Vol. 1, No. 8 (May 15, 2008)

Azerbaijanis and the allied victory over fascism in World War II

Gurban Mammadov
Senior Lecturer
Baku State University

Although most of the focus on Victory Day this year as in earlier times has been elsewhere, Azerbaijan played an important role during World War II not only as an object of interest by Germany’s high command but also as a source of oil and personnel for the Red Army that ultimately drove German forces out of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and defeated the Third Reich, as well as an important participant in Moscow’s occupation of Azerbaijani territories in northern Iran.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Hitler hoped to seize Azerbaijan and its immense oil resources, the possession of which would then allow him to occupy Central Asia and create a German client state to be known as Greater Turkestan of which Azerbaijan itself was to be a part.  That German plan, code named Edelweiss, called for the occupation of Baku by September 25, 1941, after which Azerbaijan’s oil reserves were to be controlled by Germany’s Continental Oil Society. 

During the course of the war, Azerbaijan provided both oil and personnel for the Soviet Union.  In many respects, the outcome of the war was entirely dependent on fuel supplies for the army.  Over four years, Azerbaijan produced 75 million tons of oil, 75 percent of all Soviet output, and refined 85 to 90 percent of all the gasoline the Red Army used.

At the same time, more than 700,000 Azerbaijanis joined the Soviet military during the war.  Of these, more than 10,000 were women.  Many Azerbaijani soldiers and officers were decorated for their contribution to the defense of the Soviet Union and then the liberation of Eastern Europe.  But tragically, more than half of the total – 420,000 – perished in the fighting.  In addition, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis at home made various contributions to the war effort, manning defense factories, organizing hospitals, and the like.  

But Azerbaijan’s contribution to the war effort was not limited to oil and manpower.  The republic produced 130 diffeerent weapons systems and their components, including the Katyusha rocket and the YAK-3 fighter aircraft.  And it supplied the front with 15 kilograms of gold, 952 kilograms of silver, and 125 train loads of warm clothes.  

During the course of the conflict, Moscow dispatched Azerbaijani officials to various parts of the USSR to fill in for those who had left for the front.  Aziz Aliyev, for example, came from Azerbaijan and helped organize Daghestan and other regions of the North Caucasus.  In large part because of his work, the nations of the eastern portion of that region were not deported to Central Asia as so many others in the western part of the North Caucasus were at the end of the war.

Azerbaijan also played a key role as a republic during the war.  On the one hand, when German forces approached the North Caucasus, Moscow organized a defensive region centered on Baku.  Azerbaijani units made a major contribution to the liberation of the North Caucasus.  And on the other, Azerbaijan was the jumping off point for the Soviet Union’s occupation of Northern Azerbaijan, a step intended to deny the Germans Iranian oil and one that led both to the creation of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan and in 1946 triggered the beginning of the Cold War. [1]  

Azerbaijanis also took part in the partisan and anti-fascist resistance movements throughout Europe.  In the spring of 1942, for example, Hadi Giyasbayov and Mirzakhan Mammadov escaped from a Nazi camp and joined the underground.  Vilayat Guseynov was among the partisans who arrested Mussolini.  And Akhmadiyya Dzhabrayilov participated in the French resistance and was subsequently given that country’s highest military medal.  

But far and away the most famous Azerbaijani partisan was Mekhdi Guseynzade, who used the nom de guerre Mikhailo.  He joined the Yugoslav partisans in 1942 and in the course of the fighting killed more than 1,000 German officers.  In an effort to capture him, the Nazis put an enormous price on his head.  In 1957, he was posthumously named a Hero of the Soviet Union.  

Like other peoples who defeated fascism in World War II, Azerbaijanis every year recall that conflict and the sacrifices they and others made for victory.  And more than many, Azerbaijanis know that they made an incalculable contribution to that victory, something that all of them are now and always will be extremely proud of.  


Гасанлы, Джамиль (2006).  СССР-Иран. Азербайджанский кризис и начало холодной войны, 1941-1946, Москва: Герои Отечества.


[1] On this complicated issue, see what is now the definitive work on the subject by Azerbaijani historian Gasanly (2006).