Left Wing of the Turkish Communist Party in Erzincan

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Leutha
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Nov 2 2008 15:23
Left Wing of the Turkish Communist Party in Erzincan

Hi, having recently got a copy of this text, it would be useful to engage in some collective critical discussion. I've got as far as page 4:

"The soviet movement, centred on the city of Erzincan, was a development from the revolutionary propaganda made by Russian soldiers in [the] region, and while the Russian army was retreating after the revolution, the Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish labourers, moving beyond sharp national divisions, came together. This movement was crushed by the Ottoman Army In December."

I am afraid I am not able to read Turkish and so have been unable to follow up the refrences. However i should like to make some comments:

The Turks agreed an armistice with the General Przevalskye of the Russian Army on 18 December 1917, after which the Russian Army retreated. However, Lenin issued the Turkish Armenia Decree, which specified the organisation of a militia by the Armenian people.Stephan
Shaumyan was appointed to lead this, and has been accused of organising the massacre of Azerbaijanis in Baku in March 1918.

The Turkish First Caucasian Army resumed warfare on 10th February 1918, and retook Erzincan, Erzurum and Kars by May 1918. The Turkish Army claimed they had evidence of the massacre of Turks by a force of 6,000 Armenian militia.

I am not quite sure what is being claimed here: that there was a Left Communist movement which held dual power with the Bolshevik-backed Armenian Militia? Were they able to successfully resist ethnic cleansing by the Bolshevik/Armenian alliance, only to suffer at the hands of the Ottoman Army?

Perhaps I've got the wrong end of the stick. But I would appreciate it if anyone can shed more light on this.

Thanks

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Nov 2 2008 18:59

There seems to have been several confusions here: first of all, the Turkish communists that are to exist later and that are examined in that study had no (known) connections with the movement in Erzincan, that information was included as a part of the background information to the events to come.

Specifically on the events on Erzincan, there unfortunately isn't much info to go into detail.

Quote:
However, Lenin issued the Turkish Armenia Decree, which specified the organisation of a militia by the Armenian people.Stephan
Shaumyan was appointed to lead this, and has been accused of organising the massacre of Azerbaijanis in Baku in March 1918.

I am not following this here, is it being said that Shaumyan had anything to do with the Erzincan-Erzurum area?

Quote:
The Turkish Army claimed they had evidence of the massacre of Turks by a force of 6,000 Armenian militia.

I am not quite sure what is being claimed here: that there was a Left Communist movement which held dual power with the Bolshevik-backed Armenian Militia? Were they able to successfully resist ethnic cleansing by the Bolshevik/Armenian alliance, only to suffer at the hands of the Ottoman Army?

I think Armenian Dashnaks were, to an extent, involved with the soviet (as they were involved with other soviets in the period). On the other hand, I am very dubious about the Turkish army's claim, although Dashnaks did, in several cases, massacre local muslim populations (not in Turkey for the most part though), I think they were not involved with such actions in Erzincan, since it is recorded that there were Kurds as well as Turks in the soviet, indeed the representative of Turkish toilers Nihat was captured and executed by the Ottoman army. Although again there isn't that much info on this. One significant point about it was that MK was sent to the region on orders of the Brits to check if the movement was completely dead.

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Nov 2 2008 16:47

Leutha, I think that you have to be very careful with all Turkish claims of Turks being massacred by Armenians. The old Turkish policy towards the 'so-called Armenian Genocide' was just to deny that it happened at all. The current policy seems to be to say that 'well there was a war, and bad things happened on both sides'. This argument needs Armenian massacres of Turks to support it. While it is probably true that there were some incidents, it must be remembered that one side of the conflict (Armenians) were basically peasants faced with a modern army (the Ottoman state). It is therefore unsurprising that it wasn't a 'fair fight', and approximately a million and a half civilians were massacred.

I think I just broke the law there.

Devrim

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Nov 2 2008 19:01

*bitterly smiles* Maybe they'll ban libcom because of that now...

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Nov 2 2008 22:13

Hi there,

Thanks for these comments. Yes I agree that it is necessary to be very careful when trying to get a clearer idea of what actually happened in a situation which has become very polarised, with the law being used even today to intimidate anyone who questions the official Turkish view. However, this does not mean to say that the claims of the Turkish Army were all false. One English language source is to be found at:

http://www.tbmm.gov.tr/yayinlar/yayin1/7-Konukcu(143-154).pdf

This is clearly linked to Turkish negationism. However, nationalist intoxication can lead to brutality and atrocities amongst all nationalities, and nationalist ideologues often use legitimate facts as subjects of their embroidery.

What is far more interesting is the development of a working class counter power that resisted both the Dashnaks and the Ottoman Army. This would have been at odds with the politics of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party. Was this an urban resistance? I note that Enver Konukçu cites mass graves in villages, speculating about mass graves in Erzincan. Had there been previous working class resistance to the Tehcir Law under which so many Armenians suffered.

The comment about Stephan Shaumyan is contextual and refers to the events in Baku. Here, the Bolsheviks worked hand in glove with Dashnaks in the massacre of Azerbaijanis at the same time as the alleged massacre by Dashnaks in Erzincan. Shaumyan was appointed to lead the Armenian Militia, even though he was in Baku at the time. I think the important issue here is the politics of the Bolsheviks, rather than the personality of this or that "Lenin" (Shaumyan was nicknamed the "Caucususian Lenin"). This massacre is not disputed, although opinions vary as regards Shaumyun's involvement.

I am not sure who Nihat is? Was he executed in 1918 at Erzincan?

Anyway, I shall continue reading this text.

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Nov 3 2008 06:25
Leutha wrote:
This is clearly linked to Turkish negationism. However, nationalist intoxication can lead to brutality and atrocities amongst all nationalities, and nationalist ideologues often use legitimate facts as subjects of their embroidery.

I will let Leo continue with the discussion of the details of this text, but I would just like to make a point about this.

Of course they do you legitimate facts, but alongside them are a lot of lies. Earlier this year there was an article in the daily newspaper I read discussing the opinions of various historians on the numbers of deaths on both sides. Many of them had more Turks killed than Armenians, and one had five times as many Turks killed than Armenians.

Your link doesn't open, but I can see from the address that that is a Turkish parliament source, and as such highly suspect in my opinion.

Devrim

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Nov 9 2008 11:12

Devrim, if you cut and paste the link into your browser it will work. libcom doesn't like urls with brackets in them.

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Nov 12 2008 22:11
Quote:
However, this does not mean to say that the claims of the Turkish Army were all false.

I am generally very skeptical about everything Turkish sources say about the issue, since the entire point they are trying to make is that the event was a war rather than being a genocide, so they have every reason to exaggerate and twist all the events.

Also, a national and religion minority such as the Armenians being able to do any mass murder to the dominant Muslim population is not really logically possible, is it?

Quote:
What is far more interesting is the development of a working class counter power that resisted both the Dashnaks and the Ottoman Army. This would have been at odds with the politics of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party. Was this an urban resistance?

Well, actually I don't think it resisted the Dashnaks, as I said Dashnaks (perhaps left-Dashnaks) were, along with Kurdish and Turkish elements, involved with it most probably.

Quote:
I note that Enver Konukçu cites mass graves in villages, speculating about mass graves in Erzincan. Had there been previous working class resistance to the Tehcir Law under which so many Armenians suffered.

There were some cases of local Muslim proletarians and peasants trying to protect their Armenian neighbors from the attacks, yes.

Quote:
The comment about Stephan Shaumyan is contextual and refers to the events in Baku. Here, the Bolsheviks worked hand in glove with Dashnaks in the massacre of Azerbaijanis

Actually I don't think the situation there was as simple as that. The Baku Bolsheviks tried to maintain some relations both with the Dashnaks and the Musavatists (main Muslim party in Baku) through the Baku soviet, but both parties eventually ended up fighting against the soviet government. It was quite a complicated situation. On the other hand Shaumyan was not the only Bolshevik in Baku and among the Bolshevik leaders there were lots of militants coming from Azeri and Muslim background as well, such as Meshadi Azizbekov.

Quote:
I am not sure who Nihat is? Was he executed in 1918 at Erzincan?

He was arrested, taken to a village in (if i remember correctly Erzurum) and was shot there.

He is not anyone famous, he was just the chief representative of the Turkish proletarians in the Soviet, and according to my sources the only person to be arrested and executed afterwards there.

Quote:
Anyway, I shall continue reading this text.

Looking forward to further questions smile

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Jan 4 2009 01:29

Hi Leo,

Thanks for that. I've been travelling and haven't had time to respond until just now!

Skepticism about Turkish sources
While I understand the circumstances that give rise to this skepticism, I feel that the search for proletarian clarity must dig deeper at this point. The British mobilised its literary battalions through the War Propaganda Bureau, based at Wellington House. It was from here that Arnold Toynbee worked at circulating accounts of the massacre of Christian Armenians at the hands of Muslim Turks and Kurds. Using missionary channels, pamphlets were circulated to church goers across the United States of America, in an effort to help mobilise punlic opinion behind Us intervention in the First World War.
Yes, we must be wary of all sources, for our aim is not to caste blame so much as to understand how these murderous activities come about, in order that we may prevent such disasters.

Indeed the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet took it upon itself the defence of revolutionary order against pogroms, in their announcement of 24 October.

However, how did this translate into practice in Erzincan, perhaps the farthest flung outpost of the Russian Empire at the time of the Russian seizure of power!

Impossibility of Dashnak massacres
As previously discussed, the Dashnaks in Baku, led a pogrom against Azeri Muslims in March 1918. Bolsheviks like Stepan Shahumyan, were constrained by the Dashnaks. (And here I am not sure what is meant by left dashnaks? Were they organised separately, like the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries?)

At thefirst congress of delegates of the Caucasian army which met in Tbilisi in May 1917, the Dashnaks were vehemently in favour of continuing the war, in stark contrast to the Bolsheviks. The Dashnaks had confidence in promises from President Wilson that an Allied victory would lead to be the creation of an independent Greater Armenia stretching from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea. The Dashnaks called for complete support of the Petrograd government and the prosecution of war to the death. And so the war on the Caucasian front was allowed to drag on for many months more.

There were, of course, Armenian Bolsheviks such as Aleksandr Myasnikov, who was appointed Commander in Chief of the Western Front ( a different person from Gavril Myasnikov), and who was in day to day contact with the GHQ staff of the Imperial army in Mogliev.

One thing we can be sure of is the new Russian state is a decree on On 11 January 1918 (29 December 1917), called the Turkish Armenia Decree, according to which:
The People's Commissars declare to the Armenian people that the Russian Workers and Peasants Government supports the right of the Armenians in Turkish Armenia which is under Russian occupation to determine their own fate freely, even to the extent of achieving full independence.

The decree gave provision for:

* an Armenian People's Militia to be established immediately
* return of Armenian emigrants from various countries
* return of Armenians forcibly removed by the Turkish authorities during the war should be free to return to 'Turkish Armenia'
* inclusion of the previous point in peace negotiations with the Turkish authorities
* Armenian Soviet of People's Representatives should be set up in 'Turkish Armenia'.

When news reached Erzincan of the revolution, the Russian soldiers went home: they wanted to be back on the plot at home as they believed land was about to be redistributed. As they flooded back to Russia, Armenian soldiers of the former imperial army were organised by the Dashnaks, and proceeded to march towards the Turkish Army.

There is evidence from former tsarist officers of involvement of these Dashnak units in atrocities in Erzurum, a town deeper within the territory seized by the Tsarist army. The questions is not whether or not the Dashnaks carried out brutal reprisals, but whether any took place in Erinzcan.

National Liberation and Revolution
The whole episode shows how issues of national Liberation will never be resolved under capitalism, but will serve to foster wars and slaughter. Turkish national liberation was at odds with armenian national liberation.

Here the Turkish Armenia Decree , signed by Lenin Stalin, Bonch-Bruyevich and Gorbunov, can be seen for what it is, a small piece in the Bolshevik jigsaw of counter-revolution.

I am still studying other passages in what turns out to be a very interesting pamphlet.