Baku

Bakı / Bakü

The city of Baku came under constant assault of the Khazars during the Shirvanshah period. By the early 16th century Baku’s wealth and strategic position attracted the focus of its larger neighbors; in the previous two centuries, it was under the rule of the in Iran-centred Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu. The fall of the Ak Koyunlu brought the city immediately into the sphere of the newly formed Iranian Safavid dynasty, led by shah Ismail I laid siege to Baku in 1501 and captured it; he allowed the Shirvanshahs to remain in power, under Safavid suzerainty. His successor shah Tahmasp I however completely removed the Shirvanshahs from power. Baku remained as an integral part of his empire and the successive Turkic dynasties to come for the next centuries, until the irrevocable cession in the first half of the 19th century. The House of Shirvan, who ruled Baku since the 9th century, was extinguished in the course of the Safavid rule.

The Ottomans briefly gained control over Baku as a result of the Ottoman-Safavid War of 1578–1590; but it was again put under Safavid control in 1607. In the wake of the demise of the Safavids, the Russians took advantage of the situation and invaded; the Safavids were forced to cede Baku to Russia for a few years. By 1730, the situation had deteriorated for the Russians; the successes of Nader Shah forced them to make an agreement near Ganja on 10 March 1735, ceding the city and all other conquered territories in the Caucasus back to Afshar dynasty.

The eruption of instability following Nader Shah’s death gave rise to the various Caucasian khanates. The semi-autonomous Turkic-ruled Baku Khanate was one of these. It was ruled by Mirza Muhammed Khan but soon became a dependency of the much stronger Quba Khanate. During this time, the population of Baku was small and the economy was ruined as a result of constant warfare.

From the late 18th century, Imperial Russia switched to a more aggressive geopolitical stance towards its two neighbors and rivals to the south, namely Qajar and the Ottoman dynasty. In the spring of 1796, by Catherine II’s order, General Valerian Zubov’s troops started a large campaign against Qajar Persia.[20] Zubov had sent 13,000 men to capture Baku, and it was overrun subsequently without any resistance. On 13 June 1796, a Russian flotilla entered Baku Bay, and a garrison of Russian troops was placed inside the city. Later, however, Pavel I ordered the cessation of the campaign and the withdrawal of Russian forces following his predecessor, Catherine the Great’s death. In March 1797, the tsarist troops left Baku and the city became part of Qajar Iran again.

In 1813, following the Russo-Persian War of 1804–1813, Qajar Iran was forced to sign the Treaty of Gulistan with Russia, which provided for the irrevocable cession of Baku and most of Iran’s territories in the North Caucasus and South Caucasus to Russia. During the next and final bout of hostilities between the two, the Russo-Persian War of 1826–1828, Baku was briefly recaptured by the Iranians. However, militarily superior, the Russians ended this war in a victory as well, and the resulting Treaty of Turkmenchay made its inclusion into the Russian Empire definite.[21] When Baku was occupied by the Russian troops during the war of 1804–13, nearly the entire population of some 8,000 people was ethnic Tat.[22]

n 1917, after the October Revolution and amidst the turmoil of World War I and the breakup of the Russian Empire, Baku came under the control of the Baku Commune, which was led by veteran Bolshevik Stepan Shahumyan. Seeking to capitalize on the existing inter-ethnic conflicts, by spring 1918, Bolsheviks inspired and condoned civil warfare in and around Baku. During the infamous March Days, Bolsheviks and Dashnaks seeking to establish control over Baku streets, were faced with armed Azerbaijani groups. The Azerbaijanis suffered a crushing defeat by the united forces of Baku Soviet and were massacred by Dashnak teams in what was called March Days. An estimated 3–12,000 Azerbaijanis were killed in their own capital.[26][27] After the massacre, on 28 May 1918, the Azerbaijani faction of the Transcaucasian Sejm proclaimed the independence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) in Ganja, thereby becoming the first Muslim-majority democratic and secularrepublic.[28] The newly independent Azerbaijani republic, being unable to defend the independence of the country on their own, asked the Ottoman Empire for military support in accordance with clause 4 of the treaty between the two countries. Shortly after, Azerbaijani forces, with support of the Ottoman Army of Islam led by Nuru Pasha, started their advance onto Baku, eventually capturing the city from the loose coalition of BolsheviksEsersDashnaksMensheviks and British forces under the command of General Lionel Dunsterville on 15 September 1918.

After the Battle of Baku, the Azerbaijani irregular troops, with the tacit support of the Turkish command, conducted four days of pillaging and killing of 10–30,000[29] of the Armenian residents of Baku. This pogrom was known as the September Days. Shortly after this Baku was proclaimed the new capital of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.

With Turkey having lost the war by October 1918 they conducted the Armistice of Mudros with the British which meant Baku was to be evacuated. Headed by General William Thomson, British troops of 5,000 soldiers, including parts of Dunsterforce, arrived in Baku on 17 November. Thomson declared himself military governor of Baku and implemented Martial law on the capital until “the civil power would be strong enough to release the forces from the responsibility to maintain the public order”. British forces left before the end of 1919 having felt they had done so.

The independence of the Azerbaijani republic was significant but a short-lived chapter. On 28 April 1920, the 11th Red Army invaded Baku and reinstalled the Bolsheviks, making Baku the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.

Places of interest

Historic buildings

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