Monday, March 6, 2017

‘Azerbaijanis aren’t Turks,’ Baku Officials Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 6 -- Because Azerbaijanis and Turks since 1991 have often declared that they are “one people in two states,” many have ignored the increasingly nationally specific rhetoric of Azerbaijanis who now insist that their nation is “completely different” than the Turks and even reject that the two nations are one people.

            That nationalist position is being advanced not only by officials like Arif Ragimzade, a member of Azerbaijan’s parliament ( but also by independent commentators like Nidzhat Samedoglu (

            As the latter points out, members of the ethnic majority in both countries refer to themselves as “Turks” or “Oguz Turks” as a way of stressing the common origin and historical closeness of the peoples who live in the two countries.  But that closeness, Samedoglu argues, does not mean that they are identical as some think.

            The fact that there are now two distinct states, he continues, means that the two diverge on many points and that it is useful for each of the two countries to promote a separate and distinct ethnic ideology, Türkçülük in the case of Turkey and Azərbaycançılıq in the case of Azerbaijan.

            Heydar Aliyev understood this very well, Samedoglu says. He spoke regularly about “two states and one nation” but “he didn’t have any doubt that ‘Azerbaijanism’ is both important and inevitable for our contemporary politically independent and national statehood.”  And he frequently observed that “I was always proud and am proud today that I am an Azerbaijani.”

            The relationship between the peoples who now call themselves Turks and Azerbaijanis has been the subject of debate for more than a century.  The tsarist authorities viewed the Azerbaijanis as Turks and thus as a threat; the Soviets viewed the two as close in the hopes that the Azerbaijanis could contribute to the Sovietization of Turkey.

            Indeed, in the 1920s and early 1930s, Stanislav Tarasov writes in a commentary on the latest page in this long-running discussion, Moscow insisted that Azerbaijan residents call themselves Turks and changed that to Azerbaijanis only after it became clear by the late 1930s that Turkey wasn’t going to follow a Soviet path (

            The fact that the issue of Azerbaijani-ness has now been raised again opens the question as to why it is currently so politically important, Tarasov says. In his view, “this is connected with the fact that Turkey – the main strategic partner of Azerbaijan – is at the epicenter of the most complicated geopolitical shocks” and is “experiencing a crisis of statehood and ethnic identification” of its own.

            According to some Western scholars, 30 to 40 percent of the population of Turkey has “serious doubts about its ethnic origin;”  and as a result, some people in Turkey are calling for the country to be renamed “the Anatolian Republic” and to have Azerbaijan follow this path and be called “the Aran Republic.”

            However that may be, Tarasov says, “something else is clear: Azerbaijan and Turkey to varying degrees of intensiveness are involved in complicated ethno-cultural processes” sweeping the region and assertions in Baku that “Azerbaijanis are not Turks” is one way leaders there are seeking to defend themselves against unwanted change.

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