Author: Natig MAMMADZADEH
One of the vital issues that the newly founded state, Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan or ADR, had to solve after declaring its independence was to ensure the security of people and protect the territorial integrity of the country. Azerbaijani leaders had to solve these problems under extremely difficult political conditions.
“...Our only hope was Turkey...”
Azerbaijan declared its independence when the Baku Council of People’s Commissars headed by Stepan Shaumian controlled the eastern parts of the country based on the tactical union of Bolsheviks and Dashnaks. The situation with the National Council and the ADR government functioning in Tiflis during the first weeks after the declaration of independence was getting worse as the military forces of the Baku Council were advancing on Ganja (Yelizavetpol), which was declared a temporary capital of Azerbaijan. ADR leaders did not have enough military force to counter the advancing Dashnak-Bolshevik troops. As Mammad Emin Rasulzadeh later wrote, under those circumstances, the only hope was Turkey. This fraternal country was called upon to save Azerbaijan from the enemies.
One of the leaders of Azerbaijani national movement, Minister of Finance and Education in the first government of ADR, Nasib-bey Yusifbeyli (Usubbekov), described the situation in June, 1918 as follows: “Our own forces are not enough to suppress this massive anarchy that has spread not only among the Azerbaijani Turks but throughout the entire South Caucasus. The situation is getting even worse as the Bolsheviks are advancing from the east. Given the existing state of affairs and our defencelessness, we have no other way than request foreign intervention. In this case, we can rejoice that the external force that is due to come here is a friendly and fraternal force, Turkey.”
On June 4, 1918, the Republic of Azerbaijan signed a treaty of friendship with the Ottoman Empire. This was a first agreement of ADR with a foreign state. Azerbaijani signatories were the Chairman of the National Council Mammad Emin Rasulzadeh and Foreign Minister Mammad Hasan Hajinsky, while Minister of Justice Khalil-bey and the Commander in Chief of the Caucasian Front, Wehib Pasha, represented the Turkish side.
The preamble of the treaty reads: “The government of the Ottoman Empire, on the one hand, and the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan that proclaimed its sovereignty, on the other hand, hereby mutually agreed to affirm warm and friendly relations between their countries on a political, legal, economic, and intellectual basis.”
The first point of the treaty confirmed that permanent peace and lasting friendship would be established between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Azerbaijan. In the fourth paragraph, which was most important for Azerbaijan, it was pointed out that in case it was necessary, the Ottoman government renders military assistance to the Republic of Azerbaijan in order to strengthen peace and tranquillity and ensure the country's security.
The clause about military assistance implied that with the support of Turkey, Azerbaijan intended to put an end to the arbitrariness and violence committed by Armenian armed forces in various regions of Azerbaijan, primarily in Karabakh, and to free Baku from hostile elements.
Turkish troops headed by Nuru Pasha had been to Ganja since the end of May. Population greeted Turkish troops with great joy. According to M.E. Rasulzadeh, Nuru Pasha was accepted as “a heavenly angel”.
Civil Affairs Department headed by Nuru Pasha’s political adviser, one of the prominent figures of the Azerbaijani national movement Ahmed-bey Aghayev (Aghaoglu) was soon set up at the headquarters of Nuru Pasha.
In his order to the troops, Nuru Pasha declared: “Our goal is Baku.” In June 1918, Turkish troops under the command of Kazim Karabekir Pasha occupied Nakhchivan, which was controlled by Dashnak gangs.
The most important direction of military operations against the Baku Council was Kurdamir. That is from where the main Dashnak-Bolshevik forces attacked Ganja. On June 16-18, the opposing forces engaged in a battle near the village of Garamaryam, 20 km east of Goychai. Despite the counterattacks of the 10th Turkish Regiment, the enemy captured Garamaryam.
On June 19, Nuru Pasha took a special train to the front. On the same day, he reported to the commander of the Eastern Group of Ottoman troops that the Soviet offensive had been suspended at the cost of considerable losses of the 5th Division. However, in the following days the troops of Baku Council again advanced to Goychai.
The following is what M. H. Hajinsky wrote to M. E. Rasulzadeh regarding the situation on the frontline: “Our situation is poor. We cannot move forward.” Rasulzadeh responded that Enver Pasha had decreed to dispatch new regiments to Azerbaijan, and Nuru Pasha had already confirmed the sufficient number of available military forces at his disposal for counter-attack.
This crucial moment was the moment of birth of the Azerbaijani army. Azerbaijani soldiers and volunteers were fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Turkish troops in the war against the Baku Council.
The June crisis
Entering the territory of Azerbaijan as an allied force obliged to provide military assistance to fraternal people in the liberation of Baku, Ottoman troops also solved important geopolitical tasks in favour of the Ottoman Empire. The world war continued, and part of the Turkish military-political elite expected to significantly expand the sphere of influence of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman strategists believed that Azerbaijan was one of the key pillars to materialise their expansion policy. But their intention to make the government of the newly independent state obey Turkish interests did not match the interests of the ADR leadership.
After moving from Tiflis to Ganja on June 16, 1918, the government of Azerbaijan immediately faced a very difficult dilemma. Turkish command insisted on the dissolution of the National Council and the establishment of a new Azerbaijani government. Otherwise, it threatened to stop any military support to ADR.
The actions of Turkish command provoked the protests of many members of the National Council, including its chairman. However, considering the urgency to fulfil historical mission (liberation of Baku and the Baku Province), the head of ADR, M. E. Rasulzadeh decided to accept the Ottoman ultimatum.
On June 17, the National Council held a meeting and decided to suspend its activities and transfer legislative functions to the new government. Thus, Fatali-khan Khoysky became the head of the second cabinet made up of the representatives of parties Musavat and Ittihad, as well as a group of non-partisans, and the new head of ADR,.
As for M. Rasulzadeh, he continued to work as the leader of the largest party, Musavat. He regarded the situation developed under the pressure of Turkish military command as “a retreat of democracy and a certain success of reactionary powers.”
Turkish command made it clear that it would not tolerate any self-sustained activity of Azerbaijanis in the military. Therefore, the new government of ADR had no military ministry. Rather, the Caucasian Islamic Army established in the Ottoman army fulfilled its functions.
However, the subsequent course of events showed the outstanding ability of the Azerbaijani government and personally F. Khoysky to solve, even under powerful external pressure, the problems of independent national statehood. The second government set up the political and economic policies of ADR, and also promoted the establishment of the Caucasian Islamic Army as a joint Turkish-Azerbaijani army designed to remake Baku as part of the national statehood of Azerbaijan.
A native of Shusha, Khudadat-bey Melik-Aslanov, is one of the prominent politicians of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (ADR).
After graduating from the St. Petersburg Institute of Railway Engineers in 1904, Khudadat-bey worked for some time at the Vologda-Petrozavodsk Railway Department in St. Petersburg, and then at the Transcaucasian Railway Administration. He has also received international recognition as a scientist specialised in railway technologies thanks to a large number of scientific works published in this field.
After the February Revolution of 1917, the Provisional Government appointed Melik-Aslanov as Commissioner for the Communications of Transcaucasia. Troubling developments in the region made Melik-Aslanov engage in political activity. He was the Commissioner for the Communications of Transcaucasia and the Minister of Railways in the newly established Transcaucasian Federal Republic.
Since the declaration of ADR in 1918, Melik-Aslanov has been invariably part of the subsequent governments. In the first cabinet, he was the Minister of Railways and Minister of Post and Telegraph. In the second, third and fourth governments, he was the Minister of Railways. In the fifth government, Melik-Aslanov served as Minister of Railways, Minister of Trade and Industry, as well as the First Deputy Prime Minister.
Khudadat-bey Melik-Aslanov has always supported state interests both in the internal life of Azerbaijan (as manifested in his opposition to big capital) and in foreign policy (expressed in his attempts to overcome the pressure initially imposed by the Ottoman and then the British military command). In general, working for the government of ADR, he has demonstrated himself as an advocate of strengthening state intervention in economic processes.
Melik-Aslanov was also a member of the ADR parliament. On June 11, 1919, he was appointed First Deputy of the State Defence Committee. Thanks to his efforts, a vocational school was opened in Baku in the same year for training specialists in the field of railway communications (later converted into the College of Railway Transportation). Melik-Aslanov also headed a special commission set up during ADR to develop a project for the Romanization of the Azerbaijani alphabet.
After the establishment of Soviet power in Azerbaijan, Melik-Aslanov returned to engineering and scientific work, and also worked as an educator. He worked in a number of state institutions. As the Chairman of the Republican Committee for State Structures, he took an active part in drafting and construction of the present-day Government House located at the Azadlig Square in Baku. In addition, he was the Dean of the Civil Engineering Faculty of the Azerbaijan Polytechnic Institute.
In 1928, Melik-Aslanov was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Technical Committee of Azerbaijan. During this period, he actively contributed to the construction of the Julfa-Baku railway and the Sabunchu electric railway. In 1929, he proposed establishing underground (metro) system in Baku.
Nevertheless, the outstanding merits of Melik-Aslanov could not save him from the repressive machine of the Soviet regime. One of the prominent figures of ADR, an outstanding engineer, scientist and teacher Khudadat-bey Melik-Aslanov died in a Soviet prison in June 1935.