THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])
Killing of Enver Pasha
(August 4, 1922)
The Russian revolution of November 1917 that set the grounds for the Soviet Union was followed by a civil war. Bolshevik troops were sent into Central Asia to establish Soviet power in 1919-1920. A local movement headed by Muslim elements, known as the Basmachi revolt (the Turkic word basmachi originally meant “bandit”), took advantage of the blunders of the Soviet government in Tashkent (the current capital of Uzbekistan) to challenge its authority and set a movement of national liberation.
Enver Pasha, former Ministry of War of the Ottoman Empire and one of the main perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide, had become a fugitive of justice after his condemnation to death in absentia by the Ottoman court-martial in July 1919. He had first left Constantinople for Berlin in late 1918 and in 1919 had gone to Moscow, where he engaged in pro-Turkish activities among the Bolsheviks. After participating in the Congress of Eastern Peoples of Baku (September 1920), he tried to reenter Anatolia in 1921, but was rejected by Mustafa Kemal.
Enver decided to return to Moscow and won over the trust of Soviet authorities. Lenin sent him to Bukhara, in Soviet Turkestan, to help suppress the Basmachi Revolt. He arrived on November 8, 1921. Instead of carrying his mission, he made secret contacts with some rebel leaders and defected along with a small number of followers. He aimed at uniting the numerous rebel groups under his own command and taking the offensive against the Bolsheviks. He managed to turn the disorganized rebel forces into a small well-drilled army and establish himself as its supreme commander. However, David Fromkin has written, “he was a vain, strutting man who loved uniforms, medals and titles. For use in stamping official documents, he ordered a golden seal that described him as ‘Commander-in-Chief of all the Armies of Islam, Son-in-Law of the Caliph and Representative of the Prophet.’ Soon he was calling himself Emir of Turkestan, a practice not conducive to good relations with the Emir whose cause he served. At some point in the first half of 1922, the Emir of Bukhara broke off relations with him, depriving him of troops and much-needed financial support. The Emir of Afghanistan also failed to march to his aid.”
Operation Nemesis had succeeded in the liquidation of several of Enver’s colleagues in European capitals. An Armenian group assassinated Ahmed Djemal Pasha on July 25, 1922, in Tiflis under the very sight of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police. Ten days later, Enver would find his own Armenian nemesis in Central Asia.
Yakov Melkumov (Hakob Melkumian), born in Shushi (Gharabagh) in 1885, was a decorated career officer who had participated in World War I and after the revolution had entered the Red Army. After fighting in Bielorrusia (Belarus) in 1918, he became a cavalry brigade commander in Turkestan in late 1919, and from 1920-1923 he was involved in the suppression of the Basmachi revolt.
On August 4, 1922 Melkumian’s brigade launched a surprise attack while Enver had allowed his troops to celebrate the Kurban Bayrami holiday, retaining a 30-men guard at his headquarters near the village of Ab-i-Derya, near Dushanbe. Some Turkish sources claimed that Enver and his men charged the approaching troops, and the Turkish leader was killed by machine-gun fire. Melkumian published his memoirs in 1960, where he stated that Enver had managed to escape on horseback and hid for four days in the village of Chaghan. A Red Army officer infiltrated the village in disguise and located his hideout, after which the troops stormed Chaghan, and Melkumian himself killed Enver in the ensuing combat.
After seven decades in Ab-i-Derya, Enver’s remains were taken to Turkey in 1996 and buried at the Monument of Liberty cemetery in Istanbul. Melkumian was decorated with the second order of the Red Army for killing Enver and defeating his forces. The Armenian officer continued his military career until 1937 in Central Asia. He was arrested in June 1937, during the heyday of the Stalinist purges, and charged with participated in the “military-fascist conspiracy.” He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 5 years of deprivation of civil rights. After the death of Stalin, he was freed in 1954 and rehabilitated. He died in Moscow in 1962.