Vasif Gafarov, Lecturer, Chair of Modern and Recent History of Azerbaijan, Baku State University (Baku, Azerbaijan)



The author has taken as his subject the relations between Soviet Russia and Turkey in 1919-1921 and their impact on the political situation in Azerbaijan, which announced its independence on 28 May, 1918.


After October 1917, Russia pulled out of World War I. This made it an enemy of its former allies, the Entente, which regarded Lenin as a German agent and was determined to squash his Bolshevist government. In need of support, Russia found a natural ally in Turkey, which was engaged in an anti-imperialist struggle against the Entente.

In May 1919, Mustafa Kemal Pasha stirred up a national-liberation movement. From the very beginning the riot in Anatolia needed money and weapons, which could only come from Russia. The Azerbaijan Republic (AR) was busy seeking international recognition with Britains help. Mustafa Pasha turned to Moscow.

Sovietization of Azerbaijan as Part of the Relations between the Anatolian Movement and Soviet Russia

From the very beginning of the national-liberation movement, Mustafa Kemal Pasha looked at Russia as a possible ally; on 25 May, 1919, he arrived in Havsa to meet the Soviet delegation.1 The Soviet delegates promised military and financial aid in exchange for Turkeys involvement in the struggle against the Entente, their common enemy.2

The Anatolian Movement, however, split over its attitude toward the Bolsheviks: some of the leaders demanded that Turkey invite the Allied Powers to joint efforts to halt Bolshevism, which was advancing on the Caucasus. Others insisted that, together with the Bolsheviks, Turkey would be able to push the foreign occupation forces away from its territory. As a result, the latter group won.

At the Erzurum Congress (23 July-7 August, 1919), Mustafa Kemal decided to side with the Bolsheviks. He instructed Kazim Karabekir Pasha, commander of the 15th Army, to establish contacts with the Bolsheviks. To get a better idea of the situation in Azerbaijan, he sent Lutfi Omar Bey and Fuat Sabit Bey to Baku; the latter was expected to continue his mission in Moscow.3 Later Mustafa Kemal mentioned that Fuat Sabit Bey had received oral instructions.4

After arriving in Baku, they first sought a reception with AR Premier Nasib Yusifbeyli (Ussubekov) who was very positive about the Turkish request for help.5 Fuat Sabit Bey, however, assisted by the Hummet Party, contacted clandestine Bolshevist circles in Baku.

He deemed it necessary to inform Ankara about his new contacts in a ciphered letter: Ive met with the Bolsheviks. I asked them how they could help us in view of the fact that our country was unsuitable for Bolshevism both socially and economically; social reforms would be rejected by popular traditions. They promised all kinds of assistance, but without roads financial aid is the only practical option. They promised to give us as much as we asked for.6

At the Sivas Congress (4-11 September, 1919), Nuru Pasha invited Kazim Karabekir Pasha to set up a republic to preserve and defend Kars, Batum, and Ardahan.7 Karabekir declined and suggested that he go to Azerbaijan and from there organize assistance to the Anatolian Movement.8

In September 1919, Nuru Pasha arrived in Baku, where he set up a semi-official Representative Office of the Turkish People in an effort to organize assistance to and support of the Anatolian Movement. In December 1919, the Azeri government gave Mustafa Pasha money.9

In September 1919, Mustafa Pasha sent Halil Pasha (who had fought in the Caucasus during the last stage of World War I and knew the region and the Bolsheviks well) to Azerbaijan with instructions to establish contacts with the governments of Soviet Russia and the Azerbaijan Republic in the hope of obtaining material and financial support from both. He was also instructed to open a road between the Soviets and Turkey.10

Halil Pasha had the following to say about the situation in Azerbaijan: The Azeri people want to be with Turkey; some others would prefer independence: they have their misgivings about unification with Turkey. There are also those who prefer to unite with Iranian Azerbaijan rather than Turkey to set up a large Azeri state Recently I received the following ciphered telegram from Karabekir: You need to join efforts with Enver Pasha and Nuru Pasha to bring a Soviet form of government to the Turkish borders. We should act consistently toward this goal, otherwise others will be the winners. This means that Turkey, which had been fighting tsarist Russia in World War I, had to promote the spread of Soviet power in the Caucasus and in Azerbaijan, under the pressure of unfavorable circumstances and for the sake its national interests.

Members of the Social-Political Movements of Turkey in Azerbaijan

On 20 October, 1918, a Karakol Society was set up jointly by Kara Vasif, Kara Kamal, and Baha Sait. Later, it turned out to be a good organizer of national resistance in Turkey; it was instrumental in supplying the Anatolian Movement with arms.

The Karakol Society exerted great efforts to establish contacts with the Bolsheviks in order to organize military assistance to the national resistance in the Caucasus. The Society dispatched Baha Sait Bey (one of its founding fathers and member of its Central Committee) for the talks with the Bolsheviks.11 He carried a mandate of the Interim Revolutionary Government of Turkey which empowered him to negotiate with the Bolsheviks.12

In November 1919, his negotiations with the Caucasian Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) produced a text, which became part of the treaty signed on 11 January, 192013 by Shalva Eliava, for the government of Soviet Russia, and Baha Sait Bey, for the Interim Revolutionary Government of Turkey.

The treaty proclaimed liberation of all Muslim countries from the yoke of the imperialists of Western Europe as its general aim. Under the treaty, Soviet Russia pledged to supply weapons, ammunition, and money and to extend other assistance to the Turkish revolutionary movement. The Turkish side, in turn, promised to assist the Soviets as much as possible in fighting Denikin, Kolchak, and other enemies of Soviet power and support the anti-British uprisings in Batum, Iran, Afghanistan, and India.

Art 11 of the Treaty (which consisted of fifteen articles) deserves special attention: The Russian Soviet Republic and the Turkish Revolutionary Government pledge to assist the common movement unfolding in the Caucasus against the English and Russian imperialists and the present governments of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan which, under orders from and the influence of the European imperialists, are hampering it and acting against the aims and tasks formulated by this treaty. The Interim Revolutionary Government of Turkey, represented by the executive body of the revolutionary Karakol Society, pledges to help all governments that join the Sides to this treaty, the Caucasian Territorial Committee in particular, which is fighting against the three governments mentioned above14

Arts 13 and 14 said that the treaty would be enacted when ratified, while Art 14 allowed the Sides to implement the treaty even before their respective governments responded to it.

The Turks, who late in 1919 and early 1920 were busy establishing contacts between the Anatolian Movement and the Bolsheviks in Baku in order to obtain military assistance for their countries, can be conventionally divided into two groups.

Halil Pasha headed one of them. The other consisted of Fuat Sabit Bey and his closest circle (Yuzbashi Yagub, retired officers of Suleyman Nuri, several other officers, and prisoners-of-war).15 Early in 1920, at a unifying conference, they decided to close ranks for the sake of organizing Soviet assistance to the Anatolian Movement which was fighting the Allied Powers for its continued existence.16 The new structure, which operated in Azerbaijan where the local and Russian Bolsheviks were already active, was named the Turkish Communist Party. Its members included Halil Pasha, Dr. Fuat Sabit, Suleyman, Erkani Harp Mustafa, Baha Sait, Yuzbashi Yagub, Kichik Talat, Salih Zeki, Suleyman Nuri, Hilmi, and others. The new structure had several departments (transportation, publishing, and propaganda) and planned to publish a newspaper.17 Later it appeared in Baku with the name of Novy Put (New Way).

From the very beginning, the Turkish Communist Party maintained active correspondence with the Anatolian Movement. In fact, it coordinated its activities with the directives and instructions issued by Mustafa Kemal and Kazim Karabekir, who intended exchanging the Sovietization of Azerbaijan for Soviet assistance to Anatolia. They ultimately succeeded.

It was obvious that Soviet aid could only reach Anatolia along the Zangezur-Nakhchivan route blocked by the Armenians and the pro-British government of Azerbaijan. This forced the Turkish Communist Party to organize an Azeri offensive against the Armenians, on the one hand, and promote the Sovietization of Azerbaijan, on the other.18

Turkish-Russian Cooperation and the Downfall of the Azerbaijan Republic

Azerbaijans independence was recognized de facto by the Paris Peace Conference, which filled the press in Istanbul with numerous laudatory statements congratulating the leaders of the newly independent state. On 22 January, 1920, the Ottoman parliament officially recognized the independence of the AR; on 2 February, it handed a corresponding document to the AR representative in Istanbul.19 Earlier, during the last stage of World War I, the Ottoman government officially recognized the independence of the Azerbaijan Republic by adopting a decision, but, due to its defeat in the war, it could not bring this decision to fruition.20

Later it became clear that the Entente had not responded to the Turkish national-liberation movement and refused to send its troops to strengthen the anti-Bolshevist Caucasian Rampart the British intended to set up. This left the leaders of the Anatolian Movement with only one option: to draw closer to the Bolsheviks. Mustafa Kemal Pasha said the following in his ciphered telegram to Kazim Karabekir of 6 February, 1920: When the Bolsheviks triumph in the Caucasus and establish stable relations with us, Europe will find itself in a difficult situation Since we believe that the Caucasian Rampart is intended to destroy Turkey, we are compelled to go to extremes to thwart the Ententes plans to set it up. We have to bear in mind all the pitfalls on this road We must mobilize the Eastern Front, either officially or unofficially, to move against the Caucasian Rampart from the rear. We must promptly establish contacts with the new Caucasian governments, especially with the Muslim governments of Azerbaijan and Daghestan, and find out what they think about the Ententes project. If the Caucasian people decide to keep us out, we must come into an agreement with the Bolsheviks about our joint offensive against them.21

On 17 March, Kazim Karabekir sent a letter to Halil Pasha and Nuru Pasha in Azerbaijan, in which he pointed out: In order to appear on Turkeys borders, the Bolsheviks must immediately capture the entire Caucasus. Even if they enter Azerbaijan in small numbers and reach the Turkish borders together with the Azeris, they will be promoting Turkish interests. Their ascent to power in Azerbaijan, Daghestan, and Georgia would likewise be expedient.22

In his telegram of 18 April, 1920, Kazim Karabekir Pasha asked Mustafa Keman Pasha to send a delegation to talk to the Soviets because, he went on to explain, the Turkish representatives in the Caucasus who negotiated with the Bolsheviks seem to have failed the job: there was no military plan, the absence of which might cause trouble when the Turkish and Russian armies meet face to face. Kazim Karabekir wrote: Since the representative delegation seems to be late for the talks, I believe it necessary to promptly send commander of the Trabzon Regiment Minbashi Ali Ryza Bey to Baku with an accompanying officer for talks on military matters only.23

On 26 April, 1920, Mustafa Kemal Pasha deemed it necessary to send a letter to the Soviet government to prevent possible incidents when, after conquering Azerbaijan on the strength of an agreement between the Bolsheviks and the Turkish Communist Party, the Soviet army met the Turkish army. The fact that the letter was late in arriving in Moscow was of no importance because the Turkish Communist Party had been set up in Baku much earlier and was already engaged in the issues that concerned Mustafa Kemal Pasha. It should be said that Point Three of the letter Sovietization of the Southern Caucasus on the Basis of Russian-Turkish Cooperation appeared as Paragraph 11 of the treaty signed on 11 January, 1920 by Baha Sait Bey.

Moscow greatly profited from the fact that the Kemalists engaged in an anti-imperialist struggle with the West had to side with Soviet Russia; this helped it realize its plans in Azerbaijan.

In his letter to Mustafa Kemal Pasha dated 8 April, 1920, one of the leaders of the Turkish Communist Party Baha Sait Bey wrote that the Caucasian Committee had appointed Halil Pasha Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army.24 The Turks sent a courier in good standing to the Red Army Headquarters to find out whether Moscow had accepted Halil Pasha as commander-in-chief. The answer was negative, although the candidate himself and his closest circle never found out about this.25

It should be said that this appointment had no legal force anyway: it was designed to camouflage what the Bolsheviks wanted to do.

In the evening of 26 April, while Halil Pasha was still on his way to Daghestan where he was to meet the Red Army, the 11th Army crossed the border of Azerbaijan and moved toward Baku; unable to wait for a coup in Baku, it invaded the republic and occupied it.

Halil Pasha and Russian Colonel Skachkov, who accompanied him to Daghestan, met with Levandovskiy, commander of the 11th Army. The Russian colonel informed him of the decision to appoint Halil Pasha commander of the Red Army. Levandovskiy, in turn, said that he had no knowledge of this and that he intended to move his army to the old Ottoman-Russian border and advised Halil Pasha to go to Moscow.26 The Turk had to obey.

Despite this incident, Halil Pasha asked the Azeris to allow the 11th Army to move to Baku. His address said, in part: Without resistance on the part of the Azeri army, the Red Army left the Samur, Hachmas, and Charkhi stations behind and is moving forward. There was no bloodshed. Resistance in any other place might cause bloodshed. Azerbaijan will, on the whole, remain an independent peoples republic.

There is no reason for anxiety or panic; all should remain calm and sit tight. The Entente is an enemy of the Muslims; it wants bloodshed between us and the Soviet Red Army. The bloody events in Istanbul and Izmir demonstrated that the Brits are enemies of the Muslims.27 During the April events in Baku, Turkish officers and members of the Turkish Communist Party addressed the disturbed people in the streets and mosques. They said that the Russian army will stay in the city for a while, then move on to Anatolia. On the same day, however (28 April), the Azeri Revolutionary Committee sent a telegram to Moscow with an invitation to join a fraternal alliance for the sake of a joint struggle against world imperialism and extend immediate revolutionary assistance by dispatching the Red Army there.28 This was an official invitation for the 11th Army to occupy the country it had invaded two days earlier without permission.

In Baku, members of the Turkish Communist Party were doing their best to instill sympathy for the Bolshevist regime; this propaganda went on unabated. On 3 May, 1920, they issued a declaration To the Azeri people from the Turkish Communist Bolsheviks, in which they called on the people to support the new, Bolshevist, regime.29

Meanwhile, Mulazim Refet, an eyewitness of the Baku developments, reported to Kazim Karabekir Pasha: The people of Azerbaijan respect Turkey and the Turks. All eyes are riveted on Anatolia and the Milli Mejlis. Their great respect was not shattered even by the fact that the Bolsheviks met with no resistance when they entered Azerbaijan. After seeing how Halil Bey greeted the Bolsheviks at the border, the people opened the borders to them.30

On 1 August 1920, one of the Turkish officers involved in the April events reported: The Bolsheviks, with no influence and respect among the local population, had to calm the people down as they advanced on Baku. They used the Revolutionary Committee to spread information that the Red Army was allegedly intending to help Anatolia, that the Turks and the Bolsheviks were allies, that their commissars were Muslims, that Ryfat Bey, an Ottoman officer, had been appointed Baku governor and commander, and that the Red Army would remain in the city for several days before marching on Armenia. Ottoman officers and teachers drove around the streets in cars spreading this disinformation, which finally duped the people.31

Mamad Emin Rasulzade wrote: Some of the Ottoman Turks operating in Baku misled the people by saying: The Red Army is headed by a Turk, Nijat Bey; the army is staffed by Turks. Many of the soldiers are Turks from the Volga area. This Army is moving to rescue Anatolia, which is fighting its mortal enemies. Resistance to this Army would mean interference in Turkeys rescue. From the viewpoint of pan-Turkic and Muslim unity, this will spell betrayal. The next day it turned out that these lofty words were nothing but a bluff; it was a political gimmick.32

Rasulzade, who well understood Russias true intentions, warned Halil Pasha and other Turks: Dont do this, leave us alone. We lived under Russias yoke for a century and we know it better than you do. They will come under false pretexts and will trample us down.33 His warnings were never heeded.

Turkish officers serving in the Azeri army drove armored vehicles; there were also naval officers from Turkey. An Auxiliary Regiment stationed in Baku was staffed with Azeri volunteers; the officer corps, though, was Turkish; it was used to guard the parliament and other government offices. They moved onto the side of the Bolsheviks. Turkish officers helped capture many strategically important facilities, including the railway station. Major-General M.G. Tlehas, military commander of Baku, was arrested.34 The Turkish military patrolling the railway station prevented the government from leaving the city.35

Mamad Emin Rasulzade went on to write: On 28 April, the Azeri tricolor was replaced, in some places, with a red Soviet flag and, semi-officially, the Ottoman flag. The Turkish flag could be seen over the militia, the Auxiliary Regiment quarters, the city commanders office, and other official buildings; orders and declarations in Turkish could be seen everywhere. This created the impression that the Ottoman Turks were being blamed for the aggression rather than the Russian army. A Turkish government replaced Musavats deposed cabinet; Turkish officers driving around the city were the best confirmation of the above. The leaflets issued in the name of the Turkish Commissariat announced that the pro-English Musavat has been removed: 1. to save Azerbaijan and 2. to ensure Russias support of Turkey, which is fighting for its survival.36

In April 1920, as soon as Bolshevization of Azerbaijan was complete with the active help and direct involvement of Anatolian representatives, Halil Pasha concluded: There was nothing we could do in Azerbaijan any longer.37 After receiving instructions from Kazim Karabekir Pasha, Halil Pasha and Fuat Sabit Bey sent off for Moscow,38 where they held talks in the name of the Anatolian Movement with the leaders of Soviet Russia. They succeeded in obtaining the Soviet assistance they needed.

Several days after the Red Army captured Baku, the Turkish commanders were replaced with Russians. More than that: some of the Turkish officers involved in the occupation were arrested; others were deported.39

On 14 August, 1920, speaking at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal said: The republic of the Bolsheviks was fighting for its own survival. As soon as it disentangled itself from the Entente is became our strongest supporter and ally; it extended us a helping hand The 10th and 11th armies broke through the Eastern Front. These armies easily crossed the Northern Caucasus and entered Azerbaijan; this was our aim, our influence, and our achievement.40

Dr. Ryza Nur, who took part in the Moscow talks of 1921, later wrote in his Life and Memories: The Azeris are very bitter about one thing and always weep when talking about this. No matter who I meet, they all say the same thing: you inspired us and you strangled us Unable to protect themselves, perhaps the Azeris would have subjugated themselves to the Russians; maybe their country would have been captured again. But had they fought, they would have fulfilled their duty; they might even have been able to save their independence.41


On 28 April, 1920, Azerbaijan was Sovietized through the concerted efforts of Turkey and Russia and thanks to the direct involvement of Anatolian representatives. This also became possible because there were other (domestic and external) reasons which buried the AR: the extreme democracy of the government; the Cabinet crisis; the conflict in Karabakh; the local and Russian communists; the perfidy of certain Cabinet members who disorganized the government; the lifted economic embargo on trade with Soviet Russia previously introduced by the allies; the absence of real military aid to the Caucasian republics, etc.

Turkey and Russia drew closer not for ideological reasons, but because the Anatolian Movement needed assistance to be able to continue its national-liberation movement against the European occupants and win it for the sake of Turkeys survival.

1 See: Kh. Ertürk, Behind the Scenes of Two Periods. Reminiscences: Samikh Nafiz Tansu, in three volumes, Ararat Publishers, Istanbul, 1969, p. 344 (in Turkish). Back to text
2 See: Ibid., pp. 344-345. Back to text
3 See: K. Karabekir, Our War of Independence, Vol. 1, Yapy kredi Publishers, Istanbul, 2006, p. 80; K. Gürün, The Turkish-Soviet Relations (1920-1953), Turkish Historical Society, Ankara, 1991, p. 19 (both in Turkish). Back to text
4 See: ATASE (Archives of the War Ministry of the Turkish Republic), A. 1/4282, K. 586, D. 114-34, F. 56. Back to text
5 See: K. Karabekir, op. cit., pp. 395-396. Back to text
6 Ibid., p. 395. Back to text
7 See: Ibid., pp. 203-204. Back to text
8 See: Ibid., pp. 204-205. Back to text
9 See: T. Swietochowski, Russian Azerbaijan in 1905-1920, Baglam Publishers, Istanbul, 1988, pp. 213, 215 (in Turkish). Back to text
10 See: B. Aslan, The Turkish-Azeri Relations and Ibrahim Abilov (1920-1923), Kaynak Publishers, Istanbul, 2004, p. 44 (in Turkish). Back to text
11 See: S. Erosimos, The Turkish-Soviet Relations. From the October Coup to National Resistance, Istanbul, 1979, p. 113; B. Aslan, op. cit., p. 47 (both in Turkish). Back to text
12 See: State Archives of the Republic of Azerbaijan (GAAR), Record group 894, Inventory 10, File 145, pp. 11-13. Back to text
13 See: K. Karabekir, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 702-704; S. Erosimos, op. cit., pp. 134-136. Back to text
14 GAAR, Record group 894, Inventory 10, File 145, pp. 13-14; K. Karabekir, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 702-704; S. Erosimos, op. cit., pp. 134-136. Back to text
15 See: K. Karabekir, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 680. Back to text
16 See: Ibidem; F. Tevetoglu, Socialist and Communist Activities in Turkey. 1910-1960, Ankara, 1967, p. 277 (in Turkish). Back to text
17 See: K. Karabekir, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 680-681. Back to text
18 S. Erosimos, Nationalities and Borders. The Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, Turkish translation by Shirin Tekeli, Iletishim Publishers, Istanbul, 1994, p. 327; I.E. Atnur, Nakhchivan: from the Ottoman to Soviet Rule (1918-1921), TTK, Ankara, 2001, p. 337 (in Turkish). Back to text
19 See: Archives of the Ottoman Government (BOA), HR. MTV, D. 639, G. 16. Back to text
20 See: Ileri, No. 742, 31 January, 1920; Ikdam, 31 January, 1920; Azerbaijan, No. 67, 5 April, 1920; Azerbaijan, No. 68, 6 April, 1920. Back to text
21 K. Karabekir, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 512-514. Back to text
22 Ibid., pp. 598-599. Back to text
23 Ibid., pp. 693-698. Back to text
24 See: Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 688-690. Back to text
25 See: Ibidem. Back to text
26 See: M.B. Mamedzade, The Azeri National Movement, Nijat, Baku, 1992, p. 140 (in Azeri); Halil Pasha, The Never-ending War, Prepared for publication by Taylan Sorgut, Kamer Publishers, Istanbul, 1997, pp. 325-326 (in Turkish). Back to text
27 S.S. Kahraman, Independence Struggle and Enver Pasha (Reminiscences about Trabzon and Kars), Selyuloz Publishers, Izmir, 1949, pp. 130-131 (in Turkish). Back to text
28 M.B. Mamedzade, op. cit., p. 150; Arkhiv Azerbaijana, No. 1-2, 1988, p. 193. Back to text
29 See: Kommunist, 3 May, 1920. Back to text
30 ATASE, A. 1/4282, K. 586, L.114-34, F. 90-91. Back to text
31 M.B. Mamedzade, op. cit., p. 68. Back to text
32 M.E. Rasulzade, The Azerbaijan Republic, Elm Publishers, Baku, 1990, p. 67 (in Azeri). Back to text
33 M.B. Mamedzade, op. cit., p. 137. Back to text
34 See: Arkhiv Azerbaijana, No. 1-2, 1988, p. 153. Back to text
35 See: A.N. Kheyfets, Sovetskaia Rossia i sopredelnye strany Vostoka v 1918-1920 godakh, Moscow, 1964, p. 108. Back to text
36 M.E. Rasulzade, op. cit., p. 67. Back to text
37 Halil Pasha, op. cit., p. 327. Back to text
38 ATASE, A. 1/4282, K. 586, L. 114-34, F. 87-2; K. Karabekir, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 879. Back to text
39 See: M.E. Rasulzade, op. cit., p. 69. Back to text
40 H. Baykara, Istoria borby za nezavisimost Azerbaijana, Azerneshr, Baku, 1992, p. 265 (in Azeri). Back to text
41 R. Nur, Life and Memories, Vol. III, Altyndag Publishers, Istanbul, 1968, pp. 750-751 (in Turkish). Back to text

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