The symbol of independence of the first democracy in the Muslim and Turkic world turns 100 years old today, namely Azerbaijan’s national, tricolor flag. Azerbaijanis around the world are celebrating to honor the centennial of the adoption of what was first raised in 1918 as the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) was formed.
“Our flag is our source of pride. Our flag is our soul, our heart,” Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said in 2010 at the opening ceremony of National Flag Square in Baku.
On November 9, 1918, following the collapse of the Russian empire and shortly after the formation of the ADR, the central government ordered a change to an earlier version of the flag, which had a white crescent and a white eight-pointed star on a red background. The new design consisted of three horizontal bands in equal size of blue, red and green colors, with a white crescent and an eight-pointed star in the center. The decision to change the design of the flag was ratified unanimously and paved the way for the adoption of the tricolor.
The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic existed for 23 months before it was occupied by the Bolsheviks on April 28, 1920 and then incorporated into Soviet Union. During Soviet rule, which lasted from 1920 to 1991, the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic adopted eight different flags with first in 1921 and last in 1952. The eighth and final flag depicted a horizontal bottom blue band and a red upper band. A converged image of a hammer and sickle as well as a five-point star, all which were official symbols of the Soviet Union and communism, were added to the flag’s upper left-hand corner.
In 1991, Azerbaijan brought back the national flag, nicknamed Üçrəngli Bayraq (“the tricolor flag”). In 2009, President Aliyev signed a decree making November 9 a public holiday, called it National Flag Day, to commemorate the country’s history and pay respect to a flag that has withstood the tests of time. Specifications for the tricolor are enshrined in Clause 23 of the country’s constitution, and it is considered one of the state’s symbols alongside the national anthem and the national emblem.
The current tricolor has an uppermost band of blue, symbolizing the Turkic origin of the Azerbaijani nation. The middle band of red is symbolic of modern society, democracy and progress. The green band represents Azerbaijan’s connection to Islam, the predominant religion in a country of nearly 10 million.
Some historians and researchers are divided over the reasons for why eight-pointed star and crescent were put on the flag.
While the crescent and star are symbols in Islam, Fatali Khan Khoyski, the first prime minister of the ADR, wrote that the eight points of the star testify to the eight letters in the word “Azerbaijan” when written in Arabic script that was in use in Azerbaijan in 1918. Others claim the star is a symbol of Turkic ideology, which together with the crescent creates a complete Turkic identification of the Azerbaijani nation. The eight points may represent the eight branches of Turkic peoples.