Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 180

Parliamentary elections in November 2005 brought severe negative consequences for the Azerbaijani opposition. Most opposition parties are in a state of collapse; others have seen their activities stagnate because they have no results to show for the past 12 years. Yet, recent events suggest that some of the opposition parties are finding ways to reshape their mission and are developing new projects for their membership support base.

The once-powerful National Independence Party of Azerbaijan recently organized a rally in front of the Iranian embassy to protest the repression of ethnic Azeris in Iran. Specifically, the demonstrators focused on the lack of educational opportunities in the Azeri language in Iran. Since the rally was not sanctioned by the mayor’s office, the police quickly reacted and dispersed the crowd. They also arrested and released 22 party members after imposing small fines on three members. Yet, the party seems determined to continue the struggle and has even scheduled another rally for today, September 29. If the authorities refuse to permit the demonstration, ANIP representative Nazim Alasgarov told 525-ci Qazet newspaper (September 28), the party will go ahead with an unsanctioned rally.

“We don’t want to interfere in the domestic affairs of Iran, but the protection of the rights of our compatriots is our moral duty,” Etibar Mammadov, the founder and leader of the party, told ANS TV (September 17). While ANIP’s decision to focus on the problems in South Azerbaijan is much appreciated, many observers find it rather strange. They believe that any political party should focus on problems in its own country, not another one. Yet, ANIP’s updated agenda seems to be attractive to it supporters and is keeping the party in the news. While once ANIP had virtually disappeared, the party has now made a comeback on the political scene.

This month ANIP held an international forum in Baku on the situation in Southern Azerbaijan, followed by an agreement signed with the Party of Independence of Southern Azerbaijan to collaborate jointly on projects to advance the rights of ethnic Azeris in Iran.

Meanwhile, another opposition party, the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, is watching its leader distance himself from the party and found a new pet project. Rasul Guliyev, the former speaker of the Azerbaijani parliament who has been in exile in the United States since 1996, failed to keep his promise to return to Azerbaijan during elections in 2003 and 2005 and has thus lost considerable support even among his core constituents. Gurban Mammadov, a member of the ADP Supreme Council, has been quoted by local media this week as saying, “A person who is not ready to go to jail for the sake of the nation cannot be its leader.” Frustration among the party members has led to the virtual collapse of the party’s operations and a split among its members.

Given these dismal circumstances, Guliyev has announced the formation of a new international organization: “To Support Democracy in Azerbaijan.” Many analysts consider this move to be an attempt to stay alive on Azerbaijani political scene until the presidential elections scheduled for 2008. However, this initiative has already generated additional complaints among the opposition activists, who claim that all Guliyev’s brainchild will do is further divide the opposition.

With the petro-dollars coming into the country at an increasing rate and the government having the necessary resources to focus on infrastructure and social programs, the opposition parties are going to find it more and more difficult to come up with new, creative ways to expand their bases of support. The current government is generating excellent media attention from spending the oil revenues on infrastructure projects such as building nine large bridges in Baku to ease traffic jams and constructing 136 new public schools across the country in 2006 alone. All of these efforts are laying a good foundation for the ruling party ahead of the presidential elections in 2008. Ironically enough, this situation is pushing the opposition parties to be more creative and pro-active. But past “political baggage” and a lack of any desire to abandon past strategies are likely to hinder the progress of the opposition parties in the immediate future.