The Republic Day of Azerbaijan

By Dashgin Shikarov

The February Revolution and Bolshevik coup of 1917 led the Russian Empire to chaos and turbulence. Under the slogan of struggle against the counter-revolutionaries in March 1918, the Baku Commune of Armenians and Bolshevics decided to completely eliminate the Azerbaijanis in Baku province. The crimes committed by Armenians on those days were engraved on the memory of the Azerbaijanis forever. Thousands of Azerbaijanis were killed just for their ethnic identity, houses were set on fire and people were burnt alive. Architectural monuments, schools, hospitals, mosques and other buildings were destroyed. Most of Baku turned into ruins. Massacres were carried out in Baku, Shamakhi, Guba, Karabakh, Zangazour, Nakhchivan, Lankaran and other places with medieval barbarity.

The only way for Azerbaijanis to stop this violence was to establish their own State and National Army. On May 28, 1918, the Muslim National Council held its opening sitting in Tiflis and adopted the Declaration on Independence, which proclaimed the establishment of independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) in south and southeast Transcaucasia. The declaration consisted of six clauses and became the first Constitutional Act in the history of Azerbaijan and affirmed Azerbaijani statehood in the form a Democratic Republic. On June 16, the national council and the cabinet of the ADR got relocated to Ganja – the second biggest city of Azerbaijan. The primary goal of the government was to liberate Baku and the other cities of Azerbaijan, which were under occupation of Armenians and Bolsheviks after the March 1918 massacre.

On April 5, 1918, the establishment of Caucasus Army of Islam was approved by Ottoman Empire and Nuri Pasha – the Turkish general was appointed commander of the army. The Turkish troops united with Azerbaijani forces in Ganja. Twenty thousand Baku Soviet troops launched an all-out attack on Ganja. The Caucasian Islamic Army entered a fierce battle with them. The Soviets were defeated and the Islamic Army advanced toward Baku, liberating cities one by one. Between August-March, the Islamic Caucasian Army launched an attack on Baku and on September 15, 1918, Baku was liberated. Over a thousand Muslim officers and soldiers laid down their lives in the Baku battle. The losses of the enemy were huge. Thousands of them were killed, 1,677 soldiers and officers of different nationalities were captured.

The capital of ADR moved from Ganja to Baku and on November 16, 1918, the Azerbaijan National Council resumed its function. On December 7, 1918, the first session of Azerbaijani parliament took place. This was a first parliament formed on the utmost democratic principles of that time in the entire Muslim East. Parliament included representatives of the main ethnical groups populating the country.

Despite the end of World War-I in November 1918, it took a while to finalise its consequences. The winners concurred to call an international conference in Paris to settle major issues in the world. A parliamentary delegation of Azerbaijan went to Paris with the main goal to gain international recognition for ADR. On January 11, 1920, the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference unanimously resolved to recognise de facto the independence of Azerbaijan. On January 19, the Azerbaijani mission received an invitation to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference. The allies formally assumed the obligation to defend the newly recognised state from foreign aggression.

Despite the lack of any previous experience in statecraft, the leadership of the ADR managed to create a well-operated state machine, establishing relations with more than 20 countries of the world, including Turkey, the US, Persia, Belgium, Holland, Greece, Denmark, Italy, France, Switzerland, UK, Poland etc. On June 24, 1919, the government adopted a national flag with white crescent and eight-pointed star with a three-stripe background. On June 26, the government enacted the establishment of Azerbaijan Armed Forces. The process of army build up was completed by January 30 to include 30,000 of infantry and 10,000 of cavalry troops.

The government established an extraordinary investigation commission to scrutinise the act of genocide of Azerbaijanis by Armenians, adopted the official state symbols and regulation on Azerbaijani citizenship, recognised the equality of men and women. The separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers was also confirmed.

Public education was among the primary concerns of the government. Roughly half of the schools switched to use Azerbaijani language, which became a compulsory subject. Another essential step was establishment of the Baku University on September 1, 1919. A number of schools were opened. Hundreds of young students received government scholarships to study in leading European universities. The establishment of Chamber of Appeals and Intelligence department became the vital pillar of the state-building process. The Baku-Batum oil pipeline was restored in 1919 to provide monetary influx into the country. To revitalise the local commerce, the government issued a decree on free trade and gave a rebirth to the merchant fleet. The Caspian fleet of Azerbaijan was established in summer of 1919.

During the 23 months of independence, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, with a total area of 97,300 square kilometres and 2, 862 million people, was governed by five subsequent cabinets. Azerbaijani parliament, composed of 15 parties, passed 230 acts to secure the interest of the nation.

On April 28, 1920, Azerbaijan was occupied by the Red Army. The resistance movement of Azerbaijani people was squashed; all government institutions of Azerbaijan were abolished. Baku again lived through a week of looting.

Only after 71 years, on October 18, 1991, the independent Republic of Azerbaijan came into being. The tri-coloured flag with a white crescent and eight-pointed star of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was raised again.

[The writer is Pakistan’s ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan]

About Arif Qureshi

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