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By Svante E. Cornell

Azerbaijan, a small post-Soviet republic situated at the western shore of the Caspian Sea, has oversized significance becaus of its strategic situation on the corssroads of Europe and Asia, its oil assets, and

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Russia was still regarded as a force that had brought European modernism to Azerbaijan, and independence—an existence totally separate from the Russian orbit—was seen as infeasible, much as it would seem to Ayaz Mutalibov during 1991– 92. This understanding led Azerbaijanis to seek other ways of reconstructing their relationship with Russia. An important characteristic of the Azerbaijani political movements was, with few exceptions, their moderation and progressive outlook. As Shaffer observes, ―In almost all movements they joined, the Azerbaijanis continued to be at the forefront of Muslims advocating the adoption of liberal values and enlightenment.

Native principalities developed, the most significant being the Shirvanshahs, who originally had their seat at Qabala but were dislocated by the Arab invasions and moved to Baku a few hundred miles to the southeast, then only a village. The Shirvanshahs developed a remarkable capability for survival, allying themselves most often with the victorious empires that projected their influence into Azerbaijan. 4 If native Caucasian, Iranian, and Turkic populations—among others— dominated Azerbaijan from the fourth century CE onward, the Turkic element would grow increasingly dominant in linguistic terms,5 while the 6 AZERBAIJAN SINCE INDEPENDENCE Persian element retained a strong cultural and religious influence.

Instead, two chief branches developed: the socialists and the Muslim liberals. The earliest political organization of note was the leftist Hümmät, created in 1904. Hümmät was formed in response to neglect of the Azerbaijanis by Russian leftist movements. It would become linked to the Russian Social Democratic Workers‘ Party, which would later produce the Bolsheviks, but stood out by being the only native socialist grouping allowed by Lenin to retain a status separate from the party. Hümmät was much more moderate than most leftist groupings in Russia at the time—indeed, it was not even operating on the basis of a Marxist class perspective, focusing mainly on the inequalities created by foreign rule rather than on class cleavages.

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