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Shahumian, Stepan Georgievich


(18781918), Bolshevik party activist and theorist on the nationality question; principal leader of the Bolsheviks in Baku during the Russian Revolution who perished as one of the famous Twenty-Six Baku Commissars.

Born into an Armenian family in Tiflis (Tbilisi), the young Shahumian was educated in local schools before entering the Riga Polytechnic Institute in 1900. Active in Armenian student political circles, he turned toward Marxism in Riga. Expelled for his political activities, Shahumian continued his studies at the University of Berlin, where he joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDRP). He grew close to Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, translated the Communist Manifesto into Armenian, and was elected a delegate to the Fourth (Stockholm) and Fifth (London) Congresses of the RSDRP. Shahumian was active in the strike movement in Baku during the first Russian revolution (19051907) and throughout the years of reaction and repression of the labor movement, and was arrested and imprisoned several times. When the February Revolution broke out, he returned from exile in Astrakhan and assumed leadership of the Baku Bolsheviks.

Elected chairman of the Baku Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, Shahumian was the most important figure in Baku politics in 1917 and 1918. After the October Revolution, Lenin's government appointed him Extraordinary Commissar for the Affairs of the Caucasus. Shahumian headed the Council of People's Commissars, the de facto government of the Baku Commune, from April through July 1918. Although he was moderate in temperament and tolerant of diverse political parties, his brief tenure was marked by a brash attempt to expand Soviet power throughout the Caucasus by military means. As the Turkish army approached Baku, the soviet voted to invite Persiabased British forces to defend the city. Shahumian's government stepped down and soon was arrested. On September 20, 1918, anti-Bolsheviks brutally executed twenty-six commissars, among them Shahumian, in the deserts of Transcaspia (now Turkmenistan). The Soviet government blamed the British for their deaths and commemorated them as martyrs to the revolution. Reburied in a mass grave in Baku, they became the inspiration for paintings, songs, poems, and films. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, anticommunist Azerbaijanis disinterred their corpses and destroyed their monuments.

See also: armenia and armenians; baku; bolshevism; caucasus; social democratic workers party


Suny, Ronald Grigor. (1972). The Baku Commune, 19171918: Class and Nationality in the Russian Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ronald Grigor Suny

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