British researcher and writer Graeme Wilson is the author of many biographies and publications about world leaders and global companies.
Among the other books he is the author of biography of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (“Ilham. Portrait of a President”), as well as national leader Heydar Aliyev (“Heydar. The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Heydar Aliyev and Azerbaijan”).
Wilson is pretty much aware about the realities of the country: he regularly visits Azerbaijan for the past 10 years for his academic research work.
The author is presenting his new book which is called “ADR. A dream that never died” in Baku on Wednesday, May 30. The book describes the short history of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918 - 1920).
Ahead of the presentation Graeme Wilson is answering some questions by 1news.az:
Mister Wilson, how the idea of the book about ADR came to your mind?
Across a decade visiting Azerbaijan regularly, I have gained an affinity for the nation and its people, and an interest in the history of the country. So whenever I visit archives or repositories around the world, researching for different projects, while there, I make it a point to see if there is information on Azerbaijan.
Over time, I collected materials relating to the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and, the more I learned, this became a point of fascination to me.
Democratic heritage of ADR is praised high in Azerbaijan. Do you think the foreign audience is aware of those achievements? May your book help in promotion ADR values?
As late as 1918, the world was one of injustice and disregard for basic human rights. What the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic did was to enshrine in law an inherent acceptance of human rights and the highest principles of good governance. Especially in the prevailing circumstances, that should be viewed as one of the great achievements of modern history.
Look at the words of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic’s statesmen, the Declaration of Independence, and in other documents, they carry the same tone and tenor as the US Declaration of Independence and other historically-celebrated documents that are today considered milestones for humanity.
Despite that, I believe there is limited or almost no international knowledge or grasp of this important story. I find that incredible, as that all-too-brief flicker of freedom is not just important to the story of Azerbaijan, but can be viewed as a totem in the evolution of our world today.
There is now a vociferous appetite for information on Azerbaijan. As Azerbaijan’s ‘Nation Brand’ has risen, so has demand for materials on the country. Yet international literary markets are still playing catch up. My biographies of your leaders have contributed, of course, but there remains a dearth of information. On the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, there is almost nothing out there abroad, which is a major deficit because of the reasons that I stated. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic should be celebrated around the world as a ‘moment’ in our shared, common history.
Parts of your book are dedicated to the attitude of Armenians towards ADR. You write about the genocide of 1918, constant riots and killings of Azerbaijanis in Karabakh, as well as cooperation between Soviets and Dashnaks. Were you surprised to find out all those facts? What expression do you expect from international readers?
I hope you will pardon me if I speak frankly – and as someone who consider this his second country. In Azerbaijan, too much attention is paid to the ‘Baku bubble’. Newspaper articles, books and films, in Azerbaijani language, are tailored to fit an Azerbaijani narrative and Azerbaijani consumers. This is useless in the grand scheme of things. If we want to project these stories across the world information and knowledge must be more outward facing. We must spread this narrative better. Way beyond the ‘Baku bubble’.
In my previous works, I touched upon Karabakh, March Days and the other dark events during that period. Of the crimes orchestrated against your people. Yet with this project I was drawn further into this. It was shocking to me. And, I would say, a somewhat emotional experience at times. One cannot help but be moved by the scale of human suffering. I took particular note that scholars record that in almost every modern conflict, rape is seen as a legitimate spoil of war, and has become a recognized component of military strategy.
From Somalia to the Balkans, from Rwanda to Colombia, soldiers have been encouraged to become rapists. But, in fact, Armenian General Andranik Ozanian was using ‘sexual cleansing’ as a strategy in Nakhchivan and Karabakh a century ago. Today in Yerevan, his memorial recalls him as “General of the Armenians”. Yet they are celebrating an individual who considered rape an excellent tactic for control and repression, and the ultimate terror.
As I mentioned earlier, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic should rightly be viewed as one of the great achievements of modern history. Yet paradoxically this book also sheds new light on a traumatic moment, when mankind was also showing to what depths it could sink, the likes of the March Days, bloody Dashnaks massacres and Andranik Ozanian’s murderous brutality. My book projects these events in a measured and very readable way. My hope is that this can provide a counterweight to a very well constructed pro-Armenian narrative, that they promote so well. They are not the victims of this piece. They were very clever and well organised perpetrators.
You widely describe the role of British forces in the history of Azerbaijan early 20th century. How would you evaluate the mission of Dunsterville who tried to help Soviets and Dashnaks to defend Baku from liberation by Azerbaijani-Turkish forces? What do you think of Thomson who later became the governor of Baku and eventually acknowledged the power of ADR?
Britain’s involvement in Azerbaijan was, at best, calamitous. General Lionel Dunsterville strikes me a buffoon and his intrusion into this story, the defence of Baku, with capitalist Britain allying itself with the Soviet-Dashnak administration, cost thousands of lives in prolonging the nation’s struggle for independence. Dunsterville’s diaries make interesting reading as he repeatedly, and with great frustration, refers to the cowardice of the Dashnaks.
By contrast, I find the personal journey of Lieutenant General Sir William Thomson quite illuminating. He entered Baku at the head of an occupying force and was belligerent toward the government of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. However, as he grasped the prevailing circumstances, he became supportive. His relationship with the Azerbaijani government matured quickly to become benevolent and productive.
If one wished to assess British involvement, then Prime Minister David Lloyd George cannot be ignored. His attitude towards Azerbaijan, throughout the post-World War One, Paris Peace Conference, ranged from benign neglect to catastrophic failure. So many British soldiers had sacrificed their lives during the Great War, fighting for a higher cause.
Yet when the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic emerged, a nation which embodied all the principles that were the raison d’etre for the war, he and his fellow world leaders offered weak and very late recognition and, ultimately, threw Azerbaijan to the dogs.
How would you evaluate the achievements and significance of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic?
The achievements of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and its leaders were many. All came to a dramatic and challenging backdrop, which, I think, gives them even greater significance. Yet only 23 months stretched between the Declaration of Independence and that dark day when the Red Army crashed across the border. I believe that significance of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic is far more profound. The nation had declared a rational basis for its nationhood and forged a set of ideals.
Victor Hugo wrote: “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” I would venture that Hugo’s words can be applied to the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in two ways. First, Azerbaijan contributed to the world’s growing democratic political theory, application of the norms and values of what would become modern society. Secondly, the “idea whose time has come” refers to Azerbaijani nationhood. It was now a reality and would endure, oppressed, for decades until it could burst to life.
Do you see any parallels between ADR story and early 90s in Azerbaijan when we only got our independence back? Do you think that the reason for ADR’s failure was not only the influence from the outside, but also in inexperience of its political leaders and institutes?
With hindsight, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was always doomed. The ultimate loss of independence had nothing at all to do with the nation’s leaders, or its institutions. Quite simply, world powers considered Azerbaijan nothing more than a bargaining chip, its natural resources, its territory, something to be traded in a great geopolitical game.
Seven decades on, Azerbaijan again found itself free. I think we can see that the nation was, at times, perhaps weeks, days, hours even, from losing itself a second time. It is difficult to see past Heydar Aliyev as being the sole reason for disaster being averted. As time passes, I hope the younger generations in Azerbaijan have the opportunity to grasp the enormity of his achievement.
You just finished a book on ADR and its founding fathers. How would you evaluate them personally?
If circumstances had been different, in Azerbaijan we would be recalling Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh, Alimardan Topchubashov, Fatali Khan Khoyski, Nasib Yusifbeyli and their fellow leaders with the sort of reverence that is reserved for Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson and Washington in the United States. They achieved something special and, in many cases, for this they would go on to pay with their lives. Their stories are, in equal measure, inspiring and tragic.
For me, Topchubashov embodies so much of the story and I make note in the book that months after Azerbaijan had been unwillingly sucked into the Soviet Empire, he was still in Paris, fighting the good fight. He officially demanded recognition from the League of Nations. Azerbaijan was gone as an independent entity. It was hopeless.
Yet he continued on, almost belligerent in demanding the international community stand up for the principles that they claimed to hold so dear.
Could you tell the readers about the future selling and distribution of this book?
After launching the book in Baku this week, we have distribution agreements in most English-speaking markets. It will go on sale on Amazon and most major online retailers. Versions in Nook, Kindle and other eBook formats will follow, and we hope to have an Azerbaijani language edition ready by September.
You visit Baku annually for almost 10 years. How do you like it?
When I first started visiting your country, they used to say that Baku was the Dubai of the Caspian. A point is coming when we will legitimately say that Dubai is the Baku of the Gulf.
My work has taken me to more than 100 nations. There is an indefinable quality about Azerbaijani people, their heart, their spirit, crafted from your particular history, culture, geopolitical circumstances and geography. I have some wonderful friends here, friendships that I value and I know will last all my life.
You personally know President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, and you wrote so many books about various world leaders. What impressed you the most in our President? Are you going to update his biography?
Seven years on from producing the President’s biography, it seems like a lifetime as so much had happened since it was published. It needs to be radically updated and, just as importantly, I want to take the book in a new directions, making it globally accessible using eBooks and for smartphones, and to use QR codes to dynamically spin the story out in different directions. This has never been done with a book on a world leader.
As a figurehead for Azerbaijan, his biography should not be a mere testimonial, but through its message serve as an engine for global understanding, a tool for FDI, a conduit to business, attract tourism and help shape the message of Azerbaijan’s place at the vanguard of this 21st century world.
Across a quarter of a century, writing biographies, producing documentaries, serving as a speechwriter and representing various organisations, I have had the opportunity to observe many world leaders at close hand, from Nelson Mandela on one hand, to Saddam Hussain on the other.
Aside from a great sense of humour, what struck me about President Aliyev is his inquiring mind. Leaders can get trapped in a gilded cage, particularly in this era of security concerns. President Aliyev asks myriad questions and listens intensely to the answers. In this way, you can see he stays on top of his brief and in touch.