This year was the 90th anniversary of the first democratic and secular republic in the whole Muslim East, namely Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). Proclaimed on 28 May, 1918 and overthrown by Russian Bolsheviks on 28 April, 1920, ADR maintained a true democracy: gave a suffrage to the women (1919) and the youth, long before the main European nations did; created a truly democratic parliament, where assigned MP quotas to almost all ethnic minorities, and even gave special representation to workers’ unions; and made preparation to summon the Constituent Assembly (alas, interrupted by the Russian Bolshevik invasion). Besides, ADR remained strictly committed to the parliamentary form of government, where the Council of Ministers was accountable to the parliament, and was dismissed in the case if it lost the confidence of the majority of MPs.
Minorities and all political and social spectra of the Azerbaijani society were broadly represented in ADR’s parliament and councils of ministers, where there were many socialists and capitalists, conservatives and liberals, secular nationalists and religious right. Doctor Guindes, famous Jewish pediatrician of Baku served one time as the Minister of Heath, and despite the open warfare with neighboring Armenia, Armenians of Azerbaijan had their own MPs and even Ministers.
ADR gave refuge to many Turkic and non-Turkic political, public and military figures of former Russian Empire and Azerbaijani army harbored many former Russian officers of the czarist army. For example, General Suleiman Sulkevich, former Prime Minister of the Crimea became the first chief of staff of Azerbaijani army, and Rashid Khan Kaplanov, former high-ranking official of the Mountainous Republic, overthrown by White Russians, held the post of the Minister of Education and thus became one of the founders of Baku State University.
Azerbaijan Democratic Republic founded the first modern European-style institute of higher education in Azerbaijan – Baku State University (1919) and its first Chancellor became Professor Razumovski, who was invited from Russia proper. Government opened the numerous courses to eliminate illiteracy among the population, nationalized all elementary schools in order to back them financially from the budget and also launched an ambitious campaign and sent 99 students to various European countries to advance their education (the 100th student died just day before departure).
The flag of ADR (now the flag of the Republic of Azerbaijan with modifications) consisted of three horizontal strips of light blue (symbol of Turkishness), red (symbol of Europeanness) and green (symbol of Islamic faith). Thus this flag once again stressed the motto of ADR – “Turkify, Europeanize, Islamicize” in order to emphasize ethnic pride, modernization and religious devotion.
The first head of state of ADR was Mammedamin Rasul-zadeh, a journalist, who participated in and passed through five revolutions (1905-1907 Russian, 1906-1911 Iranian Constitutional, 1908-1909 Young Turk Revolution, 1917 February and October Revolutions); founded the first secret Muslim political organization in the Russian Empire, the first Muslim socialist organization in the World, the first modern daily newspaper in Iran, and the first secular and democratic republic in the Muslim East.
The second head of state of ADR was Alimardan Topchubashov, a jurist, who was one of the leaders of the Turkic-Tatar people of the Russian Empire, head of its faction in the first Russian parliament (State Duma), and one of the founders of the first political organization of the Turkic-Tatar peoples of Russia. Topchubashov also was the head of the Azeri delegation to the Paris Peace Conference and there, in Paris, after meeting him, the US President Woodrow Wilson said, “I met with a very dignified and interesting group of gentlemen from Azerbaijan, men who spoke the same language I did about ideals and concepts of liberty, rights and justice.”
ADR during its existence had five Council of Ministers, and two Prime Ministers – Fath Ali Khan Khoyski and Nasib bey Yusifbeyli (Usubbekov). Both of them were prominent jurists in Azerbaijan. The former even was the deputy of a public prosecutor in a purely Russian province, a post generally not available for a Muslim.
Indeed, as Topchubashev wrote, “[the first] Council of Ministers [of ADR] consisted of four Doctors of Jurisprudence, four engineers, three Doctors of Medicine and one Doctor of Philology…”. Most of these people and other founders of ADR came from very prominent families.
Alimardan Topchubashov, for example, came from the Topchubashi family, which traces its origins to XIV century military commander in the charge of the cannons in Ganja garrison. The ancestors of Fath Ali Khan Khoyski were the rulers of three independent and semi-independent principalities of Azerbaijan (Khoy, Tabriz and Shaki) in XVIII century and the ancestors of the Ziyadkhanovs, other prominent family that contributed to the foundation of ADR, were the general-governors of Ganja and Karabakh during long reign of the Safavid dynasty. Several generals of the Azeri army, the Mirza Gajars came from an offshoot of the incumbent ruling monarchic family of Iran. Nasib bey Yusifbeyli and Hasan bey Aghayev were Ganja noblemen, and Rasul-zadeh was a son of a prominent Bakuvian cleric. Most of these fathers-founders of Azerbaijan were educated in the best European and Russian universities, were liberals and socialists, and were committed to democracy. As Topchubashov would define, they were “true citizens and patriots of their fatherland”.
Today, we can speak of ADR only as a lost republic, and of its leaders as a lost generation, as republic was overthrown in two years’ time, and its leaders fell victims to the ardent terror campaigns and bloody purges by the Bolsheviks. Only handful of them survived and died in exile. Nevertheless, they have left a very brilliant model of how to build a democratic and modern state in the Muslim East, a striking example that should be followed not only by Azerbaijan, but by also many others.