The tumultuous historic milieu of the I World War similarly set the background for resurrection of national liberation movement in the Southern part of Azerbaijan bound for the revival of statehood traditions as it had led to the creation of the People’s Republic in North Azerbaijan.
During the war, including the South Azerbaijan which occupied the Northern-western regions of the country, the whole territory of Iran had been converted to the abject battleground of military operations for foreign powers. The ubiquitous dominance of the die-hard reactionary Iranian command doubled with foreign invasion had further exacerbated the livelihood of the people along with aggravating the heightened internal contradictions. Despite the fact that the February revolution had eventuated in the downfall of the Tsarist autocratic regime in Russia, South Azerbaijan still remained under the control of the Russian armed forces. The national insurgence enveloping the whole country aimed at the elimination of the monarchial rule and foreign incursion as well as implementation of democratic reforms for foundation of the constitutional establishment in the country soon after assumed the form of a massive national liberation movement in South Azerbaijan. The processes going on in Russia, the successful victory of the liberation movement in North Azerbaijan, the revitalization of the national statehood traditions as well as the restructurings carried out by the People’s Republic of Azerbaijan gave impetus to the national liberation movement in South Azerbaijan.
The national liberation movement of South Azerbaijan was headed by Sheikh Muhammad Khiyabani (1879-1920), who was one of the spirited activists of the Iranian Revolution which had taken place in the years of 1905-1911.
The main heroes of tyhis revolution called “Mashruta (Constitution) Revolution” were S attar Khan and Baghir Khan who were the valiant sons of Azerbaijan.
Under the guidance of Sheikh Muhammad Khiyabani, along with struggling against the internal tyranny and foreign occupation, the freedom fighters of South Azerbaijan were also demanding the countrywide reforms and democratic improvements at a national level. To realize this aspiration, they were primarily striving for the victory of popular revolution all across Iran which would wind up in the liquidation of the monarchial regime and establishment of the democratic republican state. The attainment of the self- autonomy of South Azerbaijan within the democratic state of Iran was one of the prior goals of the national liberation movement. Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) had played an essential role in the coalescence of the South Azerbaijani people into one united front. The Central Committee of DPA was chaired by Sheikh Muhammad Khiyabani.
On the instruction of Sheikh Muhammad Khiyabani, the Democrats were persistently calling on the people of Tabriz, Ardabil, Khoy, Urmiya, Sarab, Zanjan, etc. to go on a strike and protest against the pro- British Iranian government. They were vehemently exhorting the urgent abdication of the King and resignation of the government as well as immediate implementation of democratic reforms in the country.
At the beginning of 1918, at a time when national liberation movement was rapidly expanding, the Russian troops were abruptly withdrawn from South Azerbaijan. Taking advantage of this opportune situation, England started positioning its military forces in South Azerbaijan. In essence, the British were avidly craving for getting access to Baku oil. That’s why the British government had calculatedly dispatched supplementary military units to Iran under the direction of general Densterwill who was specifically assigned to capture the port cities of Anzali, Rasht and Baku.
The seizure of the bordering regions of South Azerbaijan with Turkey by the British forces in the name of “preempting the Turkish danger” which actually meant the total takeover of control of Iran by England further deepened the growing frustration and dissatisfaction among the masses and shored up the escalating national liberation movement in South Azerbaijan.
Availing this favorable opportunity, armed by former Russian officers and emboldened by new foreign support, the Armenian criminal gangsters started perpetrating mass murders and slaughters against the Azerbaijani-Turkish population of South Azerbaijan living in the regions adjacent to Turkey in the same way as they had committed atrocities against the Turkish-Muslim people of the Eastern Anatolia and North Azerbaijan. Provoked and instigated by the French officers and American missionaries, Aysors and Kurds also had aggressively conspired in the execution of massacres against the Azerbaijani people. If it hadn’t been for the military presence of brotherly Turkey, South Azerbaijan would have been drowned in agonizing bloodbath of carnages once and for all. Starting from March of 1918, the Turkish military forces steadily purged Maku, Urmiya and Salmas of invaders and Armenian-Kurdish-Aysorian slayers and finally entered Tabriz which meant the liberation of South Azerbaijan.
But, faced with extremely difficult international conditions, Turkey was constrained to pull its military forces out of South Azerbaijan in November of 1918. Benefiting this chance, the British army swiftly seized Tabriz and took over entire South Azerbaijan. Thus, the British forces gained complete power all over the Iranian territory through the subjugation of South Azerbaijan.
Subdued by constant pressures, in the end Iran was coerced to sign a contract with England on 9th of August in 1919. The terms stipulated in the agreement transferred Iran virtually to the subordinate of the latter. Inflamed by this abject submission and unacceptably dismal capitulation, along with the entire Iranian nation, the national liberation movement of South Azerbaijan rose up to defend the county against this disgraceful and outrageous pact. With large participation of impassioned crowds, tempestuous demonstrations and heated pickets were held throughout South Azerbaijan in opposition to this subservient acquiescence. The freedom fighters that had started a mutinous riot against government drove the governor of Tabriz out of the city in October of 1919. Shortly, the British military forces were also expelled out of Tabriz at the urging demands of the people.
Having gathered a momentous speed, national liberation movement in South Azerbaijan assumed increasingly more decisive and critical role in mounting a violent insurrection against government. Thus, on 7th of April in 1920, the armed uprising took place in Tabriz under the leadership of Sheikh Muhammad Khiyabani. The rebellious people of Tabriz didn’t have to vacillate even for an instant about joining the revolt to support their common cause. Not daring to interfere, the police forces that were fetched to smother the upheaval and quell the uprising were forced to vacate the city straight away. The rebellion of 7th April triumphed and prevailed without any bloodshed due to the unprecedented enthusiasm and matchless fervor of the Azerbaijani people. Addressing to the nation on the same day of victory, Sheikh Muhammad Khiyabani made an announcement about substituting the name of Azerbaijan with Azadistan, which means “the country of freedom”.
Following the thriving victory, the insurgents of Tabriz immediately embarked on stepping up their activities through abrupt dismissal and eviction of the state functionaries and military officials appointed by central government. In this way, the governance and administration of South Azerbaijan were delivered to the well-organized and competent members of DPA. The uprising which had started with the pressing demands of democratic reforms and reconstructions in society consequently turned out to assume the form of national liberation movement. Thus, the self-determining statehood traditions were revivified in South Azerbaijan. The people were genuinely longing for the quick establishment of their own independent, national state with a free, liberal society.
The cities of Khoy, Ardabil, Astara, Maragha, Ahar and Zanjan in South Azerbaijan saw numerous fiery revolts subsequent to the glorious armed uprising in Tabriz. It’s worth mentioning that the national liberation movement of South Azerbaijan was received with very warm welcome among the other defiant groups all over Iran who were staunchly adverse to the presence of exploitive British invaders and the dominance of authoritarian, old-line domestic rule.
As the opposition and antagonism against the internal dictatorial rule and British supremacy escalated and enwrapped the whole country, the insurgents of Tabriz were compelled to take more drastic and far- reaching measures. On 23rd of June in 1920, with the leadership of Sheik Muhammad Khiyabani the National Government was founded in Tabriz. Principally composed of the proficient members of DPA, the Cabinet of the National Government represented all various stratum of society in an even way. 24th of June, the day which was marked by the festive inauguration of National Government in Tabriz was broadly celebrated on a national scale. All businesses and enterprises were suspended, educational institutions were temporarily called off and all the markets and stores were shut down. Acting on the order of the National Government, including the Governor of Tabriz as well, all state functionaries and officials designated by central government were toppled and thrown out of Tabriz within a span of only a few days. This in fact implied the actual dethronement of the autocratic monarchy in South Azerbaijan and ensuing deposition of the Iranian authority which in turn led to the revival of national statehood traditions. To achieve this end, the National Government set up by Sheik Muhammad Khiyabani was in reality functioning as a democratic and self- ruling republic on account of the continual reforms and restructurings it was carrying out.
Although people of South Azerbaijan possessed the resolve to put up a full-fledged struggle for absolute and self-determining independence, National Government was striving purely for the democratization of entire Iran and institution of the constitutional establishment in the whole country along with complete abolition of the internal tyrannical regime and repressive British dominance. National Government was also fighting to offset the discrimination policy directed against South Azerbaijan.
That is to say, notwithstanding the fact that the people of South Azerbaijan were in effect capable of aspiring to full sovereignty after having created virtually an independent, self-governing, democratic republic, National Government was pursuing a preset course of struggling to secure just a local autonomy within the future democratic Iranian state. The leaders of the National Government held a deep conviction that the victorious uprising which took place in Tabriz would shortly arouse upheaval in different parts of Iran and soon after envelop the whole country. They had nurtured a firm belief that before long, the monarchy would be overthrown by the same token and eventually a republican rule would be established all over the country wherein the sole source of power would lie with the people. The founders of the National Government had cultivated a profound hope that the Azerbaijani people would play an important role in the formation of the soon-to-be Iranian government which would have its basis rested only on the people of Iran. Sheikh Muhammad Khiyabani was fully confident that “Tabriz would be the main redeeming power behind Iran’s salvation” Since National Government didn’t have any premeditated political intentions about segregating South Azerbaijan from Iran and forming an independent, self- ruling state, as soon as it started functioning, numerous multifaceted reforms were introduced in the spheres of economy, education, health services, etc.
without delay. As a priority issue, first of all a range of sweeping measures were taken to alleviate the miserable life conditions of the impoverished people residing in various regions of South Azerbaijan, including Tabriz. Special projects were undertaken for the eradication of illiteracy. Nationalized schools and equipped hospitals were opened countrywide. An exclusive school was set up in Tabriz for the girls from underprivileged families. Qualified teachers were invited from Baku, Turkey and Tbilisi for teaching in the newly- opened national schools. The preparations were underway for the formation of national garrison. Separate gendarme and police forces of the National Government were created. Special police academies were instituted. New ministries, offices and enterprises were founded to organize the necessary groundwork for carrying out other important projects such as creation of new job opportunities, implementation of currency reform, institution of finance- bank system, realization of municipal elections. Groundbreaking land reforms were launched as well in order to procure the even distribution of land among the people.
All the vital steps and reforms undertaken by the National Government were intrinsically oriented at the direction of independent, democratic, republican state-building process. The nascent independent state of Azerbaijan was therefore renamed as Country of Azadistan. Accordingly, the term “Azerbaijan” was replaced with Azadistan in all official documents, forms as well as panels of the ministries, offices and other enterprises and institutions.
Sheikh Muhammad Khiyabani always used to call on the beloved people of his Motherland to make every sacrifice for the sake of achieving enlightenment and development since it was his genuine belief that this approach was the only way whereby independence and freedom ideals could be fulfilled. He used to disseminate his progressive and reformist views at the gatherings arranged in the main garden of Tabriz.
Sheikh Muhammad has specified his principal opinions about national struggle and freedom in his speech delivered on 15th of June in 1920 as follows: “It’s a natural and universal phenomenon to love your own identity. Every human being loves himself more than his fellow being. That’s why in order to improve the welfare and prosperity of the people, no society should expect help from the other. It’s particularly useless and futile to wait for favor and service from the people who have no affiliation or connection with you. Self- respect, self-esteem and self-confidence should be put in the same order as self-love for one’s identity. No society or nation should possess arrogance or low self-confidence. In the same way as one should by no means accept immorality, baseness and ignobleness since all these blight and cripple ones self-trust, similarly no society should approve aggression and belligerence as these equal inability and powerlessness. The mankind is in a desperate need of collaboration and mutual aid on the part of all of its members. It would be a great misperception to presume that small nations cannot contribute to the common cause of humanity and a huge mistake to disregard their existence because of this. It’s extremely unfortunate and regrettable that we have always underestimated our self-worth and self-value to the extent of being unaware and oblivious of our own identity. This fact has been experimented and tested through individual lives time after time. It has been repeatedly deduced that the individuals who own high characteristic qualities and devote themselves to supreme ideals as well as valuing their capabilities and upholding their honor have proved to reach to great heights in life. It’s specifically because of this reality that throughout the history the outstanding literary figures and philosophers have achieved great accomplishments and acquired broad influence expressly on the account of their personalities. They have gained the respect and admiration of great kings and grand emperors owing to their hard-earned toil and strenuous travail. This is the reason why they were endowed with the uppermost positions in the palaces. Likewise, the nations can only evolve and advance if they elicit their dormant sense of national awareness, educe their latent grandeur and concealed spiritual strength and bring forth their lost identity. The nation desirous of its independence and freedom cannot remain indifferent and unresponsive to the social and political processes impacting its life. If we wish to be enumerated among the developed and progressive nations, then we have to elevate our mentality and outlook to their level by raising our mindset and attitude all the time. The first prerequisite for a nation’s dignity is the independence and freedom of that nation. The nation deprived of its independence is doomed to disgrace and ignominy at the end. The independence of a nation can be deemed as its merit and moral distinction. The features which safeguard and preserve the independence of a nation are weighed with the heroism, bravery and valor of that nation” The national liberation movement of South Azerbaijan was rapidly deepening. The Azerbaijani people were practically on the verge of creating their own independent, democratic, republican state. The resounding achievements of the National Government spurred the discontented population of Iran and galvanized the whole nation to action against the central government. Shuddering with fear, the rulers of the tyrannical monarchial regime were faced with real danger of abdication and banishment. The vested interests of the British who were trying to maintain supremacy over Iranian government and get a hold of Baku oil were also thrown into jeopardy by the growing turmoil and uproar in the country. So, without more ado they started conniving intimately with the diehard Iranian government to mastermind a conspiracy against National Government.
The malicious Iranian government was deliberately engaging the National Government in hectic negotiations by granting countless pledges and assurances on one hand and underhandedly plotting an assault plan to Tabriz on the other hand. After all the preparation work was over for machination of the surreptitious scheme, armed from head to foot, the military forces of the suppressive monarchial regime unexpectedly attacked Tabriz on 12th of September in 1920. The insurgents of Tabriz confronted the assailants intrepidly and withstood the attack heroically for two days. Nevertheless, the over armed regular forces of the central government far outnumbered the rebels. That’s why on 14th of September Sheikh Muhammad Khiyabani was brutally assassinated and the revolt was beaten down in cold blood. Thus, the freedom struggle of the Azerbaijani nation was once again cruelly crushed and stifled. In the same way as the callous Bolshevik regime of the Soviet Russia had squelched the People’s Republic of Azerbaijan in North Azerbaijan, similarly the reactionary monarchial regime of Iran viciously smothered the Country of Azadistan in South Azerbaijan. Russia and Iran couldn’t have tolerated the independence of the country that they had once ferociously divided in Gulustan and Turkmanchay. So, once more North and South Azerbaijan were incorporated to Russia and Iran respectively.
Author: Yagub Mahmudlu
Source: AZERBAIJAN: SHORT HISTORY OF STATEHOOD
Translated by: Nigar Madatli
Edited by: Dr. Eynulla Madatli