Chapter XV from the book “STRUGGLE FOR TRANSCAUCASIA” / Oxford, 1951
The defeat of the Ottoman Empire had placed Azerbaijan into a difficult position. It had been compromised in the eyes of the victors because of its close association and alliance with the enemy.
A complete change of orientation was needed if she were to survive, Azerbaijan had been the main force responsible for the disruption of the Transcaucasian Federation. In the spring of 1918 the Musavat, hampered by the necessity of coordinating its policies with Georgia and Armenia, decided to separate from its two neighbours. In 1919 it realized that by itself Azerbaijan would not be able to weather the storm which was gathering on the horizon.
Reflecting this change in the thinking of the leaders of the Party, Second Congress of the Musavat, after a report of the Party's political section, decided that only a united front of the Transcaucasian peoples could guarantee the integrity of the three republics. It resolved to call upon the governments of Georgia and Armenia to form union of Transcaucasian peoples. Rasul-Zadeh has written:
“Not only the representatives of the dominant party, the Musavat, but practically all trends of the Azerbaijani political opinion, as well as its outstanding political personalities, from the very time when the Republic of Azerbaijan was formed, had stood for the unity of all Caucasian peoples in one confederate state”.
Though such feelings had undoubtedly existed, they had been outweighed by the petty hatreds and quarrels between the Transcaucasian sister nations. The Azerbaijani Government had not been able to settle its disputes with Armenia, the two countries remaining in a state of continuous and unrelenting struggle.
Mammad Emin Rasul-Zadeh
As a result of independence the internal life of Azerbaijan underwent many changes. A government system was developed in which the Parliament, elected on the basis of universal, free, secret, and proportionate representation, was the supreme organ of state authority. Needless to say, the Parliament was dominated by the Musavat, though this party never achieved such complete control of the government as the Dashnaks in Armenia.
Besides the Muslim Musavatist majority, the Parliament included several representatives of national minorities. The Armenians, for instance, held twenty-one out of the one hundred and twenty seats. The office of the President of the Parliament was the highest office of the Republic. It was he who appointed the prime ministers, who then formed their cabinets subject to the approval of Parliament.
In spite of its democratic constitution forms, Azerbaijan was ruled not so much by its Parliament as by a combination of forces, including the Musavat, the fabulously rich owners of the Baku oil fields, and feudal landowners of western Azerbaijan. This unofficial coalition, which reminds one of the swan, the crayfish and the pike of Krylov was just as incapable of cooperating as the animals in the fable.
The Azerbaijani Parliament introduced several reforms, none of them very significant. Probably the most spectacular was the extention of suffrage to women, making Azerbaijan the first Muslim state in the world to give women equal political rights with men. Another important accomplishment was the opening of a state university in Baku. There had been a few separate colleges in that city before a revolution, now they were united into a university, which immediately became the leading intellectual centre of the country.
The Land Reform
However, the Azerbaijani Government failed when it came to the most important and urgent of all problems, the land reform. When the Transcaucasian Seim passed the laws nationalizing large estates and limiting the amount of land a person could own, its Azerbaijani members voted for the reform. At that time, however, Baku was in the hands of the Bolsheviks, while the Turks were attacking from the south. When an Azerbaijani Government was formed in May, 1918, it was compelled to move from Tiflis to Ganja, where it fell under the influence of the local nobility, the Khans and the Beks, the only group able to provide the Musavat with armed forces.
While in Ganja, the Azerbaijani Government decreed that the execution of the land reform adopted by the Seim be postponed until the future convocation of an Azerbaijani Constituent Assembly. Meanwhile the estates which had already been seized by the land-hungry peasants were ordered to be returned to their original owners.
Six months or so later, however, the Musavat, disregarding the Interests of the landowners, published a declaration calling for the enactment of agrarian laws almost identical with those which the Social-Democratic Government of Georgia had already put into operation. All lands belonging to the State and to private persons should be distributed to the landless peasants, proclaimed the Musavat. They went even further than the Georgian Mensheviks, for they proposed not to demand any payments from the peasants for the lands they would receive. A limit would be set on the amount of land a man might own. Those who had put capital and work into their lands would receive compensation from a special State fund, created by taxing the Income of the capitalists. The proposals of the Musavat were very favourable to the peasants. They did not touch the interests of the intelligentsia and the petty bourgeoisie, the classes which the Musavat served and from which it recruited its members. But the politically powerful landlords of western Azerbaijan stood to lose everything if such a law were passed, while the Baku capitalists would have been forced to finance the ruin of the Azerbaijani feudal class.
In October, 1919, the land question finally reached the Parliament, where the Musavatist left-wingers moved to set limits to private land holding and to nationalize all forests. In a country which had recently gone through a revolution, whose capital had been for several months held by the Bolsheviks, and whose closest neighbour, Georgia, had already passed laws favourable to the peasantry, few dared openly to speak against this motion. Yet the big landlords were not prepared to give up their ancestral estates. They had had many supporters in the ranks of the Musavat itself, ever since June, 1917, when the latter merged with the Federalist Party of Ganja, a thoroughly conservative organization dedicated to the interests of the feudal class. The debate on the land issue in the Parliament took less than half an hour. It was shelved until the convocation of an Azerbaijani constituent assembly When this assembly would convene, no one had any idea.
Even the baffled and oppressed Azerbaijani peasantry could not submit indefinitely to misery and exploitation. The news that in Russia and in Georgia the governments had given land to the peasants produced a deep impression on the rural masses of Azerbaijan. All through the short period of its independent existence this State was beset with agrarian troubles, which at times reached the proportions of serious peasant uprisings. In the summer of 1919 there appeared around Ganja a guerrilla band led by one Qatir Muhammad. He burned the homes of the nobles, plundered their possessions, and killed anyone who resisted. The Governor of Ganja, having failed to destroy the band with his own resources, had to appeal to Baku for additional aid. The government troops staged a full scale campaign against the bold peasant leader who, after many battles against superior forces, was finally tracked down and shot.
Economic difficulties united with peasant dissatisfaction to harass the Government of Azerbaijan. Its economy depended heavily upon the export of oil, the main customer of which had been Russia, but the Russian civil war had closed that market. Exports of oil rapidly decreased, resulting in a catastrophic fall of prices. The industry began to cut the workers' wages, producing the inevitable strikes and increasing the Bolshevik tendencies of the proletariat. In an attempt to rescue the oil industry from ruin, the Government tried to attract foreign capital to Baku and to sell oil to the countries willing to pay for it in hard cash. In June, 1919, the Government negotiated with a I representative of the Standard Oil, Mr. G. Thomas, reaching an I agreement according to which the Standard Oil would buy one hundred thousand tons of petroleum at thirty-three dollars a ton in 1919-1920. This would be followed by another purchase of an equal amount at the same price. The Soviet historian Raevskii has written that the British oil interests, represented by the Shell Company, were opposed to the American penetration of the Azerbaijani economy and pressed the Government of Azerbaijan to break the agreement. Whatever the reason may have been, it was cancelled, Azerbaijan losing thereby at least three million three hundred thousand dollars, and possibly twice that much.
The finances of the Azerbaijani Government underwent a series of crises in the years 1918-1919. Deprived of Russian fiscal support, spending large sums on the maintenance of the bureaucracy and the army, lacking stable sources of income, the Republic was bankrupt. If the financial crises did not bring about a complete collapse of the country's economy, it was due only to the Baku oil, which even when it did not bring money, assured Azerbaijan good credit abroad.
During their occupation of Baku the British drew heavily upon the resources of the Baku State Bank, formerly a branch of the Russian State Bank. They used the railways, imported and exported goods engaging in a number of economic activities without which an army would be immobilized and starving. On 20th March, 1919, the official newspaper "Azerbaijan" wrote that the British Command owed the Azerbaijani Government almost two hundred and thirteen million roubles. When the Government tried to collect, it was told by Oliver Wardrop, British Commissioner in the Caucasus, on behalf of Lord Curzon, that the British Government acknowledged its debt in so far.
All the money it had borrowed had gone for military expenditures; however, it refused to consider itself indebted for the sums which had 'been spent for relief of the local population. When the Azerbaijani government asked the British to return to the Baku State Bank certain valuables which belonged to it but had been transferred to the British by Bicherakhov, Wardrop stated that the valuables would be returned on condition that Azerbaijan assume responsibility for a part of pre-war Russian debts, which the Russian Soviet Government had repudiated. Azerbaijan never received its money back, a circumstance which aggravated even more the already desperate condition of its treasury.
Azerbaijan's relations with its neighbours remained on the whole unsatisfactory. It was able to establish fairly good relations with Georgia and Iran, but Armenia continued to be an enemy from the day independence was proclaimed to the day the Red Army entered Baku. Soon after the dissolution of the Republic of Transcaucasia a conflict flared up between Georgia and Azerbaijan over the Zakatala district, but was quickly settled. The issue of the Muslims in south-western Transcaucasia, which came to a head after the defeat of Turkey, was also peacefully solved.
Azerbaijan and Armenia
Azerbaijan's relations with Armenia have been partially dealt with in a previous chapter of the present study. However, a few more words are in order to complete the picture. After the great September massacres, 1918, the Armenian charge d'affaires in Tiflis, Jamalian, sent a note of protest to the Azerbaijani representative in Georgia, Jaafarov, accusing the latter's Government of having murdered twenty-five thirty thousand Armenians in Baku, and demanding severe punishment for the guilty. The number of people killed was grossly exaggerated Even according to the official figures of a special Armenian investigating commission the death toll did not exceed nine thousand.
Jaafarov replied that the Azerbaijani Government had always desired to live in peace with its neighbours. He explained the massacres of September as a spontaneous revenge for the killing of some ten thousand Azerbaijanis by the Armenians in March, 1918. He rejected the Armenian imputation that the Government of Azerbaijan had not' punished those responsible for the September massacres. One hundred men had been found guilty of killings and hanged. In conclusion he pointed out that the attitude of the Armenians, as expressed in the language of Jamalian's note, was calculated to arouse public opinion against Azerbaijan, contributing nothing to the betterment of relations between the two countries.
The conflict which had smouldered for two years broke out in flames in 1920, when a real war began in Karabagh. At a conference which met in Tiflis for the purpose of reconciling the enemies the Azerbaijani delegation declared that it was not competent to sign an agreement suspending military operations. Thus all attempts to re-establish peace failed. The war with Armenia further weakened |)ic already impotent Azerbaijani army, whose Commander, General Mehmandarov, told Parliament, when Russia began to threaten from the north, that the fifty thousand men he had under his command could not withstand an attack of a single Russian regiment.
Generals Samad Bey Mehmandarov (left) and Anton Denikin (right)
The Italian Mandate
In 1919 one more European nation entered the Transcaucasian scene, though only for a moment. The British had offered the Italians, dissatisfied with the small gains they had made after the end of the war, a mandate on Transcaucasia. The Italians showed great interest in the possibility of exploiting that fabulously rich land. On 10th May, 1919, the Government of Azerbaijan received the following communication from General Thomson: "I have to inform you that the British troops Will be superseded by Italian troops. A mission of Italian officers has already arrived in Georgia to make the necessary preparations. I beg you to extend to them every kind of help and assistance."
The attache of the Italian Embassy in Paris, Count Sadino, said in an after-dinner speech that Italy pursued in the Caucasus exclusively economic interests. She would receive from the League of Nations a mandate on the Caucasus, but she would exercise it only with the consent of the local population. She would not stay in Transcaucasia for more than three, or at most, five years. Meanwhile the Caucasian republics would organize a confederation, strengthen themselves and decide their own fate. Should there come into existence a Russian Federative Republic, the Caucasian states might want to join it. Sadino made it clear that under no circumstances would Italy fight against Denikin, who was making threatening gestures towards Azerbaijan, nor would she fight against anyone else. The Caucasus could have its own troops, Italy providing material and technical assistance.
The speech made the Italian position crystal clear. Italy hoped to derive economic advantages from Transcaucasia, but was not prepared to be involved in the Russian civil war. All she was looking for was quick and easy profit. That is why her attention had been attracted to the liquid gold of Baku.
On 16th May, 1919, the Prince of Savoy arrived in Baku. He was followed on the 22nd by an Italian military mission headed by Colonel Melchiore Gabba. Gabba asked many questions about the country. He wanted to know how many troops Italy would have to maintain there to insure peace and security. Both the Prince and the Colonel appeared very sympathetic, the latter promising to do all he could to assist Azerbaijan. But soon therafter a Cabinet change occurred in Rome, and the new Prime Minister, Francesco Nitti, saw nothing but a mad adventure in an Italian mandate over the Caucasus. Thus the plan was thrown into the capacious waste basket of history.
Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy – Aosta (left) and , Francesco Saverio Nitti (right)
In the latter part of August, 1919, the British troops left Azerbaijan which thenceforward was to exist as an entirely independent state. Only a few British officers stayed behind as instructors and advisers in the Azerbaijani army. The Government was alarmed, for the Volunteer Army of General Denikin was then at its peak. Its officers, nationalistic Russians one and all, glared ominously across the border from Daghestan, which they had occupied, destroying the Republic of Mountaineers, and drowning in blood the resistance of the freedom-loving descendants of Shamil. Azerbaijan was in need of a protector. With England gone, France showing no interest in its fate, Italy reluctant to appear upon the scene, and no hope for assistance from the United States, Azerbaijan turned to Persia.
Azerbaijan and Persia
On 16th July, 1919, the Council of Ministers appointed Adil Khan Ziatkhan, who had up to that time served as Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, diplomatic representative of Azerbaijan to the court of the Persian King of Kings. The Tsarist Russian Ambassador in Tehran, Etter, now serving Denikin, did everything he could to prevent the arrival of the Azerbaijani envoy. There had been a time when the word of the Ambassador of the Tsar was law in Tehran, but those days were gone. In 1919 no one payed much attention to the advice and the protests of an Ambassador representing a non-existent government.
A Persian delegation headed by Seyed Zia'ed'Din Tabatabai came to Baku, to negotiate transit, tariff, mail, customs, and other such agreements. Speeches were made in which the common bonds between Caucasian Azerbaijan and Iran were stressed. There was much enthusiasm but little accomplishment.
In October and November, 1919, more important talks took place In Paris between Ali Gholi Khan Moshaver' ol'Mamalek Ansari, head of the ill fated Persian delegation to the Peace Conference, and Ali Mardan Bek Topchibashev, chief Azerbaijani delegate.
Firuz Mirza Nosrat'ed'Dowleh, Persian Foreign Minister, gave insurance that his country had no designs on Caucasian Azerbaijan, but added that both nations would benefit if they were reunited. On 1st November the Azerbaijani delegation in Paris presented to the Persians the project of a treaty which read in part:
“The Azerbaijani Democratic Republic establishes with the neighbouring Persian State politico-economic ties the bases and forms of which, as well as the means of the existence of such ties [sic], are to be worked out and defined by mutual agreement of the Persian and the Azerbaijani Governments, with the approval of the Parliaments of both States. Moreover, the desirability of uniting the activities of the Persian and the Azerbaijani Governments in the sphere of external affairs is recognized”.
Such a treaty could have become a reality only if Russia were permanently crippled. But the Azerbaijani Government knew that Persia torn by civil strife, impoverished by foreign imperialism, corrupted h her own semi-feudal government, and disgraced by her ruling dynasty, could not have possibly become the guarantor of Azerbaijan's security, even had Azerbaijan united with her. It was necessary to receive guarantees from England, for she alone had enough interest in the Near East and enough resources to provide effective help. Taking this into consideration, Article 6 of the proposed treaty stated that the Azerbaijani Republic needed British help in the same form in which such help was being given to Persia. This referred to the treaty of 2nd August, 1919, by which Great Britain had established a virtual protectorate over the land of the Lion and the Sun. To find safety from Russia, Azerbaijan was willing to accept conditions against which the Persians had rebelled, for they had defied Britain, and refused to ratify the treaty. The British declined to assume any obligations in Azerbaijan, and the plans of its Government never materialized.
The Baku Communists
In 1919 a very important internal development was the resumption of Bolshevik activities in Baku. After the overthrow of the Soviet in the summer of 1918 the Russian Communist Party could not operate freely in Baku, but the Hemmat was free to continue its work. The Hemmat was probably the oldest Azerbaijani party. In its early days it had been predominantly Bolshevik, but later its Menshevik wing increased in strength and importance. Yet the Bolsheviks had found it possible during all this time to work through the Hemmat. The Baku workers, who had turned away from the Communists in 1918 were dominated partly by the S.R.'s, and partly by the Musavat, which succeeded in obtaining a majority at a Workers' Conference which met in December, 1918. The enemies of the Musavat say that the agents of that party stood in the doors of the conference hall, offering five roubles to anyone who would vote for the Musavat. Through bribes, or otherwise, the Musavat received a majority.
The economic crisis which struck Baku in 1919 made the position of its proletariat very difficult. Low wages and high prices combined to make the lot of the Baku workers hard. When in December, 1918, the workers made demands for higher wages and shorter hours, their leaders, Velunts and Saakian, both anti-Bolshevik, were arrested together with several others. Strikes forced the British to release their prisoners, yet the agitation caused by the incident did not subside.
Anastas Mikoyan (left), Joseph Stalin (centre) and Sergo Orjonikidze (right0
The Bolsheviks were quick to exploit the situation. In February, 1919, Anastas Mikoian, who had been in jail, was set free and became the leader of the Baku Bolsheviks. One of the main things that had to be achieved was the split of the Hemmat, whose Menshevik wing dominated the Party. This was accomplished in March. The Menshevik-minded Hemmatists joined the Social-Democrats, while the Bolsheviks from the same organization decided to form a Communist Party of Azerbaijan. At a plenary session of the Caucasian Regional Committee of the Russian Communist Party a sharp conflict developed between the Tiflis and the Baku Bolsheviks over the question of whether there should be formed a separate Azerbaijani Communist Party. The Baku Bolsheviks were accused of nationalist deviations and separatism. They were told that their policy sanctioned that against which the Georgian Communists were fighting. To this the Baku Bolsheviks replied that the Azerbaijani masses would by no means follow a Russian party, no matter what it stood for; it was necessary to have a native organization separate at least in name, which would be able to win the confidence of the masses. Disregarding the protests of the Regional Committee, in violation of party discipline, the Azerbaijanis, Karaev, Sultanov, Akhundov, Huseinov, and others, went ahead and organized a separate Communist Party of Azerbaijan. Huseinov was elected Chairman of its Central Committee.
The newly formed Communist Party of Azerbaijan did not enjoy legality and was not able to become a mass movement, in spite of the change in name. The nationalistic appeal of the Musavat was so strong that its supremacy could not be challenged from within Azerbaijan. It took an external force to overthrow it and to establish the Communists as the ruling party.
Though weak in itself, the Communist Party of Azerbaijan was strong by virtue of Russian support. In September, 1919, a delegation of Turkish nationalists arrived in Baku, to enlist the support of the Azerbaijani Government. Fearing the French and the British, the Cabinet of Usubbekov refused to help. However, the Communist Party of Azerbaijan and the Baku Bureau of the Russian Communist Party (the two were one and the same thing for all practical purposes) immediately offered the Turks their assistance. "From that time on the Communist Party of Azerbaijan became one of the main props of the revolutionary struggle for the national liberation of Turkey. The Communist Party of Azerbaijan played the role of a bridge between the proletarian revolutionary Moscow and the revolutionary movement in Turkey." Thus in spite of its numerical weakness and the lack of popularity, the Azerbaijani Communist Party was an important factor in the history of Transcaucasia in the fateful years 1919-1920.
 Azerbaijan, No. 271, December 14, 1919, as cited in Rasul-Zadeh, O Panturanizme, Paris, 1930, p. 59.
 Rasul-Zadeh, op. cit., p. 60.
 Claims of Azerbaijan, pp. 25-26
 Ibid., p. 26, n.
 Ratgauzer, Borba za sovetskii Azerbaijan, Baku, 1928, p. 4.
 Ibid., p. 7.
 A. G. Karaev, Iz nedavnego proshlogo, Baku, 1926, pp. 81-82
 M. D. Bagirov, Iz istorii bolshevistskoi organizatsii Baku i Azerbaijani, Moscow, 1946, pp. 190-192.
 A. Raevskii, Angliiskaia interventsiia i musavatskoe pravitelstvo, Baku, 1927, in. 80-81.
Azerbaijan, No. 60, March 20,1919, as cited in Raevskii, op. cit., p. 90
 Azerbaijan, No. 60, March 20,1919, as cited in Raevskii, op. cit., p. 90.
 Popov, "Iz epokhi angliiskoi interventsii v Zakavkazie," Proletarskaia Revolutsia, No. 9, 1923, pp. 205-206.
 Tchalkhouchian, Le livre rouge, p. 95.
 Ishkhanian, Velikie uzhasy v gor. Baku, p. 29.
 Tchalkhouchian, op. cit., p. 96.
 The Times, London, January 13, 1920.
 Ratgauzer, Borba za sovetskii Azerbaijan, p. 41.
 Baikov, Vospominaniia o revolutsii v Zakavkazii, p. 173.
 The Archives of the Azistpart, Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dossier No. 54, p. 11, as cited in Raevskii, op. cit., p. 55.
 The Azerbaijani State Archives, Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affalu, Dossier No. 3, pp. 21-22, as cited in Raevskii, op. cit., p. 57.
 Le 28 Mai, 1919, p. 20; Bulletin d'information de I'Azerbaidjan, No. 9 February 15, 1920, p. 3.
 Archives of Azistpart, Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dossier No. 13, p. 3, as cited in Raevskii, op. cit., p. 36.
 Vneshniaia politika kontrrevolutsionnykh 'pravitelstv' v nachale 1919 goda,"Krasnyi Arkhiv", No. 6 (37), 1929, p. 94.
 Bulletin d'informatton de I'Azerbaidjan, No. 8, February I, 1920
 Azerbaijani State Archives, Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dossier No. 12, pp. 24-25, as cited in Raevskii, op. cit., pp. 62-63.
 Karaev, Iz nedavnego proshlogo, p. 10.
 Zhizn Natsionalnostei, No. 6 (14), February 23, 1919.
 Khachapuridze, Bolsheviki Gruzii, pp. 161-162.
 D. Guseinov, "Osnovye momenty razvitiia Azerbaijanskoi Kompartii," Chetvert veka borby za sotsializm, pp. 221-227 ; Karaev, op. cit., pp. 54-56.
 Karaev, op.cit., p. 60