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Armenians in Baku

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Armenians in Baku

Armenians     %
1939-1989 figures include data from the city of
Baku proper and the Baku municipality (gorsovet).

Armenians once formed a sizable community in Baku, the current capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Though the date of their original settlement is unclear, Baku's Armenian population swelled during the nineteenth century, when it became a major center for oil production and offered other economic opportunities to enterprising investors and businessmen. Their numbers remained strong into the twentieth century, despite the turbulence of the Russian Revolutions of 1917, but most Armenians fled the city in 1990 after being targeted in a pogrom that occurred during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the early stages of the Nagorno-Karabakh War.[7]


Armenian girl in Baku from an 1873 publication of The Illustrated London News
St. Gregory the Illuminator's Church in Baku (now a library closed to the public)

Pre-Russian Revolution

Baku saw a large influx of Armenians following the city's incorporation into the Russian Empire in 1806. Many took up jobs as merchants, industrial managers and government administrators.[8] Armenians established a community in the city with churches, schools, and was the scene of a lively literary culture. The favorable economic conditions provided by the Imperial Russian government allowed for many Armenians to enter the burgeoning oil production and drilling business of Baku. Armenians along with Russians constituted the financial elite of the city and local capital was concentrated mainly in their hands. The Armenians were the second most numerous group in the judiciary.[9] By 1900, Armenian-owned businesses formed nearly one third of the oil companies operating in the region.[10] The growing tension between Armenians and Azeris (often instigated by the Russian officials who feared nationalist movements among their ethnically non-Russian subjects) resulted in mutual pogroms in 1905–1906, planting the seed of distrusts between these two groups in the city and elsewhere in the region for decades to come.[11][12]

Independent Azerbaijan

Following the proclamation of Azerbaijan's independence in 1918, the Armenian nationalist Dashnaktsutyun Party became increasingly active in the then Bolshevik-occupied Baku. There were, according to Russian statistics, at this time 120,000 Armenians living in the Baku Province.[13] A number of members of the governing body of the Baku Commune consisted of ethnic Armenians. Despite pledging non-involvement, the Dashnaks mobilized Armenian militia units to participate in the massacres of Baku's Muslim population in March 1918, killing thousands.[14] Five months later, the Armenian community itself dwindled as thousands of Armenians either fled Baku or were massacred at the approach of the Turkish–Azeri army (which seized the city from the Bolsheviks).[15] Regardless of these events, on December 18, 1918, ethnic Armenians (including members of the Dashnaktsutyun) were represented in the newly formed Azerbaijani parliament, constituting 11 of its 96 members.[16]

Soviet era

Following the Sovietisation of Azerbaijan, Armenians managed to reestablish a large and vibrant community in Baku made up of skilled professionals, craftsmen and intelligentsia and integrated into the political, economic and cultural life of Azerbaijan. The community grew steadily in part due to active migration of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians to Baku and other large cities. The mainly-Armenian populated quarter of Baku called Ermenikend grew from a tiny village of oil-workers into a prosperous urban community.[17] At the outset of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1988, Baku alone had a larger Armenian population than Nagorno-Karabakh.[18] Armenians were widely represented in the state apparatus.[19]

The multiethnic nature of Soviet-era Baku created the conditions for the active integration of its population and the emergence of a distinct Russian-speaking urban subculture, to which ethnic identity began losing grounds and with which post-World War II generations of urbanized Bakuvians regardless of their ethnic origin or religious affiliations tended to identify.[20][21] By the 1980s, the Armenian community of Baku had become largely Russified. In 1977, 58% of Armenian pupils in Azerbaijan were receiving education in Russian.[22] While in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, Armenians often chose to disassociate themselves from Azerbaijan and Azeris, cases of mixed Azeri–Armenian marriages were quite common in Baku.[23]

Pogrom and mass exodus

The political unrest in Nagorno-Karabakh remained a rather distant concern for Armenians of Baku until March 1988, when the Sumgait pogrom took place.[24] The anti-Armenian feelings were aroused because of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh resulting in the exodus of most Armenians from Baku and elsewhere in the republic.[25] However, many Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan later reported that despite ethnic tensions taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh, the relationships with their Azeris friends and neighbors had been unaffected.[26] The massacre in Sumgait came as a shock to both Armenian and Azerbaijanis of the cities, and many Armenian lives were saved as ordinary Azeris sheltered them during the pogroms and volunteered to escort them out of the country, often risking their own lives.[27][28] In some cases, the Armenians who were leaving entrusted their houses and possessions to their Azeri friends.[26]

Non-official sources estimate that the number Armenians living on Azerbaijani territory outside Nagorno-Karabakh is around 2,000 to 3,000, and almost exclusively comprises persons married to Azeris or of mixed Armenian-Azeri descent.[29] The number of Armenians who are likely not married to Azeris and are not of mixed Armenian-Azeri descent are estimated at 645 (36 men and 609 women) and more than half (378 or 59 per cent of Armenians in Azerbaijan outside Nagorno-Karabakh) live in Baku and the rest in rural areas. They are likely to be the elderly and sick, and probably have no other family members.[29]

Economic life

Armenians seen pictured among the other oil barons of Baku.

The discovery of oil in Baku in the mid-nineteenth century attracted a large number of Armenians to the city. In 1871, the first successful well was drilled by Ivan Mirzoev, an ethnic Armenian.[10] He was followed by oil tycoon Alexander Mantashev, whose A.I. Mantashev and Co. trading house opened branches in major cities in Europe and Asia and established majority control (51.3%) over the total stock of oil and an overwhelming majority (66.8%) of the oil content in the Caspian Sea. He financed the construction of an east-west pipeline which extended 500 miles from Baku to the Black Sea port of Batumi.[30] With rising competition against the Nobel Brothers and the Rothschilds, the A. I. Mantashev and Co. ultimately merged with several other Russian companies to form the Russian General Oil Company (OIL) in 1912. OIL eventually bought a number of oil production companies in Baku, including Mirzoev Brothers and Co., A. S. Melikov and Co., the Shikhovo (A. Tsaturyan, G. Tsovianyan, K. and D. Bikhovsky, L. Leytes), I. E. Pitoev and Co., Krasilnikov Brothers, Aramazd and others.[31]

The prominent Armenian businessman and philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian also began to build ties and invest heavily in the Baku oil industry, the fortunes he made there being the source for his nickname of "Mr. Five Percent."[32] Other notable Armenian businessmen in the oil industry in Baku included Stepan Lianozyan (owner of G.M. Lianozov Sons, which became one of the largest oil industry firms in Russia),[31] the Adamov Brothers (of A. Y. Adamoff Brothers; M. Adamoff, the eldest of the brothers, went on to became one of the wealthiest men in Baku),[33] and A. Tsaturyan, G. Tumayan and G. Arapelyan, who were proprietors of A. Tsaturov & Co., which was later bought out by Mantashev. Around 1888, out of the 54 oil companies in Baku, only two major oil companies were Azeri owned.[34] Out of the 162 oil refineries, 73 were Azeri owned but only seven of them had more than fifteen workers.[34]

Other Armenians in Baku tended to enter the workforce as foremen and white-collar employees.[10]


Saint Thaddeus and Bartholomew Armenian Cathedral of Baku, opened in 1910 and later destroyed in the 1930s

Baku's Armenian community grew alongside the city's own development through the course of the nineteenth century. The large scale construction and expansion of the city attracted numerous Russian and Armenian architects, many of whom had received their education in Russia (in particular, Saint Petersburg) or other parts of Europe. Prominent Armenian architects included Hovhannes Katchaznouni, Freidun Aghalyan, Vardan Sarkisov, and Gavriil Ter-Mikelov. Many of the buildings they designed, influenced by Neo-Classical themes then popular in Russia and also styles and motifs taken from medieval Armenian Church Architecture, still stand today. Among the most well known examples are the Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall and the Commercial College of Baku (both designed by Ter-Mikelov).

There were three Armenian churches in Baku, but they were demolished or closed down following the establishment of Soviet power in 1920. The Saint Thaddeus and Bartholomew Cathedral, built in 1906–1907, was destroyed in the 1930s, as part of Stalin's atheist policies. The Church of the Holy Virgin, which had not been functioning since 1984 due to falling in severe disrepair, was demolished in the early 1990s.[35] The St. Gregory Illuminator Church was set aflame during the pogrom of 1990,[36] but was restored in 2004 during a renovation when the building was taken over by the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan to be used as one of its libraries.

During the Imperial Russian period, the community enjoyed a vibrant literary culture, as seen in the publication of dozens of Armenian-language newspapers, journals, and magazines. The first Armenian periodical to be published in Baku, in 1877, was Haykakan Ashkharh (The Armenian World), a literary and pedagogic journal established and edited by Stephannos Stephaney, while other popular Armenian periodicals included Aror (The Plough), an illustrated calendar published from 1893-1896, Sotsial Demokrat (The Social-Democrat), an economic-political-public journal, with editors V. Marsyan and Lazo at its helm, Banvori Dzayn (The Voice of the Laborer, 1906, with Sarkis Kasyan as the editor), and Lusademin (At the Dawn), a literary collection published from 1913-14 by A. Alshushyan.[37]

Notable natives

See also


  1. ^ (Russian) Kavkazskii Kalendar na 1852g., pp. 305–307
  2. ^ a b c d e f Население Азербайджана (in Русский). Ethno-Caucasus. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  3. ^ (Russian) Первая всеобщая перепись населения Российской Империи 1897 г.
  4. ^ (Russian) ГОРОД БАКУ (1926 г.)
  5. ^ "Ethnic composition of Azerbaijan 1999". Retrieved 3 February 2012. 
  6. ^ "Ethnic composition of Azerbaijan 2009". 7 April 1971. Retrieved 3 February 2012. 
  7. ^ Kaufman, Stuart J. (2001). Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War. New York: Cornell University Press. p. 67.  
  8. ^ Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia 2004. Europa Publications Limited. Azerbaijan.
  9. ^ Altstadt, Audrey L. (1992). The Azerbaijani Turks: Power and Identity Under Russian Rule. Hoover Press. p. 31.  
  10. ^ a b c Suny, Ronald Grigor. " Eastern Armenians Under Tsarist Rule" in The Armenian People From Ancient to Modern Times, Volume II: Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth Century to the Twentieth Century, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997, p. 125.
  11. ^ Suha Bolukbasi. "Nation-building in Azerbaijan." in Identity politics in Central Asia and the Muslim world, Willem van Schendel and Erik Jan Zürcher (eds.). I. B.Tauris, 2001. "Until the 1905—6 Armeno-Tatar (the Azeris were called Tatars by Russia) war, localism was the main tenet of cultural identity among Azeri intellectuals."
  12. ^ Joseph Russell Rudolph. Hot spot: North America and Europe. ABC-CLIO, 2008. "To these larger moments can be added dozens of lesser ones, such as the 1905–06 Armenian-Tartar wars that gave Azeris and Armenians an opportunity to kill one another in the areas of Armenia and Azerbaijan that were then controlled by Russia..."
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Hopkirk, Peter. Like Hidden Fire. The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire. New York: Kodansha Globe, 1994, p. 287. ISBN 1-56836-127-0
  15. ^ Hovannisian. Armenia on the Road to Independence, pp. 225-27, 312, note 36.
  16. ^ Swietochowski, Tadeusz . Russian Azerbaijan, 1905-1920: The Shaping of National Identity in a Muslim Community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 145.
  17. ^ (Russian) Baransky, Nikolai. Экономическая география СССР [An Economic Geography of the USSR]. Moscow: Government Educational-Pedagogical Publishing, 1938, p. 305.
  18. ^ Ehteshami, Anoushiravan (1994). From the Gulf to Central Asia. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, p. 164
  19. ^ Encyclopedia Americana. Azerbaijan, Republic of. Grolier Incorporated, 1993
  20. ^ (Russian) Rumyantsev, Sergei. "Столица, город или деревня. Об итогах урбанизации в отдельно взятой республике на Южном Кавказе." Demoscope Weekly. October 10–23, 2005.
  21. ^ (Russian) Mamardashvili, Merab. "«Солнечное сплетение» Евразии."
  22. ^ (Russian) Bilodid, Ivan. Русский язык как средство межнационального общения [The Russian Language as a Means of International Communication]. Moscow: Nauka, 1977, p. 164
  23. ^ Shlapentokh, Vladimir. A Normal Totalitarian Society: How the Soviet Union Functioned and How It Collapsed. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2001, p. 269.
  24. ^ Malkasian, Mark (1996). Gha-ra-bagh!: the emergence of the national democratic movement in Armenia. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 176. 
  25. ^ Assessment for Armenians in Azerbaijan, Minorities At Risk Project, Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.
  26. ^ a b Miller, Donald E. and Lorna Touryan Miller. Armenia: Portraits of Survival and Hope. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, pp. 38, 56.
  27. ^ (Russian) Novii Mir, Issues 7–9. Izvestiya Soveta Deputatov Trudyashchikhsya SSSR, 1998, p. 189.
  28. ^ Von Voss, Huberta. Portraits of Hope: Armenians in the Contemporary World. New York: Berghahn Books, 2007, p. 301.
  29. ^ a b Этнический состав Азербайджана (по переписи 1999 года) (Russian)
  30. ^ Arnavoudian, Eddie. "Armenian capitalists and financiers in Baku's oil fields". The Critical Corner. Retrieved 20 October 2012. 
  31. ^ a b The Caspian Sea Encyclopedia. Berlin: Springer. 2010.  
  32. ^ Dekmejian, R. Hrair; Simonian, Hovann H. (2003). Troubled waters: The Geopolitics of the Caspian Region. London: I. B. Tauris.  
  33. ^ Yergin, Daniel (2009). The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, & Power. New York: Free Press. p. 171.  
  34. ^ a b Altstadt, Audrey L. (1992). The Azerbaijani Turks: Power and Identity Under Russian Rule. Stanford, Ca: Hoover Institution Press. p. 21.  
  35. ^ David Samvelian. Armenian Churches of Baku.
  36. ^ Implementation of the Helsinki Accords: "Human Rights and Democratization in the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union". Washington, DC: U.S. Congress, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, January 1993, p. 116.
  37. ^ For a full list of Armenian periodicals published in Baku, see Petrosyan, Hovhannes (1954–1957). Հայ պարբերական մամուլի բիբլիոգրաֆիա (Bibliography of the Armenian Periodical Press) (3 Volumes) (in Հայերեն). Yerevan: Literary Palace of the Armenian SSR. pp. 319–327. .
  38. ^ Alvin K. Benson. Inventors and inventions. p. 1256.  
  39. ^ Ayvazyan's biography in Russian Jazz Encyclopedia
  40. ^ (Russian) Ekimyan's biography at Peoples.Ru
  41. ^ The Dream of My Life (in Русский),, retrieved 29 January 2012 
  42. ^ In Memory of Robert Sahakyants, Robert Sahakyants Animation Studio, retrieved 29 January 2012 
  43. ^ Garry Kasparov, The Moscow Times
  44. ^ Dhilawala, Sakina. Armenia, 2nd ed. Cultures of the World. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2007, p. 100.
  45. ^ Chess life. Volume 61, Issues 1–6 – United States Chess Federation, p.29
  46. ^ Y. Movsisyan,, retrieved 29 January 2012 

External links

  • Baku Am - Website about the history and destruction of the Armenian community of Baku
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