Since the Middle Ages, Tbilisi, the capital of present-day Georgia, has been a rather significant center of the Armenian Diaspora. Tbilisi has especially been a hub of the Diaspora in terms of society, politics, and culture in the 19th century. Around the same time, Baku, the capital of modern Azerbaijan, took that Diaspora boom and carried it well into the 20th century.
The Armenian presence in Baku shaped in early-mid 1800s when the Russian Empire expanded its domain into the lands on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. The development of the Absheron Peninsula where Baku is located was driven by oil. And it was the Armenian entrepreneurs that greatly contributed to the Baku oil industry, though locals, Russians, and Europeans had their own roles in its establishment. Such Armenian entrepreneurs as Mirzoev, the first to successfully drill for oil in 1871, or Lianozov, Adamov, or Tsaturov entered the ranks of the wealthiest individuals of their generation. They were competing with such giants as the Rothschilds and the Nobels who were major players in the Baku oil industry.
In the first years of the Armenian presence in Baku, Armenians have been slowly becoming a part of the city’s fabric. A number of Armenian churches and schools would be built in the city. Apart from that, the establishment of the first library in the city, as well as the publication of first books and newspapers in Baku occurred thanks to the Armenians. Several iconic pieces of Baku architecture ranging from public buildings to private residences have been designed or commissioned by Armenians between late 19th and early 20th century.
Not everything went on well, however. The 1900s and 1910s have been the years of intense inter-ethnic clashes accompanied by the instability arising from the Russian Empire’s internal issues. One must also note that those events foreshadowed similar occurrences that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union decades later.
In the meantime, Baku has been a renowned center of cosmopolitanism. One example of it was the Baku Commune consisting of 26 Commissars from different backgrounds. Led by Stepan Shahumyan, the Commune briefly ruled the area in the chaotic aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Prior to the Ottoman and British occupations, as well as Sovietisation, the Commune had been replaced by another multi-national group that included Armenians as well.
During the Soviet years, many citizens of Baku formed a new Bakuvian identity, which included hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking and secular Armenians. As the violent movement for Nagorno-Karabakh accompanied by the 1990 pogroms of Armenians in Baku commenced, the most of the Baku Armenians fled to Armenia, Russia, as well as western countries. According to estimations, a number of ethnic Armenians ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands still live in Baku and elsewhere in Azerbaijan. They are mostly married to Azerbaijanis, and the tense political situation in the region severely limits the free expression of the Armenian identity in the country.