A musical celebration of Azerbaijani Republic Day and Azerbaijani–Belgian relations

Press Release: Azerbaijani Republic Day ranks amongst the most important holidays in the Azerbaijani national calendar, for that day commemorates the achievements of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). Lasting 23 months from 1918–20, the ADR was the first democracy, based on a European model, to be established in the Muslim East.

Founded and Presided over by Mammad Amin Rasulzade, this was an undeniably progressive regime, based on free, universal and proportionate representation, granting the franchise to all women over the age of 18 (predating this development in both the US and UK). It also established Baku State University, again based on a European model. Belgium was amongst the first countries to recognise the independence of the country, and soon after established a diplomatic mission. Regrettably the success of the ADR was proven short-lived – in 1920, the country was forcibly subsumed into the Soviet Union.

Following the Soviet collapse, Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991. On 31 December of that year, Belgium formally recognised the independence of the country, with Diplomatic Relations being established on 20 February 1992.

The event commemorating the achievements of the ADR and 25th anniversary of Belgian–Azerbaijani relations took place on 30 May amidst the art deco finery of the multidisciplinary arts centre BOZAR, located in central Brussels. Co-organised by the Azerbaijani Embassy to Belgium, Luxembourg and Mission to the EU and Azerbaijani Mission to NATO, the event was attended by around 300 diplomats, friends of Azerbaijan and members of the Azerbaijani diaspora.

H.E. Fuad Isgandarov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU, recalled: “99 years ago, on 28 May 1918, Azerbaijan declared its independence. This was the first democratic republic in the East. This was an amazing period, which saw Muslims, Jews, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians live together, and the country was home to Azerbaijanis, Russians, Armenians, Ukrainians and Tartars, amongst other nationalities. We are proud that our country was founded on such a basis of tolerance and respect.

“We restored our independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The immediate period that followed was very difficult for Azerbaijan, and we paid a serious price for our independence. The Kingdom of Belgium was amongst the first countries to recognise Azerbaijan. This decision – 25 years ago – was particularly significant, as Brussels is the capital of Europe, and demonstrated the attitude of Europe towards my country.

“We are now working together on the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor, due to the collaboration between the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and Belgian Fluxys. This economic connection has also formed the basis of our connection with European institutions, with which we work very closely. We are currently finalising a new partnership agreement with the EU.

“We chose to organise a concert tonight because music is the language that is most effectively understood by all people. I would like to particularly thank the Benelux office of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) for their support in making this event possible.”

Anick Van Kalster, Director-General for Bilateral Affairs, Belgian Foreign Affairs Ministry, replied: “Tonight’s celebration will be musical, as this is the perfect way for people to connect. It represents the perfect vector of openness, freedom, communication and creativity. The spirit that led to the construction of BOZAR was present in Baku at around the same time, and that period was encapsulated in the famous novel Ali and Nino by the enigmatic author Kurban Said. Azerbaijan was one of the first former Soviet Republics to establish diplomatic ties with Belgium.

“Our bilateral relations have developed greatly over the past 25 years, and there have been many visits of the highest level between our countries. Visits have included tours of the camps housing internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. There are very strong trade relations between our countries, and many Belgian companies are active in Baku. In February, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev exchanged dialogue with King Philippe of Belgium during a visit to Brussels.”

The music began with two seamlessly blended musical pieces, performed by Belgian-resident Azerbaijani pianist Nezrin Efendiyeva ­­– Chiron by Belgian composer Yolande Uyttenhove and Valse by her grandfather Fikret Amirov, who was one of the legends of Azerbaijani classical music.

The event culminated with a concert by the Bakustic Jazz group, led by pianist Salman Gambarov, which has been a mainstay of the Azerbaijani jazz scene for over 20 years. Classically-trained, Mr Gambarov combines influences from the national music of Azerbaijan – mugham – with elements of post-bop, fusion and modal jazz. Joined by Emil Hasanov on bass guitar and Vagif Aliyev on drums, he performed a rich and varied mix of Azerbaijani jazz, classical and folk themes, including Bahar (Spring) by Vagif Mustafazadeh, the father of Azerbaijani jazz-mugham; Zibeyda by Tofig Guliyev, who led one of the most significant jazz big bands in Azerbaijan; and the folksong Sari Gelin (Blonde Bride).

Drawing comparisons with American post-bop maestro pianist Bill Evans from some members of the jazz cognoscenti, this was an enthralling, evocative and revelatory evening for all.