Thursday, May 8, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Baku’s Actions Blocking a Maidan Challenge but Not an Islamist One, Markedonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – The Azerbaijani government is effectively deploying the powers of the state to block any chance of  the emergence of a Maidan-style challenge to Baku, but its approach is not necessarily preventing the rise of an Islamist threat to Baku, according to Moscow analyst Sergey Markedonov.

                Indeed, Markedonov who teaches religion and foreign policy at the Russian State Humanitarian University suggests and who wrote this for an Armenian outlet, Baku’s actions could make the latter more rather than less likely ( reposted at

            The events in Ukraine, Markedonov says, “are testing the entire system of international relations and the configuration of the space which appeared after the disintegration of the at one time single Soviet government.” Among the questions, the Ukraine crisis raises are “are border changes among former Soviet republics possible?” and “can Maidan technology be a universal means for the victory of opposition forces over the authorities?”

            No country in the post-Soviet space is more concerned about any possibility that borders may be changed than is Azerbaijan, the Moscow scholar says, given the Karabakh conflict. That explains both Baku’s backing of Kyiv on the status of Crimea and its cautious words and actions lest the Russian Federation increase its support for Armenia.

            Azerbaijan and Ukraine have many other common interests including energy transit, but they do not share the same view on the Maidan or any Maidan-like actions.  Baku has long been worried about the dangers such movements present. In fact, “this term was first used in the Eurasian context [as] a synonym for civil opposition activity” in Azerbaijan.

            Azerbaijanis used it to describe the 18-day meeting in Baku from November 17 to December 8, 1988, that helped bring to power the Peoples Front, led to violent Soviet intervention in January 1990, and kept Azerbaijan relatively unstable for several years, “almost leading to the complete collapse of [this] new independent state.”

            Many Azerbaijani critics of Baku’s crackdown on opposition figures forget that “the Aliyev regime arose in response to this chaos and developed in reaction to what Markedonov calls “the mini-Maidans” in Azerbaijan in 2003 and 2005.”  Baku’s current actions, he says, reflect its concern about what the opposition’s admiration for Ukraine’s  Maidan could mean.

            This raises the question, Markedonov continues: “could the Kyiv scenario be repeated on the streets of Baku?”  While he says it is “premature” to answer definitively, the Moscow writer suggests that it is unlikely. On the one hand, the regime has taken a hard line against the opposition. And on the other, the opposition is weaker and more divided than in Ukraine.

            But that does not mean that Azerbaijan does not face a threat, albeit from a different direction.  Unlike Ukraine, Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, “and in any such country, the danger exists of the spread of radical versions of Islam. And these risk increase when the civic opposition is weak and divided.”

            That is because, Markedonov says, “the lack of a strong opposition does not automatically indicate the complete satisfaction [of the entire population] with the situation in the country. And spontaneous actions on various occasions [such as in Ismaily last year) are clear testimony of that.”

            The Moscow analyst thus concludes that today, there is no real threat of a Maidan-2 in Azerbaijan. “But the dangers of radical Islamization and of mass actions from ‘the bazaar and the mosque’ remain, despite all the reports and declarations of the authorities about stability” in that “independent Caucasus state.”

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