The Caucasus in the geopolitical struggle: 200 years ago Russian troops captured Baku
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Ph.D. (Hist.), lecturer at the Baku Institute of Advanced Training for Teachers (Baku, Azerbaijan).
THE CAUCASUS IN THE GEOPOLITICAL STRUGGLE: 200 YEARS AGO RUSSIAN TROOPS CAPTURED BAKU
A b s t
The geopolitical rivalry over the Caucasus has continued into the third millennium- new chessmen have joined the old ones (Turkey, Iran, and Russia) on the «Caucasian chessboard.» The newcomers-the European Union, the U.S., Japan, China, and the Southeast Asian countries- have plunged into a game that has been
r a c t
going on for some time. Amid the unfolding rivalry, Azerbaijan is developing into the dominant element in the Caucasian geopolitical game. The fight for Baku as the key to the region’s resources and territorial riches goes back into the past. The author tells the story of the rivalry over Baku, the «window to the Caucasus. «
P r e l u d e.
The First Onslaught
The Caucasus is an important geopolitical East/West and North/South link, which has served from time immemorial as a transit territory crisscrossed by caravan roads connecting the region with many nations, countries, and continents.
It was the «gateway to the East,» a cherished prize for all sorts of conquerors, and the battlefield where Alexander the Great, Roman legions, Parthians, Sassanian and Byzantine troops, Arabs, and the hordes of Genghis Khan met at different times in bloody clashes.
From the 16th to the 19th centuries, the Caucasus remained an apple of discord for the Ottoman and Russian empires, as well as for the Safavids.
In the 16th century, the Safavids and the Ottoman Turks clashed over the Central Caucasus. The long chain of wars between them ended in 1555 with the Peace Treaty of Amasia, under which the Safavids established their domination in Eastern Georgia and Azerbaijan. Later, in the last quarter of the 16th century, the Ottoman sultans used the domestic strife that was tearing Iran apart to push their weakened rival out of the region. Under the peace treaty signed in Istanbul in 1590, the Iranian rulers recognized their defeat and pulled back from the Central Caucasus, retaining a small part of the Southern Caucasus in their possession.
Russia and the Safavids were not overjoyed to see the Porte on the Daghestanian and Azeri Caspian coasts: its vantage point allowed the sultan to control the Volga-Caspian trade route. Shared
concerns brought the two countries closer together: Shah Abbas I (1587−1629) was even prepared to fight the Ottoman Empire and promised to reward Russia with Derbend and Baku, along with the coast between them, if it joined the planned fight. However, enfeebled by the domestic crisis and the ruinous Livonian War, Moscow wanted no more military involvement.
Early in the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire and Iran resumed their former rivalry over the Central Caucasus. Shah Abbas I, who had radically reformed state administration and the army, launched military campaigns against the Turks. As a result of the war (1602−1612), the Safavids regained their previous foothold and restored their former domination in the east of the Central and the entire Southern Caucasus.
In the first third of the 18th century, the political map of the world changed once more. In
1721, Russia became an empire and entered into the «great-power» period of its history. In the first quarter of the 18th century, the country strived to satisfy the burgeoning empire’s economic interests, which required comprehensive development of the Volga-Caspian trade route and extending the empire’s borders to the Black and Caspian seas: Russia badly needed an outlet to the warm seas and domination over them. To achieve this Russia had to become involved in the struggle already going on for the Caucasus. «The interests of three large states-Russia, Turkey, and Persia- clashed at the isthmus that separated the Black and Caspian seas. «1 The battle for the Caucasus began in earnest.
Azerbaijan, which covered the territory between Derbend and Zenjan, was one of Russia’s key foreign policy aims. Throughout the 17th and the first quarter of the 18th centuries, the country remained a Safavid possession of huge military-strategic importance. Ilia Berezin, a Russian scholar, described Azerbaijan as a «courageous region.. . The best soldiers were conscripted there. «2 In some periods of its, and Iran’s, history, Azerbaijan supplied nearly half of soldiers in the Safavid armies- it also grew grain for Iran and served as a source of huge material value for the Iranian feudal lords. 3
In the 1720s, Russia made its first attempt to conquer the Caspian shores.
Aware of Azerbaijan’s immense riches, Russian Emperor Peter the Great (1682−1725) decided to turn it into a raw material appendage for Russian manufacturing industries. By that time, Russia had already been importing raw silk, cotton, oil, and other raw materials at low prices through Astrakhan. St. Petersburg was busy planning further economic exploitation of the Caspian areas. The Russian government issued a decree under which Russia should have moved to the Kura River to set up a large trading town at its mouth to serve as a busy trading center within the reach of Astrakhan.4 The document described Baku as an important port, which shortened the road to India compared with the sea route round the Cape of Good Hope.
«The Caucasus was the first stage on this great route of Russia’s developing interests in Asian countries. «5 Very soon the Russian emperor also acquired a pretext for paying more attention to the Caucasus.
It was late in the 17th century, in 1694 to be more exact, that the Russian emperor first thought about marching to the Caspian. He spent many years gathering information about Azerbaijan and Iran until he dispatched an embassy headed by Artemiy Volynskiy to Iran in 1715 to study the country’s economic and political situation, as well as its armed forces, firsthand and in detail.
Peter the Great planned to capture the western Caspian as the first stage of his much more impressive plan: he was not merely seeking domination over the Central Caucasus-he wanted to
1 S.M. Soloviev, Istoria Rossii s drevneyshikh vremen, in 15 books, Book IX, Vol. XVIII, Moscow, 1963, p. 365.
2 I. Berezin, Puteshestvie po Daghestanu i Zakavkaz’iu, Part II, Kazan, 1849, p. 90.
3 See: A. Bogdanov, Persia, Moscow, 1909, p. 17.
4 See: I. Golikov, Deiania Petra Velikogo, Vol. 8, Moscow, 1838, pp. 263−264 (quoted from: G. Abdullaev, Azerbaijan v XVIII veke i vzaimootnoshenia ego s Rossiey, Baku, 1965, p. 15).
5 V.A. Potto, Kavkazskaia voyna, in five volumes, Vol. 1, S drevneyshikh vremen do Yermolova, Moscow, 2006,
open India up to Russian merchants and gather complete information about all the trade routes and markets.6 In 1716−1717, a unit under Prince A. Bekovich-Cherkasskiy crossed the Caspian to Central Asia to persuade the Khiva khan to become a Russian subject and to find a road to India. Several documents, in particular the report of French Ambassador to St. Petersburg de Campredon to Cardinal Dubois of 20 March, 1722,7 confirm that Russia planned to organize deliveries of Indian and other Eastern commodities to Europe across its territory and to block the road across the Ottoman dominion.
Early in the 18th century, the crisis that developed in the Safavid state enfeebled the empire. In
1722, Afghan tribal leaders seized the opportunity to invade Iran- after several months of siege, Isfahan, the Safavid capital, fell. Shah Sultan Hussein abdicated- Mir Mahmud, the Afghan leader, proclaimed himself ruler of Iran.
In the spring of 1723, the Ottoman Empire seized the opportunity to invade the Central Caucasus, capture Tiflis and Shemakha, and occupy northwestern Iran. Russia’s position was undermined: on the one hand, its border with the Ottoman Empire became longer- while on the other, its interests in the Caucasus were badly hit. This explains why Russia behaved much more actively in the early 1720s in an attempt to prevent Turkish occupation of the entire Central Caucasus and the Turks' appearance on the Caspian shores.
In 1721, after signing the Nystad Peace Treaty with Sweden, Russia could turn to the south. In pursuit of his ultimate goal-access to the Baltic-Peter the Great «never lost sight of the Orient. He knew only too well that Russia’s prosperity was possible only when it became a trade intermediary between Europe and Asia. «8
Iran could no longer defend the Caspian shores against the Porte-Russia was left to its own devices. Peter the Great repeated all over again: «Russia must occupy the Caspian shores to keep the Turks away from them"9 and «the pasha is moving toward Shemakha, which threatens Baku. «10
The Russian merchants robbed in Shemakha served as a pretext for the Russian march to the Caspian coast of Azerbaijan and Iran. In the summer of 1722, the Russian fleet left Astrakhan under imperial command and headed to the south. On 23 August, the Russians entered Derbend, which put up no resistance. Later, despite the fact that certain circumstances compelled the Russian emperor to return home, the Russian military leaders continued to win one victory after another. On 21 July, 1723, General Matiushkin attacked Baku. He suppressed the city guns with crippling bombardment and forced the city to surrender, without losses on the part of the Russian troops, after a four-day-long siege. The Russians moved fast-after a while they occupied nearly the entire stretch of the western and southwestern coasts, including Baku, Shirvan, Gilian, Mazandaran, and Astrabad. To show his appreciation of the military achievements, Peter the Great promoted General Matiushkin to lieutenant-general and wrote in his congratulatory letter that Baku, as «the key to our entire cause,» was a most precious acquisition- he ordered one thousand poods of oil [1 pood = 16. 38 kg], «or more if possible"11 to be delivered to Russia. The Russians stopped there-to advance further would mean another armed conflict with the Ottoman Empire-something that the Russian Empire preferred to avoid.
Meanwhile Europe was busy inciting the Porte against Russia. The Ottoman ruling circles, which still hoped to achieve unbounded domination over the Central Caucasus, found it hard to accept Russia’s presence on the Caspian shores. They did their best to undermine the Russian
6 See: S.M. Soloviev, op. cit., pp. 350−351.
7 See: Collection of the Russian Historical Society (RIO), Vol. 49, St. Petersburg, 1885, p. 77.
8 S. Soloviev, op. cit., p. 345.
9 Ocherki istorii SSSR. XVIII vek. Pervaia chetvert', Moscow, 1954, p. 606.
10 G. Abdullaev, op. cit., p. 12.
11 V.A. Potto, op. cit., p. 30.
emperor’s plans in the region. In his talks with the sultan, the English ambassador in Istanbul insisted: «The Russian czar is clever, he is deceiving the Turks when he talks about peace. He will capture the Persian provinces and if the sultan does not go against him with arms in hand,» Russia will attack Turkey. 12 The English diplomat promised the sultan financial support if the Porte went against Russia. 13
The relations between the two empires went from bad to worse, but Russian diplomacy managed to avoid a war. On 12 June, 1724, the two countries signed an agreement in the Turkish capital under which the Porte recognized Russia’s rights to the Caspian provinces. Russia, in turn, pledged not to oppose the sultan’s influence on the rest of the Central Caucasus.
Azerbaijan’s Caspian coast, together with Baku, remained in Russia’s possession for nearly 14 years, from 1722 to 1735. According to V. Lystsov, Peter the Great pursued two interconnected, but never declared and never realized, goals: he wanted to move the Sunni Muslims who shared the faith of the Porte out and bring Christians in. 14
The chain of palace coups that shook Russia after the death of Peter the Great in 1725 negatively affected its foreign policy, among other things. Iran, meanwhile, acquired a talented statesman and military leader in the person of Nadir Khan Afshar (who became shah in 1736). Under two treaties- the Rasht of 1732 and Ganja of 1735-with Iran, Russia had to transfer the Caspian regions to Iran and pull out its troops.
The latter half of the 18th century marked an important stage in the history of Azerbaijan. After the death of Nadir Shah in 1747, his empire fell apart- the territory of Azerbaijan became divided among twenty independent khanates and sultanates, the Baku Khanate being one of them.
Meanwhile the protracted war between the Zends and Qajars in Iran brought the latter to power. Acting under Agha Mohammad Khan (1794−1797), the Qajars spread their power across nearly the entire country. The new ruler, very much as his predecessor, dreamt of restoring the Safavid Empire within the borders registered by the 1735 Ganja Treaty with Russia and an agreement of 1746 with the Ottoman Empire. Under these documents the eastern part of the Central Caucasus and Daghestan (as far as the River Sulak) were in the Iranian sphere of influence- the Ottoman sultan dominated in the western part.
Agha Mohammad Khan sought to restore the Safavid Empire to its former grandeur. Russian historian Vladimir Degoev has justly pointed out that Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar resolved to restore what he believed to be «his own» when his attempts to find a common language with the Russians failed and when the sultan promised neutrality. In the summer of 1795, Iranian troops invaded the Central Caucasus and easily captured Ganja and Irevan, which put up no resistance- the fortress of Shusha, the capital of Karabakh, however, resisted for four months and was not captured. During the siege, Georgian Czar Irakly II headed a punitive expedition against Ganja- Agha Mohammad Khan responded: in September 1795, his troops captured and plundered Tiflis- 10,000 were driven into slavery.
Russia’s Second Onslaught in the Caucasus
Russia could not remain indifferent to the Caucasian developments and the military exploits of Agha Mohammad Khan (since 1796, Shah of Iran) in Azerbaijan and Eastern Georgia. In April 1796, Russian Empress Catherine the Great (1762−1796) ordered the Second Caspian campaign to begin. A
12 S.M. Soloviev, op. cit., pp. 392−393.
13 See: Ibid., p. 401.
14 See: V. Lystsov, Persidskiy pokhodPetra I. 1722−1723, Moscow, 1951, pp. 150−151.
corps under Lieutenant-General V. Zubov was dispatched to the region allegedly to punish Agha Mohammad Khan for what he had done to Georgia. In actual fact, however, Russia was seeking a stronger foothold in the north of Azerbaijan, particularly in Baku. The imperial government wanted to complete what Peter the Great had left undone on the Caspian Caucasian coast.
The approaching Russian troops forced the Iranians to retreat beyond the Aras River, the Russians lost no time in capturing Derbend, Kuba, Shemakha, and Ganja. Simultaneously a unit of Major-General Rakhmanov captured Baku, and a Russian garrison was stationed there. In 1796-early 1797, Prince Tsitsianov was appointed commandant of Baku, 15 where he befriended Huseingulu Khan. Ten years later the friends met again under different circumstances.
After taking Baku, an important trade and marine center of the Caspian, the Russian cabinet planned to improve and fortify the Baku harbor to use it as the main naval base and a trade port from where Russia would be able to develop its trade contacts in the region- money and specialists arrived from the capital of Russia. However the project scheduled for the spring of 179 716 was never implemented. The sudden death of the Russian empress in 1796 radically changed the country’s foreign policy. In an effort to be as much unlike his mother as possible, Emperor Paul I (1796−1801) withdrew the Russian troops from the Caucasus. In December 1796, the first Russian units left Azerbaijan, and the last units pulled out of Baku in March 1797. 17
This ended another of Russia’s attempts to capture Baku and the Baku Khanate. However, Russia’s withdrawal did not mean that the empire had buried its expansionist plans in Azerbaijan. An imperial rescript of 16 April, 1799 addressed to Kovalevskiy, one of the ministers, said in particular: «Our interests in that region consist of never (italics mine. -A.A.) permitting any strong ruler, be it a shah or any other, to appear there, so as not to acquire a strong neighbor who may not be able to disturb us but who would be able to cause trouble for the proprietors loyal to us. «18 Another document of the same epoch pointed out that Iran «wanted to capture Baku because he (the shah. -A.A.) believed that it may produce income by paying tribute and by delivering oil and salt. «19
Russia’s Triumph in the Caucasus
In 1801, Alexander I (1801−1825) ascended the Russian throne. Under the new emperor Russia’s Caucasian policy became much more active and aggressive. The empire wanted to spread its political and economic influence far and wide, going as far as occupying other countries under the force of arms. This happened to the East Georgian Kingdom (Kartli-Kakhetia), which was liquidated as an independent state. The northern Azeri khanates, primarily the Baku Khanate, was on St. Petersburg’s agenda. One of the documents of the time said in particular: «We know that the Russian marine merchant fleet badly needs the Baku harbor- we have more plans for it than for the city itself. For the natural reason that the city and the harbor cannot be separated, we should occupy Baku at the first opportune moment- sooner or later this will become inevitable. «20
15 See: A.V. Shishov, Skhvatka za Kavkaz. XVI-XX veka, Moscow, 2005, p. 156.
16 See: P.G. Butkov, Materialy dlia novoy istorii Kavkaza s 1722 po 1803 god, Part II, St. Petersburg, 1869, pp. 418−420.
17 See: Ibid., p. 423.
18 «Vysochayshiy reskript s.s. i ministru Kovalevskomu, dannyi v S. -Peterburge, aprelia 16-go dnia 1799 goda,» in: Akty Kavkazskoy Arkheographicheskoy Komissii (hereinafter AKAK), Vol. I, Tiflis, 1866, Document No. 3.
19 «Vsepoddaneyshiy raport gen. -l. Knorringa, ot 11-go aprelia 1800 goda,» in: AKAK, Vol. I, Document. No. 962.
20 «Predpisanie kn. Tsitsianova n.s. Skibinevskomu (Russia's consul general in Iran. -A.A.), ot 15-go ianvaria 1803 goda,» AKAK, Vol. II, Tiflis, 1868, Document No. 1496.
In 1802, Prince Tsitsianov was appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian troops in the Caucasus. During the First Russo-Iranian War of 1804−1813, his troops defeated the large Iranian cavalry under Crown Prince Abbas Mirza at Elizavetpol and sent it fleeing. Many of the Azeri khanates hastened to become Russian subjects and signed corresponding agreements. General Tsitsianov, however, knew that without a single outpost on the Black Sea and Caspian shores it would be practically impossible to remain in the region separated from Russia by mountains that were non-passable for part of the year.
At first the Russians tried to entice Baku ruler Huseingulu Khan onto their side by peaceful means. Prince Tsitsianov decided to act through Allahverdi-bek of the khan’s retinue and managed to reach an agreement.
In his letter to Huseingulu Khan, the prince wrote: «I have the honor of congratulating Your High Dignity and am firmly convinced that your desire to live peacefully under the high and strong patronage of our Most Gracious Emperor will be confirmed by experience. I have issued all the necessary orders to the troops which will move into Baku and I hope that beginning from this fall you and the house of Your High Dignity will be protected by invincible Russian weapons. «21
The letter was obviously premature: on 19 July, 1803, the Russian commander received a letter from the Baku khan saying that Allahverdi-bek «had gone further than his instructions and powers permitted… «22 The Russian general was infuriated. One of his reports said in part: «.. had the Caspian fleet been ready to fight, I would have immediately ordered it to bombard Baku and use the force of arms to fulfill the signed agreement. «23
The Russian cabinet, however, advised the general to cool down and move first against the Shirvan Khanate. Here is what Chancellor Count Vorontsov had to say: «This is one of those things that cannot be predicted.. From this it follows that the Shemakha Province should be subjugated as the first step toward occupation of Baku. To achieve this, you should convince Mustafa Khan either by force or by tempting promises. «24
General Tsitsianov planned to exploit the war with Iran, which had started shortly before that, to capture Baku and strengthen Russia’s Caspian position. In 1805, the Russian commander trained a landing group under Major-General Zavalishin to be brought to the city walls by sea.
Three weeks before that, the city dwellers had taken to the mountains along with their possessions and families. Those who stayed behind plunged into frantic activities: they positioned guns, prepared ammunition, and gathered everything that might come in handy during the storm. Huseingulu Khan was resolved to fight to the end.
After capturing the port, General Zavalishin presented an ultimatum demanding unconditional surrender. Despite the threat of bombardment, the khan declined the ultimatum and refused to negotiate. On 15 August, 1805, the Russians opened fire on the city. The city responded in kind with even greater success: the Russian ships rolled and tossed, preventing accuracy of fire. Soon after that the two siege cannons at the fleet’s disposal exploded. Shelling from the sea proved useless-the general decided to lay siege on land, but the encircled city did not surrender. It seems that Russian Consul Skibinevskiy was quite right when he wrote to General Knorring in February 1802: «In Baku and Shemakha, people live well enough on trade and farming made possible by the union between the local khans and their neighbors and enjoy moderate governance» to want to live under
21 «Pis'mo kn. Tsitsianova k Husein-Kuli-khanu, ot 27 iiunia 1803 goda,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1503.
22 «Vsepoddaneyshiy raport kn. Tsitsianova, ot 19-go iiulia 1803 goda, No. 25,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1504.
24 «Otnoshenie kantslera gr. Vorontsova k kn. Tsitsianovu, ot 23-go sentiabria 1803 goda,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1506.
25 «Raport nadv. sov. Skibinevskogo gen. -l. Knorringu, ot 26 fevralia 1802 goda, No. 99,» in: AKAK, Vol. I, Document No. 887.
Frequent sorties of the defenders showed that they remained as energetic and as convinced of their victory as ever, their courage being fed by the hope that their neighbors would come to the rescue. Pretty soon the defenders learned that Sheikh-Ali Khan of Kuba and Surkhay Khan of Kaziku-mukh and their large armies were not far away. The «unwanted guests» had to retreat: on 3 September, 1805, General Zavalishin moved away from the fortress- on 5 September, the allies moved on the city and entered it as victors.
The attempt to capture the fortress failed-the city people passed the test. Not knowing what to do next, the Russian general gathered a military council that decided to evacuate the harbor and move to Sara Island not far from Lenkoran.
Prince Tsitsianov could not conceal his disappointment. In a letter to General Zavalishin he wrote: «I should say, Your Excellency, that had I not been forced to move around my home on crutches because of my crippling illness, which undermines my strength, and had we not been separated by 400 versts [1 verst = 0. 6629 miles], I would have hastened to uphold the glory of Russia and would have died at the walls rather than allowed Husein-Kuli-khan to brag that he had defeated the Russians who could not defeat him. «26
The Russian commander tried to justify the defeat to Emperor Alexander I. He wrote in one of his reports: «The fleet has already moved away from Baku- it failed to capture it to the dishonor of Russia and its glorious arms. It is poor consolation to say that I am not to blame- I even dare to reveal to Your Majesty the true causes of the failure: the entire fleet had only two siege cannons- and the landing group had two howitzers. Only these guns were suitable for shelling. All the other guns, 120 in all, were ill-suited to bombardment. Indeed, how much damage can we expect from a 3-pound ball against a stone city with stone walls one sazhen [1 sazhen = 2. 1336 meters] thick?"27
In another report Prince Tsitsianov went into even more details: «I should say in all justice that the fleet commanders were responsible for our failure at Baku, the capture of which should have become the glorious result of the entire marine expedition: (1) the fleet was badly armed- (2) the ships were badly prepared for fighting: there were only two siege cannons and four 12-pound cast iron guns on the ships designed for bombardment- after five days of shelling, the former (the siege cannons) exploded, while no other country or army would use 12-pound guns against 3-arshin-thick [1 arshin = 28 inches] city walls. «28
Used to victories and unquestioned submission, the Russian general found it hard to accept the defeat. The memory of the failure forced the prince to storm Baku once more with a unit of 1,600 men and ten guns under his personal command. In his report to Emperor Alexander I, he argued: «I shall hasten to the walls of this fortress. To justify my movement with the troops in this direction, I will say that (1) spring is ill-suited for fighting because the smaller rivers overflow and cattle is not fat enough- (2) the sazhen-deep snow that covers the area from Tabriz to Karadag will discourage the Persians from coming to the rescue. I think that Husein-Kuli-khan will be much more pliable without this. «29
The troops moved across the Shirvan Khanate and annexed it to Russia «in passing.» On 25 December, 1805, Mustafa Khan of Shirvan signed the agreement. Baku remained the only unconquered spot on the Caspian coast. 30 Prince Tsitsianov ordered Huseingulu Khan of Baku to be informed that
26 Predlozhenia kn. Tsitsianova gen. -m. Zavalishinu, ot 23-go sentiabria 1805 goda, No. 681,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1511.
27 «Vsepoddaneyshiy raport kn. Tsitsianova, ot 27-go sentiabria 1805 goda, No. 42,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1512.
28 «Vsepoddaneyshiy raport kn. Tsitsianova, ot 19-go oktiabria 1805 goda, No. 44,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1515.
29 «Vsepoddaneyshiy raport kn. Tsitsianova, ot 27-go noiabria 1805 goda, No. 46,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1518.
30 See: «Vsepoddaneyshiy raport kn. Tsitsianova, ot 27-go dekabria 1805 goda, No. 51,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1366.
he was resolved to take the city or die at its walls. There was what he wrote to the khan: «I write to you, Your High Dignity, not as a Russian general, but as the man who had the honor to know you as a major-general and the Baku commandant during the Persian campaign of 1796. I plead with you as your former acquaintance to spare yourself and your family, to avoid the fate of Jevad Khan- later everything could be rearranged. «31
After a long and difficult march, the Russian troops under General Tsitsianov entered the Baku Khanate. Deprived of support from the Kuba and Shemakha khans, Huseingulu Khan, who no longer expected help from the Persians, asked Mustafa Khan of Shemakha to mediate. However General Tsitsianov declined the peace proposals. 32
On 30 January, 1806, the Russian troops stopped at the Nakhar-Bulag stow, from where the prince once more demanded that Baku should surrender. His letter said: «For the last time I propose that Your High Dignity give me a final answer to my main demand: are you prepared to submit the city to my conscience or not? Customs allow you to formulate your own proposals if you decline ours. In this case, I should warn you that, first, as a port, Baku will not be left without a Russian garrison- second, that we will not be able to allow you to receive customs dues since Baku is a port- third, Russia will not tolerate oppression of traders, and, finally, be sure that we shall need your eldest son as amanat [hostage]-this cannot be otherwise. Here are the four main points- if you disagree with them, we would be better to stop our correspondence. You should rely on your own bravery and the bravery of your subjects, while I shall do what I must and we shall see how God sees fit to dispose of the situation. I shall expect your answer by tomorrow morning. «33
The Russian troops at the city walls and the obviously unequal forces convinced Huseingulu Khan that capitulation was the only alternative. Prince Tsitsianov rejoiced- his new letter to the Baku khan differed greatly from all the others in form and content: «Dear Husein-Kuli-khan! After writing to you as a Russian general, I deem it my duty to write to you as an old acquaintance, as to my brother and friend.. Let us forget the old and remain friends for all times- I remain devoted to you in heart and soul. «34
On the morning of 8 February, 1806, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army in the Caucasus Prince Tsitsianov in full regalia accompanied by a small unit, which was expected to occupy the fortress, approached the well half a verst away from the city. He was met there by the Baku elders prepared to hand him the keys to the city gates. The Russian general refused to accept them and demanded that Huseingulu Khan hand them to him in person. The khan immediately appeared and moved toward the general, who, after leaving his retinue behind, went with his adjutant (Lieutenant-Colonel Eristov) and a Cossack to meet the khan half-way. As soon as he came close enough, several shots sounded, killing the Russian general and his adjutant. The crowd on the city wall hailed the murder with a round of artillery fired at the group of Russians standing by the well. In the commotion that followed the khan’s bodyguards picked up the bodies and fled.
Military historian V. Potto wrote: «It was a critical moment, in which the honor, dignity, and glory of Russia was at stake. Major-General Zavalishin, the highest officer in the unit, proved unable
31 «Pis'mo kn. Tsitsianova k Husein-Kuli-Khanu, ot 23-go noiabria 1805 goda, No. 856,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1516 (see also letters of Prince Tsitsianov of 31 January, 1 February, 1806, as well as answers by Husein-Kuli-Khan, in: AKAK, Vol. II, Documents Nos. 1522, 1523, 1524).
32 See: «Predpisanie kn. Tsitsianova gen. -m. Zavalishinu, ot 29-go dekabria 1805 goda, No. 987,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1520.
33 «Pis'mo kn. Tsitsianova k Husein-Kuli-khanu, ot 2-go fevralia 1806 goda, No. 67,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1525.
34 «Pis'mo kn. Tsitsianova k Husein-Kuli-khanu, ot 6-go fevralia 1806 goda, No. 71,» in: AKAK, Vol. II, Document No. 1527.
to meet the challenge. He cowardly retreated in haste from the fortress under the pretext of food shortages and a great number of ailing and sick. After putting his troops on the ships, he left the Transcau-casus for Daghestan, to the Shamhal dominions, from which he finally reached, with great difficulties, the [Russia manned Caucasian fortified] line. «35
The murder of General Tsitsianov at the walls of Baku did not change Russia’s plans in the region. Several months later, in the summer of 1806, Russian troops under General Glazenap moved from the Northern Caucasus toward Baku along the Caspian coast. On 22 June, they captured Der-bend- on 3 October, 1806, the Russian forces under General Bulgakov (who had replaced General Glazenap) occupied the Baku Khanate, its capital, and the Kuba Khanate. The rulers were deposed, while their dominions became part of the Russian Empire.
Why did Russia persist in its efforts to capture the Baku Khanate, one of the small Azeri domains? What attracted it? Here is the answer found in one of the contemporary documents: «This khanate and its settlements occupy a small territory, yet it brings over 100,000 rubles into His Majesty’s treasury- it could generate even higher revenues since the city is fairly large, while its harbor is the best on the Caspian. «36
After capturing Baku and the Baku Khanate, the Russian commanders ordered the people to put down their arms: the First Russo-Iranian War was still going on. In one of his orders dated 1807, new Commander-in-Chief of the Russian troops in the Caucasus I. Gudovich said: «Be vigilant in the Baku fortress and preserve order- keep 1 or 2 guns at the main guardhouse. I especially recommend you to ensure that the local people do not carry arms- I order once more that they be removed from the ordinary people and left to important officials and to those who are absolutely reliable and of whose loyalty and devotion as well as diligence you are absolutely sure. «37
The new authorities never let tax collection slacken. The Russian commanders of Baku kept the process under strict control and did not allow the amount of the money collected to be lower than the sums the khan gathered in his time. Everything was taxed: oil and salt production, as well as the sale of non-food commodities and foodstuffs. In some cases the commandant could raise prices to collect more taxes.
C o n c l u s i o n
The Baku Khanate was abolished in 1806 when the Russian troops captured its capital. For more than a century, Baku remained a backwater city of the Russian Empire. After the administrative-juridical reform of 1840 in the Caucasus, the Baku Khanate became part of the Caspian Region as the Baku Uezd. In 1846, after more administrative reform, the Baku Uezd became part of the Shemakha Gubernia. After the earthquake of 1859, which destroyed Shemakha, the center was moved to Baku, while the Baku Gubernia became the administrative unit.
When the Empire fell apart after the February 1917 revolution in Russia, the Republic of Azerbaijan appeared (1918) — Baku was restored to its former grandeur as the capital of an independent state. In April 1920, however, Baku and Northern Azerbaijan were occupied by the 11th Red Army and, for the next 70 years, became part of the Soviet empire. It was in October 1991 that Azerbaijan finally detached itself from the Soviet Union to become an independent republic.
35 V.A. Potto, op. cit., pp. 257−258.
36 «Otnoshenie gr. Gudovicha baronu Budbergu, ot 22-go oktiabria 1806 goda, No. 66,» AKAK, Vol. III, Tiflis, 1869, Document No. 642.
37 «Predlozhenie gr. Gudovicha gen. -m. Gurievu, ot 16-go marta 1807, No. 186,» AKAK, Vol. III, Document No. 657.
Today, early in the 21st century, Baku and the entire country continue to play an important role in world politics. The transport corridor that connects Europe and Asia via the Caucasus has not lost its importance in the context of East-West relations. Baku plays the key role in extracting and transporting Caspian hydrocarbon resources, which means that the interests of the great powers and the key states of the Caucasian region still clash here. Baku remains the «golden apple,» the cherished prize for all those involved in the battle for the Caucasus.