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Mammad Amin Rasulzade - Statesman




by Fuad Akhundov


M. A. Rasulzade, famous Azerbaijani statesman, public figure and one of the founding political leaders of the First Azerbaijan Republic (1918-1920), was born on January 31, 1884, in Novkhane (near Baku). He received his primary education at the Russian-Moslem Secondary School and continued his studies at the Technical College (now Petroleum College) in Baku. From 1903, beginning as a student and continuing onward, Rasulzade began writing articles in various opposition magazines.

During the First Russian Revolution (1905-1907), Rasulzade got his political baptism by fire. At that time, his anti-monarchist platform and his demands for the national autonomy of Azerbaijan, aligned him with Social Democrats and future communists. As the story goes, it was Rasulzade who saved young Joseph Stalin in 1905 in Baku, when police were searching for him as an active instigator of riots.

Even after the First Revolution, Rasulzade continued journalistic activities. His first dramatic play entitled "The Light in the Darkness," was staged in Baku in 1908. In 1909, he left for Iran to participate in the rebellion of Sattarkhan, the leader of the Azerbaijani liberation movement in Southern Azerbaijan. While in Iran, Rasulzade became one of the founders of "Iran-e No" (New Iran) Democratic Party. In 1911, when Russian troops entered Iran, Rasulzade fled to Istanbul, where his works were published in various journals. He returned to Baku only after the Amnesty Act of 1923, dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the Romanovs Royal Dynasty.

One of Rasulzade's greatest achievements was the revival of ethnic names, such as "Azeri" and "Azerbaijan." When the Gulustan Agreement of 1813 and the Turkmanchay Treaty of 1828 concluded between Russia and Persia, historic Azerbaijani Khanates (Duchies) were divided between these two countries. The ones annexed to Russia became known as Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (from 1920 until 1991, when the USSR collapsed). However, the larger land mass and greater population still remains in Iran. Today, the estimated Azerbaijani population in Iran is at least three times as large as the Azerbaijan Republic population of 7.3 million.

After the annexation of the Russian Empire, Azerbaijani khanates were replaced by the new subdivision of Guberniyas (provinces). The name "Azerbaijan" remained in some Azerbaijani provinces in Northern Iran, but for nearly a century, the Azerbaijani population in the present-day Azerbaijan Republic was referred to as "Moslem" or "Tatar," neither of which was authentic. It was Rasulzade who pushed for the return of the nation's historic name "Azerbaijani Turks" in 1914.

The Chairman of Musavat National Party since 1917, Rasulzade was unanimously elected the Head of the Azerbaijani National Council (Milli Shura) in May 1918, after the dissolution of the Transcaucasian Federation.

On May 28 1918, the Azerbaijani National Council, headed by Rasulzade, declared an independent Azerbaijan Republic. And even though Rasulzade never held any governmental post in either of the Cabinets of Ministers, as an active member of the Parliament he remained a kind of ideological leader of the newly-formed state until its collapse in May 1920. Rasulzade was also involved in the establishment of the State University in Baku in 1919.

"The banner of liberty once hoisted will never be lowered again." This famous phrase by Rasulzade would later become one of the most popular Azerbaijani slogans during the demonstrations of the 1990s, said on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In August 1920, Rasulzade was arrested by the Soviets. It was only due to his earlier support of Joseph Stalin that Rasulzade was released and taken from Baku. For the next two years, Rasulzade worked as the press representative at the Commissioner on Nations in Moscow. He was seconded to Finland in 1922 and he never returned. For the rest of his life, Rasulzade lived as an exile in Poland (1938), Romania (1940) and finally, after WWII, in Ankara (Turkey) in 1947. He died on March 6, 1955.

In the more than 30 years spent in exile, Rasulzade published a number of serious political works dedicated to Azerbaijan. His literary legacy still calls for sound analysis and thorough evaluation.