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Baku of 1901: Paris of the Orient Gate?

By 1900, Baku (Capital of Azerbaijan on the Black Sea) was the center of oil production and it supplied half the world’s demands.

The Swedish Alfred Nobel (inventor of dynamite) and his brother ran the first oil tanker named “Zarathustra”; a fitting name since Baku was then the main religious city of the Yazd sect that worshiped the sun and fire since antiquity.

Oil was known for thousands of years in this region, and Baku was the religious capital of the Zarathustra sect after Islam invaded Iran in around 650 AC.   And Azerbaijan became the main Islam Chiaa sect region before Iran adopted that sect in the 18th century.  Actually, many Persian monarchs and dynasties were originated from Azeri khans or tribal leaders in Azerbaijan.

For thousands of years, Baku was lighted at night from the burning oil on the surface of the Black Sea.  Burning waves lighted the night and hit the shores.  After kerosene was distilled in the 20th century, using kerosene lamps were common household appliances in Baku, Russia, and the neighboring regions of the Caucasus.

Baku was the richest city in the Caucasus and rivaled New York, London, and Paris in attracting immigrants and investors.

Baku became an Oriental city competing in its modernity with Paris: elegance in residences and fashion were widespread among all ethnic and religious minorities living in the ultimate of capitalist system of “laissez fair” mind of doing business.  It was a typical “frontier” city where millionaires and the poorest classes of oil workers cohabited.

Baku is a terrible windy city all year round and its soil is muddy black, soaked with oil; but wealth overcomes many climatic disadvantages.

In 1905, widespread revolts swept all over Russia to the borders with Korea.  Everyday, hundreds of politicians and civil servants were assassinated and pogroms were common.

Tsar Nicolas II decided on giving war to Japan in order to appease the revolts.  The Tsar imagined that a quick victory over “these tiny monkeys with short tails” will galvanize the Russian citizens into patriotic zeal.  Russia was quickly defeated; the entire Russian Pacific Navy sunk and hundreds of thousand of Russian soldiers were annihilated by Japanese machine guns in Mongolia.

The Russian revolts intensified.  The only remaining Russian Navy in the Black Sea was overrun my sailors and their officers slaughtered (the Potemkin debacle).  Tsar Nicolas promised a Constitution.  The Cossack cavalry understood Constitution to mean total freedom of doing what they pleased.  Hundreds of pogroms were daily occurrences in Belorussia and Ukraine (formerly belonging to the Catholic Polish Kingdom before 1772.)

The pogroms reached Baku.

The first minority victims were the Armenians who were well established and lived comfortably out of commerce and lending money.  For days, thousands of Armenians were massacred before the Cossacks managed to restore a semblance of security.

Between 1905 and 1917, Baku was kidnapped by a multitude of revolutionary groups that robbed banks, and asked for ransoms.  Joseph Stalin, under the code name of Koba and who was 28 years old, was leading the Bolshevik groups that asked ransoms in order to provide protection for minority ethnic groups.

The Communist Revolution of 1917 ruined Baku in 1920 as a prosperous city; mass transfers of population and assassinations were systematically applied.

Note:  Topic extracted from “The Orientalist” by Tom Reiss


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

December 2020
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