Every May 28, the people of Azerbaijan celebrate the country’s Independence Day. On May 28, 1918, the first parliamentary democracy in the Muslim world, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, was founded with the adoption of its Declaration of Independence. The republic’s sovereign territory was 114,000 sq km.
Despite facing grave internal and external challenges arising from the collapse of the czarist Russian Empire, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic succeeded in creating effective state institutions, upholding the rights of its citizens and gaining the trust of the international community. The Azerbaijani parliament — a democratically elected, multi-party and truly representative legislative body — was the first of its kind in the Muslim world. Universal suffrage, including the right of women to vote, was guaranteed. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic became the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights. All of its citizens had the right to vote, regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity or religion.
The newly formed republic made education a primary goal and, consequently, the Baku State University was founded.
As stated in the Declaration of Independence, the establishment of friendly relations with all nations, especially neighboring states, was made a foreign policy priority. The first major breakthrough in diplomatic relations came when an Azeri parliamentary delegation visited Paris, with the main goal being to gain international recognition for the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. As a result of the strenuous activity of Azerbaijan’s representatives, unanimous de facto recognition of the country’s independence was attained on Jan. 11, 1920, and the delegation received an invitation to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference.
The Bolsheviks’ invasion of April 1920 put an end to the independence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. But its successor, the Republic of Azerbaijan, restored independence in 1991. This year’s Independence Day is especially remarkable as we will celebrate it with restored territorial integrity within the internationally recognized borders. In 2020, Azerbaijan put an end to nearly 30 years of occupation by Armenia of almost 20 percent of its territory. All Azerbaijani cities and villages in these lands were razed to the ground by Armenia during the occupation. Aghdam city is known as the “Hiroshima of the Caucasus” by foreign experts. Armenia deliberately vandalized, desecrated and pillaged our cultural and religious sites. More than 60 mosques were destroyed. They were turned into cowsheds and pigsties.
Now there is a huge task before us: The reconstruction of completely destroyed cities and villages and all cultural and religious heritage sites in the liberated territories. Smart city, smart village and green energy concepts will be applied in this process. We invite companies from friendly Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman to join the large-scale reconstruction in the liberated territories.
Today, the Republic of Azerbaijan, as an independent, sovereign and democratic country, brings into reality the aspirations and ideals of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, with its effective management, socioeconomic and human capital development, as well as its growing role and prestige in the international arena.
Based on the reality of being part of the Islamic world, the Republic of Azerbaijan, from the first days of its sovereignty, sought to consolidate fraternal relations with brotherly Muslim countries. Thus, relations between Azerbaijan and the member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation began expanding.
• Shahin Abdullayev is Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.