Научная статья на тему 'Azerbaijan's independence and the geointerests of the Russian and Ottoman empires'

Azerbaijan's independence and the geointerests of the Russian and Ottoman empires Текст научной статьи по специальности «История и археология»

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Аннотация научной статьи по истории и археологии, автор научной работы — Gafarov Vasif

The author has taken as his subject the problem of Azerbaijan's independence in the light of relations between Russia and the Ottoman Empire at the concluding stages of World War I. In fact, Azerbaijan found itself in the center of all the problems that developed between these two countries. The Ottoman Empire tried to capitalize on the "right of nations to self-determination" proclaimed by Russia in order to achieve independence for Azerbaijan and also helped to set up loyal regimes in the Caucasus. The author looks at the causes and results of the struggle between Russia and the Ottoman Turks over oil-rich Baku, which became exacerbated when the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was formed.

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Текст научной работы на тему «Azerbaijan's independence and the geointerests of the Russian and Ottoman empires»


Lecturer, Chair of New and Recent History of Azerbaijan, Baku State University (Baku, Azerbaijan).






The author has taken as his subject the problem of Azerbaijan’s independence in the light of relations between Russia and the Ottoman Empire at the concluding stages of World War I. In fact, Azerbaijan found itself in the center of all the problems that developed between these two countries. The Ottoman Empire tried to capitalize on the “right of nations to self-

determination” proclaimed by Russia in order to achieve independence for Azerbaijan and also helped to set up loyal regimes in the Caucasus. The author looks at the causes and results of the struggle between Russia and the Ottoman Turks over oil-rich Baku, which became exacerbated when the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was formed.

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

After joining World War I, when the war with Russia reached its height, the Ottoman state embraced Turkism as the centerpiece of its official policy. Enver Pasha looked at the war against Russia as the only effective way to liberate the Turkic peoples of the Russian Empire from the pressure of czarism and set up a new state, the Great Turan.

The czarist government, in turn, which promised the Armenians autonomy in Eastern Anatolia, made an effort to isolate its Muslim Turks from the Ottoman state. In a world that seemed captivated by nationalist ideas, the widening national-liberation movement of the Azeris looked especially threatening to the rulers of Russia. They had no choice but to try and keep the Azeris away from the Ottoman Turks. By fanning contradictions between the Sunni and the Shi’a and insisting on Russification, czarism consistently pushed the Ottoman Turks out of the Transcaucasus and erased all memory of their ethnic affiliation from the people’s minds.1 The Russian authorities never trusted the Azeris and other Muslims, who from the very beginning of World War I were placed under strict control crowned with the state of emergency introduced in Azerbaijan in the summer of 1916. On the whole, throughout the war, Russia treated Azerbaijan as a source of raw materials, an important economic base, and a military-strategic foothold to be used to attack the Ottoman Empire.

1 See: G.I. Omer, The Soviet Foreign Policy and the Karabakh Issue in the Light of Regional and Global Security, Istanbul, Alpha Publishers, 2004, p. 300 (in Turkish).


Despite the Turkish military leaders’ exertions, the campaign of 1914-1917 on the Caucasian front was a failure; it was thanks to the Bolshevist coup of October 1917, the Decree on Peace which followed and bared the Russian front, and the deep-cutting crisis of the Russian statehood that the idea of Turan was revived among the ruling Ottoman circles.

These and other aspects of the Ottoman state’s active foreign policy in relation to Azerbaijan and the Caucasus as a whole form the subject of the present article.

Independence of Azerbaijan at the Brest-Litovsk Talks

The truce signed on 2 (15) December 1917 in Brest-Litovsk and three days later, on 5 (18) December, in Erzincan ended the military confrontation between Russia and the Ottoman state in World War I. On 9 (22) December, 1917, Soviet Russia and the Central Powers opened a peace conference in Brest-Litovsk that continued on and off until 3 March, 1918. The Ottoman Empire expected the following from the Brest-Litovsk peace talks:

1. Return of the vilayets in Eastern Anatolia still occupied by Russia;

2. Return of the Kars, Ardahan, and Batum sanjaks transferred to Russia as part of the contribution imposed on the Ottoman state for its defeat in the 1877-1878 war;

3. Independence of the Muslim peoples of the Central Caucasus who were expected to set up an Islamic state there under Ottoman protectorate.

At that time, the Ottoman government was resolved to achieve independence for the Central Caucasus to deprive Russia of its domination in the region. It did not reject the buffer state idea even if its ruling circles had different ideas about it than the Transcaucasian Commissariat, in which Armenians and Georgians had the final say. They wanted an Islamic State of the Caucasian Muslims. Since part of Eastern Anatolia was occupied by Russians, the Ottoman Turks had no access to the Caucasus, which meant that they could not affect the developments there. Forced to accept reality, the Ottoman Turks deemed it expedient to recognize the Transcaucasian Commissariat as an independent state.2 On 16 January, 1918, they_officially invited the Transcaucasian Commissariat to attend the Brest-Litovsk conference3; the invitation was declined.

Nevertheless, the Ottoman government attached great importance to the Brest-Litovsk talks, which explains why Premier Talat Pasha personally attended the peace conference. When Soviet Russia issued its Decree on Turkish Armenia, its strategic plans and designs in Eastern Anatolia became absolutely clear. The Turks were stirred into action.4

On 16 January, 1918, Talat Pasha met Foreign Minister of Germany Richard von Kuhlmann in Brest-Litovsk to discuss how the Russian troops could be removed from Eastern Anatolia. The German minister said that there was no chance of a peace treaty with the Bolsheviks and that in the near future the situation would change (meaning that the cease-fire regime would end). He promised that through several consecutive indirect military operations the Ottoman lands would be liberated and the political problem settled in the most satisfactory way.5 Satisfied, the Turkish premier telegraphed the

2 Archives of Military History and Strategic Studies of the Defense Ministry of the Republic of Turkey (AMHSSD-MRT), A. y2, K. 1366-340, D. 406, F. 1-48; A. 4/3671, K. 2906, D. 438-154, F. 7-6 (in Turkish).

3 AMHSSDMRT, A. 4/3671, K. 2906, D. 438-154, F. 7-2, 7-3, 7-4, 7-8; Dokumenty i materially po vneshney poli-tike Zakavkazia i Gruzii, Tiflis, 1919, p. 52.

4 See: K. Selami, The Turkish-Soviet Relations, Ulke kitablary, Istanbul, 1998, pp. 241-242 (in Turkish).

5 See: A.N. Kurat, Turkey and Russia, Ankara, Ministry of Culture, 1990, p. 368; E.A. Turkgeldi, “Reminiscences of the Brest-Litovsk Conference” BTTD, III/13 (March 1986), pp. 49-50 (both in Turkish).

gist of the talks to Enver Pasha and asked him to contact the German General Staff to start preparations for an offensive of the Ottoman troops.6

Talat Pasha wrote in his telegram: “Having concluded peace with Ukraine, the Germans are planning an offensive on Petrograd to force the Bolsheviks to sign a peace treaty. They have already started preparations. The Ottoman delegation is convinced that this, on the whole, suits our interests. The Bolshevik propaganda is intended to conceal the fact that they want to restore Russia of the past. With this aim in view they are pressing against independence of Finland and Ukraine, thus completely baring their true intentions. If Ukraine becomes independent, the Crimean government will follow suit, which will make it possible to set up an Islamic state.”7

On 10 February, 191S, the talks in Brest-Litovsk were discontinued once more; Lev Trotsky, who headed the Soviet delegation, went back to Petrograd. This played into the hands of Ottoman Turkey. Until that day its delegation had not dared to put on the table its maximum demands on the Soviets. On the one hand, it was fairly hard to convince the Germans to back the Turkish demands; while on the other, it feared that excessive demands might wreck the talks, for which the Ottoman delegation did not want to be blamed. The demarche of the Soviets left the Ottoman delegation free to move ahead with its maximum demands.

Back in Istanbul, Talat Pasha and Nasimi Bek raised the question in the Cabinet, which decided to supplement the new German ultimatum with the Turkish demands:

1. Return the Kars, Ardahan, and Batum sanjaks to Turkey, which had been forced to transfer them to Russia as a contribution for the defeat in the 1S77-1S7S war;

2. Withdraw the Russian troops and the Red Army units from the territories populated by Turks and move Turkic troops in to ensure law and order there;

3. Give the Muslims living in the Caucasian territories adjacent to the 1S7S borders the right of self-determination.S

On 24 February, 191S, Enver Pasha informed Zeki Pasha, who remained in Brest, and the German Chief Command through him of the Cabinet’s decision. General Ludendorff, in turn, asked General Hoffmann, who represented the German Chief Command in Brest-Litovsk, to back the Ottoman demands.9

German Foreign Minister Kuhlmann, on the other hand, regarded the demands as excessive and unacceptable; he believed that they might endanger the talks or even provoke clashes between Russia and the Ottoman state. It was not his intention, however, to openly object to the demands. As a result, the Ottoman state demanded the following as part of the German ultimatum:

1. Immediate withdrawal of the Russian troops from the occupied parts of Eastern Anatolia;

2. Withdrawal of the Russian troops from the sanjaks of Kars, Ardahan, and Batum (which Turkey was forced to abandon as a contribution for the defeat in the war of 1S77-1S7S); occupation of the lands by Ottoman troops until order was completely restored;

3. Denunciation of all treaties concluded between the Ottoman Empire and Russia (especially those of an economic nature).10

German Ambassador to Turkey Bernstorff concluded: “The Turkish government is out to make up for its territorial losses on other fronts (Palestine, Syria, and Iraq) at the expense of the Caucasus.

6 See: A.N. Kurat., op. cit., p. 368.

7 Ibid., pp. 368-369.

S See: K. Selami, op. cit., p. З4З.

9 Ibidem.

10 See: A.N. Kurat, op. cit., pp. 381-382; K. Selami, op. cit., p. З44.


Enver Pasha and Talat Pasha insist that the Turks and Germans can establish economic cooperation in Asia (in Turkestan and Iran) through the Batum-Baku railway.”11 It seems that Enver Pasha and Talat Pasha had planned on Turkey advancing into the Caucasus as far as Baku even before the Brest-Lito-vsk Treaty was signed. To realize these plans and prevent Russia’s possible pressure some time in the future, all the Caucasian Muslims had to be united into a single Islamic state under the Ottoman protectorate. On 27 February (at the final stage of the Brest-Litovsk Conference, 27 February-3 March, 191S), when the Germans had already agreed to include the demands related to Kars, Ardahan, and Batum in their final ultimatum, Ottoman representative in Brest Ibrahim Hakki Pasha formulated new demands on Soviet Russia: “Proceeding from the ‘right of nations to self-determination’ formulated by Soviet Russia, an independent ‘Caucasian Islamic State’ should be set up in the Caucasus; the national Muslim governments in Kazan, Orenburg, Turkestan, and Bukhara should be also recog-


The Ottoman delegation believed that the Islamic state should serve as a buffer between Russia and the Ottoman Empire; it was expected to include Azerbaijan and Daghestan. The Soviet delegation resolutely refused. The Germans, likewise, refused to accept the project which had nothing to do with their national interests.13 The project was buried but the Soviets promised the Caucasian Muslims broad rights.

It should be said that the Turkish delegation did not limit itself to the above demands: Ottoman Turkey wanted domination over all the Turks and Muslims on Russian territory. It was demanded that the Turks of Russia receive the broadest possible political and cultural rights, while the Ottoman Empire would control their observation. This was the first time the rights of the Turks and Muslims of Russia were discussed at the international level, albeit with no positive results—the Germans refused to support the Ottoman delegation. The Austro-Hungarian delegation, likewise, regarded them as threatening the cause of peace and refused to go along with the Turks. Time was short—the conference was moving to its end too fast for the Ottoman delegation to enlist at least some supporters. The Soviet delegation exploited the German and Austro-Hungarian positions to decline the Ottoman demands.14

Under the peace treaty Russia was obliged to return the vilayets of Kars, Ardahan, and Batum; satisfied, the Turkish official circles refused to press further so as not to damage the frail peace. The question of the Caucasian Muslims’ independence remained suspended: it was rejected both by Russia and the Ottoman allies. On the other hand, in view of the earlier failed stages of the Brest-Litovsk talks, the Entente promised to side with Soviet Russia if it continued the war against Germany. The Bolshevik leadership was split over the issue: some thought that the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was short of high treason, while many of the top figures wanted the war to continue. This explains why the Ottoman leaders deemed it wise to leave the Caucasian Muslim issue alone.

On 3 March, 191S, Soviet Russia, on the one side, and Germany and Austria-Hungary, on the other, signed a peace treaty of 14 articles and additional protocols in Brest-Litovsk. Soviet Russia signed peace treaties with each of their allies.15 The Ottoman state fulfilled two of its three demands:

11 K. Selami, op. cit., p. 3S2.

12 G. Jaschke, “Der Turanismus der jungturken. Zur Osmanischen Aussenpolitik im Weltkriege,” in: Die West des Islams, Bd. 23, H.1/2, Leipzig, 1941. S. 24.

13 See: A. Arslan, “Akhyska and Akhalkalaki during World War I and National-Liberation Movements (19141921),” in: Caucasian Studies, IV, Istanbul, 1997, p. 99 (in Turkish).

14 See: A.N. Kurat, op. cit., pp. 3S3-3S4.

15 AMHSSDMRT, A. 4/3671, K. 292S, D. 496-2S, F. 1-151; A. 5/10677, K. 4324, D. 200, F. 2S; The Ottoman Archive of the Republic of Turkey (further OART), ShchR. NMSh. IShO, D. 55, E. 2; ShchR. ShchMSh. IShO, D. 107, E. 10; Mirnye peregovory v Brest-Litovske, Vol. 1, NKID, Moscow, 1920, p. 223.

the Russian troops were moved out of Eastern Anatolia and the Elviye-i Selase lands were returned to Turkey.

The First Results of Russian-Ottoman Opposition in Azerbaijan

Under the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, the Ottoman government restored the prewar 1877-1878 border; and under the Batum Peace Treaty of 4 June, 1918, it returned to the 1829 borders. This not merely satisfied the ruling circles’ pride but also provoked an intensive advance of Turkish troops further into the region. The events in the Caucasus and especially the developments in Azerbaijan served as an even stronger inducement.

The rich oilfields of Baku were luring the Ottoman Turks further to the east. On 15 October, 1918, Commander of the Eastern Armies Group Khalil Pasha telegraphed Enver Pasha from liberated Baku: “Today, the oil and oil fuel accumulated in the Baku reservoirs are worth hundreds of millions of lire. Sent to us by the will of Allah, this source can resolve all our problems. We lost thousands in the battle for Baku—the larger part of the Baku treasure is ours by right. This is our victory prize, which we and Azerbaijan should use.”16

On top of this, by marching on the Caucasus at the very end of the war, Enver Pasha planned to recoup the territorial losses on the southern fronts with territorial gains in the Caucasus. The Azeri-populated areas would have helped the Ottoman state to restore its influence in the Caucasus, which had been greatly undermined by the war.17

The Soviet government in Moscow was closely following the Caucasian developments and the progress of the Ottoman troops. As soon as Moscow learned that Gumri had been captured on 15 May, Ambassador Galib Kemal Bek received note No. 1877 dated 28 May, 1918 and signed by Georgi Chicherin, which said: “In future, no territories will be transferred to the Ottoman Empire” and “Having learned that the Turkish troops captured Alexandropol (Gumri) and are moving toward Baku, the Soviet government resolutely objects to this grave violation of the strict conditions of the Peace of Brest-Litovsk and demands that the troops be halted.”18 In this way, by voicing its concern, the Soviet government initiated, late in May 1918, the Baku Question. At that time, the Soviet government did not have enough military power in the Caucasus and had to limit itself to diplomatic means.

In June 1918, Ottoman troops started moving toward Ganja; on 5 June, the Fifth Division under Mursal Pasha entered the city.19 Soviet Russia was watching this progress with great concern. On 24 May, in a telegram to Chairman of the Baku Council of People’s Commissars Stepan Shaumian, Lenin wrote: “The international position of Baku is a hard one, therefore I believe you should try to form a bloc with Jordania.”20 On 6 June, in conformity with this letter of instruction, Shaumian approached Noi Jordania in the name of the Baku Soviet with a suggestion that they support the Soviet government, which was allegedly defending the Transcaucasus against the Otto-

16 Sh.S. Aidemir, Enver Pasha: from Macedonia to Central Asia (1914-1922), Remzi Publishers, Istanbul, 1985, pp. 425-426 (in Turkish).

17 See: N. Udjeer, The Azeri and Daghestani Marches of the Ottoman Army during World War I, Ministry of Defense, Ankara, 1996, p. 44 (in Turkish).

18 A.N. Kurat, op. cit., pp. 529-530.

19 See: J. Hasanov, Azerbaijan in the System of International Relations, Azerneshr Publishers, Baku, 1993, p. 94 (in Azeri).

20 V.I. Lenin ob Azerbaidzhane, Azgiz Publishers, Baku, 1970, p. 120.


man invasion. The letter said, in part, that if the Georgian government did not allow the Ottoman troops to cross its territory into Azerbaijan, the R.S.F.S.R. would reward Georgia with an autonomous status when the people’s commissars came to power in the Transcaucasus.21 Germany, in turn, also put pressure on Georgia. As a result, on 10 June, the Ottoman troops moving through Borchaly to Azerbaijan found themselves face to face with German-Georgian troops. Germany and the Ottoman state, staunch allies throughout World War I, found themselves on opposite sides in the Transcaucasus. The Germans and Georgians were defeated in a short military operation; many of them were taken prisoner.

Establishment of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan and entry of the Ottoman armed forces into its territory caused a lot of concern in Soviet Russia, which intended to establish its power in the Transcaucasus and gain control over Baku. The leaders of the Baku commune, who remained loyal to Russia, continued fighting the national government of Azerbaijan in the hope that Moscow would rescue them. On 6 June, 1928, Naval Commissar of the Commune G. Korganov ordered a military march on Ganja. He intended to rout the city, the cradle of Azeri independence, before the Ottoman troops could reach it.22

The Caucasian Islamic Army and the troops of the Baku Commune clashed at Goychai in what turned into a four-day-long battle (it lasted from 27 June to 1 July); it sealed the fate of Azerbaijan. The Bolshevist and Armenian march on Ganja was disrupted; the Caucasian Islamic Army pressed onward to Baku.23 On 20 July, it captured one of the key points, the city of Shemakha; by the end of the month it reached Baku’s outskirts.

Soviet Russia, which interfered through German brokerage, slowed down the Caucasian Islamic Army’s progress. In June 1918, being fully aware that the Commune would be unable to halt the Ottoman Turks, Moscow entered into talks with Germany in an effort to retain its control over Baku by diplomatic means. Germany, in turn, concerned about the developments on the Western front and the course of the war as a whole, was displaying an ever growing interest in Baku. In June 1918, having talked to delegates at the Istanbul Conference, Germany became firmly resolved to capture Baku and its oil with the help of Russia. Germany no longer expected its Ottoman ally or the government of Azerbaijan to grant it access to Baku’s oil, therefore it seized the opportunity that presented itself. On the one hand, it announced that it had nothing to do with the Azeri events; on the other hand, Germany promised to do everything it could to halt the Ottoman offensive in return for the Soviet promises to sell it Azeri oil. Late in June, the sides reached a preliminary agreement24 under which Germany pledged to keep the Ottoman Turks away from the Baku oil, while Russia promised to share it with Germany.

The talks that began in Berlin in June 1918 were concluded with a treaty (which supplemented the Brest-Litovsk Treaty) signed on 27 August. Under Art 13, Russia pledged to accept Germany’s recognition of Georgia’s independence. Art 14, which related directly to Azerbaijan, said: “Germany will not support any third country if military operations occur in the Caucasus outside Georgia or the districts mentioned in Art 4.3 of the peace treaty. It will use its influence to keep the armed forces of the third power in the Caucasus within the following boundaries: the Kura from its mouth to the village of Petropavlovskoe, along the administrative border of the Shemakha district to the village of Agrioba, and further on along a straight line up to the point where the borders of the Baku, Shemakha, and Guba districts meet; and from here along the northern border of the Baku district up to the sea.

21 See: J. Hasanov, op. cit., p. 95.

22 Ibid., p. 106.

23 See: P.G. Darabadi, Voennye problemy politicheskoy istorii Azerbaijana v nachale XX veka, Baku, 1991, p. 114.

24 See: J. Hasanov, op. cit., pp. 108-109.

“Russia will do its best to promote the production of oil and oil products in the Baku region and will give Germany a quarter of the produced amount, but no less than the amount of tons, yet to be established, every month.”25

The part related to the Caucasus mainly dealt with Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. By entering into a conspiracy with Soviet Russia Germany went against the interests of Austria-Hungary and essentially betrayed its other ally, the Ottoman Empire, the unmentioned “third power.” By that time it, together with Azeri troops, had already crossed the demarcation line.26

On 29 August, two days after the Russian-German treaty had been signed, German Ambassador to Turkey Bernsdorff informed the Ottoman leaders of this. Istanbul was very much agitated. The Great Majlis of the Unity and Progress Party and the parliament discussed the treaty of 27 August. Premier Talat Pasha asked the German government not to ratify the agreement. On 3 September, 1918, the Ottoman government decided to dispatch Talat Pasha to Berlin to defuse the tension.

The treaty pushed the relations between the two countries to the brink of a crisis, but it turned out that the parties to it could not fulfill their obligations; on top of this, the treaty contained several contradictions. Russia promised Germany a quarter of the produced oil; meanwhile, on 31 July, 1918, Baku liberated itself from Soviet Russia’s control, which meant that Russia had no access to the oil and so could not share it with Germany.27 Under the same treaty, Germany pledged to push the British out of Baku and help Russia to establish Soviet power there. On 2 September, 1918, head of the German military mission in Georgia Kress von Kressenstein reported from Tbilisi that the insistent Russian demands “to capture Baku without Ottoman help” could not be fulfilled in the current situation. In the very first days of September 1918, German officials concluded (on the strength of information received) that Soviet Russia could not influence the developments in Baku. From that time on Germany no longer relied on Russia and pinned its hopes once more on its Ottoman ally. The German General Staff insistently imposed its help on the Turks. General Hindenburg informed the Ottoman leaders that he had dispatched two brigades to the Transcaucasus to oust the British from Baku. On 13 September, General Ludendorff ordered von Kressenstein to plan an offensive on Baku and report when ready.28 The German Chief Command planned an offensive on Baku in the latter half of September-early October to capture the city and establish German control over the Caspian.

Nuru Pasha, in command of the liberation of Baku since 10 September, ordered an all-out attack to begin on 13 September. In the small hours of 14 September (at 4 a.m.), the assault began. On 15 September, 1918, Baku was liberated and the Azeri government could return to its capital. The Ottoman state triumphed in the cruel and uncompromising struggle for Baku’s oil waged by Russia, Germany, Britain, and itself.

The Azeri Issue at the Berlin Talks

Germany and Britain, which had considerable potential in the struggle for Baku, took into account the current situation and accepted the Ottoman victory. Soviet Russia, however, refused to rec-

25 Dokumenty vneshney politiki SSSR, Vol. 1, Gospolitizdat, Moscow, 1957, pp. 443-444; T. Siunbiul, The Azeri File, Ankara, 1990, pp. 91-92 (in Turkish); T. Swietochowski, Russian Azerbaijan in 1905-1920—the Shaping of National Identity in a Muslim Community, Baglam, Istanbul, 1988, pp. 182-183 (Turkish translation).

26 Sovetsko-germanskie otnoshenia ot peregovorov v Brest-Litovske do podpisania Rapall’skogo dogovora, Part 1,

1917-1918, Political Literature Publishing House, Moscow, 1968, p. 644.

27 See: W. Baumgart, Deutsche Ostpolitik 1918. Von Brest-Litovsk bis zum Ende des Ersten Weltkrieges, Wien, Munchen, 1966, pp. 202—203; W. Bihl, Die Kaukasus Politik der Mittelmachte. Die Zeit der versuchten kaukasischen Staatlichkeit (1917—1918), Teil II, Bohlau Verlag, Wien, Koln, Weimar, 1992, p. 108.

28 See: W. Baumgart, op. cit., p. 204; Istoria diplomatii, ed. by Acad. V.L. Potemkin, Moscow, Leningrad, 1945,

p. 364.


oncile itself with the loss of Baku, the oil of which it badly needed for its economy. When he learned that Turkey had captured Baku, Russia’s Ambassador to Berlin Adolph Joffe immediately protested against the violation of the treaty of 27 August in a note to the German government.29 Talat Pasha, in turn, arrived in Berlin to settle the Baku and, on the whole, Azeri Question, which had caused a lot of tension between the two countries. Both questions were related to the Ottoman-Russian-German talks in Berlin.

German-Ottoman relations were burdened by numerous accumulated and recent problems, the most outstanding of them being active Ottoman military actions in the Southern Caucasus despite German protests and the Ottoman state’s reluctance to retreat on the Baku question. This explains why, on 27 August, Germany entered into a secret additional agreement. The Gumuldur issue proved to be another stumbling block: at the beginning of World War I the Ottoman state had had to transfer it to Bulgaria, now it wanted the region back. The contradictions looked too complicated to be resolved promptly.30 On 5 September, Talat Pasha attended the Vienna Conference of the Central Powers; the next day, back in Berlin, he started talks with German officials.

In Berlin, Turkey concentrated on two issues of prime importance:

1. Resolution of its contradictions with Germany related to Azerbaijan and the Caucasus in general and settling the situation there;

2. Return of the Gumuldur area. Despite the importance of this issue, the Ottoman state was prepared to back off in exchange for German support of its Caucasian and Turkestan policies. German Foreign Minister Kuhlmann pointed out that in exchange for the territorial concessions to Bulgaria the Ottoman state had already acquired Kars, Ardahan, and Batum with German support.31

On 10 September, Talat Pasha submitted a memorandum to the German Foreign Ministry related to his country’s Caucasian policies to preserve the advantages already gained in the region and to force Russia to recognize the independence of the Caucasian republic by giving Germany economic concessions. Soviet Russia was irritated by the fact that the Turks had captured Baku. Soviet Ambassador to Berlin A. Joffe announced that the treaty of 27 August was null and void. The same was said about the articles of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty related to the Ottoman Empire.32 After analyzing the situation, Germany concluded that continued close relations with the Ottoman state were the only option.

The active negotiations between Talat Pasha and the German diplomats ended on 23 September, 1918 with a secret Ottoman-German Protocol of 7 articles.33 The document, which was mainly related to Azerbaijan, was signed by Talat Pasha and von Hintze; its articles, however, also dealt with the Southern and Northern Caucasus, Turkestan, and Iran.34

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By signing the Ottoman-German Protocol Turkey pledged to share some of its privileges obtained under the Batum treaty with Germany. In exchange, the Germans recognized Baku as an inalienable part of Azerbaijan; they limited their recognition of the independence of the Caucasian republics to Georgia. Germany promised, however, to force Russia to recognize Azerbaijan and Armenia as two independent states; it was unwilling to accept them as such without Russia’s consent. Afraid that the Ottoman Empire would tighten its grip on the Southern Caucasus to become the only master of

29 See: W. Bihl, op. cit., p. 122.

30 See: Yu.H. Bayur, History of the Turkish Revolution, Vol. III, Part 4, TTK, Ankara, 1983, p. 227 (in Turkish).

31 See: W. Zurrer, Kaukasien 1918-1921. Der Kampf der Grobmachte um die Landbmcke zwischen Schwarzem und Kaspischem Meer, Droste Verlag, Dusseldorf, 1978, p. 119.

32 See: W. Baumgart, op. cit., p. 122.

33 OART. HR.SYS. D. 2303, G. 14 (in Turkish).

34 Ibidem.

Baku, Berlin wanted Turkey to remove its troops from the region. The Ottoman leaders promised to pull out, however Talat Pasha remained convinced that the Caucasian Islamic Army or Ottoman troops camouflaged as the Azerbaijan Army would stay behind. This had proven possible after the Batum Treaty and would be possible after the protocol.

The Ottoman Empire and Germany agreed to use the natural riches of the Caucasus together. In fact, Berlin’s desire to use Baku oil was easily explained by its wartime needs as well as the Ottoman state’s willingness to allow Germany to make use of the oil industry and the oil communication lines until the end of war. Turkey pledged to convince the Azeri leaders to accept this.

The Ottoman-German Protocol contradicted the German-Russian treaty of 27 August, which meant that Germany, officially or otherwise, waived it.

When the Ottoman troops entered Baku, the Soviet government informed Germany that it intended to sever relations with the Ottoman state. On 21 September, Izvestia carried the corresponding note drawn up a day earlier which described the liberation of Baku by the Ottoman troops as an aggression against “one of the most important cities of the Russian Republic” with the help of “Tatar


Concerned about Soviet Russia’s obviously negative attitude toward the liberation of Baku confirmed by Chicherin’s note, Talat Pasha and Ahmad Nasimi Bek decided to meet the Russian ambassador in Berlin to discuss the Baku Question. The People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of Russia entrusted Adolph Joffe with negotiations to “ensure that the Ottoman side transfers Baku to the Soviet authorities.” To ensure success, the Russian ambassador asked the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs to hold back on submitting the note. With Georgi Chicherin’s permission it was decided to hand over the note on 3 October. Talat Pasha learned about the note and its content from German officials and French radio.

The talks began on 21 September. Talat Pasha was convinced that the Baku Question should be resolved peacefully. The Russian diplomat accused the Ottoman state of violating the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. The sides dug in their heels, so the long deliberations proved useless. It was decided, however, to go on with the talks.36

The next day the talks were resumed; Adolph Joffe repeated his accusations and cited numerous proofs. He insisted that “it was under Turkey’s pressure that the Caucasian Muslims decided to separate from Russia and set up an independent state.” The Russian ambassador deliberately distinguished between the Caucasian Shi‘a and Turkish Sunni Muslims to point out that the Shi’a, who were mainly peasants, did not want to suffer under the yoke of the Ottoman Sunni beks. Talat Pasha, fully aware of Russia’s traditional policies of fanning religious strife, countered the absurd arguments with, “Here I am: I am a Turk and I am a Shi’a.”37

After prolonged negotiations Talat Pasha said: “I am prepared to confirm in writing that Ottoman Turkey will in no way interfere in Caucasian affairs.” He went on to say: “Turkey does not intend to capture Russian territories and the Turkish troops will be pulled out of the Caucasus.”38 The ease with which Talat Pasha promised this is explained by the fact that Turkey had reached an agreement with Germany on the Caucasian Question in the form of the Ottoman-German Protocol. Germany pledged to help Azerbaijan achieve independence from Soviet Russia. When talking to Adolph Joffe, Talat Pasha spared no effort to force Soviet Russia to recognize Azerbaijan as an independent state. The Russian diplomat, in turn, was very firm: even if Azerbaijan became in-

35 Dokumenty vneshney politiki SSSR, Vol. 1, pp. 490-492.

36 See: A.N. Kurat, op. cit., p. 525.

37 State Archives of the Azerbaijan Republic, Record group S94, Inventory 10, File 150, pp. 1-2; Diplomaticheskie besedy A.A. Topchibasheva v Stambule (zapisi chrezvychaynogo i polnomochnogo ministra Azerbaijanskoy Respubliki).

1918-1919 gg., Ergyun Publishers, Baku, 1994, p. 9.

38 A.N. Kurat., op. cit., pp. 554, 555.


dependent, Baku, as an object of special economic importance, would never be transferred to the


The Russian ambassador refused to be satisfied with the promise of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Caucasus. He insisted that the army of Azerbaijan, complete with its military equipment, leave Baku. Talat Pasha, who had earlier said that “the Ottoman Empire intended to live in peace with Russia and resolve the Baku Question through talks,” had to accept this.40

Ambassador Joffe hastened to inform Moscow, but Georgi Chicherin was not satisfied; he telegraphed that the Soviet government found these statements inadequate. The ambassador was instructed to insist on the “transfer of Baku to the Soviet authorities,”41 otherwise the Ottoman troops would stay behind as the “Army of Azerbaijan.”

On 24 September, Talat Pasha and Ahmad Nasim Bek met Adolph Joffe once more. The ambassador demanded that the Ottoman troops be immediately removed from Baku, which should be transferred to the Soviet authorities, and that the Turks repay the damage inflicted during the siege of Baku. The Russian ambassador behaved as a victor, imposing his conditions on the defeated side. Talat Pasha was very open: his country had no intention of transferring any territories to Russia since it had no desire to interfere in the domestic affairs of the Caucasian peoples. Indeed, the demand to “transfer Baku to the Soviet authorities” defied logic, which allowed Talat Pasha to brush aside all the Soviet claims with a clear conscience. The Russian diplomat insisted. Talat Pasha replied by saying that if Russia recognized Akhyska and Akhalkalaki as Ottoman possessions he would be prepared to move the Ottoman troops beyond the line stipulated by the Brest-Litovsk Treaty; no further concessions were promised. The same day, Talat Pasha, driven by the negative information about the situation on the fronts and inside the country, had to leave for Istanbul. It was decided that Ambassador Rifat Pasha would replace him at the negotiation table.

On 3 October, Rifat Pasha informed Joffe that the Ottoman troops had been pulled out of the Southern Caucasus.42 It should be said that complications on the Bulgarian Front forced the Ottoman government to pull its forces from other fronts, the Southern Caucasus included, to defend Thrace. At the same time, however, Turkish units were moving from Baku to Daghestan.

On 3 October, the Russian ambassador handed over the note to the Ottoman ambassador in Berlin in which Russia demanded that Turkey remove its troops beyond the line stipulated by the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and transfer the territories thus vacated to Russia. It was suggested that a special international commission be set up to appraise the damage inflicted by the Ottoman state, which had violated the Brest Treaty; both sides asked Germany to become an intermediary.43

Keenly aware of the coming denouement of the war and of the problems that awaited the Ottoman Empire, Soviet Russia seized the diplomatic initiative in an effort to recapture Akhyska, Akhalkalaki, Gumri, and other territories Turkey had acquired under the Batum Treaty.

By that time Istanbul was ready with its instructions, according to which Rifat Pasha and Adolph Joffe had to sign the following protocol:

1. The regular Ottoman units and irregular troops, together with instructors and officials, will be withdrawn from the Caucasus immediately. The territories enumerated in Art 4.3 of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty (Kars, Ardahan and Batum) will be excluded from the pulling-out.

39 See: Yu.H. Bayur, op. cit., p. 246.

40 A.N. Kurat., op. cit., p. 555; S. Yerosimos, The Turkish-Soviet Relations. From the October Co-up to the Nation-al-Liberation Movement, Istanbul, 1979, pp. 31-32 (in Turkish).

41 A.N. Kurat., op. cit., p. 555.

42 OART. HR.SYS. D. 2303, G. 14.

43 See: Dokumenty vneshney politiki SSSR, Vol. 1, pp. 509-510.

Withdrawal of the troops and equipment should be complete within four weeks from the moment the protocol was signed.

2. Russia’s idea of a commission to assess the damage done by the Ottoman troops in the Caucasus and settlement of the resultant problems should be postponed until a more suitable time.

3. The Russian and Imperial Ottoman governments will ask the German government to guarantee the fulfillment of the above obligations and ensure security of the Turkish troops against the British on the Caspian coast.44

Rifat Pasha presented the draft to Joffe who, on 5 October, dispatched it to Georgi Chicherin. The Russian People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs did not like the draft at all. He insisted that the Turkish troops leave Baku and the whole Southern Caucasus to the Soviet authorities. Talat Pasha, in turn, wanted to transfer Baku and the rest to the national government of Azerbaijan, therefore the protocol did not mention the possibility of Soviet Russia gaining control of Baku. The Soviet ambassador in Berlin was instructed not to sign the protocol. The Soviet government came forward with new demands: the Turkish troops should be removed beyond the line stipulated by the Brest-Litovsk Treaty while Russia should regain Kars, Ardahan, and Batum. These demands were declined and the protocol remained unsigned. The Soviet government became even more determined than ever to rupture diplomatic relations with the Ottoman state.

At the first stage of the talks the Turkish side agreed to huge concessions and reached an agreement with Germany on the Azeri and Caucasian questions registered by the Ottoman-German Protocol of 23 September, 1918. The Russian-Ottoman talks failed. The Ottoman government agreed to pull out of the Central Caucasus in exchange for Russia’s recognition of Azerbaijan’s independence. The Soviet government, which continued regarding the region as a sphere of its exclusive interests, had no intention of allowing anyone close to the Baku oil. Its position can hardly be described as constructive, which resulted in ruptured diplomatic relations between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. On top of this, by that time it had become abundantly clear that the German-Ottoman bloc had lost the war.

C o n c l u s i o n

In the wake of the coup of October 1917, Azerbaijan became a bone of contention between the Ottoman Empire and Russia. The “right of nations to self-determination” declared by Soviet Russia was nothing but a step toward a socialist centralized state, or unitary statehood. The Ottoman government tried to capitalize on the right of nations to self-determination to insist on independence for the Caucasian Muslims and set up an Islamic state under its patronage. Having secured the return of Eastern Anatolia and Kars, Ardahan, and Batum under the Brest-Litovsk Treaty (two issues out of the three raised at the peace talks) and unwilling to undermine the cause of peace, the Imperial Ottoman Government did not insist on independence for the Caucasian Muslims. It, in fact, was not in a position to do this.

In the summer of 1918, the Ottoman state won the struggle with Soviet Russia over Baku and Azerbaijan as a whole. Germany, Turkey’s ally in World War I, entered into separate talks with Russia and, on 27 August, signed an agreement (which remained on paper). Meanwhile the contradictions among Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia over the Baku Question reached its peak in Sep-

44 See: A.N. Kurat, op. cit., pp. 559-560.

tember when it was pushed to the center of the trilateral talks in Berlin. Great economic sacrifices allowed the Ottoman leaders to reach an agreement with Germany in the form of the Ottoman-German Protocol of 23 September, 1918. They failed, however, to find a common language with Russia, therefore the draft Russian-Turkish protocol was never signed. Their disagreement over the Azeri Question led to disrupted diplomatic relations. After the Armistice of Moudros, Soviet Russia denounced the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and moved forward to restore the state within its 1914 borders. This ushered in a new era in Caucasian history.

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