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  Which road will Azerbaijan take?

Viktor Denisenko
2009 06 22

It is not easy define political direction - toward the East or toward the West - pursued by Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan was not among the soviet republics which could be referred to as active searchers for independence. The country decided to withdraw from the USSR on 30 August 1991, straight after the failure of the Moscow putsch. A.Mutalibov, the last communist leader of the republic, was elected the first president of the independent Azerbaijan. Then the opposition created an alternative structure of power, the National Council.

The conflict in the Nagorno Karabakh had huge impact on the then political climate in Azerbaijan. Military failures of the conflict prevented A.Mutalibov from a long stay in power: in March 1992 he was forced to resign. A.Elchibey, the leader of the Azerbaijan Popular Front and a former dissident came to power. He was against Azerbaijan‘s membership in the CIS and sought closer relationship with Turkey. However, in June 1993 the riot was organized against A. Elchibey, but officially he resigned after the referendum in August.

Heidar Aliyev returned back to the political stage.  He was elected president of Azerbaijan in October 1993 and was re-elected for the second term in 1998. In 1994 and 1995 there were takeover  attempts, but H.Aliyev had a tight grip on power in Azerbaijan. In 2003 Ilham Aliyev, the son of H.Aliyev, became the new president of Azerbaijan. In 2008 I.Aliyev was re-elected for the second term.

The father and son Aliyevs symbolize Azerbaijan’s stability after a period of hard economic recession and military failures in the Nagorno Karabakh.

Regarding Azerbaijan’s relations with Moscow, we must not forget the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.  Armenia’s victory was supported by Russia. So far Moscow is the closest Armenia‘s partner and ally. Although Azerbaijan maintains good relationship with Russia, these relations are quite fragile.

But hardly Azerbaijan‘s policy could be referred to as the pro-Russian. Baku takes part in the GUAM organization, which is negatively evaluated in Moscow.Russia was not happy with the implemented Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan oil pipeline project. Azerbaijan has huge oil and gas resources,  can be calm concerning its energy security and in this respect it is independent from Russia.

However, Azerbaijan cannot be considered as a country directed toward the West. Its closest ally Turkey is in the periphery of Europe. Although political priorities declared by Azerbaijan seem driven westward (development of democracy, integration and co-operation policy together with NATO, EU and the European Council), in principle the country has chosen an authoritarian power model, and this is not in compliance with the principle of the Western development road.

One of the major Azerbaijan‘s problems is human rights. According to the report in „Freedom House“, Azerbaijanis attributed to the group of non-free countries where human rights and freedoms are violated on a constant basis. According to L.Younus, a defender of human rights in Azerbaijan (the data of 2007), law enforcement institutions are practicing tortures, the country does not have an independent court, freedom of speech and meetings is restricted and election results are constantly falsified. Unfortunately, today the situation hasn’t changed.

During the constitutional referendum in Azerbaijan in March of this year, people voted for several amendments to Constitution, among which – revocation of validity of para.5 of Article 101, which would remove the two-term limit on the president. In principle this would allow incumbent president I.Aliyev to stay in power for good (with the perspective to hand over this post to his successor).

Processes taking place in Azerbaijan are characteristic of many Eastern world countries, especially of the post-soviet space. Actually, Azerbaijan‘s road is characteristic of the post-soviet Central Asian republics. However, with the above „traditions“ Azerbaijan could hardly expect to move towards the West or become part of this world.

Azerbaijan's tactics could be referred to as an „orientally wise“ balance between Russia and the West, and its oil & gas resources are a serious trump preventing Azerbaijan from occurring in the periphery of international events. When solving energy problems the Western world is apt to close its eyes to violations of human rights, and this is very handy for Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan would hardly be reprimanded by Russia for authoritarianism, since Russia itself has taken the same road.  In the market of energy resources these two countries are competitors rather than partners. Besides, Russia decided on its closest ally in Transcaucasia long time ago,  and it is not Azerbaijan.

Thus, Baku has taken its own road forward, the oriental road.

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