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First Secular Democracy of Muslim World - Azerbaijan Democratic Republic Turns 103

By Yaver Kazimbeyli May 28, 2021

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Azerbaijan's modern-day flag was raised by the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918 / courtesy

Today, tens of millions of Azerbaijanis living throughout the world celebrate the Republic Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the establishment of the entire Muslim World's first democratic statehood - the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic on May 28, 1918.

For Azerbaijanis, the creation of the first democratic, parliamentary, and secular state in Islamic geography is a historic event and a source of pride. President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly said that the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic’s establishment testifies to the greatness, and freedom-loving, and progressive nature of the people of Azerbaijan.

“The newly established Azerbaijan Democratic Republic fulfilled its historic task with an ultimate honor and dignity,” Azerbaijani President Aliyev said in his order to honor solemnly the 100th anniversary of ADR in 2018.

“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 correspondence and negotiations would be held in the 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 granted unrestricted suffrage to women in 1918, making Azerbaijan one of the first countries in the world – and the first Muslim majority nation – to grant females political rights equal to those of 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. By granting women the right of universal suffrage, ADR left also the Benelux countries (1919), and France and Italy (1945) behind.

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.”

A British initiative by Prime Minister Lloyd George at the Paris Peace Conference ended with the issuing of a resolution of de-facto recognition of the Azerbaijani government by the Allies and the Entente in January 1920.

Despite its recognition and diplomatic successes, Azerbaijan’s participation in the system of international relations was interrupted due to the military intervention of Soviet Russia in April 1920. The republic was overthrown by the Bolshevik forces on April 28 in 1920 and Azerbaijan was declared as 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.