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December 13, 2011 |  11 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

History Repeats Itself with Azerbaijan's "Shah"

Shahla Sultanova: Like Iran in the 1970s, Azerbaijan’s oil wealth is being funneled into an increasingly ostentatious and autocratic regime that uses its energy reserves to curry favor with the West. Without changes soon, Azerbaijan will also follow Iran into collapse, revolution, and opposition to the West.

Azerbaijan and Iran share borders, culture and literature, but they also share a history of oil policy and its consequences. Like Iran, Azerbaijan’s economy is primarily based on Caspian oil, and Azerbaijan is experiencing the same political, economic and social consequences of autocracy that caused revolution in Iran in 1979, which should alert the Western world.

The oil boom of Iran in 1970s, similar to Azerbaijan, produced huge gaps between social classes, the capital and regions, and the rich and poor. The families of both the Shah in Iran and President Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan became the main beneficiaries of the oil income. The Shah spent billions of dollars on construction of extremely expensive and pompous palaces, festivals, and ultra-sophisticated weapons while the country still had many starving citizens. Similarly, Aliyev’s regime spends oil money on grandiose construction projects like hotels, sport centers, and new airports which are too expensive for most people and an extravagant national holiday celebrating Aliyev’s birthday called “Flower Day,” where each year since 2000, the government spends 13-15 million dollars to buy flowers from Denmark, Finland and France.

In pre-revolutionary Iran, 96 percent of the villagers were left without electricity and like in pre-revolutionary Iran, villages in Azerbaijan still experience electricity problems; there is no constant electricity supply outside of cities and electricity is provided hourly. In both regimes, thousands of poor and unskilled male migrants moved to big cities for work, the foundation of mass protest and revolution. With the resentment brewing from all the extravagance seen by starving people, Azerbaijan, like Iran in the 1970s, only grows more unstable.

Although the West’s relationship with Azerbaijan began by prioritizing democracy and freedom, soon energy and security strategy issues became most prioritized. The regime, backed for its energy resources and strategic location has been able to ignore the democracy issues and turn to a hybrid system into an authoritarian one. Western countries do not sufficiently uphold human freedoms here; people here believe that Western powers keep silent and maintain good relationship with Ilham Aliyev to guard their business and oil interests in the country and thus, support the autocratic decisions of the government.

Iran also had a good relationship with the West, and even the CIA did not predict the sudden shift as it did not see the collective effects of increasing autocracy and human rights violations. In Iran, the revolution created a strong anti-West regime and the same will happen in Azerbaijan if steps are not taken.

Western countries must focus on how oil revenues make government more autocratic and must not compromise their interest of democracy to the interest of energy. Azerbaijan should be urged to undertake necessary transparent social and economic reforms and be supported in building strong internal structures that are not vulnerable to the interests of outside forces. The Azerbaijani government must be forced to be transparent and make oil accounts accessible to the public for scrutiny to prevent the revenues being transformed into bank accounts. The West, especially the United States, should treat Azerbaijan like authoritarian regimes in Belarus and other Middle East countries until they see real reforms.

Even Western actors interested in business, energy, and strategy must keep in mind that with increasing autocracy there is no stability. The stability which seems to exist in the country today is based on suppression of voices of media and political rivals; it is not the secure structure of a function democracy. Such a democracy will be hard to establish without foreign powers putting pressure on the government.

Shahla Sultanova is a freelance journalist from Azerbaijan working with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

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Tags: | Shah | Iran | autocracy | oil | oil dependency | Azerbaijan |
 
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Regina  Bakhteeva

December 12, 2011

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History repeats itself but not exactly and although some parallels might be drawn between Shah’s Iran and Aliyev’s Azerbaijan, there is no predetermination here that Azerbaijan will necessarily fall into Iran’s steps. The context is different. While the prospect of Iran-style revolution in Azerbaijan is rather hypothetical, the risks that the West might run if it is to exercise more pressure on Aliyev are quite real. What the West might end up with is alienating Aliyev and bringing him closer to Russia. In this case the EU should forget about Nabucco project. It would be a mistake to think that once the West changes its policy to Azerbaijan by putting more emphasis on democracy and human rights, Azerbaijan will not be able to ignore these issues and thus the autocratic trend will be reversed. It takes more than external pressure to see the country embrace democratic values.
 
Unregistered User

December 12, 2011

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Ms. Sultanova,

Democracy has many different faces, from a one party rule to theocratic dimensions and many others, to the point where sovereignty is becoming defenseless.
Over the last several decades unseen polarization of capital through deregulation and classic liberalism enabled Casino Capitalism across and without borders, which resulted in severe inequalities in human capital.
This is an avenue without a moral base and were survival is depending on equities by size.
So, with Azerbaijan alone playing in this field of Casino Capitalism is probably a short lived
stay on the " sunny side of the road".--- after being exploited then what........
Saudi Arabia, for example, is very visionary in this matter, as they are building the world's biggest oil derivative company on its coast, but again it is a question of size and location of supply.
One should not forget that Casino Capitalism is a systemic actuality, especially whit a currency system, which awards before it achieves.

HRF




Tags: | Sultanova/ tx |
 
Unregistered User

December 14, 2011

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I really hate when journalists pretend they know something about politics and make political analysis based on their ideologies. I would suggest the writer go write about facts rather than writing absurd articles like this one.
 
Unregistered User

December 15, 2011

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Shahla Sultanova:

The parallels are quite interesting and I assme that they are real.

To that must be added the campaigns against Shia Islam as well as ethno-linguistic minorities (Taleshis, for example).

For very many of us in Iran, the Azerbaijan Republic is a state with anti-Iran posture; an enemy of Iran; just look at the appelation "Turan" - derived from Shahnameh.

It did not have to be that way and if a new political dispensation in Ba(d)Ku(beh) could change that hostility we would welcome it in Iran.

As is, we feel more comfortable in and with Christian Armenia than with Azerbaijan Republic.
 
Unregistered User

January 5, 2012

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The existence of a number of similar conditions in both countries does not necessarily mean that history will repeat itself in the same manner in Azerbaijan. First and foremost, there are at least as many distinguishing characteristics of these states and their respective governments as similarities suggested by you. There are substantial differences between the outlook, attitudes and mentality of the Azerbaijanis of the present day and the Iranians of 70s. At the very least, the population of Azerbaijan are primarily secular and relatively supportive of the current gov't which is also areligious (in case of Iran there was generally religious populace versus secular regime). As well as political circumstances in Azerbaijan are not as severe as they used to be in Iran's previous regime. It is clear that the government of Azerbaijan is not democratic enough and there is an obvious need for reforms. However, unlike the Shah regime of 70s, the current gov't of Azerbaijan does not condemn its political opponents to death. Neither does it attempt to uproot dissent in the country in a fashion done by Shah.

Secondly, while a fair distribution of oil revenues is absolutely vital for stable development of Azerbaijan, in itself, the present mismanagement of oil revenues should not be looked to as a harbinger of revolution. This is only one piece of the big picture. There are other factors, such as general economic situation, geopolitical factors as well as the conflict with Armenia. The broader economic environment is relatively stable. Meantime, almost uninterrupted attempts by Russia and Iran to meddle in Azerbaijan's internal affairs make Azerbaijanis even more skeptical about any violent means of changing gov't that could result in instability and give rise to a number of threats to national sovereignty (including sovereignty over Nagorno Karabakh).
So this single variable is not sufficient to predict the course of events in Azerbaijan in an accurate manner.

Finally, I find the tone of this article rather radical and counter-productive in terms of both its assessments and recommendations. Democracy is prerequisite for the national welfare and stable advancement of Azerbaijan, however, are the means proposed by you seriously helpful in achieving that goal? Alas, they are not. In particular, I disagree with you in that the West could do more in urging the Azerbaijani gov't to reform itself by treating it as Belarus, etc. Frankly speaking, I find that statement particularly ludicrous on behalf of someone who wishes Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis well.

 
Unregistered User

January 9, 2012

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Elvin Yusifli:

Your statement "Democracy is prerequisite for the national welfare and stable advancement of Azerbaijan.." is not supported by empricial evidence.

The British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, during its 99 years of existence, did not have democracy yet it prospered.

The People's Republic of China since 1982 and South Korea (an American dictatorship until 1990) also economically prospered without Democracy.

I suggest that perhaps, just like the Pahlavi Regime in Iran before 1979, the government of Azerbaijan Republic awards the oil wealth based on criteria that neglect very many people in that country.

In regards to national security threats: there is no security threat from iran; Iran has not launched a war since 1823 and has no territorial claims on Azerbaijan Republic.

Armenia, with a population less than half of Azerbaijan and with no oil wealth is not a threat to Azerbaijan either.

I think it will be a good idea for you and others in this forum to trying to empirically discuss what a "secular" Muslim is. That is, what types of patterns of behavior or thought characterizes such a Muslim person.

For your assertion that most Azeris are secular may or may not be true.

I would like to know, for example, what is the participation rate of Azeris in Ashura outside of Baku?
 
Shahla   Sultanova

January 10, 2012

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Mr. Omid,
I do not have information on Ashura participation outside Baku. But the link below shows Ashura participation in a village close to Baku.

http://www.rferl.org/media/soundslide/24414770.html
 
Unregistered User

January 14, 2012

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Miss Sultanova:

Today, from Kerbla:

http://www.fardanews.com/fa/news/182767/تصاو...

Secularism is a chimera - in my opinion.
 
Paolo  Sorbello

January 16, 2012

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Ms Sultanova proposes some bright comparisons. And, no matter what blind critics may say, it is true that the West is pursuing strategies of protecting the business of its companies in Azerbaijan more than standing firmly under the good-governance and democracy banner. It is true that democracy is not the only sistem for a state to provide high statistical proof of development. However, numbers often collide with reality: while BP’s offices in Baku are constantly lit, households outside the capital struggle to have access to electricity. I think history proves wrong the sustainability and the fairness of authoritarian regimes. And I am not sure whether the shortsighted Western policies that we have witnessed so far are conducive for a real change in the administration of energy wealth in Azerbaijan.
 
Unregistered User

January 20, 2012

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Paolo Sorbello:

There are only 23 or 25 states in the world which have both the Rule of Law and Representative Government.

These states are all Western (non-Orthodox) Christian states - mostly Western Europe and North America.

Empirically, one has to take this observation to mean that the creation of stable political dispensations outside of Western Europe and North America is non-normative.

That is, there is no evidence that could suggest the eventual evolution of q non-Christian state to a something that approximates what obtains in Denmark or in the United States.

The closest state that I can think of is Japan - which has a restriced representative system.

And the closest among Mulsim states are Iran and the Turkish Republic.
 
Unregistered User

May 25, 2012

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All:

In confirmation of Ms. Sultanova's comparisons between the Iran under the Monarchy in 1970s and contemproary Azerbaijan:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/05/24/power_ballad_eurov...

This very much reminds me of such "cultural" extravaganza in Iran which was despised by very many religious people in Iran at that time - such as the annual Shiraz Art Festival.

The intent behind was the same - "We are Modern and close to Europe."

Nothing could be further from the Truth; then and now.
 

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