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Muslim World's First Democratic Republic Turns 106

By Yaver Kazimbeyli May 28, 2024


In June of 1918, the ADR government raised the national flag of Azerbaijan / Alamy

Today, millions of Azerbaijanis around the world celebrate Independence Day to commemorate the first democratic statehood of the entire Muslim world – the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR).

The Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the independence of Azerbaijan, was adopted on May 28, 1918.

With a population of about 4.6 million and a territory of 114,000 square kilometers (44 square miles), the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was centered on a secular and parliamentary rule elected on the basis of universal, free, and proportionate representation. Major achievements of ADR brought forward fundamental changes in almost all fields of national life in Azerbaijan during its 23-month-long existence.

“From the very first days of its existence, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, based on the principles of the people's power and the equality of people, gave the same rights to all citizens of the country, eliminating the race, nationality, religion, and class inequality. The laws passed by the Republic's Parliament throughout one and a half year of its activity allowed for strengthening the independence of the national state, the rapid advancement in political and economic development, culture, and education,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said back in 2018, when the 100th anniversary of ADR was celebrated.

In June of 1918, the ADR government raised the national flag, established the national army and announced the Azerbaijani Turkic language as the official state language. The national flag first depicted a white crescent and a white eight-pointed star on a red background. However, on November 9, 1918, the government approved the modern-day tricolor flag to replace the old one. The flag symbolizes the Turkic origin of Azerbaijan (blue), progress and modernity (red), and Islamic belief (green).

The Azerbaijani National Army was established on June 26, 1918. A day later, it was decided that all internal and foreign correspondence and negotiations would be held in the Azerbaijani language. The ADR government also established Baku State University, a large educational and scientific center, which became the first European style high school in the entire Muslim East.

While the United States and some Western European countries were hesitating to enable women’s participation in elections, the ADR leadership granted unrestricted suffrage to women in 1918, making Azerbaijan one of the first countries in the world – and the first Muslim majority nation – to grant females political rights equal to those of men. This was the first case of its kind in the history of the entire East, and it was only two years later, in 1920, when women in the US were given the right to vote. By granting women the right of universal suffrage, ADR also left the Benelux countries (1919), and France and Italy (1945) behind.

The ADR government has made foreign relations a key focus and a pillar of an independent Azerbaijan. The Ottoman Empire became its first partner after signing a bilateral friendship agreement. Europe and the US have recognized the ADR government at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. A delegation led by the Chairman of the Parliament Alimardan bey Topchubashov met a member of the US delegation, Henry Morgenthau, and President Woodrow Wilson in Paris.

“There [the Paris Peace Conference] came in a very distinguished group of gentlemen from Azerbaijan,” Wilson wrote later while recalling the meeting. “I was talking to men who talked the same language that I did in respect of ideals, in respect of conceptions of liberty, in conceptions of right and justice.”

A British initiative by Prime Minister Lloyd George at the Paris Peace Conference ended with the issuing of a resolution of de-facto recognition of the Azerbaijani government by the Allies and the Entente in January 1920.

However, despite its recognition and diplomatic successes, Azerbaijan’s participation in the system of international relations was interrupted due to the military intervention of Soviet Russia. ADR was overthrown by the Bolshevik forces on April 28, 1920, and Azerbaijan was declared the Soviet Socialist Republic.

“Even though the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic has collapsed without achieving its goals fully due to being exposed to aggression, the idea of independence, which it has established in minds, was not forgotten. The Azerbaijani people have been able to preserve many of the national statehood attributes during the past period,” President Aliyev said in 2018.

The modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan, which regained independence from the dissolved Soviet Union in 1991, identifies itself as the successor of the ADR.