views updated May 08 2018


Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan and a major port on the Caspian Sea. The city was first taken by Peter I in the 1710s and held for two decades. The entire region of Caucasia was conquered by Russian forces in a war against Iran in the 1800s and confirmed by the 1813 Treaty of Gulistan.

Baku has meant two things to Russia: oil and strikes. The former has had the more enduring significance. The Baku oil fields were the object of Russian desire since the occupation by Peter I. Significant output began only with drilling in the 1870s. The oil rush of the last third of the nineteenth century brought thousands of Russian peasants to the Baku region to work in the oil fields. By the imperial census of 1897, the Russians were nearly as numerous as the native Azerbaijani Turks (approximately 37,400 to 40,000). By the 1903 city census, the Russians outnumbered them (57,000 to 44,000). Other national groups came to Baku. Armenians were a small but economically powerful minority with long-established communities, mostly involved in trade. Iranian Azerbaijanis crossed the border in large numbers. They were part of the same ethnic and religious group, speaking the same language as did the local residents. There were also communities of Georgians, Jews, Germans, and peoples from the Caucasus Mountains. Europeans arrived as investors, engineers, and skilled technicians. By 1900, Baku had a telephone system, European-style buildings, and an active City Council (Duma). It had a relatively high crime rate and a reputation akin to that of the Wild West in North America.

In the dangerous conditions of the oil fields, a labor movement emerged around the turn of the century. The Russian Social Democrats regarded Baku's activity as an alarm bell for the strike movement across the southern part of the empire. Baku provided a training ground for such future luminaries as Grigory Ordzhonikidze and Josef Stalin. For a time under Menshevik leadership, the Baku Committee of the party permitted the formation of a special party only for the Muslim workers, the Hummet. Class solidarity usually broke down along national lines, however, and the violence occasionally led to arson in the oil fields. In 1918 a Bolshevik-led government, known as the Baku Commune, ran the city briefly before the city fell to the invading Turkish army. Baku was the capital of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan (19181920) and, from April 1920 to 1991, of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan.

Although Baku's oil was largely depleted by the 1920s, the city was a target of Nazi advances in World War II. The Soviet Gosplan invested very little in the oil industry in Baku after the war and left its infrastructure to languish.

In the post-Soviet period, offshore drilling has taken the place of the old wells as a prize for foreign investors. Russia has tried, again, to maintain access to the oil and has fought proposals by Azerbaijan and foreign oil companies that seek to route the oil around Russian pipelines and Black Sea ports.

See also: azerbaijan and azeris; caucasus


Altstadt, Audrey. (1986). "Baku: Transformation of a Muslim Town." In The City in Late Imperial Russia, ed. Michael F. Hamm. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Audrey Altstadt


views updated Jun 27 2018


BAKU , port on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, capital of Azerbaijan S.S.R. 1920–1991, from 1992 capital of *Azerbaijan. Jews are first mentioned in the area in the 13th century. A community of Persian Jews existed in Baku in the 18th century. The inhabitants, who were Muslims, harassed the Jews there and in 1814 threatened their lives following a blood libel. Although the Russian authorities offered them their protection, the Jews left and took refuge in *Kuba, also in the province of Baku, where there was a large community of *Caucasian Mountain Jews. Later, however, some returned to Baku.

A new chapter in the history of the community began in the 1870s with the development of the oil industry in Baku and its surroundings. Although restrictions were imposed to discourage Jews coming from European Russia, and on Jewish participation in the industry, the number of Jewish concessionaires and professional and skilled workers increased. Jews took a large share in initiating new enterprises and providing capital, in exploiting oil wells and setting up refineries, in developing transport facilities, and in marketing oil and oil products within Russia and abroad. Among pioneer industrial companies owned by Jews was that of Dembo and Kagan, founded by A. Dembo of Kovno and Ḥayyim Cohen of Brest-Litovsk. Also active in this sphere were the Dembot brothers, in collaboration with Baron H. Guenzburg, Bikhowsky, Leites, Ickowich, and A.M. Feigel. A central position in oil exploitation, transportation, and marketing was occupied by the *Rothschilds, who founded the Caspian-Black Sea Company and by the end of the 19th century headed a syndicate of many of the large oil companies. Another large company was Polak and Sons, owned by Grigori Polak and his sons Saveli (Shevaḥ) and Michael. Prominent in the field of technology was the chemical engineer Arkadi Beilin, who worked in a number of companies, including those of the Rothschilds, and after marrying the daughter of Grigori Polak joined Polak and Sons. In 1913–14 the share of the Jewish companies in kerosene production in Baku reached 44% while the proportion of Jews occupied in oil products marketing was even greater.

Jewish communal and Zionist institutions followed in the wake of the economic development. According to the 1897 census there were 2,341 Jews in Baku, of whom the majority were Caucasian with some from European Russia. The Jewish population continued to increase after the 1917 revolution through the influx of Mountain Jews who, deprived of their traditional livelihoods in the villages, moved to the towns. In 1926 the Jewish population numbered 21,995 (19,583 of European origin, 1,985 Caucasian Jews (Tats), and 427 Georgian Jews). In 1939 they numbered 31,050 and comprised about 4% of the total population. According to the 1959 census they numbered 29,179 (3% of the total) in Baku and its vicinity. In 1970 the Jewish population was 29,716 (2.2% of the total). Most of the non-European Jews resided in the old part of the city. The European, Tati, and Georgian communities each had their synagogue. The Tati synagogue was the oldest and largest. While maẓẓot could be obtained on Passover, ritually slaughtered meat was not available. Two local rabbis signed Izvestia's denunciation of the Sinai Campaign (on November 29, 1956). Consequently the European Jewish community was deprived of its rabbis who apparently were not replaced. In the 1990s most of the Jews emigrated to Israel and the West.


J.J. Chorny, Sefer ha-Massa'ot (1884); H. Landau, in: yivo Bleter, 14 (1939), 269–85.

[Simha Katz]


views updated May 29 2018

Baku Capital of Azerbaijan, a port on the w coast of the Caspian Sea. A trade and craft centre in the Middle Ages, Baku prospered under the Shirvan shahs in the 15th century. Commercial oil production began in the 1870s. At the beginning of the 20th century, Baku lay at the centre of the world's largest oilfield. Industries: oil processing and equipment, shipbuilding, electrical machinery, chemicals. Pop. (1997) 1,725,500.