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Azerbaijan Marks 20th Anniversary Of Independence

Azerbaijan celebrated its independence 20 years ago on October 18.
Azerbaijan celebrated its independence 20 years ago on October 18.
BAKU -- Azerbaijan is has been marking the 20th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Parliament speaker Oqtay Asadov told a special session of parliament on the anniversary of on October 18 that Azerbaijan declared its independence during a complicated period.

"The state of war [over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh], the inexperience of the then-leadership, and chaos made it impossible for the country to overcome the complicated period…" he said. "Heydar Aliyev returned to power in June 1993 and laid the foundation of the country's economic-political development strategy," he said.

On October 18, 1991, Azerbaijan's Supreme Soviet adopted a constitutional act on Azerbaijan's State Independence. Some 258 of the 360 deputies voted to approve the declaration of independence; the remaining deputies either did not attend the session or abstained.

The document defined the Azerbaijan Republic as the legal successor to the Azerbaijan People's Republic that existed from 1918 to 1920.

On December 29, 1991, the issue of independence was put to a republic-wide referendum in which 95 percent of those who voted endorsed it.

On October 16, members of the opposition Public Chamber gathered to pay tribute at the grave of Abulfaz Elchibey, who as head of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front spearheaded the campaign for independence in the late 1980s. He was elected Azerbaijan's first president in the summer of 1992.

On October 18, current Azerbaijan Popular Front Party leader Ali Karimli claimed that "Elchibey succeeded in restoring Azerbaijan's independence."

"Those who were standing aside and observing the process want to blacken that period now," he said.

"They allege that Azerbaijan gained its independence automatically with the dissolution of the USSR.

"Such people should not forget the Azerbaijani people were the leading part of the force resulting in the destruction of the 'Evil Empire,' the prison of peoples," he said.

Former Supreme Soviet deputy Rahim Qaziyev, who served as defense minister under Elchibey and signed the Constitutional Act in 1991, told RFE/RL in an interview that he recalls those first days of independence as "a sweet miracle."

"The deputies of independence were trying to make the people taste the drink of freedom," he said. "Regrettably, we couldn't sustain that moment. The real participants of that period are being denied [recognition] as modern history is being written."

Arif Hajili, another of the deputies who signed the Constitutional Act in 1991, was sentenced earlier this month to 2 1/2 years in jail for participating in an opposition protest on April 2.

Read and watch more in Azeri here