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On 17 October – less than one month before the Remembrance Day commemorations across the UK – a landmark documentary about a lesser-known battle of the war was shown to a packed audience of over 100 multinational Londoners in Committee Room 12 of the House of Lords in the UK Parliament. The screening was organised by Mark Menzies MP, Vice-Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Azerbaijan, for which The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) provides the secretariat. Over 100 Azerbaijanis, military historians and multinational friends of Azerbaijan were in attendance. The event followed the European premiere at the Musée de l’Armée in the Hôtel National des Invalides in Paris.
Using digitally restored and colourized unique archival footage, the film details the bravery of the Azerbaijanis who participated in the war as part of the Soviet army to combat Fascism, with some 400,000 losing their lives and half a million being wounded. Altogether, 128 Azerbaijanis had the title Hero of the Soviet Union conferred upon them. This documentary film entitled Objective Baku: How Hitler Lost the Battle for Oil, was produced by Louis Vaudeville for CC&C Productions, in collaboration with Baku Media Centre, with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, and directed by Robert Mugnerot.
One of the most infamous pieces of newsreel footage to be shot of Adolf Hitler shows him – alongside various members of the Nazi hierarchy – eating a cake in the form of a map of the Caspian area, with the letters B–A–K–U spelled in chocolate cream, topped with a swastika emblem. After enjoying the cake, Hitler commented: “Unless we get Baku oil, all is lost.” This was not a mere exaggeration – the oilfields of Baku accounted for 80 per cent of all Soviet resources, being pivotal to the success of the Soviet Red Army, and Hitler even specified the date of 26 September 1942 as that designated for the capture of Baku. He came dangerously close to achieving his objective, but the battle by more than 681,000 brave Azerbaijanis to retain control over their oil fields and combat Fascism was an epic and ultimately successful enterprise.
Jack Pegoraro, Head, TEAS London initially welcomed all attendees and passed the podium to Mark Menzies MP – a frequent visitor to Azerbaijan – who stressed: “Today’s film is about remembering the role of Azerbaijan during those crucial years of the Second World War. Nazi Germany made a concerted effort – at great cost – to seize the oil fields of Baku. It was due to the bravery of many Azerbaijanis that the Nazis were prevented from achieving their ultimate goal. If they had attained this, the course of the war may have taken a different path and have lasted longer. It is important that historical events are captured accurately, and this is achieved in this film.
“In the UK – as with much of Europe – the details of the war in the East are often overlooked. This film goes some way in explaining the very important role that Azerbaijan and its citizens played. I am delighted to show this film in my role of Vice-Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Azerbaijan, which seeks to further develop the relationship between the UK and Azerbaijan.”
Entirely comprising archive footage, the film was a revelation for all viewers, outlining Baku as the birthplace of mechanised oil extraction and showing how the wealth of the city led to its appellation as the ‘Paris of the Caucasus’, where the streets were filled with fashionably-dressed people, and the buildings were reminiscent of those in Stockholm, Paris, Moscow, and Warsaw.
The film then went on to demonstrate the role of Baku fuel in the Soviet Union and the challenge for Nazi Germany, which only had oil reserves near the Polish border. It outlined the relative success of the Nazi armed forces in 1940, which saw the swastika hoisted over the Eiffel Tower, but still the only success that brought fuel for the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe was the victory over Romania.
Throughout, the film particularly demonstrated the bravery and resourcefulness of Azerbaijani women, whether as welders on pipelines; as infantry personnel; or as munitions workers. General de Gaulle was seen meeting Soviet premier Joseph Stalin in Moscow, and the film ended with footage of Victory Day in Baku in 1945, juxtaposed with contemporary, independent Baku – a modern, clean, calm, city, replete with extraordinary architecture.
The film is not yet available on DVD, but was presented in Baku in May 2015, and has since then been broadcast on several European channels, notably RMC Découverte and National Geographic.
2017.10.18 / 15:24