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The Republic Of Azerbaijan Question – OpEd


By Kian Mokhtari

Given the latest news of political arrests in the Republic of Azerbaijan, most would come to believe that a Eurovision song contest and a gay parade have kicked off massive public dissent among the general population there.

But many other factors to do with Azeri society and political structure have remained unresolved following its independence from the former Soviet Union.

The patriarchal nature of the society and politics in the Republic of Azerbaijan goes back to ancient times. And by implication, much of day to day running of the state’s affairs has remained mired in yesteryear structures of governance. While the preserved ancient traditions of Azeri society continue to amaze and delight Western tourists, Baku’s haphazard efforts to forge a modern identity have been fraught with dubious administrative practices that have left the Azeri society bleeding and gasping for air.

The headlong rush of the post Soviet republic for international recognition has unfortunately returned highly undesirable results for the Azeri folk. A thin layer of paint of Western cultural variety has been allowed to cover numerous ills. A kill or cure approach to allow a highly vibrant and creative society to proceed has been overstepped to bring about a let’s wait and see brand of domestic policies, littered with injustices that have given rise to strong undercurrents of popular discontent and displeasure.

Indeed had the old patriarchal discipline been missing from the equation, the Republic of Azerbaijan would have come tumbling far sooner than anyone could imagine.

Baku’s enormous oil wealth has all but been squandered so far with economic disparity visible across the tiny country. A small country with a small population with massive oil and gas income is generally considered a recipe for wealth and social prosperity. But the image of affluence witnessed in Baku’s carefully manicured and preserved uptown areas could not be further from the truth.

Economic mismanagement and political intolerance have touched and blighted the Azeri society on a massive scale. Intellectuals dare to speak out on economic issues let alone other aspects of the state failure for fear of arrest and detention without charge for unspecified periods.

The dominance of the British Petroleum as a main foreign oil company in Azerbaijan could only spell further disaster: The sham constitutional referendum in 2009 followed, after which term limits for the presidency were abolished and freedom of the press was restricted. London brought all of its power to bear on the republic and dissent was quickly obliterated by a West keen on preservation of its energy interests.

The 2010 parliamentary elections produced a Parliament completely loyal to Elham Aliyev: for the first time in Azerbaijani history, not a single candidate from the main opposition parties was elected. But repeated protests persisted against Aliyev’s rule in 2011, calling for democratic reforms and the ouster of the government.

Aliyev responded by ordering a security crackdown, using force to crush attempts at revolt in Baku, and refusing to make concessions. Well over 400 Azerbaijanis have been arrested since the latest round of protests began in March 2011.

Despite Baku’s complete subservience to Western and in particular the British interests, the Economist still put the knife in and scored Azerbaijan as an authoritarian regime in its 2010 Democracy index. This has been generally viewed as a British shot across the bow for President Elham Aliyev, so he continues to support the rape of his country’s resources by Britain and the West.

The end result is extreme levels of corruption and nepotism in the state system where Aliyev’s rule has prevented Azerbaijan from sustained development, especially in the non-oil sector. The Republic of Azerbaijan’s future prospects are dim under the present circumstances. However, Elham Aliyev’s continuing rule is not in any way, shape or form a foregone conclusion.

Kian Mokhtari is a former editor for the Jane’s Information Group in the UK, Nader (Kian) Mokhtari is a foreign policy specialist, columnist and political commentator with 15 years of experience in the field. He’s also worked as a lecturer at the Tehran School of Media Studies.

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