The Note Issues of Azerbaijan

 Part I – The Baku Issues

Peter Symes

This is a story of war and paper money. Commonly, war is the progenitor of paper money and in this study it is observed how war produced several issues of paper money in Azerbaijan in a relatively short period of time. The small nation of Azerbaijan is situated on the western shores of the Caspian Sea—bordered to the south by Iran, on the north by Russia and in the west by Armenia and Georgia. Azerbaijan is now an independent country, but this was not always the case. Often grouped with Armenia and Georgia as the Trans Caucasus, at the beginning of the twentieth century Azerbaijan was part of the Russian Empire, before being incorporated in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics following the victory by the Bolsheviks in the civil war. However, for a few short years, before being conquered by the Russian Bolsheviks, Azerbaijan struggled with allegiances to the old and new regimes, ultimately seeking self-determination. During this period several series of bank notes were issued. This is the story of the banknotes.

            Towards the end of World War I the situation in the Trans Caucasus region was unstable and complex. In much of Russia turmoil resulted from various governments, revolutions and the civil war. Russia had entered the Great War in an alliance with Great Britain, Italy and France, but in February 1917 the Imperial Government had been overthrown in a revolution. The revolution saw the emergence of many political parties, with the principal parties being the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries. However, each party had split into two principal factions. The Social Democrats split into the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, while the Social Revolutionaries split into the Left and Right. While these were the principal parties, throughout Russia many other parties were formed along social or national interests.

            Isolated, at the very southern extremity of the Russian Empire, the three regions of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan were predominantly sympathetic to the Mensheviks, but in Baku, where there was a large industrial work force, left-leaning parties gained a strong foothold. The Baku oil fields had drawn people from the surrounding regions, providing work for many and wealth for others. Typically, the Azerbaijani businessmen found themselves displaced from major business activities by Europeans, Russians and Armenians. Despite their initially poor representation in the major industries, Azerbaijani businessmen did develop many business interests and dominated some industries, such as shipping. However, the majority of native Azerbaijanis (who were Muslims and who had a close affinity with the Turks) often found themselves reduced in status, usually employed as unskilled labour while Russians and Armenians were employed in the more lucrative positions of office workers, administrators, and skilled labour.

            In 1917 Baku was not a stable city. When the outcome of the Russian revolution of February 1917 became known in Baku, there was general approval, with three distinct political entities being formed: the Soviet Endnote , consisting of representatives of the workers and soldiers; the Executive Committee of Public Organization, which received delegates from all elements of Baku society; and the municipal Duma, which had been elected before the revolution and which represented the ruling elite of the ‘old guard’.

            The Duma, or ‘City Council’, and the City Administration had existed in Tsarist times, having been set up during the Urban Reform of 1870. The Duma was a representative body that was barely representative. In 1900 there were only 1,631 citizens of Baku (roughly 1.5 percent of the population) who could vote in the Duma elections, as suffrage was based on property ownership and turnover of trade. Largely populated by Russians, the Duma was specifically limited under law to less than a third of its members being Muslim. However, by the time of the February revolution, more than a third of its members were Muslims, as Azerbaijanis slowly made inroads into the political landscape of Baku. As the Duma controlled the administration of the city prior to the revolution, it retained its role after February 1917 and the administration of the city equally remained unchanged. However, while Azerbaijanis had achieved representation in the Duma, Azerbaijanis had made little inroads into employment within the City administration, which remained a stronghold of Russians and Armenians. The City Administration was responsible for the city’s sanitation, construction, land, water, schools, defence, medical facilities, and finance.

            The Executive Committee of Public Organization was established on 3 March 1917 following the February revolution. It consisted of representatives of the workers and the old guard, i.e. the industrialists, corporations and former Tsarist authorities. The formation of the Executive Committee was in response to a fiat from the Provisional Government in Petrograd for provincial cities to form committees to act as local organs of the central government. However, at a separate meeting in Baku on 3 March, committees of workers representatives, i.e. trade unions, factory committees and co-operatives, met to form the Soviet.

            The Duma assumed that it would take control of the Executive Committee but this control was disputed by members of the Executive Committee, and the three organs of government vied for control of Baku in the ensuing months. The various political parties in Baku sought representation in the Duma, Executive Committee, and Soviet, and these representatives sought to lift the profile of the organ on which they served. While there was some disagreement on the roles and responsibilities of the three authorities, there was also much co-operation between these administrative elements; although dissent within the authorities occurred along party lines when support was requested for the political players in Russia.

            Most political parties in Baku wanted to adopt a defensive position with regard to the Great War and when, in May 1917, the Bolsheviks in Baku attempted to condemn the formation of a coalition government in Petrograd, they were defeated by a coalition of Mensheviks, Dashnaks Endnote , and Social Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks were never a major numerical force in Baku, despite the impact they were later to have in events. The Bolshevik party’s strength was in the industrial workers of the oil fields and in the army. While they were isolated by some of their political views, they grew to prominence by advocating and agitating for economic reforms in the factories and, as time passed, they sought to transfer this influence in the labour and economic arena to a political movement. A Bolshevik-led strike in September 1917 saw the oil producers give in to many demands and this bolstered the Bolsheviks’ standing as a political force. However, when the Bolsheviks launched their revolution in Russia in October 1917, their Baku counterparts did not follow suit. In Baku the Bolsheviks had been unable to break the strong link between the workers and the other classes, which were supported by the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries. In addition, they were aware that in Baku, there was a balance to be kept between the ethnic groups, which might cause problems if a peaceful transition to a Bolshevik government was not sought.

            Furthermore, in Baku the Bolsheviks were not the radical force that was often found in the rest of Russia. Possessing a small power base and working with a range of ethnic groups, they sought to change the political situation slowly rather than follow the example of their comrades in Petrograd and elsewhere. Among their early allies were the Armenian and Azerbaijani national groups. While the Armenians held strong representation in the political life of Baku for many years, the Muslim Azerbaijanis had often been poorly represented, particularly in the factories and oil fields, where trade unions and factory committees were being developed. However, both Armenians and Azerbaijanis supported the Bolsheviks to a certain degree because Lenin had declared Bolshevism’s support for the self-determination of national groups.

            Within Baku the political situation vacillated between the dominance of right-wing socialists and then dominance by the left. Support for the political parties representing the old regime had dissipated toward the end of 1917, to be almost negligible. However, there were two difficulties in establishing a stable government in Baku, firstly there were several bodies who claimed to be the official power within the city and, secondly, no political group held a majority in the old Duma, the Executive Committee of Public Organization, or the Soviet. The authority of each entity ebbed and flowed, depending on who held sway within the entities and which parties held alliances at any one time.

            Although the Bolsheviks slowly gained political strength during 1917, the Imperial Russian troops were demobilized towards the end of 1917, weakening the influence of the Bolsheviks who relied heavily on the personnel in the army for their support. Towards the end of 1917 the only organized troops were Armenian soldiers who had not been demobilized. The Armenian soldiers were, not surprisingly, closely tied to the Armenian population of Baku, which had increased significantly with refugees fleeing the Ottoman army as it threatened to advance into the Trans Caucasus. Endnote

             One of the very large ethnic groups in the region of Baku were the Muslim Azerbaijanis. However, they had limited representation in the earlier administrations of Baku, as they had a small population within Baku City. Although this representation had grown over the years, they were usually outnumbered by Russian and Armenian representatives. As political agitation spread to the areas immediately outside Baku, in the factories and oil fields, the largely unskilled Muslim work force became associated first with the political left and then with nationalist policies that were inevitably associated with the Muslim parties. The principal Muslim parties were Müsavat, Hümmüt and Islam in Russia (Ittihad).

            A traditional enmity between the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians Endnote slowly grew in Baku towards the beginning of 1918. Simple fears of each other and changing political allegiances stirred communities and, in the outlying regions, Muslim bands roamed unchecked. When the ‘Muslim Savage Division’ arrived in Baku by ship in late March 1918, fears of Muslim ambitions to take over the city galvanized. Although the arrival caused panic, the situation was being solved by leaders of the various factions when rioting erupted and fighting between the Bolsheviks and Muslims commenced. Urban warfare broke out and lasted for several days. The Armenians, who had initially stood back from the disturbances, threw in their lot with the Bolsheviks.

            Between 31 March and 2 April 1918 some 3,000 people were killed, with most of them being Muslims. Many of the Muslims who survived the ‘March Days’ Endnote fled to Elisavetpol Endnote in central Azerbaijan and this event saw the Muslim parties removed as a political force in Baku. In Elisavetpol the Azerbaijanis waited for the Turks to liberate Baku and place them in charge. The instability caused by the insurrection in Baku was seized upon by the Bolsheviks and the Social Revolutionaries, who assumed power under the authority of the Soviet and formed the Baku Commune, which lasted from 13 April to 25 July. From this time the Duma and the Executive Committee for Public Organization became non-entities. The authority of the Commune was largely supported by Armenian troops loyal to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the ‘Dashnaktsutiun’.

            While bringing a degree of stability to Baku, and making efforts to undertake social reform and solve the problem of food supply to the city, the first major objective of the Commune was to defeat its military opposition in Elisavetpol. Ambitiously, the leader of the Bolsheviks, Stepan Shaumian, also hoped to march as far as Tiflis to support an uprising against the Georgian Mensheviks. On 10 June the Baku Red Army was defeated by Turkish troops and retreated to Baku. The Turks had already launched an unsuccessful assault on Baku five days earlier, on 5 June 1918, but it was apparent to many that the Turks had the superior forces. When the Baku Soviet met on 25 July the Social Revolutionaries, in alliance with the Mensheviks and Dashnaks, called for British intervention. The Social Revolutionaries had been in close contact with General Dunsterville Endnote of the British North Persian forces and now moved to put their plans in place .

            Under strict instructions from Lenin, the Baku Bolsheviks were not permitted to deal with the British. Because the Commune had voted to welcome the British, the Bolsheviks resigned from their leadership of the Commune. As the Turks threatened to overwhelm Baku, the Bolshevik leaders and their allies sought to leave Baku, hoping to link with other Bolsheviks in Russia and to return one day to continue their struggle. However, their attempts to leave were thwarted and ultimately the leaders of the Baku Commune were placed under arrest by the new administration. Despite expectations of the imminent fall of Baku, the Turks were held at bay and administration of the city fell to the Right Social Democrats who joined with the Sailors of the Caspian Sea to form the Dictatorship of Tsentrokaspii Endnote , or the Central Caspian Government. The new government petitioned British forces based at Enzeli (at the south of the Caspian Sea) to come to their aid. Dunsterville responded by providing an under-strength force of British troops, which entered Baku in support of the new government on 4 August 1918. Endnote

            However, relief was short-lived, as the superior Turkish forces slowly encircled the city and forced the British to evacuate, along with many of the inhabitants of Baku. This brought to an end the Baku Commune.

* * * * *

The Note Issues

One of the effects of the Great War and the Civil War in Russia was the disruption to the economy in many regions. Along with disruption in trade and commerce, problems were encountered with the circulation of currency. Prior to the outbreak of the Russian Civil War there were two Russian note issues circulating in the Trans Caucasus—Imperial, or Nikolai, rubles and Kerenki, or ‘Kerensky’, rubles. The Nikolai rubles had been circulating for many years and after the Russian revolution in February 1917 the new administration continued to issue these government credit notes. On 4 September 1917 the new government began issuing 20- and 40-ruble notes that were manufactured from plates used for consular revenue stamps. While widely circulated, often in sheets of one hundred, they were not always popular, with people preferring Nikolai rubles.

            The lack of circulating currency was being felt in many parts of the old Russian empire. In Baku, the two chronic problems were a lack of food and a shortage of currency. In trying to solve the first problem, obtaining food for the city, the city Duma strained the reserves of its treasury. The problem was exacerbated by the need to pay the soldiers and to run their own programs. The Duma sought loans from the commercial banks, but their requests were turned down, as the banks were familiar with the fate of the Petrograd and Moscow Dumas under control of the Bolsheviks. On 5 December 1917 a session of the Duma resolved to impose a compulsory loan on the city’s money lenders; but it appears they could not enforce the loan.

            By January 1918, there were demands for increases in wages due to the dramatic increase in the cost of living, particularly due to the rising cost of food. However, while industrial action achieved some increase in wages, many companies could not pay their workers due to the severe shortage of banknotes. The inability of the Duma to supply food and currency, as well as increased factional fighting within the Duma, led to it being ignored by the Soviet, which took increasing powers unto itself. Toward the end of January 1918 the Soviet sent commissars to all the banks to oversee their activities and where they met resistance they removed the directors.

            While the Soviet was following one policy to solve the currency crisis, the Duma followed another. On 4 December 1917 the sixth congress of the ‘Society of Trans Caucasian Cities’ decided that each city could issue their own small denomination notes, up to a value of fifty million rubles. The notes were to be guaranteed by the property of the city. Baku was the first city to take advantage of this initiative and on 19 January 1918 they commenced placing ‘Baku bonds’ into circulation. Endnote The bonds were issued in kopeks and roubles.

            The lower denomination notes were prepared in three denominations of 5, 15 and 50 kopeks. Issued in sheets as small coupons, they were perforated like postage stamps. The 50-kopek coupons appear in two varieties, perforate and imperforate. The name of issuing authority appears across the top on the back of the 5- and 15-kopek coupons as ‘Baku Municipal Administration’ (i.e. БАКИНСКАЯ ГОРОДСКАЯ УПРАВА) and on the front of the 50-kopek coupons. The notes of the Baku City administration are signed by I. Iliushkin the ‘Municipal Head’ (i.e. the Mayor of Baku) and an unknown signatory as a ‘Member of Administration’. (The Mayor of Baku was both the head of the Duma and the head of the Municipal Administration.) However, only the 50-kopek coupon carries the signatures, with the 5- and 15-kopek coupons being too small to carry the signatures. (Nota bene: The number placed after each denomination in the following descriptions is the reference number from The Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Volume 1, Specialized issues Eighth Issue).

               The 5-kopek coupon (S726) is in a vertical (or portrait) format and has no text on the front of the note, apart from text indicating the denomination. On the back of the note is the issuing authority and a clause which reads: ‘To circulate equally with coins’. There are no signatures and no warning to counterfeiters on these coupons.

               The 15-kopek coupon (S727), also in vertical format, is very similar to the 5-kopek coupon, with only minor changes to the display of the value of the coupon (front and back).

               The 50-kopek coupon (S728) is in horizontal or ‘landscape’ format and has, on the front of the coupon, the name of the issuing authority and the same signatures that appeared on the front of the rouble notes of the first series. On the back is the clause ‘To be in circulation on an equal footing with silver coins’ and a warning to counterfeiters.

            The higher denomination notes consists of five denominations of 1, 3, 5, 10 and 25 roubles. With the exception of the 25-rouble note, all notes are the same size, measuring 96 x 57 mm. The 25-rouble note is 109 x 69 mm. All text is in Russian and the text is common to each note. Except for the 1-rouble note, the issuing authority appears across the top on the front of the note as: ‘Baku Municipal Administration’. On the 1-rouble notes this phrase appears on the back of the note. On the front of each note is the clause: ‘To circulate in Baku mayorships equally with credit notes’. The use of Russian text on the notes issued by the City Administration, without the inclusion of any ‘local’ languages, was due to the dominance of Russian citizens in the city of Baku (as opposed to the communities outside the city proper).

            On the back of the notes is the warning: ‘Counterfeiters prosecuted by law’. Each note carries a single serial number on their back which consisted of two Cyrillic characters and a four-digit number. Note-specific elements are as follows:

                1 rouble (S721) – Brown and beige on the front; Brown and black on the back. The name of the issuing authority is on the back and the date (1918) is on the front.

                3 roubles (S722) – Green, brown and orange on the front; Green and blue on the back. The issuing authority is on the front and the date (1918) is on the back.

                5 roubles (S723) – Green, blue and orange on the front; Green on the back. The issuing authority and the date (1918) are on the front. Two intriguing devices, possibly derived from traditional folk patterns, are in panels to the lower left and right on the front of the note.

                10 roubles (S724) – Pink, blue and red on the front of the note; Pink and purple on the back. The issuing authority is on the front and the date (1918) is on the back.

                25 roubles (S725) – Light brown, dark brown and purple on the front; Grey and brown on the back. The issuing authority and the date (1918) are on the front.

            The notes of the Baku Municipal Administration were supplemented by similar issues introduced by the Baku Commune shortly after that authority was established on 25 April 1918. The shortage of currency had, along with the shortage of food, remained one of the greatest problems faced by the various administrations in Baku. In early April, after the Bolsheviks and Armenians had overcome the Muslim insurrection, an attempt to alleviate the currency shortage was attempted by levying a tax of fifty-million rubles on the capitalists. This money had not been paid. So, after the Commune had been formed, detachments of soldiers and representatives of the Commune occupied the premises of various businesses and seized their assets. A tax of fifty million roubles was also levied on the fisheries. The Committee of Revolutionary Defence was responsible for arresting any capitalist who did not co-operate with the authorities in the Commune. However, these processes failed to provide enough currency and the Commune was forced to issue its own currency under the authority of the Committee for Municipal Economy.

            The special department of municipal economy had been forecast on 20 April when Stepan Shaumian dismissed the city Duma, transferring economic responsibility to the Baku Soviet. (The existing infrastructure of the Municipal Administration was instructed to continue operations until the new department could be formed.) On 25 April, the Soviet elected members to the new government and Nariman Narimanov (of the Hummet Party) was elected Commissar of the Municipal Economy for the Council of People’s Commissars of Baku. (Narimanov, already a stalwart of the Communist movement, was later to find greater fame in the Soviet era, ultimately being elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party.) It is assumed that the notes of the Commune were issued at some date shortly after 25 April 1918, continuing the process commenced by the Baku Municipal authorities. The notes were to be honoured throughout the Baku Province and north to the Daghestan District, where a separate soviet had been established.

            The Commune issued three notes, in the denominations of 10, 25 and 50 roubles. (The lack of smaller denomination notes and the introduction of the 50-rouble note indicates that inflation was starting to take hold.) The notes were issued under the authority of the ‘Baku Committee for the Municipal Economy’, with the name of the authority appearing on the back of each note, i.e. СОВѢТЪ БАКИНСКАГО ГОРОДСКОГО ХОЗЯЙСТВА. The text is again all in Russian and the notes carried a clause on the front of each note which reads: ‘To circulate equally with state credit notes’. The notes are signed by Nariman Narimanov, as the ‘National Commissar’, and an unknown signatory Endnote as the ‘Manager of the Finance Department’.

            The 10- and 25-rouble notes carry two serial numbers on their front, one in the top left and one in the bottom right. The serial number consists of two Cyrillic characters and a four-digit number. On the 50-rouble note, the two serial numbers appear on the back, at the bottom left and bottom right. There are two varieties to this note, with some notes bearing a ‘Series’ number on the front and some not having the series number. Those with this feature have the word ‘Series’ written in Russian and the number written in Roman numerals (e.g. СЕРІЯ V). The year ‘1918’ appears on the front or back of each note and the warning ‘Counterfeiters prosecuted by law’ is on the back of each note.

            Each note has a vignette at the left on the front of the notes. The individual vignettes are:

            1.  10 roubles (S731) – A seated Mercury with his right hand grasping his caduceus and his left arm resting on an open book, which in turn rests on a bale of trade goods. To the left is a shield bearing the arms of Baku and to the right is an anchor, reinforcing Baku’s maritime heritage

            2.  25 roubles (S732) – Mercury is seated on an anvil and holds his caduceus in his right hand, while talking to a worker who supports a heavy hammer on his left shoulder and rests his right hand on a large cogwheel. Set on the end of the anvil is a basket with coins and in front of the anvil is classic Greek mask. Above the vignette is a shield bearing the arms of Baku.

            3.  50 roubles (S733) – Within a circle is depicted a ship lying off a shore, on which stands a cluster of oil rigs. Around the circle is a rim, on which is written ‘Fifty Roubles’ and above which is the arms of the city of Baku. In the foreground is a cornucopia and symbols of trade and industry—a large cogwheel, an anchor, and boxes of trade goods.

The prevalence of the god Mercury on this series of notes is presumably because he was the god of trade and commerce, and this was the life blood of Baku. Endnote

            For each of the notes issued in Baku, by both the Municipal Administration and the Commune, a coat of arms was used. In some cases, such as on the 25-ruble note issued by the Baku Commune, the depiction is very close to the arms of Baku as used in the imperial era. However, in most instances, it is only the three flaming torches of the shield that are identifiable. The background on the imperial arms is blue and while there is no colour on many of the representations on the notes, in some instances the colour is red, suggesting that a conscious colour change has been made to the shield.

            It is likely that the three denominations issued by the Commune were prepared by different printers. The reasons for supposing this to be the case concern the signatures, the title of the ‘Manager of the Finance Department’, and the font used for the serial numbers. The signatures on the 10- and 50-ruble notes are the same, but there is a distinct variation in the signatures used on the 25-ruble note, most apparent is the failure of the initial letter to join the subsequent letters for the signature of the Manager of the Finance Department. The title of the Manager of the Finance Department on the 10-ruble note is ЗАВѢДЫВАЮЩ ФИН. ОТД., while on the 25- and 50-ruble notes it is ЗАВѢД ФИНАНС ОТД. The font for the serial number, possibly added at a different establishment, are the same on the 10- and 25-ruble notes, but different for the 50-ruble notes.

            Prior to the arrival of the British in Baku, the banks had been nationalized and many of the trained staff replaced with people appointed by the committees of the Commune. Citizens holding deposits with the banks were only permitted to withdraw three hundred roubles a month, due to the shortage of currency. The lack of currency had, to a certain extent, been overcome by printing more bonds than could be backed by securities and, by August 1918, it was estimated that some two hundred and fifty million roubles had been issued (a far cry from the fifty million envisaged under the initial legislation). The oversupply was indicative of the inability of the Commune to control currency supply and this problem had not been helped by mismanagement. On the day before the Commune fell, on 30 July 1918, the Commissar for Finance, Aleksandr Kireev, and the commissar of the steamship Meve, Sergei Pokrovskii, were executed for embezzling public funds. Endnote

            When General Dunsterville arrived in Baku, he was faced with economic issues that required immediate solutions. The man he placed in charge of the financial situation was Major Newcombe of the Canadian Infantry. The principal issue facing the British was that they had to provide for a large expenditure for which they had no ready cash. Additionally, there were three currencies circulating and only enough currency for day to day transactions. Part of the problem was that the people running the nationalized banks had questionable abilities.

            The three currencies then circulating in Baku were the Nikolai roubles, which traded at 57 to the sovereign, Kerensky roubles, which traded at 71 to the sovereign, and Baku bonds Endnote , which traded at 121 to the sovereign. These rates were not the official rates, as the Baku bonds had been given the same value as Nikolai and Kerensky roubles and a law was passed making it a criminal offence to differentiate between the value of any three currencies Endnote . However, as General Dunsterville noted: ‘... in large transactions it was naturally found that if you produced Baku notes the seller regretted extremely he was quite out of stock, whereas the same man had plenty to sell if he saw Nikolai notes in your hand.’ Endnote Dunsterville opined that the Nikolai roubles were more acceptable because ‘there was presumably gold behind the Nikolai rouble’. Although Dunsterville noted that certain commodities were purchased with Kerensky notes and the Baku bonds, he refers to the bonds as ‘the ridiculous paper currency of Baku’, Endnote indicating the respect that the British had for the initiative of the local authorities.

            In order to meet the expected expenditure by the British Army, Major Newcombe negotiated an advance of five million roubles from the Dictators of the Tsentrokaspii. It is not known which issue of notes was made available by the Dictators. Presumably both types of bonds, Baku Municipal and Baku Commune, were circulating at this time as there is no indication that the Dictators had withdrawn the bonds issued by the Baku Municipality. Major Newcombe also attempted to purchase ten million roubles with a sterling transfer, but it was a slow process and the delivery of the money was due to occur on the day the British evacuated Baku.

            The Baku bonds were accepted in Baku but were worthless outside Baku and its environs. Therefore Nikolai and Kerensky roubles were at a premium. Major Newcombe managed to acquire eight million roubles by selling Persian krans, but there were limited roubles available for purchase. It was Major Newcombe’s intention that Baku Bonds would be used by the British in Baku and the other two currencies would be used in the rest of Azerbaijan. However, this plan did not come to fruition, as the British were forced to evacuate Baku after only six weeks of occupation.

            When the Baku Commune had been overthrown, prior to the arrival of the British, many of its leaders, the Commissars, attempted to flee Baku. After a failed attempt to escape in July they tried to flee in a ship on 14 August, but the ship was forced to return to Baku. Here the overthrown commissars, predominantly Bolsheviks, were imprisoned. When the British retreated, the commissars were freed and escaped on a ship into the Caspian Sea. However, the crew refused to take them to their chosen destination and delivered them instead to Krasnovodsk on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea. Here they were handed over to the local Right Social Revolutionaries. Ultimately, twenty six of their number, including Stepan Shaumian, were identified as leaders of the Baku Commune and officials in Ashkhabad decided to execute them. This decision was duly carried out and the twenty-six commissars became martyrs to the Bolshevik cause.

            For the moment, Baku and Azerbaijan were free of communist influence and the Turks were imposing themselves on the region, taking over Baku after the Central Caspian Dictatorship and the British were forced to abandon the area. However, even as the Turks were entering Baku their destiny was being challenged elsewhere, as the tide of war was turning against them.


          Atabaki, Touraj Azerbaijan, Ethnicity and The Struggle for Power in Iran I.B.Tauris, London, 2000.

          Atabaki, Touraj Azerbaijan, Ethnicity and Autonomy in Twentieth-century Iran British Academic Press, London, 1993.

          Dunsterville, Major-General L. C. The Adventures of Dunsterforce Edward Arnold, London, 1920.

          Nercessian, Y. T. Bank Notes of Armenia, Armenian Numismatic Society, Los Angeles, 1988.

          Shafer, Neil and Colin R. Bruce II [Editors] Standard Catalog of World Paper Money – Volume One, Specialized Issues, Krause Publications, Iola, USA, 1998.

          Shafer, Neil and George S. Cuhaj [Editors] Standard Catalog of World Paper Money – Volume Two, General Issues, Krause Publications, Iola, USA, 2003.

          Suny, Ronald Grigor The Baku Commune 1917-1918 Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1972.

          Swietochowski, Tadeusz Russia and Azerbaijan, A Borderland in Transition Columbia University Press, New York, 1995.

          Swietochowski, Tadeusz Russian Azerbaijan, 1905–1920 — The Shaping of National Identity in a Muslim Community Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1985.

          Swietochowski, Tadeusz and Brian C. Collins Historical Dictionary of Azerbaijan The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, 1999.

          Wieczynski, Joseph L. [Editor] The Modern Encyclopaedia of Russian and Soviet History Academic International Press, Gulf Breeze, Florida, 1977.

The National Archives of Great Britain

          T 236/5265, T 1/12466, WO 10611562.


Marcelo Gryckiewicz

National Archives of Azerbaijan

Prof. Peter Hill of the Australian National University

This article was completed in December 2006
© Peter Symes