By Svante E. Cornell
Azerbaijan, a small post-Soviet republic positioned at the western shore of the Caspian Sea, has oversized significance becaus of its strategic position on the corssroads of Europe and Asia, its oil assets, and
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Extra resources for Azerbaijan Since Independence
When Nuri Pasha interfered in the formation of a government, Prime Minister Khoisky compromised by redrawing his cabinet in a manner more to the Pasha‘s liking. If Azerbaijan did so for pragmatic reasons, the Ottoman attitude nonetheless broke many illusions of brotherhood. ‖72 But without Ottoman support, there was no chance of taking back Baku. In preparation for the march toward Azerbaijan‘s designated capital, the remnants of the ―Savage Division,‖ the Muslim volunteer army that had taken part in the First World War, merged with Azerbaijani general Ali Agha Shihlinski‘s Muslim National Corps and the Ottoman Fifth Infantry Division, creating the so-called Army of Islam.
59 In this atmosphere of insecurity and increasing antagonism, each political faction acquired arms and ethnic tensions spiraled, leading to a breakdown in relations among Müsavat, the ARF, and the Baku Soviet. In March 1918, the fragile peace broke down when the soviet‘s forces disarmed the Azerbaijani crew of the Evelina, a ship hired by an Azerbaijani regiment from Lenkoran to transport officers to a funeral in Baku. 61 Most socialist forces also aligned with the Bolsheviks against the Müsavat-led Muslim forces that had just returned from the front, and the next day, Muslim residential areas were systematically shelled.
This generated a debate on how best to deal with the conquered lands. One option was to maintain colonial rule over them, and hence not incorporate them outright into the Russian state. That would follow the general model of the Western colonial powers, with some exceptions such as French Algeria or Portuguese colonies. The other option was to designate the territories of the South Caucasus as provinces of the Russian Empire like any other. Russia first tilted toward colonial status, which would be less costly because it would permit local rulers to handle internal matters as long as their loyalty to the czar was unquestioned.
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