Mikhail Mukhin, Yefim Pivovar: "A significant part of the Azerbaijani establishment has made an informed choice in favor of Russia"
The 75th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War is approaching. This year, the pandemic made adjustments to the celebration of May 9, in particular, the parade on the occasion of Victory Day was postponed. Nevertheless, the current conditions do not prevent us from talking about the Victory, remembering the feat of grandfathers and great-grandfathers. Visiting the Bulletin of the Caucasus, a member of the board of the Russian Historical Society, president of the Russian State Humanitarian University, chairman of the board of the Russian Society of Historian Archivists, member of the board of the Russian Union of Rectors Efim Pivovar and lead researcher at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, author of Fuel of Victory: Azerbaijan during the Great World War II "Mikhail Mukhin.
- Yefim Iosifovich, the question is for you as an expert on the post-Soviet space. What is the role of the Caspian region in the Victory? Has the scientific approach to the analysis of this problem changed?
Yefim Pivovar: The Caspian region played an important role in the strategy of World War II. The Tehran Conference was the first meeting of the leaders of the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition, which recorded their allied commitments. Since that time, Northern Iran was controlled by Soviet troops, so the Caspian was completely anti-Hitler. But it could have been different, for example, if Turkey had entered the war. Hitler was not in vain eager for the Caucasus. This was one of his strategic goals. The battle of Stalingrad was caused precisely by the fact that the Nazi forces decided to cut off the Caspian from the central regions of the Soviet Union and in this way decide the outcome of the war. Strategically, the Caspian is a very important region, and the battle for the Caucasus is one of the most important pages in the history of that war. In this territory, the front and rear used to change places: here there was a front line, then a strip of active hostilities.
Mikhail Mukhin: Let me give you an illustrative example of the fact that the concepts of front and rear were blurred. In 1942, the Germans broke through to Stalingrad, and although the Soviet troops held a few spots there, by and large, the Volga in this place was shot by the Germans even with machine guns. Therefore, Absheron oil could not be transported in tankers along the Volga. The Germans sank a lot of Soviet tankers. In the winter of 1942-1943, Baku oil became virtually impossible to export. Under these conditions, Baku seafarers began to fill railroad tanks with oil, which were then removed from the platforms and immersed in water. Due to the fact that oil is lighter than water, the tank kept afloat, several dozen such tanks connected, clung to a tug, and this tug dragged such a garland of tanks across the entire Caspian Sea to Krasnovodsk. There, these tanks were caught, installed back on railway platforms and transported by rail through Dagestan to the central regions of the USSR. The Germans bombed these tanks, and the tug continued to drag them to Krasnovodsk.
In such circumstances, where was it worse - at the front or in the rear? It must be understood that in those years the concept of “labor feat” is not a rhetorical form, but a dry, clear, objective statement of facts. It was a feat. But the feat is not with a machine gun in hand, but in the mine, at the oil rig, at the helm of a tugboat.
- Mikhail Yurievich, in the introduction to the book you give a short excursion on the bilateral relations between Russia and Azerbaijan, in particular, you say that the Azerbaijani elite was incorporated into the Russian Empire. Explain why?
Mikhail Mukhin: The question is very complex, polyphonic. At first, I was not going to consider it. But reeling back where it all came from, he suddenly ran into this problem. With a careful analysis, it turned out that Russia in the Caucasus did not have such forces to force the Azerbaijanis to join the empire. In the 1804-1850s, at first there was a Georgian, then a Caucasian corps — less than 9 thousand people: from the Black Sea to the Caspian, this is from Yekaterinodar to Baku.
The Azerbaijani elite at that time resolved the issue of civilizational choice. Three projects were simultaneously considered - to focus on Iran, on Turkey (at that time the sultan was officially the patron saint of all the faithful) or on Russia. I am firmly convinced that if a significant part of the Azerbaijani establishment would not have made an absolutely conscious choice in favor of Russia, then Russia would not have achieved anything there.
In 1805, the reserve command of the Georgian corps was a detachment of Colonel Karyagin numbering 490 people with, scary to say, two guns. Of course, if a significant part of the Azerbaijani elite had not come out in favor of an alliance with Russia, with all its merits, Colonel Karyagin would not have done anything there.
I want to note that this choice was very tight and prepared ahead of time. Empress Catherine the Great was in personal correspondence with the Karabakh khan, considering him one of the most intelligent correspondents. Already in the 1830s, not only in Baku, but in Shusha and Shamakhi, balls and theatrical performances were held in a European manner. In 1837, the Azerbaijani poet Akhundov wrote a poem in Persian on the death of Pushkin, the next year this poem is translated into Russian and published. This is to the question of whether the Azerbaijanis felt themselves to be a colonized country. Could an Indian poet in the XIX century write a poem in Hindi on the death of Byron. Who is Byron for an Indian !? But who Pushkin was, Akhundov knew and had his own opinion.
Therefore, during the years of World War II, Azerbaijanis perceived the attack of the USSR as an attack on themselves. This is rooted in from those times when the Azerbaijanis made a well-informed choice, united with Russia, feeling a spiritual relationship with Russia.
Yefim Pivovar: This is generally a feature of the colonial policy of the Russian Empire: it has always incorporated part of the elite into its composition. This applied to the Caucasus and Central Asia.
- Yefim Iosifovich, awareness of the significance of the Great Victory is a question not only of science, but also of education. How do you assess the level of presentation of this issue in Azerbaijani schools?
Yefim Pivovar: The result that we are seeing now is ensured to some extent thanks to the tradition laid down by the founder of present-day Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyevich Aliyev. The Russian sector has remained intact in the educational system of Azerbaijan. Regardless of the number and proportion of the Russian-speaking population, Russian-language kindergartens and schools of all levels operate in Azerbaijan. There is a Russian sector in higher education, it is possible to defend a dissertation in Russian, candidate and doctoral. Azerbaijanis are mostly employed in this system, since the Russian-speaking diaspora in the country is small. It actively uses educational materials in Russian, including those created in the Russian Federation. I personally read Russian-language textbooks for higher education and for secondary schools of Azerbaijani authors. All this facilitates the task of exchanging information, obtaining an adequate idea of what is written with us about certain events. Of course, there are differences, however, we still have more general trends, traits and approaches. This is undeniably a positive moment.
Azerbaijan relies quite effectively on the achievements of the Soviet period. There is no nihilism, complete rejection. There is a critical assessment, but reliance is on achievements. Over the past years, many documents have been discovered, especially related to events that were hushed up in the Soviet era. For example, the whole history of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). In the Soviet era, we actually did not have materials about ADR, that its leaders participated in the Versailles Conference. Now the process of exchanging information is just beginning. It needs to be intensified. We already have successful attempts to create joint work, but further efforts are needed.