On 28 May, the people of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis around the world mark the 104th anniversary of establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR), the first ever democratic republic with a predominantly Muslim population. The ADR lasted for only 23 months, falling to the Bolshevik invasion one month short of its second anniversary.
Yet the progress it achieved over that short period is nothing short of remarkable. For the first time, Azerbaijan established a national parliament, state institutions – including Foreign and Defence ministries – as well as an adopted flag and the national anthem, both of which remain our state symbols today. Importantly, the first university in the Caucasus, Baku State University, was established in 1919 in Azerbaijan’s capital. The central legacy of ADR is a strong emphasis on promoting inclusivity, diversity and equal rights for all members of Azerbaijani society. In fact, Azerbaijan granted full voting rights to all citizens regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion and gender, thus enabling women to fully exercise their voting rights earlier that many Western democracies. This was a historic milestone that changed history beyond Azerbaijan.
Despite the challenges and an interrupted independence, the establishment of ADR reflected the aspiration of our people for an independent, sovereign nation proud of its diversity and keen on contributing to prosperity of the region. This aspiration was recognised by Paris Peace Conference participants in 1919, and stands at the core of Azerbaijan’s policy since the restoration of independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. So when Azerbaijan proclaimed its sovereignty once again, on 28 May 1992, this date was established as a national holiday recognising the continuity of Azerbaijan statehood.
Today, as the Republic of Azerbaijan and the UK celebrate 30 years of diplomatic ties, we enjoy constantly developing bilateral relations and mutually beneficial strategic cooperation. At the core of these successful joint efforts stands a shared vision for the future of our wider region based on an international law-based order and economic development. Working together, Azerbaijan and the UK, along with Georgia and Turkey and private sector partners, have already changed the energy map of Europe by bringing Caspian Sea resources to European markets by the Baku- Tbilisi- Ceyhan oil pipeline, and the ambitious Southern Gas Corridor. In addition to energy security, these projects have contributed to enhancing regional connectivity by establishing the foundation and backbone of the East-West transportation route. Moreover, the Baku-Supsa, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, TANAP and Trans-Adriatic pipelines have widened the geography of cooperation in Southern Europe, strengthening new partnerships and cooperative projects. With some 600 British companies operating in Azerbaijan, the UK is the largest single foreign investor and the longest-standing energy partner, with BP playing a key role in these transformative initiatives.
Under the visionary leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan celebrates ADR’s 104th birthday as a successful nation by championing various regional and global initiatives. Without a doubt, this would have made the founders of the First Republic proud of Azerbaijan. In the 31 years since Azerbaijan restored independence in 1991, the historic turning point was the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions and OSCE resolutions ending the occupation of its internationally-recognised lands and the displacement of some one million Azerbaijani civilians. Despite suffering from the conflict and civilian losses in the 2020 war, Azerbaijan has offered Armenia to work on a peace agreement and normalisation to ensure a lasting peace for the South Caucasus. President Aliyev’s agenda for peace is a basis for the prosperous and secure future for our entire region, including Armenia.
These territories are becoming a zone of peace and cooperation with Azerbaijan’s cultural jewel, the city of Shusha, once again hosting international music, poetry and culinary festivals. Once again, British companies are among our key partners progressing this, as Chapman Taylor develops urban plans and BP works on green energy facilities towards fulfilling Azerbaijan’s pledge for turning the liberated territories into a net zero emissions zone. The UK also contributes to making these lands safe for civilians and economic activity by supporting the demining efforts.
The unfolding tragedy in Ukraine and the history of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic reminds us that neither sovereignty, nor peace should be taken for granted. As Azerbaijan rebuilds its war-damaged lands and advances a lasting peace, we are proud to work together with our long-standing partner and a trusted friend, the United Kingdom.