Научная статья на тему 'The Transcaucasian Seym: unification of the central Caucasus that failed'

The Transcaucasian Seym: unification of the central Caucasus that failed Текст научной статьи по специальности «Философия, этика, религиоведение»

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Аннотация научной статьи по философии, этике, религиоведению, автор научной работы — Bagirova Irada

The author follows the route the Transcaucasian Seym covered during the few months of its existence (February-April 1918) and assesses the positions of its Azeri faction on foreign and domestic issues, as well as the functioning of the government of the first Transcaucasian republic (April-May 1918). The Seym was operating in the context of permanent negotiations (in Trabzon and later in Batum) between the Transcaucasian delegation and Turkey and Germany (two members of the Quadruple Alliance engaged in World War I). Contrary to the widely accepted opinion, the Azeri delegation of the Seym often disagreed with the other delegations when it came to foreign policy principles and the form of state organization of the Central Caucasus. These important issues caused heated debates and clashes of opinion. The author offers her opinion on why the cause of Caucasian unity failed in the early 20th century.

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Текст научной работы на тему «The Transcaucasian Seym: unification of the central Caucasus that failed»



D.Sc. (Hist.),

Head of the History of the Caucasus Department, National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan (Baku, Azerbaijan).



The author follows the route the Transcaucasian Seym covered during the few months of its existence (Febru-ary-April 1918) and assesses the positions of its Azeri faction on foreign and domestic issues, as well as the functioning of the government of the first Transcaucasian republic (April-May 1918). The Seym was operating in the context of permanent negotiations (in Trabzon and later in Batum) between the Transcaucasian delegation and Turkey and Germany (two members

of the Quadruple Alliance engaged in World War I). Contrary to the widely accepted opinion, the Azeri delegation of the Seym often disagreed with the other delegations when it came to foreign policy principles and the form of state organization of the Central Caucasus. These important issues caused heated debates and clashes of opinion. The author offers her opinion on why the cause of Caucasian unity failed in the early 20th century.

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

By world history standards seventeen years is a comparatively short period, while two years pass with lightning speed; in the history of each state there are periods when it covers a distance equal to centuries, during which state order, the centuries-old social and political lifestyle, and ideas about


the world irrevocably change. Azerbaijan, and the entire Transcaucasus for that matter, has experienced this twice: early in the 20th century and during its last seventeen years.

Statehood is the summit of each nation’s development. The Azeris can be proud of their past and present: the first democratic republic in the East and in the Muslim world was set up on their territory. For nearly two years (twenty-three months, to be more exact) the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADP) survived amid dramatic political storms that reflected, in an amazing way, in its historiography. Indeed, while Soviet historiography preferred to pass this period over in silence or to present it as an anti-popular government of the bourgeoisie and landlords, the “lackeys of the imperialist powers,” post-Soviet historical works tend to idealize the period between 1918 and 1920 and distort, to a certain extent, historical facts. There is any number of works that have nothing to do with the science of history. In fact, this is typical of the entire post-Soviet expanse and is explained by the natural desire of nations that, having left behind their totalitarian past, would like to create a more positive history. Recently, however, the situation has changed: serious scholarly works published in this country and abroad offer a more objective history of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.

The two 1917 revolutions that removed the Russian Empire from the world scene provided a strong impetus for the formation of independent states in the Transcaucasus; the roots of new democratic statehood, however, go back to the early 20th century, a time of social upheavals and budding national-liberation movements. Despite czarism and its Great Power policies that suppressed all manifestations of national self-awareness in the empire’s ethnically specific margins (of which Azerbaijan was one), there appeared a constellation of intellectuals educated in the best establishments of Russia and Western Europe who played an important role in the sociopolitical life of the Caucasus and Central Asia. They were businessmen and patrons of arts who left their mark on the 20th-century history of their country: G. Zarbadi, M. Shakhtakhtinskiy, A. Topchibashev, M. Rasulzade, A. Agaev, I. Ziatkhanov, M. Gajinskiy, G. Tagiev, Sh. Asadulaev, and others. Early in the 20th century they founded new political parties and organizations of liberal bias that promoted the ideas of autonomy and later demanded independence. If these liberal- and democratically-minded people had never appeared in Azeri society no democratic republic would have been possible.

The Transcaucasian Seym—External Challenges

The October revolution of 1917 shattered, to an equal extent, Russia and its ethnic margins, including the Caucasus. As distinct from Georgia and Armenia, the government cabinet in Azerbaijan changed three times between October 1917 and September 1918. The power structures set up by the Provisional Government were replaced in Azerbaijan in November 1917 with the Baku Soviet, which later set up its executive body, the Soviet of People’s Commissars, widely known as the Baku Commune. Eight months later the Commune was replaced with what is known in history as the central Caspian cabinet, a government of Mensheviks and socialist revolutionaries. The Bolshevik government, which together with Dashnaktsutiun members murdered thousands of Azeris during the March 1918 events, was temporarily removed from the political scene. The Central Caspian government, in turn, proved to be short lived.

Traditional historiography insisted that the Transcaucasian Seym and the first Transcaucasian Federation formed on 22 April, 1918 went down under the burden of domestic and foreign policy troubles and the diverging foreign policy orientations of the three Transcaucasian republics. This is partly true, yet the far from simple situation in the Seym on the eve of the Independence Acts and the position of the Seym Azeri faction and of individual politicians directly involved in the process deserve more attention.


The Transcaucasian Seym was staffed with deputies (133 in all) elected in November 1917 to the All-Russia Constituent Assembly (scheduled for early 1918 and dissolved by the Bolsheviks). The Azeri faction consisted of 44 deputies, 30 of whom were Musavat members and like-minded nonparty people; others represented the Ittihad Party (Muslims of Russia), the Muslim Socialist Bloc, and the Social-Democratic Gummet (Mutual Assistance) Party.1

The Seym met for its first sitting on 10 February, 1918 when it set up a government headed by Evgeniy Gegechkori functioning under the strong impact of the leading geopolitical actors—the Entente and Russia, on the one hand, and Turkey and Germany, on the other.

In January 1918 when the Brest-Litovsk talks with Russia went wrong from the start the Turkish army occupied the Kars, Ardahan and Batum areas. The Transcaucasian government, in turn, deemed it necessary to negotiate evacuation of the occupied lands and several other issues with Turkey. By that time (3 March), however, the Brest Peace had been signed, which meant that the occupied regions became part of the Ottoman Empire. The new masters, in turn, demanded that all the armed units should be evacuated from their possessions.2 This served the background for the talks between Turkey and the Seym that opened in Trabzon on 14 March, 1918. The Transcaucasian government was represented by A. Chkhenkeli (Chairman), G. Abashidze, M. Gajinskiy, I. Heydarov, G. Gvazava, R. Kachaznuni, G. Laskhishvili, M. Mehtiev, Kh. Khasmamedov, A. Khatisov, and A. Sheykhulis-lamov. Chairman of the Ottoman delegation Miralai Rauf Bey3 chaired the conference. Turkey insisted that the Transcaucasus become independent mainly from Bolshevik Russia. From the very beginning the Turkish delegation informed the Transcaucasian delegates that it intended to establish good-neighborly relations with the “Republic being formed in the Transcaucasus. The Ottoman delegation asks the Transcaucasian delegation to describe as exactly as possible the nature, forms, and political and administrative organization of the above-mentioned republic and wants to know whether it has fulfilled all the conditions required by international law to form a state.”4 Significantly, the Turks described the form of the new state as a republic even though the Transcaucasian delegation itself had never used the term. At the first meeting Chairman Rauf Bey asked the delegation to specify whether it was a Russian province or a new independent state. This was of immense importance: the Transcaucasian Seym believed that it was illegal to transfer Batum, Kars, and Ardahan to Turkey under the Brest-Litovsk Treaty signed by Soviet Russia. The Turks wanted to know: “How are these territorial claims justified? Is the Transcaucasian delegation empowered to discuss these issues that belong to the competence of independent states?” Akakiy Chkhenkeli gave an evasive answer: “The Transcau-casus is a de facto state even though it has not declared its independence and has not notified the powers of its independence.”5

The Seym deputies failed to reach an agreement; even the Azeri delegation was disunited: most of the Musavat deputies insisted on accepting Turkey’s conditions, otherwise they threatened to leave the talks; deputies Kh. Khasmamedov and Sh. Rustambekov, on the other hand, believed that Batum, the final point of the Baku-Batum oil pipeline vitally important for the region’s economy, should remain within the Transcaucasus.6 Even before the conference, during the preliminary talks between the Turkish and the Azeri delegations the latter pointed out that the Georgian and Armenian politicians wanted to retain their contacts with Russia. The Turkish side, in turn, was willing for the Caucasian Muslims to enjoy the same conditions as the local Christians. Wahib Pasha, who commanded the Caucasian Front, clearly demonstrated that Turkey would not remain indifferent to the fates of the

1 See: Adres-kalendar' Azerbaidzhanskoi Respubliki na 1920 g., Baku, 1920, p. 3.

2 See: Z. Avalov, Nezavisimost' Gruzii v mezhdunarodnoi politike, Paris, 1924, p. 31.

3 See: Dokumenty i materially po vneshnei politike Zakavkazia i Gruzii, Tiflis, 1919 (re-issued in 1990), Document No. 54, pp. 107-108.

4 Ibid., Document No. 56, p. 116.

5 Ibid., Document No. 57, p. 117.

6 See: State Archives of the Azerbaijan Republic (SAAR), rec. gr. 970, inv. 1, f. 7, sheet 4.


Caucasian Muslims: “We want the Muslims of the Eastern Caucasus to maintain real contacts with us.”7 This obviously called for a strong Caucasus with a government of its own able to protect itself wedged between Russia and Turkey.

Akakiy Chkhenkeli and Rauf Bey discussed between themselves the conditions on which Turkey would agree to recognize Transcaucasian independence. The Turks declared that they needed an independent Transcaucasus that would recognize the 1918 borders and refrain from interfering in Turkey’s internal affairs. This meant that the Brest-Litovsk Treaty should be wholly accepted and that the so-called Turkish Armenia issue8 should be removed from the agenda; in other words, the Armenians supported by the Georgian delegates should drop their claims to the Turkish vilayets of Eastern Anatolia.

The Transcaucasian delegation returned to Tiflis for further consultations with the new cabinet.

E. Gegechkori regained his former post of prime minister, while A. Chkheidze (minister of the interior in the old cabinet) was appointed foreign minister. The new cabinet of 16 members included five members from each of the Seym factions and one Russian representative. On 29 March, members of the Transcaucasian delegation, who had not changed their opinion, returned to Trabzon, while Turkey insisted on its demands formulated in the note of 21 March: the Transcaucasian delegation should declare state independence and drop all claims to the three areas mentioned in the Brest-Litovsk Treaty9—resumed hostilities were the only option. The Transcaucasian delegation was given 48 hours for deliberation; the talks stalled. Akakiy Chkhenkeli accepted the Turkish conditions, while the Seym that met on 31 March 1918 decided, under pressure from the Armenian and Georgian deputies, to discontinue the talks which meant a war on Turkey and never bothered to inform the official delegation in Trabzon.10 Part of the Azeri faction was against this, however Sh. Rustambekov, one of the Musavat leaders, approved the decision in order, he argued, to save the Black Sea ports for the entire Caucasus. He was convinced that “the Musavat members who are heart and soul with the Transcaucasian government will vote for the war and support it as energetically as they can.”11 Gummet members too went along with the Georgian Mensheviks on this issue; later, however, they changed their tack, but it was too late. The hostilities resumed and went on for two weeks, during which Turkey, as was expected, defeated the Transcaucasian Seym and completely occupied the three contested regions. In May the talks were resumed in Batum.

The Azeri Faction in the Seym—Shared Priorities and Disagreements

The meetings of the Azeri Seym faction that took place during the two weeks of war and the ambiguous positions of the members of four Azeri parties—Musavat, Ittihad, the Muslim Socialist Bloc, and Gummet—represented in the Seym deserve closer scrutiny. M. Rasulzade acted as chairman of the presidium of the faction’s general meetings, while M. Jafarov and N. Usubbekov (two of the chairman’s deputies) represented Musavat and the democratic group of non-party deputies.

The Seym, which suspended its functioning during the war, elected a war collegium of three members with extraordinary powers: prime minister and War Minister E. Gegechkori, Minister of the

7 Dokumenty i materially po vneshnei politike Zakavkazia i Gruzii, Document No. 98, p. 199.

8 See: Ibid., Document No. 55, pp. 113-116.

9 See: Ibid., Document No. 58, pp. 118-119.

10 See: Ibid., Document No. 83, pp. 183-184.

11 State Archives of Political Parties and Public Movements of the Azerbaijan Republic (SAPPPM AR), rec. gr. 276, inv. 3, f. 116, sheet 7.


Interior N. Ramishvili, and Finance Minister Kh. Karchikian. It is important to clarify the position and tactics of the Azeri faction during the war.

Some of the faction members invited the Azeri deputies to leave the Seym to ponder on their future together with the representatives of Daghestan, Chechnia, and Ingushetia12; they argued that by declaring war on Turkey the Transcaucasian government completely ignored the interests of the local Muslims. M. Jafarov, a non-party deputy, suggested that the issue should remain pending until the Muslim members of the peace delegation came back from Trabzon. He argued that the Muslims should not reconcile themselves with transferring power to the war collegium of three members because ethnic relations remained strained. Kh. Melik-Aslanov of the Socialist Bloc argued that power should have been transferred to the Cabinet if the Seym suspended its business, which alone should have the right to invest the newly elected war collegium with some of its powers.13 J. Gajinskiy of Musavat believed that before talking about the Muslims’ position it was necessary to outline the war collegium’s powers. G. Agaev of Musavat declared that if the Seym transferred its powers to the war collegium the Muslims would find themselves in a critical situation. Therefore, he said, it would be necessary, first, to clarify the collegium’s functions and second, the Seym should go on working. Finally, the following decision was reached: “(1) everything should be done to prevent suspension of the Seym; (2) if the Seym were disbanded its powers should be transferred to the cabinet; the powers of the war collegium should be clearly outlined, while the collegium itself should be made accountable to the government; (3) if the collegium acquired executive powers and if it remained accountable to the Seym when the latter resumed its business the Muslim ministers would be forced to leave the Cabinet.”14

It should be said that the social-democratic faction of the Seym (mainly Georgian Mensheviks) responded to the war declaration with an address to the Russian Bolshevist government requesting support and assistance in the fight “against the troops of the Turkish Sultan.”15 The Azeri Gummet faction supported the request, albeit unofficially. The Azeri deputies demanded an explanation: N. Usubbekov and G. Agaev of Musavat drew the Gummet members’ attention to the fact that the Georgian Mensheviks were pursuing their strictly national interests for the sake of their nation or, rather, their own party. By doing this they were courting the Bolshevist, Cossack, and Armenian danger while “you (Gummet members.—Ed.) are trailing behind them.”16 S. Agamaly-ogly, a Gummet member, tried to justify his stand by saying: “There is a coming split among the Mensheviks regarding their attitude toward the Bolsheviks. We expect that the democrats who follow Chkhenkeli will win.” J. Akhundov, who spoke for the opposite side of the same party, offered the following: “If the Bolsheviks come from the north we shall be against them, and in that event we shall turn toward Turkey. But if genuine democracy reaches us from the north we shall side with it and go against the Turks.”17 This means that Gummet, and the Georgian Mensheviks for that matter, still hoped that democracy might win in Russia. M. Rasulzade of Musavat responded to this by saying that his party would take up arms to fight any type of Russia determined to return to the Transcaucasus. N. Jamalbekov of Gummet and M. Rasulzade were of different opinions: while the former insisted that Azerbaijan was not strong enough to repel Bolshevist Russia, the latter argued that his country could count on Turkey’s support, to which N. Jamalbekov’s response was that he did not expect “freedom for our people”18 from the Turkish army.

12 See: Protokoly zasedania musul'manskikh fraktsii Zakavkazskogo Seima i Azerbaidzhanskogo natsional'nogo soveta, Baku, 2006, p. 79

13 See: Ibidem.

14 Ibid., p. 80.

15 Dokumenty i materially po vneshnei politike Zakavkazia i Gruzii, Document No. 86, p. 187.

16 Protokoly zasedania musul’manskikh fraktsii, p. 82.

17 Ibid., p. 84.

18 Ibid., p. 85.


The above proves beyond a doubt that contrary to the currently popular opinion that the Azeri faction of the Transcaucasian Seym closed ranks on the pro-Turkish position, reality was quite different. The disagreements continued and developed inside the Musavat Party after Azerbaijan declared its independence, which will be discussed below.

The Azeri Seym deputies wanted to be actively involved in all the events across the region: they responded to the war that was gaining momentum in Baku, as well as to the anarchy that was rapidly rising in the region, and did all they could to set up a Muslim military corps. In the absence of an efficient government and armed forces they had to limit themselves to the only available instrument: ad hoc delegations set up to sort out unwelcome developments and take practical measures. They dispatched delegations to Zakataly, the Akhalkalaki, Akhaltsikhe and Borchaly uezds, and to Ganja and Irevan for propaganda purposes and to maintain law and order. On 22 May, a joint meeting of the Azeri faction listened to Dr. M. Vekilov who had arrived from the Kyurdamir front with a report about the catastrophic situation in which tens of thousands of refugees had found themselves. The faction ruled to allocate 50 thousand rubles.19

The faction was of one mind about the Bolshevist government that had installed itself in Baku: between 29 March and 1 April, 1918, the Bolshevist-Dashnak troops exterminated over 12 thousand civilians in Baku and the Baku Gubernia. The Seym practically ignored the numerous requests of the Azeri faction to help the Azeris in their fight against the Bolshevist government; it dispatched armed units under Prince Magalov to Baku, which got as far as the Gajikabul railway station. Having assured himself that the mountaineer units under N. Gotsinskiy fighting the troops of the Bolshevist Soviet had been defeated, Prince Magalov retreated to Kyurdamir.20 S. Tigranian, deputy chairman of the Transcaucasian Seym, whom the Seym empowered to talk to the Baku Soviet, returned to Tiflis with a demand to discontinue the hostilities against the Bolsheviks and settle the disorder peacefully.21 This was the last straw for the Azeri delegation: on 7 April it, in no nonsense terms, demanded that the Turkish ultimatum be adopted; otherwise it threatened to leave the government.22

The First Transcaucasian Republic— A Short-Lived Experiment with a Single Government

On 22 April, 1918, the Transcaucasian Seym passed a decision on setting up an independent Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. According to eyewitness reminiscences, the Transcaucasus was proclaimed an “independent democratic and federative republic” after stormy debates between M. Rasulzade, the Musavat leader, and the leftist socialist-revolutionaries and constitutional democrats, with an essentially tacit agreement from the Dashnaktsutiun Party and the enthusiastic support of all the other parties. Noy Zhordania was among those who abstained, while constitutional democrat Semenov and leftist socialist- revolutionary Tumanov were dead set against independ-ence.23 The Gegechkori cabinet resigned; and new Prime Minister Akakiy Chkhenkeli informed Turkey about the recent developments.24 Azerbaijan was represented by five ministers—F. Khoyskiy (Minister of Justice), Kh. Melik-Aslanov (Minister of Communication Means), N. Usubbekov (Minister of Education), M. Gajinskiy (Minister of Trade and Industry), and I. Heydarov (Minister of State

19 See: Ibid., pp. 109-110.

20 See: Azerbaidzhanskaia Demokraticheskaia Respublika (1918-1920), Baku, 1998, pp. 63-64.

21 See: SAAR, rec. gr. 894, inv. 10, f. 144, sheet 9.

22 See: Protokoly zasedania musul’manskikh fraktsii, p. 91.

23 See: R.A. Vekilov, Istoria vozniknovenia Azerbaidzhanskoi Respubliki, Elm Publishers, Baku, 1998, p. 15.

24 See: Dokumenty i materially po vneshnei politike Zakavkazia i Gruzii, Document No. 99, p. 221.


Control), even though the newly appointed prime minister deemed it necessary to point that “Baku is not yet part of the independent Transcaucasus.”25

The same day, the Seym invited the new government to go on with the peace talks and did everything they could to reach a prompt peace treaty with Turkey.26

On 26 April, Akakiy Chkhenkeli made public the Declaration of Independence and Sovereignty of the Transcaucasus which also mentioned that the Constitution of the Independent Transcaucasian Federation would be drafted. It was declared that the Transcaucasian states were determined to maintain friendly relations with all countries, especially with the neighbors of the newly formed federation; it was specifically pointed out that all nations were equal, that the territories would be divided fairly, that the war would be brought to an end, and that united defense of the Transcaucasus would be organized.27 The Declaration contained a point about a future Constitution of the Independent Federative Transcaucasian Republic; a constitutional commission of 24 members from the three national councils was set up.

The founding states had to answer the question: Was the Transcaucasus a federative state or a confederation? The Georgian social-democrats wanted a federation because, they argued, Georgia was a small state completely dependent on the Azeri oil. The Georgian social-federalists came up with the model of a state in which central power would be limited to foreign policy issues, armed forces, customs, and finances; the rest would belong to the republican governments.28 Convinced that no united state was possible because the three nations had different foreign policy priorities and because in this context the Georgians would continue losing their position and possessions, the Georgian na-tional-democrats favored complete independence for Georgia.29 The Muslim factions of the Seym got together to discuss the future of the Transcaucasus as a federation or a confederation. As distinct from the Georgian faction the Muslims decided to vote for a confederation of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, along with the Northern Caucasus. It was suggested the Azerbaijan and the Northern Caucasus should establish federative relations between themselves.30

The heated debates failed to produce a constitution of the first Transcaucasian Federation: the contradictions among the three factions proved irreconcilable.

Did Declaration of Independence Bury Caucasian Unity or Was It an Instrument of Much-Needed Liberty?

On 11 May, 1918 Turkey and the Seym delegation resumed the talks in Batum; the circumstances forced the Seym delegates to recognize Turkey’s protectorate over the Kars, Batum, and Ardahan regions; Turkey, in turn, demanded several uezds of the former Tiflis and Irevan gubernias.31 A German military mission of General Otto von Lossow, which functioned in Batum with an observer status, entered into separate talks with the Georgians. Von Lossow offered the Georgian National Council military support, which the latter readily accepted as a guarantee against Turkish invasion.

The Azeri faction deemed it necessary to discuss this at its next meeting; Kh. Khasmamedov of the Musavat Party announced that the Georgian National Council was moving toward withdrawal

25 See: Dokumenty i materially po vneshnei politike Zakavkazia i Gruzii, Document 108, pp. 229-233.

26 See: Ibidem.

27 See: D.E. Enukidze, Krakh imperialisticheskoy interventsii v Zakavkazie, Tbilisi, 1954, p. 54.

28 See: M. Matsaberidze, “Drafting the Constitution of the Transcaucasian Seym and the National Council of Georgia,” Proceedings of the I. Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi, 2008, p. 5 (in Georgian).

29 See: Ibid., p. 7.

30 See: Protokoly zasedania musul’manskikh fraktsii, pp. 100-101.

31 See: Z. Avalov, op. cit., pp. 41-42.


from the Seym and independence. “We should go in the same direction,” said the deputy. “First, we should inform the public, the centers in general and Elizavetpol in particular, so that the people are aware of every political step we take. We should be ready with all the formal conditions so that we are able to speak in the name of independent Azerbaijan at the right moment.”32

On 25 May head of the Georgian delegation Akakiy Chkhenkeli demanded that the National Council promptly declare independence otherwise Georgia should be forced to accept the conditions of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty that deprived it of its lands.33 The same day, Georgian deputies A. Tseretelli and G. Gegechkori attended the sitting of the Azeri faction chaired by F. Khoyskiy to announce that the Transcaucasian Federation had fallen apart and that Georgia had become independent.34 After that the Azeri faction passed a resolution that said: if “Georgia announced its independence we should declare the independence of Azerbaijan.”35 Sh. Rustambekov parried the Georgians’ accusations of the Azeris who had allegedly destroyed the Transcaucasian Federation with: “If the Georgians believe that joint work of the peoples of the Transcaucasus is impossible and want political independence, there is no reason to preserve the Seym under these conditions.”36 It should be said that in Trabzon and Batum the Azeri delegation did its best to preserve Batum for the Transcaucasus. M. Gajin-skiy, who took part in the talks, reported to the meeting that the Azeri delegation had tried to convince the Turks that occupation of Batum might start a war between the Transcaucasus and Turkey and among the Transcaucasian nations that would leave the Azeris encircled by enemies: Bolsheviks and Georgians, to say nothing of the Armenians. According to Gajinskiy, “guided by considerations that it found more convincing than the Azeri arguments, the Ottoman delegation was dead set on occupying Batum.”37

On 26 May Chairman of the Georgian National Council Noy Zhordania read the Act of Georgian Independence supported by all the Georgian deputies. Germany proved unable to help Georgia recover its occupied lands. Under the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, Batum, Akhalkalaki, the Kars and Akhal-tsikhe regions, and the Surmala uezd of the former Irevan Gubernia became Turkish possessions until its defeat in World War I.

The Armenian faction alone refused to accept the independence idea: if realized it would have deprived the Armenians of the chance of setting up Armenian settlements on Turkish territory.

On 27 May it became known that two Turkish military commanders—Halil Bey and Wehib Pasha— had told head of the Armenian delegation K. Khatisov and leader of Dashnaktsutiun O. Kachaz-nuni that Turkey was prepared to recognize an independent Armenian state in the Caucasus. M. Gajinskiy had spoken about this to Enver Pasha who confirmed that his country would accept an independent Armenian state if the Armenians abandoned their intrigues in favor of the British and Russians.38

Leader of the Armenian People’s Party M. Papajanov called on the Armenians to accept the Turkish ultimatum and to leave the Turkish provinces issue to the European Congress.39 On 28 May at 10:30 p.m. the Armenian National Council adopted the Independence Act by a majority vote. The discussions, however, continued until 4 June when Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, on the one hand, and Turkey, on the other, signed a treaty “on peace and friendship.”40

On the eve of independence the Azeri delegation was bogged down in negotiations: like the Georgians before them the Azeris found it hard to harmonize their position. There were at least three

32 SAAR, rec. gr. 970, inv. 1, f. 1, sheets 39-40.

33 See: Z. Avalov, op. cit., p. 59.

34 See: Azerbaijan newspaper, 28 May, 1919.

35 Azerbaidzhanskaia Demokraticheskaia Respublika (1918-1920), p. 66.

36 SAPPPM AR, rec. gr. 276, inv. 3, f. 117, sheet 19.

37 Protokoly zasedania musul’manskikh fraktsii, p. 94.

38 See: Ibid., p. 97.

39 See: V.E. Shambarov, Za Veru, Tsaria i Otechestvo, Moscow, 2003, p. 456.

40 Dokumenty i materially po vneshnei politike Zakavkazia i Gruzii, Document No. 172, pp. 343-363; Document No. 180, p. 366.


opinions: the Socialists supported the idea of Caucasian unity that could have put an end to anarchy in the capital and boosted the authority of the Azeri faction.41 The Musavat Party could not arrive as a common opinion either: while the majority wanted complete independence, M. Gajinskiy and his group believed that unification with Turkey was the best answer to the current problems. The opinion created by Soviet historiography that the entire Azeri delegation was behind Gajinskiy and that this buried the first Transcaucasian federation has nothing to do with the facts.

N. Usubbekov, who returned from Batum on 27 May, said that Turkey insisted on independence for the Transcaucasus and was firmly opposed to unification with Azerbaijan, since in that case the Bulgarians would be able to demand Adrianopol.42 This convinced the Azeris that independence was the only option and that the country needed a state structure (the deputies agreed on a Provisional Azeri National Council with proportional representation of all parties) to fight anarchy and sort out the smoldering ethnic conflicts.43 Musavat (N. Usubbekov and Kh. Khasmamedov) and the Socialist Bloc (A. Sheykhulislamov) agreed that independence should be proclaimed without delay.

On 28 May lengthy deliberations were crowned by voting: the Independence Act was passed by 24 votes (2 abstained). The document’s second point said: “The independent state of Azerbaijan will be a people’s republic.”44 Democracy was interpreted as equality for all, irrespective of ethnic origin and social status, before the law. The Independence Act that was de facto a constitutional law said in particular: “The Azeri Democratic Republic will ensure the political and civil rights of all citizens living on its territory irrespective of ethnic, religious, racial, class origins, and gender.”45

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Fatali Khan Khoyskiy was entrusted with the task of forming the first cabinet. G. Agaev, who chaired the meeting, congratulated the participants on this memorable event: “Today, at 07:10 p.m. the Azeri National Council proclaimed the independence of Azerbaijan.”46 According to the reminiscences, the event stirred up those present at the meeting and the crowd that gathered outside. Weeping people embraced and congratulated each other with shouts of “Long live independent Azerbaijan!”

During the ADP’s short life the Azeris proved to the world that they could use their freedom with dignity. Many of the leading powers recognized the new state de facto.

C o n c l u s i o n

The three Caucasian republics gained their independence (2008 marked the 90th anniversary of the event) amid the stormy and dramatic developments of the post-World War I period and aroused ambiguous responses among those directly involved in the process. The Transcaucasian Seym and the first Transcaucasian Federation, which survived for four months, failed to become a government of all the people living in the region. The three titular nations of the Central Caucasus treated this independence differently. From the very beginning the Transcaucasian government was built on party rather than on national principles and fell apart under the pressure of conflicting national interests. While the Georgians and the Azeris treated independence as an important event that brought their countries to the international scene as independent entities of international law, the Armenians regarded it as an act of coercion, at least at the first stage of their independence.

41 See: La revue le “Azerbaïdjan,” Paris, No. 2, 1952, p. 32.

42 See: Ibid., p. 33.

43 See: Adres-kalendar’ Azerbaidzhanskoi Respubliki na 1920 g., Baku, 1920, p. 13.

44 Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Documents and Materials, Baku, 1998, p. 12 (in Azeri).

45 Ibidem.

46 Ibid., p. 14.

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