By Dr. Azay Guliyev,
Member of the Parliament of Azerbaijan
Azerbaijani nation celebrates the centenary of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) on May 28, 2018. The date of May 28, 1918, on which the Declaration of Independence was announced, is currently celebrated as the Republic Day in Azerbaijan. The Declaration of Independence of Azerbaijan adopted by the Azerbaijani National Council in Tiflis, was the first constitutional act in the history of Azerbaijan’s statehood and under this Declaration Azerbaijan’s statehood was declared in the form of the Democratic Republic. And so, the statehood of Azerbaijan had once again revitalized after the end of the World War I and the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty.
The main objective of this article is to draw the readers’ attention to 5 facts from the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic’s history which will help to better understand the essence of its historical significance.
1) The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic played an important role in the protection of democratic traditions, gender equality, human rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and press.
The ADR, despite its short existence, succeeded to establish and ensure the operation of main entities of the European model of state apparatus. Being the first parliamentary republic in the Muslim world, the ADR managed to establish state institutions and preserve ancient statehood traditions of the Azerbaijani nation. Besides this, for the first time, the ADR introduced several rights and freedoms which were never actually provided by any Eastern state prior to that time. Particularly, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was the first republic in the Muslim world, which granted women the right to elect and be elected. Thus, the ADR became the country which provided women with electoral rights earlier than many Western countries, including Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Austria, USA, etc.
During the 23-month period of its existence, the first national government – the independent, free and democratic republic, helped the people to regain its national self-consciousness and demonstrated to the entire world its ability to take independent decisions regarding the future activities. The Declaration of Independence stated that the Democratic Republic provided political rights and citizenship to all its citizens, regardless of nationality, religion, class, or gender.
2) Even in the modern period, the level of tolerance and equality which existed within the Parliament of the ADR could serve as the pattern for the parliaments of the most progressive Western countries.
The establishment of the Parliament was of great importance and it had a historical significance with regard to strengthening of the state-building and coordination of the Republic’s
domestic and foreign policy. The first establishment meeting of the Parliament of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was held in Baku on December 7, 1918. In 1918, the Azerbaijani parliament was even a model for the Western countries in terms of national tolerance.
It is very interesting and at the same time necessary to note that the representatives of different peoples who lived over the territory of the Republic, were represented in the parliament – places had been distributed as follows: Azerbaijanis – 80 seats; Armenians – 21 seats; Russians – 10 seats; Germans – 1 seat; Jews – 1 seat; Georgians – 1 seat; Poles – 1 seat. By the end of 1919, there were 11 different party fractions and groups in the Parliament: “Musavat” and the fraction of non-parties – 38, “Ittihad” – 13, “Akhrar” – 6, “Socialists” bloc – 13, non-partisans – 4, independent – 3, “Russian-Slavic society” fraction – 5, Armenian fraction – 5, “Dashnaksutyun” fraction – 6, “National minorities” fraction – 4. This composition of the parliament is a clear indication of the Azerbaijani people’s respect to the peaceful coexistence with all the neighbors and high importance given to the opinion of each community and group living in the ADR.
3) The young Republic proved itself to be the self-sufficient defender of its national interests and priorities. The short-lived country established diplomatic relations with many states.
After declaring its independence, several priorities were highlighted by the ADR Government. One of them was the establishment of mutual diplomatic relations with foreign countries. The first state that recognized the independence of ADR was the Ottoman Empire and legal basis of relations between these countries was laid by the Treaty of Batum which was signed on June 4, 1918. This treaty became the first bilateral document in the history of ADR.
For a long time, the issue of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic’s international recognition was remaining among the most important calls on the agenda. In this respect, the participation of the delegation of Azerbaijan at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and its recognition by international community were vitally important for the young republic. The gaining of international recognition of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was the main aim of sending an Azerbaijani delegation to the Peace Conference. The issue was that the acceptance of Azerbaijan’s independence by neighboring countries did not fully alleviate the fragility of the new state. Only recognition by the Great Powers could help to fully rebuff the existing threats: aggression of Denikin’s army and Soviet Russia, etc.
The chairman of the parliament A.Topchubashov was appointed as the leader of the mission. Prior to the opening of the Paris Peace Conference, Topchubashov started an extensive preparatory work in the city of Istanbul, met with the governmental representatives of the Ottoman state, officials from the USA, Russia, Ukraine, Persia, Italy, Sweden and Netherlands.
After long diplomatic talks and procedures, eventually, on January 11, 1920, the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference unanimously decided to de-facto recognize the independence of Azerbaijan. The news reached Azerbaijan on January 14 and was jubilantly received in the parliament.
Besides the Treaty of Batum and recognition by the Entente countries, the ADR also gained more successes in its foreign policy. After the Paris Peace Conference, international activity of the ADR expanded. European countries, such as Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, Netherlands and others started to open their consulates in Azerbaijan. Decision on establishing diplomatic missions in the UK, US, Poland and other countries was made by the Parliament of Azerbaijan. Representative offices of 16 countries started to function in Azerbaijan. Iran became the first country that de jure recognized the ADR on March 20, 1920.
4) The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic succeeded to create all the necessary conditions for proper functioning of the domestic policy tools during one of the most stressful and responsible periods of our national history.
Within the 23 month period of its existence, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic managed to implement numerous fundamental measures that were of great importance for state-building. The nationalization policy of the ADR is also among its significant achievements. We can state the declaration of Azeri Turkic as a state language on June 27 as a part of this policy. The Baku State University was established on September 1, 1919. Decision on sending 100 students abroad for getting higher education for the academic year of 1919-1920 was made by the Commission, which was especially created on this purpose and headed by M.A.Rasulzade.
The ADR managed to build its army, create Azerbaijan telegraph agency, restore Baku-Batum oil pipeline, establish Azerbaijan State Bank and issue its own currency banknotes, etc.
5) The existence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic for 23 months in such a complicated time, the post-war period, which was full of political transformations not only in the region, but also over the world, should be considered as a real feat of historic significance.
All the ongoing political processes, the geopolitical rivalry in the Transcaucasian region caused the fact that the overall situation in Caucasus became even more complicated starting from the early March 1920. Soviet armies were located in Dagestan in April 1920 and Bolsheviks reached the borders of Azerbaijan. Armenians started a rebellion in western region of Azerbaijan and the ADR had to send most part of its armed forces to tranquilize the situation. So, there was a very small army protecting Baku. Taking the advantage of the situation, the 11th Red Army entered Baku and Bolsheviks took the power in Azerbaijan.
Unfortunately, the historical conditions of April 1920 did not make it possible for our people to continue the activities of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Although the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic no longer existed, the idea of independence, which always existed in the consciousness of our people, remained in the national historic memory despite all the deprivations. In the history of the statehood of Azerbaijan, this tradition of succession lived in the hearts and minds of our people during the period of the 70-year Soviet rule.
For a very long period of time, the history and legacy of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic were among the forbidden, almost taboo topics. Many representatives of the Republic were “forgotten” on purpose by the Soviet government.
The Republic of Azerbaijan, being the political heir of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, started the new stage in the history of the Azerbaijani people by adopting Constitution Act on the “State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan” on October 18, 1991. The deserved political assessment was given to the ADR by Heydar Aliyev, who, on January 30, 1998, signed the Decree on the 80th anniversary of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. As a result of undertaken measures, the history of the ADR was put under the spotlight over the whole country and the 7 volumes of legal documents of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic were published in 1998.
Continuing the political line of the National Leader, the President Ilham Aliyev, on May 16, 2017, signed a Decree on the 100th anniversary of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and this important date is currently widely celebrated – numerous local and international events are held on a regular basis to demonstrate respect to the founders of the Republic which existed for almost 2 years, but significance of which will live on forever.
Edited by Dr Shahid Qureshi, Chief Editor