How Azerbaijan helped to defeat Hitler
As the Third Reich attempted to conquer Eurasia, the German General Staff was faced with a massive problem: the Blitzkrieg required mechanized equipment. Unlike previous wars where horsepower was triumphant, the Wehrmacht needed oil to fuel its tanks and planes in this new kind of warfare. Germany had no oil wells of their own, and so Adolf Hitler decided to seize the oil fields of Azerbaijan. This could first provide Wehrmacht with much needed oil, but also starve out the Soviet Union as Azerbaijan’s oil was essential for the Soviet army. Indeed, as Hitler celebrated his birthday in 1942 with a cake showing the Eurasian landmass, he carved out a large piece marked as Baku, capital city of Azerbaijan, for himself.
Hitler’s plans were not to be. Over an eight-month period in 1942-43, on their way to Azerbaijan through the North Caucasus, the German war machine ground to a halt at Stalingrad ending in a disastrous defeat for Nazis and stopping their march to Baku. They began a retreat from the Eastern Front that would not finish until the collapse of Nazi tyranny in 1945. It was a costly victory in a deadly war lasting over 6 years with 70 million people killed. The Soviet Union suffered the most, with an estimated 26 million fatalities. Hitler’s ultimate goal, Azerbaijan, shared in the suffering. 700,000 Azerbaijani soldiers, including 100,000 women, fought on the front line with 400,000 making the ultimate sacrifice. Thousands of Azerbaijani Jews sacrificed their lives fighting against the Nazis on the front lines.
Azerbaijan’s contribution to the war effort also included delivering 23.5 million tons of oil a year to the Soviet Army. Baku oilmen accounted for more than 70% of the total oil production and more than 80% of the total fuel production in the Soviet Union in 1941-1945. Georgy Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union, acknowledged that this uninterrupted supply of petroleum products to the front lines was essential to the ultimate victory over the Nazis. Azerbaijani Mountain Jews are also proud of the fact that one of the key figures in Azerbaijan’s oil industry during those difficult years was Yakov Mikhailovich Agarunov – a proud member of our community.
To better understand Hitler’s war for Baku oil, I would highly recommend to watch a great documentary “Objective Baku” that was filmed with the support of Azerbaijan’s Heydar Aliyev Foundation under the guidance of the Foundation’s vice-president Ms Leyla Aliyeva. The film successfully premiered on National Geographic TV in May 2015.
World War II was a milestone for Azerbaijan’s oil production, one of many. In 1848, engineers drilled the world’s first oil well in Baku to usher in the modern petroleum age. This preceded the first American oil well in Pennsylvania by 11 years. Over the next several decades, Azerbaijan produced the first oil pipeline, the first oil tanker, the first oil refinery, etc. In the beginning of the 20th Century, Baku produced 50% of the world’s oil.
A newly-independent Azerbaijan achieved another milestone in 1994, when the government signed the “Contract of the Century” with Western oil companies to jointly develop and produce the Azeri, Chirag and Guneshli oil fields in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea. Thanks to the smart use of revenues generated by this contract Azerbaijan has become the largest economy and richest and the most developed country of the South Caucasus region. It has also allowed Azerbaijan to reduce poverty from 50 percent then to under 5 percent now. This contract was renewed on September 14, 2017, and will be effective until the end of 2049. The revenues generated by this new deal will allow Azerbaijan to continue social and economic reforms aimed at modernizing the country and improving the wellbeing of the population – as well as further strengthening a free and independent nation. It also allows its customers, such as the state of Israel, to do the same.
From fighting Nazis to fighting poverty, the oilmen of Azerbaijan continue to make contributions to their country and to the world.