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Azerbaijan Celebrates Creation of Muslim World's First Democracy

By Yaver Kazimbeyli May 28, 2020

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The tricolor flag of Azerbaijan / Courtesy

Tens of millions of Azerbaijanis living throughout the world celebrate today the Republic Day commemorating the 102nd anniversary of the establishment of the entire Muslim World's first democratic statehood - the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic on May 28, 1918.

“The Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the independence of Azerbaijan, was adopted on May 28, 1918. The newly established Azerbaijan Democratic Republic fulfilled its historic task with an ultimate honor and dignity,” Azerbaijani President Aliyev said.

“From the very first days of its existence, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, based on the principles of the people's power and the equality of people, gave the same rights to all citizens of the country, eliminating the race, nationality, religion, and class inequality. The laws passed by the Republic's Parliament throughout one and a half year of its activity allowed for strengthening the independence of the national state, the rapid advancement in political and economic development, culture, and education," he noted.

The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR), with a population of about 4.6 million and a territory of 114 thousand square kilometers (44 square miles), established the traditions of a parliamentary republic amongst the Muslim and Turkic nations. It was centered on a secular and parliamentary rule, which was elected on the basis of universal, free, and proportionate representation. Major achievements of ADR brought forward fundamental changes in almost all fields of national life in Azerbaijan during its 23-month-long existence until the Soviet subjugation on April 28, 1920.

In June of 1918, the ADR government raised the national flag, established the national army and announced the Azerbaijani Turkic language as the official state language. The national flag was first designed and approved depicting a white crescent and a white eight-pointed star on a red background on June 21. However, on November 9, 1918, the government preferred the modern-day tricolor flag to replace the old one. The flag symbolizes the Turkic origin of Azerbaijan (blue), progress and modernity (red), and Islamic belief in the Caspian country (green).

The Azerbaijani National Army was established on June 26. A day later, it was decided that all internal and foreign correspondence and negotiations would be held in Azerbaijani language. The ADR government also established Baku State University, a large education and scientific center, which was the first European style high school in the entire Muslim East.

While the United States and some Western European countries were hesitating to enable women’s participation in elections, the ADR leadership granted unrestricted suffrage to women in 1918 pulling down the iron curtain around them and let them in for elections on a par with men. This was the first case of its kind in the history of the entire East. It was only two years later, in 1920, when women in the US were given the right to vote.

The ADR government has made foreign relations a key focus and pillar of a newly founded and independent Azerbaijan. The Ottoman Empire became the first partner to the ADR after the two sides signed a bilateral friendship agreement. Europe and the US. have recognized the ADR government at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. A delegation led by the Chairman of the Parliament Alimardan bey Topchubashov met a member of the US delegation, Henry Morgenthau, and President Woodrow Wilson in Paris.

“There [the Paris Peace Conference] came in a very distinguished group of gentlemen from Azerbaijan,” Wilson wrote later while recalling the meeting, “I was talking to men who talked the same language that I did in respect of ideals, in respect of conceptions of liberty, in conceptions of right and justice.”

“Even though the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic has collapsed without achieving its goals fully as due to being exposed to aggression, the idea of independence, which it has established in minds, was not forgotten. The Azerbaijani people have been able to preserve many of the national statehood attributes [created by the ADR] during the past period,” President Aliyev said in his order to honor solemnly the 100th anniversary of ADR in 2018. 

ADR was overthrown by the Bolshevik forces on April 28 in 1920 and Azerbaijan was declared the Soviet Socialist Republic. The modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan, which regained independence from the dissolved Soviet Union in 1991, identifies itself as the successor of ADR.