Azerbaijan Democratic Republic is first secular parliamentary state in the Islamic world

   Before a month, I had honour to take part at presidential elections in Azerbaijan as an international supervisor. After the finishing this very important political event in Azerbaijan, sitting with my Israeli college form "Maariv" newspaper at the hotel in Baku, I have seen "IRS HERITAGE" magazine is entirely dedicated to the theme of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. I think this good and reliable magazine can shed light on some of the so far hidden aspects of the early republic and show how significant and important its contributions to the modern state of Azerbaijan have been.

Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was formed for the first time in the Muslim East exactly one hundred years ago. This event carried tremendous and paramount historical significance. The establishment of a democratic republic for the first time in this region was a great achievement of the Azerbaijani people. It was the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) that applied the European model of a national state for the first time in the history of the Muslim world. According to the form of its governance, the ADR was built in accordance with the classical model of a parliamentary democratic republic based on political pluralism and a multi-party system.
In the complex military and political situation that developed both inside and around the Republic of Azerbaijan in 1918-1920 against the background of acute geopolitical rivalry between the great powers in the entire Transcaucasus-Caspian region, the primary task facing the Cabinet of Ministers was the development and implementation of a set of important practical measures to ensure the country’s national security. The national security concept of the Republic of Azerbaijan found its clearest expression in the declarations of the third, fourth and fifth Cabinet of Ministers read out from the parliamentary rostrum on 26 December 1918, 14 April and 22 December 1919.

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The declaration of the third Cabinet of Ministers, which Prime Minister Fatali Khan Khoyski read out at the 26 December 1918 session of the parliament, specially noted that “the first and most important task” of the government would be the strengthening of the independence of Azerbaijan. At the same time, “independence does not mean alienation from other nations” through the construction of a “Chinese wall”. This meant that “free Azerbaijan can and will, in fact, enter into a close relationship with other states that formed in the territory of Russia, as well as with central Russia itself.”
  In the cause of strengthening the country’s international position the government pinned great hopes on the forthcoming participation of the Azerbaijani delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, where it was necessary to enlist the support of “free America, democratic Britain and republican France”, which favored Azerbaijan’s independence, and to secure its recognition by the world community.    The ability to engage in dialogue, listen and understand each other is developed for centuries and nurtured since childhood. In this regard, Azerbaijan turned out to be the only country that has never seen religious fanaticism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Representatives of various faiths have coexisted here for centuries and many languages, traditions and cultures of peoples living in the country have survived. Emerging in 1918, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was able to find its own special way of solving ethnic and religious problems. At the time, the ADR could easily compete with the United States in its ethnic and religious composition and in the level of freedom – it had no matches, and not only in the East!
    The first address to the citizens of the country already declared that both representatives of national minorities and representatives of the counties of the state are “invited to the parliament convened in the city of Baku on 3 December”.                  “… Azerbaijani citizens! Let us throw aside the enmity and discord that brought us all only grief and misfortune. History has predetermined that we should all to live our lives together. Let us build our lives on a reasonable human basis and love and respect each other to ease the difficulties of the life that begins again in order to be worthy of a free life. All Azerbaijani citizens, without distinction of religion or nationality, are sons of the same motherland and should lend a hand to each other to better arrange their  lives within a common homeland and forge their own happiness and a better future together.Especially great commitment and responsibility falls on the Azerbaijani Turks, who constitute the vast majority of the population of .Azerbaijan 

 

. Therefore, they should be encouraged by greater tolerance, carry a greater burden and be ready for self-sacrifice. On behalf of the National Council, Chairman Mammed Amin Rasulzadeh appealed to the all citizens of Azerbaijan, irrespective of their nationality, religion, language and time of residence in the country, to get involved in active work to build a new democratic state. Particular attention was paid to the protection of the rights and freedoms of members of national minorities

Recently Azerbaijani scientist, Dr.Moshe Bekker has written at "IRS HERITAGE" journal has written: "Jewish organizations began to show political activity immediately after the February Revolution. On 3 December 1917, the Baku Jewish National Council was created. Dr. Gukhman was elected the chairperson of this organization. The National Council was in charge of all cultural-educational and charitable institutions. Fractions of Zionists, Bundists, a non-partisan democratic group, populists (people’s party), Jewish Social Democrats (Poalei Zion), Zairey Zion (young Zionists) and the Orthodox faction represented the National Council.

The representative of the National Council in the Azerbaijani Parliament was Dr. M. A. Gukhman. There were the “Leon Peretz Society”, which organized "Zhivaya Gazeta" newspaper in 1919. The Baku branch of the Society for Jewish Folk Music and the Jewish Herzl folk club.The Jewish charity Ezras Akhim, at the site donated to the society by G. O. Benenson, laid the foundation of a Jewish almshouse and shelter. The following newspapers and magazines were published in Baku: “Bakinskoye Slovo”, editor I. Y. Glakhengauz, “Yevreyskaya Volya”, editor Y. S. Fridland, “Kavkazer Vokhenblat”, editor I. Y. Glakhengauz, “Kavkazskiy Yevreyskiy Vestnik”, editor V.S. Veynshal.

   
Relatively few people outside the Azerbaijan or Jewish comminities know about the remarkable role that the Jewish community has played in Azerbaijan. For example, a Minister of Health in the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was Jewish – Dr. Yevsey Gindes. The Director of the Central Bank in the ADR was Mark Mihailovich Aberguz, Jewish. It was fantastic that two representatives of  Jewish community have been ministers in the first Azerbaijan government. Due to the atrocities of Armenian gangs in Karabakh and other regions of the country, “Azerbaijan” newspaper published the following: “The Jewish National Committee filed a petition with the governor of Baku for cars for free transportation of refugees – Guba Jews. Mr. Governor sympathetically treated the petition and following the measures he adopted, 27 carriages have been granted to send refugees to Khachmaz. In total, about 1,100 refugees were sent. At present time, the picture of the events of those years was restored and previously unknown facts about the mass massacre of the Jewish population in the city of Guba were unearthed. Synagogue archives have been opened and numerous testimonies of relatives of the victims were collected. A place of mass executions of Jews by Armenian gangs of Amazasp was the Shimi depression: people were delivered there in batches and tortured – women and children were raped and old people and teenagers had their noses and ears cut off. Then they were killed. At that time, according to documents and eyewitnesses, up to 3,000 Jews were killed by Dashnak gangs together with 50.000 Azerbaijanis 

Speaking on behalf of the Jewish community on December 7, 1918, Dr. Moshe Gukhman said: “Dear Members of Parliament! In these great days for Azerbaijan, in the days of the start of its independent state building, I, as a person elected by 20,000 Baku Jews, came to welcome the legislature of the Azerbaijan Republic. The desire of Azerbaijani Turks, under the banner of self-determination of peoples and on the basis of the rightly understood interests of the people, to take all public life into their hands will meet the hottest response in the hearts of Azerbaijani Jews

Azerbaijani Jews believe that under the roof of the young parliament they will always find strong defense for their rights, especially my brethren, the Mountain Jews, living in separate nests scattered in different parts of the republic, and that any attempt by anyone whatsoever to breach our rights and interests will be rebuffed and nipped in the bud here. We hope that under the state system, Azerbaijani Jews will occupy an appropriate place as equals among equals

After the proclamation of ADR in a short time, the country’s borders have been defined. The territory of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic is spoken about the first time in the Declaration of Independence. The document says that Azerbaijan located in the south and east Trans-Caucasus is an independent state. The Declaration of Independence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic stated that the lands of Northern Azerbaijan, once occupied by Russia in accordance with the Gulistan (1813) and Turkmenchay (1828) agreements are the legal heritage of Azerbaijani people. The first article of the declaration read: “Beginning from this day the people of Azerbaijan will have their sovereign rights.. Azerbaijan that consists of Eastern and Southern Transcaucasia is a legal inpower on the entire historical area of independent state 

The National Council decided to form a Parliament of 120 people. The Parliament was to consist of 80 Azerbaijanis and
, Armenians – 21, Russians – 10, Germans – 1, Jews – 1, Georgians – 1, Poles – 1. However, the Armenians, who did not want the independence of Azerbaijan, did not participate in the activity of the Parliament
 The last assembly of the Parliament was held on 27 April 1920. The Parliament held 155 meetings, ten of them while the National Council was still operating from 27 May to 19 November 1918, and the other 145 from 7 December 1918 until 27 April 1920. The Parliament discussed more than 270 draft laws, 230 of which were adopted. There were 11 factions in Parliament. The chairman of Parliament was Alimardan bey Topchubashov, and his deputies were Hasan bey Agayev and Mamadyusif Jafarov

During the 17 months of its uninterrupted activities, the Parliament of Azerbaijan had left an undeliable imprint in the history of
Azerbaijani statehood in general, and the parliamentary culture in particular by its valuable experience of an independent state  building and a number of highly professional legislative documents adopted

A deligation from Azerbaijan attended the Paris Peace Conferece, 1919. Upon its arrival, the Azerbaijani delegation addressed note to US President Woodrow Wilson making the following requests  

1. That the independence of Azerbaijan be recognized,

2. That Wilsonian principles be applied to Azerbaijan,

3. That the Azerbaijani delegation be admitted to the Paris Peace Conference,

4. That Azerbaijan be admitted to the League of Nations,

5. That the United States War Department extend military help to Azerbaijan, and

6. That diplomatic relations be established between the United States of America and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

  

President Wilson granted the delegation an audience, at which he displayed a cold and rather unsympathetic attitude. As the Azerbaijani delegation reported to its Government, Wilson had stated that the Conference did not want to partition the world into small pieces. Wilson advised Azerbaijan that it would be better for them to develop a spirit of confederation, and that such a confederation of all the peoples of Transcaucasia could receive the protection of some Power on the basis of a mandate granted by the League of Nations. The Azerbaijani question, Wilson concluded, could not be solved prior to the general settlement of the Russian question

However, despite Wilson‘s attitude, on January 12, 1920, the Allied Supreme Council extended de facto recognition to Azerbaijan,
along with Georgia, and Armenia.Bulletin d‘information de l‘Azerbaidjan wrote: "The Supreme Council at one of its last sessions recognized the de facto independence of the Caucasian Republics: Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. M. Jules Cambon at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had notified the delegation of Azerbaijan and Georgia of this decision on 15th January, 1920".

 Furthermore, in the House of Commons the [British] Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mr.Greenwood was asked on what date recognition had been extended to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and whether "in accordance with such recognition, official representatives have been exchanged, and the boundaries of the Transcaucasian Republics defined".

Mr. Greenwood replied: Instructions were sent to the British Chief Commissioner for the Georgian and Azerbaijani Governments that the Allied Powers represented on the Supreme Council had decided to grant de facto recognition of Georgia and Azerbaijan, but that this decision did not prejudge the question of the respective boundaries… There has been no change in representation as a result of recognition; as before, His Majesty‘s Government have a British Chief Commissioner for the Caucasus with Headquarters at Tiflis, and the three Republics have their accredited representatives in London…

  The Allies recognized the Transcaucasian Republics partly because of their fear of Bolshevism, but their activities directed against Bolshevism, at least in Transcaucasia, did not go much beyond words, the strongest of which were status quo, recognition, demarche, and a list of standard diplomatic remonstrance.The international authority of the Republic was growing. Representative offices of the Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Georgia, Denmark, Iran, Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, USA and Switzerland began to operate in Baku.

   However, Moscow could not reconcile itself to the loss of South Caucasus.  Despite the fact of occupation of Azerbaijan by the 11-th Red Army of the Soviet Russia a result of a bloody military operation, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic had left a remarkable trace in the national history of liberation movement. Within 23 months of its existence, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan became a clear evidence of the fact that even the most atrocious and oppressive colonial regimes were unable to eradicate the ideas of liberty and independent statehood traditions of the Azerbaijani nation. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic as the first parliamentary republic in the history of Azerbaijan was the first model of a democratic secular state based on the rule of law at the same time all over the East, including the Turkic-Muslim world. At the same time today, independent and strong Azerbaijan is a worthy successor of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was quite up to the level of the traditional European democracies by its political structure, steps undertaken in the state-building process, as well as level of its ultimate objectives and goals. Azerbaijani people restoring state independence in 1991 made a use of the rich statehood traditions of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan and established the independent Azerbaijan State based on this historical heritage. 

The announcement of 2018 as the Year of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic is of great importance for the Azerbaijani people, state and society. The state established a century ago played an important role in the recognition of modern Azerbaijan as a democratic republic all over the world. Despite the fact that the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic did not last long, it was at that time that the foundations of the Azerbaijani statehood were laid, which became a solid foundation for the construction of modern Azerbaijan after the restoration of its independence in 1991.

Arye Gut 
Political Analyst

 

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