On December 7, in the building of the Taghiyev Girls’ Gymnasium, (now the Institute of Manuscripts), the ceremonial opening of Azerbaijan’s parliament took place.
In article 6 of the Declaration of Independence adopted on May 28, 1918 by the National Council of Azerbaijan, the idea of calling for the creation of a Constituent Assembly in order to determine the future form of the governmental administration of the country was brought forward.
However, the tense political situation, in particular the military operations for the liberation of Baku, necessitated that this idea be postponed.
In September, after the restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, one of the first steps taken by the government was to create a commission that worked on calling together the Constituent Assembly. Nevertheless, the following political changes once more overturned all plans.
The First World War, which dragged on for four years, was concluded in autumn 1918 with the defeat of the Central Powers, including the Ottoman Empire. This sequence of events placed new and very serious problems before the young Azerbaijani government.
On October 30, on the English cruiser
, the Ottoman Empire, which had been Azerbaijan’s sole ally and served as a guarantor of its safety, signed the Armistice of Mudros with the victorious Triple Entente. In accordance with the agreement, the Ottomans had to abandon without delay the territories under their control in Iran and in the South Caucasus. Baku was to come under English control.
Alimardan Bey Topchubashov, who was at that time in Istanbul just a day after the signing of the Armistice of Mudros, advised the government of Azerbaijan to contact General Thomson, the commander of the English troops stationed in Anzali. It was presumed that Thomson’s troops would be sent to Baku.
In the beginning of November, Azerbaijani political figures N. Yusifbeyli, A. Aghayev, and M. Rafiyev met with Thomson in Anzali. The negotiations didn’t bring the desired result. The general didn’t want to acknowledge the Azerbaijani state nor its government. Referencing the June crisis, which arose as a result of conflict between Nuri Pasha and the National Council, Thomson insisted that the country would be administered by a government that was not elected by the people and created as a result of the intrigues of the Turkish commanders.
The tense situation that had been created forced the Azerbaijani political figures to revive the activity of the National Council, despite the fact that, after the June crisis, the activity of the National Council had been halted. After a five-month break, the first session of the National Council took place on November 16.
During the addresses, it was emphasized that the situation which had been created demanded immediate solutions, and because of this, it was not possible to wait for the Constituent Assembly to be called. Moreover, taking into account the fact that the English supported democratic values, in particular with regards to Christians, it was noted that an administration created by the National Council and comprised exclusively of Azerbaijanis would not be recognized.
The National Council of Azerbaijan was formed as a result of the elections of November 1917 of the Russian Constituent Assembly. After the Bolsheviks dissolved the Constituent Assembly, the representatives from the South Caucasus, gathering in Tbilisi, decided to form a regional parliament – the Sejm. After the dissolution of the South Caucasus into three independent states, the Azerbaijani fraction of the Sejm declared itself the National Council and sole legal government on the territory of Azerbaijan, having received a popular mandate. Thirty of the forty-four representatives in the National Council were members of the Müsavat party.
At the assembly of the National Council on November 16, they decided to form a parliament wherein would be represented all the nationalities of Azerbaijan. The corresponding law, adopted after three days, stated that the parliament should not consist of forty-four members, but rather represent the entire population of the country and reflect their will.
By a decision of the parliament, Azerbaijanis, who consisted the majority of the population (in this case, ‘Azerbaijanis’ meant all Muslim peoples), received eighty seats.
In this fashion, thirty-six more seats were added to the National Soviet. Armenians were given twenty-one places, Russians ten, and one place each for Germans, Jews, Georgians and Poles (it should be noted that in reality the latter two peoples didn’t have sufficient numbers of people residing here to be represented in parliament). Another three places were set out for the trade unions, and two for the oil industrialists’ association and the trade and industry association. In this way, the parliament of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic consisted of 120 members.
The law on elections recognized the right to vote regardless of nationality, religion, sex and private property status. As a result, Azerbaijan became the first country in the Turkic and Muslim world to recognize women’s right to vote and in this regard beating the United States by two years and Britain by five.
Nevertheless it should be noted that, taking into account the emergency situation, there was no intention to form the first parliament via a popular vote. That is to say, representatives chosen by party and organizational leaders were to be sent to the parliament. The Müsavat party, content with thirty places in the National Council, conceded election of the new Azerbaijani members to the other parties (Ittihad, Ahrar, Hummet, etc.).
Still two days before the adoption of this law, on November 17, British troops lead by Thomson arrived in Baku via the sea. The word ‘Azerbaijan’ was absent from Thomson’s address to the urban population, and this was a sign of the fact that the British had not changed their minds regarding a “united and undivided Russia”.
Along with Thomson, the Lazar Bicherakhov’s White Guard forces also arrived in Baku. On the first day of their arrival Thomson met with representatives of the Russian, and on November 23
with members of the Armenian communities of Baku. The English general embracing forces that were hostile towards the independence of Azerbaijan couldn’t have failed to worry the government and members of the National Council.
Truly, the Russians spoke with such enthusiasm about a united and undivided Russia in their meeting with Thomson that the general, despite these meetings, was forced to remind them of the reality, to say that such a Russia did not exist at the present moment. And the tactics of the Armenian delegation, headed by Bishop Bagrat, were the traditional ones. They had long spoken of the ‘torments of the long-suffering Christian, Armenian people under the Muslim yoke’.
However, having gotten better acquainted with the realities of the situation, Thomson began to change his view. Uzeyir Hajibeyov later wrote about this: “We needed contact with those who considered our existence a threat for world culture, in order to change the opinions and theories of those who thought that we are savages and those who expected only bloodthirstiness from us. When they came to us after two days, the English, pleasantly surprised, understand that there was no need to carefully maintain the position of a hunter facing a wild animal”.
And truly, several days after his arrival, Thomson noted that the Azerbaijani government was the sole legal power in the country, and they described the Prime Minister, Fatali Khan Khoyski, as one of the most capable people in Baku. One can only imagine how the above words from the general disappointed the Armenian and Russian communities.
The Armenians and Russians refused to send their representatives to the parliament. Nevertheless, using political maneuvers, the government could create discord among them. Some of the Russians couldn’t come to terms with the boycott and left the Russian National Committee, creating a Russo-Slavic society. This society sent four of its representatives to parliament. Some of the Armenians, including the Dashnaktsutyun, occupied eleven seats, rather than the twenty-one allocated for them. There were no problems with the representation of Jews, Germans, Georgians and Poles in the parliament.
The opening of the parliament was at first set for December 3. But it was postponed because of several disagreements with the English. After the conflict was resolved, on December 7, in the building of the Taghiyev girls’ prep school (now the Institute of Manuscripts), took place the ceremonial opening of the parliament.
The session, in which took part England, Iran, Georgia and others, was opened by a representative of the National Council, Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh: “Dear parliamentary deputies, I am proud of the fact that I have received the happy task of opening the first parliament of the Azerbaijan Republic and that I have been given the honor of congratulating you as esteemed elected officials. There is no happiness in that which is undertaken by force, because happiness consists of freedom and independence. Within our Caucasian people there has always existed Prometheus, who, as a symbol of the idea of freedom, was chained to the Caucasus Mountains. He always tried to break apart these chains. The spirit of Prometheus has always existed in all the peoples of the Caucasus. Yes, gentlemen, the passions and enmity of all groups, like all such prejudices, which are insignificant before the high ideals of Motherland and nation, should be cast aside, considerations for the Motherland and national sentiment should take precedence above all else. Azerbaijan is a spring of fire. Our motherland should always sacredly nurture fire at her breast. Since ancient times this flame has guided those who seek the truth, and should serve as a ray of hope and faith. Let this flame light the difficult path to freedom and independence, as an inextinguishable torch of millions of hearts!”
The famous Azerbaijani political figure, the nonpartisan Alimardan Topchubashov, became the parliament’s chairman. His deputy, Hasan Bey Aghayev, and the parliamentary secretary Rahimbek Vekilov represented the Müsavat party. The formation of a new government was once more entrusted to Fatali Khan Khoyski.
Khoyski, who undertook the creation of the government, offered the Russians three and Armenians two ministerial posts. But the Armenians refused this offer. And so, in the third government, which consisted of 14 members, the Russians occupied the posts of Ministers of Finance, Health and Nutrition. The parliament gave the new government its vote of confidence on December 26. And after two days, General Thomson accepted it as the sole legal government on the territory of Azerbaijan and promised to provide whatever help was needed. This was an inconceivable diplomatic victory.
The ideal political behavior and measures taken by the Republican leaders gave rise to a sharp turn in the attitudes of the British military command, and there was a significant strengthening of the situation with regard to external and internal circumstances. This is evidenced by the fiasco suffered by anti-Azerbaijani forces in the beginning of 1919, when they wanted to create a governmental organ called the Government of the Caspian Caucasus. The English General George Mill, who arrived in Baku in January 22, made yet another affirmation that they recognized only the government of Khoyski. And a month later, upon the request of the Azerbaijani government, the English escorted Bicherakhov’s forces from the country.
In this way, the democratic measures undertaken by the leaders of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic enabled the country to successfully deal with the serious ordeals which it encountered. Rasulzadeh noted in his memoirs that the situation was so complex that a few people who doubted their own patriotism proposed discussing a refusal of independence. Nevertheless, thanks to the Müsavat party with Rasulzadeh at its head, and also thanks to the outstanding service of the nonpartisan Khoyski and Topchubashov, the international community acknowledged the right to freedom of the Azerbaijani people.
In the parliament, which was active until the Bolshevik invasion on April 27, 1920, there took place 145 sessions, more than 270 legislative projects were debated, and 230 of them were adopted. In this period the parliament had full leadership of the country and all processes were under its control.
Later Rasulzadeh wrote, “All classes and nations of the country were represented in the National Assembly, it fully controlled the fate of the state. No sort of expenditures took place, no sort of war was begun, and no sort of peace was agreed upon without its agreement. The government, having won the confidence of the parliament, was left to do nothing but work diligently. The power of the parliament was absolute and binding”.
In the period after the April invasion, the Central Revolutionary Committee assumed legal authority from the government. After the first constitution was adopted in 1921, the Central Executive Committee, formed by the All-Azerbaijani Soviet Congress, stepped into the role of legislative body. And in accordance with the Constitution of 1937, the Supreme Soviet became the republic’s legislative body.
But this time around, the parliamentary government was purely a smoke screen. All important decisions were made by the Central Committee of the CPSU, the Supreme Soviet was to simply approve them as a formality. At present the situation is analogous, but the role of the Central Committee is fulfilled by the presidential apparatus.
One of the responsibilities of our people, and perhaps the primary one, is to restore true parliamentary governance in the country, transforming the National Assembly (
) into a responsive government.