The Shushi massacres [1] [2] were anti-Armenian pogroms during the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, 1920, when Azeri and Turkish army soldiers with participation of Kurdish gangs attacked the inhabitants of the town of Shushi in Nagorno-Karabakh. The massacres took place on March 22-26, 1920, and resulted in more than 20,000 Armenian deaths and the destruction of Shushi. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Name Edit

Mostly known as the Shushi massacre and sometimes the Shushi pogroms, see below for the usage of 'genocide'.

According to Chairman of the parliamentary Commission for Foreign Relations of Karabakh, Vahram Atanesyan:

The massacre of Armenians in Shushi in 1920 is nothing but a genocide, Chairman of the parliamentary Commission for Foreign Relations of Karabakh, Vahram Atanesyan, said at a press-conference today. He said the massacre was perpetrated by Azerbaijan with the support of the Turkish expeditionary corps. Atanesyan stressed that Karabakh has never been a part of Azerbaijan and was de facto independent at that moment, its status being recognized by Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. [8]


On June 4-5, 1919, an armed Armenian-Turkish clash took place in Shushi, organized and incited by Governor-General Khosrov beg Sultanov [9] [10]. The town was isolated and blockaded, and the Armenian population found itself in acute need of food. [11] The barracks in Khankendi (Stepanakert) were filled with soldiers of the Azeri army, and only a single unit of the English army was located in the town, which comprised of Sipayis (?), Muslim Indians. The Armenian part of Shushi was under a siege imposed by the armed Turks. The Armenian forces were not only scarce, but had no weapon cartridges.

When the Karabakh capital of Shusha fell to Azerbaijani forces in March 1920 its entire Armenian population was killed or expelled. [12] [13]

The attempts to subjugate Karabakh to Azerbaijan kept failing. The Armenian National Council of Karabakh remained unflinching [14]. Sultanov’s goal was bring Karabagh to its knees through massacres, violence and terror, and he was going to start from Shushi. The shootings of June 4-5 left casualties on both sides. The English mission in Shushi presented to the Armenian side Sultanov’s condition for a ceasefire: removal of the Armenian National Council members from the town. On June 5, three members of the Council left Shushi. The ceasefire was reached partially due to the interference of the English soldiers. [15] But a new wave of violence swept through the neighboring villages of Ghaibalishen, Pahlul and Krkzhan, which were pillaged June 5-7. About 700 people, mostly innocent civilians, were killed in Ghaibalishen. [16]

The gang activities were led by the brother of the Governor-General.

Throughout Karabakh, Armenians particulary those from the city of Shushi fell victim to massacres during the continuous onslaught. [17]

In the Caucasus a whole town, Shusha, was razed to the ground and most of its inhabitants— about 20000 people—slaughtered.[18]

Massacres in Shushi on March 22-26, 1920Edit

From the very start of 1920, Governor Sultanov, breaking the terms of the temporary agreement of August 22, 1919, tightened the blockade around Karabagh, not only through accumulation of armed forces in the strategically important locations, but also by arming the Turkish population, preparing the latter for guerrilla fights [19].

In the winter and spring of 1920, Sultanov, as always, was well aware of the degree of the Armenian population’s armament in Karabakh, which in fact was much worse than that of the Turks. One of his dispatches reads: “I think this is the most suitable moment for the final resolution of the Nagorno Karabagh issue, since they have few cartridges available.

Armenians were also aware of Sultanov’s preparations and tried to resist them.

In the early morning of March 23, 1920, when the Turkish population of Shushi was celebrating Novruz Bairam, a small Armenian detachment entered Shushi and tried to take over the barrack in accordance with an uprising program developed by the Karabakh self-defense commanders.

This started an exchange of fire, which served as a signal for Shushi’s armed Turkish population, the Azeri army soldiers and Kurdish gangs abounding in the town to attack the Armenian district, plunder, set everything on fire and start a horrible massacre of the Armenian population.

There is another version of what exactly started the massacre, according to which a Turkish officer tried to disarm a young Armenian and insulted the honor of the Armenian’s wife in the guy’s presence. The young man killed the officer, and then his whole family was slaughtered by the Turks accompanying the officer. While the shooting was going on, the Turks called for help from their companions-in-arms and brothers in faith.

The Turkish part of Shushi, the army located in the town, the “guerrilla” gangs that had arrived from other locations, seized by the rage of killing and plundering, ceaselessly and mercilessly slaughtered, destroyed, burnt and looted the Armenian part of the town for three days.

Nobody did or could have counted the number of victims and those who miraculously survived the ordeal. According to the 1914 data, more than 22 thousand Armenians lived in Shushi, whereas in 1921 their number was about 300. Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote about Shushi of 1920s: "They say all the wells were full of dead bodies. ...We didnt see anyone in the streets on the mountain. Only at downtown- in the market-square there were a lot of people, but there wasnt any Armenian among them, all were Muslims". [20]

The documented records provide more than sufficient evidence for stating that the massacre of the Armenians in Shushi was thoroughly prepared by the Azerbaijanian authorities, under the command of experienced Turkish emissaries (Khalil pasha) [21]. Otherwise it would be hard to believe that the peaceful population that was amid sending its prayers to God could in a wink of an eye, without arms, rush out for an attack upon hearing the shooting noise, and start the beastly destruction of everybody and everything [22].

On February 29, 1920 Sultanov sent a telegram to the Minister of Azerbaijan’s home affairs regarding the askyars’ dream: “They cherish an unfaltering dream of conquering Karabakh”.

The part of the dream that relates to Shushi was fulfilled.

“Ermenistan that you have seen is now burnt down, just about five or ten houses were left…“ “After killing the prominent Armenians, their severed heads were carried and displayed during rounds made at the marketplaces…” “You will see no more Armenians in our area; neither will you meet a Turk who has brought less than one hundred thousand’s worth of loot”. (Excerpts from the originals of Ottoman letters written in Arabic letters)[23] [24].


The prominent Russian poet Osip Mandelstam who was in Shushi in 1931 wrote a poem ("The phaeton driver") dedicated to this tragedy:

So in Nagorno-Karabakh

These were my fears

Forty thousand dead windows

Are visible there from all directions,

The cocoon of soulless work

Buried at the mountains. [25][26]

In 1 July, 1997, in her speech in the House of Lords, United Kingdom, Baroness Caroline Cox marked: "Armenians have repeatedly suffered atrocities at the hands of Turks and Azeris, including the murder of 1.5 million Armenians by Turkey in the genocide of 1915; the massacre of 20,000 Armenians in the ancient Armenian city of Shushi in 1920; and massacres in Sumgait and Baku in 1988 and 1990" [27].

Research analyst Kalli Raptis in her book "Nagorno-Karabakh and the Eurasian Transport Corridor" wrote: ""In July 1918, the First Armenian Assembly of Nagorno Karabakh declared the region self-governing and created a national Council and government. In August 1919, the Karabakh national Council entered into a provisional treaty arrangement with the Azerbaijani government in order to avoid military conflict with a superior adversary". Azerbaijan's violation of the treaty culminated in March 1920 with the massacre of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, Shushi (called Shusha by the Azerbaijanis)". [28]

In March 20, 2000, a memorial stone was laid in Shushi on the site of the future monument to the victims of the slaughter. The government introduced a proposal to the National Assembly to establish March 23, as a day of memorial of the victims of the Shushi massacres. [29]

See alsoEdit

External links Edit

Publications Edit

  • Vahram Atanesian: 20,000 Armenians Died In Shushi Massacres of 1920
  • (in Russian) М. Григорян, "Из 35 тысяч армян не осталось в Шуши ни одного..." // "Голос Армении", 24 Марта 2007 г.,
  • (in Russian) В Нагорном Карабахе осудили погромы 1920 года в Шуши


  1. World Directory of Minorities - Page 145 by Minority Rights Group, Miranda Bruce-Mitford
  2. Armenia in Crisis: The 1988 Earthquake - Page 6 by Pierre Verluise
  3. Lords Hansard text for 1 Jul 1997 (170701-19)
  4. "In March, 1920 a terrible pogrom took place in Shushi, organized by Azerbaijanis with the support of Turkish forces. Azerbaijani and Soviet authorities during the decades will deny and try to hush up the mass killings of about 30000 Armenians. Giovanni Guaita (see Джованни ГУАЙТА, Армения между кемалистским молотом и большевистской наковальней // «ГРАЖДАНИН», M., # 4, 2004№4
  5. Why IDPs Matter in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict by Seepan V. Parseghian, p.5
  6. Historic Maps of Armenia: The Cartographic Heritage - Page 7 by Rouben Galichian
  7. Russian analysts Igor Babanov and Konstantin Voevodsky write that "more than 30.000 Armenians died in March 1920 when Shushi was occupied" / Игорь Бабанов, Константин Воеводский, Карабахский кризис, Санкт-Петербург, 1992
  8. Massacre of Armenians in Shushi in 1920 is nothing but a genocide: Chairman of the parliamentary Commission for Foreign Relations of Karabakh, Vahram Atanesyan, at a press-conference, Arminfo, March 23, 2002
  9. Нагорный Карабах в 1918—1923 гг.: сборник документов и материалов. Ереван, 1992, стр., стр. 240, документ № 155
  10. "Kavkazskoe slovo" newspaper,1.07.1919
  11. Нагорный Карабах в 1918—1923 гг.: сборник документов и материалов. Ереван, 1992, стр. 265—269, документы №№ 177, 178
  12. Walker, Armenia and Karabakh, p.91; Goldenberg, Pride of Small Nations, p.159
  13. Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War By Stuart J. Kaufman, p.51
  14. Нагорный Карабах в 1918—1923 гг.: сборник документов и материалов. Ереван, 1992, стр. 162—164, документ № 105
  15. (in Russian) "Slovo" newspaper, 28.08.1919
  16. Нагорный Карабах в 1918—1923 гг.: сборник документов и материалов. Ереван, 1992, стр., стр. 240, документ № 155
  17. Implementation of the Helsinki Accords: By United States Congress. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, United States, p.69
  18. U.S.S.R. Speaks for Itself - Page 24 1941
  19. Нагорный Карабах в 1918—1923 гг.: сборник документов и материалов. Ереван, 1992, стр. 385, документ № 261
  20. (in Russian) Н. Я. Мандельштам. Книга третья. Париж, YMCA-Ргess, 1987, с.162-164.
  21. (in Russian) Нагорный Карабах в 1918—1923 гг.: сборник документов и материалов. Ереван, 1992, стр. 376, документ № 254
  22. "For example, also in the 1920s, Azeris brutally massacred and evicted Armenians from the town of Shushi, which had been a famous and historic centre of Armenian culture." Nagorno Karabakh: forgotten people in a forgotten war, Contemporary Review, Jan, 1997 by Caroline Cox. See also: "Fighting broke out in 1920 over whether Shusha would be part of the newly declared republics of Armenia or Azerbaijan. Thousands died and the Armenian population fled the city." Jerusalem of Karabakh" at the heart of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, by Michael Mainville, Agence France Presse, 7/25/07
  24. State Historio-cultural museum of NKR, f.11, p.107
  25. Осип Мандельштам, Фаэтонщик,
  26. Осип Мандельштам. Сочинения в 2-х тт. Том 1: Стихотворения, переводы. Москва, Художественная литература, 1990, c. 94.
  27. Lords Hansard text for 1 Jul 1997 (170701-19)
  28. Kalli Raptis, "Nagorno-Karabakh and the Eurasian Transport Corridor",
  29. Nagornyy Karabakh marks 80th anniversary of 1920 Armenian pogroms, Noyan Tapan, 24 Mar. 2000
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