Научная статья на тему 'Azerbaijan’s lost statehood: the Post-1980s historiography of occupation'

Azerbaijan’s lost statehood: the Post-1980s historiography of occupation Текст научной статьи по специальности «История и археология»

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The Caucasus & Globalization
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Аннотация научной статьи по истории и археологии, автор научной работы — Gasimov Zaur

The author looks at the main trends in Azerbaijan’s Western historiography, works by Azeri émigrés in Europe, and “red historiography” publications of the Soviet occupation period. He concentrates on the “internal Azeri” debate that has been going on since the end of the 1980s regarding the Soviet occupation.

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Текст научной работы на тему «Azerbaijan’s lost statehood: the Post-1980s historiography of occupation»


Master, doctoral candidate at the Institute for Central and Eastern European Studies, Catholic University of Eichstatt-Ingolstadt

(Eichstatt, Germany).



The author looks at the main trends in Azerbaijan’s Western historiography, works by Azeri emigres in Europe, and “red historiography” publications of the So-

viet occupation period. He concentrates on the “internal Azeri” debate that has been going on since the end of the 1980s regarding the Soviet occupation.

I n t r o d u c t i o n

The history of many nations knows of politically important facts and events that tend to remain on the historians’ agenda for a long time. In Azeri history, one of these is 28 April, 1920, when Bolshevik Russia occupied the republic and ushered in a period over which there is still no agreement among the public and the academic community. In the 20th century, Azerbaijan shared the fate of its Caucasian neighbors, the Baltic countries, and Western Ukraine, a fact that invited highly varied opinions from the local communists, Azeri emigres, Western academics, members of the national-lib-eration movements, and Soviet historians. While Western historiography and Azeri intellectuals in Europe spoke about the “Azeri April” as occupation, Soviet historiography lauded “the triumph of Soviet power in Azerbaijan and the victory of the progressive forces.” Meaningful discussions about the country’s past outside the pinching limits of the Soviet communist ideology flared up in 1991 when Azerbaijan restored its statehood. The April 1920 discussions have already produced a sort of consensus: the absolute majority of Azeri historians, publicists, and politicians have agreed that the 11th Red Army, which invaded Azerbaijan on 27-28 April, 1920, was an occupation force.

Western Azerbaijanian Historiography on the Country’s Sovietization

In May 1918, the nation, which between 18281 and 1918 remained the Russian Empire’s colonial periphery, declared itself (like its Caucasian neighbors) to be a national republic. On 28 April, 1920, the Red Army crossed the border into the newly formed independent state and captured Baku, its capital. This was how the period of Soviet occupation (that ended in 1991 together with the Soviet Union) began. It brought massive repressions against members of the non-Communist parties, Cabinet ministers, and the intelligentsia.

1 In 1828, the Russian Empire and Persia signed the so-called Turkmanchai Treaty that divided Azerbaijan along the Araks (Aras) River. Russia acquired the “northern” part, while the “southern” was incorporated into the Persian Empire.

Intellectuals, philosophers, and writers had to emigrate; many of the outstanding Azeri poets (Hu-seyn Djavid, Mikail Mushfig, and others) were merely eliminated by the “new power.” After settling scores with the “nationalist-minded” intellectuals, the Communist rulers of Azerbaijan proceeded to create social sciences of a “new type.” From the very first day of the republic’s Sovietization to the Soviet Union’s last day, history and historiography in Soviet Azerbaijan developed within the Communist ideology and remained under the constant control of the C.C. C.P.S.U., the C.C. of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, the Institute of History of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, and other structures.

The fact of occupation was confirmed by many Western historians (A. Altstadt and T. Swieto-chowski of the United States2 among others), who based their works on the vast body of historical sources from the Azeri archives. They challenged the official Soviet history of Azerbaijan. Works by Ronald Grig-or Suny about the Baku commune of 1917-1918 and Tadeusz Swietochowski about the Gummet Party invited a barrage of critical fire from Soviet historians. In 1987, the Institute of History of the Azerbaijanian S.S.R. Academy of Sciences published a collective work designed to “forestall the Western imperialist attempts to destroy the friendship among the Soviet peoples” and “promote false ideas about the past.”3 The numerous revolts against the communist rule that flared up across the republic (in Ganja,4 Zaga-taly, Karabakh, and elsewhere) confirm that the local people looked at Soviet power as occupation. A. Altstadt has written the following on this score: “It was far from easy to consolidate Bolshevik power across the entire republic; the returns of the 1918-1919 elections confirmed that the Bolsheviks had no supporters outside Baku. Communist power was imposed by force.”5 David Marshall Lang, another expert in the Caucasus, wrote in his history of Georgia: “The raid of the Soviet armored trains on Baku on 27-28 April, 1920 ended in the occupation of independent Azerbaijan and declaration of the Soviet republic.”6 In their well-known fundamental history of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Geller and Alexander Nekrich wrote that the Caucasian Bureau suggested that the Azeri communists should raise a mutiny on 27 April, 1920. This was followed by an ultimatum to the Musavatist government, which demanded transfer of power within the next 12 hours. Orjonikidze and Kirov, too impatient to wait for the deadline, drove into Baku in an armored train. Geller and Nekrich summed up: “Soviet power came to Azerbaijan on an armored tank.”7

Emigre Historiography on the Occupation of Azerbaijan

I have already written that hundreds of Azeri intellectuals fled to Europe from the Bolsheviks. Poland, France, Germany, and Turkey gave asylum to numerous Azeri migrants and the opportunity to carry on with their academic occupations. Mammedamin Rasulzade, former head of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, who lived in exile in Poland, published several fundamental articles about the communist regime, its policies, inner structure, and repressions against the Azeri tongue, culture, and traditions. They appeared in the Warsaw-based Wschod quarterly of Oriental studies. He never hesitated to use the term “occupation” when writing about the April communist intervention in Azerbaijan.8 He, in his book Das Problem Aserbaidschan that appeared in Berlin, and another emigre historian, Hilal

2 See: T. Swietochowski, Russian Azerbaijan, 1905-1920. The Shaping of National Identity in a Muslim Community, Cambridge University Press, 1985; A. Altstadt, The Azerbaijani Turks. Power and Identity under Russian Rule, Stanford, 1992; T. Swietochowski, Azerbejdzan, Warsaw, 2006.

3 R. Mekhtiev, Sovetskiy Azerbaidzhan: Mify i real’nost, Baku, 1987.

4 Soviet historiography confirmed the fact that about 10,000 to 20,000 members of the Musavat Party took part in the anti-Soviet riot in Ganja crashed by the Red Army on 31 May, 1920 (see: S. Khromov, Grazhdanskaia voyna i voen-naia interventsia v SSSR. Entsiklopedia, Moscow, 1987, p. 162).

5 A. Altstadt, op. cit., p. 110.

6 D.M. Lang, A Modern History of Soviet Georgia, New York, 1962, p. 222.

7 M. Heller, A. Nekrich, Geschichte der Sowjetunion, 1. Band, 1914-1939, Konigstern, 1981, p. 105.

8 See: M.E. Ressul-zade, “Pr^dy narodowe w Azerbejdzanie Sowieckim,” Wschod, No. 1-2 (17-18), Year VI, Warsaw, 1935, pp. 18-33; idem, “Literatura Azerbejdzanu,” Wschod, No. 2-3, Year VII, Warsaw, 1936, pp. 63-69.

Munschi,9 in his monograph, wrote about Azerbaijan’s political, economic, and cultural progress in the 19th century and under Bolshevik power. Both authors operated with the term “occupation.”

Anyone wishing to analyze the events that predate the Bolshevik intervention of 1920 cannot ignore the memoirs of Israfil-bey, one of the military leaders of the Azeri army, who was colonel of the general staff. In the Gortsy Kavkaza magazine published by the Caucasian diaspora in Paris, Israfil-bey wrote that after crossing the Samur River10 the Red Army invaded Azerbaijan; the heroic resistance of the Geychay and Gubin battalions could not “check the advance”11 of the numerically superior enemy.

On the whole, nearly everything that has been written in the West about the history of Azerbaijan by Western and Azeri authors confirms that the events of 27-28 April, 1920 can be described as a Bolshevik occupation of the Republic of Azerbaijan; the scenario was repeated in November 1920 in Armenia and in February 1921 in Georgia.

Soviet Historiography on the Bolshevik Occupation of Azerbaijan

Rashidbey Ismaylov was one of the founding fathers of what was described as the “national” historiography of Sovietized Azerbaijan. His history of Azerbaijan, which appeared in Baku in 1923, looks at the main stages of the country’s development (as part of the Southern Caucasus) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Touching upon the Sovietization process, the author criticized the Musavatist government and stressed the fact of the Bolshevik ultimatum. For obvious reasons Ismay-lov, in an effort to present Sovietization as the continuation of the national statehood, painstakingly avoided the term “occupation.”12

Even descriptions of historical phenomena such as the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, its foreign and domestic policies, political reforms and ideology, as well as the anti-Soviet riots were taboo subjects in Soviet historiography. Pre-Soviet history of the independent South Caucasian nations was squeezed into Marxist-Leninist ideology. The national government was criticized, while the Musavatist politicians were dismissed as “puppets of the Turkish and German imperialists who punished the common people and persecuted communists.” Soviet historiography did not ignore the period of first independence (1918-1920); it piled scything criticism on the allegedly “undemocratic and anti-popular Musavatist policies.” Under Soviet power, the twenty-three months of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan were never properly studied. Until the late 1980s, A. Steklov’s Armia musa-vatskogo Azerbaidzhana (The Army of Musavat Azerbaijan)13 remained the only work dealing with the period of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. No other author tried to apply the communist ideology and the idea of class struggle to this period. Under the Soviet regime, the date of the Soviet occupation of Azerbaijan was celebrated as “the day of establishing Soviet power in Azerbaijan,” which was done “for the Azeri people” and “at their request.”

The history textbook for secondary schools published in 1973 stated: “The Great October Socialist Revolution that ushered in a new era in the history of mankind delivered the Azerbaijanian nation from social and national oppression. The Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan was founded in April 1920.”14 Fundamental works on the history of the Soviet Caucasus abounded in similar phrases, the collective work by P. Azizbekova, A. Mnatsakanian, and M. Traskunov15 about the establishment of Soviet power in the Transcaucasus is one of the best examples.

9 See: H. Munschi, Die Republik Aserbaidschan. Eine geschichtliche und politische Skizze, Berlin, 1930.

10 The river in northern Azerbaijan, close to the Russian border.

11 Israfil-bey, “Vospominania ob Azerbaidzhanskoy armii” (conclusion), Gortsy Kavkaza, January-February 1933, p. 18.

12 See: R. Ismaylov, History of Azerbaijan, Baku, 1993, pp. 140-141 (in Azeri).

13 See: A. Steklov, Armia musavatskogo Azerbaidzhana, Baku, 1928.

14 A. Guliyev, History of Azerbaijan. Textbook for the 7th and 8th-Year Students, 2nd ed., Baku, 1973, p. 4. (in Azeri).

15 See: P. Azizbekova, A. Mnatsakanian, M. Traskunov, Sovetskaia Rossia i bor’ba za ustanovlenie i uprochenie vlasti sovetov v Zakavkaz’e, Baku, 1969.

Most Soviet historians failed to shed the “normally accepted Soviet ideas about the April 1920 events” even during perestroika, which liberalized Soviet social sciences to a certain extent and made it possible to resume the discourse of the history of the 20th century. Ilya Berkhin, a prominent Soviet historian, remained convinced that the Musavatist government and the Georgian Mensheviks were nothing more than “nationalist dictatorships.”16 Yury Poliakov, another Russian author, described the enforced Sovietization of the South Caucasian republics of 1920-1921 as the “victory of Soviet power.” He prefers to ignore the Bolshevik occupation of the region, the independence of which had been internationally recognized.17

Discussions about April 1920 in Azerbaijan in the Early 1990s

The time between 1988 and 1991 now described as the period of national-liberation movement of Azerbaijan offered fresh ideas about the country’s past. Perestroika began in Moscow, making it possible to discuss, more freely and more openly than before, the former “taboos.” The Baltic Soviet republics were the first to revise the Soviet ideas of their past. The first anti-Soviet and more objective publications appeared in the Caucasus in1987-1988. Manaf Suleymanov18 was the first who tried to add color to the “blank spots” in his country’s past; his book on the history of Baku, the patrons of art Zeynalabdin Tagiev, Shamsi Asadullaev, and others also contains an essay about Mammedamin Rasulzade, founder of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. It appeared in 1989 and was free from the Soviet communist rhetoric. Nasib Nesibzade,19 another Azeri scholar who specializes in the history of Iran and Azerbaijan authored a fundamental work on the political history of the DRA (1918-1920). Published in 1990 it analyzed the history of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan and Bolshevik invasion and occupation in April 1920.

In 1991, prominent essay writer and journalist Fazil Rehmanzade20 published a collection of his articles about the history of his country. He concentrated on the division of the Azeri territories between Russia and Persia in 1813-1828 and subjected the Soviet occupation of Azerbaijan, which crippled the local culture, to scything criticism. He pointed out that Sovietization had negatively affected several generations of his compatriots born or socialized under Soviet power and subjected to the influence of the ideologically biased educational system.

In 1988-1991, the period of the national anti-communist movement, and during the first post-Soviet years, works by Azeri emigres supplied with lavish historical comments were published in large numbers in Azerbaijan. In 1992, the book Muxtasar Azarbaycan tarixi (A Concise History of Azerbaijan) by Cahangir Zeynaloglu21 was first published in Azerbaijan; Kerim Shukurov, expert in Medieval studies, supplied it with a detailed description of the author’s years in emigration. The book spanned the vast period between Antiquity and the Soviet occupation of 1920. Its first edition appeared in Istanbul.

Soviet Occupation through the Prism of the Last Decade

As has been noted above, in Azerbaijan there is a consensus of views among most publicists, essayists, columnists, and political experts on the Soviet occupation of Azerbaijan and the events of

16 I. Berkhin, Istoria SSSR. Sovetskiy period, Moscow, 1987, p. 148.

17 Yu.A. Poliakov, Sovetskaia strana posle okonchania grazhdanskoy voyny: territoria i naselenie, Moscow, 1986, p. 28.

18 See: M. Suleymanov, What I Heard, Read, and Seen, Baku, 1989 (in Azeri).

19 See: N. Nesibzade, The Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, Baku, 1990 (in Azeri).

20 See: F. Rehmanzade, The Night that Lasted a Century, Baku, 1991 (in Azeri).

21 See: C. Zeynaloglu, A Concise History of Azerbaijan, Baku, 1992 (in Azeri).

28 April, 1920. The people in power and the local opposition share the same ideas about this fact of history, even if they have not gone as far as Georgia. In 1920-1921, the three South Caucasian republics were Sovietized by force, but the first, and so far only, museum of the Soviet occupation of the Caucasus is found in Tbilisi. After the Rose Revolution, Georgia hoisted the flag of critical revision of the Soviet past. It was this fact, among others, that worsened the relations between Georgia and the Russian Federation. For objective reasons, Azeri society, its elite, and even the opposition are much more cautious when it comes to relations with Moscow. Still, most Azeri intellectuals assess the events of 28 April, 1920 as the beginning of the occupation.

The Internet portal of the Heydar Aliev Foundation, which carries a short article about the milestones of Azerbaijan’s history, says in part: “The Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan fell under the blows of Soviet Russia. This spelled the end of Azerbaijanian statehood in Northern Azerbaijan.”22 In 2005, the Azeri-British youth society published a book in English that contained basic information about the history of Azerbaijan, its major cultural figures and writers. It informs the reader that the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was declared on 28 May, 1918 and goes on to say that in April 1920, when Azerbaijan was occupied by Soviet troops, the republic fell apart. It was no longer permitted to celebrate 28 May as the day the republic was established.23

Journalist N. Badalov analyzed the phenomenon of Soviet occupation in1920 and all sorts of opinions and factors that made Sovietization possible within a project launched by the ANS TV Channel and the El jurnali journal.24

While touching on party politics related to the celebrations of Republic Day on 28 May,25 the analytical center of the Ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Partiyasy Party made public its attitude toward the reforms and measures carried out by the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan and pointed out: “The ideas of national independence and freedom survived among the Azeri public when the republic fell under the blows of the Bolshevik occupation in April 1920.”26

The government’s Internet portals describe the events of27-28 April, 1920 as occupation. The site of the Azeri embassy in Pakistan writes that on 27 April the country was occupied by the 11th Red Army. On 28 April, 1920, informs the portal in its history section, the Democratic Republic of Azerbai-jan ceased to exist. Soviet power triumphed.27 The opposition parties (Musavat, the Popular Front, and others that emerged from the Popular Front of Azerbaijan Movement) have made the idea that Soviet power in Azerbaijan was nothing more than foreign occupation their ideological lynchpin. The political movements and parties that emerged on the political scene in the 1990s were the most active critics of Soviet ideology, the Bolshevik occupation of Azerbaijan, and Moscow’s colonial policy in the oil-rich republic.

The April Occupation as Described in the Textbooks on the Post-Soviet History of Azerbaijan

In 1995, one of the first textbooks on modern history for the 11th grade in secondary schools appeared.28 Written by well-known Azeri historians Eldar Ismaylov, Camil Hesenov, and Tair Qaf-

22 [http://www.azerbaijan.az/_History/_GeneralInfo/_generalInfo_r.html], 26 July, 2007.

23 See: T. Bagiev, Azerbaijan: 100 Questions Answered, Baku, 2005, p. 115 (in Azeri).

24 [http://el.ans.az/index.php7/weblog/more/az601rbaycan_layih601si_1920_ci_il_30435], 27 March, 2007 (in Azeri).

25 28 May is celebrated every year in Azerbaijan as the Republic Day in memory of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan proclaimed on 28 May, 1918.

26 “28 May—the Republic Day: Lessons of History,” 25 May, 2007 [http://www.yap.org.az/az/index.php?nid= 849], 6 June, 2007 (in Azeri).

27 [http://www.azembassy.com.pk/en/index.php?name=karabakh&title=Karabakh%20Conflict], 11 July, 2007.

28 See: E. Ismaylov, C. Hesenov, T. Qaffarov, History of Azerbaijan. Textbook for the 11th-Year of Secondary Schools, Baku, 1995 (in Azeri).

farov, it described the processes that took place in the country between 1918, when the independent state appeared, until the first post-Soviet decade. One of the chapters deals with the occupation of Azerbaijan by the 11th Red Army.29 The events on 27-28 April, 1920 are described by the term Aprel i§gali (the April occupation).30

A larger group worked on a new history textbook that appeared in 2003; as distinct from its predecessor, it paid much less attention to the history of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918-1920). The collective efforts of historians T. Qaffarov, I. Memmedov, X. Memmedov, §. Tagiyeva, M. Veliyev, §. Memmedov, and A. Huseynov are based mainly on the fundamental work by C. Hesenli31 about the DRA’s foreign policy. The chapter “The April Occupation and the Decline of the People’s Republic of Azerbaijan”32 analyzes the fact of the Bolshevik occupation as one of the factors that finally caused the republic’s collapse.

A textbook of Azerbaijan’s contemporary history intended for the republic’s higher educational establishments contains a chapter called “The Occupation of Azerbaijan by the Eleventh Army.”33 The authors concentrate on the anti-Musavat activities of the local communists who took commands from Russia and on their military preparations that predated the republic’s occupation by Lenin’s Bolshevik government.34

The latest textbooks on world history for the eleventh, final, grade of secondary schools follow, with minor readjustments, the previous edition of 2001. It dwells on the international political milestones and the system of international relations starting with the period between the wars until the recent still topical processes. When touching upon the fates of the Caucasian peoples in the 1920s, the authors wrote: “When the Red Army routed Denikin and his forces, Soviet Russia became even more dangerous for the Southern Caucasus. In 1920-1921, Soviet regimes were established in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia as a result of the assault of the 11th Red Army.”35

C o n c l u s i o n

During transition periods, it is critically important to discuss the past by using objective definitions and historical facts. This is even more important for a country that is just starting out on the road of democracy. In fact, critical discussions of the totalitarian Soviet past are very important for all the former Soviet republics.

The “Soviet” experience of the Baltic and South Caucasian republics and Western Ukraine started with their occupation by Soviet Russia. Communist ideology, Marxist-Leninist ideas, and Stalin’s repressions, etc. were alien to these nations, which can be described as the victims of the “export of communism Bolshevik-style.”

The term “occupation” cannot be left out of a critical analysis of the Azeri, Georgian, and Ukrainian communism: it is indispensable for an objective and open dispute about the totalitarian past that lasted for 70 years.

29 See: Ibid., pp. 74-81.

30 See: Ibid., p. 79.

31 See: C. Hesenli, Azerbaijan in the System of International Relations 1918-1920, Baku, 1993 (in Azeri).

32 T. Qaffarov, I. Memmedov, X. Memmedov, §. Tagiyeva, M. Veliyev, §. Memmedova, A. Huseynov, History of Azerbaijan. Textbook for the 1th-Year of Secondary Schools, 4th ed., Baku, 2003, pp. 62-74 (in Azeri).

33 “The Occupation of Azerbaijan by the 11th Red Army,” in: History of Azerbaijan in the 20th Century. Textbook for Higher Educational Establishments, ed. by Y. Yusifov, T. Veliyev, 2nd ed., Baku, 2004, pp. 220-223 (in Azeri).

34 See: Ibid., pp. 218-220, 249-251.

35 I. Memmedov, S. Qendilov, T. Qaffarov, S. Suleymanova, 0. Qocayev, M. Veliyev, Recent History. Textbook for the 11th-Year of Secondary Schools, Baku, 2005 (in Azeri).

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