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Why did the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic concede Iravan to the Republic of Armenia as the capital city?

First of all, Iravan – the present day Yerevan – was historically a Turkic-Azerbaijani city rather than an Armenian one, until the 1920s. The site where Iravan stands today was called “Chukhur Sad” (Sad’s Hollow), in honour of the famous Sad, the head of the Turkic tribe, as it was situated on lowlands and surrounded by high mountains. The area of Chukh Sad was also one of the Safavid Empire’s 13 main beylerbeyliks.[1]

According to Evliya Chelebi, the famous seventeenth century Ottoman traveller, in the year 915 in the Hijri calendar (1509-1510 in the Gregorian calendar) Shah Ismayil instructed Ravangulu khan, one of his viziers, to build a fortress on the banks of the river Zangi, which had become a strategically important place after he conquered the city of Iravan in 1501. The fortress had to be for defensive purposes. Construction of the fortress was completed in 7 years, and it was given the name Ravan. Later, many castles were built next to Ravan fortress and as a result the fortress acquired a city-castle form. In particular, the castles built by commander of the Ottoman Empire Farhad Pasha in 1583[2], and others built by Nakhchivan viceroys in 1605[3], became highly important components of the city-castle. As a center for the Chukhur Sad Beylerbeylik, Iravan became the largest city of the region in the seventeenth century. It was also the capital city of the Iravan Khanate in the eighteenth century.

Concerning of the ethnic composition of Iravan in the Middle Ages, as indicated in different sources, the majority of population of the region during Safavid Empire, Ottoman Empire, and Iravan Khanate were ethnic Azerbaijanis. Thus, according to statistics contained in books about Iravan that were written by Ottoman Empire officers in 1590 and 1728 respectively, at the end of the sixteenth century 67.5 % of the region’s population were ethnic Azerbaijanis, and later on this number increased to 78% in the second half of the eighteenth century.[4] In addition, French traveller Jean Charden, who visited Iravan in 1672-1673, wrote that the population of Iravan was around four thousand and all of them were “pure blood Safavids” – Azerbaijanis.[5] These indicators remained the same during the Iravan Khanate from the ethnic as well as the place name points of view, and all documents showed that there were more Azerbaijanis than Armenians in this region.[6]

After Azerbaijan was occupied by the Tsarist Empire, the Iravan Khanate ceased to exist in 1828 and a new Iravan guberniya was created in 1848, in line with the new administrative divisions of the Tsarist Empire, where the majority of the population were Azerbaijanis. However, as a result of the Tsarist Empire’s migration policy, approximately 6,949 Armenian families, a total of 35,560 Armenian people, were settled in north Azerbaijan from the Persian Empire in 1828 and 1829.[7] The settlement of Armenians in territory that belonged historically to Azerbaijan continued after the Treaty of Adrianople (Edirne) was signed between the Tsarist and Ottoman empires in 1829. Under the terms of this Treaty, more than 14,000 Armenian families, a total of 85,000 Armenian people, from the Ottoman Empire settled once more in north Azerbaijan in 1829 and 1830.[8]

The majority of these Armenian migrants settled in Karabakh, Nakhchivan, and Iravan provinces. Overall, between 1828 and the beginning of the twentieth century approximately one million Armenians from the Persian and Ottoman empires were settled in Azerbaijan, including Iravan.[9] However, despite a large number of Armenians settling in Iravan as a result of the Tsarist Empire’s migration policy, according to official Russian documents from 1918 more than 54% of the population of Iravan was still Azerbaijani.[10] Therefore, in order to understand why the ADR conceded Iravan, a historically Azerbaijani city where majority of the population were Azerbaijani, to the Republic of Armenia in 1918, it is necessary to look at the ongoing political processes of that time in the region, as well as in the international arena. Thus, at the first meeting of the Batum Conference on May 11, 1918, Khalil bey, the Ottoman Empire’s Minister of Justice who was head of the Ottoman delegation, made it clear that the Turkish side would no longer accept the treaty of Brest-Litovsk as a basis for negotiation at the Batum Conference. In the name of the Ottoman Empire, Khalil bey demanded new concessions and territories to compensate for Ottoman Empire casualties during the First World War.[11] These Ottoman Empire demands deepened the controversies with the Transcaucasia delegation and paved the way for the bilateral negotiations between the individual delegations of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, on the one hand, and the Ottoman Empire and Germany, on the other. Turkish historian A.N. Kurat wrote the following on this matter, “[…] it was impossible for Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis to live together as a state. In these circumstances, in order to ensure sustainability and cogency of the final peace treaty with Ottoman Empire, the Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis communities of the Transcaucasian Commissariat should form independent states. This concept was proposed by the government of Ottoman Empire, which made it clear to the delegation of the Transcaucasian Commissariat that only in this circumstance the final treaty may be concluded”.[12]

The demands of Ottoman Empire regarding the new concessions and territories in turn of it causalities in the First World War did not changed after the collapse of the Transcaucasian Commissariat on 26 May 1918, but toughened. Even when the Transcaucasian Commissariat was on the verge of collapse, Talaat Pasha, the Grand-Vizier (Prime Minister) of the Ottoman Empire, in his telegram dated May 24, 1918 to Khalil bey, the head of the Ottoman Empire delegation to the Batum Conference, wrote the following, “I am absolutely not in favor of the Armenians establishing a government. A small Armenian autonomous [government] will five years later become a five-million-strong Armenian state, it will dominate the Caucasus, and it will become the ‘Bulgaria of the East’. All the Armenians in Iran and America will gather there and, as you describe, they will get every form of aid from the English and French, and in the future they will move against us with the Christian Georgians and also with great ease with the Persians”.[13]

At that time there was some disagreement within the Ottoman Empire government regarding “The Armenian Question”. Although Talaat Pasha and Anvar Pasha were against an Armenian state being formed in the region, Khalil bey and Vehib Pasha insisted on the significance of granting Armenia some concessions and the right to a political existence, at least as far as international society was concerned. It should be stressed that the feelings of the Azerbaijani delegation were not positive regarding the intentions of Talaat Pasha and Anvar Pasha over “The Armenian Question”. They argued that if there were two independent states in the South Caucasus – Georgia and Azerbaijan – instead of three, then the large numbers of Armenians in the neighbouring countries would migrate to Azerbaijan, and this would lead to further bloodshed, fatalities and destruction. In order to avoid these problems, it would therefore be more appropriate to create a national Armenian state in a small area and gather all Armenians together in that state.[14]

As a result of the series of negotiation with Mammad Amin Rasulzada and Mahammad Hasan Hacinski on this issue, Khalil bey agreed with the Azerbaijani delegation, which significantly needed the support of the Ottoman Empire. However, Anvar Pasha strongly opposed this proposal, while echoing Talaat Pasha’s fear. In his letter to Vehib Pasha, he therefore clearly expressed his intention to prevent an Armenian state being created in the Caucasus, to divide the territories where Armenians were living between Azerbaijan and Georgia, and to wipe out all Armenians from Muslim territories. If this was not possible, it is necessary that Armenia be formed in an extremely weak and unviable form. Anvar Pasha was totally against conceding Iravan to Armenian as a capital city.[15]

However, unlike Talaat Pasha and Anvar Pasha, Vehib Pasha supported Khalil bey’s view. Regarding the intentions of Anvar Pasha, Vehib Pasha pointed out that “we cannot completely obliterate Armenians. In any case, we should give them an existence”.[16]

Thus, in May 1918 Armenia declared its independence with ten thousand square kilometers of territory, which was also find its reflection in the Treaty of Batumi that was signed on June 4, 1918.[17] And the ADR decided to concede Iravan to Armenia as a capital city.[18] More precisely, during the peace conference in Batumi at the end of May 1918, the delegations of both states agreed that “Azerbaijan will not object to the proclamation of Iravan as the capital of Armenia and in response to this gesture of goodwill, Armenia will give up claims to a part of the Yelizavetpol governorate, i.e. the mountainous part of Karabakh”.[19] Consequently, on June 19, 1918 the government of the newly independent Armenia moved from Tiflis to the city that was historically part of Azerbaijan. On 25 September, 1918, an editorial of the government newspaper Azerbaijan narrates with the hope that “now that the center of an old Muslim khanate – the city of Iravan – has been ceded to the Armenians with a pain in the heart, Dashnaktsakans should, no matter how difficult it is, forget enmity toward the Muslims of the Caucasus and try to establish good relations with them”.[20]

[1] Qaradağlı, Rizvan, “Çuxursəd qala şəhəri-İrəvan”, Antik və Orta əsr Azərbaycan şəhərləri arxeoloji irsi tarixi memarlığı, oktyabr 27-28, 2010, Azərbaycan, Şəmkir-Gədəbəy Beynalxalq elmi konferansın materialları (Bakı, 2012), p. 620.

[2] Rıhtım, Mehmet, Evliya Çələbi Səyahətnaməsində Azərbaycan (Bakı, 2012), pp. 86-87.

[3] Qaradağlı, “Çuxursəd qala şəhəri-İrəvan”, pp. 620-621.

[4] İrəvan əyalətinin icmal dəftəri (Research, translation, notes and annexes have done by Ziya Bünyadov and Hüsaməddin Məmmədov (Qaramanlı) (Bakı, 1996), pp. 11-18.

[5] Şardən, Jan, Parisdən İsfahana səyahət (Translated from French language by Vaqif Aslanov) (Bakı, 1994), p. 21.

[6] Mahmudov, Yaqub, Kərimov, Fərid, Xanbabayeva, Mehri, Əhmədov, İdris, and Cəfərova, Kəmalə, İrəvan Xanlığı: Rusiya işğalı və ermənilərin Şimali Azərbaycan torpaqlarına köçürülməsi (Bakı, 2010), pp. 69-100.

[7] Иван Иванович, Шопен, Исторический памятник состояния Армянской области в эпоху ее присоединения к Российской империи (СПб., 1852), p. 539.

[8] Niftaliyev, Ilgar, “Genocide and Deportation of Azerbaijanis of the Erivan Governorate (1918- 1920)”, Heritage, Vol. 2, No. 13, 2013, p. 53. See also: Утверждение русского владычества на Кавказе Под редакцией В.А. Потто. т. IV, ч. 2. (Тифлис, 1908), p. 453.

[9] Шавров, Н.Н., Новая угроза Русскому делу Закавказе: Престояшая распродажа Мугани инородцам (Баку, 1990), p. 64.

[10] AXC Ensiklopediyası, Vol. 1, (2004), p. 15. See also: Abışov, Vaqif, Azərbaycanlıların soyqırımı:1917-1918-ci illər (Bakı: Nurlan, 2007), p. 25.

[11] Документы и материалы по внешней политике Закавказья и Грузии (Тифлис, Типография правительства Грузинской Республики, 1919), pp. 313-314. See also: Qafarov, V., Türkiyə-Rusiya münasibətlərində Azərbaycan məsələsi (1917-1922) (Bakı: Azərnəşr, 2011), pp. 157-158.

[12] Kurat, A.N., Türkiye ve Rusiya (Ankara, Kültür Bakanlığın Yayınları, 1990), p. 476.

[13] Reynolds, Michael A., “Buffers, Not Brethren: Young Turk Military Policy in the First World War and the Myth of Panturanism”, Past and Present, No. 203, 2009, p. 165. See also: Kurat, Türkiye ve Rusiya, pp. 661-662. See also: Qafarov, Türkiyə-Rusiya münasibətlərində Azərbaycan məsələsi, pp. 160-161.

[14] Qafarov, Türkiyə-Rusiya münasibətlərində Azərbaycan məsələsi, p. 163.

[15] Qafarov, Türkiyə-Rusiya münasibətlərində Azərbaycan məsələsi, p. 166. See also: Reynolds, “Buffers, Not Brethren”, p. 165.

[16] Qafarov, Türkiyə-Rusiya münasibətlərində Azərbaycan məsələsi, p. 168.

[17] Qafarov, Türkiyə-Rusiya münasibətlərində Azərbaycan məsələsi, pp. 168-169.

[18] Cornell, Svante E., The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict (Report no. 46, Department of East European Studies, Uppsala University, 1999), p. 7.

[19] Niftaliyev, “Genocide and Deportation of Azerbaijanis of the Erivan Governorate”, p. 55. See also: Qafarov, Türkiyə-Rusiya münasibətlərində Azərbaycan məsələsi, p. 169.

[20] Газета “Азербайджан”, 25 сентября 1918 г. Retrieved from Niftaliyev, Niftaliyev, “Genocide and Deportation of Azerbaijanis of the Erivan Governorate”, p. 56.