Author: Natig MAMMADZADEH
Facing tremendous political upheavals and national tragedies, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (ADR) was forced to fight for the security of its people and state and to counter various external threats from the very first days of its existence. The National Army occupies a special place among the most important attributes of statehood emerged in ADR. Heroic efforts of the national army allowed the government of Azerbaijan to solve a number of strategic tasks in 1918-1920. A hundred years ago, the first military unit was created in the history of our new state.
Azerbaijan Corps and the Battle for Goychay
On June 26, 1918, the ADR government decided to transform the Muslim Corps commanded by the former Commander of the 10th Army of the Western Front of Russia, Lieutenant-General Aliagha Shikhlinsky to a separate Azerbaijani Corps. This military unit laid the foundation of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan.
The creation of the Separate Azerbaijan Corps took place at a time when the Caucasian Islamic Army, acting as a joint Turkish-Azerbaijani army, embarked on amission to liberate the capital of ADR, Baku, and the Baku Province from the Baku Council. This mission had of crucial importance for our country, since the Baku Council headed by Stepan Shaumian was essentially a Dashno-Bolshevik regime trying to cut the Baku Province from independent Azerbaijan. To achieve this goal, the Baku Council implemented a policy of genocide against the Azerbaijani people as a social base of the Azerbaijani national movement.
In mid-June 1918, the Baku Council launched an offensive against Ganja declared as a temporary capital of ADR and achieved a number of military successes. Dashnak-Bolshevik forces consolidated in the front line near Kurdamir and advanced very close to Goychay.
Caucasian Islamic Army under the command of Nuru Pasha dispatched new reinforcement units to the front. On June 19, the 130th Turkish Infantry Regiment arrived to Azerbaijan with a mountain-artillery battalion. At the same time, the Caucasian Islamic Army reinforced the Azerbaijani military detachments. On the same day, on June 19, a detachment of 600 Azerbaijani soldiers was sent to the front. A little later, a detachment of Azerbaijani volunteers arrived.
With the reinforcement received, the command of the Caucasian Islamic Army began to prepare for a counteroffensive. The commander of the 5th Ottoman Division, Mursel Pasha, suggested that Nuru Pasha sends detachments from Goychay and Barda to strike at the enemy's flanks, and move the units deployed in Sheki to support the rear of the 5th Division. Nuru Pasha approved this plan. But along with the main attack, he decided to advance on Shusha, which had long become a target for Armenian armed forces.
Soon the fights started south of Aghsu. On June 30, troops of the Baku Council were thrown back to their original positions, east of the village of Karamaryam near Goychay. On July 1, one of the Soviet units broke into Goychay but could not stay there.
The victory of the Caucasian Islamic Army in the battle of Goychay was a turning point in the war for the liberation of Baku. From now on, the strategic initiative was taken over by the Turkish-Azerbaijani forces.
Liberation of Baku
Fights for Kurdamir began on July 7. During one of them, the enemy used a detachment of armoured vehicles brought from Moscow, but the Turkish artillery destroyed two of them. On July 10, Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers released Kurdamir.
By that time, the position of the Caucasian Islamic Army was as follows: Turkish units attacked from left and right flanks while Azerbaijani troops were advancing under the command of Colonel Habib-bey Salimov towards the centre of Kurdamir. He is the man who led a triumphant attack on Kurdamir and Hajigabul. On the same section of the front was the Azerbaijani cavalry detachment of 150 soldiers under the command of Mammad Kahi. By the end of the battles for liberation of Kurdamir and Hajigabul, Azerbaijani troops seized 6 guns, 18 machine guns, large ammunition and ammunition depots.
Meanwhile, the fights were taking place around Shamakhi, near the villages of Aghsu, Meysari, Madrasa, and Maraza. On July 20, parts of the Caucasian Islamic Army liberated Shamakhi. On the southern section of the front, Turkish detachment under the command of Major Hamid Bey seized the Banka fisheries.
Military successes of the Caucasian Islamic Army caused a crisis within the Baku Council. Bolsheviks were forced to give in to the pressure of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, to which also joined the Dashnaks. On July 25, 1918, at a meeting of the Baku Council, it was decided to invite British troops to Baku in order to counter the offensive of Turkish-Azerbaijani troops. The Baku Council of People's Commissar led by Shaumian refused to obey this decision and resigned his powers. The power in Baku passed to the Socialist-Menshevik-Dashnak bloc, which on August 1 formed the dictatorship government of the Centrocaspian Dictatorship and the Presidium of Temporary Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. On the same day, the Centrocaspian Dictatorship sent its representatives to the headquarters of the British command in Iran. On August 4, a British detachment led by Colonel Stokes arrived to Baku from Anzali, Iran. A few days later, a British military contingent headed by General Densterville arrived here too.
Thus, the Caucasian Islamic Army had to face new obstacles. However, the heroic Turkish-Azerbaijani troops overcame them victoriously. On September 15, Baku was liberated from enemies, and this victory was one of the outstanding successes of only the nascent National Army of Azerbaijan, which in the initial months of its existence acted with fraternal and allied assistance from the Turkish army.
“Defence of the Fatherland is a sacred duty of every Azerbaijani”
Thanks to the efforts of the Minister of War Samed-bey Mehmandarov, Commander of the Azerbaijani Corps Aliagha Shikhlinsky, Chiefs of the General Staff Muhammed Sulkevich and Habib-bey Salimov, as well as thousands of soldiers and officers of Azerbaijan, the National Army of Azerbaijan was formed in the following months.
During the existence of the ADR, infantry and cavalry regiments, artillery brigades and divisions, and other military-technical units were organized in Azerbaijan. In addition, the Military Port was constructed and the Caspian Military Flotilla was upgraded. By April 1920, the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan had approximately 30,000 bayonets and sabres in total.
The ADR government also took measures to create its own military industry. In January 1920, the Military Ministry drafted and submitted for parliamentary approval a draft estimate and list of personnel for a military plant, which was planned for construction in Ganja. The plant was intended to repair artillery guns and supply troops with spare parts to these guns. Parliament passed a special law on the establishment of a military plant and the allocation of funds for this purpose.
Particular attention was paid to ideological work in the army. To solve this problem, the government attracted intellectuals and clergy. Imams and mullahs were introduced as part of military units,. The Military Ministry's report of April 2, 1919 noted that “one of the most important tasks of our intelligentsia is to familiarize the people and the army with its historical past.”
Much work has been done for training military personnel, the lack of which initially had a catastrophic effect (the main reason was the removal of Azerbaijanis from military service in the tsarist times). In June 1918, with the assistance of Turkish officers in Ganja, the Military School of Ensigns was opened. The first graduation ceremony took place in October 1918. In November 1919, it was transformed into a Military School, designed for 250 officers with three branches: general, artillery and engineering.
Representatives of Sheki appealed to the Minister of War with a request to open at the expense of the city treasury a school for officers similar to the one operating in Ganja. They particularly noted: “Given that the defence of the Fatherland is a sacred duty of every Azerbaijani, we want that most of our school-age children enrol in the army and become defenders of the Fatherland after attending courses in the military school.”
In late 1919 - early 1920, schools for training cavalry, artillery, sapper, aviation and military paramedic personnel were opened. Also, the Junker School was opened in Baku for the training of officers.
Thus, the National Army has become the most important attribute of the independent Azerbaijani statehood. We can be proud that today, 100 years after its creation, our Armed Forces are the true guarantor of the security of the people and state.
Legendary Azerbaijani commander Aliagha Shikhlinsky was one of the greatest military officials of his time. He started his brilliant career after graduating from the Tiflis military gymnasium in 1883. He was a cadet of the Mikhailovsky Artillery School in St. Petersburg. In April 1891, he received his first award, the Order of St. Stanislaus, 3rd class, and three years later, he was promoted to the rank of junior captain as the head of brigade training team.
In 1900, Shikhlinsky was dispatched to serve in the Separate Trans-Baikal Artillery Division, one of the batteries of which was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Samad-bey Mehmandarov, future Minister of Defence of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan.
Shikhlinsky was a senior battery officer when the Russian-Japanese War (1904-1905) started. In February 1904, after the appointment of Colonel Mehmandarov as the Commander of the 7th East Siberian Shooting Artillery Division, Captain Shikhlinsky was temporarily appointed the Commander of the Battery. For his heroism demonstrated in the defence of the Port Arthur Fortress, Shikhlinsky was awarded the Order of St. George, 4th class.
In 1913, Shikhlinsky was promoted to Major-General and appointed the Assistant Chief of the Officer Artillery School. During his time at the school, he prepared and published a number of works, the prominent classics of artillery science.
On August 26, 1914, Shikhlinsky was appointed the Acting Head of the Officer Artillery School. With the outbreak of the First World War, he commanded the artillery defence of Petrograd to prevent the landing of Germans on the Baltic coast.
At the beginning of 1915, Major-General Shikhlinsky was appointed the Commander of Heavy Artillery on the North-Western Front. In September 1915, he was sent on assignment to the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and on October 31, appointed to the post of general for artillery assignments under the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
Since April 1916, Shikhlinsky had been responsible for the inspection of artillery of the armies of the Western Front. Soon afterwards, he organized a school for joint training of artillerymen and pilots at the headquarters of the Western Front.
After the February Revolution of 1917, Shikhlinsky was promoted to Lieutenant-General. On September 9, 1917, by order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, he was appointed commander of the 10th Army of the Western Front.
For his outstanding military achievements, Shikhlinsky, also called as the "God of Artillery", was awarded the Order of St. Stanislaus 1st class, Order of St. Anne 1st class, Order of St. Vladimir 2nd class and the rank of Lieutenant-General.
After the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, Shikhlinsky arrived to Tiflis. Soon after his arrival, he began working for his homeland organizing the first Azerbaijani military units. By decision of the Special Transcaucasian Committee, he was appointed Commander of the Muslim (Azerbaijani) Corps, which was basically established in May 1918.
On June 26, 1918, by the decree of the Council of Ministers of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan headed by General Shikhlinsky, the Muslim Corps was renamed the Separate Azerbaijan Corps. In early July, the corps was disbanded, and its units became part of the Caucasian Islamic Army under the command of Turkish general Nuru Pasha. General Shikhlinsky was appointed at the disposal of the army commander.
From the end of 1918, Aliagha Shikhlinsky held the post of Deputy Military Minister of Azerbaijan. He has largely contributed to the building of army in ADR, the successes of Azerbaijani army on battlefields for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the prevention of Armenian aggression. For his outstanding military service, the government of Azerbaijan promoted him to the rank of Artillery General.
After the establishment of Soviet power in Azerbaijan, Aliagha Shikhlinsky worked in various military departments and schools.
The name of Shikhlinsky has become synonymous to military talent, courage, and honour of Azerbaijani officers.