The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was extraordinary for its time, and its 100th anniversary reminds us it deserves to be studied, remembered, and honored. Though the new republic’s existence was tragically short, in the unstable period following World War I, it is important not only to Azerbaijan, but to the world.
The Azerbaijani delegates to the Paris Peace Conference left a lasting impression on American President Woodrow Wilson when they met on May 28, 1919. It was not unusual for President Wilson afterwards to recall the Azerbaijani delegates in his own speeches. Notably, President Wilson mentioned that he felt the Azerbaijani representatives held values that aligned closely with his own. He said of them, “I was talking to men who talked the same language that I did in respect of ideas, in respect of conceptions of liberty, in respect of conceptions of right and justice.”
President Wilson had good reason to applaud the ideals of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic which made it a leader of its time. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic’s founders envisioned a country whose values closely aligned with those of the United States. They enshrined those values in the country’s founding documents, which guaranteed full civil and political rights to all its citizens, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, class, or sex. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was the first majority-Muslim state, and in fact one of the first countries in the world, to extend equal political rights to women. Moreover, the establishment of Baku State University, the first modern university on the territory of Azerbaijan, was a demonstration of the value the fledgling republic placed on education. These values – equality, tolerance, and an early focus on education, marked the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic as a fundamentally progressive state with its face turned squarely to the future. These are inspiring achievements.
When Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, and the Azerbaijani people worked to shape a new state in which to enjoy their newfound liberty and independence, its leaders looked to the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic as a guiding light.
The United States, too, still looks to its Founding Fathers. Americans find strength in the core values preserved in our founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Our own hard-won liberty and independence have given us the flourishing society Americans enjoy today—a vibrant and confident nation, open to disagreement and debate, and appreciating differences while united by the bonds of history, culture, beliefs, and principles that define who we are.
These values are just as relevant today in Azerbaijan and in the United States as they were in 1918. Tolerance, inclusiveness, diversity, education, equality, and democratic representation remain the core values the United States looks to when we envision a better future for our country. I believe they are values Azerbaijanis, like ADR founders Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh, Alimarddan Topchubashev, and Fatali Khan Khoyski hold dear as well.
Our common values – and enduring respect for them – are what underpin our long friendship. The United States cooperates most deeply with countries with which we have shared interests, values, and aspirations. That is why we join in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, and that is why we will continue to support Azerbaijanis as they build a more prosperous, independent, and democratic future for themselves and Azerbaijan.