The Plunder Of Armenian Bitlis By Russian Cossacks

In January-February 1916, the Russian army entered Khnus, Mush, Karin, and Baghesh. Among the ranks of the army were numerous volunteer Armenians.

On the night of February 7 (19), Andranik and his volunteer detachment liberated Baghesh. General Abatsiev’s troops then entered the city. Thanks to Andranik’s actions, 300 Armenian women and children survived. Andranik would send the survivors to the city of Van.

Plunder began in Baghesh – whatever the Turks and Kurds hadn’t had time to take with them went to the Cossacks. Once, General Dmitry Abatsiev who did not hide his antipathy towards the Armenians met an Armenian volunteer dragging away a carpet.

When asked “where did the carpet come from,” the volunteer replied that he had bought it from a Russian soldier. By the order of Abatsiev, the volunteer was arrested. Upon learning of the incident, Andranik hurried to the general. When Abatsiev claimed that the Armenians were robbing Bitlis, Andranik burst with anger:

“About 16 thousand Armenian residents used to live in Bitlis – where are these Armenians, where is their property? A million Armenian martyrs did not satisfy you, so you decided to torture an Armenian volunteer as well?”

A few months later, Abatsiev wrote to the vice-tsar of the Caucasus, the uncle of Nikolai Romanov.

“In Bitlis, the Andranik regiment killed five and a half thousand Turks. Days and weeks passed before we buried them all…”

Everyone anticipated that Andranik would appear before a military court, but the Russian military command, frightened by the popularity of the hero and possible revenge from the Armenians, decided to abandon this intention.

One of the commanders of the Caucasus Front, General Pyotr Oganovsky (of Armenian descent), wrote:

“Our goal was to be able to immediately disarm the Armenians after the end of the war. They (the Armenians) must change their thinking and worldview, publicly declare and prove by deed that they are fighting not for independent Armenia but as citizens of the Russian Empire for Russia. Otherwise, the determination of the Armenians will cost them dearly.”

Arshaluis Zurabyan

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