The November 26 post-election violence in Baku marked the end of Western influence in Azerbaijan. After being severely beaten and humiliated by police forces, the pro-Western Azerbaijani opposition has no one else to blame but the West. Its hopes for U.S. support to “overthrow the Aliyev regime” were always inflated and this has resulted in many heart-breaks for them, most recently following the presidential election in October 2003 when, in the words of the opposition, “The U.S. closed eyes to the dynastic transfer of power because of its oil interests.” Yet these hopes once again significantly increased after the Georgian (November 2003), Ukrainian (December 2004), and Kyrgyz (March 2005) democratic revolutions. The Azerbaijan opposition believed, wrongly so, that the West would not ignore election fraud this time.
Indeed, the velvet revolutions in the post-Soviet space and Washington’s policy to promote democracy in Muslim countries led the Azerbaijani opposition to believe that the November 6 parliamentary elections would be their moment. Yet, election fraud and the subsequent mild reaction from the West have disappointed the Azerbaijani opposition. “We have always put our hopes to the West and they have betrayed us. We must use all means against them now,” said Sardar Jalaloglu of the Democratic Party after the elections (www.day.az, November 25). He added, “The West’s policies in Azerbaijan have come to a failure” (Yeni Musavat, November 27).
Local analysts believe that the clear humiliation of the traditional opposition will result in its eventual collapse and disappearance. Having failed to deliver any tangible results, the Azerbaijani opposition has lost the support of the general public. With an increasing GDP and the arrival of petrodollars in the country, the social welfare of the majority of the people will inevitably rise, despite high levels of corruption. This will make it harder and harder for the pro-Western opposition to gain supporters.
At the same time, the November 26 violence showed that the West’s support for the Aliyev administration is equal to the West’s support for brutality. No matter how crazy and senseless this may sound, the majority of citizens have arrived at this conclusion and believe that the West is trading democracy for oil. Combined with the disappointment of the Azeri public with the West’s double standards on the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijanis see the West as “insincere and unjust.”
Thus, the small, but radical protest forces in the country will have no better avenues to express their political frustration with the government’s policies, but to use the fundamentalist groups, often adding a dose of Islamic ideology in the process. “The only useful means of struggle now is the use of terror,” a 27-year-old Azerbaijani man told Jamestown after seeing the futility of the protest rallies in Baku and how the government brutally cracked down on the protestors.
Pro-Islamic radical forces have been on the rise in Azerbaijan during the past few years and much has been written about them. Most recently, ANS TV reported on November 29 that police forces had discovered two warehouses in Khachmaz region, where Wahhabi literature calling for jihad and weapons were stored. Several months ago, the Ministry of National Security arrested several Islamic groups that were allegedly planning terrorist acts in Baku.
It is clear that the election fraud and post-election violence have put an end to Azerbaijan’s pro-Western opposition and have started putting an end to U.S. pre-democratic policies in Azerbaijan. The opposition is not hiding its frustration with the West, which is on display in the daily press. Some local analysts argue that it is because they want to blackmail the West and scare them off with the potential danger of Islamic revolution in the country, should the West not press Baku too much over the election fraud. But most Azerbaijan watchers agree that the frustration of the opposition is real.
By severely cracking down on the weak, pro-Western opposition forces, the Azerbaijani authorities are basking in a demonstration of their strength. But this victory is a Pyrrhic one. Fighting the ideologically strong and radically minded pro-Islamic forces in the future will be much harder for the secular ruling party, as proved by Algeria’s experience.
Meanwhile, Turan News Agency reported on November 29 that 130 tons of humanitarian assistance had been delivered to Azerbaijan from the Iranian group “Imdad,” named after Imam Khomeini (40 tons of rice, 25 tons of vegetable oil, 40 tons of pasta, and 2,500 packages of detergent). The Ambassador of Iran to Azerbaijan, Ashraf Suleymani, said during the delivery ceremony that the humanitarian help was intended for displaced people and refugees, invalids, and single people that are under the patronage of the “Imdad” Committee. He also added that the parliamentary elections showed that people did not support the pro-Western opposition. With the United States loosing credibility among Azerbaijan’s population, Iran is not hesitating to fill the vacuum.