Elections and stability in Azerbaijan

by Nathan Hamm on 8/23/2003

Elections and stability in Azerbaijan

Richard Giragosian says that the real test for Ilham Aliyev’s success as Azerbaijan’s president is whether or not the military steps into a larger role in politics.

But the most significant element of a threat from the
military is its officer corps. Despite the occasional hard-line
rhetoric, the Azerbaijani armed forces have been seriously under-funded
and under-equipped for nearly a decade. Resentment over the military’s
cumulative decline and its neglect by the political leaders has been
brewing for some time. Although there is a related dissatisfaction
within the lower ranks, as conscripts face the poor living conditions,
insufficient arms and supplies, and unreliable pay that are the
hallmarks of most post-Soviet armies, it is the officer corps that
holds the power to act.
There are two possible scenarios that could result in direct
intervention by the military. In the first scenario, if Prime Minister
Aliev is unable or unwilling to act as ruthlessly as his father has,
individuals within the political elite might challenge Aliev for a
greater share of political power and the financial benefits it bestows,
thereby tempting the military to act to protect him. The second
scenario involves the traditional political use of militant rhetoric
and appeals to ultranationalism that successive Azerbaijani leaders
have used to legitimize their power. Prime Minister Aliev has already
signaled that he does not exclude a new war to bring Nagorno-Karabakh
back under Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction. Such statements are likely music
to the ears of the military, and the top brass might prove only too
happy to launch a new offensive, which regardless of its outcome would
send shock waves across the entire South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan’s opposition is upset at apparent US blessing of Ilham Aliyev.
I think they’re freaking out a bit about this, congratulating him on
becoming Prime Minister isn’t that big of a deal now is it? It’s also
fairly standard for our leaders to talk to foreign leaders, even if an
election is coming up. And in all fairness, the State Department has
criticized the government’s heavy-handed tactics in the elections
coming up (no link available).

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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