The first century of Azerbaijan
Some 100 years ago, on May 28, my homeland Azerbaijan declared the first democratic republic in the Muslim East. Not only was it the first declaration, but also the first historic decision to establish a parliament, university and opera. It granted voting rights to women ahead of many European democracies of the time.
The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) tried to survive and therefore, began building its armed forces and bureaucracy. Many young Azerbaijanis were sent to Turkey to pursue education and Turkish officers started training and equipping Azerbaijani ones.
The republic engaged with leading powers, sending emissaries to the major capitals and the Paris conference. The ADR wanted recognition, its place among nations and the strongest ties with the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey was also in search and survival mode then. The difference was that the Ottoman Empire was rather defending its vast lands and contemplating a new form of existence.
Despite the hardships, both Azerbaijan and Turkey extended a brotherly hand to each other. Volunteers fought shoulder to shoulder. “The last piece of bread” was shared and no other effort was spared. The fallen Turkish soldiers were laid to rest on the hilltop of Baku, the most visible and sacred place, next to the fallen Azerbaijanis in different times of our history. So is true for Çanakkale, which was the first place I visited after my appointment as Ambassador in Turkey, where Azerbaijanis are resting in peace together with their Turkish brothers.
The ADR lasted only 23 months but the goals it set were never forgotten.
Fast forward exactly 100 years. Global and regional affairs might be less violent but definitely not less complex or tense. Again, as in 1918, a big power game stretches through the similar geographies, but now, overwhelmed with widespread terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, cyber and other modern and much deadlier technologies.
Today, Azerbaijan is in 100th place in terms of size and has the 35th most competitive economy, the 53rd strongest army, and the 11th most literate population.
Turkey is a G20 country with mighty armed forces and is a growing “soft power” in the region.
Moreover, the Turkey-Azerbaijan link is turning into an energy, transportation and security belt. Caspian energy resources flow to Europe via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, inaugurated late in 2017, is a major piece in a chain, reviving the ancient Silk Road, which brought peace and prosperity to Eurasia centuries ago. Most trilateral and quadrilateral regional cooperation formats include both Ankara and Baku and the scope of their activities is growing every year.
On June 4, 1918, the ADR signed the Treaty of Batum with Turkey on friendship, cooperation and mutual military assistance, which was the first recognition of the newly established republic. Now, on June 12, 2018, the 1,850-kilometer long Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) will be inaugurated to become the recognition of the unbending determination, unmatched progress and strong alliance, which that friendship turned into.
That is why the decision by Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev to declare 2018 “the ADR year” was met with such high praise. It is not only history the ADR represents but also the future it has helped to forge.