99By Sabah Aslam

The early part of 20th century witnessed the collapse of the Russian Empire. This big fall of Russian Revolution 1917 led to chaos and unrest in all parts of the state including Azerbaijan. Hence under the slogan of ‘struggle against the counter-revolutionaries’ in March 1918, the Baku Commune of Armenians and Bolsheviks decided to completely eliminate the ethnical Azerbaijanis. Thus, the Armenians acted atrociously and killed thousands of innocent Muslims. That throbbing history is imprinted on the memory of the Azerbaijanis forever and it has left indelible marks on the history pages to give Azerbaijan a real boost to rise against all the odds and prove its substance, subsequently, it is beaming today with multidimensional colors of success and glory amongst the comity of nations. It was an opportunity availed in time and today that all Azerbaijanis hold the flag of grace for the generations to come and follow the footprints of this venerable legacy.

Coming back to the history, the only option for Azerbaijanis to stop that violence against them was to establish their own very State. So, the Muslim National Council held its opening sitting in Tiflis (presently Tbilisi, Georgia) on May 28, 1918, and adopted the Declaration on Independence.  And subsequently the establishment of an independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) in south and southeast Transcaucasia was announced. The 1918 declaration 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 genocide.

The mission was carried out by the newly established Caucasus Army of Islam – united Azerbaijani and Turkish forces. Afterwards, twenty thousand Baku Soviet troops launched an all-out attack on Ganja. The Islamic Army entered a fierce battle with them. The Soviets were defeated and the Islamic Army advanced toward Baku and got it liberated on September 15, 1918. Over a thousand of Muslim officers and soldiers laid down their lives in the Baku battle. The losses of the enemy were huge.

The capital of ADR shifted 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. That was the first parliament formed on the utmost democratic principles of that time in the entire Muslim East. Not only a true form of multi-party republican government was created, but also extended the suffrage (right to vote) to all persons, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or gender.  ADR was the first country in the entire Muslim world to give voting rights to women, even ahead of such advanced western democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom. It also guaranteed freedom of expression, assembly and religion, among many other liberties to the citizens of Azerbaijan.

The Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference on January 11, 1920 unanimously resolved to recognize de facto independence of Azerbaijan. Despite the lack of any previous experience in statecraft, the leadership of the ADR managed to form a well-operated state machine, establishing relations with more than twenty countries of the world, including Turkey, UK, USA, Italy, France Belgium, Holland, Greece, Denmark, etc. 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.

Functioning economy and independent financial system started to evolve. Educational reforms began, the Baku State University was founded; roughly half of the schools switched to use Azerbaijani language, which became a compulsory subject; hundreds of young students received scholarships to study in leading European universities. Preparations for constitution, development of comprehensive doctrine of national state building, and the criminal code with guarantees of universal rights and freedoms were under way. Bilateral formal relations were established with a number of foreign states and independent foreign policy reflecting the national interests of Azerbaijan was formulated and pursued. The Government established an extraordinary investigation commission to scrutinize the acts of genocide of Azerbaijanis by Armenians, adopted the official state symbols and regulation on Azerbaijani citizenship. The separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers was also confirmed. 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; 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 as well.

The ADR fell under the military attack of Soviet Russia on 28 April, 1920. The resistance movement of Azerbaijani people was squashed. All government institutions of Azerbaijan were abolished. The independence of Azerbaijan was restored only after 71 years. The tri-colored flag with a white crescent and eight-pointed star of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic rose again.

Today, Azerbaijan is witnessing a rapid and dynamic development that is comparable with developed countries of the world. Rich of hydrocarbon reserves, the country exports them to Europe consequently taking part in ensuring of its energy security.  Having taken advantage of its geographical  location,  Azerbaijan became not only a main  point  for transportation of  crude and gas to Turkey and Europe  via diverse pipe-line net, but a transport corridor linking East with West as well.  A country with nine and a half million population has become a leading power in Transcaucasia and a main regional investor, financing multi-billion projects in different countries of the world. The economic growth of Azerbaijan goes accompanied by enormous construction boom, development of the industry, infrastructure, agriculture, sports, and tourism.

Azerbaijan carries on a balanced foreign policy, based on the interests of the country. Situated on the geographical border of Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan is integrated in the political structures of both continents. Being a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE, Azerbaijan plays an active role in the OIC, ECO. It is also a member of Non-Aligned Movement, and last year completed its tenure as a non-permanent member of UN Security Council.

Pakistan and Azerbaijan enjoy close and cordial relations characterized by shared perception on major global and regional issues.   The two countries signed number of agreements to provide a framework for bilateral cooperation in all spheres including economy, trade, finance, information, culture and military fields. Both countries closely cooperate in international forum and support each other on their core issues.

The writer is Executive Director of the Islamabad Institute of Conflict Resolution.

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