British foreign policy in Azerbaijan, 1918-1920

Akhmedov, Afgan and Hughes, Michael (2019) British foreign policy in Azerbaijan, 1918-1920. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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This thesis examines Anglo-Russian rivalry in Transcaucasia in general - and Azerbaijan in particular - focusing on the years 1918-1920. The first part of the thesis provides a general review of the history of the Great Game - the geopolitical rivalry between the British and Russian Empires fought in the remote areas of central Asia - before going on to examine the growing investment by British firms in the oil industry of Baku. It also discusses how the Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907 changed the texture of AngloRussian relations without resolving the tensions altogether, which lasted until the February Revolution of 1917, despite the wartime alliance between Britain and Russia. The thesis then goes on to examine British policy towards Transcaucasia after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The thesis argues that the political turmoil in Russia provided the British government with an opportunity to exert greater political control over the south of the country, securing its access to oil and control of the Caspian Sea region, thereby reducing any potential threat to India. The allied victory in the First World War, and the weakening of Turkey in particular, meant that British policy in central Asia after November 1918 increasingly focused on advancing British economic and strategic interests in the area. Although the British government did not seek to exert direct long-term political control over Azerbaijan, its policy in 1919 was designed both to support the local government in Baku against possible Bolshevik attack, whilst simultaneously exerting control over Baku oil. The thesis shows that the British military authorities who controlled Azerbaijan in the first part of 1919 typically acted as an occupying force, manipulating the local government, and behaving in ways that alienated large sections of the local population. This pattern of quasi-imperial rule, which was designed to secure the economic benefits of controlling Baku oil while avoiding the costs of large-scale military occupation, eventually proved fruitless. The final part of the thesis then examines how the British sought to defend their economic interests in Azerbaijan even as they removed their military forces. The government in London supported the local Musavat government in its attempt to gain international recognition, hoping that this would bolster its position both abroad and at home. Yet this policy failed to recognise the radical mood on the ‘streets’ of Baku and the appeal of Bolshevism to the many of the local population. When the Bolsheviks finally took control of Azerbaijan in 1920 they did so with the support of significant sections of the population. This thesis suggests that developments in Azerbaijan during this period can be analysed by using a Marxist framework that emphasises how imperialism creates divisions between imperial powers - divisions that endure over time even as they take new forms. It also examines how British policy towards Azerbaijan can be seen as an attempt to establish a form of colonial control that promoted the economic and political interests of key economic and political groups in Britain at the cost of the local Azeri population. In order to develop this argument and avoid the dangers of over-simplification, the thesis draws on a massive array of archive and published sources in English, Russian, Azeri and Turkish. In doing this it offers perspectives and arguments that are absent from the existing scholarly literature whilst introducing the reader to new material unfamiliar to most English-language readers.

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Thesis (PhD)
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09 Apr 2019 08:40
Last Modified:
11 Nov 2023 00:34