Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Baku Worries Tehran Using Iranian Azerbaijanis to Try to Overthrow Aliyev Regime


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – Since the outburst of violence in Ganca at the beginning of July, Azerbaijani officials and commentators have suggested that foreign forces rather than domestic problems were behind the attacks that killed two senior police officials in the country’s second largest city.

                Some of the foreigners named are improbable – despite Armenia’s long-running war with Azerbaijan, Yerevan almost certainly can’t organize demonstrations in Azerbaijani cities and Azerbaijan is hardly the hotbed of religious radicalism that some suggest – indeed, in Ganca, only four percent of the residents routinely attend mosque.

            But one suggestion is worth attending to not because it is beyond dispute but rather because the very possibility that it may be true undermines the assumptions of some in Baku and the West about Azerbaijani identity in the Republic of Azerbaijan, on the one hand, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the other.

            All too many people in Western capitals have expressed the conviction that they could mobilize what some in Baku call “Southern Azerbaijan,” the areas of Iran in which perhaps as many as four times as many ethnic Azerbaijanis live than do in the Republic, against the ayatollah regime in Tehran, playing ethnicity against religion.

            That has always been a problematic notion. Despite linguistic and cultural discrimination, many ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran are sufficiently Persianized to rise to the highest levels of the Iranian state. In fact, the current supreme ayatollah comes from an Azerbaijani background and speaks Azerbaijani like a native.

            Moreover, most Azerbaijanis in Iran are vastly more religious and even more Shiite than their co-ethnics north of the Arax; and it may even be the case that their religion is a more important source of identity than is their ethnicity and language.  To the extent that is the case, they would likely line up with Tehran against anyone they viewed as a threat to their Shiite faith.

            Within Azerbaijani charges that Iran was behind the Ganca violence is a view which undermines the assumptions of those who would like to put the Southern Azerbaijanis in play against Tehran.  According to an article in today’s NG-Religii, it may be that Iran is using them against Baku (ng.ru/ng_religii/2018-07-18/11_446_zagovor.html).

                The paper’s religious affairs specialist, Artur Priymak, writes that “Azerbaijanis in Iran have begun to think about overthrowing Ilham Aliyev” in the Republic of Azerbaijan largely because of their religious convictions and Tehran’s willingness to tolerate their recruitment efforts for Shiite militias in the Middle East and support for their activities as religious zealots.

            He provides details on this going back more than a decade; but the most important conclusion that arises from his article, at least for Western governments who might like to produce regime in Iran is simply this: the Azerbaijanis of Iran may not be the allies you would like, and any effort to use them as such could backfire on your friends.

Russian Soldiers Sow Panic in Panik and Concerns Far Beyond that Armenian Village


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – As part of an exercise that was not announced in advance, soldiers of the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia today came into Panik, a village adjoining the base, fired blanks and terrified local residents. The commander has apologized and promised an investigation, but that is hardly likely to be the end of the matter.

            At a time when Moscow is increasingly uneasy about the efforts of the new government of Nikol Pashinyan to move closer to the West, this is not the kind of event that is in any way reassuring about how Russia and Russians will behave. Instead, it is likely to alienate many in that Caucasian republic and reduce Yerevan’s willingness to defer to Moscow in all things.

            Undoubtedly, both Russian commanders and Russian diplomats on the scene will do what they can to try to calm the situation; but it is things like this that tend to cast a far larger shadow over future events than even intensive efforts by both will be able to dispel completely. Armenians are going to remember this.

Russian Officials Face Changes as Unwelcome to Themselves as Pension Age Plans are to Population, Solovey Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – Having voted to retain Vladimir Putin for another term, ordinary Russians have already experienced a “post-election surprise” in the form of the Russian government’s plan to boost the pension age. What is clear, Valery Solovey tells Rosbalt’s Vasily Yurovsky, is that officials also will be facing some unwelcome changes as well.

                “Two key factors influence the system,” the MGIMO professor says. “The first is the contraction in resources, in part as the result of intensifying pressure from the West. The second is the approaching ‘transition,’ that is, all elite groups have the sense that the Putin era is ending, but they still have no idea what will follow” (rosbalt.ru/russia/2018/07/16/1717084.html).

                Officials may take various political positions, he says; but their chief concern is “to try to preserve the material possessions.”  They aren’t going to be able to keep the current system going forever because “as soon as the guarantor who created the system leaves the scene, the system will fall apart.”
           
            “This may take months or perhaps a year or two,” but the process will leave those who have learned how to fit into this system in the extremely challenging position of having to learn how to fit into another – or finding themselves on the outside looking in because many of them won’t be able to do so.

             According to Solovey, Russian officials at present “live according to their instincts. If we speak about influence groups, everything in Russia now is arranged so that one need not do anything. One simply strengthens one’s position, and all challenges, risks and threats tend to dissipate.”

            “Before 2014,” he says, “politicians were followers of a different strategy. The entire world lay at their feet. They started from the notion that the increase in the price of oil would be eternal and that their resources would grow in an infinite way, allowing them to become part of the global elite, of those who run the world.”

            And from that perspective, they viewed Putin and the siloviki as a force that could “destroy all obstacles so that they could achieve this goal for themselves.  What happened in 2014, even for Putin’s closest friends, was a catastrophic unexpected development. They are trying to adapt, [but] their instincts in general aren’t changing.”

            As a result, the changes in their environment in the coming months and years are going to be even harder for them to cope with. Adaption for many won’t be an option. And it is entirely possible that some of them will begin to recognize that.