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Azerbaijan - Baku

Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region. Baku is located 28 metres (92 ft) below sea level, which makes it the lowest lying national capital in the world and also the largest city in the world located below sea level.  

Baku grew to prominence in the latter part of the 19th century after the discovery of oil.  By the beginning of the 20th century, half of the oil sold in international markets was being extracted in Baku and the oil boom contributed to the massive growth of Baku.

In 1917, amidst the turmoil of World War I and the breakup of the Russian Empire, Baku came under the control of the Baku Commune led by the Bolsheviks. Seeking to capitalize on the existing inter-ethnic conflicts, by spring 1918, Bolsheviks inspired and condoned civil warfare in and around Baku.  During the infamous March Days when thousands were massacred in inter-ethnic strife, Bolsheviks were faced with armed Azerbaijani groups.  After the massacre, the Republic of Azerbaijan was proclaimed on 28th May 1918.  The newly-formed Azerbaijani government did not have control over its territories as Baku was still under Bolshevik rule. To regain the access to its homeland, representatives of the Azerbaijani government sought help from the Ottoman Empire.

Having realized that the military force under the control of the Bolsheviks would not be enough to defend Baku city and its massive oil reserves from the advancing Ottoman troops, Baku’s Bolshevik Soviet resigned and handed over power to the newly created so-called “Central Caspian Dictatorship,” which in its turn officially requested the help of the British army. Some units of the British “Dunsterforce” (of which Cyril Sladden was a part) arrived in Baku, but their size was insufficient to defend the city from the Ottomans, who were supported by the majority of the local Muslim population. On 15th September 1918, after heavy battles, the Ottomans took Baku in the name of the Azerbaijani republic. The remnants of the Baku Army and Dunsterforce evacuated the city for Anzali (also known as Enzeli).

On 30th October 1918, according to the terms of the Armistice of Mudros, the Ottoman Empire admitted defeat in WWI and the Turkish army units had to be withdrawn from Azerbaijan.  The mandate for the control of the region was assigned to the United Kingdom on 17th November 1918, and British Indian Army units entered Baku.  After being evacuated from Baku in mid-September, Cyril Sladden returned to Baku in mid-November and remained there until returning home in March 1919.

The Bolshevik invasion on 27th April 1920 ended Azerbaijan’s brief independence.  The nation restored its sovereignty with the demise of the Soviet Union.

Letters mentioning this place: