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MAGAZINE - TEAS

Professor Swietochowski – a voiceof reason gives his perspective7PersonalitiesProfessor Swietochowski contextualisedthe importance of the documentscollected in The Armenian Question:Russian Archive Documents andPublicationsProfessor Swietochowski signs Russian Azerbaijan 1905–20, his own seminal text, for Dr AliTekin Atalar, Chair, Azerbaijan House, published in 1986Resident in New York for over 40 years,the Polish-American scholar ProfessorTadeusz Swietochowski ranks as oneof the foremost authorities on themodern history of Azerbaijan. Duringthe Soviet period in 1986, he wroteRussian Azerbaijan 1905–20: TheShaping of a National Identity in aMuslim Community, being one of thefirst Western books on the country tobe published. Following the regainingof Azerbaijani independence, he wasinvolved with three other leading texts– Russia and Azerbaijan – A Borderlandin Transition (1995); An HistoricalDictionary of Azerbaijan (co-author,1999); and Azerbejdżan, published inProfessor Swietochowski’s home cityof Warsaw.His work has served to significantlyenhance understanding of Azerbaijanihistory and culture across the West,particularly between academics.Amongst other positions, he iscurrently a Visiting Professor at theUniversity of Warsaw, and an HonoraryDoctor at Khazar University and BakuState University. TEAS caught up withProfessor Swietochowski when hemade a rare visit to London to speakat the launch of its new triple-volumeset of books entitled The ArmenianQuestion: Russian Archive Documentsand Publications.What initially prompted your interestin Azerbaijan and the Caucasus?I was studying Turkology at WarsawUniversity and graduated from theprogramme of Turkological studies.I then came to the US to read for myPh.D and, whilst undertaking researcharound suitable topics, came acrossthe history and culture of Azerbaijan.At this time – in 1985 – the countrywas completely unknown. It was stilla Soviet republic, although there werealready indications that this epoch wascoming to an end. I wrote my Ph.D,which I thereafter wanted to publish,but most publishing houses weredisinterested in a country of whichthey had not previously heard.I then contacted CambridgeUniversity Press, who said they wouldpublish the book, but advised thatI should not expect any profits. Theeventual book was entitled RussianAzerbaijan 1905–20: The Shaping ofNational Identity in a Muslim Community,covering crucial years in the historyof the country. This was the era ofthe revolutionary age, during whichTsardom was irrevocably shakento its foundations. Thereafter, theAzerbaijan Democratic Republic(ADR) was established, whichlasted for nearly two years from1918–20. Azerbaijan was thus thefirst democratic Islamic republicin the world. The ADR included aconstitutional system, parliamentarylegislation, and multi-party structure.In comparison with other TsaristRussian republics, Azerbaijan hadalways been advanced and financiallystable, due to its natural resources.However, this changed in 1920when the Soviet Union conqueredAzerbaijan.How did you undertake the researchfor your book?I initially undertook as much researchas possible in archives outside of theSoviet Union. During its final stages,I received an invitation to AzerbaijanSSR and spent around two monthsin libraries and archives, where Igained access to masses of material.This was sufficient for another book,which I was then able to write andpublish. I regarded this as a success,as it made Azerbaijan known to alimited, scholarly public.You are in London to speak at thelaunch of The Armenian Question,published by TEAS. When youreceived these books, what was yourreaction to the documents?This is a triple-volume set of books,comprising facsimile documents fromthe period 1724–1914. I read eachbook very carefully several times,and I received different impressions ofthe same situation on each occasion.Some parts of the books are verycomprehensive, whereas others are lessso, but the volumes undeniably containa great deal of very interesting material,particularly regarding relations betweenthe Tsarist officials, Azerbaijanis andArmenians. The official reports areremarkable in delineating the state of theArmenian-Azerbaijani relationship. Onthe whole, the publication of such booksis an extremely positive development.

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