Azerbaijan 1918-1920 Democratic Republic: Islamic World’s First Secular State
by Arye Gut
Exactly 102 years ago, on May 28, 1918, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) was established, to be the first parliamentary democracy among all Muslim nations. This paramount event, of historical importance, was considered a most significant achievement for the Azerbaijani people.
At the 26 December 1918 parliament session, Fatali Khan Khoyski, the elected Prime Minister read a declaration especially noting that “the first and most important task” of the government would be to strengthen the independence of Azerbaijan.
The nature of the Azerbaijani people, to be able to listen and understand each other and engage in a dialogue, is nurtured since childhood and has been developing for centuries. For this reason, Azerbaijan is the only country that has never seen religious discrimination, fanaticism, xenophobia and Antisemitism sentiments.
Representatives of the country’s various religions have peacefully coexisted for centuries and the country’s many ethnic groups, their language, tradition, and culture have proudly survived.
Since its emergence in 1918, the ADR developed a cordial and compromise system to solve any arising ethnic and religious difficulties. Interestingly, at the time, concerning the ethnic and religious social composition and freedom rights, the ADR could easily vie with the United States. The ADR had no match, and not only in the world’s East.
On behalf of the National Council, consisting of 80 Azerbaijanis, its Chairman, Mammed Amin Rasulzadeh, appealed to all of Azerbaijan’s citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity, language, and religion, to get actively involved and help build a new democratic state.
Azerbaijan scientist Dr Moshe Bekker. Photo edited by NewsBlaze from original by Eldar Farzaliyev
Recently, the Azerbaijani scientist Dr. Moshe Bekker wrote: “Immediately after the February Revolution, Jewish organizations began to show political activity.” On December 3, 1917, the Baku Jewish National Council, that included fractions of Zionists, Bundists, a non-partisan democratic group, populists (people’s party), Jewish Social Democrats (Poalei Zion), Zairey Zion (young Zionists) faction, was founded to be in charge of all Jewish cultural-educational and charitable institutions.
Images Azerbaijan Mark Mihailovich Aberguz Central Bank Director – photo Wikipedia
Very few people outside Azerbaijan, including Jewish communities, know the role the Jewish community has been playing in Azerbaijan. For instance, Dr. Yevsey Gindes, ADR’s Minister of Health was Jewish; Mark Mihailovich Aberguz, ADR’s Central Bank Director, was Jewish. It was the Jewish community’s pride to have two of its members acting ministers in Azerbaijan’s first democratic government.
Azerbaijan Dr. Yevsey Gindes Minister of Health – Photo Wikipedia
Speaking on behalf of the Jewish community, on December 7, 1918, Dr. Moshe Gukhman stated: “In these great days for Azerbaijan, the start of building an independent state, as the person elected by 20,000 Baku Jews, I welcome the Azerbaijan Republic’s legislature. The desire of the Azerbaijani people, under the people’s self-determination banner and based on the people’s rightly understood interests to take all public life into their own hands, meets the Azerbaijani Jews’ most warm and welcoming response.”
Under the roof of the young parliament Azerbaijan’s Jews believe that they will always have strong support for their rights. This particularly applies to my Mountain Jews brethren, scattered in different parts of the republic. The hope is that under the state’s system, Azerbaijani Jews will always have the equal among equals’ rights.
In its short-lived two years’ life, the ADR conducted an active foreign policy, building bilateral relations with a number of countries as well as establishing and hosting numerous diplomatic missions. The Azerbaijani government intensively sought international recognition at the highest level.
An Azerbaijan delegation was sent to attend the Paris Peace Conference where they met with world leaders, including US President Woodrow Wilson. Though originally Azerbaijan did find the support it needed, sought from British Prime Minister Lloyd George, a British initiative at the Paris Peace Conference ended with issuing a resolution, in which the Allies de facto recognized the Azerbaijani government in January 1920.
The Allies recognition of the Transcaucasian Republics was partially due to their fear of Bolshevism. This fear, at least in the Transcaucasia regions, did not go much beyond words, the strongest of which were status quo, recognition, démarche, and a host of standard diplomatic remonstrance. The Allie’s recognition of the ADR was historic, albeit late to arrive. Azerbaijan’s joining the free countries’ community was interrupted in April 1920 by Soviet Russia’s aggressive and bloody military intervention.
Despite the Soviet Russia occupation of Azerbaijan for some 70 years, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic had left the Azerbaijani people with a national liberation ethos. In its 23 months of existence, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic had become a vibrant fact. No oppressive communist regime could remove the Azerbaijani nation’s statehood’s liberty and independent ideas.
The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, the first in Azerbaijan’s history, was a democratic secular parliamentary state model, based on the rule of law, the one and only one in the globe’s East, to include the Turkic-Muslim world. Today, the independent and strong Republic of Azerbaijan is the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic’s worthy successor. In October 18, 1991, the Azerbaijani people restored their independence. Referencing the ADR statehood tradition they established an independent Azerbaijani State on all of its historical heritage.
Azerbaijan Democratic Republic did not last long, but at that time it laid the Azerbaijani statehood’s solid foundation, what led to the 1991 reestablishment of the modern and independent Republic of Azerbaijan.
Arye Gut is a commentator on Israeli public TV and radio on Azerbaijan-Israeli and Israel-Turkish relations, who also regularly writes at the Jerusalem Post.