The Massacres in Maku, Khoy, and Urmia
The people of Maku, Khoy, and Urmia still keep memory of the slaughters carried out there by the Dashnaks in conjunction with the Aisors in 1918, when South Azerbaijan (now in Iran) had already been conquered by the Russian army. During the lurid events remembered as the Urmia Tragedy, Muslims suffered heavy casualties, and the majority of captives were young Muslim women. The Armenians of Urmia plotted to create a state of Free Armenia with the support of the Russian occupation army in South Azerbaijan. Upon withdrawal from South Azerbaijan, the Russian army handed much of their weapons to the Armenian units so that they could effectively pursue their goal. Despite ethnic and religious differences, Muslims had always demonstrated a kind attitude toward Armenians who had been living comfortably in Azerbaijan for centuries. Nevertheless, thousands of Urmians were tortured and murdered for reasons unclear to them.
In March 1918, Russia withdrew from World War I, and its uncontrolled troops began to leave the Caucasus. The Armenians, who had massacred the population of South Azerbaijan, also fled Urmia assisted by the Russians. Approximately ten thousand people left the province in a hurry, taking their most valuable belongings with them. That was the eventual outcome of the Armenian aggression in South Azerbaijan.
Aisors, the Assyrian tribes that settled in northwest Iran who had been living side by side with Azeri Turks and enjoyed their benevolence, were engaged in atrocities against Muslims as well. Urmia, Khoy, Tebriz, Selmas, and other provinces of South Azerbaijan witnessed terrible crimes committed by Armenian and Aisor gangs. The Armenians were led by Agha Petros. The Aisors’ commander was Marsimon.
Once, Armenian criminals killed 1,500 Azerbaijanis overnight. This fact is described in writings of Sayyed Ahmad Kasravi, Sayyed Jafar Pishavari, and Dr. Salamullah Javid. Kasravi writes, “The Azerbaijani families of Urmia were robbed; the survivors were gathered in a public building. The miserable people had been hungry and thirsty for several days. Many of them were very reputed people. The bazaar was closed and people could not buy anything; after the pillage they had nothing left in their houses.” The records of the period testify that an epidemic of cholera spread in Urmia and Selmas, and the majority of the starving people died of cholera.
After the declaration of independence of the Armenian Republic in May 1918, the Dashnak leader, Andranik, with five thousand troops, attacked Khoy. At that time, Khoy was one of the liveliest cities of South Azerbaijan. Mosques, bazaars, and streets were full of people who rumored that Armenians had raped the women, roasted the flesh of the Turks in Erzinjan and Trabzon, and made the people eat it. On June 24, 1918, armed Dashnak troops led by Andranik surrounded Khoy. The men took up arms to defend the town. The women and children helped by providing food for the town defenders. Several houses were destroyed due to shellfire by the Dashnaks; an artillery shell hit a house and killed two men.
With the support of the Russian army, the Dashnak troops, under the command of Petros, moved from Urmia and attacked Selmas. There they engaged in a few daylong fierce battle. The Armenian troops, reinforced by the Assurs (or Aisors), won the battle of Selmas and victoriously returned to Urmia. With the Armenian troops deployed in Urmia, killing of the local Muslims was a widespread and ordinary practice. Meanwhile, Andranik launched another offensive on Khoy. Andranik intended to occupy Khoy, establish Minor Armenia in South Azerbaijan, and join with Great Armenia in the future upon realization of the ambitious plans.218 The Ottoman command in Khoy required the riflemen of the town to join the defense.
The two sides engaged in an unequal battle near Evoghlu. The Armenians heavily outmanned and thus defeated the Ottomans. Some of the wealthy population of Khoy had left the town for Tabriz, but the brave and dignified defenders of the town vouched to stand against the enemies till the end. At night, the defenders gathered in one of the mosques and formed a military commission charged with the organization of defense. The next day, the Dashnaks lined up three hundred meters off the town. Again, the Armenians brought artillery and plenty of ammunition. Though the town’s gunmen had never been to a war, they fought very vehemently. By nightfall, the Armenians had seized a part of the town.
In those tragic days, the Ottoman army rendered support to the Azerbaijani people and rescued them. Involvement of the Ottoman forces in South Azerbaijan prevented the slaughter of thousands of people.
In the meantime, the Ottoman army was moving toward Khoy from Selmas. The people of Khoy, inspired by the approach of the Ottoman troops, made a fierce effort to defend themselves. Ottoman forces arrived to rescue the people of Khoy just when the Dashnaks had entered the town and launched the massacre of the residents. Andranik and his troops had to retreat.
Andranik’s troops were defeated by joint efforts and were forced to retreat. The failure to capture Khoy became the turning point in the realization of the Armenian campaign and undermined their plans for Urmia.221 Defeated in Khoy, the Dashnak and the Aisor units prepared for a decisive attack on Urmia. The Russian command intended to deploy the troops on the Urmian shore by the steamship Chernozoyev. The Dashnaks and the Aisors assisted in a sailboat. The well-trained unit of 180 gunmen was to land and suddenly invade the city. Upon landing, the gang encountered the resistance of Turks and Azerbaijanis and was defeated, resulting in failure of the Armenian plan to capture Urmia.