Author: Natig MAMMADZADEH
The spring of 1918 was decisive for the survival and statehood of the Azerbaijani people. National elite recognised that the only way to achieve these goals was the autonomy of Azerbaijan, which at that time was possible within the Transcaucasian Federation.
The Tiflis discussions and fights on the Caucasian front
The main issue for the Azerbaijani (Muslim) faction of the Transcaucasian Sejm in Tiflis was ensuring the autonomy and security of the people. Therefore, both the faction and the Sejm, which expressed the will of the three main peoples of the region (Azerbaijanis, Georgians, and Armenians) to live independently, were building relations with the Ottoman Empire, whose troops were advancing rapidly on the Caucasian front of the First World War.
The situation on the Caucasian front and the planned declaration of the independence of Transcaucasia were the key issues for the government of Evgeni Gegechkori also including the Azerbaijanis Fatali-Khan Khoysky (Commissar for Public Education), Mammad Yusif Jafarov (Commissar for Trade and Industry), Khudadat-bey Melik-Aslanov (Commissar for Communications), and Khalil-bey Khasmammadov (Commissar for Control).
Developing a legal basis for peaceful negotiations with the Ottoman Empire, the Sejm adopted a decision that demonstrated its contradictory position. Without declaring Transcaucasia as an independent state, it declared its right to conclude a peace treaty with a foreign state. The reason was the Sejm’s unwillingness to proclaim the independence of Transcaucasia under conditions when the actual borders of a future regional state did not meet the territorial ambitions of Georgians and especially the Armenians claiming the lands of Eastern Anatolia. Under pressure of the Dashnak members of the Sejm, the program of negotiations with the Ottoman Empire, accepted by the Transcaucasian parliamentarians recognised the general principle of restoring pre-war borders and the "right to self-determination" for "Turkish Armenia as part of the Turkish state".
The Transcaucasian delegation for negotiations with the Ottoman Empire included the representatives of Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani factions and was chaired by the Georgian Menshevik Akaki Chkhenkeli. Two Musavatists, Mammad Hasan Hajinsky and Khalil-bey Khasmammadov, and one representative from other parties, Ibrahim-bey Heydarov (Socialist bloc), Mir Yagub Mehdiyev (Ittihad), Akbar Sheikhulislamov (Menshevik-Hummetist), entered the Azerbaijani part of the delegation. The delegation arrived to Trabzon, where negotiations with the Ottoman Turkey were to begin.
While the Sejm was preparing for peace talks with Turkey, the Soviet Russia and Germany signed a separate agreement in Brest, which declared Ardahan, Kars, and Batum claimed by the Sejm and the Government of Transcaucasia as parts of the Ottoman state. The Sejm sent a telegram to the leadership of Soviet Russia in Petrograd announcing that it did not recognize the Brest Peace, since Transcaucasia has never recognised the Bolshevik government and the Council of People's Commissars.
However, based on the provisions of the Brest Treaty, the Ottoman Empire issued an ultimatum to the Sejm about an immediate withdrawal from Kars, Batumi, and Ardahan. On March 14, 1918, a peace conference took place in Trabzon between the Ottomans and representatives of the Sejm.
Turkish delegates stated that the delegation of Sejm could not be considered a legal entity for negotiations, as the Transcaucasia has not declared its independence. In other words, the Turks tried to establish a Transcaucasian state under their own control, which would later contribute to the separation of the region from Russia. The condition for proclaiming the Transcaucasian state was mentioned in the Ottoman declaration, dated March 18, 1918.
However, the Turks insisted in their demand to follow the terms of the Brest Treaty. Azerbaijani delegation tended to accept this term, as it did not support the territorial claims of Armenians and Georgians to the Ottoman state, and expected that armistice with the Turks would contribute to the speedy sovereignty of Transcaucasia. At a meeting of the Sejm on March 25, one of the members of the Transcaucasian delegation, M. Mehdiyev, demanded that the proposal of the Turkish delegation be accepted; otherwise, the Azerbaijanis would leave the negotiations.
Representatives of the Musavat Party, as part of the delegation, also demanded the adoption of the Turkish ultimatum. They stated that otherwise the Azerbaijani faction would leave the Sejm and announce the independence of Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Khasmammadov proposed to make only one exception from the list of territories assigned to the Ottoman Empire. In the interests of the Azerbaijani oil industry, he considered it necessary that Batumi remains a part of Transcaucasia, as it was a terminal point of the oil pipeline from Baku.
Meanwhile, military operations continued during the Trabzon talks. The advance of the Ottoman troops forced the Transcaucasian delegation to make concessions. On April 10, Chkhenkeli finally recognised the Brest-Litovsk Treaty as the basis for further negotiations. By that time, most of the "disputed" territories except Batumi had already been controlled by Turkish troops. The Ottoman Empire demanded the immediate transfer of Batumi. However, Transcaucasian leaders decided to reject this ultimatum. This decision was supported, in particular, by a member of the Azerbaijani faction of the Sejm, Shafi-bey Rustambayov, who insisted on preserving Batumi for the good of Transcaucasia and Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, disagreements between the three national factions of the Sejm intensified. They affected not only relations with the Ottoman Empire but also a number of other vital issues. One of them was the survival of the Azerbaijani people, which has become particularly relevant for the Azerbaijani faction after the tragic events in Baku.
The issue of Baku and the declaration of independence of Transcaucasia
The genocide of Azerbaijanis committed by the Dashnak-Bolshevik troops of the Baku Council was a turning point in the fate of Azerbaijan and Transcaucasia in general.
The Azerbaijani faction of the Sejm demanded an immediate dispatch of troops to Baku to protect the Muslim population. On April 3, 1918, at the Sejm convention dedicated to the events in Baku, Fatali-Khan Khoysky said: "...if no measures are taken to protect the Muslim population, then the Muslim ministers will leave the government."
In early April 1918, the military brigades of the Sejm (more than 2,000 people) under the command of Knyaz Magalov moved to Baku. The residents of Dagestan supported the Azerbaijani people by sending a group of militants led by Nazhmudin Gotsinsky. The detachments of Knyaz Magalov reached Hajigabul, while the troops of Gotsinsky reached the Khirdalan Station 10 kilometres from Baku. However, on April 10, Gotsinsky’s men were defeated by the troops of the Baku Council, and on April 20 the detachments of Magalov had to retreat to Kurdamir.
The Azerbaijani faction of the Sejm was not happy with the position of the Sejm leadership, which refused to send a more powerful military force to save the Azerbaijanis of the Baku Governorate, hence causing a serious government crisis. As Khoysky warned, the Muslim ministers announced the withdrawal from the Gegechkori government. On April 7, Khoysky said at the Sejm meeting: “...under existing circumstances and, in particular, after the events in Baku, the Muslim faction believes that the Muslim ministers cannot ensure that the Government can protect the Muslim population in Baku. This strengthens our motives for making a decision”.
Ten days later, on April 17, Khoysky made the following report to the government of Transcaucasia: “...The events in Baku are discussed all over the Elizavetpol Governorate. All resolutions include clauses that permit a free pass of Turkish troops to Baku. If the government fails to settle the Baku issue, then it will have to listen to the demand of the Muslims of the Elizavetpol Governorate. And at some point in time, popular masses can start acting on their own, which will create a tragic situation, since the Baku issue is a matter of life and death for the Republic.”
Thus, the Azerbaijani deputies of the Sejm supported the rapprochement and military cooperation with the Ottoman Empire to save the Muslim population of the Baku Governorate controlled by the Baku Council of Stepan Shaumian. This demand of the Azerbaijani faction caused the resignation of the Gegechkori government, which was announced at the Sejm on April 22. On the same day, under the pressure of the Azerbaijani faction, the Sejm adopted a resolution on the declaration of independent Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, and also approved the new Transcaucasian government headed by Akaki Chkhenkeli. In the new government, Azerbaijanis were represented by Fatali-Khan Khoysky (Minister of Justice), Nasib-Bey Yusifbeyli (Minister of Education), Khudadat-bey Melik-Aslanov (Minister of Communications), Mammad Hasan Hajinsky (Minister of Trade), and Ibrahim-bey Heydarov (Minister of State Control).
Immediately after this event, the chairman of the Transcaucasian government sent the following telegram to the Commander of the Caucasian Front of the Ottoman Army, Vehib Pasha: "...Transcaucasia is declared an independent federal republic and the powers are informed about this decision. Therefore, the condition stated in the Ottoman declaration on March 18, 1918 is fulfilled." Thus, the Transcaucasian Federation informed the Ottoman Empire that the declaration of independence proposed at the Trabzon Conference and supported by the Azerbaijani delegation was announced. Therefore, the Chkhenkeli government appealed to Turkey with a proposal to resume the Trabzon peace talks.
Meanwhile, the Baku issue remained the key issue for Transcaucasia and, above all, Azerbaijan. The regime led by Shaumian continued the policy of genocide against Azerbaijanis. The Dashnak-Bolshevik “death brigades” continued to commit the acts of mass extermination of Azerbaijanis beyond Baku and covered other counties and cities of the province including Shamakhi, Guba, Salyan, and Lankaran.
On April 20, 1918, the Sejm commissioned the Deputy Chairman of the Sejm, Dashnak Sirakan Tigranian and a representative of the Azerbaijani faction, Ibrahim-bey Heydarov, to Baku to negotiate with Shaumian. However, upon arrival to Baku, the Baku Council arrested Heydarov. As for Tigranian, he, as might be expected, entered into an agreement with Shaumian. Upon his return to Tiflis on May 3, 1918, Tigranian demanded that the Transcaucasian Republic cease military operations against the Baku Council and "stop the riots by peaceful means."
The Azerbaijani faction of the Sejm understood that it had used its entire potential to save its people and to free Baku. It only hoped for the early arrival of Ottoman troops to the region. Therefore, Azerbaijani leaders began to call for the early conclusion of peace with the Ottoman Empire.
MAMMAD HASAN HAJINSKY
Mammad Hasan Hajinsky was one of the prominent Azerbaijani politicians of his time.
After graduating from the St. Petersburg University of Technology, M. H. Hajinsky has worked as an engineer at the oil refinery of Shamsi Asadullayev in Moscow. Upon his return to Baku, Hajinsky has implemented several city planning projects and proposed the layout of the Baku Boulevard. He has initiated a research work on the restoration of the Shirvanshahs' Palace. As a respected member of the society, Hajinsky was elected to the City Duma, and headed the government of the Baku City in 1913 (he has been in charge of the construction department since 1909).
Hajinsky has later found himself in politics thanks to his desire to improve the life of his native people. He was one of the active members of the social-democratic organisation Hümmet, and then became one of the first members of the Musavat Party. In addition, Hajinsky has been known as an active educator: he was one of the founders of the Nashr-Maarif, a society engaged in proliferating literacy among the Muslims, was a member of the leadership of the Muslim educational society Nijat, and the Central Committee of the Muslim Charitable Society.
1917 opened a new milestone in the history of the national liberation movement in Azerbaijan. Hajinsky was one of the leaders of this movement. On March 27, 1917, shortly after the February revolution in Russia, the Provisional Executive Committee of the Muslim National Council was established in Baku. Hajinsky was elected the chairman of this committee, which has played an instrumental role in the political awakening of Azerbaijanis. He has also taken an active part in the Baku Congress of Caucasian Muslims and the Moscow Congress of Muslims of Russia.
At the first Musavat Congress held on October 26-31, 1917, Hajinsky was elected a member of the Central Committee of the party. As one of the leaders of the largest and most popular Azerbaijani party, he joined the process of forming Transcaucasian authorities that had not recognised the Bolshevik coup in Petrograd (present St. Petersburg).
Hajinsky was the Deputy Commissar for Trade and Industry in the Transcaucasian government. In spring of 1918, he was one of the delegates of the Transcaucasian Sejm, which has negotiated with the Ottoman Empire. It was on the advice of Hajinsky that the head of the delegation Akaki Chkhenkeli did not follow the decision of the Sejm to terminate the Trabzon conference and negotiations with the Turks. After the establishment of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, Hajinsky took up the post of the Minister of Trade and Industry.
On May 28, 1918, Hajinsky joined other prominent Azerbaijani politicians to sign the Declaration of Independence adopted by the National Council of Azerbaijan. He became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of the newly established Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). Along with the Chairman of the National Council, Mammad Emin Rasulzadeh, Hajinsky was one of the signatories of the well-known Batumi Treaty concluded between ADR and the Ottoman Empire, a document that contributed to the liberation of Baku from enemy forces in September 1918.
As the Minister for Foreign Affairs of ADR, Hajinsky attached great importance to the approval of the state borders of Azerbaijan. He has made a proposal to the governments of Georgia and Armenia to establish joint commissions to clarify the borders of the three South Caucasian republics. On June 14, 1918, Hajinsky sent a note of protest to the government of Georgia demanding the immediate withdrawal of Georgian troops from the Borchaly District.
On October 6, 1918, Hajinsky was appointed the Minister of Finance. He was one of the key figures behind the agreement concluded with the Mountain Republic, which allowed ADR to lend a 10-million-roubles-worth interest-free loan to the friendly neighbouring state.
Later on, Hajinsky has continued his active participation in the state building of independent Azerbaijan mainly in the parliament. As a deputy, he has played an important role in the activities of the supreme legislative body of Azerbaijan.
Hajinsky was a participant of the Azerbaijani-Armenian conference held in Tiflis and conceived as a platform to settle the conflict between the two states through peaceful means. In his speech, he said that Armenia's territorial claims to Azerbaijan were the main obstacle to peace.
Hajinsky has served as the Minister of Internal Affairs in the last, fifth government cabinet of ADR formed in late 1919. Due to intergovernmental changes, he became the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Food in February 1920. After the resignation of the Cabinet on March 30, the parliament entrusted Hajinsky with forming a new government. However, amidst the aggravation of inter-party confrontation and the imminent threat of a Bolshevik-Russian invasion, leading Azerbaijani politicians failed to form a new government. Hajinsky’s position also influenced the outcome, as he had advocated the inclusion of Bolsheviks in the government and the rapprochement with Soviet Russia. In fact, Hajinsky supported the transfer of power to the Bolsheviks, which put an end to the existence of ADR.
During the first years of the Soviet regime, Hajinsky returned to his professional activities and continued the urbanisation of Azerbaijani cities. At the end of 1930, he was arrested on charges of nationalistic activity. According to investigation materials, Hajinsky committed suicide on February 9, 1931 unable to bear the tortures. But there is also a version of his murder in Tiflis prison in March 1931. Either way, one of the prominent figures of ADR, a person who has done so much for the statehood of Azerbaijan, enlightenment of his people, and the improvement of Azerbaijani cities became a victim of the Soviet regime.