1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Azerbäïjän

AZERBÄÏJÄN. The republic of Azerbäïjän had no political existence until the year 1917, when the Trans-Caucasian provinces of the Russian Empire, exposed to the enemies of Russia, found in the collapse of the empire the need and opportunity of striking out for themselves. Nor has Azerbäïjän any national traditions or history; scarcely, till lately, had her people a racial consciousness, the name, even, did not apply to the present state. Under Russian administration Trans-Caucasia comprised six “Governments.” Of these Baku, with a coastline on the Caspian Sea, and Elisavetopol, adjoining Baku on the west, united to form the republic of Azerbäïjän. The territory included in the two “Governments” was, originally, the portion of the Persian province of Azerbäïjän (see 3.80) ceded to Russia as long ago as 1813 under the predatory Treaty of Gulistan. Once a Russian possession, the ceded area lost all connexion with its previous name. But when in 1917 the two “Governments” combined to declare a joint independence the Persian name was adopted for the infant state from motives of policy — it was hoped thus to attract to the new republic the Persian remainder of the old province of Azerbäïjän, peopled chiefly by the same stock.

Geographical Position. — Looked at broadly the republic occupies the lowlands of two great Caucasian river basins — the Kuru and the Aras — enclosed by the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus mountains, the watershed parting of the Black Sea, and the highlands of Armenia and Persian Azerbäïjän. This fertile territory, rich also in oil, has a coastline to the Caspian exceeding 400 m., and stands athwart the chief line of communication between the Black Sea and central Asia. Two-thirds of its population is a homogeneous race of Tatar origin closely related to the Anatolian Turk. They speak a form of Turkish, but, unlike the Turk, are Moslems of the Shiah sect: with their Sunni kinsmen of Anatolia they have, however, a definite sympathy.

Area and Population. — The area of the “Governments” of Baku and Elisavetopol together was about 32,000 sq. m.; their pop., by the Russian census of 1916, somewhat less than 2,600,000. This total comprised, in round figures, 1,740,000 Moslems, 540,000 Armenians, 230,000 Russians and other Europeans, and diverse elements as the remainder.

The territory claimed by the republic is not, however, altogether that of the “Governments” of Baku and Elisavetopol; but it is only of these that definite figures of area and population can be given. For districts containing in all some 15,000 sq. m., partly within and partly without the boundaries of the two “Governments,” and carrying a pop. of nearly a million, are in dispute between Azerbäïjän and the adjoining republics of Erivan and Georgia. Settlement of these disputes may give Azerbäïjän a greater or lesser area and population than had the two “Governments.”

Industries and Communications. — The chief industry of the country is the production, refining, and exportation of oil and petroleum. Within 50 years the immense oil deposit discovered on the Apsheron peninsula had created the city of Baku, now the capital of Azerbäïjän, with a pop. of 250,000. Indeed the production of oil in vast quantities in this region has had far-reaching indirect political results. It has given the state an importance out of proportion to its population, by placing wide adjoining regions in a position of dependence regarding the vital commodity of oil for light and fuel. Still more, it has profoundly affected the direction given to lines of railway, and the development of rail and other forms of communication.

By this process, and from the position of Baku as a port on the Caspian Sea — a sea nearly twice as great in area as all the Great Lakes of America together — the city became a centre with lines of communication, by rail and sea, radiating from it in all directions. From Baku the Caspian Sea is crossed by ferry steamers to Krasnovodsk; and thence a railway runs for nearly 2,000 m. through central Asia, skirting the Afghan frontier, and reaching the Pamirs. The city is in direct rail communication with Moscow; by railway, sea, river or canal every part of European Russia, in fact, is within reach. By sea N. Persia ports are only one day's steaming. Through Trans-Caucasia Baku is in direct railway communication with Erivan, Tabriz in N.W. Persia, Erzerum in Turkey, and Batum on the Black Sea. Batum, indeed, is complementary to Baku as the terminus not only of the Baku-Black Sea railway, and of the pipe-line for conveying oil, but as the one port by which the great inland centre of communication and oil production, embedded deep in western Asia, can have trade intercourse with the oceans and outer countries of the world. The interdependence of Baku and Batum was well enough with all Trans-Caucasia under one Government; with the two cities in separate states friction became inevitable.

Had there been no oil at Baku events in the Near and Middle East during the years 1913-21 would have shown a striking dissimilarity from the events which actually befell. Such is the important position Azerbäïjän fills, by reason of Baku, on the confines of south-eastern Europe and western Asia.

External Influences. — In the Pan-Islamic dreams cherished by the Young Turk leaders of Turkey, the republic, with Persian Azerbäïjän, forms the essential connecting link between Islam of the West and Islam of central Asia and India. Pan-Islamic policy therefore closely affects Azerbäïjän. But a further and more serious disturbing influence has been provided by Bolshevik Russia. For economic reasons, and in pursuit of her ambitions and policy in south-western and central Asia, the geographical position held by Azerbäïjän made control of the republic a pressing necessity. The short and varied history of this small Caucasian state is, in consequence, concerned chiefly with the interaction of Turkish and Russian policy, and the inevitable question of Armenia and the Armenian people.

History. The history of Azerbäïjän as an independent state may be said to have begun on Sept. 20 1917. During the spring and summer of that year upheaval in Russia had passed from symptoms to facts of omen for the world. In March the Government resigned, a Provisional Government was proclaimed, and the Tsar abdicated; and in April the Provisional Government issued its proclamation declaring for the self-determination of peoples and the establishment of a lasting peace. In June the Black Sea fleet mutinied, and the Russian armies in Asia Minor, saturated with Bolshevik theories and shouting “No annexations and no indemnities!” abandoned their positions before the enemy and retired behind the Russo-Turkish frontier of 1914. On Sept. 15, Russia became a republic.

Need for common action by the Caucasian peoples was evident, as the Turkish front was held now by troops whose military value was fast disappearing. There was, further, at least on the part of Georgians and Armenians, a genuine desire to use the opportunity for securing some form of independence which should safeguard their national rights. The creation of the Russian Republic was followed, two days later, by a Council of the Trans-Caucasian peoples, assembled at Tiflis, proclaiming Trans-Caucasia a Federal Republic. This step involved removing a Russian Bolshevik Commissar who had already been sent to Tiflis to replace the Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief, the Grand Duke Nicholas. The Commissar was ejected, but he transferred himself to Baku and there with Armenian aid established a Bolshevik Government. But the affairs of the Federal Republic did not prosper. Between Georgian and Armenian Christians, and the Tatar Moslems of Azerbäïjän, were antipathies of race and faith not to be suddenly diminished or held in check. Each people, too, had its own particular interests to consult. Jealousies and rivalries were acute; Erivan and Azerbäïjän had deep suspicions that Georgia was scheming to use the Federal Republic for converting all Trans-Caucasia into a Georgian state. A fundamental opposition of outlook also existed on the part of each. All three desired to come under British protection; but that being impossible Azerbäïjän stood out for Turkey, Armenia for Russia, and Georgia for Germany as the powers best suited and able to assure Trans-Caucasian independence. To the leaders of each of the federated peoples, in fact, the essentials of a rapidly changing situation ever appeared different.

The Treaty of Brest Litovsk, between Germany and Russia, signed on March 3, 1918, was followed by a Turkish invasion of Armenian territory in order to occupy the districts awarded Turkey under the treaty. Batum was another district allotted to Turkey, subject to self-determination by the inhabitants; but Georgia believed that with German aid the province might be preserved for herself. In effect the Federal Republic was now at war with Turkey, though with no intention or possibility of concerted action amongst its peoples, and the Turkish occupation proceeded in spite of resistance on Armenian territory. Batum, too, was entered by Turkish forces on April 15. In these circumstances the republic resolved, on April 23, to make a formal declaration of independence, and to open peace negotiations with the Turks. But a German penetration of Trans-Caucasia from the Ukraine was now in sight. Odessa and Sevastopol were both in German hands at the beginning of May, and Georgian policy looked more and more definitely to Germany, to the exclusion of the wider interests of the Federal Republic. A few days later German and Turkish delegates reached Batum to negotiate peace between Georgia and Turkey. This matter completed, Georgia and Germany concluded a treaty between themselves, by which German troops were admitted to the country, and Georgia received promises of protection, the maintenance of her independence and financial assistance.

As has been said, a Russian Bolshevik Government had been established at Baku after the founding of the Federal Republic of Trans-Caucasia. The area it controlled was small, but the Government had the advantages of position, supplies of fuel and food, and the comparative wealth afforded by the large and prosperous population. The Russian element behind the Government was also supported by local Armenians, a section of the inhabitants numbering some 60,000. These Armenians were under the influence of the Dashnakists, the Armenian revolutionary society of extremists, whose methods were violence, and who leaned towards Bolshevik Russia. And now, early in March, when the affairs of Trans-Caucasia were at their lowest, and the existence of the Federal state hung in the balance, the Russians and Armenians of Baku ejected the Tatar Moslems of the city, and massacred some thousands. During the succeeding three months, massacre of Moslems by Armenians spread to various parts of what had been Russian Armenia. With Georgia in private alliance with Germany, and Armenians massacring Azerbäïjän Moslems whenever opportunity offered, the Federal Republic of Trans-Caucasia had become to all merely an empty name.

The Federal Republic was dissolved on May 26, 1918. On that date Azerbäïjän and Georgia each proclaimed its separate existence as an independent republic and formed a National Government; at the same time the National Council of Armenia took control of Armenian affairs. As the independent Bolshevik Government of Baku still existed Elisavetopol became the capital of Azerbäïjän for the time being. Turkish troops were now admitted to the Tatar Republic; and others, followed by Germans from Georgia, reoccupied Tabriz, the capital of Persian Azerbäïjän, at the end of May. The Pan-Islamic policy of Turkey appeared to be prospering at this time, and its leaders looked eastward to making their next step into central Asia. With this as a possibility a small British column under Gen. Dunsterville advanced from Mesopotamia through western Persia to the Caspian, and passing thence by sea reached and occupied Baku on Aug. 16 1918. Its purpose was to countenance and support the Russo-Armenian force holding the town and to assist the republic of Erivan, and thus prevent Turkish or German operations in central Asia. But the assistance and coöperation expected of the local troops did not come up to anticipation; a large Turkish force compelled the British to reëmbark on Sept. 13; and Baku fell the following day. But Turkish and German operations in these regions were drawing to an end. The Armistice between the Allies and Turkey, signed on Oct. 30, and between the Allies and Germany 12 days later ensured the evacuation of Trans-Caucasian and Persian territory by Turkish and German troops. A British force from Persia reoccupied Baku on Nov. 16; a British garrison was placed in Batum on Dec. 27; and before long a whole British division had reached Caucasia to ensure the evacuation of Turks and Germans. The railways were repaired, and through traffic between the inland republic and Batum resumed under a British Board of Railway Control, thus preventing the acute friction of the past.

On the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Baku the Government of Azerbäïjän was established there, and endeavoured to organize an administration. This was a work of infinite difficulty, for though the Moussavet party in power meant well, every kind of administrative experience and knowledge was lacking. The British military authorities assisted, but soon found it necessary to take over multifarious civil functions, from providing and rationing foodstuffs, suppressing profiteers, working the oil and shipping industries, and managing the State bank, to the administration of Posts and Telegraphs, Police and Justice. For the first time since Russian Government ceased in Trans-Caucasia order appeared in the republic. But the change depended on foreign ability and experience, and when the British troops were withdrawn in Aug. 1919 Azerbäïjän relapsed into administrative confusion. An inter-state control of railways only was provided with some success, as a matter vital to all Trans-Caucasia.

The Peace Conference of the Allies which began its sittings in Paris on Jan. 18 1919 did not greatly affect Azerbäïjän, though the republic sent a delegation to represent its claims to large territorial extensions. The course taken by events in Trans-Caucasia before the Treaty of Sèvres was finally drafted doubtless placed Azerbäïjän outside the area to which it was thought treaty provisions could be applied. Except regarding frontiers in dispute between Azerbäïjän and Armenia the Treaty of Sèvres, therefore, avoided matters affecting the Tatar Republic. For these frontiers it provided that they should be settled by direct agreement between the states concerned; and, failing such agreement, they were to be determined by the principal Allied Powers.

The Conference gave, however, no little attention to the problems of Trans-Caucasia. Early in 1919 it offered Italy control of the whole area, she having many interests there; but the offer was declined after consideration. As an emergency measure the Supreme Council appointed an Allied high commissioner to prevent territorial disputes developing into hostilities between the republics; and by his influence neutral zones for the time being were established, and the situation was temporarily eased. But months passed and the Conference became more and more chary of intervening in Trans-Caucasian affairs, especially in view of Gen. Denikin's operation in Cis-Caucasia, and his aim of reuniting south-eastern Russia. Stated shortly the shadow of Russia — Russia both of the present and of the future — lay over the land and created an incalculable situation. De facto recognition was, however, accorded all three republics. It should be noted, further, that in the draft of the Treaty of Sèvres the importance of Batum to Azerbäïjän and Armenia was recognized by making the town and surrounding territory a free state under the League of Nations, and giving the inland republics definite rights in the port and of access by rail. But this plan fell through, and Batum was returned to Georgia, under an agreement confirming Azerbäïjän and Armenia in the privileges they were to have received from the free state of Batum.

The Turkish Nationalist movement which became all-powerful in Anatolia in consequence of the Treaty of Sèvres had a serious influence upon the republic of Azerbäïjän. Nationalist Turkey and Soviet Russia each found itself opposed to the Allied Powers. They therefore followed a common policy up to a point; and Turkish Nationalism and Russian Bolshevism went hand in hand, supplying each other's needs as far as might be, whether of means, material or opportunity. Turkey sought to recover the provinces in Trans-Caucasia from which she had been ejected by the Allies in 1918; she also required munitions from Russia, and direct access to Azerbäïjän and central Asia in execution of her Pan-Islamic ambitions. Russia had her own quarrel with the Allies to pursue, and her revolutionary mission to accomplish where she could. The oil of Baku, further, was a necessity for her economic life. These different aims of both countries converged on Trans-Caucasia, and implied the bringing of Turkish and Russian territory to a coterminous frontier at least to a common frontier of effective control. Once this was attained all other things would be secured, including direct railway communication between Russia and Anatolia. Denikin had been driven out of Russia and now only the independent republics of Azerbäïjän, Erivan and Georgia stood in the way.

Russia therefore prepared to set up a Soviet Government in Azerbäïjän, and under cover of this change reëstablish Russian control first there, and afterwards in all Trans-Caucasia. On April 28, 1920 the XI. Soviet Army from Cis-Caucasia, some 50,000 strong, entered Baku without fighting. Simultaneously a rising of local Bolsheviks declared the Republican Government deposed, and established in its place a Soviet Government in alliance with Moscow. The Russian army, it was said, had only come to place the proletariat of Azerbäïjän upon its feet. Effective opposition to the revolution was found impossible. The Azerbäïjän army was disbanded; a revolutionary committee set up which sent the members of the late Government and many leading anti-Bolshevik citizens to execution; and Bolshevik economic theories were rigorously applied. Having seized the railways and consolidated their position in the country the Bolsheviks attacked Georgia and Erivan across the frontiers of Azerbäïjän, but were repulsed without much difficulty. Russia's campaign in Poland was in progress at the time, and not going well, and further aggressions in Trans-Caucasia were therefore suspended. During this pause a Tatar rising took place at Elisavetopol, in which several thousand Bolsheviks were massacred. The rising was promptly suppressed by Bolshevik troops; and they, aided by local Armenians, retaliated by massacring, it is said, some 15,000 Tatars of both sexes and all ages. From this affair arose the hatred which the Tatars of Azerbäïjän have since displayed against the Bolsheviks.

Further Bolshevik and Turkish operations against Georgia and Erivan do not properly belong to Azerbäïjän history, but they cannot be altogether ignored. Suffice to say that when Russia, in the autumn, was relieved of her Polish embarrassments, and the campaign of Gen. Wrangel from the Crimea had plainly failed, she and her Turkish Allies turned their attention once again to Trans-Caucasia. By the end of Nov. both Georgia and Erivan were crushed, and Soviet Republics, dependent on Moscow, established in place of the National Governments. Turkey regained the districts of Ardahan and Kars; in addition she was given the strip of Armenian territory through which passed the railway from Azerbäïjän to the Turkish frontier; but Russia with an eye to her own future, insisted that Batum should form part of Georgia, and her will in the end prevailed. Russia, in fact, had recovered all but an insignificant portion of her Trans-Caucasian provinces; and Azerbäïjän, Georgia, and Erivan ceased to exist as independent states, except in name.

(W. J. C.*)