The Musavat Party is the oldest existing political party in Azerbaijan. Its history can be divided into three periods: Early Musavat, Musavat-in-exile and New Musavat.
1. Early Old Musavat 1911–1923
Musavat was founded in 1911 in Baku as a secret organization by Mammed Amin Rasulzade, Mammed Ali Rasulzade his cousin, Abbasgulu Kazimzade, and Taghi Nagioglu. Its initial name was the Muslim Democratic Musavat Party. The first members were Veli Mikayiloghlu, Seyid Huseyn Sadig, Abdurrahim bey, Yusif Ziya bey and Seyid Musavi bey. Early Musavat members also included future Communist leader of Azerbaijan SSR Nariman Narimanov. This initiative was coming from Mammed Amin Rasulzade, who was then living in exile in Istanbul.
In its early years before the first world war, Musavat was a relatively small, secret underground organization, much like its counterparts throughout the Middle East, working for the prosperity and political unity of the Muslim and Turkic-speaking world. Although Musavat espoused pan-Islamic ideology and its founder was sympathetic to the pan-Turkic movement, the party supported the tsarist regime during the First World War. Russias social democrats received the foundation of Musavat in what they considered "imperial, orientalist terms, governed by the long-standing ideological categories of Muslim backwardness, treachery and religious fanaticism", as a betrayal of historic proportions.
The Musavats programme, which appealed to the Azerbaijani masses and assured the party of the sympathy of the Muslims abroad, announced the following aims:
- The establishment, as need might arise, of contact and exchange of opinion with foreign parties which have the well being of humanity as their aim.
- Extension of material and moral aid to all Muslim nations which fight for their independence.
- The unity of all Muslim peoples without regard to nationality or sect.
- Help to all Muslim peoples and states in offense and in defence.
- The intensification of the struggle for the existence of all Muslims and the development of their commerce, trade and economic life in general.
- The establishment of contact with parties striving for the progress of the Muslims.
- The destruction of the barriers which prevent the spread of the above-mentioned ideas.
- Restoration of the independence of all Muslim nations.
During this time, the Musavat party supported some pan-Islamist and pan-Turkist ideas. Pan-Turkic element in Musavats ideology was a reflection of the novel ideas of the Young Turk revolution in Ottoman Empire. The founders of this ideology were Azerbaijani intellectuals of Russian Empire, Ali-bey Huseynzadeh and Ahmed-bey Agayev known in Turkey as Ahmet Ağaoğlu, whose literary works used the linguistic unity of Turkic-speaking peoples as a factor for national awakening of various nationalities inhabiting the Russian Empire.
The Menshevik and Social Revolutionary parties of Baku, both largely dependent upon the support of selected Georgian, Armenian and Jewish cadres, as well as upon the ethnic Russian workers, had long vilified the Muslims as "inert" and "unconscious". For them as well as for Bolsheviks, Constitutional Democrats and Denikinists, the Musavat, by default, was the false friend of social democracy, just a party of feudal "beks and khans". These accusations, centerpieces of a paranoid style in social-democratic politics, have endured in the historical literature far beyond their origins. But this form of attitude also alienated predominant Muslim groups from Russias mainstream social democrats, as Musavats shifting politics and populist slogans started receiving bigger appeal among the Muslim worker audience. Musavat leaders were largely well-educated professionals from the upper class echelons of Azeri society; its mass membership, most recruited between 1917 and 1919, comprised the poorly-educated Muslims underclass of Baku.
1.1. Early Old Musavat 1911–1923 Musavat in ADR Government
After the disintegration of the Russian Empire and the Declaration of Independence, Musavat became the leading party of the newly established Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, holding the majority of mandates in its parliaments, at first in Azerbaijani National Council and then in Parlaman "parliament", Rasulzade being its first head of state 28 May 1918 – 7 December 1918. Under the Musavats leadership, the name "Azerbaijan" was adopted; a name that prior to the proclamation of the ADR was solely used to refer to the adjacent region of contemporary northwestern Iran. Azerbaijan became in 1918 the first secular democracy in the Muslim world. A year later, in 1919, Azerbaijani women were granted the right to vote, before the U.S. and some European countries.
The following Musavat members held positions in successive ADR governments:
1.2. Early Old Musavat 1911–1923 First cabinet
- M. Y. Jafarov – Minister of Trade and Industry
- Kh. Sultanov – Minister of Defense
- Mammad Hassan Hajinski – Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Nasib bey Yusifbeyli – Minister of Finance and National Education
1.3. Early Old Musavat 1911–1923 Second cabinet
- Kh. Sultanov – acting Minister of Defense; Envoy to Karabakh and Zangezur
- Nasib bey Yusifbeyli – Minister of National Education and Religious Affairs
- Musa bey Rafiyev – Minister of Social Security and Religious Affairs
- Mammad Hassan Hajinski – Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Kh. Khasmammedov – State Minister of Internal Affairs
1.4. Early Old Musavat 1911–1923 Third cabinet
- Nasib bey Yusifbeyli – Minister of Education and Religious Affairs
- Kh. Khasmammedov – Minister of Interior
- Kh. Sultanov – Minister of Agriculture
1.5. Early Old Musavat 1911–1923 Fourth cabinet
- Nasib bey Yusifbeyli – Chairman of the Council of Ministers Prime Minister
- M. Y. Jafarov – Minister of Foreign Affairs
- N. Narimanbeyli – State Inspector
- Kh. Khasmammedov – Minister of the Interior
1.6. Early Old Musavat 1911–1923 Fifth cabinet
- Kh. Khasmammedov – Minister of Justice
- Nasib bey Yusifbeyli – Chair of the Council of Ministers Prime Minister
- M. Rafiyev – Minister of Social Welfare and Health
- Mammad Hassan Hajinski – Minister of Interior
After the fall of the first Republic in April 1920 as a result of the Bolshevik invasion, Musavat switched to secret activities again, by forming a secret committee, in which even famous Azeri playwright Jafar Jabbarli participated. The committees most famous action was the preparation of the Rasulzades flight from the Russian SFSR to Finland. Overall, Musavat prepared and conducted several armed insurgency operations, e.g. the rebellions of Ganja, Karabakh, Zagatala and Lankoran. But the Soviets also repressed Musavat by arresting at least 2.000 members of Musavat up to 1923. Most prominent Musavat members thus were killed, exiled or escaped abroad and the party ceased all its activities within Azerbaijan in 1923.
2. Musavat in exile
Activities of Musavat in exile begin in the end of 1922 and in the beginning of 1923. in order to coordinate and lead these activities Mammed Amin Rasulzade established a Foreign Bureau of Musavat in 1923, but also created the Azerbaijani National Center in order to coordinate their activity with other Azeri political immigrants not affiliated with Musavat. Istanbul became the center of Musavat-in-exile in the 1920s and early 30s, before moving to Ankara in the late 1940s.
2.1. Musavat in exile Members of the Foreign Bureau
- Khalil bey Khasmammadov, treasurer
- Mammad Sadig Akhundzadeh
- Abbasgulu Kazimzade
- Mammed Amin Rasulzade, chairman
- Shafi bey Rustambeyov
- Mustafa Vakilov
- Mirza Bala Mammedzadeh, secretary
2.2. Musavat in exile Chairmen of Musavat in exile
- Mammed Amin Rasulzade 1917–1955
- Mirza Bala Mammedzadeh 1955–1959
- Mammad Azer Aran 1981–1992
- Kerim Oder 1959–1981
2.3. Musavat in exile Newspapers and journals published by the Musavat Party in exile
- Azeri Turk journal 1928–1929, Turkey
- Yeni Kafkasya journal 1923–1928, Turkey
- Bildirish newspaper 1930–1931, Turkey
- Istiklal newspaper 1932-?, Germany
- Azerbaijan 1952-current, Turkey
- Odlu Yurdu journal 1929–1931, Turkey
- Azerbaycan Yurd Bilgisi journal 1932–1934, Turkey
- Musavat Bulleteni 1936-?, Poland, Turkey
- Kurtulush journal 1934–1938, Germany
3. New Musavat since 1989
The resurrection of Musavat in Azerbaijan came in 1989, during the second independence of Azerbaijan. A group of intellectuals created the "Azerbaijan National Democratic New Musavat Party". Later that group formed the "Restoration Center of the Musavat Party" and was recognized by Musavat-in-exile. In 1992 delegates of New Musavat and Musavat-in-exile gathered in the "III Congress of Musavat" and formally re-established the party as the Musavat Party. One of the leaders of the Popular Front, Isa Gambar was elected its chairman. He remains its leader as of 2013. The party structure consists of "Basqan" Leader, "Divan" Executive Board, and "Məclis" Congress.
Since 1993, Musavat has been in the opposition to the ruling New Azerbaijan Party. Due to a split between its nationalist and its liberal wing, the party failed to adopt a unified programme at the October 1997 congress. At the 2000/2001 elections, the party won 4.9% of the popular vote and two out of 125 seats. As the partys candidate, its leader Isa Qambar won 12.2% of the popular vote in the 15 October 2003 presidential elections. At the parliamentary elections of 6 November 2005, it joined the Freedom alliance, and won inside the alliance five seats. Musavat is also known for its protests against the Azerbaijani government such as that took place on 16 October 2003, after Isa Qambar had lost the election, as well as on March 12, 2011.
When Musavat applied for membership of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party, some members considered Musavats ideology to be incompatible with Western liberalism. Board member Nasib Nasibli even resigned, stating that the party was committed to Turkic nationalism rather than liberalism. Nevertheless, Musavat was eventually admitted to ELDR.
The party has alleged that the Azerbaijani government has been seized by leading politicians of Kurdish, Talysh, Armenian or other ethnic groups of non-Turkic origin.