25 November 2020

Wednesday, 11:27



1917 marked the national upsurge of Azerbaijanis



The year of 1917 was a turning point in the destinies of many peoples of Europe and Asia. The Russian Empire collapsed and a captivating sense of the long-awaited freedom embraced the peoples of the empire. Azerbaijanis, who got much closer to the fateful beacon of freedom in the same year of great upheavals, also made a decisive step on the path to national awakening, which resulted in the establishment of the first republic in the Muslim East in 1918.


February of hopes and expectations

February 1917... Immediately after the collapse of tsarism in Russia, the Provisional Government took the supreme power in the entire space of the former empire. One of its first decrees was the abolishment of all laws restricting the rights of citizens due to their religious beliefs or nationality.

The news of the overthrow of the autocracy has also stirred up the whole of the Caucasus, including one of the leading economic centres of the empire, multinational Baku. In the morning of March 3, residents of this ancient Azerbaijani city excitedly discussed the new political situation in the country at the impromptu rallies, full of hopes for improving their lives, overwhelmed by the expectations of freedom and the speedy triumph of democracy.

Provisional Government, which urgently began to review the management of “non-Russian areas of the country” in order to ensure greater participation of representatives of the local population in government, did everything to encourage the expectations of millions of people. On March 9, the civil power was transferred to the Special Transcaucasian Committee (OZAKOM), which consisted of deputies representing the national groups of the region in the State Duma of the former Russian Empire. One of the brightest Azerbaijani politicians and public figures of that time, cadet (later a member of the Musavat Party) Mammad Yusif Jafarov also joined the OZAKOM.

Meanwhile, almost in parallel with local authorities, the executive committees of public organizations under the auspices of the Provisional Government, the Soviets (councils, R+) of Workers' Deputies were established as institutions representing the interests of the working population and left-wing political powers (Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, Bolsheviks and others). Such a situation led to de facto dual power in the territory of Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani population was not represented in the Soviet of Workers' Deputies of Baku, in which representatives of other nationalities played a dominant role. The first elections to the Soviets of Workers' and Military Deputies held in March 1917 did not provide for any representation of Azerbaijanis in these bodies. However, the process of national awakening of the Turkic-Muslim population of Azerbaijan, as well as of other Muslim peoples of the former Russian Empire, could not be stopped.

From the very first days of the Russian revolution, Azerbaijan has become one of the centres of the Muslim movement. A significant milestone was the establishment on March 27 of the Provisional Executive Committee of the Baku Muslim National Council. The well-known lawyer Mammad Hasan Hajinsky, a member of the increasingly popular Azerbaijani national-democratic party Musavat, was elected its chairman. Among the most important achievements of the committee was the proportional representation of Muslims in local government and in the future Constituent Assembly.


A party show

1917 witnessed an unprecedented upsurge of political activity for Azerbaijanis. First and utmost, this was evident in the establishment of many organizations that claimed political power. The most powerful of them was the Musavat party established back in 1911 but outlawed by the tsarist autocracy.

The February revolution moved Musavat to the avant-garde of political spectrum as a defended of the national interests of the Azerbaijani people, because it succeeded in attracting sympathy and support of the majority of the Muslim population living in Baku and other cities and regions of Azerbaijan. The main reason why Musavat was so popular was its political ability to gather the broad Muslim masses around itself and the idea of ​​granting Azerbaijan national-territorial autonomy as part of Russia's federative democratic republic.

Just a few days after the fall of the monarchy in Ganja, the second major city of Azerbaijan and the traditional centre of nationally oriented forces, the party Adam-i Markaziyyat or the Turkic Federalists’ Party emerged. It also supported the transformation of the Russian state into a federation of autonomous territories.

Ideological and political similarities between Musavat and Adam-i Markaziyyat, their common views regarding the future government of the country, facilitated the unification of these two organizations. They united on July 3, 1917. The new organization was called the Turkic Democratic Party of Federalists Musavat. Thanks to unification, it turned into a powerful political power, which by the summer of 1917 enjoyed great influence in all spheres of the socio-political life of Azerbaijan. But the main thing is that she became not only an exponent of the idea of ​​national liberation of the Azerbaijani people, but also achieved major achievements in the process of its implementation.

In September 1917, religious and conservative circles established the Rusiyada Müsəlmanlıq (Muslims in Russia Party). Together with Ittihadi-Islam (Islamic Union) Party of Ganja they formed a single organization named Rusiyada Müsəlmanlıq Ittihad. According to the party statement, Islamic Sharia would be the guiding principle of its political activities. It is no accident that the ittihadists rejected the ideas of Turkism, which was one of the ideological pillars of the national democratic camp, primarily the Musavat party.

Serious organizational processes were also taking place on the left axis of Azerbaijani political spectrum. In early March, the Bolshevik party Hümmət led by Nariman Narimanov, resumed its activities. It would also play an instrumental role in the upcoming dramatic events in the history of the Azerbaijani people.


Conquerors of congresses

Azerbaijanis expressed their aspirations under a new revolutionary upsurge during the Congress of Muslims of the Caucasus held in Baku on April 15-20, 1917. The question of the future political structure of Russia and the rights of small nations was the main topic under discussion. The Musavat leader Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh devoted his address to this topic. He noted that “no force, except a freely expressed desire to form a state union, can create a lasting unity between individual nationalities that are members of the state.”

Based on Rasulzadeh’s address, the congress adopted the following resolution: “To recognize that the form of government in Russia, which is the most favourable for the interests of Muslim nationalities, is a federated democratic republic”.

One of the most important issues was the situation of women in the Caucasus. “When the women of other nationalities take an active part in socio-political life along with men and contribute to the success of their nation, Muslim women cannot and must not remain in seclusion,” said Rasulzadeh. The resolution adopted at the congress demanded for equal political and economic rights for the Muslim women.

In addition, the Congress of Caucasian Muslims voiced a demand for universal, compulsory and free education in the Turkic (Azerbaijani) language.

The triumph of the Azerbaijani political forces turned into their participation in the All-Russian Muslim Congress held in Moscow on May 11-17, 1917. The opponents of the organisation of the Russian state based on territorial-federal principles also opposed the view of the future form of government supported by Musavat. A number of Tatar and North Caucasian politicians believed that the principle of federalism would split the Muslim movement, deprive Muslim workers of an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of all-Russian social legislation. However, Rasulzadeh, who became the keynote speaker from the block of territorial autonomists, convinced the majority of the congress participants that the program of cultural autonomy, advocated by opponents of the principle of federalism, could not fairly respond to the growing national identity of Turkic peoples. Therefore, by a majority of 446 votes against 271, the congress decided to recognize that the democratic republic on a national-territorial-federal basis is the form of the state system of Russia, which most ensures the interests of Muslim nationalities.

Thanks to the support of the principle of national autonomy, Azerbaijani leaders and political organisations laid an ideological and practical basis for future independence. The Azerbaijani people woke up, which was evident by the subsequent events of 1917 and early 1918.




Mammad Yusif Hajibaba oghlu Jafarov (1885-1938) was one of the brightest Azerbaijani politicians of his time. He is considered one of the founders of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.

Jafarov has been actively involved in social and political activities right after his graduation with honours from the law faculty of the Moscow University in 1912 and return to Baku. Working as an attorney assistant, he earned the respect of the Muslim population of three provinces (Baku, Yelizavetpol, and Erivan) in a relatively short period. As a result, he was elected a deputy of the Fourth State Duma.

Jafarov was a member of the Cadet and Muslim faction of the Duma. In his speeches, he defended the interests of Muslim peoples, criticized the authorities for indifferent attitude to the education of the Muslim population, restriction of their rights.

Mammad Yusif Jafarov welcomed the February Revolution of 1917. The Provisional Government included him in the new regional authority, the Special Transcaucasian Committee, where he was in charge of industry and trade.

Jafarov was elected to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly as a member of the Muslim National Committee and the Musavat Party. After the October Revolution, which brought the Bolsheviks to power, Jafarov began to play an active role in the process of autonomization of the South Caucasus. On November 15, 1917, he became the Commissar of Industry and Trade of the Transcaucasian Commissariat. In the Transcaucasian Sejm, which opened in February 1918, he was part of the Muslim faction serving as the Deputy Chairman of the Presidium. Jafarov called for friendship between the peoples of the Caucasus, protection of their independence, and was one of the supporters of concluding a peace agreement with the Ottoman Empire.

On May 27, 1918, the day after the Georgian faction left the Transcaucasian Sejm, the emergency meeting of the Muslim faction decided to establish the National Council of Azerbaijan. Mammad Yusif Jafarov was elected to the Executive Committee of the National Council. On May 28, the Declaration of Independence of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic (ADR) was adopted. Mammad Yusif Jafarov was one of the signatories of the Declaration.

In ADR Jafarov served as the Minister of Trade and Industry, diplomatic representative in Georgia, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. His role in the establishment of foreign policy, the diplomatic service of the independent Azerbaijan is enormous.

On February 2, 1920, Mammad Yusif Jafarov was elected the senior comrade (first deputy) of the chairman of the ADR parliament. He has retained this post until the Bolshevik occupation and the establishment of the Soviet power in Azerbaijan in late April 1920.

The name of Mammad Yusif Jafarov is etched in gold in the history of Azerbaijani parliamentarism, and the Democratic Republic of 1918-1920.