Azerbaijan: Turning Over a New Leaf?

Azerbaijan: Turning Over a New Leaf?

Reuters AlertNet, UK
May 14 2004

International Crisis Group (ICG) – Belgium

Baku/Brussels, 13 May 2004: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev needs
to embrace the democratic process and dismantle autocratic rule.
Failure to do so would lead to instability that could spill into the
rest of the region and tempt strong neighbours to fill a power

The International Crisis Group’s latest report, Azerbaijan: Turning
Over a New Leaf?*, considers the challenges now facing Azerbaijan and
its young and largely untested leader. Strategic interests primarily
related to oil reserves muted international expressions of concern
about last October’s fraud-filled election, which saw Ilham take over
from his dying, autocratic father, Heydar. However, if the regime and
the international community maintain a disregard for democracy in
Azerbaijan, it will likely exacerbate the long-term problems the
country faces.

“President Aliyev is in an awkward position”, says Nicholas Whyte
Director of ICG’s Europe Program. “He has to fulfil Western
expectations on reforms and democratisation and at the same time
satisfy the interests of the ruling elite. Plus, he needs to show
that he, not his father’s advisers, controls the government”.

Azerbaijan’s government is a carefully designed autocratic system,
which the father and former Soviet-era politburo member began to
construct in the late 1960s, with heavy reliance on family and clan
members, oil revenues and patronage. The deep scars the country has
from its defeat by Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh ten years ago
continue to impact political life.

Clearly, democratic change is not going to be simple or quick, but by
indicating his desire to move to a more open and democratic system,
Ilham Aliyev does give some reason for hope. His best chance is to
nurture a new generation of technocratic professionals while steadily
dismantling the corrupt patronage network that strangles the
political system and keeps the economy overly dependent on a single

The young president has begun by prudently appointing young deputy
ministers and other officials to implement reforms aimed at opening
and developing the economy. Under international pressure, he has
freed several hundred political prisoners. Another welcome step would
be a credible investigation of the violence surrounding the 2003

Deeper change, however, is going to mean more difficult choices for
Aliyev, who can only find the new allies he needs against the most
conservative circles by giving space to a genuine opposition and
truly independent media.

“Cracking down on the opposition and harshly repressing religious
groups would likely boomerang on Aliyev”, says Damien Helly, Caucasus
Regional Director for ICG. “Combined with general social and economic
discontent, such actions would only fuel a more radical political and
religious opposition and unrest in the northern regions”.


Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 485 555 946

Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601

*Read the report in full on our website: