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Honourable senators, I rise today to recognize the ninety-seventh anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It was on May 28, 1918, that the Republic of Azerbaijan became the first democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world.

Among some of its most significant accomplishments is the fact that it was the first Muslim nation to grant suffrage to women in 1919, giving women equal political rights to men. We should note that it was the same year that Canadian women received the right to vote and it was years ahead of Britain and the United States of America. Azerbaijan's first democratically elected government showed dedication to a robust and independent state, while also upholding the values of liberty, justice and equality.

Sadly, Azerbaijan's independence did not last long. Only two years after achieving independence, the Soviet Red Army overtook the capital city of Baku and the Republic of Azerbaijan was no longer free and democratic. The Soviet Union maintained its influence over Azerbaijan for 71 years, until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On October 18, 1991, the Independent Republic of Azerbaijan was restored by a declaration within its National Assembly. The long history of Azerbaijan's independence allowed it once again to support a strong and thriving democratic state. Today, Azerbaijan is one of the fastest growing economies in the region. It is a secular country that guarantees religious freedom for all of its citizens. Hence, in a country with a predominantly Muslim population, Jewish and Christian communities are able to practice their faith freely. Azerbaijan is to be commended for embracing religious freedom and coexistence. Additionally, despite the decades of Soviet rule, Azerbaijan was able to maintain much of its rich culture of literature, folk art and dance.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to visit Azerbaijan as part of a parliamentary delegation. I saw first-hand the rich cultural heritage and historic sites of Azerbaijan, embedded within a bustling modern capital, Baku. From the prominent female legislators we met, to our female interpreter and protocol officer, to the mothers and teens throughout Azerbaijan, I also saw bold and beautiful women who exuded strength and a genuine joie de vivre, evidence of their true independence. These Azari women and men were such gracious hosts and our trip was most memorable.

While in Baku, we also noted that two of the most prominent buildings, one nearing completion atop a hill in the shape of flames, were, in fact, Canadian-owned, five-star hotels. We learned that Canadian businesses, though modest in number, are doing well. There is certainly room for future development in various sectors of business and trade.

Honourable senators, please join me in acknowledging the Azari population living in Canada for their contributions to Canada's cultural mosaic, the important role of the Azerbaijani mission in Ottawa and the current leadership of Ramil Huseynli, Chargé d'Affaires from the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Canada, and in marking the ninety-seventh anniversary of the independence of Azerbaijan, which is today. I wish the Republic of Azerbaijan a very bright future.

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