The Note Issues of Azerbaijan
Part II – The Azerbaijan Republic
The 1919 February and October revolutions in Russia generated a deal of turmoil in all parts of the empire and in many areas separate dramas were played out. The Trans Caucasus, at the southern extremity of the Russian empire, was one region that was affected not only by the civil war, but also by the Great War. By early 1918 the battles in southern Russia between the Bolsheviks and Deniken, who was supported by the British, had yet to reach the Trans Caucasus, although the effect of war on trade from the Trans Caucasus to the north was significant.
Following the February revolution, a number of political parties agitated for social and national agendas but, in general, the administration of regional areas continued under administrations established before and after the overthrow of the Tsarist regime. However, the administrations now looked to the new government in Moscow to guide them. In the Trans Caucasus the main administrative centre was Tiflis (Tbilisi) and it was from here that the administration of the region continued to be controlled, just as it had been in the time of the Tsar. The October Revolution, which saw the Bolsheviks seize power in much of Russia, caused a break in relations between Baku and Tiflis, as the predominantly industrial city of Baku in Azerbaijan with its unusually cosmopolitan population shared little in common with the other areas of the Trans Caucasus.
On 11 November 1917 five hundred and forty representatives of political parties throughout the Trans Caucasus met in Tiflis to debate the future of the region. The Bolsheviks claimed that the only real government was in Petrograd and then left the meeting. Ultimately the meeting decided to create the Trans Caucasian Commissariat and place the administration of the region in the hands of the Commissariat until elections to the Constituent Assembly could be held. One of the administrative functions undertaken by the Commissariat was the issue of currency for circulation in the Trans Caucasus. These notes, although not discussed in this study, nevertheless circulated in Azerbaijan prior to and in conjunction with the Azerbaijani banknotes.
The creation of the Commissariat was undertaken in recognition of the former Tsarist administrative region that encompassed Trans Caucasia, which might logically be expected to continue under the new regime. Despite an attempt to maintain the administrative structure inherited from the Tsarist regime, the three members of the federation—Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan—continued to seek their individual destinies. However, when Lenin dissolved the Constituent Assembly on 5 January 1918, a regional government of the Trans Caucasus was formed, this being a natural development of the three states’ involvement in the Commissariat. Representatives of the three states first met in February 1918 as an Assembly and ultimately declared a federation of the three states as the Trans Caucasian Federation on 22 April 1918. However, the city of Baku was the rogue element in the political aspirations of Azerbaijan and the Trans Caucasus.
While Baku was in turmoil (see The Note Issues of Azerbaijan – Part I), it became apparent that there was instability within the Trans Caucasian Federation, with disagreements leading to the dissolution of the federation on 26 May 1918 (just one month after it had been formed). The failure of the Trans Caucasian Federation led the Muslims of Azerbaijan to seek their own destiny. They initially considered entering into a federation with Turkey, but the Turks declined. They then proclaimed the independent Republic of Azerbaijan on 28 May 1918, with the interim capital at Ganje . The president of the new republic was ‘Ali Mardan Topchibashev and the first prime minister was Khan Khoiskii . In Batum, on 4 June 1918, the new Republic, along with Armenia and Georgia, signed treaties of peace and friendship with the Ottomans. However, the Ottoman treaty failed to recognize Azerbaijan as an independent state, although it offered military assistance should it be called upon; an agreement which was probably aimed at curtailing the activities of the Bolsheviks and the Baku Commune.
By 1918 the Great War had proven damaging for the Ottoman Empire. They had lost their possessions in Arabia and Mesopotamia, but they held hopes of retaining much of their empire, and even looked to expand their influence in new directions. The Brest-Litovsk treaty, by which the Bolshevik government had sued for peace with the Central Powers, saw large sections of Armenia ceded to the Turks. Towards the end of the war the Turks observed the depletion of military forces in the Trans Caucasus and determined that there was a good chance of launching offensives from there against the British and against surrounding regions which might be absorbed into their empire—particularly the Islamic regions of central Asia. To this end, Enver Pasha, the Turkish general and statesman, ordered a force of over 60,000 men into the Trans Caucasus. Enver’s half brother, Nuri Pasha, was put in charge of building an ‘Army of Islam’ in Ganje. The army consisted of Ottoman regulars, along with Azerbaijani and Daghestani irregulars. While the army prepared for offensives into the neighbouring regions—including the liberation of Baku from the rule by the Commune—the Ottoman occupation influenced the structure of the government of the Azerbaijani Republic. This influence, or interference, fuelled Azerbaijani concerns and distrust, leading some elements of Azerbaijani society to oppose the Turks.
The Turkish forces moved into Persian Azerbaijan, occupying much of the territory, but they were repelled from the sections of Persia held by the British Northern Persian Forces, led by General Dunsterville, which had occupied Hamadan, Enzelei and Rasht. The task of the British forces was to stop the Baku oil fields from falling into the hands of the Central Powers. Having occupied much of Persian Azerbaijan, the Turkish forces moved towards Baku. As a consequence of this advance, the Baku Commune was thrown into turmoil, with doubt over whether to welcome the Turks or to call in the British. Ultimately, elements of the Commune favouring the British wrested control from the Bolsheviks and called upon the support of the British.
The British responded, with a small force occupying Baku from 4 August 1918, but General Dunsterville was unable to supply sufficient troops in response to the call from their allies. Faced with growing Turkish pressure, the British were forced to withdraw from Baku, ending the short-lived occupation on 14 September 1918. The Turks surrounded Baku and, after the British had retreated, the Azerbaijani Muslims entered the city and avenged the massacre of the ‘March Days’ slaughtering some nine to ten thousand Armenians. The Turks then entered and occupied Baku.
The British retreated to Enzeli and the Central Caspian Government evacuated to Petrovsk. At Petrovsk they joined forces with General Lazar Bicherakoff. With the support of the British, the general had commanded a Russian Imperial force against the Turks in Mesopotamia during the war against the Ottomans and now he had to face the turmoil in Russia. With a fleet of ships and his force of soldiers committed to neither the Bolsheviks nor Deniken, Bicherakoff initially negotiated an understanding with the Baku Commune in July 1918. He fought with the Commune against the Turks but later evacuated his forces to Petrovsk. On the arrival of the Caspian Central Government in Petrovsk, General Bicherakoff assumed control of the new government, claiming to have been appointed Chief Russian Representative in the Petrovsk area by the Omsk Government. However, in early November the Turkish forces advanced on Petrovsk and Bicherakoff, along with the Central Caspian Government, was forced to evacuate to Enzeli (to join the British).
Elsewhere, the Great War was coming to a close as the tide of war turned against the Ottoman Empire and the Central Powers. Significant reverses were suffered in September and by the end of October 1918 the new Turkish Government had signed an armistice. During the period of reverses, the Ottoman occupation of Azerbaijan took on a different tenor. Germany and Turkey recognized the independence of Azerbaijan in a protocol signed on 23 September 1918 and Nuri Pasha meddled less in the affairs of the Azerbaijani Government. Following the armistice, the Turkish forces dissolved, with some soldiers joining the Azerbaijani army, but most headed for home.
Into the void left by the Turks moved the British. General W. M. Thomson, who succeeded Dunsterville, entered Baku on 17 November 1918 and declared martial law from noon of that day. The British viewed their occupation as a temporary move. Initially their occupation was to support the anti-Bolshevik forces in southern Russia, but later they remained in occupation, waiting for decisions from the Paris Peace Conference to determine the fate of the Trans Caucasus. The British chose to support the republican government of Khan Khoiskii and gave no substance to representations by the communist elements of Baku nor the remnant of the Caspian Central Government. The British encouraged the Azerbaijani government to function independently of the occupying forces, while the British acted as a military police force, with strategic garrisons placed throughout the region. However, the British did take over some civil responsibilities, such as ration control, supervision of the railways, and control of the oil pipeline—which fed oil from Baku to Batum on the Black Sea.
The British occupied most of Trans Caucasus until August 1919, when they evacuated the region—except for a force stationed at Batum. Negotiations at the Peace Conference in Paris had suggested that the Italians may provide a peace-keeping force in the area until the status of the three regions was determined. However, this did not eventuate and when the British evacuated the region, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan were left to fend for themselves. In Azerbaijan, the republican government moved into its third phase. The first phase had seen it function under Turkish control and the second phase had seen it operate under British protection. Now, as an independent state, it had lost its greatest threat, which was Deniken, who was now too weak to impose himself on the region. (Deniken had moved further and further south, seeking Baku oil, and crossed a number of lines set by the British across which he should not pass. However, these demarcations had been ignored and his forces had reached Daghestan, threatening the doorstep of Baku, before he was defeated by the Red Army).
As one threat to Azerbaijan vanished, another materialized. The Red Army that had defeated Deniken was moving inexorably south towards the Trans Caucasus. Desperate to seek protection from the new threat, the Azerbaijani delegation at the Paris Peace Conference petitioned the powers for protection, but all they received was recognition of Azerbaijan’s independence in January 1920. The Azerbaijanis had discussed a confederation with Iran, in the hope of regaining British tutelage, and had unsuccessfully courted Turkey for support. However, the general opinion of many nations was that Azerbaijan would be re-incorporated into Greater Russia once a victor in the Russian Civil War was decided, so there was limited enthusiasm for supporting an independent Azerbaijan.
In Azerbaijan, the communist bloc, although small, grew in importance as the Red Army swept south. Most of the Bolshevik leaders had left Baku when the Turks surrounded the city. The leaders of the Baku Commune attempted to flee to Russia after the fall of the Commune in July 1918, finally succeeding in their flight in August, only to be martyred across the Caspian Sea due to political jealousies. (See below for the ‘Twenty-six Commissars’.) In April 1920 the government of the Republic faltered, as the Socialists withdrew from the Government and the new prime minister was unable to entice the communists to join the government. On 28 April the Red Army crossed into Azerbaijan and the communists seized power. Azerbaijan was established as an independent state under Soviet control, with the Republican government acceding to the terms offered by the Bolsheviks. Although several revolts occurred in the region, and underground resistance continued for a number of years, the Russians were once again in control of Azerbaijan.
While it initially suited communist Russia to maintain Azerbaijan as a separate entity, as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, this situation did not last long. In 1922 the Soviet Union was formed and the structure of the regions in the Trans Caucasus was reviewed. The review resulted in the amalgamation of the three regions—Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—into the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in December 1922. Azerbaijan was to remain associated with the Russian hegemony for another seventy years.
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Prior to December 1917 the pre-war Imperial Russian Government was in control of Baku and a branch of the Russian State Bank operated in the city. The Bank continued to operate during the short period of the Federation of the Trans Caucasus and was ultimately nationalized following the insurrection that established the Baku Commune. The State Bank remained under the control of the Commune until July 1918. As the Turkish forces approached Baku, the Bolsheviks abandoned Baku and, in conducting the evacuation, they transferred the cash balances of the State Bank, along with valuables and securities, to the S.S. Evelina—with an expectation that the items would be transferred to Astrakhan. However, the Bolsheviks (including the twenty-six Commissars) were intercepted before the evacuation was complete and the Central Caspian Government took control of the Bank and the items stored on the S.S. Evelina.
Following the evacuation of Baku to Enzeli by the British in September 1918, the S.S. Evelina, along with the State Bank’s cash and securities, sailed to Petrovsk with the Central Caspian Government to join General Bicherakoff. When the Turks advanced on Petrovsk in early November, General Bicherakoff moved to Enzeli, along with the S.S. Evelina and her valuable cargo. When, in November 1918, the British re-occupied Baku, the S.S. Evelina returned to the harbour at Baku with her treasure intact.
The amount of cash and securities carried on board the S.S. Evelina when it left Baku for the first time is not known. However, while it wandered from Baku to Petrovsk to Enzeli and back to Baku, General Bicherakoff paid his troops from the money held on board. It was later determined that approximately 106 million rubles was paid to his troops from late September to early December.
The British, desiring to enforce their presence in Baku (during the second period of occupation), negotiated with Bicherakoff to hand over the remaining securities. These negotiations lasted several weeks but ultimately resulted in the remaining cash and securities being handed over to the British, who placed them in the building of the State Bank under British guard. It was estimated that some 600-million rubles in securities and 34-million rubles in cash were transferred to the Bank at this juncture. Under the agreement negotiated between Bicherakoff and General Thomson, the Russian could draw on the funds for the payment of his army and fleet.
When the British re-occupied Baku, they had several options as to which government they would recognize. They immediately decided to support the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan, ignoring the claims of the Central Caspian Government and General Bicherakoff, both of whom had developed close ties with General Dunsterville, who was no longer on the scene. Despite the British declaring their preference for the republican government, the power struggle between the factions continued.
Control of the State Bank quickly became an objective of the parties vying for political advantage and, on 23 November, officials representing the Central Caspian Government with support from Bicherakoff’s men went to the State Bank and attempted to eject the officials of the Azerbaijani government who were occupying the building. However, they were sent away after the British intervened. This failure led to a more concerted attempt on the following day when Bicherakoff’s men installed a Cossack guard in the building. Once again, the British intervened and Bicharerakoff was instructed to remove his troops from Baku.
From the time that General Thomson arrived in Baku, it was apparent that there was insufficient currency to allow normal economic functions to be undertaken, which influenced the attempts to seize control of the State Bank. The shortage of currency also placed inflationary pressure on essential goods; that is, the situation was pretty much as General Dunsterville had found it earlier in the year. The British found three currencies circulating in the Trans Caucasus when they arrived: Czar, or Nikolai, rubles, Kerensky Rubles, and Transcaucasian bonds. (Additionally, in Baku local bonds were circulating in Baku and its environs.) Lt. Col. Newcombe, who was now the financial adviser to General Thomson’s force, wanted to align the exchange rate for all three currencies at eighty rubles to the pound. However, he was over-ruled by the British Treasury who imposed an exchange rate of sixty-five Czar rubles, seventy Kerensky rubles and eighty Trans Caucasian bonds. (Earlier, in Batum, the rate for all Trans Caucasian currencies had been set at forty-eight rubles to the pound, but this was changed relatively quickly.)
The British needed cash to pay for goods and services during their occupation, but found that none of the banks in the Trans Caucasus had exchange facilities—so they resorted to various measures to raise the necessary currency. Persian krans, obtained from representatives of the Indian government in Persia, were sold for rubles and sterling drafts were also sold in Persia to obtain the necessary currency. However, most of the rubles raised in this manner found their way to the west of Trans Caucasus. In Baku another option was taken.
The British raised a loan through the Azerbaijani government, with the loan being received in the form of notes, or bonds, issued by the government. The British promised to settle the loan ‘on an adjustment of the old Russian loan from the British Government in accordance with the findings of the Peace Conference.’ Further issues of the notes were based on anticipated revenues from oil and on the value of property held by the government. The British took control of the issue of currency, including the new banknotes, and used them not only to pay for goods and services, but also to pay personnel employed in the oil fields and to settle government accounts.
The need to open a bank in Azerbaijan was recognized by the British from an early stage. Consideration was given to opening a branch of the Imperial Bank of Persia, but this was deemed unwise due to local political jealousies. The British then amalgamated the Baku branch of the Russian State Bank with the existing Azerbaijan State Bank, which had taken over the premises of the vacated Russian State Bank but which had failed to gain the confidence of the population. The new bank was designated the Reorganized Baku State Bank and three managers were appointed by the British. Mr. Bolyrov , of the Baku Commercial Bank, Mr. Pretulin, who was the manager of the Azerbaijan State Bank, and Mr. Hewlvecke, who was previously the British Vice Consul in Baku. General Thomson’s financial adviser, Lt. Col. Newcombe, was made a director of the Board. The reorganized bank opened for business on 3 January 1919 . The Azerbaijani government was keen to take over the bank, but the British decided that it was one of the civil institutions it would administer as the occupying force. It is likely that the government’s enthusiasm to take control of the bank was due to the desire to control the assets held in the vaults of the bank. The British, on the other hand, while realizing that many of the assets stored in the bank might rightly be claimed by the government, if Azerbaijan became independent, there were many assets amongst the securities to which an independent Azerbaijan had no lawful claim.
The British quickly learnt of the discontent expressed by the people of Baku. This discontent was largely due to a lack of food and because many workers in the oil fields had not been paid for some time. The British began importing and distributing food and paying for food from local suppliers, rather than requisitioning the food. As the food supply improved the price of food was reduced and by March 1919 the distribution of food ceased. The British also ensured that the oil-field workers were paid every two weeks and payment by the British continued until March 1919. The payment of the workers was in paper money supplied by the Azerbaijani Government, although it is not certain which bonds were used in payment—Trans Caucasian, Baku Municipality, Baku Commune, or all of these.
The British did not commit themselves to backing the currency they issued on behalf of the Azerbaijani government, but they did guarantee the activities of the Bank, promising clean administration and the return of deposits at any time during the British occupation. The control by the British of the currency and the Bank lasted until April 1919 when control was passed to the Azerbaijani government.
The relationship between the British and the Azerbaijani Government, following the occupation of the British, appears to have deteriorated to some extent. The British were initially regarded as a welcome alternative to the Turks, whose ambitions had been revealed prior to their defeat, but the British support for Deniken was worrying to the local population. While the British saw in Deniken a foil to the ambitions of the Bolsheviks, the Azerbaijanis saw Deniken as a foe they would rather repel. Thus, the British and their intentions were viewed with concern by many in government.
The Republic of Azerbaijan had been in existence from May 1918 and had undergone numerous cabinets during turbulent times. The first cabinet had been formed in exile in Tiflis on 28 May 1918 by Fath ‘Ali Khan Khoiskii who led the Müsavat party, which held most seats in the Parliament but not a majority. The Parliament was responsible for electing the cabinet and, after the government had been transferred from Tiflis to Ganje on 12 June 1918, a second cabinet under Khan Khoiskii was formed on 19 June 1918. The government was very pro-Turk and once the British occupied Azerbaijan the British brought their influence to bear, forcing a cabinet reshuffle that saw the removal of the pro-Turk faction. Khan Khoiskii formed his third cabinet on 15 September 1918 (the day after the British evacuated Baku following the first occupation), which was notable for its inclusion of three Russians and three Armenians, as well as the eight Azerbaijani Muslims.
However, this cabinet struggled to deal with the British under General Thomson and intrigues within the Müsavat Party finally saw the cabinet resign in February 1919. The government wished to control more of the economy and rule of their country than the British would allow. One area that the Azerbaijani government wished to control was the currency circulating in Azerbaijan and, over time, they increased pressure on the British to surrender this right to them. The British considered an agreement in March 1919 for the Azerbaijani government to take control of several aspects of civil governance controlled by the occupying forces, including the currency, but an agreement could not be reached. An agreement was subsequently reached in the following month, April 1919.
The decision of the British to negotiate the agreement led to the formation of a new cabinet on 14 April 1919, after a hiatus of two months with no cabinet (and ostensibly no government). The new Cabinet, which was formed by Nasib bey Ussubakov, included only one Russian and one Armenian. (Ussubakov later formed his second cabinet on 22 December 1919.) The government’s desire to control the economy, and especially the currency, appears to have been due, in part, to a looming imbalance between government revenue and expenditure. According to documents lodged at the Paris Peace Conference, where Azerbaijan was represented from December 1919, the estimated expenditure by the government in 1919 was 1,085 million rubles, while income was a mere 665 million rubles. Of the gap, some 250 million rubles were supplied by the issue of the new currency. The issue, and over issue, of notes without backing naturally led to inflationary pressures. By May 1919 General Thomson noted that the Ruble had dropped to one-twentieth of its purchasing power. The inflation continued for many months and remained a problem after the British left.
Inflation reduced the purchasing power of the currency and more notes were required to make purchases. In early April 1919 General Thomson wrote to Sir J. Hewett advising him of the situation in Trans Caucasia and he listed the introduction of a ‘Trans Caucasian Currency’ as one of his urgent requirements. It appears that General Thomson may have been seeking authority for a plan he had already prepared for Azerbaijan, as the first Azerbaijani note was introduced shortly after his ‘Notes on Trans Caucasia’ were written.
The negotiations which initially failed in March, but which came to a successful conclusion in April 1919 apparently prepared the Azerbaijanis to manufacture their own paper money. The banknotes, or bonds, issued in Azerbaijan from this period consist of three issues. The first issue was a single 100-ruble note, the second issue consisted of four notes: 25, 50, 100 and 250 rubles, while the final issue was a single 500-ruble note.
The initial 100-ruble note (SCWPM No.9) was issued in April 1919 under the authority of the ‘Government of Azerbaijan’, which is written in Russian across the top of the notes; i.e. АЗЕРБАЙДЖАНСКОЕ ПРАВИТЕЛЬСТВО. There is an equal amount of Russian and Azerbaijani text on the notes. Azerbaijani is a Turkic language and for many years it was written in Arabic script, as was Turkish. Russian was included on the notes because of the familiarity of the population with Russian imperial currency and because there was a large Russian population in Azerbaijan, particularly in Baku. The notes were signed by Fath ‘Ali Khan Khoiskii, the Prime Minister, and I. Protasov, as the Minister of Finance. The use of the signature of I. Protasov as Minister of Finance is a mystery. Khan Khoiskii’s Minister of Finance in his first cabinet was Nasib Bey Usubbekov, in his second cabinet it was A. A. Ämircanov, and in his third cabinet it was Mammad H. Hacinskii . In Nasib Bey Usubbekov’s first cabinet the Minister of Finance was Ali Aga Hasanov and in his second cabinet it was Rashid Khan Kaplanov. At no stage is Protasov identified as the Minister of Finance, but it is possible that Protasov was identified during the two-month hiatus, when there was no cabinet, as the Minister of Finance—as a signature was required from this Minister for the banknotes. On the 100-ruble note each signatory signs twice, with the left-hand signatures written in Russian, with Russian text identifying the titles of the signatories, and the right-hand signatures written in Arabic script, with the titles of the signatories written in Azerbaijani.
Although the Russian text on the notes declares the value of the note as ‘100 rubles’ the Azerbaijani text denominates the note as ‘100 manats’. The use of ‘rubles’ was in deference to the people who were familiar with Russian banknotes, while ‘manats’ expressed a peculiarly Azerbaijani name. The 100-ruble note was initially issued without a series number (although it is now regarded as the ‘first’ series), but it was later issued with a series number. The series number is written in Russian on the back of the note as ‘Series Second’ (СЕРІЯ ВТОРАЯ) and the notes carry a serial number consisting of two Cyrillic characters and a four-digit number. These notes were later issued in a third series that carried the series name of ‘Series Second A’.
One of the more intriguing aspects of this issue is the comparison of the two dates printed on the notes. The date is written in the top-right on the back of the note as ‘1919’ and in the top-left as ‘1335’ in Arabic numerals (i.e. ١٣٣٥). The initial reaction is to assume the date 1335 is the Hejira date, but the Hejira year 1335 commenced on 28 October 1916. This makes the two dates apparently incompatible. However, the Azerbaijani people evidently accepted the Hejira date as being 1335 in 1919, for a reason that is not clear; but it is possibly due to a miscalculation of the Hejira date over a number of years.
Released in mid 1919 and again bearing the dates of 1919 and 1335, the second issue of four notes was prepared under the authority of the ‘Azerbaijan Republic’ (as opposed to ‘Azerbaijan Government’ on the first issue); with the name of the issuing authority written in Azerbaijani across the top of each note. However, the balance of text remains equal between Azerbaijani and Russian. Each signatory signs twice, as on the earlier note, once in Russian and once in Azerbaijani. The signatories for this series are Nasib Bey Usubbekov, signing as Prime Minister, and Ali Aga Hasanov, signing as the Minister of Finance. The change in signatories was due to a change in organization of the cabinet on 5 April 1919, with Nasib Bey Usubbekov taking over from Fath ‘Ali Khan Khoiskii as Prime Minister. As the first 100-ruble note was issued in April 1919 (i.e. just prior to the formation of the first cabinet under Usubbekov), it is probable that the change in name of the issuing authority (from ‘Azerbaijan Government’ to ‘Azerbaijan Republic’) for the second issue was due to a decision by the new cabinet or the minister responsible for the currency.
Brief details of each note in this issue, including the range of series numbers, are as follows:
• 25 rubles (SCWPM No.1) – 64 x 116 mm; predominantly purple and grey; Series I to VIII (with the series number written in Roman numerals)
• 50 rubles (SCWPM No.2) – 64 x 116 mm; predominantly blue and brown; Series I to XI (with the series number written in Roman numerals)
• 100 rubles (SCWPM No.5) – 90 x 138 mm; predominantly brown; Series ‘Three’ to ‘Eight’ (with the series number written in Russian text)
• 250 rubles (SCWPM No.6) – 95 x 150 mm; predominantly light purple and beige; Series I to IX (with the series number written in Roman numerals)
In all cases the serial number consisted of two Cyrillic characters and a four-digit number.
The notes of this issue are peculiar in that text elements of the notes appear alternately on the ‘front’ or the ‘back’ of the note. Information that varies on each note is the warning to counterfeiters, which translates as ‘Counterfeiters prosecuted under law’, and the clause on circulation, which translates as ‘To circulate equally with Russian credit notes’. On the 25-ruble note the warning to counterfeiters is on the front of the notes and the circulation clause is on the back. On the 50-ruble note this is reversed, while on the 100-ruble note it is the same as the 25-ruble note and on the 250-ruble note it is the same as the 50-ruble note. The denomination is written in Western and Arabic numerals on each side of the four notes and, while the notes are denominated ‘rubles’ in Cyrillic text, they continue to be denominated ‘manat’ in Azerbaijani text.
Carrying the dates of 1920 and 1336 (continuing the variation in the Hejira date), the 500-ruble note (SCWPM No.7) was prepared in late 1919 and placed into circulation during the first days of 1920. Predominantly pink and brown, the note is the same size as the 250-ruble note and carries the signatures of Nasib Bey Usubbekov, signing as Prime Minister, and Rashid Khan Kaplanov, signing as the Minister of Finance. (Kaplanov was appointed Minister of Finance in a cabinet reshuffle in December 1919.) Importantly, each signatory signs only once—in Azerbaijani. The notes carry series numbers of I to LV (with the series written in Roman numerals) and the notes maintain the serial number of two Cyrillic characters and a four-digit number, as used in the previous issues.
Another interesting variation in this note, when compared to the notes of the two previous issues, is the change in use of text on the notes. Firstly, most of the text is Azerbaijani, written in Arabic script, and there is very little Russian text on the notes. Russian is used to declare the value of the notes as ‘500 rubles’ on the front and the back of the notes and for the abbreviations for ‘Series’ on the front of the note. Cyrillic characters are used for the prefix of the serial numbers on the back. Secondly, there is an additional clause on the back of this denomination that was not used on the previous issues. The text in Azerbaijani can be translated as: ‘Republic of Azerbaijan – In exchange for this document, in the entire country, one can obtain goods.’
The real surprise is the use of French on the notes. ‘Cinq Cents Roubles’ appears on the front of the notes and ‘REPUBLIQUE D’AZERBAIDJAN’ on the back. French influence in Azerbaijan was apparent in February 1918 when it was reported that French interests were negotiating business opportunities in the Trans Caucasus . While the opening of commerce with the French may have had some influence within Azerbaijan, it appears that there were two driving forces behind the introduction of French to the notes. Firstly, Azerbaijan had been invited to the Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919 and had been extended a warm welcome by the French. Secondly, there was a recognition that French was the international language at that time and its use on the banknotes might assist Azerbaijan to gain international recognition. In any country’s fight for independence, the recognition of its currency in the international markets is a de facto recognition of the country . Ultimately, limited recognition of an independent Azerbaijan was given in January 1920 by some nations at the Paris Peace Conference, but there was never any commitment to support this independence against aggressors.
The British departed Azerbaijan in August 1919, with the last troops departing on 25 August. Prior to their departure, they obtained an agreement with the Azerbaijani Government for the nascent nation to establish their own bank and allow the reorganized State Bank to remain a branch of the Russian State Bank. It was apparent that, by the time the British withdrew, confidence in the banks had returned—as very few people withdrew funds deposited in the banks prior to the British withdrawal.
The British, at the time they withdrew, had two matters to resolve—the first concerned money owing to the Azerbaijani government and the second was the cash and securities held in the State Bank that were under the protection of the British. The British had made it clear that they saw their expenditure in Azerbaijan fall into two categories—that spent on the maintenance of troops, transport and supplies, and that spent on the administration of state services in Azerbaijan. The British were happy to pay for the former, but not the latter. However, the Azerbaijani government was not happy with this arrangement and, by the time the British had evacuated, the situation was still not resolved. (The British were pressing for negotiation of the loans made through the issue of banknotes (bonds) at some time after the determination of Azerbaijan’s future at the Peace Conference, not before the Conference made the necessary decisions. Additionally, many British politicians believed that Azerbaijan would be subsumed in the new Russia, no matter who was victorious in the Civil War, and that existing financial obligations between Russia and Great Britain could be balanced with recent obligations incurred in Azerbaijan.)
The unresolved matter of State Bank securities held by the British became a saga. After being transferred from the S.S. Evelina, under General Bicherakoff’s control, the securities were held in the State Bank from 7 December 1918. In August 1919, as the British evacuated Baku, the securities were transferred to Tbilisi (Tiflis). In December 1919 the British agreed to return the securities to the ‘State Bank of Baku’, as the Republic of Azerbaijan had recognized the Bank as a branch of the Russian State Bank. However, the transfer was delayed and before the securities could be transferred the communists took control of Baku and the British decided to transfer the securities to the National Bank of Turkey in Galata, Constantinople. After being catalogued in Turkey, the securities were transferred to London, where they were stored in the vaults of the Bank of England. However, between leaving Baku and arriving in London, some skullduggery had taken place. On opening the boxes in London, some were found to be empty. While the securities in the vicinity of 45 million rubles were present, it appears that the boxes containing coins, gold bar, gold leaf, gold sheets, and silver had been pilfered between Turkey and London. Debate over the ownership of the securities continued for many years and was never properly resolved, with the situation still being an issue in the 1950s (and possibly longer).
As the Red Army moved towards Baku in April 1920 the Müsavat Party lost control of the government, following the withdrawal of support from the Socialist Parliamentary group. Mammad H. Hacinskii, a left-wing member of the Müsavat party and a Russian sympathizer, then attempted to form a government with the aid of the communists and the backing of the Turks. However, he failed and, within weeks of his attempt to form a government, the Red Army swept into Azerbaijan and the communists seized power. The independence of Azerbaijan was over and the Soviet era had begun.
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The National Archives of Great Britain
• T 236/5265, T 1/12466, WO 10611562.
National Archives of Azerbaijan
Prof. Peter Hill of the Australian National University
This article was completed in December 2006
© Peter Symes
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