27 May 2009
It’s interesting to look at the next couple days’ progression of events. As all teachers and English education Peace Corps volunteers in Azerbaijan know, this is the last week of school. After Friday, the summer and, basically, whatever we feel like doing ‘till September, will be ahead of us, which is a nice thought, unless you’re like Charlie and me and are afraid you might get a little bored. We’ll see how it goes. Anyway, I’m kinna getting off the topic (already).
With that said, Thursday is a holiday. Wow, what a convenient time for one. What’s it celebrating anyway, that we’d be off from work and school on the day before the last day of school?
Well, it’s celebrating the day Azerbaijan became an independent republic in 1918. Now, hold on. Isn’t there a lot of other stuff that happened between then and now? Yeah, plenty happened, but let’s take a look at Azerbaijani history around this time.
We’ll start over a hundred years before 1918. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Azerbaijan was ruled by several independent Persian khanates, or small regions under the control of a khan, or ruler. In fact, the diverse culture of Azerbaijan’s present rayons can be attributed to this era, as several of these khanates corresponded with present day rayons, such as: Shirvan, Ganja, Quba, and Shaki.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Russia became a big threat in the region. By this time, the area of present day Azerbaijan had been conquered by Agha Muhammed Khan Qajar. This khanate declared war on Russia but was eventually defeated, and, in 1813, Russia controlled the territory. The Persian Qajars submitted to a final settlement, the Treaty of Turkmenchay, in 1828, which established the present day Azerbaijan-Iran border.
During this period of Russian rule (not to be confused with the Soviet era, which came along a century later), petroleum was discovered and exploited, and Azerbaijan experienced great prosperity (for the rich, at least) and growth. This was extremely important, not just in terms Azerbaijan’s economy, but also its society.
But why? The great disparity between rich and poor as a result of this exploitative economy brought on the emergence of an Azeri nationalist intelligencia that sparked quite a discourse in the region. It took a stand against poverty, ignorance, and extremism, and called for reforms in education and the rights of dispossessed classes, including women. These may have been unprecedented values, as present day Azerbaijan, throughout its history, had been ruled largely by oppressive outside forces.
These values clearly stuck as Russia lost its grasp on the area as a result of its involvement in World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917. And on May 28th, 1918, Azerbaijan became an independent democratic republic. It was the first democratic republic in the Islamic world.
Of course, this was short lived, as Azerbaijan became a Soviet republic in 1920. Nonetheless, May 28th deserves great recognition. It doesn’t merely celebrate the brief Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan established in 1918, but the triumph of freethinking. While being passed from one ruling power to another, a movement emerged that recognized the solidarity of the Azerbaijani people. When I look at Azerbaijanis today, I see very nationalistic people, people that are proud of their heritage, and that may have a lot to do with this independent thinking that prevailed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, giving great relevance to May 28th 1918, when Azerbaijan first became it’s own republic.