By Jeyhun Aliyev
ANKARA (AA) - May 28, Azerbaijan’s Independence Day, is one of the brightest pages in the country's history and a source of pride for every Azerbaijani, the country's envoy to Ankara told Anadolu Agency.
"104 years ago, today, the first democratic, legal, secular republic in the Muslim East, a Turkic state – the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic – was established," Azerbaijan's Ambassador to Turkiye Rashad Mammadov told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview, adding that his country combined European democratic values with Eastern culture.
On May 28, 1918, the Azerbaijani National Council declared the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, also known as the Azerbaijan People's Republic, at a meeting in neighboring Georgia.
The republic gave a "great impetus" to the development of the national and political consciousness of the Azerbaijani people, Mammadov said.
He emphasized that although the life of the early 20th-century republic was very short -- only 23 months -- important work was done during this time.
"The national flag, coat of arms, and anthem were established, a multi-party parliament was established, and a number of progressive laws were adopted,” he said. “During the republican era, the country's borders were defined and the army was established. It was among the important steps of that period that before many European countries, it was in Azerbaijan that the granting of suffrage to women and the establishment of equal rights for citizens were granted.”
In less than two years of existence, Azerbaijan was then recognized as a "subject of the system of international relations" at the Paris Peace Conference, he added.
"Unfortunately, with the entry of the occupying army into our country in April 1920, the existence of this young democratic republic came to an end," the ambassador said.
Azerbaijan first declared independence from the Russian czarist regime but was toppled after almost two years in 1920 by the Soviet Union, and the people of Azerbaijan managed to restore state independence only in 1991.
"Unfortunately, after the restoration of our independence, our country, along with a deep political, and socioeconomic crisis, faced the military aggression of neighboring Armenia against Azerbaijan, and the policy of ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis. About 20% of our lands were occupied by Armenia, and about 1 million of our citizens expelled from their homes," he said.
Relations between the two former Soviet countries have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied then Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Upper Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.
New clashes erupted in September 2020, and the 44-day conflict saw Azerbaijan liberate several cities and over 300 settlements and villages that were occupied by Armenia for almost 30 years.
- Legacy of Heydar Aliyev
Mammadov underlined that only the return of Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev to power in 1993 and his "wise policy" put an end to the threat of the country's destruction and the beginning of the civil war, as well as laid the foundations for today's "powerful" army and ensured the unity of the state and the people.
"The economic reforms carried out by Heydar Aliyev, as well as the important work done to implement the oil strategy and strengthen statehood, laid the foundation for today's strong Azerbaijan," he said, adding that current President Ilham Aliyev is successfully continuing the "far-sighted and wise political course" set by Aliyev.
"We can proudly say that the independent Republic of Azerbaijan, the successor of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, established in 1918, today occupies a worthy place among the rapidly developing countries of the world," he said.
He went on to say that under Ilham Aliyev’s leadership, Azerbaijan managed to ensure the country’s territorial integrity along with the "significant progress" made in political, economic, social, humanitarian, and other spheres.
Mammadov said his country pays special respect to the founders of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, noting that May 28 is being celebrated in the country and abroad with numerous events.
"In short, I can say that the history of our hard-won independence is dear to every Azerbaijani, and we are determined to preserve and strengthen our independence by all means," he said.
"It is a great honor to celebrate this significant date in our brotherly Turkey, together with our brothers who rejoice in our joys and grieve with our sorrows. On this auspicious day, I wish both countries our unity and equality," he concluded.
On Oct. 15, 2021, President Aliyev signed a decree declaring May 28 an Independence Day, and Oct. 18 a Day of Restoration of Independence.