Vol. 1, No. 22 (December 15, 2008)

Evolution of parliamentarianism in Azerbaijan

Bakhtiyar Aslanbayli
Baku State University

The parliamentary system in Azerbaijan has gone through three distinct periods: the period of the emergence of parliamentarianism as a result of the participation of Azerbaijanis in the pre-1917 Russian Dumas and the activities of the first Azerbaijani parliament, the period of activities of the Azerbaijan SSR Supreme Soviet, and the period of independent parliamentarianism since 1991.  This article examines the impact of the first on the second and especially the third. 
The participation of Azerbaijani intellectuals in the work of the pre-1917 State Dumas represents the starting point of parliamentarianism in Azerbaijan.  Five Azerbaijanis were elected to both the first and the second State Dumas.  One, Alimardan Topchubashov, even served as head of the broader Muslim group in the first Duma.  After the dissolutions of the first and second Dumas, Turkic and Muslim populated Central Asia, Siberia and other regions were deprived of their rights to elect delegates, and Baku was not permitted to send representatives to them either.  Consequently, in the third and fourth State Dumas, there was only one Azerbaijani deputy, who represented the entire Muslim population of the Caucasus.
Nonetheless, participation in the Dumas gave Azerbaijani intellectuals an opportunity to become acquainted with parliamentary culture and defined their approach after the fall of the tsarist system.  In 1918, Azerbaijanis who had been elected to the Constituent Assembly participated in the formation of the Transcaucasus Sejm, where the 44 Azerbaijani members represented the one million Turkic and Muslim residents of the Caucasus.  They formed the Azerbaijani National Council on May 27, 1918, and can thus be said to be the first Azerbaijani parliament.  That body, on May 28, adopted the Declaration of Independence of Azerbaijan, founded the parliamentary republic and formed the provisional government of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) under the leadership of Fatali khan Khoyski.   
During the period of the ADR, parliamentary activity evolved through two periods.  The first lasted from May 27, 1918 to November 19, 1918 and corresponds to the period of the National Council.  That body – Azerbaijan’s first parliament – was set up in May and its 44 members made numerous important, indeed historical, decisions, among them the Declaration of Independence, that helped to define the nature of the country.  Then in June, the National Council suspended its session and delivered all executive and legislative power to the provisional government.  However, in November, the National Council met again and, in reaction to the extraordinary situation the country faced, adopted the law providing for the assembly of a broader Azerbaijani Parliament and itself ceased to exist.   
The second phase lasted seventeen months from December 7, 1918 to April 27, 1920.  During this period, the new broader parliament, functioning uninterruptedly, also passed numerous pieces of legislation aimed at preserving the independence and territorial integrity of the country and creating a system that respected and defended the rights and liberties of its citizens.  Its decisions – including laws on citizenship, military service, a National Bank, the establishment of Baku State University, customs, post and telegraph services, and the extension of suffrage to women – defined the nature of the political system as such, and consequently, many modern Azerbaijani scholars see the day of its establishment, 7th of December, as the foundation of modern Azerbaijani parliamentarianism.     
The parliaments of ADR over these two periods held a total of 155 sessions, ten in the form of the National Council and 145 in the form of the Parliament.  The parliament discussed more than 270 bills, about 230 of which were adopted.  It had 11 commissions and 120 members from 11 different factions and party groups.  And it operated under a special statute of the Azerbaijani parliament. 
One of the parliament’s main objectives was to win international recognition for Azerbaijan’s independence.  On December 28, 1918, it thus decided to send a delegation led by A. Topchubashov to the Paris Peace Conference where the delegates succeeded in winning de facto if not de jure recognition by the great powers.  The parliament, which introduced many ideas of European parliamentarianism into Azerbaijan, thus achieved a great deal that subsequent Azerbaijani political figures could look back to after the collapse of Soviet power in 1991.     
When Azerbaijan under pressure from the 11th Red Army had to hand over its powers and functions to the Bolsheviks, Baku set a number of conditions, including the maintenance of a genuine parliamentary system in and independence of Azerbaijan, to which Moscow agreed.  But not surprisingly, the Bolsheviks failed to live up to their promises, and the parliament they created, the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan SSR, was a farce from a political point of view.  

But if that body had no real powers, it nonetheless played a key role in maintaining the principle of parliamentarianism as the form of government in Azerbaijan.  Moreover, that body introduced the practice of standing commissions rather than ad hoc ones, an innovation that continues to affect Azerbaijani practice.  And it was the Azerbaijan SSR Supreme Soviet which adopted the Declaration on the Restoration of State Independence of Azerbaijan Republic on August 30, 1991, and the Constitutional Act on the Restoration of State Independence of Azerbaijan Republic on October 18, 1991, the two acts that formalized Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet independence.    
The new post-Soviet parliament, the Milli Majlis, helped to prepare the new constitution.  And it has been that body which has defined the political system and many of its aspects by the laws it has passed.  It has defined the nation in many ways, introduced modern forms of economic activity, and created a political system based on democratic and secular ideals.  And it had provided the legislative base not only for the rest of the government but also for local administration.   
Milli Majlis also enjoys dynamic relations with the international community.  The Azerbaijani parliament established bilateral and multilateral cooperation with parliaments of many other countries.  It also participates in the activities of several international parliamentary institutions.  These help both to enrich the parliament’s international practices, and to promote Azerbaijan’s foreign policy priorities.

Many of these measures reflect the updating of ideas of almost a century ago, and Azerbaijanis can be proud of the more than 90 years of parliamentarianism in their country as a guarantee of their rights and freedoms and of the independent existence of their country.