For comparison, the same society can offer different answers to the “who are we?” question. In this case, one can argue that among humans, only philosophers can have accurate, infallible knowledge, or knowledge that makes thinking otherwise impossible. So, the answer to the “who am I?”/”who are we?” question will be more JTB than knowledge. This belief is rooted in history rather than philosophy. That is, to justify the “who are we?” question one will need to turn to history. For example, many studies on nationalism start with wondering why people find it acceptable to die for their country. The answer can be sought in a person’s belief and contentment. In pre-modern times—especially in the Middle Ages—man could not be the subject of the question “Who am I?”. This is why man was faced with the “who am I?”/”who are we?” question in modern times.
The main characteristic of the modern era is that man comes to the fore. To clarify the essence of the matter, we can begin with Descartes, who is regarded as the founder of modern philosophy. Unlike Augustine, who influenced him, Descartes created an anthropocentric philosophy that said that a truth-seeker must first doubt everything in life. After Descartes, modern European/Western thought continued the anthropocentric knowledge philosophy through such philosophers as John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which made exceptional contributions to the formation of the modern “political framework”, moved from this principle to the anthropocentric concept/policy. As a result, modern nation states were formed, which legally based their sovereignty on man/nation. The modern “who are we?” question should not be considered in isolation from the main characteristic of modern man, that is, his ability to know/believe.
The main ideology shaping the modern “political framework” and still maintaining its influence today is nationalism. “Who are we?” is also a nationalist question. That is, the answer to it determines the foundation of the nationalism of one’s country, one’s nation. In the context of Azerbaijan, the issue remains controversial. The “who are we?” question has traditionally been and continues to be answered by historians. Because it is difficult to give an answer to nationalism or to the “who are we?” question without the support of history, and judging history results in JTB. At the same time, an article focusing on the “who are we?” question should be based on a philosophical inquiry.
First of all, it is possible to understand why the modern man feels the need to determine who he is, by continuing the above line of reasoning. Modern man felt the need to know himself, to shape his identity as a result of the freedom he gained against the medieval notion of governance. So, the modern notion of national identity has filled the gap left by the rejection of the notion of identity in the pre-modern era. The role of modern economic relations (capitalism) is undeniable here. Thus, modern states were formed as nation states.
Azerbaijan’s modern narrative/experience was shaped as a result of the indirect and direct influences of St. Petersburg (Tsarist Russia) and Istanbul (Ottoman Empire) (see Fig. 1). Azerbaijan was part of the Safavid state in the Middle Ages. Despite the fact that the Safavid state was a state founded by Turkic tribes in the geography of Iran and Azerbaijan, it could not escape the influence of Persian culture and language. More precisely, before the institutionalization of the state could be ensured, the Persianization of the state took place, followed by the process/disintegration that continued until the Tsarist/Russian occupation.
Historians usually prefer to write Azerbaijan’s modern narrative that includes the Safavids. However, institutionally, the influence of the Safavid state on the Azerbaijani national movement formed under Tsarist Russia in the 19th century is debatable, because the Safavid state had passed from the Turkic/Turkmen groups under the Persian control. As a result, the Safavid state institutionally had a greater influence on Iran’s modernization. For example, the cities that were the centers of the Safavid state are now within the borders of Iran. In this case, in the context of Azerbaijan, the “who are we?” question was answered from the outset without regard to the state—because there was none.
Among Azerbaijanis, the primary/modern written source related to the “who are we?” question begins with the text in the form of Socratic dialogue published in the pages of Keshkul newspaper.
“What’s your nationality?”
“I am a Muslim and a Turk.”
“Are you Ottoman?”
“No, I am bijanli (Azerbaijani).”
“Where is the country of Azerbaijanis?”
“As far as I know, on the other side of the Araz live the Azeris, on this side the bijanli, and together it makes Azerbaijani. Separately we are bijanli.”
At the same time, being bijanli/Azerbaijani has been emphasized among the intellectuals from the very beginning. The reason of the delay in answering the “who are we?” question could lie in the fact that the first republic (1918-1920) was an “incomplete nation-state” (see Fig. 2), in the 70 years of Soviet slavery, in the ideological confusion at the beginning of the second republic, etc. Thus, the “who are we?” question in Azerbaijan remains ambiguous: it is about Turkness and Azerbaijaniness. With the first independent constitution in the Azerbaijan political history (1995), this confusion was eliminated legally/politically. However, intellectual and ideological debates continued and continue to this day.
First of all, let us look at who a Turk is. Is there no difference, as most historians claim, between the notion of a Turk of the First Turkic Khaganate period and the notion of Turkness, which began shaping in the late 19th century and was politically and legally embodied in one state in 1923? Of course, there is. “Truth” and “reality” are accepted as concepts of knowledge philosophy. Thus, while gold is a reality, yellow gold is truth. In terms of history, Turkness is as much a reality going back to the First Turkic Khaganate or more ancient times. However, truth is that the emergence of the Turks as a nation is a modern phenomenon.
The concept of modern Turkness has sprung in the romantic context in the poems and writings of Turkic/Muslim intellectuals of Tsarist Russia. However, institutionally, it emerged in the Ottoman Empire (Istanbul). According to Yusif Akçura, Turkness emerged as one of the modern ideologies sought to save the Ottoman state. In a manner of speaking, Turkness emerged in Anatolia as an ideology that ensured and established the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic and the building of a newly created state. So, the institutional owner of Turkness is the Republic of Turkey, because only in the Constitution of the Turkish state the definition of the nation is given as “Turk”. That is, Turkness is true only for the Turks living in Anatolia. Ultimately, Turkness, in reality, binds all Turkic peoples. But in truth, it is a phenomenon related to Turkey.
The second part of the question is simply about Azerbaijaniness. I would say that the concept of Azerbaijaniness emerged politically with the republic and was finalized legally by the first constitution (1995). So to speak, “Siyavush of our century” was “Azerbaijani”.
In this case, the question arises: why won’t the discussion of Turkness stop? Because there is still no correct definition of Turkness and Azerbaijaniness. Continuing the above epistemological line, it is possible to say that Turkness is a reality for Azerbaijanis. That is why the people and the state of Azerbaijan identify themselves as Turkic. But Azerbaijaniness is the truth. If reality is unchangeable, truth can change as much as the color of gold.
So, Turkness is a reality for “Siyavush of our century” and is considered a key element of national identity (as reflected in the flag). Siyavush’s public/political/national identity was formed on the basis of Azerbaijaniness (truth). In the final analysis, the triumph in the Second Karabakh War (2020) was completed by creating a national narrative—like in the Turkish War of Independence—for Siyavush’s politically (1918) and legally (1995) shaped Azerbaijaniness.
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