By Harut Sassounian,
Pres. Ilham Aliyev and the Azeri media frequently disparage Armenian national hero Karekin Njteh for having associated with Nazi Germany during World War II.
However, Azeris never mention the affiliation of Mammad Rasulzade, the founding father of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan in 1918, with the Azerbaijani Legion which fought for Nazi Germany. Pres. Aliyev made no reference to Rasulzade in his 2017 speech, while naming the key figures of the First Republic of Azerbaijan.
In 2020, when Pres. Aliyev accused Njteh of being a Nazi, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan shot back saying that Rasulzade “worked closely with Nazi Germany and the Nazi Party.” Pashinyan criticized Pres. Aliyev for glorifying Rasulzade. The Vice-Speaker of Azerbaijan’s Parliament Fezail Ibrahimli retorted at the plenary meeting of the parliament in May 2020, saying that Pashinyan’s accusation was “a delusion.”
While Pres. Aliyev keeps making critical comments about the statue of Karekin Njteh in Yerevan, he avoids recognizing that in Azerbaijan there are several Rasulzade streets and avenues, his statues are throughout the country, and his image is on postal stamps and banknotes. Rasulzade also has a municipality in Baku named after him. There is even the “Rasulzade Anatolian high school” in Ankara, Turkey.
Most people would not have been aware of Rasulzade’s concealed connection to Nazi Germany, if it were not for the mysterious last-minute cancelation of a documentary about his life which was to be aired on Azerbaijan State Television on January 31, 2022, the 138th anniversary of his birth. However, just one day before the air date, the documentary was cancelled without any explanation. As a result, Fakhraddin Hasanzade, a producer of the Azeri TV program, announced his resignation.
If aired, Rasulzade’s biographical documentary could have revived talk of his support for Hitler’s Azerbaijani Legion which was composed of 70,000 soldiers during World War II. The Armenian Legion had 11,600-33,000 soldiers, while the Georgian Legion had 30,000 soldiers, according to Wikipedia. The soldiers in all three Legions were prisoners of war who were captured by the Germans. They all hoped that a victory by Germany would liberate their homelands from Soviet occupation.
David Davidian, a lecturer at the American University of Armenia, wrote in World Geostrategic Insights: “Rasulzade established relations with the Nazis in the 1930’s while residing in Romania. At the outbreak of WWII, the German representatives notified Romanian authorities that Rasulzade was their political ally and asked that Rasulzade be issued documents permitting ease of diplomatic passage to Berlin. Rasulzade’s goal was to help Nazi Germany conquer the Caucasus or have Turkey as an ally of Germany do so, clearing the way for an independent Azerbaijan and probably destroying what remained of Armenia.”
Davidian added: “In May 1942, Rasulzade participated in meetings between Nazis and representatives of Caucasian Muslim emigres and actively recruited legionnaires for the German Wehrmacht [armed forces of Nazi Germany] from among Azerbaijani POWs…. Interestingly, Rasulzade remained in Germany until 1947. He eventually resided in Turkey until he died in 1955.”
Rasulzade’s grandson, Rais Rasulzade, wrote in the autumn 1999 issue of Azerbaijan International magazine: “It wasn’t long until Hitler started looking for someone to represent him in the Transcaucasian region. He couldn’t find anyone suitable among the Armenians or Georgians but had heard that Rasulzade was highly educated and cultured.” According to his grandson, when Hitler met Rasulzade in Berlin, he asked him to give a speech to the Azeri soldiers in the Nazi German army.
In a document (WO 208/4367) located in the United Kingdom War Office archives, Hitler was quoted as saying on December 12, 1942: “The Georgians are not a Turkish people, rather a typical Caucasian tribe, probably even with some Nordic blood in them. Despite all explanations — either from [Alfred] Rosenberg [ideologist of Nazism] or from the military side — I don’t trust the Armenians, either. I consider the Armenian units to be just as unreliable and dangerous. The only ones I consider to be reliable are the pure Muslims, which means the real Turkish nations.”
In his article, Davidian reported that the Azerbaijani Field Battalion I./111 “participated in suppressing the August 1944 Warsaw Uprising that killed an estimated 40,000 [Polish] civilians.”
In conclusion, Davidian reminded the Azeris of the proverb: “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others.” I would like to add the biblical admonition: “You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”