Russian Colonialization of Azerbaijan: Cultural Alienation and De-Islamization

  January 18, 2021   Read time 2 min
Russian Colonialization of Azerbaijan: Cultural Alienation and De-Islamization
Azerbaijan is a Shia region and in one sense Shia Islam defines the identity of this region in Greater Iran. Russian annexation of northern part of Iran's Azerbaijan was indeed the beginning of a series of fundamental changes in this region that laid the ground for further alienation of this part of the country.

With the onset of Russian rule there appeared in Azerbaijan the unmistakable features of colonialism. Azerbaijani territory became a military outpost controlling the strategic corridor for the Russian penetration of Persia, a process that progressed apace after the Turkmanchai Treaty of 1828. Azerbaijan was viewed as a potential source of raw materials and as an area suitable for the resettlement of populations from other parts of the Russian Empire. Indeed, the very word colony with reference to Transcaucasia gained currency among tsarist officials who had studied the example of French rule in Algeria. The tsar's finance minister, T. E. Kankrin, denned the term and elaborated on its implications for the policy he recommended: "When Transcaucasia is described as a colony," he wrote in a memorandum to Nicholas I in 1827, the assumption is made that the government would stop short of incorporating this region into the state outright. It is not expected that Transcaucasia would be made into a part of Russia or the Russian nation, insofar as its way of life is concerned; rather, these lands should be left in their position of Asiatic provinces, but hopefully governed more efficiently than in the past." The aftermath of the conquest saw few and limited modifications in the way the Azerbaijanis had been ruled, and cases of the abolition of khanates, such as Ganja or Baku, were quite exceptional. At first, the tsardom preferred to adopt the indigenous governmental structures to its own needs. The khanates of Talysh, Sheki, Karabagh, Shirvan, and Nakhichevan, the JarBelokan jamaats, and the sultanate of Ilusiy were all left intact. In allowing a khan or sultan to retain much of his powers, the Russians' prime consideration was either his loyalty to Russia or his political usefulness to the Russian authorities through his influence over the population. Moreover, the preservation of a khanate's administrative machinery alleviated the strain on the scant supply of Russian officials available and held a promise of financial savings. Only gradually and rather inconsistently did the military government take to disposing of the khans' regimes altogether. General A.P. Ermolov, who in 1816 became the commander of the Caucasus, viewed the khanates with suspicion as a disruptive and potentially pro-Persian factor.