Azerbaijan International

Autumn 1995 (3.3)
Pages 68, 83

The Making of A Democracy
Azerbaijan to Adopt Its First Constitution
(November 1995)

by Elmira Amrahgizi

Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan's President, has declared 1995 as the "Year of Turning Points" in the history of the Republic. At the top of his priorities is a new Constitution, Parliamentary Elections, and a workable strategy for Privatization.

The work on the National Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic was begun in January 1995 by lawyers of the President's Office. It is now under discussion by the Constitutional Committee commissioned by the President, which is composed of 35 scholars, lawyers, deputies and members of the intelligentsia. Azerbaijani citizens will ratify the Constitution at elections on November 12, 1995, when they will also select a new Parliament.

Azerbaijan's Fourth Constitution
Actually, this is the fourth time a Constitution has been adopted in Azerbaijan since 1920. However, this marks the first occasion since the Republic became an independent state in 1991.
The history of Constitution building goes back to resolutions and laws adopted by the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918-1920). These laws included "On the Government," "On the Parliament," "On Citizenship," "On the Flag," etc. However, by the time the leaders had finally prepared the Constitution, the fledgling Republic had been invaded by Soviet Russia and lost its independence.

In 1921, the first Constitution of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic was adopted, based on Soviet ideology. In 1924, the first Constitution of the USSR was adopted, necessitating several changes to Azerbaijan's original document. In reality, this led to the complete loss of Azerbaijan's independence as an Autonomous Republic. In 1937, Azerbaijan adopted its second Constitution on the basis of what was called the "Main Law of the Soviet Union" which became known as "Stalin's Constitution". In 1978, the third Constitution was adopted when Aliyev, the current President, was head of Azerbaijan. But all these Constitutions, written during the Soviet period, in essence, served to restrict Azerbaijan's independence within the Soviet Empire.

New Movements
In the 1980s, a nationalistic movement developed within Azerbaijan, resulting to the adoption of statements which would be of Constitutional importance. These documents, according to some judicial experts, have even more legal basis than the existing Constitution.

The National Liberation Movement (Popular Front), for example, introduced revolutionary changes into the legislation of the country. Their "Constitutional Law on Sovereignty," adopted in 1989 in Azerbaijan, became the first such document adopted in the entire former Soviet Union. In 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijanis voted unanimously in favor for the "Constitutional Statement on Independence".

Though independence was declared four years ago on October 18,1991, the country still legally functions on the basis of the Constitution adopted in 1978 under the Soviet system. A few amendments have since been added.

The primary reason why the Government says it has not passed a new Constitution after four years of autonomy is that its energy, resources and focus have had to be expended on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, and the resulting crisis in which Armenian military forces now occupy 20% of Azerbaijan's territory.

Opposition's Concerns
The Opposition is concerned about being minimally represented in this incredibly important process. One third of the membership of the Constitutional Committee is comprised of lawyers, but only one representative comes from the Opposition-Etibar Mamadov. They're also concerned about how much authorization of power will be invested in the Presidency.

However, at the opening meeting of the Constitutional Committee in front of press and the foreign diplomatic community, Heydar Aliyev declared that Azerbaijan's future Constitution would be based on democratic principles. He pointed out that the essence of the Constitution depends upon how the branches of the power-legislative, executive and judicial-would be defined, and how these institutions would relate to each other.

Aliyev Challenges Writers of Constitution
Aliyev declared that the basis for the Constitution would be the ideals and principles set forth by the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918-1920). He insisted that the Constitution should be written with the assumption that Azerbaijan would be forever independent and that "the State is for the people". Not only should the new Constitution guarantee protection of human rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, but he pointed out that freedom of conscience should also be safeguarded. He encouraged lawmakers to incorporate lessons learned from Western democratic experience.

Above all, Aliyev warned that the Constitution should safeguard and ensure the stability of the country. He challenged the creators of this document to conceive it with enough foresight to handle the complexities of today, as well as the unforeseen problems of tomorrow, and, thereby, eliminate the need for constant modification and amendment.

From Azerbaijan International (3.3) Autumn 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.

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