Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Azerbaijan and the Caspian Basin: Pipelines and Geopolitics

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Azerbaijan and the Caspian Basin: Pipelines and Geopolitics

Article excerpt

Thank you for inviting me here to talk about Azerbaijan in the regional context, the foreign policy of Azerbaijan, and issues related to oil and the pipeline. I will try to present an overview of developments in the country and in the region.

Azerbaijan, as part of the Caucasus region and Central Asia, has been over many centuries a kind of arena for confrontation and was the object of disputes and wars between many powers, especially the three regional powers, Iran, Turkey, and Russia. Western players have always had an interest in the region; they came to the region for a short period of time and left it. What is known today as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and part of Georgia was once a part of Iran and the Persian empire. In 1813 and later in 1828, two Russo-Iranian peace treaties were signed. As a result of these agreements (the Turkmenchai and Gulistan Treaties) what is today Azerbaijan, Armenia, and part of Georgia became part of the Russian empire. Before that, on the territory of Azerbaijan and Armenia, there were mainly khanates, the small feudal kingdoms warring amongst themselves, such as the Baku Khanate, the Karabakh Khanate, and the Yerevan Khanate. All of them were to a certain extent controlled by the Iranian king or shah. After 1828, a new administration was imposed on the whole territory and Russian governorships were established. The main ones were Baku, Yelizavetpol (which included what is today Gyandzha and the whole of Karabakh, both lowland and highland), and the Armyanskii Rayon, which was established formally in the Yerevan Khanate. In this way, in the nineteenth century, a new phenomenon came to the whole region: the influence of and total control by the Russian empire.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Baku oil was found. Many entrepreneurs from around the globe came to this city, which was small and unknown to the world, actually just an unknown town on the coast of the Caspian Sea. The period including the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth is known as the oil boom. The development of Baku really began during this period; the whole downtown was built, designed by French, German, and Italian architects who were invited to the city by oil barons. Most importantly, the oil boom brought cultural and intellectual development.

The liberalization of Nicholas II within the Russian empire served to benefit many Azeris who were able to establish political parties. About 160 newspapers and magazines were published in Baku alone, and this figure reflects the intensity of political and intellectual life in Baku at that time. In 1911, the Musavat Party, the main national democratic party, was established. It actually came to power with the collapse of the Russian empire in 1917 as a result of the October Revolution. In 1918, Azerbaijan proclaimed itself the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which was a very historic event for the whole Muslim people and for the whole Middle East because it was the first republic that had ever been established in the whole Middle East. Some of the political parties formed a coalition government as a result of the first democratic parliamentary elections in 1919, and the first multiparty parliament was established.

When the British general, Thompson, arrived after World War I and was sent to Baku by Allied forces, he came and said, "I am commander-in-chief. I was sent here by Allied forces, and I am going to govern, and I don't recognize any government here." The leaders of the young Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, who had received their degrees from Oxford and the Sorbonne and other places (they were very fluent in English and other foreign languages), said that this was fine and that they should hold free and fair parliamentary elections and let the people choose who would govern this state. General Thompson was shocked by the liberal approach that they took, and said, "I totally support your government, your ideas, and your European and liberal attitude towards the governance of the country. …

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