Is the “Azeri spring” starting?

Is the “Azeri spring” starting?
2013 January 25 ( Friday )  13:59:50
Русский Azərbaycan

As the riots in Azerbaijan’s northwestern Ismayilli district entered their second day after the clashes resumed between security forces and residents, TURAN’s Washington DC correspondent asked the opinions of top US analysts on the developments.

“This [the Ismailli rallies], along with the events in Guba last years, provides more evidence that central government is not really in control of the regions of Azerbaijan, that there is a lot of disillusionment with corruption and arbitrary authority which is occasionally bursting to the surface”, said Thomas de Waal, a Caucasus specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in an interview with TURAN.

In the meantime, he added, “there is so little information that these events are a mystery to me, like many others…”

“The Caucasus, including Azerbaijan, is not immune to the push for greater freedom and transparency in the Middle East and North Africa”, said James Dorsey, a veteran journalist and observer that had covered ethnic and religious conflict in the Middle East and Africa.

In fact, he added, “that realization is one reason why Russia is so adamant on Syria given its concern that revolts could inspire people in its own republics”. 

“Azerbaijan has all the same characteristics that sparked the revolts in Egypt and other countries. Having said that, it is always something local that makes the bucket overflow”, he told TURAN.

There are two things that are largely responsible for motivating protests against government officials in Azerbaijan: “Opposition to corruption within the system and legitimate economic grievances,” according to another analyst Michael B. Bishku, Professor at Georgia Regents University. 

“In a country dependent upon oil and gas revenues, there are still many people who feel the strains of economically making ends meet and are appalled by the attitudes of government officials who ignore their plight and/or take advantage of the system”, he told TURAN.

For Bishku, thre are the options in successful opposition movements against autocratic regimes: 1) bringing change through peaceful means by motivating the masses and by convincing political rulers of the futility of resistance or 2) developing an armed resistance movement that can defeat the ruling regime militarily.  

“Political circumstances usually dictate the more successful perceived course.  Let us hope that positive change can be brought about by the first course”, he emphasized.

The Azerbaijani government, he said, “will not be defeated in elections as long as they have the means to manipulate them”.  “Sustained rather than sporadic opposition and defections from government and the security forces are needed to have any hope of governmental change”.

Comparing the Ismailli events with Arab rallies, Prof. Bishku mentioned that the successful uprisings that took place in the Arab world had great impacts in capital cities as well as other important urban areas and were continuous rather than sporadic.  

Also, security forces either decided to stand aside or defect to the opposition along with dissatisfied government officials.  Sustained and effective activities in Baku and throughout the country among many segments of society will most probably indicate a true “spring” in Azerbaijan.
The West, in his opinion, “should encourage democratization through diplomatic means, but whether they are willing to do anything that might jeopardize their economic interests in Azerbaijan is something else”. --25В-

Alakbar Raufoglu
Washington, DC


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