized that the Azerbaijanis now were reluctant to fight for the Czar. Nevertheless, after having listened to these just words of the Azeris the Viceroy responded:” Your people are right in their feelings. At the same time it is the turn of your people to provide the soldiers to the army. Let your people demonstrate their courage and heroism and prove the government wrong. There is no other way. We are going to implement our plan.” The lawyers were quiet when Alekber bey began speaking (Alekber bey was a retired governor in his seventies. He was a very tall, broad-shouldered, felicitous, extremely logical and respected national leader with piercing look and serious manners. Alekber bey took the responsibility of solving many national matters. At the same time he was a secret honorable chairman of the legendary Difai faction. Both our people and our enemies had to account to this person. For his impeccable integrity and exceptional work in civil service Alekber bey was awarded the Stanislav medal, the highest honor of the Czar.) : “ Your Excellency! I am over 70 now. You can deduce from the medal I am wearing that I have never had any enmity towards the Czar. I prefer to be straightforward with everyone and like those who are the same way. Please, answer to my one question. Does your government plan to destroy our people?” Astounded Viceroy gasped for words and denied such an allegation. He said that it was not even worth discussing. Alekber bey replied to Viceroy: “ If that is the case, please listen to what I have to say. I have listened to our hour-long conversation. Your answer to my friends’ reasonable proposal was negative. Let me ask you: how does your government dare ask our people for help? You have treated us like slaves for over one hundred years. You have not even permitted us to become the citizens of Russia. While you opened numerous educational institutions for our Armenian and Georgian neighbors, we were allowed to operate only a handful of schools. You left our people in the darkness of ignorance. One can expect anything from the ignorant and uneducated masses. Your government treated our people with hatred, not love, and you get back the hatred of our people. Now you want soldiers from this uneducated people. The troops that you may draft from our people will be full of animosity and aversion towards your authorities. Furthermore, these soldiers will turn the weapons you give them against you in vengeance. They will go over to the enemy side and fight against you. Then your government will hold our civilians accountable for those actions. The history of your government has a plethora of cases like this. These concerns caused my previous question to you.”
The Viceroy softened his position after Alekber bey’s diatribe: “ There is truth in your words. If you wish I can do the following. His Highness Emperor always asks my advice before he gives an order on military draft. I would suggest that your soldiers be used for work in the home front. I can provide this condition for you.” Alekber bey immediately objected to this idea: “ We can not concede to these terms. Such an act would be the worst offense to my people. If you have a need for laborers off front lines, make an announcement and inform the public of the benefits you will furnish to the potential applicants. Ones who wish will take the job.”
These words of Alekber bey left the Viceroy completely speechless and “disarmed”. The Czar’s official asked Alekber bey for his ideas. Alekber bey proposed: “ What I am going to suggest will satisfy both of us. However, before I start let me inform you that our people will serve in infantry only. Your government can start recruiting the volunteers in the Caucasus. Our people will give its sons to serve in your army. You will see that the heroism of our soldiers will astonish both you, us and even your generals.”
The decision was announced a week later. The volunteers appeared not only in Azerbaijan but also in other parts of the Caucasus. The Azerbaijani regiment together with five regiments from other Caucasian peoples became the core of a new division. Since the division was formed of the non-Russian soldiers it came to be known as “Dikaya Diviziya” that is Savage Division. The Azerbaijan Magazine in Ankara published important materials on the history of this division.
Note: The Viceroy conveyed Alekber bey’s idea of paid workers in home front to the Czar in a special report. The Czar authorities utilized this suggestion and hired the Chinese to labor off front lines. Throughout the War the Russians benefited from the services of 200,000 Chinese men who worked in home front. However, after the overthrow of the Czar in 1917 these Chinese workers were left unemployed. Lenin took advantage of this situation, and the armed Chinese were put under the command of the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret services. The Chinese immensely contributed to the establishment of the Bolshevik regime. Because of their role in the Bolshevik activities the Russian people had a saying: “ The Soviet regime is maintained by the Jewish brains, Chinese bayonets and Russian stupidity.”
Our people succeeded in averting the general mobilization to the Russian army thanks to the efforts of Alekber bey. However, three months later the regent of Genje received a wire regarding the Germans who lived in Genje area. At that period the Russians had moved a large number of Germans to Azerbaijan in order to diminish their numbers in the European part and increase the Christian population in the Caucasus. According to the orders contained in the telegraph, the Germans should be divided into three groups. The first group’s property was assessed at 60 gold Rubles; the second group was to be paid 40 gold Rubles for their belongings, and the third stratum was to receive only 20 gold Rubles for whatever they owned. The authorities were well aware of the fact that the property of the least wealthy German family would assess at minimum several hundred gold Rubles since most Germans owned houses, farming tools, horses and other domesticated animals. The most sinister part of this edict was the following: “ The property must be purchased at the prices indicated above and be transferred to other Christians in the area. The Germans will be exiled to Siberia.” This unjust and inhumane decree deeply saddened the people of Genje. The leaders of the city assigned Alekber bey to discuss the matter with the regent of Genje.
Alekber bey met with Kavalyov, the regent of Genje and expressed his views on the issue: “ You are the most experienced and longest-tenured regent not only in Genje but all of the Caucasus. Our people have a great respect to you. People in Genje and its villages depict you as a very wise and fair regent. All people agree that you do not discriminate on the basis of nationality or religion. I considered it my duty to tell you these truths. However, we have just learned about the Czar’s decree on the Germans. Our people are quite distraught by this news. What is the fault of the local German villagers if you fight Germany on the other end of Russia? They go to fight in your army and pay their taxes on time. Like the rest of the Russian people the Germans provide all the assistance they could to your government. All of a sudden you are confiscating their property and giving it to someone else. To crown it all you exile them all to Siberia. This is unheard of. This action is illegal as well as inhumane. Our people are as frustrated as the Germans themselves. Every Azerbaijani thinks that what is happening to Germans today will be perpetrated against us tomorrow. Our hope is that you will not allow such injustice to take place. If you carry out this decree you will take an iniquitous and dangerous step. If the government insists on this plan, the results will be unpredictable. Our nation will rise against your regime, and your government will bear the sole responsibility. As a regent, you will be accountable as well.”
Alekber bey’s initiative had an immediate impact on the Russians, and the Czar government abrogated its decree. Later the German villagers arrived in Genje to express their sincere gratitude to Alekber bey Refibeyli.
However, the Genje residents who successfully defended the rights of the German villagers in World War I failed to protect their German neighbors during the Second World War. How did the Bolsheviks succeed in expropriating the German property and exiling them to Siberia? The answer lies in the atrocities carried out by the Cheka in Genje after the Red Army occupied Azerbaijan in April 1920. Genje could not tolerate the oppression. Very characteristic of themselves, the residents of Genje revolted against the Soviet yoke again. The rebels seized the power in Genje for 8 days. According to the Bolshevik statistics, the Red Army lost six thousand men in this war. On the ninth day however, the Bolsheviks subjected the city to brutal artillery fire from all directions and crushed the revolt with the help of Armenians. The invading Red Army committed horrible massacres in Genje. The Bolsheviks concluded that after these bloody events the people of Genje would never revolt again. That’s why in 1934 the Azeris became passive spectators when hapless and innocent German villagers were packed into trains and exiled to Siberia. You will read more details of Genje Rebellion later in the book.
The people of Genje led by the National Committee were making headway in their drive for independence. The National Committee divided the major issues into two categories: open and secret. Alekber bey Refibeyli was in charge of the “open” matters, while Nesib bey Yusufbeyli handled “secret” issues. The National Committee consisted of the following members: 1 – Nesib bey Yusufbeyli (lawyer, deputy mayor of Genje and leader of the Turkish Party of Decentralization), 2 – Alekber bey Refibeyli (retired), 3 – Halil bey Hasmemmedli (lawyer and mayor of Genje), 4 – Alekber bey Hasmemmedli (lawyer), 5 – Ales bey Hasmemmedli (lawyer), 6 – Hasan bey Agaoglu ( Medical Doctor), 7 – Aslan bey Safyurdlu (lawyer), 8 – Boyuk Mirza Mohammed (professor), 9 – Kichik Mirza Mohammed (professor), 10 – Mirza Husseyn (professor), 11 – Mohammed Baki Sheyzamanli (member of the City Council), 12 – Hasan Fattah bey (bank accountant), 13 – Haji Ali (merchant), 14 – Sari Haji Alekber (merchant), 15 – Naki Sheyh (Chairman of the Youth Organization of Genje).
The National Committee also created five-member executive board headed by Nesib bey Yusufbeyli: 1 – Nesib bey (Leader of the TPD), 2 – H. F. (Lieutenant-colonel, representative of the officer corps), 3 – Aslan bey Safiyurdlu (representative of Azerbaijani Socialists), 4 – Mullah Mohammed Peshnamazzade (representative of religious organizations), 5 – Ahmed Javad (representative of youth organizations). This board was in charge of everyday operations.
In the meantime the Turkish Army attacked Sarikamish. The Russians were completely panic-stricken by this rapid movement of the Turks. The first thing they did was to transfer the Central Russian Bank from Erivan to Genje (at that period the Russian Central Bank in the Caucasus was headquartered in Erivan). Simultaneously the Russian authorities paid 200 Rubles to all civil servants in the Caucasus and ordered them to prepare to leave the region. However, the Turkish civil servants informed the National Committee of the Russian plans at once. The National Committee analyzed the situation and instructed the Turkish civil servants to accept the money but refuse to follow the Russian evacuation plans. The Committee also appealed to the people not to express their rapture at the Russians’ departure openly.
Regrettably, the Turkish offensive on Sariqamish failed. The Turkish boys whose bravery had earned them the immense fame throughout the history became the victims of the harsh weather and their own tactical blunders. The horrible weather ensured the victory of the enemy. Tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers froze to death, and thousands were captured. The Russians were sending the Turkish prisoners of war to Siberia right from the front. The bodies of wounded and sick Turkish boys were handed to the Azeri villagers as the trains stopped at the stations in Azerbaijan. Our people were burying these kids with great grief and tears in their eyes.
In order to succeed in our national liberation struggle we had to streamline our operations and intensify the activities. We had to assign several activists to focus on these functions. I came to this realization after I began heading the Youth Organization.
The work of the Youth Organization satisfied both the National Committee and the public. After I ensured that a few men and I were actively involved in the course of the events, we began expanding our activities.
Our organization placed one person at every train station to take care of the Turkish prisoners of war left by the Russians. One day we learned about four corpses left at one of the stations. We immediately buried the corpses according to our traditions. After speeches uttered in tears our activists laid the bodies for eternal repose. A Turkish boy born in Anatolia fights for Turkism and then falls and finds his eternal peace on another Turkish land of Azerbaijan.
After the funeral ceremony I met with Halil bey, the mayor of Genje. I explained the predicament of the situation to him on behalf of the Youth Organization. The Russians were transporting the Turkish POW’s from the Caucasian front to Siberia. The conditions of the sick among the prisoners deteriorated resulting in deaths since the Russians completely ignored the health of Turkish prisoners. The bodies were dropped at the train stations. These inhumane Russian actions were outraging our people. Halil bey promised to discuss the situation with the regent of Genje and take appropriate measures. He said he would inform me of the results of the talks in the evening at the club.
The same evening I met Halil bey in the club. Halil bey notified me of the regent’s decision: “ The regent will have a large building near the train station vacated. The building will serve as a military hospital. The army will provide the doctors as will the cities and towns. The trains carrying the Turkish prisoners from Tiflis will arrive in Genje first. The doctors will examine the prisoners, and the ones in need of medical help will be transferred to the hospital.” I was extremely glad to hear the news. I thanked Halil bey on behalf of the youth organization. Halil bey responded that there was no need to thank him since these problems were common concern. Halil bey urged me to notify him of any other issues in the future and invited me for a dinner. However, I was too excited about the news and wanted to convey the message to my comrades. I also asked Halil bey to include me in the operations of the hospital since the Turkish POW’s would not understand the doctors, and a translator would be needed. Halil bey considered my request reasonable and promised to inform the regent.
As promised the next day a building was rented and equipped for medical purposes. Later the area was fenced with barbed wire and put under the control of the Army. The same day I received the regent’s permission to work as a translator at the hospital. The Regent and the Central Commandment of the Army sent me separate letters thanking me for working free of charge. There were three doctors whom I personally knew, an officer and I. The very same day we learned that a train full of prisoners would be making a stop at Genje station at 2 p.m. We all came to the station expecting the train. Ten minutes before the train’s arrival a group of Russian soldiers encircled the station. They ordered the civilians on the platform to move to the inside hall. A little later the people called me in to tell me that the Russian soldiers prohibited them from giving any gifts to the Turkish prisoners of war. Moreover, the Russian Army soldiers of Armenian nationality warned the people not to even approach the prisoners. I immediately informed the officer from the Headquarters. He said that there were 28 cars in the train. If the people could pack their gifts into 28 pieces, the gifts could be delivered. I instructed the people who started packing up the gifts at once.
The train arrived soon after. Our group boarded the train. I was asking the Turkish soldiers how they felt. The unfortunate Turks were staring at us in distrust and refused to let themselves examined. Seeing their complete distrust I began explaining the situation to them: “ This station is of the city of Genje. The population in this city is Turkish. They are your own blood brothers. We have a hospital at the station. We will take the sick to the hospital. After they are taken care of and rest, they will proceed on their trip.” The prisoners who were not sick wished to go to the hospital as well. After the doctors had thoroughly examined the soldiers, we determined 40 unwell prisoners. Then we entered the cars that did not have any sick soldiers and inquired about their health. The doctors were asking different questions regarding their physical well being. I began distributing the gifts prepared by the people: “ These are the gifts from the local Turkish people.” At this time a young officer looking through the car’s window asked us to go over to his car. As we entered the car the officer told us that he had been sick for two weeks. There was a Turkish doctor among them, but they lacked the medicine. Before he finished his words a large man who identified himself as a doctor came up to us. He told the Russian doctors about the disease. The doctors discussed the issue among themselves, then told me: “ Let’s carry the ill soldier to the hospital. If the doctor wishes, we can take him too. His help will facilitate our job.” I translated the suggestion of the doctors to the Turkish doctor and officer. We took the soldiers through the hall full of people. Everyone rose to his feet to greet the Turkish POW’s. The train was slowly leaving the station.
We accommodated the patients in the hospital. It was time for me to leave when I noticed that the prisoners did not want me to go at all. I told them not to worry: “ I will visit you every day and bring other guests as well.” The same night I came to the city and related the events to my associates. We agreed to provide food and other necessities to the prisoners. Thus, we were taking care of hundreds of ill Turkish soldiers. They were sent to Siberia as they were recovering. There were at least 200 patients at the hospital on a regular basis. A Turkish officer and POW by the name of Murat bey was managing all these patients. He and the doctor became the heads of the hospital. The officer from the Russian General Staff was in good terms with us as was the commander of the hospital. We, the members of the Youth Organization, had a right to stay on the premises as long as we wished. We were delivering Turkish books and other publications printed in Azerbaijan to the hospital. We also made sure that Achiq Soz (Open Word) newspaper published by Memmed Emin Resulzade in Baku was delivered to the Turkish POW’s daily. Besides, we were taking many professors and poets from Genje to the hospital in order to alleviate the moral depression of the soldiers. Ahmed Javad was the most favorite poet of the Turkish POW’s.
One day Haji Hasan, a wealthy merchant from Genje, approached me with his request to throw a party for the prisoners. I relayed the message to Halil bey and asked him to obtain the regent’s permission. A few days later Halil bey invited me to his office and told me: “ Make sure Haji Hasan prepares a big and lavish party. In addition to the prisoners, the regent, the Head of the General Staff, members of the government, city council, other city leaders and I will be present.”
A huge party for 300 people was organized. The tables were set in the yard of the hospital, and best musicians were invited. The guests included the regent, mayor, the Turkish and Armenian deputy mayors, the Head of the General Staff, the chief of police, bank chairmen, heads of different societies, Turkish and Armenian merchants and professors. At the dinner Hasan bey, a doctor of the city council gave a speech in Turkish: “ Our prisoner brothers. Please, do not feel that you are in a foreign land here. The people who live in the cities, towns and villages around you are all Turkish. They are your brothers. Your brother Haji Hasan personally paid for this party.” At this time Haji Hasan retorted: “ Doctor, these guys are fighting to liberate us. They are sacrificing their lives for us. What is the food compared to their heroism?” These words bewildered the guests. However, doctor Hasan bey immediately moved to assuage the situation: “ Haji, Haji, you sit down. Let me talk.” The Armenians who understood what Haji meant were gloating quietly. Everybody left the party much satisfied and content.
In January 1916 a special party was organized the proceeds of which were to benefit the Philanthropic Society (Fraternal Care). Kavalyov, the regent of Genje, was elected the honorary chairman of the event. The night promised to be very crowded. I decided to invite the doctor and the officer from the Turkish POW’s as well. My associates and I went to the General Staff of the Army to ask for permission. Before I met with the Commander I explained the request to the officer with whom I was familiar. He took me to the office of the Commander. I knew the Commander as well. He was an elderly man. He asked what I had to request. I explained our decision very slowly. The old colonel was listening very intently. I could tell he agreed with me. Meanwhile, I was trying to dissemble my real feelings with deceiving phrases and artificial tone: “ My colonel! A great number of Muslims live under the protection of powerful states. The Muslims who are under the French and English rule have no civil rights and exist like slaves. However, we, the Muslims, who live in the Russian Empire in great numbers, 35 million to be exact, benefit from the Russian culture and have the same rights as the Russian nationals themselves. It is our duty to demonstrate our freedom and culture to the Turkish prisoners. That’s why we are asking you to allow a Turkish doctor and officer to participate in the great cultural event. The Turks should be escorted by the Russian officer of course.”
The colonel looked straight in my eyes with the smile in his face: “ Son, you are very eloquent. However, the army only can not resolve this matter. The regent should concur to this. If he permits their participation, I have no objection to that at all.” I met with the regent immediately. He gave his approval but urged me to get back to the colonel. The colonel kept his word and gave appropriate orders to the hospital.
We were extremely happy at our achievement. On the day of the event the commander of the military prison camp notified me of the colonel’s orders. I asked him to come along with the POW’s to have a dinner. In the evening we all had a dinner in a nice hotel. Hundreds of young Azeri intellectuals raised their wineglasses to salute the Turkish prisoners. At 8 p.m. we arrived in the concert hall. The arrival of the Turkish prisoners was quite a surprise to the people. Four seats were reserved for us.
The Fraternal Care was founded during the First World War. The organization had a simple mission. The Russian army occupied the eastern regions of Turkey. Because of atrocities of the Russians and the Armenians who collaborated with the Russian forces the Turkish civilians were fleeing their homeland in the direction of the Caucasus. For the Turkish villagers this was the only way to save their lives. The Fraternal Care’s objective was to provide food and shelter to these refugees and bring the orphaned Turkish children to Azerbaijan. Both the homeless and parentless kids and Turkish villagers tortured by the Russians and Armenians were finding refuge in the arms of the brotherly Azerbaijani people. The Fraternal Care placed these deportees in refugee camps throughout Azerbaijan. The babies were accommodated in kindergartens and special houses, while children of school age were sent to schools. The Fraternal Care had its branches in every district of Azerbaijan. The organization could meet all the needs of the Turkish children with the funds collected from the Azerbaijani population. This organization also published a newspaper called “The Fraternal Care”. As far as I know one can still locate several issues of that publication in Istanbul.
We seated ourselves, and the play began. On the stage an elderly shepherd wearing a thick woolen cape was grazing his sheep on the mountain. Two young ashigs (the Azerbaijani folklore singers, translator’s note) were playing their saz (ancient Azerbaijani string instrument, still in use, translator’s note) and reciting poems from the epic of Koroglu (the medieval Azerbaijani epic, translator’s note). After having listened to their music for a while the older choban (shepherd in Azerbaijani, translator’s note) asked them to hand their saz over to him: “My children! You reminded me of my youth. Let me play a saz and say a few lines.” One of the younger men gave his saz to the choban. Famous musician and composer Jamil bey played the shepherd.
The legend of Ziya Gokalp:
Just like the scattered grapes
The sheep have left the herd
No upkeep left inside.
The grape would like to ripen; the gardener is needed.
So let me also search for the shepherd.
The tall mountains have sunk,
The violent rivers are overflowing.
No khans left, only their guns,
Too many fallen, tell me who is growing?
Let me find our Khagans.
The Turkish land is in sleep, foes are aware,
Cowards are ready to attack; compatriots prepare!
Wake up, the hot-blooded warrior!
Look, the land is in trouble, the country is bleeding.
Let me look where are the ones who are sleeping.
The home is sweet to everyone,
The enemy is at the border, the wolf in the valley,
The foreigners built states in Turan,
Where are our heroes to repulse the enemy?
Let me look for our great and brave Khagan.
What happened to the Crimea, where did the Caucasus go?
The Russians spread from Kazan to Tibet.
The mothers were grieving so long,
The happy homes are being devastated.
Where is Iran today?
Hey, gray-haired ancient mountains!
Your rivers remember the old days,
A swallow sighs deeply, a dove cries.
They all yearn for one thing: Turan.
Let us find our great Khagan!
Let the Congress convene on Tanri Mountain,
Let the Elkhan be enthroned in Apple Garden,
Beys stand on his left, Khans on his right.
It is not a sin to love when time is right.
Who can help me find my beloved?
Let the Oguz Khan holiday be celebrated in spring,
Let our palaces and tents flourish and sing.
Let beautiful girls dance and young men whither.
A lover has fainted, tell me who has a cure?
Let me see where the doctor is?
The concert also included the Azerbaijani folklore dances and songs. The patriotic poems that were not published in the press were recited at this event, and people were learning these poems by heart. I solicited the POW’s impressions about the concert. They said that if anyone had told them about what they were witnessing they would have never believed it. “It is a tremendous success to be able to create and preserve such a rich culture under the oppression!”, they replied.
After the theatre we visited the hall dedicated to Turkey. The Turkish music was played in the room. The guests were offered coffee. All four of us sat at the same table. Vatatsky, the Deputy Viceroy of the Caucasus, his North-Caucasian translator Heydar Bamat and Kavalyov, the mayor of Genje, were seated at an adjacent table. Jamil bey, the head of the Turkish band, was intently looking at me. I knew what he was asking with his gaze. I signaled with my eyes to go ahead with his plan. The orchestra began playing the famous march “ The ships near Sevastopol”. The Deputy Viceroy turned to our table: “ This is truly an Ottoman environment!” I responded with expressing my gratitude for his help. The event ended shortly afterwards.
By the end of 1916 the Czar armies were in shambles after a series of terrible routes in the front. The government could neither stop the disintegration of the army nor prevent the chaos in the central parts of Russia. Numerous regions of Russia, Siberia in particular, span out of control. A wave of exiles began flowing into Caucasus from Siberia. Both the prisoners of labor camps and the Turkish soldiers and officers that had been captured in Sariqamish were arriving in the Caucasus. They also knew exactly where they were heading: Genje. The extraordinary respect and hospitality they had previously experienced in the special camp and hospital set up in the city were pulling these Turkish soldiers to Genje like a magnet.
The Azeri exiles from Siberia were going to their villages and towns after having arrived in Genje. Some of them also invited the Turkish soldiers to their houses. One day I was informed of a former Turkish officer who had come to Genje from Siberia. He was supposedly staying in the hotel. I immediately went to visit him, however could not locate him in the hotel. Later I found out that he went to visit his relatives in a nearby village. A week later I met with him. He was a young officer by the name of Husameddin ( Husameddin Tughac was a member of the parliament from Kars). Husameddin’s face was bleak, and he seemed worn out and exhausted. He explained how many difficulties he had to overcome on his way to Azerbaijan. He was astonished to see the Turks in every region through which he traveled. He continued: “ My trip was fraught with innumerable dangers. However, all of the Turks whom I met on route here were extremely helpful and supportive. Their incredible assistance encouraged me to persevere.” We became very good friends. We are still friends. Then I introduced Husameddin to my associates and Nesib bey himself. Husameddin bey soon mastered all the skills necessary to take part in our overt and covert struggle against the Russian Empire.
In this period a few unfortunate individuals brainwashed by the Bolshevik propaganda attacked the family of Allahyar bey of Zulgaderri and killed several of his family members. This news saddened the people of Genje. In order to prevent such bloodshed in the future two groups of activists were set up and dispatched to Zegem where the event had occurred. Mullah Muhammed Peshnamazzade headed one of these groups that consisted of religious and business leaders. Husameddin bey led the second group that comprised the teachers and intellectuals. These two groups traveled throughout the region advising people not to resort to violence, and they managed to prevent any further fratricide.
The number of the Turkish soldiers returning from Siberia was growing at an alarming pace. Their accommodation was becoming a major issue. Our organization succeeded in sending them back to Turkey. We created several departure and transit points for moving the Turkish soldiers back home. The first point was Genje, the second – Yevlakh railroad station, third – Garabakh, then the Bridge of Khudaferin, Iran and Turkey. The activists at every point were in charge of transporting the Turkish military and reported how they reached the next destination. We also sent some letters to the Turkish government with the soldiers whom we could trust. In these letters we expanded on the general socio-political situation in Russia: the latest information from the front, anti-Czarist activities of the Socialist parties in Russia, the independence movements of the non-Russian nations, the chaos and devastation in the Russian army, and finally, the moral degradation and decline of values among the Russian people.
All the Azeri youth was mobilized and working hard openly and underground. We were never concerned about the financial state of our organization. We knew that the funds of the Genje National Committee were always open to us. The people regularly contributed the needed funds through the National Committee.
One day I was informed that Rahim bey, the chief of Russian secret police, wished to meet with me. Rahim bey was from Shixli village of Gazakh (town in northwestern Azerbaijan). He worked with us in the Youth Organization, then found employment with the police. He was rapidly promoted and became the chief of secret police. In 1912 he was working as a teacher in a primary public school in Genje. A very interesting event happened in one of his classes in that year. The classes were taught in Russian in that school. The students were Russian, Georgian, Armenian and Turkish children. During one of the geography classes taught by Rahim bey in Russian, an inspector from St. Petersburg sat in the class to measure the quality of education. During the class a student answers Rahim bey’s questions in front of the Caucasus’ map. Rahim bey asks the pupil to name the main nations that live in the Caucasus. The student replies: “ Turks, Georgians and Armenians.” At this an astounded inspector counters: “ Son, you forgot to name the Great Russian nation.” The kid gets embarrassed and confused. Rehim bey immediately interferes: “ Please, don’t confuse the kid. The student enumerated the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus. The Russians are newcomers.” A month after this incident Rahim bey was discharged from the school without any explanation.
As soon as I heard that Rahim bey wanted to see me, I found him the next day. I asked him how the Russians decided to hire him to work in secret police. He said with a smile on his face: “ Of course, at the first glance, it looks very strange. However, that incident never leaked from the archives of the St. Petersburg Education Ministry. I applied to the Viceroy of Genje, and the police hired me. Nevertheless, my beliefs are the same. You should have no doubt about that.” Then he continued with real purpose of the meeting. He showed me a photo. I could recognize the uniform of a Turkish Pasha. I asked for more details. He gave me the secret instructions from the central police office. It read: “ Ihsan Pasha captured by the Russian troops in Sariqamish has recently escaped from the exile in Siberia. He may arrive in the Caucasus. Those who provide information about his whereabouts or arrest him will be both promoted and rewarded.”
I asked Rahim bey about our plans. Rahim bey suggested that unlike many Turkish officers who were in Genje at that time we should not keep Ihsan Pasha in the city itself. We should accommodate him in some village. After these words we parted.
I immediately embarked on locating Ihsan Pasha. According to all the information I could gather, he did not arrive in the Caucasus. Ihsan Pasha’s escape from Siberia and his fate remained unknown to us.
I learned the details of his escape in Trebizond in 1922. After the occupation of Azerbaijan by the Red Army in 1920 I emigrated to Tiflis, the capital of Georgia. But the Russian Army took over Georgia as well, and I had to cross the border to Turkish Motherland. I settled in Trebizond. At that time the Turkish people were waging the Independence War. The whole nation was mobilized to fight the aggressors. Therefore, there was no organization that took care of the refugees from Azerbaijan. The people of Trebizond were providing all the possible assistance to the émigrés. I was also helping as much as I could. One day a man with three young boys entered my store. After having greeted me he said: “ I am an Azeri. I fled the hell on earth and came to Turkey. I have friends in Turkey. I am looking for them and Ihsan Pasha in particular. I know that they are in Istanbul. I beg you to help me reach Istanbul together with my three sons. I want to find Pasha and ask him to take care of the kids. As far as I am concerned I can get by somehow.”
Then he handed me a sheet of paper and photograph. The document listed the names of 27 Turkish officers. I asked him for more explanation. He said that in his youth he had been sentenced to a labor camp in Siberia because of some incident. He was from the city of Guba in Azerbaijan. He spoke more about his life: “ I was exiled to Siberia from Guba. I served my term for ten years. I was released after that. I was making good money. I married and now have three children. These boys are my children. Then the World War I erupted, and Turkey joined the war several months later. I was dreaming of different scenarios hoping that my motherland, Azerbaijan, would be liberated from the Russian oppression soon. At this time I found out about the exiled Turkish officers from Sarikamish. I was helping those soldiers in every way I could. Then I helped 27 Turkish officers to escape from the prison camp. I arranged for identification documents for these people. I provided them with money and sent them to the Caucasus. The photo you are looking at is of Ihsan Pasha, Fethi bey and me. At that period all my thoughts were directed at planning the escape of Ihsan Pasha. I promised myself to do all it took in order not to leave a Turkish Pasha in the Russian prison. I informed Ihsan Pasha of my plans. Pasha was afraid he would be caught if he tried to flee the camp. I consoled him that the risk was minimal. The Pasha told me he had another friend who would follow his suit. I made two identification papers and organized their escape. I took a good sum of money, left my family in the area and led two men to China. We were on a non-Russian territory now. Before returning to Siberia I showed him the list of 27 Turkish officers whom I had assisted in their escape. The Pasha was deeply grateful to me. He said that it would be his honor to add his name to the list. However, I requested the photo of our respected Pasha. All three of us had our picture taken. So this is the short history of the photo you are examining right now."
My friend from Guba finished his narration. I got up, shook his hands and kissed his children. I gave the kids some presents. I took my new friend and his sons to the nearby inn so that they could have a rest after a long journey. I promised them that I would contemplate on how to transport them to Istanbul. I left the inn for the Governor of Trebizond. He advised that I see the mayor. The mayor on his part directed me to the steamer travel agency. But the agents told me that it was almost impossible to send all four people on the same ship. They would have to go separately. I returned to my store without any results. I was at my wit’s end as to what to do next. I was in no condition to afford the tickets for four men. I was pondering on the solutions to this problem. I always prayed God to give me help under such circumstances. Suddenly it occurred to me that I ought to see the policeman I knew.
Dear readers, let me tell you about a heroic Turkish policeman. In Trebizond I was operating a currency exchange shop with my friend. One day a policeman came to the store and asked to exchange 200 French Francs. We exchanged the money for him. The officer told us that he would be exchanging 200 Francs from the Ottoman Bank every month. Then he told us an interesting story: “ I was fighting in Chanakkale during the World War I. We were fighting with the enemy to death. The French troops were in the section where I was serving. One day we launched a hand-to-hand combat with the entrenched French. The French could not stand our bayonets and retreated leaving a great number of the dead behind them. After the battle our soldiers dug two enormous ditches. We buried Turkish soldiers in one and the enemy soldiers in the other. As one of our soldiers was dragging a French officer to the hole, I noticed that the French was not dead: “ He is still alive, just wounded!” Then I beckoned the doctors and asked them to take the French officer to the hospital. The Frenchman saw how agitated I was and realized that I had saved his life. He grabbed my hand and requested that I went to the hospital with him. At the hospital the doctors took care of him and began talking in French to the officer. It was then that I discovered that this man was a French general. The French general asked for my name through the doctor. I wrote the information down for him.
The war was over, and the peace treaty was signed. Our government returned all prisoners of war to their respective governments. However, our enemies violated the agreement and occupied Istanbul. I was demobilized and working in a police department in Uskudar. One day I was called to the chief’s office and told that some officials from the French Military Office would like to see me. First I was scared. The Deputy Police Chief persuaded me to go and said that he would see that I was not harmed. In the French Headquarters I was brought to the room with a French general. A translator asked me whether I knew the man. I recognized the general whose life I had saved. The General shook my hand and informed me that after his report to his government, the French officials decided to give me 5,000 Francs in reward money. The sum would be paid in installments of 200 Francs a month. I deposited the money in a bank in Istanbul and came back to my home town of Trebizond.”
This policeman’s proud story and the way I listened to it passed in my mind like a movie. The Azeri from Guba was in the store at this moment. I took this man and went to see the chief of Trabzon battalion. I remembered that his name was Galib bey. He was a tall and slim man with gentle facial features and dark hair. The colonel received both of us. I related the stories of both the policeman and the Azeri to him. I showed the list of 27 Turkish officers whom the Azeri had helped to flee. I also demonstrated the photo with Ihsan Pasha. I made a plea with the colonel: “ Sir, I have no funds to send this unemployed freedom-fighter to Istanbul with his kids. Although I searched for help, my efforts bore no fruits. You, the soldiers, could understand us better. I am asking you to assist us in any way you can.” The colonel shook the Azeri’s hand. Then he gave him 25 Liras from his own funds. He instructed his assistant: “ Please, take this man to the dispatcher at the port. Convey my greetings, then ask him to transport this gentleman together with his three children to Istanbul on board the Pake steamer.”
Thus, I saw off the Azeri from Guba to Istanbul. I never encountered him again. However, I later found out that on his arrival in Istanbul he had met with Ihsan Pasha. Ihsan Pasha in his turn sent the children to a boarding school. Four years later I visited Istanbul and attempted to locate the man from Guba. I was told that the man and one of his children had passed away. The other two sons were attending the military academies. In following years I lost the contact with the children as well.
The exodus of the Turkish POW’s from Siberia to the Caucasus continued. A hotel owner in Genje told me one day that three Turkish officers had checked in his hotel. I immediately visited the officers. However, these officers were not the escapees from Siberia. In fact, they had arrived from Turkey. Their task was to relay the valuable information about the situation in Russia to Turkey. The officers belonged to the Turkish army stationed in Iraq. I was talking to the officer by the name of Muzaffer bey. He told me that the Turkish army was making use of the information provided by us. According to him, the officers traveled to Azerbaijan through the route that we had established. He said: “ We will be performing those functions from now on.” I realized that their mission would be very serious. Their further stay at the hotel would be dangerous. We set up two rooms for the Turkish officers in the house of Jamil bey, one of our associates. We were providing for their subsistence needs. The three officers were operating freely. They were also forwarding secret messages through the Turkish prisoners who were returning to Turkey. Muzaffer bey had a rank of lieutenant of the Turkish army. After the Armistice was brokered, he became a member of General Staff. At our first meeting I could predict that he would have a bright future. With his knowledge, sharp analytical and communication skills he projected an image of a very intelligent person. Muzaffer bey later became a general. He was second in charge in the General Staff. Then Muzaffer bey retired, and his last position was the mayor of Izmir. He died in office. This was the general Muzaffer Tugsavul. May God rest his soul!
After meeting Muzaffer bey in Genje in 1916 I met him again twenty years later in Istanbul in 1936. I do not forget interesting and important events very easily. Besides, if I see a person once, I will always recognize him no matter how many years pass. One day I was walking through one of the neighborhoods of Istanbul. A young and handsome general was coming towards me. I stared at and observed the general. Our eyes met, but we passed each other. However, I was certain in my assumption. I immediately turned around: “ Pardon me, is your name Muzaffer?” The general looked at me very intently, then replied: “ Yes, it is.” I said: “ My Pasha, more than twenty years have passed since our meeting. Can you recognize me?” The Pasha could not recall me at all. I countered: “ I am Naki from Genje.” To this he responded: “ Wait! Can Naki be without a mustache?” We hugged and kissed each other.
Towards the end of the World War I we were receiving detailed information about the crisis of the Czar regime from the underground Socialist organizations. Our family estate was three kilometers from Genje. One afternoon I was walking in our garden when a gardener approached me with a dead animal and a rifle. They belonged to some hunter. Soon a hunter appeared as well. He turned out to be a chief of the Genje Rail station. He was Georgian by nationality. I gave his rifle back and invited him for a dinner. After the food we began conversing. Naturally, the conversation between an Azeri and a Georgian could only be against the Czar. We were criticizing the regime without any caution. The Georgian expressed his hope that the Czar government would soon collapse, and we, the Caucasians, would live in peace with each other. I responded: “ The Russian rule is an Imperial one. God willing, they will soon depart from the Caucasus, and the Caucasian nations could build their independent states.” However, the Georgian did not agree with my opinion: “ I do not share your opinion. I am a member of the Socialist party. We, the Socialists, do not recognize the notion of nationality. We wish to live with both Russian and non-Russian nations under one Socialist government. Our organization is striving to establish such a system. Since you, the Caucasian Turks, do not have any Socialist organizations, the imminent revolution will catch you unprepared. All the Azeris I know despise the regime, but they refuse to become part of our organization. You do not even realize how much underground work is being done right now. You, Azeris, are completely unaware of these developments. I have been a Socialist for 20 years. It is a mission of my life.”
We tacitly concurred that we had different political platforms. Nevertheless, since we both opposed the Czar regime, I agreed to the Georgian’s offer to deliver the secret circulars of his organization the following Sunday.
On Sunday the Georgian brought the documents and went off hunting. I began perusing these interesting papers in a shadow of a tree in my family estate. I could not believe what the documents described. They contained the materials about the Duma discussions that were not to be found in the press. This information convinced me once more that the Czar would be soon toppled. Chkeidze, the member of the Duma, was declaring that “ Czar regime is not a government, but a counterfeit operation. Just like the counterfeit masters, the Czar regime is also minting the unsupported money.” Skobelev, another deputy, was charging: “ The Czar government is a bunch of pickpockets. The Czar government robs people by imposing heavy taxes which is tantamount to thieves picking people’s pockets.” I approved of both deputies’ words. I knew the Georgian parliamentarian but never heard of Skobelev. I liked the fact that he was a Russian opposed to the Czar authorities. I wished I could thank them both.
It is an odd coincidence that I had a chance to shake Skobelev’s hand in 1919 in the capital of Azerbaijan. That time was one of the joyful periods in the history of National Azerbaijani Republic. I was visiting with my brother-in-law Ali bey that night. It was late, but I was not leaving as Ali was not in a good mood. In order to cheer him up I decided to take him out. We went to a cabaret called Momuz. Famous intellectual Hudadat bey Hajihasanli was the owner of Momuz. He had invited me to the grand opening of the cabaret, but I failed to make it. Therefore, now he was delighted to see us. The place was crowded with famous and influential people that night. You could spot Baku millionaires, ministers, generals, mayors and other high-class people. I was fond of the sincere and friendly atmosphere in the cabaret. Suddenly a person got up and requested a word: “ Esteemed ladies and gentlemen, I have just come to Azerbaijan from hell that is Russia. Hundreds of people like me found safe haven in Azerbaijan. Madam Kosich, the famous singer of Moscow Opera, is also among us today. Please, let’s ask her to sing for us tonight.” Everyone was applauding although no one knew where the singer was seated. Finally, a tall lady stood up behind one of the tables and began singing with beautiful voice. The audience gave her hearty applause after she had finished. Then a gentleman in his forties spoke: “ I also immigrated to Azerbaijan. Let me introduce myself. My name is Skobelev, a former Labor minister in Kerensky’s government. I have heard that Mr. Aslan bey Safyurtlu, the Labor Minister of the Azerbaijan Republic, is also present today. I did not succeed as a head of Labor ministry. I preferred to escape the hell. I cheer Aslan bey and pray God to make him very successful in his duties.” Aslan bey reciprocated Skobelev’s words.
At this moment a young man approached our table and introduced himself as poet Skaradevski. He told us that he was learning the names and occupations of the people present since he was going to introduce them at the stage shortly. Ali bey told him his name and his position in the oil industry. I also told him that I was the chief of National Security. At my words Skaradevski stared in my face and replied: “ It seems we are busted.” I asked the poet whether he knew Skobelev and if he did, whether he could introduce us to each other. The poet informed me that he knew Skobelev from St. Petersburg. Soon he appeared with Skobelev on his side. As we met, I told him how much I had welcomed his speeches against the Czar regime. Skobelev said: “ What can I say? The Communism is the cancer on the human culture.”
Meanwhile Skaradevski began introducing everyone from the stage as promised. In the very end of his introduction he pointed to our table and introduced Ali bey. He exclaimed: “ Ali bey is an oil baron. His friend, however, is a very dangerous and frightening man. We’d better keep quiet if we don’t want to be thrown out.” This is how I met Skobelev.
Let’s back up a little. I continued my contacts with the chief of the Genje station and was obtaining valuable materials from him. The poor performance of the Russian army in the front on one hand and the Socialist activities inside the country on the other were dealing one blow after another with the Czar government. The Czar’s days were numbered.
The day we all were waiting for finally arrived. With the fall of the rotten regime Russia plunged into anarchy. The national centrifugal movements thoroughly shook up Russia. The revolutionaries in Moscow established the Provisional Government headed by Kerenski. However, this government did not last long. It was extremely difficult to restore law and order in Russia at that time. Moreover, Kerenski’s personality was too insipid to resolve the gigantic issues. Kerenski’s SR party was struggling with the Bolsheviks in the center. The military organizations were attempting to seize the power in other parts of the Empire. It is noteworthy that these organizations had some degree of success in certain regions of Russia. This soldier’s association took the power in Baku using its Armenian and Russian members. Their branch in Tiflis called Krayevoy Syezd (Regional Congress) was fighting the Georgians and intended to become a part of the Moscow-based military organization.
The situation in Genje was tense as well. Two Russian regiments (218 and 219) were stationed in Genje. These soldiers together with the Armenians set up an association called the Soldier Deputy. They were trying to intimidate us, the Turks, and take over the city. We did not consider the combination of the Russians and Armenians to be capable to fight us. We were clearly in control of the situation. However, at this period a Kazak batallion from the Caucasian front arrived in Genje and settled in barracks. The appearance of the Kazaks emboldened the Russian soldiers, and the military situation in the city immediately deteriorated. The Russian soldiers dared shoot several Azeri civilians, and the Azerbaijanis retaliated with killing several Russian soldiers. The same night the soldiers returned to their barracks, and the people went back home. However, the mayor of Genje convened an emergency meeting in order to obviate any further bloodshed. The representatives of the Russian military, the members of the National Committee and the colonel of the Kazaks gathered to discuss the explosive situation. The meeting took place in the City Hall located in the Turkish sector of the city. The discussions commenced at 8 o’clock in the evening. The Mayor of Genje Halil bey was chairing the meeting. The debates were very emotional, and the sides were intransigent in their positions. It was clear to us that there would be no consensus at this meeting. Finally, Andreyev, the leader of the Russian military group, spoke loudly and angrily: “ This is the final and resolute words of the Russian soldier. Starting from tomorrow the Russian soldiers will disarm and punish any civilian who carries weapons.”
Late Nesib bey, the Chairman of the National Committee, retorted to this ultimatum: “ And I am announcing the decision of the Turkish people: any Russian soldier who carries a weapon on the streets of Genje will be disarmed.”
The Turks gave a series of emotional applause to Nesib bey. The Russian soldiers began leaving the room when the commander of the Kazak battalion requested a word from the Mayor. The Russian soldiers returned to the room and listened to the Kazak on their feet. Complete silence settled in. The Kazak chief faced the Russian soldiers and began his speech: “ All the existing Russian armies abandoned their discipline and murdered their commanders. However, I went to the war as a commander, and I am now going home as a commander of my battalion. There are two forces skirmishing with each other in Moscow. They are Lenin’s Boshevism and Kerenski’s Democratism. It is your business what political force you support, but both leaders of those organizations declared that the nations themselves will determine their status and future. The people who live in this country have nothing in common with the Russians. They want to rule their country, and I welcome their right to do so. If you want to take advantage of the arrival of my Kazak troops in this city, I have to inform you that my troops do not back your unjust objectives, and they will not support you.” Our people strongly lauded the Kazak leader. The bleak and scared Russian soldiers left the meeting. The Turks applauded the Kazak until he stepped out of the room.
While we were preparing for the party in honor of the Kazak colonel, he met with Chairman of the National Committee late Nesib bey. I approached them and invited them to the table. However, Nesib bey said: “ It is not the time for partying. Listen to what the colonel has to say.” The colonel began clarifying: “ Friends, the situation is very serious. Although I instructed my Kazaks not to get involved in internal politics, I can not completely control their behavior. If the Russian soldiers start clashing with the Azeris tomorrow, the Kazaks may take the side of the soldiers. I will lead my battalion to the rail station tonight. I will also leave our reserve weapons and ammunition for you in order to prove my sympathies to your people.” Several of our activists immediately accompanied the colonel to the barracks to collect the weaponry. We also dispatched people to instruct our members in various districts on how to act that night. All our forces were ordered to be on high alert in all parts of the city. My position was in Dort Yol district. The road to the station was traversing this district. According to the colonel’s orders a hundred Kazaks would move to the station every ten minutes.
The Kazaks began marching to the station the same night. Our people were giving them emotional farewell. Some were embracing and kissing each other. At last the Kazaks reached their destination before the dawn. After this successful operation Mehmet Ali, one of the wealthy Azeris in Genje, invited us for a breakfast tea. On our way to his house one of our associates who was on the military post caught up with us with very disturbing news. He had spotted seven armed Russian soldiers who seemed to go to the railway station. We immediately returned to our positions. Famous Gachag Kamber and his comrades rounded up the Russian soldiers in no time and disarmed them. The Russians were jailed in the cellar of the Cotton Factory. All night the Russian soldiers who were found on the streets of Genje were disarmed and put in the cellar of the Cotton Factory. The National Committee that convened in the evening discussed the early events. 60 armed Russian soldiers were arrested while the unarmed Russians were not harassed at all. Despite the threats, the Russians failed to undertake any operation. The National Committee declared that day “ Military Day”, and the people were armed and began patrolling the streets of Genje.
The National Committee’s meeting continued until midnight. Taking into consideration the concerns of the people and the success of the day the Committee passed the following resolution: before the sunrise the armed men of the Committee would surround four Russian barracks situated in the Turkish sectors of the city. Four men would be sent to every barrack to collect the arms surrendered by the Russian soldiers. Anyone who dared resist would be liquidated at once. The activists that rallied in front of the National Committee building went back to communities to inform them of the important decision and get ready for the possible military engagement.
At four o’clock in the morning the barracks were thoroughly besieged. I was a member of one of the groups that was assigned to collect the weapons. The barracks were surrounded with enormous masses of armed Azeris. There was an absolute silence inside the barracks. I led my group to one of the buildings and knocked at the door. Someone asked for my identity. I introduced myself as a representative of the National Committee. A few minutes later the door opened, and I saw the scared Russian soldiers. They were in utter terror. I notified the sergeant who opened the door of the Committee’s decision and demanded their unconditional surrender. The sergeant inquired whether he would receive an official document stating the surrender of the weapons. After my positive answer he began accounting for the serial numbers of the rifles. I explained to him that we had no time, and we would collect the rifles and automatic weapons and give him the total quantity instead of noting the serial numbers of the weapons. The sergeant agreed to this condition, but expressed his concern as to how we would guarantee their lives after capitulation. In response to this question I said loudly to the sergeant and other Russian soldiers who by now thronged in front of the door: “ The people who have surrounded you and demand your weapons are Turkish. We have all the strength and courage in the world, but remember that we are not barbarians. After you lay down your arms, you will all be taken to the rail station so that you can return home, to Russia.”
The soldiers of these four battalions were immediately transported to the rail station. No Russian soldier was left in the city of Genje. The National Committee was in charge. Both the police in the city and gendarmerie in the suburbs were under the National Committee. The Armenian and Russian civilians continued their normal lives under the leadership of the National Committee.
A week after these developments Gachag Kamber and I were invited to the wedding of the Tatoglus. During the wedding late Nesib bey handed me a secret memorandum of the National Committee. The memo said that a Russian division was moving to Genje from Tiflis. It was decided to counter the Russian division in Shemkir station, 30 kilometers from Genje. We were instructed to arrive in Shemkir immediately and notify the villagers along the way.
We informed the villagers around the city and arrived in Shemkir later. I witnessed an incredible picture: every armed man of Genje was already in Shemkir. The Georgians relayed the information about the movement of the Russian troops. The Georgians themselves took over their country after subduing the Russian soldier associations in Tiflis. The Georgians also sent 300 armed men to assist the Azeris in case of military confrontation with the Russians. Our armed forces and the Georgians who arrived in an armored train were ready for the Russian division. Soon a train carrying the Russian forces appeared but stopped three hundred meters from the station. We sent a delegation to find out the mission of the military contingent. Long negotiations in which the Georgian Lieutenant General also participated took place. We explained the situation to the Russians. We tried to convince the Russians that they had no choice but surrender their weapons. In that case we would guarantee their return to their country. The Russians finally agreed, and following our instructions they were supposed to pull up one car at a time and surrender their arms to the Azeris and Georgians in the armored train. A group of the University and Gymnasium students were assigned to take the arms.
The first train car approached the armored train and handed over the weapons. However, when the second car pulled up, its doors suddenly opened, and the Russians began shelling the wheels of the armored train with the cannons installed inside the Russian train. The armored train was so damaged that it could not move. The Russian soldiers launched an offensive against us. At the initial stage of the battle 15 Azeri students and 40 Georgians were shot. However, our armed men started a massive counterattack in response to this treacherous Russian onslaught. By the evening the Russians’ resistance was crushed. The Russian soldiers began tossing their arms on the ground and surrendering. The next day the Russians were transported to Russia.
Our forces that had defeated the Russian division returned to Genje, and distributed the arms and ammunition to those who were not armed. No one was in a festive mood as we had lost 15 men in this fight. The following morning our people with tears in their eyes buried their heroes. Chairman of the National Committee Nesib bey gave a speech at the funeral of our martyrs. He emphasized: “ Happy are these dear young men who have become the first martyrs at the altar of the freedom of our motherland.”
After this event the Caucasian Congress convened in Baku. At the Congress Nesib bey, the leader of the Turkish Decentralization party that ruled Genje and Memmed Emin bey Resulzade, the leader of Musavat party, agreed to unite their forces into one party as they had the same goals and objectives. Our common end was the independence. The National Pact and Charter were declared as well.
Meanwhile, the Russian soldiers were deserting the Caucasian front. Their only objective now was to return to Russia. The Russian government could not fill in this gap in the front. The anarchy was erupting all over Russia. Russia’s allies, France and England were perfectly aware of the internal crisis in Russia. That’s why they moved fast to reinforce the Caucasian front with the Armenian and Georgian troops. They also induced the Seym in the Caucasus to set up Army Corps that would consist of Armenians, Georgians and Azeris. The Azerbaijani delegation at the Seym informed the Genje National Committee of these affairs.
The major Russian military depots were located in Tiflis. The Georgians received their share of the Russian equipment. The Armenians transported their share to Erivan. However, the Azeris acquired nothing from the Russian weapons caches. We were told that we had to seize the arms of the Russian soldiers who proceeded to Russia through Azerbaijan. It is true that the National Committee was informed of the movement of these trains well in advance. We also learned that the English and French diplomats and military instructors arrived in Tiflis in order to train the Georgian and Armenian Army Corps. Nevertheless, in the end despite their enormous financial assistance and efforts all their plans failed.
We knew that the Russian and Armenian forces that occupied Baku were planning to attack Genje. At this time we found out that a train carrying the Russian Army Corps crossed the Georgian-Azeri border and was moving towards Genje. The Russian troops were fully armed and coming to settle the scores with the people of Genje. But the train was not moving at its normal speed. The infantry was accompanying the train on both sides. The train, naturally, was moving at the speed of the running soldiery. The Russians were shooting any man, sheep or horse on their way to Genje. In retaliation to these atrocities of the Russians the Azeri villagers were returning fire inflicting horrible losses on the Russian forces. The Russians traveled under the devastating fire of our villagers along the 135-km route from the border to Shemkir station for two days. At nights the situation of the Russians was worsening with the Azeri armed groups approaching the train and shooting the Russian soldiers from point-blank range.
When the Russians finally arrived at Shemkir, they were so beaten and shaken that they offered to surrender themselves. We had taken all the precautions before they arrived in the station. At any rate after having carefully examined the area and realized that they were completely encircled, the Russian military sent their representatives with a white flag to discuss the terms of surrender.
We met the Russian delegation who conspicuously were in a pitiful shape. They invited us to the train to conduct negotiations with the commanders of the Army Corps. I headed towards the train with another comrade of mine. The group of the Russian soldiers that gathered in front of the train was worn out and demoralized. Everyone was shouting: “ Damn it. We are ready to lay down our weapons. Just let us go to Russia safely.”
We passed by the cars full of the Russian soldiery until we reached the commander’s car. The scene in the train was horrific. The train was full of innumerable wounded and dead. The corpses of soldiers killed by our villagers were piled in the corners of train cars. We finally reached the car that was connected to the telegraph post with wires. The Russian generals were evidently in touch with Tiflis or Baku. The communication was suspended as soon as we entered the compartment. A young officer with one star on his uniform introduced himself as commander Vasilyev. His badge indicated that he was a lawyer. We were not surprised at the young age of the commander since the regular and experienced generals were either executed by their own subordinates or distanced themselves from the army. We introduced ourselves as the representatives of the National Committee in Genje. Vasilyev began speaking first: “ There is no need to explain the situation to each other. After the fiasco of the Russian government, the anarchy has been reigning in the country. What you are witnessing today is the logical consequence of that havoc.” I briskly responded to the Russian: “ We nipped the anarchy in the bud. Our national forces are faithful to our national traditions and discipline. Our national leaders are in complete control of the situation. What you have seen on your journey through Azerbaijan is not the example of the anarchy, but the just protest of our people to the barbarities perpetrated by your soldiers. Didn’t you learn for the last two months that no one can travel through our country without our permission? What did you expect when you set off on your trip? Today your army is facing the armed forces of untrained and unskilled Azeri masses. But you must have already realized how powerful these people are. Your situation is even more aggravated by the fact that the people who besiege you are Turks, and your army had no command center. The only reasonable solution for you is to surrender.”
The Russians did follow our advice and laid down their arms. After the operation the Russian soldiers boarded the train and continued on to Russia.
We concluded that the Russian troops would not dare cross the Azerbaijani-Georgian border in near future. However, as always we were alert to the threat from the north. In addition to this, Baku, Azerbaijan’s heart and soul, was under the occupation of the Russo-Armenian forces. We clearly saw the need to sweep the enemy out of Baku. Since we had no sufficient troops to carry out the task, the National Committee initiated the emergency consultations. Besides the members of the Committee all other volunteers and activists partook in this historic meeting. After having analyzed the crisis late Nesib bey concluded: “ All the efforts of our nation have been very successful so far. However, we are still far away from achieving our principal goal. We have to liberate the capital of Azerbaijan from the foe. A decapitated body can not exist. Our people’s forces are certainly not sufficient to fulfill this mission. We see a great need for foreign military assistance, and the only power that can render such assistance is the Ottoman Empire. I suggest that we make a decision on dispatching a special delegation to Turkey and request the military aid from the Ottomans.”
The participants met these words with long-standing ovations. The National Committee was authorized to send a special envoy to conduct talks with the Turkish government.
The following morning late Nesib bey summoned me to his office. Nesib bey received me in one of the rooms of the National Committee building: “ Naki, as you know, the General Convention of the National Committee authorized me to send a delegation to meet with the Ottoman government. I can not trust anyone but you with this difficult and very dangerous mission. The disorder and anarchy rule all around us. The Russian soldiers control the borders. We will not hear about your movement the moment you leave. We will not even know whether you are alive or not. Nevertheless, I trust and believe you and know that you will not succumb to the enemy effortlessly. Husameddin bey also wished to travel to Turkey, as he has not been there for ages. I have already discussed the issue with him and decided that he would go with you. Husameddin bey will help you as much as he can after you cross the border into Turkey. Remember that he is the officer of the very army whom we plan to ask for help. Husameddin bey knows our nation and is aware of our relentless struggle. He will present a detailed report on the conditions in Azerbaijan to the Turkish army commanders. I am certain that he will support our cause.”
Nesib bey was watching my face for reaction. I was determined: “ Nesib bey, this is a sacred national mission. Please, be assured that not only will not I cave in to the enemy, but I will not surrender even to God’s angel of death until I complete my nation’s mission.”
After the conversation with Nesib bey I also met with Husameddin bey and began preparing for the mission. Our trip was to be kept in deep secrecy. Only Muzaffer bey was informed of our mission. Muzaffer bey gave me a very long coded letter addressed to the Turkish army.
The only other person whom I had to tell about my mission was my mother. When I came home early my mother was ecstatic: “ Son, thank God, you have returned home so early.” My mother was right in her joy, as I would never come home before midnight. I faced the most intractable dilemma of my life. How was I going to explain the situation to my mom? How could I sadden her now with this news? I stared in my mother’s face for quite a while. Then encouraged by the sanctity of the mission I told my mother: “ Mom, this evening we will dine together. Tomorrow morning I will have to leave on a trip. God willing, it will be a success.”
Then I explained to my mother that Nesib bey had entrusted me with this task. My mother broke down into tears: “ No, son, I won’t approve of this journey. If you leave without my permission, I will not bless you on your trip. Have you even thought about it? Nowadays it is so dangerous that one can not even venture out to the streets, let alone embarking on long trips. How will you cross the fronts swarmed by the Armenian and Russian soldiers and reach Turkey? This trip will mean almost a sure death. How could I agree to this?”
I mustered up my courage and answered: “ Mother, my decision is final. No one can change it. Be patient and pray for me. God willing, I will be back safe and sound.”
The following day I went to the Committee to obtain the sealed letter of credentials. Before my departure Nesib bey gave me the last instructions: “ Naki, you are the member of the Independence Committee. Please, inform the Ottoman government of our movement. Tell them that our nation is determined to be free and has made enormous sacrifices on this way. Three fourths of Azerbaijan is independent of the Russian rule today. We need the Ottomans to help us with the army. Let them lend their brotherly help to us, support our freedom. However, if they want to annex us to their country, we will not need them. We will suffer more, but find the solution to our problems on our own.”
The Committee members were giving a dinner in honor of Husameddin bey and me the same night. We were all waiting for poet Ahmed Javad who was the General Secretary of the National Committee. Finally Ahmed Javad and Nesib bey arrived. After a long dinner and conversations we hugged and kissed each other good bye.
Husameddin bey and I headed towards the rail station without any escort, as our mission was covert. It was January of 1918. We boarded the train destined to Tiflis leaving our friends, people and country to face the uncertainties and dangers of the time. We arrived in Tiflis at eight o’clock in the morning and immediately went to the Philanthropic Society. During the meeting with Husrev bey, the chairman of the Society, we explained the purpose of our trip. He drafted the documents that certified us as the members of the Philanthropic Society. These papers authorized us to travel to the front lines without any obstacle. When we reached the station to continue on to Batum, we found out that there were no tickets available. Thousands of the Russian soldiers were traveling to Russia through Batum as their journey via Azerbaijan was considered life threatening. They did not allow the civilians to board the trains to Batum. It occurred to me that I should locate my nephew Kazim who was a railway inspector and representative of Azerbaijan in Tiflis.
Soon Kazim was back with smile on his face: “ I managed to get a small car attached to the train. I will travel to Batum with you. However, do not sit in front of windows when the train is at the station so that the military do not notice you. I told the authorities that I needed to go to Batum on official business.” On the way to Batum we were squatting when the train reached stations. Thus, we conveniently reached Batum.
The situation in Batum reminded me of the Judgement Day. The Russian soldiers who arrived in the city both via trains and boats created an atmosphere of commotion and chaos. The soldiers were arguing with and threatening each other. Any person who looked like an officer was immediately checked as to his identity. Most of officers who feared for their lives were dressed in soldier uniforms. We finally struggled our way through the soldier masses to check in a hotel. We left our belongings in the hotel and went to have a dinner. When we returned to the hotel, the owner warned us not to turn on the lights as the Russian soldiers may come in and seize the room at any time. We gave money to the owner to prepare breakfast for us and went to bed early. The following morning our breakfast was disrupted by the knock at the door followed by the entry of a group of Russian soldiers. They were looking for army officers. The soldiers even inspected Husameddin’s leather jacket for the signs of the shoulder straps. They left having found nothing. We later saw Kazim off to Tiflis. Then we headed to the house of Doctor Mahmud bey, the chairman of the Philanthropic Society of Batum. Mahmud bey was notified of our mission. We also asked him to organize our safe passage to Turkey. While in his house we also met with Omer Faik bey from Ahiska, who was one of the publishers of Mullah Nasreddin, an Azeri publication in Tiflis.
Mahmud bey told us about Faik bey’s intention to travel to Turkey. While we were drinking tea another person came in. His name was Bunyatoglu, a gentleman who was originally from Giresun and now trading tobacco in Batum. Doctor Mahmud introduced us as the members of the Philanthropic Society. Bunyatoglu had come to ask for help: “ Doctor, I have a favor to ask. You must have heard that after the withdrawal of the Russian troops from suburbs of Trabzon, the Turkish gangs began attacking the Greek villages. The Greeks in turn abandoned their properties and are fleeing to Trabzon right now. We are sending a fact-finding mission to Trabzon to investigate the situation. I would thank you if you could ask two members of the Philanthropic Society to join our group.” The Doctor turned to us, and we immediately responded: “ Doctor, if you insist, we will leave for Trebizond right away.” Bunyatoglu wrote down the identification numbers of our Philanthropic Society cards and informed us that we would leave for Trebizond the following morning via sea.
On board the ship we met the Greek members of the delegation as well. They were extremely respectful. The steamer was slowly approaching the Turkish coast. On the deck I stumbled into a group of Armenian young men. Their facial features and pronunciation in Russian convinced me of their being Armenian. I approached them in order to find our where they were heading. The group that was discussing the political matters consisted of two Armenians and a Georgian. The Georgian was listening to Armenians. One of them was explaining their political agenda: “ The Russian defeats on the front have completely frustrated our plans. But we can not get despondent. The experts throughout the world believe that Anglo-Saxons will defeat the German-Turkish alliance. The natural result of the war will be Europe’s attempt to divide Turkey into several states. We, Armenians and Georgians, must prepare ourselves for that moment and support each other. Both the Armenians and Georgians have territorial claims against Turkey. The Europeans will certainly back us in this struggle. The Armenians have informed you, Georgians, of our long-term plans. We also coordinate our efforts with Greeks from Pontus. We will ethnically cleanse Trebizond and its vicinity from Turks and establish the Greek authority there. The European powers promised to provide assistance to the Greeks in this matter. Famous Armenian fighter Igranyan is also involved in carrying out this plan.” I relayed all I had heard to Husameddin bey.
Our ship was entering the port of Trebizond. We were met by the Greeks of the city and taken to the Greek church of Trebizond. The church was crowded with the Greeks. In one of the rooms we met with about 30 or 40 Greek men. Since we spoke Turkish, the Mitropolit of the Greek Church asked a lawyer who was present in the room to speak. The lawyer began his speech: “ Esteemed guests, you came late to Trebizond. You did not witness the terrible conditions of our people. Tomorrow you will see what the Laz brigands perpetrated against the Greek population of Trebizond with your own eyes. After you gather all the facts we need to write a report and inform the Krayevoy Syezd (Russian Soldier Organization) in Tiflis.”
The next speaker was very wise in his reasoning: “ Gentlemen, these lands belong to the Ottoman State. The Russians occupied these lands. So now when they are retreating the Turks have all the rights in the world to take them back. Those who devastate the Greek villages are not the Turkish troops but the brigands. The brigands are the ones who commit crimes against the civilians. We strongly believe that the Turkish forces will never hurt the civilian population.” I requested a word after this man and described the complicated political situation in Russia: “ Russia is in the midst of total anarchy. No military or civil structures are functioning properly. There is no central authority in Russia, and the various Socialist factions are skirmishing with each other for influence. Non-Russian nations of the Empire are scrambling to establish their independent states. In my opinion, we should inform the Ottoman government and army after we finalize our report. We should send a special delegation to meet with them and explain the current situation.”
The Greeks rowdily opposed my ideas. Chairman of the Hellenic Committee Nikola angrily spoke to me: “ Sir, we are not authorized to get in touch with the Ottoman government or army. We must furnish only the report requested by the Krayevoy Syezd in Tiflis. You need to have a rest now. Tomorrow we will take you around so that you can see the conditions of the Greek villagers for yourself.”
After Nikola’s speech, the meeting was over. Mitropolit, Husameddin bey, a Greek man and I remained in the room. Mitropolit asked the Greek man to go and prepare our accommodations for the night and organize our trip the following morning. After the Greek had left, the Mitropolit said: “ Gentlemen, I was educated in Germany. I am a friend of Germany and Turkey. I also keep in contact with Vehib Pasha, the commander of the Turkish forces. Yesterday I received a letter from him. He was asking me to protect the foodstuff and other reserves abandoned by the Russian troops. However, the political situation is entirely different. Armenian bandit Tigranyan has arrived in Trebizond with four hundred of his brigands and concluded an agreement with our Greek youth. The Armenians plan to destroy all the Turkish villages around Trebizond and massacre their people. Thus, the Greeks will be able to establish Pontus State with the capital in Trebizond. That’s why your suggestion to communicate with the Ottoman army was given cold shoulder.” Then the Mitropolit presented Vehib Pasha’s letter. Husameddin bey who read the letter was well acquainted with Vehib Pasha from military academy years. We told the Mitropolit that we would accomplish our mission but would not return home. We needed to go to Istanbul. The Mitropolit was also informed that we were heading to Istanbul to request the assistance of the Ottoman army in our struggle. We finally thanked him and parted.
It was 10 o’clock at night when we were walking in deserted streets of Trebizond. The Greek man who was leading us stopped at the front of a dentist’s office. He told us that it was his son’s house. The Greek told the owner of the house in Turkish: “ One of these guests will stay tonight at your house. The other will be my guest.” That night I stayed at the house of the dentist. They were very hospitable and respectful to me. When we began conversing the dentist was very suspicious and uncertain: “ Let’s see how the situation will develop.” I simply replied that everything would be fine. The dentist’s wife was pessimistic as well: “ I have no hopes either. These people can not be placated. There is a wise Turkish saying: animals have a goose, and people have a Laz (Turkish residents of South East Coast of the Black Sea). These can not be changed.”
The following day we arrived at the Church again. Husameddin bey, Nikola, the chairman of the Hellenic Committee and I got on the horse carriage that was destined to the hotbed of the Turkish brigands. On our tour Nikola was showing us the conditions of the Greek villagers, asking them questions in Turkish so that they could respond to us in our language. We could witness the exodus of these people to Trabzon. At our question why they were abandoning their houses they answered that they were afraid of the return of the Turkish people. We had the following to say to these unfortunate people: “ You have lived together with Turks for ages. You have also fought the enemy shoulder to shoulder. When Russians occupied these lands, perhaps, in the beginning you were happy. Then you suffered under the oppression and atrocities of the Russian regime. Don’t be scared of the Turks, don’t flee from them. The Turks will not hurt their own people.”
However, the Greeks insisted on their own interpretation of the situation: “We are afraid of the Laz criminals who could be unpredictable in their actions.” I immediately asked them to give me an example of the crimes allegedly committed by the Laz: “ What did they do to your village?” The Greeks replied that they had not seen any Laz, but if they had met them, the Greeks would not have survived. I noticed that Nikola disliked my methods.
We continued with our trip. I turned to Nikola: “ My God, these people are afraid of their own shadows.” He kept silent. Our carriage came to a halt before the edge of a huge precipice. The Greeks began pointing to the other side of the abyss. We could see some armed men on the other side. They were supposed to be the Laz bandits. Nikola was ready to return when we stopped him: “ Where are you going? Let us meet these people and find out who they are.” Nikola flatly refused to descend into the valley. I asked the Greeks to wait for a couple of hours: “ We are the representatives of the Muslim Welfare organization. They won’t hurt us.”
Husameddin bey and I tied a white drape on a stick and began climbing down. Two armed men met us in the bottom of the precipice. After greeting us they inquired about our identity. Husameddin bey took over the conversation. The men told us that they were under the command of certain Kahraman bey. Husameddin bey asked them: “ My sons, take us to Kahraman bey.” We met with Kahraman bey in a nearby village. Kahraman turned out to be Husameddin’s relative. He invited us for a dinner. Until late at night we talked about the Caucasus, and Kahraman bey described the events in Turkey. The next morning we reached the port of Pulathane. We spent that night at the house of Murat bey, the Tobacco official. At Pulathane we located a boat that could take us to Tirebolu. The sea was raging. After surviving a terrible storm we arrived in Tirebolu. We spent another night in that town. Tirebolu is a lovely town on the Black Sea coast. The filthy and abhorred faces of the Russians did not succeed in destroying the beautiful image of the town.
In Tirebolu we ran into Omer Faik bey who had arrived from Batum prior to us. We requested a motor boat from the regional administrator. The governor of Giresun promised that the boat would be at Tirebolu the next day. In the morning Omer Faik, Husameddin bey and I went to the port in anticipation of the boat. As we were waiting for the boat we were all both garrulous and pensive at the same time. Suddenly I began thinking loud: “ If we succeed in obtaining the assistance of Turkey, we will declare our independence, and the world will witness the birth of the second Turkish state.” No sooner had I finished my thoughts than Omer Faik exploded: “ What are you talking about? You think Turkey that lost so many soldiers in Sarikamish will not occupy the Caucasus and give you independence?”
He was outraged at my mission. He almost shouted warning me: “ Yes, go and meet with the Ottoman officials and explain your plans. You are running the risk of rotting in dungeons.” After this diatribe infuriated Omer Faik bey left the port.
Husameddin bey was deeply upset by the altercation: “ I am not aware of the Ottoman position on Azerbaijan’s independence. However, you express the opinion of the Azerbaijani intellectuals. This is not your personal idea of course. I will prepare a very detailed report on the situation in Azerbaijan and inform the Ottoman government that the Azeri patriots and intellectuals strive for freedom.”
Half an hour later Omer Faik returned from the town to the port. We were not talking to each other. At last we heard the noise of the boat. On board the boat Omer Faik and I were just staring at each other. Husameddin bey carried out all the communications between us.
On our arrival in Giresun the government officials, the students and people welcomed us at the port. The mayor of the city also prepared a party in our honor that day. Our hosts saddled horses for us to reach the next destination. After several days of horse riding we came to the city of Sushehr where the headquarters of the Caucasian front was located. In the city an officer and several soldiers met us. This small group led us to the command center. I was totally exhilarated at the opportunity to convey all the messages to the Turkish army. I was organizing my report: first I would describe the poor conditions of the Russian army in the Caucasus. I would tell them that there was no Russian authority in the Caucasus any longer. At the thought that the Turks would be so happy to hear the good news I was getting even more excited. We finally met with Vehib Pasha, the Commander-in-Chief of the Caucasian front. The Pasha’s look, attitude, manners and intellect were captivating. I was listening as Vehib Pasha began his speech. But my excitement evaporated as I started to realize what the Pasha was saying. I could not believe what I heard. “ I have been the commander of the Caucasian front for several years now. I have carefully studied the region and its inhabitants. You, Caucasians, love the cleanliness just like we, the Arnauds, do. I can not send these filthy Turks especially in this poor shape to the Caucasus,” exclaimed the general. I was so stunned that couldn’t even retort to this statement. I thought to myself: “ The word Arnaud is not completely foreign to me.” I was not, however, aware of the existence of such nation any more. I remembered from the distorted history of the Ottomans taught in the Russian schools that nothing was mentioned about the small nation of the Arnauds. The only thing I read from the Russian newspapers was that during the Balkan war an Arnaud general of the Turkish army by the name of Esat Pasha revolted against the Ottoman government.
Omer Faik was also present during my talk with Vehib Pasha. The general had met with Husameddin bey separately. We had to part with Husameddin bey. We were so pressed for time that I could not even tell Husameddin bey anything about the conversation. Although I was not discussing anything with Omer Faik, I could see how frustrated he was at the meeting. Enver Pasha, the representative of the Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish Army, ordered Vehib Pasha to send us to Istanbul. We took the horse carriage to Sivas. In Ulukishla that we reached in an automobile we got on train. Omer Faik bey and I were very formal and cold with each other. However, we were trying not to let our escort understand our coldness to each other. The war time was visible everywhere, especially in transportation. The trains were in horrible conditions. As they were using wood for the lack of coal, the speed left much to be desired.
We traveled from Ulukishla to Konya. The mayor and the members of the Party of Union and Progress met us at the Konya station. They took us around sightseeing the city during which we visited the shrine of His Excellency Mevlane. The mayor gave us a ceremonial dinner and then accompanied us back to the rail station.
Our next stop was the station of Karahisar. It was a sunny winter day, and I found the panoramic view of Karahisar fascinating. I asked the chief of the station as to how long the train would stand at Karahisar. He informed me that it would be at least three hours. I said: “ I would like to see the town. It looks so lovely.” I immediately set on walking towards the town. When in town I saw beautifully merchandised figs at the grocery store. I ordered some figs from the shop owner. However, his question regarding how much I needed puzzled me. I did not know the weight measures here. Baffled I asked him to weigh some fruits. The grocer inquired: “ How about one okka?” I agreed. At that time instead of kilo okka was utilized. However, this quantity was too large. I did not refuse it, though, thinking that there were too many soldiers on train with whom I would share.
I was not familiar with the currency denomination either. The only thing I knew was the paper lira, which I handed to the storeowner. The shopkeeper who accepted the money realized that I was a foreigner: “ This bill has the value of five silver coins of 20 piastres.” He returned four bills to me. Every bill had the denomination of 20 in its corners. The grocer continued his brief educational speech: “ These are 20 piastres each. One bill of 20 piastres is enough to pay for figs.” On my way back to the rail station I was thinking about new units of weight and currency that I had just learned.
Finally, we arrived in Haydarpasha station of Istanbul. Istanbul was the city that we all knew from the pictures and eager to see for ourselves. This was the first time I was visiting Istanbul. Omer Faik bey, however, had been in Istanbul before and knew his way around well. Omer Faik immediately left the train when the latter came to a full stop. I followed him. We were two passengers without any luggage to carry. He quickly bought two tickets to a steamer, and we took off. After reaching the bridge we took a carriage to Meserret Hotel. We left our two small bags in the hotel and headed to the navy bazaar. Omer Faik bey told the employees there about our needs and asked them to pack them up for us. The officials asked for our identification, which we immediately presented. At this moment the store director approached us and glanced at our identification documents. The director exclaimed: “ Gentlemen, people have to buy goods here with their special documents. That’s why you were asked to show your papers. But you are the guests of this state and nation. We will deliver whatever products you wish.” Then they packed up the goods we requested. When we asked the price, the director refused to accept any money: “ We can not charge our guests.” Despite our insistence we could not make them accept the payment.
During fifteen days of our travel we had not taken a bath. Therefore, we immediately took a cab to a bathhouse. We left the bathhouse for the hotel. Deputy Governor Esat bey (formerly a parliamentarian from Amasya) was waiting for us in the lobby. He informed us: “ We were waiting for you at the Haydarpasha station. Then we found out that you were staying at this hotel. The government has already reserved a room for you in Pera Palas hotel.” Esat bey also gave us the itinerary for our stay, which included the meeting with the Grand Vizier in Babi Ali at five o’clock. It was only two in the afternoon. Since I was still not talking to Omer Faik, I mused: “ Thus, at five I will meet with Talat Pasha and complete my mission. There is nothing that can stand on my way now.” Omer Faik was diligently reading the newspaper.
The clock struck four thirty. The time for the meeting was getting closer. I came up to Omer Faik: “ Faik bey, we will shortly meet with the Head of the Ottoman Government. You realize that you come from Ahiska. There is Georgia between Ahiska and Azerbaijan. Please, do not interfere with the affairs that concern Azerbaijan. It is my responsibility to express the opinion of the Azerbaijani people. Let’s put an end to our disagreement right now. I bear full responsibility for my statements.” Omer Faik answered with silence.
At five o’clock sharp Esat bey accompanied us to the office of Talat Pasha. It was a huge conference room. A large desk was located in the end of the room. Talat Pasha was seated behind the desk. Enver Pasha was to his right, and Halil bey sat on his left side. There were two vacant armchairs in the front of the table. We approached the desk and shook hands with the high officials. I presented the letter of credentials to Talat Pasha. After he had read the letter he expressed his profound satisfaction at the crescent and star in the letter. He showed the letter to Enver Pasha and Halil bey praising the symbol: “ Look at the splendor of the star and crescent!”
I started my speech: “ My dear Pashas! The Azerbaijani people have been suffering under the Russian oppression for over 100 years. The Azeri population of the eight Khanates that were occupied by Russia are Turkic by language, customs and traditions. Our people have incessantly waged a ruthless and heroic struggle against the Russian rule. Our movement played a significant role in deposing the Czar regime. The demoralized and disorganized Russian Caucasian Army could not resist our people’s armed forces. The Russians abandoned their weaponry and withdrew from Azerbaijan within a short period. The National Committees capable of running the country were established across Azerbaijan. The National Committees have eliminated any traces of anarchy. However, today’s success is not the assurance of tomorrow’s victory. Despite our cultural, economic, social and religious superiority over the Russian people, the future of the Azeri Turks' independence looks bleak. Our nation that has firmly resolved to establish its freedom has a major shortcoming. It is our military weakness. The problem stems from the fact that Russians never recruited and trained our men in their army following the will of Russian Czar Peter that before bringing Iran and Turkey to their knees no soldier should be drafted from the Caucasus. The people of Azerbaijan look forward to your assistance. Our people are determined to declare its freedom. We need you to lend us your fraternal help. Help us become independent. Don’t try to take us over. Let us become strong and stand firm on our feet. (At this point late Talat Pasha told the participants: “ Listen how beautiful his Turkish language is!”) Please, do not order large army into Azerbaijan. We need your military instructors and officers to train our fledgling forces. We have all the potential to create a sizeable and powerful army in a compressed time frame. Since we are Turks, we have the fighting spirit in our blood. Backed by our popular forces we succeeded in cleaning our lands from the Russian soldiery.”
I finished my speech. Talat Pasha lauded Halil bey: “ Bravo, Halil bey!” Then he turned to us: “ Gentlemen, yesterday we were discussing this matter in our General Staff meeting. Halil bey was coaxing everyone that we had to create an Islamic state in the Caucasus at all costs.” I immediately interjected: “ We certainly are the Muslims. However, we are foremost Turks. Therefore, we intend to establish a national Turkish State.” Talat Pasha replied: “ We are very satisfied to hear that. We shall assist you.”
The official part of our meeting was over. We began discussing the situation in our countries and share our views. I mentioned to the present that according to the Russian press the Arabs and other Muslims serving in the English army had inflicted heaviest losses on the Turkish armies in the beginning of the World War. I asked what induced our Muslim brothers to aim at the Turkish boys. Enver Pasha expounded on the issue: “ Sir, the Englishmen bribed the chiefs of the Arab tribes with vast amounts of gold and promised their activists that in case of the Turkish defeat the Arabs would be granted independence.”
At his words I inquired: “ My Pasha, could not you allow them to be free?” Talat Pasha responded to my question: “ I did meet with the Arab leaders and managed to convince them that they constituted no interest to the English except for as a political tool against us.” Enver Pasha continued: “ Besides, the British promised to transfer the Caliphate to the Arabs after the war.” I went further: “ My Pasha, you should have given them the Caliphate as well.” To this Enver Pasha got very angry: “ It is impossible. We have to defend our Caliph to the last man.”
Our conversation was coming to an end when Omer Faik bey entered the discussions: “ My Pasha, I am a writer and editor. I have served many years in the Azerbaijani press. The Azerbaijanis are the nation that is utterly conscious of their Turkishness. They deserve to be free. They pride themselves on an ancient and magnificent literature. However, I have a different request. I come from a region called Ahiska, which is located right on the border with Turkey. My mission is to ask you to annex Ahiska to Turkey.” Talat Pasha’s reaction was very positive: “ Believe me that we are working on that issue. We will set up a special board to deal with this question tomorrow.”
Dear reader, let me remind you that I was not an official representative of a state, and consequently, there was no diplomatic etiquette or any other formality. The Azeri Turks being a part of the vast Turkic nation broke the chains of oppression on their own and drove the enemy out of their sacred lands. Now the Azerbaijanis sent their sons to their elder brothers, the Ottoman Empire, to call for help. This meeting and agreement were sincere sharing of pains between two brothers.
As soon as we returned to the hotel I embraced Omer Faik. Both of us were in tears of joy. Omer Faik supported my position very opportunely. The following day I was invited to the Defense Ministry. Aid de camp Kazim bey (Kazim Orbay) met me at the Ministry. I met with other officers as well. I was taken to the office of Enver Pasha after half an hour. Enver Pasha was very happy to see me again: “ Your reasoning yesterday satisfied me. I am still excited about your words. I did not realize how powerful and invincible the untrained popular masses can be.”
I immediately added: “ Of course. It is the Turkic blood that enables us to achieve such feats. My Pasha, what I narrated yesterday concerned the Azeri Turks only. However, there are 35 million Turks and Muslims residing in Russia. This group includes the Turks of Turkestan, Idil, Urals, Crimea, North Caucasus and other territories. These Turkic nations expelled the Russians from their lands. No Russian soldier is left in these regions. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that there are 80 million Russians in Russia. They will stabilize their country one day and begin jeopardizing the freedom of the neighboring countries again. Our goal should be long-term security, not just a stop-gap measure.”
Enver Pasha said: “ As you know, after the collapse of the Czar regime a new government of Kerenski declared to the whole world that Russia would fight to the victorious end. This turn of events puzzled both Germans and us. Germans and we were well aware of the dysfunctional Czar system, however, Kerenski seemed to command the support of 180 million Russian people.” Then Enver Pasha informed me that the Ottoman government had already started to set up an Islamic Caucasian Army. A special committee to monitor the process was established. Enver Pasha told me that it was decided to include me in the work of the committee as well. Then he presented me to a Commanderr-in-Chief of the Islamic Caucasian Army Prince Faruk. I never talked with Faruk after that brief meeting.
Later during the day Omer Faik and I visited the National Assembly. We met with Haji Adil, the speaker of the Senate. In the evening we were invited to attend a banquet at Pera Palas to celebrate the agreement between the censor’s office and the press. Haji Adil inquired how I liked the banquet. I asked: “ Sir, I counted 24 people wearing turbans. What are they doing here?” He wisely replied: “ Now it is much better. At our previous gathering you could not spot 24 people even without turbans.” Then he showered me with the questions about the Caucasus. In the end of our conversation Haji Adil asked me about the wellbeing of Haji Zeynalabdin Tagi, the famous Baku millionaire and philanthropist. I told him what I knew about Haji Zeynalabdin (you can find detailed biography of Haji Zeynalabdin in the Azerbaijan magazine published in Ankara).
Meanwhile as a member of the special commission I was visiting the camp where the recruiting for the Caucasian army was taking place. We were checking the background of the volunteers and other recruits. However, from the meetings with various political figures I concluded that only Talat Pasha, Enver Pasha and Jamal Pasha were eager to send an army to Azerbaijan. The rest opposed the idea. As I was meeting Enver Pasha daily and knew he liked me personally I mustered up my courage to raise a very sensitive issue: “ My Pasha, I would like to hold a straightforward talk with you. We, the Caucasian Turks, believe in two gods. One is above us in the heavens, the other is Enver. I have heard that you have a brother by the name of Nuri Pasha. I sorely ask you to appoint him as a commander of the army destined for the Caucasus. My Pasha, our country is one of the wealthiest corners of the world. It is our oil in Baku that fueled the Russian expansionist ambitions. The Azeri Turks control over 70 per cent of the oil. Our nation is intelligent, hard working and courageous. Unfortunately, the prince you have appointed as the commander gambles and drinks in the Pera Palas every day. We will not approve of such actions and behavior in the Caucasus.” Enver Pasha was surprised: “ Naki bey, don’t you drink alcohol in your country?” I answered: “ We do, my Pasha. However, we drink wine or beer, not hard drinks like vodka. The Russians are notorious for drinking such alcohol. We drink for pleasure. We do not use alcohol to get drunk.”
Enver Pasha agreed with me, then he picked up the telephone and made sure that officers and soldiers departing for Azerbaijan be non-drinkers. He also ordered them to give a sworn statement that they would not consume alcohol while on mission. After taking care of this matter Enver Pasha questioned my choice of Nuri Pasha: “ Naki bey, but Nuri is too young.” I said: “ My Pasha, I was astounded that no one here heard about the operations of Nuri Pasha in Trablusgarp. The Russian press described Nuri Pasha and his efforts in great length. I read about him in the Caucasus. Besides, the fact that he is your brother is a strong enough guarantee for us.”
The following morning I was asked to see Enver Pasha immediately. As always Enver Pasha met me with a smiling face: “ Naki bey, your wish came true.” I exclaimed: “ My Pasha, I feel very happy. Tomorrow the Caucasian Turks will be rejoicing at your decision as well.”
Then the Pasha asked me if I knew Isa Ashurbeyov from Azerbaijan. I informed him: “ I know him very well. He is a very patriotic man from a wealthy family.” Enver Pasha told me that Ashurbeyov had a friend in Turkey by the name of Rusheni bey. They had requested financial assistance from the Ottoman government for the independence movement. I was not acquainted with Rusheni bey, however the money issue completely altered the situation. I said: “ My Pasha, such a solicitation is very strange. Isa bey is from Baku. There is no difficulty with funds in Azerbaijan let alone in its capital. Isa bey is well aware of this fact. Please, do not send any money. I will bear the full responsibility. There is something very dubious about this affair.” Enver Pasha nodded and refused to dispatch any funds. Suddenly a general entered the room. Enver Pasha stood up: “ Here is Nuri Pasha whom you wanted to see so much.” This was the first time I met with Nuri Pasha. Then we left for the headquarters of the Islamic Army.
As the days were passing by I was working together with Nuri Pasha’s assitant Colonel Nazim bey (he fell at Sakarya during the Independence War of Turkey) to complete the preparations for the departure of the Islamic Army. I was very much satisfied with the progress we were making. Nuri Pasha was a hard worker and created favorable conditions for our fruitful work. One day I noticed that Enver Pasha was quite upbeat and asked him: “My Pasha, I have asked you once to promote Husamettin bey.” Enver Pasha calmly responded: “ Naki bey, we have to investigate how an officer ended up as a prisoner of war. Let us clarify the situation first.” I persisted: “ My Pasha, shouldn’t you take his work in Azerbaijan into account? He contributed immensely to our struggle against the Russians.”
Two days later I was summoned to Enver Pasha’s office. The Pasha’s characteristic smile welcomed me again: “Naki bey, I have read Husamettin’s report. It is very satisfactory. We can definitely make use of the information he provided. I also promoted him to the higher military rank.” I profusely thanked the Pasha for Husamettin bey’s promotion. Husamettin bey mentioned General Ali Shikhlinski in his secret report. I informed Enver Pasha: “ My Pasha, during the World War I, we, Azeris, gave four army commanders to the Russian army. Our Armenian and Georgian neighbors never had an army commander in the Imperial army. Only one Georgian did become a commander of army corps. One of the generals is Semed Mehmandarli who became the army commander during the Russian-Japanese war and earned the highest military honors of the Russian army. Then there is General Ali Agha Shikhlinski who came to be known as the father of the Russian artillery. The third general is Khan Nakhichevanski, and the fourth one was Khan Irevanski. However, none of these generals participated in our struggle against the Russians.”
The recruiting continued at a full speed. Once a religious figure by the name of Tahir (originally from the Caucasus) wished to join the army as an imam. I opposed his candidacy: “ We are not sending a real army to the Caucasus for you to be its imam. There is nothing for religious leaders to do in Azerbaijan. We have forbidden the religious institutions from interfering with state affairs.”
It was a Thursday when Enver Pasha told me: “ Naki bey, tomorrow you will be received in the Royal Palace. An automobile will pick you up.” On Friday we proceeded to Yildiz (Star) Palace where we had to wait for Sultan Reshat who was praying. Then it was announced that the Sultan was coming. The Naval band was playing a march as the Sultan was passing by the military and government officials. Enver Pasha was accompanying the Sultan. I was standing out with my silver gray astrakhan hat. The Sultan inquired Enver Pasha who I was. Enver Pasha introduced me: “ He is a plenipotentiary from the Caucasus.” The Sultan asked the Pasha whether I spoke Turkish. Then he went up the stairs and entered his quarters. Soon Enver Pasha invited me inside to meet with the Sultan. I saluted His Excellency. The Sultan looked at me attentively: “ So, you say that you know Turkish.” I said: “ Of course, I am a Turk.” He told me that he had mistaken me for a Circassian. I informed the Sultan that there were 5 million Turks in the Caucasus, and the number of the Circassians did not exceed two hundred thousand. Sultan Reshat was dismayed at this news: “ It means that the cursed Czar exterminated them.” Then he continued to recount that his mother was Circassian, and he was fond of that nation. I briefly depicted the situation in Russia: “ Your Highness, there are 35 million Turks and Muslims in Russia. They suffered under the oppressive Russian Empire for centuries. With the help of the All Mighty we deposed the Czar and broke the chains of colonialism. The people authorized me to see our Supreme Muslim leader and convey our greetings to you. We all pray for your well-being.” Content with my words, the Sultan instructed Enver Pasha: “ Honor Naki bey with three mejidiyyes.” I immediately recalled the mejidiyyes I used to purchase the figs from the grocer. Enver Pasha spoke: “ Your Royal Highness, Naki bey and his comrades have waged bloody and brutal wars against the Russians and managed to oust them from the Caucasus. Please, order to grant Naki bey military honors as well.” Outside the Royal Chamber Enver Pasha shook my hand: “ You have been honored with the third Mejidiyye medal that is usually given to Emirs. My sincere congratulations.” Now I realized that it was a Mejidiyye medal and not monetary unit as I had previously thought.
A few days later Nuri Pasha informed me that the troops were ready to move to Azerbaijan. We were seeing Nuri Pasha off from Haydarpasha. Enver Pasha, other officers and government officials were at the station. Everyone went to the platform leaving Enver Pasha and Nuri Pasha by themselves. Soon I was called back into the station hall to see Enver Pasha. As I approached two brothers Enver Pasha put one hand on Nuri’s shoulder and the other on mine: “You are both my brothers. This is my last instruction to you…” Then he proceeded to give us detailed orders as to how to act in the Caucasus.
Doctor Baha Shakir and Doctor Nazim bey from the Party of Union and Progress had come to see me at the hotel but missed me. Therefore, before the departure I decided to pay them a visit. Our conversation dragged on as my friends kept asking numerous questions. Baha Shakir bey asked me: “ How did you find a common language with religious leaders? Did they listen to you?” My answer was as follows: “ No, the religious figures established their own Muslim Party. They wanted the state based on the laws of Shariat. We did not pay much attention to their activities at the initial stage since our party, the Turkish Decentralization Party, was too powerful. Our national program comprised all the principal and important issues that our people faced. Our membership included all the prominent politicians, businessmen and intellectuals. However, later we noticed that the mullahs began waging negative propaganda against us. They were alleging that the leader of the Party Nesib bey had written a book in which he called on the youth to abandon the Koran and unite around his ideas. As if he had tried to convince the youth that the Koran was outdated, and the new book was more sacred. In response to these accusations we launched our own campaign during which we completely unmasked these attempts as groundless. With the total support of the people we came to such a conclusion: mullahs and other religious figures would work in mosques, handle matrimonial and funeral affairs, explain the religious matters to the parishioners. Under no circumstances they were to interfere with the worldly affairs of our state. We divided the responsibilities very distinctly: they would handle religious affairs leaving all the government issues to us. After that event they never obstructed our path to independent statehood. Thus, the issue was resolved.”
Before my departure I was summoned to the Defense Ministry. Enver Pasha was smiling as he greeted me: “ Naki bey, are you ready?” “I am always ready, my Pasha,” was my response. Enver Pasha continued: “ At five o’clock in the evening you will leave on board the Reshid Pasha steamer for Kostence. Then you will travel to Braylova. You will join the army moving from Romania to Trabzon. You will finally reach Batum from there. Naki bey, do you need anything?” I answered: “ I want to return to the Caucasus immediately. There is a lot to be done in the country. I am certain that Nuri Pasha will be successful in his mission. I assure you that I will do my utmost to facilitate his task.” Enver Pasha silently gazed at me for a second: “ Naki bey, Ali Bashhanpa, the Minister of the Eastern Affairs, has twice offered you money, but you have refused. You will need funds in your activities. I want you to work very closely with Nuri in the Caucasus.” I thanked him: “ My Pasha, I have enough money. I have been staying on the Turkish lands for over two months now. Since I crossed the borders I have lived on your expense. If I were in need of funds, I would ask you. I will travel to Batum with your money again. I will have no shortage of funds once I reach Azerbaijan. My Pasha, I swear that I will fight for our cause till the victorious end.” We hugged and said farewell to each other.
I found the members of the Party of Union and Progress quite idealistic. They all professed the ideal of progressive Islam. Enver Pasha, however, was infinitely convinced that the Islamic world would be the backbone of his cause. He held the Islamic world above everything and any value. The fact was, though, that the Muslim Arab world was the one who dealt the worst blow to him.
Here is an article written by Armenian journalist A. I. Petrosian about the Azerbaijani Republic. A. I. Petrosian assessed the sacrificial work of the Azerbaijani people during and after the establishment of the independent state as such:
“ The first democratic Muslim and Turkic State of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijanis who constituted the majority of the population above all demonstrated their political maturity to the whole world. The Azerbaijani government managed to make major progress during the independence period. During the first year of its existence the government opened a number of primary and secondary schools, founded a university and established various cultural organizations. These efforts resulted in creating a vast number of libraries and reading halls. The number of newspapers and magazines increased dramatically. The young state began a comprehensive and ruthless campaign against corruption and bribery. The prices on most basic items were lowered. The social issues were handled with utmost seriousness and responsibility. The officials who were convicted of embezzlement of public funds were severely punished. In addition to all these decisive actions, the Azerbaijani government created a new and combat-ready army. The most important aspect of the new Azerbaijani administration, however, was its equal and unbiased treatment of all the citizens regardless of their religion or nationality.”
Copyright © 2000-2005 by Tomris Azeri. All rights
Published in VAR and ASA with permission from the author.
Virtual Azerbaijan Republic (VAR) Website