Thursday, April 30, 2020

100 Years Ago Today, Red Army Occupied Azerbaijan, Ending Its Independence

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – Since 1991, both Russian and Western analysts have tended to draw a hard line between those countries that existed as independent states before they were occupied by the Soviets, including the East Europeans and the Baltic countries, and all the others who were classed as “newly independent states.”

            Because the former could view the Soviet period as an occupation and faced the task of restoring their statehood rather than creating something new, it was assumed, they were in a much easier position and would do better than “the newly independent states.” And over the last 30 years, that has generally proved to be the case.

            But there is a third group of countries who were briefly independent after the 1917 revolution before being reabsorbed into the now Soviet empire. Since 1991, people in some of them have stressed that history while those in others have treated it as a brief interlude with little relevance to the present.

            Perhaps the one that has looked back to its previous experience as an independent country most often is Azerbaijan, which existed as an independent state between May 1918 and April 1920 and which represented not only the first democracy in the Muslim world but also played an important role in international relations at the time of the Versailles peace conference.

            Today is the 100th anniversary of the occupation of Azerbaijan by the Red Army, a brutal and bloody operation. During Soviet times, this date was marked as an official holiday. Only in 1991 did it come to be marked as the date of occupation, with May 28th, the day the Azerbaijani Peoples Republic was established, as the Day of the Republic.  

            Over the last 30 years, the Azerbaijani government has devoted more or less attention to the occupation day and to its own relationship with the country that existed prior to the Soviet occupation depending on the political winds. But ever more Azerbaijani scholars and ordinary people recall it each year (

            Sometimes as now this recovered memory is used only to stress Russian perfidy and Armenian complicity in this event, but more important, it provides the foundation for an Azerbaijani future that builds on that previous period of independence and on the remarkable democratic and foreign policy steps Baku took at that time.

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