history and culture

5 photos, 5 stories II: Azerbaijan – the first…

… democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world

Secular after Soviet rule – not so impressive. Democratic just on paper? Is this worth this second story?
Don’t jump to conclusions so quickly. We are talking about the year 1918, nearly a century ago. After the demise of the Tsarist World, the Caucasian countries became independent (for a short period all three, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia formed the Transcaucasian Federation) and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) was declared on 28th of May 1918. Only two weeks ago we celebrated this National Holiday here in Baku. The 28th of May is part of daily life in Baku with the central metro stop and the 28th of May street downtown.

This young republic lasted only two years, until 1920. The Soviets came to take this resource rich part of their sphere of influence back into their new Empire.

Two years are not a long period in the lifetime of most human beings, let alone for countries. What can be achieved in the political process in two years. And what can be achieved in a nation, which was just born? Turmoil is more likely and two years can do a lot of harm in this respect, but is there a chance for any progress?

Today’s Azerbaijanis are very proud of ADR and rightly so. In all these adverse conditions of a collapsed world much was achieved.
Woman were granted suffrage and Azerbaijanis are proud to tell foreigners, in particular Americans, that this was 2 years before American women received the right to vote. And I just learned that Swiss women were granted this right on national level only in 1971. Also Baku State University was founded, the first modern university in Azerbaijan. The young government put much focus on culture and education.

The conditions were quite adverse, territorial conflicts emerged, economic conditions were bad, and the support in the population at that time was probably lower than today’s positive view suggest. I am not an expert on history and certainly not in this part of the world at that time. However, it is worth to know and remember, that there were early attempts by Azerbaijanis to lead their country into independence and modernization.

Granting suffrage to woman was an outstanding achievement of this young republic and that is what the featured image stands for. I chose the picture of this woman, who also introduces my page on Khutor, an old neighborhood in Baku, as I hope these people have say about their homes, how their country develops.