Osip Mandelstam on the Pogroms of Armenians in Shushi – 1931

Osip Mandelstam on the Pogroms of ArmeniansAccording to various sources, during the pogroms of Armenians in Shushi, between 3 and 30 thousand people were killed and about 6 thousand houses were burned down. All the Armenian clergymen, including the head of the Artsakh diocese Vahan Ter-Grigoryan, were hanged.

The most accurate description of the city was given by Russian Jewish poet Osip Mandelstam and his wife Nadezhda who visited the city in 1931. Stricken with the terrifying events in the city, the poet wrote his poem “The phaeton driver.”

The poet’s wife Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote about their trip to Karabakh:

“At dawn, we left the bus from Ganja to Shushi. The city welcomed us with an endless cemetery and a tiny market square where the streets of the ravaged city went down to.

We had already happened to see abandoned villages with only several dilapidated houses left, but in this city – one that once evidently used to be rich and well-maintained – the picture of a disaster and massacre were horrifying evident.

We walked through the streets, and everywhere the same thing: two rows of houses without roofs, without windows, without doors. In the windows were visible empty rooms, occasional scraps of wallpaper, dilapidated stoves, sometimes the remnants of broken furniture. Two-story houses made from the famous pink tuff. All walls were broken, and through these skeletons of houses, the blueness of the sky came through.

Some say that after the massacre, all the wells of the city would be filled with corpses. Those who survived would flee from this city of death. In all the streets, we haven’t met even a single person. Only below – on the market square – a handful of people were swarming. But among them, there was not a single Armenian, only Muslims.

Osip Mandelstam got the impression that the Muslims on the market were the remnants of the murderers who had ravaged the city a decade ago, but they haven’t benefited from it in any way: we saw the same eastern poverty, horrific rags, and purulent sores on their faces.

They were trading handfuls of cornmeal, cobs, flatbreads… We did dare to buy flatbreads from these hands, although we wanted to eat…

Osip Mandelstam said that things were the same in Shushi, but here, everything was more evident, and it was impossible to eat even a single piece of bread… And you couldn’t even drink water from the wells…

The city didn’t have not only hotels but even dorms where men and women could sleep together.

The bus to Ganja was leaving the next morning. People at the bazaar offered us to spend the night at their place, but I was afraid of Eastern sores, and Mandelstam could not get rid of the idea that the Muslims were actually pogromists and murderers.

We decided to go to Stepanakert, a regional city. It was only possible to get there by cab. We met a noseless cabman, the only person in the parking lot, with a leather bandage covering his nose and part of the face. And then, everything was exactly the same as in poems, and we did not believe that he would really take us to Stepanakert.”

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