It is the 130th anniversary of the birth of Azerbaijan’s greatest statesmen Mammad Amin Rasulzade. The first and only president of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic of 1918-1920, Rasulzade has made a historic contribution to the establishment of Azerbaijani national state.
M.E. Rasulzade was a democratic socialist and one of the founders of Himmet – the first left-wing, social-democratic party in the Muslim world (est. 1904). As the editor-in-chief of its publications “Takamul” and later “Yoldash”, Rasulzade championed progressive causes and campaigned against Tsarist autocracy, inequality and the power of the oil barons of Baku.
In 1913 Rasulzade joined the Musavat – also a left-wing, social-liberal party, which also sought to combine Muslim egalitarianism and democratic nationalism, as it led Azerbaijani struggle for independence from the Russian Empire. M.E. Rasulzade’s role in the achievement of this goal and the establishment of the Republic in 1918 makes him a historical figure of enormous importance to modern Azerbaijan. Regardless of the debates around subsequent events in the country’s history (and, for that matter, in Rasulzade’s own life) his contribution to Azerbaijan is emphatically and overwhelmingly positive.
For me personally it was the granting of Universal Suffrage in 1918 that stands as one of his greatest political achievements. A committed revolutionary democrat, Rasulzade planted the seeds of Azerbaijani republicanism. Belief in fairness, social justice and equality animated Rasulzade’s politics.
As a socialist I am proud that the roots of Azerbaijani democratic movement sprang from the Left! From campaigning for independence and the end to Tsarist tyranny, to language and religious rights, women’s rights, the rights of minorities – at the turn of the 20
century Azerbaijani democratic Left led the way, under leadership of such figures as M. E. Rasulzade. The tragedy that befell socialism in Azerbaijan post-1920 is the same as elsewhere in the world – the advent of Stalinist totalitarianism.
Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, Azerbaijani Left has still not recovered and Rasulzade’s radical history is all but forgotten. Our democratic movement is dominated by the Right. Musavat Party of today is a shadow of its progressive self, aligned internationally to the likes of Nick Clegg’s LibDems. Increasingly we see the emergence of rather shrill, hard-right, even libertarian, parties and organisations, which campaign NOT for reform and renaissance of Azerbaijani state but for its dismantlement and privatisation. Rasulzade and his comrades were driven by universal values of liberty and justice, equality and national independence. Today’s democratic movement, out of power and twenty years in opposition to the ruling authoritarian government of President Ilham Aliyev, is worshipping at the altar of the free-market.
Reestablishment of Himmet and recovery of M.E. Rasulzade’s radical progressive heritage is now a priority for Azerbaijani Left.