The peculiarities of azerbaijani national identity as a multilayered civil self-determination and establishment of national statehood

Abstract: The article covers the formation of a multinational Azerbaijani nation as an interweaving of national and civil factors. It sheds some light on the historical and current national identity, and the restoration of nationwide statehood. Azerbaijani nationalism is the coexistence of different peoples and cultures united under the word “Azerbaijanis”. As a result of historical, economic and political progress, national statehood based on preserving cultural diversity, social cohesion and solidarity has a unique geopolitical identity that distinguishes it from other post-Soviet countries and makes it a leading figure in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijani identity is expressed in national attributes, representing a synthesis of commitment to independence, Islamic culture and modernity.

Historical review of the Сonstruction of national statehood

May 28, 2018, marked the 100th anniversary of the formation of the first secular democratic state in the East: the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). The tricolour national flag consists of the colors blue, red and green, which respectively mean Turkic freedom, Islamic culture and modernity. ADR was the first Muslim state where women had electoral rights for the first time in the Muslim East. ADR was established as a result of the self-elimination of the Transcaucasia Federation – a short-lived coalition government of South Caucasian states formed immediately after the October revolution on November 15, 1917, in Tbilisi; and which existed until May 26, 1918, when all the Transcaucasian republics declared independence.

The main task of the new government (ADR) was to strengthen power and set up a regular army to combat the Dashnak detachment, which was unbridled in the territory of the country [1]. During its brief two years of existence, the Azerbaijani government adopted some really important and progressive laws. For example, “Turkic” (Azerbaijani) was declared the official state language; women were given voting rights equally with men; and a law on the media was adopted. The government made serious efforts to have the ADR recognized by world powers, and in fact achieved de facto recognition by the Supreme Council of the Triple Entente [2].

ADR was the first historic personification of the national statehood of Azerbaijanis. Patriotism, nationality, independence and nationhood became the key substances with which to build the essence and gist of a national ideology. Previously, the Azerbaijani people were commonly called “musulmanin” (Muslim) or “tatars”. By using this term, the rulers of the Czarist Empire and its Armenian agents gave themselves more opportunity to erase the Azerbaijani people’s national identity and its heritage from the pages of the history. Rough assimilation and dissolving Azerbaijani identity in the pot entitled“universalism” constituted a formidable obstacle to national ideology gaining the the upper hand.

Constitution and geopolitical context of the national identity

Azerbaijan identity is based on a unique compound of multipolar individual and social identities developed through centuries. As academician Ramiz Mehdiyev states, the evolution of the national idea was launched between 1828 and 1875, just after the Russo-Iranian war, when the territory of the northern part of Azerbaijan was annexed to the Russian Empire [3]. It was at that time that a gradual process of solidarity among Azerbaijanis was launched; and a recognisable literary school started to sow the seeds of a national awakening. Media outlets such as “Ekinchi” and “Keshkul” in the late 19th century and, in addition, “Hayat”, “Irshad”, “Fyuzat” and others at the beginning of the 20th century gave an impetus to the creation of the national doctrine and the idea of nationwide freedom. A struggle for the creation of a subnational autonomy within the Russian Empire had been transformed into the primary goal of national liberty. Finally, the date (May 28, 1918) of the establishment of Azerbaijan as an independent state became a symbol of the embodiment of the Azerbaijani national idea [4].

The instituting of ADR has been identified as a further historic step in the formation of a national consciousness. Azerbaijan nationalism was a coexistence of diverse nations and cultures united under the term of “Azerbaijanis.” Building the national civil society, intertwining with cultural pluralism, was the main way of life in the modern, independent state. ADR became a unique example of multicultural national statehood at the beginning of the 20th century when Western governments came to it much later. The selfidentification of Azerbaijanis in the ADR was a complex of intertwining factors of an objective and subjective nature; and, as a whole, a civil one. The self-identification of minorities was closely associated with the policy of the current government; the defining principle of which was the consideration of the interests of a multiethnic people. In total, 80 out of 120 members of the Parliament were Muslims, others of other ethnic and religious groupings [5]. Although ADR lasted for only 23 months, it left a huge treasury of national doctrine for its successors.

However, we cannot omit the fact that cultivating the national identity dated back to much earlier - to the 16th century, in fact, when the Safavid Shah (King) Ismail Khatai proclaimed himself as the governor of Azerbaijan in 1501. For the first time in history, a central government was formed. Until the Shah Khatai, Azerbaijanis had been remained a part of Turkic and Muslim identities with standard features encompassing all nations where the Persian and Arabic were used as official languages both for administrative issues and literature. Jalaluddin Afghani, a prominent Muslim scholar, argued that “language and religion are the pillars of every society and the primary factors of national identity”. Giving the Azerbaijani a special legal status made a substantial basis for the formation of national doctrine: essentially the seeds of self-knowledge were sown.

These traditions of the formation of a national doctrine were followed by new thinkers in the 20th century when the founder of the ADR Mam- mad Amin Rasulzadeh defined the language as the primary base of an identity. Meanwhile religion, history and beliefs were merely the tools to keep the language-oriented identity safe [6]. As S.Hall has stated, identities are about the enquiry of using the resources of history, language and culture in the process of being rather than ‘who we are’ or ‘where we came from’, as much as ‘what we might become?’ [7] ADR reached this goal by building a multi-ethnic national statehood reliant on self-knowledge and tolerance.

In my opinion, all the post-Soviet countries have experienced a similar fate – “the suppression of identity”. The fall of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic on April 28, 1920, altered the democratic nature of the state and resulted in a negative impact on the international recognition of the Azerbaijani model of the nation-state. The period from 1920 to the beginning of 1988 was the time when the Azerbaijani people under the pressure of Communism were subjected to Soviet identity, where the Russian language was declared the lingua-franca and where national and religious interests were consigned to oblivion.

Soviet “euphoria” lasted until 1988, when bloody interethnic clashes began in various parts of the vast Soviet states. So-called communist internationalism burst like a soap bubble. November 17, 1988, was the date when the collective voice of freedom of the Azerbaijani people sounded for the first time to defend their interests, fight for their independence and territorial integrity. However, it was smothered, but triggered a new movement of freedom.

Sovereignty and the concept of “Azerbai- janism” as a unique combine of differential cohesion

The current Azerbaijan Republic is the successor to the ADR. On October 18, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Azerbaijan, basing their approach precisely on the Declaration of Independence of 1918, adopted the Constitutional Act on State Independence. It was the restoration of the captured freedom of Azerbaijan, lost as a result of the Bolshevik coup on April 28, 1920. For 25 years, an emerging generation of independent people has grown up relying on goodwill and tolerance and attempting to stay afloat between western and eastern powers. Despite the difficulties of the early 1990s, Azerbaijan managed to recover and become a key figure of the South Caucasus. The main condition for the execution of successful foreign and domestic policies is constructive understanding of its place in the world and in the region as well the pragmatic formulation and implementation of a national doctrine based on history, geography, cultural identity and the economic interests of the state. According to the political analyst Farhad Mammadov, the Azerbaijani identity is a multilayered geopolitical one based on geographical, historical, religious and cultural components. Geographically, we are located in Europe. From the point of view of religion, Azerbaijan is part of the Islamic world. Culturally and linguistically, Azerbaijan remains a part of the Turkic world and participates in the process of integration of Turkic-speaking countries. Finally, historically, for the last two hundred years, Azerbaijan has been represented first as a part of the Russian Empire, then the USSR and finally the CIS [8]. The determinant of successful current governance is a consolidation of these four elements that were missed by its predecessor which was able to revive the prototype of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, but could not hold it: Azerbaijan was about to be torn to pieces by inner and outer forces. However, Heydar Aliyev, as a Major-General at NKGB [9], could withstand the strong-hand Bolshevik policy. His core doctrine of “Azerbaijanism” was an effective method of uniting not only the torn pieces of Azerbaijan but nationalities living in Azerbaijan, despite their races, languages, religions and ethnicity. It was some kind of the differential cohesion. He fairly argued that ethnic nationalism and ethnocentrism leads to separatism and clashes between nations. However, “Azerbaijanism” related on the cohesion of all members of ethnic and national minorities makes them equal citizens of Azerbaijan, the land for everyone. Heydar Aliyev translated this inexhaustible and majestic spiritual wealth of its people onto a new dimension – political networks. “The multinational context of the Azerbaijan nation is our treasure and dominance. We should evaluate and defend it”, [10] - cited Heydar Aliyev.

The Azerbaijani ID is not a single ethnic group, but diverse nations assembled in one. States established in the territories of Azerbaijan never were homogeneous but instead heterogeneous, being a mix of different ethnicities and cultures. Thus, being Azerbaijani is being Jewish, Kurdish, Lazgi, Russian and the other minorities which inhabit Azerbaijan. It is giving a person a space to identify himself with his uniqueness as an individual and to realize himself as a social and civil being. Accordingly, Azerbaijani ID is a unique combination of individual and social factors. With reference to Erikson [11], a multifaceted identity is neither just ‘inside’, nor ‘outside’ the person: it smoothly links the individual to his social world in multiple ways, making him and the society he belongs to a part of the common self; a somewhat “multifaceted mosaic of interdependent, but highly differentiated parts.” [12] The Azerbaijan identity is just of that case. It is substantially a synthesis of national, democratic and humanist values which maintain the national impetus to go forward, rather than a classic combination of East and West values.

The national state concept is crucially important within the idea of Azerbaijanism. It is closely linked with the social, political, cultural and economic status of society. The practice of cultural pluralism, originating from Ilham Aliyev, the incumbent president, defines multiculturalism as the state’s policy; and states that this type of government is the best example of subsequent development, with no alternative. Azerbaijani identity relies on national culture, religious outlook and historically formed social consciousness, with the traditional moral and material features.

Undoubtedly, economic leverage; recognition of cultural diversity; preservation of political stability; societal cohesion and solidarity have been the major factors in making Azerbaijan a key player in the region. More than eighty local ethnic groups have been living in this country for centuries in peace as well as being represented in the government and civic state bodies. Being a bridge between four religions and a strong meeting place for different groups, Azerbaijan has constituted favourable conditions for their peaceful co-existence. Protection of these values is an integral part of democratic development. Exploiting them as a tool is a means of preventing ethnocentrism, ethnic and religious separatism and other disintegration processes that threaten the sovereignty, territorial integrity, democratic development and national security of the country. The success of the foreign policy of Azerbaijan has been in developing bilateral relations not dependent on third countries. This principle, as articulated by F.Mammadov, allows the country to maintain stability in the region without becoming embroiled in conflicts between its neighbours or strategic partners; and to pursue a practice of constructive pragmatism by strengthening the policy of independence and being a fully-fledged participant in international relations [13].


The key factors that have triggered Azerbaijan becoming a cornerstone in the dialogue between the West and East and being committed to preserving the national identity within the state may be summarized as follows: Azerbaijan has been located at the crossroads of cultures, religions, and civilizations for centuries and has played a leading role in understanding this connection. Substantially, endurance in Azerbaijani society has created a unique climate of tolerance. Azerbaijan is developing as a bridgebuilder between religious and ethnic groups which are confronting each other in a complex geopolitical arena. Azerbaijani ID is a unique combination of individual and social factors relying on multinational culture, religious outlook and historically formed collective consciousness. Azerbaijan’s position as a multicultural national state, established on the basis of such factors as respect for cultural pluralism and social diversity, with a clear understanding of national identity within the unity and solidarity among its constituent ethnic and regional groups, and preserving political stability and societal cohesion, makes it able to maintain a balance between its neighbours and strategic partners. Azerbaijan is interested in relations that are the impetus for economic and political progress; and meanwhile the chance is afforded of ensuring territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.



  1. In March 1918 the Dashnak detachment under the command of Shaumyan, the chairman of the Baku council committed a terrible massacre of the Azerbaijani population, as a result of which more than 12 thousand civilians were violently killed. Genotsid azerbaidzhantsev 1918 goda. Martovskaya reznya v Baku –» (The genocide of Azerbaijanis in 1918. March Massacre in Baku -”), Accessed June 28 2018.геноцид-азербайджанцев- 1918-годамартов-3/.
  2. Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh. Compilation of letters (in Russian). ed. By Iskhakov. Moscow: Publishing House “Flinta”, 2010, 368 p.
  3. “Sovremennaya Natsional'naya Ideya Obogashchaetsya Tem, Chto Grazhdanin Oshchushchaet Sebya Chast'yu Gosudarstva, Vidit V Sebe Sily K Preobrazovaniyam, Oshchushchaet Potrebnost' V Nalichii Sil'nogo Gosudarstva I Sil'nogo, Volevogo Lidera” (The modern national idea is enriched by the fact that a citizen feels part of the state, sees himself to force transformations, feels the need for a strong state and a strong, determined leader), Azertag.Az. Accessed June 28 2018. Sovremennaya_nacionalnaya_ideya_ obogashchaetsya_tem_chto_ grazhdanin_oshchushchaet_sebya_chastyu_gosu- darstva_vidit_v_sebe_sily_k_preobrazovaniyam_oshchushchaet_potrebnost_v_ nalichii_silnogo_gosudarstva_i_silnogo_volevogo_lidera-286687
  4. Ibid., Huseynzade, Tuncay, 2004. «Parlament: Azerbaidzhanskaya De- mokraticheskaya Respublika». (“Parliament: Azerbaijan Democratic Republic”) Axc.Preslib.Az. Accessed June 28 2018. // NI10.
  5. Faiq Alakbarov, 2014. Mammad Amin Rasulzadenin dunyagorushu (Faig Alakbarov. The outlook of Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh) Elibrary.Bsu.Az. N58 (14-2014). Accessed June 28 2018. // lar/141322
  6. Stuart Hall, Paul du Gay, 1996. Questions of Cultural Identity, SAGE Publications, New Delhi, 198 p. Citeseerx.Ist.Psu.Edu. Accessed June 28 2018 //
  7. Farkhad Mamedov, 2017, Geopoliticheskaya identichnost' Azerbaidzhana v kontekste vyzovov i perspektiv XXI veka. (Geopolitical identity of Azerbaijan in the context of challenges and perspectives of 21st century.) Valdaiclub.Com. Accessed June 28 2018.
  8. People’s Commissariat for State Security Respublica News -MULTİKULTURALİZM TӘKCӘ SOSİALMӘDӘNİ HADİSӘ DEYİL, HӘM DӘ SÜLH VӘ SABİTLİYİN TӘMİNATIDIR. Respublica-News.Az. 16 December, 2017. Accessed June 28 2018. php/dig-r-x-b-rl-r/ dig-r-x-b-rl-r/item/18857-multikulturalizm-taekdzae-sosial- maedaenihadisae-deyil-haem-dae-sulh-vae-sabitliyin-taeminatidir.
  9. Carol Hren Hoare, 2002. Erikson on Development in Adulthood: New Insights from the Unpublished Papers. Oxford University Press, 2002, 284 p. Google Books. Accessed June 28 2018. https://books. DAAAQBAJ&pg=PA147&lpg=PA147&dq=er ikson+just+%E2%80%98inside %E2%80%99,+or+%E2%80%98outsid e%E2%80%99+the+individual&source =bl&ots=Y2AxDaN9lU&sig=5HS Mw1V2hQagoIxAGtPikKgrFd4&hl=ru&sa =X&ved=0ahUKEwj4lo-65u7b AhUJCywKHSqVAxoQ6AEILzAB#v=on
  10. Delgado, Kolina, 2018. «Identity: Theory And Clinical Implications». CORE Scholar. Accessed June 28 2018. psy
  11. Farkhad Mamedov, 2017, 11-12 pp.
Year: 2019
City: Almaty