May 28th: The role of Poland in the Azerbaijani emigre community

Famous researcher of 20th century Muslim history in Russia and author of a number of books including “On the history of Azerbaijani emigration”, “A. M. Topchubashi and M. E. Resulzade. Correspondence. 1923 – 1926” and many other articles about Muslim (Azerbaijani included) history of emigration, Salavat Iskhakov, gave an interview to Radio Azadliq in connection with May 28th – Republic Day of Azerbaijan. We offer readers of Meydan TV a slightly abridged version of the interview below:

By whom, when and how was the organization “Prometheus” established?

It is hard to claim with certainty how and by whom the international organization “Prometheus” was established in the 1920s, because a lot of important facts have yet to come to light. There is ongoing scientific research in many countries, which, I hope, will lead to the right answer to this question.

To understand the essence of the “Prometheus” movement, we need to go back to the events of the beginning of the 20


century. After the suppression of the first Russian revolution, some Muslim leaders who actively participated in the political life of the Russian Empire had to flee abroad in order to avoid repression by the Russian authorities. The eruption of the First World War posed a number of common questions to these politicians. Most important of all being: what were the foundations on which they should build the coexistence of their nation with European civilization in the post-war period?

To that end, several famous Muslim Azerbaijani activists such as Akhmed Aghaoglu, Aibek Huseinzade and Tatar activists Yusuf Akchura (Akchurin) and Abrashed Ibrahimov organized a special committee to defend the rights of Muslim, Turko -Tatar nations in Russia (Comité pour la Defense des Droits des Peuples Turco-Tatar Musulmans de Russie) in 1915 in Istanbul. The main goal of that committee was to represent the demands of these nations that were being discriminated against in the spheres of civil and religious rights.

Colonel Tadeusz Schaetzel

There were a number of other organizations that were created later, aimed at defending the interests of non-Russians in the USSR. “Prometheus” actually became the successor of a number of pre – existing organizations.

Полковник Тадеуш Щетцель
Colonel Tadeusz Schaetzel

“Tadeusz Schaetzel – colonel, politician and Polish military attaché in Ankara”

– What is known today about the Polish military attaché in Turkey, Colonel Schaetzel, who supported “Prometheus and M. E. Resulzade? Who is he, where was he born, where and how did he serve besides Turkey? Where and how did he die, did he have a successful career, life?

A lot has been written about him in Polish historiography, therefore we need to turn to the work of modern Polish historians to find out more. However, in short, Tadeusz Schaetzell, was a


Polish colonel, politician, military attaché in Ankara in 1924- 1926, Chief of the 2


Division (intelligence) of the General Staff of Poland in 1926-1929, advisor to the embassy of the Republic of Poland, Minister Plenipotentiary and Minister-Counsellor in Paris in 1929-1930, head of the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, head of the Eastern Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1930-1935, in 1939-1944 internee in Romania and since 1947 – in emigration in Great Britain.

In the Polish historiography, it is claimed that the author of the term “prometheism” was colonel T. Schaetzel, who was working as a Polish political attaché in Turkey and established contacts with political emigrants of the Caucasian nations.

“Pilsudski was convinced that it was necessary to support the aspirations for independence of non-Russian nations of the USSR.”

Второй  слева первый глава возрождённого польского государства Йозеф Пилсудский
Second from the left: head of new Polish State: Josef Pilsudksij

– What were the objectives, how and by whom was “Prometheus” was supported? Only by Poland and France? Or were there any other sources, countries?

Besides France, there was another country that had an important role in the rise and work of “Promethus” — Poland. Marshall

Josef Pilsudski

was deeply

convinced that it was essential to do everything to support the aspiration for independence of non-Russian nations of the USSR. In 1923 – 1926, the formation of the first organizational structures of the movement “Prometheus” came into being. Since the autumn of 1924, the supporters of Pilsudski – holding important positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense of Poland – embarked on a project to implement the unification of Caucasian emigrants into a single, consolidated platform that mirrored ideas of the Caucasian Confederation. The Polish claimed that it was crucial to create a centre for political works of Caucasian activists in Paris because that is where the diplomatic missions of Azerbaijan, Georgia and the North Caucasus were largely functioning.

Along with that, the sympathizers of Pilsudski thought that it was equally important to create an operational centre located close to the Caucasus to maintain intelligence operations and advocacy. To this purpose, in October 1924, on the initiative of the Envoy of Poland in Turkey, Roman Knoll, it was decided to create the Integrated Confederate Committee of the Caucasus in Istanbul. According to the plan of the Polish, the committee that was being established in Istanbul was the first step towards a larger Caucasian organization. Knoll considered Istanbul as the perfect place to conduct secret intelligence operations as well as advocacy in the Caucasus.

“Prometheus: “The existence of the USSR, a new form of the Russian expansion, represents a threat to the world”

Since the summer of 1926, the political interest of Warszawa towards “Prometheus” changed as a result of a military coup that happened in Poland in May of the same year, which brought Josef Pilsudski to power who was in favor of creating a similar anti-Bolshevik movement. The negotiations between the Caucasian emigrants carried out under the supervision of Warszawa ended with the establishment of a unified central Caucasian organization – The Committee of the Independent Caucasus on July 15th, 1926 in Istanbul. The committee had to coordinate all the activities of the representatives of Azerbaijan, Georgia and the North Caucasus.

With the establishment of the journal “Prometheus”, the movement of Prometheus, which consisted of a number of non-Russian emigrants from anti-Bolshevik organizations, formed as well. The programme and the purpose of that publication were published in the first issue of the journal. Its goal was to defend all the nations “enslaved by Russian imperialism, striving for their State’s Independence”.

The main purpose of the journal was the following: to show European society that the Russian Empire was historically doomed to collapse because of its educational system and the character of its population; that the cultural development and political maturity of nations that had separated themselves from Russia after the coup in October 1917 was not doubtful;

that the existence of the USSR as a new form of the Russian expansion represents a threat for both the international world and the fate of European civilization; that the liberation of the Caucasus in a form of an integrated confederate state could end the Russian expansion.

Mammad Emin Rasulzade
Mammad Emin Rasulzade

“The Kemalist government acted against the actions of Rasulzade

exiling him.”

-Why exactly did Poland and France become initiators but not Turkey? Was that only because of the anti-Russian attitude or were there other factors?

We said enough about the role of France and Poland earlier in the programme. But as concerns Turkey, the Kemalist government could not provide any serious help to the movement of Prometheus because of the agreement of friendship and brotherhood signed on 16 March 1921 in Moscow between Turkey and the government of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. However, at times, it stood against the actions of its leaders with, for example, sending Mammad Emin Rasulzade out of the country.

– Which goals did “Prometheus” actually manage to realise and what was left on paper?

Of course, not all plans and concrete tasks of “Prometheus” are known, however, a lot of things were accomplished. Let’s note a couple of the most important events in the life of “Prometheus”. On July 14th, 1934 in Warsaw the representatives of the Committee of the Independent Caucasus from the national centers of Georgia, Azerbaijan and the North Caucasus signed the Caucasus Confederation Pact, which was supposed to be established right after the liberation of the Caucasus from the Bolshevik yoke. In order to prevent the Kremlin from accusing Warsaw of breaching the the Soviet – Polish agreement of 1932, it was decided to state Brussels as the place where the document was signed.

In 1936, from April 17 – 26, in Paris there was a convention of the representatives of the Muslim nations of Azerbaijan, the Volga and Ural regions, the Crimea, the North Caucasus and Turkestan. The participants created an organization called “The Union of Turkic countries oppressed by Russia”. On 26 April the leaders of Turko-Muslim nations of Crimea (J. Seydamet),  Azerbaijan (M. E. Rasulzade, M. Mekhtiev, M. Vekilli), the North Caucasus (M. G. Sunsh), Volga and Ural Regions (G. Iskhaki) and Turkestan (M. Chokay) signed a protocol on the intention to realize the adoption of a draft of the common organization within a couple of months to finally elect a permanent council on a convention that took place in the same year.

The movement of Prometheus managed to organize and unite different emigration organizations and direct them to work.

You can read the entire article from Radio Azadlyq here.

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