Being A State
There can be no diplomacy without a state. Without diplomacy, it is not possible for a state to maintain its existence. Therefore, the concepts of the state and diplomacy complete one another. An examination of world history shows that not every people or nation have set up states for a variety of reasons. There are few nations in the world which have a long history of statehood. The Azerbaijani people have thousands of years of statehood tradition. The Manna State established during the second half of 9th century BCE, the later Mada State, Atropatena, Northern Azerbaijani Alban State, the Azerbaijani Atabeg Ildeniz State, the Azerbaijani Shirvanshah State, the Azerbaijani Aq Qoyunlu State and Azerbaijani Safavid State and the later independent Azerbaijani Khanates all speak to one fact: the ability, potential and desire of the Azerbaijani people to establish an independent state. The states mentioned above may have come under Mongol, Arab, Seljuk, Ottoman, Persian or Russian domination at various stages of history essentially due to geographical and economic reasons, but they emerged under another name under opportune circumstances and grew and blossomed. This fact alone makes it clear the strong motivation of the Azerbaijani people for establishing states.
The confusion that existed in the aftermath of World War I at the global and regional level made a new world order necessary. Tsarist Russia having come to an end led to the statism of Azerbaijan, which had been covered up by the Russian Empire to blossom once more. Azerbaijani étatism surfaced once more on May 28th 1918 under the name Azerbaijan People’s Republic. Although the history of Azerbaijani diplomacy, in keeping with that of the states mentioned above, stretches back centuries, in the modern sense considered as a nation state, its history begins with the founding of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic. At the time, Azerbaijani diplomacy faced many tough tasks and numerous problems it had to solve. Foremost among them was ensuring the recognition of Azerbaijan People’s Republic by other states, as well as the territorial integrity and security of the country. On these three important issues, establishing relations with Ottoman Turkey and the Paris Peace Conference were very significant. The initial foreign policy attempts of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic were establishing and developing relations with Ottoman Turkey and reaping advantages of the power and potential of its capital Istanbul. The Azerbaijan People’s Republic delegation consisting of Mehemmed Emin Resulzade (Azerbaijan National Council President), Halil Bey Hasmemmedov (Justice Minister), Aslan Bey Sefikurdski (Azerbaijan National Council Member) and Mehemmed Hasan Hajinski (Internal Affairs Minister) had participated in the Trabzon and Batumi conferences in spring 1918, signed the first international agreement of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic on June 4th 1918 with the Ottoman State and led the way to the liberation of Baku from Bolshevik-Tashnak occupation by the Islamic Army of Caucasia with great support from the Ottomans. Article 4 of the agreement that was signed 101 years ago states that “when necessary for the maintenance of peace and order or ensuring the security of the country, the Ottoman Government promises to give military aid to the Azerbaijan People’s Republic.” On June 24th 1918, the same delegation arrived in Istanbul to hold talks with Ottoman officials, to contact foreign diplomatic missions and to participate in the international conference that was being planned to be held in Istanbul. The government of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic had authorised the delegation headed by M. E. Resulzade to make treaties with the Ottoman State on military, economic, transport and fiscal matters. The delegation ensured that some very important agreements were signed. The delegation conveyed the Declaration of Independence of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic to all diplomatic missions and consulates, was granted an audience with Sultan Mehmet Vahdettin and held very important talks with diplomats from Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria.
On August 20th 1918, the Azerbaijani government sent Ali Merdan Bey Topchubashov as plenipotentiary minister to Istanbul. On October 2nd Topchubashov held talks with Prime Minister Talat Pasha and Foreign Minister Ahmet Nesimi Bey and on October 3rd with Defence Minister Enver Pasha and other high ranking state officials. Under the difficult circumstances of the day, Ottoman governments changed often, which made Topchubashov’s diplomatic mission more difficult. The international conference to be held in Istanbul did not take place due to the Central Powers’ losses at their fronts. Topchubashov continued his diplomatic mission in Turkey until he left Istanbul in spring of 1919 to attend the Paris Peace Conference. The position passed from Ali Merdan Bey Topchubashov to Mir Yusif Vezirov.
The Paris Peace Conference was of the utmost importance for the recognition of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic as a state. The government viewed the global conference as a very important opportunity. The new government approved of a new delegation, headed by Ali Merdan Bey Topchubashov, that could argue the interests of the country the best on December 28th 1918. Members of the delegation to represent the Azerbaijan People’s Republic were deputy head Mehemmed Hasan Hajinski, Ahmet Bey Aghaoghlu, Ekberagha Sheyhulislamov and advisors Mir Yagub Mehdiyev, Mehemmed Muharremov and Jeyhun Bey Hajibeyli. While Ali Bey Huseyinzade had also been included in the delegation, he and Ahmet Bey Aghaoghlu could not get a visa to travel to France due to their close ties with the Ottoman Party of Unity and Progress. While the conference commenced on January 18th 1919, the Azerbaijani delegation could only get to Paris on May 7th because of problems with visas and other issues. This, despite commander of the Allied Forces General William Thomson having issues the Azerbaijani delegation with a letter of facilitation for visas.
The delegation headed by Topchubashov undertook very important diplomatic initiatives in Paris and held many talks with high level representatives of great powers. Western diplomats and state officials were informed of the ancient historical roots and economic resources of Azerbaijan and the facts were laid bare about the artificially created Armenian state under long Russian occupation and the consequent oppression of Azerbaijani people by Armenians. The delegation distributed the book Demands of Caucasian Azerbaijan of the Paris Peace Conference printed in English and French to all attending the conference.
On the first anniversary of the independence of Azerbaijan, the delegation was received by US President Woodrow Wilson. While Wilson said he did not “think it desirable that the world should be split up into small states” on the issue of recognising Azerbaijan, the meeting was concluded positively. As a result of eight months of challenging and intensive work by the Azerbaijani delegation, on January 11th 1920, the High Council of the Paris Peace Conference accepted a decision to de facto recognise Azerbaijan and Georgia. The decision was ratified at a meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the High Council on January 19th.
An important point that should be mentioned in this context is that during his diplomatic work both in Istanbul and in Paris, Topchubashov advocated for Caucasian States (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Mountainous Republic and Armenia) to work with a common vision and constantly emphasised the continuing Russian threat against these four states in reports he sent back to Baku as well as in all the meetings he held. Georgia and the Mountainous Republic responded positively to this call by Topchubashov, who had great political and diplomatic experience. Unfortunately, even back then, Armenia followed irrational policies. It lacked the strategic vision to be able to see that acting along with other states in the region would amount to protecting the entire region. Being a state requires vision, a state tradition with historical roots and the ability to stand on one’s two feet. Today’s idea of a “House of Caucasia” in fact rests on the vision of a Caucasian Union Topchubashov advocated for back in the day.
On April 28th 1920, Azerbaijan was once more occupied by the Bolsheviks. Topchubashov and his friends never gave up the struggle. From 1920 onwards, at Genève, Genoa, London and meetings of the League of Nations in Lausanne Topchubashov voiced time an again the occupation of Azerbaijan by the Bolshevik regime and that this occupation was unacceptable. As a result of his efforts, the Genoa Conference issued a declaration that the Bolsheviks could not speak for Azerbaijan. Topchubashov also brought together other refugees from Caucasia and finally convinced Armenian refugees to sign the Caucasian Confederation Pact in June 1934. A few months later, on November 5th 1934, Ali Merdan Bey Topchubashov’s life, which he devoted to the independence of Azerbaijan, came to an end.
Following Soviet occupation, there was no Azerbaijani foreign policy ran from the capital Baku. Under the USSR, foreign policy was determined in Moscow. The stagnation in Azerbaijani foreign policy continued under 1969, when Haydar Aliyev was elected first secretary of the Communist Party of the Azerbaijan SSR. Haydar Aliyev, during his time in Baku and in Moscow as the first deputy to the Prime Minister of the USSR challenged Soviet red lines by undertaking activities to establish scientific, historical, cultural, literary and lingual ties with Turkey and other Turkic Republics and even Turks in Southern Azerbaijan and Iraq.
Azerbaijani Territory Occupied by Armenians
With the forced migration of Armenians from Southern Azerbaijan and various regions of Iran following the Gulistan Treaty of 1813 and the Turkmenchai Treaty of 1828 and later from Anatolia in the early 20th century to Northern Azerbaijani territory brought about the new Armenian Issue for Azerbaijan. This issue, which was provoked externally, become the number one issue for Azerbaijani étatism and therefore the top priority of Azerbaijani diplomacy. Today’s historians are fully aware of the richly documented “services” of Russia’s Ambassador to Tehran Alexander Griboyedov on the matter of settling Armenians in Northern Azerbaijan.
The Armenisation of the region was carried out through the following stages: Armenians being migrated to Azerbaijan; the massacre of native Azerbaijanis by Armenians with foreign support; the forced migration of surviving Azerbaijanis in Yerevan, Zengezur, Dereleyez and later Karabakh to other regions of Azerbaijan. In parallel to this process of “state creation”, artificial concepts such as national consciousness, national history and hatred of Turks were created and provided with content. For example, the Christian Albans, a native people of Azerbaijan were purposefully made Gregorians and were placed in Armenian “historical theses” to support false historical claims such as that Armenians had been present in the region for centuries. In a letter to Tsar Peter I, Christians living in Karabagh state that they are Albans of Karabagh. Furthermore, in 1978, in the province of Agdere of Azerbaijan, Armenians celebrated the 150th anniversary of their arrival in the region with various activities and erected a monument. Following the Karabakh War and occupation, this monument was hastily destroyed by Armenians.
As mentioned before, not every people and nation in the world has the ability or potential to establish a state, just as every state that was established or founded by other powers cannot be categorised as a state. Historical facts and official sources openly show that Armenia was created artificially by regional and global powers on Azerbaijani land. At this point it should be said that the statehood potential of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic was very inadequate vis-à-vis global powers. The picture becomes clear once the Christianity of Armenians is added in as a factor. If we were to briefly examine the issue of the Khanate of Erevan (Revan) being turned over to Armenians through a May 29th 1918 decision of the National Council of Azerbaijan that was founded in Tbilisi, it may be said that President Fatali Khan Khoyski and 28 members of the council took this decision due to lack of state experience and under great pressure. At the meeting with the representatives of the National Council of Armenia in Tbilisi, when Armenians demanded land from the National Council of Azerbaijan to establish a state, they could have been given a more rational response. The political decision makers of the time may have taken this decision to appeal to Western powers, to quell Armenian uprisings in various parts of Azerbaijan, on the grounds that the Azerbaijan People’s Republic did not have state mechanisms such as armed forces and with the idea that the if Armenians had a homeland peace may have prevailed in the region. They should have foreseen that Armenian land demands would not be limited to the territory of the Yerevan Khanate. Having taken over the Yerevan Khanate, Armenians then took over Zengezur and Dereleyez with the policies and aid of Lenin and Stalin. When they tried to do the same in Karabakh under the USSR, Haydar Aliyev managed to prevent them. The USSR Constitution of 1936 was seen as the “Stalin Constitution”, which Nikita Khrushchev decided to amend in 1962 as himself president of the Constitutional Amendment Commission. The constitution’s article 87 had given Nagorno-Karabakh the status of Autonomous Province of Azerbaijan. After Khrushchev, the commission’s president naturally became Brezhnev. However, the working meetings of the commission were presided over by Boris Ponomaryov, the pro-Armenian Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Haydar Aliyev was a member of the commission. Realising that Armenians had sent many petitions to the Kremlin to change article 87 of the constitution and that Ponomaryov was siding with them, Haydar Aliyev immediately demanded a meeting with Brezhnev and told him that changing the borders of Azerbaijan was unacceptable. Brezhnev, who had great sympathy for and trust in Haydar Aliyev immediately gave instructions to Ponomaryov that the constitutional amendment regarding Azerbaijan would not go through. In light of this fact we may say that had Haydar Aliyev not been forced to resign from the USSR government in 1987, today’s Karabakh issue would not have arisen. It was without Haydar Aliyev at the helm in Azerbaijan (1988-1993) that Nagorno-Karabakh and its environs were occupied by Armenians. We may even say that had Haydar Aliyev’s vision been present in the governing cadre of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic in 1918, today there would not be an artificial Armenian state in the region. It is possible that a Union of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey would have been established and relations within the union would grown from strength to strength. This these is supported by the agreements on the Baku-Batumi Oil Pipeline and Southern Caucasia Railway Line signed on June 4th 1918. In fact, the foundations of today’s strategic cooperation among Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey were put in place in 1918. This fact also tells us that it is in the nature of the state of Armenia to cause problems in the region and to isolate itself from its neighbours. It can be seen that the gradual occupation of Azerbaijani land by Armenians and the regional Armenian issue have preoccupied Azerbaijani state mechanisms, resources and Azerbaijani diplomacy for over a 100 years.
After 1993, the respectability and dependability of Azerbaijani diplomacy increased throughout international organisations. Under the leadership of Haydar Aliyev between 1993-2003 and under Ilham Aliyev from 2003 onwards, Azerbaijan carried out rational diplomacy with the UN, the OSCE, the European Council, NATO, the Islamic Cooperation Organisation, GUAM, the CIS, Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation, the Turkish Council and other global and regional organisations. Azerbaijan has normalised and developed its relations with its neighbours and major states in the world. Azerbaijani diplomacy led by Haydar Aliyev ensured that the largest energy companies in the world trusted Azerbaijan enough to sit down at the negotiating table with it. Regarding the Karabakh issue, the support of all regional and international organisations were received and it was ensured that conditions of the sanctity of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan were featured in all decisions and documents. This means that Armenia’s status as an occupying power in Karabakh is confirmed by international documents.
Azerbaijan’s position as a leader in strategically important energy and transport projects and its active role in North-South and East-West transport network projects in a result of diplomatic vision formed by Haydar Aliyev and successfully continued by Ilham Aliyev. In 2012 and 2013, Azerbaijan was elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Today Azerbaijan is country which traditionally holds globally important events on inter-civilisational dialogue, religious tolerance, women’s rights, sports, culture, literature, music and other fields. These facts all speak of the world-wide credibility of Azerbaijan and the cooperation it has successfully established with the rest of the world.
Turkish translation of the article can be found here.
- Elsevar Salmanov, “Azerbaijan- Turkey Relations and Heydar Aliyev – 1993-2003”, Gazi University, International Relations Dep., PhD Dissertation, 2019.
- Musa Gasımlı, Foreign Policy of the Azerbaijan Republic 1991- 2003, Baku, 2015.
- Jamil Hasanli, Foreign Policy of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic, Baku, 2009.
- Ramiz Mehdiyev, Nagorny Karabakh, 2015.
- Elsevar Salmanov, Diplomatic Observer, April 2019, pp. 16-23.
- Vilayet Guliyev, Azerbaijan at the Paris Peace Conference 1919-1920, Ozan, Baku, 2008.
- Elsevar Salmanov, Diplomatic Observer, October 2018, pp. 46-50