March 31, commemorated in the Republic of Azerbaijan as the Day of Genocide of Azerbaijanis, reflects the memory of the bloody massacre committed against Azerbaijanis in March 1918.
The rapid development of the oil industry in Baku in the late XIX and early XX centuries attracted a wave of Armenian migration to the city. As one of the main industrial centres in tsarist Russia, Baku saw the emergence of an industrial proletariat and revolutionary fervour. On the eve of the first Russian revolution (1905-1907), the Armenian nationalist Dashnaksutyun Party started to spread nationalistic ideas among Armenian workers in Baku. They used revolutionary ideas to promote their own nationalistic agenda. Inspired by ideas of creating a “Greater Armenia,” Armenians carried out a series of bloody massacres against Azerbaijanis in the period of 1905-07. Hundreds of Azerbaijani settlements were destroyed and razed to the ground, and thousands of civilians were brutally killed.
The massacre of 1918 was a more skilfully prepared and ruthlessly implemented act than the 1905-1907 attacks. 4000 armenian militarists from Dashnaksutyun Party took part in the massacre of Azerbaijani civilians. On 30 March armed Dashnaks attacked the homes of Azerbaijanis and carried out a merciless slaughter. On 31 March and in the first days of April, 1918, the carnage became even more ruthless. Thousands of Azerbaijani civilians were killed only because of their ethnicity, people were burned in their homes, killed and tortured with unparalleled cruelty.
The Armenians had installed machine guns in various places of the city in order to shoot those who were trying to escape. Genocide of the Azerbaijanis by Armenians was not limited to Baku. Within a short period of time, Armenians committed massacres in Shamakhy, Guba, Irevan, Zengezur, Karabakh, Nakhchivan and Kars.
According to various estimates, 12,000 to 30,000 people were killed in Baku in three days alone. The March events of 1918 became the focus of attention following the proclamation of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). The Extraordinary Investigation Commission (EIC) was established by ADR on July 15, 1918 in order to investigate the violence against Azerbaijani population. An important trait of this commission was that it was comprised of the best lawyers of that time representing different nationalities – Russians, Jewish, Polish, Georgians and even Armenians. These factors testify competence and impartiality of the EIC. Materials collected by the EIC by August 1919 filed in 36 volumes and 3,500 pages. Based on this evidence, the EIC prepared 128 reports and drafts to file lawsuits against 194 persons accused of different crimes against a peaceful population. Thus, by mid-August, 24 people in Baku and about 100 people in Shamakhy were arrested. This was the first attempt to conduct a political and legal assessment of the policy of genocide perpetrated against the Azerbaijanis. However, the demise of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic made it impossible to complete this work.