Azerbaijan is proud of its Shia and Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Jews communities, which all live in harmony and mutual respect, values Baku devotedly promotes in the region and beyond.
The Republic of Azerbaijan is proof that Islam and democracy can go hand in hand.
Azerbaijan, a presidential republic is a former Soviet Union member. Bound by the Caspian Sea and Caucasus Mountains, the country is a major Silk Road hub between Asia and Europe.
April 28 marks a rather morbid centennial for Azerbaijan: exactly 100 years ago, on April 28, 1920, the Soviet Red Army invaded Azerbaijan and put an end to the first secular-Muslim democracy, known the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
Just two years prior, on May 28, 1918, Azerbaijan established itself as a democratic republic. This was a historic event as it made the country the first parliamentary secular republic in the Muslim world.
Moreover, on July 1919, a law was passed that made the country the first majority-Muslim population nation to give women the right to vote and run for office.
What made this law so exceptional? It made Azerbaijan one of the first countries in the world to ensure inclusive voting and election rights for all its citizens.
The law gave equal voting rights to men and women, from the age of 20, regardless of the person’s racial, ethnic, and religious background.
Consequently, the government formed was a mosaic of Azerbaijan’s population. It embodied the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious population, represented by its religious and ethnic minorities, to name, Azerbaijani Muslim, Jews, and Christians, Azerbaijani Armenians, Russians, Germans, Poles, and more.
In order to achieve international recognition, the nascent democratic republic, placed between Soviet Russia and the Persian Empire, pursued energetic and active diplomacy.
One of the new democratic republic’s first diplomatic acts was to send a delegation, led by Parliament Speaker Alimardan Bey Topchubashov to the Paris Peace Conference.
The forum, also known as the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919 and 1920 was held at the end of World War I and was a meeting of the victorious allies’ with the aim of setting the peace terms for the defeated powers.
On May 28, 1919, in Paris, the Azeri delegation met with then-US President Woodrow Wilson in what marked the first Azerbaijani-US high-profile diplomatic encounter. History attests that Wilson was most impressed with the Azeri diplomats. Upon his return to the United States, he referenced that meeting several times in his public speeches while touring western and southern US states during September 1919.
While researching the US historical archives, Nasimi Aghayev, the Azeri consul general to the US, found an interesting reference to President Wilson’s visit with the Azerbaijani delegation in Paris.
On Sept. 10, 1919 while in Bismarck, North Dakota, President Wilson said, “Almost every day…I was receiving delegations … some from parts of the world … were in geography when I was at school. … Did you ever hear of Azerbaijan? A very dignified group of fine-looking men came in from Azerbaijan … a very prosperous valley region lying south of the Caucasus … had a great and ancient civilization.”
In San Francisco, eight days later, President Wilson mentioned: “Do you know where Azerbaijan is? … one day there came in a very dignified and interesting group of gentlemen … from Azerbaijan … men who talked the same language that I did in respect of ideas, in respect of conceptions of liberty, right and justice.”
Interestingly, out of all delegations with which Wilson met in Paris he only mentioned – several times – the Azeri one, reflecting the good impression the diplomats left on him.
In January 1920, as a result of the Azerbaijani diplomats’ meeting with President Wilson, as well as conducting other productive meetings and efforts while in Paris, the United States and other democracies de-facto recognized the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
The strategically located, independent Azerbaijan, having one of the world’s largest reserves of oil, was a key target for the Bolsheviks. As Vladimir Lenin famously said, “Without Baku’s oil the Soviet state cannot survive.”
On April 28, 1920, Azerbaijan’s era of independence was cut short when 30,000 Soviet soldiers invaded the country and it was made part of the USSR in 1922.
The Red Army’s invasion was carried out to install a new Soviet government in Azerbaijan. The invasion led to the dissolution of the democratic republic and the establishment of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
After Azerbaijan’s first republic fell into the hands of the Soviets, the Sovietization of other independent republics, such as Armenia, Georgia, and Ukraine ensued.
There were Azerbaijani communists who championed the Soviet invasion. During the 1930s’ Stalinist purges, charged with “counter-revolution,” their betrayal ended up with execution by firing squads. As Jacques Mallet du Pan’s adage goes: “Like Saturn, the revolution devours its own children.”
Azerbaijan restored its independence loss to the USSR in 1991.
Today, the Azerbaijan is the fastest growing economy in the region, vastly contributing to the European nations’ energy security.
Coincidentally to Azerbaijan’s temporarily losing its first independence centennial, Israel celebrated the San Remo Conference centennial, when the country became a sovereign nation.
On April 19-26, 1920, as the conclusion of World War I, in accordance with Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Supreme Council of world’s powers, signed, ratified, proclaimed and put into effect the British Mandate System in the Land of Israel; it is from this conference the State of Israel derives its legal existence.
Nowadays, Azerbaijan is the only Muslim country to conduct open bilateral relations with the Jewish State, Israel.
One century ago Azerbaijan lost its independence only to regain it some 70 years later and never look back. The dynamic country is proud of its Shia and Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Jews communities, which all live in harmony and mutual respect, values Azerbaijan devotedly promotes in the region and beyond.