On May 28, 1918 the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) declared its independence from the Russian Empire. The new country stretched from Nakhchivan in the west, to Darbent [now in Daghestan] in the northeast, to the Araz River forming the border with Iran in the south. Its territory covered 97,300 square miles, approximately 10,000 more than today, since Armenia now occupies the strip of land between Nakhchivan and the main part of Azerbaijan.
The new republic’s Parliament consisted of 120 members and was officially opened on December 7, 1918 by Mammad Amin Rasulzade, head of the Musavat Party. During its rule, Parliament declared Azeri as the official state language, raised an army, opened Azerbaijan’s first university (Baku State University) and adopted a national flag and anthem. It also sent a delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, where Azerbaijan was officially recognized by many countries.
This period of self-rule ended abruptly when the Soviet Army marched into Baku on April 28, 1920. Despite its brevity of only 23 months, Azerbaijan’s period of independence gave its people a sense of national awareness and established a precedent for the country when it regained its independence in 1991.
Nikki Maxwell, who has been among those researching the history of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, provided much of the material for this article. The record of Parliament’s last meeting was kept in KGB archives and was first published in the newspaper “Elm” (Science) in May 1991 (N19-20, pages 3 and 6).
The Last Hours
April 27, 1920, 8:45 p.m.
Chairman: Mohammad Yusif Jafarov
Secretary: Reza bey Garasharli
Secretary: This special session is declared open. What is your opinion? Should this historical session be open or closed to the public?
Voices: Open! Closed! Open!
Chairman: Does anyone want to talk about it?
Mammad Amin Rasulzade: Sirs! Let’s not make our historical decision without letting people know about it. Let’s leave the doors of the Parliament open so that everybody will know what kind of danger we are in and what decision we are going to make. Let’s not close the doors of our meeting and make a decision without letting them know.
A vote is taken. Decision made to keep the meeting open.
Mohammad Hasan Hajinski: Gentlemen! Everybody knows our situation. I don’t want to elaborate any further. A committee was organized and I am its chairman. Together, we’ve held discussions with members of the local Communist party. The Azerbaijan Communist Party sent us a letter. Everybody knows its content, but I will read it again [reading in Russian]:
The Central Azerbaijan Communist party is suggesting that we give our power to them by 7 p.m. They assure us that if we accept their terms that they will do their best to prevent the Red Army from coming here. They say that if the power is in the hands of the Communists, the Red Army will never come here.
The Government must surrender. All of the officials will remain in their positions. Only those who head the government will be replaced by Azerbaijan Communists, and only Moslems will hold office. Their sixth condition is: if this matter is settled today, they will adopt a declaration stating that the parties comprising the Azerbaijan Parliament will be equal and free in their actions. They will never be oppressed. The purpose of the Red Army’s coming here is to help people.
We made some suggestions but they rejected them all. They also noted that, in case their suggestions are not accepted, the members of the Parliament will be held responsible We finally decided that the terms that they put forward as well as the declaration could be accepted by Committee members. Our intention is not to refuse.
If their words prove to be true, their work will show it…if they get into a difficult state of defense because our nation is not ready for this, we won’t sidestep our responsibility either.
I think that all the other parties must decide the fortune of our nation together with us. I don’t think they’ll reject it. We must admit that today we are not ready to defend our borders from our enemies. As a result of indifference on the part of the government, the borders from Garabagh [Karabakh] mountains till Yalama are exposed. At the same time, there is no danger from the North. The people living there are peasants just like Azerbaijani peasants. Without the assent of the Azerbaijani peasants, no one can invade Azerbaijan…
It is impossible that the fate of the nation is given over completely to one party even under pressure. Everybody, as well as the Communist party, can be sure, that they can express their opinion through the Parliament, and can achieve their acceptance. Once it is implemented, then Azerbaijan can consider itself to be free.
Samadagha Agamali oglu: We should not be afraid of this suggestion. One can say that there is nothing dangerous in it…we have no other choice but to yield. The fact is that we must guarantee our nation’s security. They also promise that, and say that the independence of Azerbaijan will be protected. I assure you that instead of today’s independence, Azerbaijan will enjoy another independence. It is true that no man can exist forever. Indeed, it is a bit difficult to realize that you rule up to now, and then say, you, Aliheydar Garayev come and sit here instead of us, and let’s see what you can do. If we are real men, we must accept this and say, you, “Come and sit. May your goals be superior to ours. May you do the nation more good than us.”
Aslan bey Safikurdlu: It is true that we are experiencing the most decisive moments now. Every person who is fighting for his nation must consider the protection of the poor to be the highest priority. No one should be afraid of the way that we have chosen and refuse it. This goes especially for members of Parliament who have held the fate of the nation in their hands for about a year. Here everybody, including the Socialist party, has always protected the independence of the nation.
The benefit of the Great Russian Revolution for us is that it leaves the organization of the government and solution of state matters to the nation. People will never yield this right to others.
What can we do now? Of course, we must agree. If our nation does not enjoy its independence, then the nation itself will defend itself. If not now, then in a month or a year, the nation itself must settle this problem…
We shall not reject the offer of Azerbaijan Communists. By this means, we’ll give the power to the nation. The power must be given to Azerbaijan Communists. They must assume all responsibility of protecting the independence of Azerbaijan. If they are not able to protect the independence, then the people themselves must protect it and achieve what they want.
Gara bey Garabeyov, head of Ittihad party: It must be so that the entire world would struggle for the salvation of Islam.
Rasulzade: Our Party is against yielding. But according to the demand of the majority of the parties and in order to avoid civil war, and given the fact that the Communist party is promising to protect our independence, then I am for giving all the power to them, provided that they protect our nation and country decently. If they do not do it, we’ll take the power back and maintain our rights.
Hajikarim Saniyev: The candidate of the Musavat Party [Rasulzade] has not said anything new here. If a person is entrusted and if he fulfills his duty, then his confidence is regarded as justified. Of course, we are going to act this way.
Chairman: Let’s vote. It is suggested that all power be given to Communists. The Government or Parliament will be organized according to their wishes. Those who are for it, please, raise your hands. Those against?
Rasulzade: What about those who do not vote?
Chairman: Who didn’t vote? According to the majority of votes, the power is given to the Communists. One vote-against, three-neutral, three-did not vote.
Islam bey Gardashov, representative of the Ahrar Party: What will happen to the Parliament?
Chairman: Since all the power has been given to the Communists, the Parliament is given to them as well. Does anyone want to discuss it? There is a suggestion that we discuss the issue regarding the Parliament.
Agha Ashurov: There is a proletarian government there, and they call themselves the peasants’ and workers’ government. But we are different: statesmen, merchants-from all walks of life. You will not be able to work with them. In their opinion, the government that has existed up to now was a slave to the Parliament. But no longer. When an order is given, you must follow it. The matter is closed. They don’t want any Parliament.
Hajinski, Musavat Party: I want to clarify something here. When we were discussing this issue, they answered us that revolutionary government cannot exist together with Parliament. The point is that the Parliament gives all its responsibility to the Revolutionary Committee. The matter is quite clear.
Mahmudov, Musavat Party : Sirs! We know that the decision that the Parliament has made today was under pressure of the forces attacking from the North. It’s for this reason that Parliament has twice been summoned to negotiate with the party who undertook all the responsibility. The reason for negotiation is to prevent bloodshed. Since young Azerbaijan does not have enough power to crush the forces coming from the North, the Parliament is giving all of its rights to the Party that assumed all the responsibility.
They say that maybe a new party will dissolve the Parliament, but since the Parliament consists of Azerbaijanis only, then nobody can destroy it. As long as the Parliament did not make a decision to be abolished, it will always remain a Parliament…
Another session is needed to be held regarding the issues of dissolution of the Parliament. Nothing will solved in all this confusion. Those who came here to settle the fortune of the nation should not fall to such a low level. I am repeating again, we need another meeting for it.
Chairman: Aslan bey Gardashov is speaking.
Aslan bey Gardashov: It was me who proposed the issue of the Parliament. Now I am taking my proposal back and asking you to stop the discussion.
Chairman: I declare the meeting closed.
[11: 25 p.m.]