The Term “Azerbaijani” Did Not Exist Before 1918

The Term "Azerbaijani" Did Not Exist Before 1918

We should immediately note that we do not intend to clarify the history of the origin of the Azerbaijani people. We only remark that before 1918, the term “Azerbaijani” did not exist. Terms “Muslim” and “Tatarian” have been used instead.

Russian Caucasus researcher N. Seydlitz wrote in 1870: “The Tatars of Baku province originate from various Turkic tribes who settled in this region during the invasions and during the reign of the Seljuk, Mongolian, Turkic, and Safavid rulers.

When mixed with the former inhabitants of the region, both in eastern Transcaucasia and in the northern areas of Persia, these various tribes made up one common dialect of the Turkic language, the average between Turkish (Ottoman Turks), Kumyk, Nogai, and Chagatai languages.

In their turn, the Azerbaijani Tatars comprised of representatives of different races, as the historical overview of the province proved.”

In 1907, the same idea was repeated in the Caucasian Calendar yearbook: “In Baku, as well as in the Baku province in general, most of the population are Azerbaijani Tatars. They belong to the Mongolian race and the Turkic generation and speak a dialect that has been influenced by the Persian language.

Supported by the Persian shahs, they in the last century moved from Azerbaijan (historical province in Iran) to the southeastern part of Transcaucasia and the coastal part from Baku to Derbent.”

After these quotations, in order not to offend the Tatars of Russia and Crimea and not to mislead the reader, we will henceforth use the term “Azerbaijani” in relation to the Caucasian Tatars, which is how modern Azerbaijanis were once referred to.

What is the etymology of the words “Azerbaijan” and “Baku”? In Persian, “azer” means fire and “baijan” means “country” – that is, “Azerbaijan” means “country of fire”. Up to the 1920s, “Bagu” was used instead of “Baku” to refer to the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan. This older name seems to have derived from the word “bagin” (temple, altar). The connection with fire is again evident.

What is all this about? In the 6th century BC, there existed a cult of fire. High temples of fire worshipers existed until 624 AD when the Georgian (Iberian) King Irakli through the Mugan steppes launched a campaign against the Persians and destroyed these temples in the process. In 12 years, however, the altars were restored by the Arabs after Persia was conquered.

According to the testimony of the Arab historian Istarhia, in the 8th century AD, the locals used oiled earth instead of firewood as fuel. An Arabic inscription carved on a stone was found in one of the oil wells. According to it, this particular oil well was discovered in 1594 by Allah Yar, the son of Muhammed Nur, and given to the seids.

In 1723, Russia took away the Baku Khanate from Persia. Emperor Peter I in a letter to General Matyushkin, the conqueror of Baku, wrote: “Send one thousand poods (roughly about 36.000 pounds or 16.000 kilograms) of the white oil or as much as possible and search for a master.”

There is also another interesting mention of oil, which is for unknown reason forgotten. Anania Shirakatsi (7th-century Armenian scientist) in his famous work “Ashkharhatsuyts” (“Geographical Atlas of the World”) indicated the mineral resources and natural riches of Greater Armenia: iron, coal, oil, smoky quartz, arsenic, salts, hot mineral springs, and minerals called “salak”, “dzikhk”, and “koks.”

The authors of a work dedicated to Shirakatsi write:

“All these minerals, except for salak and dzikhk, are widely known, and many of them are very common in the Armenian Highlands. Salak and dzikhk are not yet known to us. However, it can be assumed that these are some kind of petroleum products since both of these substances are mentioned in the “Ashkharhatsuyts” side by side with oil.”

Read also: “Armenians and Baku” by Khachatur Dadayan

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